The night angel trilogy, p.113
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.113

           Brent Weeks
 

  “From Dehvi?” Vi asked.

  “Who?”

  “Dehvira-something Bruhmaezi-something,” Vi said.

  “Dehvirahaman ko Bruhmaeziwakazari?” Sister Ariel asked, getting both the cadence and the tone perfect. Bitch!

  “That was it.”

  Sister Ariel smirked. “You are a very impressive young woman, Vi, but the Ghost of the Steppes—if not only a legend—is two hundred years dead. Someone was having fun with you.”

  “The what?” Vi asked.

  “Why are you here, Vi?” Sister Ariel asked. “No lies. Please.”

  Instantly, Vi felt herself caught between rage and tears again, out of control. She’d never been like this before. Since murdering Jarl, she’d been a disaster. Ringing Kylar had only made it worse. Even the things that should have been good, like learning Hu was dead, and helping kill the man who claimed to be her father, Godking Garoth Ursuul, had instead only thrown her further off balance. “I’m here to become you, you bitch. To manipulate rather than be manipulated. To become the best.” She tugged at her earring. “And to get this fucking thing off.”

  Sister Ariel’s face stilled, her lips going white. “For your sake, I strongly suggest you come up with other reasons when the Gatekeeper interviews you. So how about you shut your mouth, and I’ll pretend you’re a normal young woman looking to join our sisterhood?”

  It took a long time for Vi’s rage to subside enough for her to nod.

  They rode together through the rain and soon the city emerged from the low-lying cloud. “It’s called Laketown,” Sister Ariel said, “for the obvious reasons.”

  The city and the Chantry rested at the confluence of two rivers, which made a reservoir above Vestacchi Lake. All the buildings of the city and the Chantry rested on islands in the reservoir, the nearest of which was fifty paces from the shore. Arching bridges connected every island to its neighbors and several to the shore, but streets themselves were absent. Instead, low, flat punts navigated the waterways. Some of them were covered against the rain, others exposed. Regardless, the punts moved far faster than they should have.

  Vi and Ariel entered the part of Laketown that had grown on the shores by the bridges, but all the merchants seemed to be huddled in their daub-and-wattle homes, with their chimneys or chimney holes smoking.

  “By some ancient magic we still can’t duplicate, the islands are actually floating,” Sister Ariel said. “The entire dam can be opened and the islands flushed out into the lake in times of war. Of course, we haven’t had to do that for centuries. And a good thing, too. I understand towing all the islands back up here is a lot of work.”

  “It’s beautiful,” Vi said, forgetting herself. “The water’s so clean.”

  “This city was built at a time when magic was used to benefit farmers and fishermen. There were special streams in every city that would take the stains out of your clothing. There were plows that could be pulled by a single ox that would break six furrows in a single pass. There were free public baths with water as hot or cold as you wanted. Charms that kept meat from spoiling. People thought of magic as a tool, not only as a weapon. In Laketown, the slops and nightsoil are supposed to be thrown into these pipes that—see, no smell?—that take them directly to the dam. Of course, you can never get everyone to obey even a sensible law—like not throwing nightsoil in the water you drink—so the lake itself has spells that cleanse it.”

  Sister Ariel led them to a white punt on the far end of the dock. A boy dodged out into the rain to take their horses and Vi took her bags and stepped onto the punt. She took some comfort in Sister Ariel’s obvious terror that the boat was going to capsize. As soon as they were settled on the low, wet seats, the punt began moving by itself.

  Vi grabbed the side of the boat in a white-knuckled grip.

  Sister Ariel smiled. “This magic, on the other hand,” she said, “we can do. It’s just too much trouble, these days.” They skimmed quickly into the wide water streets and the little boat turned on its own.

  “There are currents that shift on the turning of the glass. If you know what you’re doing, you can get from one side of the city to the other going downstream all the way.”

  After a few minutes, they emerged into an enormous opening with no islands except the biggest one of them all. “Behold the White Lady. The Alabaster Seraph. The Chantry. The Seraph of Nerev. And for you now, Vi, home.”

