Chapter no 67

Empire of Storms

“How did you find me?” Elide breathed, the reek of the ilken nearly enough to make her vomit.

Her uncle rose to his feet in a fluid, unhurried movement, straightening his green tunic. “Asking questions to buy yourself time? Clever, but expected.” He jerked his chin to the creature. It loosed a low, guttural clicking sound.

The door opened behind it, revealing two other ilken now crowding the hall with their wings and hideous faces. Oh gods. Oh, gods.

Think think think think think.

“Your companion, last we heard, was putting supplies on his boat and unmooring it. You probably should have paid him more.”

“He’s my husband,” she hissed. “You have no right to take me from him

none.” Because once she was married, Vernon’s wardenship over her life ended.

Vernon let out a low laugh. “Lorcan Salvaterre, Maeve’s second-in-command, is your husband? Really, Elide.” He waved a lazy hand to the ilken. “We depart now.”

Fight now—now, before they had the chance to move her, to get her away.

But where to run? The innkeeper had sold her out, someone had betrayed their location on this river—

The ilken tugged at her. She planted her heels onto the wooden slats, little good it would do.

It let out a low laugh and brought its mouth to her ear. “Your blood smells clean.”

She recoiled, but it gripped her hard, its grayish tongue tickling the side of her neck. Thrashing, she still could do nothing as it twisted them into the

hall and toward the two waiting ilken in it. To the back door, not ten feet away, already open to the night beyond.

“You see what I shielded you from at Morath, Elide?” Vernon crooned, falling into step behind them. She slammed her feet into the wooden floor, over and over, straining for the wall, for anything to have leverage to push and fight against it—




Lorcan had left—he’d gotten everything he needed from her and left.

She’d slowed him down, had brought enemy after enemy after him.

“And whatever will you do back at Morath,” Vernon mused, “now that Manon Blackbeak is dead?”

Elide’s chest cracked open at the words. Manon

“Gutted by her own grandmother and thrown off the side of the Keep for her disobedience. Of course, I’ll shield you from your relatives, but … Erawan will be interested to learn what you’ve been up to. What you … took from Kaltain.”

The stone in her jacket’s breast pocket.

It thrummed and whispered, awakening as she bucked.

No one in the now-silent inn at the opposite end of the hall bothered to come around the corner and investigate her wordless shouting. Another ilken stepped into view just beyond the open back door.

Four of them. And Lorcan had left— The stone at her breast began to seethe.

But a voice that was young and old, wise and sweet, whispered, Do not touch it. Do not use it. Do not acknowledge it.

It had been inside Kaltain—had driven her mad. Had made her into that

… shell.

A shell for something else to fill. The open door loomed.

Think think think.

She couldn’t breathe enough to think, the ilken reek around her promising the sort of horrors she’d endure when they got her back to Morath—

No, she wouldn’t go. She wouldn’t let them take her, break and use her

One shot. She’d have one shot.

No, whispered the voice in her head. No

But there was a knife at her uncle’s side as he strolled ahead and out the

door. It was all she’d need. She’d seen Lorcan do it enough while hunting.

Vernon paused in the back courtyard, a large, rectangular iron box waiting before him.

There was a small window in it. And handles on two of its edges.

She knew what the ilken were for as the three others fell into place around it.

They’d shove her inside, lock the door, and fly her back to Morath. The box was little bigger than a coffin standing upright.

Its door was already open.

The ilken would have to release her to throw her inside. For a heartbeat, they’d let go. She’d have to use it to her advantage.

Vernon loitered beside the box. She didn’t dare look at his knife.

A sob broke from her throat. She’d die here—in this filthy courtyard, with these awful things around her. She’d never see the sun again, or laugh, or hear music—

The ilken stirred around the box, wings rustling. Five feet. Four. Three.

No, no, no, the wise voice begged her.

She would not be taken back to Morath. She would not let them touch her and corrupt her—

The ilken shoved her forward, a violent thrust meant to send her staggering into the box.

Elide twisted, slamming face-first into the edge instead, her nose crunching, but she whirled on her uncle. Her ankle roared as she set her weight on it to lunge for the knife at his side.

Vernon didn’t have time to realize what she intended as she whipped the knife free from its sheath at his hip. As she flipped the knife in her fingers, her other hand wrapping around the hilt.

As her shoulders curved inward, her chest caving, and she drove the blade home.



Lorcan had the kill shot.

Hidden in the fog, the four ilken couldn’t detect him as the man he was certain was Elide’s uncle had that ilken haul her toward that prison-box.

It was on him that Lorcan had trained his hatchet. Elide was sobbing. In terror and despair.

Each sound whetted his rage into something so lethal Lorcan could barely see straight.

Then the ilken threw her into that iron box.

