Chapter no 82

Empire of Storms

Every step toward Aelin was an eternity—and every step was somehow too swift.

Elide had never been more aware of her limp. Of her dirty clothes; of her long, unshaped hair; of her small body and lack of any discernible gifts.

She had imagined Aelin’s power, dreamed of how it had shattered the glass castle.

She hadn’t considered that the reality of seeing it unleashed would make her bones quail in terror. Or that the others would possess such harrowing gifts as well—ice and wind twining with fire, until only death rained down. She almost felt bad for the ilken they’d slaughtered. Almost.

Lorcan was silent. Tense.

She was able to read his moods now, the little tells that he believed no one could detect. But there—that faint twitch on the left side of his mouth. That was his attempt to suppress whatever rage was now riding him. And there, that slight angle of his head to the right … that was his assessing and reassessing every surrounding, every weapon and obstacle within sight. Whatever this meeting was, Lorcan didn’t think it would go well.

He expected to fight.

But Aelin—Aelin—had now turned toward them from where she stood on that mound of grass. Her silver-haired prince pivoted with her. Took a casual step in front of her. Aelin sidestepped around him. He tried to block her again. She nudged him with an elbow and held her ground at his side. The Prince of Doranelle—her queen’s lover. How much sway would his opinion hold over Aelin? If he hated Lorcan, would his contempt and mistrust for her as well be immediate?

She should have thought of it—how it’d look to be with Lorcan.

Approach with Lorcan.

“Regretting your choice in allies?” Lorcan said with cutting calm. Like he’d been able to read her tells, too.

“It sends a message, doesn’t it?”

She could have sworn something like hurt flashed in his eyes. But it was typical Lorcan—even when she’d ripped into him atop that barge, he’d barely flinched.

He said coolly, “It would seem our bargain with each other is about to end anyway. I’ll be sure to explain the terms, don’t worry. I’d hate for them to think you were slumming it with me.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He snorted. “I don’t care.”

Elide halted, wanting to call him a liar, half because she knew he was lying and half because her own chest tightened at the words. But she kept silent, letting him walk ahead, that distance between them yawning wider with his every storming step.

But what would she even say to Aelin? Hello? How do you do? Please don’t burn me? Sorry I’m so filthy and lamed?

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. Pay attention. Look around.

Elide glanced up from where she’d been wincing at her dirty clothes. Lorcan was perhaps twenty feet ahead, the others mere figures near the horizon.

The invisible hand on her shoulder squeezed. Observe. See.

See what? Ash and ice rained to the right, ruins rose up on the left, nothing but open marshes spreading ahead. But Elide halted, scanning the world around her.

Something was wrong. Something made any creatures that had survived the maelstrom of magic go silent again. The burnt grasses rustled and sighed.

Lorcan kept walking, his back stiff, though he hadn’t reached for his weapons.

See see see.

See what? She turned in place but found nothing. She opened her mouth to call to Lorcan.

Golden eyes flickered in the brush not thirty paces ahead.

Enormous golden eyes, fixed on Lorcan as he strode mere feet away. A mountain lion, ready to pounce, to shred flesh and sever bone—


The beast exploded from the burnt grasses. Elide screamed Lorcan’s name.

He whirled, but not to the lion. Toward her, that furious face shooting toward her

But she was running, leg shrieking in pain, as Lorcan finally sensed the attack about to swoop down on him.

The mountain lion reached him, those thick claws going low while its teeth went right for his throat.

Lorcan drew his hunting knife, so fast it was only the glint of gray light on steel.

Beast and Fae male went down, right into the muddy water.

Elide hurtled for him, a wordless scream breaking from her. Not a normal mountain lion. Not even close. Not with the way it knew Lorcan’s every move as they rolled through the water, as they dodged and swiped and lunged, blood spurting, magic clashing, shield against shield—

Then the wolf attacked.

A massive white wolf, sprinting out of nowhere, wild with rage and all of it focused on Lorcan.

