Queen of Shadows Chapter 7 Read Online

Full Read the Online Chapter 7 of Queen of Shadows novel PDF by Sarah J. Maas for free.

Chapter 7 Part 1 Lady of Shadows of Queen of Shadows: There were two injured people in total, one held between Chaol and his companion, the other sagging between two men she didn’t recognize. Three others—two men and another woman—guarded the rear.

The rebel they dismissed with a glance. A friend.

Aelin held each of their gazes as they hurried toward her, their weapons out. Blood was splattered on them all—red blood and black blood that she knew too well. And the two nearly unconscious people …

She also knew that emaciated, dried-out look. The hollowness on their faces. She’d been too late with the ones in Wendlyn. But somehow Chaol and his allies had gotten these two out. Her stomach flipped. Scouting—the young woman beside her had been scouting the path ahead, to make sure it was safe for this rescue.

The guards in this city weren’t corrupted just by ordinary Valg, as Arobynn had suggested.

No, there was at least one Valg prince here. In these tunnels, if the darkness was any indicator. Shit. And Chaol had been—

Chaol paused long enough for a companion to step in to help carry the injured man away. Then he was striding ahead. Twenty feet away now. Fifteen. Ten. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth, and his bottom lip was split open. They’d foughttheir way out—

“Explain,” she breathed to the woman at her side. “It’s not my place,” was the woman’s response.

She didn’t bother to push it. Not with Chaol now in front of her, his bronze eyes wide as he took in the blood on Aelin herself.

“Are you hurt?” His voice was hoarse.

Aelin silently shook her head. Gods. Gods. Without that hood, now that she could see his features … He was exactly as she remembered—that ruggedly handsome, tan face perhaps a bit more gaunt and stubbly, but still Chaol. Still the man she’d come to love, before … before everything had changed.

There were so many things she had thought she’d say, or do, or feel.

A slender white scar slashed down his cheek. She’d given him that. The night Nehemia had died, she’d given him that, and tried to kill him.

Would have killed him. If Dorian hadn’t stopped her.

Even then, she’d understood that what Chaol had done, whom he had chosen, had forever cleaved what was between them. It was the one thing she could not forget, could not forgive.

Her silent answer seemed enough for the captain. He looked to the woman beside Aelin—to his scout. His scout—who reported to him. As though he were leading them all.

“The path ahead is clear. Stick to the eastern tunnels,” she said.

Chaol nodded. “Keep moving,” he said to the others, who had now reached his side. “I’ll catch up in a moment.” No hesitation—and no softness, either. As if he’d done this a hundred times.

They wordlessly continued on through the tunnels, casting glances Aelin’s way as they swept past. Only the young woman lingered. Watching.

“Nesryn,” Chaol said, the name an order in itself. Nesryn stared at Aelin—analyzing, calculating.

Aelin gave her a lazy grin.

Faliq,” Chaol growled, and the woman slid her midnight eyes toward him. If Nesryn’s family name didn’t give away her heritage, it was those eyes, slightly uptilted at the corners and lightly lined with kohl, that revealed at least one of her parents was from the Southern Continent. Interesting that the woman didn’t try to hide it, that she chose to wear the kohl even while on a mission, despite Rifthold’s less-than-pleasant policies toward immigrants. Chaol jerked his chin toward their vanishing companions. “Get to the docks.”

“It’s safer to have one of us remain here.” Again that cool voice—steady.

“Help them get to the docks, then get the hell back to the craftsman district. Your garrison commander will notice if you’re late.”

Nesryn looked Aelin up and down, those grave features never shifting. “How do we know she didn’t come here on his orders?”

Aelin knew very well who she meant. She winked at the young woman. “If I’d come here on the king’s orders, Nesryn Faliq, you’d have been dead minutes ago.”

No flicker of amusement, no hint of fear. The woman could give Rowan a run for his money for sheer iciness.

“Sunset tomorrow,” Chaol said sharply to Nesryn. The young woman stared him down, her shoulders tight, before she headed into the tunnel. She moved like water, Aelin thought.

“Go,” Aelin said to Chaol, her voice a thin rasp. “You should go—help them.” Or whatever he was doing.

Chaol’s bloodied mouth formed a thin line. “I will. In a moment.” No invitation for her to join. Maybe she should have offered.

“You came back,” he said. His hair was longer, shaggier than it’d been months ago. “It—Aedion—it’s a trap—”

“I know about Aedion.” Gods, what could she even say? Chaol nodded distantly, blinking. “You … You look different.” She fingered her red hair. “Obviously.”

“No,” he said, taking one step closer, but only one. “Your face. The way you stand. You …” He shook his head, glancing toward the darkness they’d just fled. “Walk with me.”

She did. Well, it was more like walking-as-fast-as-they-could-without- running. Ahead, she could just make out the sounds of his companions hurrying through the tunnels.

