Page 92

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

Not kharankui. But the six Valg princesses who had infested them.

Rowan willed himself to shift. His body refused.

Gritting his teeth, he peeled back the armor on his shoulder and reached for the wound. But it had sealed. Trapping the iron shard within. Keeping him from shifting—from flying to Aelin. Wherever she was.

He had to get to her. Had to find Fenrys and Lorcan and find her. Before it was too late.

But as the night fell, as he freed a dagger and lifted it to the sealed wound in his shoulder, Rowan knew it might already be.

Even though the gods were now gone, Rowan still found himself praying. Through the agony as he ripped open his shoulder, he prayed. That he might reach Aelin in time.

They had survived this long, against all odds and in defiance of ancient prophecies. Rowan dug his knife in deeper, seeking the iron shard wedged within.

Hurry—he had to hurry.




Chaol’s back strained, pain lashing down his spine. Whether from his wife’s healing within the castle walls or from the hours of fighting, he had no idea.

Didn’t care, as he and Dorian galloped through the southern gate into Orynth, the two of them little more than unmarked riders amid the army racing in. Bracing for the impact of the fresh host marching toward them.

Night would soon fall. Morath would not wait until dawn. Not with the darkness that hovered above them like some sort of awful cloud.

What flew and scuttled in that darkness, what waited for them …

Dorian was nearly slumped in his saddle, shield strapped over his back, Damaris sheathed at his side.

“You look how I feel,” Chaol managed to say.

Dorian slid sapphire eyes toward him, a spark of humor lighting the haunted depths. “I know a king shouldn’t slouch,” he said, rubbing at his blood-and-dirt-splattered face. “But I can’t bring myself to care.”

Chaol smiled grimly. “We have worse to worry about.”

Much worse.

They hurried toward the castle, turning up the hill that would take them to its doors, when a horn cut across the battlefield.

A warning.

With the view the hill offered, they could clearly see it. What sent the soldiers racing toward them with renewed urgency.

Morath was picking up speed.

As if realizing that their prey was on its last legs and not wishing to let them recover.

Chaol glanced to Dorian, and they reined their horses back toward the city walls. The khagan’s soldiers did so as well, running down the hills they’d been scaling.

Back toward the battlements. And the hell soon to be unleashed upon it once more.


Slumped against a dead wyvern, Aelin drained the last of her waterskin.

Beside her, Ansel of Briarcliff panted through her gritted teeth while healer’s magic pulled the edges of her wound together. A nasty, deep slice to Ansel’s arm.

Bad enough that Ansel hadn’t been able to hold a weapon. So they had halted, just as the tide of the battle had shifted, their enemy now fleeing Orynth’s walls.

Aelin’s head swam, her magic down to the dregs, her limbs leaden. The roar of battle still buzzed in her ears.

Covered in gore and mud, no one recognized either queen where they’d fallen to their knees, so close to the southern gates. Soldiers ran past, trying to get into the city before the army at their backs arrived.

Just a minute. She needed to only catch her breath for a minute. Then they’d hurry to the southern gate. Into Orynth.

Into her home.

Ansel swore, swaying, and the healer shot out a hand to brace her.

Not good. Not at all.

Aelin knew what and who marched toward them.

Lysandra had returned to the skies long ago, rejoining the rebel Ironteeth and Crochans. Where Rowan now was, where the cadre was, she didn’t know. Had lost them hours or days or lifetimes ago.

Rowan was safe—the mating bond told her enough. No mortal wounds. And through the blood oath, she knew Fenrys and Lorcan still breathed.

Whether she could say that for the rest of her friends, she didn’t know. Didn’t want to know, not yet.

The healer finished Ansel, and when the woman turned, Aelin held up a hand. “Go help someone who needs it,” Aelin rasped.

The healer didn’t hesitate before she hurried off, sprinting toward the sound of screaming.

“We need to get into the city,” Ansel murmured, leaning her head against the ironclad hide behind her. “Before they shut the gate.”

“We do,” Aelin said, willing strength to her exhausted legs so she might stand. Assess how far away that final, crushing host was.

A plan. She’d had a plan for this. They all had.

But time hadn’t been on her side. Perhaps her luck had faded with the gods she’d destroyed.

Aelin swallowed against the dryness in her mouth and grunted as she got to her feet. The world swayed, but she stayed upright. Managed to grab the reins of a passing Darghan rider and order her to stop.

To take the red-haired queen half-delirious on the ground.

Ansel barely protested when Aelin heaved her into the saddle behind the soldier.

Aelin stood beside the felled wyvern, watching her friend until she’d passed through the southern gate. Into Orynth.

Slowly, Aelin turned to the rising wave of darkness.

She had doomed them.

Behind her, the southern gate groaned shut.

The boom echoed into her bones.

Soldiers left on the field shouted in panic, but orders went out. Form the lines. Ready for battle.

She could do this. Adjust the plan.

She still scanned the skies for a white-tailed hawk.

No sign of him.

Good. Good, she told herself.

Aelin shut her eyes for a heartbeat. Put a hand on her chest. As if it might steady her, prepare her, for what squatted in the approaching darkness.

Soldiers shouted as they rallied, the screams of the injured and dying ringing throughout, wings booming everywhere.

Still Aelin remained there for a moment longer, just beyond the gates to her city. Her home. Still she pressed her hand to her chest, feeling the heart thundering beneath, feeling the dust of every road she had traveled these ten years to return here.

For this moment. For this purpose.

So she whispered it to herself, one last time. The story.

Her story.

Once upon a time, in a land long since burned to ash, there lived a young princess who loved her kingdom …


Yrene had halted her healing only for a few minutes. Her power flowed, strong and bright, undimming despite the work she’d been doing for hours.

But she’d stopped, needing to see what had happened. Hearing that their soldiers, with victory in hand, had fled back to the city walls, had only sent her running for the castle battlements faster, Elide with her. As she had been all day, helping her.

Elide winced as they took the stairs up to the battlements, but made no complaint. The lady scanned the crowded space, looking for someone, something. Her gaze settled on an old man, a child with remarkable red-gold hair beside him. Messengers approached him, then darted away.

A leader—someone in charge, Yrene realized after Elide did, already limping to them.

The old man faced them as they approached, and started. At the sight of Elide.

Yrene stopped caring about the introductions as her gaze landed on the battlefield.

On the army—another army—marching on them, half veiled in darkness. Six kharankui at their front lines.

The khagan’s soldiers had gathered by the walls, both outside and within the city. The southern gate now stood closed.

Not enough. Not nearly enough to face what marched, fresh and unwearied. The creatures she could just barely make out teeming within its ranks. Valg princesses—there were Valg princesses amongst them.

Chaol. Where was Chaol—

Elide and the old man were speaking. “We cannot face that number of soldiers and walk away,” the lady said, her voice so unlike any tone Yrene had heard from her. Commanding and cold. Elide pointed to the battlefield. The darkness—holy gods, the darkness—that massed over it.

A chill slithered over Yrene’s body.

“Do you know what that is?” Elide asked too quietly. “Because I do.”

The old man only swallowed.

Yrene knew it then. What was in that darkness. Who was in it.


The last of the sun vanished, setting the bloodied snows in hues of blue.

A flash of light flared behind them, and the child whirled, a sob breaking from her throat as a stunningly beautiful woman, bloodied and battered, appeared. She wrapped a cloak around her naked body like a gown, not even shivering with the cold.

A shape-shifter. She opened her arms to the girl, embracing her.

Lysandra, Chaol had called her. A lady in Aelin’s court. Unknown niece to Falkan Ennar.

Lysandra turned to the old man. “Aedion and Rowan sent up the order, Darrow. Any who can are to evacuate immediately.”

The old man—Darrow—just stared toward the battlefield. At a loss for words as that army prowled closer and closer and closer.

As two figures took form at its head.

And walked, unhindered, toward the city walls, darkness swarming around them.

Erawan. The golden-haired young man. She’d know it if she were blind.

