Closer and closer he comes.
That was amazing, I tell him softly. I think what you did was amazing.He shakes his head bitterly.
No. It was just decent. His eyes burn with a green, thrashing fire. Your expectations shouldnt be so low.My expectations of you?Of everyone. His words are clipped and sharp. Set your bar higher, Sarah.
Then he turns around, dismissing me, and steps onto the plane.We touch down in Hampton Hills, a posh destination for the rich and famous in the northernmost region of Wessco. A black window–tinted caravan whisks us to The Reginald Hotel, where Matched has reserved the indoor pool for a private party. Upon entering, Henry strips down to his swim trunks and heads straight for the bar. The camera follows him as he moves to a reclining lounge chair, a whiskey in each hand.
My chest pinches as I watch him watching the ladies frolic in the pool, in their colorful array of barely-there string bikinis. I push up the sleeves of my black shirt, feeling sticky and uncomfortable in the steamy, humid room. Until Vanessa Steele whips out her obnoxious bullhorn again, ordering all assistants and non-cast members to leave the area.
Come play, Henry! Lady Cordelia calls, holding a beach ball over her head and moving closer to the cameraman who stands at the edge of the pool.Yes. It could make a difference in whatever battles lie ahead. It didnt make a difference ten years ago. Rens face was a mask of ice, and then Aedion remembered. Ren hardly had a drop of magic. But Rens two elder sisters . . . The girls had been away at their mountain school when everything went to hell. A school for magic. As if reading his thoughts, as if this were a reprieve from the city below them, Ren said, When the soldiers dragged us to the butchering blocks, that was what they mocked my parents about. Because even with their magic, my sisters school was defenseless—they could do nothing against ten thousand soldiers. Im sorry, Aedion said. That was all he could offer for the time being, until Aelin returned. Ren looked right at him. Going back to Terrasen will be . . . hard. For me, and for my grandfather. He seemed to struggle with the words, or just with the idea of telling anyone anything, but Aedion gave him the time he needed. At last Ren said, Im not sure Im civilized enough anymore. I dont know if . . . if I could be a lord, even. If my people would want me as lord. My grandfather is better suited, but hes an Allsbrook by marriage and he says he doesnt want to rule. Ah. Aedion found himself actually pausing—contemplating. The wrong word, the wrong reaction, could make Ren shut up forever. It shouldnt matter, but it did. So he said, My life has been war and death for the past ten years. It will probably be war and death for the next few as well. But if theres ever a day when we find peace . . . Gods, that word, that beautiful word. Itll be a strange transition for all of us. For whatever its worth, I dont see how the people of Allsbrook wouldnt embrace a lord who spent years trying to break Adarlans rule—or a lord who spent years in poverty for that dream. Ive . . . done things, Ren said. Bad things. Aedion had suspected as much from the moment Ren gave them the address of the opium den. So have we all, Aedion said. So has Aelin. He wanted to say it, but he still didnt want Ren or Murtaugh or anyone knowing a damn thing about her. It was her story to tell. Aedion knew the conversation was about to take a turn for the ugly when Ren tensed and asked too quietly, What do you plan to do about Captain Westfall? Right now, Captain Westfall is useful to me, and useful to our queen. So as soon as hes outlived his usefulness . . . Ill decide that when the time comes—if its safe to leave him alive. Ren opened his mouth, but Aedion added, This is the way it has to be. The way I operate. Even if hed helped save Rens life and given him a place to stay. I wonder what our queen will think of the way you operate. Aedion flashed him a glare that had sent men running. But he knew Ren wasnt particularly scared of him, not with what he had seen and endured. Not after Aedion had killed for him. Aedion said, If shes smart, then shell let me do what needs to be done. Shell use me as the weapon I am. What if she wishes to be your friend? Would you deny her that, too? I will deny her nothing. And if she asks you to be her king? Aedion bared his teeth. Enough. Do you want to be king? Aedion swung his legs back onto the roof and stood. All I want, he snarled, is for my people to be free and my queen restored to her throne. They burned the antler throne, Aedion. There is no throne for her. Then Ill build one myself from the bones of our enemies. Ren winced as he stood as well, his injuries no doubt bothering him, and kept his distance. He might not be afraid, but he wasnt stupid. Answer the question. Do you want to be king? If she asked me, I would not refuse her. It was the truth. Thats not an answer. He knew why Ren had asked. Even Aedion was aware that he could