Chapter no 48

Crown of Midnight

Celaena had Damaris drawn and leveled at Archer in a heartbeat. Fleetfoot growled at him, but kept back, a step behind Celaena.

“What are you doing here?” It was inconceivable that he’d be here.

How had he gotten in?

“I’ve been tracking you for weeks,” Archer said, eyeing the dog. “Nehemia told me about the passages, showed me the way in. I’ve been down here almost every night since she died.”

Celaena glanced at the portal. If Nehemia had warned her not to open the portal, then she was certain her friend didn’t want Archer seeing it, either. She moved to the wall, keeping well away from the blackness as she ran her hand over the glowing green marks, making to wipe them away.

“What are you doing?” Archer demanded.

Celaena pointed Damaris at him, furiously wiping at the marks. They didn’t budge. Whatever this spell was, it was far more complex than the one that had sealed the library door—merely swiping away the marks wouldn’t undo it. But Archer now stood between her and the book where she had the closing spell flagged. Celaena rubbed harder. It was all terribly wrong.

“Stop!” Archer lunged, getting past her guard with unnatural ease as he grasped her wrist. Fleetfoot barked a ferocious warning, but a sharp whistle from Celaena had the dog staying well away.

She whirled to Archer, already making to dislocate the arm that held her, but the green light of the portal illuminated the plane of his wrist, where the sleeve of his tunic had fallen back.

A black tattoo of some snakelike creature appeared there. She’d seen that before. Seen it …

Celaena raised her eyes to his face.

Do not trust 

She had thought Nehemia’s drawing had been of the Royal Seal—a slightly warped version of the wyvern. But it had actually been of this tattoo. Of Archer’s tattoo.

Do not trust Archer, she’d been trying to tell her.

Celaena shoved back from him, drawing a dagger. She pointed both Damaris and the knife at him. How much had Nehemia hidden from Archer and his contacts? If she didn’t trust them, then why had she told them all that she did?

“Tell me how you learned this,” Archer whispered, his eyes going back to the portal and the darkness beyond. “Please. Did you find the Wyrdkeys? Is that how you did it?”

“What do you know of the Wyrdkeys?” she got out. “Where are they? Where did you find them?”

“I don’t have the keys.”

“You found the riddle, though,” Archer panted. “I let you find that riddle I hid in Davis’s office. It took us five years to find that riddle— and you must have solved it. I knew you’d be the one to solve it. Nehemia knew, too.”

Celaena was shaking her head. He didn’t know that there had been a second riddle—a riddle with a map to the keys. “The king has at least one key. But where the other two are, I don’t know.”

Archer’s eyes darkened. “We suspected as much. That was why she came here in the first place. To learn whether he’d actually stolen them, and if so, how many.”

That was why Nehemia couldn’t leave, she realized. Why she’d opted to stay here instead of returning to Eyllwe. To fight for the one thing that was more important than the fate of her country: the fate of the world. Of other worlds, too.

“I don’t have to get on a ship tomorrow. We’ll tell everyone,” Archer breathed. “We’ll tell everyone he has them, and—”

“No. If we reveal the truth, then the king will use the keys to do more damage than you can possibly imagine. We’ll lose any chance of stealth we have to find the others.”

He took a step closer to her. Fleetfoot let out another warning growl, but kept her distance. “Then we’ll find where he’s keeping the key. And the others. And then we’ll use them to overthrow him. Then we’ll create a world of our own making.”

His voice was building into a frenzy, each word harsher than the next.

She shook her head. “I would sooner destroy them than use their power.”

Archer chuckled. “She said the same thing. She said they should be destroyed—put back in the gate, if we could discover a way. But what is

the point of finding them if we don’t use them against him? Make him


Her stomach turned. There was more he wasn’t saying, more that he knew. So she sighed and shook her head, beginning to pace. Archer was silent as she walked—silent until she halted, as if suddenly understanding. She raised her voice. “He should suffer for as long as possible. And so should the people who destroyed us—who made us into what we are: Arobynn, Clarisse …” She chewed on her lip. “Nehemia could never understand that. She never tried to. You—you’re right. They should be used.”

He studied her warily enough that she came closer and tilted her head to the side—contemplating his words, contemplating him.

And Archer bought it. “That was why she left the movement. She left a week before she died. We knew it was a matter of time before she went to the king to expose us all—to use what she’d learned to grant clemency to Eyllwe, and to annihilate us with the same stroke. She said she’d rather have one all-powerful tyrant than a dozen of them.”

Celaena said with deadly calm, “She would have ruined everything for you. She almost ruined everything for me, too. She told me to stay away from the Wyrdkeys. She tried to keep me from solving the riddle.”

“Because she wanted to keep the knowledge to herself, for her own gain.”

