Chaol hid his glower at Dorian’s tone. “If you want me to put an end to it, I will.”
Dorian watched them for another moment. “No. Let her train with him. The other Champions are brutes—she could use an ally.”
“That she could.”
Dorian turned from the balcony and strode off into the darkness of the hall beyond. Chaol watched the prince disappear, his red cape billowing behind him, and sighed. He knew jealousy when he saw it, and while Dorian was clever, he was just as bad as Celaena at hiding his emotions. Perhaps bringing the prince along had done the opposite of what he’d intended.
His feet heavy, Chaol followed after the prince, hoping Dorian wasn’t about to drag them all into serious trouble.
A few days later, Celaena turned the crisp yellow pages of a heavy tome, squirming in her seat. Like the countless others she’d tried, it was just page after page of scribbled nonsense. But it was worth researching, if there were Wyrdmarks at Xavier’s crime scene and Wyrdmarks at the clock tower. The more she knew about what this killer wanted—why and how he was killing—the better. That was the real threat to be dealing with, not some mysterious, inexplicable evil Elena had mentioned. Of course, there was little to nothing to be found. Her eyes sore, the assassin looked up from the book and sighed. The library was gloomy, and were it not for the sound of Chaol flipping pages, it would have been wholly silent.
“Done?” he asked, closing the novel he was reading. She hadn’t told him about Cain revealing that he knew who she really was, or the possible murder connection to the Wyrdmarks—not yet. Inside the library, she didn’t have to think about competitions and brutes. Here, she could savor the quiet and the calm.
“No,” she grumbled, drumming her fingers on the table.
“This is actually how you spend your spare time?” A hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “You should hope no one else hears about this—it would ruin your reputation. Nox would leave you for Cain.” He chuckled to himself and opened his book again, leaning back in his chair. She stared at him for a moment, wondering if he’d stop laughing at her if he knew what she was researching. How it might help him, too.
Celaena straightened in her chair, rubbing a nasty bruise on her leg. Naturally, it was from an intentional blow of Chaol’s wooden staff. She glared at him, but he continued reading.
He was merciless during their lessons. He had her doing all sorts of activities: walking on her hands, juggling blades . . . It wasn’t anything new, but it was unpleasant. But his temper had improved somewhat. He did seem a bit sorry for hitting her leg so hard. Celaena supposed she liked him.
The assassin slammed shut the tome, dust flying into the air. It was pointless.
“What?” he asked, straightening.
“Nothing,” she grumbled.
What were Wyrdmarks, and where did they come from? And more importantly, why had she never heard of them before? They’d been all over Elena’s tomb, too. An ancient religion from a forgotten time—what were they doing here? And at the crime scene! There had to be a connection.
So far, she hadn’t learned much: according to one book, Wyrdmarks were an alphabet. Though, according to this book, no grammar existed with the Wyrdmarks: everything was just symbols that one had to string together. And they changed meaning depending on the marks around them. They were painfully difficult to draw; they required precise lengths and angles, or they became something else entirely.
“Stop glowering and sulking,” Chaol chided. He looked at the title of the book. Neither of them had mentioned Xavier’s murder, and she’d gleaned no more information about it. “Remind me what you’re reading.”
“Nothing,” she said again, covering the book with her arms. But his brown eyes narrowed farther, and she sighed. “It’s just—just about Wyrdmarks—those sundial-things by the clock tower. I was interested, so I started learning about them.” A half truth, at least.
She waited for the sneer and sarcasm, but it didn’t come. He only said: “And? Why the frustration?”
She looked at the ceiling, pouting. “All I can find is just . . . just radical and outlandish theories. I never knew any of this! Why? Some books claim the Wyrd is the force that holds together and governs Erilea—and not just Erilea! Countless other worlds, too.”
“I’ve heard of it before,” he said, picking up his book. But his eyes remained fixed on her face. “I always thought the Wyrd was an old term for Fate—or Destiny.”
“So did I. But the Wyrd isn’t a religion, at least not in the northern parts of the continent, and it’s not included in the worship of the Goddess or the gods.”
He set the book in his lap. “Is there a point to this, beyond your obsession with those marks in the garden? Are you that bored?”
Worried for my safety is more like it!
“No. Yes. It’s interesting: some theories suggest the Mother Goddess is just a spirit from one of these other worlds, and that she strayed through something called a Wyrdgate and found Erilea in need of form and life.”
“That sounds a little sacrilegious,” he warned. He was old enough to more vividly recall the burnings and executions ten years ago. What had it been like to grow up in the shadow of the king who had ordered so much destruction? To have lived here when royal families were slaughtered, when seers and magic-wielders were burned alive, and the world fell into darkness and sorrow?
But she went on, needing to dump the contents of her mind in case all the pieces somehow assembled by speaking them aloud. “There’s an idea that before the Goddess arrived, there was life—an ancient civilization, but somehow, they disappeared. Perhaps through that Wyrdgate thing. Ruins exist—ruins too old to be of Fae making.” How this connected to the Champion murders was beyond her. She was definitely grasping at straws.
He set his feet down and put the book on the table. “Can I be honest with you?” Chaol leaned closer, and Celaena leaned to meet him as he whispered: “You sound like a raving lunatic.”