All the words she’d wanted to say rushed around in her head, fighting to get out, but she pushed back against them for a moment longer.

I love you—that’s what he’d said to her the day she left. She hadn’t given him an answer other than I’m sorry.

“A rescue mission?” she said, glancing behind them. No whisper of pursuit.

Chaol grunted in confirmation. “Former magic-wielders are being hunted and executed again. The king’s new guards bring them into the tunnels to

hold until it’s time for the butchering block. They like the darkness—seem to thrive on it.”

“Why not the prisons?” They were plenty dark enough, even for the Valg. “Too public. At least for what they do to them before they’re executed.”

A chill snaked down her spine. “Do they wear black rings?” A nod. Her heart nearly stopped. “I don’t care how many people they take into the tunnels. Don’t go in again.”

Chaol gave a short laugh. “Not an option. We go in because we’re the only ones who can.”

The sewers began to reek of brine. They had to be nearing the Avery, if she’d correctly counted the turns. “Explain.”

“They don’t notice or really care about the presence of ordinary humans

—only people with magic in their bloodline. Even dormant carriers.” He glanced sidelong at her. “It’s why I sent Ren to the North—to get out of the city.”

She almost tripped over a loose stone. “Ren … Allsbrook?” Chaol nodded slowly.

The ground rocked beneath her. Ren Allsbrook. Another child of Terrasen. Still alive. Alive.

“Ren’s the reason we learned about it in the first place,” Chaol said. “We went into one of their nests. They looked right at him. Ignored Nesryn and me entirely. We barely got out. I sent him to Terrasen— to rally the rebels there—the day after. He wasn’t too happy about it, believe me.”

Interesting. Interesting, and utterly insane. “Those things are demons.

The Valg. And they—”

“Drain the life out of you, feed on you, until they make a show of executing you?”

“It’s not a joke,” she snapped. Her dreams were haunted by the roaming hands of those Valg princes as they fed on her. And every time she would awaken with a scream on her lips, reaching for a Fae warrior who wasn’t there to remind her that they’d made it, they’d survived.

“I know it’s not,” Chaol said. His eyes flicked to where Goldryn peeked over her shoulder. “New sword?”

She nodded. There were perhaps only three feet between them now— three feet and months and months of missing and hating him. Months of crawling out of that abyss he’d shoved her into. But now that she was here

… Everything was an effort not to say she was sorry. Sorry not for what she’d done to his face, but for the fact that her heart was healed—still fractured in spots, but healed—and he … he was not in it. Not as he’d once been.

“You figured out who I am,” she said, mindful of how far ahead his companions were.

“The day you left.”

She monitored the darkness behind them for a moment. All clear.

He didn’t move closer—didn’t seem at all inclined to hold her or kiss her or even touch her. Ahead, the rebels veered into a smaller tunnel, one she knew led directly toward the ramshackle docks in the slums.

“I grabbed Fleetfoot,” he said after a moment of silence. She tried not to exhale too loudly. “Where is she?”

“Safe. Nesryn’s father owns a few popular bakeries in Rifthold, and has done well enough that he’s got a country house in the foothills outside the city. He said his staff there would care for her in secret. She seemed more than happy to torture the sheep, so—I’m sorry I couldn’t keep her here, but with the barking—”

“I understand,” she breathed. “Thank you.” She cocked her head. “A land-owning man’s daughter is a rebel?”

“Nesryn is in the city guard, despite her father’s wishes. I’ve known her for years.”

That didn’t answer her question. “She can be trusted?”

“As you said, we’d all be dead already if she was here on the king’s orders.”

“Right.” She swallowed hard, sheathing her knives and tugging off her gloves, if only because it gave her something to do with her hands. But then Chaol looked—to the empty finger where his amethyst ring had once been. The skin was soaked with the blood that had seeped in through the fabric, some red, some black and reeking.

Chaol gazed at that empty spot—and when his eyes rose to hers again, it became hard to breathe. He stopped at the entrance to the narrow tunnel. Far enough, she realized. He’d taken her as far as he was willing to allow her to follow.

“I have a lot to tell you,” she said before he could speak. “But I think I’d rather hear your story first. How you got here; what happened to Dorian.

And Aedion. All of it.” WhyyouweremeetingwithArobynntonight.

That tentative tenderness in his face hardened into a cold, grim resolve— and her heart cracked a bit at the sight of it. Whatever he had to say wasn’t going to be pleasant.

But he just said, “Meet me in forty minutes,” and named an address in the slums. “I have to deal with this first.”

He didn’t wait for a response before jogging down the tunnel after his companions.

Aelin followed anyway.

Aelin watched from a rooftop, monitoring the docks of the slums as Chaol and his companions approached the small boat. The crew didn’t dare lay anchor—only tying the boat to the rotted posts long enough for the rebels to pass the sagging victims into the arms of the waiting sailors. Then they were rowing hard, out into the dark curve of the Avery and hopefully to a larger ship at its mouth.

