The night angel trilogy, p.110
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.110

           Brent Weeks
 

  15

  Feir had asked for two hours to get Lantano Garuwashi’s sword out of Ezra’s Wood. He had no idea how much of that time had passed. In fact, he couldn’t remember how he’d come here. He looked up at the towering sequoys stretching to the sky.

  Well, at least, he knew where here was. He was definitely in Ezra’s Wood. He looked at his hands. Both of them were scraped and his knees hurt, as if he’d fallen. He touched his nose and could tell it had been broken and then set properly. There was still crusty, dried blood on his upper lip.

  Dorian had told him stories about men who’d taken a blow to the head and forgot themselves, either forgetting everything before the blow, or more commonly completely losing the ability to remember anything at all after the blow. They could meet a person, the person would walk out of the room, and five minutes later return and be greeted as a stranger once more. For several moments Feir felt a panic rising inside him at the very thought, but aside from his nose, his head didn’t feel as if he’d taken a blow. He could remember leaving Lantano Garuwashi, he could remember approaching the vast bubble of magics that surrounded Ezra’s Wood, and he could remember the turmoil within those magics as—miles to the east—the Lae’knaught had entered the Wood and been trapped within it. Feir had used that turmoil as a distraction for his own attempt. But from that point, he could remember nothing.

  He was facing the bubble now, as if he was leaving. He took a few more steps, disoriented and came around the trunk of another giant sequoy. Before him, not fifty paces away, just outside the magic, were Lantano Garuwashi and, oddly, Antoninus Wervel.

  Maybe I have gone mad. Antoninus Wervel was a red mage, one of the most powerful and most intelligent men to walk the halls of Sho’cendi in decades. He was a fat Modaini man, and he’d been a casual friend for years. To see him sitting awkwardly cross-legged beside Lantano Garuwashi, who sat as gracefully as he did everything, was surreal.

  Then the men saw Feir and both rose. Antoninus called something out, but though he was only forty paces away now, Feir couldn’t hear him.

  Feir walked straight to the wall of magic. Whatever clever magic he’d used to get into the Wood, it obviously hadn’t been clever enough. He was alive only by the forbearance of whatever it was that lived here. So Feir walked straight through the magic. It slid around him, and for a moment, he could swear something in the Wood felt amused.

  Then he was out.

  “What are you doing here?” he asked Antoninus Wervel.

  Antoninus laughed. “You escape the Wood, something no mage has done in seven centuries, and you ask what I’m doing?”

  “Do you have my sword?” Garuwashi demanded.

  Feir was carrying a pack strapped to his back that he hadn’t been carrying when he entered the Wood. “Him first,” he said.

  Antoninus lifted his kohled eyebrows, but said, “I came with a delegation from Sho’cendi to recover Curoch. After the Battle of Pavvil’s Grove, the delegation turned back. They were sure that if Curoch had been present in such a desperate battle with so many magi and meisters present, that someone would have tried to use it. No one did, so they decided to backtrack and follow other leads. The truth is, I don’t think Lord Lucius trusts everyone in our delegation. He and I don’t care for each other, but he knows where my loyalties lie, so he released me. So now it’s your turn, Feir. Did you recover Ceur’caelestos?”

  The Modaini was too damn smart. Feir could tell that the man had put together Feir, who’d held one nearly mythical sword, with the appearance of another nearly mythical sword and found no coincidence.

  Feir opened the pack. There was a note inside with directions and instructions, written awkwardly, as if the hand writing it had been writing in an unfamiliar language. Feir read it quickly and remembered bits and pieces of what had happened in the Wood. Setting the note aside, he pulled a hilt out of his pack—a hilt only, with no sword. It was a perfect replica of the one on Ceur’caelestos, and it would fit Lantano Garuwashi’s sheath perfectly. As long as the sa’ceurai didn’t draw his sword, no one would ever know.

  “What is this?” Lantano Garuwashi demanded.

  “It’s three months,” Feir said.

  “What?” Garuwashi asked.

