Tower of Dawn Page 141

Mab and Mora. Holy gods—

“And using her powers, she ripped into their minds. Made them believe they had a sister, an eldest sister to rule with them. Three queens—for the three kings that might one day come. When they returned to their palace, she tore into the minds of all those who dwelled there, too. And any who came. Planting the thought that a third queen had always existed, always ruled. If they somehow resisted her power, she found ways to end them.” A wicked chuckle.

Nesryn had heard the legends. Of Maeve’s dark, unnamed power—a darkness that could devour the stars. That Maeve had never revealed a Fae form, only that deadly darkness. And she had lived far beyond the lifespan of any known Fae. Lived so long that the only comparable lifespan … Erawan.

A Valg life span. For a Valg queen.

The spider again paused. Falkan had nearly reached her hands—but still not enough to free them.

Nesryn asked, “So the Valg kings arrived, but did not know who faced them in the war?”

“Precisely.” A delighted purr. “Disguised in a Fae body, they did not recognize her, the fools. But she used it against them. Knew how to defeat them, how their armies worked. And when she realized what they had done to arrive here, the keys they possessed … she wanted them. To banish them, kill them, and to use the keys as she saw fit within this world. And others.

“So she took them. Snuck in and took them, surrounding herself with Fae warriors so others might not ask just how she knew so many things. Oh, the clever queen claimed it was from communing with the spirit world, but … she knew. She had run those war camps. Knew how the kings worked. So she stole the keys. Managed to send two of those kings back, Orcus one of them. And before she could go after the final king, the youngest one who loved his brothers so very deeply, the keys were taken from her.” A hiss.

“By Brannon,” Nesryn breathed.

“Yes, the fire-king. He saw the darkness in her but did not recognize it. He wondered, suspected, but all he’d known of the Valg, our people, were their male soldiers. Their grunts and princes and kings. He did not know that a female … How different, how extraordinary a female Valg is. Even he was tricked by her; she found paths into his mind to keep him from truly realizing it.” Another soft, lovely laugh. “Even now, when all should be clear to his meddlesome spirit … Even now, he does not know. To his oncoming doom—yes, to his doom, and the other’s.”

Nausea roiled through her. Aelin. Aelin’s doom.

“But while he did not guess correctly about our queen’s origins, he still knew that his fire … She greatly feared his fire. As all true Valg do.” Nesryn tucked away that kernel. “He left, building his kingdom far away, and she built her defenses, too. So many clever defenses, should Erawan rise again and realize that the queen he’d sought for his brother, conquered worlds to find, was here all along. That she had built armies of Fae, and would let them battle each other.”

A spider in a web. That’s what Maeve was.

Falkan reached Nesryn’s hands, chewing through the silk there. Sartaq remained unconscious, so perilously close to the spider.

“So you have waited these thousands of years—for her to return to these mountains?”

“She ordered us to hold the pass, to guard the rip in the world. So we have. And so we will, until she summons us to her side once more.”

Nesryn’s head spun. Maeve—she’d think on it later. If they lived through this.

She flicked her fingers at Falkan, signaling him.

Silently, keeping to the shadows, the shifter scuttled into the dark.

“And now you know—how the Black Watch came to dwell here.” The spider rose with a mighty heave. “I hope it was a fitting final tale for you, Wind-seeker.”

Nesryn opened her mouth as the spider advanced, rotating her wrists behind her back—

“Sister,” a female voice hissed from the darkness beyond. “Sister, a word.”

The spider halted, pivoting her bulbous body toward the archway entrance. “What.”

A beat of fear. “There is a problem, sister. A threat.”

The spider scuttled toward her kin, snapping, “Tell me.”

“Ruks on the northern horizon. Twenty at least—”

The spider hissed. “Guard the mortals. I shall deal with the birds.”

Clicking legs, shale shifting all around her. Nesryn’s heart hammered as she flexed her aching fingers. “Sartaq,” she breathed.

His eyes flicked open across the way. Alert. Calm.

The other spider crawled in, smaller than her leader. Sartaq tensed, shoulders straining as if he’d try to burst from the silk that held him.

But the spider only whispered, “Hurry.”

50

Sartaq sagged at Falkan’s voice as it came from the kharankui’s hideous mouth.

Nesryn hauled her hands free from the webbing, swallowing her grunt of pain as the fibers tore at her skin. Falkan’s mouth and tongue had to be aching—

She glanced at the spider hovering over Sartaq, slicing through the silk binding the prince with slashes of the claws. Indeed, where those pincers waved, blood leaked out.

“Quickly,” the shifter whispered. “Your weapons are in the corner there.”

She could just make out the faint gleam of starlight on the curve of her bow, along the naked silver of her Asterion short-sword.

Falkan cut through Sartaq’s bindings, and the prince sprang free, shoving off the webbing. He swayed as he stood, bracing a hand on the stone. Blood, there was so much blood all over him—

But he rushed to her, ripping at the threads still covering her feet. “Are you hurt?”

“Faster,” Falkan said, glancing to the archway entrance behind. “It won’t take her long to realize no one’s coming.”

Nesryn’s feet came free, and Sartaq hauled her up. “Did you hear what she said about Maeve—”

“Oh, I heard,” Sartaq breathed as they rushed to their weapons. He handed her the bow and quiver, the Fae blade. Grabbed his own Asterion daggers as he hissed to Falkan, “Which way?”

The shifter scuttled forward, past the carving of Maeve. “Here—there is a slope upward. We’re just on the other side of the pass. If we can get up high—”

“Have you seen Kadara?”

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