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Heirs of the Sun

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          Dear Aedion & Lysandra,

          The world has never felt brighter for me today. How wonderful to hear the news after such frightful weeks! It is a blessing bestowed from the gods themselves, and one I am so delighted to be sharing with you both. Reading the happy words of your last letter flourished the greatest happiness in my heart, and I am beyond excited for what awaits you! Congratulations are definitely in order, and, yes, of course we will celebrate together once I am reunited with you once more (I trust Aedion to be the best father-to-be and welcome me home with those amazing lemon cakes of his!)

          Concerning the second part of your letter: unfortunately, it seems the situation here in Adarlan is just as you described over there. No news from the threat, only silence. Hollin has been as hard at work as Dorian would have been, and his attention has been admirably turned to his people in these difficult times. Many seek his council, and many respect him as they respect his brother. But I also have to admit that such things do not surprise me when it comes to Hollin. Maybe you will disagree, but I have found that all my suspicions about him are confirmed: he is kind, and honest. Brave. Beautiful. I know you have been worried for me, but I assure you that the prince has no ill intent towards me, nor did he ever. Hollin is…difficult. But aren’t we all?

Also, he has haunting eyes. Oh, those eyes. Eyes that do not fail to drown me each time I dare to look into them. And I allow it.        

          I allow him to drown me.

          And I happily go under.

          Never to resurface.

***

          Those words were never supposed to find themselves on a page.

          And yet.

          Evangeline stares at them with a terrible blush blooming in her cheeks, and she covers her face with both hands as if that would stifle it.

          As if that would quieten her heart.

          Oh, only if it did.

          In truth, she is giddy with happiness for Lysandra and Aedion. The pregnancy was sudden, and completely unexpected from what they have told her. A brother and a sister, lady Yrene had said. A brother and a sister that Evangeline would meet in just a few months, at the start of the new spring.

          Yes, indeed.

          It is happiness that blooms in her heart this morning as she walks through the busy market street of Rifthold on her way to the school. For the news she received yesterday evening, and for a certain brooding prince with dark blue eyes.

          Two full weeks have passed since their incident with the thieves, and as strange as those first few days were for them both, their daily lessons continued. Her mornings and evenings were spent with him, either lost in conversation or hovering over books with ancient, broken spines and dusty pages about    the most interesting subjects.

          She does not know how it happened, exactly.

          If her affections had been gradual and grew over the time they spent together, over getting to know the sides of Hollin the world did not deserve to see, or if it had been like stepping into the cold embrace of the sea. A quick splash, and then she was swimming in feelings too deep to wade through, too strong to allow her to come to the surface.

          It is ironic, really.

          That in teaching him how to love another woman, she had come to love him.

          The cruellest of ironies, she would say.

          From one heartbeat to the next, her smile is whisked away, leaving a terrible dread in the depths of her heart. Evangeline knows – she knows that deep down, there is no sense left in her anymore. In fact, if she had had any sense at all, she would have prevented this from happening since the very beginning. Maybe she would have never suggested their lessons; maybe she would have never insisted to break down his walls. If she hadn’t…

          Well, the mess is made, isn’t it?

          Evangeline sighs, folding her still unsent letter into the pocket of her dress. Her words have no sense at all. She should have never even written them. And, if she really thinks about it, it is a good thing that Hollin is so besotted with the Princess of Ellywe. Not that Evangeline knows the princess personally, but she has no doubt that the girl is as beautiful and kind as the world makes her out to be. And is it not a good thing that Hollin is ready to open up his heart to someone, after being in the dark for so long? Hadn’t that been the whole point of their lessons, after all?

          Isn’t that all she wanted for him?

          She would wish him well, Evangeline thinks. She would wish them both well, and her selfishness, greediness and jealousy would be stuffed into the dark corners of her mind, locked away for no one else to find.

          Hollin had not a care for her love.

          He had no need for it.

          And Evangeline should be thinking about more important matters, anyway. Certainly. Mostly about the other piece of news that Lysandra and Aedion delivered. The not-so-good part.

          Since Dorian had left to join Aelin and the others in their search for the Valg demons, they had found nothing but silence. Not a sight of Valg blood anywhere. No victims. No attacks.

          Everything is silent, as if it had never happened.

          Queen Aelin is now in Terrasen with her consort. The Queen of Witches and her own King making their way back home. Their court going back to their lives, attentive and restless, worried about what they had not found.

          Even as the sound of laughing children lightens her step and her heart, Evangeline cannot help but repeat the words in the back of her mind, the words that Lysandra and Aedion had left for her on their last letter:

          Be on the look-out, my dear. Something terrible is coming.

***

          Hollin Havilliard is lazy.

          Maybe it is the weather, or the awful festive season that has marched on and into his homeland way too soon. Maybe it is something else entirely.

          But he does not feel like working today.

          The Prince stretches his legs on the small cot he’d placed years before in the tight space of his office, between the stained-glass window and a shelf unit that is close to falling apart with all the weight that has been placed upon it.

          Evangeline has left earlier than he wanted her to this morning.

          And, foolishly, he had not stopped her.

          He’d wanted to, though.

          Gone were the days when it was easy for him to be hostile; to show her his teeth in order to keep her and her gentleness at bay. Gone were the days when Hollin could withstand the loneliness on his own. Gone were the days when the prince of Adarlan felt weakened with childish fears and hateful shadows.

          Shadows.

          They gather in his hands now that she is gone. He twirls a cloud of smoke between his fingers, imagining it is her red-gold hair he is touching. He would wrap those curls in his fingers, twist them once, just to let go and watch them fall over her shoulders in a most delicate manner.

          He smiles to himself.

          Girls do not like brooding men, she had told him that morning as she’d entered his office, always without knocking, placing a plate of too-sweet porridge in front of him. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to get properly dressed. She hadn’t seemed to care.

          He’d told her: “You, apparently, do.”

          It had been meant as a tease, but his morning voice had made it sound like an insult, and as always, Evangeline had simply shaken her head at him and scoffed under her breath, “Moody prince.”

          Slowly, he traces his bottom lip, recalling the soft, accidental press of her mouth against his. It had been too quick for Hollin to properly keep the memory tied to him, and that only increased his need to get to know her lips again. He would do it properly, this time. As any gentleman ought to: he would take her hand, press a kiss to her palm, ask in loving whispers against her ear where she would like him to kiss her next, and when her answer came, he would finally bend down-

          A terrible knock disrupts his thoughts.

          Hollin’s jaw ticks. “What is it.”

          A trembling voice comes from outside, and Hollin recognizes it as the stable boy’s voice. “Apologies, your Highness, but a note from your brother has arrived.”

          Hollin is quick to move to his door, take the note from the boy and shut the door on his face.

          He quickly reads over the words and sighs.

          Nothing new.

          Nothing he doesn’t already know.

          Brother, the note says,

I am on my way back. Manon has taken our daughter back to the Wastes, and will be joining us in a few weeks’ time; we deemed it safer for Rhiannon there, at least for the time being. As much as it hurts my heart to part with them, I know it is the right choice.

