Chaol watched blood bubble out of Archer’s lips as Celaena let him slump to the stone floor. She stared down at the body, her final words to him hovering in the air, running claws over Chaol’s already chilled skin. She closed her eyes, tilting her head back as she took a long breath—as if she were embracing the death before her, and the stain it left as payment for her vengeance.
He had arrived in time to hear Archer beg for his life—and utter the words that had been his last mistake. Chaol shifted his boot against the step to warn her that he was there. How much of her Fae senses did she retain when she looked like a human?
Archer’s blood spread across the dark stones, and Celaena opened her eyes as she slowly turned to Chaol. The blood had soaked the ends of her hair, turning them a brilliant red. And her eyes … There was nothing there, as though she’d been hollowed out. For a heartbeat, he wondered if she would kill him, too—just for being there, for seeing the dark truth of her.
She blinked, and the killing calm in her eyes vanished, replaced only by bone-deep weariness and sorrow. An invisible burden that he couldn’t begin to imagine made her shoulders slump. She picked up the black book that Archer had dropped on the damp stones, but let it dangle from her fingers as if it were a piece of dirty clothing.
“I owe you an explanation,” was all she said.
Celaena refused to let the healer look at her until Fleetfoot’s leg had been fixed. It was only a long scratch, but it was deep. Celaena had held Fleetfoot’s head in her arms as the thrashing dog was forced to swallow water laced with a sedative. Dorian helped as best he could while the healer worked on the dog lying unconscious on Celaena’s dining-room table. Chaol leaned against the wall of the room, arms crossed over his chest. He’d said nothing to Dorian since they’d gone down into the passageway.
The young, brown-haired healer didn’t ask any questions, either. Once Fleetfoot was patched up and moved to Celaena’s bed, Dorian insisted Celaena get her head looked at. But Celaena waved him off and told the healer that if she didn’t inspect the Crown Prince first, she’d report her to the king. Scowling, Dorian let the young woman clean the small wound on his temple, received when Celaena had knocked him out cold. Considering how bloody Celaena and Chaol were, he felt utterly ridiculous, even if his head still pounded.
The healer finished with him, giving him a timid, slightly concerned smile. And when it was time to decide who should be looked at next, the glaring contest between Chaol and Celaena was one for the ages.
At last, Chaol just shook his head and slumped into the seat that Dorian had recently vacated. He had blood everywhere, and ended up peeling off his tunic and shirt so the healer could cleanse his minor wounds. Despite the scratches and cuts, the abrasions on his hands and knees, the healer still asked no questions, her pretty face an unreadable, professional mask.
Celaena turned to Dorian, her voice quiet. “I’ll come to your rooms when I’m done here.”
From the corner of his eye, he sensed Chaol stiffening, and Dorian bit down on his surge of jealousy as he realized he was being dismissed. The captain was making a good show of not looking at them. What had happened during the time he’d blacked out? And what had happened when she’d gone to kill Archer?
“Fine,” Dorian said, and thanked the healer for her help.
At least he had time now to piece himself together, to sort through all that had happened in the last few hours. And to plan how to explain his magic to Chaol.
But even as he walked out of the dining room, part of him realized that his magic—that he—was the least of their concerns. Because even from that first day in Endovier, this had always been about them.
Celaena didn’t need a healer to look at her head. When the magic had taken her over, it had somehow healed everything. All that was left of her wounds now were bloodstains and torn clothing. And exhaustion— utter exhaustion.
“I’m taking a bath,” she told Chaol, who still sat shirtless under the healer’s ministrations.
She needed to wash Archer’s blood off her.
She shucked off her clothing and bathed, scrubbing herself until her skin hurt, washing her hair twice. When she emerged, she slipped into a clean tunic and pants, and just as she finished combing out her dripping hair, Chaol walked into her bedroom and sat at the chair before her desk. The healer gone, he’d put his shirt back on, and she could see the white bandages peeking through the rips in the dark cloth.
Celaena checked on Fleetfoot, who was still unconscious on the bed, and then walked to the balcony doors. She studied the night sky for a long moment, seeking out a familiar constellation—the Stag, the Lord of the North. She took a long breath.
“My great-grandmother was Fae,” she said. “And even though my mother couldn’t switch into an animal form the way the Fae can, I somehow inherited the ability to shift. Between my Fae form and my human form.”
“And you can’t shift anymore?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “When magic stopped ten years ago, I lost my ability. It’s what saved my life, I think. As a child, when I was scared or upset or had tantrums, I couldn’t control the shift. I was learning to master it, but I would have given myself away at some point.”
“But in that—that other world, you could …”
She turned to face him, seeing the haunted gleam in his eyes. “Yes. In that world, magic, or something like it, still exists. And it is just as awful and overwhelming as I remembered.” She eased onto the edge of her bed, the distance between them feeling like leagues. “I had no control over it—over the shift, or the magic, or myself. I was as likely to hurt you as I was to hurt that creature.” She closed her eyes, her hands shaking a bit.
“So you did open a portal to another world. How?”
“All those books I’ve been reading on the Wyrdmarks—they had spells to open temporary portals.” And then she explained about finding the passage on Samhuinn, and the tomb and Elena’s command to become the Champion, and what Cain had been doing and how she had killed him, and how tonight she had wanted to open a portal to see Nehemia. She left out the Wyrdkeys, the king, and what she suspected he might be doing with Kaltain and Roland.
