Surprisingly, the next morning is fine: Zoya ignores Alina at breakfast and it’s a beautiful day. But when Alina reaches Baghra’s hut, she hears angry voices inside. Alina knocks and lets herself in but tries to leave again as the Darkling is there and is clearly furious. Baghra snaps for Alina to come in and Alina tells the Darkling she’s fine, but the Darkling warns Baghra to leave Alina alone. Perplexingly, she says that the Darkling would like that. They argue for a minute and then, Baghra says that “the boy” (the Darkling) wants to get Alina an amplifier. Alina is relieved and hopeful, but when she expresses interest, Baghra snorts.
Alina is too emotional to pay close attention to Baghra and the Darkling’s argument, but what they say is extremely important. The Darkling, for instance, warns Baghra to leave Alina alone—and Baghra suggests that this would be ideal for the Darkling. It’s unclear what’s going on here, but this adds to the perception that Baghra and the Darkling know something Alina doesn’t. They’re also clearly talking about Alina and are doing so in a way that doesn’t really give Alina a say in anything. Alina accepts this because she feels so low, but it also implies that they don’t fully respect that she’s a person in her own right.
The Darkling asks Alina if she’s heard of Morozova’s herd. When Baghra mocks that the deer are fairy tales, he leads Alina outside to speak privately. Alina shares what Ana Kuya always said about the deer: they’re magical, white, appear at twilight, and can grant wishes if a hunter catches one and spares its life. The Darkling laughs, a lovely sound. The deer are real and powerful, but they’re not magical and they don’t grant wishes. His men have never seen the creatures, but they’ve seen signs of them. Tapping Alina’s collarbone, the Darkling says that if they can kill Morozova’s stag, Alina can have a necklace: the most powerful amplifier ever. She needs the most powerful one if she’s to destroy the Fold.
Though the Darkling insists Ana Kuya’s story about the deer is a fairy tale, it’s interesting what the story actually suggests: that the deer are willing to help those who show them mercy. The Darkling presents an opposite view: that if one forcibly kills Morozova’s stag, then they can take the stag’s power and use it as an amplifier. Noting how lovely the Darkling’s laugh is suggests that this is an emotionally—and perhaps sexually—charged moment for Alina. The Darkling is beginning to seem more human and relatable to her, and he’s also trying very hard to help her.
When Alina asks if she could practice with a different amplifier in the meantime, the Darkling says she should know enough theory by now to know it doesn’t work that way. Choking back tears, Alina says there’s a lot of theory to get through, and she can’t even summon a sunbeam. The Darkling insists he’s not worried. Morozova’s stag is meant for Alina, and he needs Alina to trust him on this. They’re going to change the world. Her heart pounding, Alina says she’s not that type, but he gives her a searching look. Then, asking her to keep Morozova’s stag a secret, the Darkling strides away. When Alina turns and Baghra notices her blushing, Baghra harumphs.
The Darkling essentially tells Alina that if he trusts her, she can be even more special than she already was—something that Alina seems to secretly want, despite insisting that she’s not capable of changing the world. Baghra seems well aware that Alina is developing confusing feelings for the Darkling—and she doesn’t like it. But given the apparent disagreements between Baghra and the Darkling, it makes sense that she wouldn’t want Alina getting involved with him.
The first chance she gets, Alina goes to the library to research Morozova’s herd and amplifiers. She finds little about the deer, but a lot about amplifiers. Grisha, she reads, can only have one, but the reason is hard to grasp—it seems like it’s a check on Grisha power. Alina thinks of the Black Heretic and how his greed created the Shadow Fold. All of Ravka is suffering because of that man’s greed.
Though Alina might not grasp all the theory, she seems to agree with the idea that Grisha should have some checks on their power. She infers that the Black Heretic might not have been able to create the Shadow Fold in the first place had there been more guardrails or checks to stop him.
