The Darkling and his Grisha force Alina and Mal to march an hour, until they reach a campsite. Mal’s guards shove him into a tent, while Ivan shoves Alina into a different tent. As he ties her to a pole, Alina begs Ivan to not do this. Abruptly, Ivan says he had two brothers, a father, and an uncle—they weren’t Grisha, and they all died fighting the King’s wars. Everyone, including the King and Queen, are sorry for his loss. But the Darkling is the only person willing to take action. Alina tries to convince him that her power could destroy the Fold, and she points out that the Darkling will eventually subjugate them all. For this, he threatens to gag her.
Ivan offers some insight into why people are willing to go along with the Darkling: the King is inept and uncaring, while the Darkling is the only person who’s promised to do anything to save people’s loved ones from certain death in the wars. Supporting the Darkling might not be a great choice, Ivan seems to acknowledge, but it also feels like the only choice. Alina, however, realizes that they’ll all get hurt in the end, simply because the Darkling cares about no one but himself.
A while after Ivan leaves, a Summoner and a Heartrender duck into the tent and go to sleep. Alina sits awake, thinking that this is her fault. If she’d killed the stag, she’d have his power. Showing him mercy was a weak choice, and many will die because of that choice. Alina dreams all night of the Darkling slitting the stag’s throat—but the blood is hers. When Alina wakes, a Heartrender marches her to the Darkling and the horses. Oprichniki bring Mal a minute later. Ivan suggests they drag Mal, but the Darkling says ominously that he wants Mal to stay alive. They ride for hours. Alina wonders who the Darkling is going to kill first when they reach the Fold.
At this point, Alina doesn’t think she did anything noble or worthy by trying to spare the stag’s life. Instead, she conceptualizes her choice to spare him as weak and selfish—suggesting that, for now, it seems like a better idea to see other beings as tools, which is how the Darkling views them. Note, too, that now that Alina is the Darkling’s prisoner, she’s lost a lot of her desire for action. Her power made her interested in the world and in doing things, so now that she doesn’t have control of her power, her desire to do things slips away, too.
When they reach the Vy, Alina is dumped unceremoniously in the Darkling’s coach to ride with Ivan. Though Ivan threatens to make her pass out if she keeps asking about Mal, Alina doesn’t stop asking. Every night, Alina dreams of staring into the stag’s eyes. His death was senseless and Alina’s fault, but she also feels like she’s missing some message in the dream. Near Kribirsk, the Darkling slides into the coach across from Alina. He tells her that the other Grisha think Alina has been in seclusion, preparing to cross the Fold—nobody knows she ran away. He also asks what kind of a life Alina thinks she can have with Mal. Mal, he insists, would eventually grow afraid of Alina. With a final threat to torture Mal if Alina doesn’t behave, the Darkling leaves the coach.
The way Alina describes missing a message in her dreams about the stag mirrors the way she spoke earlier about feeling like she was missing warnings from Baghra. Now that she knows she actually was missing something, she’s more focused and intent on solving this mystery. As the Darkling speaks to Alina, he essentially suggests that she’s unlovable to anyone but a Grisha, presumably him. The way he describes Alina and Mal’s hypothetical relationship is, interestingly, exactly what happened between the Darkling and Alina—Alina fears him because of his power.
Alina trembles—is Mal actually still alive, or is the Darkling just manipulating her? She looks out the window as she enters Kribirsk, remembering how this coach almost ran her over the last time she was here. To Alina’s surprise, she’s happy to see Marie and Sergei when they run to greet her, but it’s hard to look anything but miserable. The Darkling hovers, shooting Alina warning looks, as Alina pushes through the crowd. She passes Zoya, who is, ironically, clearly jealous of Morozova’s collar. Finally, Ivan ushers Alina into a tent near the Darkling’s. It’s comfortable but surrounded by guards. Alina would give everything to be shivering with Mal.
The Darkling has clearly done a great job of covering up that Alina ran away. To her surprise, Alina finds that Marie and Sergei are, perhaps, real friends whom she cares about, suggesting that Alina’s belief that she fit in at the Little Palace wasn’t just an illusion. In some ways, she did fit. However, the Little Palace wasn’t without its issues, as Zoya’s clear jealousy makes clear. But of course, what Zoya doesn’t know is that what now sets Alina apart and makes her seem special is actually the very thing that deprives her of her individuality and her humanity.
Alina paces in her tent for days. On the fourth night, Genya brings Alina her dinner. As the girls talk, Genya implies that she knows Alina ran—and she implies that Baghra has disappeared. Deciding to take a chance, Alina asks if she could somehow get word to the King about what the Darkling is planning. Genya reveals that the King is ill, so the Apparat is ruling. Alina remembers the Darkling saying the Apparat “has his uses”; now, she wishes she’d listened to the Apparat’s warnings. Alina asks about the Queen, but she’s been quarantined for safety. Suddenly, Alina notices that Genya is wearing a red kefta with blue embroidery, a combination Alina has never seen—what did Genya do to get to wear full Grisha colors?
Recall that Genya has always had a better grasp of what’s going on politically than other Grisha, potentially due to working in the Grand Palace and being in closer proximity to the King and other government officials. So, it’s unsurprising that Genya seems to know what the Darkling is up to. Further, it’s implied that Genya herself might have made the King sick, especially if she did so to elevate her own position. If this is what happened, then Genya, like David and Ivan, is complicit in what the Darkling is planning.
Sadly, Genya says she tried to warn Alina. She says there are rumors about what the Darkling is planning, and Alina says they’re true. Genya says that in that case, “it has to be done.” Alina just stares. Genya says David feels like he’s destroyed Ravka, but Alina says hollowly that they’ve all helped “bring about the end of the world.” Looking suddenly worried, Genya asks if Alina really means that. Alina says she doesn’t, and she knows Genya doesn’t believe her, but Genya acts like she does. Thinking of the stag, Alina asks Genya to tell David she forgives him. Alina thinks that she forgives Genya, too. She knows how it feels to want to belong.
As Alina sees it, Genya did exactly what she felt she had to in order to become something more than a laughingstock for the other Grisha. Fitting in was extremely important to her, and she presumably sees cooperating with the Darkling as worthwhile if it helps her achieve that goal. Alina, on the other hand, attempted to assert her individuality and stand out by running away. Alina has a really nuanced, sensitive take on her and Genya’s differences: they both made choices, and now they both have to live with the consequences.