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Nightfall Push the Envelope (Blythe College #1)

Why would she make them immortal? Marcy asked. If she hated them so much, why give them powers and abilities?

Id like to see you try.Thea stood up and smacked Liv, hard enough that Alex could hear it from many feet away. Then they both moved so suddenly, he couldnt see much other than a flurry of feathers as they took flight.

A Night Like This (Smythe-Smith Quartet #2)

Lets go. Alex took Marcys arm and started leading her around the car. When they reached the drivers side, he said, Get in the car.Marcy shook her head. We cant just leave her.We wont, he assured her. Just get in the car.

The Queen Of The Damned (The Vampire Chronicles #3)

The door didnt open all the way, so Marcy had to slide in through the small gap and carefully sit down on a seat covered in broken glass. She tried to pull the door shut, but it creaked loudly, so she stopped.Do you think she can still drive? Alex asked through the broken-out window.

You kidding me? Lucinda can always go, Marcy said. But where am I going?

Thea suddenly fell from the sky, landing on the side of the road with a sickening crunch. She groaned, which was the only evidence that she was still alive, and Liv floated down, landing on top of her.Aelins knees threatened to buckle. She supposed she should have included three parties in her plans: the king, Arobynn, and the rebels—who might very well have a score to settle with her after shed gutted Archer Finn last winter. Even if Chaol was working with them. She shut the thought down before its full impact hit her. And the prince? Alive, but still at the castle, the rebel hissed. Is that enough for you to put the knife down? Yes. No. If Chaol was now working with the rebels … Aelin lowered her knife and stepped back into a pool of moonlight trickling in from an overhead grate. The rebel whirled and reached for one of her knives. Aelin clicked her tongue. The womans fingers paused on the well-polished hilt. I decide to spare you, and thats how you repay me? Aelin said, tugging back her hood. I dont particularly know why Im surprised. The rebel let go of her knife and pulled off her own hood, revealing her pretty, tanned face—solemn and wholly unafraid. Her dark eyes fixed on Aelin, scanning. Ally or enemy? Tell me why you came here, the rebel said quietly. The captain says youre on our side. Yet you hid from him at the Vaults tonight. Aelin crossed her arms and leaned against the damp stone wall behind her. Lets start with you telling me your name. My name is not your concern. Aelin lifted a brow. You demand answers but refuse to give me any in return. No wonder the captain had you sit out the meeting. Hard to play the game when you dont know the rules. I heard what happened this winter. That you went to the warehouse and killed so many of us. You slaughtered rebels—my friends. That cool, calm mask didnt so much as flinch. And yet Im now supposed to believe you were on our side all along. Forgive me if Im not forthright with you. Should I not kill the people who kidnap and beat my friends? Aelin said softly. Am I not supposed to react with violence when I receive notes threatening to kill my friends? Am I not supposed to gut the self-serving prick who had my beloved friend assassinated? She pushed off the wall, stalking toward the woman. Would you like me to apologize? Should I grovel on my knees for any of that? The rebels face showed nothing—either from training or genuine iciness. Aelin snorted. I thought so. So why dont you take me to the captain and save the self-righteous bullshit for later? The woman glanced toward the darkness again and shook her head slightly. If you hadnt put a blade to my throat, I would have told you that wed arrived. She pointed to the tunnel ahead. Youre welcome. Aelin debated slamming the woman into the filthy, wet wall just to remind her who, exactly, the Kings Champion was, but then ragged breathing scraped past her ears, coming from that darkness. Human breathing—and whispers. Boots sliding and thumping against stone, more whispers—hushed demands from voices she didnt recognize to hurry, and quiet now, and— Aelins muscles locked up as one male voice hissed, Weve got twenty minutes until that ship leaves. Move. She knew that voice. But she still couldnt brace herself for the full impact of Chaol Westfall staggering out of the darkness at the end of the tunnel, holding a limp, too-thin man between himself and a companion, another armed man guarding their backs. Even from the distance, the captains eyes locked onto Aelins. He didnt smile. 7 There were two injured people in total, one held between Chaol and his companion, the other sagging between two men she didnt recognize. Three others—two men and another woman—guarded the rear. The rebel they dismissed with a glance. A friend. Aelin held each of their gazes as they hurried toward her, their weapons out. Blood was splattered on them all—red blood and black blood that she knew too well. And the two nearly unconscious people … She also knew that emaciated, dried-out look. The hollowness on their faces. Shed been too late with the ones in Wendlyn. But somehow Chaol and his allies had gotten these two out. Her stomach flipped. Scouting—the young woman beside her had been scouting the path ahead, to make sure it was safe for this rescue. The guards in this city werent corrupted just by ordinary Valg, as Arobynn had suggested. No, there was at least one Valg prince here. In these tunnels, if the darkness was any indicator. Shit. And Chaol had been— Chaol paused long enough for a companion to step in to help carry the injured man away. Then he was striding ahead. Twenty feet away now. Fifteen. Ten. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth, and his bottom lip was split open. Theyd fought their way out— Explain, she breathed to the woman at her side. Its not my place, was the womans response. She didnt bother to push it. Not with Chaol now in front of her, his bronze eyes wide as he took in the blood on Aelin herself. Are you hurt? His voice was hoarse. Aelin silently shook her head. Gods. Gods. Without that hood, now that she could see his features … He was exactly as she remembered—that ruggedly handsome, tan face perhaps a bit more gaunt and stubbly, but still Chaol. Still the man shed come to love, before … before everything had changed. There were so many things she had thought shed say, or do, or feel. A slender white scar slashed down his cheek. Shed given him that. The night Nehemia had died, shed given him that, and tried to kill him. Would have killed him. If Dorian hadnt stopped her. Even then, shed understood that what Chaol had done, whom he had chosen, had forever cleaved what was between them. It was the one thing she could not forget, could not forgive. Her silent answer seemed enough for the captain. He looked to the woman beside Aelin—to his scout. His scout—who reported to him. As though he were leading them all. The path ahead is clear. Stick to the eastern tunnels, she said. Chaol nodded. Keep moving, he said to the others, who had now reached his side. Ill catch up in a moment. No hesitation—and no softness, either. As if hed done this a hundred times. They wordlessly continued on through the tunnels, casting glances Aelins way as they swept past. Only the young woman lingered. Watching. Nesryn, Chaol said, the name an order in itself. Nesryn stared at Aelin—analyzing, calculating. Aelin gave her a lazy grin. Faliq, Chaol growled, and the woman slid her midnight eyes toward him. If Nesryns family name didnt give away her heritage, it was those eyes, slightly uptilted at the corners and lightly lined with kohl, that revealed at least one of her parents was from the Southern Continent. Interesting that the woman didnt try to hide it, that she chose to wear the kohl even while on a mission, despite Riftholds less-than-pleasant policies toward immigrants. Chaol jerked his chin toward their vanishing companions. Get to the docks. Its safer to have one of us remain here. Again that cool voice—steady. Help them get to the docks, then get the hell back to the craftsman district. Your garrison commander will notice if youre late. Nesryn looked Aelin up and down, those grave features never shifting. How do we know she didnt come here on his orders? Aelin knew very well who she meant. She winked at the young woman. If Id come here on the kings orders, Nesryn Faliq, youd have been dead minutes ago. No flicker of amusement, no hint of fear. The woman could give Rowan a run for his money for sheer iciness. Sunset tomorrow, Chaol said sharply to Nesryn. The young woman stared him down, her shoulders tight, before she headed into the tunnel. She moved like water, Aelin thought. Go, Aelin said to Chaol, her voice a thin rasp. You should go—help them. Or whatever he was doing. Chaols bloodied mouth formed a thin line. I will. In a moment. No invitation for her to join. Maybe she should have offered. You came back, he said. His hair was longer, shaggier than itd been months ago. It—Aedion—its a trap— I know about Aedion. Gods, what could she even say? Chaol nodded distantly, blinking. You … You look different. She fingered her red hair. Obviously. No, he said, taking one step closer, but only one. Your face. The way you stand. You … He shook his head, glancing toward the darkness theyd just fled. Walk with me. She did. Well, it was more like walking-as-fast-as-they-could-without-running. Ahead, she could just make out the sounds of his companions hurrying through the tunnels. All the words shed wanted to say rushed around in her head, fighting to get out, but she pushed back against them for a moment longer. I love you—thats what hed said to her the day she left. She hadnt given him an answer other than Im sorry.

