The night angel trilogy, p.117
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.117

           Brent Weeks
 

  Dorian glanced at Ashaiah Vul. The man, of course, had his eyes averted. He wouldn’t dare to disapprove of a Godking’s decisions, or to even look at a Godking’s woman. “I’m afraid I’m going to go see something remarkably unpleasant. You don’t want to see it. I don’t want to see it. You should probably wait in the throne room. I’ll be back shortly.” Dorian turned.

  “I do want to see it,” Jenine interjected. Ashaiah Vul gasped at her audacity, then studied the floor once more as both of them looked at him, his face going red.

  “A thousand pardons, my lord, I spoke hastily. Forgive my rudeness,” Jenine said. She chewed her lip. “I—My father never looked at things he didn’t want to see, and it got him and my whole family killed, our country laid waste. Dealing with things we don’t like is part of ruling. My father refused to do it because he was weak and venal. How else am I to learn if not from you?”

  “What I’m going to see is beyond anything your father had to deal with, real or imagined,” Dorian said.

  “Even so.” Jenine was unmoved, and Dorian couldn’t help but smile. He loved her strength, even as it surprised him.

  “Very well,” he said. “Ashaiah, show us what you were going to show me alone. All of it.”

  Ashaiah Vul said nothing, pretended to have no opinion—and maybe, in fact, had no opinion. A Godking’s unwelcome order was like a day of unwelcome weather. You might not like it, but you didn’t have any illusions that you could change it, either. So Ashaiah took them deep into the bowels of the Citadel, and then into the tunnels of the mountain itself. Dorian could smell vir on the man, though not much. He was at best a meister of the third shu’ra.

  Finally, Ashaiah Vul stopped in front of a door that looked like any of the hundreds of others this deep in the Citadel. The dust in this hall was so thick it was more like soil, and it was plain that this room hadn’t been visited any more recently than any of the others. He unlocked the door and opened it.

  Dorian held his vir as he followed the Lodricari into the darkness. His first sensation was that this room was huge, cavernous. The air was musty, thick, fetid.

  Ashaiah mumbled an incantation and Dorian snapped three shields into place around both himself and Jenine. A moment later, light coursed up the arch where Ashaiah held his hand against the wall. It spread from arch to arch, across a painted ceiling over a hundred feet above. In a few seconds, light bathed the chamber.

  This had been a library once, a place of beauty and light. The walls and pillars were the color of ivory and lace. The mural was like something out of a forgotten legend, light coming out of darkness, creation. It gave a sense of divinity and purpose. Long cherry shelves had once held both scrolls and books and tables had been arranged with space for scholars to study.

  Now, it held clean, white bones. The chamber was hundreds of paces long, and half as wide, and everywhere, the books and scrolls had been removed. In their place, on every shelf, on every table, were bones. Old, old bones. Some shelves held entire skeletons, labeled with tags tied to their wrists. Some held skeletons of human bones but arranged in inhuman shapes. But mostly, the shelves held matching bones, with boxes for the small ones. An entire shelf of femurs. Boxes of finger bones. Pelvises stacked. Spines whole and in boxes for each vertebra. And skulls in a large central area: mountains of skulls.

  Dorian dropped the shields. This was no attack. At least not on his body. “What is this?”

  Ashaiah glanced at Jenine, then, obviously deciding he must speak the truth, said, “Should the wild men invade, this is your salvation, Your Holiness. It is your corpusarium. When General Naga speaks of the clans raising an army, this is what he means. Two years ago, a barbarian chieftain found an ancient mass grave and discovered a secret we had long thought was ours alone.”

  “Raising the dead?”

  “Sort of, Your Holiness.”

  “Sort of?”

  “The souls of men are inviolate,” Ashaiah Vul said.

  “I always liked purple.”

  Ashaiah blinked, not daring to chuckle. Jenine was too busy staring around in wonder. He didn’t think she even heard him. “We don’t have the power to bind men’s souls to their bodies. Your predecessors tried to make themselves immortal doing that, but it never worked well. This is different. We call it raising because we use the bones of the dead and unite them with a kind of spirit we call the Strangers. The result is the krul. They were originally called the Fallen because whenever they fall in battle, they can be raised again if a Vürdmeister is present.”

