The night angel trilogy, p.101
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.101

           Brent Weeks
 

  Something splashed on his cheek. Vi blinked. What the hell? The drop slid down his cheek to his ear. She blinked again, more rapidly, refusing to believe she was crying. What had Sister Ariel said? Something about being an emotional cripple? Vi looked at her tear, glimmering on Kylar’s ear, and wiped it away. That bitch called me stupid.

  And so she was. Her finger froze.

  It hit Vi like a warhorse at a full gallop. She hadn’t escaped Sister Ariel at all.

  Suddenly, Vi couldn’t breathe. She saw the Sister’s trap now, laid out for her in every word Ariel had spoken. She saw the bait and the consequences. It wasn’t escape, but it was escape from the Godking.

  It only required Vi to do something worse to Kylar than anything Hu Gibbet had ever done to her. She put an unsteady hand into a pouch and found the box right where she’d put it. She opened the box and looked at the Waeddryner wedding rings tucked inside.

  If she did this, it would be like rape, and Vi knew rape.

  Yet it was the only way. Sister Ariel had the Niles plant all the information Vi would need. They’d told her she needed to show “an outward sign of an inward change” to break the compulsion, a transfer of loyalties. They talked of the powerful magic in some of the old rings, how they held a type of compulsion spell. And the Bitch Wytch had dangled the carrot herself: quick advancement, private tutoring, being important.

  Vi didn’t care. She wouldn’t do this for herself. She’d do it because if she didn’t, the Godking would become immortal. Vi would become his pet assassin, a one-woman plague slaying any who dared defy him. She’d do this for those poor bastards getting eaten alive on the battlefield. She’d do this because if she didn’t, Kylar would die, truly die.

  But he would never forgive her.

  She ran her fingers through Kylar’s hair. His face looked cold and still, judgmental. She would escape; she would change, but Kylar and Elene would pay the price.

  The earring pierced her left ear, and the hoop melded together seamlessly. The pain made her eyes water. Tears streaming down her face, she pierced the other ring through Kylar’s ear.

  A rush of warmth lit her from head to toe. She felt the compulsion shrivel and burst apart. That was nothing compared to the sudden longing she felt. She gasped. In her very skin, her stomach, her spine, she felt Kylar. He was healing, but he was hurt so badly it made her ache. Her fingers tingled where she was touching his face. He was more handsome than ever. She wanted him to know her. She wanted to confess the truth and be forgiven and have him love her back. She wanted him to hold her, to touch her cheek, to run his fingers through her hair and—

  That thought exploded against everything she’d ever known. Vi pushed Kylar roughly out of her lap and staggered to her feet. The rush of emotion was too much, too intense, too vast to read, yet it didn’t feel alien. It didn’t feel counterfeit. It felt like her love was being purified, the coal blown on so that it flared up into fire. It left Vi gasping. She could hardly bear to look at Kylar. But she was free. The compulsion was gone.

  Free! Free of the Godking. On the floor, a lone horseman stood in front of the massive troll. Vi took her dagger and staggered toward her father. She grabbed his body and made him stand. She shook him.

  “Father! Father!” someone was screaming. Who the hell was screaming that on the battlefield? A moment later, Garoth realized what it must be and brought his consciousness back to the throne room. Logan could wait a few seconds. To hell with him if he didn’t want to know Jenine was alive.

  “Father,” Vi said, “can you tell me one thing?” She had obviously come to terms with her compulsion, because she was touching him.

  “ ‘Father?’ I’m right in the middle of something, do you mind?”

  “Did you make me kill Jarl? Was it compulsion?”

  He smiled. The lie came easy to his lips. “No, moulina. You did that yourself.”

  “Oh.” The single syllable popped like a little bubble from her lips.

  Garoth grinned and slid back into the ferali. Garoth roared toward the heavens and brought his scythe-arm back. Logan rode straight at him until his horse shied. Logan kicked and sawed at the reins, but the horse refused to obey. It turned around in a desperate circle and stumbled on a body. As Garoth swung the enormous scythe at a level to cut Logan in half, one of the mounted wytch hunters burst into the clearing and leapt out of his saddle, tackling Logan. The scythe swept through both horses’ necks and the beasts went crashing to the earth in twin sprays of blood.

