Chapter no 44

Crown of Midnight

Dorian stared at the odd spiral staircase. Celaena had found the legendary catacombs beneath the library. Of course she had. If there were anyone in Erilea who could find something like that, it would be Celaena.

He’d been just about to go to lunch when he’d seen Celaena strut into the library, a sword strapped across her back. Perhaps he would have let her go about her own business were it not for her braided hair. Celaena never tied back her hair unless she was fighting. And when she was about to get messy.

It wasn’t spying. And it wasn’t sneaking. Dorian was merely curious. He followed her through long-forgotten hallways and rooms, always staying far behind, keeping his steps silent as Chaol and Brullo had taught him years ago. He’d followed until Celaena had disappeared down that staircase with a suspicious glance over her shoulder.

Yes, Celaena was up to something. And so Dorian had waited. One minute. Five minutes. Ten minutes before following after her. To make it seem like an accident if their paths crossed.

And now what did he see? Nothing but junk. Old parchment and books tossed around. Beyond was a second spiral staircase, lit in the same manner as the previous one.

A chill went through him. He didn’t like any of this. What was Celaena doing here?

As if in answer, his magic screamed at him to run in the opposite direction—to find help. But the main library was a long way off, and by the time he could get there and back, something might happen. Something might already have happened …

Dorian quickly descended the staircase and found a dimly lit hallway with a single door left ajar, two marks written on it in chalk. When he saw the cell-lined hallway beyond, he froze. The iron reeked, somehow

—and made his stomach turn.

“Celaena?” he called down the hallway. No response. “Celaena?” Nothing.

He had to tell her to get out. Whatever this place was, neither of them should be here. Even if the power in his blood wasn’t screaming it, he would have known. He had to get her out.

Dorian descended the staircase.



Celaena half ran, half jumped down the stairs, getting away from the interior of the clock tower as fast as she could. Though it had been months since she had encountered the dead during the duel with Cain, the memory of being slammed into the dark wall of the tower was still too near. She could see the dead grinning at her, and recalled Elena’s words on Samhuinn about the eight guardians in the clock tower and how she should stay far from them.

Her head ached so badly that she could barely focus on the steps beneath her feet.

What had been in there? This had nothing to do with Gavin, or Brannon. Maybe the dungeon had been built then, but this—all of this— had to be connected to the king. Because he had built the clock tower; built it out of—

Obsidian the gods forbade And stone they greatly feared.

But—but the keys were supposed to be small. Not mammoth, like the clock tower. Not—

Celaena hit the bottom of the clock stairs and froze as she beheld the passage that contained the destroyed cell.

The torches had been extinguished. She looked behind her, toward the clock tower. The darkness seemed to expand, reaching for her. She wasn’t alone.

Clutching her own torch, keeping her breathing steady, she crept along the ruined passage. Nothing—no sounds, no hint of another person in the passage. But …

Halfway down, she stopped again and set down the torch. She’d marked all the turns, counted her steps as she came here. She knew the way in the dark, could find her way back blindfolded. And if she wasn’t alone down here, then her torch was a beacon. And she was in no mood to be a target. She put out the torch with a grind of her heel.

Complete darkness.

She lifted Damaris higher, adjusting to the dark. Only it wasn’t wholly black. A faint glow issued from her amulet—a glow that allowed her to see only dim shapes, as if the darkness were too strong for the Eye. The hair on the back of her neck rose. The only other time she’d seen the amulet glow like that … Feeling along the wall with her other hand, not daring to turn around, she eased back toward the library.

There was a scrape of nail against stone, and then the sound of breathing.

It was not her own.



It peered out from the shadows of the cell, clutching at its cloak with taloned hands. Food. For the first time in months. She was so warm, so teeming with life. It skittered out of the cell past her as she continued her blind retreat.

Since they had locked it down here to rot, since they had gotten tired of playing with it, it had forgotten so many things. It had forgotten its own name, forgotten what it used to be. But it now knew more useful things—better things. How to hunt, how to feed, how to use those marks to open and close doors. It had paid attention during the long years; it had watched them make the marks.

And once they had left, it had waited until it knew they weren’t coming back. Until he was looking elsewhere and had taken all his other things with him. And then it had begun opening the doors, one after another. Some shred of it remained mortal enough to always seal those doors shut, to come back here and form the marks that again locked the doors, to keep it contained.

But she had come here. She had learned the marks. Which meant she had to know—to know what had been done to it. She had to have been a part of it, the breaking and shattering and then the brutal rebuilding. And since she had come here …

It ducked into another shadow and waited for her to walk into its claws.



