Queen of Shadows Chapter 12 Read Online

Full Read the Online Chapter 12 of Queen of Shadows novel PDF by Sarah J. Maas for free.

Chapter 12 Part 1 Lady of Shadows of Queen of Shadows: An emotionless guard delivered the duke’s summons, and Manon—who had been about to take Abraxos for a solo ride—ground her teeth for a good five minutes as she paced the aerie floor.

She was not a dog to be called for, and neither were her witches. Humans were for sport and blood and the occasional, very rare siring of witchlings. Never commanders; never superiors.

Manon stormed down from the aerie, and as she hit the base of the tower stairs, Asterin fell into step behind her. “I was just coming to get you,” her Second murmured, her golden braid bouncing. “The duke—”

“I know what the duke wants,” Manon snapped, her iron teeth out. Asterin lifted an eyebrow, but kept silent.

Manon checked her growing inclination to start eviscerating. The duke summoned her endlessly for meetings with the tall, thin man who called himself Vernon and who looked at Manon with not nearly enough fear and respect. She could hardly get in a few hours of training with the Thirteen, let alone be airborne for long periods of time, without being called for.

She breathed in through her nose and out her mouth, again and again, until she could retract her teeth and nails.

Not a dog, but not a brash fool, either. She was Wing Leader, and had been heir of the Clan for a hundred years. She could handle this mortal pig who would be worm food in a few decades—and then she could return to her glorious, wicked, immortal existence.

Manon flung open the doors to the duke’s council room, earning her a glance from the guards posted outside—a glance that held no reaction, no emotion. Human in shape, but nothing more.

The duke was studying a giant map spread across his table, his companion or advisor or jester, Lord Vernon Lochan, standing at his side. Down a few seats, staring at the dark glass surface, sat Kaltain, unmoving save for the flutter of her white throat as she breathed. The brutal scar on her arm had somehow darkened into a purplish red. Fascinating.

“What do you want?” Manon demanded.

Asterin took up her place by the door, arms crossed.

The duke pointed to the chair across from him. “We have matters to discuss.”

Manon remained standing. “My mount is hungry, and so am I. I suggest telling me swiftly, so I can get on with my hunt.”

Lord Vernon, dark-haired, slim as a reed, and clothed in a bright-blue tunic that was far too clean, looked Manon over. Manon bared her teeth at him in silent warning. Vernon just smiled and said, “What’s wrong with the food we provide, Lady?”

Manon’s iron teeth slid down. “I don’t eat food made by mortals. And neither does my mount.”

The duke at last lifted his head. “Had I known you would be so picky, I would have asked for the Yellowlegs heir to be made Wing Leader.”

Manon casually flicked her nails out. “I think you would find Iskra Yellowlegs to be an undisciplined, difficult, and useless Wing Leader.”

Vernon slid into a chair. “I’ve heard about the rivalry between Witch Clans. Got something against the Yellowlegs, Manon?”

Asterin let out a low growl at the informal address.

“You mortals have your rabble,” Manon said. “We have the Yellowlegs.” “What an elitist,” Vernon muttered to the duke, who snorted.

A line of cold flame went down Manon’s spine. “You have five minutes, duke.”

Perrington rapped his knuckles on the glass table. “We are to begin … experimenting. As we look to the future, we need to expand our numbers— to improve the soldiers we already have. You witches, with your history, allow us the chance to do just that.”


“I am not in the business of explaining every last detail of my plans,” the duke said. “All I need you to do is give me a Blackbeak coven under your command to test.”

“Test how?”

“To determine whether they are compatible for breeding with our allies from another realm—the Valg.”

Everything stopped. The man had to be mad, but—

“Not breed as humans do, of course. It would be an easy, relatively painless procedure—a bit of stone sewn just beneath the belly button. The stone allows them in, you see. And a child born of Valg and witch bloodlines … You can understand what an investment that would be. You witches value your offspring so ardently.”

Both men were smiling blandly, waiting for her acceptance.

The Valg—the demons that had bred with the Fae to create the witches— somehow returned, and in contact with the duke and the king … She shut down the questions. “You have thousands of humans here. Use them.”

“Most are not innately gifted with magic and compatible with the Valg, as you witches are. And only witches have Valg blood already flowing in their veins.”

Did her grandmother know of this? “We are to be your army, not your whores,” Manon said with lethal quiet. Asterin came up to her side, her face tight and pale.

