Thats what I was going for. Daniel grinned. I like to think that I walk the fine line between cheesy and sweet, and I always come out on top.
Youre doing what you need to do right now, which is placate the sirens. Thats a really huge part of making this all work, Harper told her calmly. Because if theyre pissed off or suspicious … its not good for anyone.You need to do what keeps you safe, Gemma, Brian said, and his tone was much more firm than Harpers had been. And right now, thats acting like everythings normal. You need to do that, so you dont draw attention to your friends, who are putting themselves at risk to solve this.
But I should be the one putting myself at risk, Gemma insisted. This is my problem, not theirs.Brian balled his hand up in a fist and slammed it down on the table, frightening both the girls. I hate that I cant protect you from this. Its my job. Youre my little girl, and Im supposed to… He gritted his teeth and shook his head. All I want to do is run up that hill and beat the hell out of those girls for getting you into this mess. And I know Im not supposed to say that, because Im your dad, and I shouldnt condone violence, especially not on girls.But they arent girls, Brian growled. Theyre monsters and … it takes all my strength not to go up there and settle this for you. Because I know I cant. No matter how badly I want to take your place, to save you from all of this, I cant.
Dad, youre doing everything you can do. Youre supporting me, and youre helping me. Gemma reached over and took his hand.But it doesnt feel like enough. As long as youre in danger, anything I do will never be enough, Brian insisted. So if the safest place for you is going to that play, pretending everything is fine, while that friend of yours gathers information, then thats what you need to do. Do you understand me?
Gemma lowered her eyes and nodded. I do.
Well solve this, Gemma, Harper promised her. And we have a clear course of action now—find Diana, the goddess who helped Bernies Thalia become mortal. And if Lydia is related to Audra, the soothsayer who helped Thalia find Diana, then Lydia might know something.He carried her through the fog-wrapped town, to where their boat was tied. Already, onlookers had gathered, no doubt to scavenge their supplies when the ilken left. A snarl from Lorcan had them skittering into the mist. As he stepped onto the barge, the boat rocking beneath him, Elide said, He told me youd left. Lorcan still didnt set her down, holding her aloft with one arm as he untied the ropes. You believed him. She wiped at the blood on her face, then winced at the tender wrist—and broken nose. Hed have to tend to that. Even then, it might very well be slightly crooked forever. He doubted shed care. Knew shed perhaps see that crooked nose as a sign that shed fought and survived. Lorcan put her down at last, atop the crate of apples—right where he could see her. She sat silently as he took up the pole and pushed them away from the dock, from that hateful town, glad for the cover of mist as they drifted downstream. They could perhaps afford two more days on the river before theyd have to cut inland to shake any enemies trailing them. Good thing they were close enough to Eyllwe now to make it in a matter of days on foot. When there was nothing but wafting mist and the lapping of the river against the boat, Lorcan spoke again. You wouldnt have stopped that dagger. She didnt respond, and the silence went on long enough that he turned to where she perched on the crate. Tears rolled down her face as she stared at the water. He didnt know how to comfort, how to soothe—not in the way she needed. So he set down the pole and sat beside her on the crate, the wood groaning. Who is Manon? Hed heard most of what Vernon had hissed inside that private dining room while hed been setting his trap in the courtyard, but some details had evaded him. The Wing Leader of the Ironteeth legion, Elide said, voice trembling, the words snagging on the blood clogging her nose. Lorcan took a shot in the dark. She was the one who got you out. That day—she was why youre in witch leathers, why you wound up wandering in Oakwald. A nod. And Kaltain—who was she? The person whod given her that thing she carried. Erawans mistress—his slave. She was my age. He put the stone inside her arm and made her into a living ghost. She bought me and Manon time to run; she incinerated most of Morath in the process, and herself. Elide reached into her jacket, her breathing thick with tears still sliding down her face. Lorcans breath caught as she pulled out a scrap of dark fabric. The scent clinging to it was female, foreign—broken and sad and cold. But there was another scent beneath it, one he knew and hated … Kaltain said to give this to Celaena—not to Aelin, Elide said, shaking with her tears. Because Celaena … she gave her a warm cloak in a cold dungeon. And they wouldnt let Kaltain take the cloak with her when they brought her to Morath, but she managed to save this scrap. To remember to repay Celaena for that kindness. But … what sort of gift is this thing? What is this? She pulled back the fold of cloth, revealing a dark sliver of stone. Every drop of blood in his body went cold and hot, awake and dead. She was sobbing quietly. Why is this payment? My very bones say to not touch it. My—a voice told me not to even think about it … It was wrong. The thing in her beautiful, filthy hand was wrong. It did not belong here, should not be here— The god who had watched over him his whole life had recoiled. Even death feared it. Put it away, he said roughly. Right now. Hand shaking, she did so. Only when it was hidden inside her jacket did he say, Lets clean you up first. Set that nose and wrist. Ill tell you what I know while I do. She nodded, gaze on the river. Lorcan reached out, grasping her chin and forcing her to look at him. Hopeless, bleak eyes met his. He brushed away a stray tear with his thumb. I made a promise to protect you. I will not break it, Elide. She made to pull away, but he gripped her a little harder, keeping her eyes on him. I will always find you, he swore to her. Her throat bobbed. Lorcan whispered, I promise. Elide sifted through all Lorcan had told her while he cleaned her face, inspected her nose and wrist, bound the latter in soft cloth, and quickly, but not viciously, set her nose. Wyrdkeys. Wyrdgates. Aelin had one Wyrdkey. Was looking for the other two. Soon to be only one more, once Elide gave her the key she carried. Two keys—against one. Perhaps they would win this war. Even if Elide didnt know how Aelin could use them and not destroy herself. But … shed leave it up to her. Erawan might have the armies, but if Aelin had two keys … She tried not to think about Manon. Vernon had lied about Lorcan leaving—to break her spirit, to get her to come willingly. Perhaps Manon was not dead, either. She wouldnt believe it until she had proof. Until the whole world screamed at her that the Wing Leader was gone. Lorcan was back at the prow by the time shed changed into one of his own shirts while her leathers dried. Her wrist throbbed, a dull, insistent ache, her face was no better and Lorcan had promised shed likely have a black eye from it, but … her head was clear. She came up beside him, watching him push the pole against the mucky bottom of the river. I killed those things. You did a fine job of it, he said. I dont regret it. Dark, depthless eyes slid to her. Good. She didnt know why she said it, why she felt a need or like it was worth anything to him at all, but Elide stood on her toes, kissed his stubble-rough cheek, and said, I will always find you, too, Lorcan. She felt him staring at her, even when shed climbed into bed minutes later. When she awoke, clean strips of linen for her cycle were next to the bed. His own shirt, washed and dried overnight—now cut up for her to use as she would. 