Chapter no 115

Empire of Storms

Chaol was bristling beside Yrene as they hurried through Antica’s narrow streets, crammed with people going home for the night. Not with rage, she realized, but purpose.

Aelin had mustered an army, and if they could join with them, bring some force from the khaganate … Yrene beheld the hope in his eyes. The focus.

A fool’s shot at this war. But only if they could convince the royals.

One last push, he declared to her as they entered the cool interior of the Torre and hurried up the stairs. He didn’t care if he had to crawl in front of the khagan. He would make one last attempt at convincing him.

But first: Hafiza. And the books that might contain a far more valuable weapon than swords or arrows: knowledge.

His steps did not falter as they wound up the endless interior of the Torre. Even with all that weighed on them, Chaol still murmured in her ear, “No wonder those legs of yours are so pretty.”

Yrene batted him off, her face heating. “Cad.”

At this hour, most of the acolytes were already heading down to dinner. Several beamed at Chaol as they passed him on the stairs, some younger ones giggling. He gave them all warm, indulgent smiles that sent them into further fits.

Hers. He was hers, Yrene wanted to crow at them. This beautiful, brave, selfless man—he was hers.

And she was going home with him.

It was that thought that sobered her slightly. The sense that these endless hikes up the interior of the Torre might now be limited. That she might not smell the lavender and baked bread for a long time. Not hear those giggles.

Chaol’s hand brushed hers as if to say he understood. Yrene only gripped his fingers tightly. Yes, she would leave a part of herself here. But what she took with her upon leaving … Yrene was smiling when they at last reached the top of the Torre.

Chaol panted, bracing a hand on the wall of the landing. Hafiza’s office door was cracked open, letting in the last of the sunset. “Whoever built this thing was a sadist.”

Yrene laughed, knocking on Hafiza’s office door and pushing it open. “That would be Kamala. And rumor says she—” Yrene halted, finding the Healer on High’s office empty.

She edged around him on the landing, striding for the workroom—the door ajar. “Hafiza?”

No answer, but she pushed open the door anyway. Empty. That bookcase, mercifully, still locked.

Likely making rounds, or at dinner, then. Though they’d seen everyone coming down after the dinner bell’s summons, and Hafiza hadn’t been among them.

“Wait here,” Yrene said, and bounded down the stairs to the next landing, a level above Yrene’s own room.

“Eretia,” she said, stepping into the small room.

The healer grunted in answer. “Saw a nice backside walk past here a moment ago.”

Chaol’s cough sounded from above.

Yrene snorted, but said, “Do you know where Hafiza is?”

“In her workroom.” The woman didn’t so much as turn. “She’s been in there all day.”

“You’re … certain?”

“Yes. Saw her go in, shut the door, and she hasn’t come out.” “The door was open just now.”

“Then she likely slipped past me.”

Without saying a word? That wasn’t Hafiza’s nature.

Yrene scratched her head, scanning the landing behind her. The few doors on it. She didn’t bother saying good-bye to Eretia before knocking on them. One was empty; the other healer told her the same: Hafiza was in her workroom.

Chaol was waiting atop the stairs when Yrene climbed back up. “No luck?”

Yrene tapped her foot on the ground. Perhaps she was paranoid, but … “Let’s check the mess hall,” was all she said.

She caught the gleam in Chaol’s eyes. The worry—and warning. They went down two levels until Yrene halted on her own landing.

Her door was shut—but there was something wedged beneath it. As if a passing foot had kicked it under. “What is that?”

Chaol drew his sword so fast she didn’t even see him move, every movement of his body, his blade, a dance. She bent and pulled the object out. Metal scraped on stone.

And there, dangling from its chain … Hafiza’s iron key.

Chaol studied the door, the stairs, as Yrene pulled the necklace over her head with shaking fingers. “She didn’t slide it there by accident,” he said.

And if she had thought to hide the key here … “She knew something was coming for her.”

“There was no sign of forced entry or attack upstairs,” he countered.

“She could have just been spooked, but … Hafiza does nothing without thought.”

Chaol put a hand on the small of her back, ushering her toward the stairs. “We need to notify the guard—start a search party.”

