Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(15)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(15)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Aelin held up a hand, flame leaping at her fingertips, rain turning to steam above it. Blood snaked down her wrist from the deep cut, sibling to the other on her right hand, bright as Goldryn’s ruby, peeking over her shoulder. “I’ll make one more promise,” she said, folding her bloodied hand into a fist as she lowered it before them. Darrow tensed.

Her blood dripped onto the sacred soil of Terrasen, and her smile turned lethal. Even Aedion held his breath beside her.

Aelin said, “I promise you that no matter how far I go, no matter the cost, when you call for my aid, I will come. I promise you on my blood, on my family’s name, that I will not turn my back on Terrasen as you have turned your back on me. I promise you, Darrow, that when the day comes and you crawl for my help, I will put my kingdom before my pride and not kill you for this. I think the true punishment will be seeing me on the throne for the rest of your miserable life.”

His face had gone from white to purple.

She just turned away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Darrow demanded. So Murtaugh had not filled him in on her plan to go to the Dead Islands. Interesting.

She looked over her shoulder. “To call in old debts and promises. To raise an army of assassins and thieves and exiles and commoners. To finish what was started long, long ago.”

Silence was his answer.

So Aelin and Aedion strode to where Lysandra now monitored them, solemn-faced in the rain, Evangeline hugging herself as Fleetfoot leaned against the silently weeping girl.

Aelin said to the shape-shifter and the general, locking out the sorrow from her heart, locking out the pain and worry from her mind, “We travel now.”

And when they dispersed to gather the horses, Aedion brushing a kiss to Evangeline’s soaked head before Murtaugh and Ren led her back to the inn with considerable gentleness, Darrow striding ahead with no farewell whatsoever, when Aelin was alone, she finally approached that shadowed, gnarled tree.

The Little Folk had known about the wyvern attack this morning.

So she’d supposed that this little effigy, already falling apart under the torrent of rain, was another message of sorts. One just for her.

Brannon’s temple on the coast had been rendered carefully—a clever little contraption of twigs and rocks to form the pillars and altar … And on the sacred rock in its center, they’d created a white stag from raw sheep’s wool, his mighty antlers no more than curling thorns.

An order—where to go, what she needed to obtain. She was willing to listen, play along. Even if it had meant telling the others only half the truth.

Aelin broke apart the temple reconstruction but left the stag in her palm, the wool deflating in the rain.

Horses nickered as Aedion and Lysandra hauled them closer, but Aelin felt him a heartbeat before he emerged between the distant, night-veiled trees. Too far in the wood to be anything but a ghost, a figment of an ancient god’s dream.

Barely breathing, she watched him for as long as she dared, and when Aelin mounted her horse, she wondered if her companions could tell that it was not rain gleaming on her face as she tugged on her black hood.

Wondered if they, too, had spied the Lord of the North standing watch deep in the forest, the white stag’s immortal glow muted in the rain, come to bid Aelin Galathynius farewell.

6

Dorian Havilliard, King of Adarlan, hated the silence.

It had become his companion, walking beside him through the near-empty halls of his stone castle, crouching in the corner of his cluttered tower room at night, sitting across the table at each meal.

He had always known he would one day be king.

He had not expected to inherit a shattered throne and vacant stronghold.

His mother and younger brother were still ensconced in their mountain residence in Ararat. He had not sent for them. He’d given the order to remain, actually.

If only because it would mean the return of his mother’s preening court, and he’d gladly take the silence over their tittering. If only because it would mean looking into his mother’s face, his brother’s face, and lying about who had destroyed the glass castle, who had slaughtered most of their courtiers, and who had ended his father. Lying about what his father had been—the demon that had dwelled inside him.

A demon that had reproduced with his mother—not once, but twice.

Standing on the small stone balcony atop his private tower, Dorian gazed at the glittering sprawl of Rifthold beneath the setting sun, at the sparkling ribbon of the Avery as it wended inland from the sea, curving around the city like the coils of a snake, and then flowing straight through the continent’s heart.

He lifted his hands before the view, his palms callused from the exercises and swordplay he’d made himself start learning once more. His favorite guards—Chaol’s men—were all dead.

Tortured and killed.

His memories of his time beneath the Wyrdstone collar were dim and blurred. But in his nightmares, he sometimes stood in a dungeon far beneath this castle, blood that was not his own coating his hands, screams that were not his own ringing in his ears, begging him for mercy.

Not him, he told himself. The Valg prince had done it. His father had done it.

He’d still had difficulty meeting the stare of the new Captain of the Guard, a friend of Nesryn Faliq, as he’d asked the man to show him how to fight, help him become stronger, faster.

Never again. Never again would he be weak and useless and frightened.

Dorian cast his gaze southward, as if he could see all the way to Antica. He wondered if Chaol and Nesryn had gotten there—wondered if his friend was already at the Torre Cesme, having his broken body healed by its gifted masters.

The demon inside his father had done that, too—snapped Chaol’s spine.

The man fighting inside his father had kept the blow from being fatal.

Dorian had possessed no such control, no such strength, when he watched the demon use his own body—when the demon had tortured and killed and taken what it wanted. Maybe his father had been the stronger man in the end. The better man.

Not that he’d ever had a chance to know him as a man. As a human.

Dorian flexed his fingers, frost sparking in his palm. Raw magic—yet there was no one here to teach him. No one he dared ask.

He leaned against the stone wall beside the balcony door.

He lifted his hand toward the pale band marking his throat. Even with the hours he’d spent outside training, the skin where the collar had once laid had not darkened to a golden tan. Maybe it always would remain pale.

Maybe his dreams would always be haunted by that demon prince’s hissing voice. Maybe he would always wake up with his sweat feeling like Sorscha’s blood on him, like Aelin’s blood as he stabbed her.

Aelin. Not a word from her—or from anyone regarding the queen’s return to her kingdom. He tried not to worry, to contemplate why there was such silence.

Such silence, when Nesryn and Chaol’s scouts now brought him news that Morath was stirring.

Dorian glanced inside, toward the pile of papers on his cluttered desk, and winced. He still had a disgusting amount of paperwork to do before sleep: letters to sign, plans to read—

Thunder murmured across the city.

Perhaps a sign that he should get to work, unless he wanted to be up until the black hours of the morning once again. Dorian turned inside, sighing sharply through his nose, and thunder boomed again.

Too soon, and the sound too short-lived.

Dorian scanned the horizon. No clouds—nothing but the red-and-pink-and-gold sky.

But the city lounging at the foot of the castle’s hill seemed to pause. Even the muddy Avery seemed to halt its slithering as the boom sounded again.

He had heard that sound before.

His magic roiled in his veins, and he wondered what it sensed as ice coated his balcony against his will, so swift and cold the stones groaned.

He tried to reel it back in—as if it were a ball of yarn that had tumbled from his hands—but it ignored him, spreading thicker, faster over the stones. Along the arch of the doorway behind him, down the curving face of the tower—

A horn sounded in the west. A high, bleating note.

It was cut off before it finished.

With the angle of the balcony, he couldn’t see its source. He rushed into his room, leaving his magic to the stones, and hurtled for the open western window. He was halfway through the pillars of books and papers when he spied the horizon. When his city began screaming.

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