That afternoon, Alina joins the other Etherealki and summons light for them. Suddenly, life is easy. Alina sleeps well and has an appetite. Genya shares the hilarious rumors circulating about why Alina changed—such as that the Darkling cured her with his blood and an “extract of diamonds.” Alina’s lessons with Baghra aren’t pleasant, but they make progress. Baghra encourages Alina to realize that her power is part of her, like her heart, and it’s not going to just refuse to work. Alina wonders if Baghra wants her to grasp some hidden meaning in her words, though she can’t figure out what that might be. She finds she now enjoys Botkin’s lessons and is improving—especially since she’s learning to use mirrors embedded in her gloves that let her bounce light into opponents’ eyes. Botkin even presents her with a Grisha steel knife.
As soon as Alina accepts who she is and makes peace with her power, she suddenly begins taking an interest in the world and the people around her. Further, Alina no longer thinks of her body as her enemy—it's fun to see what it can do. This suggests that Alina can only begin to fit in after she accepts herself and who she is. Most importantly, this also helps Alina brush off rumors that she might have found devastating prior to this change. However, mysteries remain, such as what (or even if) Baghra is trying to teach Alina more than she’s letting on.
The holiday season passes pleasantly, and Alina feels more comfortable with her fellow Summoners. However, she prefers spending time with Genya in her room, listening to Genya’s tales of the opulent parties taking place at the Grand Palace. Genya also tells Alina about the winter fete that all Grisha attend, along with the royal family and many nobles and military heroes. They discuss the two princes—one of whom might be illegitimate—and Alina assures Genya that David will come around soon. Alina never mentions Mal to Genya.
Alina continues to feel more at home in the Little Palace now that she has accepted who she is. Still, she can’t escape her roots as an orphan who’s always felt out of place, which helps explain why she still feels such a close connection to Genya. Alina also seems more confident that Genya actually likes her, which helps her feel as though Genya’s friendship is, perhaps, beginning to fill the hole left by Mal.
One afternoon, while the other Grisha are away, Genya convinces Alina to sneak over to the Grand Palace to try on the Queen’s clothes. They spend hours playing dress-up, and Alina is shocked by her reflection in the mirror. She’s not mousy anymore; she’s pretty and has shape. Making Alina realize this seems to be Genya’s point. The girls are so preoccupied that Alina is late for her evening lesson with Baghra. Alina missed dinner and Baghra seems angrier than usual, but with coaching, Alina spreads a beam of light all the way across the lake. Baghra shouts for more in a tone that scares Alina, and Alina loses her focus.
Recall that Grisha are, on the whole, very attractive people. Now that Alina realizes she’s also an attractive person, she feels more like a competent Grisha and can survive this difficult lesson with Baghra. And even though Alina loses focus here, she’s still in a cycle of positive reinforcement: she feels better about herself and therefore gets better in her lessons, which then makes her feel better about herself.
From behind Alina, the Darkling says it isn’t enough. Baghra argues Alina could do just fine with any amplifier, but the Darkling insists she’ll get the stag. Alina pipes up that she can work harder, but the Darkling interjects that all of Ravka is at stake. They can’t risk it. Chastised, Alina says she’s useless without Morozova’s stag. Baghra cackles, but the Darkling tells her to go. She says everyone will suffer because of his pride and returns to her hut. The Darkling and Alina head for the Little Palace. He says the herd is in Fjerda and then says Alina isn’t useless. Alina insists she is; she’s only good for “midnight picnics” without Morozova’s stag. She’s grateful for everything, but she feels like she’s earned nothing.
Once again, Baghra seems to have some ulterior motive as she bickers with the Darkling—she seems to not want Alina to get the stag. Her warning that people will suffer because of the Darkling’s pride also seems ominous, particularly since it was the Black Heretic’s pride and greed that created the Shadow Fold initially. The Darkling starts to look more like a savior to Alina, though, as he assures her that she’s useful and belongs here. Unlike Baghra and even Zoya, Marie, and Nadia, he’s not going to make Alina feel unwelcome.
Wearily, the Darkling says Baghra might be right. Alina asks why he lets Baghra bother him and suggests it’s good for him—Baghra is the only person who isn’t frightened or trying to impress the Darkling all the time. Alina asks what Baghra’s power is, but the Darkling says nobody is old enough to remember. Then, he asks if Alina would think he’s crazy if he said he believes they can find the stag. Alina asks why he cares what she thinks—and then he kisses her. Just as he pulls back, Ivan comes around the corner with a knowing grin. The Darkling leaves with Ivan to meet with the Apparat, leaving Alina standing alone.
Despite the Darkling expressing interest in Alina and insisting that she’s special, Alina still believes she doesn’t matter much. This is why it’s such a shock when the Darkling kisses her—Alina wanted him to be attracted to her on some level, but it never seemed entirely possible. Still, the kiss seems somewhat less positive when Ivan appears and the Darkling leaves immediately. Alina is left off-balance.
Alina can’t believe what happened. She calls for dinner in her room and wishes she could talk to Genya, but she’s too afraid to try and go find her at the Grand Palace. Instead, Alina goes downstairs and joins Marie, Nadia, and Sergei at the banya, the public baths. Ana Kuya always called them barbaric, but Alina realizes now she was very snobby. After hours of fun and alcohol, Alina returns to her room. Her mind isn’t quiet, though. She summons a glow on the ceiling—but thinking of the Darkling’s kiss causes her to lose her concentration.
Now, Alina can’t ignore or explain away the Darkling’s interest: she is special to him, and she’s not sure what to do with the attention. It’s not entirely clear, though, whether the Darkling’s attention is actually a good thing. When the thought of the kiss destroys Alina’s concentration, it suggests that the Darkling is a distraction from the work she’s doing to harness her power. This might not matter when Morozova’s stag shows up, but it's a problem at this point.