The night angel trilogy, p.111
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.111
 

           Brent Weeks

  The aethelings, all of them sixteen or seventeen years old at most, looked at him with awe. Several of the boys standing with Tavi looked on the verge of bolting.

  “An illusion!” Tavi shouted, hysteria edging his voice.

  “An illusion that smells?” Draef asked contemptuously. Yes, Draef is the first of this seed class. Tavi’s the pretender. “What do you want?” Draef asked.

  “Just to leave. I’ll go, and then you can slaughter each other to your heart’s content.” As he addressed Draef, Dorian let his eyes go to the staff amplifiae he carried. He hadn’t used the aetheling’s hand speech in years, but with his body blocking Tavi’s view, he moved his hands to signal over the amplifiae—for you.

  Draef’s eyes glittered. The amplifiae would be enough to turn the battle.

  “Dorian,” Jenine whispered. She was still slouched unassumingly by his side, trying to look like a body servant, and Dorian wasn’t about to draw attention to her.

  “Fair enough, get out,” Draef said. His fingers signaled when?

  Through clenched teeth, Jenine whispered, “Tavi’s looking at me funny.”

  Dorian was trying to remember the finger speech vocabulary he hadn’t used for so many years to answer Draef’s question. There it was, he remembered. When we get to the bridge.

  Draef looked satisfied, though tension still stood stark on every feature, and Dorian and Jenine started walking. Only now did Dorian risk a look back to Tavi. He was afraid that the young man’s quick hatred might be roused even by meeting his eyes. Dorian had won, but with the overweening arrogance this aetheling possessed, it was best not to appear to take any joy in the victory.

  The eight aethelings all had their eyes jumping from Dorian to their opponents on the opposite side of the hall. For them, any move Dorian made might be the distraction they or their enemy might take advantage of. And whether he made out of the hall alive or not, they would fight. Soon.

  Out of the side of his mouth, Dorian said, “Remember to walk like a—” It was too late; Jenine had been drilled on proper comportment for far too long.

  “She stays!” Tavi shouted suddenly and reached out with vir to grab Jenine.

  The move set one of Draef’s boys off. He threw up a crackling shield reflexively.

  That unleashed a magical firestorm. Dorian threw a shield around himself and Jenine. A fire missile made it through before the shield formed and scored his ribs. He hunched and almost lost the shield. Jenine grabbed him and held him upright.

  The hall filled with magic, stroke and counterstroke, gouts of fire, lightning bolts that smote the rocks as shields diverted them, the rocks cascading from the ceiling turned into missiles themselves and hurled down the hall. Most of the attacks weren’t directed at Dorian and Jenine, but they were in the line of fire.

  Dorian’s shield thinned, layer after layer snapping, melting, withering. The aethelings were all fresh. This battle would last long after Dorian’s shields finally gave way. He was going to die, and worse, he was going to let Jenine die. He had failed her.

  No, not while I have breath. God, forgive me for what I’m about to do. It was no true prayer to beg forgiveness while choosing to sin—but he meant it fervently all the same.

  Dorian reached to the vir. It came, joyfully.

  Someone was screaming, a terrible scream compounded a hundred times by the vir to shake every hall and tunnel of the Citadel. Dorian stood and flung his arms out. As they passed in front of him, he saw that his skin had totally disappeared beneath the all-absorbing, wriggling blackness. Nor did the vir stop at the bounds of his body. They lashed out from his arms—out farther and farther, like great wings—and came down on either side, barely registering the aethelings’ last desperate attacks.

  He felt the boys crunch beneath those mighty wings like beetles popping under his boot. Their shields broke like shells and the softness within was ground to gory smears on the rock.

  The vir sang power and hatred and strength. It is vile, and I love it.

  He stopped screaming, and it was long seconds before the sound stopped echoing back from the Citadel’s halls. Dorian quieted the vir from his skin with effort. “Are you all right?”

  Jenine’s big, beautiful eyes were wider than he’d ever seen them. She tried to speak, couldn’t, and nodded instead.

  “I’m sorry,” Dorian said. “It was that or die. We’re almost there.”

  But as they stepped through the now-smoking gate, Dorian saw that he was wrong. Halfway across the glowing spans of Luxbridge was a man in a majestic white ermine cloak like Garoth Ursuul had worn. He wore the gold chains of a Godking around his neck and vir swam on his skin.