A rescue mission? she said, glancing behind them. No whisper of pursuit. Chaol grunted in confirmation. Former magic-wielders are being hunted and executed again. The kings new guards bring them into the tunnels to hold until its time for the butchering block. They like the darkness—seem to thrive on it. Why not the prisons? They were plenty dark enough, even for the Valg. Too public. At least for what they do to them before theyre executed. A chill snaked down her spine. Do they wear black rings? A nod. Her heart nearly stopped. I dont care how many people they take into the tunnels. Dont go in again. Chaol gave a short laugh. Not an option. We go in because were the only ones who can. The sewers began to reek of brine. They had to be nearing the Avery, if shed correctly counted the turns. Explain. They dont notice or really care about the presence of ordinary humans—only people with magic in their bloodline. Even dormant carriers. He glanced sidelong at her. Its why I sent Ren to the North—to get out of the city. She almost tripped over a loose stone. Ren … Allsbrook? Chaol nodded slowly. The ground rocked beneath her. Ren Allsbrook. Another child of Terrasen. Still alive. Alive. Rens the reason we learned about it in the first place, Chaol said. We went into one of their nests. They looked right at him. Ignored Nesryn and me entirely. We barely got out. I sent him to Terrasen— to rally the rebels there—the day after. He wasnt too happy about it, believe me. Interesting. Interesting, and utterly insane. Those things are demons. The Valg. And they— Drain the life out of you, feed on you, until they make a show of executing you? Its not a joke, she snapped. Her dreams were haunted by the roaming hands of those Valg princes as they fed on her. And every time she would awaken with a scream on her lips, reaching for a Fae warrior who wasnt there to remind her that theyd made it, theyd survived. I know its not, Chaol said. His eyes flicked to where Goldryn peeked over her shoulder. New sword? She nodded. There were perhaps only three feet between them now—three feet and months and months of missing and hating him. Months of crawling out of that abyss hed shoved her into. But now that she was here … Everything was an effort not to say she was sorry. Sorry not for what shed done to his face, but for the fact that her heart was healed—still fractured in spots, but healed—and he … he was not in it. Not as hed once been. You figured out who I am, she said, mindful of how far ahead his companions were. The day you left. She monitored the darkness behind them for a moment. All clear. He didnt move closer—didnt seem at all inclined to hold her or kiss her or even touch her. Ahead, the rebels veered into a smaller tunnel, one she knew led directly toward the ramshackle docks in the slums. I grabbed Fleetfoot, he said after a moment of silence. She tried not to exhale too loudly. Where is she? Safe. Nesryns father owns a few popular bakeries in Rifthold, and has done well enough that hes got a country house in the foothills outside the city. He said his staff there would care for her in secret. She seemed more than happy to torture the sheep, so—Im sorry I couldnt keep her here, but with the barking— I understand, she breathed. Thank you. She cocked her head. A land-owning mans daughter is a rebel? Nesryn is in the city guard, despite her fathers wishes. Ive known her for years. That didnt answer her question. She can be trusted? As you said, wed all be dead already if she was here on the kings orders. Right. She swallowed hard, sheathing her knives and tugging off her gloves, if only because it gave her something to do with her hands. But then Chaol looked—to the empty finger where his amethyst ring had once been. The skin was soaked with the blood that had seeped in through the fabric, some red, some black and reeking. Chaol gazed at that empty spot—and when his eyes rose to hers again, it became hard to breathe. He stopped at the entrance to the narrow tunnel. Far enough, she realized. Hed taken her as far as he was willing to allow her to follow. I have a lot to tell you, she said before he could speak. But I think Id rather hear your story first. How you got here; what happened to Dorian. And Aedion. All of it. Why you were meeting with Arobynn tonight. That tentative tenderness in his face hardened into a cold, grim resolve—and her heart cracked a bit at the sight of it. Whatever he had to say wasnt going to be pleasant. But he just said, Meet me in forty minutes, and named an address in the slums. I have to deal with this first. He didnt wait for a response before jogging down the tunnel after his companions. Aelin followed anyway. Aelin watched from a rooftop, monitoring the docks of the slums as Chaol and his companions approached the small boat. The crew didnt dare lay anchor—only tying the boat to the rotted posts long enough for the rebels to pass the sagging victims into the arms of the waiting sailors. Then they were rowing hard, out into the dark curve of the Avery and hopefully to a larger ship at its mouth. She observed Chaol speak quickly to the rebels, Nesryn lingering when hed finished. A short, clipped fight about something she couldnt hear, and then the captain was walking alone, Nesryn and the others headed off in the opposite direction without so much as a backward glance. Chaol made it a block before Aelin silently dropped down beside him. He didnt flinch. I should have known better. You really should have. Chaols jaw tightened, but he kept walking farther into the slums. Aelin examined the night-dark, sleeping streets. A few feral urchins darted past, and she eyed them from beneath her hood, wondering which were on Arobynns payroll and might report to him that shed been spotted blocks away from her old home. There was no point in trying to hide her movements—she hadnt wanted to, anyway. The houses here were ramshackle but not wrecked. Whatever working-class families dwelled within tried their best to keep them in shape. Given their proximity to the river, they were likely occupied by fishermen, dockworkers, and maybe the occasional slave on loan from his or her master. But no sign of trouble, no vagrants or pimps or would-be thieves lurking about. Almost charming, for the slums. The story isnt a pleasant one, the captain began at last. Aelin let Chaol talk as they strode through the slums, and it broke her heart. She kept her mouth shut as he told her how hed met Aedion and worked with him, and then how the king had captured Aedion and interrogated Dorian. It took considerable effort to keep from shaking the captain to demand how he could have been so reckless and stupid and taken so long to act. Then Chaol got to the part where Sorscha was beheaded, each word quieter and more clipped than the last. She had never learned the healers name, not in all the times the woman had patched and sewn her up. For Dorian to lose her … Aelin swallowed hard. It got worse. So much worse, as Chaol explained what Dorian had done to get him out of the castle. Hed sacrificed himself, revealing his power to the king. She was shaking so badly that she tucked her hands into her pockets and clamped her lips together to lock up the words. But they danced in her skull anyway, around and around. You should have gotten Dorian and Sorscha out the day the king butchered those slaves. Did you learn nothing from Nehemias death? Did you somehow think you could win with your honor intact, without sacrificing something? You shouldnt have left him; how could you let him face the king alone? How could you, how could you, how could you? The grief in Chaols eyes kept her from speaking. She took a breath as he fell silent, mastering the anger and the disappointment and the shock. It took three blocks before she could think straight. Her wrath and tears would do no good. Her plans would change again—but not by much. Free Aedion, retrieve the Wyrdkey … she could still do it. She squared her shoulders. They were mere blocks away from her old apartment. At least she could have a place to lie low, if Arobynn hadnt sold the property. He probably would have taunted her about it if he had—or perhaps left her to find it had a new owner. He loved surprises like that. So now youre working with the rebels, she said to Chaol. Or leading them, from the look of it. There are a few of us in charge. My territory covers the slums and docks—there are others responsible for different sections of the city. We meet as often as we dare. Nesryn and some of the city guards have been able to get in contact with a few of my men. Ress and Brullo, mostly. Theyve been looking for ways to get Dorian out. And Aedion. But that dungeon is impenetrable, and theyre watching the secret tunnels. We only went into their nest in the sewer tonight because wed received word from Ress that there was some big meeting at the palace. Turns out theyd left more sentries behind than wed anticipated.The castle was impossible to get into—unless she accepted Arobynns help. Another decision. For tomorrow. What have you heard about Dorian since you fled? A flicker of shame shone in his bronze eyes. He had fled, though. Hed left Dorian in his fathers hands. She clenched her fingers into fists to keep from slamming his head into the side of a brick building. How could he have served that monster? How could he not have seen it, not have tried to kill the king anytime he got within striking range? She hoped that whatever Dorians father had done to him, however hed been punished, the prince knew he was not the only one grieving. And after she retrieved Dorian, she would let him know, when he was ready to listen, that she understood—and that it would be hard and long and painful, but he might come back from it, the loss. When he did, with that raw magic of his, free when hers was not … It could be critical in defeating the Valg. The king hasnt publicly punished Dorian, Chaol said. Hasnt even locked him up. As far as we can tell, hes still attending events, and will be at this execution–birthday party of his. Aedion—oh, Aedion. He knew who she was, what she had become, but Chaol hadnt suggested whether her cousin might spit in her face the moment he laid eyes on her. She wouldnt care about it until Aedion was safe, until he was free. So, weve got Ress and Brullo inside, and eyes on the castle walls, Chaol went on. They say that Dorian seems to be behaving normally, but his demeanor is off. Colder, more distant—but thats to be expected after Sorscha was— Did they report him wearing a black ring? Chaol shuddered. No—not a ring. There was something about his tone that made her look at him and wish she didnt have to hear his next words. Chaol said, But one of the spies claimed that Dorian has a torque of black stone around his neck. A Wyrdstone collar. For a moment, all Aelin could manage to do was stare at Chaol. The surrounding buildings pressed on her, a giant pit opening beneath the cobblestones she walked upon, threatening to swallow her whole. Youre pale, Chaol said, but he made no move to touch her. Good. She wasnt entirely certain she could handle being touched without ripping his face off. But she took a breath, refusing to let the enormity of what had happened to Dorian hit her—for now at least. Chaol, I dont know what to say—about Dorian, and Sorscha, and Aedion. About you being here. She gestured to the slums around them. Just tell me what happened to you all these months. She told him. She told him what had happened in Terrasen ten years ago, and what had happened to her in Wendlyn. When she got to the Valg princes, she did not tell him about those collars, because—because he already looked sick. And she did not tell him of the third Wyrdkey—only that Arobynn had stolen the Amulet of Orynth, and she wanted it back. So now you know why Im here, and what I did, and what I plan to do. Chaol didnt reply for an entire block. Hed been silent throughout. He had not smiled. There was so little left of the guard shed come to care for as he at last met her gaze, his lips a thin line. He said, So youre here alone. I told Rowan it would be safer for him to remain in Wendlyn. No, he said a bit sharply, facing the street ahead. I mean—you came back, but without an army. Without allies. You came back empty-handed. Empty-handed. I dont know what you expected. You—you sent me to Wendlyn. If youd wanted me to bring back an army, you should have been a little more specific. I sent you there for your safety, so you could get away from the king. And as soon as I realized who you were, how could I not assume youd run to your cousins, to Maeve— Have you not been listening to anything I said? About what Maeve is like? The Ashryvers are at her beck and call, and if Maeve does not send aid, they will not send aid. You didnt even try. He paused on a deserted corner. If your cousin Galan is a blockade runner— My cousin Galan is none of your concern. Do you even understand what I faced? Do you understand what it was like for us here? While you were off playing with magic, off gallivanting with your faerie prince, do you understand what happened to me—to Dorian? Do you understand whats happening every day in this city? Because your antics in Wendlyn might very well have been the cause of all this. Each word was like a stone to the head. Yes—yes, maybe, but … My antics? If you hadnt been so dramatic about it, hadnt flaunted your defeat of Narrok and practically shouted at the king that you were back, he would never have called us to that room— You do not get to blame me for that. For his actions. She clenched her fists as she looked at him—really looked at him, at the scar that would forever remind her of what hed done, what she could not forgive. So what do I get to blame you for? he demanded as she started walking again, her steps swift and precise. Anything? He couldnt mean that—couldnt possibly mean it. Are you looking for things to blame me for? How about the fall of the kingdoms? The loss of magic? The second one, he said through his teeth, at least I know without a doubt is not your doing. She paused again. What did you say? His shoulders tightened. That was all she needed to see to know hed planned to keep it from her. Not from Celaena, his former friend and lover, but from Aelin—Queen of Terrasen. A threat. Whatever this information about magic was, he hadnt planned to tell her. What, exactly, did you learn about magic, Chaol? she said too quietly. He didnt reply. Tell me. He shook his head, a gap in the streetlights shadowing his face. No. Not a chance. Not with you so unpredictable. Unpredictable. It was a mercy, she supposed, that magic was indeed stifled here, or else she might have turned the street to cinders around them, just to show him how very predictable she was. You found a way to free it, didnt you. You know how. He didnt try to pretend otherwise. Having magic free would result only in chaos—it would make things worse. Perhaps make it easier for those demons to find and feed on magic-wielders. You might very well regret those words when you hear the rest of what I have to say, she hissed, raging and roaring inside. She kept her voice low enough that no one nearby might overhear as she continued. That collar Dorian is wearing—let me tell you what it does, and lets see if you refuse to tell me then, if you dismiss what Ive been doing these past months. With every word, his face further drained of color. A small, wicked part of her reveled in it. They target magic-wielders, feeding off the power in their blood. They drain the life from those that arent compatible to take in a Valg demon. Or, considering Riftholds new favorite pastime, just execute them to drum up fear. They feed on it—fear, misery, despair. Its like wine to them. The lesser Valg, they can seize a mortals body through those black rings. But their civilization—a whole damn civilization, she said, is split into hierarchies like our own. And their princes want to come to our world very, very badly. So the king uses collars. Black Wyrdstone collars. She didnt think Chaol was breathing. The collars are stronger, capable of helping the demons stay inside human bodies while they devour the person and power inside. Narrok had one inside him. He begged me at the end to kill him. Nothing else could. I witnessed monsters you cannot begin to imagine take on one of them and fail. Only flame, or beheading, ends it. So you see, she finished, considering the gifts I have, youll find that you want to tell me what you know. I might be the only person capable of freeing Dorian, or at least giving him the mercy of killing him. If hes even in there. The last words tasted as horrible as they sounded. Chaol shook his head. Once. Twice. And she might have felt bad for the panic, for the grief and despair on his face. Until he said, Did it even occur to you to send us a warning? To let any of us know about the kings collars? It was like a bucket of water had been dumped on her. She blinked. She could have warned them—could have tried. Later—shed think about that later. That doesnt matter, she said. Right now, we need to help Aedion and Dorian. There is no we. He unfastened the Eye of Elena from around his neck and chucked it at her. It glimmered in the streetlights as it flew between them. She caught it with one hand, the metal warm against her skin. She didnt look at it before sliding it into her pocket. He went on. There hasnt been a we for a while, Celaena— Its Aelin now, she snapped as loudly as she dared. Celaena Sardothien doesnt exist anymore.

