Baghra tells Alina to leave with performers and travel west, where she’ll take a ship across the True Sea—Alina is powerful enough to cross the Fold, thanks to Baghra’s training. Alina remembers the Darkling telling Baghra to leave Alina alone, but Alina never questioned why—maybe he wanted to keep her weak. Baghra points Alina across the grounds. Abruptly, Alina asks why Baghra is betraying her own son. The look on Baghra’s face is empty, like she’s lived too long. She softly says that the Darkling used to be a brilliant boy. She gave him his ambition, and she should’ve stopped him. Now, she’ll stop him before he goes too far. Baghra says she’ll post a guard outside Alina’s room tomorrow to say she’s sick, but Alina says they’ll need the guard tonight. Baghra sighs that Alina is foolish.
As Baghra shares more and more, Alina comes to realize just how manipulative the Darkling perhaps was. She makes it seem like he’s been specifically trying to keep Alina in the dark and without information she’d need to protect herself, though thanks to Baghra, Alina is prepared to tackle the Fold. Baghra also makes it clear that trying to stop the Darkling is the only way she believes she can make a real difference in the world. Unlike him, she cares about the people who will die if the Darkling expands the Fold, showing just how much she differs from her son.
Alina thanks Baghra and, thanks to Botkin’s training, hurries purposefully across the lawn. Baghra sends darkness around Alina to hide her. Near the Grand Palace, Alina slips into a troupe’s wagon. It carries her out of the grounds and into Os Alta’s cobblestone streets. Alina is terrified. She’s running from the most powerful man in Ravka, and everyone from the First Army to trackers like Mal will be after her. And what will she do in a strange land where she doesn’t speak the language?
Fortunately for Alina, the Darkling wasn’t able to entirely stop her education while she was at the Little Palace. In that sense, the social structure there helped her, even as it also frustrated her. Now, though, she doesn’t have the social structure of the palace to protect her—she’s essentially declared herself the Darkling’s enemy. Refusing to play his game and appease him seems like a dangerous proposition.
Sometime the next day, the wagon stops and Alina sneaks out. She discovers she’s in a town west of Os Alta. Ideally she’d travel on horseback, but Alina is too afraid to buy or steal a horse. She buys some food and continues heading west on foot, stopping for the night to sleep in a hayloft. As she lies there, she wonders what if Baghra is wrong; would the Darkling forgive her if she just went back? But the Darkling is the one who wants to subjugate Alina. Alina knows Baghra is right, and she knows she spoke the truth when she told Mal that the Darkling owns all of them. But part of her wants to belong to the Darkling, and she hates that.
Even though Alina remains convinced that she’s doing the right thing by running away and rejecting the Darkling, this is still really confusing—she can’t ignore the part of her that thrived with the Darkling’s attention. There was a lot for Alina to gain by playing along, and now those benefits—power, attention, perhaps romance—are out of reach.
Alina travels for days, first on the Vy and then on hunting paths running parallel to the Vy. Though she’s not really lonely, she slips into a church to hear Mass one day. The priest offers a prayer for Alina, the Sun Summoner who’s going to save Ravka. Alina hurries away, feeling terrible. The people will have every right to hate her now that she’s running away from Ravka.
Interestingly, Baghra told Alina to get away from the Darkling but not to beat him and destroy the Fold. So, Baghra’s thinking was still very narrow and focused on Alina’s safety, rather than that of all Ravkans. This doesn’t sit well with Alina, who doesn’t want to abandon Ravka’s poor.
Finally, Alina gets close to Ryevost. This means making a choice: she can either continue along the heavily populated river or go into the remote Petrazoi mountains. Alina decides to stop in the city to purchase a bedroll and food. The crowds are overwhelming, and Alina is terrified someone will find her. But when she comes upon a group of soldiers, they ignore her. The Darkling certainly knows Alina has gone and has sent soldiers after her, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. Alina hurries to the edge of town as night falls. As she passes an inn, a drunk man flies out the door and grabs Alina. Alina flashes her mirrors in his eyes and then trips him—just as an oprichnik comes out of the inn and recognizes Alina.
Things get confusing for Alina when it starts to look like nobody is actually looking for her. It raises questions about whether Alina was correct to trust Baghra—after all, wouldn’t the Darkling be looking for her if she was so important to his plan? Still, Alina demonstrates how far she’s come, and how confident she is in her abilities, when she seems to easily take down the drunk man with her mirrors and with Botkin’s coaching.
Alina runs and dives into the underbrush once she reaches city limits. She can hear men chasing her as she reaches what sounds like a stream. Alina slides and then gets up to run down the hill leading to the stream, but she falls and plunges right into the water. The water carries Alina downstream until finally, she’s able to pull herself out. The river took everything: Alina only has her knife. But Alina falls asleep and wakes up the next morning to the sound of voices nearby. As Alina spots a soldier, she prepares to kill him—but just before he gets close enough, another soldier shouts “Nothing” and the man walks away. Alina is stunned; this must be a trick. But when Alina turns, she realizes there’s someone behind her: Mal.
As Alina tries to evade the soldiers, her fight essentially is for her individuality and her right to make her own choices. Now, she knows the Darkling is out looking for her—just with a much smaller force than she initially expected. And the soldiers’ intensity does suggest that the Darkling desperately wants her back, which adds more credence to Baghra’s warnings before Alina left the Little Palace. Mal’s sudden appearance suggests not all is lost: with Mal, a skilled tracker, Alina might have a better chance of evading the soldiers.
Silently, Mal leads Alina back through the stream and then deeper into the woods. Alina wants to punch him and hug him as they walk for hours in total silence. The hike is agony for Alina due to her blisters, her lack of food, and her trip in the stream. Finally, they stop high in the mountains in a secluded spot. Alina sits while Mal covers their tracks. When Mal returns, he says they can’t risk a fire. Working up her courage, Alina asks if the trackers have captured Morozova’s stag. He says they’re close, but he doesn’t think they can do it without him. They’re “not ordinary animals.” Alina wonders if there’s more to Mal’s gift for tracking than he realizes.
Thanks to their deep childhood bond, Alina trusts Mal entirely as he leads her to safety. She’s not at all afraid that he’s going to betray her, which is one of the reasons she’d like to punch him: he probably won’t leave even if she does. When Mal deems the deer “not ordinary animals,” he almost echoes Ana Kuya’s stories about magical deer—and since he (and not the Darkling) has actually gotten close to the creatures, his assessment might carry more truth.
In a hard tone, Mal asks why Alina ran from the Little Palace and the Darkling. Alina doesn’t know where to start, but she says she’s trying to save the world. She laughs when Mal asks if this is just a lovers’ quarrel. As though he’s made some decision, Mal stands up and tosses Alina a blanket so she can go to sleep. Alina thanks Mal for finding her, and he whispers, “Always.”
It sounds corny, but Alina also isn’t lying when she says she’s trying to save the world—her goal is to keep the Darkling from expanding the Fold and killing people. Mal seems to sense on some level that Alina is just trying to do the right thing, which may help him believe that Alina isn’t the corrupted, selfish “princess” he thought he saw on the night of the fete.