Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(9)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(9)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Vernon’s eyes flicked to meet hers. Fear—and calculation. He murmured to Erawan, “The Wing Leader has a point, milord.” What did Vernon know that she didn’t?

But Erawan angled his head, his golden hair sliding across his brow. “That is why you are my Wing Leader, Manon Blackbeak, and why Iskra Yellowlegs did not win the position.”

Disgust and pride warred in her, but she nodded.

“One more thing.”

She remained still, waiting.

The demon king lounged in his seat. “There is a glass wall in Rifthold. Impossible to miss.” She knew it—had perched atop it. “Damage the city enough to instill fear, show our power. But that wall … Bring it down.”

She only said, “Why?”

Those golden eyes simmered like hot coals. “Because destroying a symbol can break the spirits of men as much as bloodshed.”

That glass wall—Aelin Galathynius’s power. And mercy. Manon held that gaze long enough to nod. The king jerked his chin toward the shut doors in silent dismissal.

Manon was out of the room before he’d turned back to Vernon. It did not occur to her until she was long gone that she should have remained to protect the Matron.

The Thirteen did not speak until they had landed at their personal armory in the army camp below, had not even risked it while saddling their wyverns in the new aerie.

Sweeping through the smoke and gloom that always wreathed Morath, the two escort covens Manon had selected—both Blackbeaks—steered for their own armories. Good.

Now standing in the mud of the valley floor outside the cobbled-together labyrinth of forges and tents, Manon said to her assembled Thirteen, “We fly in thirty minutes.” Behind them, blacksmiths and handlers were already rushing to haul armor onto the chained-down wyverns.

If they were smart, or fast, they wouldn’t wind up between those jaws. Already, Asterin’s sky-blue mare was sizing up the man closest to her.

Manon was half tempted to see if she’d take a bite out of him, but she said to her coven, “If we are lucky, we will arrive before Iskra and set the tone for how the sacking unfolds. If we are not, we seek out Iskra and her coven upon arriving and staunch the slaughter. Leave the prince to me.” She didn’t dare look at Asterin as she said it. “I have no doubt the Yellowlegs will try to claim his head. Stop any one of them who dares take it.”

And perhaps put an end to Iskra as well. Accidents happened all the time in battle.

The Thirteen bowed their heads in acquiescence. Manon jerked her head over a shoulder, to the armory under the shoddy canvas tents. “Full armor.” She gave them a slashing grin. “We don’t want to make our grand appearance looking anything but our best.”

Twelve matching grins met hers, and they peeled away, heading toward the tables and dummies where their armor had been carefully and meticulously built these past months.

Only Asterin remained at her side as Manon grabbed Ghislaine by an arm when the curly-haired sentinel strode past.

She murmured over the clank of forges and roar of wyverns, “Tell us what you know of Erawan.” Ghislaine opened her mouth, dark skin wan, and Manon snapped, “Concisely.”

Ghislaine swallowed hard, nodding as the rest of the Thirteen readied beyond them. The warrior-scholar whispered so only Manon and Asterin could hear. “He was one of the three Valg kings who invaded this world at the dawn of time. The other two were either killed or sent back to their dark world. He was stranded here, with a small army. He fled to this continent after Maeve and Brannon squashed his forces, and spent a thousand years rebuilding his numbers in secret, deep beyond the White Fangs. When he was ready, when he noticed that King Brannon’s flame was dimming, Erawan launched his attack to claim this continent. Legend has it that he was defeated by Brannon’s own daughter and her human mate.”

Asterin snorted. “It would seem that legend is wrong.”

Manon released Ghislaine’s arm. “Get ready. Tell the others when you can.”

Ghislaine bowed her head and stalked into the arsenal.

Manon ignored Asterin’s narrow stare. Now was not the time for this conversation.

She found the mute blacksmith by his usual forge, sweat streaming down his soot-stained brow. But his eyes were solid, calm, as he pulled back the canvas tarp on his worktable to reveal her armor. Polished, ready.

The suit of dark metal had been fashioned like intricate wyvern scales. Manon ran a finger along the overlapping plates and lifted a gauntlet, perfectly formed to her own hand. “It’s beautiful.”

Horrible, yet beautiful. She wondered what he made of the fact that he’d forged this armor for her to wear while ending the lives of his countrymen. His ruddy face revealed nothing.

She stripped off her red cloak and began donning the armor bit by bit. It slid over her like a second skin, flexible and pliant where she needed it to be, unyielding where her life depended on it.

When she was done, the blacksmith looked her over and nodded, then reached below his table to place another object on its surface. For a heartbeat, Manon only stared at the crowned helmet.

It had been forged of the same dark metal, the nose and brow guards fashioned so that most of her face would be in shadow—save for her mouth. And her iron teeth. The six lances of the crown jutted upward like small swords.

A conqueror’s helm. A demon’s helm.

Manon felt the eyes of her Thirteen, now armed, upon her as she tucked her braid into the neck of her armor and lifted the helmet over her head.

It fitted easily, its interior cool against her hot skin. Even with the shadows that hid most of her face, she could see the blacksmith with perfect clarity as his chin dipped in approval.

She had no idea why she bothered, but Manon found herself saying, “Thank you.”

Another shallow nod was his only reply before she swept from his table.

Soldiers cowered from her storming path as she signaled to the Thirteen and mounted Abraxos, her wyvern preening in his new armor.

She didn’t look back at Morath as they took to the gray skies.

4

Aedion and Rowan did not let Darrow’s messenger go ahead to warn the lords of their arrival. If this was some maneuver to get them on uneven footing, despite all that Murtaugh and Ren had done for them this spring, then they’d gain the advantage whatever way they could.

Aelin supposed that she should have taken the stormy weather as an omen. Or perhaps Murtaugh’s age provided a convenient excuse for Darrow to test her. She leashed her temper at the thought.

The tavern was erected at a crossroads just inside the tangle of Oakwald. With the rain and night settling in, it was packed, and they had to pay double to stable their horses. Aelin was fairly certain that one word from her, one flicker of that telltale fire, would have cleared out not only the stables, but also the tavern itself.

Lysandra had padded off half a mile away, and when they arrived, she slunk from the bushes and nodded her fuzzy, drenched head at Aelin. All clear.

Inside the inn, there were no rooms to be found for rent, and the taproom itself was crammed full of travelers, hunters, and whoever else was escaping the downpour. Some even sat against the walls—and Aelin supposed that it was how she and her friends might very well spend their evening once this meeting concluded.

A few heads twisted their way as they entered, but dripping hoods and cloaks concealed their faces and weapons, and those heads quickly returned to their drinks or cards or drunken songs.

Lysandra had finally shifted back into her human form—and true to her oath months ago, her once-full breasts were now smaller. Despite what awaited them in the private dining room at the back of the inn, Aelin caught the shape-shifter’s eye and smirked.

“Better?” she murmured over Evangeline’s head as Darrow’s messenger, Aedion at his side, strolled through the crowd.

Lysandra’s grin was half feral. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Behind them, Aelin could have sworn Rowan chuckled.

The messenger and Aedion turned down a hallway, the dim candlelight flickering amongst the raindrops still sliding off the round, scarred shield strapped across her cousin’s back. The Wolf of the North, who, even though he had won battles with his Fae speed and strength, had earned the respect and loyalty of his legion as a man—as a human. Aelin, still in her Fae form, wondered if she should have shifted herself.

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