be king—with his legion and ties to the Ashrvyers, hed be an advantageous match. A warrior-king would make any foes think twice. Even before their kingdom shattered, hed heard the rumors . . . My only wish, Aedion said, growling in Rens face, is to see her again. Just once, if thats all the gods will allow me. If they grant me more time than that, then Ill thank them every damn day of my life. But for now, all Im working for is to see her, to know for certain that shes real—that she survived. The rest is none of your concern. He felt Rens eyes on him as he vanished through the door to the apartment below. • The tavern was packed with soldiers on rotation home to Adarlan, the heat and reek of bodies making Chaol wish Aedion had done this alone. There was no hiding now that he and Aedion were drinking friends, as the general trumpeted for everyone to hear while the soldiers cheered. Better to hide it right under everyones noses than pretend, eh? Aedion murmured to Chaol as yet another free drink was slapped down on their stained, sodden table, courtesy of a soldier who had bowed—actually bowed—to Aedion. For the Wolf, said the scarred and tan-skinned soldier, before returning to his packed table of comrades. Aedion saluted the man with the mug, getting a cheer in response, and there was nothing faked about his feral grin. It hadnt taken Aedion long to find the soldiers Murtaugh thought they should question—soldiers who had been stationed at one of the suspected spell origin points. While Aedion had been searching for the right group of men, Chaol had taken the time to go about his own duties—which now included considering a candidate to replace him—and packing for his return to Anielle. Hed come into Rifthold today with the excuse of finding a company to ship his first trunk of belongings, a task hed actually accomplished. He didnt want to think of what his mother would do when the trunk of books arrived at the Keep. Chaol didnt bother looking pleasant as he said, Get on with it. Aedion stood, hoisting his mug. As though theyd all been watching him, the room quieted. Soldiers, he said, loud and soft at once, grave and reverent. He turned in place, mug still upheld. For your blood, for your scars, for every dent in your shield and nick in your sword, for every friend and foe dead before you . . . The mug raised higher, and Aedion bowed his head, golden hair gleaming in the light. For what you have given, and have yet to give, I salute you.
For a heartbeat, as the room thundered with roars and cries, Chaol beheld what truly made Aedion a threat—what made him a god to these men, and why the king tolerated his insolence, ring or no ring. Aedion was not a noble in a castle, sipping wine. He was metal and sweat, sitting in this filthy tavern, drinking their ale. Whether it was real or not, they believed he cared about them, listened to them. They preened when he remembered their names, their wives and sisters names, and slept assured that he saw them as his brothers. Aedion made sure that they believed he would fight and die for them. Thus they would fight and die for him. And Chaol was afraid, but not for himself. He was afraid of what would come when Aedion and Aelin were reunited. For hed seen in her that same glittering ember that made people look and listen. Had seen her stalk into a council meeting with Councilor Mullisons head and smile at the King of Adarlan, every man in that room enthralled and petrified by the dark whirlwind of her spirit. The two of them together, both of them lethal, working to build an army, to ignite their people . . . He was afraid of what they would do to his kingdom. Because this was still his kingdom. He was working for Dorian, not Aelin—not Aedion. And he didnt know where all of this put him. • A contest! Aedion called, standing on the bench. Chaol hadnt moved during the long, long hour Aedion had been saluted and toasted by half the men in this room, each one getting a turn to stand and tell his story to the general. When Aedion had enough of being serenaded by his own enemy, his Ashryver eyes brilliant with a rush that Chaol knew was precisely because he hated each and every one of them and they were eating out of his palm like rabbits, the general roared for the contest. There were a few shouted suggestions for drinking games, but Aedion hoisted his mug again, and silence fell. Farthest to travel drinks for free. There were cries of Banjali, Orynth, Melisande, Anielle, Endovier, but then . . . Quiet, all of you! An older, gray-haired soldier stood. I got you all beat. He lifted his glass to the general, and pulled a scroll from his vest. Release papers. I just spent five years at Noll. Bulls-eye. Aedion thumped the empty seat at the table. Then you drink with us, my friend. The room cheered again. Noll. It was a speck on the map at the farthest end of the Deserted Peninsula. The man sat down, and before Aedion could raise a finger to the barkeep, a fresh pint was before the stranger. Noll, eh? Aedion