Chapter no 64

Empire of Storms

Rowan hauled ass back to their ship, his magic near-flinging him through the air.

The other two ships had been left undisturbed—they’d even had the nerve to demand what the hell all the shouting was about.

Rowan hadn’t bothered to explain other than an enemy attack and to drop anchor until it was over before he’d left. He’d returned to carnage.

Returned with his heart beating so wildly he thought he’d vomit with relief as he swept in for the landing and beheld Aelin kneeling on the deck. Until he saw Fenrys bleeding beneath her hands.

Until that last ilken landed before them.

His rage honed itself into a lethal spear, his magic rallying as he dove through the sky, aiming for the deck. Concentrated bursts, he’d discovered, could get through whatever repellant had been bred into them.

He’d rip the thing’s head right off.

But then the ilken laughed right as Rowan landed and shifted, looking over its thin shoulder. “Morath looks forward to welcoming you,” the creature smirked, and launched skyward before Rowan could lunge for it.

But Aelin wasn’t moving. Gavriel and Aedion, bloodied and limping, were barely moving. Fenrys, his chest a bloody mess with greenish slime— poison 

Power glowed at Aelin’s hands as she knelt over Fenrys, concentrating on that bit of water she’d been given, a drop of water in a sea of fire …

Rowan opened his mouth to offer to help when Lysandra panted from the shadows, “Is anyone going to deal with that thing, or should I?”

Indeed, the ilken was flapping for the distant coast, barely more than a bit of blackness against the darkened sky, hurtling for the coast, no doubt to fly right to Morath to report.

Rowan snatched up Fenrys’s fallen bow and quiver of black-tipped arrows.

None of them stopped him as he strode to the railing, blood splashing beneath his boots.

The only sounds were the tapping waves, the whimpering of the injured, and the groan of the mighty bow as he nocked an arrow and drew back the string. Farther and farther. His arms strained, but he honed in on that dark speck flapping away.

“A gold coin says he misses,” Fenrys rasped.

“Save your breath for healing,” Aelin snapped.

“Make it two,” Aedion said behind him. “I say he hits.”

“You can all go to hell,” Aelin snarled. But then added, “Make it five.

Ten says he downs it with the first shot.”

“Deal,” Fenrys groaned, his voice thick with pain.

Rowan gritted his teeth. “Remind me why I bother with any of you.” Then he fired.

The arrow was nearly invisible as it sailed through the night.

And with his Fae sight, Rowan saw with perfect clarity as that arrow found its mark.

Right through the thing’s head.

Aelin laughed quietly as it hit the water, its splash visible even from the distance.

Rowan turned and scowled down at her. Light shimmered at her fingertips as she held them over Fenrys’s ravaged chest. But he turned his glare on the male, then on Aedion, and said, “Pay up, pricks.”

Aedion chuckled, but Rowan caught the shadow in Aelin’s eyes as she resumed healing his former sentinel. Understood why she’d made light of it, even with Fenrys injured before her. Because if Erawan now knew their whereabouts … they had to move. Fast.

And pray Rolfe’s directions to the Lock weren’t wrong.



Aedion was sick of surprises.

Sick of feeling his heart stop dead in his chest.

As it had when Gavriel had leaped to save his ass with the ilken, the Lion tearing into them with a ferocity that had left Aedion standing there like a novice with his first practice sword.

The stupid bastard had injured himself in the process, earning a swipe down his arm and ribs that set the male roaring in pain. The venom coating those claws, mercifully, had been used up on other men.

But it was the tang of his father’s blood that launched Aedion into action—that coppery, mortal scent. Gavriel had only blinked at him as Aedion had ignored the throbbing pain in his leg, courtesy of a blow moments before right above his knee, and they’d fought back-to-back until those creatures were nothing but twitching heaps of bone and flesh.

He hadn’t said a word to the male before sheathing sword and shield across his back and stalking to find Aelin.

She still knelt over Fenrys, offering Rowan nothing more than a pat on his thigh as he stormed past to help with the other wounded. A pat on the thigh—for making a shot that Aedion was fairly certain most of his Bane would have judged to be impossible.

Aedion set down the pail of water she’d asked him to get for Fenrys, trying not to wince as she wiped away the green poison that oozed out. A few feet away, his father was tending to a blubbering pirate—who had barely more than a tear to the thigh.

