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Shadows edge, p.1
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       Shadow's Edge, p.1

           Brent Weeks
 
Shadow's Edge


  You’re the wetboy.” The man cursed. He was sweating, his broad face pasty. His bushy black beard quivered as he trembled.

  “Tell me,” Kylar said.

  “The Shinga said he pissed off some Cenarian wetboy. We were supposed to kill you if you came here.”

  “Where is he?”

  “If I tell you, will you let me live?”

  Kylar looked into the man’s eyes, and curiously didn’t feel or imagine—or whatever it had been the other times—the darkness that demanded death. “Yes,” he said, though the killing rage was still on him.

  The man told him of a hideout, another trap, an underground room with only one entrance, and another ten guards.

  With teeth gritted against the white-cold fury, Kylar said, “Tell them the Night Angel walks. Tell them Justice is come.”

  Praise for The Way of Shadows

  “What a terrific story! I was mesmerized from start to finish. Unforgettable characters, a plot that kept me guessing, non-stop action and the kind of in-depth storytelling that makes me admire a writer’s work.”

  —Terry Brooks

  BOOKS BY BRENT WEEKS

  THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY

  The Way of Shadows

  Shadow’s Edge

  Beyond the Shadows

  Copyright

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2008 by Brent Weeks

  Excerpt from Beyond the Shadows copyright © 2008 by Brent Weeks All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a data base or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Orbit

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com

  www.twitter.com/orbitbooks

  Orbit is an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  The Orbit name and logo is a trademark of Little, Brown Book Group Ltd.

  First eBook Edition: February 2010

  ISBN: 978-0-316-04038-9

  Contents

  Map

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Epilogue

  Meet the Author

  A Preview of Beyond the Shadows

  For Kristi, for never doubting—

  not even when I did.

  &

  For Kevin, because it’s a big brother’s job to

  make a little brother tough. What you taught me,

  I’ve needed. (But I never have been right

  since that dirt clod incident.)

  1

  We’ve got a contract for you,” Momma K said. As always, she sat like a queen, her back straight, sumptuous dress perfect, hair immaculately coifed if gray at the roots. This morning she had dark circles under her eyes. Kylar guessed that none of the Sa’kagé’s surviving leaders had slept much since the Khalidoran invasion.

  “Good morning to you, too,” Kylar said, settling into the wing-backed chair in the study. Momma K didn’t turn to face him, looking instead out her window. Last night’s rain had quenched most of the fires in the city, but many still smoked, bathing the city in a crimson dawn. The waters of the Plith River that divided rich eastern Cenaria from the Warrens looked as red as blood. Kylar wasn’t sure that was all because of the smoke-obscured sun, either. In the week since the coup, the Khalidoran invaders had massacred thousands.

  Momma K said, “There’s a wrinkle. The deader knows it’s coming.”

  “How’s he know?” The Sa’kagé wasn’t usually so sloppy.

  “We told him.”

  Kylar rubbed his temples. The Sa’kagé would only tell someone so that if the attempt failed, the Sa’kagé wouldn’t be committed. That meant the deader could only be one man: Cenaria’s conqueror, Khalidor’s Godking, Garoth Ursuul.

  “I just came to get my money,” Kylar said. “All of Durzo’s—my safe houses burned down. I only need enough to bribe the gate guards.” He’d been giving her a cut of his wages to invest since he was a child. She should have plenty for a few bribes.

  Momma K flipped silently through sheets of rice paper on her desk and handed one to Kylar. At first, he was stunned by the numbers. He was involved in the illegal importation of riot weed and half a dozen other addictive plants, owned a race horse, had a stake in a brewery and several other businesses, part of a loan shark’s portfolio, and owned partial cargos of items like silks and gems that were legitimate except for the fact the Sa’kagé paid 20 percent in bribes rather than 50 percent in tariffs. The sheer amount of information on the page was mind-boggling. He didn’t know what half of it meant.

  “I own a house?” Kylar asked.

  “Owned,” Momma K said. “This column denotes merchandise lost in the fires or looting.” There were checks next to all but a silk expedition and one for riot weed. Almost everything he had owned was lost. “Neither expedition will return for months, if at all. If the Godking keeps seizing civilian vessels, they won’t come back at all. Of course, if he were dead—”

  He could see where this was going. “This says my share is still worth ten to fifteen thousand. I’ll sell it to you for a thousand. That’s all I need.”

  She ignored him. “They need a third wetboy to make sure it works. Fifty thousand gunders for one kill, Kylar. With that much, you can take Elene and Uly anywhere. You’ll have done the world a good turn, and you’ll never have to work again. It’s just one last job.”

  He wavered only for a moment. “There’s always one last job. I’m finished.”

