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Chapter no 55

Heir of Fire

e barrier fell.

But the darkness did not advance over the ward-stones, and Rowan, who had been restrained by Gavriel and Lorcan in the grass outside the fortress, knew why.

e creatures and Narrok had captured a prize far greater than the demi-Fae. e joy of feeding on her was something they planned to relish for a long, long while. Everything else was secondary—as if they’d forgotten to continue advancing, swept up in the frenzy of feasting.

Behind them, the ghting continued, as it had for the past twenty minutes. Wind and ice were of no use against the darkness, though Rowan had hurled both against it the moment the barrier fell. Again and again, anything to pierce that eternal black and see what was left of the princess. Even as he started hearing a soft, warm female voice, beckoning to him from the darkness—that voice he had spent centuries forgetting, which now tore him to shreds.

“Rowan,” Gavriel murmured, tightening his grip on Rowan’s arm. Rain had begun pouring. “We are needed inside.”

“No,” he snarled. He knew Aelin was alive, because during all these weeks that they had been breathing each other’s scents, they had become bonded. She was alive, but could be in any level of torment or decay. at was why Gavriel and Lorcan were holding him back. If they didn’t, he would run for the darkness, where Lyria beckoned.

But for Aelin, he had tried to break free. “Rowan, the others—”

“No.”

Lorcan swore over the roar of the torrential rain. “She is dead, you fool, or close enough to it. You can still save other lives.”

ey began hauling him to his feet, away from her. “If you don’t let me go, I’ll rip your head from your body,” he snarled at Lorcan, the commander who had o ered him a company of warriors when he had nothing and no one left.

Gavriel icked his eyes to Lorcan in some silent conversation. Rowan tensed, preparing to ing them o . ey would knock him unconscious sooner than allow him into that dark, where Lyria’s beckoning had now turned to screaming for mercy. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real.

But Aelin was real, and was being drained of life with every moment they held him here. All he needed to get them unconscious was for Gavriel to drop his magical shield—which he’d had up against Rowan’s own power from the moment he’d pinned him. He had to get into that dark, had to

nd her. “Let go,” he growled again.

A rumbling shook the earth, and they froze. Beneath them some huge power was surging—a behemoth rising from the deep.

ey turned toward the darkness. And Rowan could have sworn that a golden light arced through it, then disappeared.

“ at’s impossible,” Gavriel breathed. “She burned out.”

Rowan didn’t dare blink. Her burnouts had always been self-imposed, some inner barrier composed of fear and a lingering desire for normalcy that kept her from accepting the true depth of her power.

e creatures fed on despair and pain and terror. But what if—what if the victim let go of those

fears? What if the victim walked through them—embraced them? As if in answer, ame erupted from the wall of darkness.

e re unfurled, lling the rainy night, vibrant as a red opal. Lorcan swore, and Gavriel threw up additional shields of his own magic. Rowan didn’t bother.

ey did not ght him as he shrugged o their grip, surging to his feet. e ame didn’t singe a hair on his head. It owed above and past him, glorious and immortal and unbreakable.

And there, beyond the stones, standing between two of those creatures, was Aelin, a strange mark glowing on her brow. Her hair owed around her, shorter now and bright like her re. And her eyes

—though they were red-rimmed, the gold in her eyes was a living ame.

e two creatures lunged for her, the darkness sweeping in around them.

Rowan ran all of one step before she ung out her arms, grabbing the creatures by their awless faces—her palms over their open mouths as she exhaled sharply.

As if she’d breathed re into their cores, ames shot out of their eyes, their ears, their ngers. e two creatures didn’t have a chance to scream as she burned them into cinders.

She lowered her arms. Her magic was raging so ercely that the rain turned to steam before it hit her. A weapon bright from the forging.

He forgot Gavriel and Lorcan as he bolted for her—the gold and red and blue ames utterly hers, this heir of re. Spying him at last, she smiled faintly. A queen’s smile.

But there was exhaustion in that smile, and her bright magic ickered. Behind her, Narrok and the remaining creature—the one they had faced in the woods—were spooling the darkness into themselves, as if readying for attack. She turned toward them, swaying slightly, her skin deathly pale.

ey had fed on her, and she was drained after shredding apart their brethren. A very real, very nal burnout was steadily approaching.

e wall of black swelled, one nal hammer blow to squash her, but she stood fast, a golden light in the darkness. at was all Rowan needed to see before he knew what he had to do. Wind and ice were of no use here, but there were other ways.

Rowan drew his dagger and sliced his palm open as he sprinted through the gate-stones.

e darkness built and built, and she knew it would hurt, knew it would likely kill her and Rowan when it came crashing down. But she would not run from it.

Rowan reached her, panting and bloody. She did not dishonor him by asking him to ee as he extended his bleeding palm, o ering his raw power to harness now that she was well and truly emptied. She knew it would work. She had suspected it for some time now. ey were carranam.

He had come for her. She held his gaze as she grabbed her own dagger and cut her palm, right over the scar she’d given herself at Nehemia’s grave. And though she knew he could read the words on her face, she said, “To whatever end?”

He nodded, and she joined hands with him, blood to blood and soul to soul, his other arm coming around to grip her tightly. eir hands clasped between them, he whispered into her ear, “I claim you, too, Aelin Galathynius.”

e wave of impenetrable black descended, roaring as it made to devour them.

Yet this was not the end—this was not her end. She had survived loss and pain and torture; she had survived slavery and hatred and despair; she would survive this, too. Because hers was not a story of darkness. So she was not afraid of that crushing black, not with the warrior holding her, not with

the courage that having one true friend o ered—a friend who made living not so awful after all, not if she were with him.

Rowan’s magic punched into her, old and strange and so vast her knees buckled. He held her with that unrelenting strength, and she harnessed his wild power as he opened his innermost barriers, letting it ow through her.

e black wave was not halfway fallen when they shattered it apart with golden light, leaving Narrok and his remaining prince gaping.

She did not give them a moment to spool the darkness back. Drawing power from the endless well within Rowan, she pulled up re and light, embers and warmth, the glow of a thousand dawns and sunsets. If the Valg craved the sunshine of Erilea, then she would give it to them.

Narrok and the prince were shrieking. e Valg did not want to go back; they did not want to be ended, not after so long spent waiting to return to her world. But she crammed the light down their throats, burning up their black blood.

She clung to Rowan, gritting her teeth against the sounds. ere was a sudden silence, and she looked to Narrok, standing so still, watching, waiting. A spear of black punched into her head—-o ering one more vision in a mere heartbeat. Not a memory, but a glimpse of the future. e sounds and smell and look of it were so real that only her grip on Rowan kept her anchored in the world.

en it was gone, and the light was still building, enveloping them all.

e light became unbearable as she willed it into the two Valg who had now dropped to their knees, pouring it into every shadowy corner of them. And she could have sworn that the blackness in Narrok’s eyes faded. Could have sworn that his eyes became a mortal brown, and that gratitude

ickered just for a moment. Just for a moment; then she burned both demon and Narrok to ash.

e remaining Valg prince crawled only two steps before he followed suit, a silent scream on his perfect face as he was incinerated. When the light and ames receded, all that remained of Narrok and the Valg were four Wyrdstone collars steaming in the wet grass.

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