The black prism, p.12
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       The Black Prism, p.12

           Brent Weeks

  “They say there are bandits on this river who rob anyone who comes through,” Gavin said lightly. “So maybe we’ll find someone for you to kill.”

  “I don’t want to kill someone,” Karris said quietly, not meeting his gaze.

  “Oh, you had that look in your eye—”

  She looked up and smiled sweetly. “Not someone. I want to kill you.”

  Chapter 19

  “Ah.” Gavin cleared his throat.

  The boy twitched, and then sat bolt upright. Maybe hearing “I want to kill you” wasn’t the best way to be awakened after your village had been massacred. Gavin raised an eyebrow at Karris. You really need to do this now?

  She huffed out a breath and turned away while the boy rubbed his head and moaned. The boy squinted at her, but she kept her back to him. She busied herself unstringing her bow and stowing it. The boy turned his royal blue eyes to Gavin. Interesting, with his light brown skin and kinky hair. Blue eyes were blue because they were the deepest, and thus the most light-sensitive and best light-collecting. It was far from the only criterion, but people with blue eyes were disproportionately represented among the most powerful drafters. More light to use, more power to burn.

  Right now, those deep eyes were narrowed in pain. Apparently Gavin’s swat had left the boy with a nice headache.

  “You saved me,” Kip said.

  Gavin nodded.

  “Who are you?” the boy asked.

  Straight to the gut, huh? Karris turned to see what Gavin would say. She folded her arms.

  Gavin stopped rowing. “This is Lady Karris White Oak, who, despite the sometimes humorously juxtaposed conjunctions of name and skin color and title, is a member of the Blackguard.” Karris’s look of fury didn’t shift in the slightest. Apparently the old jokes still weren’t funny. “And I…” He’d introduced Karris first to give himself a moment to think. It hadn’t worked. Five years and five purposes left, Gavin. This might be your last chance.

  The boy had been unconscious when Gavin had claimed his patrimony. He didn’t know. He didn’t have to know. Better for him not to know, in many ways. But better still for him not to hear it from Karris first, in a burst of rage. This boy was not his son, but without Gavin and Dazen’s war—the Prisms’ War or the False Prism’s War, depending on which side you’d fought—none of the children of Rekton or a hundred other villages would be fatherless now. Gavin fantasized again for a moment about telling Karris everything she didn’t know, and letting the chips fall where they may. But Karris wouldn’t believe a partial truth and couldn’t handle it whole.

  At least this lie would give an orphan a father. It would give a child who’d lost everything one thing back. Gavin shouldn’t care, but he did.

  “I’m Prism Gavin Guile. I’m… you’re my natural son.”

  The boy looked at him like he didn’t understand what Gavin had said.

  “Perfect,” Karris said. “Why don’t you just drop everything on him at once? Why don’t you think, Gavin? I swear you’re as impulsive as Dazen ever was.”

  Impulsive? Pot, meet kettle. Gavin ignored Karris, looking only at the boy. He’d just admitted to cheating on her years ago, lying to her about it afterward, and then—just an hour ago—lying to her again. She was doing cold rage, and it didn’t fit her. Hot rage was more her style.

  The boy glanced at her, confused by her anger, then glanced back. He was still squinting, though Gavin couldn’t tell how much of that was from his headache from being cracked across the back of the head, how much might be lightsickness from drafting, and how much was confusion from his rapidly changing situation.

  “You’re what?” Kip asked.

  “You’re my natural son.” It was too hard, for some reason, to say, “I’m your father.”

  “And you come now?” Kip asked, sick despair painting his face. “Why didn’t you come yesterday? You could have saved everyone!”

  “I didn’t know you existed until this morning. And we came as fast as humanly possible.” Faster, really. “If your town hadn’t been on fire, we wouldn’t have known to come.”

  “You didn’t know about me? How could you not know?” Kip asked plaintively.

  “Enough!” Gavin roared. “I’m here now! I saved your life, probably at the cost of a war that will make ten thousand more orphans. What more do you want?”

  Kip withered, shrank in on himself.

