She only had time to see its eyes and the blur of its skin before she drove Damaris through the ridderak’s face.
Pain lanced through her hand as they slammed into the wall and fell to the ground, scattering treasure. Black blood that stank of waste sprayed onto her.
She didn’t move, not as she stared at those black eyes barely inches from her own, not as she saw her right hand held between its black teeth, her blood already oozing down its chin. She just panted and shook, not taking her left hand from the hilt of the sword, even after those hungry eyes turned dull and its body sagged atop hers.
It was only when the amulet throbbed again that she blinked. Everything after that became a series of steps, a dance that she had to execute perfectly or else she’d fall apart right there in that tomb and never get up.
She first pried her hand from its teeth. It burned mercilessly. An arc of gushing puncture wounds encircled her thumb, and she swayed on her feet as she shoved the ridderak off her. It was surprisingly light—as if its bones were hollow, or there were nothing inside of it. Though the world became foggy around the edges, she yanked Damaris from its skull.
She used her shirt to wipe Gavin’s blade clean, and set it back where it belonged. That was why they’d brought her to the tomb on Samhuinn, wasn’t it? So she could see Damaris, and have a way to save herself?
She left the creature where it lay in a crumpled heap atop piles of jewels. Whoever had wanted to save her could clean it up. She’d had enough.
Still, Celaena paused beside Elena’s sarcophagus and looked at the beautiful face carved from marble. “Thank you,” she said hoarsely. Her vision blurring, she left the tomb and staggered up the stairs, clutching her bleeding hand to her chest.
When she was at last safely inside her chambers, Celaena crossed to her bedroom door and leaned there, panting, as she unlocked it. Her wound hadn’t clotted, and blood was still pouring down her wrist. She listened to it drip onto the floor. She should go into the bathing room and wash her hand. Her palm felt like ice. She should—
Her legs gave out and Celaena collapsed. Her eyelids became heavy, so she closed them. Why did her heart beat so slowly?
She opened her eyes to look at her hand. Her eyesight was blurry, and all she could make out was a mess of pink and red. The ice in her hand reached up her arm, down to her legs.
She heard a booming, thunderous noise. A thump-thump-thump, followed by a whine. Through her eyelids she could see the light in the room darken.
She heard a cry—female—and warm hands grabbed her face. She was so cold it almost burned. Had someone left the window open?
“Lillian!” It was Nehemia. She shook Celaena’s shoulders. “Lillian! What happened to you?”
Celaena remembered little of the next few moments. Strong arms lifted her up and rushed her into the bathing chamber. Nehemia strained as she carried Celaena into the bathing pool, where she stripped away Celaena’s clothes. Celaena’s hand burned when it touched the water, and she thrashed, but the princess held her firm, saying words in a tongue the assassin didn’t understand. The light in the room pulsed, and her skin tingled. Celaena found her arms covered in glowing turquoise marks—Wyrdmarks. Nehemia held her in the water, rocking back and forth.
Blackness swallowed her up.
Celaena opened her eyes.
She was warm, and the candlelight was golden. She could smell lotus blossoms and a bit of nutmeg. She made a small noise and blinked, attempting to raise herself from the bed. What had happened? She could only recall climbing the stairs, then concealing the secret door behind the tapestry—
Celaena gave a start and grabbed at her tunic, gaping as she found that it had somehow turned into a nightgown, and then marveled at her hand as she lifted it into the air. It was healed—completely healed. The only remnants of the wounds was a half-moon-shaped scar between her thumb and index finger and little bite marks from the ridderak’s lower teeth. She ran a finger over each of the chalk-white scars, tracing their curve, then wiggled her fingers to ensure no nerves had been severed.
How was this possible? It was magic—someone had healed her. She lifted herself and saw she was not alone.
Nehemia sat in a chair nearby, staring at her. There was no smile on her lips, and Celaena shifted as she beheld the mistrust in the young woman’s eyes. Fleetfoot lay at her feet.
“What happened?” Celaena asked.
“That’s what I have been waiting to ask you,” said the princess in Eyllwe. She gestured at Celaena’s body. “If I hadn’t found you, you would have died from that bite within a few minutes.”
Even the blood she’d dropped on the floor had been cleaned. “Thank you,” she said, then started as she looked to the darkened sky beyond the windows. “What day is it?” If somehow two days had passed and she’d missed the last Test—
“It’s only been three hours.”
Celaena’s shoulders sagged. She hadn’t missed it. She still had tomorrow to train, and the Test the day after that. “I don’t understand. How did—”
“That is not important,” Nehemia interrupted. “I want to know where you received that bite. There was blood only in your bedroom—no traces of it in the hallway or anywhere else.”
Celaena clenched and unclenched her right hand, watching the scars stretch and contract. She had come so close to dying. She flicked her eyes to the princess, then back to her hand. Whatever Nehemia’s involvement was, it wasn’t with Cain.
“I’m not who I pretend to be,” Celaena said quietly, unable to meet her friend’s eyes. “Lillian Gordaina doesn’t exist.” Nehemia didn’t say anything. Celaena made herself look her in the eye. Nehemia had saved her; how had she dared to believe that Nehemia might be the one controlling that creature? The truth was the least she owed her friend. “My name is Celaena Sardothien.”