  Dorian’s brother Paerik Ursuul had come to claim his throne, and blocking the bridge with him stood six full Vürdmeisters.

  17

  On the third night, after they made it through Forglin’s Pass and set up camp, Dehvi finally spoke to Vi. “Let us train together, wetboy.”

  “I’m not a wetboy,” Vi said quickly.

  “You were Hu Gibbet’s apprentice.”

  Vi’s mouth dried up. “Yes.” The very name brought back ugly memories.

  Dehvi drew a pair of sais. “The Night Angel did kill him.”

  “I know. I couldn’t be happier.” Vi wished she’d had the guts to do it herself.

  The smile faded into puzzlement. “You seek no vengeance?”

  “I’ve fucked men for smaller favors. I wanted to kill Hu since I was thirteen.”

  Dehvi scowled. “Too much talk.” He bent over Vi’s bedroll where she had put her sword. He poked the point of one sai at the juncture of blade and hilt and flicked her sword to her. She caught it and tested the edge. It was blunted with a thin shield of magic, but a strong blow would still cut. Dehvi checked all six points of his sais. Vi had never fought against sais. A sai looked like a short sword with a narrow blade, except that the hilts swept in a broad U for catching blades. Each tine was sharpened.

  Holding the sais in one hand, Dehvi removed his horsehide cloak and draped it over a rock. Vi followed suit reluctantly. Then Dehvi turned, bowed, said something incomprehensible in Ymmuri, spun the sais in his hands, and took an impossibly low ready stance.

  Vi’s doubts about such a low stance were broken at the first clash. She lunged toward his face. He nearly leapt forward, catching her sword with one sai and then the other and twisting as he sprang like a snake. Vi’s sword spun from her grasp and she found a sai touching her throat while the other jabbed the small of her back. Dehvi’s face was impassive. He stepped back wordlessly and flicked her blade back to her.

  She lasted fifteen seconds the second time, and didn’t lose her blade, though Dehvi twisted it far out of the way and touched her ribs with the other sai. After a few minutes, she was beginning to understand. Then Dehvi changed stances. He sidestepped her first cut, not even using the sais, and swept her feet out from under her.

  She pulled herself out of the mud and found him grinning. Hu Gibbet had leered at her sometimes, and mocked her often, but Dehvi’s grin was innocent. It suggested that if she could see herself, she’d laugh too.

  Suddenly, she was crying, hot tears spilling down her cheeks. Dehvi gave her the look she deserved: utter bewilderment. She laughed at the ridiculousness of it, rubbing her tears away. “Hu shit on everything, Dehvi. Every time he trained me, it was all mockery and bruises and humiliation. For fuck’s sake, this is actually fun. And I’m learning so much more from you. You’re better than he ever was. No wonder you kick ass.”

  “Asses I have kicked,” Dehvi said. “Though finding them less sensitive than other places.”

  Vi laughed and blinked her eyes to keep that bizarre flood down.

  “You did marry in Waeddryner way,” Dehvi said. He tugged his own ear to indicate her earring. “But are not Waeddryner. Who is husband?”

  Well, that helped with the crying. She cleared her throat. “Kylar Stern. Sort of.”

  Dehvi’s eyebrows raised.


  “It’s, uh, complicated.”

  He shrugged and drew a sword. He touched the edge to make sure it was shielded, and they began sparring again. Vi sank into it, releasing her worries about the life she was fleeing from and the life she was fleeing to. Even as she lost, time and again feeling the dull poke of Dehvi’s sword, for the first time she had the sense that fighting was something she was really good at. When she countered a move that had caught her before, Dehvi might barely nod, but it was as good as effusive praise.

  Dehvi shifted fighting styles no less than six times, and Vi sensed that he knew quite a few more, but the last one felt familiar. Vi was sunk so deep into her own body that she barely noticed that she’d spoken until she saw Dehvi miss a step. Her riposte brushed his stomach. She’d said two words: “You’re Durzo.” Her eyes told her it was impossible. Her knowledge of illusory masks told her it was impossible. But she knew, and his reaction confirmed it. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

  “It was the accent, wasn’t it? Always takes me a while to get it back. You got some Ymmuri uncle or something?” Dehvi said, his voice abruptly Cenarian.

