Chapter no 63

Empire of Storms

It was still instinct to go for a knife before Aelin went for her magic.

And as Fenrys leaped for Manon with a snarl, it was Rowan’s power that sent him slamming through the room.

Before the male had finished sliding across the floor, Aelin had a wall of flame up between them. “What the hell,” she spat.

On his knees, Fenrys clawed at his throat—at the air Rowan was choking off.

The cabin was too small for them all to fit without getting too close. Ice danced at Dorian’s fingertips as he slid beside Manon, still chained by the bed.

“What did you mean, that’s not Fenrys?” Aelin said to the witch without taking her eyes off him. Rowan let out a grunt behind her.

And Aelin watched with a mix of horror and fascination as Fenrys’s chest expanded in a mighty breath. As he got to his feet and surveyed that wall of flame.

As if Rowan’s magic had worn off.

And as Fenrys’s skin seemed to glow and melt away, as a creature as pale as fresh snow emerged from the vanishing illusion, Aelin gave Aedion a subtle look over her shoulder.

Her cousin instantly moved, keys to Manon’s chains appearing from his pocket.

But Manon didn’t move as the thing took form, all the spindly limbs, its wings tucked in tight; the hideous warped face sniffing them—

Manon’s chains clanked free.

Aelin said to the thing beyond her wall of flame, “What are you?” Manon answered for it. “Erawan’s Bloodhound.”

The thing smiled, revealing rotted black stumps of teeth. “At your service,” it said. She said, Aelin realized as she noted the small, shriveled breasts on its narrow chest. “So your guts stayed in,” it purred to Manon.

“Where is Fenrys?” Aelin demanded.

The Bloodhound’s smile didn’t falter. “On patrol of the ship, on another level, I assume. Unaware, just as you were unaware, that one of your own wasn’t truly with you while I—”

“Ugh, another talker,” Aelin said, flipping her braid over a shoulder. “Let me guess: you killed a sailor, took his place, learned what you needed to about how to get Manon off this ship and our patrols, and … what? You planned to carry her off into the night?” Aelin frowned at the thing’s thin body. “You look like you could barely lift a fork—and haven’t in months.”

The Bloodhound blinked at her—then hissed. Manon let out a low laugh.

Aelin said, “Honestly? You could have just snuck in here and saved yourself a thousand stupid steps—”

Shifter,” the thing hissed, hungrily enough that Aelin’s words stumbled.

Its enormous eyes had gone right to Lysandra, snarling softly in the corner in ghost leopard form.

Shifter,” it hissed again, that longing twisting its features.

And Aelin had a feeling she knew what this thing had begun as. What Erawan had trapped and mutilated in the mountains around Morath.

“As I was saying,” Aelin drawled as best she could, “you really brought this upon yourself—”

“I came for the Blackbeak heir,” the Bloodhound panted. “But look at you all: a trove worth your weight in gold.”

Its eyes went murky, as if it were no longer here, as if it had drifted into another room—


Aelin attacked with her flame. The Bloodhound screamed—

And Aelin’s flame melted away into steam.

Rowan was instantly there, shoving her back, sword out. Her magic—

“You should have given me the witch,” the Bloodhound laughed, and ripped the porthole clean out of the side of the ship. “Now he knows who

you travel with, what ship you sail …”

The creature lunged for the hole it had hewn in the side of the ship, spindrift misting in.

A black-tipped arrow slammed into its knee, then another one. The Bloodhound went down an inch from freedom.

Snarling as he stepped into the room, Fenrys fired another, pinning its shoulder into the wood planks.

Apparently, he didn’t take well to being impersonated. He gave Rowan a seething look that said as much. And that demanded how they all hadn’t noticed the difference.

But the Bloodhound wrenched herself up, black blood spraying the room, filling it with her reek. Aelin had a dagger angled, ready to fly; Manon was about to pounce; Rowan’s hatchet was cocked—

The Bloodhound chucked a strap of black leather into the center of the room.

Manon stopped dead.

“Your Second screamed when Erawan broke her,” the Bloodhound said. “His Dark Majesty sends this to remember her by.”

Aelin didn’t dare take her eyes off the creature. But she could have sworn Manon swayed.

And then the Bloodhound said to the witch, “A gift from a King of the Valg … to the last living Crochan Queen.”



Manon stared and stared at that braided leather band—the one Asterin had worn every day, even when battle did not demand it—and did not care what the Bloodhound had declared to the others. Did not care if she was heir to the Blackbeak Witch-Clan or Queen of the Crochans. Did not care if—

Manon did not finish the thought over the roar that silenced everything in her head.

The roar that came out of her mouth as she launched herself at the Bloodhound.

The arrows through the beast scratched at Manon as she tackled that dewy, bony body into the wood. Claws and teeth slashed for her face, but

Manon got her hands around that neck, and iron tore through damp skin.

Then those claws were pinned in the wood beneath phantom hands as Dorian sauntered over, face so unyieldingly unmoved. The Bloodhound thrashed, those claws trying to wrench free—

The creature screamed as those invisible hands crunched down on bone. Then through it.

Manon gaped at the severed hands a moment before the Bloodhound screamed, so loud her own ears rang. But Dorian crooned, “Be done with it.”

Manon lifted her other hand, wanting iron to shred her and not steel. The others watched behind them, weapons ready.

But the Bloodhound panted, “Don’t you want to know what your Second said before she died? What she begged for?”

Manon hesitated.

“What a horrible brand on her stomach—unclean. Did you do that yourself, Blackbeak?”

