The fire unfurled, filling the rainy night, vibrant as a red opal. Lorcan swore, and Gavriel threw up additional shields of his own magic. Rowan didn’t bother.
They did not fight him as he shrugged off their grip, surging to his feet. The flame didn’t singe a hair on his head. It flowed above and past him, glorious and immortal and unbreakable.
And there, beyond the stones, standing between two of those creatures, was Aelin, a strange mark glowing on her brow. Her hair flowed around her, shorter now and bright like her fire. And her eyes—though they were red-rimmed, the gold in her eyes was a living flame.
The two creatures lunged for her, the darkness sweeping in around them.
Rowan ran all of one step before she flung out her arms, grabbing the creatures by their flawless faces—her palms over their open mouths as she exhaled sharply.
As if she’d breathed fire into their cores, flames shot out of their eyes, their ears, their fingers. The two creatures didn’t have a chance to scream as she burned them into cinders.
She lowered her arms. Her magic was raging so fiercely that the rain turned to steam before it hit her. A weapon bright from the forging.
He forgot Gavriel and Lorcan as he bolted for her—the gold and red and blue flames utterly hers, this heir of fire. Spying him at last, she smiled faintly. A queen’s smile.
But there was exhaustion in that smile, and her bright magic flickered. Behind her, Narrok and the remaining creature—the one they had faced in the woods—were spooling the darkness into themselves, as if readying for attack. She turned toward them, swaying slightly, her skin deathly pale. They had fed on her, and she was drained after shredding apart their brethren. A very real, very final burnout was steadily approaching.
The wall of black swelled, one final hammer blow to squash her, but she stood fast, a golden light in the darkness. That was all Rowan needed to see before he knew what he had to do. Wind and ice were of no use here, but there were other ways.
Rowan drew his dagger and sliced his palm open as he sprinted through the gate-stones.
The darkness built and built, and she knew it would hurt, knew it would likely kill her and Rowan when it came crashing down. But she would not run from it.
Rowan reached her, panting and bloody. She did not dishonor him by asking him to flee as he extended his bleeding palm, offering his raw power to harness now that she was well and truly emptied. She knew it would work. She had suspected it for some time now. They were carranam.
He had come for her. She held his gaze as she grabbed her own dagger and cut her palm, right over the scar she’d given herself at Nehemia’s grave. And though she knew he could read the words on her face, she said, “To whatever end?”
He nodded, and she joined hands with him, blood to blood and soul to soul, his other arm coming around to grip her tightly. Their hands clasped between them, he whispered into her ear, “I claim you, too, Aelin Galathynius.”
The wave of impenetrable black descended, roaring as it made to devour them.
Yet this was not the end—this was not her end. She had survived loss and pain and torture; she had survived slavery and hatred and despair; she would survive this, too. Because hers was not a story of darkness. So she was not afraid of that crushing black, not with the warrior holding her, not with the courage that having one true friend offered—a friend who made living not so awful after all, not if she were with him.
Rowan’s magic punched into her, old and strange and so vast her knees buckled. He held her with that unrelenting strength, and she harnessed his wild power as he opened his innermost barriers, letting it flow through her.
The black wave was not halfway fallen when they shattered it apart with golden light, leaving Narrok and his remaining prince gaping.
She did not give them a moment to spool the darkness back. Drawing power from the endless well within Rowan, she pulled up fire and light, embers and warmth, the glow of a thousand dawns and sunsets. If the Valg craved the sunshine of Erilea, then she would give it to them.
Narrok and the prince were shrieking. The Valg did not want to go back; they did not want to be ended, not after so long spent waiting to return to her world. But she crammed the light down their throats, burning up their black blood.
She clung to Rowan, gritting her teeth against the sounds. There was a sudden silence, and she looked to Narrok, standing so still, watching, waiting. A spear of black punched into her head—offering one more vision in a mere heartbeat. Not a memory, but a glimpse of the future. The sounds and smell and look of it were so real that only her grip on Rowan kept her anchored in the world. Then it was gone, and the light was still building, enveloping them all.
The light became unbearable as she willed it into the two Valg who had now dropped to their knees, pouring it into every shadowy corner of them. And she could have sworn that the blackness in Narrok’s eyes faded. Could have sworn that his eyes became a mortal brown, and that gratitude flickered just for a moment. Just for a moment; then she burned both demon and Narrok to ash.
The remaining Valg prince crawled only two steps before he followed suit, a silent scream on his perfect face as he was incinerated. When the light and flames receded, all that remained of Narrok and the Valg were four Wyrdstone collars steaming in the wet grass.
A few days after the unforgivable, despicable slave massacre, Sorscha was finishing up a letter to her friend when there was a knock on her workroom door. She jumped, scrawling a line of ink down the center of the page.
Dorian popped his head in, grinning, but the grin faltered when he saw the letter. “I hope I’m not interrupting,” he said, slipping in and shutting the door. As he turned, she balled up the ruined paper and chucked it into the rubbish pail.
