Chapter no 83

Empire of Storms

Kaltain Rompier had just turned the tide in this war. Dorian had never been more ashamed of himself.

He should have been better. Should have seen better. They all should have.

The thoughts swirled and eddied as Dorian kept back in the half-drowned temple complex, silently watching as Aelin studied the chest on the altar as if it were an opponent.

The queen was now flanked by Lady Elide, Manon on the dark-haired girl’s other side, Lysandra sprawled in ghost leopard form at the queen’s feet.

The power in that cluster alone was staggering. And Elide … Manon had murmured something to Aelin on their walk back into the ruins about Elide being watched over by Anneith.

Watched over, as the rest of them seemed to be by other gods.

Lorcan stepped into the ruins, Rowan at his side. Fenrys, Gavriel, and Aedion approached them, hands on their swords, bodies still thrumming with tension as they kept Lorcan within sight. Especially Maeve’s warriors.

Another ring of power.

Lorcan—Lorcan, blessed by Hellas himself, Rowan had told him on that skiff ride into the Dead Islands. Hellas, god of death. Who had traveled here with Anneith, his consort.

The hair on Dorian’s arms rose.

Scions—each of them touched by a different god, each of them subtly, quietly, guided here. It wasn’t a coincidence. It couldn’t be.

Manon noticed him standing a few feet away, read whatever wariness was on his face, and broke from the circle of quietly talking women to come to his side. “What?”

Dorian clenched his jaw. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

He waited for the dismissal, the mockery. Manon only said, “Explain.” He opened his mouth, but Aelin stepped up to the dais.

The Lock—the Lock that would contain the Wyrdkeys, would allow Aelin to put them back in their gate. Thanks to Kaltain, thanks to Elide, they only needed one more. Wherever Erawan had it. But getting this Lock

Rowan was instantly at the queen’s side as she peered into the chest. Slowly, she looked back at them. At Manon.

“Get up here,” the queen said in an unnervingly calm voice. Manon, wisely, did not refuse.

“This isn’t the place or time for exploring it,” Rowan said to the queen. “We move it back to the ship, then figure it out from there.”

Aelin murmured her agreement, her face paling.

Manon asked them, “Was the Lock ever here to begin with?”

“I don’t know.” Dorian had never heard Aelin utter the words. It was enough to send him splashing up the stairs, dripping water behind him as he peered in.

There was no Lock. Not in the way that they had expected, not in the way the queen had been promised and instructed to find it.

The stone chest held only one thing:

An iron-bound mirror, the surface near-golden with age, speckled, and covered in grime. And along the twining, intricately carved border, tucked into the upper right corner …

The marking of the Eye of Elena. A witch symbol.

“What the hell is it?” Aedion demanded from the steps below.

It was Manon who answered, glancing sidelong at the grim-faced queen, “It’s a witch mirror.”

“A what?” Aelin asked. The others edged closer.

Manon tapped a nail on the stone rim of the chest. “When you killed Yellowlegs, did she give any hint about why she was there, what she wanted from you or the former king?” Dorian searched his own memory but found nothing.

“No.” Aelin glanced to him in question, but Dorian shook his head as well. She asked the witch, “Do you know why she was there?”

A hint of a nod. A breath of hesitation. Dorian braced himself. “Yellowlegs was there to meet with the king—to show him how her magic mirrors worked.”

“I smashed most of them,” Aelin said, crossing her arms.

“Whatever you destroyd were cheap tricks and replicas. Her true witch mirrors … You cannot break those. Not easily, at least.”

Dorian had a horrible feeling about where this was headed. “What can they do?”

“You can see the future, past, present. You can speak between mirrors, if someone possesses the sister-glass. And then there are the rare silvers— whose forging demands something vital from the maker.” Manon’s voice dropped low. Dorian wondered if even among the Blackbeaks, these tales had only been whispered at their campfires. “Other mirrors amplify and hold blasts of raw power, to be unleashed if the mirror is aimed at something.”

“A weapon,” Aedion said, eliciting a nod from Manon. The general must have been piecing things together as well because he asked before Dorian could, “Yellowlegs met with him about those weapons, didn’t she?”

Manon went silent for long enough that he knew Aelin was about to push. But Dorian gave her a warning stare to keep quiet. So she did. They all did.

Finally, the witch said, “They’ve been making towers. Enormous, yet capable of being hauled across battlefields, lined with those mirrors. For Erawan to use with his powers—to incinerate your armies in a few blasts.”

Aelin closed her eyes. Rowan laid a hand on her shoulder.

Dorian asked, “Is this …” He gestured to the chest, the mirror inside. “One of the mirrors they plan to use?”

“No,” Manon said, studying the witch mirror within the chest. “Whatever this mirror is … I’m not sure what it was meant for. What it can even do. But it surely isn’t that Lock you sought.”

Aelin fished the Eye of Elena from her pocket, weighing it in her hand, and loosed a sharp sigh through her nose. “I’m ready for today to be over.”



Mile after mile, the Fae males carried the mirror between them.

