Chapter no 7

Empire of Storms

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Dorian had sounded the alarm, but the guards already knew. And when he’d gone to rush down the tower stairs, they blocked his path, telling him to stay in his tower. He tried to go again, to help—but they begged him to stay. Begged him, so that they would not lose him.

It was the desperation, how young their voices were, that kept him in the tower. But not useless.

Dorian stood atop his balcony, a hand raised before him.

From the distance, he could do nothing as the wyverns unleashed hell beyond the glass wall. They shredded through buildings, ripping apart roofs with their talons, snatching up people—his people—from the street.

They covered the skies like a blanket of fangs and claws, and though arrows from the city guards hit true, the wyverns did not pause.

Dorian rallied his magic, willing it to obey, summoning ice and wind to his palm, letting it build.

He should have trained, should have asked Aelin to teach him

something when she was here.

The wyverns sailed closer to the castle and the glass wall still around it, as if they’d wanted to show him precisely how powerless he was before they came for him.

Let them come. Let them get close enough for his magic.

He might not have Aelin’s long range, might not be able to encircle the city with his power, but if they got close enough…

He would not be weak or cowering again.

The first of the wyverns crested the glass wall. Huge—so much bigger than the white-haired witch and her scarred mount. Six of them flapped for his castle, for his tower. For its king.

He’d give them a king.

He let them draw nearer, clenching his fingers into a fist, burrowing down, down, down into his magic. Many witches lingered at the glass wall, slamming their wyverns’ tails into it, cracking that opaque glass bit by bit. Like the six who sailed for the castle were all it would take to sack it.

He could see their figures now—see their iron-studded leather, the setting sun glinting on the massive breastplates of the wyverns as they raced over the still-healing castle grounds.

And when Dorian could see their iron teeth as they grinned at him, when the shouts of the guards so valiantly firing arrows from the castle doors and windows became a din in his ears, he extended his hand toward the witches.

Ice and wind tore into them, shredding through beast and rider. The guards shouted in alarm—then fell into a stunned silence.

Dorian gasped for breath, gasped to remember his name and what he was as the magic drained out of him. He’d killed while enslaved, but never of his own free will.

And as the dead meat rained down, thudding on the castle grounds, as their blood misted the air … More, his magic moaned, spiraling down and up at the same time, dragging him again into its icy eddies.

Beyond the cracking glass wall, his city was bleeding. Screaming in terror.

Four more wyverns crossed the now-crumbling glass wall, banking as the riders beheld their shredded sisters. Cries shattered from their immortal throats, the tendrils of the yellow bands across their brows snapping in the wind. They shot their wyverns into the sky, as if they’d rise and rise and then plunge down directly atop him.

A smile danced on Dorian’s lips as he unleashed his magic again, a two-pronged whip snapping for the ascending wyverns.

More blood and chunks of wyvern and witch fell to the ground, all coated with ice so thick they shattered upon the courtyard flagstones.

Dorian tunneled deeper. Maybe if he could get into the city, he could cast a wider net—

That was when the other attack hit. Not from ahead or above or below. But from behind.

His tower rocked to the side, and Dorian was flung forward, slamming into the stone balcony, narrowly avoiding flipping over the edge.

Stone cracked and wood splintered, and he was spared from a crushing bit of rock only by the magic he’d flung around himself as he covered his head.

He whirled toward the interior of his bedroom. A giant, gaping hole had been ripped into the side and roof. And perched on the broken stone, a solidly built witch now smiled at him with flesh-shredding iron teeth, a faded band of yellow leather around her brow.

He rallied his magic, but it sputtered to a flicker.

Too soon, too fast, he realized. Too uncontrolled. Not enough time to draw up the full depths of his power. The wyvern’s head snaked into the tower.

Behind him, six other wyverns crested the wall, soaring for his exposed back. And the wall itself … Aelin’s wall … Beneath those frantic, furious claws and tails … it collapsed entirely.

Dorian eyed the door to the tower stairs, where the guards should have already been charging through. Only silence waited.

So close—but getting to it would require passing in front of the wyvern’s maw. Exactly why the witch was smiling.

One chance—he’d have one chance to do this.

Dorian clenched his fingers, not granting the witch time to study him further.

He flung out a hand, ice shattering from his palm and into the eyes of the wyvern. It roared, rearing back, and he ran.

Something sharp nicked his ear and embedded in the wall before him. A dagger.

