Queen of Shadows Chapter 16 Read Online

Full Read the Online Chapter 16 of Queen of Shadows novel PDF by Sarah J. Maas for free.

Chapter 16 Part 1 Lady of Shadows of Queen of Shadows: The demon made him sit on a dais, on a throne beside a crowned woman who had not noticed that the thing using his mouth wasn’t the person who had been born of her flesh. To his other side lounged the man who controlled the demon inside him.

And in front of him, the ballroom was full of tittering nobility who could not see that he was still in here, still screaming.

The demon had broken a little farther through the barrier today, and it now looked through his eyes with an ancient, glittering malice.

It was starved for this world.

Perhaps the world deserved to be devoured by the thing.

Maybe it was that traitorous thought alone that had caused such a hole to rip in the barrier between them.

Perhaps it was triumphing. Maybe it had already won.

So he was forced to sit on that throne, and speak with words that were not his own, and share his eyes with something from another realm, who gazed at his sunny world with ravenous, eternal hunger.

The costume itched like hell. The paint all over her didn’t help.

Most of the important guests had arrived in the days preceding the party, but those who dwelled inside the city or in the outlying foothills now formed a glittering line stretching through the massive front doors. Guards were posted there, checking invitations, asking questions, peering into faces none too keen to be interrogated. The entertainers, vendors, and help, however, were ordered to use one of the side entrances.

That was where Aelin had found Madam Florine and her troupe of dancers, clad in costumes of black tulle and silk and lace, like liquid night in the midmorning sun.

Shoulders back, core tight, arms loose at her sides, Aelin eased into the middle of the flock. With her hair dyed a ruddy shade of brown and her face coated in the heavy cosmetics the dancers all wore, she blended in well enough that none of the others looked her way.

She focused entirely on her role of trembling novice, on looking more interested in how the other dancers perceived her than in the six guards stationed at the small wooden door in the side of the stone wall.

The castle hallway beyond was narrow—good for daggers, bad for swords, and deadly for these dancers if she got into trouble.

If Arobynn had indeed betrayed her.

Head down, Aelin subtly monitored the first test of trust.

The chestnut-haired Florine walked along her line of dancers like an admiral aboard a ship.

Aging but beautiful, Florine’s every movement was layered with a grace that Aelin herself had never been able to replicate, no matter how many lessons she’d had with her while growing up.

The woman had been the most celebrated dancer in the empire—and since her retirement, she remained its most valued teacher.

Instructor Overlord, Aelin had called her in the years that she’d trained under the woman, learning the most fashionable dances and ways to move and hone her body.

Florine’s hazel eyes were on the guards ahead as she paused beside Aelin, a frown on her thin lips. “You still need to work on your posture,” the woman said.

Aelin met Florine’s sidelong gaze. “It’s an honor to be an understudy for you, Madam. I do hope Gillyan soon recovers from her illness.”

The guards waved through what looked to be a troupe of jugglers, and they inched forward.

“You look in good-enough spirits,” Florine murmured.

Aelin made a show of ducking her head, curling in her shoulders, and willing a blush to rise to her cheeks—the new understudy, bashful at the

compliments of her mistress. “Considering where I was ten months ago?” Florine sniffed, and her gaze lingered on the thin bands of scars across

Aelin’s wrists that even the painted whorls couldn’t conceal. They’d raised the top of the dancers’ open-backed costumes, but even so, and even with the body paint, the upper ends of her tattoo-covered scars peeked through.

“If you think I had anything to do with the events that led up to that—”

Aelin’s words were barely louder than the crunch of silk shoes on gravel as she said, “You’d already be dead if you had.” It wasn’t a bluff.

When she’d written her plans on that ship, Florine’s name had been one that she’d written down—and then crossed out, after careful consideration.

Aelin continued, “I trust you made the proper adjustments?” Not just the slight change in the costumes to accommodate the weapons and supplies Aelin would need to smuggle in—all paid for by Arobynn, of course. No, the big surprises would come later.

“A bit late to be asking that, isn’t it?” Madam Florine purred, the dark jewels at her neck and ears glimmering. “You must trust me a great deal to have even appeared.”

“I trust that you like getting paid more than you like the king.” Arobynn had given a massive sum to pay off Florine. She kept an eye on the guards as she said, “And since the Royal Theater was shut down by His Imperial Majesty, I trust we both agree that what was done to those musicians was a crime as unforgivable as the massacres of the slaves in Endovier and Calaculla.”

She knew she’d gambled correctly when she saw agony flicker in Florine’s eyes.

“Pytor was my friend,” Florine whispered, the color leeching from her tan cheeks. “There was no finer conductor, no greater ear. He made my career. He helped me establish all this.” She waved a hand to encompass the dancers, the castle, the prestige she’d acquired. “I miss him.”

There was nothing calculated, nothing cold, when Aelin put a hand over her own heart. “I will miss going to hear him conduct the Stygian Suiteevery autumn. I will spend the rest of my life knowing that I may never again hear finer music, never again experience a shred of what I felt sitting in that theater while he conducted.”

Madam Florine wrapped her arms around herself. Despite the guards ahead, despite the task that neared with every tick of the clock, it took Aelin

a moment to be able to speak again.

