Her rage took her to a place where she only knew three things: that Chaol had been taken from her, that she was a weapon forged to end lives, and that if Chaol was hurt, no one was going to walk out of that warehouse.
She made it across the city quickly and efficiently, a predator’s stealth keeping her steps quiet on the cobblestone streets. They’d told her to arrive alone, and she’d obeyed.
But they hadn’t said anything about arriving unarmed.
So she’d taken every weapon she could fit onto her, including Chaol’s sword, which was strapped across her back with a second sword of her own, the two hilts within easy reach over her shoulders. From there down, she was a living armory.
When she neared the slums, her features concealed with a dark cloak and heavy hood, she scaled the side of a ramshackle building until she reached the roof.
They hadn’t said anything about using the front door of the warehouse, either.
She stalked across the roofs, her supple boots finding easy purchase on the crumbling emerald shingles, listening, watching, feeling the night around her. The usual sounds of the slums greeted her as she approached the enormous two-story warehouse: half-feral orphans screeching to each other, the splatter of drunks pissing against buildings, harlots calling out to prospective hires …
But there was a silence around the wooden warehouse, a bubble of quiet that told her the place had enough men out front that the usual slum denizens stayed away.
The nearby rooftops were empty and flat, the gaps between buildings easily jumpable.
She didn’t care what this group wanted with her. She didn’t care what sort of information they expected to twist from her. When they had taken Chaol, they’d made the biggest mistake of their lives. The last mistake, too.
She reached the roof of the building beside the warehouse and dropped into a crawl before she reached the ledge and peered over.
In the narrow alley directly below, three cloaked men patrolled. On the street beyond lay the front doors to the warehouse, light spilling from the cracks to reveal at least four men outside. No one was even looking at the roof. Fools.
The wooden warehouse was a giant open space three stories high, and through the open second-level window in front of her, she could see all the way to the floor below.
The mezzanine wrapped around much of the second level, and stairs led onto the third level and roof beyond—a possible escape route, if the front door wasn’t an option. Ten of the men were heavily armed, and six archers were positioned around the wooden mezzanine, arrows all pointed at the first floor below.
There was Chaol, chained to one of the wooden walls.
Chaol, his face bruised and bleeding, his clothes ripped and dirty, his head hanging between his shoulders.
The ice in her gut spread through her veins.
She could scale the building to the roof, then come down from the third floor. But that would take time, and no one was looking at the open window before her.
She tipped her head back and gave the moon a wicked smile. She’d been called Adarlan’s Assassin for a reason. Dramatic entrances were practically her art form.
Celaena eased back from the ledge and strode away a few paces, judging how far and fast she’d need to run. The open window was wide enough that she wouldn’t need to worry about shattering glass or her swords catching on the frame, and the mezzanine had a guardrail to stop her if she overshot her landing.
She had made a jump like this once before, on the night when her world had been shattered completely. But on that night, Sam had already been dead for days, and she’d leapt through the window of Rourke Farran’s house for pure revenge.
This time, she wouldn’t fail.
The men weren’t even looking at the window when she hurtled through. And by the time she landed on the mezzanine and rolled into a crouch, two of her daggers were already flying.
Chaol caught the glint of moonlight on steel in the heartbeat before she leapt through the second-level window, landing atop the mezzanine and hurling two daggers at the archers nearest to her. They went down, and she went up—two more daggers thrown at two more archers. He didn’t know if he should watch them or watch her as she gripped the mezzanine railing and flipped over it, landing on the ground below just as several arrows struck where her hands had held the rail.
The men in the room were shouting, some fleeing for the safety of pillars and the exit while others rushed at her, weapons drawn. And he could only watch in horror and awe as she drew two swords—one of them his—and unleashed herself upon them.
They didn’t stand a chance.
