The night angel trilogy, p.118
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.118

           Brent Weeks
 

  “There is a foul pleasure in it,” Kylar said quietly.

  “There’s pleasure in having a full belly too, but for some it’s dangerous pleasure. When I ordered you to kill Gorkhy, you didn’t feel that.” Logan saw his tattoo was uncovered and covered it. “I did. I gave an order and he died. I killed with a word. And I loved it. And I wanted more.”

  “So now what? You going to become a hermit, move to a cottage in the woods?”

  “I’m not that selfish.” Logan scrubbed a hand through his hair. “If I asked you, would you kill Terah Graesin?”

  “Absolutely.”

  Logan closed his eyes. He’d obviously expected it. “If I didn’t ask you, would you do it anyway?”

  “Yes.”

  “Have you been planning it?”

  “Yes.”

  “Dammit, Kylar! Now I know.”

  “So why’d you ask?” Kylar asked.

  “To remove the excuse. Can you rule justly after you take the throne unjustly?”

  “Good question to ask the woman who stole yours.”

  “How, Kylar?”

  “Schedule a meeting with her and drink a lot before-hand.”

  “Dammit, man, how were you going to kill her?”

  “A botched abortion. I’d poison whatever abortifacient she uses. Many of those potions are dangerous. If it appeared she’d taken double what her apothecary recommended, it would look like a tragic and shameful accident for a single, wanton young queen. If the nobles tried to cover up the details, the rumors would swirl around what a whore Terah was, rather than speculations that she was assassinated. And it would make the virtuous new king look even better.”

  “Gods,” Logan breathed. “How long did it take you to come up with that?”

  Kylar shrugged. “Couple minutes.”

  There was pain in Logan’s eyes, as if he had to struggle to speak. “It’s brilliant, Kylar. It’s brilliant—and I forbid it.”

  “You forbid it?”

  “Yes.”

  “And how do you propose to forbid me anything?” Kylar asked.

  Logan looked astonished.

  “Despite all my efforts, you’re not my king. You can’t forbid me a damn thing.”

  Logan’s face darkened and all his usual conviviality drained away. It made Kylar conscious of just how tall Logan was. His lean seven-foot height made him a looming, merciless skeleton. “Know this,” Logan said. “If I’m crowned because of Terah Graesin’s murder, I’ll have you executed.”

  “You’d kill me for Terah Graesin?”

  “I’d execute you for treason. An attack on Cenaria’s sovereign is an attack on Cenaria.”

  “She shouldn’t be queen.”

  “But she is.”

  “You had no right to swear fealty.”

  “I did what I had to do to save the people, Kylar. Now I must abide by my word. Politics is ethics writ large.”

  “Politics is the art of the possible, and you know it,” Kylar said. “On the eve of battle, the tides changed so you couldn’t be king, so you changed course. The tides are changing again.”

  Logan folded his arms. His voice was granite. “My word stands.”

  “Can you love an idea more than you love a man and not become a monster? How many friends will you sacrifice on the altar of Justice, Logan?”

  “If you force my hand, at least one.”

  They were standing on a precipice. Socially, Logan had always been Kylar’s superior. Morally, Kylar had always felt inferior, too. But they’d never been placed in a direct hierarchical relation. Now Logan was giving an order. He would not be moved.

  Kylar could only accept his order and accept all his orders henceforth, or reject it and them forever. There was part of him that yearned to obey. He was convinced that killing Terah was the right thing, but Logan’s moral compass was a more accurate instrument than Kylar’s. What was it about submission that was so hard? Kylar wasn’t being asked for blind servility. He was being asked to obey a man he knew and loved and respected, who in turn respected him.

  The wolfhound is pampered by the fire. The wolf is hunted in the cold.

  “Do you know how much I love you, Logan?” Kylar asked. Logan opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, Kylar said, “This much.” And left.

  29

  Kylar was back in the city on his way to the one safe house he was confident hadn’t been discovered during the Godking’s reign when the ka’kari spoke.

  ~Would you be excited about Logan being king if he told you politics is the art of the possible and asked you to murder his rivals?~

  I’m already damned. My crimes might as well accomplish something.