A dark-haired, pale-skinned woman strode at his side, robes billowing around her on a phantom wind.

“Maeve,” Lysandra breathed.

People began screaming then. In terror and despair.

Maeve and Erawan had come. To personally oversee Orynth’s fall.

They stalked toward the city gates, the darkness behind them gathering, the army at their backs swelling. Pincers clicked within that darkness. Creatures who could devour life, joy.

Oh gods.

“Lord Darrow,” Elide cut in, sharp and commanding. “Is there a way out of the city? Some sort of back door through the mountains that the children and elderly could take?”

Darrow dragged his eyes from the approaching Valg king and queen.

It was helplessness and despair that filled them. That broke his voice as he said, “No route that will allow them to escape in time.”

“Tell me where it is,” Lysandra ordered. “So they might try, at least.” She grabbed for the girl’s arm. “So Evangeline might try to run.”

A defeat. What had seemed like a triumphant victory was about to become an absolute defeat. A butchering.

Led by Maeve and Erawan, now a mere hundred yards from the city walls.

Only ancient stone and iron stood between them and Orynth.

Darrow hesitated. In shock. The old man was in shock.

But Evangeline pointed a finger. Out toward the gates, toward Maeve and Erawan. “Look.”

And there she was.

In the deepening blues of descending night, amid the snow beginning to fall, Aelin Galathynius had appeared before the sealed southern gate.

Had appeared before Erawan and Maeve.

Her unbound hair billowed in the wind like a golden banner, a last ray of light with the dying of the day.

Silence fell. Even the screaming stopped as all turned toward the gate.

But Aelin did not balk. Did not run from the Valg queen and king who halted as if in delight at the lone figure who dared face them.

Lysandra let out a strangled sob. “She—she has no magic left.” The shifter’s voice broke. “She has nothing left.”

Still Aelin lifted her sword.

Flames ran down the blade.

One flame against the darkness gathered.

One flame to light the night.

Aelin raised her shield, and flames encircled it, too.

Burning bright, burning undaunted. A vision of old, reborn once more.

The cry went down the castle battlements, through the city, along the walls.

The queen had come home at last.

The queen had come to hold the gate.




Her name was Aelin Ashryver Whitethorn Galathynius.

And she would not be afraid.

Maeve and Erawan halted. So did the army poised behind them, a final blow of the hammer, ready to land upon Orynth.

The magic in her veins was little more than a sputtering ember.

But they did not know that.

Her shaking hands threatened to drop her weapons, but she held firm. Held fast.

Not one more step.

Not one more step toward Orynth would she allow them to make.

Maeve smiled. “What a very long way you’ve traveled, Aelin.”

Aelin only angled Goldryn. Met Erawan’s golden stare.

His eyes flared as he took in the sword. Remembered it.

Aelin bared her teeth. Let the flame she fed into the sword glow brighter.

Maeve turned to the Valg king. “Shall we, then?”

But Erawan looked at Aelin. And hesitated.

She would not have long. Not long at all until they realized that the power that made him hesitate was no more.

But she had not remained outside the southern gate to defeat them.

Only to buy time.

For those in the city she loved so greatly to get away. To run, and live to fight tomorrow.

She had made it home.

It was enough.

The words echoed with her every breath. Sharpened her vision, steeled her spine. A crown of flame appeared atop her head, swirling and unbreakable.

She could never win against both of them.

But she wouldn’t make it easy. Would take one of them down with her, if she could. Or at least slow them enough for the others to enact their plan, to find a way to either halt or defeat them. Even if either option seemed unlikely. Hopeless.

But that was why she remained here.

To give them that slim shred of hope. That will to keep fighting.

At the end of this, if that was all she was able to do against Erawan and Maeve, she could go to the Afterworld with her chin held high. She would not be ashamed to see those she had loved with her heart of wildfire.

So Aelin sketched a bow to Erawan and said with every remaining scrap of bravado she possessed, “We’ve met a few times, but never as we truly are.” She winked at him. Even as her knees quaked, she winked at him. “Pretty as this form is, Erawan, I think I miss Perrington. Just a little bit.”

Maeve’s nostrils flared.

But Erawan’s eyes slitted in amusement. “Was it fate, you think, that we encountered each other in Rifthold without recognizing the other?”

Such casual, easy words from such horrible, corrupt filth. Aelin made herself shrug. “Fate, or luck?” She gestured to the battlefield, her wrecked city. “This is a far grander setting for our final confrontation, don’t you think? Far more worthy of us.”

Maeve let out a hiss. “Enough of this.”

Aelin arched a brow. “I’ve spent the past year of my life—ten years, if you consider it another way—building to this moment.” She clicked her tongue. “Forgive me if I want to savor it. To talk with my great enemy for longer than a moment.”

Erawan chuckled, and the sound grated down her bones. “One might think you were trying to delay us, Aelin Galathynius.”

She beckoned to the city walls behind her. “From what? The keys are gone, the gods with them.” She threw them a smile. “You did know that, didn’t you?”

The amusement faded from Erawan’s face. “I know.” Death—such terrible death beckoned in his voice at that.

Aelin shrugged again. “I did you a favor, you know.”

Maeve murmured, “Don’t let her talk. We end this now.”

Aelin laughed. “One would think you were afraid, Maeve. Of any sort of delay.” She turned to Erawan once again. “The gods had planned to drag you with them. To rip you apart.” Aelin gave him a half smile. “I asked them not to. So you and I might have this grand duel of ours.”

“How is it that you survived?” Maeve demanded.

“I learned to share,” Aelin purred. “After all this time.”

“Lies,” Maeve spat.

“I do have a question for you,” Aelin said, glancing between the two dark rulers, separated from her by only the swirling snow. “Will you be sharing power? Now that you’re both trapped here.” She gestured to Maeve with her burning shield. “Last I heard, you were hell-bent on sending him home. And had gathered a little army of healers in Doranelle so you might destroy him the moment you got the chance.”

Erawan blinked slowly.

Aelin smiled. “What will you do with all those healers now, Maeve? Have you two discussed that?”

Darkness swirled around Maeve’s fingers. “I have endured enough of this prattling.”

“I have not,” Erawan said, his golden eyes blazing.

“Good,” Aelin said. “I was her prisoner, you know. For months. You’d be surprised how much I picked up. About her husband—your brother. About the library in his castle, and how Maeve learned so many interesting things about world-walking. Will you share that knowledge, Maeve, or is that not part of your bargain?”

Doubt. That was doubt beginning to darken Erawan’s eyes.

Aelin pressed, “She wants you out, you know. Gone. What did she even tell you when your Wyrdkey went missing? Let me guess: the King of Adarlan snuck into Morath, killed the girl you’d enslaved to be your living gate, destroyed your castle, and Maeve arrived just in time to try to stop him—but failed? Did you know that she worked with him for days and days? Trying to get the key from you?”

“That is a lie,” Maeve snapped.

“Is it? Shall I repeat some of the things you said in your most private meetings with Lord Erawan here? The things the King of Adarlan told me?”

Erawan’s smile grew. “You always had a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps you are lying, as my sister claims.”

“Perhaps I am, perhaps I am not. Though I think the truth of your new ally’s backstabbing is far more interesting than any lie I might invent.”

“Shall we tell you another truth, then?” Maeve crooned. “Do you wish to know who killed your parents? Who killed Lady Marion?”

Aelin stilled.

Maeve waved a hand to Erawan. “It wasn’t him. It wasn’t even the King of Adarlan. No, he sent a low-ranking Valg prince to do it. He couldn’t even be bothered to go himself. Didn’t think anyone important was really necessary to do the deed.”

Aelin stared at the queen. At the Valg king.

And then arched a brow. “Is that some attempt to unnerve me? You’re thousands of years old, and that is all you can think of to say?” She laughed again, and pointed to Erawan with Goldryn. She could have sworn he flinched away from the flaming blade. “I feel sorry for you, you know. That you’ve now shackled yourself to that immortal bore.” She sucked on a tooth. “And when Maeve sells you out, I suppose I’ll feel a little bit sorry for you then, too.”