I am sure you have gotten my updates the last time we spoke, and, unfortunately, I bring you no other news, Hollin. Not even the fae can scent them anywhere. Our best guess is that whatever kernel of Valg remained in this world, it managed to be small enough to go undetected – but that can only worsen this threat.

Now, to answer the last part of your previous letter: I do agree that an alliance with Ellywe could only be beneficial for Adarlan, and while I do give you my blessing for you to be joined with its Princess, I ask you to think it through. I would not ask you such a thing, Hollin. If you want to go through with this, let it be on your own terms. I will not have my brother married simply out of duty or obligation.

I hope you are faring well. I will see you in a few days.

Your brother,

Dorian.

          Hollin folds the note and throws it carelessly onto his desk. Marriage, it seems, has made his brother a blind idiot.

          If a war is truly brewing in the distance, then making Adarlan stronger should be his top priority. But Dorian, his foolish brother, has always put feelings and family before his own country.

          Hollin leans his hands against the wooden desk, sighing quietly. It is a necessary duty, he thinks. And Hollin would do it. Because his brother-

          Dorian had given too much of himself already.

          It is time for Hollin to give something back, too.

          Even if it tears his heart to pieces.

          With an incredible dread falling over him, the Prince of Adarlan sits down at his desk, and begins a letter.

***

          The Queen of Witches shelters her daughter against the raging wind of the mountains, placing a cloak of deep red that sits in the little one’s shoulders as she looks over at the orange dusk. The ocean in the far distance brings the northern storms over as the sun goes to sleep.

          “Ready?” The King of Adarlan asks, watching over them both while Abraxos patiently folds a wing over them all, protecting them from the chill.

          “Yes,” says Manon. “We are ready.”

          The Queen watches as her husband takes their daughter into his arms, murmuring gentle words into her cheeks. She makes herself watch it all, even if her heart begins to ache, even if the pain is almost too much to bear. Something inside her now bristles at separating from the King; a wild warning in the back of her mind everytime they need to be away from each other.

          He helps Rhia into Abraxos’ saddle. When he looks at her, Manon’s instinct is to wrap him in her arms, and not let go.

          “Witchling,” Dorian smiles slightly, letting his knuckles drag over her cold cheeks. “Chin up.”

          It is what he says when he is trying to make their daughter smile.

          And now he is doing it to Manon.

          Her hair flutters in the wind, and Manon idly peels it off her face as she says, “Let me fly you to Adarlan.”

          “We have talked about this,” Dorian says, his voice gentle, a contrast with the wind around them. “It will only make you lose time. You need to speak to the Witches as quick as you can. I will get to Adarlan in two days by horse.”

          She seems ready to debate this once more, but at the last minute, Manon simply steps into his arms. He will offer her words of comfort if she wishes for them, she knows. He will give her everything she needs – even if she asks for illusions.

          But Manon wishes for nothing. She allows him to pull her into his chest, and she breathes in the scent of his clothes, his skin. Every fibre of her being begs to be forever wrapped in his arms, and never leave. She wishes to cling to him, and never let go.

          It is not unusual to her by now – it had been the same thing when she had been carrying Rhiannon.

          Dorian laughs gently against her cheek, the sound reverberating against her. Lovingly, but lowly, he says: “Might I have known years ago of this pretty little fact that witches become very clingy to their companions once they are with child, I would have convinced you much sooner to have another one.”

          Manon’s mouth twitches a bit. “You did not convince me.”

          “No?” Dorian says, a gentle playfulness to him. “Are you sure?”

          Manon touches his chin, their voices still low so little Rhiannon does not hear. “I was never trying not to have your child, princeling.”

          “And what a miraculous child it will be, witchling.”

          Indeed, as it was still terribly difficult for witches to bring life to the world. Manon had been luckier than most.

          They both had.

          “How will we tell that one?” He grins, gesturing with his chin to their already sleeping daughter, nuzzling Abraxos’ neck.

          “I will leave that one for you to figure out,” Manon says, and kisses his lips slowly.

          “Hopefully,” Dorian says between kisses, “she will scream less than Aelin did.”

          Then Dorian finds himself kissing her back eagerly, deeply, weaving his hands beneath her coat – just to touch that small bump at the bottom of her stomach. He smiles wide, kissing the tip of her nose. “Come back to me soon, my darling.”

          She is tempted to scoff at his little endearments, but Manon’s heart does not allow her to. Instead, she nuzzles his neck, leaving a soft kiss of cold lips on his skin.

          “Soon,” she promises.

***

 

          “Aelin, come to bed.”

          The Queen of Terrasen watches over the darkness falling over her reign, uncaring about the chilled wind kissing her bare legs and feet. She leans over the railing of her balcony, trying to find answers she has no questions for.

          “They are hiding,” she says for Rowan to hear, the sound of her voice carried through the open double doors and into their bed, where he lay with his fluffy hair and perfect eyes. She does not turn to look at him, her eyes narrowed, as if she would find everything she is looking for if she faced the darkness long enough. “For some reason, they have disappeared. They are hidden from us.”

          Footsteps sound, and soon she finds a big, soothing presence behind her. Pine and mint. Aelin lets the scent calm her restless heart, her breathing slowing down the moment she feels the tips of Rowan’s fingers move up her arms.

          “You need rest,” he says to her, his breath on the top of her spine making her shiver.

          “I need to solve this,” she says. “I need to figure out-”

          “We will,” he murmurs against her. “We will, Fireheart.”

          Aelin Galathynius closes her eyes, leaning back against her mate’s bare chest. She allows herself this moment of peace as they await the storm to come. She allows him to caress the front of her nightgown, her hands moving to his forearms, idly stroking the rough hairs there.

          And then, unexpectedly, Rowan moves his hand downwards. Further down. Aelin’s breath is caught off, her eyes flinging open. Despite everything, a slow smile forms on her lips.

          “I thought you said I needed rest,” she whispers, turning her face to the side, her lips touching his jaw.

          “There are many kinds of rests,” Rowan says, catching her lips in a brief, sensual kiss, just as his hand dips beneath her nightgown.

          He finds her deliciously bare, and Rowan growls his satisfaction low and deep against her neck.

          Aelin loses herself in him, so quickly, like she’d flung herself off this very balcony. A moan escapes her lips, and her hand squeezes at his forearm, urging him to dip his fingers lower, to touch her exactly where she wants him to.

          Just as he teases her slick entrance, Aelin catches his lips with hers. His hips are firm, pressed against her own. His presence is a lifeline, and she clings to it desperately.

          Even as she whispers, “Tell me it will be alright.”

          It is with the utter most confidence and love that Rowan whispers back, “It will be alright, Fireheart.”

***

          Lord Lorcan Lochan sits at home in front of a fire. His wife dozes off on the couch, her head on his lap, her soft features free of the days’ worries.

          He takes a moment to contemplate her.

          Who would have known that, ten years ago, he would have found his equal, his mate, his heart, in the middle of the woods? Who could have imagined that they would have ended up here?

          A gentle pitter-patter of footsteps makes him look up at the double doors of the sitting room. There stands his oldest son, his eyes still clinging to sleep as he watches his parents.

          Lorcan murmurs, “You should be in bed.”

