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Chapter no 54

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Manon stared at the letter that the trembling messenger had just delivered. Elide was trying her best to look as though she wasn’t observing every flick of Manon’s eyes across the page, but it was hard not to stare when the witch snarled with every word she read.

Elide lay on her pallet of hay, the fire already dying down to embers, and groaned as she sat up, her sore body aching. She’d found a water skein in the larder, and had even asked the cook if she could take it for the Wing Leader. He didn’t dare object. Or begrudge her the two little bags of nuts she had also nabbed “for the Wing Leader.” Better than nothing.

She’d stored it all under her pallet, and Manon hadn’t noticed. Any day now, the wagon would be arriving with supplies. When it left, Elide would be on it. And never have to deal with any of this darkness again.

Elide reached for the pile of logs and added two to the fire, sending sparks shooting up in a wave. She was about to lie down again when Manon said from the desk, “In three days, I’ll be heading out with my Thirteen.”

“To where?” Elide dared ask. From the violence with which the Wing Leader had read the letter, it couldn’t be anywhere pleasant.

“To a forest in the North. To—” Manon caught herself and moved across the floor, her steps light but powerful as she came to the hearth and chucked the letter in. “I’ll be gone for at least two days. If I were you, I’d suggest using that time to lie low.”

Elide’s stomach twisted at the thought of what, exactly, it might mean for the Wing Leader’s protection to be thousands of miles away. But there was no point in telling Manon that. She wouldn’t care, even if she’d claimed Elide as one of her kind.

It meant nothing, anyway. She wasn’t a witch. She’d be escaping soon. She doubted anyone here would really think twice about her disappearance.

“I’ll lie low,” Elide said.

Perhaps in the back of a wagon, as it made its way out of Morath and to freedom beyond.

 

 

It took three whole days to prepare for the meeting.

The Matron’s letter had contained no mention of the breeding and slaughter of witches. In fact, it was as if her grandmother hadn’t received any of Manon’s messages. As soon as Manon got back from this little mission, she’d start questioning the Keep’s messengers. Slowly. Painfully.

The Thirteen were to fly to coordinates in Adarlan—smack in the middle of the kingdom, just inside the tangle of Oakwald Forest—and arrive a day before the arranged meeting to establish a safe perimeter.

For the King of Adarlan was to at last see the weapon her grandmother had been building, and apparently wanted to inspect Manon as well. He was bringing his son, though Manon doubted it was for guarding his back in the way that the heirs protected their Matrons. She didn’t particularly care—about any of it.

A stupid, useless meeting, she’d almost wanted to tell her grandmother. A waste of her time.

At least seeing the king would provide an opportunity to meet the man who was sending out these orders to destroy witches and make monstrosities of their witchlings. At least she would be able to tell her grandmother in person about it—maybe even witness the Matron make mincemeat of the king once she learned the truth about what he’d done.

Manon climbed into the saddle, and Abraxos walked out onto the post, adjusting to the latest armor the aerial blacksmith had crafted—finally light enough for the wyverns to manage, and now to be tested on this trip. Wind bit at her, but she ignored it. Just as she’d ignored her Thirteen.

Asterin wouldn’t speak to her—and none of them had spoken about the Valg prince that the duke had sent to them.

It had been a test, to see who would survive, and to remind her what was at stake.

Just as unleashing shadowfire on that tribe had been a test.

She still couldn’t pick a coven. And she wouldn’t, until she’d spoken to her grandmother.

But she doubted that the duke would wait much longer.

Manon gazed into the plunge, at the ever-growing army sweeping across the mountains and valleys like a carpet of darkness and fire—so many more soldiers hidden beneath it. Her Shadows had reported that very morning about spotting lean, winged creatures with twisted human forms soaring through the night skies—too swift and agile to track

before they vanished into the heavy clouds and did not return. The majority of Morath’s horrors, Manon suspected, had yet to be revealed. She wondered if she’d command them, too.

She felt the eyes of her Thirteen on her, waiting for the signal.

Manon dug her heels into Abraxos’s side, and they free-fell into the air.

 

 

The scar on her arm ached.

It always ached—more than the collar, more than the cold, more than the duke’s hands on her, more than anything that had been done to her. Only the shadowfire was a comfort.

She had once believed that she’d been born to be queen. She had since learned that she’d been born to be a wolf.

The duke had even put a collar on her like a dog, and had shoved a demon prince inside her.

She’d let it win for a time, curling up so tightly inside herself that the prince forgot she was there.

And she waited.

In that cocoon of darkness, she bided her time, letting him think her gone, letting them do what they wanted to the mortal shell around her. It was in that cocoon where the shadowfire began to flicker, fueling her, feeding her. Long ago, when she was small and clean, flames of gold had crackled at her fingers, secret and hidden. Then they had vanished, as all good things had vanished.

And now they had returned—reborn within that dark shell as phantom fire.

The prince inside her did not notice when she began to nibble at him.

Bit by bit, she stole morsels of the otherworldly creature that had taken her body for its skin, who did such despicable things with it.

The creature noticed the day she took a bigger bite—big enough that it screamed in agony.

Before it could tell anyone, she leaped upon it, tearing and ripping with her shadowfire until only ashes of malice remained, until it was no more than a whisper of thought. Fire—it did not like fire of any kind.

For weeks now, she had been here. Waiting again. Learning about the flame in her veins—how it bled into the thing in her arm and reemerged as shadowfire. The thing spoke to her sometimes, in languages she had never heard, that had maybe never existed.

The collar remained around her neck, and she let them order her around, let them touch her, hurt her. Soon enough—soon enough she would find true purpose, and then she would howl her wrath at the moon. She’d forgotten the name she’d been given, but it made no difference.

She had only one name now: Death, devourer of worlds.

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