“See how she talks?” Maeve hissed. “That has always been her gift: to distract and babble while—”

“Yes, yes. But, as I said: you have the field. There’s nothing left that can really stop you.”

“Except for you,” Erawan said.

Aelin pressed her shield against her chest. “I’m flattered you think so.” She flicked up her brows. “Though I think the two hundred healers we’ve got in the city right now might be a little offended that you forgot them. Especially when I’ve watched them so diligently expel your Valg grunts from the hosts they infected.”

Erawan stilled. Just a fraction.

“Or is that another lie?” Aelin mused. “A risky thing for you to do, then—to enter this city. My city, I suppose. To see who’s waiting for you. I heard you went to an awful lot of trouble to try to kill one of my friends this summer. Silba’s Heir. If I were you, I might have been more thorough in trying to end her. She’s here, you know. Came all this way to see you and repay the favor.” Aelin let her flame grow brighter as Erawan again hesitated. “Maeve knew. She knows that the healers are here, waiting for you. And will let them at you. Ask her where her owl is—the healer she keeps chained to her. To protect her from you.”

“Don’t listen to her nonsense,” Maeve spat.

“She even made a bargain: to spare their lives in exchange for ridding her of you.” Aelin waved Goldryn toward Orynth. “You’re walking into a trap the moment you enter the city. You, and all your little Valg friends. And only Maeve will be left standing in the end, Lady of All.”

Maeve’s shadows rose in a wave. “I have had enough of this, Aelin Galathynius.”

Aelin knew Maeve would go on ahead, without Erawan. Work without him, if need be.

The dark king looked toward Maeve and seemed to realize it, too.

Maeve’s black hair flowed around her. “Where is the King of Adarlan? We would have words with him.” Simmering, vicious rage pulsed from the queen.

Aelin shrugged. “Off fighting somewhere. Likely not bothering to think about you.” She inclined her head. “A valiant effort, Maeve, to try to divert the conversation.” She turned to Erawan. “The healers are waiting for you in there. You’ll see I’m telling the truth. Though I suppose it will be too late by then.”

Doubt. That was indeed doubt in Erawan’s eyes. Just a crack. An open doorway.

And it would now be upon Yrene—Yrene and the others—to seize it.

She had not wanted to ask, to plan this. Had not wanted to drag anyone else in.

But she trusted them. Yrene, her friends. She trusted them to see this through. When she was gone. She trusted them.

Maeve stepped forward. “I hope you have enjoyed yourself these past few moments.” She bared her too-white teeth, all traces of that cool grace vanished. Even Erawan seemed to blink in surprise at it—and again hesitate. As if wondering whether Aelin’s words had struck true. “I hope you are entertained by your prattling idiocy.”

“Eternally so,” Aelin said with a mocking bow. “I suppose I’ll be more entertained when I wipe you from the face of the earth.” She sighed skyward. “Gods above, what a sight that will be.”

Maeve extended a hand before her, darkness swirling in her cupped palm. “There are no gods left to watch, I’m afraid. And there are no gods left to help you now, Aelin Galathynius.”

Aelin smiled, and Goldryn burned brighter. “I am a god.”

She unleashed herself upon them.


Rowan pried free the shard of iron from his shoulder as Maeve and Erawan arrived.

As Aelin went to meet them before the walls of Orynth.

His magic guttered within his veins, but he clapped a hand to his bleeding arm as he ran for the southern gate. Willed the healing.

Flesh stung as it knitted together—too slowly. Too damn slowly.

But he couldn’t fly with a shredded wing, as he’d surely have if he shifted now. Block after block, through the city that would have been his home, he ran for the southern gate.

He had to get to her.

A warning shout from the battlements had him throwing up a shield on instinct. Just as a siege ladder collided with the wall above him.

Morath’s footsoldiers spilled over it, into the awaiting blades of both khagan soldier and Bane warrior. Too many.

Ironteeth clashed with Crochans above them—Ironteeth bearing several Morath footsoldiers apiece. They deposited them on the battlements, on the streets.

People screamed. Further into the city, people were screaming. Fleeing.

Only a few blocks to the southern gate—to Aelin.

And yet … those screams of terror and pain continued. Families. Children.

Home. This was to be his home. Already was, if Aelin were with him. He would defend it.

Rowan drew his sword and hatchet.

Fire burst beyond the walls, bathing the city in gold. She couldn’t have more than an ember. Against Erawan and Maeve, she should already be dead. Yet her flame still raged. The mating bond held strong.

White flashed beside him, and then there was Fenrys, stained with blood and snarling at the soldiers pouring over the walls. One neared them, and a swipe of a mighty paw was all it took for the grunt to be in pieces.

A swipe—and then a burst of black wind. Lorcan.

They halted for all of a heartbeat. Both males looked to him in question. They knew full well where Aelin was. What the plan had been.

Another blast of flame from beyond the walls.

But the screams of the innocent in the city … She would never forgive him for it. If he walked away.

So Rowan angled his weapons. Turned toward the screaming. “We swore an oath to our queen and this court,” he snarled, sizing up the soldiers pouring over the walls. “We will not break it.”


Even three of the great powers of the realm battling before the city gates was not enough to halt the war around them.

Morath swarmed, and the exhausted khaganate army turned to meet them once more. To meet the new horrors that emerged, beasts of snapping teeth and baying howls, ilken sailing above them. No sign of the Valg princesses, not yet. But Elide knew they were out there. Morath had emptied its darkest pits for this final destruction.

And on the plain, before the gates, fire and darkness blacker than the fallen night warred.

Elide didn’t know where to look: at the battle between the armies, or the one between Maeve and Erawan, and Aelin.

Yrene remained beside her, Lord Darrow, Lysandra, and Evangeline watching with them.

A flare of light, an answering wave of darkness.

Aelin was a fiery whirlwind between Maeve and Erawan, the fighting swift and brutal.

She had no power left. Before the Wyrdgate had ripped it from her, Aelin might have been able to face one of them and emerge triumphant. But left with a whisper of power, and after a day of wielding it on this battlefield …

Maeve and Erawan didn’t know.

They didn’t know that Aelin was only deflecting, not attacking. That this drawn-out dance was not for the spectacle, but because she was buying them all time.

Down in the dark beyond the walls, soldiers died and died. And in the city, as siege ladders breached the battlements, Morath surged into Orynth.

Still Aelin held the gate against Erawan and Maeve. Didn’t let them get one step closer to the city. The final sacrifice of Aelin Galathynius for Terrasen.

The moment they realized Aelin had nothing left, it would be over. Any amusement they felt at this shallow exchange of power and skill would vanish.

Where were the others? Where was Rowan, or Lorcan, or Dorian? Or Fenrys and Gavriel? Where were they, or did they not know what occurred before the city gates?

Lysandra’s breathing was shallow. Nothing—the shifter could do nothing against them. And to offer Aelin assistance might be the very thing that made Erawan and Maeve realize the queen was deceiving them.

There was no gentle voice at Elide’s shoulder. Not anymore. Never again would she hear that whispering, wise voice guide her.

See, Anneith had always murmured to her. See.

Elide scanned the field, the city, the queen battling the Valg rulers.

Aelin did nothing without reason. Had gone out there to buy them time. To wear the Valg rulers down, just a bit. But Aelin could not defeat them.

There was only one person who could.

Elide’s eyes landed on Yrene, the healer’s face ashen as she watched Aelin.

The queen would never ask. Never ask that of them, of Yrene.

But she might leave a path open. Should they, should Yrene, wish to take it.

Noticing her stare, Yrene tore her attention away from the battle. “What?”

Elide looked to Lysandra. Then to the city walls, to the flash of ice and flame along them.

She saw what they had to do.




Nesryn had not anticipated the ilken. How terrible even a few dozen would be.

Nimble and vicious, they swept over the front lines of Morath’s teeming ranks. Black as the fallen night and more than eager to meet the ruks in combat.

