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Chapter no 28

Heir of Fire

Days passed, and not all of them were awful. Out of nowhere, Rowan decided to take Celaena to the commune of healers fteen miles away, where the nest healers in the world learned, taught, and worked. Situated on the border between the Fae and mortal world, they were accessible to anyone who could reach them. It was one of the few good things Maeve had done.

As a child, Celaena had begged her mother to bring her. But the answer had always been no, accompanied by a vague promise that they would someday take a trip to the Torre Cesme in the southern continent, where many of the teachers had been taught by the Fae. Her mother had done everything she could to keep her from Maeve’s clutches. e irony of it wasn’t wasted on her.

So Rowan took her. She could have spent all day—all month—wandering the grounds under the clever, kind eyes of the Head Healer. But her time there was halved thanks to the distance and her inability to shift, and Rowan wanted to be home before nightfall. Honestly, while she’d actually enjoyed herself at the peaceful riverside compound, she wondered whether Rowan had just brought her there to make her feel bad about the life she’d fallen into. It had made her quiet on the long hike back.

And he didn’t give her a moment’s rest: they were to set out the following dawn on an overnight trip, but he wouldn’t say where. Fantastic.

Already making the day’s bread, Emrys only looked faintly amused as Celaena hurried in, stu ed her face with food and guzzled down tea, and hurried back out.

Rowan was waiting by her rooms, a small pack dangling from his hands. He held it open for her. “Clothes,” he said, and she stu ed the extra shirt and underclothes she’d laid out into the bag. He shouldered it—which she supposed meant he was in a good mood, as she’d fully expected to play pack mule on their way to wherever they were going. He didn’t say anything until they were in the mist-shrouded trees, again heading west. When the fortress walls had vanished behind them, the ward-stones zinging against her skin as they passed through, he stopped at last, throwing back the heavy hood of his jacket. She did the same, the cool air biting her warm cheeks.

“Shift, and let’s go,” he said. His second words to her this morning. “And here I was, thinking we’d become friends.”

He raised his brows and gestured with a hand for her to shift. “It’s twenty miles,” he said by way of encouragement, and gave her a wicked grin. “We’re running. Each way.”

Her knees trembled at the thought of it. Of course he’d make this into some sort of torture session. Of course. “And where are we going?”

He clenched his jaw, the tattoo stretching. “ ere was another body—a demi-Fae from a neighboring fortress. Dumped in the same area, same patterns. I want to go to the nearby town to question the citizens, but . . .” His mouth twisted to the side, then he shook his head at some silent conversation with himself. “But I need your help. It’ll be easier for the mortals to talk to you.”

“Is that a compliment?” He rolled his eyes.

Perhaps yesterday’s outing to the healers’ compound hadn’t been out of spite. Maybe he’d . . . been trying to do something nice for her. “Shift, or it’ll take us twice as long.”

“I can’t. You know it doesn’t work like that.” “Don’t you want to see how fast you can run?”

“I can’t use my other form in Adarlan anyway, so what’s the point?” Which was the start of a whole

massive issue she hadn’t yet let herself contemplate.

“ e point is that you’re here now, and you haven’t properly tested your limits.” It was true. She hadn’t really seen what she was capable of. “ e point is, another husk of a body was found, and I consider that to be unacceptable.”

Another body—from that creature. A horrible, wretched death. It was unacceptable. He gave her braid a sharp, painful tug. “Unless you’re still frightened.”

Her nostrils ared. “ e only thing that frightens me is how very much I want to throttle you.” More than that, she wanted to nd the creature and destroy it, for those it had murdered and for what it had made her walk through. She would kill it—slowly. A miserable sort of pressure and heat began building under her skin.

Rowan murmured, “Hone it—the anger.”

Was that why he’d told her about the body? Bastard—bastard for manipulating her, for making her pull double duty in the kitchen. But his face was unreadable as he said, “Let it be a blade, Aelin. If you cannot nd the peace, then at least hone the anger that guides you to the shift. Embrace and control it—it is not your enemy.”

Arobynn had done everything he could to make her hate her heritage, to fear it. What he’d done to her, what she’d allowed herself to become . . . “ is will not end well,” she breathed.

He didn’t back down. “See what you want, Aelin, and seize it. Don’t ask for it; don’t wish for it. Take it.”

“I’m certain the average magic instructor would not recommend this to most people.”