Fenrys hissed, and Aelin let out a grunt of pain herself. Aedion pushed in. “What?”

Aelin shook her head once, a sharp dismissal. But he watched as she locked eyes with Fenrys—locked and held them in a way that told Aedion whatever she was about to do would hurt. He’d seen that same look pass between healer and soldier a hundred times on killing fields and in the healers’ tents afterward.

“Why,” Fenrys panted, “didn’t”—another pant—“you just melt them?” “Because I wanted to get some information out of them before you

charged in, you bossy Fae bastard.” She gritted her teeth again, and Aedion braced a hand on her back as the poison no doubt brushed against her magic. As she tried to wash it out. She leaned a bit into his touch.

“Can heal on my own,” Fenrys rasped, noting the strain. “Get to the others.”

“Oh, please,” she snapped. “You’re all insufferable. That thing had

poison on its claws—” “The others—”

“Tell me how your magic works—how you can leap between places like that.” A clever, easy way to keep him focused elsewhere.

Aedion scanned the deck, making sure he wasn’t needed, and then carefully sopped up the blood and poison leaking from Fenrys’s chest. It had to hurt like hell. The insistent throbbing in his leg was likely nothing by comparison.

“No one knows where it comes from—what it is,” Fenrys said between shallow breaths, fingers curling and uncurling at his sides. “But it lets me slip between folds in the world. Only short distances, and only a few times before I’m drained, but … it’s useful on a killing field.” He panted through his clenched teeth as the outer edges of his gash began to reach for each other. “Aside from that, I’ve got nothing special. Speed, strength, swift healing … more than the average Fae, but the same stock of gifts. I can shield myself and others, but can’t summon an element.”

Aelin’s hand wavered slightly over his wound. “What’s your shield made of, then?”

Fenrys tried and failed to shrug. But Gavriel muttered from where he worked on the still-whimpering pirate, “Arrogance.”

Aelin snorted, but didn’t dare take her eyes off Fenrys’s injury as she said, “So you do have a sense of humor, Gavriel.”

The Lion of Doranelle gave a wary smile over his shoulder. The rare-sighted, restrained twin to Aedion’s own flashing grins. Aelin had called him Uncle Kitty-Cat all of one time before Aedion had snarled viciously enough to make her think carefully before using the term again. Gavriel, to his credit, had merely given Aelin a long-suffering sigh that seemed to be used only when she or Fenrys were around.

“That sense of humor only appears about once every century,” Fenrys rasped, “so you’d better hope you Settle, or else that’s the last time you’ll see it.” Aelin chuckled, though it faded quickly. Something cold and oily slid into Aedion’s gut. “Sorry,” Fenrys added, wincing either at the words or the pain.

Aelin asked before Aedion let his words sink in, “Where did you come from? Lorcan, I know, was a bastard in the slums.”

“Lorcan was a bastard in Maeve’s palace, don’t worry,” Fenrys smirked, his bronze face wan. Aelin’s lips twitched toward a smile. “Connall and I were the sons of nobles who dwell in the southeastern part of Maeve’s lands

…” He hissed.

“Your parents?” Aedion pressed when Aelin herself seemed to be straining for words. He’d seen her heal little cuts, and slowly repair Manon’s wound over days, but …

“Our mother was a warrior,” Fenrys said, each word labored. “She trained us as such. Our father was, too, but was often away at war. She was tasked with defending our home, our lands. And reporting to Maeve.” Rasping, laboring breaths from both of them. Aedion shifted so that Aelin could lean wholly against him, biting down on the weight it put on his already-swollen knee. “When Con and I were thirty, we were straining at the leash to go to Doranelle with her—to see the city, meet the queen, and do … what young males like to do with money in their pockets and youth on their sides. Only Maeve took one look at us and …” He needed longer to catch his breath this time. “It didn’t go well from there.”

Aedion knew the rest; so did Aelin.

The last of the green slime slid out of Fenrys’s chest. And Aelin breathed, “She knows you hate the oath, doesn’t she?”

“Maeve knows,” Fenrys said. “And I have no doubt she sent me here, hoping I’d be tortured by the temporary freedom.”

