Tower of Dawn Page 35

Yrene riffled through the pages, to another illustration. It was divided into three panels.

Everything the lord had said—she had believed him, of course, but … it was true. If the wound wasn’t proof enough, these texts offered no other alternative.

For there in the first panel, tied down upon an altar of dark stone … a desperate young man strained to free himself from the approach of a crowned dark figure. Something swirled around the figure’s hand—some asp of black mist and wicked thought. No real creature.

The second panel … Yrene cringed from it.

For there was that young man, eyes wide in supplication and terror, mouth forced open as that creature of black mist slithered down his throat.

But it was the last panel that made her blood chill.

Lightning flashed again, illumining the final illustration.

The young man’s face had gone still. Unfeeling. His eyes … Yrene glanced between the previous drawing and the final one. His eyes had been silver in the first two.

In the final one … they had gone black. Passable as human eyes, but the silver had been wiped away by unholy obsidian.

Not dead. For they had shown him rising, chains removed. Not a threat.

No—whatever they had put inside him …

Thunder groaned again, and more shrieks and giggles followed. Along with the slam and clatter of the acolytes leaving for the night.

Yrene surveyed the book before her, the other stacks Nousha had laid out.

Lord Westfall had described collars and rings to hold the Valg demons within a human host. But even after they were removed, he’d said, they could linger. They were merely implantation devices, and if they remained on too long, feeding off their host …

Yrene shook her head. The man in the drawing had not been enslaved—he’d been infested. The magic had come from someone with that sort of power. Power from the demon host within.

A clash of lightning, then thunder immediately on its heels.

And then another click sounded—faint and hollow—from the dim stacks to her right. Closer now than that earlier one had been.

Yrene glanced again toward the gloom, the hair on her arms rising.

Not a movement of a mouse. Or even the scrape of feline claws on stone or bookshelf.

She had never once feared for her safety, not from the moment she had set foot within these walls, but Yrene found herself going still as she stared into that gloom to her right. Then slowly looked over her shoulder.

The shelf-lined corridor was a straight shot toward a larger hallway, which would, in three minutes’ walk, take her back to the bright, constantly monitored main atrium. Five minutes at most.

Only shadows and leather and dust surrounded her, the light bobbing and tilting with the swaying lanterns.

Healing magic offered no defenses. She’d discovered such things the hard way.

But during that year at the White Pig Inn, she’d learned to listen. Learned to read a room, to sense when the air had shifted. Men could unleash storms, too.

The grumbling echo of the thunder faded, and only silence remained in its wake.

Silence, and the creaking of the ancient lanterns in the wind. No other click issued.

Foolish—foolish to read such things so late. And during a storm.

Yrene swallowed. Librarians preferred the books remain within the library proper, but …

She slammed shut The Song of Beginning, shoving it into her bag. Most of the books she’d already deemed useless, but there were perhaps six more, a mixture of Eyllwe and other tongues. Yrene shoved those into her bag, too. And gently placed the scrolls into the pockets of her cloak, tucked out of view.

All while keeping one eye over her shoulder—on the hall behind her, the stacks to her right.

You wouldn’t owe me anything if you’d used some common sense. The young stranger had snapped that at her that fateful night—after she’d saved Yrene’s life. The words had lingered, biting deep. As had the other lessons she’d been taught by that girl.

And though Yrene knew she’d laugh at herself in the morning, though maybe it was one of the Baast Cats stalking something in the shadows, Yrene decided to listen to that tug of fear, that trickle down her spine.

Though she could have cut down dark stacks to reach the main hallway faster, she kept to the lights, her shoulders back and head high. Just as the girl had told her. Look like you’d put up a fight—be more trouble than you’re worth.

Her heart pounded so wildly she could feel it in her arms, her throat. But Yrene made her mouth a hard line, her eyes bright and cold. Looking as furious as she’d ever been, her pace clipped and swift. As if she had forgotten something or someone had failed to retrieve a book for her.

Closer and closer, she neared the intersection of that broad, main hallway. To where the acolytes would be trudging up to bed in their cozy dormitory.

She cleared her throat, readying to scream.

Not rape, not theft—not something that cowards would rather hide from. Yell fire, the stranger had instructed her. A threat to all. If you are attacked, yell about a fire.

Yrene had repeated the instructions so many times these past two and a half years. To so many women. Just as the stranger had ordered her to. Yrene had not thought she’d ever again need to recite them for herself.

Yrene hurried her steps, jaw angled. She had no weapons save for a small knife she used for cleaning out wounds or cutting bandages—currently in the bottom of her bag.

But that satchel, laden with books … She wrapped the leather straps around her wrist, getting a good grip on it.

A well-placed swing would knock someone to the ground.

Closer and closer to the safety of that hallway—

From the corner of her eye, she saw it. Sensed it.

Someone in the next stack over. Walking parallel to her.

She didn’t dare look. Acknowledge it.

Yrene’s eyes burned, even as she fought the terror that clawed its way up her body.

Glimpses of shadows and darkness. Stalking her. Hunting her.

Quickening its pace to grab her—cut her off at that hallway and snatch her into the dark.

Common sense. Common sense.

Running—it would know. It would know she was aware. It might strike. Whoever it was.

Common sense.

A hundred feet left until the hallway, shadows pooling between the dim lanterns, the lights now precious islands in a sea of darkness.

She could have sworn fingers lightly thudded as they trailed over the books on the other side of the shelf.

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