51 Eyllwes coast was burning. For three days, they sailed past village after village. Some still burning, some only cinders. And at each of them, Aelin and Rowan had labored to put out those flames. Rowan, in his hawk form, could fly in, but … It killed her. Absolutely killed her that they could not afford to halt long enough to go to shore. So she did it from the ship, burrowing deep into her power, stretching it as far as it could go across sea and sky and sand, to wink out those fires one by one. By the end of the third day, she was flagging, so thirsty that no amount of water was able to slake it, her lips chapped and peeling. Rowan had gone to shore three times now to ask who had done it. Each time the answer was the same: darkness had swept over them in the night, the kind that blotted out the stars, and then the villages were burning beneath flaming arrows not spotted until they had found their targets. But where that darkness, where Erawans forces were … there was no sign of them. No sign of Maeve, either. Rowan and Lysandra had flown high and wide, searching for either force, but … nothing. Ghosts, some villagers were now claiming, had attacked them. The ghosts of their unburied dead, raging home from distant lands. Until they started whispering another rumor. That Aelin Galathynius herself was burning Eyllwe, village by village. For vengeance that they had not aided her kingdom ten years ago. No matter that she was putting out the flames. They did not believe Rowan when he tried to explain who soothed their fires from aboard the distant ship. He told her not to listen, not to let it sink in. So she tried. And it had been during one of those times that Rowan had run his thumb over the scar on her palm, leaning to kiss her neck. Hed breathed her in, and she knew he detected an answer to the question that had caused him to flee that morning on the ship. No, she was not carrying his child. They had only discussed the matter once—last week. When shed crawled off him, panting and coated in sweat, and hed asked if she was taking a tonic. She merely told him no. Hed gone still. And then she had explained that if shed inherited so much of Mabs Fae blood, she might very well have inherited the Faes struggle to conceive. And even if the timing was horrible … if this was to be the one shot she had of providing Terrasen a bloodline, a future … she would not waste it. His green eyes turned distant, but hed nodded, kissing her shoulder. And that had been that. She hadnt mustered the nerve to ask if he wanted to sire her children. If he wanted to have children, given what had happened to Lyria. And during that brief moment before hed flown back to shore to put out more flames, she hadnt possessed the nerve to explain why shed hurled her guts up that morning, either. The past three days had been a blur. From the moment Fenrys had uttered those words, Nameless is my price, everything had been a blur of smoke and flame and waves and sun. But as the sun set on the third day, Aelin again shoved those thoughts away as the escort ship began signaling ahead, the crew frantically working to drop anchor. Sweat beaded on her brow, her tongue parchment-dry. But she forgot her thirst, her exhaustion, as she beheld what Rolfes men had spied moments ago. A flat, waterlogged land under a cloudy sky spread inland as far as the eye could see. Moldy green and bone-white grasses crusted the bumps and hollows, little islands of life among the mirror-smooth gray water between them. And among them all, jutting up from brackish water and humped land like the limbs of an ill-buried corpse … ruins. Great, crumbling ruins, a once-lovely city drowned on the plain. The Stone Marshes. Manon let the humans and Fae meet with the captains of the other two ships. She heard the news soon enough: what they sought lay about a day and a half inland. Precisely where, they didnt know—or how long itd take to find its exact location. Until they returned, the ships would remain anchored here. And Manon, it seemed, would join them on their trip inland. As if the queen suspected that if she were left behind, their little fleet would not be intact when they returned. Clever woman. But that was the other problem. The one facing Manon right now, already looking anxious and put-out. Abraxoss tail lashed a bit, the iron spikes scraping and scratching the pristine ship deck. As if hed heard the queens order a minute ago: the wyvern has to go. On the flat, open expanse of the marshes, hed be too noticeable. Manon placed a hand on his scarred snout, meeting those depthless black eyes. You need to lie low somewhere. A warm, sorrowful huff into her palm. Dont whine about it, Manon said, even as something twisted and roiled in her belly. Stay out of sight, keep alert, and come back in four days time. She allowed herself to lean forward, resting her brow against his snout. His growl rumbled her bones. Weve been a pair, you and I. A few days is nothing, my friend. He nudged her head with his own. Manon swallowed hard. You saved my life. Many times. I never thanked you for it. Abraxos let out another low whine. You and me, she promised him. From now until the Darkness claims us. She made herself pull away. Made herself stroke his snout just once more. Then backed a step. Then another. Go. He didnt move. She bared her iron teeth. Go. Abraxos gave her a look full of reproach, but his body tensed, wings lifting. And Manon decided she had never hated anyone more than she hated the Queen of Terrasen and her friends. For making him leave. For causing this parting, when so many dangers had not been able to cleave them. But Abraxos was airborne, the sails groaning in the wind of his wings, and Manon watched until he was a speck on the horizon, until the longboats were being readied to bring them to the high grasses and stagnant gray water of the marshes beyond.
