Celaena hurtled through the city streets, discarding her cloak and heavier weapons as she went, anything to give her additional speed, anything to get her back to the castle before Nehemia … Before Nehemia—
A clock began sounding somewhere in the capital, and a lifetime passed between each booming peal.
It was late enough that the streets were mostly deserted, but the people who saw her kept well out of her way as she sprinted past, her lungs nearly shattering. She pushed that pain away, willing strength into her legs, praying to whatever gods still cared to give her swiftness and strength. Who would the king use? If not Chaol, then who?
She didn’t care if it was the king himself. She’d destroy them. And that anonymous threat to Nehemia—she’d sort that out, too.
The glass castle loomed closer, its crystalline towers glowing with a pale greenish light.
Not again. Not again, she told herself with each step, each pound of her heart. Please.
She couldn’t take the front gate. The guards there would surely stop her or cause a ruckus that might prompt the unknown assassin to act faster. There was a high stone wall bordering one of the gardens; it was closer, and far less monitored.
She could have sworn she heard hooves thundering after her, but there was nothing in the world except her and the distance to Nehemia. She neared the stone wall surrounding the garden, her blood roaring in her ears as she made a running jump for it.
She hit the side as silently as she could, her fingers and feet immediately finding purchase, digging in so hard her fingernails cracked. She scrambled up and over the wall before the guards even looked her way.
She landed on the gravel path of the garden, falling onto her hands. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered pain in her palms, but she was already running again, careening toward the glass doors that led to the castle. Patches of snow glowed blue in the moonlight. She’d go to Nehemia’s room first—go there and lock Nehemia up safely, and then take down the bastard who was coming for her.
Archer’s men could go to hell. She’d dispatched them in a matter of heartbeats. Whoever had been sent to hurt Nehemia—that person was hers. Hers to take apart bit by bit, until she ended them. She would throw their remnants at the feet of the king.
She flung open one of the glass doors. There were guards loitering about, but she’d picked this entrance because they knew her—and knew her face. She didn’t expect to glimpse Dorian, though, chatting with them. His sapphire eyes were nothing more than a glimmer of color as she sprinted by.
She could hear shouts from behind her, but she wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop. Not again. Never again.
She hit the stairs, taking them by twos and threes, her legs trembling. Just a bit farther—Nehemia’s rooms were only one level up, and two hallways over. She was Adarlan’s Assassin—she was Celaena Sardothien. She would not fail. The gods owed her. The Wyrd owed her. She would not fail Nehemia. Not when there were so many awful words left between them.
Celaena hit the top of the stairs. The shouts behind her grew; people were calling her name. She would stop for no one.
She turned down the familiar hallway, nearly sobbing with relief at the sight of the wooden door. It was shut; there were no signs of forced entry.
She drew her two remaining daggers, summoning the words she’d need to quickly explain to Nehemia how and where to hide. When her assailant arrived, Nehemia’s only task would be to keep quiet and concealed. Celaena would deal with the rest. And she’d enjoy the hell out of it.
She reached the door and slammed into it, exploding through the locks.
The world slowed to the beat of an ancient, ageless drum.
Celaena beheld the room.
The blood was everywhere.
Before the bed, Nehemia’s bodyguards lay with their throats cut from ear to ear, their internal organs spilling out onto the floor.
And on the bed …
On the bed …
She could hear the shouts growing closer, reaching the room, but their words were somehow muffled, as though she were underwater, the sounds coming from the surface above.
Celaena stood in the center of the freezing bedroom, gazing at the bed, and the princess’s broken body atop it.
Nehemia was dead.