He kept sprinting for the door—

The tail whipped through his vision a heartbeat before it slammed into his side.

His magic was a film around him, shielding his bones, his skull, as he was hurled against the stone wall. Hard enough that the stones cracked. Hard enough that most humans would have been dead.

Stars and darkness danced in his vision. The door was so close. Dorian tried to rise, but his limbs wouldn’t obey.

Stunned; stunned by—

Wet warmth leaked just below his ribs. Blood. Not a deep cut, but enough to hurt, courtesy of one of the spines on that tail. Spines coated in a

greenish sheen.

Venom. Some sort of venom that weakened and paralyzed before it killed—

He wouldn’t be taken again, not to Morath, not to the duke and his collars—

His magic thrashed against the venom’s paralyzing, lethal kiss. Healing magic. But slow, weakened by his careless expenditure moments before.

Dorian tried to crawl for the door, panting through his gritted teeth.

The witch barked a command to her wyvern, and Dorian rallied enough to crane his head. To see her draw her swords and begin to dismount.

No, no, no

The witch didn’t make it to the ground.

One heartbeat she was perched in her saddle, swinging a leg over.

The next, her head was gone, her blood spraying her wyvern as it roared and turned—

And was slammed off the tower by another, smaller wyvern. Scarred and vicious, with glimmering wings.

Dorian didn’t wait to see what happened, didn’t wonder.

He crawled for the door, his magic devouring the venom that should have killed him, a raging torrent of light fighting with all of its considerable force against that greenish darkness.

Cleaved skin, muscle, and bone itched as they slowly knit together— and that spark flickered and guttered in his veins.

Dorian was reaching for the door handle when the small wyvern landed in the ruined hole of his tower, its enormous fangs dripping blood onto the scattered paperwork he’d been grousing over mere minutes ago. Its armored, lithe rider nimbly leaped off, the arrows in the quiver across her back clacking against the hilt of the mighty sword now strapped alongside it.

She hauled away the helmet crowned with slender, lancelike blades. He knew her face before he remembered her name.

Knew the white hair, like moonlight on water, that spilled over her dark, scalelike armor; knew the burnt-gold eyes.

Knew that impossibly beautiful face, full of cold bloodlust and wicked cunning.

“Get up,” Manon Blackbeak snarled.




The word was a steady chant in Manon’s head as she stalked across the ruins of the king’s tower, armor thundering against the fallen stones, fluttering paper, and scattered books.

Shit, shit, shit.

Iskra was nowhere to be found—not by the castle, at least. But her coven was.

And when Manon had spied that Yellowlegs sentinel perched inside the tower, readying to claim this kill for herself … a century of training and instinct had barreled into Manon.

All it had taken was one swipe of Wind-Cleaver as Abraxos flew by, and Iskra’s sentinel was dead.

Shit, shit, shit.

Then Abraxos attacked the remaining mount, a dull-eyed bull who hadn’t even the chance to roar before Abraxos’s teeth were clamped around his broad throat and blood and flesh were flying as they tumbled through the air.

She didn’t have a heartbeat to spare to marvel that Abraxos had not balked at the fight, that he had not yielded. Her warrior-hearted wyvern. She’d give him an extra ration of meat.

The young king’s dark, bloody jacket was coated in dust and dirt. But his sapphire eyes were clear, if not wide, as she snarled again over the screaming city, “Get up.”

He reached a hand toward the iron door handle. Not to call for help or flee, she realized, now a foot from him, but to raise himself.

Manon studied his long legs, more muscled than the last time she’d seen him. Then she noted the wound peeking through the side of his torn jacket. Not deep and not gushing, but—

Shit, shit, shit.

The venom of the wyvern’s tail was deadly at worst, paralyzing at best.

Paralyzing with just a scratch. He should be dead. Or dying.

“What do you want?” he rasped, eyes darting between her and Abraxos, who was busy monitoring the skies for any other attackers, his wings

rustling with impatience.

The king was buying himself time—while his wound healed.

Magic. Only the strongest magic could have kept him from death.

Manon snapped, “Quiet,” and hauled him to his feet.

He didn’t flinch at her touch, or at the iron nails that snagged and ripped through his jacket. He was heavier than she’d estimated—as if he’d packed on more muscle beneath those clothes, too. But with her immortal strength, heaving him to a standing position required little energy.

She’d forgotten how much taller he was. Face-to-face, Dorian panted as he stared down at her and breathed, “Hello, witchling.”