The queen and her court readied, donning weapons like some people adorned themselves with jewelry, moving about in question and answer to one another. So similar, to her Thirteen—similar enough that she had to turn away, ducking into the shadows of the foremast and schooling her breathing into an even rhythm. Her hands trembled. Asterin was not dead. The Thirteen were not dead. Shed kept the thoughts about it at bay. But now, with that flower-smelling wyvern vanishing over the horizon … The last piece of the Wing Leader had vanished with him. A muggy wind tugged her inland—toward those marshes. Dragging her red cape with it. Manon ran a finger down the crimson cloak shed made herself wear this morning. Rhiannon. Shed never heard a whisper that the Crochan royal bloodline had walked off that final killing field five centuries ago. She wondered if any of the Crochans beyond her half sister knew the child of Lothian Blackbeak and a Crochan Prince had survived. Manon unfastened the brooch clasping the cloak at her shoulders. She weighed the thick bolt of red fabric in her hands. A few easy swipes of her nails had her clutching a long, thin strip of the cloak. A few more motions had her tying it around the end of her braid, the red stark against the moon white of her hair. Manon stepped out of the shadows behind the foremast and peered over the edge of the ship. No one commented when she dumped her half sisters cloak into the sea. The wind carried it a few feet over the waves before it fluttered like a dying leaf to land atop the swells. A pool of blood—thats how it looked from the distance as the tide carried it out, out, out into the ocean. She found the King of Adarlan and Queen of Terrasen waiting at the railing of the main deck, their companions climbing into the awaiting longboat bobbing on the waves. She met eyes of sapphire, then those of turquoise and gold. She knew theyd seen it. Perhaps not understood what the cloak had meant, but … understood the gesture for what it was. Manon flicked her iron teeth and nails back into their slits as she approached them. Aelin Galathynius said quietly, You never stop seeing their faces. It was only when they were rowing for the shore, spindrift soaking them, that Manon realized the queen hadnt meant the Thirteen. And Manon wondered if Aelin, too, had watched that cloak floating out to sea and thought it looked like spilled blood. 52 They didnt get to Leriba. Or to Banjali. They didnt even get close. Lorcan felt the push on his shoulder that had guided and shaped the course of his life—that invisible, insistent hand of shadow and death. So they went south, then west, sailing swiftly down the network of waterways through Eyllwe. Elide didnt object or question when he explained that if Hellas himself was nudging him, that the queen they hunted was likely in that direction. Wherever it would lead. There were no cities out there, only endless grasslands that skirted Oakwalds southernmost tip, then marshes. The abandoned peninsula full of ruins among the marshes. But if that was where he was told to go … The dark gods touch on his shoulder had never steered him wrong. So hed see what hed find. He did not let himself dwell too long on the fact that Elide carried a Wyrdkey. That she was trying to bring it to his enemy. Perhaps his powers summons would lead them both to it—to her. And then hed have two keys, if he played his cards right. If he was smarter and faster and more ruthless than the others. Then the most dangerous part of all: traveling with two keys in his possession, into the heart of Morath, to hunt down the third. Speed would be his best ally and only shot at survival. And hed likely never see Elide or any of the others again. Theyd at last abandoned their barge that morning, cramming whatever supplies would fit into their packs before setting off through the rippling grasses. Hours later, Elides breathing was ragged as they ascended a steep hill deep in the plain. Hed been scenting brine for two days now—they had to be close to the edge of the marshes. Elide swallowed hard, and he passed her the canteen as they crested the summit of the hill. But Elide halted, arms slackening at her sides. And Lorcan himself froze at what spread before them. What is this place? Elide breathed, as if fearful the land itself would hear. As far as the eye could see, flowing into the horizon, the land had sunk a good thirty feet—a severe, brutal crack from the edge of the cliff, not hill, on which they stood, as if some furious god had stomped a foot across the plain and left an imprint. Silvery brackish water covered most of it, still as a mirror, interrupted only by grassy islands and mounds of earth—and crumbling, exquisite ruins. This is a bad place, Elide whispered. We shouldnt be here. Indeed, the hair on his arms had risen, every instinct on alert as he scanned the marshes, the ruins, the brambles, and thick foliage that had choked some of the islands. Even the god of death halted his nudging and ducked behind Lorcans shoulder. What do you sense? Her lips were bloodless. Silence. Life, but such … silence. As if … As if what? he pushed. Her words were a shudder of breath. As if all the people who once lived here, long ago, are still trapped inside—still … beneath. She pointed to a ruin—a curved, broken dome of what had likely been a ballroom attached to the spire. A palace. I dont think this is a place for the living, Lorcan. The beasts in these waters … I do not think they tolerate trespassers. Nor do the dead. Is it the stone or the goddess who watches you telling you such things? Its my heart that murmurs a warning. Anneith is silent. I dont think she wants to be anywhere near. I dont think she will follow. She came to Morath, but not here? What is inside these marshes? she asked instead. Why is Aelin headed into them? That, it seemed, was the question. For if they picked up on it, surely the queen and Whitethorn would sense it, too—and only a great reward or threat would drive them here. I dont know, he admitted. No towns or outposts exist anywhere nearby. Yet this was where the dark god had led him—and where that hand still pushed him to venture, even if it quaked. Nothing but ruins and dense foliage on those too-small islands of safety from whatever dwelled beneath the glassy water. But Lorcan obeyed the nudging god at his shoulder and led the Lady of Perranth onward. Who lived here? Elide asked, staring at the weather-worn face of the statue jutting from a near-collapsed stone wall. It teetered on the outer edge of the little island they were standing on, and the moss-speckled woman carved there had no doubt once been beautiful, as well as a bit of support for beams and a roof that had since rotted away. But the veil shed been carved wearing now seemed like a death shroud. Elide shivered. This place was forgotten and wrecked centuries before I was even born, Lorcan said. Did it belong to Eyllwe? It was a part of a kingdom that is now gone, a lost people who wandered and merged with those of different lands. They must have been very talented, to have made such beautiful buildings. Lorcan grunted in agreement. It had been two days of inching across the marshes—no sign of Aelin. They had slept in the shelter of the ruins, though neither of them really got true rest. Elides dreams had been filled with the pale, milky-eyed faces of people shed never met, crying out in supplication as water shoved down their throats, their noses. Even waking, she could see them, hear their cries on the wind. Just the breeze through the stones, Lorcan grumbled that first day. But shed seen it in his eyes. He heard the dead, too. Heard the thunder of the cataclysm that had dropped the land right from underneath them, heard the rushing water that devoured them all before they could run. Curious beasts from sea and swamp and river had converged in the years