Tower of Dawn Page 45

Chaol didn’t resist when she helped him into the chair, then wheeled him into his room. He tried and failed to lift himself into bed, and was only vaguely aware of her and Kadja hauling him onto it like a slab of meat.

Yrene—she never did such things. Never wheeled him when he could do so himself. Constantly told him to move himself instead.

He wondered why. Was too damn tired to wonder why.

Nesryn said she would make his apologies at dinner, and went to change. He wondered if the servants heard the whine of the whetstone against her blades from her bedroom door.

He was asleep before she left, the clock in the sitting room distantly chiming seven.

No one paid Nesryn much heed at dinner that night. And no one paid her any heed later, when she donned her fighting knives, sword, and bow and quiver, and slipped into the city streets.

Not even the khagan’s wife.

As Nesryn stalked by a large stone garden on her way out of the palace, a glimmer of white caught her eye—and sent her ducking behind one of the pillars flanking the courtyard.

Within a heartbeat, she removed her hand from the long knife at her side.

Clad in white silk, her long curtain of dark hair unbound, the Grand Empress strolled, silent and grave as a wraith, down a walkway wending through the rock formations of the garden. Only moonlight filled the space—moonlight and shadow, as the empress strode alone and unnoticed, her simple gown flowing behind her as if on a phantom wind.

White for grief—for death.

The Grand Empress’s face was unadorned, her coloring far paler than that of her children. No joy limned her features; no life. No interest in either.

Nesryn lingered in the shadows of the pillar, watching the woman drift farther away, as if she were wandering the paths of some dreamscape. Or perhaps some empty, barren hell.

Nesryn wondered if it was at all similar to the ones she herself had walked during those initial months after her mother’s passing. Wondered if the days also bled together for the Grand Empress, if food was ash on her tongue and sleep was both craved and elusive.

Only when the khagan’s wife strode behind a large boulder, vanishing from sight, did Nesryn continue on, her steps a little heavier.

Antica under the full moon was a wash of blues and silvers, interrupted by the golden glow of lanterns hanging from public dining rooms and the carts of vendors selling kahve and treats. A few performers plucked out melodies on lutes and drums, a few gifted enough to make Nesryn wish she could pause, but stealth and speed were her allies tonight.

She stalked through the shadows, sorting through the sounds of the city.

Various temples were interspersed amongst the main thoroughfares: some crafted of marble pillars, some beneath peaked wooden roofs and painted columns, some mere courtyards filled with pools or rock gardens or sleeping animals. Thirty-six gods watched over this city—and there were thrice as many temples to them scattered throughout.

And with each one Nesryn passed, she wondered if those gods were peering out from the pillars or behind the carved rocks; if they watched from the eaves of that sloped roof, or from behind the spotted cat’s eyes where it lay half awake on the temple steps.

She beseeched all of them to make her feet swift and silent, to guide her where she needed to go while she prowled the streets.

If a Valg agent had come to this continent—or worse, a possible Valg prince … Nesryn scanned the rooftops and the gargantuan pillar of the Torre. It gleamed bone white in the moonlight, a beacon watching over this city, the healers within.

Chaol and Yrene had made no progress today, but—it was fine. Nesryn reminded herself, again and again, that it was fine. These things took a while, even if Yrene … It was clear she had some personal reservations regarding Chaol’s heritage. His former role in the empire.

Nesryn paused near an alley entrance while a band of young revelers staggered past, singing bawdy songs that would surely make her aunt scold them. And later hum along herself.

As she monitored the alley, the bordering, flat rooftops, Nesryn’s attention snagged on a rough carving in the earthen brick wall. An owl at rest, its wings tucked in, those unearthly large eyes wide and eternally unblinking. Perhaps no more than vandalism, yet she brushed a gloved hand over it, tracing the lines etched into the building’s side.

Antica’s owls. They were everywhere in this city, tribute to the goddess worshipped perhaps more than any other of the thirty-six. No chief god ruled the southern continent, yet Silba … Nesryn again studied the mighty tower, shining brighter than the palace on the opposite end of the city. Silba reigned unchallenged here. For anyone to break into that Torre, to kill one of the healers, they had to be desperate. Or utterly insane.

Or a Valg demon, with no fear of the gods—only of their master’s wrath if they should fail.

But if she were a Valg in this city, where to hide? Where to lurk?

Canals ran beneath some of the homes, but it was not like the vast sewer network of Rifthold. Yet perhaps if she studied the Torre’s walls …

Nesryn aimed for the gleaming tower, the Torre looming with each nearing step. She paused in the shadows beside one of the homes across the street from the solid wall that enclosed the Torre’s entire compound.

Torches flickered along brackets in the pale wall, guards stationed every few feet. And atop it. Royal guards, judging from their colors, and Torre guards in their cornflower blue and yellow—so many that none would get by without notice. Nesryn studied the iron gates, now sealed for the night.

“Were they open last night, is the answer no guard wants to yield.”

Nesryn whirled, her knife angled low and up.

Prince Sartaq leaned against the building wall a few feet behind her, his gaze on the looming Torre. Twin swords peeked above his broad shoulders, and long knives hung from his belt. He’d changed from the finery of dinner back into his flying leathers—again reinforced with steel at the shoulders, silver gauntlets at his wrists, and a black scarf at his neck. No, not scarf—but a cloth to pull over his mouth and nose when the heavy hood of his cloak was on. To remain anonymous, unmarked.

She sheathed her knife. “Were you following me?”

The prince flicked his dark, calm eyes to her. “You didn’t exactly try to be inconspicuous when you left through the front gate, armed to the teeth.”

Nesryn turned toward the Torre walls. “I have no reason to hide what I’m doing.”

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