And Elide proved she wasn’t bluffing in her claim to never return to Morath.

He heard her nose break as she hit the rim of the box, heard her uncle’s cry of surprise as she rebounded and lunged for him—

And grabbed his dagger. Not to kill him.

For the first time in five centuries, Lorcan knew true fear as Elide turned that knife on herself, the blade angled to plunge up and into her heart.

He threw his hatchet.

As the tip of that dagger pierced the leather over her ribs, the wooden handle of his hatchet slammed into her wrist.

Elide went down with a cry, the dagger flying wide—

Lorcan was already moving as they whirled toward where he’d perched on the rooftop. He leaped to the nearest one, to the weapons he’d positioned there minutes before, knowing they’d emerge from this door—

His next knife went through the wing of an ilken. Then another to keep it down before they pinpointed his location. But Lorcan was already sprinting to the third rooftop flanking the courtyard. To the sword he’d left there. He hurled it right through the face of the closest one.

Two left, along with Vernon, screaming now to get the girl in the box—

Elide was running like hell for the narrow alley out of the courtyard, not the broad street. The alley, too small for the ilken to fit, especially with all the debris and trash littered throughout. Good girl.

Lorcan leaped and rolled onto the next roof, to the two remaining daggers—

He threw them, but the ilken had already learned his aim, his throwing style.

They hadn’t learned Elide’s.

She hadn’t just gone into the alley to save herself. She’d gone after the hatchet.

And Lorcan watched as that woman crept up behind the distracted ilken and drove the hatchet into its wings.

With an injured wrist. With her nose leaking blood down her face.

The ilken screamed, thrashing to grab her, even as it crashed to its knees.

Where she wanted it.

The axe was swinging again before its scream finished sounding.

The sound was cut off a heartbeat later as its head bounced to the stones.

Lorcan hurtled off the roof, aiming for the one remaining ilken now seething at her—

But it pivoted and ran to where Vernon was cowering by the door, his face bloodless.

Sobbing, her own blood sprayed on the stones, Elide whirled toward her uncle, too. Axe already lifting.

But the ilken reached her uncle, snatched him up in its strong arms, and launched them both into the sky.

Elide threw the hatchet anyway.

It missed the ilken’s wing by a whisper of wind.

The axe slammed to the cobblestones, taking out a chunk of rock. Right near the ilken with the shredded wings—now crawling toward the courtyard exit.

Lorcan watched as Elide picked up his axe and walked toward the hissing, broken beast.

It lashed at her with its claws. Elide easily sidestepped the swipe.

It screamed as she stomped on its wrecked wing, halting its crawl to freedom.

When it fell silent, she said in a quiet, merciless voice he’d never heard her use, clear despite the blood clogging one nostril, “I want Erawan to know that the next time he sends you after me like a pack of dogs, I’ll return the favor. I want Erawan to know that the next time I see him, I will

carve Manon’s name on his gods-damned heart.” Tears rolled down her face, silent and unending as the wrath that now sculpted her features into a thing of mighty and terrible beauty.

“But it seems like tonight isn’t really your night,” Elide said to the ilken, lifting the hatchet again over a shoulder. The ilken might have been whimpering as she smiled grimly. “Because it takes only one to deliver a message. And your companions are already on their way.”

The axe fell.

Flesh and bone and blood spilled onto the stones.

She stood there, staring at the corpse, at the reeking blood that dribbled from its neck.

Lorcan, perhaps a bit numbly, walked over and took the axe from her hands. How she’d been able to use it with the sore wrist—

She hissed and whimpered at the movement. As if whatever force had rushed through her blood had vanished, leaving only pain behind.

She clutched her wrist, utterly silent as he circled the dead ilken and severed their heads from their bodies. One after another, retrieving his weapons as he went.

People inside the inn were stirring, wondering at the noise, wondering if it was safe to come out to see what had happened to the girl they’d so willingly betrayed.

For a heartbeat, Lorcan debated ending that innkeeper. But Elide said, “Enough death.”

Tears streaked through the splattered black blood on her cheeks—blood that was a mockery of the smattering of freckles. Blood, crimson and pure, ran from her nose down her mouth and chin, already caking.

So he sheathed the hatchet and scooped her into his arms. She didn’t object.

He carried her through the fog-wrapped town, to where their boat was tied. Already, onlookers had gathered, no doubt to scavenge their supplies when the ilken left. A snarl from Lorcan had them skittering into the mist.

As he stepped onto the barge, the boat rocking beneath him, Elide said, “He told me you’d left.”

Lorcan still didn’t set her down, holding her aloft with one arm as he untied the ropes. “You believed him.”

She wiped at the blood on her face, then winced at the tender wrist— and broken nose. He’d have to tend to that. Even then, it might very well be slightly crooked forever. He doubted she’d care.

