Tower of Dawn Page 147

They weren’t bad men, Yrene.

No, they were not. The men he’d commanded, trained with, who had worn the same uniform, bowed to the same king as the soldiers who had come that day …

They were not bad men. People existed in Adarlan worth saving—worth fighting for. They were not her enemy, had never been. Perhaps she’d known that long before he’d revealed it in the oasis yesterday. Perhaps she had not wanted to.

But the thing that remained inside him, that shred of the demon who had ordered it all …

I know what you are, Yrene said silently.

For it was the same thing that had dwelled inside her these years, taking from her, even as it sustained her. A different creature, but still one and the same.

Yrene spooled her magic back inside herself, the glow fading. She smiled up at the sweet darkness above. I understand now.

Another drop of water kissed her brow in answer.

Smiling, Yrene reached out a hand to her ancestor’s bell. And rang it.

54

Chaol awoke the next morning and could barely move.

They’d repaired his room, added extra guards, and by the time the royals at last returned from the dunes at sundown, all was in order.

He didn’t see Yrene for the rest of that day, and wondered if she and the Healer on High had indeed found something of worth in that scroll. But when dinner came and she still hadn’t appeared, he sent Kadja to ask Shen for a report.

Shen himself had returned—blushing a bit, no doubt thanks to the beauty of the servant girl who’d led him here—and revealed that he’d made sure word was received from the Torre that Yrene had returned safely and had not left the tower since.

Still, Chaol had debated calling for Yrene when his back began to ache to the point of being unbearable, when even the cane couldn’t help him hobble across the room. But the suite was not safe. And if she began to stay here, and Nesryn returned before he could explain—

He couldn’t get the thought out of his mind. What he’d done, the trust he’d broken.

So he’d managed to take a bath, hoping to ease his sore muscles, and had nearly crawled into bed.

Chaol awoke at dawn, tried to reach for his cane beside the bed, and bit down his bark of pain.

Panic crashed into him, wild and sharp. He gritted his teeth, trying to fight through it.

Toes. He could move his toes. And his ankles. And his knees—

His neck arched at the rippling agony as he shifted his knees, his thighs, his hips.

Oh, gods. He’d pushed it too far, he’d—

The door flung open, and there she was, in that purple gown.

Yrene’s eyes widened, then settled—as if she’d been about to tell him something.

Instead, that mask of steady calm slid over her face while she tied her hair back in her usual half-up fashion and approached on unfaltering feet. “Can you move?”

“Yes, but the pain—” He could barely speak.

Dropping her satchel to the carpet, Yrene rolled up her sleeves. “Can you turn over?”

No. He’d tried, and—

She didn’t wait for his answer. “Describe exactly what you did yesterday, from the moment I left until now.”

Chaol did. All of it, right until the bath—

Yrene swore viciously. “Ice. Ice to help strained muscles, not heat.” She blew out a breath. “I need you to roll over. It will hurt like hell, but it’s best if you do it in one go—”

He didn’t wait. He gritted his teeth and did it.

A scream shattered from his throat, but Yrene was instantly there, hands on his cheek, his hair, mouth against his temple. “Good,” she breathed onto his skin. “Brave man.”

He hadn’t bothered with more than undershorts while sleeping, so she had little to do to prepare him as she hovered her hands over his back, tracing the air above his skin.

“It … it crept back,” she breathed.

“I’m not surprised,” he said through his teeth. Not at all.

She lowered her hands to her sides. “Why?”

He traced a finger over the embroidered coverlet. “Just—do what you have to.”

Yrene paused at his deflection—then riffled through her bag for something. The bit. She held it in her hands, however, instead of sliding it into his mouth. “I’m going in,” she said quietly.

“All right.”

“No—I’m going in, and I’m ending this. Today. Right now.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in. All that it’d entail. He dared ask, “And what if I can’t?” Face it, endure it?

There was no fear in Yrene’s eyes, no hesitation. “That’s not my question to answer.”

No, it never had been. Chaol watched the sunlight dance on her locket, over those mountains and seas. What she might now witness within him, how badly he’d failed, over and over—

But they had walked this far down the road. Together. She had not turned away. From any of it.

And neither would he.

His throat thick, Chaol managed to say, “You could hurt yourself if you stay too long.”

Again, no ripple of doubt or terror. “I have a theory. I want to test it.” Yrene slid the bit between his lips, and he clamped down lightly. “And you—you’re the only person I can try it on.”

It occurred to Chaol, right as she laid her hands on his bare spine, why he was the only one she could try it on. But there was nothing he could do as pain and blackness slammed into him.

No way to stop Yrene as she plunged into his body, her magic a white swarming light around them, inside them.

The Valg. His body had been tainted by their power, and Yrene—

Yrene did not hesitate.

She soared through him, down the ladder of his spine, down the corridors of his bones and blood.

She was a spear of light, fired straight into the dark, aiming for that hovering shadow that had stretched out once more. That had tried to reclaim him.

Yrene slammed into the darkness and screamed.

It roared back, and they tangled, grappling.

It was foreign and cold and hollow; it was rife with rot and wind and hate.

Yrene threw herself into it. Every last drop.

And above, as if the surface of a night-dark sea separated them, Chaol bellowed with agony.

Today. It ended today.

I know what you are.

So Yrene fought, and so the darkness raged back.

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