          And still he extends an arm, and Ferran clings to his father’s hand as he slips next to him on the other side of the couch, careful not to wake his mother.

          “Can’t sleep?”

          Ferran shakes his head, sighing when his father wraps an arm around him.

          “Dad?”

          “Yes?” Lorcan says, looking over at his son.

          “How did you know that mama was your mate?” Ferran asks.

          A pause. “Why are you thinking this now?”

          “Just wondering.”

          “Well,” Lorcan begins, a deep sigh escaping him. “I just…knew.”

          “Did you know it when you first saw her?”

          “No.”

          “When?”

          Lorcan gives his son a confused smile, but nonetheless he finds himself saying, “I knew it when she made me overthink everything I ever thought I knew. Then, I realized that, from that day forth, I could never be separated from her. We are equals in every way.”

          Ferran sighs. “Do you think I will ever find someone like that?”

          Lorcan watches his son carefully. “Do you want to find someone like that?”

          “Are we not supposed to?”

          “No, son. We should be open to it. Seek it, to some degree. But you do not need it.”

          “But it has been said that your mate completes you. That they are your other half.”

          Lorcan smiles, poking his son’s nose. “You are already complete. A mate will only add to your life. Not complete it, son.”

          Ferran stares at the fire thoughtfully before sighing, and Lorcan wonders, in that split second as he sees himself in his son, if Ferran is feeling exactly as he once did; exactly as he still does, sometimes.

          He touches his son’s arm, and gently says, “You deserve the world, Ferran. Companionship included. It will come, son. Even if you do not chase for it. Even if you find yourself thinking it will never happen to you. Life is a series of twist and turns, so wait it out. I certainly did. And look what fate brought me.”

          He looks at his wife, still gently sleeping, and smiles. “It brought me the most beautiful gift.”

          Ferran is silent for a moment, and then he says, “Do you really think so?”

          “I know so.” Lorcan says. “Now go to bed – you are too young to be worrying about such things.”

          Ferran gives him a smile when his father nudges at his arm. “Thank you. Goodnight, dad.”

          When his son leaves, Lorcan looks down to see Elide herself open-eyed, as if she hadn’t been asleep at all.

          Before he can say anything she sits up, and touches her lips to his, so softly. And Lorcan knows that, whatever comes to them, whatever might happen in the future, he will always have this.

 

***

          His letter is addressed to the princess of Ellywe. It is a formal invitation to the Winter’s Ball, meticulously written out, his lettering perfectly royal, his compliments worthy of charming even the iciest of hearts.

          He hates it.

          Still, he sends it off and, with a heavy sigh lifted off his chest, he looks over at the chair Evangeline left in his office. It has been her place all these weeks, and he’s seen her almost fall asleep in it countless times. She always complains it’s so cold in here. Maybe he should bring her a blanket.

          Then, with a frown, Hollin looks outside.

          The day has come and gone, and the sun is slowly drifting down the mountains, the sky kissed with fire. The wind brushes the trees, carrying off their leaves. And one thought comes to him, and does not leave him for hours:

Evangeline should have been back by now.

***

Her head is pounding as she walks through the streets of Rifthold. It has been a long, long day, and Evangeline can feel the weight of it press into her shoulders. She rubs the back of her neck, and thinks of Hollin.

His name makes a gloomy sadness settle into the depths of her heart, now. She should simply tell him that their lessons were over. She should tell him that he is perfectly apt to deal with the Princess now, which is not a lie, and that he has no need of her anymore. If he should say otherwise, she might simply lie a little bit – tell him she is too busy to continue, or too tired, or-

Or too in love.

Goodness, no. She cannot possibly mean that.

To mean it, she has to understand what is love in the first place, something she truly does not have the least bit of knowledge about. All her life, she had never been in love. Certain boys have caught her eye from time to time, of course, but…

But she had always been too frightened.

And now?

Maybe she is not frightened enough. And that is what scares her most. She has no fears when she is with Hollin. She can run from a group of thieves laughing. She can grin with a knife pointed at her throat.

Is that love? The feeling of safety? Or is it the gentle happiness that bubbles in her chest whenever he was near? Whenever he squinted his eyes at the sky and smiled, like he didn’t even know he was doing it, like he didn’t even notice that she was watching him. Was that love?

No. No, no, no.

Either way, she needs to end it. She needs…she needs to take into account that soon he will be engaged, possibly married, he will have a future with someone else, a family with someone else. He will share his love of the stars and of the universe and all of the unknowns of the world with someone else, and she will not hear the delight in his voice as he explains all the things that he loves and that she wants to know.

It is the right decision.

Moreover, what if the Princess is already in love with him, too? Evangeline could not possibly hurt her like that. Despite never having met her, she would feel so terrible to get between-

A cry makes her heart sink to the floor. All her thoughts drift away as Evangeline realizes that she has been wondering too far off the path. She is surrounded my small hills and fields, happy white houses sitting in darkness here and there.

Shivering from the cold, Evangeline shakes off that sound as having been something from her own imagination, and sets off the other way, back to town. It will be easier and faster to reach home from there. She wraps her cloak tighter around her, and marches off.

When that same scream chills her to the bone.

She pauses, looking around. She does not know where the sound came from, but something makes her walk to the shadow of a big and old oak tree. No lights in sight. No people.

“Hello?” She calls, worried that someone might need help. “Hello?”

A quiet sob makes her look over to her right. Rounding the tree, Evangeline finds a small child with her knees to her chest and a tear-stricken face. She is too young to have been enrolled in school, so Evangeline does not recognize her.

When the child sees her, she jumps, gasping, and, when Evangeline tries to soothe her gently, the child only cries harder.

“Sweetheart,” Evangeline murmurs. “It’s okay. Are you lost?”

The little girl pulls her hair from her face, shaking her head. “N-No, my L-Lady.”

Evangeline squats down to the child’s height, assuring her that everything is fine. “What is your name?”

“Clara.”

“Hello, Clara,” Evangeline smiles softly. “My name is Evangeline. I am a teacher. Why don’t you tell me what’s the matter?”

Clara looks around with frightened eyes, and murmurs: “I’m…I…I ran away.”

“Why did you run away?”

“I’m scared,” Clara says, shivering. “Mama…my mama…”

“Sweetheart,” Evangeline murmurs, hugging the child to her chest. “Everything is going to be alright. Now, now. Tell me what happened. Slowly.”

“Mama started screaming at me.”

Evangeline’s face hardens. “Why did your mama started screaming?”

“I…I dunno.”

Evangeline’s heart clenches. It is not the first time a child comes to her with this sort of problem. It is a terrible thing.

She is ready to comfort the girl, but then she whispers: “I d-don’t think that was my…my m-mama.”

Evangeline blinks. “What do you mean?”

“Mama never screams. She is kind,” Clara says against Evangeline’s chest. “And her eyes were different.”

A chill hits Evangeline’s chest, deep and frightening.

“Clara,” Evangeline says, trying to keep her calm. “What did she say?”

“I didn’t understand.”

Evangeline touches the girl’s face, so gently. If this is what she thinks- “Clara,” Evangeline says, willing her voice not to shake. “It will be alright. Do you have grandparents?”