The Cleric Quintet: Night Masks (The Cleric Quintet #3)

Youre still the same assassin who walked away. You came back only when it was useful for you. It was an effort to keep from sending her fist into his nose. Instead she pulled the silver amethyst ring out of her pocket and grabbed his hand, slamming it into his gloved palm. Why were you meeting with Arobynn Hamel tonight? How— It doesnt matter. Tell me why. I wanted his help to kill the king. Aelin started. Are you insane? Did you tell him that? No, but he guessed it. Id been trying to meet with him for a week now, and tonight he summoned me. Youre a fool for going. She began walking again. Staying in one spot, however deserted, wasnt wise. Chaol fell into step beside her. I didnt see any other assassins offering their services. She opened her mouth, then shut it. She curled her fingers, then straightened them one by one. The price wont be gold or favors. The price will be the last thing you see coming. Likely the death or suffering of the people you care about. You think I didnt know that? So you want to have Arobynn kill the king, and what? Put Dorian on the throne? With a Valg demon inside him? I didnt know that until now. But it changes nothing. It changes everything. Even if you get that collar off, theres no guarantee the Valg hasnt taken root inside him. You might replace one monster with another. Why dont you say whatever it is youre getting at, Aelin? He hissed her name barely loud enough for her to hear. Can you kill the king? When it comes down to it, could you kill your king? Dorian is my king. It was an effort not to flinch. Semantics. He killed Sorscha. He killed millions before her. Perhaps a challenge, perhaps another question. His eyes flared. I need to go. Im meeting Brullo in an hour. Ill come with you, she said, glancing toward the glass castle towering over the northeastern quarter of the city. Perhaps shed learn a bit more about what the Weapons Master knew about Dorian. And how she might be able to put down her friend. Her blood turned icy, sluggish. No, you wont, Chaol said. Her head snapped toward him. If youre there, I have to answer too many questions. I wont jeopardize Dorian to satisfy your curiosity. He kept walking straight, but she turned the corner with a tight shrug. Do what you want. Noticing she was heading away, he halted. And what are you going to be doing? Too much suspicion in that voice. She paused her steps and arched an eyebrow. Many things. Wicked things. If you give us away, Dorian will— She cut him off with a snort. You refused to share your information, Captain. I dont think its unreasonable for me to withhold mine. She made to walk down the street, toward her old apartment. Not captain, he said. She looked over her shoulder and studied him again. What happened to your sword? His eyes were hollow. I lost it. Ah. So is it Lord Chaol, then? Just Chaol. For a heartbeat, she pitied him, and part of her wished she could say it more kindly, more compassionately. Theres no getting Dorian out. Theres no saving him. Like hell there isnt. Youd be better off considering other contenders to put on the throne— Do not finish that sentence. His eyes were wide, his breathing uneven. Shed said enough. She rolled her shoulders, leashing her temper. With my magic, I could help him—I could try to find a way to free him. But most likely kill him. She wouldnt admit that aloud. Not until she could see him for herself. And what then? Chaol asked. Will you hold all of Rifthold hostage the way you did Doranelle? Burn anyone who doesnt agree with you? Or will you just incinerate our kingdom from spite? And what of others like you, who feel that they have a score to settle with Adarlan? He huffed a bitter laugh. Perhaps were better off without magic. Perhaps magic doesnt exactly make things fair amongst us mere mortals. Fair? You think that any part of this is fair? Magic makes people dangerous. Magic has saved your life a few times now, if I recall correctly. Yes, he breathed, you and Dorian both—and Im grateful, I am. But where are the checks against your kind? Iron? Not much of a deterrent, is it? Once magic is free, who is to stop the monsters from coming out again? Who is to stop you? A spear of ice shot through her heart. Monster. It truly had been horror and revulsion that shed seen on his face that day she revealed her Fae form in the other world—the day shed cleaved the earth and called down fire to save him, to save Fleetfoot. Yes, there would always need to be checks against any sort of power, but … Monster. She wished hed struck her instead. So Dorian is allowed to have magic. You can come to terms with his power, and yet my power is an abomination to you? Dorian has never killed anyone. Dorian didnt gut Archer Finn in the tunnels or torture and kill Grave and then chop him up into pieces. Dorian didnt go on a killing spree at Endovier that left dozens dead. It was an effort to put up that old, familiar wall of ice and steel. Everything behind it was crumbling and shaking. Ive made my peace with that. She sucked on her teeth, trying so damn hard not to go for her weapons as she might once have done, as she still ached to do, and said, Ill be at my old apartment, should you decide to take your head out of your ass. Good night. She didnt give him a chance to reply before she stalked down the street. Chaol stood in the small bedroom of the ramshackle house that had been his squadrons primary headquarters for the past three weeks, staring at a desk littered with maps and plans and notes regarding the palace, the guards rotations, and Dorians habits. Brullo had nothing to offer during their meeting an hour earlier—just grim reassurance that Chaol had done the right thing in leaving the kings service and walking away from everything hed ever worked for. The older man still insisted on calling him captain, despite Chaols protests. Brullo had been the one whod found Chaol and offered to be his eyes inside the castle, not three days after hed run. Fled, Aelin had said. Shed known exactly what word she wielded. A queen—raging and fiery and perhaps more than a little cruel—had found him tonight. Hed seen it from the moment hed staggered out of the Valgs darkness to find her standing with a predators stillness beside Nesryn. Despite the dirt and blood on her, Aelins face was tan and flushed with color, and—different. Older, as if the stillness and power she radiated had honed not just her soul but also the very shape of her. And when he had seen her bare finger … Chaol took out the ring hed tucked into his pocket and glanced at the unlit hearth. It would be a matter of minutes to light a blaze and chuck the ring into it. He turned the ring over between his fingers. The silver was dull and marred with countless scratches. No, Celaena Sardothien certainly did not exist anymore. That woman—the woman he had loved … Perhaps shed drowned in the vast, ruthless sea between here and Wendlyn. Perhaps shed died at the hands of the Valg princes. Or maybe hed been a fool all this time, a fool to look at the lives shed taken and blood shed so irreverently spilled, and not be disgusted. There had been blood on her tonight—shed killed many men before finding him. She hadnt even bothered to wash it off, hadnt even seemed to notice she was wearing the blood of her enemies. A city—shed encircled a city with her flames, and made a Fae Queen tremble. No one should possess that sort of power. If she could make an entire city burn as retribution for a Fae Queen whipping her friend … What would she do to the empire that had enslaved and butchered her people? He would not tell her how to free magic—not until he knew for certain that she wouldnt turn Rifthold into cinders on the wind. There was a knock on his door—two efficient beats. You should be on your shift, Nesryn, he said by way of greeting. She slipped in, smooth as a cat. In the three years hed known her, shed always had that quiet, sleek way of moving. A year ago, a bit shattered and reckless from Lithaens betrayal, it had intrigued him enough that hed spent the summer sharing her bed. My commanders drunk with his hand up the shirt of whatever new barmaid was in his lap. He wont notice my absence for a while yet. A faint sort of amusement shone in her dark eyes. The same sort of amusement that had been there last year whenever they would meet, at inns or in rooms above taverns or sometimes even up against the wall of an alley.Hed needed it—the distraction and release—after Lithaen had left him for the charms of Roland Havilliard. Nesryn had just been bored, apparently. Shed never sought him out, never asked when she would see him again, so their encounters had always been initiated by him. A few months later, he hadnt felt particularly bad when hed gone to Endovier and stopped seeing her. Hed never told Dorian—or Aelin. And when hed run into Nesryn three weeks ago at one of the rebel gatherings, she hadnt seemed to be holding a grudge. You look like a man who got punched in the balls, she said at last. He cut a glare in her direction. And because he did indeed feel that way, because maybe he was again feeling a bit shattered and reckless, he told her what had happened. Who it had happened with. He trusted her, though. In the three weeks theyd been fighting and plotting and surviving together, hed had no choice but to trust her. Ren had trusted her. Yet Chaol still hadnt told Ren who Celaena truly was before hed left. Perhaps he should have. If hed known that she would come back like this, act this way, he supposed Ren should have learned who he was risking his life for. He supposed Nesryn deserved to know, too. Nesryn cocked her head, her hair shimmering like black silk. The Kings Champion—and Aelin Galathynius. Impressive. He didnt need to bother to ask her to keep it to herself. She knew exactly how precious that information was. He hadnt asked her to be his second in command for nothing. I should be flattered she held a knife to my throat. Chaol glanced again at the ring. He should melt it, but money was scarce. Hed already used up much of what hed snatched from the tomb. And he would need it now more than ever. Now that Dorian was … Was … Dorian was gone. Celaena—Aelin had lied about many things, but she wouldnt have lied about Dorian. And she might be the only person able to save him. But if she tried to kill him instead … He sank into the desk chair, staring blankly at the maps and plans hed been cultivating. Everything—everything was for Dorian, for his friend. For himself, he had nothing left to lose. He was nothing more than a nameless oath-breaker, a liar, a traitor. Nesryn took a step toward him. There was little concern in her face, but hed never expected coddling from her. Never wanted it. Perhaps because she alone understood it—what it was like to face a fathers disapproval to follow the path that called. But while Nesryns father had eventually accepted her choice, Chaols own father … He didnt want to think about his father right now, not as Nesryn said, What she claimed about the prince— It changes nothing. It sounds like it changes everything. Including the future of this kingdom. Just drop it. Nesryn crossed her thin arms. She was slender enough that most opponents underestimated her—to their own misfortune. Tonight, hed seen her rip into one of those Valg soldiers like she was filleting a fish. I think youre letting your personal history get in the way of considering every route. He opened his mouth to object. Nesryn lifted a groomed brow and waited. Maybe hed been hotheaded just now. Maybe it had been a mistake to refuse to tell Aelin how to free magic. And if it cost him Dorian in the process— He swore softly, the rush of breath guttering the candle on the desk. The captain hed once been would have refused to tell her. Aelin was an enemy of his kingdom. But that captain was no more. That captain had died alongside Sorscha in that tower room. You fought well tonight, he said, as if that were an answer. Nesryn clicked her tongue. I came back because I received a report that three of the city garrisons were called to the Vaults not thirty minutes after we left. Her Majesty, Nesryn said drily, killed a great number of the kings men, the owners and investors of the hall, and took it upon herself to wreck the place. They wont be open again anytime soon. Gods above. Do they know it was the Kings Champion? No. But I thought I should warn you. I bet she had a reason for doing it. Maybe. Maybe not. Youll find that she tends to do what she wants, when she wants, and doesnt ask for permission first. Aelin probably had just been in a pissy mood and decided to unleash her temper on the pleasure hall. Nesryn said, You should have known better than to get tangled up with a woman like that. And I suppose you would know everything about getting tangled up with people, given how many suitors are lined up outside your fathers bakeries. A cheap shot, maybe, but theyd always been blunt with each other. She hadnt ever seemed bothered by it, anyway. That faint gleam of amusement returned to her eyes as Nesryn put her hands in her pockets and turned away. This is why I never get too involved. Too messy. Why she didnt let anyone in. Ever. He debated asking why—pushing about it. But limiting the questions about their pasts was part of their deal, and had been from the start. Honestly, he didnt know what hed expected when the queen returned. Not this. You do not get to pick and choose which parts of her to love, Dorian had once said to him. Hed been right. So painfully right. Nesryn let herself out. At first light, Chaol went to the nearest jeweler and pawned the ring for a handful of silver. Exhausted and miserable, Aelin trudged back to her old apartment above the unremarkable warehouse. She didnt dare linger outside the large, two-level wooden building that shed purchased when shed at last paid off her debts to Arobynn—purchased for herself, to get out of the Keep. But it had only started to feel like a home once shed paid off Sams debts as well, and hed come to live here with her. A few weeks—that was all shed been able to share with him. Then he was dead. The lock on the large, rolling door was new, and inside the warehouse, the towering stacks of crates full of ink remained in prime condition. No dust coated the stairs in the back. Either Arobynn or another face from her past would be inside. Good. She was ready for another fight. When she opened the green door, a knife angled behind her, the apartment was dark. Empty. But it smelled fresh. It was a matter of a few moments to check the apartment—the great room, the kitchen (a few old apples, but no other signs of an occupant), her bedroom (untouched), and the guest room. It was there that someones scent lingered; the bed was not quite perfectly made, and a note lay on the high dresser beside the door. The captain said I could stay here for a while. Sorry for trying to kill you this winter. I was the one with the twin swords. Nothing personal. —Ren She swore. Ren had been staying here? And—and he still thought she was the Kings Champion. The night the rebels had kept Chaol hostage in a warehouse, she had tried to kill him, and had been surprised when hed held his ground. Oh, she remembered him. At least he was safe in the North. She knew herself well enough to admit that the relief was partially that of a coward—that she didnt have to face Ren and see how he might react to who she was, what shed done with Marions sacrifice. Given Chaols own reaction, not well seemed like a fair guess. She walked back into the darkened great room, lighting candles as she went. The large dining table occupying one half of the space was still set with her elegant plates. The couch and two red velvet armchairs before the ornate mantel were a bit rumpled, but clean. For a few moments, she just stared at the mantel. A beautiful clock had once sat there—until the day shed learned Sam had been tortured and killed by Rourke Farran. That the torture had gone on for hours while shed sat on her ass in this apartment, packing trunks that were now nowhere to be seen. And when Arobynn had come to deliver the news, shed taken that beautiful clock and hurled it across the room, where it had shattered against the wall. She hadnt been back here since then, though someone had cleaned up the glass. Either Ren or Arobynn. A look at one of the many bookshelves gave her the answer. Every book shed packed for that one-way trip to the Southern Continent, for that new life with Sam, had been put back in place. Exactly where shed once kept them. And there was only one person who would know those details—who would use the unpacked trunks as a taunt and a gift and a quiet reminder of what leaving him would cost her. Which meant Arobynn had no doubt known she would return here. At some point. She padded into her bedroom. She didnt dare to check whether Sams clothes had been unpacked into the drawers—or thrown out. A bath—thats what she needed. A long, hot bath. She hardly noticed the room that had once been her sanctuary. She lit the candles in the white-tiled bathroom, casting the chamber in flickering gold. After turning the brass knobs on the oversized porcelain bathtub to start the water flowing, she unstrapped each of her weapons. She peeled off her filthy, bloody clothes layer by layer, until she stood in her own scarred skin and gazed at her tattooed back in the mirror above the sink.

