Celaena stood in the gaming room, staring at the pianoforte as she heard Chaol quickly leave. She hadn’t played in weeks.
Originally, it had been just because she didn’t have time. Because Archer and the tomb and Chaol had occupied every moment of her day. Then Nehemia had died—and she hadn’t gone into this room once, hadn’t wanted to look at the instrument, hadn’t wanted to hear or make music ever again.
Shoving the encounter with Chaol out of her mind, Celaena slowly folded back the lid of the pianoforte and stroked the ivory keys.
But she couldn’t push down, couldn’t bring herself to make a sound. Nehemia should have been here—to help with Yellowlegs and the riddle, to tell her what to do with Chaol, to smile as Celaena played something particularly clever for her.
Nehemia was gone. And the world … it was moving on without her.
When Sam had died, she had tucked him into her heart, tucked him in alongside her other beloved dead, whose names she kept so secret she sometimes forgot them. But Nehemia—Nehemia wouldn’t fit. It was as if her heart was too full of the dead, too full of those lives that had ended well before their time.
She couldn’t seal Nehemia away like that, not when that bloodstained bed and those ugly words still haunted her every step, every breath.
So Celaena just hovered at the pianoforte, tracing her fingers over the keys again and again, and let the silence devour her.
An hour later, Celaena stood before the strange, second staircase at the end of the forgotten hall of ancient records, a clock chiming somewhere far in the library above. The images of Fae and flora danced along the fire-lit stairwell, spiraling out of sight, down and down into unknown depths. She’d found The Walking Dead almost immediately—discarded on a lonely table between some stacks. As though it had been waiting for her. And it had been the work of a few minutes to find a spell inside that claimed to unlock any door. She’d quickly memorized it, practicing a few times on a locked closet.
It had taken all of her self-control not to scream when she’d heard the lock snap free the first time. Or the second.
It was no wonder Nehemia and her family kept such power a secret. And no wonder the King of Adarlan had sought it out for himself.
Staring down into the stairwell, Celaena touched Damaris, then looked at the two jeweled daggers hanging from her belt. She was fine. No reason to be nervous. What sort of evil did she expect to find in a library, of all places?
Surely the king had better places to hide his dark dealings. At best, she’d find more hints as to whether he had any Wyrdkeys and where he kept them. At worst … she would run into the cloaked person she’d seen outside the library that night. But the glowing eyes she’d glimpsed on the other side of that door belonged to a rodent of some sort—nothing more. And if she was wrong … Well, whatever it was, after taking down the ridderak, this shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Right. Celaena stepped forward, pausing on the landing.
Nothing. No feelings of terror, no otherworldly warnings. Not a thing.
She took another step, then another, holding her breath as she wound around the staircase until she could no longer see the top. She could have sworn that the etchings on the wall moved all around her, that the beautiful, feral faces of the Fae turned to look as she passed.
The only noises were her footsteps and the whispering of the torch flame. A chill ran down her spine, and Celaena stopped as the dark void of the hallway came into view.
She was at the sealed iron door a moment later. She didn’t give herself the luxury of reconsidering her plan as she took out her piece of chalk and traced two Wyrdmarks onto the door, whispering the accompanying words at the same time. They burned on her tongue, but as she finished speaking, she heard a faint, dull thud as something in the door slid open.
She swore under her breath. The spell truly worked. She didn’t want to think about all that implied, about how it was able to work on iron, the one element supposedly immune to magic. And not when there were so many awful spells contained in The Walking Dead—spells to summon demons, to raise the dead, to torture others until they begged for death …
With a firm tug, she yanked the door open, wincing as it whined across the gray stone floor. A stale, cold breeze ruffled her hair. She drew Damaris.
After checking and double-checking that she could not be locked inside, she crossed the threshold.
Her torch revealed a small staircase of about ten steps, which led down to another long, narrow passageway. Cobwebs and dust filled every inch of it, but it wasn’t the neglected look of the place that made her pause.
Rather it was the doors, the dozens of iron doors that lined both sides of the hallway. All as nondescript as the door behind her, all revealing nothing of what might be behind them. At the opposite end of the hall, another iron door gleamed dully in the torchlight.
What was this place?
She descended the stairs. It was so silent. As if the very air held its breath.
She held her torch high, Damaris in her other hand, and approached the first iron door. It had no handle, the surface marked only by a single line. The door across from it had two marks. Numbers one and two. Odd numbers on the left, even on the right. She kept moving, igniting torch after torch, brushing away the curtains of cobwebs. As she walked farther down the hall, the numbers on the doors rose.
Is this some sort of dungeon?
But the floor held no traces of blood, no remnants of bones or weapons. It didn’t even smell that bad—just dusty. Dry. She tried opening one of the doors, but it was firmly locked. All of the doors were locked. And some instinct told her to keep them that way.
Her head throbbed slightly with the beginnings of a headache.
