Tower of Dawn Page 80

But the salt of her tears had been cleansing. In a way she had not known she needed.

Down and down they went, taking the main ramp that looped through the levels. They passed librarians shelving books, acolytes in solitary or group study around the tables, healers poring over musty tomes in doorless rooms, and the occasional Baast Cat sprawled over the top of the shelves, or padding into the shadows, or simply sitting at a crossroads—as if waiting.

Still they went deeper.

“How did you know they were down here?” Yrene asked Nousha’s back.

“We keep good records,” was all the Head Librarian said.

Chaol gave Yrene a look that said, We have cranky librarians in Rifthold, too.

Yrene bit her lip to keep from grinning. Nousha could sniff out laughter and amusement like a bloodhound on a scent. And shut it down as viciously, too.

At last, they reached a dark corridor that reeked of stone and dust.

“Second shelf down. Don’t ruin anything,” Nousha said by way of explanation and farewell, and left without a look back.

Chaol’s brows lifted in bemusement, and Yrene swallowed her chuckle.

It stopped being an effort as they approached the shelf the librarian had indicated. Piles of scrolls lay tucked beneath books whose spines glittered with the Eyllwe language.

Chaol let out a low whistle through his teeth. “How old is the Torre, exactly?”

“Fifteen hundred years.”

He went still.

“This library has been here that long?”

She nodded. “It was all built in one go. A gift from an ancient queen to the healer who saved her child’s life. A place for the healer to study and live—close to the palace—and to invite others to study as well.”

“So it predates the khaganate by a great deal.”

“The khagans are the latest in a long line of conquerors since then. The most benevolent since that first queen, to be sure. Even her palace itself did not survive so well as the Torre. What you stay in now … they built it atop the rubble of the queen’s castle. After the conquerors who came a generation before the khaganate razed it to the ground.”

He swore, low and creatively.

“Healers,” Yrene said, scanning the shelves, “are in high demand, whether you are the current ruler or the invading one. All other posts … perhaps unnecessary. But a tower full of women who can keep you from death, even if you are hanging by a thread …”

“More valuable than gold.”

“It begs the question of why Adarlan’s last king …” She almost said your king, but the word clanged strangely in her head now. “Why he felt the need to destroy those of us with the gift in his own continent.” Why the thing in him felt the need, she didn’t say.

Chaol didn’t meet her eyes. And not from shame.

He knew something. Something else.

“What?” she asked.

He scanned the dim stacks, then listened for anyone nearby. “He was indeed … taken. Invaded.”

It had been a shock to realize whose dark power she’d been fighting against within his wound—a shock, and yet a rallying cry to her magic. As if some fog had been cleared away, some veil of fear, and all that had been left beneath were her blinding rage and sorrow, unfaltering as she’d leaped upon the darkness. But … the king truly had been possessed, then. All this time.

Chaol pulled a book from the shelf and flipped through it, not really reading the pages. She was fairly certain he didn’t know how to read Eyllwe. “He knew what was happening to him. The man within him fought against it as best he could. He knew that their kind …” The Valg. “They found people with gifts … enticing.” Magic-wielders. “Knew their kind wanted to conquer the gifted ones. For their power.”

Infest them, as the king had been. As that drawing in The Song of Beginning had depicted.

Yrene’s gut roiled.

“So the man within wrested control long enough to give the order that the magic-wielders were to be put down. Executed, rather than used against him. Us.”

Turned into hosts for those demons and made into weapons.

Yrene leaned against the stack behind them, a hand sliding up to her throat. Her pulse pounded beneath her fingers.

“It was a choice he hated himself for. But saw as a necessary decision to make. Along with a way to make sure those in control could not use magic. Or find those who had it. Not without lists of them. Or those willing to sell them out for coin—to the men he ordered to hunt them down.”

Magic’s vanishing had not been natural at all. “He—he found a way to banish—?”

A sharp nod. “It is a long story, but he halted it. Dammed it up. To keep those conquerors from having the hosts they wanted. And then hunted the rest of them down to make sure their numbers were fewer still.”

The King of Adarlan had stopped magic, killed its bearers, had sent his forces to execute her mother and countless others … not just from blind hatred and ignorance, but some twisted way of trying to save their kind?

Her heart thundered through her body. “But healers—we have no power to use in battle. Nothing beyond what you see from me.”

Chaol was utterly still as he stared at her. “I think you might have something they want very badly.”

The hair along her arms rose.

“Or want to keep you from knowing too much about.”

She swallowed, feeling the blood leave her face. “Like—your wound.”

A nod.

She blew out a shaky breath, going to the stack before her. The scrolls.

His fingers grazed her own. “I will not let any harm come to you.”

Yrene felt him waiting for her to tell him otherwise. But she believed him.

“And what I showed you earlier?” she said, inclining her head to the scrolls. The Wyrdmarks, he’d called them.

“Part of the same thing. An earlier and different sort of power. Outside of magic.”

And he had a friend who could read them. Wield them.

“We’d better be quick,” she said, still careful of any potential listeners. “I’m sure the volume I need for your chronic toe fungus is down here somewhere, and I’m growing hungry.”

Chaol gave her an incredulous look. She offered him an apologetic wince in return.

But laughter danced in his eyes as he began pulling books into his lap.

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