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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.


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