Celaena stopped her retreat as the breathing halted. Silence.

The blue light around her grew brighter. Celaena put a hand to her chest.

The amulet flared.



It had been stalking the little men who lived above for weeks now, contemplating how they would taste. But there was always that cursed light near them, light that burned its sensitive eyes. There was always something that sent it skittering back here to the comfort of the stone.

Rats and crawling things had been its only food for too long, their blood and bones thin and tasteless. But this female … it had seen her twice before. First with that same faint, blue light at her throat—then a second time, when it hadn’t seen her as much as smelled her from the other side of that iron door.

Upstairs, the blue light had been enough to keep it away—the blue light that had tasted of power. But down here, down in the shadow of the black, breathing stone, that light was diminished. Down here, now that it had put out the torches she’d ignited, there was nothing to stop it, and no one to hear her.

It had not forgotten, even in the twisted pathways of its memory, what had been done to it on that stone table.

With a dripping maw, it smiled.



The Eye of Elena burned bright as a flame, and there was a hiss in her ear.

Celaena whirled, striking before she could get a good look at the cloaked figure behind her. She glimpsed only a flash of withered skin and jagged, stumpy teeth before she sliced Damaris across its chest.

It screamed—screamed like nothing she had ever heard as the ragged cloth ripped, revealing a bony, misshapen chest peppered with scars. It slammed a clawed hand into her face as it fell, its eyes gleaming from the light of the amulet. An animal’s eyes, capable of seeing in the dark.

The person—creature—from the hallway. From the other side of the door. She didn’t even see where she had wounded it as she hit the ground. Blood rushed from her nose and filled her mouth. She staggered into a sprint back toward the library.

She leapt over fallen beams and chunks of stone, letting the Eye light her way, barely keeping her footing as she slipped on bones. The creature barreled after her, tearing through the obstacles as if they were no more than gossamer curtains. It stood like a man, but it wasn’t a man—no, that

face was something out of a nightmare. And its strength, to be able to shove aside those fallen beams as though they were stalks of wheat …

The iron doors had been there to keep this thing in. And she had unlocked all of them.

She dashed up the short stairs and through the first doorway. As she veered left, it caught her by the back of her tunic. The cloth tore. Celaena slammed into the opposite wall, ducking as it lunged for her.

Damaris sang, and the creature roared, falling back. Black blood squirted from the wound across its abdomen. But she hadn’t cut deep enough.

Surging to her feet, blood running down her back from where its claws had punctured, Celaena drew a dagger with her other hand.

The hood had fallen off the creature, revealing what looked like a man’s face—looked like, but no longer was. His hair was sparse, hanging off his gleaming skull in clumpy strings, and his lips … there was such scarring around his mouth, as though someone had ripped it open and sewed it shut, then ripped it open again.

The creature pushed a gnarled hand against its abdomen, panting through those brown, broken teeth as it looked at her—looked at her with such hatred that she couldn’t move. It was such a human expression …

“What are you?” She gasped, swinging Damaris as she took another step back.

But it suddenly began clawing at itself, tearing at the dark robes, pulling out its hair, pushing against its skull, as if it would reach in and rip something out. And the shrieks it made, the rage and despair—

The creature had been in the castle hallway. Which meant …

This thing, this person—it knew how to use the Wyrdmarks, too. And with its unnatural strength, no mortal barrier would keep it contained.

The creature tipped its head back, and its animal eyes settled on her again. Fixating. A predator anticipating the taste of its prey.

Celaena turned and ran like hell.



Dorian had just passed through the third door when he heard the scream of something not human. A series of crashing noises filled the passage, and the bellowing was cut short with each slam.

“Celaena?” Dorian yelled in the direction of the commotion.

Another slam. “Celaena!” Then—“Dorian, run!”

The high-pitched shriek that followed Celaena’s command shook the walls. The torches sputtered.

Dorian drew his rapier as Celaena came flying up the stairs, blood leaking from her face, and slammed the iron door shut behind her. She raced toward him, a sword in one hand, a dagger in the other. The amulet on her neck glowed blue, like the hottest fire.

Celaena was upon him in a second. The iron door burst open behind them, and—

The thing that came out was not of this earth—it couldn’t be. It looked like something that used to be a man, but was twisted and dried and broken, with hunger and madness written on every protruding bone in its body. Gods. Oh, gods. What had she awoken?