“You are not most people, and I think you like it that way. If it’s a darker set of emotions that will help you shift on command, then that’s what we’ll use. ere might come a day when you nd that anger doesn’t work, or when it is a crutch, but for now . . .” A contemplative look. “It was the common denominator those times you shifted—anger of varying kinds. So own it.”

He was right—and she didn’t want to think on it any more than that, or let herself get that enraged, not when she had been so angry for so long. For now . . .

Celaena took a long breath. en another. She let the anger anchor her, a knife slicing past the usual hesitation and doubt and emptiness.

She brushed up against that familiar inner wall—no, a veil, shimmering with a soft light. All this time, she thought she’d been reaching down for the power, but this was more of a reach in. Not a wish, but a command. She would shift—because there was a creature prowling these lands, and it deserved to pay. With a silent growl, she punched herself through the veil, pain shooting along every inch and pore as she shifted.

A erce, challenging grin, and Rowan moved, so fast she could hardly follow as he appeared on her other side and yanked on her braid again. When she whirled, he was already gone, and— She yelped as he pinched her side. “Stop—”

He was standing in front of her now, a wild invitation in his eyes. She’d been studying the way he moved, his tricks and tells, the way he assumed she’d react. So when she crossed her arms, feigning the tantrum he expected, she waited. Waited, and then—

He shot left to pinch or poke or hit her, and she whirled, slamming down his arm with an elbow and whacking him upside the head with her other hand. He stopped dead and blinked a few times. She smirked at him.

He bared his teeth in a feral, petrifying grin. “Oh, you’d better run now.”

When he lunged, she shot through the trees.

She had a suspicion that Rowan was letting her get ahead for the rst few minutes, because though she moved faster, she could barely adjust enough to her altered body to leap over rocks and fallen trees. He’d said they were going southwest, and that was where she went, dodging between the trees, the anger simmering away, shifting into something else entirely.

Rowan was a silver and white streak beside and behind her, and every time he got too close, she veered the other way, testing out the senses that told her where the trees were without seeing them

—the smell of oak and moss and living things, the open coolness of the mist passing between them like a path that she followed.

ey hit a plateau, the ground easy beneath her boots. Faster—she wanted to see if she could go faster, if she could outrun the wind itself.

Rowan appeared at her left, and she pumped her arms, her legs, savoring the breath in her lungs

—smooth and calm, ready to see what she would do next. More—this body wanted moreShe wanted more.

And then she was going swifter than she ever had in her life, the trees a blur, her immortal body singing as she let its rhythms fall into place. Her powerful lungs gobbled down the misty air and

lled with the smell and taste of the world, only instinct and re ex guiding her, telling her she could go faster still, feet eating up the loamy earth step by step by step.

Gods. Oh, gods.

She could have own, could have soared for the sudden surge of ecstasy in her blood, the sheer freedom granted by the marvel of creation that was her body.

Rowan shot at her from the right, but she dodged a tree with such ease she let out a whoop, then threw herself between two long-hanging braches, mere hurdles that she landed with feline skill.

Rowan was at her side again, lunging with a snap of his teeth, but she whirled and leapt over a rock, letting the moves she’d honed as an assassin blend into the instincts of her Fae body.

She could die for love of this speed, this surety in her bones. How had she been afraid of this body for so long? Even her soul felt looser. As if it had been locked up and buried and was only now starting to shake free. Not joy, perhaps not ever, but a glimmer of what she had been before grief had decimated her so thoroughly.

Rowan raced beside her, but made no move to grab her. No, Rowan was . . . playing.

He threw a glance at her, breathing hard but evenly. And it might have been the sun through the canopy, but she could have sworn that she saw his eyes alight with a glimmer of that same, feral contentment. She could have sworn he was smiling.

It was the fastest twenty miles of her life. Granted, the last ve were slower, and by the time Rowan brought them to a halt, they were both gulping down air. It was only then, as they stared at each other between the trees, that she realized the magic hadn’t once ared—hadn’t once tried to overpower or erupt. She could feel it waiting down in her gut, warm but calm. Slumbering.

She wiped the sweat from her brow, her neck, her face. ough she was panting, she still could have run for miles more. Gods, if she had been this fast the night Nehemia had—

It wouldn’t have made a di erence. Nehemia had orchestrated every step in her own destruction,

and would have found another way. And she had only done it because Celaena refused to help—-refused to act. Having this glorious Fae body changed nothing.

