The night angel trilogy, p.102
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.102

           Brent Weeks
 

  Lantano Garuwashi couldn’t stop touching the Blade of Heaven, though of course he kept it sheathed. Once a sa’ceurai drew his sword, he did not sheathe it without first letting it taste blood. As night descended, his men covered the mouth of the cave so their campfires wouldn’t be seen by the celebrating Cenarians. After conferring with the spy who’d returned from the Cenarian camp, Garuwashi stood up on a ledge.

  In the firelight, his men’s eyes glowed with destiny. They had seen wonders denied to their fathers and grandfathers before them. The Blade of Heaven had returned.

  Garuwashi began without preliminaries, as was his way. “The Cenarians did not win this battle. That creature won it for them. Tonight, they drink. Tomorrow, they will begin hunting down the scattered Khalidorans. Do you want to know what we will be doing while these buffoons swat at flies?” Men nodded. They held the Blade of Heaven. They followed the Garuwashi. They were invincible.

  “Tonight, we will gather the uniforms of the Khalidoran dead. At dawn, we will attack and inflict enough losses to infuriate the Cenarians. We will draw their army east, always just slipping through their fingers. In three days, the rest of our army will arrive here. In five, they will take the undefended Cenaria City. In a month, this country will be ours. In the spring, we will return to Ceura and give them their new king. What do you say?”

  Every man cheered but one. Feir Cousat sat silent, stoic. His face might as well have been carved of marble.

  EPILOGUE

  Horses’ hooves clattered behind Dorian as he came over the last rise in the foothills and saw Khaliras. He stepped aside and waited patiently, enrapt by the view. The city was still two days’ distant, but between the Faltier Mountains and Mount Thrall the plains spread broad and flat. The city and the castle rose with the mountain, one lonely spike in an ocean of grazing land. It had once been his home.

  The party began passing Dorian, riding on magnificent horses. Dorian got down on his knees and gave a peasant’s obeisance. It wasn’t a normal scouting party. Nor were they regular soldiers, though their armor said they were. Their weapons and horses gave them away. The six huge soldiers were members of the Godking’s Guard. And from their smell, despite the half-cloaks, the meisters accompanying them were actually Vürdmeisters. They could only be coming from Cenaria, probably bearing great riches in the few chests they carried.

  Dorian was stealing brief glimpses when he saw the real treasure. A woman rode with meisters, wearing thick robes, her face veiled. Something seemed oddly familiar about the way she carried herself, and then he saw her eyes.

  It was the woman he’d foreseen. His future wife. A shiver passed through his whole body and he remembered bits and pieces of his old prophecies—something about the process of searing his gift had blocked his memories of them.

  When he came to himself, he was still kneeling. His muscles were cramped and the sun hung low in the sky. The party was miles ahead of him out on the grasslands. He’d been unconscious for half the day.

  Solon, where are you? I need you here. But Dorian knew the answer. If Solon had survived Screaming Winds, he was probably already sailing home to Seth to face his lost love. That woman, now Empress Kaede Wariyamo, would be furious. Because of Dorian’s prophecies, Solon had abandoned his homeland in its hour of need. Dorian could only hope that Solon’s path wasn’t as lonely as his own.

  Because even without prophecy, Dorian knew that whichever way he went, he would walk a path in darkness, alone, suffering so much that giving up his visions had seemed a good idea.

  With fear and trembling, Dorian stood. He looked at the path before him and the path behind, the road to Khaliras and his future wife—Jenine, that was her name!—or the road back to his friends. Death and love, or life and loneliness. The God felt as distant as a summer in the Freeze.

  Face set, back straight, Dorian continued his long walk to Khaliras.

  Ghorran was always watching Elene, his gaze dark, intense. The first day, that hadn’t been a problem, because she hadn’t needed to relieve herself. The second day, it had. Elene had followed him a short distance into the woods, then stepped behind a bush for some privacy. He waited until she was squatting and lifting her skirts, and then followed her just to shame her. Of course, then she couldn’t go.

  That night, as they did each night and each morning, the Khalidorans prayed, “Khali vas, Khalivos ras en me, Khali mevirtu rapt, recu virtum defite.” Ghorran threw Elene to the ground and straddled her. As he prayed, he ground his fingers into the pressure points behind her ears. She screamed and felt warm wetness soak her dress as she lost control of her bladder.

