Queen of Shadows Chapter 8 Read Online

Full Read the Online Chapter 8 of Queen of Shadows novel PDF by Sarah J. Maas for free.

Chapter 8 Part 1 Lady of Shadows of Queen of Shadows: Manon Blackbeak, heir of the Blackbeak Witch-Clan, bearer of the blade Wind-Cleaver, rider of the wyvern Abraxos, and Wing Leader of the King of Adarlan’s aerial host, stared at the portly man sitting across the black glass table and kept her temper on a tight leash.

In the weeks that Manon and half the Ironteeth legion had been stationed in Morath, the mountain stronghold of Duke Perrington, she had not warmed to him. Neither had any of her Thirteen. Which was why Asterin’s hands were within easy reach of her twin blades as she leaned against the dark stone wall, why Sorrel was posted near the doors, and why Vesta and Lin stood guard outside them.

The duke either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He showed interest in Manon only when giving orders about herhost’s training. Other than that, he appeared relentlessly focused on the army of strange-smelling men that waited in the camp at the foot of the mountain. Or on whatever dwelled under the surrounding mountains—whatever screamed and roared and moaned within the labyrinth of catacombs carved into the heart of the ancient rock. Manon had never asked what was kept or done inside those mountains, though her Shadows had reported whispers of stone altars stained with blood and dungeons blacker than the Darkness itself. If it didn’t interfere with the Ironteeth legion, Manon didn’t particularly care. Let these men play at being gods.

Usually though, especially in these wretched meetings, the duke’s attention was fixed upon the beautiful, raven-haired woman who was never far from his side, as though tethered to him by an invisible chain.

It was to her that Manon now looked while the duke pointed out the areas on the map he wanted Ironteeth scouts to survey. Kaltain—that was her name.

She never said anything, never looked at anyone. A dark collar was clasped around her moon-white throat, a collar that made Manon keep her distance. Such a wrong scent around all these people. Human, but also not human. And on this woman, the scent was strongest and strangest. Like the dark, forgotten places of the world. Like tilled soil in a graveyard.

“By next week I want reports on what the wild men of the Fangs are up to,” the duke said. His well-groomed rust-colored mustache seemed so at odds with his dark, brutal armor. A man equally comfortable battling in council rooms or on killing fields.

“Anything in particular to look for?” Manon said flatly, already bored. It was an honor to be Wing Leader, she reminded herself; an honor to lead the Ironteeth host. Even if being here felt like a punishment, and even if she hadn’t yet received word from her grandmother, the High Witch of the Blackbeak Clan, about what their next move was to be. They were allies with Adarlan—not lackeys at the king’s beck and call.

The duke stroked an idle hand down Kaltain’s thin arm, its white flesh marred with too many bruises to be accidental.

And then there was the thick red scar just before the dip of her elbow, two inches long, slightly raised. It had to be recent.

But the woman didn’t flinch at the duke’s intimate touch, didn’t show a flicker of pain as his thick fingers caressed the violent scar. “I want an up- to-date list of their settlements,” the duke said. “Their numbers, the major paths they use to cross the mountains. Stay invisible, and do not engage.”

Manon might have tolerated everything about being stuck in Morath— except for that last order. Donotengage. No killing, no fighting, no bleeding men.

The council chamber had only one tall, narrow window, its view cut off by one of the many stone towers of Morath. Not enough open space in this room, not with the duke and his broken woman beside him. Manon lifted her chin and stood. “As you will it.”

“Your Grace,” the duke said. Manon paused, half turning.

The duke’s dark eyes weren’t wholly human. “You will address me as ‘Your Grace,’ Wing Leader.”

It was an effort to keep her iron teeth from snapping down from the slits in her gums. “You’re not my duke,” she said. “Nor are you mygrace.”

Asterin had gone still.

Duke Perrington boomed out a laugh. Kaltain showed no indication that she’d heard any of it. “The White Demon,” the duke mused, looking Manon over with eyes that roved too freely. Had he been anyone else, she would have gouged those eyes out with her iron nails—and let him scream for a bit before she ripped out his throat with her iron teeth. “I wonder if you won’t seize the host for yourself and snatch up my empire.”