following, making the ruins a hunting ground, feasting on one another when the waterlogged corpses ran out. Changing, adapting—growing fatter and cleverer than their ancestors had been. It was thanks to those beasts that it took so long to cross the marshes. Lorcan would scan the too-still water between those islands of safety. Sometimes it was clear to wade through the chest-deep, salty water. Sometimes it was not. Sometimes even the islands were not safe. Twice now, shed spotted a long, scaled tail—plated like armor—sliding behind a stone wall or broken pillar. Thrice, shed seen great golden eyes, slitted down the pupil, watching from the reeds. Lorcan had hauled her over a shoulder and run whenever they realized they were not alone. Then there were the snakes—who liked to dangle from the wraithlike trees draining an existence from the islands. And the incessant, biting midges, who were nothing compared to the clouds of mosquitoes that sometimes hounded them for hours. Or until Lorcan sent a wave of his dark power into them and they all dropped to the earth in a dark rain. But every time he killed … she felt the earth shudder. Not in fear of him … but as if it were awakening. Listening. Wondering who dared walk across it. On the fourth night, Elide was so tired, so on edge, she wanted to whimper as they curled into a rare sanctuary: a ruined hall, with part of its mezzanine intact. It was open to the sky, and vines choked the three walls, but the stone stair had been solid—and was high enough off the island that nothing might crawl out of the water to prey upon them. Lorcan had rigged the base and top of the stairs with trip wires of vines and branches—to alert them if any beasts slithered up the steps. They didnt dare risk a fire, but it was warm enough that she didnt miss one. Lying beside Lorcan, his body a solid wall between her and the stone to her left, Elide watched the flickering stars, the drowsy buzz of insects a constant drone in her ears. Something roared in the distance. The insects paused. The marsh seemed to turn its attention toward that feral, deep roar. Slowly, life resumed again—though quieter. Lorcan murmured, Sleep, Elide. She swallowed, her fear thick in her blood. What was that? One of the beasts—either a mating call or territorial warning. She didnt want to know how big they were. Glimpses of eyes and tails were enough. Tell me about her, Elide whispered. Your queen. I doubt itll help you sleep any better. She turned onto her other side, finding him lying on his back, watching the sky. Will she truly kill you for what youve done? A nod. Yet you risk it—for her sake. She propped her head up with a fist. Do you love her? Those eyes, darker than the gaps between the stars, slid to her. I have been in love with Maeve since I first laid eyes on her. Are you—are you her lover? She had not dared ask it, hadnt really wanted to know. No. I offered once. She laughed at me for the insolence. His mouth tightened. So I have made myself invaluable in other ways. Again, that roar in the distance that silenced the world for a few heartbeats. Was it closer, or had she imagined it? When she glanced back at him, Lorcans eyes were on her mouth. She said, Perhaps she uses your love to her own advantage. Perhaps its in her best interest to drag you along. Maybe shell change her mind when you seem the most likely to … leave. I am blood-sworn to her. I will never leave. Her chest hurt at that. Then she can rest assured knowing youll pine after her for eternity. The words came out sharper than she intended, and she made to look at the stars, but Lorcan gripped her chin, faster than she could detect. He peered into her eyes, scanning them. Do not make the mistake of believing me to be a romantic fool. I do not hold any shred of hope for her.Then that does not seem like love at all. And what do you know of love? He was so close—had neared without her realizing it. I think love should make you happy, Elide said, remembering her mother and father. How often they had smiled and laughed, how they had gazed at each other. It should make you into the best possible version of yourself. Are you implying I am neither of those things? I dont think you even know what happiness is. His face grew grave—thoughtful. I do not mind … being around you. Is that a compliment? A half smile cut across his granite-hewn face. And she wanted … wanted to touch it. That smile, that mouth. With her fingers, her own lips. It made him younger, made him … handsome. So she reached up with trembling fingers and touched his lips. Lorcan froze, still half above her, his eyes solemn and intent. But she traced the contours of his mouth, finding the skin there soft and warm, such a contrast to the harsh words that usually came out of it. She reached the outer corner of his lips, and he turned his face into her hand, resting his rough cheek against her palm. His eyes grew heavy-lidded as she brushed a thumb over the hard plane of his cheekbone. Elide whispered, I would hide you. In Perranth. If you … if you do what you need to do, and need somewhere to go … You would have a place there. With me. His eyes snapped open, but there was nothing hard, nothing cold, about the light shining in them. I would be a dishonored male—itd reflect poorly upon you. If anyone thinks that, they would have no place in Perranth. His throat bobbed. Elide, you need to— But she rose up slightly, replacing her mouth where her fingers had been. The kiss was soft, and quiet, and brief. Barely a grazing of her lips against his. She thought Lorcan might have been trembling as she pulled back. As heat bloomed across her cheeks. But she made herself say, surprised to find her voice steady, You dont need to answer me now. Or ever. You could show up on my doorstep in ten years, and the offer would still stand. But there is a place for you, in Perranth—if you should ever need or wish for it. Something like agony rippled in his eyes, the most human expression shed seen him make. But he leaned forward, and despite the marshes, despite what gathered in the world, for the first time in ten years, Elide found herself not at all afraid as Lorcan caressed her lips with his own. Not afraid of anything as he did it again, kissing one corner of her mouth, then the other. Such gentle, patient kisses—his hands equally so as they stroked the hair back from her brow, as they trailed over her hips, her ribs. She lifted her own hands to his face and dragged her fingers into his silken hair as she arched up into him, craving the weight of his body on hers. Lorcans tongue brushed against the seam of her mouth, and Elide marveled at how natural it felt to open for him, how her body sang at the contact, his hardness against her softness. Lorcan groaned at the first caress of his tongue against her own, his hips grinding against hers in a way that made heat scorch through her, made her own body undulate against his in answer and demand. He kissed her deeper at that request, a hand sliding down to grip her thigh, spreading her legs a bit wider so he could settle fully between them. And as all of him lined up with her … She was panting, she realized, as she ground herself against him, as Lorcan tore his mouth from hers and kissed her jaw, her neck, her ear. She was trembling—not with fear, but with want as Lorcan breathed her name over and over onto her skin. Like a prayer, that was how her name sounded on his lips. She took his face in her hands, finding his eyes blazing, his breathing as ragged as her own. Elide dared to run her fingers from his cheek down his neck, right beneath the collar of his shirt. His skin was like heated silk. He shuddered at the touch, head bowing so that his inky hair spilled onto her brow, and his hips drove into hers just enough that a small gasp came out of her. More, she realized—she wanted more. His eyes met hers in silent