The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass 0.30) - Page 12

The roof couldn’t have been more than twenty square feet, and the only thing on it was a covered reed basket placed in the center. Torches burned, illuminating the rooftop.

Celaena cleared her throat again, and the Master finally turned. She bowed, which, strangely, was something she felt he actually deserved, rather than something she ought to do. He gave her a nod and pointed to the reed basket, beckoning her to open the lid. Doing her best not to look skeptical, hoping there was a beautiful new weapon inside, she approached. She stopped when she heard the hissing.

Unpleasant, don’t-come-closer hissing. From inside the basket.

She turned to the Master, who hopped onto one of the merlons, his bare feet dangling in the gap between one block of stone and the next, and beckoned her again. Palms sweating, Celaena took a deep breath and snatched back the lid.

A black asp curled into itself, head drawn back low as it hissed.

Celaena leapt away a yard, making for the parapet wall, but the Master let out a low click of his tongue.

His hands moved, flowing and winding through the air like a river—like a snake. Observe it, he seemed to tell her. Move with it.

She looked back at the basket in time to see the slender, black head of the asp slide over the rim, then down to the tiled roof.

Her heart thundered in her chest. It was poisonous, wasn’t it? It had to be. It looked poisonous.

The snake moved across the roof, and Celaena moved away from it, not daring to look away for even a heartbeat. She reached for a dagger, but the Master again clicked his tongue. A glance in his direction was enough for her to understand the meaning of the sound.

Don’t kill it. Absorb.

The snake slithered effortlessly, lazily, and tasted the evening air with its black tongue. With a deep, steadying breath, Celaena observed.

She spent every night that week on the roof with the asp, watching it, copying its movements, internalizing its rhythm and sounds until she could move like it moved, until they could face each other and she could anticipate how it would strike; until she could strike like the asp, swift and unflinching.

After that, she spent three days dangling from the rafters of the fortress stables with the bats. It took her longer to figure out their strengths—how they became so silent that no one noticed they were there, how they could drown out the external noise and focus only on the sound of their prey. And after that, it was two nights spent with jackrabbits on the dunes, learning their stillness, absorbing how they used their speed and dexterity to evade talons and claws, how they slept above ground to better hear their enemies approaching. Night after night, the Master watched from nearby, never saying a word, never doing anything except occasionally pointing out how an animal moved.

As the remaining weeks passed, she saw Ansel only during meals and for the few hours they spent each morning shoveling manure. And after a long night spent sprinting or hanging upside down or running sideways to see why crabs bothered moving like that, Celaena was usually in no mood to talk. But Ansel was merry—almost gleeful, more and more with every passing day. She never said why, exactly, but Celaena found it rather infectious.

And every day, Celaena went to sleep after lunch and dozed until the sun went down, her dreams full of snakes and rabbits and chirping desert beetles. Sometimes she spotted Mikhail training the acolytes, or found Ilias meditating in an empty training room, but she rarely got the chance to spend time with them.

They had no more attacks from Lord Berick, either. Whatever Ansel had said during that meeting with him in Xandria, whatever the Master’s letter had contained, it seemed to have worked, even after the theft of his horses.

There were quiet moments also, when she wasn’t training or working with Ansel. Moments when her thoughts drifted back to Sam, to what he’d said. He’d threatened to kill Arobynn. For hurting her. She tried to work through it, tried to figure out what had changed in Skull’s Bay to make Sam dare to say such a thing to the King of the Assassins. But whenever she caught herself thinking about it too much, she shoved those thoughts into the back of her mind.

Chapter Eight

“You mean to tell me you do this every day?” Ansel said, her brows high on her forehead as Celaena brushed rouge onto the girl’s cheeks.

“Sometimes twice a day,” Celaena said, and Ansel opened an eye. They were sitting on Celaena’s bed, a scattering of cosmetics between them—a small fraction of Celaena’s enormous collection back in Rifthold. “Besides being useful for my work, it’s fun.”

“Fun?” Ansel opened her other eye. “Smearing all this gunk on your face is fun?”

Celaena set down her pot of rouge. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll draw a mustache on you.”