When she finished, Chaol said, “I would say you’re insane, except I have the blood of that creature on me, and went into that world myself.”
“If anyone knew—not just about the spells to open portals, but about what I am,” she said wearily, “you understand that I would be executed.”
His eyes flashed. “I’m not going to tell anyone. I swear it.”
She bit her lip, nodding, and walked back to the window. “Archer told me that he was the one who had Nehemia assassinated, because she was a threat to his control over the group. He posed as Councilman Mullison and hired Grave. He kidnapped you to lure me away. He planted that anonymous threat against her life, too. Because he wanted me to blame you for her death.”
Chaol swore, but she kept gazing out the window, kept looking at that constellation.
“But even though I know you’re not responsible,” she said softly, “I still …” She found his face full of anguish.
“You still can’t trust me,” he finished.
She nodded. In this, she knew Archer had won, and hated him for it. “When I look at you,” she whispered, “all I want to do is touch you. But what happened that night … I don’t know if I can ever forget it.” The deepest cut on his cheek had scabbed, and she knew it would scar. “For my part, I am sorry for what I did to you.”
He stood, wincing at his wounds, and walked over to her. “We both made mistakes,” he said in that voice that made her heart stumble.
She found the nerve to turn to him, gazing up into his face. “How can you still look at me like that when you know what I truly am?”
His fingers grazed her cheeks, warming her chilled skin. “Fae, assassin—no matter what you are, I—”
“Don’t.” She stepped back. “Don’t say it.”
She couldn’t give him everything again—not now. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. Even if she ever learned to forgive him for picking the king over Nehemia, her journey to find the Wyrdkeys would require her to go far away, to a place where she would never ask him to follow.
“I need to prepare Archer’s body to present to the king,” she got out. Before he could say anything else, she picked up Damaris from where she’d dropped it by the door and vanished into the passage.
She waited until she was deep inside before she let the tears start flowing.
Chaol stared at where she had gone and wondered if he should follow her into that ancient darkness. But he thought of all that she’d told him, all the secrets she’d revealed, and knew he needed time to comprehend it all.
He could tell that she had left out information. She’d told him only the vaguest details; and then there was the matter of her Fae heritage. He’d never heard of anyone inheriting their powers in such a throwback way, but then again, no one spoke of the Fae nowadays. It explained how she knew the ancient dirges.
With a gentle pat on Fleetfoot’s head, he left the room. The halls were empty and silent.
And Dorian—she had acted like Dorian had some power, too. There had been the moment when the creature was blasted away by an invisible wall … But it was impossible for Dorian to have power. How could he, when Celaena’s own—own magic had disappeared as soon as she returned to this world?
Celaena was Fae, and heir to a power she couldn’t control. Even if she couldn’t shift, if anyone ever discovered what she was …
It explained why she was so terrified of the king, why she never said anything about where she’d come from, or what she’d been through. And living here… this was the most dangerous place for her—or any Fae—to be.
If someone found out what she was, they could use that information against her, or have her killed. And there would be nothing he could do to save her. No lie he could tell, no strings he could pull. How long before someone else went digging into her past? How long before someone decided to go right to Arobynn Hamel and torture him for the truth?
Chaol’s feet knew where he was going long before he’d made the choice, formed the plan. Minutes later, he found himself knocking on a wooden door.
His father’s eyes were bleary with sleep, and they narrowed as they saw him. “Do you know what time it is?”
He didn’t, and he didn’t care. Chaol shouldered his way into the room and shut the door, scanning the dimness for any other people. “I have a favor to ask you, but before I do, promise you won’t ask any questions.”
His father gave him a slightly bemused look, then crossed his arms. “No questions. Make your request.”
Beyond the window, the sky was beginning to lighten into a softer shade of black. “I think that we should send the King’s Champion to Wendlyn to dispatch the royal family.”
His father’s brows rose. Chaol went on. “We’ve been at war with them for two years, and have yet to break past their naval defenses. But if the king and his son are eliminated, we might stand a chance of getting through in the ensuing chaos. Especially if the King’s Champion also gets her hands on their naval defense plans.” He took a breath, keeping his voice disinterested. “I want to present the idea to the king this morning. And I want you to support me.”
Because Dorian would never agree to it, not without knowing what Celaena was. And Chaol would never tell anyone, Dorian included. But with an idea this drastic, he’d need as much political muscle as he could get.
“An ambitious, ruthless plan.” His father smiled. “And if I support this idea and convince my allies on the council to support it, too, then what can I expect in return?” From the way his eyes gleamed, his father already knew the answer.
“Then I will go back to Anielle with you,” Chaol said. “I will leave my position as Captain and … return home.”
It wasn’t his home, not anymore, but if it meant getting Celaena out of the country … Wendlyn was the last stronghold of the Fae, and the one place in Erilea where she’d be truly safe.
Whatever shred of hope he’d had for a future with her was gone. She still felt something for him, she’d admitted, but she would never trust him. She would always hate him for what he’d done.
But he could do this for her. Even if he never saw her again, even if she abandoned her duties as King’s Champion and stayed with the Fae in Wendlyn forever—as long as he knew that she was safe, that no one could hurt her … He’d sell his soul again and again for that.
His father’s eyes gleamed with triumph. “Consider it done.”