She smiled even as she felt the world shifting beneath her. And she couldn’t explain why, or how she began to wonder, but if it was true, she had to get him to admit it. She found herself saying, “You and I worked for everything we have—we … we had everything taken away and used against us, too. Other people can’t even begin to fathom the things we were forced to do. I think—I think that’s why I was so infatuated with you when I was a girl. I knew, even then, that you understood. That you knew what it was like to be raised by people like Arobynn and Clarisse and then … sold. You understood me then.” She willed her eyes to gleam, her mouth to tighten as if she were keeping it from wobbling. Blinking furiously, she murmured, “But I think I finally understand you now, too.”

She reached out a hand as if to grab his, but lowered it—making her face tender and soft and bittersweet. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? We could have been working toward this for weeks. We could have tried to solve the riddle together. If I’d known what Nehemia was going to do, how she could lie to me again and again … She betrayed me. In every

possible way, Archer. She lied to my face, made me believe …” Her shoulders slumped. After a long moment, she took a step toward him. “Nehemia was no better than Arobynn or Clarisse in the end. Archer, you should have told me. About everything. I knew it wasn’t Mullison— he wasn’t smart enough. If you’d told me, I could have taken care of it.” A risk—a leap of faith. “For you … For us, I would have taken care of it.”

But Archer gave her a hesitant smile. “She spent so much time complaining about Councilman Mullison that I knew he’d be the easiest one to blame. And thanks to that competition, he already had a connection to Grave.”

“Grave didn’t recognize that you weren’t Mullison?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“You’d be surprised how easily men see what they want to see. A cloak, a mask, and some fine clothes, and he didn’t think twice.”

Oh, gods. Gods.

“So the night at the warehouse,” she went on, raising an eyebrow—an intrigued coconspirator. “Why did you really kidnap Chaol?”

“I had to get you away from Nehemia. And when I took that arrow for you, I knew you’d trust me, if only for that night. I apologize if my methods were … harsh. Trick of the trade, I’m afraid.”

Trust him, lose Nehemia, and lose Chaol. He had isolated her from her friends—the same thing she’d suspected Roland had wanted to do with Dorian.

“And that threat the king received before Nehemia’s death—the threat on her life,” Celaena said, her lips curling upward. “You planted that threat, didn’t you? To show me who my real friends are—who I can really trust.”

“It was a gamble. Just as I’m gambling now. I didn’t know whether or not the captain would warn you. Seems I was right.”

“Why me? I’m flattered, of course, but—you’re clever. Why couldn’t you have figured the riddle out on your own?”

Archer bowed his head. “Because I know what you are, Celaena. Arobynn told me one night, after you went to Endovier.” She shoved the twinge of genuine pain and betrayal down until it couldn’t distract her. “And for our cause to succeed, we need you. need you. Some members of the movement are already starting to fight me, to question my leadership. They think my methods are too rough.” That explained the fight she’d seen with that young man. He took a step toward her. “But

you … Gods, from the moment I saw you outside the Willows, I’ve known how good we’d be together. The things we’ll accomplish …”

“I know,” she said, looking into those green eyes, so bright in the matching lights of the portal. “Archer, I know.”

He didn’t see the dagger coming until she’d shoved it into him.

But he was fast—too fast—and turned just in time to have it pierce his shoulder instead of his heart.

He staggered back with dazzling speed, wrenching her dagger so swiftly that she lost her grip on the blade and had to brace a hand on the arch of the portal to keep from stumbling. Her bloodied palm slapped against the stones, and a greenish light flared beneath her fingers. A Wyrdmark burned, then faded.

Not giving herself time to look at what she’d done, she leapt for him with a roar, dropping Damaris to grab two more daggers. He had his own blade up in a moment, dancing away lightly as she sliced for him.

“I’m going to tear you apart piece by piece,” she hissed, circling him.

But then a shudder ran through the floor, and something in the void made a sound. A guttural growl.

Fleetfoot let out a low warning whine. She rushed toward Celaena, pushing against her shins, herding her toward the stairs.

The void shifted, mist now swirling inside, parting long enough to reveal rocky, ashen ground. And then a figure emerged through the mist.

“Nehemia?” she whispered. She’d come back—come back to help, to explain everything.

But it was not Nehemia who stepped through the portal.



Chaol couldn’t sleep. He stared up at the canopy of his bed, the will he’d seen on Celaena’s desk glaring in his mind. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He’d just let her kick him out of her rooms without telling her what the will meant to him. And maybe he deserved her hate, but—but she had to know that he didn’t want her money.

He had to see her. Just long enough to explain. He ran a finger along the scab down his cheek.

Rushing footsteps sounded down the hall, and Chaol was already out of bed and half-dressed by the time someone began pounding on his door. The person on the other side got all of one knock in before Chaol flung open the door, a dagger concealed behind his back.

He lowered the blade the second he beheld Dorian’s face, shining with sweat, but he didn’t sheath it. Not when he saw the raw panic in Dorian’s eyes, the sword belt and scabbard dangling from the prince’s clenched fingers.

