Baghra is an amplifier like the Darkling, so when she grips Alina’s wrist, sunlight floods the hut. But as soon as Baghra tells Alina to call light on her own, Alina can’t do it. The rest of the day is just as disastrous. Tutors assign Alina a stack of books to read and Summoners talk at lunch about the advanced subjects they’re studying. Alina tunes out until Marie invites her to walk with her and Nadia to combat training. Marie’s constant anti-Corporalki chatter is obnoxious, and Alina feels even worse when she notices the Apparat watching her from the trees.
Alina’s inability to call light makes her feel as though she’s never going to be successful here. After all, how she can she ever be a useful Grisha if she can’t wield her own power? This contributes to her growing sense that she doesn’t belong here. She’s also at a disadvantage because she doesn’t have the years of study that Marie and Nadia do, so she can’t participate in the chatter about advanced subjects.
The combat instructor, Botkin, isn’t Grisha; he’s a former Shu Han mercenary who’s fought everywhere. Alina can’t hide how weak and clumsy she is, so Botkin taunts her mercilessly—and tells her to come early tomorrow for individual training. Though she’s exhausted and overwhelmed, Alina forces herself to go to dinner with the other Grisha. She joins Marie and Nadia and asks where Genya is. Snickering, Marie says Genya eats and sleeps at the Grand Palace so she’s always available to the Queen—and the King. Suddenly, Alina isn’t hungry.
Again, Alina feels more and more like she doesn’t belong: even Botkin, who isn’t Grisha, thinks she’s weak and ineffective. All Alina wants is to fit in and, it seems, blend in. This may be one reason she asks about Genya—Genya doesn’t make her feel quite so conspicuous as everyone else does. What Marie says, though, suggests that Genya might be sleeping with the King, and that this is something the other Grisha hold against her. It’s unclear at this point, though, if the relationship is consensual or not.
Alina nurses tea through the rest of dinner until Ivan bursts out the Darkling’s doors and the room falls silent. He calls Alina to him and leads her into the Darkling’s war room. Alina is terrified; did Baghra share how awful she is? But instead of chastising her, the Darkling asks how her day was and assures her things will get better. He notes, though, that she’ll have a difficult path, as Etherealki usually pair up to work—but she’s the only one of her kind. With this, he leads her down some hallways and points to a door that leads to the dormitories; this way, she can avoid the other Grisha. Alina is floored—he just wanted to ask about her day? But the Darkling assures her he’s not a monster.
Given how terribly Alina’s day has gone and how frightened she is of the Darkling, it makes sense that she’d expect the worst from him: it’s not silly for her to think that she has disappointed him. So, it’s very shocking to discover that he just wants to check on her. Initially, Alina is unwilling to just accept that the Darkling might actually be a nice person who cares about her; she’s seen too much to think his interest is innocent. But the Darkling wants Alina to think that his terrible reputation is overblown, which is why he insists he’s not a monster.
Unable to stop herself, Alina says that she always expects the worst—and the Darkling could ship her off or cut her in half, so it seems fair to feel intimidated. He acknowledges that this makes sense and then, grabbing her hand, asks why she rubs the scar on her palm. Alina says it’s an old habit and that she got the scar in Keramzin. Out of nowhere, the Darkling asks if the tracker—Mal—is also an orphan, and if he’s any good. Alina says, truthfully, that the joke at Keramzin was that he could make rabbits out of rocks. With this, the Darkling ushers Alina through the door.
Here, Alina explains exactly why she doesn’t feel like it’s a good idea to just take the Darkling’s kindness at face value: he’s one of the most powerful men in the country and can probably do whatever he wants. When the Darkling asks about the scar and then about Mal, it’s a subtle clue that the scar and Mal are perhaps somehow connected. But for now, it’s unclear what the connection is—or, for that matter, why the Darkling is curious about Mal at all.