The Place of Mirrors had lost its glass. It was a skeleton of a structure, its floors covered in shards sharp as knives. They crunched beneath Isla’s shoes as she walked inside.
Oro had worked to close the crack in the ground, using borrowed power, but a scar still ran down the length of the room. A reminder of what had happened here.
A reminder of the ruler who had been buried below.
He was at her side, watching her every move. Without him, she didn’t know if she would have had the nerve to return.
No . . . she would. Because she was stronger now. And it had nothing to do with her newfound power.
She continued forward smoothly, head held high. Oro had returned her crown. He had told her about how he had clutched it in his hands after they had found the heart, during the agonizing hours in the cave while the sun still shined and he was unable to go to her . . . or even know if she had survived.
That was the moment I knew I loved you, he had said. When that arrow went through your heart, and it might as well have gone through mine.
Isla had felt her crown’s absence in the days following the breaking of the curses. She had drawn its patterns on paper, had imagined it in her mind’s eye, wondering how it had looked on her mother. And the generations of Wildling rulers before her. Including Violet.
That was when she had realized what it was. The only thing that connected her to her ancestors. The only important object that had survived the centuries.
She stood before the vault, at the back of the Place of Mirrors. Oro was next to her, eyes fixed on its peculiarly shaped lock.
Isla took a steadying breath before slipping her crown into the hole. Its every ridge clicked into place. She turned it, just the way she would a key.
And pulled the door open.