“Yes,” she murmurs. “I didn’t think before running. But nana leaves over there.” She points.

“Alright,” Evangeline smiles, though her whole body is shaking with fear. “I promise your mama will be alright, yes? I will take you to nana.”

“Will you call a healer for mama?”

“Of course, sweetheart. She will be just fine.”

But Evangeline knows she isn’t. If what she suspects is true, at least. She does not tell Clara that.

When she takes the little girl’s hand and turns, they both gasp at what they see.

“Mama,” Clara begins, her tears drying on her face.

Clara’s mother is a too-thin woman, with hollow cheeks and bright eyes. Her dress fits her awkwardly, and her vision seems blurred. In the night, she looks like death.

Evangeline pulls Clara behind her, ready to scream out-

“You know him,” the woman smiles, looking at Evangeline up and down. “You smell like him. I can scent his power on you.”

Evangeline’s eyes widen, her throat closes. The woman takes a step. Evangeline’s shoes are glued to the floor as Clara begins crying once again.

“That’s not mama!” Clara is saying. “That is not mama!”

The woman – the thing – does not seem to hear anything else. Those black eyes are stuck on Evangeline only.

“Who,” Evangeline grits out, one hand holding Clara firmly behind her, the other clinging to a pocket knife she keeps hidden on her cloak.

“The one we chose,” the woman grins, an animal smile, wild and deranged. Savage. “We are coming for him tonight. He will be our triumph.”

“Mama, please,” Clara begs.

“Stay behind me,” Evangeline warns the girl, and something about having to protect her child makes Evangeline want to show her claws. She sets her teeth, even though her arms are trembling. “What do you want? What are you?”

The woman cocks her head to the side. “His power has touched you.”

His powers have touched you.

For some unknown reason, the one thing her mind conjures is the memory of cool shadows, dancing around her. Hollin’s shadows.

Evangeline swallows the needles in her throat. “Hollin. You’re talking about Hollin.”

“Precisely.”

“What do you want from him?” Evangeline grits out, her voice shrill. “You will stay away or I’ll-“

“You will take me to him,” the woman says, gentle as a breeze, those black eyes almost feline in the darkness.

“No-“

But Evangeline does not have time to protest.

One second, she is holding onto Clara.

A second later – darkness.

And darkness only.

***

“All is silent,” Fenrys finds himself murmuring, gently swaying the small angel sleeping in his arms, as he looks out into the window. “Too silent.”

“Except for your Queen upstairs,” Vaughan scowls from the bed, eyeing the ceiling like he wants to go to war with it. “They have been at it for hours.”

Fenrys smiles, despite himself. “Leave them be. At some point, they had to hear you and me. Gods know Rowan had to back then, too.”

Vaughan makes a face. “Thank you for the reminder.”

“I am nothing if not a sweet reminder,” he winks.

Then his attention goes back to his daughter, still quietly asleep.

“She barely cries,” Vaughan says, and Fenrys feels his presence behind him, peaking over his shoulder. “Strange, she has such a wimp for a father.”

Fenrys gives him a look, though a smirk starts to form. “Do you wish to hold her?”

Vaughan looks suddenly panicked, embarrassed, even. “No, no. It’s fine.”

“You seemed pretty happy to hold her that first day.”

Vaughan pauses, shuffling his feet uncomfortably. “I’m…she makes me nervous.”

“She is a baby, Vaughan,” Fenrys laughs softly.

The other male rolls his eyes. “She’s too small. Fragile. I’m…rough. I don’t have hands that are soft or mild. I’m not…” and suddenly he says it all too quickly, like getting it off his chest. “I’m not worthy of holding her.”

Fenrys stares at him for a few moments, a few heartbeats, and then, before Vaughan can expect it, Fenrys is leaning down, turning his face this way and that, and touches his lips to Vaughan’s. The male pauses, breathing in, and then his hand comes up to cradle Fenrys’ cheek. They pull away, and Vaughan has a sheepish, gentle smile on his face, so rare, and so beautiful, that Fenrys is all too tempted to kiss him again, sweetly and fiercely.

But then their eyes tear from each other, and they are looking down at two little brown eyes, watching them with quiet serenity.

When Fenrys’ eyes raise to stare at Vaughan, the male looks as much in love with her as Fenrys is.

It makes Fenrys’ heart melt.

“Hold her,” Fenrys murmurs softly.

And then Vaughan is gently pulling the baby into his arms, all too carefully, all too delicately. And then the apprehension is gone, and all that is left is them, Fenrys smiling gently, Vaughan with incredible wonder in his eyes, and little Luna watching them quietly.

Fenrys nuzzles his face into Vaughan’s shoulder, laughing quietly.

“What?” Vaughan blurts out. “Am I doing something wrong?”

“I think you are doing it all too right,” Fenrys smiles. “I think I might have fallen terribly in love with you all over again.”

Vaughan suppresses a smile, though Fenrys can see the male’s face change completely. His eyes are brighter than ever.

Fenrys looks up then, as the strong winds whistled outside. What was joy turns into slight worry.

And Vaughan does not need to ask.

“Let it be silent,” Vaughan says. “Maybe they are gone, and we needn’t worry anymore.”

Fenrys shakes his head lightly, but the gesture seems heavy all the same. “I’m afraid they aren’t, Vaughan. I’m afraid they are silent for a reason. These Valg are planning. Waiting. For what is what I would like to know.”

Vaughan approaches him with the baby in his arms, and gently touches his nose to Fenrys’. Vaughan kisses him lightly on the lips before saying, “Just concern yourself with what you have in front of you now, Fenrys. The rest – we will solve it when it comes.”

Fenrys gives him a look full of meaning. “We?”

Vaughan seems to hold Luna a little bit more protectively to his chest. “Yes,” he says as Fenrys bends down to kiss him again. “We.”

***

The Prince of Adarlan is ready to leave his rooms and begin shouting orders at the guards to see for Evangeline’s safety when, all of a sudden, she is right in front of him.

He stands there, half-dressed, his undershirt and trousers crumbled, his mouth agape as he holds the door of his office open.

“I…you took so long,” he says, watching her intently.

Evangeline smiles, though the muscles on her face are strained. “May I come in?”

At that, Hollin’s blood goes cold.

What he does next is so fast he barely even finds himself thinking on it. With one simple movement, he pushes her by her elbow into the room and then his forearm is pinning her throat to the wall.

She gasps, out of breath, though her eyes remain the same, unblinking. Unnatural.

The darkness in him flows freely through the room, and his magic sings in answer, drums in his blood, plays sharp chords in his mind. It says, danger danger danger. It warns him, Something is not right.

And it is correct.

“Who are you?” He growls at the creature, right in its face. “Where is she?”

It looks through him, almost. Wonder and affection in its gaze. Evangeline’s golden eyes are gone.

“I am-“ The creature tries to speak.

“You’re not her,” he spits out, mad with worry, mad with fury. “She would never ask me to come in; she’d simply do it. I will ask you again before I tear you to pieces: where is Evangeline.”