  “Unbelievable. You bully,” Karris said. “You’re given a son, and the first thing you do is scream at him. You’re a brave man, Gavin Guile.”

  The unfairness of it all made Gavin’s fists curl. Justice and injustice and the insanity of this life he’d chosen boiled over. “You want to lecture me about bravery? Is this the woman who ran away from a noble house to become a guard? Trying to get yourself killed through work or using too much magic isn’t bravery, Karris; it’s cowardice. What do you want from me? You want me to bring back your dead brothers?”

  Karris slapped him. “Don’t,” she said. “Don’t you ever—”

  “Talk about your brothers? Your brothers were vipers. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Dazen killed them. The best thing he ever did was kill them, and the best thing they ever did was die.”

  Karris’s eyes went red, and luxin curled through her skin in an instant. Gavin felt a stab of fear—not for himself. He could stop whatever she threw his way. But every time a person drafted huge quantities, they hastened their own death. And they granted their color more sway over them. When he’d first met Karris, her jade green eyes had only the smallest ruby stars in them. Now, even at rest, when she wasn’t drafting, those ruby stars dominated the green.

  But Karris didn’t attack. She said, “I’m a slow learner, but I finally got it. You’ve betrayed me for the last time, Gavin.” She nearly spat his name. “I—”

  “You damn stubborn woman! I love you, Karris. I’ve always loved you.”

  It was like the wind went out of her sails for a few heartbeats. Red luxin drained from her fingertips. Then, when Gavin was just starting to hope, she said, “You dare? You unbelievable—you—you—Gavin Guile, you’ve brought me nothing but misery and death. We’re finished!” She grabbed her bag and jumped off the boat.

  Gavin was too startled to say anything. He watched as Karris swam to shore and then dragged herself and her bag out of the water. She could travel to Garriston without him, of course, and she’d still arrive earlier than her contact had expected. There were, of course, bandits to worry about, and a woman traveling alone would make a prime target.

  If the bandits got careless because of that fact, they’d be lucky to survive. But everyone had to sleep sometime. Karris was being rash, but nothing Gavin could say would make any difference. Not for a long while. This was why the White had tried to arrange it so he wouldn’t be present when she found out about his bastard. He could go after her, but it would be useless. With her temper, he would only make things worse.

  Five purposes, and I didn’t even spit out the whole truth.

  Kip was huddled to one side of the boat, trying to be small. He glanced up and met Gavin’s eyes for a moment. “What are you staring at?” Gavin demanded.

  Chapter 20

  Though she had never drafted a drop of blue, Karris had always had an affinity for what were called the blue virtues. She liked having a plan. She liked order, structure, hierarchy. Even as a child, she enjoyed learning etiquette. Sitting at a Parian formal dinner and knowing the exact function of every tiny spoon and shell cracker, knowing how many times to flick the excess water from your fingers after washing in the water bowl between the first and second course, and knowing where exactly to set your three-tined urum to let the table slaves know you were finished eating brought her something akin to peace. Placing your goblet halfway over the lateral divisor meant you wanted exactly half a glass more wine. On the vertical meant you’d like to switch from white to red. Sign and countersign. The luxiat’s call and the congregation’s response. She loved dance and
could perform most of the dances of the Seven Satrapies. She loved music and could play the gemshorn or accompany herself on the psantria while she sang. But nothing she’d learned was helping her now. There was no structure, no hierarchy, no order to direct her.

  She was supposed to still be on a ship. She was supposed to meet with a Chromeria spy before she got this far into Tyrea. He was supposed to guide her up the river to King Garadul’s army and give her a cover that would get her into the army without getting killed. Instead, she was dripping wet, alone, and less than a full day’s walk from that army, with no introduction, no map, no guidelines, no plan. Gavin and his bastard had disappeared down the river not five minutes ago.

  I’m getting reckless. The red is destroying me.