Some ancient, predatory part of her awoke at the half smile. It sat up, cocking its ears toward him. Not a whiff of fear. Interesting.

Manon purred back, “Hello, princeling.”

Abraxos gave a warning growl, and Manon whipped her head to discover another wyvern sailing hard and fast for them.

Go,” she said, letting him support himself as she hauled open the tower door. The screams of the men levels below rose to meet them. Dorian sagged against the wall, as if focusing all his attention on staying upright. “Is there another exit? Another way out?”

The king assessed her with a frankness that had her snarling.

Behind them, as if the Mother had stretched out her hand, a mighty wind buffeted the wyvern and rider away from the tower, sending them tumbling into the city. Even Abraxos roared, clinging to the tower stones so hard the rock cracked beneath his claws.

“There are passages,” the king said. “But you—” “Then find them. Get out.”

He didn’t move from his spot against the wall. “Why.”

The pale line still sliced across his throat, so stark against the golden tan of his skin. But she did not take questioning from mortals. Not even kings. Not anymore.

So she ignored his question and said, “Perrington is not as he seems. He is a demon in a mortal body, and has shed his former skin to don a new one. A golden-haired man. He breeds evil in Morath that he plans to unleash any day now. This is a taste.” She flicked an iron-tipped hand to the destruction around them. “A way to break your spirits and win favor from other kingdoms by casting you as the enemy. Rally your forces before he is given

a chance to grow his numbers to an unconquerable size. He means to take not just this continent, but the whole of Erilea.”

“Why would his crowned rider tell me this?”

“My reasons are none of your concern. Flee.” Again, that mighty wind blasted the castle, shoving back any approaching forces, setting the stones groaning. A wind that smelled of pine and snow—a familiar, strange scent. Ancient and clever and cruel.

“You killed that witch.” Indeed, the sentinel’s blood freckled the stones.

It coated Wind-Cleaver and her discarded helmet. Witch Killer.

Manon shoved the thought away, along with his implied question. “You owe me a life debt, King of Adarlan. Prepare yourself for the day I come to claim it.”

His sensuous mouth tightened. “Fight with us. Now—fight with us now

against him.”

Through the doorway, screams and battle cries rent the air. Witches had managed to land somewhere—had infiltrated the castle. It’d be a matter of moments before they were found. And if the king was not gone … She yanked him off the wall and shoved him into the stairwell.

His legs buckled, and he braced a tan hand against the ancient stone wall as he shot her a glare over a broad shoulder. A glare.

“Do you not know death when you see it?” she hissed, low and vicious. “I have seen death, and worse,” he said, those sapphire eyes frozen as

he surveyed her from head to armored boot-tip and back again. “The death you’d offer is kind compared to that.”

It struck something in her, but the king was already limping down the stairs, a hand braced on the wall. Moving so damn slowly while that poison worked its way out of him, his magic surely battling with everything it had to keep him on this side of life.

The door at the base of the tower shattered.

Dorian halted at the four Yellowlegs sentinels who rushed in, snarling up the hollow center of the tower. The witches paused, blinking at their Wing Leader.

Wind-Cleaver twitched in her hand. Kill him—kill him now, before they could spread the word that she’d been spotted with him … Shit, shit, shit.

Manon didn’t have to decide. In a whirlwind of steel, the Yellowlegs died before they could turn toward the warrior who exploded through the


Silver hair, tattooed face and neck, and slightly pointed ears. The source of that wind.

Dorian swore, staggering down a step, but the Fae warrior’s eyes were on her. Only lethal rage flickered there.

The air in Manon’s throat choked away into nothing.

A strangled sound came out of her, and she stumbled back, clawing at her throat as if she could carve an airway. But the male’s magic held firm.

He’d kill her for what she’d tried to do to his queen. For the arrow Asterin had shot, meaning to strike the queen’s heart. An arrow he had jumped in front of.

Manon crashed to her knees. The king was instantly at her side, studying her for a heartbeat before he roared down the stairs, “NO!

That was all it took. Air flooded her mouth, her lungs, and Manon gasped, back arching as she drank it in.

Her kind had no magical shields against attacks like that. Only when most desperate, most enraged, could a witch summon the core of magic in her—with devastating consequences. Even the most bloodthirsty and soulless of them only whispered of that act: the Yielding.

Dorian’s face swam in her watery vision. Manon still gasped for that fresh, lifesaving air as he said, “Find me when you change your mind, Blackbeak.”

Then the king was gone.



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