  “You fight like Kylar. What are you doing here?”

  “You bonded Kylar with the most powerful surviving set of compulsive wedding rings in the world. Was that your own idea?”

  “The Godking put a compulsion on me. Sister Ariel said ringing was the way to break it.”

  “I thought Kylar was in love with that Elene girl. Why’d he marry you?”

  Vi swallowed. “I sort of ringed him when he was unconscious.”

  Dehvi’s expression went blank, and Vi had a sudden intuition that Durzo’s blank look was as indicative of pending violence as Hu Gibbet’s rages. Dehvi said softly, “I’m here to decide if I should kill you to free Kylar from the bond. You’re not making much of a case for yourself.”

  She tossed her sword into the mud and shrugged. Fuck it. Kill me.

  Dehvi-Durzo looked at her strangely, weighing her. “Have you ever felt that you were part of a grand design, Vi? That some benevolence was shaping your fate?”

  “No,” Vi said.

  Dehvi laughed. “Me neither. Goodbye, Vi. Watch out for that husband of yours; he’ll change you.” Then he left.

  Solonariwan Tofusin stood on deck as the Modaini merchant ship lumbered toward Hokkai Harbor. It had been twelve years since he’d been to the Sethi capital, the city he had once called home. The sight of the two great chain towers guarding the entrance to the harbor, shining white in the autumn sun, filled his heart to bursting.

  As they passed between the towers, as always, his appreciation of the seemingly delicate towers became awe. Built during the height of the Sethi Empire, the chain towers stood on narrow peninsulas. The base of each tower abutted the ocean so the chain couldn’t be attacked without taking the tower. The chains themselves lay under water except during maintenance and war. Then, the great teams of royal aurochs would winch the chains apart until they were at or barely below the water line at high tide and five to eight feet above it at low tide. During a battle, the aurochs would turn the chains. A single blade shaped like a shark tooth was attached to each link. Because of the half twist in the chain at each axle, a ship pressing against the mighty chains would find half the teeth chewing through his hull in each direction. It made the entire chain a saw that had destroyed more than one fleet, and deterred many more.

  Above the sparkling blue waters—gods, Solon thought, the bay was a color to shame sapphires—Hokkai rose on its three hills. Above the ubiquitous docks already filling with wintering ships, the great city rose in thousands of whitewashed walls with red tile roofs. After the ugly hodgepodge of Cenarian architecture, it was a relief.

  But the most beautiful sight of all, magnificent Whitecliff Castle reigning over the highest hill, filled Solon not only with awe but something akin to terror. Kaede, my love, do you hate me still?

  After Khali and her Soulsworn had massacred everyone at Screaming Winds, Solon had had nothing to do. His friend Feir had left days before they knew of the danger. When the garrison commander ignored Dorian’s warnings that Khali was coming, Dorian disappeared. Solon had been the only man to escape. He’d found himself suddenly without ties to anything. It had been Dorian’s prophecy that had kept him from going home more than a decade ago. Solon had served Regnus Gyre as prophecy dictated—and failed. Regnus was dead. Solon had served for a decade, only to be dismissed the day before Regnus was murdered. Kaede was the Sethi empress now. She wasn’t likely to be happy to see Solon, but if she killed him, so much the better.

  He labored with the sailors. He could have paid for his passage, but no Sethi worth his salt would sit in a cabin while others were hoisting sails, not even on a wide-bellied Modaini merchant ship. The Sethi preferred small, light ships. It meant their merchants had to make twice as many trips, but they made them twice as fast. A Sethi ship also had to ride a storm rather than plow through it, but the Sethi accepted the ocean’s whims and loved her and feared her equally.

  As the ship came to rest in the bay, the Modaini merchant captain emerged from his cabin, his eyes and eyebrows freshly kohled. Solon always thought it gave the dark-haired Modaini a sinister aspect, but the captain was an affable man. He tossed Solon his pay and welcomed him to sail with him any time before going to speak with the harbormaster, who had rowed out to collect the harborage tax and inspect the cargo.

  The harbormaster clambered up the webbing onto the deck with the ease of a man who did it a dozen times a day. Like most Sethi, he wore no tunic until winter, and the sun had darkened his skin to a deep olive. He had a prominent nose, brown eyes, the figure-eight earring of Clan Hobashi, two silver rings on his right cheekbone, and two silver chains strung between the earring and cheek rings—an assistant to the harbormaster, then.

