Tower of Dawn Page 42

She dared ask, “What would you do to him?” Destroy him, if he will not swear fealty?

“It remains to be seen what sort of threat or alliance he could pose. Only Duva and Arghun are married, and Arghun has yet to sire offspring. Though Kashin, if he has his way, would likely sweep that young healer off her feet.”

Yrene. “Strange that she has no interest in him.”

“A mark in her favor. It is not easy to love a khagan’s offspring.”

The green grasses, still dewy beneath the fresh sun, rippled as Kadara swept toward a swift-moving river. With those enormous talons of hers, she could easily snatch up fistfuls of fish.

But it was not the prey Kadara sought as she flew over the river, seeking something—

“Someone broke into the Torre’s library last night,” Sartaq said as he monitored the ruk’s hunt over the dark blue waters. Mist off the surface kissed Nesryn’s face, but the chill at his words went far deeper. “They killed a healer—through some vile power that rendered her into a husk. We have never seen its like in Antica.”

Nesryn’s stomach turned over. With that description—“Who? Why?”

“Yrene Towers sounded the alarm. We searched for hours and found no trace, beyond missing books from where she had been studying, and where it stalked her. Yrene was rattled, but fine.”

Researching—Chaol had informed her last night that Yrene had planned to do some research regarding wounds from magic, from demons.

Sartaq asked casually, “Do you know what Yrene might have been looking into that posed such dark interest and theft of her books?”

Nesryn considered. It could be a trick—his revealing something personal from his family, his life, to lull her into telling him secrets. Nesryn and Chaol had not yielded any information of the keys, the Valg, or Erawan to the khagan or his children. They had been waiting to do so—to assess whom to trust. For if their enemies heard that they were hunting for the keys to seal the Wyrdgate …

“No,” she lied. “But perhaps they are unannounced enemies of ours who wish to scare her and the other healers out of helping the captain. I mean—Lord Westfall.”

Silence. She thought he’d push her on it, waited for it as Kadara skimmed closer to the river’s surface, as if closing in on some prey. “It must be strange, to bear a new title, with the former owner right beside you.”

“I was only captain for a few weeks before we left. I suppose I shall have to learn when I return.”

“If Yrene is successful. Among other possible victories.”

Like bringing that army with them.

“Yes,” was all she managed to say.

Kadara dove, a sharp, swift motion that had Sartaq tightening his arms around her, bracing her thighs with his own.

She let him guide her, keeping them upright in the saddle as Kadara dipped into the water, thrashed, and sent something hurling onto the riverbank. A heartbeat later, she was upon it, talons and beak spearing and slashing. The thing beneath her fought, twisting and whipping—

A crunch. Then silence.

The ruk calmed, feathers puffing, then smoothing against the blood now splattered along her breast and neck. Some had splashed onto Nesryn’s boots as well.

“Be careful, Captain Faliq,” Sartaq said as Nesryn got a good look at the creature the ruk now feasted upon.

It was enormous, nearly fifteen feet, covered in scales thick as armor. Like the marsh beasts of Eyllwe, but bulkier—fatter from the cattle it no doubt dragged into the water along these rivers.

“There is beauty in my father’s lands,” the prince went on while Kadara ripped into that monstrous carcass, “but there is much lurking beneath the surface, too.”

13

Yrene panted, her legs sprawled before her on the rug, her back resting against the couch on which Lord Chaol now gasped for breath as well.

Her mouth was dry as sand, her limbs trembling so violently that she could barely keep her hands limp in her lap.

A spitting sound and a little thump told her he’d removed the bit.

He’d roared around it. His bellowing had been almost as bad as the magic itself.

It was a void. It was a new, dark hell.

Her magic had been a pulsing star that flared against the wall that the darkness had crafted between the top of his spine and the rest of it. She knew—knew without testing—that if she bypassed it, jumped right to the base of his spine … it would find her there, too.

But she had pushed. Pushed and pushed, until she was sobbing for breath.

Still, that wall did not move.

It only seemed to laugh, quietly and sibilantly, the sound laced with ancient ice and malice.

She’d hurled her magic against the wall, letting its swarm of burning white lights attack in wave after wave, but—nothing.

And only at the end, when her magic could find no crack, no crevice to slide into … Only when she made to pull back did that dark wall seem to transform.

To morph into something … Other.

Yrene’s magic had turned brittle before it. Any spark of defiance in the wake of that healer’s death had cooled. And she could not see, did not dare to look at what she felt gathering there, what filled the dark with voices, as if they were echoing down a long hall.

But it had loomed, and she had slid a glance over her shoulder.

The dark wall was alive. Swimming with images, one after another. As if she were looking through someone’s eyes. She knew on instinct they did not belong to Lord Chaol.

A fortress of dark stone jutted up amid ash-colored, barren mountains, its towers sharp as lances, its edges and parapets hard and slicing. Beyond it, coating the vales and plains amid the mountains, an army rippled away into the distance, more campfires than she could count.

And she knew the name for this place, the assembled host. Heard the name thunder through her mind as if it were the beat of a hammer on anvil.

Morath.

She’d pulled out. Had yanked herself back to the light and heavy heat.

Morath—whether it was some true memory, left by whatever power had struck him; whether it was something the darkness conjured from her own darkest terrors …

Not real. At least not in this room, with its streaming sunlight and chattering fountain in the garden beyond. But if it was indeed a true portrayal of the armies that Lord Chaol had mentioned yesterday …

That was what she would face. The victims of that host, possibly even the soldiers within it, should things go very wrong.

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