said. Commander Jensen, of the twenty-fourth legion, sir. How many men were under you, commander? Two thousand—all of us sent back here last month. Jensen took a long drink. Five years, and were done just like that. He snapped his scarred, thick fingers. I take it His Majesty didnt give you any warning? With all due respect, general . . . he didnt tell us shit. I got the word that we were to move out because new forces were coming in, and we werent needed anymore. Chaol kept his mouth shut, listening, as Aedion had told him to do. What for? Is he sending you to join another legion? No word yet. Didnt even tell us who was taking our place. Aedion grinned. At least youre not in Noll anymore. Jensen looked into his drink, but not before Chaol caught the shadow in the mans eyes. What was it like? Off the record, of course, Aedion said. Jensens smile had faded, and when he looked up, there was no light in his eyes. The volcanoes are active, so its always dark, you see, because the ash covers everything. And because of the fumes, we always had headaches—sometimes men went mad from them. Sometimes we got nosebleeds from them, too. We got our food once a month, occasionally less than that depending on the season and when the ships could bring in supplies. The locals wouldnt make the trek across the sands, no matter how much we threatened and bribed them. Why? Laziness? Noll isnt much—just the tower and town we built around it. But the volcanoes were sacred, and ten years ago, maybe a bit longer, apparently we . . . not my men, because I wasnt there, but rumor says the king took a legion into those volcanoes and sacked the temple. Jensen shook his head. The locals spit on us, even the men who werent there, for that. The tower of Noll was built afterward, and then the locals cursed it, too. So it was always just us. A tower? Chaol said quietly, and Aedion frowned at him. Jensen drank deeply. Not that we were ever allowed in. The men who went mad, Aedion said, a half smile on his face. What did they do, exactly? The shadows were back and Jensen glanced around him, not to see who was listening, but almost as if he wanted to find a way out of this conversation. But then he looked at the general and said, Our reports say, general, that we killed them—arrows to the throat. Quick and clean. But . . . Aedion leaned closer. Not a word leaves this table. A vague nod. The truth was, by the time we got our archers ready, the men who went mad had already bashed their own skulls in. Every time, as if they couldnt get the pain out. Celaena claimed Kaltain and Roland had complained about headaches. As a result of the kings magic being used on them, his horrible power. And she had told him she got a pounding headache when she uncovered those secret dungeons beneath the castle. Dungeons that led to . . . The tower—you were never allowed in? Chaol ignored Aedions warning glare. There was no door. Always seemed more decorative than anything. But I hated it—we all did. It was just this awful black stone. Just like the clock tower in the glass castle. Built around the same time, if not a few years before. Why bother? Aedion drawled. A waste of resources, if you ask me. There were still so many shadows in the mans eyes, full of stories that Chaol didnt dare ask about. The commander drained his glass and stood. I dont know why they bothered—with Noll, or Amaroth. Wed sometimes send men up and down the Western Sea with messages between the towers, so we knew they had a similar one. We didnt even really know what the hell we were all doing out there, anyway. There was no one to fight.Amaroth. The other outpost, and Murtaughs other possible origin point for their spell. Due north from Noll. Both the same distance from Rifthold. Three towers of black stone, all three points making an equilateral triangle. It had to be part of the spell, then. Chaol traced the rim of his glass. He had sworn to keep Dorian out of it, to leave him alone . . . He had no way of testing out any theory, and didnt want to get within ten feet of that clock tower. But perhaps the theory could be tested on a small scale. Just to see if they were right about what the king had done. Which meant . . . He needed Dorian. 37 It was two weeks of training for Manon and her Thirteen. Two weeks of waking up before the sun to fly each canyon run, to master it as one unit. Two weeks of scratches and sprained limbs, of near deaths from falls or the wyverns squabbling or just stupid miscalculation. But slowly, they developed instincts—not just as a fighting unit, but as individual riders and mounts. Manon didnt like the thought of the mounts eating the foul-tasting meat raised within the mountain, so twice a day they hunted the mountain goats, swooping to pluck them off the mountainsides. It wasnt long before the witches started eating the goats themselves, building hasty fires in the mountain passes to cook their breakfast and evening meals. Manon didnt want any of them—mounts or riders—taking another