Lorcan knew they were still too slow, warning signal or not.
Elide was gasping for breath, weaving on her feet as Lorcan halted on the outskirts of a massive, flooded plain. She pushed back a stray strand of hair from her face, Athril’s ring glinting on her finger. She hadn’t questioned where it had come from or what it did when he’d slipped it onto her finger this morning. He’d only warned her to never take it off, that it might be the one thing to keep her safe from the ilken, from Morath.
The force had swept northward and away from where Lorcan and Elide had hauled ass, no doubt to secure some better approach. And at the far end of the plain, too distant for Elide’s human eyes to clearly make out, Whitethorn’s silver hair glinted, the King of Adarlan at his side. Magic, bright and cold, swirling around them. And farther out—
Gods above. Gavriel and Fenrys were in the reeds, bows drawn. And Gavriel’s son. Aimed at the army approaching. Waiting for—
Lorcan tracked where they were all facing. Not the army closing in on them.
But the queen standing alone in the heart of the flooded plain.
Lorcan realized a moment too late that he and Elide were on the wrong side of the demarcation line—too far north of where Aelin’s companions stood safely behind her.
Realized it the exact heartbeat that Elide’s eyes fell on the golden-haired woman facing that army.
Her arms slackened at her sides. Her face drained of color.
Elide staggered one step—one step toward Aelin, a small noise coming out of her.
That’s when he felt it.
Lorcan had sensed it once before, that day at Mistward. When the Queen of Terrasen had laid waste to the Valg princes, when her power had been a behemoth surging from the deep, setting the world trembling.
That was nothing—nothing—compared to the power that now roared into the world.
Elide stumbled, gaping at the spongy earth as the marsh water rippled. Five hundred ilken closed in around them. They had taken his warning
—and set a trap.
And that power … that power Aelin was now dragging up from whatever hellhole was inside her, from whatever fiery pit she’d been damned to endure … Its wake would wash over them.
“What is … ,” Elide breathed, but Lorcan lunged for her, hurling them to the ground, covering her body with his. He threw a shield over them, plummeting hard and fast into his magic, the drop nearly uncontrolled. He didn’t have time to do anything but pour every ounce of power into his shield, into the one barrier that would keep them from being melted into nothing.
He shouldn’t have wasted the effort warning them. Not when it was now likely to get him and Elide killed.
Whitethorn knew—even at Mistward—that the queen hadn’t yet stepped into her birthright. Knew that this sort of power came around once in an eon, and to serve it, to serve her …
A court that wouldn’t just change the world. It would start the world over.
A court that could conquer this world—and any other it wished.
If it wished. If that woman on the plain desired to. And that was the question, wasn’t it?
“Lorcan,” Elide whispered, her voice breaking in longing for the queen, or terror of her, he didn’t know.
Didn’t have time to guess, as a feral roar went up from the reeds. A command.
And then a hail of arrows, precisely and brutally aimed, flew from the marshes to strike at the outer flanks of the ilken. He marked Fenrys’s shots by the black-tipped arrows that easily found their marks. Gavriel’s son didn’t miss, either. Ilken tumbled from the sky, and the others panicked, flapping into one another, careening inward.
Right to where the Queen of Terrasen unleashed the full force of her magic upon them.
The moment Lysandra roared to signal that the marsh beasts were riled and she was safely behind their lines again, the moment the ilken got so close Aedion could shoot them out of the sky like geese, his queen erupted.
Even with Aelin’s aim away from them, even with Rowan’s shield, the heat of that fire burned. “Holy gods,” Aedion found himself saying as he stumbled back through the reeds, falling farther behind her line of attack. “Holy rutting gods.”
The heart of the legion didn’t have the chance to scream as they were washed away in a sea of flame.
Aelin was no savior to rally behind, but a cataclysm to be weathered. The fire grew hotter, his bones groaning as sweat beaded on his brow.
But Aedion took up a new spot, glancing to ensure his father and Fenrys had done the same across the drowned plain, and aimed for the ilken veering out of the flame’s path. He made his arrows count.
Ashes fell to the earth in a slow, steady snow.
Not fast enough. As if sensing Aelin’s dragging pace, ice and wind erupted overhead.
Where gold-and-red flame did not melt Erawan’s legion, Dorian and Rowan ripped them apart.
The ilken still held out, as if they were a stain of darkness, harder to wash away.
Still Aelin kept burning. Aedion couldn’t even see her in the heart of that power.
There was a cost—there had to be a cost to such power.
She had been born knowing the weight of her crown, her magic. Had felt its isolation long before she’d reached adolescence. And that seemed like punishment enough, but … there had to be a price.
Nameless is my price. That was what the witch had said.
Understanding glimmered at the edge of Aedion’s mind, just out of grasp. He fired his second-to-last arrow, straight between the eyes of a
One by one, their own foul-bred resistance to magic yielded to those bursts of ice, and wind, and flame.
And then Whitethorn began walking into the firestorm fifty feet ahead.