“I have no use for human lands.” It was the truth.

Only the Western Wastes, home of the once-glorious Witch Kingdom. But until they fought in the King of Adarlan’s war, until his enemies were defeated, they would not be allowed to reclaim it. Besides, the Crochan curse that denied them true possession of the land held firm—and they were no closer to breaking it than Manon’s elders had been five hundred years ago, when the last Crochan Queen damned them with her dying breath.

“And for that, I thank the gods every day.” He waved a hand. “Dismissed.”

Manon stared him down, again debating the merits of slaughtering him right at the table, if only to see how Kaltain would react to that, but Asterin shifted her foot against the stone—as good as a pointed cough.

So Manon turned from the duke and his silent bride and walked out.

Manon stalked down the narrow halls of Morath Keep, Asterin flanking her, Sorrel a step behind, Vesta and Lin bringing up the rear.

Through every slitted window they passed, roars and wings and shouts burst in along with the final rays of the setting sun—and beyond them, the relentless striking of hammers on steel and iron.

They passed a cluster of guards outside the entrance to the duke’s private tower—one of the few places where they weren’t allowed. The smells that

leaked from behind the door of dark, glittering stone raked claws down Manon’s spine, and she and her Second and Third kept a wary distance. Asterin even went so far as to bare her teeth at the guards posted in front of that door, her golden hair and the rough leather band she wore across her brow glinting in the torchlight.

The men didn’t so much as blink, and their breathing didn’t hitch. She knew their training had nothing to do with it—they had a reek to them, too.

Manon glanced over her shoulder at Vesta, who was smirking at every guard and trembling servant they passed. Her red hair, creamy skin, and black-and-gold eyes were enough to stop most men in their tracks—to keep them distracted while she used them for pleasure, and then let them bleed out for amusement. But these guards yielded no reaction to her, either.

Vesta noticed Manon’s attention and lifted her auburn brows.

“Get the others,” Manon ordered her. “It’s time for a hunt.” Vesta nodded and peeled away down a darkened hallway. She jerked her chin at Lin, who gave Manon a wicked little grin and faded into the shadows on Vesta’s heels.

Manon and her Second and Third were silent as they ascended the half- crumbling tower that housed the Thirteen’s private aerie. By day, their wyverns perched on the massive posts jutting out from the tower’s side to get some fresh air and to watch the war camp far, far below; by night, they hauled themselves into the aerie to sleep, chained in their assigned areas.

It was far easier than locking them in the reeking cells in the belly of the mountain with the rest of the host’s wyverns, where they would only rip each other to shreds and get cramps in their wings. They’d tried housing them there—just once, upon arriving. Abraxos had gone berserk and taken out half his pen, rousing the other mounts until they, too, were bucking and roaring and threatening to bring the Keep down around them. An hour later, Manon had commandeered this tower for the Thirteen. It seemed that the strange scent riled Abraxos, too.

But in the aerie, the reek of the animals was familiar, welcoming. Blood and shit and hay and leather. Hardly a whiff of that off smell—perhaps because they were so high up that the wind blew it away.

The straw-coated floor crunched beneath their boots, a cool breeze sweeping in from where the roof had been ripped half off thanks to Sorrel’s

bull. To keep the wyverns from feeling less caged—and so Abraxos could watch the stars, as he liked to do.

Manon ran an eye over the feeding troughs in the center of the chamber. None of the mounts touched the meat and grain provided by the mortal men who maintained the aerie. One of those men was laying down fresh hay, and a flash of Manon’s iron teeth had him scurrying down the stairs, the tang of his fear lingering in the air like a smear of oil.

“Four weeks,” Asterin said, glancing at her pale-blue wyvern, visible on her perch through one of the many open archways. “Four weeks, and no action. What are we even doing here? When will we move?”