bite of the food given to them by the kings men, or tasting the men themselves. If it smelled and tasted strange, odds were something was wrong with it. She didnt know if it was the fresh meat or the extra lessons, but the Thirteen were starting to outpace every coven. To the point where Manon ordered the Thirteen to hold back whenever the Yellowlegs gathered to watch their lessons. Abraxos was still a problem. She hadnt dared take the Crossing with him, as his wings, while slightly stronger, werent better by much—at least not enough to brave the sheer plunge through the narrow pass. Manon had been chewing it over every night when the Thirteen gathered in her room to compare notes about flying, their iron nails glinting as they used their hands to demonstrate the ways theyd taught their wyverns to bank, to take off, to do some fancy maneuver. For all the excitement, they were exhausted. Even the lofty-headed Bluebloods had their tempers on tight leashes, and Manon had been called in a dozen times now to break apart brawls. Manon used her downtime to see Abraxos—to check on his iron claws and teeth, to take him out for extra rides when everyone else had passed out in their cots. He needed as much training as he could get, and she liked the quiet and stillness of the night, with the silvered mountain peaks and the river of stars above, even if it made waking up the next day difficult. So after braving the wrath of her grandmother, Manon won two days off for the Blackbeaks, convincing her that if they didnt rest, there would be outright war in the middle of the mess hall and the king wouldnt have an aerial cavalry left to ride his wyverns into battle. They got two days to sleep and eat and see to whatever needs only the men across the mountain could provide. That was something a good number of the Thirteen were doing, as shed seen Vesta, Lin, Asterin, and the demon twins stalking across the bridge. No sleeping for Manon today or tomorrow. No eating. Or bedding men. No, she was taking Abraxos out into the Ruhnns. He was already saddled, and Manon ensured Wind-Cleaver was tightly strapped to her back as she mounted him. The saddlebags were an unexpected weight behind her, and she made a note to start training the Thirteen and the rest of the covens with them. If they were to be an army, then theyd carry their supplies, as most soldiers did. And training with weights would make them faster when it came time to fly without them. You sure I cant convince you not to go? the overseer said as she paused at the back gates. You know the stories as well as I do—this wont come without a cost. His wings are weak, and so far everything else weve tried to reinforce them has failed, she said. It might be the only material that could patch up his wings and withstand the winds. As I dont see any markets nearby, I suppose Ill have to go directly to the source. The overseer frowned at the gray sky beyond. Bad day for flying—storms coming. Its the only day I have. Even as she said it, she wished that she could take the Thirteen into the skies when the storm hit—to train them in that, too. Be careful, and think through any bargain they offer you. If I wanted your advice, Id ask for it, mortal, she said, but he was right. Still, Manon led Abraxos out through the gates and to their usual takeoff spot. They had a long way to fly today and tomorrow—all the way to the edge of the Ruhnn Mountains. To find spidersilk. And the legendary Stygian spiders, large as horses and deadlier than poison, who wove it. • The storm hit right as Manon and Abraxos circled the westernmost outcropping of the Ruhnns. Through the icy rain lashing her face and soaking right through her layers of clothes, she could see that the mist hung low over the mountains, veiling much of the ash-gray, jagged labyrinth below. With the rising winds and lightning thrashing around them, Manon grounded Abraxos on the only open bit of land she could spot. Shed wait until the storm had passed, and then they would take to the skies and scan the area until they found the spiders. Or at least clues about their whereabouts—mostly in the form of bones, she expected. But the storm continued, and though she and Abraxos pressed themselves into the side of a little cliff, it did nothing to shield them. She would have preferred snow over this freezing rain, which came with so much wind that she couldnt light a fire. Night fell swiftly thanks to the storm, and Manon had to put her iron teeth away to keep them from chattering right through her lip. Her hood was useless, soaked and dripping in her eyes, and even Abraxos had curled into as tight a ball as he could against the storm. Stupid, horrible idea. She pulled a goat leg from a saddle bag and tossed it to Abraxos, who uncurled himself long enough to chomp it down, and then went right back to shielding himself against the storm. She cursed herself for a fool as she choked down her own meal of soggy bread and a freezing apple, then gnawed on a bit of cheese.