  “That’s the time I need,” Feir said. “I’m a Maker, Garuwashi, and I received instructions in the Wood—a prophecy left by Ezra himself, centuries ago. If you prefer death, I will be your second, but if you want to live, take this hilt. Antoninus and I will go to Black Barrow and do things no one has done since Ezra’s time. I will make Ceur’caelestos for you by spring.” Or at least a damn good fake. “You can be the king you’ve always wished to be.”

  Lantano Garuwashi stood for a long moment, eyes hot and then cold, trapped between his desires and his honor. He swallowed. “You swear you will bring me my ceuros?”

  “I swear it.”

  Lantano Garuwashi took the hilt.

  Logan and Kylar rode at the head of Logan’s five hundred horse and nine hundred foot. Logan’s bodyguards rode ten paces back, giving them privacy. The sharpened-tooth simpleton Gnasher rode in his usual spot beside Logan, but he didn’t care what they might say; he just liked to be close. Kylar unrolled a worn letter.

  “Whatcha got?” Logan asked.

  Kylar gave him an inscrutable look, shrugged, and handed it to him. In small, tight handwriting, it said, “Hey, I thought it was my last one, too. He said I got one more for old time’s sake. He might even have been telling the truth. Be careful who you love. Don’t follow prophecies. Don’t let them use you to bring the High King. Your secret is your most important possession. You’re more important than I ever was, kid. Maybe for all those years I was just holding it for you. MAKE NO DEALS WITH THE WOLF.”

  “I assume this all means something to you,” Logan said.

  “Not all of it,” Kylar said.

  “Who’s the Wolf?” Logan asked.

  “Someone I made a deal with right before I found that letter.”

  “Ouch. And the High King?”

  Kylar grimaced. “That was part I was hoping you could help me with.”

  Logan thought. “There was a High King who held Cenaria and several other countries maybe four hundred years ago, but Cenaria’s been held by lots of different countries in the last thousand years. Sounds like an Ursuul thing. They’re the only ones in Midcyru in a position to rule over other kings. I’d guess they’re dredging up a prophecy to give themselves legitimacy. Is the secret what I think it is?” Logan asked.

  “Here we are,” Kylar said. They had circled Ezra’s Wood, looking for signs of the Lae’knaught. Kylar said it was something Logan needed to see for himself.

  Fifty paces away, Logan saw a wall of dead men. Hundreds of them pressed against an invisible barrier, trying to escape the forest. In places, bodies were piled twenty feet deep as men had clambered over the dead, hoping to reach the top of the invisible wall. There was no movement. No one was merely injured. Every body had been mangled, torn with sharp claws that must have had godlike strength. Helmets had been crushed flat. Heads were simply missing. Swords had been snapped like twigs. Even the horses were dead, heads torn off, sinews ripped through the skin, some muscles snapped instead of torn.

  For as far as the eye could see into the sequoys, there was only devastation, and as far as the eye could see west and east, Lae’knaught were pressed against an invisible wall. They’d tested every place they could before dying, and found it everywhere impregnable. Gore still drained from the bodies, sliding against the wall like glass, but strangely, there was no smell. The magic sealed in even the air.

  Logan heard vomiting from his bodyguards.

  “The villagers of Torras Bend say someone tries to go into the Wood every generation. It happens so much that their term for suicide is ‘walking into the Wood,’ ” Kylar said. Logan turned. Kylar’s eyes were hollow, stricken. “I did this,” Kylar said. “I lured them here so they’d fall into the Ceurans’ trap instead of you. The
se souls are on my tab.”

  “Our scouts heard the fighting. That’s why we held back. What you did here saved fourteen hundred lives—”

  “At the cost of five thousand.”

  “—and maybe saved Cenaria.” Logan stopped. It wasn’t making a dent. “Captain,” he said. “Bring the men forward in groups. I want everyone to see this. I don’t want any Cenarian to ever make the mistake we almost did.”

  Kaldrosa Wyn saluted, obviously glad to be given a duty to take her away from the massacre.

  Logan changed tack. “Kylar, I know you think you’re a bad man, but I’ve never seen anyone who will go to the lengths you will to do what you’ve decided is right. You are an amazingly moral man, and I trust you, and you’re my best friend.” Logan looked steadily at Kylar to let him read the truth.