Sartaq had given the order to unleash whatever burning arrows they could find. The heat of one scorched Nesryn’s fingers as she picked a target amongst the dark fray and fired.

The flame speared into the night, right for an ilken poised to tear into a Darghan horse. The arrow struck true, and the ilken’s shriek reached even Nesryn’s ears. The Darghan rider stabbed deep with his sulde, and the ilken’s screeching was cut off. A lucky, brave blow.

Nesryn was reaching for another arrow and supplies when the Darghan rider fell.

Not dead—the ilken was not dead, but feigning it. The beautiful horse’s scream of pain rent the night as talons ripped open its chest. Another slash and the rider’s sternum was shredded.

Nesryn fumbled for the flint to light the oil-soaked cloth around the arrowhead.

Up and down the battlefield, ilken attacked. Riders, both equine and rukhin, fell.

And looming at the back of the battlefield, as if waiting for their grand entrance, waiting to pick off what was left of them, a new sort of darkness squatted.

The Valg princesses. In their new, kharankui bodies. Erawan’s final surprise.

Nesryn aimed and fired her arrow, scanning for Sartaq. The prince had led a unit of rukhin deeper into the enemy lines, a battered Borte, Falkan, and Yeran flanking him.

A desperate, final push.

One that none of them were likely to walk or fly away from.


Yrene’s breath was tight in her throat, her heart a wild beat through her entire body, yet the fear she thought she’d yield to had not taken over. Not yet.

Not as Lysandra, in ruk form, landed on the city walls, steadily enough that Yrene and Elide could quickly dismount. Right where Chaol and Dorian fought, a desperate effort to keep the Valg off the walls.

The smallest of their concerns. For nearby, slaughtering their way closer—those were ilken.

Silba save them all.

Chaol saw her first. His eyes flared with pure terror. “Get back to the castle.”

Yrene did no such thing. And as Dorian turned, she said to the king, “We have need of you, Your Majesty.”

Chaol shoved from the wall, his limp deep. “Get back to the castle.”

Yrene ignored him again. So did Dorian as the king gutted the Valg before him, shoved the demon over the wall, and hurried to Yrene. “What is it?”

Elide pointed to the southern gate. To the fire that flared amid the attacking darkness.

Dorian’s blood-splattered face drained of color. “She has nothing left.”

“We know,” Elide said, her mouth tightening. “Which is why we need you.”

Chaol must have realized the plan before his king. Because her husband whirled to her, shield and sword hanging at his sides. “You can’t.”

Elide quickly, succinctly, explained their reckless, mad idea. The Lady of Perranth’s idea.

Yrene tried not to shake. Tried not to tremble as she realized that they were, indeed, about to do this.

But Elide merely climbed onto the shifter’s leathery back and beckoned the king to follow. And Dorian, to his credit, did not hesitate.

Yet Chaol dropped his sword and shield to the bloody stones, and gripped Yrene’s face between his hands. “You can’t,” he said again, voice breaking. “You can’t.”

Yrene put her hands atop Chaol’s and brought them brow to brow. “You are my joy,” was all she said to him.

Her husband, her dearest friend, closed his eyes. The reek of Valg blood and metal clung to him, and yet beneath it—beneath it, that was his scent. The smell of home.

Chaol at last opened his eyes, the bronze of them so vivid. Alive. Utterly alive. Full of trust, and understanding, and pride.

“Go save the world, Yrene,” he whispered, and kissed her brow.

Yrene let that kiss sink into her skin, a mark of protection, of love that she’d carry with her into hell and beyond it.

Chaol turned to where Dorian sat with Elide atop the shifter, the love on her husband’s face hardening to something fierce and determined. “Keep her safe,” was all Chaol said. Perhaps the only order, Yrene realized, he would ever give his king. Their king.

It was why she loved him. Why she knew that the child in her womb would never spend a single moment wondering if it was loved.

Dorian bowed his head. “With my life.” Then the king offered a hand to help Yrene onto Lysandra’s back. “Let’s make it count.”


Manon’s chest burned with each inhale, but Abraxos flew unfalteringly through the melee.

So many. Too many.

And the new horrors that Morath had unleashed, the ilken amongst them …

Screams and blood filled the skies. Crochan and Ironteeth and ruks—those were ruks—fought for their very existence.

Any hope of victory that Aelin Galathynius had brought with her was slipping away.

Manon and Abraxos smashed through the Ironteeth lines, diving to rip apart ilken and foot soldier. Wind-Cleaver was a leaden weight in her hand. She could no longer discern her sweat from blood.

The Queen of Terrasen had come, an army with her, and it would still not be enough.


Lorcan knew Maeve had come. Could feel her presence in his bones, a dark, terrible song through the world. A Valg song.

He fought far down the city walls, Whitethorn and Fenrys nearby, Aedion unleashing himself upon soldier after soldier with a ferocity that Lorcan knew came from deep, brutal grief.

Gavriel was dead. Had died to give his son and those at the western gate a chance to shut them again.

Lorcan tucked away the pang in his chest at the thought of it. That the Lion was no more. Which of them would be next?

Light flared beyond the wall. Darkness devoured it. Too swiftly, too easily.

Aelin had to be insane. Must have lost all her wits, if she thought she could take on not just Maeve, but Erawan, too.

Yet Rowan halted. Would have been run through by a Valg soldier if Lorcan hadn’t hurled a dagger straight through the demon’s face.

With a nod to Lorcan and Fenrys, Rowan shifted, a hawk instantly soaring over the walls.

Lorcan looked to Fenrys. Found the male bristling. Aware of the change beyond the walls. It was time.

“We finish this together,” Fenrys snarled, and shifted as well, a white wolf leaping clean off the battlements and into the city streets below. Toward the gate.

Lorcan glanced at the castle, where he knew Elide was watching.

He said his silent farewell, sending what remained of his heart on the wind to the woman who had saved him in every way that mattered.

Then Lorcan ran for the gate—to the dark queen who threatened all he’d come to want, to hope for. He’d come to hope. Had found there was something better out there. Someone better.

And he’d go down swinging to defend all of it.


It was a dance, and one that Aelin had spent her entire life practicing.

Not just the movements of her sword, her shield. But the smirk she kept on her face as she met each blast of darkness, as she realized over and over and over who her dance partners were.

Where they advanced a step, Aelin sent out a plume of fire. Didn’t let her own doubt show, didn’t dare wonder if they could tell that the fire was mostly color and light.

They still dodged it. Avoided it.

Waiting for her to plunge down deep, to make that killing blow they anticipated.

And though her fire deflected the darkness, though Goldryn was a burning song in her hand, she knew their power would break through soon.

The keys were gone. And so was the Fire-Bringer.

They would have no use for her. No need to enslave her, save to torment her.

It could go either way. Death or enslavement.

But there would be no keys, no ability for Erawan to craft more Wyrdstone, or bring in his Valg to possess others.

Aelin lunged with Goldryn, spearing for Erawan as she raised her shield against Maeve. She sent a wave of flame searing for their sides, herding them closer together.

Erawan blasted it back, but Maeve halted. Halted while Aelin leaped away a step, panting.

The coppery tang of blood coated her mouth. A herald of the looming burnout.

Maeve watched Aelin’s flame sizzle through the snow, melting it down to the dried grasses of Theralis. An undulating sea of green in the warmer months. Now a muddy, blood-soaked ruin.

“For a god,” Maeve said, their first words since this dance had begun minutes or hours or an eternity ago, “you do not seem so willing to smite us.”

“Symbols have power,” Aelin panted, smiling as she flipped Goldryn in her hand, the flame hissing through the air. “Strike you down too quickly and it will ruin the impact.” Aelin drew up every shred of swaggering arrogance and winked at Erawan. “She wants me to wear you down, you see. Wants me to tire you, so those healers up in the castle can finish you off with little trouble.”

“Enough.” Maeve slammed out her power, and Aelin lifted her shield, flame deflecting the onslaught.