Knew she’d perhaps see that crooked nose as a sign that she’d fought and survived.

Lorcan put her down at last, atop the crate of apples—right where he could see her. She sat silently as he took up the pole and pushed them away from the dock, from that hateful town, glad for the cover of mist as they drifted downstream. They could perhaps afford two more days on the river before they’d have to cut inland to shake any enemies trailing them. Good thing they were close enough to Eyllwe now to make it in a matter of days on foot.

When there was nothing but wafting mist and the lapping of the river against the boat, Lorcan spoke again. “You wouldn’t have stopped that dagger.”

She didn’t respond, and the silence went on long enough that he turned to where she perched on the crate.

Tears rolled down her face as she stared at the water.

He didn’t know how to comfort, how to soothe—not in the way she needed.

So he set down the pole and sat beside her on the crate, the wood groaning. “Who is Manon?”

He’d heard most of what Vernon had hissed inside that private dining room while he’d been setting his trap in the courtyard, but some details had evaded him.

“The Wing Leader of the Ironteeth legion,” Elide said, voice trembling, the words snagging on the blood clogging her nose.

Lorcan took a shot in the dark. “She was the one who got you out. That day—she was why you’re in witch leathers, why you wound up wandering in Oakwald.”

A nod.

“And Kaltain—who was she?” The person who’d given her that thing she carried.

“Erawan’s mistress—his slave. She was my age. He put the stone inside her arm and made her into a living ghost. She bought me and Manon time to run; she incinerated most of Morath in the process, and herself.”

Elide reached into her jacket, her breathing thick with tears still sliding down her face. Lorcan’s breath caught as she pulled out a scrap of dark fabric.

The scent clinging to it was female, foreign—broken and sad and cold.

But there was another scent beneath it, one he knew and hated …

“Kaltain said to give this to Celaena—not to Aelin,” Elide said, shaking with her tears. “Because Celaena … she gave her a warm cloak in a cold dungeon. And they wouldn’t let Kaltain take the cloak with her when they brought her to Morath, but she managed to save this scrap. To remember to repay Celaena for that kindness. But … what sort of gift is this thing? What is this?” She pulled back the fold of cloth, revealing a dark sliver of stone.

Every drop of blood in his body went cold and hot, awake and dead.

She was sobbing quietly. “Why is this payment? My very bones say to not touch it. My—a voice told me not to even think about it …”

It was wrong. The thing in her beautiful, filthy hand was wrong. It did not belong here, should not be here—

The god who had watched over him his whole life had recoiled. Even death feared it.

“Put it away,” he said roughly. “Right now.”

Hand shaking, she did so. Only when it was hidden inside her jacket did he say, “Let’s clean you up first. Set that nose and wrist. I’ll tell you what I know while I do.”

She nodded, gaze on the river.

Lorcan reached out, grasping her chin and forcing her to look at him. Hopeless, bleak eyes met his. He brushed away a stray tear with his thumb. “I made a promise to protect you. I will not break it, Elide.”

She made to pull away, but he gripped her a little harder, keeping her eyes on him.

“I will always find you,” he swore to her. Her throat bobbed.

Lorcan whispered, “I promise.”



Elide sifted through all Lorcan had told her while he cleaned her face, inspected her nose and wrist, bound the latter in soft cloth, and quickly, but not viciously, set her nose.

Wyrdkeys. Wyrdgates.

Aelin had one Wyrdkey. Was looking for the other two.

Soon to be only one more, once Elide gave her the key she carried. Two keys—against one. Perhaps they would win this war.

Even if Elide didn’t know how Aelin could use them and not destroy herself. But … she’d leave it up to her. Erawan might have the armies, but if Aelin had two keys …

She tried not to think about Manon. Vernon had lied about Lorcan leaving—to break her spirit, to get her to come willingly. Perhaps Manon was not dead, either.

She wouldn’t believe it until she had proof. Until the whole world screamed at her that the Wing Leader was gone.

Lorcan was back at the prow by the time she’d changed into one of his own shirts while her leathers dried. Her wrist throbbed, a dull, insistent ache, her face was no better and Lorcan had promised she’d likely have a black eye from it, but … her head was clear.

She came up beside him, watching him push the pole against the mucky bottom of the river. “I killed those things.”

“You did a fine job of it,” he said. “I don’t regret it.”

Dark, depthless eyes slid to her. “Good.”

She didn’t know why she said it, why she felt a need or like it was worth anything to him at all, but Elide stood on her toes, kissed his stubble-rough cheek, and said, “I will always find you, too, Lorcan.”

She felt him staring at her, even when she’d climbed into bed minutes later.

When she awoke, clean strips of linen for her cycle were next to the bed.

His own shirt, washed and dried overnight—now cut up for her to use as she would.

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