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A cooling breeze kissed down Celaena’s neck. The forest had gone silent, as if the birds and insects had been quieted by her assault on the invisible wall. The barrier had gobbled down every spark of magic she’d launched at it, and now seemed to hum with fresh power.

The scent of pine and snow wrapped around her, and she turned to find Rowan standing against a nearby tree. He’d been there for some time now, giving her space to work herself into exhaustion.

But she was not tired. And she was not done. There was still wildfire in her mind, writhing, endless, damning. She let it dim to embers, let the grief and horror die down, too.

Rowan said, “Word just arrived from Wendlyn. Reinforcements aren’t coming.”

“They didn’t come ten years ago,” she said, her throat raw though she had not spoken in hours. Cold, glittering calm was now flowing in her veins. “Why should they bother helping now?”

His eyes flickered. “Aelin.” When she only gazed into the darkening forest, he suddenly said, “You do not have to stay—­we can go to Doranelle to­night, and you can retrieve your knowledge from Maeve. You have my blessing.”

“Do not insult me by asking me to leave. I am fighting. Nehemia would have stayed. My parents would have stayed.”

“They also had the luxury of knowing that their bloodline did not end with them.”

She gritted her teeth. “You have experience—you are needed ­here. You are the only person who can give the demi-­Fae a chance of surviving; you are trusted and respected. So I am staying. Because you are needed, and because I will follow you to what­ever end.” And if the creatures devoured her body and soul, then she would not mind. She had earned that fate.

For a long moment, he said nothing. But his brows narrowed slightly. “To what­ever end?”

She nodded. He had not needed to mention the massacres, had not needed to try to console her. He knew—­he understood without her having to say a word—­what it was like.

Her magic thrummed in her blood, wanting out, wanting more. But it would wait—­it had to wait until it was time. Until she had Narrok and his creatures in her sight.

She realized that Rowan saw each of those thoughts and more as he reached into his tunic and pulled out a dagger. Her dagger. He extended it to her, its long blade gleaming as if he’d been secretly polishing and caring for it these months.

And when she grasped the dagger, its weight lighter than she remembered, Rowan looked into her eyes, into the very core of her, and said, “Fireheart.”

Reinforcements from Wendlyn ­weren’t coming—­not out of spite but because a legion of Adarlan’s men had attacked the northern border. Three thousand men in ships had launched a full-­on assault. Wendlyn had sent every last soldier to the northern coast, and there they would remain. The demi-­Fae ­were to face Narrok and his forces alone. Rowan calmly encouraged the nonfighters at the fortress to flee.

But no one fled. Even Emrys refused, and Malakai merely said that where his mate went, he went.

For hours, they adjusted their plans to accommodate the lack of reinforcements. In the end they didn’t have to change much, thankfully. Celaena contributed what she could to the planning, letting Rowan order everyone about and adjust the masterful strategy in that brilliant head of his. She tried not to think about Endovier and Calaculla, but the knowledge of it still simmered in her, brewing during the long hours that they debated.

They planned until Emrys hauled up a pot from the kitchen and began whacking it with a spoon, ordering them out because dawn would come too soon.

Within a minute of returning to their room, Celaena was undressed and flopping into bed. Rowan took his time, however, peeling off his shirt and striding to the washbasin. “You did well helping me plan to­night.”

She watched him wash his face, then his neck. “You sound surprised.”

He wiped his face with a towel, then leaned against the dresser, bracing his hands against either end. The wood groaned, but his face remained still.

Fireheart, he had called her. Did he know what that name meant to her? She wanted to ask, still had so many questions for him, but right now, after all the news of the day, she needed to sleep.

“I sent word,” Rowan said, letting go of the dresser and approaching the bed. She’d left the sword from the mountain cave on the bedpost, and its smoldering ruby now glinted in the dim light as he ran a finger down the golden hilt. “To my . . . cadre, as you like to call them.”

She braced herself on her elbows. “When?”

“A few days ago. I don’t know where they all are or whether they’ll arrive in time. Maeve might not let them come—­or some of them might not even ask her. They can be . . . unpredictable. And it may be that I just get the order to return to Doranelle, and—”

“You actually called for aid?”

His eyes narrowed. I just said that I did.

She stood, and he retreated a step. What changed your mind?

Some things are worth the risk.

He didn’t back away again as she approached and said with every ember left in her shredded heart, “I claim you, Rowan Whitethorn. I don’t care what you say and how much you protest. I claim you as my friend.”

He just turned to the washbasin again, but she caught the unspoken words that he’d tried to keep her from reading on his face. It ­doesn’t matter. Even if we survive, when we go to Doranelle, you will walk out of Maeve’s realm alone.

Emrys joined them—­along with all the demi-­Fae at Mistward who had not been dispatched with messages—­in traveling down to the healers’ compound the next morning to help cart the patients to safety. Anyone who could not fight remained to help the sick and wounded, and Emrys declared he would stay there until the very end. So they left him, along with a small contingent of sentries in case things went very, very wrong. When Celaena headed off into the trees with Rowan, she did not bother with good-­byes. Many of the others did not say farewell, either—­it seemed like an invitation for death, and Celaena was fairly certain she ­wasn’t on the good side of the gods.

She was awoken that night by a large, callused hand on her shoulder, shaking her awake. It seemed that death was already waiting for them.


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