Lorcan broke from the lion, blood streaming down his arm, his leg, panting. But the wolf had vanished into nothing. Where was it, where was it

It appeared out of thin air, as if it had stepped through an invisible bridge, ten feet from Lorcan.

Not an attack. An execution.

Elide cleared a gap between two mounds of land, icy grass slicing into her palms, something crunching in her leg—

The wolf leaped for Lorcan’s vulnerable back, eyes glazed with bloodlust, teeth shining.

Elide surged up the little hill, time spinning out beneath her.

No no no no no no.

Vicious white fangs neared Lorcan’s spine.

Lorcan heard her then, heard the shuddering sob as she threw herself into him.

His dark eyes flared in what looked like terror as she slammed into his unprotected back.

As he noticed the death blow not coming from the lion at his front, but the wolf whose jaws closed around her arm instead of Lorcan’s neck.

She could have sworn the wolf’s eyes flared in horror as it tried to pull back the physical blow, as a dark, hard shield slammed into her, stealing her breath with its unflinching solidity—

Blood and pain and bone and grass and bellowing fury.

The world tilted as she and Lorcan went down, her body thrown over his, the wolf’s jaws wrenching out of her arm.

She curled over Lorcan, waiting for the wolf and mountain lion to end it, to take her neck in their jaws and crunch down.

No attack came. Silence cleaved the world.

Lorcan flipped her over, his breathing ragged, his face bloody and pale as he took in her face, her arm. “ElideElideElide—”

She couldn’t draw breath, couldn’t see around the sensation that her arm was mere shredded flesh and splintered bone—

Lorcan grabbed her face before she could look and snapped, “Why did you do that? Why?” He didn’t wait for an answer. He lifted his head, his snarl so vicious it echoed in her bones, made the pain in her arm surge violently enough that she whimpered.

He growled to the lion and the wolf, his shield a swirling, obsidian wind around them, “You’re dead. You’re both dead—”

Elide shifted her head enough to see the white wolf staring at them. At Lorcan. See the wolf change in a flash of light into the most beautiful man she’d ever beheld. His golden-brown face tightened as he took in her arm. Her arm, her arm—

“Lorcan, we were ordered,” said an unfamiliar, gentle male voice from where the lion, too, had transformed into a Fae male.

“Damn your orders to hell, you stupid bastard—”

The wolf-warrior hissed, chest heaving, “We can’t fight against the command much longer, Lorcan—”

“Put the shield down,” the calmer one said. “I can heal the girl. Let her get away.”

“I’ll kill you both,” Lorcan swore. “I’ll kill you—” Elide looked at her arm.

There was a piece missing. From her forearm. There was blood gushing into the burnt remnants of grass. White bone jutting out—

Maybe she started screaming or sobbing or silently shaking.

Don’t look,” Lorcan snapped, squeezing her face again to draw her eyes to his own. His face was lined with such wrath she barely recognized it, but he made no move against the males.

His power was drained. He’d nearly wiped it out shielding against Aelin’s flame and whoever had borne that other magic on the field. This shield … this was all Lorcan had left.

And if he lowered it so they could heal her … they’d kill him. He had warned them of the attack, and they’d still kill him.

Aelin—where was Aelin

The world was blackening at the edges, her body begging to submit rather than endure the pain that reordered everything in her life.

Lorcan tensed as if sensing the oblivion that threatened. “You heal her,” he said to the gentle-eyed male, “and then we continue—”

“No,” she got out. Not for this, not for her

Lorcan’s onyx eyes were unreadable as he scanned her face. And then he said quietly, “I wanted to go to Perranth with you.”

Lorcan dropped the shield.



It was not a hard choice. And it did not frighten him. Not nearly as much as the fatal wound in her arm did.

Fenrys had hit an artery. She’d bleed out in minutes.

Lorcan had been born from and gifted with darkness. Returning to it was not a difficult task.

But letting that glimmering, lovely light before him die out … In his ancient, bitter bones, he could not accept it.

She had been forgotten—by everyone and everything. And still she had hoped. And still she had been kind to him.

And still she had offered him a glimpse of peace in the time he’d known


She had offered him a home.