She observed Chaol speak quickly to the rebels, Nesryn lingering when he’d finished. A short, clipped fight about something she couldn’t hear, and then the captain was walking alone, Nesryn and the others headed off in the opposite direction without so much as a backward glance.

Chaol made it a block before Aelin silently dropped down beside him. He didn’t flinch. “I should have known better.”

“You really should have.”

Chaol’s jaw tightened, but he kept walking farther into the slums.

Aelin examined the night-dark, sleeping streets. A few feral urchins darted past, and she eyed them from beneath her hood, wondering which were on Arobynn’s payroll and might report to him that she’d been spotted blocks away from her old home. There was no point in trying to hide her movements—she hadn’t wanted to, anyway.

The houses here were ramshackle but not wrecked. Whatever working- class families dwelled within tried their best to keep them in shape. Given their proximity to the river, they were likely occupied by fishermen, dockworkers, and maybe the occasional slave on loan from his or her

master. But no sign of trouble, no vagrants or pimps or would-be thieves lurking about.

Almost charming, for the slums.

“The story isn’t a pleasant one,” the captain began at last.

Aelin let Chaol talk as they strode through the slums, and it broke her heart. She kept her mouth shut as he told her how he’d met Aedion and worked with him, and then how the king had captured Aedion and interrogated Dorian. It took considerable effort to keep from shaking the captain to demand how he could have been so reckless and stupid and taken so long to


Then Chaol got to the part where Sorscha was beheaded, each word quieter and more clipped than the last.

She had never learned the healer’s name, not in all the times the woman had patched and sewn her up. For Dorian to lose her … Aelin swallowed hard.

It got worse.

So much worse, as Chaol explained what Dorian had done to get him out of the castle. He’d sacrificed himself, revealing his power to the king. She was shaking so badly that she tucked her hands into her pockets and clamped her lips together to lock up the words.

But they danced in her skull anyway, around and around.

YoushouldhavegottenDorianandSorschaoutthedaythekingbutchered those slaves. Did you learn nothing from Nehemia’s death? Didyousomehowthinkyoucouldwinwithyourhonorintact,withoutsacrificing something? You shouldn’t have left him; how could you let himface the king alone? How could you, how could you, how could you?

The grief in Chaol’s eyes kept her from speaking.

She took a breath as he fell silent, mastering the anger and the disappointment and the shock. It took three blocks before she could think straight.

Her wrath and tears would do no good. Her plans would change again— but not by much. Free Aedion, retrieve the Wyrdkey … she could still do it.

She squared her shoulders. They were mere blocks away from her old apartment.

At least she could have a place to lie low, if Arobynn hadn’t sold the property. He probably would have taunted her about it if he had—or perhaps left her to find it had a new owner. He loved surprises like that.

“So now you’re working with the rebels,” she said to Chaol. “Or leading them, from the look of it.”

“There are a few of us in charge. My territory covers the slums and docks

—there are others responsible for different sections of the city. We meet as often as we dare. Nesryn and some of the city guards have been able to get in contact with a few of my men. Ress and Brullo, mostly. They’ve been looking for ways to get Dorian out. And Aedion. But that dungeon is impenetrable, and they’re watching the secret tunnels. We only went into their nest in the sewer tonight because we’d received word from Ress that there was some big meeting at the palace. Turns out they’d left more sentries behind than we’d anticipated.”

The castle was impossible to get into—unless she accepted Arobynn’s help. Another decision. For tomorrow. “What have you heard about Dorian since you fled?”

A flicker of shame shone in his bronze eyes. He had fled, though. He’d left Dorian in his father’s hands.

She clenched her fingers into fists to keep from slamming his head into the side of a brick building. How could he have served that monster? How could he not have seen it, not have tried to kill the king anytime he got within striking range?

She hoped that whatever Dorian’s father had done to him, however he’d been punished, the prince knew he was not the only one grieving. And after she retrieved Dorian, she would let him know, when he was ready to listen, that she understood—and that it would be hard and long and painful, but he might come back from it, the loss. When he did, with that raw magic of his, free when hers was not … It could be critical in defeating the Valg.

“The king hasn’t publicly punished Dorian,” Chaol said. “Hasn’t even locked him up. As far as we can tell, he’s still attending events, and will be at this execution–birthday party of his.”

Aedion—oh, Aedion. He knew who she was, what she had become, but Chaol hadn’t suggested whether her cousin might spit in her face the

moment he laid eyes on her. She wouldn’t care about it until Aedion was safe, until he was free.

“So, we’ve got Ress and Brullo inside, and eyes on the castle walls,” Chaol went on. “They say that Dorian seems to be behaving normally, but his demeanor is off. Colder, more distant—but that’s to be expected after Sorscha was—”

“Did they report him wearing a black ring?”