question, her hand pausing over the skin above his heart. It was a raging, thunderous beat. She lifted her head to kiss him, and as her mouth again met his, she whispered her answer— Lorcans head snapped up. He was instantly on his feet, whirling toward the northeast. Where a darkness had begun to spread across the stars, wiping them out one by one. Any bit of heat, of desire, winked out of her. Is that a storm? We need to run, Lorcan said. But it was the dead of the night—dawn was at least six hours off. To cross the marshes now … More and more stars were gobbled up by that gathering darkness. What is that? It spread farther with each heartbeat. Far out, even the marsh beasts stopped roaring. Ilken, Lorcan murmured. That is an army of ilken. Elide knew they werent coming for her. 53 Two days into the endless labyrinth of the Stone Marshes—two, not the day and a half that gods-damned Rolfe had suggested—Aelin was inclined to burn the whole place to the ground. With the water and humidity, she was never dry, always sweating and sticky. And worse: the insects. She kept the little demons away with a shield of invisible flame, revealed only by the zinging as they slammed into it. She might have felt bad, had they not tried to eat her alive the first day here. Had she not scratched at the dozens of swollen red bites until her skin bled—and Rowan stepped in to heal them. After the Bloodhounds attack, her own healing abilities had remained depleted. So Rowan and Gavriel played healer for all of them, tending to the itching bites, the welts from stinging plants, the scratches from submerged, jagged chunks of the ruins that sliced into them if they werent careful while wading through the brackish water. Only Manon seemed immune to the marshes drain, finding the feral, rotting beauty of the marshes to be pleasing. She indeed reminded Aelin of one of the horrid river beasts that ruled this place—with those golden eyes, those sharp, gleaming teeth … Aelin tried not to think on it too much. Tried to imagine getting out of this place and onto dry, crisp land. But in the heart of this dead, wretched sprawl was Malas Lock. Rowan was scouting ahead in hawk form as the sun inched toward the horizon, Lysandra surveying the waters between the small hills as some slimy, scaled marsh thing that Aelin had grimaced at, eliciting an indignant hiss of a forked tongue before the shifter splashed into the water. Aelin grimaced again as she trudged up one of those little hills, crusted in thorny brambles and crowned with two fallen pillars. A maze designed to scratch and stub and tear. So she sent a blast of fire across the hill, turning it to wilting ashes. It clung to her wet boots as she passed over it, a sodden gray mush. Fenrys chuckled at her side as they descended the hill. Well, thats one way to get through it. He held out a hand to lead her through the water, and part of her balked at the idea of being escorted, but … shed be damned if she fell into a watery pit. She had a very, very good idea of what was deep beneath them. She had no interest in swimming among the rotted remnants of people. Fenrys gripped her hand tightly as they waded through the chest-deep water. He hauled her onto the bank first, then climbed out himself. He could no doubt leap the gaps between the islands in wolf form, as could Gavriel. Why they bothered staying in Fae form was beyond her. Aelin used her magic to dry off as best she could, then used a tendril to dry Fenryss and Gavriels clothes, too. A harmless, casual expenditure of power. Even if using it for three days straight on Eyllwes burning coast had drained her. Not the flame, but just … physically. Mentally. She still felt like she could sleep for a week. But the magic murmured. Incessantly, relentlessly. Even if she was tired … the power demanded more. Drying their clothes between dips into the marsh water, at least, kept the damn thing quiet. For now. Lysandra popped her hideous head up from a tangle of brambles, and Aelin yelped, falling back a step. The shifter grinned, revealing two very, very sharp fangs. Fenrys loosed a low laugh, scanning the shifter as she slithered a few feet ahead. So you can change skin and bone, but the brand remains? Lysandra paused a few inches from the water, and on the island ahead, Aedion seemed to go tense, even as he continued on. Good. At least she wasnt the only one whod rip out anyones throat if they so much as mocked Lysandra. But her friend shifted, glowing and expanding, until her form became humanoid—Fae. Until Fenrys was looking at himself, albeit a smaller version to fit into the womans clothes. Gavriel, clearing the bank behind them, stumbled a step at the sight. Lysandra said, her voice near-identical to Fenryss drawl, I suppose it shall always be my tell. She extended her wrist, pushing back the sleeve of her jacket to reveal his golden-brown skin, marred with that brand. But she kept peering down at herself as they all continued wading and climbing, and finally remarked, Your hearing is better. Lysandra ran her tongue over the slightly elongated canines. Fenrys cringed a bit. Whats the point of these? she asked. Gavriel edged closer and nudged the shape-shifter along, walking a few paces ahead with her. Fenrys is the last person to ask. If you want an appropriate answer, that is. Lysandra chuckled, smiling at the Lion as they ascended the hill. Odd—to see her smile on Fenryss face. Fenrys caught Aelins eye and grimaced again, no doubt finding it equally unnerving. She chuckled. Wings flapped ahead, and Aelin took a moment to marvel as Rowan sailed hard and fast to them. Swift, strong—unfaltering. Gavriel fell back a few paces as Lysandra stilled beside Aedion atop the hill and shifted into her own form. She swayed a bit, and Aelin lunged—only for Aedion to beat her to it, gripping Lysandra gently under her elbow as Rowan landed and shifted himself. They all needed a nice, long rest. Her Fae Prince said, Dead ahead—well be there by tomorrow afternoon. Whenever she saw Rolfe again, theyd have a little chat about how, exactly, he calculated distances on that infernal map of his. But Rowans face had paled beneath the tattoos. After a moment, he added, I can feel it—my magic can feel it. Tell me its not under twenty feet of water. A swift, cutting shake of the head. I didnt want to risk getting too close. But it reminds me of the Sin-Eaters temple. So, a really lovely, welcoming, and relaxing place to be, then, she said. Aedion laughed under his breath, eyes on the horizon. Dorian and Manon hauled themselves onto the bank below, dripping wet, the witch scanning the sea of islands ahead. If she noted anything, the witch said nothing. Rowan surveyed the island they stood atop: high, shielded by a crumbling stone wall on one side, thorns on the other. Well camp here tonight. Its secure enough. Aelin nearly sagged in relief. Lysandra uttered a faint thank-you to the gods. Within minutes, theyd cleared enough of a general area, through physical and magical toiling, to find seats among the huge blocks of stone, and Aedion set about cooking: a rather sad meal of hard bread and the swamp creatures Gavriel and Rowan had hunted, deeming them safe enough to eat. Aelin didnt watch her cousin, preferring not to know what the hell she was about to shove down her throat. The others seemed inclined to avert their attention as well, and though Aedion managed to wield their meager spices with surprising talent, some of the meat was … chewy. Slimy. Lysandra had politely, but thoroughly, gagged at one point. Night set in, a sea of stars twinkling into existence. Aelin couldnt recall the last time she had been so far from civilization—perhaps on the ocean crossing to and from Wendlyn. Aedion, seated beside her, passed the too-light skin of wine. She swigged from it, glad for the sour slide that washed away any lingering taste of the meat.