“Not at all,” she said, toes curling as he nuzzled her neck and slipped his arms around her waist. “Someone might walk in,” she protested, squirming out of his grip. He let her go, but his eyes gleamed in a way that told her when they were alone again tonight, he might not be so easy to convince. She smiled.
“Do that again,” he breathed.
So Sorscha smiled again, laughing. And he looked so baffled by it that she asked, “What?”
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
She had to look away, go find something to do with her hands. They worked together in silence, as they were prone to doing now that Dorian knew his way around the workroom. He liked helping her with her tonics for other patients.
Someone coughed from the doorway, and they straightened, Sorscha’s heart flying into her throat. She hadn’t even noticed the door opening—or the Captain of the Guard now standing in it.
The captain walked right in, and Dorian stiffened beside her.
“Captain,” she said, “are you in need of my assistance?”
Dorian said nothing, his face unusually grim—those beautiful eyes haunted and heavy. He slipped a warm hand around her waist, resting it on her back. The captain quietly shut the door, and seemed to listen to the outside hall for a moment before speaking.
He looked even graver than her prince—his broad shoulders seeming to sag under an invisible burden. But his golden-brown eyes were clear as they met Dorian’s. “You were right.”
Chaol supposed it was a miracle in itself that Dorian had agreed to do this. The grief on Dorian’s face this morning had told him he could ask. And that Dorian would say yes.
Dorian made Chaol explain everything—to both of them. That was Dorian’s price: the truth owed to him, and to the woman who deserved to know what she was risking herself for.
Chaol quietly, quickly, explained everything: the magic, the Wyrdkeys, the three towers . . . all of it. To her credit, Sorscha didn’t fall apart or doubt him. He wondered if she was reeling, if she was upset with Dorian for not telling her. She revealed nothing, not with that healer’s training and self-control. But the prince watched Sorscha as if he could read her impregnable mask and see what was brewing beneath.
The prince had somewhere to be. He kissed Sorscha before he left, murmuring something in her ear that made her smile. Chaol hadn’t suspected to find Dorian so . . . happy with his healer. Sorscha. It was an embarrassment that Chaol had never known her name until today. And from the way Dorian looked at her, and she him . . . He was glad that his friend had found her.
When Dorian had gone, Sorscha was still smiling, despite what she’d learned. It made her truly stunning—it made her whole face open up.
“I think,” Chaol said, and Sorscha turned, brows high, ready to get to work. “I think,” he said again, smiling faintly, “that this kingdom could use a healer as its queen.”
She did not smile at him, as he’d hoped. Instead she looked unfathomably sad as she returned to her work. Chaol left without further word to ready himself for his experiment with Dorian—the only person in this castle, perhaps in the world, who could help him. Help them all.
Dorian had raw power, Celaena had said, power to be shaped as he willed it. That was the only thing similar enough to the power of the Wyrdkeys, neither good nor evil. And crystals, Chaol had once read in Celaena’s magic books, were good conduits for magic. It hadn’t been hard to buy several from the market—each about as long as his finger, white as fresh snow.
Everything was nearly ready when Dorian finally arrived in one of the secret tunnels and took a seat on the ground. Candles burned around them, and Chaol explained his plan as he finished pouring the last line of red sand—from the Red Desert, the merchant had claimed—between the three crystals. Equidistant from one another, they made the shape Murtaugh had drawn on the map of their continent. In the center of the triangle sat a small bowl of water.
Dorian pinned him with a stare. “Don’t blame me if they shatter.”
“I have replacements.” He did. He’d bought a dozen crystals.
Dorian stared at the first crystal. “You just want me to . . . focus my power on it?”
“Then draw a line of power to the next crystal, then the next, imagining that your goal is to freeze the water in the bowl. That’s all.”
A raised brow. “That’s not even a spell.”
“Just humor me,” Chaol said. “I wouldn’t have asked if this wasn’t the only way.” He dipped a finger in the bowl of water, setting it rippling. Something in his gut said that maybe the spell required nothing more than power and sheer will.
The prince’s sigh filled the stone hall, echoing off the stones and vaulted ceiling. Dorian gazed at the first crystal, roughly representing Rifthold. For minutes, there was nothing. But then Dorian began sweating, swallowing repeatedly.
“I’m fine,” Dorian gasped, and the first crystal began to glow white.
The light grew brighter, Dorian sweating and grunting as if he were in pain. Chaol was about to ask him to stop when a line shot toward the next crystal—so fast it was nearly undetectable save for the slight ripple in the sand. The crystal flashed bright, and then another line shot out, heading south. Again, the sand rippled in its wake.
The water remained fluid. The third crystal glowed, and the final line completed the triangle, making all three crystals flash for a moment. And then . . . slowly, crackling softly, the water froze. Chaol shoved back against his horror—horror and awe at how much Dorian’s control had grown.
Dorian’s skin was pasty and gleamed with sweat. “This is how he did it, isn’t it?”
Chaol nodded. “Ten years ago, with those three towers. They were all built years before so that this could happen precisely when his invading forces were ready, so no one could strike back. Your father’s spell must be far more complex, to have frozen magic entirely, but on a basic level, this is probably similar to what occurred.”