Tower of Dawn Page 149

Sorry for the lies. For what she had done to him, his life. For swearing that she would pick him, choose him, no matter what. Always.

He wanted to hate her for that lie. That false promise, which she had discarded in the misty forests of Wendlyn.

And yet.

There, with that prince, without the mask … That was the bottom of her pit.

She had come to Rowan, soul limping. She had come to him as she was, as she had never been with anyone. And she had returned whole.

Still she had waited—waited to be with him.

Chaol had been lusting for Yrene, had taken her into his bed without so much as thinking of Nesryn, and yet Aelin …

She and Rowan looked to him now. Still as an animal in the woods, both of them. But their eyes full of understanding. Knowing.

She had fallen in love with someone else, had wanted someone else—as badly as he wanted Yrene.

And yet it was Aelin, godless and irreverent, who had honored him. More than he’d honored Nesryn.

Aelin’s chin dipped as if to say yes.

And Rowan … The prince had let her return to Adarlan. To make right by her kingdom, but to also decide for herself what she wanted. Who she wanted. And if Aelin had chosen Chaol instead … He knew, deep down, Rowan would have backed off. If it had made Aelin happy, Rowan would have walked away without ever telling her what he felt.

Shame pressed on him, sickening and oily.

He had called her a monster. For her power, her actions, and yet …

He did not blame her.

He understood.

That perhaps she had promised things, but … she had changed. The path had changed.

He understood.

He’d promised Nesryn—or had implied it. And when he had changed, when the path had altered; when Yrene appeared down it …

He understood.

Aelin smiled softly at him as she and Rowan rippled into a sunbeam and vanished.

Leaving a red marble floor, blood pooling across it.

A head bumping vulgarly over smooth tile.

A prince screaming in agony, in rage and despair.

I love you.

Go.

That—if there had been a cleaving, it was that moment.

When he turned and ran. And he left his friend, his brother, in that chamber.

When he ran from that fight, that death.

Dorian had forgiven him. Did not hold it against him.

Yet he had still run. Still left.

Everything he had planned, worked to save, all came crumbling down.

Dorian stood before him, hands in his pockets, a faint smile on his face.

He did not deserve to serve such a man. Such a king.

The darkness pushed in further. Revealing that bloody council room. Revealing the prince and king he’d served. Revealing what they had done. To his men.

In that chamber beneath the castle.

How Dorian had smiled. Smiled while Ress had screamed, while Brullo had spat in his face.

His fault—all of it. Every moment of pain, those deaths …

It showed him Dorian’s hands as they wielded those instruments beneath the castle. As blood spurted and bone sundered. Unfaltering, clean hands. And that smile.

He knew. He had known, had guessed. Nothing would ever make it right. For his men; for Dorian, left to live with it.

For Dorian, whom he’d abandoned in that castle.

That moment, over and over, the darkness showed him.

As Dorian held his ground. As he revealed his magic, as good as a death sentence, and bought him time to run.

He had been so afraid—so afraid of magic, of loss, of everything. And that fear … it had driven him to it anyway. It had hurried him down this path. He had clung so hard, had fought against it, and it had cost him everything. Too late. He’d been too late to see clearly.

And when the worst had happened; when he saw that collar; when he saw his men swinging from the gates, their broken bodies picked over by crows …

It had cracked him through to his foundation. To this hollow pit beneath the mountain he’d been.

He had fallen apart. Had let himself lose sight of it.

And he had found some glimmer of peace in Rifthold, even after the injury, and yet …

It was like applying a patch over a knife wound to the gut.

He had not healed. Unmoored and raging, he had not wanted to heal.

Not really. His body, yes, but even that …

Some part of him had whispered it was deserved.

And the soul-wound … He had been content to let it fester.

Failure and liar and oath-breaker.

The darkness swarmed, a wind stirring it.

He could stay here forever. In the ageless dark.

Yes, the darkness whispered.

He could remain, and rage and hate and curl into nothing but shadow.

But Dorian remained before him, still smiling faintly. Waiting.

Waiting.

For—him.

He had made one promise. He had not broken it yet.

To save them.

His friend, his kingdom.

He still had that.

Even here at the bottom of this dark hell, he still had that.

And the road that he had traveled so far … No, he would not look back.

What if we go on, only to more pain and despair?

Aelin had smiled at his question, posed on that rooftop in Rifthold. As if she had understood, long before he did, that he would find this pit. And learn the answer for himself.

Then it is not the end.

This …

This was not the end. This crack in him, this bottom, was not the end.

He had one promise left.

To that he would still hold.

It is not the end.

He smiled at Dorian, whose sapphire eyes shone with joy—with love.

“I’m coming home,” he whispered to his brother, his king.

Dorian only bowed his head and vanished into the darkness.

Leaving Yrene standing behind him.

She was glowing with white light, bright as a newborn star.

Yrene said quietly, “The darkness belongs to you. To shape as you will. To give it power or render it harmless.”

“Was it ever the Valg’s to begin with?” His words echoed into nothing.

“Yes. But it is yours to keep now. This place, this final kernel of it.”

It would remain in him, a scar and a reminder. “Will it grow again?”

“Only if you let it. Only if you do not fill it with better things. Only if you do not forgive.” He knew she didn’t just mean others. “But if you are kind to yourself, if you—if you love yourself …” Yrene’s mouth trembled. “If you love yourself as much as I love you …”

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