He knew Fenrys wouldn’t be able to fight Maeve’s kill order. Knew

Gavriel would stay true to his word and heal her, but Fenrys couldn’t hold

out against the blood oath’s command.

He knew the bastard would regret it. Knew the wolf had been horrified the moment Elide had jumped between them.

Lorcan let go of his shield, praying she wouldn’t watch when the bloodletting started. When he and Fenrys went claw-to-claw and fang-to-fang. He’d last against the warrior. Until Gavriel joined back in.

The shield vanished, and Gavriel was instantly kneeling, reaching with his broad hands for her arm. Pain paralyzed her, but she tried telling Lorcan to run, to put the shield back up—

Lorcan stood, shutting out her pleading.

He faced Fenrys. The warrior was trembling with restraint, his hands clenched at his sides to keep from going for any of his blades.

Elide was still sobbing, still begging him. Fenrys’s taut features were lined with regret. Lorcan just smiled at the warrior.

It snapped Fenrys’s leash.

His sentinel leaped for him, sword out, and Lorcan lifted his own, already knowing the move Fenrys planned to use. He’d trained him how to do it. And he knew the guard Fenrys let drop on his left side, just for a heartbeat, exposing his neck—

Fenrys landed before him, swiping low and dodging right. Lorcan angled his blade for that vulnerable neck.

They were both blown back by an icy, unbreakable wind. Whatever was left of it after the battle.

Fenrys was up, lost to the blood fury, but the wind slammed into him. Again. Again. Holding him down. Lorcan struggled against it, but the shield Whitethorn had thrown over them, the raw power he now used to keep them pinned, was too strong when his own magic was depleted.

Boots crunched on the burnt grass. Sprawled on the bank of a little hill, Lorcan lifted his head. Whitethorn stood between him and Fenrys, the prince’s eyes glazed with wrath.

Rowan surveyed Gavriel and Elide, the latter still weeping, still begging for it to stop. But her arm …

A scratch marred that moon-white arm, but Gavriel’s rough battlefield healing had filled the holes, the missing flesh and broken bones. He must have used all his magic to—

Gavriel swayed ever so slightly.

Whitethorn’s voice was like gravel. “This ends now. You two don’t touch them. They’re under the protection of Aelin Galathynius. If you harm them, it will be considered an act of war.”

Specific, ancient words, the only way a blood order could be detained.

Not overridden—just delayed for a little while. To buy them all time.

Fenrys panted, but relief flickered in his eyes. Gavriel sagged a bit.

Elide’s dark eyes were still glassy with pain, the smattering of freckles on her cheeks stark against the unnatural whiteness of her skin.

Whitethorn said to Fenrys and Gavriel, “Are we clear on what the hell will happen if you step out of line?”

To Lorcan’s eternal shock, they lowered their heads and said, “Yes, Prince.”

Rowan let the shields drop, and then Lorcan was hurtling to Elide, who struggled to sit up, gaping at her nearly healed arm. Gavriel, wisely, backed away. Lorcan examined her arm, her face, needing to touch her, smell her—

He didn’t notice that the light footsteps in the grass didn’t belong to his former companions.

But he knew the female voice that said from behind him, “What the rutting hell is going on?”



Elide had no words to express to Lorcan what she’d felt in that moment he’d let the shield drop. What she’d felt when the silver-haired, tattooed warrior-prince had halted that fatal bloodshed.

But she had no breath in her body when she looked over Lorcan’s broad shoulder and beheld the golden-haired woman striding toward them.

Young, and yet her face … It was an ancient face, wary and cunning and limned with power. Beautiful, with the sun-kissed skin, the vibrant turquoise eyes. Turquoise eyes, with a core of gold around the pupil.

Ashryver eyes.

The same as the golden-haired, handsome man who came up beside her, muscled body tense as he assessed whether he’d need to spill blood, a bow dangling from his hand.

Two sides of the same golden coin. Aelin. Aedion.

They were both staring at her with those Ashryver eyes.