Dont ever tell me what that was, Aelin murmured to him, watching the others quietly finish up their own food. Lysandra muttered her agreement. Aedion grinned a bit wickedly, surveying the others as well. A few feet away, half in shadow, Manon monitored it all. But Aedions gaze lingered on Dorian, and Aelin braced herself. But her cousins smile turned softer. He still eats like a fine lady. Dorians head snapped up—but Aelin bit back a laugh at the memory. Ten years ago, theyd sat around a table together and shed told the Havilliard prince what she thought of his table manners. Dorian blinked as the memory no doubt resurfaced, even as the others glanced between them. The king gave a magnanimous bow. Ill take that as a compliment. Indeed, his hands were mostly clean, his now-dry clothes immaculate. Her own hands … Aelin fished into a pocket for her handkerchief. The thing was as filthy as the rest of her, but … better than using her pants. She plucked out the Eye of Elena from where it was usually wrapped inside, setting it on her knee as she wiped the smear of spices and fat from her fingers, then offered the scrap of silk to Lysandra. Aelin casually ran her fingers over the bent metal of the Eye as the shifter cleaned her hands, the blue stone in its core flickering with cobalt fire. As far as I recall, Dorian went on with a sly grin, you two— The attack happened so fast that Aelin didnt sense or see it until it was over. One moment, Manon was seated at the edge of the fire, the marshes a dark sprawl behind her. The next, scales and flashing white teeth were snapping for her, erupting from the brush on the bank. And then—stillness and silence as the enormous marsh beast froze in place. Halted by invisible hands—strong ones. Manons sword was half out, her breathing ragged as she stared down the milky-pink maw spread wide enough to snap off her head. The teeth were each as long as Aelins thumb. Aedion swore. The others didnt so much as move. But Dorians magic held the beast still, frozen with no ice to be seen. The same power as the one hed wielded against the Bloodhound. Aelin surveyed him for any tether, any gleaming thread of power, and found none. He hadnt even lifted a hand to direct it. Interesting. Dorian said to Manon, the witch still peering into the yawning death inches before her face, Shall I kill it or set it free? Aelin most certainly had an opinion on the matter, but a warning look from Rowan had her shutting her mouth. And gaping a bit at her prince. Oh, you crafty old bastard. His harsh, tattooed face revealed nothing. Manon glanced toward Dorian. Free it. The kings face tightened—then the beast went careening off into the dark, as if a god had hurled it across the marshes. A distant splash sounded. Lysandra sighed. Arent they beautiful? Aelin cut her a look. The shifter grinned. But Aelin looked back at Rowan, holding his stare. How convenient that your shield vanished right as that thing waddled up. What an excellent opportunity for a magic lesson. What if it had gone wrong? Rowans eyes glittered. Why do you think the hole opened up by the witch? Aelin swallowed her laugh of dismay. But Manon Blackbeak was taking in the king, her hand still on her sword. Aelin didnt bother to pretend looking as if she wasnt watching them as the witch shifted those gold eyes to her. To the Eye of Elena still balanced on Aelins knee. Manons lip curled back from her teeth. Where did you get that. The hair on Aelins arms rose. The Eye of Elena? It was a gift. But the witch again glanced to Dorian—as if saving her from that thing … Oh, Rowan hadnt lowered the shield just for a magic lesson, had he? Aelin didnt dare glance at him this time, not as Manon dipped her fingers into the muddy earth to sketch a shape. A large circle—and two overlapping circles, one atop the other, within its circumference. That is the Three-Faced Goddess, Manon said, her voice low. We call this … She drew a rough line in the centermost circle, in the eye-shaped space where they overlapped. The Eye of the Goddess. Not Elena. She circled the exterior again. Crone, she said of the outermost circumference. She circled the interior top circle: Mother. She circled the bottom: Maiden. She stabbed the eye inside: And the heart of the Darkness within her. It was Aelins turn to shake her head. The others didnt so much as blink. Manon said again, That is an Ironteeth symbol. Blueblood prophets have it tattooed over their hearts. And those who won valor in battle, when we lived in the Wastes … they were once given those. To mark our glory—our being Goddess-blessed. Aelin debated chucking the gods-damned amulet into the marsh, but said, The day I first saw Baba Yellowlegs … the amulet turned heavy and warm in her presence. I thought it was in warning. Perhaps it was in … recognition. Manon studied the necklace of scars marring Aelins throat. Its power worked even with magic contained? I was told that certain objects were … exempt. Aelins voice strained. Baba Yellowlegs knew the entire history of the Wyrdkeys and gates. She was the one who told me about them. Is that a part of your history, too? No. Not in those terms, Manon said. But Yellowlegs was an Ancient—she knew things now lost to us. She ripped down the walls of the Crochan city herself. The legends claim the slaughter was … catastrophic, Dorian said. Shadows flickered in Manons eyes. That killing field, the last I heard, is still barren. Not a blade of grass grows on it. They say its from Rhiannon Crochans curse. Or from the blood that soaked it for the final three weeks of that war. What is the curse, exactly? Lysandra asked, brows furrowing. Manon examined her iron nails, long enough that Aelin thought she wouldnt answer. Aedion chucked the wineskin back into her lap, and Aelin swigged from it again as Manon at last replied. Rhiannon Crochan held the gates to her city for three days and three nights against the three Ironteeth Matrons. Her sisters were dead around her, her children slaughtered, her consort spiked to one of the Ironteeth war caravans. The last Crochan Queen, the final hope of their thousand-year dynasty … She did not go gently. It was only when she fell at dawn on the fourth day that the city was truly lost. And as she lay dying on that killing field, as the Ironteeth ripped down the walls of the city around her and butchered her people … she cursed us. Cursed the three Matrons, and through them, all Ironteeth. She cursed Yellowlegs herself—who gave Rhiannon her finishing blow. None of them moved or spoke or breathed too loudly. Rhiannon swore on her last breath that we would win the war, but not the land. That for what we had done, we would inherit the land only to see it wilt and die in our hands. Our beasts would shrivel and keel over dead; our witchlings would be stillborn, poisoned by the streams and rivers. Fish would rot in lakes before we could catch them. Rabbits and deer would flee across the mountains. And the once-verdant Witch Kingdom would become a wasteland. The Ironteeth laughed at it, drunk on Crochan blood. Until the first Ironteeth witchling was born—dead. And then another and another. Until the cattle rotted in the fields, and the crops withered overnight. By the end of the month, there was no food. By the second, the three Ironteeth Clans were turning on one another, ripping themselves to pieces. So the Matrons ordered us all into exile. Separated the Clans to cross the mountains and wander as we would. Every few decades, they would send groups to try to work the land, to see if the curse still