Nehemia had been right.

Aelin was shaking—shaking in her half-invisible body, shaking so badly she thought her skin would ripple off her bones. Manon stepped closer, perhaps the only comfort the witch knew how to offer: solidarity.

They stared into the swirling mist again, where the scenes—the memories—had unfolded.

Aelin wasn’t sure she could stomach another truth. Another revelation of just how thoroughly Elena had sold her and Dorian to the gods, for the fool’s mistake she’d made, not understanding the Lock’s true purpose, to seal Erawan in his tomb rather than let Brannon finally end it—and send the gods to wherever they called home, dragging Erawan with them.

Send them home … using the keys to open the Wyrdgate. And a new Lock to seal it forever.

Nameless is my price.

Using her power, drained to the last drop, her life to forge that new Lock. To wield the power of the keys only once—just once, to banish them all, and then seal the gate forever.

Memories flickered by.

Elena and Brannon, screaming at each other in a room Aelin had not seen for ten years—the king’s suite in the palace at Orynth. Her suite—or it would have been. A necklace glittered at Elena’s throat: the Eye. The first and now-broken Lock, that Elena, now the Queen of Adarlan, seemed to wear as some sort of reminder of her foolishness, her promise to those furious gods.

Her argument with her father raged and raged—until the princess walked out. And Aelin knew Elena had never returned to that shining palace in the North.

Then the reveal of that witch mirror in some nondescript stone chamber, a black-haired beauty with a crown of stars standing before Elena and Gavin, explaining how the witch mirror worked—how it would contain these memories. Rhiannon Crochan. Manon started at the sight of her, and Aelin glanced between them.

The face … it was the same. Manon’s face, and Rhiannon Crochan’s. The last Crochan Queens—of two separate eras.

Then an image of Brannon alone—head in his hands, weeping before a shrouded body atop a stone altar. A crone’s bent shape lay beneath.

Elena, her immortal grace yielded in order to live out a human life span with Gavin. Brannon still looked no older than thirty.

Brannon, the heat of a thousand forges shining on his red-gold hair, his teeth bared in a snarl as he pounded a metal disk on an anvil, the muscles of his back rippling beneath golden skin as he struck and struck and struck.

As he forged the Amulet of Orynth.

As he placed a sliver of black stone within either side, then sealed it, defiance written in every line of his body.

Then wrote the message in Wyrdmarks on the back.

One message.

For her.

For his true heir, should Elena’s punishment and promise to the gods hold true. The punishment and promise that had cleaved them. That Brannon could not and would not accept. Not while he had strength left.

Nameless is my price. Written right there—in Wyrdmarks. The one who bore Brannon’s mark, the mark of the bastard-born nameless … She would be the cost to end this.

The message on the back of the Amulet of Orynth was the only warning he could offer, the only apology for what his daughter had done, even as it contained a secret inside so deadly no one must know, no one could ever be told.

But there would be clues. For her. To finish what they’d started.

Brannon built Elena’s tomb with his own hands. Carved the messages in there for Aelin, too.

The riddles and the clues. The best he could offer to explain the truth while keeping those keys hidden from the world, from powers who would use them to rule, to destroy.

Then he made Mort, the metal for the door knocker gifted by Rhiannon Crochan, who brushed a hand over the king’s cheek before she left the tomb.

Rhiannon was not present when Brannon hid the sliver of black stone beneath the jewel in Elena’s crown—the second Wyrdkey.

Or when he set Damaris in its stand, near the second sarcophagus. For the mortal king he hated and had barely tolerated, but he had leashed that loathing for his daughter’s sake. Even if Gavin had taken his daughter, the daughter of his soul, away from him.

The final key … he went to Mala’s temple.

It was where he had wanted to end this all along anyway.

The molten fire around the temple was a song in his blood, a beckoning. A welcoming.

Only those with his gifts—her gifts—could get there. Even the priestesses could not reach the island in the heart of the molten river. Only his heir would be able to do that. Or whoever held another key.

So he set the remaining key under a flagstone.

And then he walked into that molten river, into the burning heart of his beloved.

And Brannon, King of Terrasen, Lord of Fire, did not emerge again.

Aelin didn’t know why it surprised her to be able to cry in this body. That this body had tears to spill.

But Aelin shed them for Brannon. Who knew what Elena had promised the gods—and had raged against it, the passing of this burden onto one of his descendants.

Brannon had done what he could for her. To soften the blow of that promise, if he could not change its course wholly. To give Aelin a fighting chance.

Nameless is my price.

“I don’t understand what this means,” Manon said quietly.

Aelin did not have the words to tell her. She had not been able to tell Rowan.

But then Elena appeared, real as they were real, and stared into the fading golden light of Mala’s temple as the memory vanished. “I’m sorry,” she said to Aelin.

Manon stiffened at Elena’s approach, taking a step from Aelin’s side.

“It was the only way,” Elena offered. That was genuine pain in her eyes. Regret.

“Was it a choice, or just to spare Gavin’s precious bloodline, that I was the one who was selected?” The voice that came from Aelin’s throat was raw, vicious. “Why spill Havilliard blood, after all, when you could fall back on old habits and choose another to bear the burden?”

