The night angel trilogy, p.122
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.122

           Brent Weeks
 

  Jenine wore a shy smile. From where she stood, she couldn’t see Pricia’s hanged body. She was dressed in a simple gown of green silk that was gathered under her breasts. “I’ve made my decision,” she said, walking forward. “I will marry you, Dorian, and I will learn to love you as you love me.”

  “Jenine, you shouldn’t—” But he was too late. Jenine saw the hanged naked body and the first expression on the face of the woman he loved upon their betrothal was horror.

  “Oh gods!” Jenine said, putting a hand to her mouth.

  “I killed her,” Dorian said and threw up.

  “What?” Jenine asked. She didn’t come to him.

  “She killed herself rather than be forced to burn on Garoth’s pyre,” Hopper said quietly.

  Dorian was on his knees. He blinked his eyes and grabbed a rag off the floor to wipe the vomit from his mouth. It was only after he wiped his beard clean that he looked at the cloth in his hand. It was Pricia’s underclothes. They still smelled of her perfume.

  He vomited again and staggered to his feet. This time he wiped his mouth on his cloak and turned so he couldn’t see Pricia’s body. “Hopper,” he said. “Please take care of her. And double the watches on the concubines. Jenine, I need you to help me make a hard decision. It may have… consequences for our engagement.”

  37

  Vi poured cold water into the basin from a copper pitcher and splashed her face. On the narrow desk by the door, she saw a note addressed to “Viridiana.” Vi didn’t touch it. She’d get ready when she was good and ready. The room was terrible. More like a broom closet. The unfinished stone walls were barely far apart enough to fit the narrow bed with its thin straw mattress. At the foot of the bed was a chest for her belongings and the washbasin. The chest was empty. They’d even taken Vi’s hair ties. Tyros possessed only what the Chantry gave them. In Vi’s case, that meant one ill-fitting white tyro’s dress. The infuriating thing was that she knew that they had a dress that fit perfectly, as if Master Piccun had a fit of genius as he worked with what should have been terminally uninspiring wool and had somehow conquered the cloth to make Vi look beautiful.

  That, obviously, was not the intended effect. That dress had been spirited away, and this white sack put in its place. They hadn’t bothered tailoring a shift for her. The one she’d woken in was obviously used, if—she hoped—clean, and the previous owner had been fatter than she was tall. The shift didn’t even come down to Vi’s knees.

  Vi brushed her hair back irritably. They’d taken her damn hair ties. She wasn’t going to her lectures. She wasn’t leaving the room. They’d taken enough. She looked around the room for something she could use. Her eyes fell on the copper pitcher. “To hell with them,” she said to activate her Talent as she ripped off the handle. In a minute, her hair was pulled back into a fiercely tight braid. “To hell with them,” she said again, and squeezed the copper into a tight circle binding her hair.

  She picked up the note and unfolded it. “Viridiana, after your classes this morning, please come to the private dining hall. Elene wishes to meet you. Sister Ariel”

  Vi couldn’t breathe. Elene? Oh, fuck. She’d known Elene would show up eventually, but so soon?

  The door burst open and a wild-eyed, frumpy teenager stared around the room suspiciously, her arms raised as if she were summoning vast powers. “What’s going on here?” the girl demanded. “You were using magic! Twice! Don’t deny it.”

  Vi laughed, first nervously, then openly, glad for the distraction. The girl was practically wheezing from running. Her cheeks were flushed, sweat beading on her pale forehead under dark hair. She was fat enough and short enough that Vi wondered if this lard barrel had been the prior owner of her shift. She was perhaps fifteen, her white cotton dress edged with blue, and a brooch of gold scales prominent on her chest. “You got me,” Vi said.

  “You admit it!”

  Vi raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Now get out. And knock next time.”

  “It’s forbidden!”

  “Knocking’s forbidden?” Vi asked.

  “No.”

  “Then try it next time, Chunky.”

  “My name is Xandra, and I’m the Floor Monitor. You used magic, twice. That’s two days in the scullery for your first offense. And you disrespected me. That’s a week!”

