The Night Angel Trilogy, p.100Brent Weeks
Vi was gripped by terror tighter than the magic that bound her limbs. Possibilities were dying on every side.
Kylar stirred. His eyes came back into focus. He wiggled his eyebrows at her, trying to be charming. The outrageous cuteness of it cracked her paralysis. His pale blue eyes said, You with me?
Hers answered him with a fierce, desperate joy that needed no translation.
Under his breath, Kylar said, “You take his attention, I’ll take his life.” He smiled and the rest of Vi’s fear blew away. It was a real smile, with no desperation. There was no doubt in Kylar’s eyes. Any additional obstacle—whether magical bonds or the loss of an arm—would only sweeten his victory. Killing the Godking was Kylar’s destiny.
“You leave me no choice,” Garoth Ursuul said. He pursed his lips. “Daughter, kill Kylar.”
The ka’kari opened and devoured the bonds holding Vi and Kylar. Vi was moving, beginning a flashy, eye-grabbing stunt.
Then… everything stopped.
There was a gap of volition. In her mind’s eye, Vi was leaping through the air, flying toward the Godking, her blade descending, his face twisting into a rictus of fear as he saw that his shields were gone, as he realized she’d defeated his compulsion—
But that was only her imagination.
A shock of impact ran up Vi’s arm. Her wrist flexed as if to complete a horizontal slash through a heart, but she saw nothing, knew nothing except that there was a blank.
The gap cleared, and Vi was aware once more. Her fingers were uncurling from the familiar grip of her favorite knife. Kylar—so slowly, so painfully slowly—was falling. He drifted toward the floor, his head arcing back in a slow whiplash from having her knife rammed into his back, his dark hair rippling from the shock. It wasn’t until he hit the floor that Vi realized that Kylar was dead. She had killed him.
“That, my dear daughter,” Garoth Ursuul said, “is compulsion.”
Kylar pushed through the fog in a rush. In a moment that seemed out of joint, as if time didn’t work the same way here, he was back in the indistinct room, once again facing the lupine, gray-haired man with his hair pure white on one temple.
“Two days isn’t going to cut it,” Kylar said. “I need to go back now.”
“Impertinence last time, demands this time,” the man said.
The man cocked his head, as if listening, and Kylar was again aware of the others. They were invisible when Kylar looked directly at them, but definitely there. Could he see them a little better this time? “Yes, yes,” the Wolf said to a voice Kylar couldn’t hear.
“Who are they?” Kylar asked.
“Immortality is lonely, Kylar. Madness need not be.”
“Say hello to the grand company of my imagination, gleaned from those profound souls I have known over the years. Not ghosts, just facsimiles, I’m afraid.” The lupine man nodded his head again toward one of them and chuckled.
“If they’re not real, why are you talking to them and not to me?” Kylar asked. He was still angry and this time, he wasn’t going to take the man’s chiding or his mysteries. “I need your help. Now.”
“You’ll find such urgency hard to hold onto as the centuries pass—”
“It’ll be real hard if Garoth Ursuul takes my immortality.”
The Wolf tented his fingers. “Poor Garoth. He believes himself a god. It will be his undoing, as it was mine.”
“And another thing,” Kylar said. “I want my arm back.”
“I noticed you managed to lose that. You actually pulled the ka’kari out of every cell of the arm you lost. Was that intentional?”
“I didn’t want the ferali to have it.” Cell?
“A wise thought, but a poor choice. Do you remember what they call your ka’kari?”
“The Devourer,” Kylar said. “So?”
The Wolf pursed his lips. Waited.
“You’re joking,” Kylar said. He felt sick.
“Afraid not. You didn’t have to fight. What the ka’kari did while coating your sword it could have done while coating your body. You could have just walked through the ferali.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. Because you cut your arm off instead—and pulled the ka’kari out of it first—your arm won’t grow back. Sorry. I do hope you can fight with your left.”
“To hell with you! Send me back or Ursuul wins.”