  When the prayer was finished, Ghorran got up, clouted her ear, and said, “You stink, filthy bitch.”

  They didn’t let her wash when they crossed a small mountain stream. When Ghorran took her aside that evening, Elene hiked up her skirts and relieved herself as he watched. He took no special delight in watching until she blushed and looked away. “Tomorrow,” he said, “I make you wear shit on your face. Yours or someone else’s. Your choice.”

  “Why do you do this?” Elene asked. “Isn’t there anything decent in you?”

  The next morning, however, they were awakened early. They set out immediately. The captives traveled in a line, tied together, walking behind the Khalidorans. Elene was sixth in line out of six captives with the young boy, Herrald, right in front of her. It took her a while to figure out why the Khalidorans were anxious because they beat the captives if they talked.

  There were only five Khalidoran soldiers this morning.

  That night, Ghorran seemed to have forgotten his threat. When he took Elene aside to let her relieve herself, he kept the camp in easy sight. Elene squatted among the tamaracks, which were dropping their golden needles with the onset of autumn, and pretended his presence didn’t bother her. “The meisters might meet up with us tomorrow,” Ghorran said, keeping his eyes on the camp. “We’ll hand all of you over then. That bastard Haavin probably run off, the coward.”

  Elene stood, and not ten paces from the oblivious Ghorran, she saw a man leaning against a tree. The stranger wore a multitude of cloaks, vests, pocketed shirts, and pouches of all sizes, all of them horsehide, all tanned the same deep brown and worn soft from long use. Twin, forward-curving gurkas were tucked into the back of his belt, an elaborately scrimshawed bow case was slung over his back, and hilts of various sizes hung among the garments. He had an affable face; wry, almond-shaped brown eyes; and loose straight black hair: a Ymmuri stalker. He touched a finger to his lips.

  “You finished?” Ghorran asked, glancing toward her.

  “Yes,” Elene said. She glanced back to the stalker, but he was gone.

  There were only four soldiers when they camped that night at the edge of the woods to take advantage of the shelter of the trees. The Khalidorans quarreled about whether they should press on in the darkness or if Haavin and the other missing man had really run away. The night was short, and Ghorran woke Elene in the dark of the morning.

  He took her silently into the woods. She hiked up her skirts like it didn’t bother her. “How did your chest get hurt?” Elene asked.

  “That wild bitch stabbed me with a pitchfork after I killed her husband and gutted her brats.” He shrugged, like letting her stab him was a moment of carelessness, embarrassing but not serious.

  To Ghorran, eviscerating children held no special significance. He had hurt Elene and shamed her; she could forgive those. But that dismissive shrug blew on the small spark of fury in her heart. For the first time in her life since Rat, Elene hated.

  Ghorran had brought a bow with him and now he strung it. “This day, we get to camp,” he said, “Neph Dada will do terrible things to you.” Ghorran licked his dry lips. “I can save you.”

  “Save me?”

  “What he does should not be done. It is Lodricari foulness. If you run now, I will put an arrow in your back and spare you.”

  His mercy was so bizarre that Elene’s hatred dis
solved.

  A flash of light burst from the camp fifty paces behind them, throwing shadows against the trees. A scream followed it. Then the sound of galloping horses.

  Elene turned and saw a dozen unfamiliar Khalidoran horsemen charging into the camp from the north. They had come early to collect their slaves.

  “Run!” a shout rang out, louder than a man should have been able to yell.

  Through the trees, Elene saw the Ymmuri stalker fighting the Khalidorans. He cut through two of them in a single move. Fire leapt from one of the horsemen’s hands, but he dodged it.

  Ghorran nocked an arrow and drew it, but there were too many trees and Khalidorans between him and the Ymmuri. Then, only paces away, the young boy Herrald burst from the woods, running away.

  Ghorran turned and aimed, leading his new target.

  All Elene thought was no.

  She grabbed Ghorran’s dagger from his belt, brought it over his arm, and buried it in his throat. He spasmed and the arrow leapt from the bow, whistling harmlessly over Herrald’s head.

