Chapter no 14

Crown of Midnight

Celaena absolutely hated that it took a fair amount of courage to enter the royal library after coming upon that … thing a few nights ago. And more than that, she hated that the encounter had turned her favorite place in the castle into something unknown and possibly deadly.

She felt a little foolish as she shoved open the towering oak doors to the library, armed to the teeth—most of her weapons concealed from sight. No need to have someone start asking why the King’s Champion was going into the library looking like she was walking onto a killing field.

Not feeling at all inclined to go into Rifthold after last night, she’d opted to spend the day digesting what she’d learned in Davis’s office and searching for any connection between that book of Wyrdmarks and the king’s plans. And since she’d only seen one hint of something being amiss in the castle … Well, she’d steeled her nerve to try to learn what that thing had been looking for in the library. Or if there was any hint of where it had gone.

The library looked as it had always had: dim, cavernous, achingly beautiful in its ancient stone architecture and endless corridors lined with books. And totally silent.

She knew there were a few scholars and librarians about, but they mostly kept to their private studies. The size of the place was overwhelming; it was a castle in itself.

What had that thing been doing here?

She craned her head back to take in the two upper levels, both bordered with ornate railings. Iron chandeliers cast light and shadow throughout the main chamber in which she stood. She loved this room— loved the scattering of heavy tables and red velvet chairs, and the worn couches sprawled before massive hearths.

Celaena paused beside the table she had always used when researching the Wyrdmarks—a table at which she’d spent hours with Chaol.

Three levels that she could see. Plenty of places to hide on all of them

—rooms and alcoves and half-crumbling staircases.

What about beneath this level? The library was probably too far away to connect to the tunnels attached to her rooms, but there could be more forgotten places beneath the castle. The polished marble floor gleamed under her feet.

Chaol had said something once about a legend regarding a second library underground—in catacombs and tunnels. If she were doing something that she didn’t want others to find out about, if she were some foul creature who needed a place to hide …

Maybe she was a fool for looking into it, but she had to know. Maybe this thing would be able to give her some clues as to what was going on in this castle.

She headed for the nearest wall and was soon swallowed up in the gloom of the stacks. It took her a few minutes to reach the perimeter wall, which was interspersed with bookcases and chipped writing desks. She pulled a piece of chalk from her pocket and drew an on one of the desks. Most of the library would probably look the same after a while; it would be helpful to know when she’d made a full sweep of the perimeter. Even if it took her hours to cover it all.

She passed stack after stack of books, some of the cases plain, some of them ornately carved. Sconces were few and far enough apart that she often had to take several steps in near darkness. The floor had turned from gleaming marble to ancient gray blocks, and the scrape of her boots against stone was the only sound. It felt as if it’d been the only sound for a thousand years.

But someone must have come down this passageway to light the sconces. So if she became lost, she might not stay that way forever.

Not that getting lost was a possibility, she reassured herself as the silence of the library became a living thing. She’d been trained to mark and remember pathways and exits and turns. She’d be fine.

Odds were that she had to go as far back into the library as possible— to a place where even the scholars didn’t bother going.

There had been a day, she recalled—a day when she’d been poring over The Walking Dead, and she’d felt something under her boots. Chaol had later revealed that he’d been dragging his dagger along the floor to spook her, but the initial vibration had been … different.

Like someone drawing a claw along stone.

Stop it, she told herself. Stop it now. Your imagination is absurd. It was just Chaol teasing you.

She didn’t know how long she’d been walking when she finally hit another wall: a corner. The bookcases here were all carved from ancient wood, their ends shaped into sentries—guards forever protecting the books held between them. It was here that the sconces ran out—and a glance down the back wall of the library revealed utter darkness.

Thankfully, one of the scholars had left a torch beside the last sconce. It was small enough that it wouldn’t burn the whole damn library down, but also too small to last long.

She could end it now, and go back to her rooms to contemplate ways to pry information from Archer’s clients. One wall had been explored— one wall that revealed nothing. She could do the back wall tomorrow.

But she was here already. Celaena picked up the torch.



Dorian jerked awake at the sound of a clock chiming, and found himself sweating despite the fierce cold in his bedroom.