Ansel’s lips twitched, but she closed her eyes again as Celaena raised the little container of bronze powder and dusted some on her eyelids.

“Well, it is my birthday. And Midsummer Eve,” Ansel said, her eyelashes fluttering beneath the tickle of Celaena’s delicate brush. “We so rarely get to have fun. I suppose I should look nice.”

Ansel always looked nice—better than nice, actually—but Celaena didn’t need to tell her that. “At a minimum, at least you don’t smell like horse droppings.”

Ansel let out a breathy chuckle, the air warm on Celaena’s hands as they hovered near her face. She kept quiet while Celaena finished with the powder, then held still as she lined her eyes with kohl and darkened her lashes.

“All right,” Celaena said, sitting back so she could see Ansel’s face. “Open your eyes.”

Ansel opened her eyes, and Celaena frowned.

“What?” Ansel said.

Celaena shook her head. “You’re going to have to wash it all off.”


“Because you look better than I do.”

Ansel pinched Celaena’s arm. Celaena pinched her back, laughter on her lips. But then the single remaining week that Celaena had left loomed before her, brief and unforgiving, and her chest tightened at the thought of leaving. She hadn’t even dared ask the Master for her letter yet. But more than that . . . Well, she’d never had a female friend—never really had any friends—and somehow, the thought of returning to Rifthold without Ansel was a tad unbearable.

The Midsummer Eve festival was like nothing Celaena had ever experienced. She’d expected music and drinking and laughter, but instead, the assassins gathered in the largest of the fortress courtyards. And all of them, including Ansel, were totally silent. The moon provided the only light, silhouetting the date trees swaying along the courtyard walls.

But the strangest part was the dancing. Even though there was no music, most of the people danced—some of the dances foreign and strange, some of them familiar. Everyone was smiling, but aside from the rustle of clothing and the scrape of merry feet against the stones, there was no sound.

But there was wine, and she and Ansel found a table in a corner of the courtyard and fully indulged themselves.

Though she loved, loved, loved parties, Celaena would have rather spent the night training with the Master. With only one week left, she wanted to spend every waking moment working with him. But he’d insisted she go to the party—if only because he wanted to go to the party. The old man danced to a rhythm Celaena could not hear or make out, and looked more like someone’s benevolent, clumsy grandfather than the master of some of the world’s greatest assassins.

She couldn’t help but think of Arobynn, who was all calculated grace and restrained aggression—Arobynn who danced with a select few, and whose smile was razor-sharp.

Mikhail had dragged Ansel to the dancing, and she was grinning as she twirled and bobbed and bounced from partner to partner, all of the assassins now keeping the same, silent beat. Ansel had experienced great horror, and yet she could also be so carefree, so keenly alive. Mikhail caught her in his arms and dipped her, low enough for Ansel’s eyes to widen.

Mikhail truly liked Ansel—that much was obvious. He always found excuses t

o touch her, always smiled at her, always looked at her as if she were the only person in the room.

Celaena sloshed her wine around in her glass. If she were being honest, sometimes she thought Sam looked at her that way. But then he’d go and say something absurd, or try to undermine her, and she’d chide herself for even thinking that about him.

Her stomach tightened. What had Arobynn done to him that night? She should have inquired after him. But in the days afterward, she’d been so busy, so wrapped in her rage . . . She hadn’t dared look for him, actually. Because if Arobynn had hurt Sam the way he’d hurt her—if he’d hurt Sam worse than he’d hurt her . . .

Celaena drained the rest of her wine. During the two days after she’d awoken from her beating, she’d used a good chunk of her savings to purchase her own apartment, away and well hidden from the Assassin’s Keep. She hadn’t told anyone—partially because she was worried she might change her mind while she was away—but with each day here, with each lesson with the kind and gentle Master, she was more and more resolved to tell Arobynn she was moving out. She was actually eager to see the look on his face. She still owed him money, of course—he’d seen to it that her debts would keep her with him for a while—but there was no rule that said she had to live with him. And if he ever laid a hand on her again . . .

Tags: Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass Fantasy
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