held. Those groups never returned. We have been wanderers for five hundred years—the wound made worse by the fact that humans eventually took it for themselves. And the land responded to them. But you plan to return to it still? Dorian asked. Those golden eyes were not of this earth. Rhiannon Crochan said there was one way—only one—to break the curse. Manon swallowed and recited in a cold, tight voice, Blood to blood and soul to soul, together this was done, and only together it can be undone. Be the bridge, be the light. When iron melts, when flowers spring from fields of blood—let the land be witness, and return home. Manon toyed with the end of her braid, the scrap of red cloak shed tied around it. Every Ironteeth witch in the world has pondered that curse. For five centuries, we have tried to break it. And your parents … their union was made in order to break this curse? Aelin pushed—carefully. A sharp nod. I did not know—that Rhiannons bloodline survived. And now ran through Manons blue veins. Dorian mused, Elena predates the witch wars by a millennium. The Eye had nothing to do with that. He rubbed his neck. Right? Manon didnt reply, only extending a foot to wipe away the symbol shed traced in the dirt. Aelin drained the rest of the wine and shoved the Eye back into her pocket. Maybe now you understand, she said to Dorian, why Ive found Elena just a bit difficult to deal with. The island was wide enough that a conversation could be had without being overheard. Rowan supposed that was precisely what his former cadre wanted as they found him on watch atop the vine-choked, crumbling spiral stairwell that overlooked the island and its surroundings. Leaning against a section that had once been the curving wall, Rowan demanded, What? Gavriel said, You should take Aelin a thousand miles from here. Tonight. A wave of his magic and honed instincts told him all was safe in the immediate vicinity, calming the killing rage hed slipped into at the thought. Fenrys said, Whatever awaits us tomorrow, it has been waiting for a long time, Rowan. And how do either of you know this? Gavriels tawny eyes gleamed animal-bright in the darkness. Your beloveds life and the witchs are entwined. They have been led here, by forces even we cannot understand. Think about it, Fenrys pushed. Two females whose paths crossed tonight in a way weve rarely witnessed. Two queens, who might control either half of this continent, two sides of one coin. Both half-breeds. Manon, an Ironteeth and a Crochan. Aelin … Human and Fae, Rowan finished for him. Between them, they cover the three main races of this earth. Between the two of them, they are mortal and immortal; one worships fire, the other Darkness. Do I need to go on? It feels as if were playing right into the hands of whoever has been running this game—for eons. Rowan gave Fenrys a stare that usually had men backing away. Even as he considered it. Gavriel interrupted to say, Maeve has been waiting, Rowan. Since Brannon. For someone who would lead her to the keys. For your Aelin. Maeve had not mentioned the Lock this spring. She hadnt mentioned Malas ring, either. Rowan said slowly, his words a death promise, Did Maeve send you because of this Lock, too? No, Fenrys said. No—she never mentioned that. He shifted on his feet, turning toward a distant, brutal roar. If Maeve and Aelin go to war, Rowan, if they meet on a battlefield … He tried not to let himself imagine it. The cataclysmic carnage and destruction. Perhaps they should have remained in the North, shoring up their defenses. Fenrys breathed, Maeve will not allow herself to lose. Already, shes replaced you. Rowan whirled on Gavriel. Who. Those lions eyes darkened. Cairn. Rowans blood iced over, colder than his magic. Is she insane? She told us of his promotion a day before we left. He was grinning like a cat with a canary in its mouth as we walked out of the palace.Hes a sadist. Cairn … No amount of training, both off the battlefield and on it, had ever broken the Fae warrior of his penchant for cruelty. Rowan had locked him up, flogged him, disciplined him, wielded whatever shred of compassion he could muster in himself … nothing. Cairn had been born savoring the suffering of others. So Rowan had kicked him out of his own army—dumped him into Lorcans lap. Cairn had lasted about a month with Lorcan before he was packed off to an isolated legion, commanded by a general who was not cadre and had no interest in being one. The tales of what Cairn did to the soldiers and innocents he encountered … There were few laws against murder with the Fae. And Rowan had considered sparing the world of Cairns vileness every time hed seen him. For Maeve to appoint him to the cadre, to give him almost unchecked power and influence— Id bet every bit of gold I have that shes going to let Aelin nearly break herself destroying Erawan … then strike when shes weakest, Fenrys mused. For Maeve not to have given either male a gag order through the blood oath … She wanted him—wanted Aelin—to have this knowledge. To worry and speculate. Fenrys and Gavriel swapped wary glances. We still serve her, Rowan, Gavriel murmured. And we still have to kill Lorcan when the time comes. Why bring this up at all? I wont get in your way. Neither will Aelin, believe me. Because, Fenrys said, Maeves style isnt to execute. Its to punish—slowly. Over years. But she wants Lorcan dead. And not half dead, or throat slit, but irrevocably dead. Beheaded and burned, Gavriel said grimly. Rowan loosed a breath. Why? Fenrys cast his glance over the edge of the stairs—to where Aelin slept, her golden hair shining in the moonlight. Lorcan and you are the most powerful males in the world. You forget Lorcan and Aelin cant even stand to be in the same breathing space. I doubt theres a chance of an alliance between them. All were saying, Fenrys explained, is that Maeve does not make decisions without considerable motive. Be ready for anything. Sending her armada, wherever it is, is only the start. The marsh beasts roared, and Rowan wanted to roar right back. If Aelin and Cairn ever encountered each other, if Maeve had some plan beyond her greed for the keys … Aelin turned in her sleep, scowling at the ruckus, Lysandra dozing beside her in ghost leopard form, that fluffy tail twitching. Rowan pushed off the wall, more than ready to join his queen. But he found Fenrys staring at her as well, his face tight and drawn. Fenryss voice was a broken whisper as he said, Kill me. If that order is given. Kill me, Rowan, before I have to do it. Youll be dead before you can get within a foot of her. Not a threat—a promise and a plain statement of fact. Fenryss shoulders slumped in thanks. Im glad, you know, Fenrys said with unusual graveness, that I got this time. That Maeve unintentionally gave me that. That I got to know what it was like—to be here, as a part of this. Rowan didnt have words, so he looked to Gavriel. But the Lion was merely nodding as he stared down at the little camp below. At his sleeping son. 54 The last leg of the trek the next morning was the longest yet, Manon thought. Close—so close to this Lock the queen with a witch emblem in her pocket was seeking. Shed fallen asleep, pondering how it could be connected, but gleaned nothing. Theyd all been awake before dawn, dragged to consciousness by the oppressive humidity, so heavy it felt like a blanket weighing on Manons shoulders. The queen was mostly quiet from where she walked at the head of their company, her mate scouting overhead, and her cousin and the shape-shifter flanking