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Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

Asterin gave him a wicked grin. “Morning, Your Majesty.”

Dorian inclined his head. “Where are we wandering today?” He knew the casual words didn’t quite meet his eyes.

“We were just debating it,” Sorrel answered, the Third’s face stony but open.

Behind them, Vesta swore as the buckle on her saddle came undone. Dorian didn’t dare to look, to confirm that the invisible hands of his magic had worked.

“We already searched north of here,” Asterin said. “Let’s keep heading south—make it to the end of the Fangs before we backtrack.”

“They might not even be in the mountains,” Sorrel countered. “We’ve hunted them in the lowlands in decades past.”

Manon listened with a cool, unruffled expression. As she did every morning. Weighing their words, listening to the wind that sang to her.

Imogen’s saddlebag snapped free of its tether. The witch hissed as she dismounted to retie it. How long these little delays could keep them here, he didn’t know. Not indefinitely.

“If we abandon these mountains,” Asterin argued, “then we’ll be far more trackable in the open lands. Both our enemies and the Crochans will spot us before we ever find them.”

“It’d be warmer,” Sorrel grumbled. “Eyllwe would be a hell of a lot warmer.”

Apparently, even immortal witches with steel in their veins could grow tired of the leeching cold.

But to go so far south, into Eyllwe, when they were still near enough to Morath … Manon seemed to consider that, too. Her eyes dipped to his jacket. To the keys within, as if she could sense their pulsing whisper, their slide against his power. All that lay between Erawan and his dominion over Erilea. To bring them within a hundred miles of Morath … No, she’d never allow it.

Dorian kept his face blandly pleasant, a hand resting on the eye-shaped pommel of Damaris. “This camp has no clues about where they went?”

He knew they hadn’t the faintest notion. Knew it, but waited for their answer anyway, trying not to grip Damaris’s pommel too hard.

“No,” Manon said with a hint of a growl.

Yet Damaris gave no answer beyond a faint warmth in the metal. He didn’t know what he’d expected: some verifying hum of power, a confirming voice in his mind.

Certainly not the unimpressive whisper of heat.

Heat for truth; likely cold for lies. But—at least Gavin had spoken true about the blade. He shouldn’t have doubted it, considering the god Gavin still honored.

Holding his stare with that relentless, predatory focus, Manon gave the order to move out. Northward.

Away from Morath. Dorian opened his mouth, casting for anything to say, do, to delay this departure. Short of snapping a wyvern’s wing, there was nothing—

The witches turned toward the wyverns, where Dorian would ride with one of the sentinels for the next leg of this endless hunt. But Abraxos roared, lunging for Manon with a snap of teeth.

As Manon whirled, Dorian’s magic surged, already lashing at the unseen foe.

A mighty white bear had risen from the snow behind her.

Teeth flashing, it brought down its massive paw. Manon ducked, rolling to the side, and Dorian hurled out a wall of his magic—wind and ice.

The bear was blasted back, hitting the snow with an icy thump. It was instantly up again, racing for Manon. Only Manon.

Half a thought had Dorian flinging invisible hands to halt the beast. Just as it collided with his magic, snow spraying, light flashed.

He knew that light. A shifter.

But it was not Lysandra who emerged from the bear’s perfectly camouflaged hide.

No, the thing that came out of the bear was made of nightmares.

A spider. A great, stygian spider, big as a horse and black as night.

Its many eyes narrowed on Manon, pincers clicking, as it hissed, “Blackbeak.”


The stygian spider had found her, somehow. After all these months, after the thousands of leagues Manon had traveled over sky and earth and sea, the spider from whom she’d stolen the silk to reinforce Abraxos’s wings had found her.

But the spider had not anticipated the Thirteen. Or the power of the King of Adarlan.

Manon drew Wind-Cleaver as Dorian held the spider in place with his magic, the king showing little signs of strain. Powerful—he grew more powerful each day.

The Thirteen closed ranks, weapons gleaming in the blinding sun and snow, the wyverns forming a wall of leathery hides and claws behind them.

Manon stalked a few steps closer to those twitching pincers. “You’re a long way from the Ruhnns, sister.”

The spider hissed. “You were not so very hard to find, despite it.”

“You know this beast?” Asterin asked, prowling to Manon’s side.

Manon’s mouth curled in a cruel smile. “She donated the Spidersilk for Abraxos’s wings.”

The spider snarled. “You stole my silk, and shoved me and my weavers off a cliff—”

“How is it that you can shape-shift?” Dorian asked, still pinning the spider in place as he approached Manon’s other side, one hand gripping the hilt of his ancient sword. “The legends make no mention of that.” Curiosity indeed brightened on his face. She supposed the white line through his golden skin on his throat was proof that he’d dealt with far worse. And supposed that whatever bond lay between them was also proof he had little fear of pain or death.

A good trait for a witch, yes. But in a mortal? It would likely wind up getting him killed.

Perhaps it was not a lack of fear, but rather a lack of … of whatever mortals deemed vital to their souls. Ripped from him by his father. And that Valg demon.

The spider seethed. “I took two decades from a young merchant’s life in exchange for my silk. The gift of his shifting flowed through his life force—some of it, at least.” All those eyes narrowed on Manon. “He willingly paid the price.”

“Kill her, and be done with it,” Asterin murmured.

The spider recoiled as much as the king’s invisible leash would allow. “I had no idea our sisters had become so cowardly, if they now require magic to skewer us like pigs.”

Manon lifted Wind-Cleaver, contemplating where between the spider’s many eyes to plunge the blade. “Shall we see if you squeal like one when I do?”

“Coward,” the spider spat. “Release me, and we’ll end this the old way.”

Manon debated it. Then shrugged. “I shall keep this painless. Consider that my debt owed to you.” Sucking in a breath, Manon readied for the blow—

“Wait.” The spider breathed the word. “Wait.”

“From insults to pleading,” Asterin murmured. “Who is spineless now?”

The spider ignored the Second, her depthless eyes devouring Manon, then Dorian. “Do you know what moves in the South? What horrors gather?”

“Old news,” Vesta said, snorting.

“How do you think I found you?” the spider asked. Manon stilled. “So many possessions left at Morath. Your scents all over them.”

If the spider had found them here that easily, they had to move out. Now.

The spider hissed, “Shall I tell you what I spied a mere fifty miles south of here? Who I saw, Blackbeak?” Manon stiffened. “Crochans,” the spider said, then sighed deeply. Hungrily.

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