Chaol shuddered. “No—not a ring.” There was something about his tone that made her look at him and wish she didn’t have to hear his next words. Chaol said, “But one of the spies claimed that Dorian has a torque of black stone around his neck.”

A Wyrdstone collar.

For a moment, all Aelin could manage to do was stare at Chaol. The surrounding buildings pressed on her, a giant pit opening beneath the cobblestones she walked upon, threatening to swallow her whole.

“You’re pale,” Chaol said, but he made no move to touch her.

Good. She wasn’t entirely certain she could handle being touched without ripping his face off.

But she took a breath, refusing to let the enormity of what had happened to Dorian hit her—for now at least. “Chaol, I don’t know what to say— about Dorian, and Sorscha, and Aedion. About you being here.” She gestured to the slums around them.

“Just tell me what happened to you all these months.”

She told him. She told him what had happened in Terrasen ten years ago, and what had happened to her in Wendlyn. When she got to the Valg princes, she did not tell him about those collars, because—because he already looked sick. And she did not tell him of the third Wyrdkey—only that Arobynn had stolen the Amulet of Orynth, and she wanted it back. “So now you know why I’m here, and what I did, and what I plan to do.”

Chaol didn’t reply for an entire block. He’d been silent throughout. He had not smiled.

There was so little left of the guard she’d come to care for as he at last met her gaze, his lips a thin line. He said, “So you’re here alone.”

“I told Rowan it would be safer for him to remain in Wendlyn.”

“No,” he said a bit sharply, facing the street ahead. “I mean—you came back, but without an army. Without allies. You came back empty-handed.”

Empty-handed. “I don’t know what you expected. You—you sent me to Wendlyn. If you’d wanted me to bring back an army, you should have been a little more specific.”

“I sent you there for your safety, so you could get away from the king. And as soon as I realized who you were, how could I not assume you’d run to your cousins, to Maeve—”

“Have you not been listening to anything I said? About what Maeve is like? The Ashryvers are at her beck and call, and if Maeve does not send aid, theywill not send aid.”

“You didn’t even try.” He paused on a deserted corner. “If your cousin Galan is a blockade runner—”

“My cousin Galan is none of your concern. Do you even understand what I faced?”

“Do you understand what it was like for us here? While you were off playing with magic, off gallivanting with your faerie prince, do you understand what happened to me—to Dorian? Do you understand what’s happening every day in this city? Because your antics in Wendlyn might very well have been the cause of all this.”

Each word was like a stone to the head. Yes—yes, maybe, but … “My


“If you hadn’t been so dramatic about it, hadn’t flaunted your defeat of Narrok and practically shouted at the king that you were back, he would never have called us to that room—”

“You do not get to blame me for that. For his actions.” She clenched her fists as she looked at him—really looked at him, at the scar that would forever remind her of what he’d done, what she could not forgive.

“So what do I get to blame you for?” he demanded as she started walking again, her steps swift and precise. “Anything?”

He couldn’t mean that—couldn’t possibly mean it. “Are you looking for things to blame me for? How about the fall of the kingdoms? The loss of magic?”

“The second one,” he said through his teeth, “at least I know without a doubt is not your doing.”

She paused again. “What did you say?”

His shoulders tightened. That was all she needed to see to know he’d planned to keep it from her. Not from Celaena, his former friend and lover,

but from Aelin—Queen of Terrasen. A threat. Whatever this information about magic was, he hadn’t planned to tell her.

“What, exactly, did you learn about magic, Chaol?” she said too quietly. He didn’t reply.

“Tell me.”

He shook his head, a gap in the streetlights shadowing his face. “No. Not a chance. Not with you so unpredictable.”

Unpredictable. It was a mercy, she supposed, that magic was indeed stifled here, or else she might have turned the street to cinders around them, just to show him how very predictable she was.

“You found a way to free it, didn’t you. You know how.”

He didn’t try to pretend otherwise. “Having magic free would result only in chaos—it would make things worse. Perhaps make it easier for those demons to find and feed on magic-wielders.”

“You might very well regret those words when you hear the rest of what I have to say,” she hissed, raging and roaring inside. She kept her voice low enough that no one nearby might overhear as she continued. “That collar Dorian is wearing—let me tell you what it does, and let’s see if you refuse to tell me then, if you dismiss what I’ve been doing these past months.” With every word, his face further drained of color. A small, wicked part of her reveled in it.

“They target magic-wielders, feeding off the power in their blood. They drain the life from those that aren’t compatible to take in a Valg demon. Or, considering Rifthold’s new favorite pastime, just execute them to drum up fear. They feed on it—fear, misery, despair. It’s like wine to them. The lesser Valg, they can seize a mortal’s body through those black rings. But their civilization—a whole damn civilization,” she said, “is split into hierarchies like our own. And their princes want to come to our world very, very badly. So the king uses collars. Black Wyrdstone collars.