  “This is because of Elene, isn
t it?” Momma K asked.

  “Momma K, do you think a man can change?”

  She looked at him with a profound sadness. “No. And he’ll end up hating anyone who asks him to.”

  Kylar got up and walked out the door. In the hallway, he ran into Jarl. Jarl was grinning like he used to when they were growing up on the streets and he was up to no good. Jarl was wearing what must be the new fashion, a long tunic with exaggerated shoulders paired with slim trousers tucked into high boots. It looked vaguely Khalidoran. His hair was worked into elaborate microbraids capped with gold beads that set off his black skin.

  “I’ve got the perfect job for you,” Jarl said, his voice lowered, but unrepentant about eavesdropping.

  “No killing?” Kylar asked.

  “Not exactly.”

  “Your Holiness, the cowards stand ready to redeem themselves,” Vürdmeister Neph Dada announced, his voice carrying over the crowd. He was an old man, veiny, liver-spotted, stooped, stinking of death held at bay with magic, his breath rattling from the exertion of climbing up the platform in Cenaria Castle’s great yard. Twelve knotted cords hung over the shoulders of his black robes for the twelve shu’ras he’d mastered. Neph knelt with difficulty and offered a handful of straw to the Godking.

  Godking Garoth Ursuul stood on the platform inspecting his troops. Front and center were nearly two hundred Graavar highlanders, tall, barrel-chested, blue-eyed savages who wore their black hair short and their mustaches long. On either side stood the other elite highland tribes that had captured the castle. Beyond them waited the rest of the regular army that had marched into Cenaria since the liberation.

  Mists rose from the Plith River on either side of the castle and slid under the rusty teeth of the iron portcullises to chill the crowd. The Graavar had been broken into fifteen groups of thirteen each, and they alone had no weapons, armor, or tunics. They stood in their trousers, pale faces fixed, but sweating instead of shivering in the cool autumn morning.

  There was never commotion when the Godking inspected his troops, but today the silence ached despite the thousands gathered to watch. Garoth had gathered every soldier possible and allowed the Cenarian servants and nobles and smallfolk to watch as well. Meisters in their black-and-red half-cloaks stood shoulder to shoulder with robed Vürdmeisters, soldiers, crofters, coopers, nobles, field hands, maids, sailors, and Cenarian spies.

  The Godking wore a broad white cloak edged with ermine thrown back to make his broad shoulders look huge. Beneath that was a sleeveless white tunic over wide white trousers. All the white made his pallid Khalidoran skin look ghostly, and drew sharp attention to the vir playing across his skin. Black tendrils of power rose to the surface of his arms. Great knots rose and fell, knots edged with thorns that moved not just back and forth but up and down in waves, pressing out from his skin. Claws raked his skin from beneath. Nor were his vir confined to his arms. They rose to frame his face. They rose to his bald scalp and pierced the skin, forming a thorny, quivering black crown. Blood trickled down the sides of his face.

  For many Cenarians, it was their first glimpse of the Godking. Their jaws hung slack. They shivered as his gaze passed over them. It was exactly as he intended.

  Finally, Garoth selected one of the pieces of straw from Neph Dada and broke it in half. He threw away one half and took twelve full-length pieces. “Thus shall Khali speak,” he said, his voice robust with power.

  He signaled the Graavar to climb the platform. During the liberation, they had been ordered to hold this yard to contain the Cenarian nobles for slaughter. Instead, the highlanders had been routed, and Terah Graesin and her nobles had escaped. That was unacceptable, inexplicable, uncharacteristic for the fierce Graavar. Garoth didn’t understand what made men fight one day and flee the next.

  What he did understand was shame. For the past week, the Graavar had been mucking stables, emptying chamber pots, and scrubbing floors. They had not been allowed to sleep, instead spending the nights polishing their betters’ armor and weapons. Today, they would expiate their guilt, and for the next year, they would be eager to prove their heroism. As he approached the first group with Neph at his side, Garoth calmed the vir from his hands. When the men drew their straws, they must think it not the working of magic or the Godking’s pleasure that spared one and condemned another. Rather, it was simple fate, the inexorable consequence of their own cowardice.

  Garoth held up his hands, and together, all the Khalidorans prayed: “Khali vas, Khalivos ras en me, Khali mevirtu rapt, recu virtum defite.”

  As the words faded, the first soldier approached. He was barely sixteen, the least fringe of a mustache on his lip. He looked on the verge of collapse as his eyes flitted from the Godking’s icy face to the straws. His naked chest shone with sweat in the rising morning light, his muscles twitching. He drew a straw. It was long.

  Half of the tension whooshed out of his body, but only half. The young man next to him, who looked so alike he must have been his older brother, licked his lips and grabbed a straw. It was short.