  “You little shit.”

  “Swearing! Another day! They told me you’d be trouble.” Xandra was shaking. It made her fat jiggle.

  “You’ve got to be fucking joking,” Vi said.

  “Disrespect, swearing again! That’s it! You’ll report to the Mistress Jonisseh for a switching immediately.”

  “You call that disrespect, you squealing sow?” Vi stepped forward. Xandra opened her mouth and raised her arms. Vi said, “Graakos.”

  The shield snapped in place instantly, and whatever Xandra threw at her grazed right off it. Vi grabbed the girl’s arm, twisted and heaved her out of the room. Xandra slid a good ten paces across the hallway’s polished floor. As Vi stepped into the hall, she saw at least thirty little girls staring at her, wide-eyed, most of them under twelve.

  “Please knock next time,” Vi said. She turned on her heel and slammed the door.

  From the hall, she heard Xandra quaver, “Slamming a door, that’s—”

  Vi opened the door and stared daggers at the girl, who was still lying in a heap against the far wall. The words dried up in Xandra’s mouth. Vi slammed the door again, and sat on her bed, picked up the note, tried not to cry—and failed.

  38

  In all his life, Kylar had never seen the people of the Warrens so happy. Agon’s Dogs had stayed with the wagons full of grain and rice to manage the distribution. All the Dogs were members of the Sa’kagé, and they had taken it into their minds to make sure that the food was fairly distributed. “We got our bit coming,” Kylar heard a Dog tell a scowling Sa’kagé basher. “I’ve heard it from high up. Now make sure those guild rats share!”

  The Rabbits joined long queues that moved slowly but steadily forward, and a hard-bitten old coot broke out a tin whistle, sat on his new sack of rice, and began to play. In moments, the Rabbits were dancing. A woman soon had several pots boiling and anyone who dropped a measure of their rice or grain into one pot immediately could take a full, seasoned measure from another. She served bread and rice and soon wine. Someone offered herbs, someone else butter, another meat. In no time, it was a feast.

  In a break between songs, one of Agon’s Dogs stood up and yelled. “Ya might recognize me. I’m Conner Hook, and I grew up in this neighborhood. I seen ya and I know ya and I’m tellin’ ya now, by the High King’s bollocks, if any of ya come tru’ the line twice, I’m callin’ out yer name, and we’re gonna fookin’ add yer ass to the meat pot, got it?”

  A cheer went up—and the line thinned considerably. For the Rabbits, to whom corruption was the unquestioned norm, it was a gift as unexpected as the free food itself. Kylar listened, and heard many a toast to Logan Gyre and many variations of the tale of him slaying an ogre and teary, drunken renditions of his speech establishing the Order of the Garter, and the word “king” muttered a dozen times. He smiled darkly, then froze.

  He glimpsed a lean woman with long blonde hair on the far side of the square. In contrast to the Rabbits, she was so clean she was radiant, and he caught a flash of white teeth as she smiled. His heart stopped. “Elene?” he whispered.

  The woman disappeared around a corner. Kylar went after her, pushing and dodging his way through the jubilant, dancing crowd. When he got to the corner, she was already fifty paces down the twisting alley, turning onto yet another. He ran after her with the speed of his Talent.

  “Elene!” He grabbed her shoulder and she jumped, startled.

  “Hi… Kylar, right?” Daydra asked. She had been one of Momma K’s girls. Playing the virgin was her specialty. From a distance, she looked like Elene.

  Kylar’s heart lurched, and he wasn’t sure if it was more from disappointment or re
lief. He didn’t want Elene here. He didn’t want her in this pit of a city or anywhere nearby when he murdered the queen, but at the same time, he wanted to see her so badly it ached.

  She smiled at him awkwardly. “Um, I don’t work the sheets anymore, Kylar.”

  He flushed. “No, I wasn’t—I’m sorry. I…” He turned and made his way to the castle.

