But he couldn’t know. Because, she’d realized last night, if she told him about Cain and the creature he’d unleashed, then he’d ask to see the remains of the creature. And that meant taking him into the secret passage. While he might trust her enough to leave her alone with Dorian, knowing that she had access to an unguarded escape route was a test she wasn’t ready to give Chaol.
Besides, I killed it. It’s over. Elena’s mysterious evil is vanquished. Now I’ll just defeat Cain in the duel, and then no one needs to know.
Chaol stopped before the unmarked door of their practice room, and whirled to face her. “I’m only going to ask you this once, and then I won’t ask it again,” he said, staring at her so intensely that she shifted on her feet. “Do you know what you’re getting into with Dorian?”
She laughed, a harsh, cawing noise. “Are you giving me romantic advice? And is this for my sake or Dorian’s?”
“I didn’t realize that you cared enough about me to bother. Or even notice.”
To his credit, he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he just unlocked the door. “Just remember to use your brain, will you?” he said over his shoulder, and entered the room.
An hour later, sweating and still panting from the swordplay practice, Celaena wiped her brow on her sleeve as they made their way back to her rooms.
“The other day, I saw you were reading Elric and Emide,” he said. “I thought you hated poetry.”
“It’s different.” She swung her arms. “Epic poetry isn’t boring—or pretentious.”
“Oh?” A crooked smile twisted across his face. “A poem about massive battles and boundless love isn’t pretentious?” She playfully punched his shoulder, and he laughed. Surprisingly delighted at his laughter, she cackled. But then they turned a corner, and guards filled the hall, and she saw him.
The King of Adarlan.
The king. Celaena’s heart gave a screech and dove behind her spine. Each of the little scars on her hand throbbed. He strode toward them, his monstrous form filling the too-small hallway, and their eyes met. She went cold and hot at once. Chaol halted and bowed low.
Slowly, not wishing to find herself swinging from the gallows just yet, Celaena bowed, too. He stared at her with eyes of iron. The hair on her arms rose. She could feel him searching, looking for something inside of her. He knew that something was wrong, that something had changed in his castle—something to do with her. Celaena and Chaol rose and stepped aside.
His head turned to examine her as he strode past. Could he see what lay beyond her flesh? Did he know that Cain had the ability to open portals, real portals, to other worlds? Did he know that even though he’d banned magic, the Wyrdmarks still commanded a power of their own? Power the king could wield if he learned to summon demons like the ridderak . . .
There was a darkness in his eyes that felt cold and foreign, like the gaps between the stars. Could one man destroy a world? Was his ambition so consuming? She could hear the din of war. The king’s head shifted to look at the hallway ahead.
Something dangerous lurked about him. It was an air of death that she’d felt standing before that black void summoned by Cain. It was the stench of another world, a dead world. What was Elena’s goal in demanding that she get close to him?
Celaena managed to walk, one step at a time, away from the king. Her eyes were far away and distant, and though she didn’t look at Chaol, she felt him studying her face. Thankfully, he didn’t say a word. It was nice to have someone who understood.
Chaol also didn’t say anything when she moved closer to him for the remainder of their walk.
Chaol paced through his room, his time with Celaena over until she’d train with the other Champions that afternoon. After lunch, he’d returned to his room to read the report detailing the king’s journey. And in the past ten minutes, he’d read the thing three times. He crumpled the paper in his fist. Why had the king arrived alone? And, more importantly, how had everyone in his traveling party died? It wasn’t clear where he’d gone. He’d mentioned the White Fang Mountains, but . . . Why were they all dead?
The king had vaguely hinted at some sort of issue with rebels poisoning their food stores, but the details were murky enough to suggest that the truth was buried somewhere else. Perhaps he hadn’t explained it fully because it would upset his subjects. But Chaol was his Captain of the Guard. If the king didn’t trust him . . .
The clock struck and Chaol’s shoulders sagged. Poor Celaena. Did she know that she looked like a frightened animal when the king appeared? He’d almost wanted to pat her on the back. And the effect the king had on her lasted long after their encounter; she’d been distant during lunch.
She was incredible now, so fast he had difficulty keeping up with her. She could scale a wall with ease, and had even demonstrated by climbing up to her own balcony with nothing but her bare hands. It unnerved him, especially when he remembered she was only eighteen. He wondered if this was how she’d been before Endovier. She never hesitated when they sparred, but she seemed to sink far within herself, into a place that was calm and cool, but also angry and burning. She could kill anyone, Cain included, in a matter of seconds.
But if she became Champion, could they let her loose into Erilea once more? He was fond of her, but Chaol didn’t know if he could sleep at night knowing that he had retrained and released the world’s greatest assassin. If she won, though, she’d be here for four years.
What had the king thought when he saw them together, laughing? Surely, that hadn’t been his reason for neglecting to tell him what happened to his men. No—the king wouldn’t bother to care about that kind of thing, especially if Celaena might soon be his Champion.
Chaol rubbed his shoulder. She’d looked so small when she saw the king.