It was worth it. To secure victory for the Thirteen, to be Wing Leader, one night in a storm was nothing. Shed been through worse, trapped in snowy mountain passes with fewer layers of clothes, no way out, and no food. Shed survived storms some witches didnt awaken from the next morning. But she still would have preferred snow. Manon studied the labyrinth of rock around them. She could feel eyes out there—observing. Yet nothing came closer, nothing dared. So after a while, she curled on her side, just like Abraxos, her head and chest angled toward the cliff face, and tucked her arms across herself, holding tight. Mercifully, it stopped raining in the night, or at least the angle of the wind shifted to stop pounding on them. She slept better after that, but she still shook from cold—though it felt slightly warmer. Those small hints of warmth and dryness were probably what kept her from shaking to death or getting ill, she realized as she dozed off, awakening at the gray light of dawn. When she opened her eyes, she was in shadow—shadow, but dry and warm, thanks to the massive wing shielding her from the elements and the heat of Abraxoss breath filling the space like a little furnace. He was still snoozing—a deep, heavy sleep. She had to brush ice crystals off his outstretched wing before he came awake. • The storm had cleared and the skies were an untamed blue—clear enough that they only needed to circle the western outcropping of the Ruhnns once before Manon spotted what shed been looking for. Not just bones, but trees shrouded in dusty gray webs like mourning widows. It wasnt spidersilk, she saw as Abraxos swooped low, gliding over the trees. These were only ordinary webs. If you could call an entire mountain wood shrouded in webs ordinary. Abraxos growled every so often at something below—shadows or whispers she couldnt see. But she did notice the crawling on the branches, spiders of every shape and size, as if they had all been summoned here to live under the protection of their massive brethren. It took them half the morning to find the ashen mountain caves hovering above the veiled wood, where bare bones littered the ground. She circled a few times, then set Abraxos down on an outcropping of stone at one of the cave mouths, the cliff face behind them a sheer plunge to a dried-out ravine below. Abraxos paced like a mountain cat, tail lashing this way and that as he watched the cave. She pointed to the edge of the cliff. Enough. Sit down and stop moving. You know why were here. So dont ruin it. He huffed but plopped down, shooting grayish dust into the air. He draped his long tail along the length of the cliff s edge, a physical barrier between Manon and the plunge. Manon stared him down for a moment before an otherworldly, feminine laugh flittered from the cave mouth. Now that beast is one we have not seen for an age. Manon kept her face blank. The light was bright enough to reveal several ancient, merciless eyes looming within the cave mouth—and three massive shadows lurking behind. The voice said, closer now, pincers clicking like an accompanying drum, And it has been an age since we dealt with the Ironteeth. Manon didnt dare touch Wind-Cleaver as she said, The world is changing, sister. Sister, the spider mused. I suppose we are sisters, you and I. Two faces of the same dark coin, from the same dark maker. Sisters in spirit, if not in flesh. Then she emerged into the murky light, the mist sweeping past her like a pilgrimage of phantom souls. She was black and gray, and the sheer mass of her was enough to make Manons mouth go dry. Despite the size, she was elegantly built, her legs long and smooth, her body streamlined and gleaming. Glorious. Abraxos let out a soft growl, but Manon held out a hand to silence him. I see now, Manon said softly, why my Blueblood sisters still worship you. Do they, now? The spider remained motionless, but the three behind her crept closer, silent and observing with their many dark eyes. We can hardly recall the last time the Blueblood priestesses brought their sacrifices to our foothills. We do miss them. Manon smiled tightly. I can think of a few Id like to send