  Queasy relief washed over the rest of the squad, and the thousands watching who couldn’t possibly see the short straw knew that it had been drawn from their reactions. The man who’d drawn the short straw looked at his little brother. The younger man looked away. The condemned man turned disbelieving eyes on the Godking and handed him the short straw.

  Garoth stepped back. “Khali has spoken,” he announced. There was a collective intake of breath, and he nodded to the squad.

  They closed on the young man, every one of them—even his brother—and began beating him.

  It would have been faster if Garoth had let the squad wear gauntlets or use the butts of spears or the flat of blades, but he thought it was better this way. When the blood began flowing and spraying off flesh as it was pummeled, it shouldn’t get on the squad’s clothing. It should get on their skin. Let them feel the warmth of the young man’s blood as he died. Let them know the cost of cowardice. Khalidorans did not flee.

  The squad attacked with gusto. The circle closed and screams rose. There was something intimate about naked meat slapping naked meat. The young man disappeared and all that could be seen was elbows rising and disappearing with every punch and feet being drawn back for new kicks. And moments later, blood. With the short straw, the young man had become their weakness. It was Khali’s decree. He was no longer brother or friend, he was all they had done wrong.

  In two minutes, the young man was dead.

  The squad reformed, blood-spattered and blowing hard from exertion and emotion. They didn’t look at the corpse at their feet. Garoth regarded each in turn, meeting the eyes of every one, and lingering on the brother. Standing over the corpse, Garoth extended a hand. The vir poked out of his wrist and extended, clawlike, ragged, and gripped the corpse’s head. Then the claws convulsed and the head popped with a wet sound that left dozens of Cenarians retching.

  “Your sacrifice is accepted. Thus are you cleansed,” he announced, and saluted them.

  They returned his salute proudly and took their places back in the formation in the courtyard as the body was dragged away.

  He motioned the next squad. The next fourteen iterations would be nothing but more of the same. Though tension still arced through every squad—even the squads who’d finished would lose friends and family in other squads—Garoth lost interest. “Neph, tell me what you’ve learned about this man, this Night Angel who killed my son.”

  Cenaria Castle wasn’t high on Kylar’s list of places to visit. He was disguised as a tanner, a temporary dye staining his hands and arms to the elbow, a spattered woolen tradesman’s tunic, and a number of drops of a special perfume his dead master Durzo Blint had developed. He reeked only slightly less than a real tanner would. Durzo had always preferred disguises of tanners, pig farmers, beggars, and other types that respectable people did their best not to see because they couldn’t help but smell them. The perfume was applied only to the outer garments so if need arose
, they could be shed. Some of the stench would still cling, but every disguise had drawbacks. The art was matching the drawbacks to the job.

  East Kingsbridge had burned during the coup, and though the meisters had repaired most of its length, it was still closed, so Kylar crossed West Kingsbridge. The Khalidoran guards barely glanced at him as he passed them. It seemed everyone’s attention—even the meisters’—was riveted to a platform in the center of the castle yard and a group of highlanders standing bare-chested in the cold. Kylar ignored the squad on the platform as he scanned for threats. He still wasn’t sure if meisters could see his Talent, though he suspected they couldn’t as long as he wasn’t using it. Their abilities seemed much more tied to smell than magi’s—which was the main reason he’d come as a tanner. If a meister came close, Kylar could only hope that mundane smells interfered with magical ones.

  Four guards stood on each side of the gate, six on each segment of the diamond-shaped castle wall, and perhaps a thousand in formation in the yard, in addition to the two hundred or so Graavar highlanders. In the crowd of several thousand, fifty meisters were placed at regular intervals. In the center of it all, on the temporary platform, were a number of Cenarian nobles, mutilated corpses, and Godking Garoth Ursuul himself, speaking with a Vürdmeister. It was ridiculous, but even with the number of soldiers and meisters here, this was probably the best chance a wetboy would have to kill the man.

  But Kylar wasn’t here to kill. He was here to study a man for the strangest job he’d ever accepted. He scanned the crowd for the man Jarl had told him about and found him quickly. Baron Kirof had been a vassal of the Gyres. With his lord dead and his lands close to the city, he’d been one of the first Cenarian nobles to bend the knee to Garoth Ursuul. He was a fat man with a red beard cut in the angular lowland Khalidoran style, a large crooked nose, weak chin, and great bushy eyebrows.

  Kylar moved closer. Baron Kirof was sweating, wiping his palms on his tunic, speaking nervously to the Khalidoran nobles he stood with. Kylar was easing around a tall, stinking blacksmith when the man suddenly threw an elbow into Kylar’s solar plexus.

 
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