  The Chantry had looked big before, but only now as they approached it did it become apparent how massive it was. The entire building was carved in the likeness of a winged, angelic woman. She was too solid to actually be alabaster, too perfectly white to be marble. The stone shone, even in the dim light of this dreary day. Vi imagined it would be blinding in the sunlight. As they came closer, Vi saw that what looked from a distance like erosion or pitting from age in the statue-building’s surface were actually windows and decks for the myriad of rooms inside, each nearly invisible because the surrounding stone was the same dazzling white.

  The Seraph’s wings were half-unfurled, and she bore a sword in her left hand, point down, and a cool look on her face. As the punt circled around the back of the island, Vi saw that the Seraph’s right hand held a set of scales behind her back, with a feather on one side and a heart on the other.

  Hundreds of docks crowded the back side of the island, and despite the rain, dozens of boats were loading and unloading all manner of supplies and people. Their white punt skimmed straight to the nearest set of docks, passing beneath an arch of living wisteria, impossibly still in bloom with a riot of purple flowers. The punt came to rest, and two sisters in black robes greeted them.

  “Vi, go with them,” Sister Ariel said. She paused, then added, “No threat they make is idle. It has been years since anyone died during initiation, but it is a possible. May whatever god you believe go with you. And if you believe in none, good luck.”

  The worst part wasn’t that the last god Vi wanted with her now was Nysos, to whom she had offered her body and soul and the blood of so many innocents. The worst part was that Sister Ariel’s good wishes sounded absolutely sincere.

  21

  The first step was breaking into the city. Kylar knew there had to be dozens of smugglers’ routes, but that wasn’t the kind of information smugglers handed out at Sa’kagé parties. He did know what he was looking for, though. It would be hidden within a few hundred paces of the walls, and it would emerge somewhere onto rock so as not to take hoofprints and wagon tracks, and it would be somewhere close to one of the main roads.

  On the low hills surrounding the city, a month ago buildings had lined every road: taverns, farmhouses, hostelries, and any of the innumerable trade houses that catered to travelers who hadn’t the coin for accommodations or services in the city. Now, there were no buildings.

  The Ceurans had taken everything. They had dismantled every building and brought the materials into their camp. Kylar could only imagine the frenzy the Sa’kagé must have been in, trying to decide which tunnels to collapse and which to salvage, hoping to preserve their own way out of the city if all else failed.

  He moved through the Ceuran camp slowly, dodging from shadow to shadow. He had eschewed invisibility for a hazy black, hoping it would be harder to see than the odd distortions of sleet hitting something that wasn’t there.

  His eyes should have given him a distinct advantage in searching for a smugglers’ entrance. He finally found a large, low rock sitting feet from the main road with trees on either side of it. It was perfect. If the rock swung open, smugglers could pull their wagon onto the main road unseen and leave no tracks. Kylar brushed the sleet away from the rock and saw tell-tale scrapes from the iron-bound wagon wheels grinding against the rock. This was it.

  Ten minutes later, he still hadn’t made any progress. Every two minutes, he had to hide as a sentry made his rounds, and every five minutes a different sentry overlapped from the opposite side. Kylar couldn’t blame the interruptions, though. He just couldn’t f
ind the catch that opened the door. Maybe it was the sleet, making his fingers clumsy with the cold. Or maybe he just wasn’t as good as he thought.

  Immortal, not invincible. Why’d Durzo have to be right all the time? Come to think of it, where the hell is Durzo?

  The thought affected Kylar more profoundly than he expected. He’d lived for months thinking his master was dead. In all those months, Durzo hadn’t bothered to come see Kylar. Kylar had thought himself his master’s best friend. Even when Aristarchos ban Ebron had told him all of the heroes his master had been, Kylar had still thought that his relationship with Durzo was special. In a way, learning all the great men his master had been made Kylar feel better about himself. But time had moved on, and apparently so too had Durzo. Whatever brief importance Kylar had had in that man’s seven-century-long life, it was finished.