But that hadn’t been what made Aelin agree to Arobynn’s plan—to trust Florine.

Two years ago, finally free of Arobynn’s leash but nearly beggared thanks to paying her debts, Aelin had continued to take lessons with Florine not only to keep current with the popular dances for her work but also to keep flexible and fit. Florine had refused to take her money.

Moreover, after each lesson Florine had allowed Aelin to sit at the pianoforte by the window and play until her fingers were sore, since she had been forced to leave her beloved instrument at the Assassins’ Keep. Florine had never mentioned it, never made her feel like it was charity. But it had been a kindness when Aelin had desperately needed one.

Aelin said under her breath, “You’ve memorized the preparations for you and your girls?”

“Those who wish to flee may come on the ship Arobynn hired. I have made space for all, just in case. If they’re stupid enough to stay in Rifthold, then they deserve their fate.”

Aelin hadn’t risked being seen meeting with Florine until now, and Florine hadn’t even dared to pack her belongings for fear of being discovered.

She would take only what she could carry with her to the performance—money, jewels—and flee to the docks the moment chaos erupted.

There was a good chance she wouldn’t make it out of the palace— and neither would her girls, despite the escape plans provided by Chaol and Brullo and the cooperation of the kinder guards.

Aelin found herself saying, “Thank you.”

Florine’s mouth quirked to the side. “Now there’s something you never learned from your master.”

The dancers at the front of the line reached the guards, and Florine sighed loudly and strutted toward them, bracing her hands on her narrow hips, power and grace lining every step closer to the black-uniformed guard studying a long list.

One by one, he looked over the dancers, comparing them with the list he bore. Checking rosters—detailed ones.

But thanks to Ress having broken into the barracks last night and adding a fake name along with her description, Aelin would be on the list.

They inched closer, Aelin keeping toward the back of the group to buy time to note details.

Gods, this castle—the same in every possible way, but different. Or maybe it was she who was different.

One by one the dancers were allowed between the blank-faced guards and hurried down the narrow castle hallway, giggling and whispering to one another.

Aelin rose up onto her toes to study the guards at the doors, no more than the novice scrunching her face in impatient curiosity.

Then she saw them.

Written across the threshold stones in dark paint were Wyrdmarks.

They’d been beautifully rendered, as though merely decorative, but— They must be at every door, every entrance.

Sure enough, even the windows a level up had small, dark symbols on them, no doubt keyed to Aelin Galathynius, to alert the king to her presence or to trap her in place long enough to be captured.

A dancer elbowed Aelin in the stomach to get her to stop leaning on her shoulder to peer over their heads. Aelin gaped at the girl—and then let out an oomphof pain.

The dancer glared over her shoulder, mouthing to shut up. Aelin burst into tears.

Loud, blubbering, hu-hu-hu tears. The dancers froze, the one ahead of her stepping back, glancing to either side.

“T-that hurt,” Aelin said, clutching her stomach. “I didn’t do anything,” the woman hissed.

Aelin kept crying.

Ahead, Florine ordered her dancers to step aside, and then her face was in Aelin’s. “What in the name of every god in the realm is this nonsense about?”

Aelin pointed a shaking finger at the dancer. “She h-hit me.”

Florine whirled on the wide-eyed dancer who was already proclaiming her innocence. Then followed a series of accusations, insults, and more tears—now from the dancer, weeping over her surely ruined career.

“W-water,” Aelin blubbered to Florine. “I need a glass of waaater.” The guards had begun pushing toward them. Aelin squeezed Florine’s arm hard. “N-now.”

Florine’s eyes sparked, and she faced the guards who approached, barking her demands. Aelin held her breath, waiting for the strike, the slap

… but there was one of Ress’s friends—one of Chaol’s friends, wearing a red flower pinned to his breast, as she’d asked—running off to get water.

Exactly where Chaol had said he’d be, just in case something went wrong. Aelin clung to Florine until the water appeared—a bucket and ladle, the best the man could come up with. He wisely didn’t meet her gaze.

With a little sob of thanks, Aelin grabbed both from his hands. They were shaking slightly.

She gave Florine a subtle nudge with her foot, urging her forward. “Come with me,” seethed Florine, dragging her to the front of the line.

“I’ve had enough of this idiocy, and you’ve nearly wrecked your makeup.”

Careful not to spill the water, Aelin allowed Florine to pull her to the stone-faced guard at the doors. “My foolish, useless understudy, Dianna,” she said to the guard with flawless steel in her voice, unfazed by the black- eyed demon looking out at her.

The man studied the list in his hands, scanning, scanning— And crossed off a name.

Aelin took a shivering sip of water from the ladle, and then dunked it back into the bucket.

The guard looked once more at Aelin—and she willed her lower lip to wobble, the tears to well again as the demon inside devoured her with his eyes. As if all these lovely dancers were dessert.

“Get in,” the man grunted, jerking his chin to the hall behind him.

With a silent prayer, Aelin stepped toward the Wyrdmarks written over the threshold stones.

And tripped, sending the bucket of water spraying over the marks.

She wailed as she hit the ground, knees barking in genuine pain, and Florine was instantly upon her, demanding she stop being so clumsy and such a crybaby, and then shoving her in—shoving her over the ruined marks.

And into the glass castle.

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