“Pick a coven of Blackbeaks,” was the duke’s only reply. “I want them ready in a week. Interfere with this, Wing Leader, and I’ll make dog meat of your precious mount. Perhaps do the same for your Thirteen.”

“You touch Abraxos, and I’ll peel the skin from your bones.”

The duke went back to his map and waved a hand. “Dismissed. Oh—and go down to the aerial blacksmith. He sent word that your latest batch of blades are ready for inspection.”

Manon stood there, calculating the weight of the black glass table—if she could flip it over and use the shards to slowly, deeply cut up both men.

Vernon flicked his brows up in a silent, taunting move, and it was enough to send Manon turning away—out the door before she could do something truly stupid.

They were halfway to her room when Asterin said, “What are you going to do?”

Manon didn’t know. And she couldn’t ask her grandmother, not without looking unsure or incapable of following orders. “I’ll figure it out.”

“But you’re not going to give a Blackbeak Coven over to him for this— this breeding.”

“I don’t know.” Maybe it wouldn’t be bad—to join their bloodline with the Valg. Perhaps that would strengthen their forces. Maybe the Valg would know how to break the Crochan curse.

Asterin grabbed her by the elbow, nails digging in. Manon blinked at the touch, at the outright demand in it. Never before had Asterin even come close to—

“You cannot allow this to happen,” Asterin said.

“I’ve had enough of orders for one day. You give me another, and you’ll find your tongue on the floor.”

Asterin’s face went splotchy. “Witchlings are sacred—sacred, Manon.

We do not give them away, not even to other Clans.”

It was true. Witchlings were so rare, and all of them female, as a gift from the Three-Faced Goddess. They were sacred from the moment the mother showed the first signs of pregnancy to when they came of age at sixteen. To harm a pregnant witch, to harm her unborn witchling or her daughter, was a breach of code so profound that there was no amount of suffering that could be inflicted upon the perpetrator to match the heinousness of the crime. Manon herself had participated in the long, long executions twice now, and the punishment had never seemed enough.

Human children didn’t count—human children were as good as veal to some of the Clans. Especially the Yellowlegs. But witchlings … there was no greater pride than to bear a witch-child for your Clan; and no greater shame than to lose one.

Asterin said, “What coven would you pick?”

“I haven’t decided.” Perhaps she’d pick a lesser coven—just in case— before allowing a more powerful one to join with the Valg. Maybe the demons would give their dying race the shot of vitality they had so desperately needed for the past few decades. Centuries.

“And if they object?”

Manon hit the stairs to her personal tower. “The only person who objects to anything these days, Asterin, is you.”

“It’s not right—”

Manon sliced out with a hand, tearing through the fabric and skin right above Asterin’s breasts. “I’m replacing you with Sorrel.”

Asterin didn’t touch the blood pooling down her tunic.

Manon began walking again. “I warned you the other day to stand down, and since you’ve chosen to ignore me, I have no use for you in those meetings, or at my back.” Never—not once in the past hundred years—had she changed their rankings. “As of right now, you are Third. Should you prove yourself to possess a shred of control, I’ll reconsider.”

“Lady,” Asterin said softly.

Manon pointed to the stairs behind. “You get to be the one to tell the others. Now.”

“Manon,” Asterin said, a plea in her voice that Manon had never heard before.

Manon kept walking, her red cloak stifling in the stairwell. She did not particularly care to hear what Asterin had to say—not when her grandmother had made it clear that any step out of line, any disobedience, would earn them all a brutal and swift execution. The cloak around her would never allow her to forget it.

“I’ll see you at the aerie in an hour,” Manon said, not bothering to look back as she entered her tower.

And smelled a human inside.

The young servant knelt before the fireplace, a brush and dustpan in her hands. She was trembling only slightly, but the tang of her fear had already coated the room. She’d likely been panicked from the moment she’d set foot inside the chamber.

The girl ducked her head, her sheet of midnight hair sliding over her pale face—but not before Manon caught the flash of assessment in her dark eyes.

“What are you doing in here?” Manon said flatly, her iron nails clicking against each other—just to see what the girl would do.

“C-c-cleaning,” the girl stammered—too brokenly, too perfectly. Subservient, docile, and terrified, exactly the way the witches preferred. Only the scent of fear was real.

Manon retracted her iron teeth.

The servant eased to her feet, wincing in pain. She shifted enough that the threadbare, homespun skirts of her dress swayed, revealing a thick chain between her ankles. The right ankle was mangled, her foot twisted on its side, glossy with scar tissue.

