They didn’t even know if he could fly after his wings had taken a beating for so long, and the handlers were of the opinion that should Abraxos attempt the Crossing, he’d splatter himself and Manon on the Gap floor. They claimed no other wyverns would ever accept his dominance, not as a Wing Leader. Manon had ruined all of her grandmother’s plans.
All these facts were shouted at her again and again. She knew that if she even wanted to change mounts, her grandmother would force her to keep Abraxos, just to humiliate her when she failed. Even if it got her killed in the process.
Her grandmother hadn’t been in the pit, though. She hadn’t looked into Abraxos’s eyes and seen the warrior’s heart beating in him. She hadn’t noticed that he’d fought with more cunning and ferocity than any of the others. So Manon held firm and took the slap to the face, and the lecture, and then the second slap that left her cheek throbbing.
Manon’s face was still aching when she reached the pen in which Abraxos now made his home. He was curled by the far wall, silent and still when so many of the creatures were pacing or shrieking or growling.
Her escort, the overseer, peered through the bars. Asterin lurked in the shadows. After the whipping last night, her Second wasn’t going to let her out of her sight anytime soon.
Manon hadn’t apologized for the whipping. The rules were the rules, and her cousin had failed. Asterin deserved the lashing, just as Manon deserved the bruise on her cheek.
“Why’s he curled up like that?” Manon asked the man.
“Suspect it’s ’cause he’s never had a pen to himself. Not this big, anyway.”
Manon studied the penned-in cavern. “Where did they keep him before?”
The man pointed at the floor. “With the other baiters in the sty. He’s the oldest of the baiters, you know. Survived the pits and the stys. But that doesn’t mean he’s suitable for you.”
“If I wanted your opinion on his suitability, I’d ask for it,” Manon said, eyes still on Abraxos as she approached the bars. “How long to get him in the skies?”
The man rubbed his head. “Could be days or weeks or months. Could be never.”
“We begin training with our mounts this afternoon.”
“Not going to happen.” Manon raised her brows. “This one needs to be trained alone first. I’ll get our best trainers on it, and you can use another wyvern in the meantime to—”
“First of all, human,” Manon interrupted, “don’t give me orders.” Her iron teeth snapped out, and he flinched. “Second, I won’t be training with another wyvern. I’ll train with him.”
The man was pale as death as he said, “All your sentinels’ mounts will attack him. And the first flight will spook him so bad that he’ll fight back. So unless you want your soldiers and their mounts to tear each other apart, I suggest you train alone.” He trembled and added, “Milady.”
The wyvern was watching them. Waiting. “Can they understand us?”
“No. Some spoken commands and whistles, but no more than a dog.”
Manon didn’t believe that for one moment. It wasn’t that he was lying to her. He just didn’t know any better. Or maybe Abraxos was different.
She’d use every moment until the War Games to train him. When she and her Thirteen were crowned victors, she’d make each and every one of the witches who doubted her, her grandmother included, curse themselves for fools. Because she was Manon Blackbeak, and she’d never failed at anything. And there would be nothing better than watching Abraxos bite off Iskra’s head on the battlefield.
It was far too easy to lie to his men about the bruises and cuts on his face when Chaol returned to the castle—an unfortunate incident with a drunk vagrant in Rifthold. Enduring the lies and the injuries was better than being carrion. Chaol’s bargain with Aedion and the rebels had been simple: information for information.
He’d promised more information about their queen, as well as about the king’s black rings, in exchange for what they knew regarding the king’s power. It had kept him alive that night, and every night afterward, when he’d waited for them to change their minds. But they never came for him, and tonight, he and Aedion waited until well past twelve before slipping into Celaena’s old rooms.
It was the first time he’d dared return to the tomb since that night with Celaena and Dorian, and the skull-shaped bronze knocker, Mort, didn’t move or speak at all. Even though Chaol wore the Eye of Elena at his throat, the knocker remained frozen. Perhaps Mort only answered to those with Brannon Galathynius’s blood in their veins.
So he and Aedion combed through the tomb, the dusty halls, scouring every inch for signs of spies or ways to be discovered. When they were at last satisfied that no one could overhear them, Aedion said, “Tell me what I’m doing down here, Captain.”
The general had shown no awe or surprise as Chaol had led him into Elena and Gavin’s resting place, though his eyes had widened slightly at Damaris. But whether or not Aedion knew what it was, he’d said nothing. For all his brashness and arrogance, Chaol had a feeling the man had many, many secrets—and was damn good at concealing them.
It was the other reason why he’d offered the bargain to Aedion and his companions: if the prince’s gifts were discovered, Dorian would need somewhere to hide, and someone to get him to safety if Chaol were incapacitated. Chaol said, “Are you prepared to share whatever information you’ve gathered from your allies?”
Aedion gave him a lazy grin. “So long as you share yours.”
Chaol prayed to any god that would listen that he wasn’t making the wrong move as he pulled the Eye of Elena from his tunic. “Your Queen gave this necklace to me when she left for Wendlyn. It belonged to her ancestor—who summoned her here, to give it to her.” Aedion’s eyes narrowed as he took in the amulet, the blue stone shimmering in the moonlight. “What I am about to tell you,” Chaol said, “changes everything.”