your way. A soft, wicked laugh. A Blackbeak, no doubt. Those eight massive eyes took her in, swallowed her whole. Your hair reminds me of our silk. I suppose I should be flattered. Tell me your name, Blackbeak. My name does not matter, Manon said. Ive come to bargain. What would a Blackbeak witch want with our precious silk? She turned to reveal the vigilant Abraxos, his focus pinned on the massive spider, tense from the tip of his nose to his iron-spiked tail. His wings need reinforcement. I heard the legends and wondered if your silk might help. We have bartered our silk to merchants and thieves and kings, to be spun into dresses and veils and sails. But never for wings. Ill need ten yards of it—woven bolts, if you have them. The spider seemed to still further. Men have sacrificed their lives for a yard. Name your price. Ten yards . . . She turned to the three waiting behind her—offspring or minions or guards, Manon didnt know. Bring out the bolt. I shall inspect it before I name my price. Good. This was going well. Silence fell as the three scuttled into the cave, and Manon tried not to kick any of the tiny spiders crawling across her boots. Or look for the eyes she felt watching from the nearby caves across the ravine. Tell me, Blackbeak, the spider said, how did you come across your mount? He was a gift from the King of Adarlan. We are to be a part of his host, and when we are done serving him, we will take them home—to the Wastes. To reclaim our kingdom. Ah. And is the curse broken? Not yet. But when we find the Crochan who can undo it . . . She would enjoy that bloodletting. Such a delightfully nasty curse. You won the land, only for the cunning Crochans to curse it beyond use. Have you seen the Wastes these days? No, Manon said. I have not yet been to our home. A merchant came by a few years ago—he told me there was a mortal High King who had set himself up there. But I heard a whisper on the wind recently that said hed been deposed by a young woman with wine-red hair who now calls herself their High Queen.Manon bristled. High Queen of the Wastes indeed. She would be the first Manon would kill when she returned to reclaim the land, when she finally saw it with her own eyes, breathed in its smells and beheld its untamable beauty. A strange place, the Wastes, the spider continued. The merchant himself was from there—a former shape-shifter. Lost his gifts, just like all of you truly mortal things. He was stuck in a mans body, thankfully, but he did not realize that when he sold me twenty years of his life, some of his gifts passed to me. I cant use them, of course, but I wonder . . . I do wonder what it would be like. To see the world through your pretty eyes. To touch a human man. The hair on Manons neck rose. Here we are, the spider said as the three approached, a bolt of silk flowing between them like a river of light and color. Manons breath caught. Isnt it magnificent? Some of the finest weaving Ive ever done. Glorious, Manon admitted. Your price? The spider stared at her for a long time. What price could I ask of a long-lived witch? Twenty years off your lifespan is nothing to you, even with magic aging you like an ordinary woman. And your dreams . . . what dark, horrible dreams they must be, Blackbeak. I do not think I should like to eat them—not those dreams. The spider came closer. But what of your face? What if I took your beauty? I do not think Id walk away if you took my face. The spider laughed. Oh, I dont mean your literal face. But the color of your skin, the hue of your burnt gold eyes. The way your hair catches the light, like moonlight on snow. Those things I could take. That beauty could win you a king. Perhaps if magic returns, Ill use it for my womans body. Perhaps Ill win a king of my very own. Manon didnt particularly care about her beauty, weapon though it was. But she wasnt about to say that, or to offer it without bargaining. Id like to inspect the silk first. Cut a swatch, the spider ordered the three, who gently set down the yards of silk while one sliced off a perfect square. Men had killed for smaller amounts—and here they were, cutting it as if it were ordinary