“Mort,” Celaena said, and the skull knocker opened an eye.
“It’s terribly rude to wake someone when they’re sleeping,” he said drowsily.
“Would you have preferred it if I had knocked on your face?” He glared at her. “I need to know something.” She held out the amulet. “This necklace—does it truly have power?”
“Of course it does.”
“But it’s thousands of years old.”
“So?” Mort yawned. “It’s magic. Magical things rarely age as normal objects do.”
“But what does it do?”
“It protects you, as Elena said. It guards you from harm, though you certainly seem to do your best to get into trouble.”
Celaena opened the door. “I think I know what it does.” Perhaps it was mere coincidence, but the riddle had been worded so specifically. Perhaps Davis had been looking for the same thing Elena wanted her to find: the source of the king’s power. This could be the first step toward uncovering that.
“You’re probably wrong,” Mort said as she walked by. “I’m just warning you.”
She didn’t listen. She went right up to the hollow eye in the wall and stood on tiptoe to look through. The wall on the other side was still blank. Unfastening her necklace, Celaena carefully lifted the amulet to the eye, and—
It fit. Sort of. Her breath caught in her throat, and Celaena leaned up against the hole, peering through the delicate gold bands.
Nothing. No change on the wall, or on the giant Wyrdmark. She turned the necklace upside down, but it was the same. She tried it on either side, backward, angled—but nothing. Just the same blank stone wall, illuminated by a shaft of moonlight from some vent above. She pushed against the stone, feeling for any door, any moveable panel.
“But it’s the Eye of Elena! ‘It is only with the eye that one can see rightly’! What other eye is there?”
“You could rip out your own and see if it fits,” Mort sang from the doorway.
“Why won’t it work? Do I need to say a spell?” She glanced at the sarcophagus of the queen. Perhaps the spell would be triggered by ancient words—words hiding right under her nose. Wasn’t that always how these things happened? She refitted the amulet into the stone. “Ah!” she called into the night air, reciting the words engraved at Elena’s feet. “Time’s Rift!”
Mort cackled. She snatched the amulet out of the wall. “Oh, I hate this! I hate this stupid tomb, and I hate these stupid riddles and mysteries!” Fine—fine. Nehemia was right that the amulet was a dead end. And she was a wretched, horrible friend for being so distrustful and impatient.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”
“Then what will work? That riddle does reference something in this tomb—behind that wall. Doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does. But you still haven’t asked the proper question.”
“I’ve asked you dozens of questions! And you won’t give me any answers!”
“Come back another—” he started, but Celaena had already stalked up the stairs.
Celaena stood on the barren edge of a ravine, a chill northern wind ruffling her hair. She’d had this dream before; always this setting, always this night of the year.
Behind her sloped a rocky, wasted plain, and before her stretched a chasm so long it disappeared into the starlit horizon. Across the ravine was a lush, dark wood, rustling with life.
And on the grassy lip of the other side stood the white stag, watching her with ancient eyes. His massive antlers glowed in the moonlight, wreathing him in ivory glory, just as she remembered. It had been on a chill night like this that she’d spotted him through the bars of her prison wagon on the way to Endovier, a glimmer of a world before it was burned to ash.
They watched each other in silence.
She took a half step closer to the edge, but paused as loose pebbles trickled free, tumbling into the ravine. There was no end to the darkness in that ravine. No end, and no beginning, either. It seemed to breathe, pulsing with whispers of faded memories, forgotten faces. Sometimes, it felt as though the darkness stared back at her—and the face it wore was her own.
Beneath the dark, she could have sworn she heard the rushing of a half-frozen river, swollen with melting snow off the Staghorns. A flash of white, the thud of hooves on soft earth, and Celaena looked up from the ravine. The stag had come closer, his head now angled, as if inviting her to join him.
But the ravine only seemed to grow wider, like the maw of a giant beast opening to devour the world.
So Celaena did not cross, and the stag turned away, his steps near silent as he disappeared between the tangled trees of the ageless wood.
Celaena awoke to darkness. The fire was nothing but cinders, and the moon had set.
She studied the ceiling, the faint shadows cast by the city lights in the distance. It was always the same dream, always this one night.
As if she could ever forget the day when everything she had loved had been wrenched from her, and she’d awoken covered in blood that was not her own.
She got out of bed, Fleetfoot leaping down beside her. She walked a few steps, then paused in the center of the room, staring into the dark, into the endless ravine still beckoning to her. Fleetfoot nuzzled her bare legs, and Celaena reached down to stroke the hound’s head.
They remained there for a moment, gazing into that blackness without end.
Celaena left the castle long before dawn broke.
When Celaena didn’t meet Chaol at the barracks door that dawn, he gave her ten minutes before stalking up to her rooms. Just because she didn’t feel like going out in the cold wasn’t an excuse to be lax with her training. Not to mention he was particularly interested in hearing the story about how she’d stolen an Asterion mare from the Lord of Xandria.
He smiled at the thought, shaking his head. Only Celaena would have the nerve to do something like that.
His smile faded when he reached her chambers and found Nehemia sitting at the small table in the foyer, a cup of steaming tea before her. There were some books piled in front of the princess, and she looked up from one of them as he entered. Chaol bowed. The princess just said, “She is not here.”
Celaena’s bedroom door was open wide enough to reveal that the bed was empty and already made. “Where is she?”
Nehemia’s eyes softened, and she picked up a note that was lying among the books. “She has taken today off,” she said, reading from the note before setting it down. “If I were to guess, I’d say that she is as far away from the city as she can get in half a day’s ride.”
Nehemia smiled sadly. “Because today is the tenth anniversary of her parents’ death.”