“And you lot?” Aedion said, sizing up her, Rowan, and Dorian.

“I get the first shot,” Aelin said, flames dancing in her eyes.

Rowan inclined his head. “My lady wants the first shot. She gets the first shot. And when they’re scattering in a blind panic, we come in.”

Aedion gave her a long look. “Don’t miss this time.”

“Asshole,” she snapped.

Aedion’s smile didn’t reach his eyes as he strode to fetch extra weapons from their packs, grabbing a quiver of arrows in either hand, slinging one of the longbows across his broad back along with his shield. Manon had already stationed herself atop the wall behind them, grunting as she strung Aedion’s other bow.

Rowan was saying to Dorian, “Short bursts. Find your targets—the center of groups—and use only what magic is necessary. Don’t waste it all at once. Aim for the heads, if you can.”

“What about once they start landing?” Dorian asked, sizing up the terrain.

“Shield yourself, attack when you can. Keep the wall to your back at all times.”

“I won’t be his prisoner again.”

Aelin tried to shut out what he’d meant by it.

But Manon said from the wall above them, an arrow now nocked loosely in her bow, “If it comes to that, princeling, I’ll kill you before they can.”

Aelin hissed, “You will do no such thing.”

Both of them ignored her as Dorian said, “Thank you.”

“None of you are being taken prisoner,” Aelin growled, and walked away.

And there would be no second or third shots.

Only the first shot. Only her shot.

Perhaps it was time to see how deep that new well of power went. What lived inside it.

Perhaps it was time for Morath to learn to scream.

Aelin stepped up to the water’s edge, then leaped onto the next island of grass and stone. Rowan silently came up beside her, meeting her pace for pace. It wasn’t until they reached the next hill that he angled his face toward her, his golden skin stretched taut, his eyes as cold as her own.

Only that anger was directed at her—perhaps more livid than she’d seen him since Mistward. She bared her teeth in a feral, grim smile. “I know, I know. Just add suggesting to use the Wyrdkey to that tally of all the horrible things I do and say.”

Leathery, massive wings beat the air, and shrieking cries at last began to trickle toward them. Her knees quaked, but she clamped down on the fear, knowing he could scent it, knowing the others could, too.

So she willed herself to take another step onto the sodden, reed-laden plain—toward that ilken army. They’d be upon them in minutes—less, maybe.

And horrible, miserable Lorcan had bought them that extra time. Wherever the bastard was.

Rowan didn’t object as she took another step, then another. She had to put distance between them all—had to make sure that every last ember was capable of reaching that army and that she didn’t waste her strength by traveling far to do so.

Which meant striding out into the marshes alone. To wait for those things to be close enough to see their teeth. They had to know who now marched through the reeds toward them. What she’d do to them.

But still the ilken charged.

In the distance, far to the right, marsh creatures began to roar—no doubt in Lysandra’s wake. She prayed the beasts were hungry. And that they didn’t mind Morath-bred meat.

“Aelin.” Rowan’s voice cut across water and plant and wind. She paused, looking over a shoulder at where he now stood on the sandbank, as if it’d been impossible not to follow her.

The strong, unyielding bones of his face were set with that warrior’s brutality. But his pine-green eyes were bright—almost soft—as he said, “Remember who you are. Every step of the way down, and every step of the way back. Remember who you are. And that you’re mine.”

She thought of the new, delicate scars on his back—marks from her own nails, that he’d refused to heal with his magic, and instead had set with seawater, the salt locking the scars into place before the immortal body could smooth it over. Her claiming marks, he’d breathed into her mouth the last time he’d been inside her. So he and anyone who saw them would know that he belonged to her. That he was hers, just as she was his.

And because he was hers, because they were all hers …

Aelin turned away from him and sprinted across the plain.

With every step toward the army whose wings she could just make out, she watched for those beasts Lysandra riled, even as she began a swift, deadly descent into the core of her magic.

She had been hovering around the middle ledge of her power for days now, one eye on the churning, molten abyss far below. Rowan knew. Fenrys and Gavriel, definitely. Shielding them, drying their clothes, killing the insects that plagued them … all little ways to relieve the strain, to keep herself steady, to grow accustomed to its depth and pressure.

For the deeper she went into her power, the more her body, her mind, squeezed under the pressure of it. That was the burnout—when that pressure won, when the magic was drained too fast or too greedily, when it was spent and still the bearer tried to claw deeper than it should.

Aelin slammed to a stop in the heart of the plain. The ilken had spied her sprinting and now flapped toward her.

Unaware of the three males who crept far out, bows at the ready to push Erawan’s soldiers onto her flames.

If she could burn through their defenses. She’d have to drag up every bit of her power to incinerate them all. The true might of Aelin Fire-Bringer. Not an ember less.

So Aelin abandoned every trapping of civilization, of conscience and rules and humanity, and plummeted into her fire.

She flew for that flaming abyss, only distantly aware of the humidity lying thick on her skin, of the pressure building in her head.

She’d shoot straight down—and push off the bottom, bringing all that power with her to the surface. The drag would be enormous. And it would be the test, the true test, of control and strength. Easy—so easy to spear into the heart of fire and ash. The hard part was bringing it up; that was when the cracking would occur.