  Kylar sat down on rock. The sleet soaked through to his underclothes in seconds. It made him feel even worse.

  ~Don’t tell me you’re going to cry.~

  You mind?

  ~Wake me when the self-pity’s done, would you?~

  Damn you, you sound just like Durzo.

  ~So I stay with the man night and day for seven centuries and he rubs off on me. You only spent ten years with him, and look how much like him you are.~

  That caught Kylar off guard. I’m not like him.

  ~No, you’re just out here trying to save the world by yourself—again—by coincidence.~

  He did this kind of thing a lot?

  ~Ever hear of the Miletian Regression? The Death of Six Kings? The Vendazian Uprising? The Escape of the Grasq Twins?~

  Kylar hesitated. Um, actually… no.

  The ka’kari sighed. Kylar wondered how it did that.

  “I’m an idiot,” Kylar said. He stood up. His butt was numb.

  ~An epiphany! Long overdue, too. But then, I’ve come to expect small things.~

  Kylar walked to the wall. The last few hundred paces were empty of Ceuran soldiers—none of them were foolish enough to stray within bowshot. The only place the Ceurans had moved closer was along the shores of the Plith, where they were moving great quantities of rock to fill in part of the river. All along the shore and the approach to it, they’d built a corridor to protect the workers from arrows. The wytches had protected every approach to the city except the river. Kylar supposed that they’d figured a couple of meisters standing on either bank could keep any ships or swimmers from making it through the narrow passage. The Cenarians didn’t have that luxury. This was where Garuwashi would attack. Once one bank was filled in enough, he could start sending skirmishers in.

  If the sa’ceurai came and fought one-on-one with Cenarian soldiers, Kylar had no doubt who would have the larger pile of corpses at the end of the day.

  Kylar walked to the wall. The great stones had been hardened with spells, and fitted more tightly to their neighbors than weight and mortar could accomplish. Kylar brought the ka’kari to his hands and feet.

  ~I should make you swim.~

  Kylar smirked and felt the stone dimple under his fingers and toes. He began climbing.

  Any hopes he had that Terah Graesin wasn’t going to do something stupid died as he reached the top of the wall. With four hours until dawn, men were already preparing to attack the sa’ceurai. Most of the soldiers were still asleep, and the horses still in their stables, but a huge area had been cleared inside the south gate. Flags had been planted so that the regiments could find their positions first thing in the morning, and squires were scurrying around, making sure armor and weapons were in top condition. From the size of the area cleared, Kylar guessed that the queen was preparing an all-out attack at dawn, committing perhaps fifteen thousand men for the attack.

  He squinted at the flags, doing the math. He wouldn’t have said she had so many men.

  The answer was in the flags nearest the gate. More than one flag bore a rabbit. The queen had conscripted Rabbits—and put totally untrained peasants at the spearhead of the attack on the most highly trained sa’ceurai in the world? Genius. It was one thing to throw your peasants against the other side’s peasants when you had space to try to bring in cavalry from the side or something, but when the Cenarians came pouring out the gate, Garuwashi’s sa’ceurai would meet them immediately. The battle would be confined to one front—the peasants would find themselves all alone, getting slaughtered, unable to move forward because of the sa’ceurai, unable to move back because the rest of the army was trying to get out of the south gate.

  It would probably only be minutes before they panicked, and then it was only a matter of how many people would be slaughtered before Luc Graesin called off the attack and tried to shut the gates before the sa’ceurai got into the city.

  Kylar dropped into the great yard and stole a leather gambeson from a pile, along with trousers and a tunic. A minute later, he stepped out from behind a smithy as a boy hurried past pushing a cart filled with cheap swords and pole arms.

  “So the Rabbits get to lead the attack? Hit ’em at dawn?” Kylar said, waving at the battle flags. “How’d that happen?”

  The kid lit up. “We volunteered.”

  “I know a man who volunteered to snort guri pepper sauce. It didn’t make it a good idea.”

  “What are you saying?” the kid asked, offended.

  “Why’s the queen letting them go first?”

  “It’s not the queen. It’s her brother Luc. He’s Lord General now.”

