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Page 10

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

If they survived this war and all the terrible things they must do before it was over.

 

It was no easy thing, to slip away from thirteen sleeping witches and their wyverns.

But Dorian Havilliard had been studying them—their watches, who slept deepest, who might report seeing him walk away from their small fire and who would keep their mouths shut. Weeks and weeks, since he’d settled on this idea. This plan.

They’d camped on the small outcropping where they’d found long-cold traces of the Crochans, taking shelter under the overhanging rock, the wyverns a wall of leathery warmth around them.

He had minutes to do this. He’d been practicing for weeks now—making no bones of rising in the middle of the night, no more than a drowsy man displeased to have to brave the frigid elements to see to his needs. Letting the witches grow accustomed to his nightly movements.

Letting Manon become accustomed to it, too.

Though nothing had been declared between them, their bedrolls still wound up beside each other every night. Not that a camp full of witches offered any sort of opportunity to tangle with her. No, for that, they’d resorted to winter-bare forests and snow-blasted passes, their hands roving for any bit of bare skin they dared expose to the chill air.

Their couplings were brief, savage. Teeth and nails and snarling. And not just from Manon.

But after a day of fruitless searching, little more than a glorified guard against the enemies hunting them while his friends bled to save their lands, he needed the release as much as she did. They never discussed it—what hounded them. Which was fine by him.

Dorian had no idea what sort of man that made him.

Most days, if he was being honest, he felt little. Had felt little for months, save for those stolen, wild moments with Manon. And save for the moments when he trained with the Thirteen, and a blunt sort of rage drove him to keep swinging his sword, keep getting back up when they knocked him down.

Swordplay, archery, knife-work, tracking—they taught him everything he asked. Along with the solid weight of Damaris, a witch-knife now hung from his sword belt. It had been gifted to him by Sorrel when he’d first managed to pin the stone-faced Third. Two weeks ago.

But when the lessons were done, when they sat around the small fire they dared to risk each night, he wondered if the witches could sniff out the restlessness that nipped at his heels.

If they could now sniff out that he had no intention of taking a piss in the frigid night as he wended his way between their bedrolls, then through the slight gap between Narene, Asterin’s sky-blue mare, and Abraxos. He nodded toward where Vesta stood on watch, and the red-haired witch, despite the brutal cold, threw a wicked smile his way before he rounded the corner of the rocky overhang and disappeared beyond view.

He’d picked her watch for a reason. There were some amongst the Thirteen who never smiled at all. Lin, who still seemed like she was debating carving him up to examine his insides; and Imogen, who kept to herself and didn’t smile at anyone. Thea and Kaya usually reserved their smiles for each other, and when Faline and Fallon—the green-eyed demon twins, as the others called them—smiled, it meant hell was about to break loose.

All of them might have been suspicious if he vanished for too long. But Vesta, who shamelessly flirted with him—she’d let him linger outside the camp. Likely from fear of what Manon might do to her if she was spotted trailing after him into the dark.

A bastard—he was a bastard for using them like this. For assessing and monitoring them when they currently risked everything to find the Crochans.

But it made no difference if he cared. About them. About himself, he supposed. Caring hadn’t done him any favors. Hadn’t done Sorscha any favors.

And it wouldn’t matter, once he gave up everything to seal the Wyrdgate.

Damaris was a weight at his side—but nothing compared to the two objects tucked into the pocket of his heavy jacket. Mercifully, he’d swiftly learned to drown out their whispering, their otherworldly beckoning. Most of the time.

None of the witches had questioned why he’d been so easily persuaded to give up the hunt for the third Wyrdkey. He’d known better than to waste his time arguing. So he’d planned, and let them, let Manon, believe him to be content in his role to guard them with his magic.

Reaching the boulder-shrouded clearing that he’d scouted earlier under the guise of aimlessly wandering the site, Dorian made quick work of his preparations.

He had not forgotten a single movement of Aelin’s hands in Skull’s Bay when she’d smeared her blood on the floor of her room at the Ocean Rose.

But it was not Elena whom he planned to summon with his blood.

When the snow was red with it, when he’d made sure the wind was still blowing its scent away from the witch camp, Dorian unsheathed Damaris and plunged it into the circle of Wyrdmarks.

And then waited.

His magic was a steady thrum through him, the small flame he dared to conjure enough to heat his body. To keep him from shivering to death while the minutes passed.

Ice had been the first manifestation of his magic. He supposed that should give him some sort of preference for it. Or at least some immunity. He had neither. And he’d decided that if they survived long enough to endure the scorching heat of summer, he’d never complain about it again.

He’d been honing his magic as best he could during these weeks of relentless, useless hunting. None of the witches possessed power, not beyond the Yielding, which they’d told him could only be summoned once—to terrible and devastating effect. But the Thirteen watched with some degree of interest while Dorian kept up the lessons Rowan had started. Ice. Fire. Water. Healing. Wind. With the snows, attempting to coax life from the frozen earth had proved impossible, but he still tried.

The only magic that always leapt at his summons remained that invisible force, capable of snapping bone. That, the witches liked best. Especially since it made him their greatest line of defense against their enemies. Death—that was his gift. All he seemed able to offer those around him. He was little better than his father in that regard.

The flame flowed over him, invisible and steadying.

They hadn’t heard a whisper of Aelin. Or Rowan and their companions. Not one whisper of whether the queen was still Maeve’s captive.

She had been willing to yield everything to save Terrasen, to save all of them. He could do nothing less. Aelin certainly had more to lose. A mate and husband who loved her. A court who’d follow her into hell. A kingdom long awaiting her return.

All he had was an unmarked grave for a healer no one would remember, a broken empire, and a shattered castle.

Dorian closed his eyes for a moment, blocking out the sight of the glass castle exploding, the sight of his father reaching for him, begging for forgiveness. A monster—the man had been a monster in every possible way. Had sired Dorian while possessed by a Valg demon.

What did it make him? His blood ran red, and the Valg prince who’d infested Dorian himself had delighted on feasting on him, on making him enjoy all he’d done while collared. But did it still make him fully human?

Blowing out a long breath, Dorian opened his eyes.

A man stood across the snowy clearing.

Dorian bowed low. “Gavin.”

 

The first King of Adarlan had his eyes.

Or rather Dorian had Gavin’s eyes, passed down through the thousand years between them.

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