Chapter no 98

Empire of Storms

Yrene stormed up the Torre steps, careful not to crush the scroll in her fist.

The trashing of his room had rattled him. Rattled her, too, but … It wasn’t fear of harm or death. Something else had shaken him.

In her other hand, she clutched the locket, the metal warm against her skin.

Someone knew they were close to discovering whatever it was they wanted to keep secret. Or at the very least suspected they might learn something and had destroyed any possible sources. And after what they’d started to piece together in the ruins amid Aksara …

Yrene checked her temper as she reached the top landing of the Torre, the heat smothering.

Hafiza was in her private workshop, tutting to herself over a tonic that rippled with thick smoke. “Ah, Yrene,” she said without looking up while she measured in a drop of some liquid. Vials and basins and bowls covered the desk, scattered between the open books and a set of bronze hourglasses of various time measurements. “How was your party?”

Revelatory. “Lovely.”

“I assume the young lord finally handed over his heart.” Yrene coughed.

Hafiza smiled as she lifted her head at last. “Oh, I knew.”

“We are not—that is to say, there is nothing official—” “That locket suggests otherwise.”

Yrene clapped a hand over it, cheeks heating. “He is not—he is a lord.”

At Hafiza’s raised brows, Yrene’s temper whetted itself. Who else knew? Who else had seen and commented and betted?

“He is a Lord of Adarlan,” she clarified. “So?”


“I thought you had moved past that.”

Perhaps she had. Perhaps she hadn’t. “It is nothing to be concerned about.”

A knowing smile. “Good.”

Yrene took a long breath through her nose.

“But, unfortunately, you are not here to give me all the juicy details.” “Och.” Yrene grimaced. “No.”

Hafiza measured another few drops into her tonic, the substance within roiling. She plucked up her ten-minute hourglass and turned it over, bone-white sand trickling into the ancient base. A proclamation of a meeting begun even before Hafiza said, “I assume it has something to do with that scroll in your hand?”

Yrene looked to the open hall, then rushed to shut the door. Then the open windows.

By the time she’d finished, Hafiza had set down the tonic, her face unusually grave.

Yrene explained the ransacking of their room. The books and scrolls taken. The ruins at the oasis and their wild theory that perhaps the healers

had not just arisen here, but had been planted here, in secret. Against the Valg and their kings.

And for the first time since Yrene had known her, the ancient woman’s brown face seemed to go a bit colorless. Her clear dark eyes turned wide.

“You are certain—that these are the forces amassing on your continent?” Hafiza settled herself into the small chair behind the worktable.

“Yes. Lord Westfall has seen them himself. Battled them. It is why he came. Not to raise an army against mere men loyal to Adarlan’s empire, but an army to fight demons who wear the bodies of men, demons who breed monsters. So vast and terrible that even the full might of Aelin Galathynius and Dorian Havilliard is not enough.”

Hafiza shook her head, her nimbus of white hair flowing. “And now you two believe that the healers have some role to play?”

Yrene paced. “Perhaps. We were relentlessly hunted down on our own continent, and I know it doesn’t sound like anything to go on, but if a settlement of healing-inclined Fae did start a civilization here long ago … Why? Why leave Doranelle, why come so far, and leave so few traces, yet ensure that the healing legacy survived?”

“That is why you have come—and brought this scroll.”

Yrene placed the scroll before the Healer on High. “Since Nousha only knew vague legends and didn’t know how to read the language written here, I thought you might actually have the truth. Or tell me what this scroll might be about.”

Hafiza carefully unfurled the scroll, weighing its corners with various vials. Dark, strange letters had been inked there. The Healer on High traced a wrinkled finger over a few of them. “I do not know how to read such a language.” She ran her hand over the parchment again.

Yrene’s shoulders sagged.

“But it reminds me …” Hafiza scanned the bookshelves in her workshop, some of them sealed behind glass. She rose, hobbling to a locked case in the shadowy corner of the room. The doors there were not glass at all—but metal. Iron.

She withdrew a key from around her neck and opened it. Beckoned Yrene over.

Half stumbling through the room in her haste, Yrene reached Hafiza’s side. On a few of the spines of the tomes, near-rotting with age

…“Wyrdmarks,” Yrene murmured.

“I was told these were not books for human eyes—that it was knowledge best kept locked away and forgotten, lest it find its way into the world.”


Hafiza shrugged, studying but not touching the ancient texts shelved before them. “That was all my predecessor told me: They are not meant for human eyes. Oh, once or twice, I’ve been drunk enough to debate opening up the books, but every time I take out this key …” She toyed with the long necklace, the key of blackest iron hanging from it. A match to the cabinet. “I reconsider.”

