heir of fire- Page 94

   Down into hell, into eternity, into that world where, for a moment, she could have sworn that something tightened in her chest.

   She did not shut her eyes, not as the moon-­illuminated stones of the Gap became closer, clearer. She did not need to.

   Like the sails of a mighty ship, Abraxos’s wings unfurled, snapping tight. He tilted them upward, pulling against the death trying to drag them down.

   And it was those wings, covered in glimmering patches of Spidersilk, that stayed strong and sturdy, sending them soaring clean up the side of the Omega and into the starry sky beyond.

   45

   To their credit, the sentries didn’t jump when Rowan shifted beside them atop the battlement wall. They had eyes keen enough to have detected his arrival as he swooped in. A slight tang of fear leaked from them, but that was to be expected, even if it troubled him more than it had in the past. But they did stir slightly when he spoke. “How long has she been down there?”

   “An hour, Prince,” one said, watching the flashing flames below.

   “For how many mornings in a row?”

   “This is the fourth, Prince,” the same sentry replied.

   The first three days she’d slipped from bed before dawn, he’d assumed she’d been helping in the kitchens. But when they’d trained yesterday she’d . . . improved at a rate she shouldn’t have, as if overnight. He had to give her credit for resourcefulness.

   The girl stood outside the ward-­stones, fighting with herself.

   A dagger of flame flew from her hand toward the invisible barrier between two stones, then another, as if racing for the head of an opponent. It hit the magic wall with a flash of light and bounced back, reflected off the protective spell encircling the fortress. And when it reached her, she shielded—­swift, strong, sure. A warrior on a battlefield.

   “I’ve never seen anyone . . . fight like that,” the sentry said.

   It was a question, but Rowan didn’t bother to answer. It ­wasn’t their business, and he ­wasn’t entirely certain if his queen would be pleased with the demi-­Fae learning to use their powers in such a way. Though he fully planned to tell Lorcan, his commander and the only male who outranked him in Doranelle, just to see whether they could use it in their training.

   The girl moved from throwing weapons to hand-­to-­hand combat: a punch of power, a sweeping kick of flame. Her flames had become gloriously varied—­golds and reds and oranges. And her technique—­not the magic, but the way she moved . . . Her master had been a monster, there was no doubt of that. But he had trained her thoroughly. She ducked and flipped and twisted, relentless, raging, and—

   She swore with her usual color as the wall sent the punch of ruby flame back at her. She managed to shield, but still got knocked on her ass. Yet none of the sentries laughed. Rowan didn’t know if it was because of his presence or because of her.

   He got his answer a heartbeat later, as he waited for her to shout or shriek or walk away. But the princess just slowly got to her feet, not bothering to brush off the dirt and leaves, and kept practicing.

   •

   The next corpse appeared a week later, setting a rather wretched tone for the crisp spring morning as Celaena and Rowan ran for the site.

   They’d spent the past week fighting and defending and manipulating her magic, interrupted only by a rather miserable visit from some Fae nobility traveling through the area—­which left Celaena in no hurry to set foot in Doranelle. Thankfully, the guests stayed for one night, hardly disrupting her lessons.

   They worked only with fire, ignoring the drop of water affinity that she’d been given. She tried again and again to summon the water, when she was drinking, while in the bath, when it rained, but to no avail. Fire it was, then. And while she knew Rowan was aware of her early morning practicing, he never lightened her training, though she could have sworn she occasionally felt their magic . . . playing together, her flame taunting his ice, his wind dancing amongst her embers. But each morning brought something new, something harder and different and miserable. Gods, he was brilliant. Cunning and wicked and brilliant.

   Even when he beat the hell out of her. Every. Damn. Day.

   Not from malice, not like it had been before, but to prove his point—­her enemies would give no quarter. If she needed to pause, if her power faltered, she died.

   So he knocked her into the mud or the stream or the grass with a blast of wind or ice. So she ­rose, shooting arrows of flame, her shield now her strongest ally. Again and again, hungry and exhausted and soaking with rain and mist and sweat. Until shielding was an instinct, until she could hurl arrows and daggers of flame together, until she knocked him on his ass. There was always more to learn; she lived and breathed and dreamt of fire.

   Sometimes, though, her dreams ­were of a brown-­eyed man in an empire across the sea. Sometimes she’d awaken and reach for the warm, male body beside hers, only to realize it was not the captain—­that she would never again lie next to Chaol, not after what had happened. And when she remembered that, it sometimes hurt to breathe.

   There was nothing romantic about sharing a bed with Rowan, and they kept to their own sides. There certainly was nothing romantic about it when they reached the site of the corpse and she peeled off her shirt to cool down. In nothing but her underclothes, Celaena’s skin was bitten by the sea air with a delightful chill, and even Rowan unbuttoned his heavy jacket as they carefully approached the coordinates.

   “Well, I can certainly smell him this time,” Celaena said between panting breaths. They’d reached the site in little less than three hours, guessing by the sun. That was faster and longer than she’d ever run, thanks to the Fae form she’d been training in.

   “This body has been rotting ­here longer than the demi-­Fae from three days ago.”

   She bit back her retort. There had been another demi-­Fae body found, and he hadn’t let her go see it, instead forcing her to practice all day while he flew to the site. But this morning, he’d taken one look at the fire smoldering in her eyes and relented.

   Celaena stepped carefully on the pine carpet, scanning for any signs of a fight or of the attacker. The ground was churned up, and despite the rushing stream, the flies ­were buzzing near what appeared to be a heap of clothing peeking from behind a small boulder.

   Rowan swore, low and viciously, even lifting his forearm to cover his nose and mouth as he examined the husk that remained, the demi-­Fae male’s face twisted in horror. Celaena might done the same, except . . . except—

   That second smell was ­here, too. Not as strong as it had been at the first site, but it lingered. She shoved back against the memory that wanted to rise in response to the smell, the memory that had overwhelmed her that day in the barrow-­field.

   “It has our attention and it knows it,” she said. “It’s targeting demi-­Fae—either to send a message, or because they . . . taste good. But—” She pictured the map Rowan kept in his room, detailing the wide area where the corpses had been found, and winced. “What if there’s more than one?” Rowan looked back at her, brows high. She didn’t say anything ­else until she had moved to where he stood by the body, careful not to disturb any clues. Her stomach lurched and bile stung the back of her throat, but she clamped down on the horror with a wall of ice that even her fire could not melt. “You’re old as hell,” she said. “You must have considered that ­we’re dealing with a few of them, given how vast the territory is. What if the one we saw in the barrows ­wasn’t even the creature responsible for these bodies?”