A month ago, Rowan had covered her scars from Endovier with a stunning, scrolling tattoo, written in the Old Language of the Fae—the stories of her loved ones and how theyd died. She would not have Rowan ink another name on her flesh. She climbed into the tub, moaning at the delicious heat, and thought of the empty place on the mantel where the clock should have been. The place that had never quite been filled again since that day shed shattered the clock. Maybe—maybe shed also stopped in that moment. Stopped living and started just … surviving. Raging. And maybe it had taken until this spring, when she had been sprawled on the ground while three Valg princes fed on her, when she had at last burned through that pain and darkness, for the clock to start again. No, she would not add another name of her beloved dead to her flesh. She yanked a washcloth from beside the tub and scrubbed at her face, bits of mud and blood clouding the water. Unpredictable. The arrogance, the sheer single-minded selfishness … Chaol had run. Hed run, and Dorian had been left to be enslaved by the collar. Dorian. Shed come back—but too late. Too late. She dunked the washcloth again and covered her face with it, hoping it would somehow ease the stinging in her eyes. Maybe shed sent too strong a message from Wendlyn by destroying Narrok; maybe it was her fault that Aedion had been captured, Sorscha killed, and Dorian enslaved. Monster. And yet … For her friends, for her family, she would gladly be a monster. For Rowan, for Dorian, for Nehemia, she would debase and degrade and ruin herself. She knew they would have done the same for her. She slung the washcloth into the water and sat up. Monster or no, never in ten thousand years would she have let Dorian face his father alone. Even if Dorian had told her to go. A month ago, she and Rowan had chosen to face the Valg princes together—to die together, if need be, rather than do so alone. You remind me of what the world ought to be; what the world can be, shed once said to Chaol. Her face burned. A girl had said those things; a girl so desperate to survive, to make it through each day, that she hadnt questioned why he served the true monster of their world. Aelin slipped back under the water, scrubbing at her hair, her face, her bloody body. She could forgive the girl who had needed a captain of the guard to offer stability after a year in hell; forgive the girl who had needed a captain to be her champion. But she was her own champion now. And she would not add another name of her beloved dead to her flesh. So when she awoke the next morning, Aelin wrote a letter to Arobynn, accepting his offer. One Valg demon, owed to the King of the Assassins. In exchange for his assistance in the rescue and safe return of Aedion Ashryver, the Wolf of the North. 8 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 Adarlans 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 Asterins 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 didnt notice or didnt care. He showed interest in Manon only when giving orders about her hosts 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 didnt interfere with the Ironteeth legion, Manon didnt particularly care. Let these men play at being gods. Usually though, especially in these wretched meetings, the dukes 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 hadnt 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 kings beck and call. The duke stroked an idle hand down Kaltains 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 didnt flinch at the dukes intimate touch, didnt 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. Do not engage. 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 dukes dark eyes werent 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. Youre not my duke, she said. Nor are you my grace. Asterin had gone still. Duke Perrington boomed out a laugh. Kaltain showed no indication that shed 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 wont 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 Adarlans 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 Manons 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 dukes private tower—one of the few places where they werent allowed. The smells that leaked from behind the door of dark, glittering stone raked claws down Manons 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 didnt so much as blink, and their breathing didnt 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 Manons attention and lifted her auburn brows. Get the others, Manon ordered her. Its 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 Vestas heels. Manon and her Second and Third were silent as they ascended the half-crumbling tower that housed the Thirteens private aerie. By day, their wyverns perched on the massive posts jutting out from the towers 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 hosts wyverns, where they would only rip each other to shreds and get cramps in their wings. Theyd 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 Sorrels 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 Manons 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 Manons 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 were 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 youre going to question orders, Asterin, then Ill be happy to replace you. Im not questioning, Asterin said, holding Manons gaze for longer than most witches dared. But its a waste of our skills to be sitting here like hens in a coop, at the dukes bidding. Id like to rip open that worms belly. Sorrel murmured, I would advise you, Asterin, to resist the urge. Manons tan-skinned Third, built like a battering ram, kept her attention solely on the quick, lethal movements of her Second. The stone to Asterins flame, ever since theyd been witchlings. The King of Adarlan cant 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. Theres 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 Asterins 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 Sorrels stone … and to Manons 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 Manons stare. We will, Manon promised, loud enough for the others to hear. But until then, keep yourself in check, or Ill ground you until youre 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 tone to it. Manon lashed out, so fast that even Asterin couldnt retreat. Manons hand closed around her cousins 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 Asterins golden-tan neck—find their mark. Manon didnt care that theyd been fighting at each others sides for a century, that Asterin was her closest relative, or that Asterin had gone to the mat again and again to defend Manons position as heir. Shed put Asterin down the moment she became a useless nuisance. Manon let Asterin see all of that in her eyes. Asterins gaze flicked to the bloodred cloak Manon wore—the cloak Manons 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. Asterins beautiful, wild face went cold as she said, Understood. Manon released her throat, flicking Asterins 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, Im 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 cousins 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 Abraxoss 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 hed been struck dead. Her wyvern, it seemed, had a wicked sense of humor. The first time hed done it, shed 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 Thirteens mounts. On a towers 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.