  Karris wrung out her heavy black wool cloak and started looking for a place to make camp. On the hillside there were huge numbers of eucalyptus trees filling the air with their fragrance, mixing with the taller pines, blocking out the harsh rays of Orholam’s bright eye. It took her only a few minutes to find a decent spot mostly obscured by brush. She gathered wood and made a little pyramid. She didn’t bother with kindling: there were advantages to being a red. But she did look around carefully for several minutes before she drew out her spectacles from their little pocket up one sleeve. She was alone. She drafted a thin thread of red luxin into the base of her pyramid.

  Even drafting that much red blew on the coals of her fury. She tucked away the red and green lenses and thought of smashing Gavin’s grinning face. I love you? How dare he?

  She shook her head and shook her finger out, flinging away deliberately off-center red luxin, getting rid of the excess. As with all luxin drafted imperfectly, it decayed rapidly, releasing a paired scent: the smell of resin that all luxin shared and the odd, dried-tea-leaves-and-tobacco smell of red in particular.

  She took out a flint and her knife instead of drafting sub-red directly for a spark. She was already cold, so she struck the spark like a mere mortal.

  I love you. That bastard.

  While her wet clothes dried, she changed into the spare clothing that had been in her waterproof bag. Tyrean fashion had become mercifully practical in the last fifteen years. Though in social or urban settings women wore calf- or ankle-length dresses belted and often accompanied with a wrap or a full jacket for the evening, on the trail and in the countryside women often wore men’s linen trousers, albeit with longer shirts than men wore as a nod to modesty, worn untucked but belted, like a tunic. The way Commander Ironfist had explained it to her was that after the False Prism’s War, there hadn’t been enough men and boys to harvest the oranges or other fruits. The young women who’d joined the harvesters had shortened their skirts to make it easier to climb ladders repeatedly. Clearly someone had objected to that. Probably not the young men holding the ladders.

  Thus the addition of trousers.

  Karris liked the clothing. She was used to wearing men’s clothes from training with the Blackguard, and if this loose linen didn’t move with her as nicely or feel as soft as the stretchy, luxin-infused Blackguard garb, it was still cool. It also did a better job of camouflaging her body than the tight Blackguard garb. No man would dare so much as whistle at a woman Blackguard on the Jaspers, even if she was flaunting a hard-earned figure a little. A woman traveling alone in a far country shouldn’t tempt fate more than necessary.

  As her little fire burned merrily, Karris distracted herself by arming carefully. Her ataghan would sit concealed and fairly accessible within her pack once the black cloak was dried and rolled up. A bich’hwa—a scorpion—was strapped to one thigh inside her trousers. It was a weapon with iron rings to fit the fingers, four claws for swiping, and a dagger—the scorpion’s tail—for stabbing. It wasn’t quickly accessible, but she always thought it was good to have more weapons than were visible. Another long knife was tucked into her belt. Her bifocal spectacles went into the bag. Their weight simply made them too obvious if she concealed them in these long, flowing sleeves. That left her with her eye caps. The caps, with horizontally streaked lenses of red and green, each fit onto an eye socket, as tight and close to the eye as possible. A thin ridge of sticky red luxin made sure the lenses would stay on her face—and, if she weren’t careful, would rip off half her eyebrow when she removed them. The sticky red luxin was shielded with a little strip of solid yellow luxin that was to be torn off before you stuck the caps onto your eyes.

  For all that the eye caps had saved her life a time or three, Karris didn’t like them. Naturally long eyelashes were a nice accessory at the Luxlords’ Ball, but not so much when you had a lens a finger’s breadth from your eye.

  Karris hid her caps in plain sight, on a necklace made of chunky multicolored stones, none so clear or interesting as to make the necklace seem valuable. The caps clicked together around one link and blended with all the other stones. Another pair of caps was tucked under her belt buckle.

  I’m stalling, she thought.

  From where she was now, she had only two choices. She could head down the river and meet up with her contact in Garriston and then come back up the river, or she could try to infiltrate King Garadul’s army on her own. Going down the river would waste time, and she’d still be much too early. There was also the threat of bandits. She assumed her contact would have some good way of circumventing them on the way back up, but that wouldn’t help her as she headed downriver. Going on alone would mean trying to join a hostile army without a proper introduction. And now that Gavin had clashed with King Garadul, the king knew that the Chromeria had already gotten one drafter here, so surely he would be doubly suspicious of anyone else showing up.