  39

  Feir Cousat and Antoninus Wervel emerged from Quorig’s Pass after noon. As they approached Black Barrow, the evergreen forest that carpeted the foothills ended. Feir hunkered down in his coat against the deep autumn chill and climbed a low rise. The sight took his breath away. No one had lived in Black Barrow for seven hundred years. The land should have been long overgrown with grass, trees, undergrowth. It wasn’t. The grass, at the least, should have been an autumnal brown. It wasn’t. Seven centuries ago, the decisive battle of the War of Shadow had been fought in the early summer, and the grass at Feir’s feet was still short and green. He saw the raw depression where a farmer’s stone fence had been pulled from the earth, the stones taken into the city so that they might not be used as missiles by the enemy’s siege engines. Nothing had grown in the bare depressions that marked where this fence had stood—seemingly only days before. Time had stopped here.

  Lifting his eyes, Feir saw more: ruts from the passage of wagons, grass beaten flat by marching feet, holes for the firepits and latrine pits of an abandoned military camp. But no tents or tools. Anything that could be looted had been taken long ago, but everything that remained stayed unchanged.

  That didn’t only apply to the land. Two hundred paces away, the bodies began. First, a few marking the edge of the battle, and then hundreds, and then thousands, until in the distance the ground lay under a black blanket of the dead. The epicenter of death was a perfectly round dome of black rock the size of a small mountain covering the city and the hill where the castle had once been. At the base of the dome, siege engines on broken wheels, half-consumed by fires, tottered but hadn’t fallen despite the centuries.

  The dome was surrounded by a larger circle of magic in the land itself, miles across, called the Dead Demesne. Outside the circle, time continued, wind blew, rain fell. Inside the Dead Demesne… they didn’t.

  Feir rolled his great shoulders, readying himself. He cupped his hands close to his face and conjured a fire with his Talent. Then he stepped across the boundary into the circle of death. Nothing happened. He let the fire die.

  “That’s odd,” he said aloud. Antoninus grunted in assent. Feir squinted at the air.

  The Dead Demesne—like Black Barrow itself—was Emperor Jorsin Alkestes’ work. He had made it lethal to use the vir within the circle, but because vir had similarities to the Talent, there was always some dissonance in the circle when anyone tried using the Talent. Little things would be different, like mage fire being red instead of orange. But Alkestes’ weave was gone.

  Feir rubbed his scruffy beard. It was good for him. He wouldn’t have to factor it into the work he’d come here to do. But someone had broken what Jorsin made. That was not good.

  Examining the air over the circle in the same way he had examined the circle in Ezra’s Wood, Feir studied the magic. He could feel an emptiness in the weaves—the great magics Jorsin had woven didn’t break without leaving a trace. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell much except that that the weaves had been broken recently. But to break a spell Jorsin Alkestes had made using Curoch would have required someone incredibly powerful here wielding some artifact, or a couple of hundred magi or Vürdmeisters working together. Feir couldn’t imagine anyone with a shred of sense or decency participating in such a scheme. So that meant Vürdmeisters.

  Jorsin’s other weaves, the ones sealing the ground and sealing the dead, were perfectly intact. Feir didn’t think they would be so easily broken, either. He hoped not.

  Feir scanned the distant trees, suddenly queasy that unfriendly eyes might be hiding within them. He walked across the plain quickly, the air curiously odorless even as he approached the first body.

  The creature was the black of a bloated corpse and man-shaped but ill-proportioned. Its arms were too long, its face too long, lower jaw jutting forward, ragged hooks of teeth stabbing up into the air from its lower jaw, mismatched black and blue eyes staring. It was massively muscled. Its skin was hairy, bordering on fur, and it had neither clothes, nor weapon. It was a krul. The meisters could not make life, but they could mimic and mock it. There were, Dorian had once told Feir, dark mirrors of almost every natural creation.

  Feir and Antoninus walked on. It was going to get worse. A lot worse.

  Soon, dead krul lay everywhere. Thousands had been killed bloodlessly by Jorsin’s magic, but thousands more bore the marks of their deaths. Ugly faces had been crushed by war hammers or flailing hooves. Chests were caved in from being trampled. Throats were cut, torsos disemboweled, eyes hung by optic nerves from broken sockets, and blood glistened freshly in the wounds, never drying, never congealing.