Aelin blinked. And her golden face crumpled as she said, “Are you Elide?”

It was all Elide could do to nod. Lorcan was taut as a bowstring, his body still half angled over her.

Aelin strode closer, eyes never leaving Elide’s face. Young—she felt so young compared to the woman who approached. There were scars all over Aelin’s hands, along her neck, around her wrists … where shackles had been.

Aelin slid to her knees not a foot away, and it occurred to Elide that she should be bowing, head to the dirt—

“You look … so much like your mother,” Aelin said, her voice cracking.

Aedion silently knelt, putting a broad hand on Aelin’s shoulder.

Her mother, who had gone down swinging, who had died fighting so this woman could live—

“I’m sorry,” Aelin said, shoulders curving inward, head dropping low as tears slid down her flushed cheeks. “I’m so sorry.” How many years had those words been locked up?

Elide’s arm ached, but it didn’t stop her from touching Aelin’s hand, clenched in her lap.

Touching that tanned, scarred hand. Warm, sticky skin met her fingertips.

Real. This was—Aelin was—real.

As if Aelin realized the same, her head lifted. She opened her mouth, but her lips wobbled, and the queen clamped them together.

None of the gathered company spoke.

And at last Aelin said to Elide, “She bought me time.” Elide knew who the queen meant.

Aelin’s hand began shaking. The queen’s voice broke entirely as she said, “I am alive today because of your mother.”

Elide only whispered, “I know.”

“She told me to tell you …” A shuddering inhale. But Aelin didn’t break her stare, even as tears continued cutting through the dirt on her

cheeks. “Your mother told me to tell you that she loves you—very much. Those were her last words to me. ‘Tell my Elide I love her very much.’”

For over ten years, Aelin had been the sole bearer of those final words. Ten years, through death and despair and war, Aelin had carried them across kingdoms.

And here, at the edge of the world, they had found each other again. Here at the edge of the world, just for a heartbeat, Elide felt the warm hand of her mother brush her shoulder.

Tears stung Elide’s eyes as they slipped free. But then the grass crunched behind them.

She saw the white hair first. Then the golden eyes.

And Elide sobbed as Manon Blackbeak emerged, smiling faintly.

As Manon Blackbeak saw her and Aelin, knee-to-knee in the grass, and mouthed one word.


Not dead. None of them were dead.

Aedion said hoarsely, “Is your arm—”

Aelin grabbed it—gently. Inspecting the shallow cut, the new pink skin that revealed what had been missing mere moments before. Aelin twisted on her knees, snarling at the wolf-warrior.

The golden-haired male averted his eyes as the queen glared her displeasure. “It wasn’t his fault,” Elide managed to say.

“The bite,” Aelin said drily, turquoise eyes livid, “would suggest otherwise.”

“I’m sorry,” the male said, either to the queen or Elide, she didn’t know.

His eyes lifted to Aelin—something like devastation there.

Aelin ignored the words. The male flinched. And the silver-haired prince seemed to give him a brief pitying glance.

But if the order hadn’t come from Aelin to kill Lorcan …

Aelin said to the other golden-haired male behind Elide, the one who had healed her—the lion, “I assume Rowan told you the deal. You touch them, you die. You so much as breathe wrong in their direction, and you’re dead.”

Elide tried not to cringe at the viciousness. Especially when Manon smiled in wicked delight.

Aelin tensed as the witch came at her exposed back but allowed Manon to settle on her right. To look over Elide with those gold eyes. “Well met, witchling,” Manon said to her. Manon faced Lorcan just as Aelin did.

Aelin snorted. “You look a bit worse for wear.” “Likewise,” Lorcan snapped at her.

Aelin’s grin was terrifying. “Got my note, did you?” Aedion’s hand had slid to his sword—

“The Sword of Orynth,” Elide blurted, noticing the bone pommel, the ancient markings. Aelin and Lorcan paused being at each other’s throats. “The sword … you …”

Vernon had mocked her about it once. Said it had been taken by the King of Adarlan and melted down. Burned, along with the antler throne.