Nehemia’s mouth parted. Slowly, she shook her head. “But they sent you to Endovier. You were supposed to be in Endovier with—” Nehemia’s eyes widened. “You speak the Eyllwe of the peasants—of those enslaved in Endovier. That was how you learned.” Celaena’s breathing became a bit difficult. Nehemia’s lips trembled. “You went . . . you went to Endovier? Endovier is a death camp. But . . . why did you not tell me? Do you not trust me?”
“Of course I do,” she said. Especially now that she’d proven beyond a doubt that she wasn’t the one responsible for those murders. “I was ordered by the king not to speak a word of it.”
“A word of what?” Nehemia said sharply, blinking back her tears. “The king knows you’re here? He gives you orders?”
“I’m here for his amusement.” Celaena sat up straighter in bed. “I’m here because he’s hosting a competition to be the King’s Champion. And after I win—if I win, I’m to work for the king for four years as his lackey and assassin. And then I’ll be freed, and my name cleared.”
Nehemia just looked at her, damning her with that blank stare.
“You think I want to be here?” Celaena shouted, even though it made her head pound. “It was either this or Endovier! I had no choice.” She put her hands on her chest. “Before you start lecturing me on my morality, or before you run away and hide behind your bodyguards, just know that there’s not a moment that goes by when I don’t wonder what it will be like to kill for him—the man who destroyed everything that I loved!”
She couldn’t breathe fast enough, not as the door inside her mind opened and closed, and the images that Celaena had made herself forget flashed before her eyes. She closed them, wishing for darkness. Nehemia remained silent. Fleetfoot whined. In the quiet, people, places, words echoed in her mind.
Then, footsteps. They brought her back. The mattress groaned and sighed as Nehemia sat. A second, lighter weight joined her—Fleetfoot.
Nehemia took Celaena’s hand in her warm, dry one. Celaena opened her eyes, but stared at the wall across the room.
Nehemia squeezed her hand. “You’re my dearest friend, Celaena. It hurt me—hurt me more than I realized it would—to have things become so cold between us. To see you look at me with such distrust in your eyes. And I don’t want to ever see you look at me like that again. So I wish to give to you what I have given to few before.” Her dark eyes shone. “Names are not important. It’s what lies inside of you that matters. I know what you went through in Endovier. I know what my people endure there, day after day. But you did not let the mines harden you; you did not let it shame your soul into cruelty.”
The princess traced a mark on her hand, her fingers pressing into Celaena’s skin. “You bear many names, and so I shall name you as well.” Her hand rose to Celaena’s forehead and she drew an invisible mark. “I name you Elentiya.” She kissed the assassin’s brow. “I give you this name to use with honor, to use when other names grow too heavy. I name you Elentiya, ‘Spirit That Could Not Be Broken.’ ”
Celaena was held in place. She could feel the name fall upon her like a shimmering veil. This was unconditional love. Friends like this did not exist. Why was she so fortunate as to have found one?
“Come,” Nehemia said brightly. “Tell me about how you became Adarlan’s Assassin, and how you wound up in this castle, exactly—and what the details are of this absurd competition.” Celaena smiled slightly as Fleetfoot wagged her tail and licked Nehemia’s arm.
She had saved her life—somehow. Answers for that would come later. So Celaena spoke.
The following morning, Celaena walked beside Chaol, her eyes on the marble floor of the hallway. The sun radiated off of the snow in the garden, making the light in the hall nearly blinding. She’d told Nehemia almost everything. There were certain things she’d never tell anyone, and she hadn’t mentioned Cain or the creature, either. Nehemia hadn’t asked her again what had bitten her hand, but had stayed with her, curled up in bed as they talked long into the night. Celaena, unsure how she’d ever sleep again now that she knew what Cain could do, had been grateful for the company. She pulled her cloak tighter around her. The morning was unnaturally frigid.
“You’re quiet today.” Chaol kept his gaze ahead of them. “Did you and Dorian have a fight?”
Dorian. He’d stopped by last night, but Nehemia had shooed him off before he could enter the bedroom. “No. I haven’t seen him since yesterday morning.” After the events of last night, yesterday morning seemed like a week ago.
“Did you enjoy dancing with him at the ball?”
Were his words a bit sharp? She turned to him as they rounded a corner, heading toward a private training room. “You left rather early. I would have thought you’d want to guard me the whole night.”
“You don’t need me to watch you anymore.”
“I didn’t need you to watch me from the start.”
He shrugged. “Now I know you’re not going anywhere.”
Outside, a howling wind kicked up a flurry of snow, sending a sparkling wave into the air. “I could go back to Endovier.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just know.”
“That gives me heaps of confidence.”
He chuckled, continuing toward the sparring room. “I’m surprised your dog didn’t run after you, for all the crying she did just now.”
“If you had a pet, you wouldn’t make fun,” she said gloomily.
“I’ve never had a pet; I never wanted one.”
“That’s probably a blessing for whatever dog might have wound up as your companion.”
He jabbed her with an elbow. She grinned and elbowed him back. She wanted to tell him about Cain. She’d wanted to tell him when she saw him at her door this morning. She wanted to tell him everything.