That ripple of Lorcan’s power the day Ansel’s fleet had closed in … She’d known it was a summoning. The same way she’d summoned the Valg to Skull’s Bay. She’d refused to immediately explain Ansel’s presence, wanting to enjoy the surprise of it, and he had summoned Maeve’s armada to take on what he’d believed to be an enemy fleet. To save Elide.

Lorcan just said, “I’m sorry.”

Aelin didn’t know if it was to her or Elide, whose eyes now widened with outrage. But Aelin said, “You think I didn’t know? That I didn’t take precautions?”

Lorcan’s brows furrowed. Aelin shrugged.

But Maeve went on, “Lady Elide Lochan, daughter of Cal and Marion Lochan. No wonder the witch itches to retrieve you, if her bloodline runs in your veins.”

Manon snarled a warning.

Aelin drawled to the Fae Queen, “Well, you didn’t drag your ancient carcass all the way here for nothing. So let’s get on with it. What do you want for the girl?”

That adder’s smile curled Maeve’s lips again.

Elide was trembling; every bone, every pore was trembling in terror at the immortal queen standing above her, at the guard’s blade at her throat. The rest of the queen’s escort remained distant—but it was to the escort that Lorcan kept glancing, his face tight, his own body near-shaking with restrained wrath.

This was the queen to whom he’d given his heart? This cold creature who looked at the world with mirthless eyes? Who had killed those soldiers without a blink of hesitation?

The queen whom Lorcan had summoned for her. He’d brought Maeve to save her—

Elide’s breath turned sharp in her throat. He’d betrayed them. Betrayed Aelin for her—

“What should I demand as payment for the girl?” Maeve mused, taking a few steps toward them, graceful as a moonbeam. “Why doesn’t my Second tell me? So busy, Lorcan. You’ve been so, so busy these months.”

His voice was hoarse as he lowered his head. “I did it for you, Majesty.”

“Then where is my ring? Where are my keys?”

A ring. Elide was willing to bet it was the golden one on her own finger, hidden beneath her other hand as she clenched them before her.

But Lorcan pointed his chin toward Aelin. “She has them. Two keys.”

Cold clanged through Elide. “Lorcan.” The guard’s blade twitched at her throat.

Aelin only leveled a cool stare at Lorcan.

He didn’t look at either Elide or Aelin. Didn’t so much as acknowledge their existence as he went on, “Aelin has two, and probably has a good inkling where Erawan hides the third.”

“Lorcan,” Elide pleaded. No—no, he wasn’t about to do this, about to betray them again—

“Be quiet,” he growled at her.

Maeve’s gaze again drifted down to Elide. The ancient, eternal darkness in it was smothering. “What familiarity you use when you speak his name, Lady of Perranth. What intimacy.”

Aelin’s little snort was her only warning sign. “Don’t you have better things to do than terrorize humans? Release the girl and let’s settle this the fun way.”

Flame danced at Aelin’s fingertips.

No. Her magic had been emptied, still hovered near burnout.

But Aelin stepped forward, nudging Manon with the side of her body as she passed—forcing the witch to back away. Aelin grinned. “Want to dance, Maeve?”

But Aelin shot a cutting glance over her shoulder at Manon as if to say, Run. Grab Elide the moment Maeve’s guard is down and run.

Maeve returned Aelin’s smile. “I don’t think you’d be a suitable dance partner right now. Not when your magic is nearly depleted. Did you think my arrival was merely dependent upon Lorcan’s summoning? Who do you think even whispered to Morath you were indeed down here? Of course, the fools didn’t realize that when you had drained yourself on their armies, I’d be waiting. You were already exhausted after putting out the fires I had my armada ignite to tire you on Eyllwe’s coast. It was a convenience that Lorcan gave your precise location and saved me the energy of tracking you down myself.”

A trap. An enormous, wicked trap. To drain Aelin’s power over days—weeks. But Aelin lifted a brow. “You brought an entire armada just to start a few fires?”

“I brought an armada to see if you’d rise to the occasion. Which, apparently, Prince Rowan has done.”

Hope soared in Elide’s chest. But then Maeve said, “The armada was a precaution. Just in case the ilken didn’t arrive for you to wholly drain yourself … I figured a few hundred ships would make for good kindling until I was ready.”

To sacrifice her own fleet—or part of it—to gain one prize … This was madness. The queen was utterly insane. “Do something,” Elide hissed at Lorcan, at Manon. “Do something.”

Neither of them responded.

The flame around Aelin’s fingers grew to encompass her hand—then her arm as she said to the ancient queen, “All I hear is a lot of chitchat.”

Maeve glanced at her escort, and they stepped away. Hauled Elide with them, the blade still at her throat.

Aelin said sharply to Manon, “Get out of range.”

The witch fell back, but her eyes were on the guard holding Elide, gobbling down every detail she could.

“You can’t possibly hope to win,” Maeve said, as if they were about to play cards.

“At least we’ll enjoy ourselves until the end,” Aelin crooned back, flame now encasing her entirely.

“Oh, I have no interest in killing you,” Maeve purred.

Then they exploded.

Flame slammed outward, red and golden—just as a wall of darkness lashed for Aelin.

The impact shook the world.

Even Manon was thrown on her ass.

But Lorcan was already moving.

The guard holding Elide showered her hair with blood as Lorcan slit his throat.