Since returning from his travels, the king hadn’t seemed any different, and was just as gruff with Chaol as he’d always been. But the sudden disappearance, then returning without a single soul . . . There was something brewing, a cauldron that the king had journeyed to stir. Celaena somehow knew it, too.
The Captain of the Guard leaned against a wall, staring at the ceiling. He shouldn’t press into the king’s business. Right now, his focus was on solving the murders of the Champions, and on making sure Celaena won. It wasn’t even about Dorian’s pride anymore; Celaena wouldn’t survive another year in Endovier.
Chaol smiled slightly. She’d stirred up enough trouble in the months she’d been in the castle. He could only imagine what would happen over the next four years.
Celaena panted as she and Nox lowered their swords, the Weapons Master shouting at the five Champions to get some water. Tomorrow was their last Test before the duel. She kept her distance when Cain lumbered toward the water jug on the table by the far wall, watching his every movement. She eyed his muscles, his height, his girth—all strength stolen from the dead Champions. She studied the black ring on his finger. Did it somehow have a connection to his horrible abilities? He hadn’t even looked all that surprised to see her alive when she’d entered the training hall. He’d just given her a small, taunting smile and picked up his practice sword.
“Is something the matter?” Nox said, his breathing ragged as he stopped by her side. Cain, Grave, and Renault were talking amongst themselves. “You were a bit off-balance.”
How had Cain learned to summon that creature—and what was that blackness from whence it had appeared? Was it truly just so he could win the competition?
“Or,” Nox continued, “do you have other thoughts on your mind?”
She shoved Cain out of her head. “What?”
He grinned at her. “It seemed like you were rather enjoying the Crown Prince’s attention at the ball.”
“Mind your own business,” she snapped.
Nox held up his hands. “I didn’t mean to pry.” She walked to the water jug, not saying a word to Nox as she poured herself a glass and didn’t bother to offer him one. He leaned in as she set down the jug. “Those scars on your hand are new.”
She stuffed her hand into a pocket, her eyes flashing. “Mind your own business,” she repeated. She stepped away, but Nox grabbed her arm.
“You told me to stay in my rooms the other night. And those scars look like bite marks. They say Verin and Xavier were killed by animals.” His gray eyes narrowed. “You know something.”
She glanced over her shoulder at Cain, who was joking with Grave as if he weren’t a demon-summoning psychopath. “There are only five of us left. Four make it to the duels, and the Test’s tomorrow. Whatever happened to Verin and Xavier, it wasn’t an accident, not when their deaths occurred within two days of the Tests.” She shook her arm out of his grasp. “Be careful,” she hissed.
“Tell me what you know.”
She couldn’t, not without sounding insane. “If you were smart, you’d get out of this castle.”
“Why?” He shot a look at Cain. “What aren’t you saying?”
Brullo finished his water and went to retrieve his sword. She didn’t have much time before he called them to resume. “I’m saying that if I didn’t have any other choice but to be here—if it wasn’t between this and death, I would be halfway across Erilea by now, and not looking back.”
Nox rubbed his neck. “I don’t understand a word of what you just said. Why don’t you have a choice? I know things are bad with your father, but surely he won’t—” She silenced him with a pointed stare. “And you’re not a jewel thief, are you?” She shook her head. Nox glanced again at Cain. “Cain knows, too. That’s why he always tries to rile you—to get you to show who you truly are.”
She nodded. What difference did it make if he knew? She had more important things to worry about now. Like how she’d survive until the duels. Or stop Cain.
“But who are you?” Nox said. She bit her lip. “You said your father moved you to Endovier, that much is true. The prince went there to retrieve you—there’s evidence of that journey.” Even as he said it, his eyes slid toward her back. She could practically see the revelations as they bloomed in his mind. “And—you weren’t in the town of Endovier. You were in Endovier. The Salt Mines. That explains why you were so painfully thin when I first saw you.”
Brullo clapped his hands. “Come on, you lot! Drills!”
Nox and Celaena remained by the table. His eyes were wide. “You were a slave in Endovier?” She couldn’t form the words to confirm it. Nox was too smart for his own good. “But you’re barely a woman—what did you do to . . .” His gaze fell on Chaol, and the guards who stood near him. “Would I have heard your name before? Would I have heard that you were shipped to Endovier?”
“Yes. Everyone heard when I went,” she breathed, and watched as he sorted through every name he’d ever heard associated with the place, then put the pieces together. He took a step back.
“You’re a girl?”
“Surprising, I know. Everyone thinks I’m older.”
Nox ran a hand through his black hair. “And you can either be the King’s Champion, or go back to Endovier?”
“That’s why I can’t leave.” Brullo shouted at them to start their drills. “And why I’m telling you to get out of the castle while you can.” She took her hand from her pocket and showed it to him. “I received this from a creature I can’t even begin to describe to you, nor would you believe me if I tried. But there are five of us now, and because the Test is tomorrow, that means one more night we’re at risk.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Nox said, still keeping back a step.