Manon hid her predator’s smile. “Why would they give me a cripple for a servant?”

“I-I only follow orders.” The voice was watery, unremarkable.

Manon snorted and headed for the nightstand, her braid and bloodred cloak flowing behind her. Slowly, listening, she poured herself some water.

The servant gathered her supplies quickly and deftly. “I can come back when it won’t disturb you, Lady.”

“Do your work, mortal, and then be gone.” Manon turned to watch the girl finish.

The servant limped through the room, meek and breakable and unworthy of a second glance.

“Who did that to your leg?” Manon asked, leaning against the bedpost.

The servant didn’t even lift her head. “It was an accident.” She gathered the ashes into the pail she’d lugged up here. “I fell down a flight of stairs when I was eight, and there was nothing to be done. My uncle didn’t trust healers enough to let them into our home. I was lucky to keep it.”

“Why the chains?” Another flat, bored question. “So I couldn’t ever run away.”

“You would never have gotten far in these mountains, anyway.”

There—the slight stiffening in her thin shoulders, the valiant effort to hide it.

“Yes,” the girl said, “but I grew up in Perranth, not here.” She stacked the logs she must have hauled in, limping more with every step. The trek down

—hauling the heavy pail of ashes—would be another misery, no doubt. “If you have need of me, just call for Elide. The guards will know where to find me.”

Manon watched every single limping step she took toward the door.

Manon almost let her out, let her think she was free, before she said, “No one ever punished your uncle for his stupidity about healers?”

Elide looked over her shoulder. “He’s Lord of Perranth. No one could.”

“Vernon Lochan is your uncle.” Elide nodded. Manon cocked her head, assessing that gentle demeanor, so carefully constructed. “Why did your uncle come here?”

“I don’t know,” Elide breathed. “Why bring youhere?”

“I don’t know,” she said again, setting down the pail. She shifted, leaning her weight onto her good leg.

Manon said too softly, “And who assigned you to this room?”

She almost laughed when the girl’s shoulders curved in, when she lowered her head farther. “I’m not—not a spy. I swear it on my life.”

“Your life means nothing to me,” Manon said, pushing off the bedpost and prowling closer. The servant held her ground, so convincing in her role of submissive human. Manon poked an iron-tipped nail beneath Elide’s chin, tilting her head up. “If I catch you spying on me, Elide Lochan, you’ll find yourself with twouseless legs.”

The stench of her fear stuffed itself down Manon’s nose. “My lady, I—I swear I won’t t-touch—”

“Leave.” Manon sliced her nail underneath Elide’s chin, leaving a trickle of blood in its wake. And just because, Manon pulled back and sucked Elide’s blood off her iron nail.

It was an effort to keep her face blank as she tasted the blood. The truth it told.

But Elide had seen enough, it seemed, and the first round of their game was over. Manon let the girl limp out, that heavy chain clinking after her.

Manon stared at the empty doorway.

It had been amusing, at first, to let the girl think Manon had been fooled by her cowering, sweet-tongued, harmless act. Then Elide’s heritage had been revealed—and Manon’s every predatory instinct had kicked in as she monitored the way the girl hid her face so her reactions would be veiled, the way she told Manon what she wanted to hear. As though she was feeling out a potential enemy.

The girl might still be a spy, Manon told herself, turning toward the desk, where Elide’s scent was strongest.

Sure enough, the sprawling map of the continent held traces of Elide’s cinnamon-and-elderberries scent in concentrated spots. Fingerprints.

A spy for Vernon, or one with her own agenda? Manon had no idea.

But anyone with witch-blood in their veins was worth keeping an eye on. Or Thirteen.

The smoke of countless forges stung Manon’s eyes enough that she blinked her clear eyelid into place upon landing in the heart of the war camp to the sound of pounding hammers and crackling flames. Abraxos hissed, pacing in a tight circle that set the dark-armored soldiers who’d spotted her landing on edge. They found another place to be when Sorrel landed in the mud beside Manon a moment later, her bull snarling at the nearest group of onlookers.

Abraxos let out a snarl of his own, directed at Sorrel’s mount, and Manon gave him a sharp nudge with her heels before dismounting. “No fighting,” she growled at him, taking in the little clearing amid the roughly built shelters for the blacksmiths. The clearing was reserved for the wyvern riders, complete with deeply rooted posts around its perimeter to tie their mounts. Manon didn’t bother, though Sorrel tied up hers, not trusting the creature.