They sprinted down the hall, and Dorian swore as he beheld the steps up to the next door. The time it would take for them to climb the stairs … But Celaena was fast. And months of training had made her strong.

To his eternal humiliation, as they hit the bottom of the stairs, she grasped him by the collar of his tunic, half-hauling him up the steps. She hurled him into the hallway beyond the threshold.

Behind them, the thing shrieked. Dorian turned in time to see its broken teeth glistening as it leapt up the stairs. Lightning swift, Celaena slammed the iron door shut in the creature’s face.

Only one more door—he could picture the landing that led back to the first hallway, then that spiral staircase, then the second staircase, and—

What then, when they reached the main library? What could they do against this thing?

As Dorian saw the naked terror on Celaena’s face, he knew she wondered the same.



Celaena threw Dorian into the hallway and then hurled herself backward, slamming into the last iron door that separated the thing’s lair from the rest of the library. She put her weight into it and saw stars as the creature barreled into the other side. Gods, it was strong—strong and wild and unyielding …

For a moment, she stumbled away, and it tried to fling open the door.

But Celaena lunged, throwing her back against it.

Its hand caught in the door and the creature bellowed, latching its claws into Celaena’s shoulder as she pushed and pushed. Blood ran from her nose, mingling with the blood running down her shoulders. The claws dug in farther.

Dorian rushed to the door, bracing his back against it. He panted, gaping at her.

They had to seal the door. Even if this thing was intelligent enough to know the Wyrdmarks, they had to buy some time for themselves. She had to give Dorian enough time to get away. They would run out of strength soon, and the thing would break through and kill them and whoever else got in its path.

There had to be a lock somewhere, some way to shut it in, to slow it down just for a moment …

Push,” she breathed to Dorian. The creature gained an inch, but Celaena shoved hard, drawing on the strength of her legs. It roared again, so loudly that she thought blood would pour from her ears. Dorian swore viciously.

She glanced at him, not even feeling the pain of the talons embedded in her skin. Sweat ran down Dorian’s brow as—as—

The metal began to heat along the edge of the door, glowing red, then fizzing—

Magic was here; magic was working right now, trying to seal the door against the creature. But it wasn’t coming from her.

Dorian’s eyes were scrunched in concentration, his face deathly pale. She’d been right. Dorian did have magic. This was the information

Yellowlegs had wanted to sell to the highest bidder, sell to the king

himself. It was knowledge that could change everything. It could change the world.

Dorian had magic.

And if he didn’t stop, he was going to burn himself out on the iron door.



The door suffocated Dorian. He was in a coffin, a coffin with no air. His magic couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe.

Celaena swore as the creature gained ground. Dorian didn’t even know what he was doing, only that he needed to seal this door. His magic had chosen the method. He pushed with his legs, pushed with his back, pushed his magic to the breaking point as he sought to weld the door. Spinning, heat, strangling …

The magic slipped from him.

The creature pushed hard, sending Dorian staggering forward. But Celaena threw herself harder against the door as he regained his balance.

Celaena’s blade lay a few feet away, but what good was a sword? They had no hope of escaping with their lives.

Celaena’s eyes met with his, the question all too visible on her bloodied face:

What have I done?



Still gripped by the creature’s talons, Celaena couldn’t even move as Dorian made a sudden lunge for Damaris. The creature tried again to break free, and the prince swung, making direct contact with its wrist. Its shriek penetrated her bones, but the door slammed shut completely. Celaena stumbled, the beast’s dismembered hand protruding from her shoulder, but she shoved back against the door as the creature again launched itself at it.

“What the hell is it?” Dorian barked, throwing his weight back against the iron.

“I don’t know,” Celaena breathed. Not having the luxury of a healer, she ripped the filthy hand from her shoulder, biting down on her scream. “It was down there,” she panted. Another thud from behind the door. “You can’t seal that door with magic. We need to—need to seal this another way.” And find something that would outsmart whatever unlocking spells this creature knew—some way to keep it from getting out. She choked on the blood running from her nose into her mouth, and spat it onto the floor. “There is a book—The Walking Dead. It’ll have the answer.”

Their eyes met and held. A line stretched taut between them—a moment of trust, and a promise of answers from both of them.

“Where’s the book?” Dorian asked.

“In the library. It’ll find you. I can hold this for a few moments.”

Not needing it to make sense, Dorian bolted upstairs. He ran through stack after stack, his fingers reading the titles, faster and faster, knowing

each second drained her strength. He was about to bellow his frustration when he ran past a table and beheld a large black volume resting upon its surface.