She blinked, realizing she’d been staring at Rowan, and that whatever satisfaction she’d seen on his face had again turned to ice. He tossed something at her—the shirt he’d carried with him. “Change.” He turned and stripped o his own shirt. His back was just as tan and scarred as the rest of him. But seeing those markings didn’t make her want to show him what her own ruined back looked like, so she moved between the trees until she was sure he couldn’t see her, and swapped her shirt. When she returned to where he’d dumped the pack, he tossed her a skein of water, which she gulped down. It tasted . . . She could taste each layer of minerals in the water, and the musk of the skein itself.

By the time they strode into the red-roofed little town, Celaena could breathe again.

ey quickly learned that it was almost impossible to get anyone to talk, especially to two Fae visitors. Celaena debated returning to her human form, but with her accent and ever-worsening mood, she was fairly certain a woman from Adarlan wouldn’t be much better received than a Fae. Windows were shuttered as they passed, probably because of Rowan, who looked like nothing short of death incarnate. But he was surprisingly calm with the villagers they approached. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t snarl, didn’t threaten. He didn’t smile, but for Rowan, he was downright cheerful.

Still, it got them nowhere. No, they had not heard of a missing demi-Fae, or any other bodies. No, they had not seen any strange people lurking about. No, livestock were not disappearing, though there was a chicken thief a few towns away. No, they were perfectly safe and protected in Wendlyn, and didn’t appreciate Fae and demi-Fae poking into their business, either.

Celaena had given up on irting with a pock-faced stable boy at the inn, who had just gawked at her ears and canines as though she were one heartbeat away from eating him alive.

She stalked down the pleasant main street, hungry and tired and annoyed that they were indeed going to need their bedrolls because the innkeeper had already informed them he had no vacancies. Rowan fell into step beside her, the storm clouds in his eyes saying enough about how his conversation with the taproom maid had gone.

“I could believe it was a half-wild creature if at least some of them knew these people had vanished,” she mused. “But consistently selecting someone who wouldn’t be missed or noticed? It must be sentient enough to know who to target. e demi-Fae has to be a message—but what? To stay away? en why leave bodies in the rst place?” She tugged at the end of her braid, stopping in front of a clothier’s window. Simple, well-cut dresses stood on display, not at all like the elegant, intricate fashions in Rifthold.

She noticed the wide-eyed, pale shopkeeper a heartbeat before the woman slashed the curtains shut. Well, then.

Rowan snorted, and Celaena turned to him. “You’re used to this, I assume?”

“A lot of the Fae who venture into mortal lands have earned themselves a reputation for . . . taking what they want. It went unchecked for too many years, but even though our laws are stricter now, the fear remains.” A criticism of Maeve?

“Who enforces these laws?”

A dark smile. “I do. When I’m not o campaigning, my aunt has me hunt down the rogues.” “And kill them?”

e smile remained. “If the situation calls for it. Or I just haul them back to Doranelle and let Maeve decide what to do with them.”

“I think I’d prefer death at your hands to death at Maeve’s.” “ at might be the rst wise thing you’ve said to me.”

“ e demi-Fae said you have ve other warrior friends. Do they hunt with you? How often do you see them?”

“I see them whenever the situation calls for it. Maeve has them serve her as she sees t, as she does with me.” Every word was clipped. “It is an honor to be a warrior serving in her inner circle.” Celaena hadn’t suggested otherwise, but she wondered why he felt the need to add it.

e street around them was empty; even food carts had been abandoned. She took a long breath, sni ng, and—was that chocolate? “Did you bring any money?”

A hesitant lift of his brow. “Yes. ey won’t take your bribes, though.”

“Good. More for me, then.” She pointed out the pretty sign swaying in the sea breeze. Confectionery. “If we can’t win them with charm, we might as well win them with our business.”

“Did you somehow not hear what I just—” But she had already reached the shop, which smelled divine and was stocked with chocolates and candies and oh gods, hazelnut tru es. Even though the confectioner blanched as the two of them overpowered the space, Celaena gave the woman her best smile.

Over her rotting corpse was she letting these people get away with shutting curtains in her face—-or letting them think that she was here to plunder. Nehemia had never once let the preening, bigoted idiots in Rifthold shut her out of any store, dining room, or household.

And she had the sense that her friend might have been proud of the way she went from shop to shop that afternoon, head held high, and charmed the ever-loving hell out of those villagers.

Once word spread that the two Fae strangers were spending silver on chocolates, then a few books, then some fresh bread and meat, the streets lled again. Vendors bearing everything from apples to spices to pocket watches were suddenly eager to chat, so long as they sold something. When Celaena popped in to the cramped messenger’s guild to mail a letter, she managed to ask a few novices if they’d been hired by anyone of interest. ey hadn’t, but she still tipped them handsomely.

