Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(2)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(2)
Author: Sarah J. Maas


She took in Gavin’s harsh, wild face—the face that she had come to cherish above all others. And she said, “We are not going to win this battle. And we are not going to win this war.”

His body quivered with the restraint to keep from going to his war leaders, but he gave her the respect of listening. They’d both given each other that, had learned it the hard way.

With her free hand, Elena lifted her fingers in the air between them. The raw magic in her veins now danced, from flame to water to curling vine to cracking ice. Not an endless abyss like her father’s, but a versatile, nimble gift of magic. Granted by her mother. “We are not going to win this war,” Elena repeated, Gavin’s face aglow in the light of her uncut power. “But we can delay it a little while. I can get across that valley in an hour or two.” She curled her fingers into a fist, and snuffed out her magic.

Gavin’s brows furrowed. “What you speak of is madness, Elena. Suicide. His lieutenants will catch you before you can even slip through the lines.”

“Exactly. They’ll bring me right to him, now that he has come. They’ll consider me his prized prisoner—not his assassin.”

“No.” An order and a plea.

“Kill Erawan, and his beasts will panic. Long enough for my father’s forces to arrive, unite with whatever remains of ours, and crush the enemy legions.”

“You say ‘kill Erawan’ as if that is some easy task. He is a Valg king, Elena. Even if they bring you to him, he will leash you to his will before you can make a move.”

Her heart strained, but she forced the words out. “That is why…” She couldn’t stop her wobbling lips. “That is why I need you to come with me instead of fight with your men.”

Gavin only stared at her.

“Because I need…” Tears slid down her cheeks. “I need you as a distraction. I need you to buy me time to get past his inner defenses.” Just as the battle tomorrow would buy them time.

Because Erawan would go for Gavin first. The human warrior who had been a bastion against the Dark Lord’s forces for so long, who had fought him when no other would … Erawan’s hatred for the human prince was rivaled only by his hatred for her father.

Gavin studied her for a long moment, then reached to brush her tears away. “He cannot be killed, Elena. You heard what your father’s oracle whispered.”

She nodded. “I know.”

“And even if we manage to contain him—trap him…” Gavin considered her words. “You know that we are only pushing the war onto someone else—to whoever one day rules these lands.”

“This war,” she said quietly, “is but the second movement in a game that has been played since those ancient days across the sea.”

“We put it off for someone else to inherit if he’s freed. And it will not save those soldiers down there from slaughter tomorrow.”

“If we do not act, there won’t be anyone to inherit this war,” Elena said. Doubt danced in Gavin’s eyes. “Even now,” she pushed, “our magic is failing, our gods abandoning us. Running from us. We have no Fae allies beyond those in my father’s army. And their power, like his, is fading. But perhaps, when that third movement comes … perhaps the players in our unfinished game will be different. Perhaps it will be a future in which Fae and humans fight side by side, ripe with power. Maybe they will find a way to end this. So we will lose this battle, Gavin,” she said. “Our friends will die on that killing field come dawn, and we will use it as our distraction to contain Erawan so that Erilea might have a future.”

His lips tightened, his sapphire eyes wide.

“No one must know,” she said, her voice breaking. “Even if we succeed, no one must know what we do.”

Doubt etched deep lines into his face. She gripped his hand harder. “No one, Gavin.”

Agony rippled across his features. But he nodded.

Hand in hand, they stared toward the darkness coating the mountains, the dread-lord’s bone drums pounding like hammers on iron. Too soon, those drums would be drowned out by the screams of dying soldiers. Too soon, the valley fields would be carved with streams of blood.

Gavin said, “If we are to do this, we need to leave now.” His attention again snagged on the nearby tents. No good-byes. No last words. “I’ll give Holdren the order to lead tomorrow. He’ll know what to tell the others.”

She nodded, and it was confirmation enough. Gavin released her hand, striding for the tent closest to their own, to where his dearest friend and most loyal war leader was likely making the best of his final hours with his new wife.

Elena drew her eyes away before Gavin’s broad shoulders pushed through the heavy flaps.

She gazed over the fires, across the valley, to the darkness perched on the other side. She could have sworn it stared back, sworn she heard the thousand whetstones as the dread-lord’s beasts sharpened their poison-slick claws.

She lifted her eyes toward the smoke-stained sky, the plumes parting for a heartbeat to reveal a star-flecked night.

The Lord of the North flickered down at her. Perhaps the final gift of Mala to these lands—in this age, at least. Perhaps a thank-you to Elena herself, and a farewell.

Because for Terrasen, for Erilea, Elena would walk into the eternal darkness lurking across the valley to buy them all a chance.

Elena sent up a final prayer on a pillar of smoke rising from the valley floor that the unborn, faraway scions of this night, heirs to a burden that would doom or save Erilea, would forgive her for what she was about to do.

 

 

PART ONE


THE FIRE-BRINGER

 

 

1


Elide Lochan’s breath scorched her throat with every gasping inhale as she limped up the steep forest hill.

Beneath the soggy leaves coating Oakwald’s floor, loose gray stones made the slope treacherous, the towering oaks stretching too high above for her to grip any branches should she tumble down. Braving the potential fall in favor of speed, Elide scrambled over the lip of the craggy summit, her leg twanging with pain as she slumped to her knees.

Forested hills rolled away in every direction, the trees like the bars of a never-ending cage.

Weeks. It had been weeks since Manon Blackbeak and the Thirteen had left her in this forest, the Wing Leader ordering her to head north. To find her lost queen, now grown and mighty—and to also find Celaena Sardothien, whoever she was, so that Elide might repay the life debt she owed to Kaltain Rompier.

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