her, the latter wearing the skin of a truly horrific swamp viper. The Wolf and the Lion brought up the rear, sniffing and listening for anything wrong. The people who had once dwelled within these lands had not met easy or pleasant ends. She could feel their pain even now, whispering through the stones, rippling through the water. That marsh beast that had snuck up on her last night was the mildest of the horrors here. At her side, Dorian Havilliards tense tan face seemed to suggest he felt the same. Manon waded waist-deep through a pool of warm, thick water and asked, if only to get it out of where it rattled in her skull, How will she use the keys to banish Erawan and his Valg? Or, for that matter, get rid of the things hes created that arent of his original realm, but are some hybrid? Sapphire eyes slid toward her. What? Is there a way of weeding out who belongs and who doesnt? Or will all those with Valg blood—she put a hand on her sodden chest—be sent into that realm of darkness and cold? Dorians teeth gleamed as he clenched them. I dont know, he admitted, watching Aelin nimbly hop over a stone. If she does, I assume shell tell us when its most convenient for her. And the least convenient for them, he didnt need to add. And she gets to decide, I suppose? Who stays and who goes. Banishing people to live with the Valg isnt something Aelin would willingly do. But she does decide, ultimately. Dorian paused atop a little hill. Whoever holds those keys gets to decide. And youd better pray to whatever wicked gods you worship that its Aelin holding them in the end. What about you? Why should I wish to go anywhere near those things? Youre as powerful as she is. You could wield them. Why not? The others were swiftly pulling ahead, but Dorian remained still. Even had the audacity to grip her wrist—hard. Why not? There was such unyielding coldness in that beautiful face. She couldnt turn away from it. A hot, humid breeze shoved past, dragging her hair with it. The wind didnt touch him, didnt ruffle one raven-dark hair on his head. A shield—he was shielding himself. Against her, or whatever was in this swamp? He said softly, Because I was the one who did it. She waited. His sapphire eyes were chips of ice. I killed my father. I shattered the castle. I purged my own court. So if I had the keys, Wing Leader, he finished as he released her wrist, I have no doubt that I would do the same once more—across this continent. Why? she breathed, her blood chilling. She was indeed a bit terrified of the icy rage rippling from him as Dorian said, Because she died. And even before she did, this world saw to it that she suffered, and was afraid, and alone. And even though no one will remember who she was, I do. I will never forget the color of her eyes, or the way she smiled. And I will never forgive them for taking it away. Too breakable—hed said of human women. No wonder hed come to her. Manon had no answer, and she knew he wasnt looking for one, but she said anyway, Good. She ignored the glimmer of relief that flashed across his face as she moved ahead. Rowans calculations hadnt been wrong: they reached the Lock by midday. Aelin supposed that even if Rowan hadnt scouted ahead, it would have been obvious from the moment they beheld the waterlogged, labyrinthine complex of wrecked pillars that the Lock likely lay in the half-crumbling stone dome in its center. Mostly because everything—every choking weed and drop of water—seemed to be leaning away from it. Like the complex was the dark, rippling heartbeat of the marshes. Rowan shifted as he landed before where they had all gathered on a grassy, dry bit of land on the outskirts of the sprawling complex, not even missing a step as he walked to her side. She tried not to look too relieved as he safely returned. She really tortured them, she realized, by shoving her way into danger whenever she felt like it. Perhaps shed try to be better about it, if this dread was at all like what they felt. This whole place is too quiet, Rowan said. I probed the area, but … nothing. Aedion drew the Sword of Orynth from across his back. Well circle the perimeter, making smaller passes until we get up to the building itself. No surprises. Lysandra stepped back from them, bracing for the shift. Ill take the water—if you hear two roars, get to higher ground. One quick roar, and its clear. Aelin nodded in confirmation and order to go ahead. By the time Aedion had strode for the outer wall of the complex, Lysandra had slipped into the water, all scales and talons. Rowan jerked his chin to Gavriel and Fenrys. Both males silently shifted and then trotted ahead, the latter joining Aedion, the former in the opposite direction. Rowan kept to Aelins side, Dorian and the witch at her back, as they waited for the all clear. When Lysandras solitary, swift roar cleaved the air, Aelin murmured to Rowan, Whats the catch? Where is the catch? Its too easy. Indeed, there was nothing and no one here. No threat beyond what might be rotting away in the pits and sinkholes. Believe me, Ive been considering it. She could almost feel him sliding into that frozen, raging place—where born instinct and centuries of training had him seeing the world as a killing field, and willing to do anything to eradicate any threats to her. Not just his Fae nature—but Rowans nature. To protect, to shield, to fight for what and who he loved. Aelin stepped close and kissed him on the neck. Those pine-green eyes warmed slightly as they shifted from the ruin to scan her face. When we get back to civilization, he said, his voice deepening as he kissed her cheek, her ear, her brow, Im going to find you the nicest inn on the whole gods-damned continent. Oh? He kissed her mouth. Once, twice. With good food, a disgustingly comfortable bed, and a big bathtub. Even in the marshes, it was easy to become drunk on him, on the taste and smell and sound and feel of him. How big? she murmured, not caring what the others thought as they returned. Big enough for two, he said onto her lips. Her blood turned sparkling at the promise. She kissed him once—briefly but deeply. I have no defenses against such offers. Especially those made by such a pretty male. He scowled at pretty, nipping at her ear with his canines. I keep a tally, you know, Princess. To remind myself to repay you the next time were alone for all the truly wonderful things you say. Her toes curled in her soggy boots. But she patted him on the shoulder, looking him over with absolute irreverence, saying as she walked ahead, I certainly hope you make me beg for it. His answering growl from behind made heat bloom in her core. The feeling lasted for about a minute, however. Within a few turns into the maze of crumbling walls and pillars, leaving Dorian to guard the entrance and Rowan slipping ahead, Aelin found herself beside the witch—who looked more bored than anything. Fair enough. Shed been dragged here, after all. Wading as quietly as they could into the towering archways and pillars of stone, Rowan signaled from a crossroads ahead. They were getting close. Aelin unsheathed Goldryn, Manon drawing her own sword in answer. Aelin lifted her brows as she glanced between their two blades. Whats your sword called? Wind-Cleaver. Aelin clicked her tongue. Good name. Yours? Goldryn. A slash of iron teeth as they were bared in a half smile. Not as good a name. Blame my ancestor. She certainly did. For many, many things. They reached a crossroads—one leading left, one right. Neither offering a hint of the direct path to the center of the ruin.