It was odd enough that he’d fallen asleep, but the frigid temperature was what struck him as most unusual. His windows were all sealed, his door shut.

And yet his shallow breaths clouded in front of him. He sat up, his head aching.

A nightmare—of teeth and shadows and glinting daggers. Just a nightmare.

Dorian shook his head, the temperature in the room already increasing. Perhaps it had only been a rogue draft. The nap was just the product of staying up too late last night; the nightmare probably triggered by hearing from Chaol about Celaena’s encounter.

He gritted his teeth. Her job wasn’t without risk—and though he was furious about what had happened, he had a feeling she’d only push him away further if he yelled at her about it.

Dorian shook off the last bit of the cold and walked to his dressing room to change his wrinkled tunic. As he turned, he could have sworn he caught a glimpse of a faint ring of frost around where his body had lain on the couch.

But when he looked back to see it more fully, there was nothing there.



Celaena heard a distant clock chime somewhere—and didn’t quite believe it when she heard the time. She’d been here for three hours. Three hours. The back wall wasn’t like the side wall; it dipped and curved and had closets and alcoves and little study rooms full of mice and dust. And just when she’d been about to draw an on the wall and call it a day, she noticed the tapestry.

She saw it only because it was the sole bit of decoration she’d encountered along the wall. Considering how the last six months of her life had gone, part of her just knew that it had to mean something.

There was no depiction of Elena, or a stag, or anything lovely and green.

No; this tapestry, woven from red thread so dark it looked black, depicted … nothing.

She touched the ancient strands, marveling at the hue, so deep that it seemed to swallow her fingers in its darkness. The hair on the back of her neck rose, and Celaena put a hand on her dagger as she pulled the tapestry aside. She swore. And swore again.

Another secret door greeted her.

Glancing around the stacks, listening for any footsteps or rustle of clothing, Celaena pushed it open.

A breeze, musty and thick, floated past her from the depths of the spiral stairwell revealed by the open door. The light of her torch reached only a few feet inside, illuminating ornately carved walls depicting a battle.

There was a thin groove in the marble wall, a channel barely three inches deep. It curved along the entire length of the wall, extending beyond the limits of her sight. She swiped her finger in the groove; it was smooth as glass and held a faint residue of something slimy.

A small silver lamp hung from the wall, and she put her torch in its place as she took down the lamp, liquid splashing inside. “Clever,” she murmured.

Smiling to herself, making sure her torch was far enough away, Celaena placed the slender nozzle of the lamp into the groove and tipped. Oil poured out and traveled down the chute. Celaena grabbed her torch and touched it to the wall. Instantly, the groove glowed with fire, providing a thin line of light all the way down the dark and cobwebbed stairwell. A hand on her hip, she stared down, admiring the engraved surface of the walls.

She doubted anyone would come looking for her, but she still put the tapestry back into its original position and took out one of her long daggers. As she descended, the images of battle shifted and moved in the firelight, and she could have sworn that the stone faces turned to watch her go. She stopped looking at the walls.

A breath of cold air brushed her face, and she at last spied the bottom of the stair. It was a dark corridor that smelled of aged and rotting things. A torch lay discarded at the bottom of the step, covered with enough cobwebs to reveal that no one had been down here in a long, long time.

Unless that thing can see in the dark.

She shoved away that thought, too, and picked up the torch, igniting it on the illuminated wall of the stairwell.

Cobwebs hung from the arched ceiling, grazing over the cobblestone floor. Rickety bookcases lined the halfway, the shelves crammed full of books so worn that Celaena couldn’t read the titles. Scrolls and pieces of parchment were stuffed into every nook and cranny or lay unrolled on the sagging wood, as if someone had just walked away from reading them. Somehow, it was more of a tomb than Elena’s resting place.

She walked down the corridor, stopping occasionally to examine the scrolls. They were maps and receipts from kings long since turned to dust.

Castle records. All this walking and fretting, and all you’ve discovered is useless castle records. That’s probably what that creature was after: an ancient king’s grocery bill.

Beginning a chant of truly despicable curses, Celaena waved her torch before her and walked on until a hallway appeared on the left.