Hafiza weighed the key in her palm. “I do not know how to read these books, nor what this language is, but if those scrolls and books were in the library itself, then the fact that these have been locked up here … Perhaps this is the sort of information worth killing for.”

Ice skittered down her spine. “Chaol—Lord Westfall knows someone who can read these markings.” Aelin Galathynius, he’d told her. “Perhaps we should bring them to her. The scroll, and these few books.”

Hafiza’s mouth tightened as she closed the iron doors to the cabinet and locked it with a heavy click. “I shall have to think on it, Yrene. The risks. Whether these books should leave.”

Yrene nodded. “Yes, of course. But I fear we may not have much time.”

Hafiza slid the iron key back under her robes and returned to the worktable, Yrene trailing her. “I do know a little of the history,” Hafiza admitted. “I thought it myth, but … my predecessor told me, when I first came. During the Winter Moon festival. She was drunk, because I’d plied her with alcohol to get her to reveal her secrets. But instead, she gave me a rambling history lesson.” Hafiza snorted, shaking her head. “I never forgot it, mostly because I was so disappointed that three bottles of expensive wine

—purchased with all the money I had—got me so little.”

Yrene leaned against the ancient worktable as Hafiza sat and interlaced her fingers in her lap. “She told me that long ago, before man stumbled here, before the horse-lords and the ruks above the steppes, this land indeed belonged to Fae. A small, pretty little kingdom, its capital here. Antica was built atop its ruins. But they erected temples to their gods beyond the city walls—out in the mountains, in the river-lands, in the dunes.”

“Like the necropolis at Aksara.”

“Yes. And she told me that they did not burn their bodies, but entombed them within sarcophagi so thick no hammer or device could open them. Sealed with spells and clever locks. Never to be opened.”


“The drunk goat told me that it was because they lived in fear of someone getting in. To take their bodies.”

Yrene was glad she was leaning on the table. “The way the Valg now use humans for possession.”

A nod. “She rambled about how they had left their knowledge of healing for us to find. That they had stolen it from elsewhere, and that their teachings formed the basis of the Torre. That Kamala herself had been trained in their arts, their records discovered in tombs and catacombs long since lost to us. She founded the Torre based off what she and her small order learned. Worshipped Silba because she was their healing god, too.” Hafiza gestured to the owls carved throughout her workroom, the Torre itself, and rubbed at her temple. “So your theory could hold water. I never learned how the Fae came here, where they went and why they faded away. But they were here, and according to my predecessor, they left some sort of knowledge or power behind.” A frown toward that locked bookcase.

“That someone is now trying to erase.” Yrene swallowed. “Nousha will kill me when she hears those books and scrolls were taken.”

“Oh, she might very well. But she’ll likely go on the hunt for whoever did it first.”

“What does any of it mean, though? Why go to so much trouble?”

Hafiza strode back to her tonic, the hourglass nearly empty. “Perhaps that is for you to learn.” She added a few more drops of liquid to her tonic, grabbed the one-minute glass, and flipped it over. “I shall consider the books, Yrene.”



Yrene returned to her room, flung open the window to let in the breeze to the stifling chamber, and sat on her bed for all of a minute before she was walking again.

She’d left the scroll with Hafiza, figuring the locked bookcase was safer than anywhere else, but it was not scrolls or ancient books that filled her head as she turned left and headed downstairs.

Progress. They had made progress on Chaol’s injury, significantly so, and returned to find their room trashed.

His room—not theirs. He’d made that clear enough earlier.

Yrene’s steps were unfaltering, even as her legs ached from nearly two days’ worth of riding. There had to be some connection—his progress, these attacks.

She’d never get any thinking done up in her quiet, stuffy room. Or in the library, not when she’d be jumping at every footstep or meow from a curious Baast Cat.

But there was one place, quiet and safe. One place where she might work through the tangled threads that had brought them here.



The Womb was empty.

After Yrene had washed and changed into the pale, thin lavender robe, she’d padded into the steam-filled chamber, unable to help looking toward that tub by the far wall. Toward where that healer had cried mere hours before her death.

Yrene scrubbed her hands over her face, taking a steadying breath.

The tubs on either side beckoned, the bubbling waters inviting, promising to soothe her aching limbs. But Yrene remained in the center of the chamber, amid all those faintly ringing bells, and stared up into the darkness high above.

From a stalactite too far in the gloom to see, a droplet of water fell— landing on her brow. Yrene closed her eyes at the cool, hard splash, but made no move to wipe away the water.