  Logan rolled away and got to his feet. Beside him, the archer was already drawing an arrow. He shot one of Garoth’s eyes and then another. Garoth blinked and new eyes pushed out the old. It didn’t matter. Logan was standing, defiant but defenseless. Garoth’s next slash would tear the little man in half—

  Something hot went into his back. Once, twice, three times. Again and again. He lifted the ferali’s hands to its back, wondering what could pierce his thick hide, wondering why his other eyes hadn’t seen the attack, but there were no arrows or spears in his back.

  The ferali was fading, and as Logan charged at him to stick his sword in his belly, Garoth realized it wasn’t the ferali that was bleeding.

  He was.

  He heard the sound of weeping and he was back in the throne room.

  Vi was hugging him against her breast, and stabbing him, again and again, against herself, as if she wished the dagger would go all the way through him into her own heart.

  Garoth told his limbs to move, but they were empty slabs of meat. His body was dying, dying! and his vision was going black, black—

  He triggered the death spell. It was a terrible risk, trying to hurl his consciousness into another body. If Khali granted this, her price would be grievous, but he had nothing to lose.

  The vir ripped from his arms and engulfed Vi in a forest of black fingers. They pulled her closer.

  He was close! It was working! He could feel it!

  And then every finger of vir was sheared off by an iridescent blade passing between Garoth and Vi. The vir, cut off from their source, froze, cracked, and evaporated into black smoke. Garoth turned and saw the impossible.

  Kylar was alive. He stood with judgment writ on every feature and a blade of black ka’kari in his fist. Realization swept through Garoth like a tidal wave.

  The Devourer devoured life itself. The Sustainer sustained life itself. It was not just extended life or healing. It was true immortality. Garoth had had a chance for real godhood, and he’d let it slip right through his fingers. Impotent rage washed through him.

  Then Kylar’s ka’kari-blade descended once more toward his head.

  Logan rammed his sword into the troll’s belly and the creature rocked back. It dropped to its knees as if it had suddenly lost all coordination. Logan jumped backward and narrowly avoided being crushed. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but it didn’t seem that the troll’s reaction was right. Logan had seen it take worse wounds and not even flinch.

  Both armies’ eyes were fixed on Logan and the beast. Logan stabbed it again, and a third time, but the wounds sealed as soon as the sword pulled out.

  As it was still on its knees, the plates covering most of the beast’s stomach slid out to its sides—gurgling and grinding like a breaking nose, but repeated a hundred times. From the gap between the plates, something pressed out against the skin, bulging and glooping. In another second, the form resolved itself. Pushed out from the troll’s stomach, like a living bas-relief, was a woman. Her face worked and a mouth appeared.

  “I can’t fight it, King. So hungry. Just like in the Hole. I can’t stop, King. Look at what they made me. It won’t let me kill me, King. So hungry. Like the bread. So hungry.”

  “Lilly? I thought it was Garoth,” Logan said.

  “He’s gone. Dead. Tell me what to do, King. I can’t stop me. I’m so hungry it’s eating myself.”

  Logan realized that even in the time since Garoth Ursuul’s face had protruded from it, the tro
ll had shrunk. It was devouring itself. He had to do something fast. They couldn’t kill it. The beast healed its wounds without even conscious thought, and now the form of Lilly was becoming indistinct.

  “Lilly,” Logan said. “Lilly, listen to me.”

  She rallied, and her form protruded once more, though this time without a mouth.

  “Lilly, eat the Khalidorans. Eat them all, and run up into the mountains. All right?”

  But she was gone. The plates snapped back into place and the troll lumbered to its feet. It fixed its eyes on Logan and raised its scythe, all trace of Lilly gone.

  Logan walked straight toward it. “You wanted to make things right, Lilly? You remember, Lilly?” Logan asked, hoping that he could draw her back with the sound of her name. “You want to earn your pardon, Lilly? Am I your king or not?” The ferali blinked, paused. Logan’s voice pitched with an authority he’d never known he had, and pointing at the Khalidorans he shouted, “GO! KILL THEM! I COMMAND IT!”