They could have been friends as easily as enemies—both of them orphaned, both found by Arobynn as children. But Arobynn had handed Lysandra over to Clarisse, his good friend and a successful brothel madam. And though Aelin had been trained for killing fields and Lysandra for bedrooms, theyd somehow grown up rivals, clawing for Arobynns favor. When Lysandra turned seventeen and had her Bidding, it was Arobynn who had won, using the money Aelin had given him to pay off her own debts. The courtesan had then thrown what Arobynn had done with Aelins blood money in her face. So Aelin had thrown something back at her: a dagger. They hadnt seen each other since. Aelin figured she was perfectly justified in tugging back her hood to reveal her own face and saying, It would take me less than a minute to kill you and your driver, and to make sure your little protégée in the carriage doesnt say a peep about it. Shed probably be happy to see you dead. Lysandra stiffened. She is not my protégée, and she is not in training. So shes to be used as a shield against me? Aelins smile was razor-sharp. Please—please, Lysandra said over the rain, I need to talk to you, just for a few minutes, where its safe. Aelin took in the fine clothes, the hired cab, the rain splashing on the cobblestones. So typical of Arobynn to throw this at her. But shed let him play this hand; see where it got her. Aelin squeezed the bridge of her nose with two fingers, then lifted her head. You know I have to kill your driver. No, you dont! the man cried, scrambling to grab the reins. I swear—swear I wont breathe a word about this place. Aelin stalked to the hansom cab, the rain instantly soaking her cloak. The driver could report the location of the warehouse, could endanger everything, but— Aelin peered at the rain-flecked cab permit framed by the door, illuminated by the little lantern hanging above. Well, Kellan Oppel of sixty-three Baker Street, apartment two, I suppose you wont tell anyone. White as death, the driver nodded. Aelin yanked open the carriage door, saying to the child within, Get out. Both of you inside, now. Evangeline can wait here, Lysandra whispered. Aelin looked over her shoulder, rain splattering her face as her lips pulled back from her teeth. If you think for one moment that Im leaving a child alone in a hired carriage in the slums, you can go right back to the cesspit you came from. She peered into the carriage again and said to the cowering girl, Come on, you. I wont bite. That seemed to be enough assurance for Evangeline, who scooted closer, the lantern light gilding her tiny porcelain hand before she gripped Aelins arm to hop from the cab. No more than eleven, she was delicately built, her red-gold hair braided back to reveal citrine eyes that gobbled up the drenched street and women before her. As stunning as her mistress—or would have been, were it not for the deep, jagged scars on both cheeks. Scars that explained the hideous, branded-out tattoo on the inside of the girls wrist. Shed been one of Clarisses acolytes—until shed been marred and lost all value. Aelin winked at Evangeline and said with a conspirators grin as she led her through the rain, You look like my sort of person. Aelin propped open the rest of the windows to let the rain-cooled river breeze into the stuffy apartment. Thankfully, no one had been on the street in the minutes theyd been outside, but if Lysandra was here, she had no doubt it would get back to Arobynn. Aelin patted the armchair before the window, smiling at the brutally scarred little girl. This is my favorite place to sit in the whole apartment when theres a nice breeze coming through. If you want, I have a book or two that I think youd like. Or—she gestured to the kitchen to her right—you might be able to find something delicious on the kitchen table— blueberry tart, I think. Lysandra was stiff, but Aelin didnt particularly give a damn as she added to Evangeline, Your choice. As a child in a high-end brothel, Evangeline had probably had too few choices in her short life. Lysandras green eyes seemed to soften a bit, and Evangeline said, her voice barely audible above the patter of the rain on the roof and windows, I would like a tart, please. A moment later, she was gone. Smart girl—to know to stay out of her mistresss way. With Evangeline occupied, Aelin slung off her soaked cloak and used the small remaining dry section to wipe her wet face. Keeping her wrist angled in case she needed to draw the hidden blade, Aelin pointed to the couch before the unlit fire and told Lysandra, Sit. To her surprise, the woman obeyed—but then said, Or youll threaten to kill me again? I dont make threats. Only promises. The courtesan slumped against the couch cushions. Please. How can I ever take anything that comes out of that big mouth seriously? You took it seriously when I threw a dagger at your head. Lysandra gave her a little smile. You missed. True—but shed still grazed the courtesans ear. As far as shed been concerned, it had been deserved. But it was a woman sitting before her—they were both women now, not the girls theyd been at seventeen. Lysandra looked her up and down. I prefer you as a blonde. Id prefer you get the hell out of my house, but that doesnt seem likely to happen anytime soon. She glanced at the street below; the cab lingered, as ordered. Arobynn couldnt send you in one of his carriages? I thought he was paying you handsomely. Lysandra waved her hand, the candlelight catching on a golden bracelet that barely covered a snakelike tattoo stamped on her slender wrist. I refused his carriage. I thought itd set the wrong tone. Too late for that. So he did send you, then. To warn me about what, exactly? He sent me to tell you his plan. He doesnt trust messengers these days. But the warning comes from me. An utter lie, no doubt. But that tattoo—the sigil of Clarisses brothel, etched on the flesh of all her courtesans from the moment they were sold into her house … The girl in the kitchen, the driver below—they could make everything very, very difficult if she gutted Lysandra. But the dagger was tempting as she beheld that tattoo. Not the sword—no, she wanted the intimacy of a knife, wanted to share breath with the courtesan as she ended her. Aelin asked too quietly, Why do you still have Clarisses sigil tattooed on you? Do not trust Archer, Nehemia had tried to warn her, drawing a perfect rendering of the snake in her coded message. But what about anyone else with that sigil? The Lysandra that Aelin had known years ago … Two-faced, lying, and conniving were among the nicer words Aelin had used to describe her. Lysandra frowned down at it. We dont get it stamped out until weve paid off our debts. The last time I saw your whoring carcass, you were weeks away from paying them off. Indeed, Arobynn had paid so much at the Bidding two years ago that Lysandra should have been free almost immediately. The courtesans eyes flickered. Do you have a problem with the tattoo? That piece of shit Archer Finn had one. Theyd belonged to the same house, the same madam. Maybe theyd worked together in other regards, too. Lysandra held her gaze. Archers dead. Because I gutted him, Aelin said sweetly. Lysandra braced a hand on the back of the couch. You— she breathed. But then she shook her head and said softly, Good. Good that you killed him. He was a self-serving pig. It could be a lie to win her over. Say your piece, and then get out. Lysandras sensuous mouth tightened. But she laid out Arobynns plan to free Aedion. It was brilliant, if Aelin felt like being honest—clever and dramatic and bold. If the King of Adarlan wanted to make a spectacle of Aedions execution, then they would make a spectacle of his rescue. But to tell her through Lysandra, to draw in another person who might betray her or stand witness against her … One more reminder of how easily Aedions fate could be sealed, should Arobynn decide to make Aelins life a living hell. I know, I know, the courtesan said, taking in the cold gleam in Aelins eyes. You neednt remind me that youll skin me alive if I betray you. Aelin felt a muscle flicker in her cheek. And the warning you came to give me? Lysandra shifted on the couch. Arobynn wanted me to tell you the plans so that I might check up on you—test you, see how much youre on his side, see if youre going to betray him. Id be disappointed if he didnt. I think … I think he also sent me here as an offering. Aelin knew what she meant, but she said, Unfortunately for you, I dont have any interest in women. Even when theyre paid for.Lysandras nostrils flared delicately. I think he sent me here so you could kill me. As a present. And you came to beg me to reconsider? No wonder shed brought the child, then. The selfish, spineless