Tower of Dawn Page 145

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.”

“Why?”

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

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