Tower of Dawn Page 31

And considering how many healers had passed through the Torre halls, considering the number of bells, large and small, that now hung throughout the space … The entire chamber, nearly the size of the khagan’s great hall, was full of the echoing, layered ringing. A steady hum that filled Yrene’s head, her bones, as she soaked in the delicious heat.

Some ancient architect had discovered the hot springs far beneath the Torre and constructed a network of tubs built into the floor so that the water flowed between them, a constant stream of warmth and movement. Yrene held her hand against one of the vents in the side of the tub, letting the water ripple through her fingers on its way to the vent on the other end, to pass back into the stream itself—and into the slumbering heart of the earth.

Yrene took another deep breath, brushing back the damp hair clinging to her brow. She’d washed before entering the tub, as all were required to do in one of the small antechambers outside the Womb, to clean away the dust and blood and stains of the world above. An acolyte had been waiting with a lightweight robe of lavender—Silba’s color—for Yrene to wear into the Womb proper, where she’d discarded it beside the pool and stepped in, naked save for her mother’s ring.

In the curling steam, Yrene lifted her hand before her and studied the ring, the way the light bent along the gold and smoldered in the garnet. All around, bells rang and hummed and sang, blending with the trickling water until she was adrift in a stream of living sound.

Water—Silba’s element. To bathe in the sacred waters here, untouched by the world above, was to enter Silba’s very lifeblood. Yrene knew she was not the only healer who had taken the waters and felt as if she were indeed nestled in the warmth of Silba’s womb. As if this space had been made for them alone.

And the darkness above her … it was different from what she had spied in Lord Westfall’s body. The opposite of that blackness. The darkness above her was that of creation, of rest, of unformed thought.

Yrene stared into it, into the womb of Silba herself. And could have sworn she felt something staring back. Listening, while she thought through all Lord Westfall had told her.

Things out of ancient nightmares. Things from another realm. Demons. Dark magics. Poised to unleash themselves upon her homeland. Even in the soothing, warm waters, Yrene’s blood chilled.

On those northern, far-off battlefields, she had expected to treat stab wounds and arrows and shattered bones. Expected to treat any of the diseases that ran rampant in army camps, especially during the colder months.

Not wounds from creatures that destroyed soul as well as body. That used talons and teeth and poison. The maleficent power coiled around the injury to his spine … It was not some fractured bone or tangled-up nerves. Well, it technically was, but that fell magic was tied to it. Bound to it.

She still could not shake the oily feel, the sense that something inside it had stirred. Awoken.

The ringing of the bells flowed and ebbed, lulling her mind to rest, to open.

She’d go to the library tonight. See if there was any information regarding all the lord had claimed, if perhaps someone before her had any thoughts on magically granted injuries.

Yet it would not be an injury that solely relied upon her to heal.

She’d suggested as much before leaving. But to battle that thing within him … How?

Yrene mouthed the word into the steam and dark, into the ringing, bubbling quiet.

She could still see her probe of magic recoiling, still feel its repulsion from that demon-born power. The opposite of what she was, what her magic was. In the darkness hovering overhead, she could see it all. In the darkness far above, tucked into Silba’s earthly womb … it beckoned.

As if to say, You must enter where you fear to tread.

Yrene swallowed. To delve into that festering pit of power that had latched itself onto the lord’s back …

You must enter, the sweet darkness whispered, the water singing along with it while it flowed around and past her. As if she were swimming in Silba’s veins.

You must enter, it murmured again, the darkness above seeming to spread, to inch closer.

Yrene let it. And let herself stare deeper, move deeper, into that dark.

To fight that festering force within the lord, to risk it for some test of Hafiza’s, to risk it for a son of Adarlan when her own people were being attacked or battling in that distant war and every day delayed her … I can’t.

You won’t, the lovely darkness challenged.

Yrene balked. She had promised Hafiza to remain, to heal him, but what she’d felt today … It could take an untold amount of time. If she could even find a way to help him. She’d promised to heal him, and though some injuries required the healer to walk the road with their patient, this injury of his—

The darkness seemed to recede.

I can’t, Yrene insisted.

It did not answer again. Distantly, as if she were now far away, a bell rang, clear and pure.

Yrene blinked at the sound, the world tumbling into focus. Her limbs and breath returning, as if she’d drifted above them.

She peered at the darkness—finding only smooth, veiling black. Hollow and empty, as if it had been vacated. There, and gone. As if she had repelled it, disappointed it.

Yrene’s head spun slightly as she sat up, stretching limbs that had gone a bit stiff, even in the mineral-rich water. How long had she soaked?

She rubbed at her slick arms, heart thundering as she scanned the darkness, as if it might still have another answer for what she must do, what lay before her. An alternative.

None came.

A sound shuffled through the cavern, distinctly not ringing or trickling or lapping. A quiet, shuddering intake of breath.

Yrene turned, water dripping off the errant strands of hair that had escaped the knot atop her head, and found another healer had entered the Womb at some point, claiming a tub on the opposite end of the parallel rows flanking either side of the chamber. With the drifting veils of steam, it was nearly impossible to identify her, though Yrene certainly didn’t know the name of every healer in the Torre.

The sound rasped through the Womb again, and Yrene sat up farther, hands bracing on the cool, dark floor as she stood from the water. Steam curled off her skin as she reached for the thin robe and tied it around her, the fabric clinging to her soaked body.

The Womb’s protocol was well established. It was a place for solitude, for silence. Healers entered the waters to reconnect with Silba, to center themselves. Some sought guidance; some sought absolution; some sought to release a hard day’s worth of emotions they could not show before patients, perhaps could not show before anyone.

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