  ~So you’ll serve clean water out of a filthy cup? You must have better tricks than I do.~

  The safe house was on the east side, far enough from the fashionable areas that it had been on the city’s outskirts. Now the building was gone. The entrance itself, a flagstone set flush with the ground, was only paces from the Godking’s new wall. The neighborhood, once unfashionable, was buzzing with activity. After the Godking’s death, thousands of people had fled the Warrens, either hoping to reclaim their lives or hoping to claim someone else’s better life. The fires that the displaced had started on their way out of the city had left great swathes of it bare and black. Too few buildings remained to shelter everyone, even without the thousands who had left the city with Terah Graesin. Now they all were back, and there were no building materials to be found. With an army besieging the city and cold rains starting, people were desperate.

  Kylar sat with his back to the wall to listen to the tones of the city. There was no way he was going to get into the safe house before nightfall. Even invisible, he couldn’t lift a flagstone in the middle of what was now a de facto street without dozens of people noticing. The safe house had another entrance, of course. Unfortunately, a new wall was sitting on it.

  The gossip was angry. Terah Graesin had stopped the free flow of traffic across the Vanden Bridge this morning, and it had nearly caused a riot. Kylar listened to a proclamation that promised a return to the way things had been before the invasion. The squatters would be driven back into the Warrens, and those legitimate merchants and petty nobility who had been uprooted would be granted their old homes and lands as soon as they could prove their claims. The herald was greeted with hisses and jeers.

  “And how in the nine hells am I supposed to prove that I owned a smithy, when the queen burned it and my deeds to the ground?” one man yelled. Kylar would have been more sympathetic if he didn’t recognize the man as a beggar. Others, however, joined a chorus of agreement.

  “I’m not going back!” a young man yelled. “I lived in the Warrens long enough.”

  “I killed six palies in the Nocta Hemata,” another shouted. “I deserve better!”

  Before the crowd’s fury gained more momentum, the herald beat a hasty retreat.

  Within an hour, scribes were openly hawking badly forged deeds. An hour after that, a Sa’kagé representative showed up. His deeds were not only higher quality and much more expensive, he said the Sa’kagé guaranteed that no duplicate deeds would be forged. He could only sell deeds for this neighborhood, and he had an allotment of what kind of shops could be represented. Thus, unless the owner still possessed the original deed, Sa’kagé deeds were as good as gold. Within minutes, the non-Sa’kagé scribes had been chased off or coerced to join.

  Meanwhile, food prices were skyrocketing. Tough loaves of bread that wouldn’t sell for six coppers in the morning were selling for ten after a full day hardening in the sun. As the sun set, people improvised wood frames with cloaks or blankets stretched over them to make lean-tos against the wall. Others wrapped themselves tight in their cloaks, tucked their purses inside their tunics, and slept where they lay, alone or in groups for warmth.

  Not everyone slept, of course. Darkness brought out the guild rats looking for easy bags. One even bent over Kylar, who hadn’t moved in so long she though
t him asleep. Kylar waited until the urchin—he couldn’t even tell for sure under the grime but he thought it was a girl—had a hand on his purse. Then he struck, spinning the child into his arms, with both hands twisted behind her back and Kylar’s other hand locked around her throat.

  “Please, sir, I was up for a piss, and now I can’t find my da.”

  “Kids who have parents don’t say ‘piss’ when they talk to adults. What guild are you?”

  “Guild, sir?”

  Kylar clouted her ear, but not as hard as Durzo would have.

  “Black Dragon.”

  “Black Dragon?” Kylar laughed softly. “That was my old guild. How much are dues these days?”

  “Two coppers.”

  “Two? We had to pay four.” Kylar felt like an old fart, talking about how much harder things were when he was growing up. He let her go. “What’s your name, kid?”

  “Blue.”

  “Well, Blue, tell the tall kid not to try that fat man’s purse. He’s not asleep. If you all get out of here for an hour, I’ll leave enough to pay your dues for a week. If you don’t, I’ll yell that I’ve caught a thief and tell everyone to watch out for guild rats, and you’ll have to move on anyway—and you’ll all be lucky to escape a beating.”