Aedion’s turquoise eyes softened. “It survived. We survived.” The three of them, the remnants of their court, their families.

But Aelin was again sizing up Lorcan, bristling, that wicked grin returning. Elide said softly, “I survived, Majesty, because of him.” She pointed with her chin to Manon. “And because of her. I am here because of both of them.”

Manon nodded, focus going to the pocket where she’d seen Elide hide that scrap of stone. The confirmation she’d been looking for. The reminder of the third part of the triangle.

“I’m here,” Elide said as Aelin fixed those unnervingly vivid eyes on her, “because of Kaltain Rompier.” Her throat clogged, but she pushed past it as her trembling fingers fished out the little bit of cloth from her inside pocket. The otherworldly feel of it pulsed in her palm.

“She said to give this to you. To Celaena Sardothien, I mean. She didn’t know they … you were the same. She said it was payment for … for a warm cloak offered in a cold dungeon.” She wasn’t ashamed of the tears that fell, not in honor of what that woman had done. Aelin studied the scrap of cloth in Elide’s shaking palm. “I think she kept this as a reminder of kindness,” Elide said hoarsely. “They … they broke her, and hurt her. And she died alone in Morath. She died alone, so I wouldn’t … so they couldn’t

…” None of them spoke or moved. She couldn’t tell if it made it worse. If the hand that Lorcan laid on her back made her cry harder.

The words tumbled out of Elide’s shaking mouth. “She said t-to remember your promise to punish them all. And s-said that you can unlock

any door, if you only have the k-key.”

Aelin clamped her lips together and closed her eyes.

A beautiful, dark-haired man now approached. He was perhaps a few years older than her, but carried himself so gracefully that she felt small and unmolded before him. His sapphire eyes fixed on Elide, clever and unruffled—and sad. “Kaltain Rompier saved your life? And gave you that?”

He knew her—had known her.

Manon Blackbeak said in a faint, amused voice, “Lady Elide Lochan of Perranth, meet Dorian Havilliard, King of Adarlan.” The king lifted his brows at the witch.

“M-majesty,” she stammered, inclining her head. She should really get up. Really stop lying on the ground like a worm. But the cloth and stone still lay in her hand.

Aelin wiped her damp face on a sleeve, then straightened. “Do you know what it is you carry, Elide?”

“Y-yes, Majesty.”

Turquoise eyes, haunted and weary, lifted to her own. Then slid to Lorcan. “Why didn’t you take it?” The voice was hollow and hard. Elide suspected she’d be lucky if it was never used on her.

Lorcan met her gaze without flinching. “It wasn’t mine to take.”

Aelin now glanced between them, seeing too much. And there was no warmth on the queen’s face, but she said to Lorcan, “Thank you—for bringing her to me.”

The others seemed to be trying not to look too shocked at the words.

But Aelin turned to Manon. “I lay claim to her. Witch-blood in her veins or no, she is Lady of Perranth, and she is mine.”

Gold eyes gleamed with the thrill of challenge. “And if I claim her for the Blackbeaks?”

“Blackbeaks—or the Crochans?” Aelin purred.

Elide blinked. Manon—and the Crochans? What was the Wing Leader doing here? Where was Abraxos? The witch said, “Careful, Majesty. With your power reduced to embers, you’ll have to fight me the old-fashioned way again.”

That dangerous grin returned. “You know, I’ve been hoping for round two.”

“Ladies,” the silver-haired prince said through clenched teeth.

They both turned, giving Rowan Whitethorn horrifyingly innocent smiles. The Fae Prince, to his credit, only winced after they looked away again.

Elide wished she could hide behind Lorcan as both women fixed that near-feral attention on her again. Manon reached forward, tipping Elide’s hand over—to where Aelin’s waited. “There you go, over and done with,” Manon said.

Aelin cringed slightly but pocketed the cloth and the key inside. A shadow instantly lifted from Elide’s heart, a whispering presence now silenced.

Manon ordered, “On your feet. We were in the middle of something.” She reached to pull Elide up, but Lorcan stepped in and did it himself.