” She didn’t think Chaol was breathing. “The collars are stronger, capable of helping the demons stay inside human bodies while they devour the person and power inside. Narrok had one inside him. He begged me at the end to kill him. Nothing else could. I witnessed monsters you cannot begin to imagine take on one of them and fail. Only flame, or beheading, ends it.

“So you see,” she finished, “considering the gifts I have, you’ll find that you wantto tell me what you know. I might be the only person capable of

freeing Dorian, or at least giving him the mercy of killing him. If he’s even in there.” The last words tasted as horrible as they sounded.

Chaol shook his head. Once. Twice. And she might have felt bad for the panic, for the grief and despair on his face. Until he said, “Did it even occur to you to send us a warning? To let any of us know about the king’s collars?”

It was like a bucket of water had been dumped on her. She blinked. She could have warned them—could have tried. Later—she’d think about that later.

“That doesn’t matter,” she said. “Right now, we need to help Aedion and Dorian.”

“There is no we.” He unfastened the Eye of Elena from around his neck and chucked it at her. It glimmered in the streetlights as it flew between them. She caught it with one hand, the metal warm against her skin. She didn’t look at it before sliding it into her pocket. He went on. “There hasn’t been a wefor a while, Celaena—”

“It’s Aelin now,” she snapped as loudly as she dared. “Celaena Sardothien doesn’t exist anymore.”

“You’re still the same assassin who walked away. You came back only when it was useful for you.”

It was an effort to keep from sending her fist into his nose. Instead she pulled the silver amethyst ring out of her pocket and grabbed his hand, slamming it into his gloved palm. “Why were you meeting with Arobynn Hamel tonight?”


“It doesn’t matter. Tell me why.” “I wanted his help to kill the king.”

Aelin started. “Are you insane? Did you tell him that?”

“No, but he guessed it. I’d been trying to meet with him for a week now, and tonight he summoned me.”

“You’re a fool for going.” She began walking again. Staying in one spot, however deserted, wasn’t wise.

Chaol fell into step beside her. “I didn’t see any otherassassins offering their services.”

She opened her mouth, then shut it. She curled her fingers, then straightened them one by one. “The price won’t be gold or favors. The price

will be the last thing you see coming. Likely the death or suffering of the people you care about.”

“You think I didn’t know that?”

“So you want to have Arobynn kill the king, and what? Put Dorian on the throne? With a Valg demon inside him?”

“I didn’t know that until now. But it changes nothing.”

“It changes everything. Even if you get that collar off, there’s no guarantee the Valg hasn’t taken root inside him. You might replace one monster with another.”

“Why don’t you say whatever it is you’re getting at, Aelin?” He hissed her name barely loud enough for her to hear.

“Can you kill the king? When it comes down to it, could you kill your king?”

Dorianis my king.”

It was an effort not to flinch. “Semantics.” “He killed Sorscha.”

“He killed millions before her.” Perhaps a challenge, perhaps another question.

His eyes flared. “I need to go. I’m meeting Brullo in an hour.”

“I’ll come with you,” she said, glancing toward the glass castle towering over the northeastern quarter of the city. Perhaps she’d learn a bit more about what the Weapons Master knew about Dorian. And how she might be able to put down her friend. Her blood turned icy, sluggish.

“No, you won’t,” Chaol said. Her head snapped toward him. “If you’re there, I have to answer too many questions. I won’t jeopardize Dorian to satisfy your curiosity.”

He kept walking straight, but she turned the corner with a tight shrug. “Do what you want.”

Noticing she was heading away, he halted. “And what are yougoing to be doing?”

Too much suspicion in that voice. She paused her steps and arched an eyebrow. “Many things. Wicked things.”

“If you give us away, Dorian will—”

She cut him off with a snort. “You refused to share your information, Captain. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to withhold mine.” She made to walk down the street, toward her old apartment.

“Not captain,” he said.

She looked over her shoulder and studied him again. “What happened to your sword?”

His eyes were hollow. “I lost it.” Ah. “So is it Lord Chaol, then?” “Just Chaol.”

For a heartbeat, she pitied him, and part of her wished she could say it more kindly, more compassionately. “There’s no getting Dorian out. There’s no saving him.”

“Like hell there isn’t.”

“You’d be better off considering other contenders to put on the throne—” “Do notfinish that sentence.” His eyes were wide, his breathing uneven.

She’d said enough. She rolled her shoulders, leashing her temper. “With my magic, I could help him—I could try to find a way to free him.”

But most likely kill him. She wouldn’t admit that aloud. Not until she could see him for herself.

“And what then?” Chaol asked. “Will you hold all of Rifthold hostage the way you did Doranelle? Burn anyone who doesn’t agree with you? Or will you just incinerate our kingdom from spite? And what of others like you, who feel that they have a score to settle with Adarlan?” He huffed a bitter laugh. “Perhaps we’re better off without magic. Perhaps magic doesn’t exactly make things fair amongst us mere mortals.”