But barely. The impact rippled into her bones, her blood.

Aelin didn’t let herself so much as wince as she hurled a whip of flame toward Maeve, and the dark queen danced back. “Just wait—she’ll spring the trap shut on you soon enough.”

“She is a liar and a fool,” Maeve spat. “She seeks to drive us apart because she knows we can defeat her together.” Again, that dark power rallied around Maeve.

The dark king only stared at Aelin with those golden, burning eyes, and smiled. “Indeed. You—”

He paused. Those golden eyes lifted above Aelin. Above the gates and wall behind her. To something high above.

Aelin didn’t dare to look. To take her attention away for that long. To hope.

But the gold in Erawan’s eyes glowed. Glowed—with rage and perhaps a kernel of fear.

He twisted his head toward Maeve. “There are healers in that castle.”

“Of course there are,” Maeve snapped.

Yet Erawan stilled. “There are skilled healers there. Ripe with power.”

“Straight from the Torre Cesme,” Aelin said, nodding solemnly. “As I told you.”

Erawan only looked at Maeve. And that doubt flickered again.

He glanced to Aelin. To her fire, her sword. She bowed her head.

Erawan hissed at Maeve, “If she spoke true, you are carrion.”

And before Aelin could muster an ember to strike, a dark, sinewy form swept from the blackness behind Erawan and snatched him up. An ilken.

Aelin didn’t waste her power trying to down them, not with the ilken’s defenses against magic. Not with Maeve tracking Erawan as he was carried into the skies. Over the city.

Against two Valg rulers, she should have already been dead. Against the female before her, Aelin knew it was still just a matter of time. But if Yrene, if her friends, could take down Erawan …

“Just us, then,” Maeve said, lips curving into that spider’s smile. The smile of the horrendous creatures that launched themselves at Orynth.

Aelin lifted Goldryn again. “That’s precisely how I wanted it,” she said. Truth.

“But I know your secret, Heir of Fire,” Maeve crooned, and struck again.




Atop the highest tower of the castle of Orynth, on the broad balcony that overlooked the world far below, the healer sent out another flare of power.

The white glow seared the night, casting the tower stones in stark relief.

A beacon, a challenge to the dark king who battled Aelin Galathynius below.

Here I am, the power sang through the night. Here I am.

Erawan answered.

His rage, his fear, his hatred filled the wind as he swept in, carried in an ilken’s gangly limbs. He smiled at the young healer whose hands glowed with pure light, as if already tasting her blood. Savoring the destruction of what she offered, the gift she’d been given.

His sheer presence set people in the castle below screaming as they fled.

Not death incarnate, but something far worse. Something nearly as ancient, and almost as powerful.

The ilken swept over the tower, dropping him onto the balcony stones. Erawan landed with the grace of a cat, barely winded as he straightened.

As he smiled at her.


“I never thought you’d do it, you know,” Maeve said, her dark power coiling around her as Aelin panted. A cramp had begun low in her back and now lashed its way up her spine, down her legs. “That you’d be foolish enough to put the keys back into the gate. What happened to that glorious vision you once showed me, Aelin? Of you in this very city, your worshipping masses crying your name. Was it simply too dull for you, to be revered?”

Aelin rallied herself with every breath, Goldryn still burning bright.

Let her talk—let her gloat and ramble. Every second she had to recover, to regain a fraction of her strength, was a blessing.

Erawan had taken the bait, had let the doubt she’d planted take root in his mind. She had known it was only a matter of time until he sensed Yrene’s power. She only prayed Yrene Towers was ready to meet him.

“I had always hoped that you and I were true equals, in a way,” Maeve went on. “That you, more than Erawan, understood the true nature of power. Of what it means to wield it. What a disappointment that deep down, you wished to be so ordinary.”

The shield had become unbearably heavy. Aelin didn’t dare look behind her to see where Erawan had gone. What he was doing. She’d felt Yrene’s flare of power, had dared hope it might even be a signal, a lure, but nothing since then. It had drawn Erawan away, though. It was enough.

The darkness around Maeve writhed. “The Queen Who Was Promised is no more,” she said, clicking her tongue. “Now you’re nothing but an assassin with a crown. And a commoner’s gift of magic.”

Twin whips of brutal power speared for Aelin’s either side.

Throwing up her shield, swinging Goldryn with her other arm, Aelin deflected, flame flashing.

The shield buckled, but Goldryn burned steady.

But she felt it. The familiar, unending pain. The shadows that could devour.

Pressing closer. Eating away at her power.

Maeve glanced to the blazing sword. “Clever of you, to imbue the sword with your own gifts. No doubt done before you yielded everything to the Wyrdgate.”

“A precaution, should I not return,” Aelin panted. “A weapon to kill Valg.”

“We shall see.” Maeve struck again. Again.

Forcing Aelin to concede a step. Then another.

Back toward the invisible line she’d drawn between them and the southern gate.

Maeve stalked forward, her dark hair and robes billowing. “You have denied me two things, Aelin Galathynius. The keys I sought.” Another whip of power sliced for Aelin. Her flame barely deflected it this time. “And the great duel I was promised.”

As if Maeve opened the lid to a chest on her power, plumes of darkness erupted.

Aelin sliced with Goldryn, the fire within the blade unfaltering. But it was not enough. And as Aelin retreated another step, one of those plumes snapped across her legs.

Aelin couldn’t stop the scream that shattered from her throat. She went down, shield scattering in the icy mud.

Training kept her fingers clenched on Goldryn.

But pressure, unbearable and slithering, began to push into her head.

“Wake up.”

The world shifted. Snow replaced by firelight. The ground for a slab of iron.

The pressure in her head writhed, and Aelin bowed over her knees, refusing to acknowledge it. Real—this battle, the snow and blood, this was real.

“Wake up, Aelin,” Maeve whispered.

Aelin blinked. And found herself in the iron box, Maeve leaning over the open lid. Smiling. “We’re here,” the Fae Queen said.

Not Fae. Valg. Maeve was Valg—

“You’ve been dreaming,” Maeve said, running a finger over the mask still clamped to her face. “Such strange, wandering dreams, Aelin.”

No. No, it had been real. She managed to lift her head enough to peer down at herself. At the shift and too-thin body. The scars still on her.

Still there. Not wiped away. No new skin.

“I can make this easy for you,” Maeve went on, brushing Aelin’s hair back with gentle, loving strokes. “Tell me where the Wyrdkeys are, swear the blood oath, and these chains, this mask, this box … all of it will go away.”

They hadn’t yet begun. To tear her apart.

All of it a dream. One long nightmare. The keys remained unbound, the Lock unforged.

A dream, while they’d sailed here. Wherever here was.

“What say you, niece? Will you spare yourself? Yield to me?”

You do not yield.

Aelin blinked.

“It’s easier, isn’t it,” Maeve mused, bracing her forearms against the lip of the coffin. “To remain here. So you needn’t make such terrible choices. To let the others share the burden. Bear its cost.” A hint of a smile. “Deep down, that’s what haunts you. That wish to be free.”

Freedom—she’d known it. Hadn’t she?

“It’s what you fear most—not me, or Erawan, or the keys. That your wish to be free of the weight of your crown, your power, will consume you. Embitter you until you do not recognize your own self.” Her smile widened. “I wish to spare you from that. With me, you shall be free in a way you’ve never imagined, Aelin. I swear it.”

An oath.

She had sworn an oath. To Terrasen. To Nehemia. To Rowan.

Aelin closed her eyes, shutting out the queen above her, the mask, the chains, the iron box.

Not real.

This was not real.

Wasn’t it?

“I know you’re tired,” Maeve went on, gently, coaxingly. “You gave and gave and gave, and it was still not enough. It will never be enough for them, will it?”

It wouldn’t. Nothing she had ever done, or would do, would be enough. Even if she saved Terrasen, saved Erilea, she’d still need to give more, do more. The weight of it already crushed her.

“Cairn,” Maeve said.