The hallway went on and on, until she reached the door at the far end, the cells on either side numbered ninety-eight and ninety-nine.
Beyond them was a final, unmarked door. She set her torch in a bracket beside the last door and grabbed the ring on the door to pull it open. This one was significantly lighter than the first, but also locked. And unlike the doors lining the hall, this one seemed to ask her to unlock it—as though it needed to be opened. So Celaena sketched the unlocking spell again, the chalk bone-white against the ancient metal. The door yielded without a sound.
Perhaps these were Gavin’s dungeons. From the time of Brannon. That would explain the Fae depictions on the staircase above. Perhaps he’d used these iron-gated cells to imprison the demon-soldiers of Erawan’s army. Or the wicked things Gavin and his war band hunted down …
Her mouth went dry as she passed through the second door and ignited the torches along the way. Again, the light revealed a small set of stairs leading down into a hallway. Yet this one veered to the right, and was significantly shorter. There was nothing in the shadows—just more and more locked iron doors on either side. It was so, so quiet …
She walked until she reached the door on the other end of the hall. Sixty-six cells this time, all sealed shut. She unlocked the end door with the Wyrdmarks.
She entered the third passageway, which also made a sharp right turn, and found it to be even shorter. Thirty-three cells.
The fourth hallway veered right again, and she counted twenty-two cells. The slight throbbing in her head turned into a full-on pounding, but it was so far to her rooms, and she was here already …
Celaena paused before the fourth end door.
It’s a spiral. A labyrinth. Bringing you deeper and deeper inside, farther belowground …
She bit her lip but unlocked the door. Eleven cells. She increased her pace, and swiftly reached the fifth door. Nine cells.
She approached the sixth door and halted.
A different sort of chill went through her as she stared at the sixth portal.
The center of the spiral?
As the chalk met the iron door to form the Wyrdmarks, a voice in the back of her mind told her to run. And though she wanted to listen, she opened the door anyway.
Her torch revealed a hallway in ruin. Parts of the walls had caved in, and the wooden beams were left in splinters. Cobwebs stretched between the broken shafts of wood, and tattered scraps of cloth, impaled upon rock and beam, swayed in the slight breeze.
Death had been here. And not too long ago. If this place were as ancient as Gavin and Brannon, most of the cloth would be dust.
She looked at the three cells that lined the short hallway. There was one more door at the end, which hung crookedly on its one remaining hinge. Darkness filled the void beyond.
But it was the third cell that held her interest.
The iron door to the third cell had been smashed, its surface dented and folded in upon itself. But not from the outside.
Celaena raised Damaris before her as she faced the open cell.
Whoever had been within had broken loose.
A quick sweep of her torch across the threshold revealed nothing save for bones—piles of bones, most of them splintered beyond recognition.
She snapped her attention back to the hallway. Nothing moved.
Gingerly, she stepped into the cell.
Iron chains dangled from the walls, broken off where manacles would have been. The dark stone was covered in white marks; dozens and dozens of long, deep gouges in groups of four.
She turned around to face the broken cell door. There were countless marks on it.
How could someone make such lines in iron? In stone?
She shuddered and quickly stepped out of the cell.
She glanced back the way she had come, which glowed with the torches she’d lit, and then at the dark, open space that led onward.
You’re near the center of the spiral. Just see what it is—see if it yields any answers. Elena said to look for clues …
She swung Damaris in her hand a few times—only to loosen her wrist, of course. Rolling her neck, she entered the gloom.
There were no torch brackets here. The seventh portal revealed only a short passageway and one open door. An eighth gate.
The walls on either side of the eighth door were damaged and claw-marked. Her head gave a violent throb, then quieted as she stepped nearer.
Beyond the portal lay a spiral staircase that led upward, so high that she couldn’t see the top. A straight ascent into darkness.
But to where?
The stairwell stank, and she held Damaris before her as she ascended the steps, taking care to avoid the fallen stones that littered the ground.
Up and up and up she climbed, grateful for all her training. Her headache only grew worse, but when she reached the top, she forgot about fatigue, forgot about pain.
She raised the torch. Shimmering obsidian walls surrounded her, reaching high, high, high—so high that she couldn’t see the ceiling. She was inside some sort of chamber at the bottom of a tower.
Twining through the strange stone walls, greenish veins glittered in the torchlight. She had seen this material before. Seen it—
The king’s ring. The ring on Perrington’s finger. And Cain’s …
She touched the stone, and a shock went through her, her head pounding so badly she gagged. The Eye of Elena gave a pulse of blue light but quickly died, as if the light itself had been sucked toward the stone and devoured.
She staggered back toward the stairs.
Gods above. What is this?
As if in response, a boom shuddered through the tower, so loud that she jumped back. It echoed and echoed, turning metallic.
She raised her gaze to the darkness above.
“I know where I am,” she whispered as the sound subsided.
The clock tower.