The following morning, Alina explains the Darkling’s plan to kill Morozova’s stag and use her to weaponize the Fold. Mal questions Baghra’s plan to send her away, suggesting instead that they go after the stag and take its antlers before the Darkling can. Reluctant at first, Alina agrees to Mal’s plan, knowing he’s the best tracker in Ravka. The pair changes direction, heading north to Tsibeya, where signs of the herd had last been seen. Several days pass as the they travel. Mal hunts and loots an unlocked house for supplies. They come across a festival happening in a village. It’s butter week, a holiday Alina loved when she was a child. Alina manages to convince Mal to go to the festival. After she and Mal get some fresh supplies in the village, Alina gets a free sweet roll and briefly enjoys the lively party. 

Their joy in having joined the butter week celebration is cut short by two men who attempt to rob them in an alleyway. A knife to Mal’s throat, the robbers rifle though Alina and Mal’s belongings. They realize that Mal is an Army deserter because his pack is military-issued. The robbers know that they can turn him in for more money than they would make from simply robbing them. Their plan is foiled, however, when Alina blinds them using her power and she and Mal get free of the two men. They run away again into the woods, free from the threats of the thieves, but now without Mal’s rifle. Once clear of the village, the two share the roll that Alina got and have a conversation that is much lighter than they’ve had in a while, even laughing at their luck. They forge onward toward Tsibeya, now notably more amicable than they had been. 

Alina and Mal head farther north into Tsibeya. Alina notes that something between them has changed since they were robbed during the butter week celebration. The terrain is much harder than the areas they’d previously passed through, but they don’t stop in their pursuit of Morozova’s stag. As they get closer to where the herd was last spotted, Alina asks Mal to make sure that the Darkling doesn’t take her if he catches up to them. Understanding that she means she wants him to kill her rather than letting her be enslaved by the Darkling using the antlers on her, he refuses. Alina pleads with him, telling him that she couldn’t bear being turned into a monster at the Darkling’s hand and he promises to do it if the occasion arises.  

Mal and Alina continue their search for the stag, following Mal’s intuition into more and more remote areas of northern Ravka. One night, Alina uses her power to keep them warm under their blankets as they try to shelter in a chilly plateau. That night, Mal tells Alina that his friends Mikhael and Dubrov were killed when the stag’s trail took his hunting party over the border into Fjerda. Mal blames himself for their deaths because it was his desire to get the stag that lead to them volunteering for the expedition. It starts to snow as they spend the night using Alina’s light for warmth. 


After Mal finds Alina in the forest, they begin to repair the rift between them. Alina has come to believe that their relationship was beyond repair because of all the hurtful things they said at their last meeting. That Mal searches for her in the first place immediately alleviates the anxiety that Alina has been carrying about where the two of them stand with one another. Their relationship has changed, as characterized by the long silences that stretch between them and the tension in their conversations, but it is still intact. When Alina thanks Mal for finding her, his response is “always,” which serves as powerful reassurance that Alina can always rely on Mal and trust him to stand with her. At first, the pair acts carefully around one another as if wary of scaring each other off. Ironically, their narrow escape from robbers in a village is what gets them to start acting more naturally around one another. Surviving the encounter and making it safely away from the men acts as a catharsis that alleviates some of the tension that has been brewing between them.  

Butter week is both a fun folk celebration and an illustration of the dramatic wealth difference between the nobility and the common people of Ravka. While Alina thinks of butter week as a fond memory of her childhood at Duke Keramsov’s estate, when coupled with the book’s previous commentary on the sharp difference between the elite Ravkans and the peasantry, it loses some of its charm as an innocent holiday. More specifically, Alina describes the festivities as a travelling feast wherein the nobility of Ravka mingle among the people and distribute luxurious baked goods and sweets. The implication here being that the nobility have the ability to shower these kinds of goods on the people but withhold it until it can be made into an excuse for pageantry. In addition to this, Alina describes the way that the classes at the orphanage were shortened for butter week so that the children could “clean the house and help with the baking.” On the surface, we’re invited to agree with Alina’s assertion that this was a good memory of the orphanage. Looking deeper, however, we can question the necessity of using the orphans at the estate for labor to make the Duke look good in front of his people. 

Alina asking Mal to kill her if the Darkling gets to the stag before them is an important statement about how she would rather die than lose control of herself. This conversation is a difficult one for both of them as Mal doesn’t want to be the person responsible for her death and Alina needs to know that she can escape being completely under the Darkling’s control. Specifically, Alina is worried that the Darkling will make her into a “monster.” While the Darkling has created literal monsters in the volcra, Alina’s concern is becoming monstrous in her actions like he is. Even though she knows that the Darkling will be the person driving the power from her, she feels responsible for whatever deaths he might cause as a result.  

Mal has been forever changed by the deaths of Mikhael and Dubrov, an important change in his characterization. When he tells Alina about what happened with Mikhael and Dubrov while hunting the stag, it explains much of the difference that Alina has experienced in his behavior since they came back together. But beyond that, Alina recognizes that the man she is with now is fundamentally different than the boy she grew up with. She refers to him as a “new Mal” and ruminates on how he no longer looks like the boy that she knew since childhood. Beyond this being a statement about how she sees him differently, this scene presses that grief is capable of changing someone on a fundamental, even physical level.