  In fact, Gavin’s little stunt in Rekton had probably made her work impossible. There were certainly Tyreans as pale as she was, but her accent was wrong, and she was a drafter. To a suspicious camp, everything about her would scream spy. The White’s orders had never factored in the circumstances in which she found herself now. It was like sitting at what you thought was a dignified Parian dinner with its rules, and finding yourself seated with raucous Ilytian pirates feeding you blowfish instead. There were rules for that too, and if you broke them, you’d consume a nice tender morsel that contained a poison that would leave you in agony for ten minutes, at which point it would leave you dead.

  And Karris didn’t know the rules here.

  Of course, Gavin would just eat the whole damned fish—and somehow, miraculously, it wouldn’t harm him. Everything was effortless for Gavin. He’d never had to work hard for anything. Born with a monumental talent to a scheming rich father, he simply took what he wanted. Even the rules of being a Prism didn’t constrain him—he traveled to and fro about the Seven Satrapies without so much as a Blackguard escort when he didn’t want one. And now he could cross the Cerulean Sea in a few hours. For Orholam’s sake, now he could fly.

  Get out of my head, liar. I’m done with you.

  The lines didn’t fit. The tiny spoons were gone, and the urums had a thousand tines instead of three. Fine. Karris wasn’t going home. She wasn’t going to wait for some man to come hold her hand and get her into Garadul’s camp. She wasn’t going to fail. There was more than one way to find out what King Garadul’s plans were.

  Of course, she didn’t know what those were, but she was going to figure it out. As for now, she remembered something her brother Koios used to say before he’d been killed in the fire: “When you don’t know what to do, do what’s right and do what’s in front of you. But not necessarily what’s right in front of you.”

  The town of Rekton had been burned to the ground. There had been one survivor. There might be more, and if there were, they would be in desperate need of help and possibly protection. Those, Karris could provide.

  And if it involved lighting some jackass up with a fireball the size of a small house, so much the better.

  Chapter 21

  They practically flew down the river. Kip had never traveled so fast in his life. And the Prism didn’t speak a
word, sunk into his own dark mood. For most of the afternoon, Gavin Guile worked what the scull had in the place of oars—for a while, it would be almost like a ladder, then it would be like the bellows of a forge, then it would be oars, then it would be a rolling track. Gavin worked at one until he was exhausted, muscles quivering, sweat matting his thin shirt. Then he would draft a little, the oars would change to some new shape that gave his most weary muscles a rest, and he would keep going.

  When Kip finally found his voice, he said, “Sir, um, he took my case?” He wasn’t going to ask about Karris White Oak or what Gavin had said. Not now. Not ever.

  Gavin looked at Kip, his mouth tight. Kip regretted speaking at once. “It was that or your life.”

  Kip paused, then said, “Thank you, sir. For saving me.” That seemed like a better choice than saying, But that was mine! It was the last thing—the only thing—my mother ever gave me!

  “You’re welcome,” Gavin said. He glanced back up the river, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.

  “That man, he’s responsible for killing my mother, isn’t he?” Kip asked.


  “I thought you were going to kill him right there. But you stopped.”

  Gavin glanced at him, weighing him. His voice was distant. “I wasn’t willing for the innocent to die so I could kill the guilty.”

  “Those men weren’t innocent! They murdered everyone I know!” Tears leaked down Kip’s face. He felt ragged, wrung out, finished.

  “I was talking about you.”

  It caught Kip short, but his emotions were still a jumble. His presence had kept Gavin from killing King Garadul. He didn’t know words that could convey his feelings for that. He’d failed his mother again. He’d actually blocked her vengeance by his own incompetence.

  I’ll make good, mother. On my soul. I’ll kill him. I swear it.

  Half a dozen small villages passed, and dozens of boats. Fed by tributaries, the river widened. But Gavin stopped only once, to buy a roasted chicken and bread and wine. He threw the food to Kip. “Eat.” Then they were off again. Gavin didn’t eat. He didn’t speak or even slow when they passed the fishermen startled by their appearance.

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