The Walking Dead.

She had been right. Why was she always right, in her own odd way? He grabbed the book and hurtled to the secret chamber. She had shut her eyes, and her teeth were red with her own blood as she gritted them.

“Here,” Dorian said. Without needing her to ask, he shoved himself into the door as she dropped to the floor and grabbed the book to her. Her hands trembled as she flipped a page, then another, and another. Her blood splattered onto the text.

“‘To bind or to contain,’” she read aloud. Dorian peered down at the dozens of symbols on the page.

“This will work?” he asked.

“I hope so,” she wheezed, already moving, clutching the open book in one hand. “Once the spell is cast, just passing over that threshold will hold it in place long enough to kill it.” She dipped her fingers into the wounds on her chest, and he could only gape as she made the first mark, and then the second, turning her battered body into an inkwell as she drew mark after mark around the door.

“But for it to pass over the threshold,” Dorian panted, “we’d have to


“Open the door,” she finished for him, nodding.

He shifted so she could reach to draw above his head, their breath mingling.

Celaena let out a long breath as she made the last mark, and suddenly, they glowed a faint blue. He held himself against the door, even as he felt the iron go rigid.

“You can let go,” she breathed, angling the sword. “Let go, and get the hell behind me.”

At least she didn’t insult him by telling him to flee. With a final breath, he leapt away.

The creature slammed into the door, flinging it open.

And, just like she had said, it froze on the threshold, its animalistic eyes wild as its head jutted out into the hall. There was a pause then, a pause during which Dorian could have sworn that Celaena and the creature looked at each other—and its wildness calmed, just for a moment. Just for a moment, and then Celaena moved.

The sword flashed in the torchlight, and there was the squish of flesh and crunch of bone. The neck was too thick to sever in one blow, so before Dorian could draw another breath, she struck again.

The head hit the ground with a thud, black blood spraying from the severed neck—from the body that still stood paralyzed in the doorway.

“Shit,” Dorian breathed. “Shit.”

Celaena moved again, slamming her sword down onto the head, skewering it, as if she thought it could still bite.

Dorian was still spewing a steady stream of curses as Celaena reached out to the bloody marks around the door and swiped a finger through one of them.

The creature’s headless body collapsed, the holding spell broken.

It had barely finished falling before Celaena made four strikes: three to sever the emaciated torso in two, and a fourth to stab through where its heart would be. His bile rose up again as she angled her blade a fifth time, prying open the chest cavity of the creature.

Whatever she saw made her face go even paler. Dorian didn’t want to look.

With grim efficiency, she kicked the too-human head through the threshold, sending it knocking into the withered corpse of the creature. Then she shut the iron door and traced a few more marks over the threshold that glowed and then faded.

Celaena faced him, but Dorian looked at the door again, now sealed. “How long does that—that spell hold?” He almost choked on the


“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “Until I remove the marks, I think.”

“I don’t think we can let anyone else know about this,” he said carefully.

She laughed, a bit wildly. Telling others, even Chaol, would mean answering difficult questions—questions that could earn them both a trip to the butchering block.

“So,” Celaena said, spitting blood onto the stones, “do you want to explain yourself first, or should I?”



Celaena went first, because Dorian desperately needed to change his filthy tunic, and talking seemed like a good idea while he stripped naked

in his dressing room. She sat on his bed, not looking much better herself

—which was why they’d taken the dark servants’ passages back to his tower.

“Beneath the library stretches an ancient dungeon, I think,” Celaena said, trying to keep her voice as soft as possible. She caught a gleam of golden skin through the half-open door to his dressing room, and looked away. “I think … I think someone kept the creature in there until it broke out of its cell. It’s been living under the library ever since.”

No need to tell him that she was starting to believe the king had created it. The clock tower had been built by the king himself—so he had to know what it connected to. She knew that the creature had been made, because in its chest had been a human heart. Celaena was willing to bet that the king had used at least one Wyrdkey to make both tower and monster.

“What I don’t understand,” Dorian said from the dressing room, “is why this thing can now break through the iron doors when it couldn’t before.”

“Because I was an idiot and broke the spells on them when I walked through.”

A lie—sort of. But she didn’t want to explain, couldn’t explain, why the creature had been able to break out before and had never hurt anyone until now. Why it had been in the hallway that night and disappeared, why the librarians were all alive and unhurt.

But perhaps the man that the creature had once been … Perhaps he hadn’t been entirely lost. There were so many questions now, so many things left unanswered.