The man gave him a toothy grin, as if being damned amused him. “Sending you back two days early will cost me,” his eyes flicked up. “Three years and twenty-seven days of my life. Sort of like the rich stealing from the poor, wouldn’t you say, immortal?” He held up his burn-knotted hand before Kylar could curse him. “I’ll send you back if you make an oath to me. There’s a sword. It’s called Curoch, and I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it’s intensely desired by any number of powerful factions. You know the town of Torra’s Bend?”
“That’s the one. Get the sword and take it there. Go into the wood, past the oak grove, stop forty or fifty paces from the edge of the old forest, and throw Curoch in.”
“Is that where you live?” Kylar asked.
“Oh no,” the man said. “But something else does. Something that will guard Curoch from the world of man. If you do this, I will send you back now, and when you deliver the sword, I’ll make your arm grow back.”
“Who are you?” Kylar asked.
“I’m one of the good guys. At least as much as I can be.” His golden eyes danced. “But I want you to understand something Acaelus never did: I’m not a man,” he paused, grinning, and Kylar did indeed wonder how much humanity was behind those lupine eyes, “to cross lightly.”
“Are you in?”
“That’s odd,” the Godking said, coming to stand over Kylar’s corpse. “Where’s the ka’kari? I sense… it’s in his body?”
“Yes,” Vi said, unable to stop herself.
“Fascinating. I don’t suppose you know what all it does?”
To her horror, Vi found herself answering. It hadn’t been a direct question, so she veered as hard as she could. “No. I know it makes him invisible.” She’d tried to say “made,” but she couldn’t force the past tense into the sentence. She hoped he didn’t notice.
“Well, regardless, your lover will have to wait. I have a massacre to attend.”
Vi screamed and grabbed Kylar’s sword. Garoth watched her curiously. The sword swung in an arc—and stopped. She stopped it herself. She couldn’t do it.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” he said. “Funny thing is, I learned compulsion from one of your southron mating rituals—ringing—but you people completely misunderstood its true power. Anyway, feel free to watch the battle—and stop grunting, dear. It’s unbecoming.”
Abruptly, his eyes went vacant. Vi tried to move the sword, but it was impossible. The compulsion was undeniable.
As the wytches released the ferali, Vi sat on the steps before the throne to watch. But even that terrible spectacle couldn’t hold her attention.
She should have given up long ago. All her fighting was a farce. She’d done everything the Godking had wanted her to do. She’d killed Jarl and she’d killed Kylar. In the years to come, she’d doubtless kill hundreds more. Thousands. It wouldn’t matter. No one else could ever mean what Jarl and Kylar had meant to her. Jarl, her only friend, dead by her hand. Kylar, a man who had somehow stirred… what? Passion? Maybe just warmth, in a cold dead heart. A man who could have been… more.
She hated every man she’d ever known. It was man’s nature to kill, to destroy, to tear down. Woman was the giver of life, the nurturer. And yet… Kylar.
He stood athwart her suppositions like a colossus. Kylar, the legendary wetboy who should have been the very quintessence of destruction, had saved a little girl, adopted her, saved a woman, saved nobles who didn’t deserve saving, and tried to leave the bitter busines
If not for Vi, Kylar would be in Caernarvon, leading some sort of daylight life that Vi couldn’t even imagine. And what was it with Elene? Kylar could have had any woman he wanted, and he’d chosen a girl covered with scars. In her experience, men went for the hottest bitch they could get their cock in. If the bitch was hot, they didn’t care that she was a bitch. Kylar wasn’t like that.
Vi had an awful flash of intuition. She saw Elene—a woman she’d never met—as her twin and opposite. Elene had scars an inch deep, but beneath that she was all beauty and grace and love. Vi was all ugliness except for the thin veil of her skin. Kylar’s love was a mystery no more. The man who could see past Jarl’s murder could easily see past a few scars. Of course he loved Elene. Or had, before Vi killed him.
