The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass 0.30) - Page 10

“I don’t want to walk home! We’re taking a shortcut!” Ansel shouted back. Behind them, the three guards still charged onward.

Celaena debated slamming Kasida into Hisli to send Ansel tumbling onto the dunes—leaving her for the guards to take care of—but the girl pointed over Hisli’s dark head. “Live a little, Sardothien!”

And just like that, the dunes parted to reveal the turquoise expanse of the Gulf of Oro. The cool sea breeze kissed her face, and Celaena leaned into it, almost moaning with pleasure.

Ansel let out a whoop, careening down the final dune and heading straight toward the beach and the breaking waves. Despite herself, Celaena smiled and held on tighter.

Kasida hit the hard-packed red sand and gained speed, faster and faster.

Celaena had a sudden moment of clarity then, as her hair ripped from her braid and the wind tore at her clothes. Of all the girls in all the world, here she was on a spit of beach in the Red Desert, astride an Asterion horse, racing faster than the wind. Most would never experience this—she would never experience anything like this again. And for that one heartbeat, when there was nothing more to it than that, she tasted bliss so complete that she tipped her head back to the sky and laughed.

The guards reached the beach, their fierce cries nearly swallowed up by the booming surf.

Ansel cut away, surging toward the dunes and the giant wall of rock that arose nearby. The Desert Cleaver, if Celaena knew her geography correctly—which she did, as she’d studied maps of the Deserted Land for weeks now. A giant wall that arose from the earth and stretched from the eastern coast all the way to the black dunes of the south—split clean down the middle by an enormous fissure. They’d come around it on the way from the fortress, which was on the other side of the Cleaver, and that was what had made their journey so insufferably long. But today . . .

“Faster, Kasida,” she whispered in the horse’s ear. As if the mare understood her, she took off, and soon Celaena was again beside Ansel, cutting up dune after dune as they headed straight for the red wall of rock. “What are you doing?” she called to Ansel.

Ansel gave her a fiendish grin. “We’re going through it. What good is an Asterion horse if it can’t jump?”

Celaena’s stomach dropped. “You can’t be serious.”

Ansel glanced over her shoulder, her red hair streaming past her face. “They’ll chase us to the doors of the fortress if we go the long way!” But the guards couldn’t make the jump, not with ordinary horses.

A narrow opening in the wall of red rock appeared, twisting away from sight. Ansel headed straight toward it. How dare she make such a reckless, stupid decision without consulting Celaena first?

“You planned this the whole time,” Celaena snapped. Though the guards still remained a good distance away, they were close enough for Celaena to see the weapons, including longbows, strapped to them.

Ansel didn’t reply. She just sent Hisli flying forward.

Celaena had to choose between the unforgiving walls of the Cleaver and the three guards behind them. She could take the guards in a few seconds—if she slowed enough to draw her daggers. But they were mounted, and aiming might be impossible. Which meant she’d have to get close enough to kill them, as long as they didn’t start firing at her first. They probably wouldn’t shoot at Kasida, not when she was worth more than all of their lives put together, but Celaena couldn’t bring herself to risk the magnificent beast. And if she killed the guards, that still left her alone in the desert, since Ansel surely wouldn’t stop until she was on the other side of the Cleaver. Since she had no desire to die of thirst . . .

Cursing colorfully, Celaena plunged after Ansel into the passage through the canyon.

The passage was so narrow that Celaena’s legs nearly grazed the rain-smoothed orange walls. The beating hooves of their horses echoed like firecrackers, the sound only worsening as the three guards entered the canyon. It would have been nice, she realized, to have Sam with her. He might be a pain in her ass, but he’d proven himself to be more than handy in a fight. Extraordinarily skilled, if she felt like admitting it.

Ansel wove and turned with the passage, fast as a stream down a mountainside, and it was all Celaena could do to hold on to Kasida as they followed.

A twang snapped through the canyon, and Celaena ducked low to Kasida’s surging head—just as an arrow ricocheted off the rock a few feet away. So much for not firing at the horses. Another sharp turn set her in the clear, but the relief was short-lived as she beheld the long, straight passage—and the ravine beyond it.

Celaena’s breath lodged in her throat. The jump had to be thirty feet at least—and she didn’t want to know how long a fall it was if she missed.

Ansel barreled ahead; then her body tensed, and Hisli leapt from the cliff edge.

The sunlight caught in Ansel’s hair as they flew over the ravine, and she loosed a joyous cry that set the whole canyon humming. A moment later, she landed on the other side, with only inches to spare.

There wasn’t enough room for Celaena to stop—even if she tried, they wouldn’t have enough space to slow down, and they’d go right over the edge. So she began praying to anyone, anything. Kasida gave a sudden burst of speed, as if she, too, understood that only the gods would see them safely over.

And then they were at the lip of the ravine, which went down, down, down to a jade river hundreds of feet below. And Kasida was soaring, only air beneath them, nothing to keep her from the death that now wrapped around her completely.

Celaena could only hold on and wait to fall, to die, to scream as she met her horrible end . . .

But then there was rock under them, solid rock. She gripped Kasida tighter as they landed in the narrow passage on the other side, the impact exploding through her bones, and kept galloping.

Back across the ravine, the guards had pulled to a halt, and cursed at them in a language she was grateful she didn’t understand.

Ansel let out another whoop when they came out the other end of the Cleaver, and she turned to find Celaena still riding close behind her. They rode across the dunes, heading west, the setting sun turning the entire world bloodred.

When the horses were too winded to keep running, Ansel finally stopped atop a dune, Celaena pulling up beside her. Ansel looked at Celaena, wildness still rampant in her eyes. “Wasn’t that wonderful?”

Breathing hard, Celaena didn’t say anything as she punched Ansel so hard in the face that the girl went flying off her horse and tumbled onto the sand.

Ansel just clutched her jaw and laughed.

Though they could have made it back before midnight, and though Celaena pushed her to continue riding, Ansel insisted on stopping for the night. So when their campfire was nothing but embers and the horses were dozing behind them, Ansel and Celaena lay on their backs on the side of a dune and stared up at the stars.

Her hands tucked behind her head, Celaena took a long, deep breath, savoring the balmy night breeze, the exhaustion ebbing from her limbs. She rarely got to see stars so bright—not with the lights of Rifthold. The wind moved across the dunes, and the sand sighed.

“You know,” Ansel said quietly, “I never learned the constellations. Though I think ours are different from yours—the names, I mean.”

It took Celaena a moment to realize that by “ours” she didn’t mean the Silent Assassins—she meant her people in the Western Wastes. Celaena pointed to a cluster of stars to their left. “That’s the dragon.” She traced the shape. “See the head, legs, and tail?”

“No.” Ansel chuckled.

Celaena nudged her with an elbow and pointed to another grouping of stars. “That’s the swan. The lines on either side are the wings, and the arc is its neck.”

“What about that one?” Ansel said.

“That’s the stag,” Celaena breathed. “The Lord of the North.”

“Why does he get a fancy title? What about the swan and the dragon?”

Celaena snorted, but the s

mile faded when she stared at the familiar constellation. “Because the stag remains constant—no matter the season, he’s always there.”


Tags: Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass Fantasy
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