Chapter no 88

Empire of Storms

The pass between the twin peaks of Dagul was larger than it looked.

It went on and on, a maze of jagged, towering rock. Nesryn and Sartaq did not dare stop.

Webs sometimes blocked their way, or hovered above, but still they charged onward, seeking any sort of path upward. To where Kadara might pluck them into the sky.

For down here, with the cramped, narrow walls of the pass, the ruk could not reach them. If they were to stand a chance of being rescued, they’d have to find a way up.

Nesryn didn’t dare let Falkan out—not yet. Not when so many things could still go so wrong, and letting the spiders know what sort of card they had up their sleeve … No, not yet would she risk using him.

But the temptation gnawed on her. The walls were smooth, ill-fitted for climbing, and as they hurried through the pass, hour after hour, Sartaq’s wet, labored breaths echoed off the rock.

He was in no state to climb. He was barely able to stay upright, or grip his sword.

Nesryn kept an arrow nocked, ready to fly as they rounded corner after corner, glancing up every now and then.

The pass was so tight in spots that they had to squeeze through, the sky a watery trickle high above. They did not speak, did not dare do more than breathe as they kept their steps light.

It made no difference. Nesryn knew it made little difference.

A trap had been laid for them, and they had fallen into it. The kharankui knew where they were. Were likely following at their leisure, herding them along.

It had been hours since they’d last heard the boom of Kadara’s wings. And the light … it was beginning to fade.

Once darkness fell, once the way became too dark to manage … Nesryn pressed a hand to Falkan, still in her pocket. When the night settled upon the pass, she decided, then she’d use him.

They pushed through a particularly tight passage between two near-kissing boulders, Sartaq grunting behind her. “We have to be nearing the end,” he breathed.

She didn’t tell him that she doubted the spiders were stupid enough to allow them to walk right out of the other side of the pass and into Kadara’s awaiting talons. If the injured ruk could even manage their weight.

Nesryn just pushed onward, the pass becoming a fraction wider, counting her breaths. They were likely some of her last—

Thinking that way helped no one and nothing. She’d stared down death this summer, when that wave of glass had come crashing toward her. Had stared it down, and been saved.

Perhaps she would be lucky again, too.

Sartaq stumbled out behind her, breathing hard. Water. They desperately needed water—and bandages for his wounds. If the spiders did not find

them, then the lack of water in the arid pass might very well kill them first. Long before any help arrived from the Eridun rukhin.

Nesryn forced one step in front of another, the path narrowing again, the rock as tight as a vise. She twisted sideways, edging through, her swords scraping.

Sartaq grunted, then let out a pained curse. “I’m stuck.”

She found him indeed wedged behind her, the bulk of his broad chest and shoulders pinned. He shoved himself forward, blood leaking from his wounds as he pushed and pulled.

“Stop,” she ordered. “Stop—wriggle back out if you can.” There was no other way through and nothing to climb over, but if they removed his weapons—

His dark eyes met hers. She saw the words forming.

You keep going.

“Sartaq,” she breathed. They heard it then.

Claws clicking on stone. Skittering along.

Many of them. Too many. Coming from behind, closing in.

Nesryn grabbed the prince’s hand, tugging. “Push,” she panted. “Push.”

He grunted in pain, the veins in his neck bulging as he tried to squeeze through, his boots scraping on the loose rock—

Nesryn dug her own feet in, gritting her teeth as she hauled him forward.

Click, click, click

“Harder,” she gasped.

Sartaq angled his head, shoving against the rock that held him.

“What a fine morsel, our guest,” hissed a soft female voice. “So large he cannot even fit through the passage. How we shall feast.”

Nesryn heaved and heaved, her grip treacherously slippery with sweat and blood from both of them, but she clamped onto his wrist hard enough that she felt bones shift beneath—

“Go,” he whispered, straining to push through. “You run.”

Falkan was shifting in her pocket, trying to emerge. But with the rock pressing on her chest, the passage was too tight for even him to poke out his head—

“A pretty pair,” that female continued. “How her hair shines like a moonless night. We shall take you both back to our home, our honored guests.”

A sob clawed its way up Nesryn’s throat. “Please,” she begged, scanning the rock high above them, the lip into the upper reaches of the narrow pass, the curving horns of the peaks, tugging and tugging on Sartaq’s arm. “Please,” she begged them, begged anyone.

But Sartaq’s face went calm. So calm.

He stopped pushing, stopped trying to haul himself forward. Nesryn shook her head, pulling on his arm.

He did not move. Not an inch.

His dark eyes met hers. There was no fear in them.

Sartaq said to her, clear and steady, “I heard the spies’ stories of you. The fearless Balruhni woman in Adarlan’s empire. Neith’s Arrow. And I knew …”

Nesryn sobbed, tugging and tugging.

Sartaq smiled at her—gently. Sweetly. In a way she had not yet seen. “I loved you before I ever set eyes on you,” he said.

“Please,” Nesryn wept.

Sartaq’s hand tightened on hers. “I wish we’d had time.”

A hiss behind him, a rising bulk of shining black— Then the prince was gone. Ripped from her hands. As if he had never been.



Nesryn could barely see through her tears as she edged and squeezed along the pass. As she hurtled over rocks, arms straining, feet unfaltering.

Keep going. The words were a song in her blood, her bones as she plunged onward.

Keep going and get out; find help

But the passage at last opened into a wider chamber. Nesryn staggered from the vise that had held her, panting, Sartaq’s blood still coating her palms, his face still swimming before her—

The path curved ahead, and she stumbled for it, hand flying to where Falkan now poked his head out. She sobbed at the sight of him, sobbed as the clicking and hissing again began to sound behind her, closing in once more.

It was over. It was done, and she had as good as killed him. She should have never left, should have never done any of it—

She sprinted toward the curve in the pass, chips of shale scattering from beneath her boots.

Take you both back to our home …

Alive. The spider had talked as if they would be taken alive to their lair. For a brief window before the feasting began. And if she had spoken true … Nesryn slapped a hand over a wriggling Falkan, earning a squeak of


But she said, soft as the wind through the grass, “Not yet. Not yet, my friend.”

And as Nesryn slowed her steps, as she stopped entirely, she whispered her plan to him.



The kharankui did not try to hide their arrival.

Hissing and laughing, they skittered around the corner of the pass.

And halted when they beheld Nesryn panting on her knees, blood from slices in her arms, her collarbone, filling the tight air with her scent. She saw them note the sprayed shale around her, flecks of her blood on it.

As if she had taken a bad fall. As if she could no longer go on.

Clicking, chattering to one another, they surrounded her. A wall of ancient, reeking limbs and fangs and swollen, bulbous abdomens. And eyes. More eyes than she could count, her reflection in all of them.

Her trembling was not faked.

“Pity it did not give much sport,” one pouted. “We shall have it later,” another replied.

Nesryn shook harder.

One sighed. “How fresh her blood smells. How clean.” “P-please,” she begged.

The kharankui just laughed.

Then the one behind her pounced.

Pinning her to the shale, rock slicing her face, her hands, Nesryn screamed against the claws that dug into her back. Screamed as she managed to look over her shoulder to see those spinnerets hovering above her legs.

To see the silk that shot from them, ready to be woven. To wrap her tightly.

You'll Also Like