Indeed, the restrictions were grating on them all. Limiting flying to nighttime to keep the host mostly undetected, the stench of these men, the stone, the forges, the winding passages of the endless Keep—they took little bites out of Manon’s patience every day. Even the small mountain range in which the Keep was nestled was dense, made only of bare rock, with few signs of the spring that had now blanketed most of the land. A dead, festering place.

“We move when we’re told to move,” Manon said to Asterin, gazing toward the setting sun. Soon—as soon as that sun vanished over those jagged black peaks—they could take to the skies. Her stomach grumbled. “And if you’re going to question orders, Asterin, then I’ll be happy to replace you.”

“I’m not questioning,” Asterin said, holding Manon’s gaze for longer than most witches dared. “But it’s a waste of our skills to be sitting here like hens in a coop, at the duke’s bidding. I’d like to rip open that worm’s belly.” Sorrel murmured, “I would advise you, Asterin, to resist the urge.” Manon’s tan-skinned Third, built like a battering ram, kept her attention solely on the quick, lethal movements of her Second. The stone to Asterin’s

flame, ever since they’d been witchlings.

“The King of Adarlan can’t steal our mounts from us. Not now,” Asterin said. “Perhaps we should move deeper into the mountains and camp there, where at least the air is clean. There’s no point squatting here.”

Sorrel let out a warning growl, but Manon jerked her chin, a silent order to stand down as she herself stepped closer to her Second. “The last thing I need,” Manon breathed in Asterin’s face, “is to have that mortal swine

question the suitability of my Thirteen. Keep yourself in line. And if I hear you telling your scouts any of this—”

“You think I would speak ill of you to inferiors?” A snap of iron teeth.

“I think you—and all of us—are sick of being confined to this shit-hole, and you have a tendency to say what you think and consider the consequences later.”

Asterin had always been that way—and that wildness was exactly why Manon had chosen her as her Second a century ago. The flame to Sorrel’s stone … and to Manon’s ice.

The rest of the Thirteen began filing in as the sun vanished. They took one glance at Manon and Asterin and wisely kept away, their eyes averted. Vesta even muttered a prayer to the Three-Faced Goddess.

“I want only for the Thirteen—for all the Blackbeaks—to win glory on the battlefield,” Asterin said, refusing to break Manon’s stare.

“We will,” Manon promised, loud enough for the others to hear. “But until then, keep yourself in check, or I’ll ground you until you’re worthy of riding with us again.”

Asterin lowered her eyes. “Your will is mine, Wing Leader.”

Coming from anyone else, even Sorrel, the honorific would have been normal, expected. Because none of them would ever have dared to cast that toneto it.

Manon lashed out, so fast that even Asterin couldn’t retreat. Manon’s hand closed around her cousin’s throat, her iron nails digging into the soft skin beneath her ears. “You step one foot out of line, Asterin, and these”— Manon dug her nails in deeper as blue blood began sliding down Asterin’s golden-tan neck—“find their mark.”

Manon didn’t care that they’d been fighting at each other’s sides for a century, that Asterin was her closest relative, or that Asterin had gone to the mat again and again to defend Manon’s position as heir. She’d put Asterin down the moment she became a useless nuisance. Manon let Asterin see all of that in her eyes.

Asterin’s gaze flicked to the bloodred cloak Manon wore—the cloak Manon’s grandmother had ordered her to take from that Crochan after Manon slit her throat, after the witch bled out on the floor of the Omega. Asterin’s beautiful, wild face went cold as she said, “Understood.”

Manon released her throat, flicking Asterin’s blood off her nails as she turned to the Thirteen, now standing by their mounts, stiff-backed and silent. “We ride. Now.”

Abraxos shifted and bobbed beneath Manon as she climbed into the saddle, well aware that one misstep off the wooden beam on which he was perched would lead to a very long, very permanent drop.

Below and to the south, countless army campfires flickered, and the smoke of the forges among them rose high in plumes that marred the starry, moonlit sky. Abraxos growled.

“I know, I know, I’m hungry, too,” Manon said, blinking the lid above her eye into place as she secured the harnesses that kept her firmly in the saddle. To her left and right, Asterin and Sorrel mounted their wyverns and turned to her. Her cousin’s wounds had already clotted.

