The cut on her arm throbbed, but Celaena kept her hand steady as she dipped her finger again into her blood and traced the Wyrdmark on the wall, copying the symbols in the book with perfect precision. They formed an archway—a door—and her blood gleamed in the light of the candles she had brought.
It had to be perfect—each symbol had to be flawless, or else it wouldn’t work. She kept pressing on the wound to keep it from clotting. Not everyone could harness the marks; no, The Walking Dead said there had to be power in the blood to do it. Cain had clearly had some trace of power. That must be why the king had rounded up Kaltain and Roland, too. He’d used the Wyrdkeys to suppress magic, but he must have some way of harnessing the innate power in someone’s blood—and the Wyrdmarks must be able to access that power, too.
She drew another symbol, nearly finished with the archway.
Their power could warp things. It had warped Cain. But it had also allowed him to summon the ridderak and gain even more power for himself.
Thank the Wyrd Cain was dead.
There was one mark left to draw, the one that would bring her the person she so desperately needed to see, if only for a moment. It was complex, a weave of loops and angles. She took out her chalk and practiced on the floor until she got it right, then etched it in blood on the wall. Nehemia’s name in Wyrdmark form.
She examined the door she’d drawn and got to her feet, the book held in her clean hand.
She cleared her throat and began to read the words on the page.
She didn’t know the language. Her throat burned and contracted, as if fighting the sounds, but she panted through it, the words making her teeth ache like she’d just come in from the cold and was drinking something hot.
And then the final words were out, her eyes watering.
No wonder this kind of power fell out of favor.
The symbols written in her blood began to glow green, one after another, until the whole archway was a line of light. The stones within its borders darkened, darkened, darkened, then disappeared.
The blackness within the green archway seemed to reach out for her.
It had worked. Holy gods, it had worked.
Was that what waited for her when she died? Nehemia had gone here?
“Nehemia?” she whispered, her throat raw from the spell.
There was nothing. Nothing there—just a void.
Celaena looked at the book, then to the wall and the symbols she’d drawn. She’d written it correctly. The spell was right. “Nehemia?” she whispered toward that endless dark.
There was no response.
Perhaps it needed time. The book hadn’t specified how long it would take; maybe Nehemia had to travel through whatever this realm was.
So Celaena waited.
The longer she stared into that endless void, the more it seemed to stare back. It was just like that dream, the one where she was standing on the edge of that ravine.
You are nothing more than a coward.
“Please,” Celaena whispered into the dark.
There was a sudden yelp from far, far above, and Celaena whirled toward the stairs at the end of the hall. Moments later, faster than should be possible, Fleetfoot bounded down the steps, racing for her.
Not for her, Celaena realized as she beheld the wagging tail, the panting, the yip of what could only be joy. Not for her, because—
Celaena looked toward the portal at the same moment Fleetfoot skidded to a halt.
And then everything stopped as she beheld the shimmering figure standing just on the other side of the portal.
Fleetfoot lay on the ground, tail still wagging, whining softly. The edges of Nehemia’s body rippled and blurred, fracturing with some sort of inner light. But her face was clear—her face was … it was her face. Celaena sank to her knees.
She felt the warmth of her tears before she realized she was crying. “I’m sorry,” was all she could say. “I’m so sorry.”
But Nehemia remained on the other side of the portal. Fleetfoot whined again. “I may not cross this line,” Nehemia said gently to the dog. “And neither may you.” Her tone shifted, and Celaena knew Nehemia was now staring at her. “I thought you were smarter than this.”
Celaena looked up. The light radiating off the princess didn’t reach through the glowing portal, as if there truly were some sort of line—some final boundary.
“I’m sorry,” Celaena whispered again. “I just wanted—”
“There is no time for you to tell me what you long to say. I came here because you need to be warned. Do not open this portal again. The next time you do, I will not be the one who answers your call. And you will not survive the encounter. No one has the right to open the door to this realm, no matter how fierce their grief.”
She hadn’t known, hadn’t meant …
Fleetfoot pawed at the floor. “Good-bye, my dear friend,” Nehemia said to the dog, and began walking into the blackness.
Celaena just stood there, unable to move or think. Her throat burned with those pent-up words, the words that now choked the life out of her.
“Elentiya.” Nehemia paused to look back at her. The void seemed to be swirling, swallowing her up bit by bit. “You will not understand yet, but … I knew what my fate was to be, and I embraced it. I ran toward it. Because it was the only way for things to begin changing, for events to be set in motion. But no matter what I did, Elentiya, I want you to know that in the darkness of the past ten years, you were one of the bright lights for me. Do not let that light go out.”
And before Celaena could reply, the princess was gone.
There was nothing in the dark. As though Nehemia had never been. As though she’d made it all up.
“Come back,” she whispered. “Please—come back.” But the darkness remained the same. And Nehemia was gone.
There was a scrape of footsteps—but not from the portal. Rather, it came from her left.
From Archer, who stood there gaping. “I don’t believe it,” he whispered.