Chapter no 97

Empire of Storms

Chaol and Yrene galloped back to Antica at dawn.

They left a note for Hasar, claiming that Yrene had a gravely ill patient who needed to be checked on, and raced across the dunes under the rising sun.

Neither of them had slept much, but if what they’d guessed about the healers was true, they did not risk lingering.

Chaol’s back ached thanks to yesterday’s ride and last night’s … other ride. Multiple rides. And by the time the minarets and white walls of Antica appeared, he was hissing through his teeth.

Yrene frowned at him the entire painful trek through the packed streets to the palace. They hadn’t discussed sleeping arrangements, but he didn’t care if he had to walk up every single one of the stairs of the Torre. Either her bed or his. The thought of leaving her, even for a heartbeat—

Chaol winced as he climbed off Farasha, the black mare suspiciously well behaved, and accepted the cane the nearest stable hand had retrieved from Yrene’s mare.

He managed a few steps toward her, his limp deep and splintering, but Yrene held out a warning hand. “Do not think about attempting to lift me off this horse, or carry me, or anything.”

He gave her a wry look, but obeyed. “Anything?”

She turned a beautiful shade of scarlet as she slid off the mare, passing the reins to the waiting stable hand. The man sagged with relief, utterly grateful to not have the task of handling the impetuous Farasha, who was currently sizing up the poor man attempting to drag her toward the stables as if she’d have him for lunch. Hellas’s horse indeed.

“Yes, anything,” Yrene said, fluffing out her wrinkled clothes. “It’s likely because of anything that you’re limping worse than before.”

Chaol let her fall into step beside him, and balanced on his cane long enough to press a kiss to her temple. He didn’t care who saw. Who reported on it. They could all go to hell. But behind them, he could have sworn Shen and the other guards were grinning from ear to ear.

Chaol winked at her. “Then you’d better heal me, Yrene Towers, because I plan to do a great deal of anything with you tonight.”

She flushed even deeper, but angled her chin upward, prim and proper. “Let’s focus on these scrolls first, you rogue.”

Chaol grinned, broad and unrestrained, and felt it in every inch of his aching body as they strode back inside the palace.



Any joy was short-lived.

Chaol picked up on the humming threads of something amiss the moment they entered their quiet wing. The moment he saw the guards murmuring, the servants scurrying about. Yrene only shared a glance with him, and they hurried along as fast as he could manage. Strands of fire shot along his back, down his thighs, but if something had happened—

The doors to his suite were ajar, with two guards posted outside, who gave him looks full of pity and dread. His stomach turned.

Nesryn. If she had come back, if something had happened with that Valg hunting them—

He stormed into the suite, his protesting body going distant, his head full of roaring silence.

Nesryn’s door was open.

But no body lay sprawled on the bed. No blood stained the carpet, or splattered the walls.

His room was the same. But both bedrooms … Trashed.

Shredded, as if some great wind had shattered the windows and torn through the space.

The sitting room was worse. Their usual gold couch—gutted. The pictures, the art overturned or cracked or slashed.

The desk had been looted, the carpets flipped over—

Kadja was kneeling in the corner, gathering pieces of a broken vase.

“Be careful,” Yrene hissed, striding to the girl as she plucked up pieces with her bare hands. “Get a broom and dustpan rather than use your own hands.”

“Who did this,” Chaol asked quietly.

Fear glimmered in Kadja’s eyes as she rose. “It was like this when I came in this morning.”

Yrene demanded, “You didn’t hear anything at all?”

The sharp doubt in those words made him tense. Yrene hadn’t trusted the servant girl for an instant, making up tasks that would keep her away, but for Kadja to do this—

“With you gone, my lord, I … I took the night to visit my parents.”

He tried not to cringe. A family. She had family here, and he’d never bothered to ask—

“And can your parents swear to the fact that you were with them all night?”

Chaol whirled. “Yrene.”

Yrene didn’t so much as glance at him as she studied Kadja. The servant girl withered under that fierce stare. “But I suppose leaving the door unlocked for someone would have been smarter.”

Kadja cringed, shoulders curving inward.

“Yrene—this could have been from anything. Anyone.”

“Yes, anyone. Especially someone who was looking for something.” The words clicked at the same moment the disarray of the room did.

Chaol faced the servant girl. “Don’t clean any more of the mess. Everything in here might offer some proof of who did this.” He frowned. “How much did you manage to clean already?”

From the state of the room, not much.

“I only just started. I thought you wouldn’t return until tonight, so I didn’t—”

“It’s fine.” At her cringe, he added, “Go to your parents. Take the day off, Kadja. I’m glad you weren’t here when this happened.”

Yrene gave him a frown that said the girl might very well have been the cause of this, but kept her mouth shut. Within a minute, Kadja had left, closing the hall doors with a quiet click.

Yrene ran her hands over her face. “They took everything. Everything.” “Did they?” He limped to the desk, peering into the drawers as he braced

a hand on the surface. His back ached and writhed—

Yrene stormed to the gold couch, lifting the ruined cushions. “All those books, the scrolls …”

“It was common knowledge that we’d be gone.” He leaned fully against the desk, nearly sighing at the weight it took off his back.

Yrene carved a path through the room, inspecting all the places she’d ferreted away those books and scrolls. “They took it all. Even The Song of Beginning.”

“What about the bedroom?”

She vanished instantly. Chaol rubbed at his back, hissing softly. More rustling, then, “Ha!”

She emerged again, waving one of his boots in the air. “At least they didn’t find this.”

That first scroll. He rallied a smile to his mouth. “At least there’s that.”

Yrene held his boot to her chest as if it were a babe. “They’re getting desperate. That makes people dangerous. We shouldn’t stay here.”

He surveyed the damage. “You’re right.” “Then we’ll go directly to the Torre.”

He glanced through the open doors to the foyer. To Nesryn’s bedroom. She was due back soon. And when she did return, to find him gone, with

Yrene … He’d treated her abominably. He’d let himself forget what he’d promised, what he’d implied, in Rifthold. On the ship here. And Nesryn might not hold him to any promises, but he’d broken too many of them.

“What is it?” Yrene’s question was barely more than a whisper.

Chaol closed his eyes. He was a bastard. He’d dragged Nesryn here, and this was how he’d treated her. While she was off hunting for answers, risking her life, while she sought some shred of hope for raising an army … He’d send that message—immediately. To return as fast as she could.

“It’s nothing,” Chaol said at last. “Perhaps you should stay at the Torre tonight. There are enough guards there to make anyone think twice.” He

added when hurt flickered in her eyes, “I can’t appear to be running away. Especially with the royals now starting to think I might be someone of interest. That Aelin continues to be such a source of worry and intrigue … perhaps I should use that to my advantage.” He fiddled with the cane, tossing it from one hand to another. “But I should stay here. And you, Yrene, you should go.”

She opened her mouth to object, but paused, straightening. A steely glint entered her eyes. “I’ll take Hafiza the scroll myself, then.”

He hated the edge to her voice as he nodded, the dimming of those eyes. He’d done wrong by her, too. In not first ending things with Nesryn, to make it clear. He’d made a mess of it.

A fool. He’d been a fool to think he could rise above this. Move beyond the person he’d been, the mistakes he’d made.

A fool.

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