Kylar had said he would come back. But he wouldn’t come back. The Godking had won.
Vi pulled her knife out of Kylar’s back and rolled him over. His eyes were open, blank, dead. She closed those accusing eyes, pulled his head into her lap and turned to watch the Godking massacre Cenaria’s last hope.
All pretense of scholastic detachment was gone. At first, the magi had to strain to see the ferali. It entered the battle virtually unnoticed.
Within a minute, one of the mages said, “McHalkin was right. I thought he made it up.”
“We all thought he made it up. What does this mean about all those other creatures in his writings?”
“Gods, it’s just like he said. It’s being ridden, possessed.”
On the battlefield, the beast’s presence was becoming known. It had become a great bull, plowing through the lines of Cenarians. Whatever gashes the soldiers managed to inflict were quickly filled, and the creature grew.
The clamor of battle, the shouts of rage and pain and ringing steel had been drifting up to the promontory since the battle began. Now, new sounds rose: screams of terror.
The enormous bull lumbered out the side of the Khalidoran line. Half a dozen men, some still alive, were stuck to the beast. It paused as it digested them and began rearranging itself. The ferali curled into a ball and sheets of plate metal bobbed to the surface of its skin. It unfolded itself and stood.
The ferali now wore the shape of a troll. It was three times the height of a man, its skin was armor and mail and gawping little mouths. It had even taken into itself the swords and spears of its dead opponents, which now bristled from its back and sides.
The Cenarians’ first reaction was surprisingly heroic. They charged the beast.
It was futile. It beat its way through the lines, never moving so fast that the Khalidoran line couldn’t close behind it, and everywhere it went, killing, it was careful to lift every man it had killed or maimed in one of its four arms and stick him to its skin, or impale him on the spears on its back. One would be devoured, and then the next, and the next, and the next.
If the soldiers even wounded the beast, the magi couldn’t tell. Never slowing, it tore apart line after line.
In the face of that inexorable death, General Agon charged part of the Khalidoran line with everything he had, trying to escape. By luck or leadership, hundreds of his men joined him, all attacking one place, desperate. The Khalidoran line bowed and nearly broke, but the Khalidoran prince Moburu’s cavalry reinforced the line until the ferali waded through the ranks to get there. Abruptly, the charge broke off, and the Cenarian generals tried to get their men to charge another way. But the din of battle, the confusion of being ringed by the Khalidorans, and the terror at the ever-enlarging beast was too much.
The Cenarians were fighting in a desperate frenzy. They were moments away from panic.
“We have to go help them,” Jaedan said.
The magi looked at him like he was insane.
“What? We’re some of the most powerful magi in the world! If we don’t help them, they’ll die. If we don’t oppose Khalidor now, it’ll be too late.”
“Jaedan,” Wervel said quietly. “The ferali is almost impervious to magic—and that was to the ancients. It’s already too late.”
Lord Lucius was in no mood to placate the youth. He said, “We were sent to find, or find word of, the great sword. If Curoch is here, believe me, Jaedan, we will know of it presently. If the Cenarians have it, they will use it now. The council—”
“The council isn’t here!” Jaedan said. “I think—”
“What you think is irrelevant! We will not fight. That’s final. Understood?”
Jaedan’s jaw clenched with the effort of holding back words he would be made to regret. He turned his eyes back to the men dying because of Lord Lucius’s apathy. “Understood, sir.”
One thing the stories never mentioned about battles—the stories Logan had loved so much as a boy—was the smell. He thought that after the Hole, nothing could ever shock him again, but he was wrong. He’d lost count of the men he’d seen die in the Hole, but whatever the number was—twelve? fifteen?—it was nothing compared with the number dead here in the first charge alone. The smell had been excitement and fear and rain and mud, insignificant smells next to the sights of flashing steel and proud horses, the fierce faces of the women who rode with him.