Fall gives way to winter, but there’s still fresh fruit from greenhouses at breakfast. Alina still can’t summon anything and has a poor appetite, but she’s slightly less miserable because she trusts the Darkling. She even begins joining Marie and Nadia in leisure activities. Baghra is furious and accuses Alina of not trying, but Alina is just tired of failing. Zoya continues to ignore Alina. Still, though, Alina feels like she’s a failure who doesn’t belong—she feels like a fraud when she receives her winter wool kefta.
The fresh fruit at breakfast highlights how well the Grisha live compared to Ravka’s peasants: they have the means to keep greenhouses with fruit trees warm all winter. But this opulence isn’t making Alina feel any better. Indeed, Alina seems to become even more disaffected as the winter arrives. Morozova’s stag, at this point, represents an end to her seemingly endless failures—so in a way, Baghra is right. Continuing to try seems silly when soon, hopefully, Alina won’t have to try so hard anymore.
As Alina walks to Baghra’s hut in the new kefta, a servant appears and gives her a note. It’s Genya’s update on Mal: he’s in Tsibeya and is fine, so Alina can write to his regiment. Alina is hurt: she’s been writing to his regiment, and he hasn’t replied. Has he even opened the letters? Is she embarrassing him by continuing to write? She remembers how she and Mal used to skate on the frozen creek at Duke Keramsov’s estate and crumples Genya’s note. She wants to forget Mal and Keramzin, but instead she has to go suffer with Baghra.
Alina has a lot of fond childhood memories of playing with Mal—but they’re becoming less comforting now that it seems like Mal is ignoring her. Her new kefta also makes her feel like she doesn’t fit in, since it’s more luxurious than anything she’s had before. So, while Alina doesn’t feel like she fits with Mal anymore, she also doesn’t feel at home at the Little Palace.
Alina slams the door open and sits down across from Baghra. Laughing, Baghra asks what Alina is angry about; is she tired of waiting for her magic deer? Alina says she’s sick of the food and her kefta, and she’s sick of Botkin and Baghra. Baghra says this isn’t it. Is Alina homesick? She shouldn’t be, because she has the opportunity to be the Darkling’s “pet.” Alina flushes, but she won’t bring up Mal. Instead, she stands up and spits that this is a waste of time. Baghra insists that Alina is trying too hard to be something she isn’t, and she asks what’s waiting for Alina outside. Alina shouts that nobody and nothing is waiting for her.
Baghra insists that Alina ostensibly has everything she wants: the promise of an amplifier, a luxurious life, and the Darkling’s favor. (Though calling Alina his “pet” is ominous and suggests that Alina won’t have any control if the two begin a relationship—she’ll be more like a plaything.) But it seems to strike a chord for Alina when Baghra essentially points out that Alina is totally alone. Nobody here is particularly friendly, and Mal isn’t writing her back.
Alina realizes she just spoke the truth—and she remembers what happened with the Grisha Examiners. She remembers Mal calling for her as the woman in red, an amplifier herself, gripped Alina’s wrist. Alina felt the thing rising in her to respond, but she also knew that if she gave in, she’d never see Mal again. So, she pushed it away. Mal had made her life at Keramzin worth living, but she’s been using all her energy to keep this secret since that day. But now, Mal has left Alina behind. Baghra is right: Alina wants to go home and grow old with Mal in their meadow, but Mal has moved on. Alina’s grief seems to dissolve a knot inside of her. She reaches for the thing inside her and apologizes to it—and light pours out of her. This power is hers, and Alina feels great.
This is a watershed moment for Alina. Essentially, Alina has been rejecting and hiding a huge part of herself, all so she’d fit with Mal—and she even characterizes this as a sort of violence against herself. This is why she apologizes to the thing in her. As Alina makes this realization, she also realizes that she has to accept who and what she is. Doing so is immediately cathartic: not only can Alina summon light, but she also feels whole and fulfilled for seemingly the first time in her life. She now has something to hold onto that belongs only to her, and this makes her feel more secure than she ever has.