No. No, no, no—

“A baby; she said she’d birthed a stillborn witchling.” Manon froze entirely.

And didn’t particularly care as the Bloodhound lunged for her throat, teeth bared.

It was not flame or wind that snapped the Bloodhound’s neck. But invisible hands.

The crunch echoed through the room, and Manon whirled on Dorian Havilliard. His sapphire eyes were utterly merciless. Manon snarled. “How dare you take my kill—”

Men on the deck began screaming, and Abraxos roared.


Manon turned on her heel and sprinted through the wall of warriors, careening down the hall, up the stairs—

Her iron nails tore chunks out of the slippery wood as she hauled herself up, stomach aching. Muggy night air hit her, then the sea’s scent, then—

There were six of them.

Their skin was not bone white like the Bloodhound’s, but rather a mottled darkness—bred for shadows and stealth. Winged, all with humanoid faces and bodies—

Ilken, one of them hissed as it disemboweled a man in one swipe of its claws. We are the ilken, and we have come to feast. Indeed, pirates were dead on the deck, blood a coppery tang that filled her senses as she raced for where Abraxos’s roar had sounded.

But he was airborne, flapping high, tail swinging. The shape-shifter in wyvern form at his side.

Taking on three of the smaller figures, so much more nimble as they— Flame blasted into the night, along with wind, and ice.

One ilken melted. The second had its wings snapped. And the third— the third froze into a solid block and shattered upon the deck.

Eight more ilken landed, one ripping into a screaming sailor’s neck on the foredeck—

Manon’s iron teeth snapped down. Flame blasted again, spearing for the approaching terrors.

Only for them to sail through it.

The ship became a melee as wings and talons tore into delicate human hides, as the immortal warriors unleashed themselves upon the ilken that landed on the deck.



Aedion hurtled after Aelin the moment the wyvern roared.

He got as far as the main deck before those things attacked.

Before Aelin’s flame ruptured from the deck ahead, and he realized his cousin could look after herself because shit, the Valg king had been busy. Ilken, they’d called themselves.

There were two of them now before him on the quarterdeck, where he’d run to spare the first mate and captain from having their organs ripped out of their bellies. Both beasts were nearly eight feet and born of nightmares, but in their eyes … those were human eyes. And their scents … like rotted meat, but … human. Partially.

They stood between him and the stairs back to the main deck. “What a bounty this hunt has yielded,” one said.

Aedion didn’t dare take his attention off them, though he vaguely heard Aelin ordering Rowan to go help the other ships. Vaguely heard a wolf and

a lion’s snarl, and felt the kiss of cold as ice slammed into the world.

Aedion gripped his sword, flipping it once, twice. Had the Pirate Lord sold them out to Morath? The way that Bloodhound had looked at Lysandra

His rage became a song in his blood.

They sized him up, and Aedion flipped his sword again. Two against one—he might stand a chance.

That was when the third lunged from the shadows behind him.



Aelin killed one with Goldryn. Beheading.

The other two … They hadn’t been too pleased by it, if their incessant shrieking in the moments following was any indication.

A lion’s roar cleaved the night, and Aelin prayed Gavriel was with Aedion somewhere—

The two in front of her, blocking the way belowdecks, finally stopped their hissy fits long enough to ask, “Where are your flames now?”

Aelin opened her mouth. But then Fenrys leaped out of a patch of night as if he’d simply run through a doorway, and slammed into the one nearest. He had a score to settle, it seemed.

Fenrys’s jaws went around the ilken’s throat, and the other whirled, claws out.

She was not fast enough to stop it as two sets of claws slashed through the white coat, through the shield he kept on himself, and Fenrys’s cry of pain barked across the water.

Twin swords of flame plunged through two ilken necks. Heads rolled onto the blood-slick deck.

Fenrys staggered back, making it all of a step before he crashed to the planks. Aelin surged for him, swearing.

Blood and bone and greenish slime—poison. Like those on the wyverns’ tails.

Like blowing out a thousand candles, she pushed aside her flame, rallied that healing water. Fenrys shifted back into a male, his teeth clenched,

swearing low and vicious, a hand against his torn ribs. “Don’t move,” she told him.

She’d immediately sent Rowan to the other ships, and he’d tried to argue, but … had obeyed. She had no idea where the Wing Leader was— the Crochan Queen. Holy gods.

Aelin readied her magic, trying to calm her raging heart—

“The others,” panted Aedion, limping for them, coated in black blood, “are fine.” She almost sobbed in relief—until she noticed the way her cousin’s eyes shone, and that … that Gavriel, bloodied and limping worse than Aedion, was a step behind his son. What the hell had happened?

Fenrys groaned, and she focused on his wounds, that poison slithering into his blood. She opened her mouth to tell Fenrys to lower his hand when wings flapped.

Not the kind she loved.

Aedion was instantly before them, sword out, grimacing in pain—but one of the ilken lifted a claw-tipped hand. Parley.

Her cousin halted. But Gavriel shifted imperceptibly closer to the ilken as it sniffed at Fenrys and smiled.

“Don’t bother,” the thing told Aelin, laughing quietly. “He won’t have much longer to live.”

Aedion snarled, palming his fighting knives. Aelin rallied her flame. Only the hottest of her fire could kill them—anything less and they remained unscathed. She’d think about the long-term implications of it later.

“I was sent to deliver a message,” the ilken said, smiling over a shoulder toward the horizon. “Thank you for confirming in Skull’s Bay that you carry what His Dark Majesty seeks.”

Aelin’s stomach dropped to her feet.

The key. Erawan knew she had the Wyrdkey.

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