  Kylar gave a sarcastic, you-can’t-be-serious grimace that slowly melted. The tension left his face as the truth sank in. Logan meant every word. Kylar blinked suddenly. Once, twice, and then looked away.

  Oh, my friend, what have you gone through that being called moral nearly makes you weep? Or was it being called friend? Logan thought. He had been isolated for months in the Hole and found it hell. Kylar had been isolated for his entire life.

  “But?” Kylar asked.

  Logan heaved a deep sigh. “Not stupid either, are you?” Kylar flashed that old mischievous grin, and Logan loved him fiercely. “But you were a wetboy, Kylar, and now you’re something even more dangerous. I can’t claim that I don’t know what you might do to Terah—”

  “Do you really trust me?” Kylar interrupted.

  Logan paused, maybe for too long. “Yes,” he said finally.

  “Then this conversation is finished.”

  16

  Dorian,” Jenine said, “I think you should come look at this.”

  He stepped to the window and looked out over Khaliras. Marching into the city were twenty thousand soldiers, two thousand horses, and two hundred meisters. Dorian’s little brother Paerik had returned from the Freeze. Serfs were piling out of the way of a group of horsemen who had advanced before the army. Dorian didn’t have to see the banners to know it had to be Paerik himself.

  Dorian and Jenine ran down the stairs two at a time, winding down and down to the base of the Tygre Tower. The grim cats favored him with their fanged smiles, mocking him. There was still time. If they could get to the front gate, they could cross Luxbridge a few minutes before Paerik arrived.

  As always, the slaves’ tunnels were dark. In the distance, figures clashed with sword and spell, but Dorian was able to take them around the worst of the fray. He could See his half-brothers from a great distance.

  The path they were forced to take took them down a rough hewn stone tunnel past the Khalirium, where the goddess resided. The very stone down here stank of vir. Dorian rounded a corner a mere hundred paces from the castle’s front gate and found himself staring at the back of an aetheling. Usually, he would have Seen the young man, but the proximity of the Khalirium confused him. He froze. Jenine yanked him back into the rough tunnel.

  “Khali’s not here!” the aetheling said.

  Someone else cursed. “Moburu really took her to Cenaria? Damn him. He really does think he’s the High King.”

  “So much for seizing Khali. What do we do now?” the first asked.

  Khali was still in Cenaria? No wonder it didn’t feel quite as oppressive down here as Dorian remembered.

  “We gotta join Draef. If we help him stop Paerik at the bridge, he might let us live. Paerik or Tavi will kill us no matter what.”

  Dorian and Jenine scooted back into the tunnel as quickly and as quietly as they could, but it was almost fifty paces before it intersected with another hallway. No way they could run that far without the aethelings hearing or seeing them. As soon as they found a large cavity in the rough wall, Dorian pushed Jenine into it and then pressed himself as close as he could, but his thin sleeve caught on the stone and tore.

  One of the aethelings stepped into the tunnel and raised his staff. A flame blazed up on it, illuminating the hall and his face. He was perhaps fourteen, as was the youth beside him. Both were short and slender and homely, bearing little of their father’s robust good looks, and only a small portion of his power.

  I can take them. Even with southern magic, Dorian was stronger than they were. But he didn’t want it to come to that. Come on, turn. Turn.

  If they turned, Dorian could take a shortcut and beat them to Luxbridge. With the advantage of surprise and with Khali hundreds of miles away, he could surely take this Draef and cross Luxbridge. Everything was so close he could taste it. Had not the God favored him already by holding off the snows?

  Lord, please…

  “I swear I heard something,” one of the boys said.

  “We don’t have time for this, Vic,” the other said.

  But Vic strode forward, his staff held high. He came within ten paces and paused. Dorian readied himself.

  Hold, a quiet voice said, cutting through the jumble of Dorian’s thoughts. Take the chutes.

