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Page 17

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

Falkan soared toward the shore, checking his speed so he didn’t lose them.

Kadara kept pace with them easily, and they flew in silence as the coast grew clearer.

The grasses on the plains weren’t winter-dried. They’d been burned. And the trees, barren of leaves, were little more than husks.

On the horizon, plumes of smoke stained the winter sky. Too many and too great to be farmers scorching the last of the crops to fertilize the soil.

Nesryn signaled to Sartaq, I’m taking a closer look.

The prince signaled back, Skim the clouds, but don’t get below them.

Nesryn nodded, and she and her ruk disappeared into the thin bottom layer of the clouds. Through occasional gaps, glimpses of the charred land flashed below.

Villages and farmsteads: gone. As if a force had swept in from the sea and razed everything in its path.

But there had been no armada camped by the shore. No, this army had been on foot.

Keeping just within the veil of clouds, Nesryn and Sartaq crossed the land.

Her heart pounded, faster and faster, with every league of seared, barren landscape they covered. No signs of an opposing army or ongoing battles.

They’d burned it for their own sick enjoyment.

Nesryn marked the land, the features she could make out. They’d indeed barely crossed over Fenharrow’s borders, Adarlan a sprawl to the north.

But inland, growing closer with each league, an army marched. It stretched for miles and miles, black and writhing.

The might of Morath. Or some terrible fraction of it, sent to instill terror and destruction before the final wave.

Sartaq signaled, A band of soldiers below.

Nesryn peered over Salkhi’s wing, the drop merciless, and beheld a small group of soldiers in dark armor wending through the trees—an offshoot of the teeming mass far ahead. As if they had been sent to hunt down any survivors.

Nesryn’s jaw clenched, and she signaled back to the prince, Let’s go.

Not back to the ships. But to the six soldiers, beginning the long return trek to their host.

Nesryn and Salkhi plummeted through the sky, Sartaq a blur on her left.

The band of soldiers didn’t have the chance to shout before Nesryn and Sartaq were upon them.

 

Lady Yrene Westfall, formerly Yrene Towers, had counted the supplies about six times now. Every boat was full of them, yet Princess Hasar’s ship, the personal escort to the Healer on High, held the most vital mix of tonics and salves. Many had been crafted prior to sailing from Antica, but Yrene and the other healers who had accompanied the army had spent long hours concocting them as best they could on board.

In the dim hold, Yrene steadied her feet against the rocking of the waves and closed the lid on the crate of salve tins, jotting down the number on the piece of paper she’d brought with her.

“The same number as two days ago,” an old voice clucked from the stairs. Hafiza, the Healer on High, sat on the wooden steps, hands resting atop the heavy wool skirt covering her skinny knees. “What do you worry will happen to them, Yrene?”

Yrene flicked her braid over a shoulder. “I wanted to make sure I’d counted right.”

“Again.”

Yrene pocketed the piece of parchment and swept up her fur-lined cloak from where she’d tossed it over a crate. “When we’re on the battlefields, keeping stock of our supplies—”

“Will be vital, yes, but also impossible. When we’re on the battlefields, girl, you’ll be lucky if you can even find one of these tins amid the chaos.”

“That’s what I’m trying to avoid.”

The Healer on High offered her a sympathetic sigh. “People will die, Yrene. In horrible, painful ways, they will die, and even you and I will not be able to save them.”

Yrene swallowed. “I know that.” If they did not hurry, did not make landfall soon and discover where the khagan’s army would march, how many more would perish?

The ancient woman’s knowing look didn’t fade. Always, from the first moment Yrene had laid eyes on Hafiza, she had emanated this calm, this reassurance. The thought of the Healer on High on those bloody battlefields made Yrene’s stomach churn. Even if this sort of thing was precisely why they had come, why they trained in the first place.

But that was without the matter of the Valg, squatting in human hosts like parasites. Valg who would kill them immediately if they knew what the healers planned to do.

What Yrene planned to do to any Valg who crossed her path.

“The salves are made, Yrene.” Hafiza groaned as she rose from her perch on the steps and adjusted the lapels of her thick woolen jacket—cut and embroidered in the style of the Darghan riders. A gift from the last visit the Healer on High had made to the steppes, when she’d taken Yrene along with her. “They are counted. There are no more supplies with which to make them, not until we reach land and can see what might be used there.”

Yrene clutched her cloak to her chest. “I need to be doing something.”

The Healer on High patted the railing. “You will, Yrene. Soon enough, you will.”

Hafiza ascended the stairs with that, leaving Yrene in the hold amid the stacks of crates.

She didn’t tell the Healer on High that she wasn’t entirely sure how much longer she’d be a help—not yet. Hadn’t whispered a word of that doubt to anyone, even Chaol.

Yrene’s hand drifted across her abdomen and lingered.

 

 

CHAPTER 7

Morath. The final key was at Morath.

The knowledge hung over Dorian through the night, keeping him from sleep. When he did doze, he awoke with a hand at his neck, grasping for a collar that was not there.

He had to find some way to go. Some way to reach it.

Since Manon would undoubtedly be unwilling to take him. Even if she’d been the one who’d suggested he might be able to take Aelin’s place to forge the Lock.

The Thirteen had barely escaped Morath—they were in no hurry to return. Not when their task in finding the Crochans had become so vital. Not when Erawan might very well sense their arrival before they neared the keep.

Gavin had claimed the path would find him here, in this camp. But finding a way to convince the Thirteen to remain, when instinct and urgency compelled them to move on … that might prove as impossible a task as attaining the third Wyrdkey.

Their camp stirred in the gray light of dawn, and Dorian gave up on sleep. Rising, he found Manon’s bedroll packed, and the witch herself standing with Asterin and Sorrel by their mounts. It was that trio he’d have to convince to remain—somehow.

Already waiting near the mouth of the pass, the other wyverns shifted as they readied for the unbearably cold flight.

Another day, another hunt for a clan of witches who had no desire to be found. And would likely have little desire to join this war.

“We move out in five minutes.” Sorrel’s rocky voice carried across the camp.

Convincing would have to wait, then. Delaying it was.

Within three minutes, the fire was out and weapons were donned, bedrolls bound to saddles and needs seen to before the long day of flying.

Buckling on Damaris, Dorian aimed for Manon, the witch standing with that preternatural stillness. Beautiful, even here in the blasted snow, a shaggy goat pelt slung over her shoulders. As he neared, her eyes met his in a flash of burnt gold.

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