“Fair? You think that any part of this is fair?” “Magic makes people dangerous.”

“Magic has saved your life a few times now, if I recall correctly.”

“Yes,” he breathed, “you and Dorian both—and I’m grateful, I am. But where are the checks against your kind? Iron? Not much of a deterrent, is it? Once magic is free, who is to stop the monsters from coming out again? Who is to stop you?”

A spear of ice shot through her heart.


It truly had been horror and revulsion that she’d seen on his face that day she revealed her Fae form in the other world—the day she’d cleaved the earth and called down fire to save him, to save Fleetfoot. Yes, there would always need to be checks against any sort of power, but … Monster.

She wished he’d struck her instead. “So Dorian is allowed to have magic. You can come to terms with his power, and yet my power is an abomination to you?”

“Dorian has never killed anyone and didn’t gut Archer Finn in the tunnels or torture and kill Grave and then chop him up into pieces.

Dorian didn’t go on a killing spree at Endovier that left dozens dead.”

It was an effort to put up that old, familiar wall of ice and steel. Everything behind it was crumbling and shaking. “I’ve made my peace with that.” She sucked on her teeth, trying so damn hard not to go for her weapons as she might once have done, as she still ached to do, and said, “I’ll be at my old apartment, should you decide to take your head out of your ass. Good night.”

She didn’t give him a chance to reply before she stalked down the street.

Chaol stood in the small bedroom of the ramshackle house that had been his squadron’s primary headquarters for the past three weeks, staring at a desk littered with maps and plans and notes regarding the palace, the guards’ rotations, and Dorian’s habits. Brullo had nothing to offer during their meeting an hour earlier—just grim reassurance that Chaol had done the right thing in leaving the king’s service and walking away from everything he’d ever worked for. The older man still insisted on calling him captain, despite Chaol’s protests.

Brullo had been the one who’d found Chaol and offered to be his eyes inside the castle, not three days after he’d run. Fled, Aelin had said. She’d known exactly what word she wielded.

A queen—raging and fiery and perhaps more than a little cruel—had found him tonight. He’d seen it from the moment he’d staggered out of the Valg’s darkness to find her standing with a predator’s stillness beside Nesryn. Despite the dirt and blood on her, Aelin’s face was tan and flushed with color, and—different. Older, as if the stillness and power she radiated had honed not just her soul but also the very shape of her. And when he had seen her bare finger …

Chaol took out the ring he’d tucked into his pocket and glanced at the unlit hearth. It would be a matter of minutes to light a blaze and chuck the

ring into it.

He turned the ring over between his fingers. The silver was dull and marred with countless scratches.

No, Celaena Sardothien certainly did not exist anymore. That woman— the woman he had loved … Perhaps she’d drowned in the vast, ruthless sea between here and Wendlyn. Perhaps she’d died at the hands of the Valg princes. Or maybe he’d been a fool all this time, a fool to look at the lives she’d taken and blood she’d so irreverently spilled, and not be disgusted.

There had been blood on her tonight—she’d killed many men before finding him. She hadn’t even bothered to wash it off, hadn’t even seemed to notice she was wearing the blood of her enemies.

A city—she’d encircled a city with her flames, and made a Fae Queen tremble. No one should possess that sort of power. If she could make an entire city burn as retribution for a Fae Queen whipping her friend … What would she do to the empire that had enslaved and butchered her people?

He would not tell her how to free magic—not until he knew for certain that she wouldn’t turn Rifthold into cinders on the wind.

There was a knock on his door—two efficient beats. “You should be on your shift, Nesryn,” he said by way of greeting.

She slipped in, smooth as a cat. In the three years he’d known her, she’d always had that quiet, sleek way of moving. A year ago, a bit shattered and reckless from Lithaen’s betrayal, it had intrigued him enough that he’d spent the summer sharing her bed.

“My commander’s drunk with his hand up the shirt of whatever new barmaid was in his lap. He won’t notice my absence for a while yet.” A faint sort of amusement shone in her dark eyes. The same sort of amusement that had been there last year whenever they would meet, at inns or in rooms above taverns or sometimes even up against the wall of an alley.

He’d needed it—the distraction and release—after Lithaen had left him for the charms of Roland Havilliard. Nesryn had just been bored, apparently. She’d never sought him out, never asked when she would see him again, so their encounters had always been initiated by him. A few months later, he hadn’t felt particularly bad when he’d gone to Endovier and stopped seeing her. He’d never told Dorian—or Aelin. And when he’d

run into Nesryn three weeks ago at one of the rebel gatherings, she hadn’t seemed to be holding a grudge.

“You look like a man who got punched in the balls,” she said at last.

He cut a glare in her direction. And because he did indeed feel that way, because maybe he was again feeling a bit shattered and reckless, he told her what had happened. Who it had happened with.