“And that last spell you did—on the door. It’ll keep forever?” Dorian appeared in a new tunic and pants, still barefoot. The sight of his feet felt strangely intimate.

She shrugged, fighting the urge to wipe her bloody, filthy face. He’d offered her his private bath, but she’d refused. That felt too intimate, too. “The book says it’s a permanent binding spell, so I don’t think anyone

but us will be capable of getting through.”

Unless the king wants to get in and uses one of the Wyrdkeys.

Dorian ran a hand through his hair, sitting down beside her on the bed. “Where did it come from?”

“I don’t know,” she lied. The king’s ring flashed in her memory. That couldn’t be the Wyrdkey, though; Yellowlegs had said they were slivers of black rock, not—not forged into shapes. But he could have made the

ring using the key. She understood now why Archer and his society both coveted and sought to destroy it. If the king could use it to make creatures …

If he had made more 

There had been so many doors. Well over two hundred, all locked. And both Kaltain and Nehemia had mentioned wings—wings in their dreams, wings flapping through the Ferian Gap. What was the king brewing there?

“Tell me,” Dorian pressed.

“I don’t know,” she lied again, hating herself for it. How could she make him understand a truth that might shatter everything he loved?

“That book,” Dorian said. “How did you know it would help?”

“I found it one day in the library. It seemed to … trail me. Showed up in my rooms when I hadn’t brought it there, reappeared in the library; it was full of those kinds of spells.”

“But it’s not magic,” Dorian said, paling.

“Not the magic that you have. This is different. I didn’t even know if that spell would work. Speaking of which,” she said, meeting his eyes, “you have … magic.”

He scanned her face, and she quelled the urge to fidget. “What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me how you have magic,” she breathed. “Tell me how you have it and the rest of the world doesn’t. Tell me how you discovered it, and what manner of magic it is. Tell me everything.” He started to shake his head, but she leaned forward. “You just saw me break at least a dozen of your father’s laws. You think I’m going to turn you over to him when you could just as easily destroy me?”

Dorian sighed. After a moment, he said, “A few weeks ago, I … erupted. I got so mad at a council meeting that I stormed out and punched a wall. And somehow, the stone cracked, and then the window nearby shattered, too. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out where it comes from, what kind of power it is, exactly. And how to control it. But it just … happens. Like—”

“Like when you used it to stop me from killing Chaol.” His neck bobbed as he swallowed hard.

She couldn’t meet his stare as she said, “Thank you for that. If you hadn’t stopped me, I …” No matter what had happened between her and Chaol, no matter what she now felt for him, if she had killed him that night, there would have been no coming back from it, no recovering. In

some ways … in some ways, it might have made her into just another version of that thing in the library. It made her sick to even think about it. “No matter what your magic might be, it saved more lives than his that night.”

Dorian shifted. “I still need to learn to control it—or else it might happen anywhere. In front of anyone. I’ve gotten lucky so far, but I don’t think that luck will last.”

“Does anyone else know? Chaol? Roland?”

“No. Chaol doesn’t know, and Roland just left with Duke Perrington. They’re going to Morath for a few months to … to oversee the situation in Eyllwe.”

It all had to be tied together: the king, the magic, Dorian’s power, the Wyrdmarks, even the creature. The prince went to his bed and hoisted up the mattress, pulling out a concealed book. Not the best hiding place, but a valiant effort. “I’ve been looking through the genealogy charts for Adarlan’s noble families. We’ve hardly had any magicusers in the past few generations.”

There were so many things she could tell him, but if she did, it would just result in too many questions. So Celaena merely studied the pages he displayed for her, flipping through one after another.

“Wait,” she said. The puncture wounds in her shoulder gave a burst of pain when she lifted her hand to the book. She scanned the page he’d stopped on, her heart pounding as another clue about the king and his plans slipped into place. She let him continue on.

“See?” Dorian said, closing the book. “I’m not quite sure where it comes from.”

He was still watching her, warily. She met his gaze and said quietly, “Ten years ago, many of the people I … people I loved were executed for having magic.” Pain and guilt flickered in his eyes, but she went on. “So you’ll understand when I say that I have no desire to see anyone else die for it, even the son of the man who ordered those deaths.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “So, what do we do now?” “Eat a giant meal, see a healer, take a bath. In that order.” He snorted and playfully nudged her with a knee.

She leaned forward, clasping her hands between her legs. “We wait. We keep an eye on that door to make sure no one tries to go in, and … just take it day by day.”

He took one of her hands in his own, staring toward the window. “Day by day.”

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