The creature finally recognizes the situation that it is in. It is finally afraid. Hollin’s dark satisfaction manifests itself in the shadows swirling about the room. He does not have to look behind him to see four pencils hovering in the air, ready to strike at his command.

“This…is still…her body,” the creature gasps out.

Hollin lets go, but invisible hands pin the creature to the wall. He’s never controlled it so well until today; has never tried to do such a thing until he truly needed it-

Hollin does not have time to be amazed at himself. Instead, he says, his voice like thunder, “Speak.”

“We have come to reclaim you, my Lord,” the creature smiles slightly, looking half in love with him.

Hollin pauses. “We?”

“My people.”

“Evangeline – what have you done to her?”

“Her mind is weak,” the creature says softly. “As is her heart. It was not difficult. She has many memories of you. All of them stricken with happiness. She craves you. Longs for you. Like we do.”

Hollin’s throat closes, his mind goes blank.

“Bring her back.”

“When we collect you, I will leave her shell,” the creature says. It is Evangeline’s voice, and yet nothing like it.

“Collect me why,” Hollin rages. “Who am I to you, parasites?”

The creature smiles. “You call us Valg, but we are so much more. We have evolved, you see. We have developed a wonderful love for this world when we were trapped inside it ten years ago. These shells we inhabit…well, they are not great, but they suffice for their purpose. As for you, my Lord...”

“Your kind burned those villages in the north. You killed families,” Hollin says, his voice brimming with viciousness.

“We were sending a message.”

“You were leaving behind tracks,” Hollin says. “False clues. Leading us to one place, while you moved to another. And now you are here. This was always the place you wanted to come to, wasn’t it?”

A smile forms itself on Evangeline’s face, brighter and brighter. “Your mind is…a treasure to behold, my Lord. Look behind you.”

Those invisible hands tighten on the arms of the creature – of Evangeline – as Hollin moves to the small window.

What he sees almost brings him to his knees.

Before he can respond, a scream comes from outside, and then the stables boy is running up to his office-

He stops once he sees him – and the creature – his eyes wide and terrified. Instantly, he knows it is not Evangeline. Not the one he knows. Objects hover within mid-air, and at seeing such a thing, the boy looks ready to be put below ground.

“Your Highness,” the boy jokes out. “Outside, at the gates-“

An army.

Ordinary people – shells, the creature called them. Valg.

“Warn the soldiers,” Hollin growls at the boy. “Tell them to be at the ready, to keep their positions, just like I ordered. NOW.”

The boy runs off, looking as pale as chalk.

Hollin turns to the creature. Seeing Evangeline’s face, Evangeline’s body, pinned up to the wall like that by his own hand is enough to leave him sick to his stomach, but the fact that those eyes, the eyes he cherishes, are now black as the universe… “Why.”

“You still do not know the power you possess within your grasp, my Lord. This,” she gestures with her chin to her pinned hands. “This is nothing compared to what you can truly do. You know it too, do you not? You feel it. It is like you could destroy the world. And you can. You would.” The creature smiles at him. “We have been waiting a long time, my Lord. Waiting, all these years, for your power to grow, for we knew a magnificent gift could be bestowed only to you. Your father…”

“Don’t say a word about my father,” Hollin clenches his fist, and the pencils hovering in the air shake and twist with his rage.

“Your father was powerful,” the creature continues. “We knew your older brother, the King, would have never gotten the graceful powers of our kind. No. But you did. With your bloodline, and our bloodline together…you are invincible. You can join us in taking this world, bit by bit, until it belongs to us again.”

“My brother has Valg blood too,” Hollin says.

“It is dormant, and always will be,” the creature reveals. “Mala’s bloodline runs strong in him. While in you…you are darkness reborn. Destined to free us from our cage. The stronger brother. The one true King.”

Hollin takes two steps, hearing the screams outside, the swords clashing. His blood thrums, boiling, until he feels tears behind his eyes from the heat coming off him.

He grabs the creature’s chin harshly. It gasps, yet that sick adoration is still there-

          One simple sentence. He does not recognize his voice: “Bring me my Evangeline back.”

          “She will not understand you,” the creature whispers. “None of them will.”

          “I am not you.”

          “No,” it says. “You are better. Stronger. More powerful than you will ever know. Let me show you.”

          Shadows gather.

          Darkness reborn indeed.

          Hollin believes the Valg creature. He is powerful.

          More powerful than they will ever know.

          With one brutal step, Hollin takes its cheeks – Evangeline’s cheeks – and presses his lips to hers.

          The shadows envelop them, taking them to nowhere and anywhere.

***

          The inn he stops at has the most uncomfortable mattress he could ever think of.

          Honestly, Dorian thinks, I might as well sleep on the floor. It might be more comfortable.

          On the other hand, his body is still sore from being on horseback the whole day. Sighing, Dorian turns to his side, pulling his blankets over him, closes his eyes, and tries to at least get some rest before-

          Suddenly, he hears a commotion down at the main entrance. He sits up in bed, pulling his hair away from his eyes. When he fails to hear what that is about, the King lifts himself up, and opens his door.

          “…the palace.”

          “Goodness. When?!”

          “Just now…hundreds…attack-“

          Dorian’s heart falls to his chest. He’d been ready to fall asleep on his horse the moment he crossed Rifthold, and it had been too long of a journey to keep going, so he’d ended up staying on an inn not too far from the outskirts of town. Now, from what he is hearing, his palace is under attack-

          Dorian grabs his jacket and his sword, flinging himself out of his room as fast as his tired body can carry him. Outside, gasps are heard at the sight of him, but Dorian pays them no mind. He touches a man’s arm, and stops him on his way.

          “Pray tell, what is going on?” He asks.

          The man looks as dumbfounded as everybody else, but manages to blurt out a little, “Y-Your Majesty…it appears a hundred people have gathered outside the castle. Some folk say they have not been acting right. Some people are missing, and-“

          Dorian does not need to hear anything else.

          He runs outside to the stables, and jumps on his horse, paying no mind to the pain in his body. His heart urgent, his head pounding, he galops through the crowd gathering outside, making his way to the palace of glass.

          One thing is for certain – Dorian knows this is the moment they have all been dreading, during all those weeks of having found nothing. Because these were not people gathering at the front of his gates.

          They were Valg.

***

          The world Hollin finds himself in is not at all his own. But, on the other hand, he recognizes the hazy gleam of his office, his body’s own contours.

          He knows his instinct led him here. His magic led him here. He trusts it, even if he is surrounded by fog.

          He turns to his side, and a crying Evangeline meets his eyes. Hers are wide as she sees him, and when she flings herself into his arms, it is like they have been lost in a maze, trying to find each other for years.

          Hollin holds her close, his strength keeping her there with him.

          “Where are we?” She murmurs against his shoulder, her chest heaving up and down with her sobs. “Hollin, I can’t escape, I can’t, it wants to hurt you, it wants for its own. The Valg-“

          “Shh,” Hollin wipes at her cheeks, looking into her eyes. “It will be alright. It will not hurt you again.”

          “How did you reach me?” She asks, blinking. “How can I-“

          He does not know.

          He followed his magic, and it led him to her. To the real Evangeline, hidden behind a wall of Valg magic.