He trusted her, though. In the three weeks they’d been fighting and plotting and surviving together, he’d had no choice but to trust her. Ren had trusted her. Yet Chaol still hadn’t told Ren who Celaena truly was before he’d left. Perhaps he should have. If he’d known that she would come back like this, act this way, he supposed Ren should have learned who he was risking his life for. He supposed Nesryn deserved to know, too.

Nesryn cocked her head, her hair shimmering like black silk. “The King’s Champion—and Aelin Galathynius. Impressive.” He didn’t need to bother to ask her to keep it to herself. She knew exactly how precious that information was. He hadn’t asked her to be his second in command for nothing. “I should be flattered she held a knife to my throat.”

Chaol glanced again at the ring. He should melt it, but money was scarce.

He’d already used up much of what he’d snatched from the tomb.

And he would need it now more than ever. Now that Dorian was … Was …

Dorian was gone.

Celaena—Aelin had lied about many things, but she wouldn’t have lied about Dorian. And she might be the only person able to save him. But if she tried to kill him instead …

He sank into the desk chair, staring blankly at the maps and plans he’d been cultivating. Everything—everything was for Dorian, for his friend. For himself, he had nothing left to lose. He was nothing more than a nameless oath-breaker, a liar, a traitor.

Nesryn took a step toward him. There was little concern in her face, but he’d never expected coddling from her. Never wanted it. Perhaps because she alone understood it—what it was like to face a father’s disapproval to follow the path that called. But while Nesryn’s father had eventually accepted her choice, Chaol’s own father … He didn’t want to think about his father right now, not as Nesryn said, “What she claimed about the prince


“It changes nothing.”

“It sounds like it changes everything. Including the future of this kingdom.”

“Just drop it.”

Nesryn crossed her thin arms. She was slender enough that most opponents underestimated her—to their own misfortune. Tonight, he’d seen her rip into one of those Valg soldiers like she was filleting a fish. “I think you’re letting your personal history get in the way of considering every route.”

He opened his mouth to object. Nesryn lifted a groomed brow and waited.

Maybe he’d been hotheaded just now.

Maybe it had been a mistake to refuse to tell Aelin how to free magic. And if it cost him Dorian in the process—

He swore softly, the rush of breath guttering the candle on the desk.

The captain he’d once been would have refused to tell her. Aelin was an enemy of his kingdom.

But that captain was no more. That captain had died alongside Sorscha in that tower room. “You fought well tonight,” he said, as if that were an answer.

Nesryn clicked her tongue. “I came back because I received a report that three of the city garrisons were called to the Vaults not thirty minutes after we left. Her Majesty,” Nesryn said drily, “killed a great number of the king’s men, the owners and investors of the hall, and took it upon herself to wreck the place. They won’t be open again anytime soon.”

Gods above. “Do they know it was the King’s Champion?”

“No. But I thought I should warn you. I bet she had a reason for doing it.”

Maybe. Maybe not. “You’ll find that she tends to do what she wants, when she wants, and doesn’t ask for permission first.” Aelin probably had just been in a pissy mood and decided to unleash her temper on the pleasure hall.

Nesryn said, “You should have known better than to get tangled up with a woman like that.”

“And I suppose you would know everything about getting tangled up with people, given how many suitors are lined up outside your father’s

bakeries.” A cheap shot, maybe, but they’d always been blunt with each other. She hadn’t ever seemed bothered by it, anyway.

That faint gleam of amusement returned to her eyes as Nesryn put her hands in her pockets and turned away. “This is why I never get too involved. Too messy.”

Why she didn’t let anyone in. Ever. He debated asking why—pushing about it. But limiting the questions about their pasts was part of their deal, and had been from the start.

Honestly, he didn’t know what he’d expected when the queen returned. Not this.

You do not get to pick and choose which parts of her to love, Dorian had once said to him. He’d been right. So painfully right.

Nesryn let herself out.

At first light, Chaol went to the nearest jeweler and pawned the ring for a handful of silver.

Exhausted and miserable, Aelin trudged back to her old apartment above the unremarkable warehouse. She didn’t dare linger outside the large, two- level wooden building that she’d purchased when she’d at last paid off her debts to Arobynn—purchased for herself, to get out of the Keep. But it had only started to feel like a home once she’d paid off Sam’s debts as well, and he’d come to live here with her. A few weeks—that was all she’d been able to share with him.

Then he was dead.

The lock on the large, rolling door was new, and inside the warehouse, the towering stacks of crates full of ink remained in prime condition. No dust coated the stairs in the back. Either Arobynn or another face from her past would be inside.

Good. She was ready for another fight.

When she opened the green door, a knife angled behind her, the apartment was dark. Empty.

But it smelled fresh.