Rowan dutifully carried every bag and box Celaena bought save the chocolates, which she ate as she strolled around, one after another after another. When she o ered one to him, he claimed he didn’t eat sweets. Ever. Not surprising.

e villagers wound up not knowing anything, which she supposed was good, because it meant that they hadn’t been lying, but the crab-monger did say he’d found a few discarded knives—small, sharp-as-death knives—in his nets recently. He tossed them all back into the water as gifts for the Sea God. e creature had sucked these people dry, not cut them up. So it was likely that Wendlynite soldiers had somehow lost a trunk of their blades in some storm.

At sunset, the innkeeper even approached them about a suddenly vacant suite. e very best suite in town, he claimed, but Celaena was starting to wonder whether they might attract the wrong sort of attention, and she wasn’t particularly in the mood to see Rowan disembowel a would-be thief. So she politely refused, and they set out down the street, the light turning thick and golden as they entered the forest once more.

Not a bad day, she realized as she nodded o under the forest canopy. Not bad at all.

Her mother had called her Fireheart.

But to her court, to her people, she would one day be Queen. To them, she was the heir to two mighty bloodlines, and to a tremendous power that would keep them safe and raise their kingdom to even greater heights. A power that was a gift—or a weapon.

at had been the near-constant debate for the rst eight years of her life. As she grew older and it became apparent that while she’d inherited most of her mother’s looks, she’d received her father’s volatile temper and wildness, the wary questions became more frequent, asked by rulers in kingdoms far from their own.

And on days like this, she knew that everyone would hear of the event, for better or worse.

She was supposed to be asleep, and was wearing her favorite silk nightgown, her parents having tucked her in minutes ago. ough they had told her they weren’t, she knew they were exhausted, and frustrated. She’d seen the way the court was acting, and how her uncle had put a gentle hand on her father’s shoulder and told him to take her up to bed.

But she couldn’t sleep, not when her door was cracked open, and she could hear her parents from their bedroom in the suite they shared in the upper levels of the white castle. ey thought they were speaking quietly, but it was with an immortal’s ears that she listened in the near-dark.

“I don’t know what you expect me to do, Evalin,” her father said. She could almost hear him prowling before the giant bed on which she had been born. “What’s done is done.”

“Tell them it was exaggerated, tell them the librarians were making a fuss over nothing,” her mother hissed. “Start a rumor that someone else did it, trying to pin the blame on her—”

“ is is all because of Maeve?”

“ is is because she is going to be hunted, Rhoe. For her whole life, Maeve and others will hunt her for this power—”

“And you think agreeing to let those little bastards ban her from the library will prevent that? Tell me: why does our daughter love reading so much?”

“ at has nothing to do with it.”

“Tell me.” When her mother didn’t respond, her father growled. “She is eight—and she has told me that her dearest friends are characters in books.”

“She has Aedion.”

“She has Aedion because he is the only child in this castle who isn’t petri ed of her—who hasn’t been kept away because we have been lax with her training. She needs training, Ev—training, and friends. If she-doesn’t have either, that’s when she’ll turn into what they’re afraid of.”

Silence, and then—a hu from beside her bed.

“I’m not a child,” Aedion hissed from where he sat in a chair, arms crossed. He’d slipped in here after her parents had left—to talk quietly to her, as he often did when she was upset. “And I don’t see why it’s a bad thing if I’m your only friend.”

“Quiet,” she hissed back. ough Aedion couldn’t shift, his mixed blood allowed him to hear with uncanny range and accuracy, better even than hers. And though he was ve years older, he was her only friend. She loved her court, yes—loved the adults who pampered and coddled her. But the few children who lived in the castle kept away, despite their parents’ urging. Like dogs, she’d sometimes thought. e others could smell her di erences.

“She needs friends her age,” her father went on. “Maybe we should send her to school. Cal and Marion have been talking about sending Elide next year—”

“No schools. And certainly not that so-called magic school, when it’s so close to the border and we don’t

know what Adarlan is planning.”

Aedion loosed a breath, his legs propped on the mattress. His tan face was angled toward the cracked door, his golden hair shining faintly, but there was a crease between his brows. Neither of them took well to being separated, and the last time one of the castle boys had teased him for it, Aedion had spent a month shoveling-horse dung for beating the boy into a pulp.

Her father sighed. “Ev, don’t kill me for this, but—you’re not making this easy. For us, or for her.” Her mother was quiet, and she heard a rustle of clothing and a murmur of, “I know, I know,” before her parents started speaking too quietly for even her Fae ears.

