Tower of Dawn Page 157

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“Well,” said the thing inside the princess, “it certainly took you long enough.”

The words echoed down the massive chamber, bouncing off stone and gold.

Chaol assessed every shadow, every object they passed. All possible weapons. All possible escape routes.

Hafiza did not move as they neared, walking down the broad avenue between the endless, glittering gold and sarcophagi. A necropolis.

Perhaps one enormous, subterranean city, stretching from the desert to here.

When they’d visited Aksara, Duva had remained behind. Claiming that her pregnancy—

Yrene’s hiss told him she realized the same.

Duva was pregnant—and the Valg had a hold on her.

Chaol sized up the odds. A Valg-infested princess, armed with a knife and whatever dark magic, the Healer on High tied to the throne …

And Yrene.

“Because I see you calculating, Lord Westfall, I’ll spare you the trouble and lay out your options for you.” Duva traced gentle, idle lines over her full womb with that knife, barely disturbing the fabric of her gown. “See, you’ll have to pick. Me, the Healer on High, or Yrene Towers.” The princess smiled and whispered again, “Yrene.”

And that voice …

Yrene shook beside him. The voice from that night.

But Yrene lifted her chin as they halted at the base of those steep dais steps, and said to the princess, unfaltering as any queen, “What is it that you want?”

Duva angled her head, her eyes wholly black. The ebony of the Valg. “Don’t you want to know how?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell us, anyway,” Chaol said.

Duva’s eyes narrowed with annoyance, but she let out a small laugh. “These tunnels run right between the palace and the Torre. Those immortal Fae brats buried their royals here. Renegades of Mora’s noble line.” She swept an arm to encompass the room. “I’m sure the khagan would be beside himself to learn of how much gold sits beneath his feet. Another hand to play when the time calls for it.”

Yrene stared and stared at Hafiza, who was watching them calmly.

A woman ready for her end. Who now only wanted to make sure Yrene did not think her frightened.

“I was waiting for you to figure out it was me,” Duva said. “When I destroyed all those precious books and scrolls, I thought you’d certainly realize I was the only one who hadn’t gone to the party. But then I realized—how could you suspect me?” She laid a hand on her full womb. “It was why he chose her to begin with. Lovely, gentle Duva. Too kind to ever be a contender for the throne.” A snake’s smile. “Do you know Hasar tried to take the ring first? She spied it in the wedding trove sent by Perrington and wanted it. But Duva snatched it before she could.” She held up her finger, revealing the broad silver band. Not a glimmer of Wyrdstone.

“It’s beneath,” she whispered. “A clever little trick to hide it. And the moment she spoke her vows to that sweet, lovesick human prince, this went on her hand.” Duva smirked. “And no one even noticed.” A flash of her white teeth. “Except for keen-eyed little sister.” She clicked her tongue. “Tumelun suspected something was wrong. Caught me poking about in forgotten places. So I caught her, too.” Duva chuckled. “Or didn’t, I suppose. Since I shoved her right off that balcony.”

Yrene sucked in a breath.

“Such a wild, impetuous princess,” Duva drawled. “Prone to such moods. I couldn’t very well have her going to her beloved parents and whining about me, could I?”

“You bitch,” Yrene snapped.

“That’s what she called me,” Duva replied. “Said I didn’t seem right.” She rubbed a hand over her belly, then tapped a finger to the side of her head. “You should have heard how she screamed. Duva—how Duva screamed when I pushed the brat off the balcony. But I shut her up fast enough, didn’t I?” She again brought that knife up to her belly and scraped over the silk fabric.

“Why are you here,” Yrene breathed. “What do you want?”

“You.”

Chaol’s heart stumbled at the word.

Duva straightened. “The Dark King heard whispers. Whispers that a healer blessed with Silba’s gifts had entered the Torre. And it made him so very, very wary.”

“Because I can wipe you all out like the parasites you are?”

Chaol shot Yrene a warning glance.

But Duva plucked the dagger off her womb and studied the blade. “Why do you think Maeve has hoarded her healers, never allowing them to leave her patrolled borders? She knew we would return. She wanted to be ready—to protect herself. Her prized favorites, those Doranelle healers. Her secret army.” Duva hummed, motioning with the dagger to the necropolis. “How clever those Fae were, who escaped her clutches after the last war. They ran all the way here—the healers who knew their queen would keep them penned up like animals. And then they bred the magic into the land, into its people. Encouraged the right powers to rise up, to ensure this land would always be strong, defended. And then they vanished, taking their treasures and histories beneath the earth. Ensuring they were forgotten below, while their little garden was planted above.”

“Why,” was all Chaol said.

“To give those Maeve did not consider important a fighting chance should Erawan return.” Duva clicked her tongue. “So noble, those renegade Fae. And thus the Torre grew—and His Dark Majesty indeed rose again, and then fell, and then slept. And even he forgot what someone with the right gifts might do. But then he awoke once more. And he remembered the healers. So he made sure to purge the gifted ones from the northern lands.” A smile at Yrene, hateful and cold. “But it seems a little healer slipped the butcher’s block. And made it all the way to this city, with an empire to guard her.”

Yrene’s breathing was ragged. He saw the guilt and dread settle in. That in coming here, she had brought this upon them. Tumelun, Duva, the Torre, the khaganate.

But what Yrene did not realize, Chaol instead saw it for her. Saw it with the weight of a continent, a world, upon him. Saw what had terrified Erawan enough to dispatch one of his agents.

Because Yrene, ripe with power and facing down that preening Valg demon … Hope.

It was hope that stood beside him, hidden and protected these years in this city, and in the years before it, spirited across the earth by the gods themselves, concealed from the forces poised to destroy her.

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