Chapter no 53

Heir of Fire

ere was blood everywhere.

As before, Celaena stood between the two bloody beds, reeking breath caressing her ear, her neck, her spine. She could feel the Valg princes roving around her, circling with predators’ gaits, devouring her misery and pain bit by bit, tasting and savoring.

ere was no way out, and she could not move as she looked from one bed to the other.

Nehemia’s corpse, mangled and mutilated. Because she had been too late, and because she had been a coward.

And her parents, throats slit from ear to ear, gray and lifeless. Dead from an attack they should have sensed. An attack she should have sensed. Maybe she had sensed it, and that was why she had crept in that night. But she had been too late then as well.

Two beds. Two fractures in her soul, cracks through which the abyss had come pouring in long before the Valg princes had ever seized her. A claw scraped along her neck and she jerked away, stumbling toward her parents’ corpses.

e moment that darkness had swept around her, snu ng out her exhausted ame, it began eating away at the reckless rage that had compelled her to step out of the barrier. Here in the dark, the silence was complete—eternal. She could feel the Valg slinking around her, hungry and eager and full of cold, ancient malice. She’d expected to have the life sucked from her instantly, but they had just stayed close in the dark, brushing up against her like cats, until a faint light had formed and she’d found herself between these two beds. She was unable to look away, unable to do anything but feel her nausea and panic rise bit by bit. And now . . . Now . . .

ough her body remained unmoving on the bed, Nehemia’s voice whispered, Coward. Celaena vomited. A faint, hoarse laugh sounded behind her.

She backed up, farther and farther from the bed where Nehemia lay. en she was standing in a sea of red—red and white and gray, and—

She now stood like a wraith in her parents’ bed, where she had lain ten years ago, awakening between their corpses to the servant woman’s screaming. It was those screams she could hear now, high and endless, and—Coward.

Celaena fell against the headboard, as real and smooth and cold as she remembered it. ere was nowhere else for her to go. It was a memory—these were not real things.

She pressed her palms against the wood, ghting her building scream. Coward. Nehemia’s voice again lled the room. Celaena squeezed her eyes shut and said into the wall, “I know. I know.”

She did not ght as cold, claw-tipped ngers stroked at her cheeks, at her brow, at her shoulders. One of the claws severed clean through her long braid as it whipped her around. She did not ght as darkness swallowed her whole and dragged her down deep.

e darkness had no end and no beginning.

It was the abyss that had haunted her steps for ten years, and she free-fell into it, welcomed it.

ere was no sound, only the vague sense of going toward a bottom that might not exist, or that might mean her true end. Maybe the Valg princes had devoured her, turning her into a husk. Maybe her soul was forever trapped here, in this plunging darkness.

Perhaps this was hell.

e blackness was rippling now, shifting with sound and color that she passed through. She lived through each image, each memory worse than the next. Chaol’s face as he saw what she truly was; Nehemia’s mutilated body; her nal conversation with her friend, the damning things she’d said. When your people are lying dead around you, don’t come crying to me.

It had come true—now thousands of slaves from Eyllwe had been slaughtered for their bravery.

She tumbled through a maelstrom of the moments when she had proved her friend right. She was a waste of space and breath, a stain on the world. Unworthy of her birthright.

is was hell—and looked like hell, as she saw the bloodbath she’d created on the day she rampaged through Endovier. e screams of the dying—the men she’d cut apart—tore at her like phantom hands.

is was what she deserved.

She went mad during that rst day in Endovier.

Went mad as the descent slowed and she was stripped and strapped between two blood-splattered posts. e cold air nipped at her bare breasts, a bite that was nothing compared to the terror and agony as a whip cracked and—

She jerked against the ropes binding her. She scarcely had time to draw in a breath before the crack sounded again, cleaving the world like lightning, cleaving her skin.

“Coward,” Nehemia said behind her, and the whip cracked. “Coward.” e pain was blinding. “Look at me.” She couldn’t lift her head, though. Couldn’t turn. “Look at me.”

She sagged against her ropes, but managed to look over her shoulder.

Nehemia was whole, beautiful and untouched, her eyes full of damning hatred. And then from behind her emerged Sam, handsome and tall. His death had been so similar to Nehemia’s, and yet so much worse, drawn out over hours. She had not saved him, either. When she beheld the iron-tipped whip in his hands, when he stepped past Nehemia and let the whip unfurl onto the rocky earth, Celaena let out a low, quiet laugh.

She welcomed the pain with open arms as he took a deep breath, clothes shifting with the movement as he snapped the whip. e iron tip—oh gods, it ripped her clean open, knocked her legs out from underneath her.

“Again,” Celaena told him, the word little more than a rasp. “Again.”

Sam obeyed. ere was only the thud of leather on wet esh as Sam and Nehemia took turns, and a line of people formed behind them, waiting for what they deserved as payment for what she had failed to do.

Such a long line of people. So many lives that she had taken or failed to protect. Again.

Again. Again.

She had not walked past the barrier expecting to defeat the Valg princes.

She had walked out there for the same reason she had snapped that day in Endovier.

But the Valg princes had not killed her yet.

She had felt their pleasure as she begged for the whipping. It was their sustenance. Her mortal

esh was nothing to them—it was the agony within that was the prize. ey would draw this out forever, keep her as their pet.

ere was no one to save her, no one who could enter their darkness and live.

One by one, they groped through her memories. She fed them, gave them everything they wanted and more. Back and back, sorting through the years as they plunged into the dark, twining together. She did not care.

She had not looked into the Valg prince’s eyes expecting to ever again see sunrise.

She did not know how long she fell with them.

But then there was a rushing, roaring below—a frozen river. Whispers and foggy light were rising to meet them. No, not rising—this was the bottom.

An end to the abyss. And an end to her, perhaps, at last.

She didn’t know if the Valg princes’ hissing was from anger or pleasure as they slammed into that frozen river at the bottom of her soul.

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