In the fray of bodies, the remaining two archers didn’t dare loose arrows that might hit one of their own—another intentional move on her part, he knew. Chaol yanked on his chains again and again, his wrists aching; if he could just get to her, the two of them could—
She was a whirlwind of steel and blood. As he watched her cut through the men as though they were stalks of wheat in a field, he understood how she had gotten so close to touching Endovier’s wall that day. And at last—after all these months—he saw the lethal predator he’d expected to find in the mines. There was nothing human in her eyes, nothing remotely merciful. It froze his heart.
The guard who had been taunting him all day remained nearby, twin swords drawn, waiting for her.
One of the hooded men had gotten far enough away from her to start shouting: “Enough! Enough!”
But Celaena didn’t listen, and as Chaol hurled himself forward, still trying to dislodge the chains from the wall, she cleared a path through the men, leaving moaning bodies in her wake. To his credit, his tormentor stood his ground as she stalked toward him.
“Don’t shoot!” the hooded man was ordering the archers. “Don’t shoot!”
Celaena paused in front of the guard, pointing a blood-drenched sword at him. “Get out of my way, or I’ll cut you into pieces.”
His guard, the fool, snorted, lifting his swords a little higher. “Come and get him.”
Celaena smiled. But then the hooded man with the ancient voice was rushing to them, arms spread to show he wasn’t armed. “Enough! Put down your weapons,” he told the guard. The guard faltered, but
Celaena’s swords remained at the ready. The old man took one step toward Celaena. “Enough! We have enough enemies as it is! There are worse things out there to face!”
Celaena slowly turned to him, her face splattered with blood and eyes blazing bright. “No, there aren’t,” she said. “Because I’m here now.”
Blood that was not her own drenched her clothes, her hands, her neck, but all she could see were the archers ready on the mezzanine above her, and the foe still standing between her and Chaol. Her Chaol.
“Please,” the hooded man said, pulling off his hood and mask to reveal a face that matched his ancient voice. Short-cropped white hair, laugh lines around his mouth, and crystal-clear gray eyes that were wide with pleading. “Perhaps our methods were wrong, but—”
She pointed a sword at him, and the masked guard between her and Chaol straightened. “I don’t care who you are and what you want. I’m taking him now.”
“Please listen,” the old man said softly.
She could feel the ire and aggression rolling off the hooded guard in front of her, see how tightly, eagerly, he clutched the hilts of his twin swords. She wasn’t ready for the bloodletting to end, either. She wasn’t ready to give in at all.
So she knew exactly what would happen when she turned to the guard and gave him a lazy grin.
He charged. As she met his swords, the men who were outside burst in, steel flashing. And then there was nothing but metal ringing and the shouts of the injured going down around her, and she was soaring through them, delighting in the feral song that sang through her blood and bones.
Someone was shouting her name, though—a familiar voice that wasn’t Chaol’s, and as she turned, she saw the flash of a steel-tipped arrow shooting for her, then a glint of golden-brown hair, and then—
Archer hit the ground, the arrow that was meant for her in his shoulder. It took all of two movements to drop one sword and draw the dagger from her boot, hurling it at the guard who had fired. By the time she looked at Archer, he was getting to his feet, putting himself between her and the wall of men, one arm splayed in front of her—facing her. Protecting the men.
“This is a misunderstanding,” he said to her, panting. Blood from the wound in his shoulder leaked down his black robes. Robes. The same robes that these men wore.
Archer was a part of this group; Archer had set her up.
And then that rage, the rage that blurred the events of the night she’d been captured with the events of this night, that made Chaol’s and Sam’s faces bleed together, seized her so fiercely that she reached for another dagger strapped to her waist.
“Please,” Archer said, taking a step toward her, wincing as the movement made the arrow shift. “Let me explain.” As she saw the blood trickle down his robes, saw the agony and fear and desperation in his eyes, her rage flickered.
“Unchain him,” she said, her voice filled with deadly calm. “Now.” Archer refused to break her stare. “Hear me out first.”
“Unchain him now.”
Archer jerked his chin to the guard who had foolishly launched the last attack against her. Limping, but surprisingly still in one piece, and, still possessing his twin blades, the guard slowly unshackled the Captain of the Guard.