  “Take me one step at a time,” Dorian ordered, his queasiness increasing.

  “It starts in the pits. It always has. The Godkings have always said that the ore beneath Khaliras was powerful, and that that’s why the slaves and criminals and captured enemies are forced to work there. It’s a lie. We don’t need their service; we don’t need the ore. We need the prisoners’ bones and their agony. Their bones give us a frame. Their agony draws the Strangers.”

  “What are these Strangers?” Dorian asked.

  “We don’t know. Some of them have been here for millennia, but despite the length of their experiences, we are a puzzle to them. They don’t have physical bodies—though my master said that once they walked the earth, took lovers, and had children who were the heroes of old, the nephilim. The southrons claim the name was because the Strangers were once children of their One God who were thrown out of heaven.” He smiled weakly, clearly regretting saying anything about a southron religion.

  “What happened?”

  “We don’t know. But the Strangers long to wear flesh again. So we take the bones of our dead and sanctify them for the Strangers’ use. Incidentally, this is why Godkings have themselves cremated; they wish to avoid our use of their bones.”

  “And then?”

  “Real bones are necessary but not sufficient to give the fallen a sense of embodiment, and it is for embodiment that they trade their service. We give them flesh. It doesn’t have to look human. Some Godkings believed that any shape is possible, putting human bones into a horse’s or a dog’s shape. It makes binding the fallen more difficult as they wish to be men, not horses, but it makes a fine horse.”

  “And the musculature, the skin and so forth, does it need to be crafted as painstakingly as the skeletons?” Dorian asked. He’d trained as a Healer, and he couldn’t imagine the intricate magic necessary to create a whole living body.

  “Given the correct skeleton and enough clay and water, the Strangers help the magic form muscles and ligaments and skin. They’re never as sturdy as man. Godking Roygaris was able to craft krul that lived for a decade or more, but he was a brilliant anatomist. He was able to make krul horses, and wolves, and tigers, and mammoths and other creatures we no longer have names for.”

  “They function like living beings?”

  “They are living beings, Your Holiness. They breathe, they eat, they…”—he looked at Jenine again—“defecate. They just don’t feel as men do. Pain that would incapacitate a man will do nothing to them. They won’t complain about hunger. They will mention it if it’s gone long enough that they are about to stop functioning.”

  “They speak?”

  “Poorly. But they can see better in the dark than a man, though not as far. Eyes are difficult to make correctly. They make poor archers. They have emotions, but the palette is different from men’s. Fear is incredibly rare. They know that as long as the line of Godkings survives, if their body is destroyed, they will most likely be put into another sooner or later.”

  “Are they obedient?”

  “Perfectly, in most circumstances, but they have an incredible hatred toward the living. They won’t help build anything, not even engines of war. They only destroy. Experiments have been tried where a krul was put in a room with a prisoner and told that if he killed the prisoner, he would be killed in turn. Every time, the krul killed the prisoner. It was tried with women, with old men, with children: it didn’t matter, except they killed chi
ldren more quickly. You couldn’t ask them to take a city and not kill those who surrendered. They also hunger for human flesh. Eating it seems to make them stronger. We don’t know why.”

  “My father gathered these bones, but never used them.” That was odd. Dorian turned it over in his mind. Perhaps Garoth Ursuul was too decent.

  “Your pardon, Your Holiness. Your esteemed father did use them, once. When Clan Hil rebelled. Afterward, he noted that the Hil fought to the last man when they knew they would be eaten and profaned. Your father said he wished to have men left alive to rule; the krul wished only for ashes. He held them off for a great emergency. The emergency never came, so there’s quite a stockpile.”

  “How many do we have?”