The other two guards behind him died with a hatchet to the face, one after another. Elide surged up, her leg barking in pain, running for Manon on pure, blind instinct, but Lorcan gripped her by the collar of her tunic. “Stupid fool,” he snapped, and she clawed at him—

“Lorcan, hold the girl,” Maeve said quietly, not even looking toward them. “Don’t get any stupid ideas about fleeing with her.” He went utterly still, his hold tightening.

Maeve and Aelin struck again.

Light and darkness.

Sand shuddered down the dunes, the waves rippled.

Only now—Maeve had only dared attack Aelin now.

Because Aelin at her full strength …

Aelin could beat her.

But Aelin, nearly depleted of her power …

“Please,” Elide begged Lorcan. But he held her firm, slave to the order Maeve had given, one eye on the battling queens, the other on the escorts who weren’t foolish enough to approach after witnessing what he’d done to their companions.

“Run,” Lorcan said in her ear. “If you wish to live, run, Elide. Shove me off—work around her command. Push me, and run.”

She would not. She’d sooner die than flee like a coward, not when Aelin was going to the mat for all of them, when—

Darkness devoured flame.

And even Manon flinched as Aelin was slammed back.

A paper-thin wall of flame kept that darkness from hitting home. A wall that wavered—

Help. They needed help—

Maeve lashed to the left, and Aelin threw up a hand, fire deflecting.

Aelin didn’t see the blow to the right. Elide screamed in warning, but too late.

A whip of black sliced into Aelin.

She went down.

And Elide thought the impact of Aelin Galathynius’s knees hitting the sand might have been the most horrible sound she’d ever heard.

Maeve did not waste her advantage.

Darkness poured down, pounding again and again. Aelin deflected, but it got past her.

There was nothing Elide could do as Aelin screamed.

As that dark, ancient power struck her like a hammer over an anvil.

Elide begged Manon, now mere feet away, “Do something.”

Manon ignored her, eyes fixed on the battle before them.

Aelin crawled backward, blood sliding from her right nostril. Dripping on her white shirt.

Maeve advanced, the darkness swirling around her like a fell wind.

Aelin tried to rise.

Tried, but her legs had given out. The Queen of Terrasen panted, fire flickering like dying embers around her.

Maeve pointed with a finger.

A black whip, faster than Aelin’s fire, lashed out. Wrapped around her throat. Aelin gripped it, thrashing, her teeth bared, flame flaring over and over.

“Why don’t you use the keys, Aelin?” Maeve purred. “Surely you’d win that way.”

Use them, Elide begged her. Use them.

But Aelin did not.

The coil of darkness tightened around Aelin’s throat.

Flames sparked and died out.

Then the darkness expanded, encompassing Aelin again and squeezing tight, squeezing until she was screaming, screaming in a way that Elide knew meant unfathomable agony—

A low, vicious snarl rippled from nearby, the only warning as a massive wolf leaped through the seagrasses and shifted. Fenrys.

A heartbeat later, a mountain lion charged over a dune, beheld the scene, and shifted as well. Gavriel.

“Let her go,” Fenrys growled at the dark queen, advancing a step. “Let her go now.”

Maeve turned her head, that darkness still lashing Aelin. “Look who finally arrived. Another set of traitors.” She smoothed a wrinkle in her flowing gown. “What a valiant effort you made, Fenrys, delaying your arrival on this beach for as long as you could withstand my summons.” She clicked her tongue. “Did you enjoy playing loyal subject while panting after the young Queen of Fire?”

As if in answer, the darkness squeezed in tight—and Aelin screamed again.

“Stop it,” Fenrys snapped.

“Maeve, please,” Gavriel said, exposing his palms to her.

“Maeve?” the queen crooned. “Not Majesty? Has the Lion gone a bit feral? Perhaps too much time with his unchecked, half-breed bastard?”

“Leave him out of this,” Gavriel said too softly.

But Maeve let the darkness around Aelin part.

She was curled on her side, bleeding from both nostrils now, more blood dribbling from her panting mouth.

Fenrys lunged for her. A wall of black slammed up between them.

“I don’t think so,” Maeve crooned.

Aelin gasped for air, eyes glassy with pain. Eyes that slid to Elide’s. Aelin’s bloody, chapped mouth formed the word again. Run.

She would not. Could not.

Aelin’s arms shook as she tried to raise herself. And Elide knew there was no magic left.

No fire left in the queen. Not one ember.

And the only way Aelin could face this, accept this, was to go down swinging. Like Marion had.

Aelin’s wet, rasping breaths were the only sound above the crashing waves behind them. Even the battle had gone quiet in the distance. Over—or perhaps they were all dead.

Manon still stood there. Still did not move. Elide begged her, “Please. Please.”

Maeve smiled at the witch. “I have no quarrel with you, Blackbeak. Stay out of this and you are free to go where you wish.”

“Please,” Elide pleaded.

Manon’s gold eyes were hard. Cold. She nodded to Maeve. “Agreed.”

Something in Elide’s chest cleaved open.

But Gavriel said from across their little circle, “Majesty—please. Leave Aelin Galathynius to her own war here. Let us return home.”

“Home?” Maeve asked. The black wall between Fenrys and Aelin lowered—but the warrior did not try to cross. He just stared at Aelin, stared at her in that way Elide herself must be looking. He didn’t break that stare until Maeve said to Gavriel, “Is Doranelle still your home?”

“Yes, Majesty,” Gavriel said calmly. “It is an honor to call it such.”

“Honor … ,” Maeve mused. “Yes, you and honor go hand in hand, don’t they? But what of the honor of your vow, Gavriel?”