Chaol was on his feet in an instant, but she noted the way he swayed, the wince he tried to hide. Still, he managed to stare down the hooded guard who stood before him, eyes gleaming with the promise of violence. The guard just stepped back, reaching for his swords again.
“You have one sentence to convince me not to kill you all,” she said to Archer as Chaol came to her side. “One sentence.”
Archer began shaking his head, looking between her and Chaol, his eyes filled not with fear or anger or pleading, but sorrow.
“I have been working with Nehemia to lead these people for the past six months.”
Chaol stiffened, but Celaena blinked. It was enough for Archer to know he’d passed the test. He jerked his head to the men around him. “Leave us,” he said, his voice thundering with an authority she hadn’t heard him use before. The men listened, those still on their feet dragging their injured companions away. She didn’t let herself consider how many were dead.
The old man who had exposed his face to her was staring with a mixture of awe and disbelief, and she wondered what sort of monster she looked at that moment. But when he noticed her attention, he bowed his
head to her and left with the others, taking that impulsive, brash guard with him.
Alone, she pointed her sword at Archer again, taking a step closer, keeping Chaol behind her. Of course, the Captain of the Guard stepped right up to her side.
Archer said, “Nehemia and I have been leading this movement together. She came here to organize us—to assemble a group that could go into Terrasen and start gathering forces against the king. And to uncover what the king truly plans to do to Erilea.”
Chaol tensed, and Celaena clamped down on her surprise. “That’s impossible.”
Archer snorted. “Is it? Why is it that the princess is so busy all the time? Do you know where she goes at night?”
The frozen rage flickered again, slowing, slowing, slowing the world down.
And then she remembered: remembered how Nehemia convinced her not to look into the riddle she’d found in Davis’s office and had been so slow and forgetful about her promise to research the riddle; remembered the night Dorian had come to her rooms because Nehemia had been out, and he hadn’t been able to find her anywhere in the castle; remembered Nehemia’s words to her before their fight, about how she had important matters in Rifthold to look after, things as important as Eyllwe …
“She comes here,” Archer said. “She comes here to feed us all of the information that you confide in her.”
“If she’s part of your group,” Celaena ground out, “then where is she?”
Archer drew his word and pointed it at Chaol. “Ask him.”
A sharp pain twisted in her gut. “What is he talking about?” she asked Chaol.
But Chaol was staring at Archer. “I don’t know.”
“Lying bastard,” Archer snapped, and bared his teeth with a savagery that made him, for once, look anything but attractive. “My sources told me that the king informed you over a week ago of the threat to Nehemia’s life. When were you planning on telling anyone about that?” He turned to Celaena. “We brought him here because he was ordered to question Nehemia about her behavior. We wanted to know what kind of questions he’d been commanded to ask. And because we wanted you to see what sort of man he really is.”
“That’s not true,” Chaol spat. “That’s a damned lie. You haven’t asked me one thing, you gutter-born piece of filth.” He turned pleading eyes to Celaena. The words were still sinking in, each more awful than the next. “I knew about the anonymous threat to Nehemia’s life, yes. But I was told that she would be questioned by the king. Not me.”
“And we realized that,” Archer said. “Moments before you arrived, Celaena, we realized the captain wasn’t the one. But it’s not questioning that they’re going to be doing tonight, is it, Captain?” Chaol didn’t answer—and she didn’t care why.
She was pulling away from her body. Inch by inch. Like a tide ebbing from the shore.
“I just sent men to the castle a moment ago,” Archer went on. “Perhaps they can stop it.”
“Where is Nehemia?” she heard herself asking, from lips that felt far away.
“That’s what my spy discovered tonight. Nehemia insisted on staying in the castle, to see what kind of questions they wanted to ask her, to see how much they suspected and knew—”
“Where is Nehemia?”
But Archer just shook his head, his eyes bright with tears. “They aren’t going to question her, Celaena. And by the time my men get there, I think it will be too late.”
Celaena turned to Chaol. His face was stricken and pale. Archer shook his head again. “I’m sorry.”