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Though she’d never admit it, Celaena didn’t really know what to expect at their first Test. With all the training over the past five days and fiddling with various weapons and techniques, her body ached. Which was another thing she’d never admit, even though hiding the throbbing pain in her limbs was nearly impossible. As Celaena and Chaol entered the giant sparring room in the morning, she glanced at her competitors and remembered she wasn’t the only one who hadn’t a clue what to expect. A towering black curtain had been swept across half of the room, blocking the other half from sight. Whatever lay beyond that curtain, she realized, was to decide the fate of one of them.

The normal ruckus had been replaced by a rustling quiet—and rather than mill about, the competitors lingered by their trainers’ sides. She kept close to Chaol, which wasn’t a change from the ordinary. But the sponsors atop the mezzanine looking over the black-and-white checkered floor were. Her throat tightened as her gaze met with that of the Crown Prince. Aside from sending her his books, she hadn’t seen or heard from him since the meeting with the king. He flashed her a grin, those sapphire eyes gleaming in the morning light. She offered him a tight smile in return and quickly looked away.

Brullo stood by the curtain, a scarred hand upon his sword, and Celaena studied the scene. Someone stepped to her side. She knew who it was before he spoke. “It’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

She glanced sidelong at Nox. Chaol tensed next to her, and she could feel him watching the thief closely, no doubt wondering if she and Nox were formulating some escape plan that would include the deaths of every member of the royal family.

“After five days of mindless training,” she replied quietly, all too aware that very few people were speaking in the hall, “I’m glad for a bit of excitement.”

Nox laughed under his breath. “What do you think it is?”

She shrugged, keeping her attention on the curtain. More and more competitors were arriving, and soon the clock would strike nine—the time when the Test would begin. Even if she knew what was behind the curtain, she certainly wouldn’t help him. “Hopefully it’s a pack of man-eating wolves that we have to take on with our bare hands.” She looked at him fully now, a half smile on her lips. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Chaol subtly cleared his throat. Now was not the time for talking. She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her black pants. “Best of luck,” she said to Nox before she strode toward the curtain, Chaol following her. When they were far enough away, she asked under her breath, “No idea what’s behind that curtain?” Chaol shook his head.

She adjusted the thick leather belt slung low across her hips. It was the kind of belt intended to bear the weight of multiple weapons. Its lightness now only reminded her of what she’d lost—and what she had to gain. The death of the Eye Eater yesterday had been fortunate in one aspect: one less man to compete with.

She glanced up at Dorian. He could probably see what was behind the curtain from his place on the mezzanine. Why not help her cheat a little? She flicked her attention to the other sponsors—noblemen in fine clothing—and ground her teeth at the sight of Perrington. He smirked as he watched Cain, who was stretching out his muscular arms. Had he already told Cain what was beyond the curtain?

Brullo cleared his throat. “Attention now!” he called to them. All of the competitors tried to look calm as he strode to the center of the curtain. “Your first Test has arrived.” He grinned broadly, as if whatever the curtain concealed was going to torment the hell out of them. “As His Majesty has ordered, one of you will be eliminated today—one of you will be deemed unworthy.”

Just get on with it! she thought, her jaw clenched tight.

As if he’d read her thoughts, Brullo snapped his fingers, and a guard standing by the wall pulled the curtain back. Inch by inch, it swayed away, until—

Celaena bit down her laugh. Archery? It was an archery contest?

“Rules are simple,” Brullo said. Behind him, five targets were staggered at various distances through the hall. “You get five shots—one per target. The one with the worst aim goes home.”

Some competitors began murmuring, but it was all she could do to keep from beaming. Unfortunately, Cain didn’t bother to hide his triumphant grin. Why couldn’t he have been the Champion who was found dead?

“You’ll go one at a time,” Brullo said, and behind them a pair of soldiers rolled out a cart of bows and quivers loaded with arrows. “Form a line at the table to determine your order. The Test begins now.”

She expected them to rush to the long table stacked with identical bows and arrows, but apparently none of the twenty-one other competitors were in much of a hurry to go home. Celaena made to join the forming line, but Chaol grasped her shoulder. “Don’t show off,” he warned.

She smiled sweetly and pried his fingers off her. “I’ll try not to,” she purred, and joined the line.

It was an enormous leap of faith to give them arrows, even if the tips were blunted. A dull head wouldn’t stop it from going through Perrington’s throat—or Dorian’s, if she wanted.

Though the thought was entertaining, she kept her attention on the competitors. With twenty-two Champions and five shots each, the Test took a dreadfully long time. Thanks to Chaol pulling her aside, she’d been in the back of the line—not dead last, but three from the end. Far enough back that she had to watch everyone else go before her, including Cain.