He didn’t let go of Elide’s arm, and she tried not to lean into his warmth. Tried not to make it seem like she hadn’t just met her queen, her friend, her court, and … somehow now found Lorcan to be the safest of them all.

Manon smirked at Lorcan. “Your claim on her, male, is at the very bottom of the list.” Iron teeth slid out, turning that beautiful face petrifying. Lorcan didn’t let go. Manon crooned in that way that usually meant death, “Don’t. Touch. Her.”

“You don’t give me orders, witch,” Lorcan said. “And you have no say in what is between us.”

Elide frowned at him. “You’re making it worse.”

“We like to call it ‘territorial male nonsense,’” Aelin confided. “Or ‘territorial Fae bastard’ works just as nicely.”

The Fae Prince coughed pointedly behind her.

The queen looked over a shoulder, brows raised. “Am I forgetting another term of endearment?”

The warrior-prince’s eyes glowed, even as his face remained set with predatory intent. “I think you covered it.”

Aelin winked at Lorcan. “You hurt her, and I’ll melt your bones,” she merely said, and walked away.

Manon’s iron-clad smile grew, and she gave Lorcan a mocking incline of the head as she followed in the queen’s wake.

Aedion looked Lorcan over and snorted. “Aelin does whatever she wants, but I think she’d let me see how many of your bones I can break

before she melts them.” Then he, too, was walking toward the two females. One silver, one gold.

Elide almost screamed as a ghost leopard appeared out of nowhere, twitched its whiskers in Lorcan’s direction, and then trotted after the women, its puffy tail swishing behind it.

Then the king left, then the Fae males. Until only Prince Rowan Whitethorn stood there. He gave Elide a Look.

Elide immediately shrugged out of Lorcan’s grip. Aelin and Aedion had stopped ahead, waiting for her. Smiling faintly—welcomingly.

So Elide headed for them, her court, and did not look back.



Rowan had kept quiet during the past few minutes, observing.

Lorcan had been willing to die for Elide. Had been willing to put aside his quest for Maeve in order for Elide to live. And had then acted territorial enough to make Rowan wonder if he seemed so ridiculous around Aelin all the time.

Now alone, Rowan said to Lorcan, “How did you find us?”

A cutting smile. “The dark god nudged me toward here. The ilken army did the rest.”

The same Lorcan he’d known for centuries, and yet … not. Some hard edge had been dulled—no, soothed.

Lorcan stared toward the source of that soothing, but his jaw clenched as his focus shifted to where Aelin walked beside her. “That power could just as easily destroy her, you know.”

“I know,” Rowan admitted. What she’d done minutes ago, the power she’d summoned and unleashed … It had been a song that had made his magic erupt in kind.

When the ilken’s resistance had finally yielded beneath flame and ice and wind, Rowan hadn’t been able to stifle the yearning to walk into the burning heart of that power and see her glowing with it.

Halfway across the plain, he’d realized it wasn’t just the allure of it that tugged at him. It was the woman inside it, who might need physical contact with another living being to remind herself that she had a body, and people

who loved her, and to pull back from that killing calm that so mercilessly wiped the ilken from the skies. But then the flames had vanished, their enemies raining down as ash and ice and corpses, and she’d looked at him

… Holy gods, when she’d looked at him, he’d almost fallen to his knees.

Queen, and lover, and friend—and more. He hadn’t cared that they had an audience. He had needed to touch her, to reassure himself that she was all right, to feel the woman who could do such great and terrible things and still look at him with that beckoning, vibrant life in her eyes.

You make me want to live, Rowan.

He wondered if Elide Lochan had somehow made Lorcan want to do the same.

He said to Lorcan, “And what about your mission?”

Any softness vanished from Lorcan’s granite-hewn features. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re in this shithole place, and then we’ll discuss my plans.”

“Aelin can decide what to tell you.” “Such a good dog.”

Rowan gave him a lazy smile but refrained from commenting on the delicate, dark-haired young woman who now held Lorcan’s own leash.

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