Having Sorrel in Asterin’s position was … strange. As if the balance of the world had shifted to one side. Even now, their wyverns were skittish around each other, though neither male had yet launched into outright combat. Abraxos usually made space for Asterin’s sky-blue female—even brushed up against her.

Manon didn’t wait for Sorrel to wrangle her bull before striding into the blacksmith’s lair, the building little more than a sprawl of wooden posts and a makeshift roof. The forges—sleeping giants of stone—provided the light, and around them men hammered and heaved and shoveled and honed.

The aerial blacksmith was already waiting just past the first post, gesturing to them with a scarred, red hand. On the table before the muscled, middle-aged man lay an array of blades—Adarlanian steel, glossy from polishing. Sorrel remained beside Manon as she paused before the spread, picked up a dagger, and weighed it in her hands.

“Lighter,” Manon said to the blacksmith, who watched her with dark, keen eyes. She plucked up another dagger, then a sword, weighing them as well. “I need lighter weapons for the covens.”

The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he picked up the sword she’d set down and weighed it as she had. He cocked his head, tapping at the decorated hilt and shaking his head.

“I don’t care whether it’s pretty,” Manon said. “There’s only one end that matters to me. Cut down on the frills and maybe you’ll shave off some weight.”

He glanced to where Wind-Cleaver peeked over her back, its hilt dull and ordinary. But she’d seen him admire the blade itself—the real masterpiece

—when they met the other week.

“Only you mortals care whether the blade looks good,” she said. His eyes flashed, and she wondered whether he would have told her off—if he’d had the tongue to do so. Asterin, through whatever way she charmed or terrified people into yielding information, had learned that the man’s tongue had been cut out by one of the generals here, to keep him from spilling their secrets. He must not be able to write or read, then. Manon wondered what other things they held against him—maybe a family—to keep such a skilled man their prisoner.

Perhaps it was because of that, but she said, “The wyverns will be bearing enough weight during battle. Between our armor, weapons, supplies, and the wyverns’ armor, we need to find places to lighten the load. Or else they won’t stay airborne for long.”

The blacksmith braced his hands on his hips, studying the weapons he’d made, and held up a hand to motion her to wait while he hurried deeper into the maze of fire and molten ore and anvils.

The strike and clang of metal on metal was the only sound as Sorrel weighed one of the blades herself. “You know I support any decision you make,” she said. Sorrel’s brown hair was pulled tightly back, her tan face— probably pretty for mortals—steady and solid as ever. “But Asterin …”

Manon stifled a sigh. The Thirteen hadn’t dared show any reaction when Manon had taken Sorrel for this visit before the hunt. Vesta had kept close to Asterin in the aerie, though—out of solidarity or silent outrage, Manon didn’t know. But Asterin had met Manon’s stare and nodded—gravely, but she had nodded.

“Do you not want to be Second?” Manon said.

“It is an honor to be your Second,” Sorrel said, her rough voice cutting through the hammers and fires. “But it was also an honor to be your Third.

You know Asterin toes a fine line with wildness on a good day. Stuff her in this castle, tell her she can’t kill or maim or hunt, tell her to keep away from the men … She’s bound to be on edge.”

“We’re all on edge.” Manon had told the Thirteen about Elide—and wondered if the girl’s keen eyes would notice that she now had a coven of witches sniffing after her.

Sorrel heaved a breath, her powerful shoulders lifting. She set down the dagger. “At the Omega, we knew our place and what was expected of us. We had a routine; we had purpose. Before that, we hunted the Crochans. Here, we are no more than weapons waiting to be used.” She gestured to the useless blades on the table. “Here, your grandmother is not around to … influence things. To provide strict rules; to instill fear. She would make that duke’s life a living hell.”

“Are you saying that I’m a poor leader, Sorrel?” A too-quiet question. “I’m saying the Thirteen know why your grandmother made you kill the

Crochan for that cloak.” Dangerous—such dangerous ground. “I think you sometimes forget what my grandmother can do.”

“Trust me, Manon, we don’t,” Sorrel said softly as the blacksmith appeared, a set of blades in his powerful arms. “And more than any of us, Asterin has never for a second forgotten what your grandmother is capable of.”

Manon knew she could demand more answers—but she also knew that Sorrel was stone, and stone would not break. So she faced the approaching blacksmith as he laid his other examples on the table, her stomach tight.

With hunger, she told herself. With hunger.

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