Deeper and deeper, Aelin shot into her power. Through distant, mortal eyes, she noted the ilken sweeping closer. A mercy—if they had once been human, perhaps obliterating them would be a mercy.

Aelin knew she’d reached the former edge of her power thanks to warning bells in her blood that pealed in her wake. That pealed as she launched herself into the burning depths of hell.

The Queen of Flame and Shadow, the Heir of Fire, Aelin of the Wildfire, Fireheart …

She burned through each title, even as she became them, became what those foreign ambassadors had hissed when they reported on a child-queen’s growing, unstable power in Terrasen. A promise that had been whispered into the blackness.

The pressure began to build in her head, in her veins.

Far behind, safely out of her range, she felt the flickers of Rowan’s and Dorian’s magic as they rallied the blasts that would answer her own.

Aelin soared into the uncharted core of her power.

The inferno went on and on.


Lorcan knew they were still too slow, warning signal or not.

Elide was gasping for breath, weaving on her feet as Lorcan halted on the outskirts of a massive, flooded plain. She pushed back a stray strand of hair from her face, Athril’s ring glinting on her finger. She hadn’t questioned where it had come from or what it did when he’d slipped it onto her finger this morning. He’d only warned her to never take it off, that it might be the one thing to keep her safe from the ilken, from Morath.

The force had swept northward and away from where Lorcan and Elide had hauled ass, no doubt to secure some better approach. And at the far end of the plain, too distant for Elide’s human eyes to clearly make out, Whitethorn’s silver hair glinted, the King of Adarlan at his side. Magic, bright and cold, swirling around them. And farther out—

Gods above. Gavriel and Fenrys were in the reeds, bows drawn. And Gavriel’s son. Aimed at the army approaching. Waiting for—

Lorcan tracked where they were all facing.

Not the army closing in on them.

But the queen standing alone in the heart of the flooded plain.

Lorcan realized a moment too late that he and Elide were on the wrong side of the demarcation line—too far north of where Aelin’s companions stood safely behind her.

Realized it the exact heartbeat that Elide’s eyes fell on the golden-haired woman facing that army.

Her arms slackened at her sides. Her face drained of color.

Elide staggered one step—one step toward Aelin, a small noise coming out of her.

That’s when he felt it.

Lorcan had sensed it once before, that day at Mistward. When the Queen of Terrasen had laid waste to the Valg princes, when her power had been a behemoth surging from the deep, setting the world trembling.

That was nothing—nothing—compared to the power that now roared into the world.

Elide stumbled, gaping at the spongy earth as the marsh water rippled.

Five hundred ilken closed in around them. They had taken his warning—and set a trap.

And that power … that power Aelin was now dragging up from whatever hellhole was inside her, from whatever fiery pit she’d been damned to endure … Its wake would wash over them.

“What is … ,” Elide breathed, but Lorcan lunged for her, hurling them to the ground, covering her body with his. He threw a shield over them, plummeting hard and fast into his magic, the drop nearly uncontrolled. He didn’t have time to do anything but pour every ounce of power into his shield, into the one barrier that would keep them from being melted into nothing.

He shouldn’t have wasted the effort warning them. Not when it was now likely to get him and Elide killed.

Whitethorn knew—even at Mistward—that the queen hadn’t yet stepped into her birthright. Knew that this sort of power came around once in an eon, and to serve it, to serve her …

A court that wouldn’t just change the world. It would start the world over.

A court that could conquer this world—and any other it wished.

If it wished. If that woman on the plain desired to. And that was the question, wasn’t it?

“Lorcan,” Elide whispered, her voice breaking in longing for the queen, or terror of her, he didn’t know.

Didn’t have time to guess, as a feral roar went up from the reeds. A command.

And then a hail of arrows, precisely and brutally aimed, flew from the marshes to strike at the outer flanks of the ilken. He marked Fenrys’s shots by the black-tipped arrows that easily found their marks. Gavriel’s son didn’t miss, either. Ilken tumbled from the sky, and the others panicked, flapping into one another, careening inward.

Right to where the Queen of Terrasen unleashed the full force of her magic upon them.

The moment Lysandra roared to signal that the marsh beasts were riled and she was safely behind their lines again, the moment the ilken got so close Aedion could shoot them out of the sky like geese, his queen erupted.

Even with Aelin’s aim away from them, even with Rowan’s shield, the heat of that fire burned. “Holy gods,” Aedion found himself saying as he stumbled back through the reeds, falling farther behind her line of attack. “Holy rutting gods.”

The heart of the legion didn’t have the chance to scream as they were washed away in a sea of flame.

Aelin was no savior to rally behind, but a cataclysm to be weathered.

The fire grew hotter, his bones groaning as sweat beaded on his brow. But Aedion took up a new spot, glancing to ensure his father and Fenrys had done the same across the drowned plain, and aimed for the ilken veering out of the flame’s path. He made his arrows count.

Ashes fell to the earth in a slow, steady snow.

Not fast enough. As if sensing Aelin’s dragging pace, ice and wind erupted overhead.

Where gold-and-red flame did not melt Erawan’s legion, Dorian and Rowan ripped them apart.

The ilken still held out, as if they were a stain of darkness, harder to wash away.