Chapter no 47

Heir of Fire

Celaena silently swore, scanning the trees. Where in hell had the creature gone? e rain began again, but the dead scent still clung to everything. She lifted her long dagger to angle it in Rowan’s direction—to signal him to indicate whether he was breathing. He had to be; she would accept no other alternative. e blade was so clean she could see her face in it, see the trees and the sky and—

And the creature now standing behind her.

Celaena pivoted, swiping for its exposed side, one blade angled to sink straight into its ribs, the other slashing for the throat. A move she’d practiced for years and years, as easy as breathing.

But its black, depthless eyes met hers, and Celaena froze. In her body, her mind, her soul. Her magic sputtered and went out.

She scarcely heard the damp thud of her blades hitting the earth. e rain on her face dulled to a distant sensation.

e darkness around them spread, welcoming, embracing. Comforting. e creature pulled back the cowl of its cloak.

e face was young and male—unearthly perfection. Around his neck, a torque of dark stone—-Wyrdstone, she vaguely recalled—gleamed in the rain. is was the god of death incarnate. It was not with any mortal man’s expression or voice that he smiled and said, “You.”

She couldn’t look away. ere were screams in the darkness—screams she had drowned out for so many years. But now they beckoned.

His smile widened, revealing too-white teeth, and he reached a hand for her throat.

So gentle, those icy ngers, as his thumb brushed her neck, as he tilted her face up to better stare into her eyes. “Your agony tasted like wine,” he murmured, peering into the core of her.

Wind was tearing at her face, her arms, her stomach, roaring her name. But there was eternity and calm in his eyes, a promise of such sweet darkness, and she could not look away. It would be a blessed relief to let go. She need only surrender to the dark, just as he asked. Take it, she wanted to say, tried to say. Take everything.

A ash of silver and steel pierced the inky veil, and another creature—a monster made of fangs and rage and wind—was there, ripping her away. She clawed at him, but he was ice—he was . . . Rowan.

Rowan was hauling her away, shouting her name, but she couldn’t reach him, couldn’t stop that pull toward the other creature.

Teeth pierced the spot between her neck and shoulder, and she jerked, latching on to the pain as if it were a rope yanking her out of that sea of stupor, up, up, until—

Rowan crushed her against him with one arm, sword out, her blood dripping down his chin as he backed away from the creature that lingered by the tree. Pain—that was why the body that morning had been marred. e demi-Fae had tried to use physical pain to break free of these things, to remind the body of what was real and not real.

e creature hu ed a laugh. Oh gods. It had placed her in its thrall. at swiftly, that easily. She hadn’t stood a chance, and Rowan wasn’t attacking because—

Because in the dark, with limited weapons against an enemy who did not need blades to kill them, even Rowan was outmatched. A true warrior knew when to walk away from a ght. Rowan breathed, “We have to run.”

ere was another low laugh from the creature, who stepped closer. Rowan pulled them farther

back. “You can try,” it said in that voice that did not come from her world.

at was all Celaena needed to hear. She ung out her magic.

A wall of ame sprang up as she and Rowan sprinted away, a shield into which she poured every ounce of will and horror and shame, damning the consequences. e creature hissed, but she didn’t know if it was due to the light stinging its eyes or merely frustration.

She didn’t care. It bought them time, a whole minute hurtling uphill through the trees. en crashing came from behind, that reeking stain of darkness spreading like a web.

Rowan knew the woods, knew how to hide their trail. It bought them more time and distance. e creature stalked them, even as Rowan used his wind to blow their scent away.

Mile after mile they ran, until her breath was like shards of glass in her lungs and even Rowan seemed to be tiring. ey weren’t going to the fortress—no, they wouldn’t lead this thing within ten miles of there. Rather, they headed into the Cambrian Mountains, the air growing chilled, the hills steeper. Still the creature followed.