wool. Manon tried not to think about the size of the pincer that extended it to her. She stalked to the cliff edge, stepping over Abraxoss tail as she held the silk to the light. Darkness embrace her, it sparkled. She tugged it. Flexible, but strong as steel. Impossibly light. But— Theres an imperfection here . . . Can I expect the rest of it to be similarly marred? The spider hissed and the ground thudded as she neared. Abraxos stopped her with a warning growl that set the other three coming up behind her—guards, then. But Manon held up the swatch to the light. Look, Manon said, pointing to a vein of color running through it. Thats no imperfection, the spider snapped. Abraxoss tail curled around Manon, a shield between her and the spiders, bringing her closer to the wall of his body. Manon held it higher, angling it toward the sun. Look in the better light. You think Im going to give away my beauty for second-rate weaving? Second rate! the spider seethed. Abraxoss tail curled tighter. No—it appears Im mistaken. Manon lowered her arms, smiling. It seems Im not in the bargaining mood today. The spiders, now standing along the cliff s edge, didnt even have time to move as Abraxoss tail unwound like a whip and slammed into them. They went flying into the ravine, shrieking. Manon didnt waste a second as she stuffed the remaining yards of silk into the empty saddlebags. She mounted Abraxos and they leapt into the air, the cliff the perfect takeoff spot, just as shed planned. The perfect trap for those foolish, ancient monsters. 38 Manon gave a foot of spidersilk to the overseer after he carefully grafted it onto Abraxoss wings. Shed gotten extra—lots of it, in case it ever wore down—and it was now locked in the false bottom of a trunk. She told no one where she had been, or why Abraxoss wings now shimmered in a certain light. Asterin would have murdered her for the risk, and her grandmother would have butchered Asterin for not being there. Manon was in no mood to replace her Second and find a new member for the Thirteen. Once Abraxos had healed, Manon brought him to the mouth of the Northern Fang to try the Crossing. Before, his wings had been too weak to attempt the plunge—but with the silk reinforcements, hed stand a far greater chance. But the risk remained, which was why Asterin and Sorrel waited behind her, already on their mounts. If things went wrong, if Abraxos couldnt pull up or the silk failed, she was to jump—jump away from him. Let him die, while one of them caught her in the claws of their wyverns. Manon wasnt too keen on that plan, but it was the only way Asterin and Sorrel would agree to let her do it. Though Manon was the Blackbeak heir, they would have locked her in a wyvern pen rather than let her make the Crossing without the proper precautions. She might have called them softhearted and given them the beatings they deserved, but it was smart. Tensions were worse than ever, and she wouldnt put it past the Yellowlegs heir to spook Abraxos during the Crossing. Manon nodded her readiness to her Second and Third before approaching her beast. Not many had gathered, but Iskra was on the viewing platform, smiling faintly. Manon checked the stirrups, the saddle, and the reins one more time, Abraxos tense and snarling. Lets go, she said to him, pulling the reins to lead him a bit farther ahead so she could mount him. He still had plenty of space to get a running start—and with his new wings, she knew he would be fine. Theyd done steep plunges and hard upswings before. But Abraxos wouldnt move. Now, she snapped at him, tugging hard. Abraxos turned an eye to her and growled. She lightly smacked his leathery cheek. Now. Those hind legs dug in, and he tucked his wings in tight. Abraxos. He was looking at the Crossing, then back at her. Wide-eyed. Petrified—utterly petrified. Useless, stupid, cowardly beast. Stop it, she said, moving to climb into the saddle instead. Your wings are fine now. She reached for his haunch but he reared away, the ground shaking as he slammed down. Behind her, Asterin and Sorrel murmured to their mounts, who had skittered back and snapped at Abraxos, and at each other.