  The man had barely spoken two words when he saw Solon and broke off in mid-sentence. Solon, still bare-chested as he had been for the whole trip, wasn’t as tanned as most Sethi. But despite his light tan and the white hair growing in to replace the black, he was unmistakably Sethi—and he wore no clan rings. The harbormaster’s long knife came out in a heartbeat. There were only two groups in Seth that wore no rings.

  “What’s your name, clanless?”

  The Modaini captain looked aghast. He had never made a trip to Seth and didn’t know their customs, which was why Solon had chosen his ship.

  “Solon,” Solon said, not giving his clan name, as an exile wouldn’t.

  The harbormaster grabbed Solon’s chin and looked closely at his cheeks and ears, first on one side, and then, frustrated, on the other. His eyebrows tightened in confusion. Not only were there no scars where the clan rings had been torn out, but there were no scars from where the rings had been put in.

  “Raesh kodir Sethi?” he demanded. Are you not Sethi?

  “Sethi kodi,” Solon acknowledged, his Old Sethi diction perfect.

  The harbormaster released Solon’s face as if burned. “What was your name?”

  “Solonariwan Tofusin.”

  One of the Modaini sailors cursed. The harbormaster’s tanned face turned green. He noticed that his long knife was still out and tucked it away as if it were scalding. “I think you’d better come with me… uh, your lordship.”

  “What’s going on?” the captain asked.

  Neither Solon nor the harbormaster answered. Solon clambered into the rowboat with the harbormaster. The sailor who’d cursed said, “The Tofusins reigned for five hundred years.”

  Not exactly. It was four hundred seventy-seven.

  “Reigned? They don’t anymore?” the captain asked, his voice strangled. Hopping into the rowboat, Solon couldn’t help but smile.

  “No, cap’n. The last one died ten years ago. If this one really is a Tofusin, there’ll be all sorts of hell to pay.”

  That, on the other hand, is dead on.

  18

  Khali’s blood,” Paerik swore, striding confidently across Luxbridg
e toward Dorian. “That was rather impressive. Who are you?” His eyes took in Jenine but dismissed her.

  “It’s all right,” Dorian told Jenine, though it wasn’t. He’d destroyed a few teenage boys who had underestimated him. Paerik Ursuul was a man in the prime of his powers. And he was fresh. And he had six battle-hardened Vürdmeisters backing him.

  One of the Vürdmeisters whispered in Paerik’s ear. Paerik straightened. “No, surely not. Dorian?” He stepped forward and Dorian stepped forward as well, not willing to let Paerik reach the end of Luxbridge unchallenged. Paerik smirked. Seeing that smirk, Dorian hated him, despised him, wanted to crush him.

  “I am Dorian,” Dorian said defiantly. Six Vürdmeisters and Paerik. Damn it, he only wanted to leave. The dark clouds overhead rushed past, coldly impartial.

  “We thought you long dead, brother,” Paerik said. “A mistake we shall soon remedy.”

  Dorian lashed out with vir and Talent both, splitting the weaves to sweep the Vürdmeisters off the bridge and at the same time yanking at the magical underpinnings to drop the bridge into the abyss.

  They rebuffed the attacks with ease. Even with the amplifiae, Dorian was no match for seven Vürdmeisters together.

  “Brother, brother,” Paerik admonished. “This bridge will not drop a true-born Ursuul.” He laughed and skulls embedded in Luxbridge seemed to laugh with him, their eyes glowing with magical fire. “Indeed, if any of Garoth’s sons were in danger, it would be you, Dorian: the mage-trained.”

  “That’s what I’m counting on,” Dorian said. He stepped forward, out of the shoe he had cut free with his Talent, and put one bare foot on the bridge.

  There was a flash as the last quarter of the bridge sensed a magus and unraveled.

  Paerik screamed, falling with a shower of skulls that laughed no longer. He and the Vürdmeisters plummeted down and down. They flung vir at the distant walls, hoping to catch themselves, but the walls themselves were bespelled to deny magic purchase. The Vürdmeisters passed out of sight into the thick foul clouds of the abyss. Dorian could sense their magic for several more seconds, trying anything, everything, desperately. Then they winked out, all at the same time.

 
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