“He won’t stop,” Celaena panted as they hauled themselves up a harrowing incline, almost on all fours. She pushed against the urge to fall to her knees and vomit. “He’s like a hound on a scent.” Her scent. Far below, the thing prowled after them.

Rowan bared his teeth, rain sluicing down his face. “ en I’ll run him down until he drops dead.” Lightning illuminated a deer path atop the hill. “Rowan,” she panted. “Rowan, I have an idea.”

Celaena wondered if she still had a death wish.

Or perhaps the god of death just liked to play with her too much.

It was another uphill trek to the trees whose bark had been skinned o . And then she made herself a merry re and burned a torch beside a forgotten road, the light shining through those skinless trees.

Far below, she prayed that Rowan was keeping the creature occupied the way she’d told him to—-leading it in circles with the scent on her tunic.

Screee went the whetting stone down her dagger as she perched atop a large rock. Despite her incessant trembling, she hummed as she sharpened, a symphony she’d gone to see performed in Rifthold every year until her enslavement. She controlled her breathing and focused on counting the minutes, wondering how long she could remain before she had to nd another way. Screee.

A rotting scent stu ed itself up her nose, and the already quiet forest went still. Screee. Not her own blade sharpening but another’s, almost in answer to her own.

She sagged in relief and ran the whetting stone down her dagger one more time before standing, willing strength to her knees. She did not allow herself to inch when she beheld the ve of them standing beyond the skinned trees, tall and lean and bearing their wicked tools.

Run, her body screamed, but she held her ground. Lifted her chin and smiled into the dark. “I’m glad you received my invitation.” Not a hint of sound or movement. “Your four friends decided to come uninvited to my last camp re—and it didn’t end well for them. But I’m sure you know that already.”

Another one sharpened his blades, relight shivering on the jagged metal. “Fae bitch. We’ll take our sweet time with you.”

She sketched a bow, even though her stomach was heaving at the reek of carrion, and waved her torch as if it were a baton at what awaited below. “Oh, I certainly hope you do,” she said.

Before they could surround her, she burst into a sprint.

Celaena knew they were near not because of the crashing brush or the whip of their blades through the air but from the stench that tore gnarled ngers through her senses. Clutching her torch in one hand, she used the other to keep herself aloft as she bounded down the steep road, dodging rocks and brambles and loose stones.

It was a mile down to where she’d told Rowan to lead the creature, a mad ight through the dark. Ankles and knees barking in protest, she leapt and ran, the skinwalkers closing in around her like wolves on a deer.

e key was not to panic—panic made you stupid. Panic got you killed. ere was a piercing cry

—a hawk’s screech. Rowan was exactly where they’d planned, the king’s creature perhaps a minute behind and slinking through the brush. Right by the creek, where she dumped her torch. Right where the road curved around a boulder.

e ancient road went one way, but she went another. A wind shoved past, going in the direction of the road. She threw herself behind a tree, a hand over her mouth to keep her jagged breaths contained as the wind pushed her scent away.

A heartbeat later, a hard body enveloped hers, shielding and sheltering. And then ve pairs of bare feet slithered along the road, after the scent that now darted and hurtled down, down to the creature running right at them.

She pressed her face into Rowan’s chest. His arms were solid as walls, his assortment of weapons just as reassuring.

At last, he tugged at her sleeve, nudging her upward—to climb. In a few deft movements, she hauled herself up the tree to a wide branch near its top. A moment later, Rowan was behind her, sitting against the trunk. He pulled her against him, her back to his chest as he folded his arms around her, hiding her scent from the monsters raging below.

A minute passed before the screaming began—bleating shrieks and shouts and roars of two di erent sets of monsters who knew death was upon them, and the face it bore was not kind.

For the better part of half an hour, the creatures fought in the rainy dark, until those wretched shrieks turned victorious, and the unearthly roars sounded no more.

Celaena and Rowan held tight to each other and did not dare close their eyes for the entirety of the night.

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