  The bow dropped from Ghorran’s fingers, and he and Elene regarded each other, shock widening his eyes. The dagger was lodged squarely in the center of his throat, its wide blade blocking his windpipe. He exhaled, his chest straining, and air whistled. He put a hand to his throat and felt the blade, still unbelieving.

  Then he tried to inhale. His diaphragm pumped like a bellows, but he couldn’t get air. He fell to his knees. Elene couldn’t move.

  Ghorran ripped the dagger out of his throat and gasped, but the gasp turned to a gurgle. He coughed and blood sprayed over Elene.

  He kept trying to breathe as his lungs filled with blood. In moments, he dropped to the forest floor.

  Despite the blood on her face, her dress, and her hands, despite the piteous look on Ghorran’s face and the horror of watching a man die, Elene didn’t feel sorry. She had hated Ghorran only a minute before, but she hadn’t killed him out of hatred. He simply had to be stopped. If she could have the moment back, she’d do the same thing. And just like that, she understood.

  “My God, what a fool I’ve been,” she said aloud. “Forgive me, Kylar.”

  With magic bursting in the woods behind her, setting the trees alight, Elene ran.

  On the north side of Vos Island in the gloom of the rainy autumn day, Kylar stood staring at the unmarked cairn he’d built. Durzo’s grave.

  Kylar was spattered with blood, his wetboy grays scored and singed with magic. In a rage he’d fought for hours, killing every Khalidoran soldier and meister he laid eyes on. From the slowly diminishing magic on the throne room’s floor, he’d seen Logan’s stand, seen the ferali turn, and witnessed the destruction of the Khalidoran army. He’d seen how the men had looked at Logan. Though the figures were tiny, it was written in every line of their bodies.

  Logan would march his army home, and in two days when they arrived, he would find his castle swept out and cleansed of the Khalidoran presence—except for Khali, but that was one creature Kylar was going to steer clear of. Let King Gyre invite some mages to take care of that.

  “We won, I guess,” he told Durzo’s grave. Kylar knew there was no use railing against his life. He was the Night Angel, and he didn’t get celebrations. As Durzo had told him long ago, he would always be separate, alone.

  ~It is just so hard to be immortal,~ the ka’kari said.

  Kylar was too exhausted to be surprised or offended. The ka’kari had spoken before, he remembered now, trying to save his life. “So you can talk,” he said.

  The ka’kari puddled into his hand and formed a stylized face. It smiled and winked at him. Kylar sighed and sucked it back into his skin.

  Kylar stared at his stump. He’d lost his arm for nothing. He’d made an oath to the Wolf for nothing. Everything Kylar had ever learned, everything he’d ever suffered, had been for one thing: killing Garoth Ursuul was Kylar’s destiny. Garoth was the vile fount from which Kylar’s and Jarl’s and Elene’s misery flowed. It was only fitting that the man who’d led Kylar to become a wetboy would be Kylar’s last deader. Without Garoth, there would be no Roth. Without Roth, Elene would be unscarred, Jarl would be alive and whole, and Kylar would be—what?—well, not a wetboy.

  Count Drake had once told Kylar, “There’s a divinity that shapes beauty from our rough-hewn lives.” It was a lie, as Kylar’s destiny was a lie. Perhaps that was why this was so hard: he’d begun to believe in Elene’s divine economy. So now he hadn’t just lost Elene, who’d been part of him from the beginning, who’d made Kylar believe good things about himself; he’d also lost his destiny. If he had a destiny, he had a purpose: some pearl being built around the evil he’d suffered and inflicted. If he’d been shaped for a purpose, maybe there was a Shaper. If there was a Shaper, perhaps its name was the One God. And perhaps that One God was a bridge over the chasm between killer and saint that separated Kylar from Elene. But there was no bridge, no God, no Shaper, no purpose, no destiny, no beauty. There was no going back. He’d been cheated of justice and vengeance and love and purpose at once.

  He’d thought he could change, that he could buy peace for the price of an old sword. But Retribution was only an instrument of justice. It was Kylar who thirsted to mete it out. He’d killed many men today, and he couldn’t make himself feel sorry for it. This was what it was to be the Night Angel. Perhaps a better man could lay down the sword. Kylar could not, not even though it had cost him Elene.