  “And?”

  The kid scowled. “He said the uh, the casualties would be highest among the first ones out. You know, till we took out their archers. The Rabbits ain’t scared of nothing.”

  So the new Lord General manages to cull his bravest citizens and ensure a crushing defeat, all at once. Brilliant.

  “You mind? I got work to do,” the kid said.

  Kylar stole a horse. He didn’t have the time to walk to the castle. As he mounted, a groom came toward him. “Hey, who are you? That horse belongs to—”

  Kylar brought the mask of judgment to his face in a rush and whipped his head toward the man, snarling, blue flame leaping up in his eyes and mouth.

  The groom leapt backward and tripped into a horse trough with a yell.

  Kylar rode as fast as he could. He left the horse and the stolen clothes before he got to East Kingsbridge and went invisible. He ran the rest of the way, leaving guards with their heads swiveling, trying to find where the patter of running feet had come from. Rather than run through the twisting, illogical halls of the castle, he climbed the wall. In minutes, he dropped onto the queen’s balcony, which was still missing part of the railing where Kylar had freed Mags Drake’s corpse. He looked inside.

  The queen wasn’t alone.

  22

  Before I sent you after Sister Jessie, you said you’d been studying something for two years,” Istariel Wyant, the Speaker of the Chantry, said. They were sitting in her office, high in the Seraph, sharing ootai and strategy. “What was it?”

  “The ka’karifer,” Ariel said.

  “The what? My Hyrillic isn’t what it used to be.”

  A doubtful look crossed Ariel’s face. “Your Hyrillic was never what it used to be. If I recall correctly, your marks in all your language classes—”

  “The question, Ariel,” Istariel snapped, with more vigor than she intended. Only perhaps a dozen Sisters in the Chantry would recall how poorly she had performed in a few of her classes, and none of them would dare correct the Speaker. None except Ariel, who was not correcting her because she thought being Istariel’s sister gave her license: Ariel would correct anyone.

  “The bearers of the stones of stones,” Ariel said. “Colloquially that would have meant stones of greatest power. The original bearers were Jorsin’s Champions of Light: Trace Arvagulania—fascinating, I think you would have liked her. She was one of the foremost minds of the age in an age famous for great minds. Probably not matched even to the present day, though I know Rosserti argues that Milovian P
eriod is as important, I personally find his contentions regarding the Alitaeran succession to be weak: I think there were complete breaks with Miletian traditions during the Interregnum. But I’m getting side-tracked. Trace, this brilliant but horribly ugly woman—in some accounts the ugliest woman of the age, though I think those legends are as greatly exaggerated as most of the others—was given a stone that conferred all beauty upon her. The poets couldn’t even agree what she looked like. I believe, in keeping with Hrambower’s paper Sententia—damn all Lodricari scholars and their clotted syntax but there you have it—that the confusion was because the ka’kari’s power was not that it shifted Trace’s appearance, but that it directly affected viewers’ perceptions of her, in each case making her what would be most attractive to them. Imagine the fortune Ezra could have made in cosmetics!” She waited for Istariel to laugh. She didn’t.

  “Fascinating,” Istariel said, her tone flat.

  “Of course that ka’kari disappeared and has never resurfaced. I imagine it would have, if it were anything but a legend. There is much stronger evidence in support of the red ka’kari’s existence. Originally, it was given to Corvaer Blackwell—ironically enough, Lord Blackwell would henceforth be known as Corvaer the Red—and after he died during the Battle of Jaeran Flats, it was taken by a man named Malak Mok’mazi, Malak Firehands in our tongue, though obviously that translation doesn’t preserve the alliteration. Accounts from both sides claimed that he fought from within the conflagration that swept the plain and broke the Gurvani army. Again, after his death—apparently fire isn’t much good against poison—” Ariel barked a laugh, which Istariel didn’t share. “Uh hmm, well, it seems to have reappeared in various hands throughout history. Some of those had credible witnesses. Herddios, whom we trust for all sorts of other stories that have checked out, claims to have personally—”

 
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