It had to lead even lower than Elena’s tomb—but how deep? There was a lantern and a groove in the wall, so Celaena once again lit the spiraling passage. This time, the gray stone depicted a forest. A forest, and—

Fae. It was impossible to miss those delicately pointed ears and elongated canines. The Fae lounged and danced and played music, content to bask in their immortality and ethereal beauty.

No, the king and his cronies couldn’t know about this place, because they certainly would have defaced these carvings by now. Celaena didn’t need a historian to know that this stairwell was old—far older than the one through which she had just descended, perhaps even older than the castle itself.

Why had Gavin picked this site to build his castle? Had there been something here before?

Or something beneath it worth hiding?

A cold sweat slithered down her spine as she peered into the stairwell. Against all odds, another breeze wafted up from below. Iron. It smelled like iron.

The images on the walls flickered as she descended the spiral staircase. When she at last reached the bottom, she took a shallow breath and ignited a torch from a nearby bracket. She was in a long hallway paved in gray stones. There was only one door in the center of the left-hand wall, and no exit save for the stairs behind her.

She scanned the hall. Nothing. Not even a mouse. After observing for another moment, she stepped down it, igniting the few torches on the wall as she went.

The iron door was unremarkable, though undeniably impenetrable. Its studded surface was like a slab of starless sky.

Celaena stretched out a hand, but stopped before her fingers could graze the metal.

Why was it made entirely of iron?

Iron was the one element immune to magic; she remembered that much. There had been so many kinds of magic-wielders ten years ago— people whose power was believed by some to have long ago originated from the gods themselves, despite the King of Adarlan’s claim that magic was an affront to the divine. Wherever it came from, magic had countless variations: abilities to heal, to shape-shift, to summon flame or water or storm, to encourage the growth of crops and plants, to glimpse the future, and on and on. Most of those gifts had been watered down over the millennia, but for some rare strong ones, when they held on to their power too long, the iron in their blood caused fainting spells. Or worse.

She had seen hundreds of doors in the castle—doors of wood, of bronze, of glass—but never one of solid iron. This one was ancient, from a time when an iron door meant something. So was this supposed to keep someone out—or to keep something in?

Celaena touched the Eye of Elena, scanning the door again. It yielded no answers about what might be behind it, so she clamped a hand around the handle and pulled.

It was locked. There was no keyhole in sight. She ran a hand along the grooves. Perhaps it had rusted shut?

She frowned. No sign of rust, either.

Celaena stepped back, studying the door. Why put a handle on it if there was no way of opening it? And why use a lock unless there was something worthwhile hidden behind it?

She turned away, but the amulet warmed against her skin, and a flicker of light shone through her tunic. Celaena paused.

It could have been the flicker of the torch, but … Celaena studied the slender gap between the door and the stone. A shadow—darker than the blackness beyond—lingered on the other side.

Slowly, drawing out her thinnest and flattest dagger with her free hand, she set the torch down and lay on her stomach, as close to the door as she dared. Just shadows—it was just shadows. Or rats.

Either way, she had to know.

With absolute silence, she slid the shining dagger under the door. The reflection along the blade revealed nothing but darkness—darkness and torchlight.

She shifted the dagger, pushing it just a bit farther beneath.

Two gleaming, green-gold orbs flashed in the shadows beyond. She lunged back, swiping the dagger with her, biting down on her lip to keep from cursing aloud. Eyes. Eyes gleaming in the dark—eyes like an … an

She sighed through her nose, relaxing slightly. Eyes like an animal.

Like a rat. Or a mouse. Or some feral cat.

Still, she crept forward again, holding her breath as she angled the blade under the door to scan the darkness.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She watched the dagger’s blade for a full minute, waiting for those eyes to reappear.

But whatever it was had scuttled off.

A rat. It was probably a rat.

Still, Celaena couldn’t shake the chill that had wrapped around her, or ignore the warmth of the amulet at her neck. Even if there wasn’t a creature behind that door, answers lay behind it. And she’d find them— just not today. Not until she was ready.

Because there might be ways to get through that door. And considering how old this place was, she had a feeling that the power that had sealed it was connected to the Wyrdmarks.

But if there was something behind the door … She shifted the fingers of her right hand as she picked up her torch, studying the arc of scars left by the ridderak’s bite.

It was just a rat. And she had no interest—none—in being proven wrong right now.

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