          “I am going to get it out of you,” he says. “I need you to stay with me.”

          “Hollin,” she murmurs to him. “I am so scared.”

          “I am here,” he says, because it is the only thing he can say. “I am here.”

          Shadows move around them as Hollin touches her cheeks. Her real cheeks. Flesh and bone, and oh so human. So Evangeline. Her scars, her freckles, the colour of her lips…

          Hollin’s magic sings – but not with darkness.

          With incredible light.

          “You’re…” Evangeline whispers, eyes searching him. Shadows and light move off him, surrounding them both, wrapping them in a cocoon of safety. “You’re…” she tries again.

          Light and darkness both.

          And so much more, if he wishes. If he dares.

          Hollin says to her, “Do you trust me?”

          And Evangeline does not miss one heartbeat as she responds, “I always did.”

          Even in this place of nowhere and anywhere, where their conscious meet, Hollin’s heart seems to clench at the words. He closes his eyes then, keeping her close, so close, trying to reach deep inside himself for the kernel of magic. A hand is stretched out to him, calling to him, wanting to pull Evangeline away from his arms.

          He grabs on to it.

          And yanks.

          The creature inside Evangeline seems to freeze for a couple of seconds. Begging. Hollin yanks harder, tugging at that darkness, not trying to run from it – but meeting it halfway.

          Just to destroy it.

          With Evangeline’s hands still clinging to him, Hollin strikes. A blow is felt through the world, an invisible thunder bolt clashing down onto his body. He feels the shadows and the light push at him and Evangeline, keeping them close, while the Valg screeches in the distance.

          When Hollin opens his eyes, he is back in the room.

          Everything is in shambles. His books on the floor, his desk broken in two, all his furniture in ashes-

          Everything ruined, destroyed. Except Evangeline. Whole, perfect Evangeline, who immediately falls into his arms, her eyes fallen closed, her body limp.

          Hollin gasps at what he’s just done, his body shaking with adrenaline. He holds her to him, picks her up in his arms. “Evangeline,” he says. Begs. If he hurt her-

          Hollin sits on the broken cot with her in his arms. Suddenly, he does not care that there is an army outside those gates. He pays no mind to his soldiers fighting and dying in the gardens, amongst the roses. He only cares about the girl lying still in his arms.

          “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” he begs her in broken whispers, touching her cheek, her lips. “Please, please, please.”

          But she does not.

***

          She wants to reach him.

          Evangeline wants to reach him.

          But she has no strength left.

          She is an empty shell of a girl, and like a fallen, forgotten leaf, she flows quietly away with the harsh wind.

***

          A hundred witches bow.

          Warriors, each one of them. Not bred for battle, like their ancestors once were, but prepared for it. The moment they heard the news, they lowered their heads and gave their Queen their swords.

          Rhiannon watches, her small body half hidden behind her mother’s cape. It is a sight she has never seen once before. She looks up at her mother, and finds no trace of the smile she knows. No trace of warmth. Only ruthlessness.

          It makes Rhiannon feel strong.

          “Mount,” the Queen says. And the witches move, each to their wyvern.

          And then the Queen turns to her daughter.

          “My treasure,” Manon says to her, squatting down to her height. “I am going to war.”

          “Father’s country is in danger,” Rhiannon murmurs. “What if he is, too? What if you are in danger, as well?”

          Manon touches her daughter’s cheek. “Your father is no lesser warrior. And I am Queen for a reason.”

          “Maybe.” A tense pause. “But he is no witch,” Rhiannon whispers.

          Manon pulls her daughter into her arms. She can offer her daughter no lies. No comfort, either. But she tries. As a mother, it is all she has left to do.

          “I will bring him home safe. We will both come back to you,” Manon says to her. “I promise you.”

          “Manon.”

          Manon straightens, lifts herself, and faces her second. Alma’s expression is all hard lines and fierce eyes.

          “You cannot go,” Alma murmurs. And her eyes turn to Manon’s belly – to the life growing there.

          “It is Dorian,” Manon says through clenched teeth. For once, she finds her hands shaking, her instincts crying out for her to leave, to save her partner. Yet torn all the same, for leaving her daughter begins to leave a terrible ache in her bones.

          “Let us go in your place,” Alma says. “Stay safe with your daughter.”

          “No,” Rhiannon says, with incredible determination in her eyes, her voice.

          The witches stop, looking over at the princess.

          “Mama will bring him back,” Rhiannon says to Alma. “She will win. She has to go. Papa needs her.” She looks up at her mother. “Mama, please.”

          Manon swallows hard, and looks over at Alma. “I leave with you my life. Take care of her.”

          With a kiss to her daughter’s forehead, the Queen walks out of the safety of her kingdom, and heads for battle.

 

***

 

          Hollin Havilliard has been called a monster his entire life.

          Little monster, the servants say behind closed doors, as he presses his ear to them.

          Good for nothing, his father – not his real father, in truth, but the Valg that inhabited him – scoffs at him.

          Someday, you mark my words, that boy will become worse than a monster, he hears once, as he walks through Rifthold in perfect disguise.

          He always agreed.

          Because even then, Hollin knew he was not the same as his people. He was not even the same as his brother. He’d become the sickness that overtook his father’s body. He’d grown into that blood. Into that darkness.

          And if the world thinks you are a monster, what good does it do to change their minds?

          If the world turns away from you, curses your name and belittles you, what reason would you have to become anything else?

          But Hollin did want to become something else.

          Because there was one person in all of the world who hadn’t scoffed or cursed at him, belittled him, or given up.

          Evangeline slowly opens her eyes to him, and Hollin’s heart feels as if it might collapse on his chest. He holds her to him, letting out a breath of mad relief. She touches his arm gently, blinking slowly.

          And Hollin only notices he’s speaking when he tastes his own tears.

          “You were not breathing,” he is whispering, almost inaudibly. “You were not breathing.”

          “Hollin,” Evangeline murmurs, her voice hoarse, as if she has been screaming for years without being heard. “Oh, Hollin.”

          She buries her face on his neck, and he trembles, wild with the thought of almost having lost her in his arms.

          “I thought I had-“ He stops himself, horrified at the thought. “I thought I had killed you.”

          “It would not let me move,” she whispers, her knuckles bone white as she holds on tight to his shirt. “It caught me in the street, and I could feel my body moving, I could feel myself speak, and none of it were my own actions.”

          Hollin touches her cheeks, making sure she is real. He is looking at her, through her, and Evangeline has never loved a pair of eyes so much as she loves his.

          He touches her scars, the curve of her mouth, his heart slowly calming.

          “How did you…?” She begins.

          “I don’t know,” he shakes his head. “I destroyed the Valg. I don’t know how.”

          “You were glowing,” she says to him, eyes searching his. “You were burning as bright as the stars.”

          “I could’ve killed you.” The realization hits him in the face, a sharp, icy wave setting in his bones, pulling him down into colder depths.

          “No,” she protests quietly.

          “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I could have. I almost did. You were-“

          Evangeline takes his face, and touches her lips to his. His voice dies just at the slow press of her lips, so gentle. She pulls away with tear-stained cheeks and murmurs, “This is how you got to me.”