Strolling footsteps sounded nearby. Scuffing on stone.

Tremors shook her, uncontrollable and unsummoned. She knew that gait, knew—

Cairn’s hateful, sneering face appeared beside Maeve’s, the two of them studying her. “How shall we start, Majesty?”

He’d spoken the words to her already. They had done this dance so many times.

Bile coated her throat. She couldn’t stop shaking. She knew what he’d do, how he’d begin. Would never stop feeling it, the whisper of the pain.

Cairn ran a hand over the rim of the coffin. “I broke some part of you, didn’t I?”

I name you Elentiya, “Spirit That Could Not Be Broken.”

Aelin traced her metal-encrusted fingers over her palm. Where a scar should be. Where it still remained. Would always remain, even if she could not see it.

Nehemia—Nehemia, who had given everything for Eyllwe. And yet …

And yet, Nehemia had still felt the weight of her choices. Still wished to be free of her burdens.

It had not made her weak. Not in the slightest.

Cairn surveyed her chained body, assessing where he would begin. His breathing sharpened in anticipatory delight.

Her hands curled into fists. Iron groaned.

Spirit that could not be broken.

You do not yield.

She would endure it again, if asked. She would do it. Every brutal hour and bit of agony.

And it would hurt, and she would scream, but she’d face it. Survive against it.

Arobynn had not broken her. Neither had Endovier.

She would not allow this waste of existence to do so now.

Her shaking eased, her body going still. Waiting.

Maeve blinked at her. Just once.

Aelin sucked in a breath—sharp and cool.

She did not want it to be over. Any of it.

Cairn faded into the wind. Then the chains vanished with him.

Aelin sat up in the coffin. Maeve backed away all of a step.

Aelin surveyed the illusion, so artfully wrought. The stone chamber, with its braziers and hook from the ceiling. The stone altar. The open door and roar of the river beyond.

She made herself look. To face down that place of pain and despair. It would always leave a mark, a stain on her, but she would not let it define her.

Hers was not a story of darkness.

This would not be the story. She would fold it into herself, this place, this fear, but it would not be the whole story. It would not be her story.

“How,” Maeve simply asked.

Aelin knew a world and a battlefield raged beyond them. But she let herself linger in the stone chamber. Climbed from the iron coffin.

Maeve only stared at her.

“You should have known better,” Aelin said, the lingering embers within her shining bright. “You, who feared captivity and did all this to avoid it. You should have known better than to trap me. Should have known I’d find a way.”

“How,” Maeve asked again. “How did you not break?”

“Because I am not afraid,” Aelin said. “Your fear of Erawan and his brothers drove you, destroyed you. If there was ever anything worthwhile to destroy.”

Maeve hissed, and Aelin chuckled. “And then there was your fear of Brannon. Of me. Look what it brought about.” She gestured to the room around them, the world beyond it. “This is all you’ll have left of Doranelle. This illusion.”

Maeve’s power rumbled through the room.

Aelin’s lips pulled back from her teeth. “You hurt my mate. Hurt the woman you tricked him into thinking was his mate. Killed her, and broke him.”

Maeve smiled slightly. “Yes, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Aelin answered the queen’s smile with one of her own. “Did you forget what I told you on that beach in Eyllwe?”

When Maeve merely blinked at her again, Aelin attacked.

Blasting with a shield of fire, she drove Maeve to the side—and launched a spear of blue flame.

Maeve dodged the assault with a wall of dark power, but Aelin went on the offensive, striking again and again and again. Those words she’d snarled to Maeve in Eyllwe rang between them: I will kill you.

And she would. For what Maeve had done, to her, to Rowan and Lyria, to Fenrys and Connall and so many others, she’d wipe her from memory.

Half a thought and Goldryn was again in her hand, the blade singing with flame.

Even if it took her last breaths, she’d go down swinging for this.

Maeve met her each blow, and they burned and raged through the room.

The altar cracked. Melted away.

The hook from the ceiling dissolved into molten ore that hissed upon the stones.

She blasted away the spot where Fenrys had sat, chained by invisible bonds.

Again and again, the last embers of her fire rallying, sweat beading on her brow, Aelin struck at Maeve.

The iron coffin heated, glowing red. Only here, in this illusion, might it do so.

Maeve had thought to trap her once more.

But the queen would not be the one walking away this time.

Aelin pivoted, driving Maeve back. Toward the smoldering coffin.

Step by step, she pushed her toward it. Herded her.

Darkness fanned through the room, blocking the rain of fiery arrows that shot for Maeve, and the queen dared to glance over a shoulder to the red-hot fate that awaited her.

Maeve’s face went whiter than death.

Aelin rasped a laugh, and angled Goldryn, gathering her power one last time.

But a flicker of motion caught her eye—to the right.


Elide stood there, terror written over her features. She reached a hand for Aelin in warning, “Watch—”

Maeve sent a whip of black for the Lady of Perranth.


Aelin lunged, fire leaping for Elide, to block that fatal blow.

She realized her mistake within a heartbeat. Realized it as her hands passed through Elide’s body, and her friend disappeared.

An illusion. She had fallen for an illusion, and had left herself open, vulnerable—

Aelin twisted back toward Maeve, flames rising again, but too late.

Hands of shadow wrapped around her throat. Immovable. Eternal.

Aelin arched, gasping for any bit of air as those hands squeezed and squeezed—

The chamber melted away. The stones beneath her became mud and snow, the roar of the river replaced by the din of battle. They flashed between one heartbeat and the next, between illusion and truth. Warm air for bitter wind, life for sure death.

Aelin wreathed her hands in flame, ripping at the shadow lashed around her throat.

Maeve stood before her, robes billowing as she panted. “Here is what shall happen, Aelin Galathynius.”

Plumes of shadow shot for her, snapping and tearing, and no flame, no amount of sheer will could keep them at bay. Not as they tightened, wrenching away any breath to scream.

Her fire guttered.

“You will swear the blood oath to me. And then you and I will fix this mess you’ve made. You, and the King of Adarlan will fix what you have done. You may be Fire-Bringer no longer, but you will still have your uses.”

A wind kissed with snow brushed past her. No.

Another flash of light behind Aelin, and Maeve paused.

The shadows squeezed, and Aelin arched again, a soundless scream breaking through her.

“You may be asking yourself why I’d ever think you’d agree to it. What I might have against you.” A low laugh. “The very things that you seek to protect—that’s what I shall destroy, should you defy me. What is most precious to you. And when I have finished doing that, you will kneel.”

No, no—

Darkness pulsed from Maeve, and Aelin’s vision wavered.

A wave of ice-kissed wind blasted it back.

Just enough for her to get a breath down. To lift her head and see the tattooed hand that now stretched down for her. Reaching for her—an offer to rise. Rowan.

Behind him, two others appeared. Lorcan and Fenrys, the latter in wolf form.

The cadre, who had not halted that day to help her at Mistward—but who did so now.

But Rowan kept his hand outstretched to Aelin, that offer to stand unfaltering, and didn’t take his eyes off Maeve as he bared his teeth and snarled.

But it was Fenrys who struck first. Who had been waiting for this moment, this opportunity.

Fangs bared, fur bristling, he charged at Maeve. Going right for her pale throat.

Aelin struggled, and Rowan shouted his warning, but too late.

Lost in his vengeance, his fury, the white wolf leapt for Maeve.

A whip of darkness slashed for him.

Fenrys’s yelp of pain echoed through her bones before he hit the ground. Blood leaked from the wound—the deep slash down his face.

So fast. Barely more than a blink.

Rowan’s and Lorcan’s power surged, rallying to strike. Fenrys struggled to his feet. Again, darkness snapped for him. Ripped across his face. As if Maeve knew precisely where to strike.

Fenrys went down again, blood splattering on the snow. A flash of light, and he shifted into his Fae form. What she’d done to his face—

No. No—

Aelin managed to rally enough air to rasp, “Run.”

Rowan glanced at her then. At the warning.