  For a moment, Dorian believed it was the voice of the God. He could remember the exact positions the levers required. Dorian could easily overcome two meisters who weren’t expecting him. From there, he and Jenine could climb out—there had to be a stair out for the meisters. Of course, he’d already thought about it for himself, but not for Jenine. The thought of riding a sewage chute down the God-only-knew how many feet in the close darkness with the stench all around was horrible enough for him, and he’d been working human waste.

  Jenine would think he was a coward, running away from fourteen-year-old boys. Maybe she wouldn’t come with him at all. Maybe she would come, but despise him afterward. What kind of man makes the woman he loves crawl through shit?

  Vic stepped closer. Five paces away now. Dorian was frozen, one eye exposed. Surely Vic would see them. He had to! And if Dorian didn’t raise some defense, Vic would murder them where they stood. But if he did raise a defense, Vic would sense it. Either way was a decision.

  It wasn’t the voice of the God. It was the voice of fear. I can take them.

  Dorian stepped out of the crevice and lashed out at Vic with fire missiles.

  He recognized his mistake the moment the missiles diverted and flew down the tunnel toward Vic’s brother. The boys were twins. Fraternal twins or Dorian would have recognized it at once. Twins could make a weave to protect each other at the expense of protecting themselves. That defense, if given fully, was far stronger than a meister could give himself.

  The counterstrike came from Vic, much stronger than he should have been capable of. It was a hammerfist, a spinning blue cone that in his youthful enthusiasm Vic had actually embellished to look like a flaming fist. Rather than dodge it, Dorian had to stop it completely to make sure it didn’t kill Jenine behind him. Another fist came a second later from Vic’s twin, rattling stones down from the low ceiling of the tunnel. Dorian blocked it, too, suddenly aware of how much magic he’d used today. He was getting exhausted.

  With fingers of magic, he reached beneath Vic’s shield and twisted it onto himself. It surprised the boy so much that he abandoned his next attack. Down the hall, his twin did not. His next hammerfist was whipped in a tight circle by the shield that was now protecting Dorian, and arced into Vic instead. It crushed his body flat against the tunnel wall.

  Dorian flung a single fire missile down the hall. With Vic dead, the twin was now unshielded, and the fire missile pierced his chest. He grunted and fell.

  Picking up Vic’s staff—the damn thing was an amplifiae, it was what had made the aetheling’s blows more powerful than they ought to have been—Dorian pulled Jenine down the hall. They could still make it to the bridge. It was close now. The last hallway was clear, and though the mighty gate was closed, the sally port opened from the inside.

  Almost there!

  With a boom, the mighty double gates were flung open. The rancid stench of vir wash
ed over Dorian and Jenine. Four young men stood before them, their skin awash with the knotted dark tattoo-like vir. They were ready; they’d sensed Dorian coming.

  Dorian threw up a hurried shield, as thick as he could manage with the rest of his Talent, and turned to flee. The damned amplifiae didn’t help at all; it was attuned to vir. In rapid succession, the shield absorbed a hammerfist, eight fire missiles, the staccato jabs of a needler, and the diffuse flame called a dragon tongue, meant to finish an opponent after his shields were down. But Dorian’s shields weren’t down, he could survive another wave so long as none of them dared a pit wyrm.

  “Draef!” a young man called out triumphantly from behind Dorian. It was Tavi, with three of his own aethelings, blocking the hall’s other exit. The first group stopped attacking Dorian instantly.

  Dorian looked from one camp to the other, and they looked at him. He and Jenine were trapped between them. “Hold!” Dorian shouted. “I am Dorian Ursuul, the Son-That-Was. I know they expunged my name from the records, but I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors. I’m real, and you can’t afford to attack me.”

  Tavi spat. “You’re not even a meister.”

  “Why?” Draef asked at the same time.

  “Even if I were only a magus, I won’t go down easily. If either of you attack me, you’ll leave yourselves open to be attacked by the other. But I am an Ursuul of the twelfth shu’ra.” Just a touch, just a touch. He could manage that much and still not surrender to the vir.

  Dorian reached down, and the vir rushed from the depths like a leviathan and rode the surface of his skin in great knots that obscured almost all of his skin. Quickly, he pushed it back.

 
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