Chaol believed in trusting his instinct. He didn’t think humans had survived for so long without developing some ability to tell when things were wrong. It wasn’t magic—it was just … gut feeling.

And it was Chaol’s instinct that told him who this was about before Dorian opened his mouth.

“Where?” was all Chaol asked. “Her bedroom,” Dorian said.

“Tell me everything,” Chaol ordered, hurrying back into his room. “I don’t know, I—I think she’s in trouble.”

Chaol was already shrugging on a shirt and tunic; then he stomped his feet into his boots before grabbing his sword. “What kind of trouble?”

“The kind that had me coming to get you, instead of the other guards.”

That could mean anything; but Chaol knew Dorian was too smart, too aware of how easily words could be overheard in this castle. He sensed the tightening in Dorian’s body a heartbeat before the prince launched into a run, and grabbed him by the back of his tunic. “Running,” Chaol said under his breath, “will attract attention.”

“I already wasted too much time coming to get you,” Dorian retorted, but he matched Chaol’s brisk but calm pace. It would take five minutes to get to her rooms if they kept this speed. If there were no distractions.

“Is anyone hurt?” Chaol said quietly, trying to keep his breathing even, keep his focus.

“I don’t know,” Dorian said.

“You have to give me more than that,” Chaol snapped. The leash on his temper strained with each step.

“I had a dream,” Dorian said, so soft only he could hear. “I was warned that she was in danger—that she was a danger to herself.”

Chaol almost stopped, but Dorian had said it with such conviction. “You think I wanted to come get you?” Dorian said, not looking at


Chaol didn’t reply but hurried his steps as much as he could without attracting undue attention from the servants and guards still on duty. He could feel his heart hammering through every inch of his body by the

time they got to her suite doors. Chaol didn’t bother knocking and nearly took the front door off its hinges as he burst through, Dorian on his heels. He was at her bedroom door in an instant, and didn’t bother knocking on it, either. But the handle didn’t move. The door was locked. He

shoved into it again.

“Celaena?” Her name was more of a growl that rippled out of him. No answer. He fought his rising panic, even as he drew a dagger, even as he listened for any signs of trouble. “Celaena.”


Chaol waited all of a second before he slammed his shoulder into the door. Once. Twice. The lock snapped. The door burst open, revealing her empty bedroom.

“Holy gods,” Dorian whispered.

The tapestry on the wall had been folded back to reveal an open door

—a secret, stone door that opened into a dark passage.

It was how she’d gotten out to kill Grave.

Dorian drew his sword from the scabbard. “In my dream, I was told I would find this door.”

The prince stepped forward, but Chaol stopped him with an arm. He’d think about Dorian and his clairvoyant dreams later—much later. “You’re not going down there.”

Dorian’s eyes flashed. “Like hell I’m not.”

As if in answer, a guttural, bone-grinding growl sounded from within.

And then a scream—a human scream, followed by a high-pitched bark.

Chaol was running for the passage before he could think.

It was pitch-black, and Chaol almost tumbled down the stairs, but Dorian, close behind, grabbed a candle.

“Stay upstairs!” Chaol ordered, still charging down. If he’d had time, he would have locked Dorian in the closet rather than risk bringing the Crown Prince into danger, but … What the hell had that growl been? The bark he knew—the bark was Fleetfoot. And if Fleetfoot was down there

Dorian kept following him. “I was sent here,” he said. Chaol took the stairs by twos and threes, hardly hearing the prince’s words. Had that scream been hers? It had sounded male. But who else could be down here with her?

Blue light flashed from the bottom of the stairs. What was that?

A roar shook the ancient stones. That was not human, nor was it Fleetfoot. But what—

They had never found the creature that had been killing the champions. The murders had just stopped. But the damage he’d seen to those corpses … No, Celaena had to be alive.

Please, he begged any gods who would listen.

Chaol leapt onto the landing and found three doorways. The blue light had flashed from the right. They ran.

How had such a massive cavern of chambers been forgotten? And how long had she known about them?

He flew down a spiral staircase. And then a new, greenish light began shining steadily, and he turned onto a landing to see—

He didn’t know where to look first—at the long hallway, where one wall glowed with an arch of green symbols, or at the … the world that showed through the arch, depicting a land of mist and rock.

At Archer, cowering against the opposite wall, chanting strange words from a book held in his hands.

At Celaena, prostrate on the floor.

Or at the monster: a tall, sinewy thing, but definitely not human. Not with those unnaturally long fingers tipped with claws, white skin that looked like crumpled paper, a distended jaw that revealed fish-like teeth, and those eyes—milky and tinged with blue.

And there was Fleetfoot, hackles raised and fangs bared, refusing to let the demon anywhere near Celaena, even as the half-grown pup limped, even as the blood pooled from the wound in her right hind leg.

Chaol had all of two heartbeats to size up the monster, to take in every detail, to mark his surroundings. “Go,” he snarled at Dorian before launching himself at the creature.

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