coward, to use Evangeline as a shield. To bring a child into this world of theirs. Lysandra glanced at the knife strapped to Aelins thigh. Kill me if you want. Evangeline already knows what I suspect, and wont say a word. Aelin willed her face into a mask of icy calm. But I did come to warn you, Lysandra went on. He might offer you presents, might help you with this rescue, but he is having you watched—and he has his own agenda. That favor you offered him—he didnt tell me what it is, but its likely to be a trap, in one way or another. Id consider whether his help is worth it, and see if you can get out of it. She wouldnt—couldnt. Not for about a dozen different reasons. When Aelin didnt respond, Lysandra took a sharp breath. I also came to give you this. She reached a hand into the folds of her rich indigo gown, and Aelin subtly shifted into a defensive position. Lysandra merely pulled out a worn, faded envelope and gingerly set it on the low table before the couch. It shook the whole way down. This is for you. Please read it. So youre Arobynns whore and courier now? The courtesan took the verbal slap. This isnt from Arobynn. Its from Wesley. Lysandra seemed to sink into the couch, and there was such an unspeakable grief in her eyes that for a moment, Aelin believed it. Wesley, Aelin said. Arobynns bodyguard. The one who spent most of his time hating me, and the rest of it contemplating ways to kill me. The courtesan nodded. Arobynn murdered Wesley for killing Rourke Farran. Lysandra flinched. Aelin glanced at the old envelope. Lysandra dropped her gaze to her hands, clutched together so tightly that her knuckles were bone-white. Worn lines marred the envelope, but the chipped seal had yet to be broken. Why have you been carrying a letter to me from Wesley for almost two years? Lysandra wouldnt look up, and her voice broke as she said, Because I loved him very much. Well, of all the things shed expected Lysandra to say. It started off as a mistake. Arobynn would send me back to Clarisses with him in the carriage as an escort, and at first we were just—just friends. We talked, and he expected nothing. But then … then Sam died, and you— Lysandra jerked her chin at the letter, still lying unopened between them. Its all in there. Everything Arobynn did, everything he planned. What he asked Farran to do to Sam, and what he ordered done to you. All of it. Wesley wanted you to know, because he wanted you to understand—he needed you to understand, Celaena, that he didnt know until it was too late. He tried to stop it, and did the best he could to avenge Sam. If Arobynn hadnt killed him … Wesley was planning to go to Endovier to get you out. He even went to the Shadow Market to find someone who knew the layout of the mines, and got a map of them. I still have it. As proof. I—I can go get it … The words slammed into her like a barrage of arrows, but she shut out the sorrow for a man she had never taken the time to consider as anything but one of Arobynns dogs. She wouldnt put it past Arobynn to use Lysandra, to make up this entire story to get her to trust the woman. The Lysandra shed known would have been more than happy to do it. And Aelin could have played along just to learn where it would take her, what Arobynn was up to and whether hed trip up enough to reveal his hand, but … What he asked Farran to do to Sam. Shed always assumed Farran had just tortured Sam in the way he so loved to hurt and break people. But for Arobynn to request specific things be done to Sam … It was good she didnt have her magic. Good it was stifled. Because she might have erupted into flames and burned and burned for days, cocooned in her fire. So you came here, Aelin said, as Lysandra discreetly wiped at her eyes with a handkerchief, to warn me that Arobynn might be manipulating me, because you finally realized what a monster Arobynn truly is after he killed your lover? I promised Wesley I would personally give you that letter— Well, you gave it to me, so get out. Light footsteps sounded, and Evangeline burst from the kitchen, rushing to her mistress with a quiet, nimble grace. With surprising tenderness, Lysandra slipped a reassuring arm around Evangeline as she rose to her feet. I understand, Celaena, I do. But I am begging you: read that letter. For him. Aelin bared her teeth. Get out. Lysandra walked to the door, keeping herself and Evangeline a healthy distance from Aelin. She paused in the doorway. Sam was my friend, too. He and Wesley were my only friends. And Arobynn took them both away. Aelin just raised her brows. Lysandra didnt bother with a good-bye as she vanished down the stairs. But Evangeline lingered on the threshold, glancing between her disappearing mistress and Aelin, her lovely hair glimmering like liquid copper. Then the girl gestured to her scarred face and said, She did this to me. It was an effort to keep seated, to keep from leaping down the stairs to slit Lysandras throat. But Evangeline went on, I cried when my mother sold me to Clarisse. Cried and cried. And I think Lysandra had annoyed the mistress that day, because they gave me to her as an acolyte, even though she was weeks away from paying her debts. That night, I was supposed to begin training, and I cried so hard I made myself sick. But Lysandra—she cleaned me up. She told me that there was a way out, but it would hurt, and I would not be the same. I couldnt run, because she had tried running a few times when she was my age, and they had found her and beat her where no one could see. She had never known—never wondered. All those times she had sneered at and mocked Lysandra while theyd grown up … Evangeline continued, I said Id do anything to get out of what the other girls had told me about. So she told me to trust her—and then gave me these. She started shouting loud enough for the others to come running. They thought she cut me out of anger, and said shed done it to keep me from being a threat. And she let them believe it. Clarisse was so mad that she beat Lysandra in the courtyard, but Lysandra didnt cry—not once. And when the healer said my face couldnt be fixed, Clarisse made Lysandra buy me for the amount I would have cost if I had been a full courtesan, like her. Aelin had no words. Evangeline said, Thats why shes still working for Clarisse, why shes still not free and wont be for a while. I thought you should know. Aelin wanted to tell herself not to trust the girl, that this could be part of Lysandra and Arobynns plan, but … but there was a voice in her head, in her bones, that whispered to her, over and over and over, each time clearer and louder: Nehemia would have done the same. Evangeline curtsied and went down the stairs, leaving Aelin staring at the worn envelope. If she herself could change so much in two years, perhaps so could Lysandra. And for a moment, she wondered how another young womans life would have been different if she had stopped to talk to her—really talk to Kaltain Rompier, instead of dismissing her as a vapid courtier. What would have happened if Nehemia had tried to see past Kaltains mask, too. Evangeline was climbing into the rain-gleaming carriage beside Lysandra when Aelin appeared at the warehouse door and said, Wait. 10 Aedions vision was swimming, his every breath gloriously difficult. Soon. He could feel Death squatting in the corner of his cell, counting down the last of his breaths, a lion waiting to pounce. Every so often, Aedion would smile toward those gathered shadows. The infection had spread, and with two days until the spectacle at which he was to be executed, his death was coming none too soon. The guards assumed he was sleeping to pass the time. Aedion was waiting for his food, watching the small barred window in the top of the cell door for any sign of the guards arrival. But he was fairly sure he was hallucinating when the door opened and the Crown Prince strolled in. There were no guards behind him, no sign of any escort as the prince stared from the doorway. The princes unmoving face told him immediately what he needed to know: this was not a rescue attempt. And the black stone collar around the princes throat told him everything else: things had not gone well the day Sorscha had been murdered. He managed to grin. Good to see you, princeling. The prince ran an eye over Aedions dirty hair, the beard that had grown during the past few weeks, and then over to the pile of vomit in the corner from when he hadnt been able to make it to the bucket an hour ago. Aedion drawled as best he could, The least you could do is take me to dinner before looking at me like that. The princes sapphire eyes flicked to his, and Aedion blinked past the haze covering his vision. What studied him was cold, predatory, and not quite human.