Aedion growled again, his eyes—their matching eyes—gleaming in the dark. “I don’t see what all the fuss is about. So what if you burned a few books? ose librarians deserve it. When we’re older, maybe we’ll burn it to the ground together.”

She knew he meant it. He’d burn the library, the city, or the whole world to ashes if she asked him. It was their bond, marked by blood and scent and something else she couldn’t place. A tether as strong as the one that bound her to her parents. Stronger, in some ways.

She didn’t answer him, not because she didn’t have a reply but because the door groaned, and before Aedion could hide, her bedroom ooded with light from the foyer.

Her mother crossed her arms. Her father, however, let out a soft laugh, his brown hair illuminated by the hall light, his face in shadow. “Typical,” he said, stepping aside to clear a space for Aedion to leave. “Don’t you have to be up at dawn to train with Quinn? You were ve minutes late this morning. Two days in a row will earn you a week on stable duty. Again.”

In a ash, Aedion was on his feet and gone. Alone with her parents, she wished she could pretend to sleep, but she said, “I don’t want to go away to school.”

Her father walked to her bed, every inch the warrior Aedion aspired to be. A warrior-prince, she heard people call him—who would one day make a mighty king. She sometimes thought her father had no interest in being king, especially on days when he took her up into the Staghorns and let her wander through Oakwald in search of the Lord of the Forest. He never seemed happier than at those times, and always seemed a little sad to go back to Orynth.

“ You’re not going away to school,” he said, looking over his broad shoulder at her mother, who lingered by the doorway, her face still in shadow. “But do you understand why the librarians acted the way they did today?”

Of course she did. She felt horrible for burning the books. It had been an accident, and she knew her father believed her. She nodded and said, “I’m sorry.”

“ You have nothing to be sorry for,” her father said, a growl in his voice. “I wish I was like the others,” she said.

Her mother remained silent, unmoving, but her father gripped her hand. “I know, love. But even if you-were not gifted, you would still be our daughter—you would still be a Galathynius, and their queen one day.”

“I don’t want to be queen.”

Her father sighed. is was a conversation they’d had before. He stroked her hair. “I know,” he said again. “Sleep now—we’ll talk about it in the morning.”

ey wouldn’t, though. She knew they wouldn’t, because she knew there was no escaping her fate, even though she sometimes prayed to the gods that she could. She lay down again nonetheless, letting him kiss her head and murmur good night.

Her mother still said nothing, but as her father walked out, Evalin remained, watching her for a long while. Just as she was drifting o , her mother left—and as she turned, she could have sworn that tears gleamed on her pale face.

Celaena jolted awake, hardly able to move, to think. It had to be the smell—the smell of that gods–damned body yesterday that had triggered the dream. It was agony seeing her parents’ faces, seeing Aedion. She blinked, focusing on her breathing, until she was no longer in that beautiful, jewel box–like room, until the scent of the pine and snow on the northern wind had vanished and she could see the morning mist weaving through the canopy of leaves above her. e cold, damp moss seeped through her clothes; the brine of the nearby sea hung thick in the air. She lifted her hand to examine the long scar carved on her palm.

“Do you want breakfast?” Rowan asked from where he crouched over unlit logs—the rst re she’d seen him assemble. She nodded, then rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. “ en start the

re,” he said.

“You can’t be serious.” He didn’t deign to respond. Groaning, she rotated on her sleeping roll until she sat cross-legged facing the logs. She held a hand toward the wood.

“Pointing is a crutch. Your mind can direct the ames just ne.” “Perhaps I like the dramatics.”

He gave her a look she interpreted to mean Light the re. Now. She rubbed her eyes again and concentrated on the logs.

“Easy,” Rowan said, and she wondered if that was approval in his voice as the wood began to smoke. “A knife, remember. You are in control.”

A knife, carving out a small bit of magic. She could master this. Light one single re.

Gods, she was so heavy again. at stupid dream—memory, whatever it was. Today would be an e ort.

A pit yawned open inside her, the magic rupturing out before she could shout a warning. She incinerated the entire surrounding area.

When the smoke and ames cleared thanks to Rowan’s wind, he merely sighed. “At least you didn’t panic and shift back into your human form.”

She supposed that was a compliment. e magic had felt like a release—a thrown punch. e pressure under her skin had lessened.

So Celaena just nodded. But shifting, it seemed, was to be the least of her problems.

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