  “About eighty-five thousand. When we organize them, we have to preserve their hierarchy. Their number system is different than ours.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Even our words for numbers are predicated on multiples of ten: ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million. Their number system is based on thirteen—my master said that was where our superstitions about thirteen come from. They’re rigidly bound to those numbers. A meister can lead twelve krul himself, but if he wishes to lead thirteen or more, he must master a thirteenth, which is different—a white krul called a daemon. The white krul are faster, over six feet tall, and take more magic to raise. Platoons are thirteen squads—a hundred sixty-nine krul. So after you raise thirteen squads, if you wish to add a single krul, you must raise a bone lord. Bone lords speak well, they’re smarter, tough, and they can use magic.”

  “Vir?”

  “No. It’s either the Talent or very similar. Thirteen bone lords make a legion. If you don’t lead it yourself, a legion needs a fiend. Thirteen fiends make an army, twenty-eight thousand five hundred sixty-one krul. Your Holiness has enough for three armies, if you can master two arcanghuls to lead the other two armies. All told, that gives you a force of more than eighty-five thousand.”

  “What would happen if I had thirteen arcanghuls? What is that? Close to four hundred thousand krul?”

  “I don’t know, Your Holiness.” The man looked fearful, however, and Dorian thought he was lying.

  “Has it ever been tried? I won’t have you lie to me.”

  The man blinked furiously. “The only rumors I’ve heard about that are blasphemous, Your Holiness.”

  “As Godking, I pardon your blasphemy.”

  The man blinked again, but after a few moments seemed to master his fear. “My predecessor, Keeper Yrrgin, said that the first of your line, Godking Roygaris, tried. He needed hundreds of thousands of skeletons for the attempt, so he invaded what is now the Freeze. Keeper Yrrgin said it was once a great civilization, filled with mighty cities. Roygaris took it with little difficulty, for they thought him their ally. And then he put them in camps and killed them all—an entire civilization. Keeper Yrrgin said that above the thirteen arcanghuls, Godking Roygaris found a rank he called night lords. With one night lord, Roygaris conquered the rest of the Freeze, and his armies only grew. He couldn’t be content. He thought he was closing in on the mysteries of the universe. He thought if he could master thirteen night lords, he would master God. I can’t imagine that there were ever so many people in all the world, but my master told me that he succeeded in capturing and putting to death almost five million people, and that there, above the night lords, he found…” the man face was pasty and sweating, his voice low and hoarse. “There he found Khali. She destroyed him and became our goddess. She gave us the vir to bind us to her and to make us destroyers. This is why agony is worship to her, because like all the Strangers, she hates life.”

  “What happened, Ashaiah?”

  The man’s voice was a whisper, “Jorsin Alkestes.”

  Dorian’s heart went cold. He’d heard this history, but only from the southern perspective. The Mad Emperor and the Mad Mage. The conqueror and his dog. Now, Ashaiah was saying that Jorsin and Ezra had stopped a goddess and her army of five million krul.

  “Elsewhere our armies would suffer losses in the day and be remade in the night. That alone made us almost invincible. But Alkestes somehow warded all of the great city of Trayethell and leagues around it so that the krul couldn’t be raised there.”

  “Black Barrow?” Dorian asked. The city was in southeast Khalidor, but it had never been inhabited. It was cursed. No one lived within leagues of the place. Indeed, all of eastern Khalidor was sparsely populated. “Who else knows about these bones and about the krul?”

  “I have a number of deaf-mutes who assist me. We take all the castle’s and the city’s dead. I never allow anyone in the larger chambers. Paerik and Moburu were the only aethelings who knew. General Naga learned it from Paerik. No one else.”

  No one else.

  “So Paerik wasn’t a fool,” Jenine said, speaking for the first time since they’d entered the vast room. “With twenty thousand men, he was facing sixty thousand. Paerik didn’t come here for the throne—or at least not only for the throne—he came for the krul. What does it mean, my lord?”