The Khalidorans had hemmed them in. Without flags or hand signals to communicate with distant commanders, the Cenarians couldn’t escape. If too few joined a charge, it went nowhere. If too many, they’d be massacred from the rear. The Cenarian army was paralyzed, and more and more Khalidorans emerged—from where? Why the hell hadn’t they known they were there? Had Luc Graesin blown his assignment or had he betrayed them? It didn’t matter now, only avoiding slaughter mattered, and the stench filled his nostrils.
It was the men packed tightly together, their heat and their sweat and their fear commingling with the terror of the panicky horses. It was a sewer, as the dead and the fearful lost control of their bowels. It was gastric juices from stomachs cut open, intestines slashed, dying beasts kicking at the earth and bawling. It was blood so thick it gathered in pools with the rain. It was the sweeter smell of women’s sweat, their numbers dwindling but still fearless so long as Logan was fearless.
Wherever he went, the Cenarian lines rallied. It wasn’t only his presence. It was these magnificent women, streaked with blood and cursing like sailors. The very sight of them bewildered the Khalidorans.
If it weren’t for the Order, Logan would have died in the first charge. They fought with nearly suicidal frenzy to be at his side, and they’d paid the price for it. Of the thirty women who’d ridden with him, only ten remained. With such a small bodyguard, Logan surely would have been overwhelmed had not more than a hundred men joined them in the minutes after the first charge—Agon’s Dogs. He’d given them words, and now they gave him their lives.
Logan couldn’t have said how long it was into the battle when a new smell cut through the ranks. It was something rancid, which made no sense. Tonight, the armies would leave plenty of meat on the field to rot, but nothing should be rotten yet. He heard and felt the Cenarians reacting long before he saw the source of their newest fear. Then, from the back of his horse, he saw what looked like a bull, a bull the height of a destrier, blasting through the lines and out of the battle, dragging men with it.
A different creature returned. It was a troll with four arms, four eyes, lumpy grayish skin, and blades sticking out of its back. Logan knew that he should have been afraid, and part of him marveled that he wasn’t. Fear simply wasn’t there.
Battle became simple, one understanding that led to one fact: that creature was killing his people. He had to stop it.
General Agon led another charge. His men smashed into the cavalry like a balsa hammer on an anvil. It was all Agon could do to break away from that damned cavalry officer with Ladeshian skin and Alitaeran clothes and horses.
Logan charged at the beast. It seemed to be even bigger now. One entire arm now was a scythe blade and the troll swept it across the field about three feet above the ground, r
Logan rode into the space created as the Cenarians pushed back as far back from the troll as they could. His white charger danced nervously.
The troll stopped and regarded Logan. It made an indistinct roar that nearly took Logan’s horse out of his control, then shook itself. A human head pushed out of the troll’s belly.
“Logan,” the head said in a perfectly human voice with only a touch of Khalidoran accent. The head pushed further out of the troll’s stomach toward Logan.
“Ursuul,” Logan snarled.
“There’s something you should know about Jenine.”
Logan hadn’t been strong when the battle began. Months of privation had left him emaciated and weak. He’d survived today on luck and the ferocity of the Order of the Garter and Agon’s Dogs, not his own strength or skill, but at the passage of Jenine’s name across this beast’s foul tongue, Logan felt the power of righteous rage.
“Your lovely, lovely wife is ali—”
Logan’s sword flashed and he struck the head off. It burst apart the ground into clumps of rotting flesh.
For a moment, the beast froze. It didn’t move a muscle, and as the moment stretched, the Cenarians suddenly cheered, thinking that Logan had somehow killed it.
Then the troll raised its arms to the skies and bellowed a roar that shook that very ground. Two of its eyes fixed on Logan, and the enormous bone scythe drew back.
Vi brushed back Kylar’s hair with gentle fingers. Before them, the ferali had transformed into a troll and was wading through the Cenarian lines. She barely saw it. She was staring at Kylar’s dead face. For the first time, she realized how young he looked. Kylar was serene, beatific. Vi had murdered him. She’d delivered immortality to the Godking.
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes