One was just a receipt for a pair of shoes, which she must have accidentally tucked into her pocket that morning. And another … Celaena lifted that one closer. Ah! Time’s Rift! had been written there. She’d scribbled it down when she’d been trying to solve the eye riddle. When everything in the tomb had felt like a great secret, one giant clue.
Some help that had been. Just another dead end. Cursing under her breath, she used it to wipe the grime off her fingers. The tomb still didn’t make sense, though. What did the trees on the ceiling and the stars on the floor have to do with the riddle? The stars had led to the secret hole, but they could just as easily have been on the ceiling to do that. Why make everything backward?
Would Brannon have been so foolish as to put all the answers in one place?
She uncrumpled the scrap of paper, now stained with the creature’s oily blood. Ah! Time’s Rift!
There was no inscription at Gavin’s feet—only Elena’s. And the words made little sense.
… But what if they weren’t meant to make sense? What if they were only just logical enough to imply one thing, but really mean another?
Everything in the tomb was backward, rearranged, the natural order in reverse. To hint that things were jumbled, misarranged. So the thing that should have been concealed was right in the open. But, like everything else, its meaning was warped.
And there was one person—one being—who could possibly tell her whether she was right.
“It’s an anagram,” she panted as she reached the tomb.
Mort opened an eye. “Clever, wasn’t it? To hide it right where everyone could see?”
Celaena eased open the door just wide enough to slip inside. The moonlight was strong, and her breath caught in her throat as she saw precisely where it fell. Trembling, she stopped at the foot of the sarcophagus and traced her fingers over the stone letters. “Tell me what it means.”
He paused, long enough for her to take a breath to start yelling at him, but he then said, “I Am the First.”
And that was all the confirmation she needed.
The first Wyrdkey of the three. Celaena moved around the stone body, her eyes on Elena’s sleeping face. As she looked upon those fine features, she whispered the words.
In grief, he hid one in the crown
Of her he loved so well,
To keep with her where she lay down
Inside the starry cell.
She lifted shaking fingers to the blue jewel in the center of the crown. If this was indeed the Wyrdkey … what would she do with it? Would she be forced to destroy it? Where could she hide it so no one else would discover it? The questions swirled, threatening with all the difficulty they offered to send her running back to her rooms, but she steeled herself. She’d consider everything later. I will not be afraid, she told herself.
The gem in the crown glowed in the moonlight, and she gingerly pushed against one side of the jewel. It didn’t move.
She pushed again, staying closer to the side, digging her nail into the slight crease between the gem and the stone rim. It shifted—and turned over to reveal a small compartment beneath. It was no larger than a coin, and no deeper than a knuckle’s length.
Celaena peered in. The moonlight revealed only gray stone. She stuck a finger inside, scraping every surface.
There was nothing there. Not even a shard.
A shot of cold ran down her spine. “So he truly has it,” she whispered. “He found the key before me. And he’s been using its power for his own agenda.”
“He was barely twenty when he found it,” Mort said softly. “Strange, bellicose youth! Always poking about in forgotten places where he wasn’t wanted, reading books no one his age—or any age—should read! Though,” Mort added, “that does sound awfully like someone I know.”
“And you somehow forgot to tell me until now?”
“I didn’t know what it was then; I thought he merely took something. It wasn’t until you read the riddle that I suspected.”
It was a good thing he was made of bronze. Otherwise she’d have smashed his face in. “Do you have any suspicions about what he might have done with it?” She turned the gem back over as she fought her rising terror.
“How should I know? He never said anything to me, though I’ll admit I didn’t condescend to speak with him. He came back here once he was king, but he only poked around for a few minutes and then left. I suspect he was looking for the other two keys.”
“How did he discover it was here?” she asked, stepping away from the marble figure.
“The same way you did, though far faster. I suppose that makes him cleverer than you.”
“Do you think he has the other two?” she said, eyeing the treasure along the far wall, the stand where Damaris was displayed. Why hadn’t he taken Damaris, one of the greatest heirlooms of his house?
“If he had the others, don’t you think that our doom would have come upon us already?”
“You think he doesn’t have all of the keys?” she asked, beginning to sweat despite the cold.
“Well, Brannon once told me that if you have all three keys, then you have control over the Wyrdgate. I think it’s fair to assume the current king would have tried his hand at conquering another realm, or enslaved creatures to conquer the rest of ours, if he had all three.”
“Wyrd save us if that happens.”
“Wyrd?” Mort laughed. “You’re pleading with the wrong force. If he controls the Wyrd, you’re going to have to find another means of saving yourself. And don’t you think it’s too much of a coincidence that magic stopped as soon as he began his conquest?”
How magic stopped … “He used the Wyrdkeys to stifle magic. All magic,” she added, “but his own.”
And by extension, Dorian’s.
She swore, then asked, “So you think he might also have the second Wyrdkey?”
“I don’t think a person could eliminate magic with only one—though I might be wrong. No one really knows what they’re capable of.”
Celaena pressed the heels of her palms to her eyes. “Oh, gods. This was what Elena wanted me to learn. And now what am I supposed to do? Go hunt the third one down? Steal the other two from him?”
Nehemia—Nehemia, you had to have known. You must have had a plan. But what were you going to do?
The now-familiar abyss inside of her stretched wider. There was no end to it, that hollow ache. No end at all. If the gods had bothered to listen, she would have traded her life for Nehemia’s. It would have been such an easy choice to make. Because the world didn’t need an assassin with a coward’s heart. It needed someone like Nehemia.
But there were no gods left to bargain with; no one to offer her soul to in exchange for another moment with Nehemia, just one more chance to talk to her, to hear her voice.
Yet … Maybe she didn’t need the gods to talk to Nehemia.
Cain had summoned the ridderak, and he certainly hadn’t possessed a Wyrdkey. No, Nehemia had said that there were spells to open a temporary portal, just long enough for something to slip through. If Cain could do that, and if Celaena could use the marks to freeze the catacombs creature in place and permanently seal a door, then couldn’t marks open a portal to yet another realm?
Her chest tightened. If there were other realms—realms where the dead dwelled, in torment or in peace—who was to say that she couldn’t speak to Nehemia? She could do it. No matter the cost, it would only be for a moment—just long enough to ask Nehemia where the king was keeping the keys, or how to find the third, and to find out what else Nehemia might have known.
She could do it.
There were other things she needed to tell Nehemia, too. Words she needed to say, truths she needed to confess. And that good-bye—that final good-bye that she hadn’t been allowed to make.
Celaena took Damaris off its stand again. “Mort, how long do you think a portal can stay open?”
“Whatever you are thinking, whatever you are going to do right now, stop it.”
But Celaena was already walking out of the tomb. He didn’t understand—couldn’t understand. She had lost and lost and lost, been denied countless good-byes. But not this time—not when she could change all of that, even for a few minutes. This time, it would be different.
She’d need The Walking Dead, another dagger or two, some candles, and space—more space than the tomb could offer. The drawings that Cain had made had taken up a fair amount of room. There was a large passage one level up in the secret tunnels, a long hallway and a set of doors she’d never dared open. The hallway was wide, its ceiling high: enough room to cast the spell.
For her to open a portal into an Otherworld.
Dorian knew he was dreaming. He was standing in an ancient stone chamber he’d never seen before, facing a tall, crowned warrior. The crown was familiar, somehow, but it was the man’s eyes that stunned him into inaction. They were his own eyes—sapphire, blazing. The similarities ended there; the man had shoulder-length dark brown hair, an angular, almost cruel face, and was at least a hand taller than Dorian himself. And he carried himself like … a king.
“Prince,” the man said, his golden crown gleaming. There was something feral in his eyes—as if the king was more accustomed to roaming the wilderness than walking these marble halls. “You must awaken.”
“Why?” Dorian asked, not sounding very princely at all. Strange green symbols were glowing on the gray stones, similar to the symbols Celaena had made in the library. What was this place?
“Because a line that should never be crossed is about to be breached. It puts this entire castle in jeopardy—and the life of your friend.” His voice wasn’t harsh, but Dorian had a sense it could turn that way, if provoked. Which, judging by that ancient wildness, the arrogance and challenge in the king’s eyes, seemed like a fairly easy to thing to do.
Dorian said, “What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“Don’t waste time with pointless questions.” Yes, this king wasn’t one to mince words at all. “You must go to her rooms. There is a door hidden behind a tapestry. Take the third passage on the right. Go now, Prince, or lose her forever.”
And somehow, Dorian didn’t think twice about the fact that Gavin, first King of Adarlan, had spoken to him as he awoke, yanked on his clothes, grabbed his sword belt, and sprinted from his tower.
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