          Hollin stares at her, bending down again, his forehead against hers-

          But the words never leave his mouth, for a thunder-like sound booms from the outside. Hollin turns his eyes to the window, and resists the urge to pull Evangeline closer to him.

          “I need to go,” he says. “Stay here.”

          He places her gently on the bed, moving to the door-

          “No,” she says, strained, moving out of the bed in clumsy steps to go to him. “I am not leaving you.”

          “This is not up for discussion,” he mutters, pulling a sword out of the broken closet of his office. One of the only things he hadn’t shattered in this room.

          Evangeline wipes at her face angrily. “Exactly. So I am coming, too.”

          “You will not step out of this room.”

          “Try to stop me,” she dares, pushing past him and through the door that had been pratically pulled off its hinges.

          Hollin follows her, touching her arm to stop her. “Listen to me. Gods fucking damn it, Evangeline, listen to me. There are a hundred or so Valg outside this fucking palace, and one of them nearly killed you. I will not have you leave this room until it is safe-“

          He can hear his soldiers’ cries from the outside and a part of him wants to run and hide like the scared little boy he is. He is not his brother. He is no King, no soldier. He will not win this war all alone with his brother most likely miles away.

          Evangeline stares him down. “I have hidden before. I have seen my friends die through a window before. Never again. And if you try to stop me, Hollin, I will never forgive you for it.”

          “I would rather have you hate me than have you killed,” he says to her.

          Evangeline steps up to him. “Then I promise not to die. Promise me the same.”

          Hollin stares at her, her eyes full of unspoken emotion. He can see himself reflected in those golden depths. He looks like a joke of a prince. “I promise,” he says, because there is nothing else he can tell her.

***

          The shifter stares at the Queen of Terrasen as she reads the note.

          “Is it true?” Lysandra asks, biting the nail of her right thumb. At her side, her husband looks as pale as moonlight. The court nervously waits for the Queen’s reply, similar expressions on each face.

          “Yes,” Aelin says, her voice shaking slightly. “Yes, it is true. Adarlan is under attack.”

          “I don’t understand,” Fenrys says. “We thought the Valg wanted you.”

          “Apparently their war is not with Aelin, nor with us,” Rowan is the one to speak, placing a soothing hand on his wife’s back.

          “With who, then?” Aedion mutters.

          “I haven’t been able to shift since…” Lysandra murmurs, and touches her belly. “Aelin, I can be useful another way-“

          “No,” both Aelin and Aedion say at the same time, but Aelin is the one to continue: “I will not have you journey to Adarlan in your state. I could find you much more useful here, Lys, with Fenrys.”

          Fenrys, who swallows the knot at his throat. He is almost tempted to disagree with the Queen, to say that he will make that journey too, but now he has someone else he needs to care for, someone who needs him – and Aelin knows it too.

          “We will protect Orynth,” Fenrys nods his head at the Queen. “Be rest assured.”

          “We travel now,” Aelin says.

          Vaughan interjects: “You can leave right this moment and not be fast enough to reach Adarlan in time. You know that, right?”

          “Do you expect me to sit here while they burn?” Aelin sneers.

          “I expect you to think clearly,” Vaughan says, level-headed. “We have gotten the reports that Manon’s witches are heading to Adarlan. “Send your troops, Aelin. But leaving your own territory at this time is not an intelligent move.”

          Aelin turns her head away, hating to admit that he is right. “Nothing assures me that there isn’t an army coming for Terrasen too. I will send the troops to Adarlan. Make them reach Rifthold by sunrise. As for the rest of us…” Aelin sighs. “Let us protect our kingdom.”

          “How do you plan to kill them?” Aedion says then, almost under his breath. “They are still people. Even if a Valg demon has infested them. How do we kill them without killing your people? Yrene Westfall is not here, and even if she was, she could not do it all herself. Not like last time. What do we do?”

          Aelin pauses, and with a heavy heart she murmurs, “I don’t know.”

***

          Outside, the world is painted in a black fog.

          A hundred pairs of eyes meet his through the palace gates, shining in recognition. And his magic shines too – whispering, reaching out to the demons ready to swallow his whole world. It recognizes them, it says, I am like you, one of you.

          Evangeline, at the sight of all those hungry gazes, seems to shrink next to him.

          Hollin feels sick to his stomach.

          “Hold your fire! Keep your positions!” Hollin shouts at the archers and at the soldiers, as he moves to speak to the Captain of the Guard. “Tell me.”

          “Your Highness,” the Captain says, breathless. “Your brother, the King, has not yet reached us. But reports from the North claim the Queen of Witches is coming for your aid.”

          Manon.

          “She will not reach us in time,” Hollin says. He looks at the gates. “It will not hold them for long. They are here for me.”

          “For you, your Highness?” The Captain says wearily, eyes wide.

          “We need to kill them before the break down the wall,” Hollin says, his body beginning to trembling. Not in fear, he realizes with great surprise, but with need.

          The darkness wants to kill.

          Hollin advances towards the gates.

          “Hollin,” Evangeline touches his hand. “Stop.”

          He turns to her, glaring. “We need to end this now. I know how to end it-“

          “They are still people,” Evangeline says. “A sword will kill the body, not the Valg.”

          “It is a risk I am taking,” Hollin spits out.

          “No, you don’t mean that,” Evangeline says to him. “You wouldn’t sacrifice a hundred human lives.”

          At that, Hollin’s magic seems to be stifled. His blood burns. “Well maybe,” he says to her, harsher than he intends, as he takes a step towards Evangeline, “you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

          A feeble, cruel way to get her to leave him, but a path he had to take anyway. Once Evangeline sees what he is planning to do, she will never look at him the same again.

          She will be terrified of him – of what he can do.

          So will all these people – his soldiers. They will know what he is.

          Dorian would not take this path.

          But his brother is not here, is he?

          The gate gives in, breaking in half, and the world seems to be swallowed in darkness. He hears Evangeline call out his name, and his soldiers’ unsteady breaths as they await his orders. Her safety drives him, the wild need to keep her protected allowing him to wade through the darkness inside him, like he did before.

          Closing his eyes, Hollin takes a breath.

          And he feels every point of connection inside him. To the Valg, to their dark magic, to the world beyond. He sees every human soul, and every demon squeezing the life out of them. He sees threads, and beams of light.

          Is a monster truly a monster when he can still see the light in the darkness?

          “No,” Evangeline murmurs, a broken sound falling out of her as she sees what he is doing. The soldiers wait, strained, clinging to their swords and their arrows, confused and frightened. But Hollin ever gives out the order.

          He won’t.

          Because Evangeline finally understands what he is doing. He’s never planned to kill all those people. He knows he is the only person they will not harm. And so it must be him.

          It must be him.

          “No,” she says again, watching his back, clinging to her own sword for dear life. “HOLLIN, NO-“

          The world seems to come to a stop.

          As if in slow motion, Evangeline watches every single person in this night freeze, and it is like she is in a dream, in an alternative reality. Her heart slows, her movements slow, as different shadows flow out from Hollin’s hands. Shadows, and light, and ice, and fire – all of them.