She was going to be ill. She was going to vomit right down the steps. If she had brought this upon Hafiza—

Panic helped no one. Nothing.

She forced herself to take a breath. Another one. “We need to be quick.

Can your back—”

“I can manage. It feels fine.”

Yrene assessed his stance, his balance. “Then hurry.”



Around and around, they flew down the steps of the Torre. Asking anyone who passed if they’d seen Hafiza. In her workroom, they all said.

As if she had simply vanished into nothing. Into shadow.

Chaol had seen enough, endured enough, to listen to his gut.

And his gut told him that something either had happened or was unfurling.

Yrene’s face was bone white with dread, that iron key bouncing against her chest with each of their steps. They reached the bottom of the Torre, and Yrene had the guard on alert in a matter of words, calmly explaining that the Healer on High was missing.

But search parties took too long to organize. Anything could happen in the span of minutes. Seconds.

In the busy hallway of the Torre’s main level, Yrene called out to a few healers about Hafiza’s location. No, she was not in the mess hall. No, she was not in the herb gardens. They had just been that way and had not seen her.

It was an enormous complex. “We’d cover more ground if we split up,” Yrene panted, scanning the hall.

“No. They might be expecting that. We stick together.”

Yrene scrubbed her hands over her face. “Widespread hysteria might make the—person act quicker. Rasher. We keep it quiet.” She lowered her hands. “Where do we start? She could be in the city, she could be d—”

“How many exits lead from the Torre into the streets?”

“Just the main gate, and a small side one for the deliveries. Both heavily guarded.”

They visited both within a span of minutes. Nothing. The guards were well trained and had kept a record of everyone who went in and out. Hafiza had not been seen. And no wagons had come in or left since early morning. Before Eretia had last seen her.

“She has to be somewhere on the premises,” Chaol said, surveying the tower looming above, the physicians’ complex. “Unless you can think of another way in or out. Perhaps something that might have been forgotten.”

Yrene went wholly still, her eyes bright as flame in the sinking twilight. “The library,” she breathed, and launched into a sprint.

Swift—she was swift, and it was all he could do to keep up with her. To

run. Holy gods, he was running, and—

“There are rumors of tunnels in the library,” Yrene panted, leading him down a familiar hallway. “Deep below. That connect outside. To where, we don’t know. Rumor claims they were sealed up, but—”

His heart thundered. “It would explain how they were able to come and go unnoticed.”

And if the old woman had been brought down there …

“How did they even get her to go? Without anyone noticing?”

He didn’t want to answer. The Valg could summon shadows if they wished. And hide within them. And those shadows could turn deadly in an instant.

Yrene slid to a stop in front of the main library desk, Nousha’s head snapping up. The marble was so smooth Yrene had to grapple at the edges of the desk to keep from falling.

“Have you seen Hafiza?” she blurted.

Nousha looked between them. Noted the sword he still had out. “What is wrong.”

“Where are the tunnels?” Yrene demanded. “The ones they boarded up

—where are they?”

Behind her, a storm-gray Baast Cat leaped up from its vigil by the hearth and sprinted into the library proper.

Nousha gazed at an ancient bell the size of a melon atop the desk. A hammer lay beside it.

Yrene slapped her hand on the hammer. “Don’t. It will alert them that— that we know.”

The woman’s brown skin seemed to go wan. “Head down to the bottom level. Walk straight to the wall. Cut left. Take that to the farthest wall—the

very end. Where the stone is rough and unpolished. Cut right. You’ll see them.”

Yrene’s chest heaved, but she nodded, muttering the directions to herself. Chaol memorized them, planted them in his mind.

Nousha rose to her feet. “Shall I summon the guard?”

“Yes,” Chaol said. “But quietly. Send them after us. As fast as you can.”

Nousha’s hands shook as she folded them in front of her middle. “Those tunnels have been left untouched for a very long time. Be on your guard. Even we do not know what lies down there.”

Chaol debated mentioning the usefulness of cryptic warnings before plunging into battle, but simply entwined his fingers through Yrene’s and launched them down the hall.

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