Rowan and Aedion pushed Manon for details on those witch towers. Two were already constructed, but she didn’t know how many more were being built. They were stationed in the Ferian Gap, but with others possibly elsewhere. No, she didn’t know the mode of transportation. Or how many witches to a tower.

Aelin let their words settle into some deep, quiet part of her. She’d figure it out tomorrow—after she slept. Figure out this damn witch mirror tomorrow, too.

Her magic was exhausted. For the first time in days, that pit of magic now slumbered.

She could sleep for a week. A month.

Each step across the marshes, back toward where those three ships would be waiting, was an effort. Lysandra frequently offered to shift into a horse and carry her, but Aelin refused. The shifter was drained as well. They all were.

She wanted to talk to Elide, wanted to ask about so many things regarding those years apart, but … The exhaustion that nagged at her rendered speech nearly impossible. She knew what kind of sleep beckoned

—the deep, restorative slumber that her body demanded after too much magic had been spent, after she’d held on to it for too long.

So Aelin hardly spoke to Elide, leaving the lady to lean on Lorcan as they hurried to the coast. As they hauled the mirror with them.

Too many secrets—there were still too many secrets with Elena and Brannon and their long-ago war. Had the Lock ever existed? Or was the witch mirror the Lock? Too many questions with too few answers. She’d figure it out. Once they were back to safety. Once she had a chance to sleep.

Once … everything else fell into place, too. So they trudged through the marshes without rest.

It was Lysandra who picked up on it with that leopard’s senses, half a mile from the white-sand beach and the calm gray sea beyond, a wall of grassy sand dunes blocking the view ahead.

They all had weapons drawn as they scrambled up the dune, sand slipping from beneath them. Rowan didn’t shift—the only proof he’d shown of his utter exhaustion. He made it up the hill first. Drew his sword from across his back.

Aelin’s breath burned her throat as she halted beside him, Gavriel and Fenrys gently setting down the mirror on her other side.

Because a hundred gray sails stretched ahead, surrounding their own ships.

They spread toward the western horizon, utterly silent save for the men they could barely make out on board. Ships from the west … from the Gulf of Oro.

Melisande’s fleet.

And on the beach, waiting for them … a party of twenty warriors, led by a gray-cloaked woman. Lysandra’s claws slipped free of their sheaths as she let out a low snarl.

Lorcan shoved Elide behind him. “We retreat into the marshes,” he said to Rowan, whose face was set in stone as he sized up the party on the beach, the looming fleet. “We can outrun them.”

Aelin slid her hands into her pockets. “They’re not going to attack.”

Lorcan sneered, “You’re guessing this based on your many years of experience in war?”

“Watch it,” Rowan snarled.

“This is absurd,” Lorcan spat, twisting away, as if he’d grab Elide, pale-faced at his side. “Our reservoirs are drained—”

Lorcan was halted from hauling Elide over a shoulder by a paper-thin wall of fire. About as much as Aelin could summon.

And by Manon and her iron nails stepping before him as she growled, “You’re not taking Elide anywhere. Not now, and not ever.”

Lorcan rose to his full height. And before they could wreck everything with their brawling, Elide laid a delicate hand on Lorcan’s arm—his own hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword. “I choose this, Manon.”

Manon only glanced at the hand on Lorcan’s arm. “We’ll discuss this later.”

Indeed. Aelin looked Lorcan over and jerked her chin. “Go brood somewhere else.” The cloaked woman on the beach, along with her soldiers, was now striding toward them.

Lorcan growled, “It’s not over, this business between us.” Aelin smiled a bit. “You think I don’t know that?”

But Lorcan prowled to Rowan, his dark power flickering, rippling away across the waves as if in a silent boom of thunder. Taking up a defensive


Aelin looked to her stone-faced prince, then to Aedion, her cousin’s sword and shield angled and at the ready, then the others. “Let’s go say hello.”

Rowan started. “Aelin—”

But she was already striding down the dune, doing her best to keep from sliding on the treacherous sand, to keep her head high. The others trailing behind were taut as bowstrings, but their breathing remained even—primed for anything.

The soldiers were in heavy, worn gray armor, their faces rough and scarred, sizing them up as they hit the sand. Fenrys snarled at one of them, and the man averted his eyes.

But the cloaked woman removed her hood as she approached with feline grace, halting perhaps ten feet away.

Aelin knew every detail about her.

Knew that she was twenty years old now. Knew that the medium-length, wine-red hair was her real hair color. Knew the red-brown eyes were the only she’d seen in any land, on any adventure. Knew the wolf’s head on the pommel of the mighty sword at her side was her family’s crest. She knew the smattering of freckles, the full, laughing mouth, knew the deceptively slim arms that hid rock-hard muscle as she crossed them.

That full mouth slanted into a half grin as Ansel of Briarcliff, Queen of the Wastes, drawled, “Who gave you permission to use my name in pit fights, Aelin?”

“I gave myself permission to use your name however I please, Ansel, the day I spared your life instead of ending you like the coward you are.”

That cocky smile widened. “Hello, bitch,” Ansel purred.

“Hello, traitor,” Aelin purred right back, surveying the armada spread before them. “Looks like you made it on time after all.”

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