Elena flinched. “Dorian was not ready. You were. The choice Nehemia and I made was to ensure that things went according to plan.”

“According to plan,” Aelin breathed. “According to all your schemes to make me clean up the mess of what you started with your gods-damned thieving and cowardice?”

“They wanted me to suffer,” Elena said. “And I have. Knowing you must do this, bear this burden … It has been a steady, endless shredding of my soul for a thousand years. It was so easy to say yes, to imagine you would be a stranger, someone who would not need to know the truth, only to be in the right place with the right gift, and yet … and yet I was wrong. I was so wrong.” Elena lifted her hands before her, palms up. “I thought Erawan would rise, and the world would face him. I did not know … I did not know darkness would fall. I did not know that your land would suffer. Suffer as I tried to keep mine from suffering. And there were so many voices … so many voices even before Adarlan conquered. It was those voices that woke me. The voices of those wishing for an answer, for help.” Elena’s eyes slid to Manon, then back to hers. “They were from all kingdoms, all races. Human, witch-kind, Fae … But they wove a tapestry of dreams, all begging for that one thing … A better world.

“Then you were born. And you were an answer to the gathering darkness, with that flame. My father’s flame, my mother’s might—reborn at last. And you were strong, Aelin. So strong, and so vulnerable. Not to outside threats, but the threat of your own heart, the isolation of your power. But there were those who knew you for what you were, what you could offer. Your parents, their court, your great-uncle … and Aedion. Aedion knew you were the Queen Who Was Promised without knowing what it meant, without knowing anything about you, or me, or what I did to spare my own people.”

The words hit her like stones. “The Queen Who Was Promised,” Aelin said. “But not to the world. To the gods—to the keys.”

To pay the price. To be their sacrifice in order to seal the keys in the gate at last.

Deanna’s appearance hadn’t been only to tell her how to use the mirror, but to remind her that she belonged to them. Had a debt owed to them.

Aelin said too quietly, “I didn’t survive that night in the Florine River because of pure luck, did I?”

Elena shook her head. “We did not—”

“No,” Aelin snapped. “Show me.”

Elena’s throat bobbed. But then the mists turned dark and colored, and the very air around them became laced with frost.

Breaking branches, ragged breath punctuated with gasping sobs, light footsteps crashing through bramble and brush. A horse’s thunderous gait, closing in—

Aelin made herself stand still when that familiar, frozen wood appeared, exactly as she remembered it. As she appeared, so small and young, white nightgown torn and muddy, hair wild, eyes bright with terror and grief so profound it had broken her entirely. Frantic to reach the roaring river beyond, the bridge—

There were the posts, and the forest on the other side. Her sanctuary—

Manon swore softly as Aelin Galathynius flung herself through the bridge posts, realized the bridge had been cut … and plummeted into the raging, half-frozen river below.

She had forgotten how far that fall was. How violent the black river was, the white rapids illuminated by the icy moon overhead.

The image shifted, and then it was dark, and silent, and they were being tumbled, over and over as the river tossed her in its wrath.

“There was so much death,” Elena whispered as they watched Aelin being thrown and twisted and dragged down by the river. The cold was crushing.

“So much death, and so many lights extinguished,” Elena said, voice breaking. “You were so small. And you fought … you fought so hard.”

And there she was, clawing at the water, kicking and thrashing, trying to get to the surface, to the air, and she could feel her lungs begin to seize, feel the pressure building—

Then light flickered from the Amulet of Orynth hanging around her neck, greenish symbols fizzing like bubbles around her.

Elena slid to her knees, watching that amulet glow beneath the water. “They wanted me to take you, right then. You had the Amulet of Orynth, everyone thought you were dead, and the enemy was distracted with the slaughter. I could take you, help you track down the other two keys. I was allowed to help you—to do that much. And once we got the other two, I was to force you to forge the Lock anew. To use every last drop of you to make that Lock, summon the gate, put the keys back into it, send them home, and end it all. You had enough power, even then. It’d kill you to do it, but you were likely dead anyway. So they let me form a body, to get you.”

Elena took a shuddering breath as a figure plunged into the water. A silver-haired, beautiful woman in an ancient dress. She grabbed Aelin around the waist, hauling her up, up, up.

They hit the surface of the river, and it was dark and loud and wild, and it was all she could do to grab the log Elena shoved her onto, to dig her nails into the soaked wood and cling to it while she was carried downriver, deep into the night.

“I hesitated,” Elena breathed. “You clung to that log with all your strength. Everything had been taken from you—everything—and yet you still fought. You did not yield. And they told me to hurry, because even then their power to hold me in that solid body was fading. They said to just take you and go, but … I hesitated. I waited until you got to that riverbank.”

Mud and reeds and trees looming overhead, snow still patching the steep hill of the bank.

Aelin watched herself crawl up that riverbank, inch by painful inch, and she felt the phantom, icy mud beneath her nails, felt her broken, frozen body as it slumped onto the earth and shuddered, over and over.

As lethal cold gripped her while Elena hauled herself onto the bank beside her.

As Elena lunged for her, screaming her name, cold and shock setting in …

“I thought the danger would be drowning,” Elena whispered. “I didn’t realize being out in the cold for so long …”