Celaena dreamt. She was walking down the long, secret passage again. She didn’t have a candle, nor did she have a string to lead her. She chose the portal on the right, for the other two were dank and unwelcoming, and this one seemed to be warm and pleasant. And the smell—it wasn’t the smell of mildew, but of roses. The passage twisted and wound, and Celaena found herself descending a narrow set of stairs. For some reason she couldn’t name, she avoided brushing against the stone. The staircase swooped down, winding on and on, and she followed the rose scent whenever another door or arch appeared. Just when she grew tired of so much walking, she reached the bottom of a set of stairs and stopped. She stood before an old wooden door.
A bronze knocker in the form of a skull hung in its center. It seemed to be smiling. She waited for that terrible breeze, or to hear someone cry, or for it to become cold and damp. But it was still warm, and it still smelled lovely, and so Celaena, with a bit of mustered courage, turned the handle. Without a sound, the door swung open.
She expected to find a dark, forgotten room, but this was something far different. A shaft of moonlight shot through a small hole in the ceiling, falling upon the face of a beautiful marble statue lying upon a stone slab. No—not a statue. A sarcophagus. It was a tomb.
Trees were carved into the stone ceiling, and they stretched above the sleeping female figure. A second sarcophagus had been placed beside the woman, depicting a man. Why was the woman’s face bathed in moonlight and the man’s in darkness?
He was handsome, his beard clipped and short, his brow broad and clear, and his nose straight and sturdy. He held a stone sword between his hands, its handle resting upon his chest. Her breath was sucked from her. A crown sat upon his head.
The woman, too, wore a crown. It wasn’t a tacky, enormous thing, but rather a slender peak with a blue gem embedded in the center—the only jewel in the statue. Her hair, long and wavy, spilled around her head and tumbled over the side of the lid, so lifelike that Celaena could have sworn it was real. The moonlight fell upon her face, and Celaena’s hand trembled as she reached out and touched the smooth, youthful cheek.
It was cold and hard, as a statue should be. “Which queen were you?” she said aloud, her voice reverberating through the still chamber. She ran a hand across the lips, then across the brow. Her eyes narrowed. A mark was faintly carved into the surface, practically invisible to the eye. She traced it with her finger, then traced it again. Deciding that the moonlight must be bleaching it, Celaena shielded the spot with her hand. A diamond, two arrows piercing its side, then a vertical line through its middle . . .
It was the Wyrdmark she’d seen earlier. She stepped back from the sarcophagi, suddenly cold. This was a forbidden place.
She tripped on something, and as she staggered, she noticed the floor. Her mouth fell open. It was covered in stars—raised carvings that mirrored the night sky. And the ceiling depicted the earth. Why were they reversed? She looked at the walls and put a hand to her heart.
Countless Wyrdmarks were etched into its surface. They were in swirls and whorls, in lines and squares. The small Wyrdmarks made up larger ones, and the larger ones made up even larger ones, until it seemed the entire room meant something she couldn’t possibly understand.
Celaena looked at the stone coffins. There was something written at the feet of the queen. Celaena inched toward the female figure. There, in stone letters, it read:
Ah! Time’s Rift!
It made little sense. They must be important rulers, and immensely old, but . . .
She approached the head again. There was something calming and familiar about the queen’s face, something that reminded Celaena of the rose smell. But there was still something off about her—something odd.
Celaena almost cried aloud as she saw them: the pointed, arched ears. The ears of the Fae, the immortal. But no Fae had married into the Havilliard line for a thousand years, and there had been only one, and she was a half-breed at that. If this were true, if she was Fae or half-Fae, then she was . . . she was . . .
Celaena stumbled back from the woman and slammed into the wall. A coating of dust flew into the air around her.
Then this man was Gavin, the first King of Adarlan. And this was Elena, the first princess of Terrasen, Brannon’s daughter, and Gavin’s wife and queen.
Celaena’s heart pounded so violently that she felt sick. But she couldn’t make her feet move. She shouldn’t have entered the tomb, she shouldn’t have strayed into the sacred places of the dead when she was so stained and tainted by her crimes. Something would come after her, and haunt and torture her for disturbing their peace.
But why was their tomb so neglected? Why had no one been to honor the dead this day? Why were there not flowers at her head? Why was Elena Galathynius Havilliard forgotten?
Against the far wall of the chamber sat piles of jewels and weapons. A sword was prominently displayed before a suit of golden armor. She knew that sword. She stepped toward the treasure. It was the legendary sword of Gavin, the sword he had wielded in the fierce wars that had almost ripped apart the continent, the sword that had slain the Dark Lord Erawan. Even after a thousand years, it hadn’t rusted. Though magic might have vanished, it seemed that the power that had forged the blade lived on. “Damaris,” she whispered, naming the blade.
“You know your history,” said a light, female voice, and Celaena jumped, yelping as she tripped over a spear and fell into a gold-filled chest. The voice laughed. Celaena grappled for a dagger, a candlestick, anything. But then she saw the owner of the voice, and froze.
She was beautiful beyond reckoning. Her silver hair flowed around her youthful face like a river of moonlight. Her eyes were a crystal, sparkling blue, and her skin was white as alabaster. And her ears were ever so slightly pointed.
“Who are you?” the assassin breathed, knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it.
“You know who I am,” Elena Havilliard said.
Her likeness had been perfectly rendered on the sarcophagus. Celaena didn’t move from where she had fallen into the chest, despite her throbbing spine and legs. “Are you a ghost?”
“Not quite,” said Queen Elena, helping Celaena rise from the chest. Her hand was cold, but solid. “I’m not alive, but my spirit doesn’t haunt this place.” She flicked her eyes toward the ceiling, and her face became grave. “I’ve risked much coming here tonight.”
