Tower of Dawn Page 161

Yes. With my entire heart.

It had been his from the start, anyway.

Those loving, phantom hands brushed her cheek again and faded away.

The Other said, I chose well. You shall pay the debt, Yrene Towers. And I hope you shall see it for what it truly is.

Yrene tried to speak. But light flared, soft and soothing.

It blinded her, within and without. Left her cringing over Chaol’s head, her fingers grappled into his shirt. Feeling his heartbeats thunder into her palms. The scrape of his breath against her ear.

There were hands on her shoulders. Two sets. They tightened, a silent command to lift her head. Yrene did.

Hafiza stood behind her, Eretia at her side. Each with a hand on her shoulder.

Behind them stood two healers each. Hands on their shoulders.

Behind them, two more. And more. And more.

A living chain of power.

All the healers in the Torre, young and old, stood in that room of gold and bone.

All connected. All channeling to Yrene, to the grip she still held on Chaol.

Nesryn and Sartaq stood a few feet away, the former with a hand over her mouth. Because Chaol—

The healers of the Torre lowered their hands, severing that bridge of contact, as Chaol’s feet moved. Then his knees.

And then his eyes cracked open, and he was staring up at Yrene, her tears plopping onto his blood-crusted face. He lifted a hand to brush her lips. “Dead?”

“Alive,” she breathed, and lowered her face to his. “Very much alive.”

Chaol smiled against her mouth, sighing deep as he said, “Good.”

Yrene raised her head, and he smiled up at her again, cracked blood sliding away from his face with the motion.

And where that scar had once sliced down his cheek … only unmarred skin remained.

64

Chaol’s body ached, but it was the ache of newness. Of sore muscles, not broken ones.

And the air in his lungs … it did not burn to breathe.

Yrene helped him sit up, his head spinning.

He blinked, finding Nesryn and Sartaq before them as the healers began to file away, their faces grim. The prince’s long braid had been cut in favor of loose, shoulder-length hair, and Nesryn … it was ruk leathers she wore, her dark eyes brighter than he’d ever seen—even with the graveness of her expression.

Chaol rasped, “What—”

“You sent a note to come back,” Nesryn said, her face deathly pale. “We flew as fast as we could. We were told you’d come to the Torre earlier this evening. The guards were right behind us, until we outran them. We got a bit lost down here, but then … cats led the way.”

A bemused, puzzled glance over her shoulder, to where half a dozen beryl-eyed cats sat on the tunnel steps, cleaning themselves. They noticed the human attention and scattered, tails high.

Sartaq added, smiling faintly, “We also thought healers might be necessary, and asked some to follow. But apparently, a great number more wanted to come.”

Considering the number of women filing out after the vanished cats … All of them. All of them had come.

Behind Chaol and Yrene, Eretia was tending to Hafiza. Alive, clear-eyed, but … frail.

Eretia clucked over the elderly woman, chiding her for such heroics. But even as she did, the woman’s eyes were bright with tears. Perhaps more, as Hafiza brushed a thumb over Eretia’s cheek.

“Is she—” Sartaq began, jerking his chin toward Duva, sprawled on the floor.

“Unconscious,” Hafiza rasped. “She will sleep until roused.”

“Even with a Valg ring on her?” Nesryn asked as Sartaq made to pick up his sister from the stone floor. She blocked him with an arm across his middle, earning an incredulous look from the prince. There were cuts and scabs on both of them, Chaol realized. And the way the prince had moved—with a limp. Something had happened—

“Even with the ring, she will remain asleep,” Hafiza said.

Yrene was just staring at the princess, the dagger on the floor nearby.

Sartaq saw it, too. And said quietly to Yrene, “Thank you—for sparing her.”

Yrene just pressed her face against Chaol’s chest. He stroked a hand down her hair, finding it wet—

“You’re bleeding—”

“I’m fine,” she said onto his shirt.

Chaol pulled back, scanning her face. The bloody temple. “That is anything but fine,” he said, whipping his head toward Eretia. “She’s hurt—”

Eretia rolled her eyes. “Good to see none of this put you out of your usual spirits.”

Chaol gave the woman a flat stare.

Hafiza peered over Eretia’s shoulder and wryly asked Yrene, “Are you certain this pushy man was worth the cost?”

Before Yrene could answer, Chaol demanded, “What cost?”

A stillness crept over them, and even Yrene looked to Hafiza as the woman extracted herself from Eretia’s care. The Healer on High said quietly, “The damage was too great. Even with all of us … Death held you by the hand.”

He turned to Yrene, dread curling in his stomach. “What did you do,” he breathed. She didn’t meet his stare.

“She likely made a fool’s bargain, that’s what,” Eretia snapped. “Offered to pay the price without even being told what it was. To save your neck. We all heard.”

Eretia was close to not having a functioning neck herself, but Chaol said as calmly as he could, “Pay the price to whom?”

“Not a payment,” Hafiza corrected, setting a hand on Eretia’s shoulder to quiet her, “but a restoration of balance. To the one who likes to see it intact. Who spoke through me as we all gathered within you.”

“What was the cost,” Chaol rasped. If she’d given up anything, he’d find a way to retrieve it. He didn’t care what he had to pay, he’d—

“To keep your life tethered in this world, we had to bind it to another. To hers. Two lives,” Hafiza clarified, “now sharing one thread. But even with that …” She gestured to his legs, the foot he slid up to brace on the floor. “The demon broke many, many parts of you. Too many. And in order to save most of you, there was a cost, too.”

Yrene went still. “What do you mean?”

Hafiza again looked between them. “There remains some damage to the spine—impacting the lower portions of the legs. That even we could not repair.”

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