Quietly, Aedion said, Dorian. The thing that was now the prince smiled a little. The captain had said those rings of Wyrdstone enslaved the mind—the soul. Hed seen the collar waiting beside the kings throne, and had wondered if it was the same. Worse. Tell me what happened in the throne room, Dorian, Aedion wheezed, his head pounding. The prince blinked slowly. Nothing happened. Why are you here, Dorian? Aedion had never addressed the prince by his given name, but using it, reminding him, somehow seemed important. Even if it only provoked the prince into killing him. I came to look at the infamous general before they execute you like an animal. No chance of being killed today, then. The same way they executed your Sorscha? Though the prince didnt move, Aedion could have sworn he recoiled, as if someone yanked on a leash, as if there was still someone in need of leashing. I dont know what youre talking about, the thing inside the prince said. But its nostrils flared. Sorscha, Aedion breathed, his lungs aching. Sorscha—your woman, the healer. I was standing beside you when they cut off her head. I heard you screaming as you dove for her body. The thing went a bit rigid, and Aedion pressed, Where did they bury her, Dorian? What did they do with her body, the body of the woman you loved? I dont know what youre talking about, it said again. Sorscha, Aedion panted, his breathing uneven. Her name was Sorscha, and she loved you—and they killed her. The man who put that collar around your neck killed her. The thing was quiet. Then it tilted its head. The smile it gave him was horrifying in its beauty. I shall enjoy watching you die, General. Aedion coughed out a laugh. The prince—the thing hed become—turned smoothly and strode out. And Aedion might have laughed again, for spite and defiance, had he not heard the prince say to someone in the hall, The general is sick. See to it that hes attended to immediately. No. The thing must have smelled it on him. Aedion could do nothing as a healer was summoned—an older woman named Amithy—and he was held down, too weak to fight back as she attended his wounds. She shoved a tonic down his throat that made him choke; his wound was washed and bound, and his shackles were shortened until he couldnt move his hands enough to rip out the stitching. The tonics kept coming, every hour, no matter how hard he bit, no matter how forcefully he tried to clamp his mouth shut. So they saved him, and Aedion cursed and swore at Death for failing him, even as he silently prayed to Mala Light-Bringer to keep Aelin away from the party, away from the prince, and away from the king and his Wyrdstone collars. The thing inside him left the dungeons and headed into the glass castle, steering his body like a ship. And now it forced him to be still as they stood before the man he often saw in those moments that pierced through the darkness. The man was seated on a glass throne, smiling faintly as he said, Bow. The thing inside him yanked hard on their bond, lightning spearing his muscles, ordering them to obey. It was how hed been forced to descend into those dungeons, where that golden-haired warrior had said her name—said her name so many times that he began screaming, even if he made no sound. He was still screaming as his muscles betrayed him yet again, bringing him to his knees, the tendons on his neck lashing with pain, forcing him to bow his head. Still resisting? the man said, glancing at the dark ring on his finger as though it possessed the answer already. I can feel both of you in there. Interesting. Yes—that thing in the darkness was growing stronger, now able to reach through the invisible wall between them and puppet him, speak through him. But not entirely, not for long amounts of time. He patched up the holes as best he could, but it kept breaking through. Demon. A demon prince. And he saw that moment—over and over and over—when the woman hed loved had lost her head. Hearing her name on the generals raspy tongue had made him start whaling on the other wall in his mind, the barrier that kept him locked in the dark. But the darkness in his mind was a sealed tomb. The man on the throne said, Report. The command shuddered through him, and he spit out the details of his encounter, every word and action. And the thing—the demon—delighted in his horror at it. Clever of Aedion to try to quietly die on me, the man said. He must think his cousin has a good chance of arriving at your party, then, if hes so desperate to rob us of our entertainment. He kept silent, as he had not been instructed to speak. The man looked him over, those black eyes full of delight. I should have done this years ago. I dont know why I wasted so much time waiting to see whether youd have any power. Foolish of me. He tried to speak, tried to move, tried to do anything with that mortal body of his. But the demon gripped his mind like a fist, and the muscles of his face slid into a smile as he said, It is my pleasure to serve, Majesty. 11 The Shadow Market had operated along the banks of the Avery for as long as Rifthold had existed. Maybe longer. Legend claimed it had been built on the bones of the god of truth so that it would keep the vendors and would-be thieves honest. Chaol supposed it was ironic, considering there was no god of truth. As far as he knew. Contraband, illicit substances, spices, clothes, flesh: the market catered to any and all clientele, if they were brave or foolish or desperate enough to venture inside. When hed first come here weeks ago, Chaol had been all of those things as he climbed down the half-rotted wooden stairs from a crumbling section of the docks into the embankment itself, where alcoves and tunnels and shops were tunneled into the riverbank. Cloaked, armed figures patrolled the long, broad quay that served as the only path to the market. During rainy periods, the Avery would often rise high enough to flood the quay, and sometimes unlucky merchants and shoppers drowned inside the labyrinth of the Shadow Market. During drier months, you never knew what or who you might find selling their wares or meandering through the dirty, damp tunnels. The market was packed tonight, even after a day of rain. A small relief. And another small relief as thunder reverberated through the subterranean warren, setting everyone murmuring. The vendors and lowlifes would be too busy preparing for the storm to take notice of Chaol and Nesryn as they strode down one of the main passageways. The thunder rattled the hanging lanterns of colored glass—strangely beautiful, as if someone had once been determined to give this place some loveliness—that served as the main lights in the brown caverns, casting plenty of those shadows the market was so notorious for. Shadows for dark dealings, shadows to slip a knife between the ribs or to spirit someone away. Or for conspirators to meet. No one had bothered them as theyd slipped through one of the rough holes that served as an entrance to the Shadow Markets tunnels. They connected to the sewers somewhere—and he would bet that the more established vendors possessed their own secret exits beneath their stalls or shops. Vendor after vendor had set up stalls of wood or stone, with some wares displayed on tables or crates or in baskets, but most valuable goods hidden. A spice dealer offered everything from saffron to cinnamon—but even the most fragrant spices couldnt conceal the cloyingly sweet stench of the opium stashed beneath his displays. Once, long ago, Chaol might have cared about the illegal substances, about the vendors selling whatever they pleased. He might have bothered to try to shut this place down. Now, they were nothing but resources. As a city guard, Nesryn probably felt the same way. Even if, just by being in here, she was jeopardizing her own safety. This was a neutral zone—but its denizens didnt take kindly to authority. He didnt blame them. The Shadow Market had been one of the first places the King of Adarlan had purged after magic vanished, seeking out vendors who claimed to have banned books or still-working charms and potions, as well as magic-wielders desperate for a cure or a glimmer of magic. The punishments hadnt been pretty. Chaol almost heaved a sigh of relief when he spotted the two cloaked figures with a spread of knives for sale at a makeshift stand tucked into a dark corner. Exactly where theyd planned, and theyd done a hell of a job making it look authentic. Nesryn slowed her steps, pausing at various vendors, no more than a bored shopper killing time until the rain ceased. Chaol kept close to her, his weapons and prowling gait enough to deter any foolish pickpockets from trying their luck. The punch hed taken to his ribs earlier that night made maintaining his crawling pace and scowl all the easier. He and a few others had interrupted a Valg commander in the midst of dragging a young man into the tunnels. And Chaol had been so damn distracted by Dorian, by what Aelin had said and done, that hed been sloppy. So hed earned that blow to the ribs, and the painful reminder of it each time he drew breath. No