It was a matter of a few moments to check the apartment—the great room, the kitchen (a few old apples, but no other signs of an occupant), her

bedroom (untouched), and the guest room. It was there that someone’s scent lingered; the bed was not quite perfectly made, and a note lay on the high dresser beside the door.

The captain said I could stay here for a while. Sorry for trying to kill youthiswinter.Iwastheonewiththetwinswords.Nothingpersonal.—Ren

She swore. Renhad been staying here? And—and he still thought she was the King’s Champion. The night the rebels had kept Chaol hostage in a warehouse, she had tried to kill him, and had been surprised when he’d held his ground. Oh, she remembered him.

At least he was safe in the North.

She knew herself well enough to admit that the relief was partially that of a coward—that she didn’t have to face Ren and see how he might react to who she was, what she’d done with Marion’s sacrifice. Given Chaol’s own reaction, “not well” seemed like a fair guess.

She walked back into the darkened great room, lighting candles as she went. The large dining table occupying one half of the space was still set with her elegant plates. The couch and two red velvet armchairs before the ornate mantel were a bit rumpled, but clean.

For a few moments, she just stared at the mantel. A beautiful clock had once sat there—until the day she’d learned Sam had been tortured and killed by Rourke Farran. That the torture had gone on for hours while she’d sat on her ass in this apartment, packing trunks that were now nowhere to be seen. And when Arobynn had come to deliver the news, she’d taken that beautiful clock and hurled it across the room, where it had shattered against the wall.

She hadn’t been back here since then, though someone had cleaned up the glass. Either Ren or Arobynn.

A look at one of the many bookshelves gave her the answer.

Every book she’d packed for that one-way trip to the Southern Continent, for that new life with Sam, had been put back in place. Exactly where she’d once kept them.

And there was only one person who would know those details—who would use the unpacked trunks as a taunt and a gift and a quiet reminder of what leaving him would cost her. Which meant Arobynn had no doubt known she would return here. At some point.

She padded into her bedroom. She didn’t dare to check whether Sam’s clothes had been unpacked into the drawers—or thrown out.

A bath—that’s what she needed. A long, hot bath.

She hardly noticed the room that had once been her sanctuary. She lit the candles in the white-tiled bathroom, casting the chamber in flickering gold.

After turning the brass knobs on the oversized porcelain bathtub to start the water flowing, she unstrapped each of her weapons. She peeled off her filthy, bloody clothes layer by layer, until she stood in her own scarred skin and gazed at her tattooed back in the mirror above the sink.

A month ago, Rowan had covered her scars from Endovier with a stunning, scrolling tattoo, written in the Old Language of the Fae—the stories of her loved ones and how they’d died.

She would not have Rowan ink another name on her flesh.

She climbed into the tub, moaning at the delicious heat, and thought of the empty place on the mantel where the clock should have been. The place that had never quite been filled again since that day she’d shattered the clock. Maybe—maybe she’d also stopped in that moment.

Stopped living and started just … surviving. Raging.

And maybe it had taken until this spring, when she had been sprawled on the ground while three Valg princes fed on her, when she had at last burned through that pain and darkness, for the clock to start again.

No, she would not add another name of her beloved dead to her flesh. She yanked a washcloth from beside the tub and scrubbed at her face,

bits of mud and blood clouding the water.

Unpredictable. The arrogance, the sheer single-minded selfishness … Chaol had run. He’d run, and Dorian had been left to be enslaved by the


Dorian. She’d come back—but too late. Too late.

She dunked the washcloth again and covered her face with it, hoping it would somehow ease the stinging in her eyes. Maybe she’d sent too strong a message from Wendlyn by destroying Narrok; maybe it was her fault that Aedion had been captured, Sorscha killed, and Dorian enslaved.

Monster. And yet …

For her friends, for her family, she would gladly be a monster. For Rowan, for Dorian, for Nehemia, she would debase and degrade and ruin

herself. She knew they would have done the same for her. She slung the washcloth into the water and sat up.

Monster or no, never in ten thousand years would she have let Dorian face his father alone. Even if Dorian had told her to go. A month ago, she and Rowan had chosen to face the Valg princes together—to die together, if need be, rather than do so alone.

You remind me of what the world ought to be; what the world can be, she’d once said to Chaol.

Her face burned. A girl had said those things; a girl so desperate to survive, to make it through each day, that she hadn’t questioned why he served the true monster of their world.

Aelin slipped back under the water, scrubbing at her hair, her face, her bloody body.

She could forgive the girl who had needed a captain of the guard to offer stability after a year in hell; forgive the girl who had needed a captain to be her champion.

But she was her own champion now. And she would not add another name of her beloved dead to her flesh.

So when she awoke the next morning, Aelin wrote a letter to Arobynn, accepting his offer.

One Valg demon, owed to the King of the Assassins.

In exchange for his assistance in the rescue and safe return of Aedion Ashryver, the Wolf of the North.

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