  The ferali blinked, blinked. Then in a movement faster than any Garoth had ever made in it, it slashed an arm through the Khalidorans behind it. Logan turned and saw thousands of pairs of eyes locked on him in disbelief.

  Logan Gyre, the man who commanded a ferali to stop, and it did.

  The battle had come to a standstill. Khalidorans and Cenarians stood within easy reach of each other and didn’t fight. The ferali, easily thirty feet tall now, commanded all attention. It didn’t turn. It merely went gelatinous for a moment, and then what had been its front was its back, and it was facing the Khalidorans.

  A fireball arced up from a meister and ricocheted off its skin harmlessly. Ten more followed and did nothing. Lightning hit an instant later and barely left a black mark on its skin. The ferali crouched and flexed every muscle in its body. All the arms and armor that Garoth had incorporated in the beast exploded from its body in all directions, breastplates and mail shirts and spears and swords and war hammers and daggers and hundreds of arrows rattling to the ground in a great circle.

  A glowing white homunculus streaked out of the Khalidoran lines and stuck to the ferali. In a line between the Vürdmeister and the homunculus, the air seemed to distort as if anything viewed through it were being seen in a bent mirror. The air bubbled in a streak toward the ferali.

  Ten paces from the ferali, the distortion in the air ripped open with red fire. The pit wyrm struck. But its lamprey mouth closed on nothing. The ferali was unbelievably fast. The pit wyrm twisted, black and red fiery skin lurching further into reality, forty feet, sixty, with no sign of its body tapering.

  Logan heard weapons rattle to the ground, dropped from nerveless fingers as the titans warred.

  But the battle lasted only one strike more. The pit wyrm missed again, and the ferali didn’t. An enormous fist crushed the wyrm’s head and snapped its body like a whip onto the Khalidoran lines beneath it. It broke apart in bloodless black and red clumps that sizzled on the ground like water drops on a hot skillet, hissing into green smoke and disappearing.

  The ferali turned to the Khalidoran lines and a dozen arms sprang from its body. It began snatching up soldiers like a greedy child snatching sweetmeats.

  Then the men on both sides remembered the battle. The Cenarians remembered their weapons and the Khalidorans remembered their heels. They cast away weapons and shields to run faster.

  A shout went up as the Khalidorans around the ferali broke. Logan couldn’t believe it. The impossibility of it was too much to accept.

  “Who do you want to go after them?” General Agon asked. He and a bloodied Duke Wesseros had appeared out of nowhere.

  “No one,” Logan said. “She can’t tell friend from foe. Our fighting’s done.”

  “She?” Duke Wesseros asked.

  “Don’t ask.”

  Agon rode off shouting orders, and Logan turned to the man who’d tackled him from his horse. He didn’t recognize him. “You saved my life. Who are you?” Logan asked.

  The Sethi woman who’d been stuck to his side for the entire battle, Kaldrosa Wyn, stepped up. “My lord, this is my husband Tomman,” she said, fiercely proud.

  “You’re a brave man, Tomman, and no mean shot. What boon would you ask?”

  Tomman looked up, and inexplicably, his eyes shone. “You already gave me back more than I deserve. You gave me back my love, my lord. What’s more precious than that?” He extended his hand, and his wife took it.

  The Cenarian ranks reformed in the tightest square the generals could manage and just watched as the Khalidorans were massacred. There was no retreat. It was a rout. The rest of the circle broke, men running in every direction. The ferali tore through them. It became a snake and rolled over whole sections of the line, men sticking to its body, screaming. Then it was a dragon. Always it had dozens of hands. Always it was quick and terrible. Piteous screams rose on every side and men tore at each other in their panic. Some crouched behind the sheep fences, some huddled in the lee of boulders, some climbed trees at the edges of the field, but the creature was meticulous in its savagery. It picked up men everywhere—whether alive or dead or wounded or feigning death or hiding or fighting—and devoured them.