The bells sang and murmured, the voices of their long-dead sisters. She wondered if that healer who had died … If her voice was now singing here.

Yrene peered up at the nearest string of bells hung across the chamber, various sizes and makes. Her own bell …

On bare, silent feet, Yrene padded to the little stalagmite jutting from the floor near the wall, to the chain sagging between it and another pillar a few feet away. Seven other bells hung from it, but Yrene needed no reminder of which was hers.

Yrene smiled at the small silver bell, purchased with that stranger’s gold. There was her name, etched into the side—maybe by the same jeweler Chaol had found for the amulet hanging from her neck. Even in here, she had not wanted to part with it.

Gently, she brushed her finger over the bell, over her name and the date she’d entered the Torre.

A faint, sweet ringing leaped away in the wake of her touch. It echoed off the rock walls, off the other bells. Setting some of them ringing, as if in answer.

Around and around the sound of her bell danced, and Yrene turned in place, as if she could follow it. And when it faded …

Yrene flicked her bell again. A louder, clearer sound.

The ringing flitted through the room, and she watched it, tracked it. It faded once more. But not before her power flickered in answer.

With hands that did not entirely belong to her, Yrene rang her bell a third time.

And as its singing filled the room, Yrene began to walk. Everywhere its ringing went, Yrene followed.

Her bare feet slapping against the damp stone, she tracked the sound’s path through the Womb, as if it were a rabbit racing ahead of her.

Around the stalagmites rising from the floor. Ducking under the stalactites drooping from above. Crossing the room; slithering down the walls; setting the candles guttering. On and on, she tracked that sound.

Past the bells of generations of healers, all singing in its wake. Yrene streamed her fingers along them, too.

A wave of sound answered.

You must enter where you fear to tread.

Yrene walked on, the bells ringing, ringing, ringing. Still she followed the sound of her own bell, that sweet, clear song beckoning onward. Pulling her.

That darkness still dwelled in him; in his wound. They had beaten it so far back, yet it remained. Yesterday, he’d told her things that broke her heart, but not the entire story.

But if the key to defeating that shred of Valg blackness did not lie in facing the memories alone, if blind blasts of her magic did nothing …

Yrene followed the silver bell’s ringing to where it halted:

An ancient corner of the room, the chains rusted with age, some of the bells green from oxidation.

Here, the sound of her bell went silent.

No, not silent. But waiting. Humming against the corner of stone.

There was a small bell, hanging just by the end of the chain. So oxidized that the writing was nearly impossible to read.

But Yrene read the name there.

Yafa Towers

She did not feel the hard bite of stone as she fell to her knees. As she read that name, the date—the date from two hundred years ago.

A Towers woman. A Towers healer. Here—with her. A Towers woman had been singing in this room during the years Yrene had dwelled here. Even now, even so far from home, she had never once been alone.

Yafa. Yrene mouthed the name, a hand on her heart.

Enter where you fear to tread …

Yrene peered up into the darkness of the Womb overhead. Feeding. The Valg’s power had been feeding off him …

Yes, the darkness above seemed to say. Not a drip sounded; not a bell chimed.

Yrene gazed down at her hands, lying limp at her sides. Summoned forth the faint white glow of her power. Let it fill the room, echo off the rock in silent song. Echo off those bells, the voices of thousands of her sisters, the Towers voice before her.

Enter where you fear to tread …

Not the void lurking within him. But the void within herself.

The one that had started the day those soldiers had gathered around her cottage, had hauled her out by her hair into the bright grasses.

Had Yafa known, here in this chamber so far beneath the earth, what happened that day across the sea? Had she watched the past two months and sent up her ancient, rusted song in silent urging?

They weren’t bad men, Yrene.

No, they were not. The men he’d commanded, trained with, who had worn the same uniform, bowed to the same king as the soldiers who had come that day …

They were not bad men. People existed in Adarlan worth saving—worth fighting for. They were not her enemy, had never been. Perhaps she’d

known that long before he’d revealed it in the oasis yesterday. Perhaps she had not wanted to.

But the thing that remained inside him, that shred of the demon who had ordered it all …

I know what you are, Yrene said silently.

For it was the same thing that had dwelled inside her these years, taking from her, even as it sustained her. A different creature, but still one and the same.

Yrene spooled her magic back inside herself, the glow fading. She smiled up at the sweet darkness above. I understand now.

Another drop of water kissed her brow in answer.

Smiling, Yrene reached out a hand to her ancestor’s bell. And rang it.

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