distractions; no slip-ups. Not when there was so much to do. At last, Chaol and Nesryn paused by the little stall, staring down at the dozen knives and short swords displayed across the threadbare blanket.This place is even more depraved than the rumors suggested, Brullo said from the shadows of his hood. I feel like I should cover poor Resss eyes in half these chambers. Ress chuckled. Im nineteen, old man. Nothing here surprises me. Ress glanced at Nesryn, who was fingering one of the curved blades. Apologies, Lady— Im twenty-two, she said flatly. And I think we city guards see a great deal more than you palace princesses. What Chaol could see of Resss face flushed. He could have sworn even Brullo was smiling. And for a moment, he couldnt breathe under the crushing weight that pushed in on him. There had been a time when this teasing was normal, when hed sat in public with his men and laughed. When he hadnt been two days away from unleashing hell on the castle that had once been his home. Any news? he managed to say to Brullo, who was watching him too closely, as if his old mentor could see the agony ripping through him. We got the layout of the party this morning, Brullo said tightly. Chaol picked up a blade as Brullo reached into the pocket of his cloak. He made a good show of examining the dagger, then holding up a few fingers as if haggling for it. Brullo went on, The new Captain of the Guard spread us all out—none of us in the Great Hall itself. The Weapons Master held up his own fingers, leaning forward, and Chaol shrugged, reaching into his cloak for the coins. You think he suspects anything? Chaol said, handing over the coins. Nesryn closed in, blocking any outside view as Chaols hand met Brullos and coppers crunched against paper. The small, folded maps were in Chaols pocket before anyone noticed. No, Ress answered. The bastard just wants to demean us. He probably thinks some of us are loyal to you, but wed be dead if he suspected any of us in particular. Be careful, Chaol said. He sensed Nesryn tensing a heartbeat before another female voice drawled, Three coppers for a Xandrian blade. If Id known there was a sale happening, I would have brought more money. Every muscle in Chaols body locked up as he discovered Aelin now standing at Nesryns side. Of course. Of course shed tracked them here. Holy gods, Ress breathed. Beneath the shadows of her dark hood, Aelins grin was nothing short of wicked. Hello, Ress. Brullo. Sorry to see your palace jobs arent paying you enough these days. The Weapons Master was glancing between her and the passageways. You didnt say she was back, he said to Chaol. Aelin clicked her tongue. Chaol, it seems, likes to keep information to himself. He clenched his fists at his sides. Youre drawing too much attention to us. Am I? Aelin lifted a dagger, weighing it in her hands with expert ease. I need to talk to Brullo and my old friend Ress. Since you refused to let me come the other night, this was the only way. So typical of her. Nesryn had taken a casual step away, monitoring the carved tunnels. Or avoiding the queen. Queen. The word struck him again. A queen of the realm was in the Shadow Market, in head-to-toe black, and looking more than happy to start slitting throats. He hadnt been wrong to fear her reunion with Aedion—what they might do together. And if she had her magic … Take off your hood, Brullo said quietly. Aelin looked up. Why, and no. I want to see your face. Aelin went still. But Nesryn turned back and leaned a hand on the table. I saw her face last night, Brullo, and its as pretty as before. Dont you have a wife to ogle, anyway? Aelin snorted. I think I rather like you, Nesryn Faliq. Nesryn gave Aelin a half smile. Practically beaming, coming from her. Chaol wondered whether Aelin would like Nesryn if she knew about their history. Or whether the queen would even care. Aelin tugged back her hood only far enough for the light to hit her face. She winked at Ress, who grinned. I missed you, friend, she said. Color stained Resss cheeks. Brullos mouth tightened as Aelin looked at him again. For a moment, the Weapons Master studied her. Then he murmured, I see. The queen stiffened almost imperceptibly. Brullo bowed his head, ever so slightly. Youre going to rescue Aedion. Aelin pulled her hood into place and inclined her head in confirmation, the swaggering assassin incarnate. I am. Ress swore filthily under his breath. Aelin leaned closer to Brullo. I know Im asking a great deal of you— Then dont ask it, Chaol snapped. Dont endanger them. They risk enough. Thats not your call to make, she said. Like hell it wasnt. If theyre discovered, we lose our inside source of information. Not to mention their lives. What do you plan to do about Dorian? Or is it only Aedion you care about? They were all watching far too closely. Her nostrils flared. But Brullo said, What is it you require of us, Lady? Oh, the Weapons Master definitely knew, then. He must have seen Aedion recently enough to have recognized those eyes, that face and coloring, the moment she pulled back her hood. Perhaps he had suspected it for months now. Aelin said softly, Dont let your men be stationed at the southern wall of the gardens. Chaol blinked. Not a request or an order—but a warning. Brullos voice was slightly hoarse as he said, Anywhere else we should avoid? She was already backing away, shaking her head as if she were a disinterested buyer. Just tell your men to pin a red flower on their uniforms. If anyone asks, say its to honor the prince on his birthday. But wear them where they can easily be seen. Chaol glanced at her hands. Her dark gloves were clean. How much blood would stain them in a few days? Ress loosed a breath and said to her, Thank you. It wasnt until shed vanished into the crowd with a jaunty swagger that Chaol realized thanks were indeed in order. Aelin Galathynius was about to turn the glass palace into a killing field, and Ress, Brullo, and his men had all been spared. She still hadnt said anything about Dorian. About whether he would be spared. Or saved. Aelin had known she had eyes on her from the moment shed left the Shadow Market after finishing some shopping of her own. She strode right into the Royal Bank of Adarlan anyway. She had business to attend to, and though theyd been minutes away from closing for the day, the Master of the Bank had been more than happy to assist her with her inquiries. He never once questioned the fake name her accounts were under. As the Master talked about her various accounts and the interest theyd gathered over the years, she took in the details of his office: thick, oak-paneled walls, pictures that had revealed no hidey-holes in the bare minute shed had to snoop while he summoned his secretary to bring in tea, and ornate furniture that cost more than most citizens of Rifthold made in a lifetime, including a gorgeous mahogany armoire where many of his wealthiest clients files—including hers—were kept, locked up with a little gold key he kept on his desk. Shed risen as he again scuttled through the double doors of his office to withdraw the sum of money she would take with her that night. While he was in the anteroom, giving the order to his secretary, Aelin had casually made her way over to his desk, surveying the papers stacked and strewn about, the various gifts from clients, keys, and a little portrait of a woman who could be either a wife or a daughter. With men like him, it was impossible to tell. Hed returned just as she casually slid a hand into the pocket of her cloak. She made small talk about the weather until the secretary appeared, a little box in hand. Dumping the contents into her coin purse with as much grace as she could muster, Aelin had thanked the secretary and the Master and breezed out of the office. She took side streets and alleys, ignoring the stench of rotting flesh that even the rain couldnt conceal. Two—shed counted two butchering blocks in once-pleasant city squares. The bodies left for the crows had been mere shadows against the pale stone walls where theyd been nailed. Aelin wouldnt risk capturing one of the Valg until after Aedion was saved—if she made it out alive—but that didnt mean she couldnt get a head start on it. A chill fog had blanketed the world the night before, seeping in through every nook and cranny. Nestled under layers of quilts and down blankets, Aelin rolled over in bed and stretched a hand across the mattress, reaching lazily for the warm male body beside hers. Cold, silken sheets slid against her fingers. She opened an eye. This wasnt Wendlyn. The luxurious bed bedecked in shades of cream and beige belonged to her apartment in Rifthold. And the other half of the bed was neatly made, its pillows and blankets undisturbed. Empty. For a moment, she could see Rowan there—that harsh, unforgiving face softened into handsomeness by sleep, his silver hair glimmering in the morning light, so stark against the tattoo stretching from his left temple down his neck, over his shoulder, all the way to his fingertips.

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