Manon gazed at the unforgiving plunge straight down the side of the tower, past the jagged rocks of the mountain, and into the open air beyond. Perhaps that was why these mortal fools had insisted that every wyvern and rider make the Crossing at the Omega—so they could come to Morath and not balk at the sheer drop, even from the lowest levels of the Keep.

A chill, reeking wind brushed her face, clogging her nose. A pleading, hoarse scream broke from inside one of those hollowed-out mountains— then went silent. Time to go—if not to fill her belly, then to get away from the rot of this place for a few hours.

Manon dug her legs into Abraxos’s scarred, leathery side, and his Spidersilk-reinforced wings glittered like gold in the light of the fires far below. “Fly, Abraxos,” she breathed.

Abraxos sucked in a great breath, tucked his wings in tight, and fell off the side of the post.

He liked to do that—just tumble off as though he’d been struck dead. Her wyvern, it seemed, had a wicked sense of humor.

The first time he’d done it, she’d roared at him. Now he did it just to show off, as the wyverns of the rest of the Thirteen had to jump up and out and then plunge, their bodies too big to nimbly navigate the narrow drop.

Manon kept her eyes open as they tumbled down, the wind battering them, Abraxos a warm mass beneath her. She liked to watch every stunned and terrified mortal face, liked to see how close Abraxos got to the stones of the tower, to the jagged, black mountain rock before—

Abraxos flung out his wings and banked hard, the world tilting and then shooting behind. He let out a fierce cry that reverberated over every stone of Morath, echoed by the shrieks of the Thirteen’s mounts. On a tower’s exterior stairs, a servant hauling a basket of apples cried out and dropped his burden. The apples tumbled one by one by one down the steps winding around the tower, a cascade of red and green in time to the pounding of the forges.

Then Abraxos was flapping up and away over the dark army, over the sharp peaks, the Thirteen falling smoothly into rank behind him.

It was a strange sort of thrill, to ride like this, with just her coven—a unit capable of sacking whole cities by themselves. Abraxos flew hard and fast, he and Manon both scanning the earth as they broke free from the mountains and cruised over the flat farmland before the Acanthus River.

Most humans had fled this region, or had been butchered for war or sport.

But there were still a few, if you knew where to look.

On and on they flew, the sliver of a crescent moon rising higher: the Crone’s Sickle. A good night for hunting, if the unkind face of the Goddess now watched over them, even though the dark of the new moon—the Crone’s Shadow—was always preferred.

At least the Sickle gave off enough light to see by as Manon scanned the earth. Water—mortals liked to live near water, so she headed toward a lake she’d spotted weeks ago but hadn’t yet explored.

Fast and sleek as shadows, the Thirteen soared over the night-shrouded land.

At last, moonlight dimly glinted over a small body of water, and Abraxos glided for it, down and down, until Manon could see their reflection on the flat surface, see her red cape fluttering behind her like a trail of blood.

Behind, Asterin whooped, and Manon turned to watch her Second fling her arms out and lean back in her saddle until she was lying flat on her mount’s spine, her golden hair unbound and streaming. Such wild ecstasy— there was always a fierce, untamed joy when Asterin flew.

Manon occasionally wondered if her Second sometimes snuck out at night to ride in nothing but her skin, forgoing even a saddle.

Manon faced forward, frowning. Thank the Darkness that the Blackbeak Matron wasn’t here to see this, or more than Asterin would be threatened. It would be Manon’s own neck, too, for allowing such wildness to bloom. And being unwilling to stomp it out entirely.

Manon spied a small cottage with a fenced field. A light flickered in the window—perfect. Beyond the house, tufts of solid white gleamed, bright as snow. Even better.

Manon steered Abraxos toward the farm, toward the family that—if they were smart—had heard the booming wings and taken cover.

No children. It was an unspoken rule among the Thirteen, even if some of the other Clans had no qualms about it, especially the Yellowlegs. But men and women were fair game, if there was fun to be had.

And after her earlier encounters with the duke, with Asterin, Manon was truly in the mood for some amusement.

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