  Dorian felt sick. She seized on exactly the crux of it. “My father suffered a huge setback by being stalled in Cenaria. It was a distraction, a mistake. He thought he could grab it and send home riches and food, but the supplies he hoped to send home were put to the torch instead by the fleeing Cenarians.” Dorian rubbed his face. “So when the barbarians come down from the Freeze, Khaliras will be indefensible. Its citizens would want to cross Luxbridge and live here in the Citadel. As they wait out the siege, they’ll have to be fed—and we have no food. Our military’s good at following orders, but no good at taking initiative. If I throw them into a battle facing three-to-one odds, they’ll get massacred. There’s no way to win.”

  Jenine said nothing for a moment, then glanced around at the stacks and stacks of bones. “You mean there’s no way to win except…”

  He looked at the bones of men and thought of all the stories of krul he’d ever heard, and he thought of dipping so deeply into the vir, and he thought of men dying no matter what he did. “Yes,” he said. “There’s no way to win except to raise these monsters. It will be an orgy of death.”

  “Whose deaths? The invaders’ or your innocent people’s?”

  “The invaders’,” Dorian said. So long as he did everything right.

  “Then let us raise monsters,” Jenine said.

  28

  After dressing appropriately, Kylar walked to Logan’s tent. Logan’s bodyguards nodded and pulled back the flap for him. The sun was poised on the horizon, but the tent was still dark enough that lanterns were needed to illuminate the maps that the officers, Agon, and Logan were studying.

  Kylar joined the group silently. The maps were accurate, aside from missing the supply train.

  “They outnumber us six to one,” Agon said, “but they don’t have any cavalry. So we ride out, the wytch hunters pick off a few officers and we melt back into the hills. We start gathering food so we can make it through the winter, and send out more scouts so we find any supply train they might have coming. It’s the only way. They didn’t expect walls. They’ll starve before we do.”

  “The supply train is right here,” Kylar said, pointing on the map. “It’s accompanied by a thousand horse.”

  There was silence at the table.

  “We have lost a scout in that direction,” an officer said.

  “Are you certain?” Agon asked. “How big is it?”

  Kylar dropped a sheaf of notes on the table.

  There was silence as the men picked up the rice paper sheets and read. Only Logan didn’t read as the officers shared the notes back and forth. He stared at Kylar quizzically, obviously wondering what he was trying to accomplish.

  “How did you get these, Wolfhound?” an officer asked, using the nickname the soldiers had given Kylar.

  “I fetched.” Kylar gave him a toothy smile.

  “Enough,” Agon said, throwin
g his papers down on the table. “It’s worse than we feared.”

  “Worse?” the officer said. “It’s a disaster.”

  “General,” Kylar said to Logan, “can I have a word with you? Alone?”

  Logan nodded and other men filed from the tent, carrying the notes for further study. “What are you playing at, Kylar?”

  “Just making you look good.”

  “An impending slaughter makes me look good?”

  “A disaster diverted makes you look good.”

  “And you have a plan.”

  “Garuwashi wants food and a victory. I propose we give them to him.”

  “Why hadn’t I thought of that?” Logan said, uncharacteristically sarcastic. He was really worried, then. Good.

  “It doesn’t have to be a victory over us,” Kylar said. Then he explained.

  When he finished, Logan didn’t look surprised. He looked profoundly sad. “That would make me look good, wouldn’t it?”

  “And save thousands of lives and the city,” Kylar said.

  “Kylar, it’s time for us to finish that conversation.”

  “What conversation?”

  “The one about king-making and queen unmaking.”

  “I don’t have any more to say.”

  “Good, then you can listen,” Logan said. He rubbed his unshaven face and his sleeve fell to show the edge of the dully glowing green tattoo etched in his forearm. “People commonly misquote the old Sacrinomicon and say that money is the root of all evil, which is moronic if you think about it. The real quote is that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. Not as pithy, but a lot truer. In the same way, what I am capable of doing in the pursuit of power and sex, the man I choose for Logan Gyre to be will not allow. My hunger for food couldn’t make me a monster in my own eyes. Not even when I ate human flesh. I was driven to that by necessity, not perversion. I suppose the same could be said for you, for killing. I saw it on your face when you killed my gaoler Gorkhy. You do it, but you don’t love it. If you loved it, you’d turn into Hu Gibbet.”

 
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