Celaena, despite herself, took a step away. “Risked?”
“I cannot stay here long—and neither can you,” said the queen. What sort of absurd dream was this? “They are distracted for now, but . . .” Elena Havilliard looked at her husband’s sarcophagus.
Celaena’s head ached. Was Gavin Havilliard distracting something above? “Who needs distracting?”
“The eight guardians; you know of whom I speak.”
Celaena stared at her blankly, but then understood. “The gargoyles on the clock tower?”
The queen nodded. “They guard the portal between our worlds. We have managed to buy some time, and I was able to slip past . . .” She grasped Celaena’s arms. To her surprise, it hurt. “You must listen to what I tell you. Nothing is a coincidence. Everything has a purpose. You were meant to come to this castle, just as you were meant to be an assassin, to learn the skills necessary for survival.”
The nausea returned. She hoped Elena wouldn’t speak of what her heart refused to remember, hoped that the queen wouldn’t mention what she had spent so long forgetting.
“Something evil dwells in this castle, something wicked enough to make the stars quake. Its malice echoes into all worlds,” the queen went on. “You must stop it. Forget your friendships, forget your debts and oaths. Destroy it, before it is too late, before a portal is ripped open so wide that there can be no undoing it.” Her head whipped around, as if she heard something. “Oh, there is no time,” she said, the whites of her eyes showing. “You must win this competition and become the King’s Champion. You understand the people’s plight. Erilea needs you as the King’s Champion.”
“But what is—”
The queen reached into her pockets. “They must not catch you here. If they do—all will be lost. Wear this.” She pushed something cold and metallic into Celaena’s hand. “It will protect you from harm.” She yanked Celaena to the door. “You were led here tonight. But not by me. I was led here, too. Someone wants you to learn; someone wants you to see . . .” Her head snapped to the side as a growl rippled through the air. “They are coming,” she whispered.
“But I don’t understand! I’m not—I’m not who you think I am!”
Queen Elena put her hands on Celaena’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Courage of the heart is very rare,” she said with sudden calm. “Let it guide you.”
A distinct howl shook the walls and made Celaena’s blood icy. “Go,” said the queen, shoving Celaena into the hallway. “Run!”
Needing no more encouragement, Celaena staggered up the stairs. She fled so fast that she had little idea of where she was going. There was a scream below, and snarling, and Celaena’s stomach rose in her throat as she hurled herself upward. The light of her chambers appeared, and as it neared, she heard a faint voice cry from behind her, almost in sudden realization and anger.
Celaena hurtled into the room, and saw only her bed before everything went dark.
Celaena’s eyes opened. She was breathing—hard. And still wearing her gown. But she was safe—safe in her room. Why was she so prone to strange, unpleasant dreams? And why was she out of breath? Find and destroy the evil lurking in the castle indeed!
Celaena turned on her side, and would have gladly fallen asleep again were it not for the metal that cut into her palm. Please tell me this is Chaol’s ring.
But she knew it wasn’t. In her hand lay a coin-size gold amulet on a delicate chain. She fought against the urge to scream. Made of intricate bands of metal, within the round border of the amulet lay two overlapping circles, one on top of the other. In the space that they shared was a small blue gem that gave the center of the amulet the appearance of an eye. A line ran straight through the entire thing. It was beautiful, and strange, and—
Celaena faced the tapestry. The door was slightly ajar.
She jumped from the bed, slamming into the wall so hard that her shoulder made an ugly cracking noise. Despite the pain, she rushed to the door and pulled it tightly shut. The last thing she needed was for whatever was down there to wind up in her rooms. Or to have Elena show up again.
Panting, Celaena stepped back, surveying the tapestry. The woman’s figure rose up from behind the wooden chest. With a jolt, she realized it was Elena; she stood just where the door was. A clever marker.
Celaena threw more logs onto the fire, quickly changed into her nightgown, and slid into bed, clutching her makeshift knife. The amulet lay where she had left it. It will protect you . . .
Celaena glanced at the door again. No screams, no howls—nothing to indicate what had just happened. Still . . .
Celaena cursed herself for it, but hastily attached the chain around her neck. It was light and warm. Pulling the covers up to her chin, she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for sleep to come, or for a clawed hand to snatch at her, to decapitate her. If it hadn’t been a dream—if it hadn’t just been some hallucination . . .
Celaena clutched the necklace. Become the King’s Champion—she could do that. She was going to do that, anyway. But what were Elena’s motives? Erilea needed the King’s Champion to be someone who understood the suffering of the masses. That seemed simple enough. But why did Elena have to be the one to tell her that? And how did it tie to her first command: to find and destroy the evil lurking in the castle?
Celaena took a steadying breath, nestling farther into her pillows. What a fool she was for opening the secret door on Samhuinn! Had she somehow brought all of this upon herself, then? She opened her eyes, watching the tapestry.
Something evil dwells in this castle . . . Destroy it . . .
Didn’t she have enough to worry about right now? She was going to fulfill Elena’s second command—but the first . . . that might lead her into trouble. It wasn’t like she could go poking about the castle whenever and wherever she pleased, either!
But—if there was a threat like that, then not only her life was at risk. And while she’d be more than happy if some dark force somehow destroyed Cain, Perrington, the king, and Kaltain Rompier, if Nehemia, or even Chaol and Dorian, were somehow harmed . . .
Celaena took a shuddering breath. The least she could do was look in the tomb for some clues. Maybe she’d find out something regarding Elena’s purpose. And if that didn’t yield anything . . . well, at least she’d tried.
The phantom breeze flowed through her room, smelling of roses. It was a long while before Celaena slipped into an uneasy sleep.
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