Dorian stood in the shadows of the stairwell, listening. Listening, and not quite wanting to accept that Chaol was in the tomb with Aedion Ashryver.
That had been the first shock. For the past week, he’d been creeping down here to hunt for answers after his explosion with Sorscha. Especially now that she had lied through her teeth and risked everything to keep his secret—and to help him find a way to control it.
Tonight he’d been horrified to find the secret door left slightly ajar. He shouldn’t have come, but he’d done it anyway, making up an easy list of lies to tell should he find an unfriendly face down here. Then he’d gotten close enough to hear the two male voices and almost fled . . . Almost, until he’d realized who was talking.
It was impossible, because they hated each other. Yet there they were, in Elena’s tomb. Allies. It was enough, too much. But then he’d heard it—heard what Chaol said to the general, so quietly it was barely audible. “Your Queen gave this necklace to me when she left for Wendlyn.”
It was a mistake. It had to be a mistake, because . . . His chest had become too tight, too small.
You will always be my enemy. That’s what Celaena had screamed at Chaol the night Nehemia died. And she’d said—said that she’d lost people ten years ago, but . . .
Dorian couldn’t move as Chaol launched into another story, another truth. About Dorian’s own father. About the power the king wielded. Celaena had discovered it. Celaena was trying to find a way to destroy it.
His father had made that thing they’d fought in the library catacombs—that monstrous thing that had seemed human. Wyrdkeys. Wyrdgates. Wyrd-stone.
They had lied to him, too. They had decided he wasn’t to be trusted. Celaena and Chaol—they’d decided against him. Chaol had known who and what Celaena truly was.
It was why he’d sent her to Wendlyn—why he’d gotten her out of the castle. Dorian was still frozen on the stairs when Aedion slipped out of the tomb, sword out and looking ready to attack whatever enemy he’d detected.
Spotting him, Aedion swore, low and viciously, his eyes bright in the glow of his torch.
Celaena’s eyes. Aelin Ashryver—Ashryver—Galathynius’s eyes.
Aedion was her cousin. And he was still loyal to her—lying through his teeth, through every action, about where his allegiance lay.
Chaol rushed into the hall, a hand lifted beseechingly. “Dorian.”
For a moment, he could only stare at his friend. Then he managed to say, “Why?”
Chaol loosed a breath. “Because the fewer people who know, the safer—for her, for everyone. For you. They have information that might help you.”
“You think I’d run to my father?” The words were barely more than a strangled whisper as the temperature plummeted.
Chaol stepped forward, putting himself between Aedion and Dorian, his palms exposed. Placating. “I can’t afford to guess—to hope. Even with you.”
“How long?” Ice coated his teeth, his tongue.
“She told me about your father before she left. I figured out who she is soon afterward.”
“And you’re working with him now.”
The captain’s breath clouded in front of him. “If we can find a way to free magic, it could save you. They think they might have some answers about what happened, and how to reverse it. But if Aedion and his allies are caught, if she is caught . . . they will die. Your father will put them all down, starting with her. And right now, Dorian, we need them.”
Dorian turned to Aedion. “Are you going to kill my father?”
“Does he not deserve to die?” was the general’s reply.
Dorian could see the captain wincing—not at the general’s words, but at the cold. “Did you tell him—about me?” Dorian ground out.
“No,” Aedion answered for Chaol. “Though if you don’t learn to control yourself, there soon won’t be a soul in the realm who doesn’t know you have magic.” Aedion slid those heirloom eyes to the captain. “So that’s why you were so desperate to trade secrets—you wanted the information for his sake.” A nod from Chaol. Aedion smirked at Dorian, and ice coated the stairwell. “Does your magic manifest in ice and snow, then, princeling?” the general asked.
“Come closer and find out,” Dorian said with a faint smile. Perhaps he could throw Aedion across the hall, just as he had with that creature.
“Aedion can be trusted, Dorian,” Chaol said.
“He’s as two-faced as they come. I don’t believe for one heartbeat that he wouldn’t sell us out if it meant furthering his own cause.”
“He won’t,” Chaol snapped, cutting off Aedion’s reply. Chaol’s lips went blue from the cold.
Dorian knew he was hurting him—knew it, and didn’t quite care. “Because you want to be Aedion’s king someday?”
Chaol’s face drained of color, from the cold or from fear, and Aedion barked a laugh. “My queen will die heirless sooner than marry a man from Adarlan.”
Chaol tried to hide his flicker of pain, but Dorian knew his friend well enough to spot it. For a second he wondered what Celaena would think about Aedion’s claim. Celaena, who had lied—Celaena, who was Aelin, whom he had met ten years ago, whom he had played with in her beautiful castle. And that day in Endovier—that first day, he had felt as if there were something familiar about her . . . Oh gods.
Celaena was Aelin Galathynius. He had danced with her, kissed her, slept beside her, his mortal enemy. I’ll come back for you, she’d said her final day here. Even then, he’d known there was something else behind it. She would come back, but perhaps not as Celaena. Would it be to help him, or to kill him? Aelin Galathynius knew about his magic—and wanted to destroy his father, his kingdom. Everything she had ever said or done . . . He’d once thought it had been a charade to win favor as his Champion, but what if it had been because she was the heir of Terrasen? Was that why she was friends with Nehemia? What if, after a year in Endovier . . .