  Not all the Khalidorans fled. Some turned and fought. Some rallied their fellows and attacked with more courage than the Cenarians would have believed possible, perhaps more courage than they would have shown themselves. But in the face of that horror, courage was irrelevant. The brave and the cowardly, the high and the low, the good and the bad died alike. And the Cenarians watched open-mouthed, not one forgetting that the massacre should have been their own. The few times that a Cenarian here or there cheered, no one took up the cry. The ferali tore this way and that, not catching every group of Khalidorans, but getting most of them, and always, always veering far from the Cenarian ranks, as if it feared the temptation of going too near them.

  Finally, having devoured the last group large enough to be worth its time, the ferali fled toward the mountains. Cenaria was either blessed or lucky or Lilly was in better control than Logan had hoped, because it headed in a direction where there were no villages for a hundred miles.

  In the silence, someone let out a whoop. For a moment, it hung alone in the air. Logan had been given a new horse and, mounted, he turned and was again aware of thousands of eyes on him. Why were they all looking at him?

  Then someone cheered again and the thought wormed its way into Logan’s consciousness: They had won. Somehow, against everything, they had won.

  For the first time in months, Logan felt his mouth curl into a grin. That let loose a flood and suddenly, no one could stop smiling, or stop yelling, or stop pounding each other on the back. Which noble’s flag they had fought under no longer mattered. Agon’s Dogs embraced Cenaria City levies: former thieves and former guards standing together as friends. Nobles stood arm in arm with peasants, shouting together. The shattered links binding the country together seemed to be reforming even as Logan looked over the tight-packed army. They had won. The costs had been grievous, but they had stood against the might of a monster and the magic of a god, and they had won.

  A cry began to emerge over the sound of swords and spears pounding rhythmically against shields.

  “What are they saying?” Logan shouted to Agon, but even as he asked, Logan made out the words, shouted in time with each crash of sword on shield: “KING GYRE! KING GYRE! KING GYRE!” It was audacious; it was treasonous; it was beautiful. Logan looked through the throng for Terah Graesin. She was nowhere to be found. And then he did smile.

  72

  The dead god fell like a sack of wheat. Vi was trembling, but she didn’t seem to have been harmed by the vir that had wrapped around her. Kylar stared at Garoth Ursuul’s corpse, disbelieving.

  Kylar’s destiny was dead on the floor and Kylar hadn’t killed him.

  The Wolf had kept his part of the deal: Kylar was alive. But something felt different. Vi was staring at him, still shaking with emotion, tears still wet and hot on her ch
eeks. He glanced up and read shock and fear in every line of her body—along with a tinge of hope?

  What the hell? Since when can I see what a woman feels?

  Vi was spattered with the Godking’s blood. It was invisible against the background of her dark wetboy grays, but there was something terrible about seeing flecks of red wetness splattered in her cleavage.

  As Kylar looked at her, she was so distraught he wanted to take her in his arms. She needed him to love her, to lead her out of the valley of death that was the way of shadows. He knew the way out, now. It was love. They’d go find Uly, and he and Vi would walk that path together—

  Me and Vi?

  Her eyes went wide with fear and remorse. She was weeping. For a split second he wanted to understand, but then his fingers went slowly up to his ear. There was an earring there, a perfect hoop with no opening, and it was swimming with magic so potent he could feel it in his fingertips.

  “I’m so sorry,” she said, backing away. “I’m so sorry. It was the only way.” She turned and he saw his last gift to Elene—his pledge of love that he had sold his birthright for—sparkling in Vi’s ear.

  “What have you done?!” he bellowed, and he could see that his rage was amplified through the earring. As it buffeted her, he could feel her remorse and terror and confusion and desperation and self-loathing and… hells, her love? Love! How dare she love him?

  Vi fled.

  He didn’t follow. What would he do if he caught her?

  She burst through the main door of the throne room, and the guards looked after her, stunned.

  They turned and saw Kylar standing over the body of the Godking.

  Then it was whistles and alarms and charging highlanders and chanting meisters. Kylar was glad for the nepenthe of battle. It blotted out a future that would never hold Elene. It took all his attention. With only one hand, killing was actually a challenge.

 
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