  Every time he thought of Elene, her face morphed into Vi’s. Every time he thought of Vi, his fantasies morphed from meting out punishment to fantasies of another kind.

  “Master,” he said to the cairn. “I don’t know what to do.”

  Finish the job. He knew exactly the intonation Durzo would have given the words, exasperated but firm.

  It was true. The Wolf had fulfilled his part of the deal: Kylar had come back from death immediately. It turned out to be a lousy trade, but a deal was a deal, so Kylar would go steal Curoch and ride to Torras Bend and get his arm back. It sounded simple enough. After all, stealing wasn’t hard when you could make yourself invisible. It wouldn’t be a second too soon to get his arm back, either. His stump was aching, and he wouldn’t have thought it, but losing a hand threw off his balance.

  You’re not here because you don’t know what to do, boy. You always knew what to do.

  That was true, too. Kylar would do this job and then go find Vi and kill her.

  ~You won’t kill her,~ the ka’kari said.

  “Chatty all of a sudden, aren’t you?” Kylar asked.

  The ka’kari didn’t answer. It was right, though. Kylar wasn’t here for direction. Not really. He just missed his master. It was the first time he’d been to the grave since Durzo had died.

  Tears started flowing, and Kylar knew only that they were tears of loss. He’d lost his master; he’d lost the girl he betrayed his master to save; he’d lost his master’s daughter. He’d lost his one chance at a peaceful life. Mild-mannered herbalist! It had been a sweet delusion, maybe, but it had been sweet. Kylar was lonely, and he was tired of being lonely.

  A gopher had dug a hole near the foot of Durzo’s cairn. Durzo would be pissed if he had to spend eternity with gophers pawing his corpse. Kylar looked at the hole, irritated. It was deep enough that to normal eyes, the hole would just appear black, but Kylar saw a distinct metallic glimmer at the bottom.

  He got on his knees and his stump—oww—and shifted to his elbow—better—and reached in. He stood with a small, sealed metal box in hand. One word was etched on it: “Azoth.” It sent a shiver through him. How many people knew that name? Kylar cracked it open awkwardly between his stump and one hand. There was a note inside.

  “Hey,” it said in Durzo’s tight handwriting, “I thought it was my last one, too. He said I got one more for old time’s sake…” Kylar eyes blurred. He couldn’t believe it. The letter went on, but his eyes were drawn to the final words: “MAKE NO DEALS WITH THE WOLF.” The letter was da
ted a month after Kylar had killed his master. Durzo was alive.

  BOOK 3

  Beyond the Shadows

  For Kristi, for all the usual reasons

  &

  For my dad, for your excellence and your integrity,

  and for raising kids who whisper, “Peep!”

  1

  Logan Gyre was sitting in the mud and blood of the battlefield of Pavvil’s Grove when Terah Graesin came to him. It was barely an hour since they’d routed the Khalidorans, when the monstrous ferali forged to devour Cenaria’s army had turned instead on its Khalidoran masters. Logan had issued the orders that seemed most pressing, then dismissed everyone to join the revelries that were sweeping the Cenarian camp.

  Terah Graesin came to him alone. He was sitting on a low rock, heedless of the mud. His fine clothes were so spattered with blood and worse they were a total loss anyway. Terah’s dress, by contrast, was clean except for the lower fringe. She wore high shoes, but even those couldn’t keep her entirely free of the thick mud. She stopped before him. He didn’t stand.

  She pretended not to notice. He pretended not to notice that her bodyguards—unbloodied from battle—were hidden in the trees less than a hundred paces away. Terah Graesin could have only one reason to come to him: she was wondering if she was still the queen.

  If Logan hadn’t been so bone-weary, he would have been amused. Terah had come to him alone as a show of vulnerability or fearlessness. “You were a hero today,” Terah said. “You stopped the Godking’s beast. They’re saying you killed him.”

  Logan shook his head. He’d stabbed the ferali, and then the Godking had left it, but other men had given it more grievous wounds than he had. Something else had stopped the Godking, not Logan.

  “You commanded it to destroy our enemies, and it did. You saved Cenaria.”

  Logan shrugged. It already seemed long ago.

  “I guess the question is,” Terah Graesin said, “did you save Cenaria for yourself, or for all of us?”

 
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