  He let her go, and while she was gathering her crew, he went invisible and lifted the flagstone. Hidden doors set into the ground were never as secure as those set into walls. No matter how expertly constructed, once you opened a door in the ground, you displaced the dirt on the door as well as the dirt that inevitably got packed into the seams. It would be the last time Kylar could use this safe house. A safe house you were afraid to use wasn’t a safe house at all, but Kylar needed a noble’s clothing, gold, and—thanks to the ka’kari—new weapons.

  Instead of climbing down the ladder, he jumped, and quickly pulled the flagstone shut. He checked his traps—one on the ladder and two on the door. All were intact. Then he opened the wood door slowly. The hinges protested and he made a mental note to oil them.

  The tiny safe house was pristine, if stale. Kylar checked the top of one of the small chests. Across the latch was balanced a piece of his own hair. The hair, of course, wasn’t a foolproof indicator of tampering. Even in a sealed safe house, your own entry could disturb the air enough to displace a hair, but if the hair was in place, it was unlikely that anyone else had entered.

  Kylar shook his head. He wasn’t even planning to stay here more than a few minutes, but Durzo’s habit of checking traps and examining every corner for threats had sunk deep.

  And where was Durzo? What had he been doing? Had he simply moved on to another life? Was it so easy for him to leave everything behind? The idea soured Kylar’s mood. Durzo was the central figure in Kylar’s life, and he’d abandoned him. Durzo had given him the ka’kari, a treasure of untold worth, but he hadn’t given Kylar his trust—or his time.

  A dusty glass case sat next to the dusty desk. Kylar opened the case. Inside, labeled in Durzo’s neat hand, were dozens of jars of herbs, potions, elixirs, and tinctures. Durzo had told Kylar that some wetboys mislabeled their herbs deliberately, so as to confuse or kill anyone who stole from them. Durzo said anyone who had the resources and guts to steal from him could identify an herb or hire someone to do it for him. Kylar suspected the real reason was that Durzo couldn’t bear to mislabel anything.

  That he wouldn’t mislabel his supplies, however, didn’t mean that Durzo did label all of them. Durzo believed that safe houses had a one-in-four chance of being discovered in any given year, so he spread the most valuable items of his collection out among them to minimize losses. Managing such an inventory was probably half the reason Kylar’s master had been so paranoid. For in this now-worthless safe house, in an unmarked vial smaller than Kylar’s thumb, was a substance that looked like liquid gold. It had cost Durzo half a year and as much as a manse on Sidlin Way. Its proper name was philodunamos. Durzo called it bottled fire.

  Whereas almost every other tool of the trade was mundane, if rarely known, bottled fire was magic. The only people who could make it were the Harani aborigines, whose magic was tied to emotion and song. After being driven from their lowland homes two centuries ago, they hadn’t had access to the materials they needed to make philodunamos. How Durzo had known what those were, how he had gathered them, and how he had coached a Harani mage into making such a lethal substance, Kylar had no idea.

  Sitting at the desk, Kylar rooted around until he found the gold-plated tweezers, a wad of cotton, and a candle. Then he couldn’t find a tinderbox. Since he could see in the dark, he never carried one anymore. Without a tinder-box, he couldn’t light the candle, without the candle, he couldn’t clean the tweezers, without clean tweezers, he couldn’t pull off a wisp of cotton to dip into the bottled fire, without the cotton, he couldn’t test an appropriately tiny measure of the bottled fire. He swore under his breath.

  ~Why do you make things so hard? Use me. I’m sterile.~

  You telling me there’s no little ka’kari gravel out there?

  There was a pause, then, unimpressed, ~And I thought Durzo’s humor was lacking.~

  Nonetheless, in a moment, the ka’kari puddled in Kylar’s palm and formed an instrument with a flexible bulb on one side that tapered down to almost a needle-point on the other. Kylar had never seen anything like it before. ~Squeeze me and put me in the philodunamos.~

  “You’re amazing,” Kylar said.

  ~I know.~

  “Humble, too.”

  Kylar opened the vial and sucked out a single drop. He dripped it on a rag, closed the vial, and pushed his seat back. The ka’kari dissolved back into his skin. Kylar put the vial of bottled fire on the other side of the room and closed the herb cases, only drawing out one vial of water. The gold drop of philodunamos dried in moments, becoming hard and flaky. Kylar dropped the rag on the ground and dripped some water on it. The water wicked outward until it touched the philodunamos.