Lorcan pinned Elide to the earth, throwing every last shadow and pocket of darkness into that shield. The flames were so hot that sweat dripped down his brow, right into her silken hair, spread on the green moss. The marsh water around them boiled.
Boiled. Fish floated belly-up. The grasses dried out and caught fire. The entire world was a hell-realm, with no end and no beginning.
Lorcan’s shredded, dark soul tipped its head back and roared in unison to her power’s burning song.
Elide was cringing, fists balled in his shirt, face buried against his neck as he gritted his teeth and weathered the firestorm. Not just fire, he realized. But wind and ice. Two other, mighty magics had joined her—shredding the ilken. And his own shield.
Wave after wave, the magic battered his power. A lesser gift might have been broken against it—a lesser magic might have tried to fight back, and not just let the power wash over them.
If Erawan got a collar around Aelin Galathynius’s neck … it would be over.
To leash that woman, that power … Would a collar even be able to contain that?
There was movement through the flames.
Whitethorn was prowling across the boiling marshes, his steps unhurried.
The flame swirled around the dome of Rowan’s shield, eddying with his icy wind.
Only a male who’d lost his damn mind would wander into that storm.
The ilken died and died and died, slowly and not at all cleanly, as their dark magic failed them. Those that tried to flee the flame or ice or wind
were felled by arrows. Those that managed to land were shredded apart by ambushes of claws and fangs and snapping, scaled tails.
They’d made every minute of his warning count. Had easily set a trap for the ilken. That they’d fallen for it so swiftly—
But Rowan reached the queen in the heart of the marshes as her flames winked out. As his own wind died out, and plumes of unforgiving ice shattered the few ilken flapping in the skies.
Ash and glittering ice rained down, thick and swirling as snow, embers dancing between the clumps that had once been the ilken. There were no survivors. Not one.
Lorcan didn’t dare lift his shield.
Not as the prince stepped onto the small island where the queen was standing. Not as Aelin turned toward Rowan, and the only flame that remained was a crown of fire atop her head.
Lorcan watched in silence as Rowan slid a hand over her waist, the other cupping the side of her face, and kissed his queen.
Embers stirred her unbound hair as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed close. A golden crown of flame flickered to life atop Rowan’s head—the twin to the one Lorcan had seen burning that day at Mistward.
He knew Whitethorn. He knew the prince wasn’t ambitious—not in the way that immortals could be. He likely would have loved the woman if she’d been ordinary. But this power …
In his wasteland of a soul, Lorcan felt that tug. Hated it.
It was why Whitethorn had strode to her—why Fenrys was now halfway across the plain, dazed, attention wholly fixed on where they stood, tangled in each other.
Elide stirred beneath him. “Is—is it over?”
Given the heat with which the queen was kissing her prince, he wasn’t entirely sure what to tell Elide. But he let her squirm out from beneath him, twisting to her feet to spy the two figures on the horizon. He rose, watching with her.
“They killed them all,” she breathed.
An entire legion—gone. Not easily, but—they’d done it.
Ash continued to fall, clumping on Elide’s silky night-dark hair. He gently picked out a bit, then put a shield over her to keep it from landing on
He hadn’t touched her since last night. There hadn’t been time, and he hadn’t wanted to think about what her kiss had done to him. How it had utterly wrecked him and still twisted up his guts in ways he wasn’t sure he could live with.
Elide said, “What do we do now?”
It took him a moment to realize what she’d meant. Aelin and Rowan at last pulled apart, though the prince leaned in to nuzzle her neck.
Power called to power among the Fae. Perhaps Aelin Galathynius was unlucky the cadre had been drawn to Maeve’s power long before she was born, had chained themselves to her instead.
Perhaps they were the unlucky ones, for not holding out for something better.
Lorcan shook his head to clear the useless, traitorous thoughts. That was Aelin Galathynius standing there. Drained of her power.
He felt it now—the utter lack of sound or feeling or heat where there had been such a riotous storm moments before. A creeping cold.
She’d emptied her entire cache. They all had. Maybe Whitethorn had gone to her, put his arms around her, not because he wanted to mount her in the middle of the marshes, but to keep her upright once that power was gone. Once she was left vulnerable.
Open to attack.
What do we do now? Elide had asked. Lorcan smiled slightly. “We go say hello.”
She balked at the shift in his tone. “You’re not on friendly terms.”
Certainly not, and he wasn’t about to be, not when the queen was within his sights. Not when she had that Wyrdkey … the sibling to the one Elide carried.
“They won’t attack me,” he said, and began heading for them. The marsh water was near-scalding, and he grimaced at the fish floating, milky eyes open wide to the sky. Frogs and other beasts bobbed among them, wobbling in his ripples.
Elide hissed at entering the hot water but followed after him.
Slowly, Lorcan closed in on his prey, too focused on the fire-breathing bitch to notice that Fenrys and Gavriel had vanished from their positions in the reeds.