I am Celaena Sardothien...and I am not afraid.
Once upon a time, when she was young and small and vulnerable, Celaena Sardothien could remember her mother telling her this: bad things always happen on a Dead Man's Night. A night when the air is cool and feather-like, chilling to the core. When the shudders and shivers crawl over your skin like the dragging nails of decrepit corpses. When your breath plumes out like devil oxygen, cloudy and quickly swept away in a breeze that doesn't exist.
As soon as Celaena opened her eyes, she knew that it was a Dead Man's Night.
The feeling was familiar, the itch that warned her of corpses which would crawl out of the earth and drag her back to where she belonged, to Hell. The breath on the back of her neck. The cramp in her calloused fingers. The ache and break of something squeezing, squeezing, and slicing open its phantom fingers on the bloody shards of her already-broken heart. It was the same feelings Celaena experienced every time she was dispatched on a 'mission' - for that was the euphemistic name her line of work had taken on - and she had to ferry yet another soul to the spirit world.
But, whilst the feeling was familiar to her, Celaena's surroundings were not.
She wasn't in a tavern. Or a brawling backstreet alley. Or a ship, or a salt mine, or the beautifully ornate throne room of the Glass Castle. She was in a woods, but not any woods, the enchanted woods she had frequently strolled in as a child. Above her, the barky mother arms of the Great Oaks cast the shade of their crystalline leaves over her, the sparkling darkness only punctuated by a light so silver it was almost white flittering in through the gaps in the anything-but-green greenery. The ground beneath her feet was covered in soil, damp and fresh, just as Celaena liked it best after a cleansing thunderstorm. Around where she lay, curled up in the dirt like a foetus of Earth, midnight black thorn bushes rose and sprang from the mud. Sitting daintly at the ends of their spiky limbs were roses, beautiful turquoise roses. As a young girl, Celaena had often challenged other children to dares in which one of them had to try and pick such a rose from the bushes. On most occasions, either Celaena or her opponent would come away with their fingers torn and shredded to flimsy red ribbons of skin with no proof of their efforts, but once - just once - she had managed to acquire the impressive flora. Now, the roses stood taunting her again.
Yet it wasn't the jewelled trees or the thunderstorm soil or the impressive roses which caught her attention first. No, it was the stag. The impossible Terrasen stag, standing in the same patch of clearing as Celaena, that made her drop to her knees again as soon as she began to rise.
The word exploded into the deafening silence, shattering the peace.
Scrambling to her feet, Celaena tried to identify where the voice was. Raising a delicate finger to her mouth, she wondered if the word had slipped unwillingly from her lips or if the voice was inside her head.
Suddenly, an arrow flew out of nowhere. It whistled through the wind and pierced the stag's side, driving home into its heart.
Just as the beautiful snow-white creature collapsed amongst the brambles, Celaena heard the rush of footsteps to her left. Whirling around on her heel, she reached for a dagger at her side. Nothing. Her fingers shot to her boot, her arm pouch, her hair pin. Nothing. All of a sudden, as if she had appeared from mist or darkness, a tall, magnificent, dark-skinned figure stood in front of her, entirely dressed in black and armed with a gold-and-wood bow and arrow.
Celaena opened her mouth, to speak, to scream, to laugh hysterically, she wasn't sure. She flung her arms wide open, an embrace, a surrender, a sacrifice, to her long-lost friend.
That was when Nehemia drew back the arrow and let it fly.