Aelin’s hands were shaking, her body shuddering against his own. Aedion slipped an arm around her waist. “I’m sorry you’re bound to her,” was all Aelin managed.

The wounds in Fenrys’s chest began knitting together. Rowan stalked over as if sensing she was fading.

Fenrys’s face was still grayish, still taut, as he glanced up at Rowan and said to Aelin, “This is what we are meant to do—protect, serve, cherish. What Maeve offers is … a mockery of that.” He surveyed the wounds now healing on his chest, mending so slowly. “But it is what calls to a Fae male’s blood, what guides him. What we’re all looking for, even when we say we’re not.”

Aedion’s father had gone still over the wounded pirate.

Aedion, surprising even himself, said over his shoulder to Gavriel, “And do you find Maeve fulfills that—or are you like Fenrys?”

His father blinked, about all the shock he’d show, and then straightened, the wounded sailor before him now sleeping off the healing. Aedion bore the brunt of his tawny stare, tried to shut out the kernel of hope that shone in the Lion’s eyes. “I come from a noble house as well, the youngest of three brothers. I wouldn’t inherit or rule, so I took to soldiering. It earned Maeve’s eye, and her offer. There was—is no greater honor.”

“That’s not an answer,” Aedion said quietly.

His father rolled his shoulders. Fidgeting. “I only hated it once. Only wanted to leave once.”

He didn’t continue. And Aedion knew what the unspoken words were.

Aelin brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “You loved her that much?”

Aedion tried not to let his gratitude that she’d asked for him show.

Gavriel’s hands were white-knuckled as they folded into fists. “She was a bright star in centuries of darkness. I would have followed that star to the ends of the earth, if she had let me. But she didn’t, and I respected her wishes to stay away. To never seek her out again. I went to another continent and didn’t let myself look back.”

The ship’s creaking and the groaning of the injured were the only sounds. Aedion clamped down on the urge to stand and walk away. He’d look like a child—not a general who’d fought his way through knee-deep gore on killing fields.

Aelin said, again because Aedion couldn’t bring himself to say the words, “You would have tried to break the blood oath for her? For them?”

“Honor is my code,” Gavriel said. “But if Maeve had tried to harm either you or her, Aedion, I would have done everything in my power to get you out.”

The words hit Aedion, then flowed through him. He didn’t let himself think about it, the truth he’d felt in each word. The way his name had sounded on his father’s lips.

His father checked the injured pirate for any lingering injuries, then moved on to another. Those tawny eyes slid to Aedion’s knee, swollen beneath his pants. “You need to tend to that, or it’ll be too stiff to function in a few hours.”

Aedion felt Aelin’s attention snap to him, scanning him for injury, but he held his father’s gaze and said, “I know how to treat my own injuries.”

The battlefield healers and the Bane had taught him enough over the years. “Tend to your own wounds.” Indeed, the male had blood crusting his shirt. Lucky—so lucky the venom had already been wiped off those claws. Gavriel blinked down at himself, his band of tattoos bobbing as he swallowed, then continued without another word.

Aelin pushed off Aedion at last, trying and failing to get to her feet. Aedion reached for her as the focus went out of her now-dull eyes, but Rowan was already there, smoothly sweeping her up before she kissed the planks. Too fast—she must have drained her reserves too fast, and without any food in her system.

Rowan held his stare, Aelin’s hair limp as she rested her head against his chest. The strain—Aedion’s guts twisted at it. Morath knew what it was going up against. Who it was going up against. Erawan had built his commanders accordingly. Rowan nodded as if in confirmation of Aedion’s thoughts, but only said, “Elevate that knee.”

Fenrys had slipped into a light sleep before Rowan carried Aelin below.

So Aedion kept his own company for the rest of the night: first on watch, then sitting against the mast on the quarterdeck for a few hours, knee indeed elevated, unwilling to descend into the cramped, dim interior.

Sleep was finally starting to tug at him when wood groaned a few feet behind, and he knew it did so only because she willed it, to keep from startling him.

The ghost leopard sat beside him, tail twitching, and met his eyes for a moment before she laid her enormous head on his thigh.

In silence, they watched the stars flicker over the calm waves, Lysandra nuzzling her head against his hip.

The starlight stained her coat with muted silver, and a smile ghosted Aedion’s lips.

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