Just as Maeve struck once more.

As if she had been holding back her power—waiting for them. For this.

A wave of blackness enveloped her mate. Enveloped Lorcan and Fenrys, too.

Their magic flared, illumining the darkness like lightning behind a cloud. Yet it was not enough to free themselves from Maeve’s grip. Ice and wind blasted against it, again and again. Brutal, calculated strikes.

Maeve’s power swelled.

The ice and wind stopped. The other magic within the darkness stopped. Like it had been swallowed.

And then they began screaming.

Rowan began screaming.




Erawan panted as he approached. “Healer,” he breathed, his unholy power emanating from him like a black aura.

She backed away a step, closer to the balcony rail. The dark king followed her, a predator closing in on long-awaited prey.

“Do you know how long I have looked for you?” The wind tossed his golden hair. “Do you even know what you can do?”

She hesitated, slamming into the balcony rail behind her, the drop so hideously endless.

“How do you think we took the keys in the first place?” A hateful, horrible smile. “In my world, your kind exists, too. Not healers to us, but executioners. Death-maidens. Capable of healing—but also unhealing. Unbinding the very fabric of life. Of worlds.” Erawan smirked. “So we took your kind. Used them to unbind the Wyrdgate. To rip the three pieces of it from its very essence. Maeve never learned it—and never shall.” His jagged breathing deepened as he savored each word, each step closer. “It took all of them to hew the keys from the gate—every one of the healers amongst my kind. But you, with your gifts—it would only take you to do it again. And with the keys now returned to the gate …” Another smile. “Maeve thinks I left to kill you, destroy you. Your little fire-queen thought so, too. She could not conceive that I wanted to find you. Before Maeve. Before any harm could come to you. And now that I have … What fun you and I shall have, Yrene Towers.”

Another step closer. But no more.

Erawan went still. Tried and failed to move.

Looked at the stones of the balcony then. At the bloody mark he’d stridden across, too focused on his prey to notice.

A Wyrdmark. To hold. To trap.

The young healer smiled at him, and the white light around her hands winked out as her eyes shifted from gold to sapphire. “I’m not Yrene.”


Erawan whipped his head to the skies as Lysandra, in ruk form, came sweeping around the tower from where she’d been hiding on its other side, Yrene clutched in her talons.

Erawan’s power swelled, but Yrene was already glowing, bright as the far-off dawn.

Lysandra opened her talons, delicately dropping Yrene to the balcony stones, light streaming off her as she sprinted headfirst to Erawan.

Dorian shifted back into his own body, healing light pouring off him, too, as he encircled his power around the Wyrdmark that held Erawan. The tower door burst open, Elide flying out of it just as Lysandra shifted, landing on a ghost leopard’s silent feet upon the balcony.

Erawan didn’t seem to know where to look. Not as Dorian sent out a punch of his healing light that knocked him off balance. Not as Lysandra leaped upon the dark king, pinning him to the stones. Not as Elide, Damaris in her hands, plunged the blade deep through Erawan’s gut, and between the stones below.

Erawan screamed. But the sound was nothing compared to what came out of him as Yrene reached him, hands like burning stars, and slammed them upon his chest.

The world slowed and warped.

Yet Yrene was not afraid.

Not afraid at all of the blinding white light that erupted from her, searing into Erawan.

He arched, shrieking, but Damaris held him down, that ancient blade unwavering.

His dark power rose, a wave to devour the world.

Yrene did not let it touch her. Touch any of them.


It was hope that Chaol had said she carried with her. Hope that now grew in her womb.

For a better future. For a free world.

It was hope that had guided two women at opposite ends of this continent ten years ago. Hope that had guided Yrene’s mother to take up that knife and kill the soldier who would have burned Yrene alive. Hope that had guided Marion Lochan when she chose to buy a young heir time to run with her very life.

Two women, who had never known each other, two women who the world had deemed ordinary. Two women, Josefin and Marion, who had chosen hope in the face of darkness.

Two women, in the end, who had bought them all this moment. This one shot at a future.

For them, Yrene was not afraid. For the child she carried, she was not afraid.

For the world she and Chaol would build for that child, she was not afraid at all.

The gods might have been gone, Silba with them, but Yrene could have sworn she felt those warm, gentle hands guiding her. Pushing upon Erawan’s chest as he thrashed, the force of a thousand dark suns trying to rip her apart.

Her power tore through them all.

Tore and shredded and ripped into him, into the writhing worm that lay inside.

The parasite. The infection that fed on life, on strength, on joy.

Distantly, far away, Yrene knew she was incandescent with light, brighter than a noontime sun. Knew that the dark king beneath her was nothing more than a writhing pit of snakes, biting at her, trying to poison her light.

You have no power over me, Yrene said to him. Into the body that housed that parasite of parasites.

I shall rip you apart, he hissed. Starting with that babe in your—

A thought and Yrene’s power flared brighter.

Erawan screamed.

The power of creation and destruction. That’s what lay within her.

Life-Giver. World-Maker.

Bit by bit, she burned him up. Starting at his limbs, working inward.

And when her magic began to slow, Yrene held out a hand.

She didn’t feel the sting of her palm cutting open. Barely felt the pressure of the callused hand that linked with hers.

But when Dorian Havilliard’s raw magic barreled into her, Yrene gasped.

Gasped and turned into starlight, into warmth and strength and joy.


Yrene’s power was life itself. Pure, undiluted life.

It nearly brought Dorian to his knees as it met with his own. As he handed over his power to her, willingly and gladly, Erawan prostrate before them. Impaled.

The demon king screamed.

Glad. He should be glad of that pain, that scream. The end that was surely to come.

For Adarlan, for Sorscha, for Gavin and Elena. For all of them, Dorian let his power flow through Yrene.

Erawan thrashed, his power rising only to strike against an impenetrable wall of light.

And yet Dorian found himself saying, “His name.”

Yrene, focused upon the task before her, didn’t so much as glance his way.

But Erawan, through his screaming, met Dorian’s stare.

The hatred in the demon king’s eyes was enough to devour the world.

But Dorian said, “My father’s name.” His voice did not waver. “You took it.”

He hadn’t realized that he wanted it. Needed it, so badly.

A pathetic, spineless man, Erawan seethed. As you are—

“Tell me his name. Give it back.”

Erawan laughed through his screaming. No.

“Give it back.”

Yrene looked to him now, doubt in her eyes. Her magic paused—just for a heartbeat.

Erawan leapt, his power erupting.

Dorian blasted it back, and lunged for the demon king. For Damaris.

Erawan’s shriek threatened to crack the castle stones as Dorian shoved the blade deeper. Twisted it. Sent their power funneling down through it.

“Tell me his name,” he panted through his teeth. Yrene, clinging to his other hand, murmured her warning. Dorian barely heard it.

Erawan only laughed again, choking as their power seared him.

“Does it matter?” Yrene asked softly.

Yes. He didn’t know why, but it did.

His father had been wiped from the Afterworld, from every realm of existence, but he could still have his name given back to him.

If only to repay the debt. If only so Dorian might grant the man some shred of peace.

Erawan’s power surged for them again. Dorian and Yrene shoved it back.

Now. It had to be now.

“Tell me his name,” Dorian snarled.

Erawan smiled up at him. No.

“Dorian,” Yrene warned. Sweat slid down her face. She couldn’t hold him for much longer. And to risk her—

Dorian sent their power rippling down the blade. Damaris’s hilt glowed.

“Tell me—”

It is your own.

Erawan’s eyes widened as the words came out of him.

As Damaris drew it from him. But Dorian did not marvel at the sword’s power.

His father’s name …


I took his name, Erawan spat, writhing as the words flowed from his tongue under Damaris’s power. I wiped it away from existence. Yet he only remembered it once. Only once. The first time he beheld you.

Tears slid down Dorian’s face at that unbearable truth.

Perhaps his father had unknowingly hidden his name within him, a final kernel of defiance against Erawan. And had named his son for that defiance, a secret marker that the man within still fought. Had never stopped fighting.

