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Part 2: QUEEN OF LIGHT – Chapter no 48

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Manon beat Asterin in the breakfast hall the morning after her outburst regarding the Yellowlegs coven. No one asked why; no one dared.

Three unblocked blows.

Asterin didn’t so much as flinch.

When Manon was finished, the witch just stared her down, blue blood gushing from her broken nose. No smile. No wild grin.

Then Asterin walked away.

The rest of the Thirteen monitored them warily. Vesta, now Manon’s Third, looked half inclined to sprint after Asterin, but a shake of Sorrel’s head kept the red-haired witch still.

Manon was off-kilter all day afterward.

She’d told Sorrel to stay quiet about the Yellowlegs, but wondered if she should tell Asterin to do the same.

She hesitated, thinking about it.

You let them do this.

The words danced around and around in Manon’s head, along with that preachy little speech Elide had made the night before. Hope. What drivel.

The words were still dancing when Manon stalked into the duke’s council chamber twenty minutes later than his summons demanded.

“Do you delight in offending me with your tardiness, or are you incapable of telling time?” the duke said from his seat. Vernon and Kaltain were at the table, the former smirking, the latter staring blankly ahead. No sign of shadowfire.

“I’m an immortal,” Manon said, taking a seat across from them as Sorrel stood guard by the doors, Vesta in the hall outside. “Time means nothing to me.”

“A little sass from you today,” Vernon said. “I like it.”

Manon leveled a cold look at him. “I missed breakfast this morning, human. I’d be careful if I were you.”

The lord only smiled.

She leaned back in her chair. “Why did you summon me this time?” “I need another coven.”

Manon kept her face blank. “What of the Yellowlegs you already have?”

“They are recovering well and will be ready for visitors soon.” Liar.

“A Blackbeak coven this time,” the duke pressed. “Why?”

“Because I want one, and you’ll provide one, and that’s all you need to know.”

You let them do this.

She could feel Sorrel’s gaze on the back of her head. “We’re not whores for your men to use.”

“You are sacred vessels,” the duke said. “It is an honor to be chosen.” “I find that a very male thing to assume.”

A flash of yellowing teeth. “Pick your strongest coven, and send them downstairs.”

“That will require some consideration.” “Do it fast, or I will pick myself.”

You let them do this.

“And in the meantime,” the duke said as he rose from his seat in a swift, powerful movement, “prepare your Thirteen. I have a mission for you.”

 

 

Manon sailed on a hard, fast wind, pushing Abraxos even as clouds gathered, even as a storm broke around the Thirteen. Out. She had to get out, had to remember the bite of the wind on her face, what unchecked speed and unlimited strength were like.

Even if the rush of it was somewhat diminished by the rider she held in front of her, her frail body bundled up against the elements.

Lightning cleaved the air so close by that Manon could taste the tang of the ether, and Abraxos veered, plunging into rain and cloud and wind. Kaltain didn’t so much as flinch. Shouts burst from the men riding with the rest of the Thirteen.

Thunder cracked, and the world went numb with the sound. Even Abraxos’s roar was muted in her dulled ears. The perfect cover for their ambush.

You let them do this.

The rain soaking through her gloves turned to warm, sticky blood.

Abraxos caught an updraft and ascended so fast that Manon’s stomach dropped. She held Kaltain tightly, even though the woman was harnessed

in. Not one reaction from her.

Duke Perrington, riding with Sorrel, was a cloud of darkness in Manon’s peripheral vision as they soared through the canyons of the White Fangs, which they had so carefully mapped all these weeks.

The wild tribes would have no idea what was upon them until it was too late.

She knew there was no way to outrun this—no way to avoid it. Manon kept flying through the heart of the storm.

 

 

When they reached the village, blended into the snow and rock, Sorrel swooped in close enough for Kaltain to hear Perrington. “The houses. Burn them all.”

Manon glanced at the duke, then at her charge. “Should we land—” “From here,” the duke ordered, and his face became grotesquely soft

as he spoke to Kaltain. “Do it now, pet.”

Below, a small female figure slipped out of one of the heavy tents. She looked up, shouting.

Dark flames—shadowfire—engulfed her from head to toe. Her scream was carried to Manon on the wind.

Then there were others, pouring out as the unholy fire leaped upon their houses, their horses.

“All of them, Kaltain,” the duke said over the wind. “Keep circling, Wing Leader.”

Sorrel met Manon’s stare. Manon quickly looked away and reeled Abraxos back around the pass where the tribe had been camped. There were rebels among them; Manon knew because she’d tracked them herself.

Shadowfire ripped through the camp. People dropped to the ground, shrieking, pleading in tongues Manon didn’t understand. Some fainted from the pain; some died from it. The horses were bucking and screaming—such wretched sounds that even Manon’s spine stiffened.

Then it vanished.

Kaltain sagged in Manon’s arms, panting, gasping down raspy breaths. “She’s done,” Manon said to the duke.

Irritation flickered on his granite-hewn face. He observed the people running about, trying to help those who were weeping or unconscious— or dead. Horses fled in every direction.

“Land, Wing Leader, and put an end to it.”

Any other day, a good bloodletting would have been enjoyable. But at his order …

She’d scouted this tribe for him.

You let them do this.

Manon barked the command to Abraxos, but his descent was slow—as if giving her time to reconsider. Kaltain was shuddering in Manon’s arms, nearly convulsing. “What’s wrong with you?” Manon said to the woman, half wondering if she should stage an accident that would end with the woman’s neck snapped on the rocks.

Kaltain said nothing, but the lines of her body were locked tight, as if frozen despite the fur she’d been wrapped in.

Too many eyes—there were too many eyes on them for Manon to kill her. And if she was so valuable to the duke, Manon had no doubt he’d take one—or all—of the Thirteen as retribution. “Hurry, Abraxos,” she said, and he picked up his pace with a snarl. She ignored the disobedience, the disapproval, in the sound.

They landed on a flattened bit of mountain ledge, and Manon left Kaltain in Abraxos’s care as she stomped through the sleet and snow toward the panicking village.

The Thirteen silently fell into rank behind her. She didn’t glance at them; part of her didn’t dare to see what might be on their faces.

The villagers halted as they beheld the coven standing atop the rock outcropping jutting over the hollow where they’d made their home.

Manon drew Wind-Cleaver. And then the screaming started anew.

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