The other competitors did well enough. The giant circular targets were composed of five colored rings—yellow marking the center, with only a tiny black dot to mark the bull’s-eye. Each target got smaller the farther back it was placed, and because the room was so long, the final target was nearly seventy yards away.

Celaena ran her fingers along the smooth curve of her yew bow. Archery was one of the first skills Arobynn had taught her—a staple of any assassin’s training. Two of the assassins further proved it with easy, skilled shots. Though they didn’t hit the bull’s-eyes, and their shots got sloppier the farther the target, whoever their masters had been, they’d known what they were teaching.

Pelor, the gangly assassin, wasn’t yet strong enough to manage a longbow, and barely made any shots. When he finished, his eyes gleaming with resentment, the Champions sniggered, and Cain laughed the loudest.

Brullo’s face was grim. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to use a bow, boy?”

Pelor lifted his head, glaring at the Weapons Master with surprising brazenness. “I’m more skilled in poisons.”

“Poisons!” Brullo threw his hands up. “The king wants a Champion—and you couldn’t shoot a cow in a pasture!” The Weapons Master waved Pelor off. The other Champions laughed again, and Celaena wanted nothing more than to smile with them. But Pelor took a shuddering breath, his shoulders relaxing, and joined the other finished competitors. If he wound up being eliminated, where would they bring him? To prison—or some other hellhole? Despite herself, Celaena felt badly for the boy. His shots hadn’t been that bad.

It was Nox, actually, who surprised her most, with three bull’s-eyes into the nearer targets and the two final shots along the border of the inner ring. Perhaps she should consider him for an ally. From the way the other competitors watched him as he strode to the back of the room, she knew they were thinking the same thing.

Grave, the repulsive assassin, did fine, she supposed. Four bull’s-eyes, and the final shot right on the border of the innermost ring. But then Cain stepped up to the white line painted at the back of the room, drew back his yew bow, his black ring glinting, and fired.

Again, and again, and again, within the span of a few seconds.

And when the sound of his final shot stopped echoing in the suddenly silent chamber, Celaena’s stomach turned over. Five bull’s-eyes.

Her one consolation was that none of them had been on that black dot—the absolute center. One had come close, though.

For some reason, the line started moving quickly. All she could think about was Cain—Cain getting applauded by Perrington, Cain getting clapped on the back by Brullo, Cain getting all of that praise and attention, not because he was a mountain of muscle, but because he actually deserved it.

Suddenly, Celaena found herself standing at the white line, looking at the vast length of the room before her. Some of the men chuckled—albeit quietly—and she kept her head held high as she reached over her shoulder for an arrow and nocked it into her bow.

They’d done some archery practice a few days earlier, and she’d been excellent. Or, as excellent as she could be without attracting attention. And she’d killed men from longer shots than the farthest target. Clean shots, too. Right through the throat.

She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry.

I am Celaena Sardothien, Adarlan’s Assassin. If these men knew who I was, they’d stop laughing. I am Celaena Sardothien. I am going to win. I will not be afraid.

She pulled back her bow, the sore muscles in her arm aching with the effort. She shut out noise, shut out movement, shut out anything other than the sound of her breathing as her focus narrowed on the first target. She took a steady breath. As she exhaled, she let the arrow fly.


The tightness in her stomach abated, and she sighed through her nose. It wasn’t an absolute bull’s-eye, but she hadn’t been aiming for it, anyway.

Some men stopped laughing, but she paid them no heed as she nocked another arrow and fired at the second target. She aimed for the edge of the innermost ring, which she hit with deadly precision. She could have made an entire circle of arrows, if she’d wanted. And if she’d had enough ammunition.

She got another bull’s-eye on the third target—aiming for the edge, but landing within the border. She did the same for the fourth target, but aimed for the opposite side of the bull’s-eye. Where she aimed, the arrow met its mark.

As she reached for her last arrow, she heard one of the competitors, a red-haired mercenary named Renault, snigger. She clenched her bow tightly enough for the wood to groan, and pulled back her final shot.

The target was little more than a blur of color, so far back that its bull’s-eye was a grain of sand in the vastness of the room. She couldn’t see the little dot in its center—the dot that no one had yet to touch, even Cain. Celaena’s arm trembled with effort as she pulled the string back a bit farther and fired.

The arrow hit the absolute center, obliterating the black dot. They stopped laughing.

No one said anything to her when she stalked away from the line and tossed her bow back onto the cart. Chaol only scowled at her—obviously, she hadn’t been that inconspicuous—but Dorian smiled. She sighed and joined the competitors waiting for the competition to finish, keeping well away from all of them.

When their marks were compared by Brullo himself, one of the army soldiers, not young Pelor, wound up being eliminated. But though she hadn’t lost by any means, Celaena couldn’t stand—absolutely could not stand—the feeling that she hadn’t really won anything at all.



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