Dorian. His father’s name.

Dorian let go of Damaris’s hilt.

Yrene’s breathing turned ragged. Now—it had to be now.

Even with the Valg king before him, something in Dorian’s chest eased. Healed over.

So Dorian said to Erawan, his tears burning away beneath the warmth of their magic. “I brought down your keep.” He smiled savagely. “And now we’ll bring you down as well.”

Then he nodded to Yrene.

Erawan’s eyes flared like hot coals. And Yrene unleashed their power once more.


Erawan could do nothing. Nothing against that raw magic, joining with Yrene’s, weaving into that world-making power.

The entire city, the plain, became blindingly bright. So bright that Elide and Lysandra shielded their eyes. Even Dorian shut his.

But Yrene saw it then. What lay at Erawan’s core.

The twisted, hateful creature inside. Old and seething, pale as death. Pale, from an eternity in darkness so complete it had never seen sunlight.

Had never seen her light, which now scalded his moon-white, ancient flesh.

Erawan writhed, contorting on the ground of whatever this place was inside him.

Pathetic, Yrene simply said.

Golden eyes flared, full of rage and hate.

But Yrene only smiled, summoning her mother’s lovely face to her heart. Showing it to him.

Wishing she knew what Elide’s mother had looked like so she might show him Marion Lochan, too.

The two women he had killed, directly or indirectly, and never thought twice about it.

Two mothers, whose love for their daughters and hope for a better world was greater than any power Erawan might wield. Greater than any Wyrdkey.

And it was with the image of her mother still shining before him, showing him that mistake he’d never known he made, that Yrene clenched her fingers into a fist.

Erawan screamed.

Yrene’s fingers clenched tighter, and distantly, she felt her physical hand doing the same. Felt the sting of her nails cutting into her palms.

She did not listen to Erawan’s pleas. His threats.

She only tightened her fist. More and more.

Until he was nothing but a dark flame within it.

Until she squeezed her fist, one final time, and that dark flame snuffed out.

Yrene had the feeling of falling, of tumbling back into herself. And she was indeed falling, rocking back into Lysandra’s furry body, her hand slipping from Dorian’s.

Dorian lunged for her hand to renew contact, but there was no need.

No need for his power, or Yrene’s.

Not as Erawan, golden eyes open and unseeing as they gazed at the night sky above, sagged to the stones of the balcony.

Not as his skin turned gray, then began to wither, to decay.

A life rotting away from within.

“Burn it,” Yrene rasped, a hand going to her belly. A pulse of joy, a spark of light, answered back.

Dorian didn’t hesitate. Flames leaped out, devouring the decaying body before them.

They were unnecessary.

Before they’d even begun to turn his clothing to ash, Erawan dissolved. A sagging bit of flesh and brittle bones.

Dorian burned him anyway.

They watched in silence as the Valg king turned to ashes.

As a winter wind swept over the tower balcony, and carried them far, far away.




She was dead.

Aelin was dead.

Her lifeless body had been spiked to the gates of Orynth, her hair shorn to her scalp.

Rowan knelt before the gates, the armies of Morath streaming past him. It wasn’t real. Couldn’t be. Yet the sun warmed his face. The reek of death filled his nose.

He gritted his teeth, willing himself out, away from this place. This waking nightmare.

It didn’t falter.

A hand brushed his shoulder, gentle and small.

“You brought this upon yourself, you know,” said a lilting female voice.

He knew that voice. Would never forget it.


She stood behind him, peering up at Aelin. Clad in Maeve’s dark armor, her brown hair braided back from her delicate, lovely face. “You brought it upon her, too, I suppose,” his mate—his lie of a mate—mused.

Dead. Lyria was dead, and Aelin was the one meant to survive—

“You would pick her over me?” Lyria demanded, her chestnut eyes filling. “Is that the sort of male you have become?”

He couldn’t find any words, anything to explain, to apologize.

Aelin was dead.

He couldn’t breathe. Didn’t want to.


Connall was smirking at him. “Everything that happened to me is because of you.”

Kneeling on that veranda in Doranelle, in a palace he’d hoped to never see again, Fenrys fought the bile that rose in his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry, but would you change it? Was I the sacrifice you were willing to make in order to get what you wanted?”

Fenrys shook his head, but it was suddenly that of a wolf—the body he had once loved with such pride and fierceness. A wolf’s form—with no ability to speak.

“You took everything I ever wanted,” his twin went on. “Everything. Did you even mourn me? Did it even matter?”

He needed to tell him—tell his twin everything he’d meant to say, wished he’d been able to convey. But that wolf’s tongue did not voice the language of men and Fae. No voice. He had no voice.

“I am dead because of you,” Connall breathed. “I suffered because of you. And I will never forget it.”

Please. The word burned on his tongue. Please—


She couldn’t endure it.

Rowan kneeling there, screaming.

Fenrys sobbing toward the darkened skies.

And Lorcan—Lorcan in utter silence, eyes unseeing as some untold horror played out.

Maeve hummed to herself. “Do you see what I can do? What they are powerless against?”

Rowan screamed louder, the tendons in his neck bulging. Fighting Maeve with all he had.

She couldn’t endure it. Couldn’t stand it.

This was no illusion, no spun dream. This, their pain—this was real.

Maeve’s Valg powers, at last revealed. The same hellish power that the Valg princes possessed. The same power she’d endured. Defeated with flame.

But she had no flame to help them. Nothing at all.

“There’s indeed nothing left for you to bargain with,” Maeve said simply. “But yourself.”

Anything but this. Anything but this—


“You are nothing.”

Elide stood before him, the lofty towers of a city Lorcan had never seen, the city that should have been his home, beckoning on the horizon. The wind whipped her dark hair, as cold as the light in her eyes.

“A bastard-born nobody,” she went on. “Did you think I’d sully myself with you?”

“I think you might be my mate,” he rasped.

Elide snickered. “Mate? Why would you ever think you were entitled to such a thing after all you have done?”

It couldn’t be real—it wasn’t real. And yet that coldness in her face, the distance …

He’d earned it. Deserved it.


Maeve surveyed them, the three males who had been her slaves, lost to her dark power as it ripped through their minds, their memories, and laughed. “Pity about Gavriel. At least he fell nobly.”


Maeve turned to her. “You didn’t know, did you?” A click of her tongue. “The Lion will roar no longer, his life the asking price for defending his cub.”

Gavriel was dead. She felt the truth in Maeve’s words. Let them punch a hole through her heart.

“You could not save him, it seems,” Maeve went on. “But you can save them.”

Fenrys screamed now. Rowan had fallen silent, his green eyes vacant. Whatever he beheld had drawn him past screaming, beyond weeping.

Pain. Unspeakable, unimaginable pain. As she had endured—perhaps worse.

And yet …

Aelin didn’t give Maeve time to react. Time to even turn her head as she grabbed Goldryn where it lay beside her and hurled it at the queen.

It missed Maeve by an inch, the Valg queen twisting aside before the blade buried itself deep in the snow, steaming where it landed. Still burning.

It was all Aelin needed.

She lashed out, flame spearing into the world.

But not for Maeve.

It slammed into Rowan, into Fenrys and Lorcan. Struck their shoulders, hard and deep.

Burning them. Branding them.


Aelin was dead. She was dead, and he had failed her.

“You are a lesser male,” Lyria said, still studying the gate where Aelin’s body swayed. “You deserved this. After what was done to me, you deserved this.”

Aelin was dead.

He did not wish to live in this world. Not for a heartbeat longer.

Aelin was dead. And he—

His shoulder twinged. And then it burned.

As if someone had pressed a brand to it. A red-hot poker.

A flame.

He looked down, but beheld no wound.

Lyria continued on, “You bring only suffering to those you love.”

The words were distant. Secondary to that burning wound.

It singed him again, a phantom wound, a memory—

Not a memory. Not a memory, but a lifeline thrown into the dark. Into an illusion.

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