  There was a whoosh of flame as high as Kylar’s knee. The fire consumed the rag instantly and still burned for another ten seconds, then guttered out.

  “It’s tricky,” Durzo had said. “Water, wine, blood, sweat, most anything wet should trigger it. But it can get unstable. So by the Night Angels, don’t even open it if it’s muggy.”

  Kylar smiled as he tucked the vial away. Sweat. He’d pour the bottle on Terah Graesin’s incestuous bed if only such a death were public enough. He collected his clothing and gold and turned to grab a sword from the weapons wall, then something stopped him.

  “You bastard,” he said.

  Hanging on the wall, impossibly, as if Kylar hadn’t sold it for a fortune in a city two weeks’ ride away, was a big, beautiful sword with the word Mercy etched on the blade. There was no explanation, no message of any kind—except for the smirk implicit in resetting Kylar’s traps and replacing his single strand of hair. Durzo had redeemed Kylar’s birthright. For a second time, Durzo was giving him Retribution.

  30

  Kylar stood in a hazy corridor decorated with brightly colored animals, facing a door. There were no sharp edges to anything. It was as if he were looking at the world through sleep-blurry eyes. The door opened without his touch, and as soon as he saw her, his heart lurched. Vi was lying on a narrow bed, weeping. She was the only thing in the world utterly clear, sharp, and present.

  She raised a hand in supplication, and he went to her. She seemed as unsurprised by his presence as he was. For a moment, he wondered at that. Where was he? How had he come?

  The thoughts disappeared the moment he touched her hand. This was real. Her hand was small in his, delicate and finely shaped, the skin as callused as his own. Unlike Elene’s, Vi’s third finger was slightly longer than her forefinger. He’d never noticed that before.

  It was the most natural thing to sit on the bed and pull her into his arms. She lay across his lap and clung to him, suddenly weeping harder and grasping him convulsively. He held her tight, willing his strength in
to her. He could feel her need for it. She was confused, lost, scared of this new life, scared of being known, scared of never being known. He didn’t have to read her face, he felt it within himself.

  She turned tear-swollen eyes to his face and he looked into her deep, green eyes. He was a mirror to her and he reflected back truth against every fear.

  The tears slowed and her grip relaxed. She closed her eyes as if the intimacy was too much. She put her head in his lap, sighing, her body finally relaxing. Her long, fiery red hair was unbound. Though it was messy and tangled and crimped from where she had worn it in a ponytail all day, he was amazed. It was glossy, silky, mesmerizing, a color that only one in a thousand women had. His eyes followed a strand of her hair past tear-wet eyelashes to a nose with faint freckles he’d never noticed before to her slender neck.

  Vi wore an ill-fitting plain nightdress. It was too short for her and the knot had come loose, leaving it gaping open. Her nipple was dark pink, small on her full breast, lightly puckered in the room’s coolness. The first time Kylar had seen Vi’s breasts, she’d exposed herself to shock him. This time, he could feel that she was unaware of it.

  The unexpected innocence of Vi’s exposure roused something protective in him. He swallowed and moved the cloth to cover her. Despite that Vi could feel him as clearly as he could feel her, she didn’t notice. Was she merely that exhausted, or was she so divorced from her body that she didn’t attach any significance to her breast being covered? Kylar didn’t know, but either way, the wave of compassion he felt overpowered his desire. He barely glanced at her shapely legs, naked to mid-thigh, as he covered them with a blanket.

  She burrowed into him, so vulnerable and so damn gorgeous he couldn’t think straight.

  He ran his fingers through her hair to call back the more protective feelings. Instead, Vi melted instantly, yielded completely, a wave of tingles coursing from head to loins. His heart lurched. The only thing he’d ever felt close to this was when he’d kissed Elene for half an hour and then spooned behind her, tracing kisses across her ears and neck and skimming his fingertips across her breasts—and it was always then that she stopped him, afraid of losing control completely. Vi sailed right over that brink. She was his, utterly, completely.

 
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