          The world seems to become silent.

          In one single gesture, Evangeline knows.

          She knows he will not kill those people. He will extract the Valg, like he did with her.

          Even if it kills him in the process.

          “You promised,” she whispers.

          Hollin turns his face to the side, watching her, and she can see his profile, beautiful and haunting, dark blue eyes reflecting the ice and the fire he creates.

          It is like they are the only two people in the world – the rest is just a blurry background.

          Far away, Evangeline thinks she can hear Dorian call out his brother’s name. He might be flinging himself off his horse, screaming at the top of his lungs, but she cannot know for sure. She is suspended in that moment.

          For some reason, the look Hollin gives her looks like a goodbye.

          And then, the prince clenches his fists.

          The world seems to end.

          An invisible tidal wave goes through her body, slow and hard, pushing the air out of her lungs. It goes through the land like a huge drum beat, echoing like thunder clap. It sends her flying backwards into the grass, slow, so slow, and for one second, it seems as if gravity has no effect on her. Her back touches the grass as if Hollin himself had laid her there- soft and tender.

          Evangeline gains back her breath as she stares at the sky.

          She sees no stars. Only shadows.

***

          “HOLLIN,” Dorian is screaming as he reaches the palace walls.

          And then, everything stops.

          He thinks he can hear wyverns in the distance, but he cannot look. His eyes meet Hollin’s for a second that lasts forever, and then he is being flung back. His body reacts, his magic spreading out around him protectively. But it is like a wall has been drawn in front of him. Dorian realizes, with dumbstruck shock, that Hollin is doing all of this.

          His brother. Covered in shadows. And light. And fire. And ice.

          Dorian’s magic pushes, but Hollin pushes back.

          His magic says, Stay back.

          And Dorian is stuck to the ground, unable to move, as the world seems to be tearing into two.

***

          He tugs, and pushes, and yanks, and kills.

          Bite, after bite, cutting off the threads all around him.

          Snap. Snap.

          His brother’s magic touches him, urgent and confused, and he pushes it away, as if swatting off a fly.

          Snap. Snap. Snap.

          His magic fills him up, spreading through his body, flowing to the ends of his fingertips. Power. This is power.

          The earth itself shakes underneath his feet, and Hollin finds himself thinking, as he tugs and pushes and yanks and kills, that whoever gave him this much amount of power must have been completely mad in the head.

          No one, he thinks, should be this powerful.

          But he is.

          The demons tug at him, hard and demanding, wanting him for his own.

          But Hollin is darkness reborn.

          As quick as the power came to him, it surely begins to run out. He feels his body give in, begging for him to stop, for his mind will surely collapse and his heart will explode. But he cannot stop. He does not know how to.

          He does not want to, either.

          Dorian tries to reach for him again, his magic an extension of himself, but Hollin pushes him away.

          You have given enough, brother.

          It is my turn.

          Snap. Snap. Snap.

          Until the end of the world.

          Until the end of him.

***

          A hundred bodies fall to the floor. A hundred more. And then-

          And then one more – Hollin.

          The fog lifts, and the shadows return to Hollin as if his very soul sucked them. The prince of Adarlan falls to the grass, and does not move.

          Evangeline sits up, watching him. The commotion starts, soldiers lifting themselves off the ground, rubbing their heads, confused and nauseated, looking around at each other. The people – the shells, the Valg hosts – begin to wake, frightened, and very much alive.

          Human, again.

          Through her hazy vision, Evangeline sees Dorian in the distance, trying and failing to get up, his body swaying to one side, then the other. When he regains his balance, he runs to his fallen brother.

          The night gets darker. Wyverns – wyverns’ shadows above her. The soldiers marvel and point, some shrink and hold up their swords.

          Evangeline tries to crawl, holding herself to the grass, her head heavy. Someone beside her relieves the content of their stomach.

          Her vision slowly comes back to her, and her body begins to move faster, until she is stumbling to Hollin.

          Dorian is holding his brother to his chest, lightly slapping at Hollin’s cheek.

          “Dorian,” Evangeline gasps. “Dorian, did you see-“       

          “Yes,” Dorian is saying, pale as ash. “He is breathing.”

          Evangeline touches Hollin’s arm, but he does not wake.

          “Did you know?” Dorian murmurs.

          “Yes,” Evangeline says. “Yes, I knew.”

          Dorian does not say anything else, but a spark of guilt shadows his face.

          “They are alright,” she murmurs, watching the people rise from the grass, their eyes back to normal. “He did it. He saved them.”

          Dorian murmurs, “He saved us all.”

***

Four days later…

          He keeps gaining and losing consciousness.

          Evangeline sits at his bedside whenever she can. When she is not holding his hand, she sits with Lysandra, trying to keep her food down.

          Aelin’s soldiers arrived not even hours later. They were met with a few nauseous people, a fallen Prince, and no Valg in sight. It was as if Hollin had absorbed them all, or thrown them out of this universe, and into the next. She does not know how he did it, but she does not care.

          The Queen of Terrasen arrived two days later with the rest of her court, and soon enough, the Lady and Lord of Perranth join them. Chaol and Yrene Westfall stay for two weeks as guests. For the first time in forever, they are reunited – all of them. Dorian and Evangeline tell them the story, over and over again, and they fail to even believe it.

          No one expected the Prince of Adarlan to save Erilea in one night.

          They sit together, all of them as a family, in the palace of Adarlan for those days. Evangeline falls asleep with her head on Lysandra’s lap, her heart happy to be reunited with them once more, but heavy all the same, for it calls out to the Prince that still has not truly woken up.

          The healers cannot explain him, his powers.

          Neither fae or witch can, either.

          But despite that, the word begins to spread. In the streets, they sing songs about the Prince who saved the world; men of letters write poems of his bravery – the brother in the shadow of the king, now the prince standing in the light.

Singers and actors perform plays in town squares, and though all stories are different, they always have the same meaning. They bring homage to the kings and queens, the ones who saved their world the first time, and they bestow their blessings upon their heirs, praying to the gods to keep them always in the light of the sun.

          She can still hear the cheers outside the walls from Hollin’s chambers.

          The sun is shining.

          Evangeline touches his face gently, pushing away the locks of ebony that fall into his eyes. He does not stir. She tries not to worry, for the healers told them it was simply the Prince’s body claiming its desperate need for rest.

          She called for his office to be repaired, and some days she spends hours organizing his books, putting them back on the shelves. Sometimes she reads to him about the stars.

          Winter is on its way, harsh and demanding, but the sun keeps on shining. And gods know they have earned that sun. That light.

***

A week later…

          Hollin opens his eyes on the first day of snow.

          She is holding his hand, a book opened on her lap, her eyes scanning the lines. Her face is etched into a concentrated frown, and she bites the inside of her lower lip, as if she finds whatever she is reading terribly intriguing.

          He watches her.

          It is when she finally notices-

          Her eyes widen, her hand tightens on his. Hollin is sure he can hear the sound of her heart.

          They stay there, watching each other for a second, for an eternity.

          Then Hollin, so quietly, murmurs, “I promised.”

The End (for now).