Celaena made a disgusted noise and sat back, seething. “Sorry for having some interest in the history of our world!”
“As you said, these sound like radical and outlandish theories.” He started reading once more, and said without looking at her, “Again: why the frustration?”
She rubbed her eyes. “Because,” she said, almost whining. “Because I just want a straightforward answer to what the Wyrdmarks are, and why they’re in the garden here, of all places.” Magic had been wiped away on the king’s orders; so why had something like the Wyrdmarks been allowed to remain? To have them show up at the murder scene meant something.
“You should find another way to occupy your time,” he said, returning to his book. Usually, guards watched her in the library for hours on end, day after day. What was he doing here? She smiled—her heart skipping a beat—and then looked at the books on the table.
She ran again through the information she’d gathered. There was also the idea of the Wyrdgates, which appeared numerous times alongside the mention of Wyrdmarks, but she’d never heard of them. When she’d first stumbled across the notion of Wyrdgates, days ago, it had seemed interesting, and so she’d researched, digging through piles of old parchment, only to find more puzzling theories.
The gates were both real and invisible things. Humans could not see them, but they could be summoned and accessed using the Wyrdmarks. They opened into other realms, some of them good, some of them bad. Things could come through from the other side and slither into Erilea. It was due to this that many of the strange and fell creatures of Erilea existed.
Celaena pulled another book toward her and grinned. It was as if someone had read her mind. It was a large black volume entitled The Walking Dead in tarnished silver letters. Thankfully, the captain didn’t see the title before she opened it. But . . .
She didn’t remember selecting this from the shelves. It reeked, almost like soil, and Celaena’s nose crinkled as she turned the pages. She scanned for any sign of the Wyrdmarks, or any mention of a Wyrdgate, but she soon found something far more interesting.
An illustration of a twisted, half-decayed face grinned at her, flesh falling from its bones. The air chilled, and Celaena rubbed her arms. Where had she found this? How had this escaped the burnings? How had any of these books escaped the purging fires ten years ago?
She shivered again, almost twitching. The hollow, mad eyes of the monster were full of malice. It seemed to look at her. She closed the book and pushed it to the end of the table. If the king knew this kind of book still existed in his library, he’d have it all destroyed. Unlike the Great Library of Orynth, here there were no Master Scholars to protect the invaluable books. Chaol kept reading. Something groaned, and Celaena’s head swung toward the back of the library. It was a guttural noise, an animalistic noise—
“Did you hear anything?” she asked.
“When do you plan on leaving?” was his only reply.
“When I grow tired of reading.” She pulled the black book back to her, leafed past the terrifying portrait of the dead thing, and drew the candle closer to read the descriptions of various monsters.
There was a scraping noise somewhere beneath her feet—close, as if someone were running a fingernail along the ceiling below. Celaena slammed the book shut and stepped away from the table. The hair on her arms rose, and she almost stumbled into the nearest table as she waited for something—a hand; a wing; a gaping, fanged mouth—to appear and grab her.
“Do you feel that?” she asked Chaol, who slowly, maliciously grinned. He held out his dagger and dragged it on the marble floor, creating the exact sound and feeling.
“Damned idiot,” she snarled. She grabbed two heavy books from the table and stalked from the library, making sure to leave The Walking Dead far behind.
Brows narrowed, Celaena aimed the cue at the white ball. The pole slid easily between her fingers as she steadied her hand on the felt surface of the table. With an awkward lurch of her arm, she jabbed the rod forward. She missed completely.
Cursing, Celaena tried again. She hit the cue ball in such a way that it gave a pathetic half roll to the side, gently knocking into a colored ball with a faint click. Well, at least she’d hit something. It was more successful than her research on the Wyrdmarks had been.
It was past ten, and, in need of a break from hours of training and researching and fretting about Cain and Elena, she’d come into the gaming room. She was too tired for music, she couldn’t play cards alone, and—well, billiards seemed to be the only plausible activity. She’d picked up the cue with high hopes that the game wouldn’t be too difficult to learn.
The assassin pivoted around the table and took aim again. She missed. Gritting her teeth, she considered snapping the cue in half across her knee. But she’d been attempting to play for only an hour. She’d be incredible by midnight! She’d master this ridiculous game or she’d turn the table into firewood. And use it to burn Cain alive.
Celaena jabbed the cue, and hit the ball with such force that it zoomed toward the back wall of the table, knocking three colored balls out of its way before it collided with the number three ball, sending it shooting straight for a hole.
It stopped rolling at the edge of the pocket.
A shriek of rage ripped from her throat, and Celaena ran over to the pocket. She first screamed at the ball, then took the cue in her hands and bit down upon the shaft, still screaming through her clamped teeth. Finally the assassin stopped and slapped the three ball into the pocket.
“For the world’s greatest assassin, this is pathetic,” said Dorian, stepping from the doorway.
She yelped and swung toward him. She wore a tunic and pants, and her hair was unbound. He leaned against the table, smiling as she turned a deep shade of red. “If you’re going to insult me, you can shove this—” She lifted the cue in the air and made an obscene gesture that finished her sentence.