  Paths had been cleared through the bodies, and they followed them mutely. It wasn’t long before Feir saw a human arm amid the krul, then a leg that appeared to have been half eaten. The bodies were piled knee-deep on either side of them. Then they began passing krul who’d been killed by magic. There were great craters in the battlefield empty of all but pulverized scraps of meat. Others had been burned or cut in half or shocked. Some had torn their faces to ribbons with their own claws.

  The krul began to vary, too. Pure white krul with spiraling rams’ horns led every unit of twelve, and larger ones seven feet tall appeared more rarely still. They walked past an entire platoon of four-legged feline krul the size of horses, with jet-black skin, sparse hair like a rat’s tail, and exaggerated maws like a wolf. Rarer still were those like bears, easily twelve feet tall and with thick fur the color of new blood. As they trekked through the vast battlefield, it seemed every natural animal had found a dark mockery here. Bats, ravens, eagles, fanged horses, horned horses, even dark, red-eyed elephants carrying archers lay in ignominious death.

  “The monsters,” Antoninus said quietly. “Was nothing holy to them?”

  Feir followed Antoninus’s gaze and saw the krul children. They were most beautiful of all the krul, with balanced features, big child’s eyes, pale skin close to a human shade, and long claws for fingers. These still wore their human clothes. Even the looters hadn’t touched them. Feir almost gagged. They moved on, ever closer to the great black dome.

  After a while, Feir felt inured to the horror. There were a thousand thousand permutations of death, krul of every shape and size and sometimes men and often horses, but the magical fixedness of it, the lack of smell, the stillness of the air, lent it a certain unreality, as if the dead were figures carved of wax.

  If Jorsin was to be believed, one million one hundred thirteen thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine krul lay dead here. Various magi scholars had guessed that between five hundred thousand and a million krul would face them. Against fifty thousand men. The rest of Jorsin’s armies had been drawn away by his own treacherous generals.

  Then Jorsin had done all this, with Curoch—the very blade Feir had gone into the Wood to retrieve. Of course, he had only retrieved instructions. Curoch was safe in Ezra’s Wood forever, and thank the gods for that.

  “Well, here we are,” Antoninus said as they finally touched the dome of Black Barrow. “Now we can forge our counterfeit Ceur’caelestos and save Lantano Garuwashi and all his men. Indeed, maybe all the south.”

  Feir said, “All we have to do is find Ezra’s secret entrance to Black Barrow, find Ezra’s workshop and his gold tools, find seven broken mistarille swords, rediscover a forging technique every present-day Maker says is a myth, find one giant ruby, and avoid detection by a couple of hundred Vürdmeisters plotting gods know what.”

  “Oh,” Antoninus said, waggling his great, single kohled eyebrow, “here I thought it was going to take all winter.”

  40

&nbs
p; A knock sounded on Vi’s door hours later. “It’s Sister Ariel. May I come in?”

  “I can’t stop you. There’s no lock on the door,” Vi said.

  Sister Ariel came in. She said nothing for a time, staring around the bare room with apparent nostalgia.

  “What do you want?” Vi asked.

  “A bit nervous about going to the lecture, huh? Or was it your meeting with Elene that’s got you acting more like a tyrant than a tyro?” Sister Ariel said.

  “I fucked up,” Vi said, sulking, knowing it, hating it, and sulking anyway. “Now they hate me, like always.”

  “They’re twelve years old. They don’t dare hate you.”

  “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

  “I’m not terribly concerned about your feelings, Vi. However, given the difficulties of your case and that I discovered you, and most of all because I couldn’t come up with an excuse quickly enough, I’ve been put in charge of your tutelage.”

  Vi groaned.

  “My feelings exactly. First of all, this room is entirely inappropriate for you.”

  “I get a better room?”

  “You get to share a room. You were given a single in deference to your age. That was a mistake. You’re isolated enough as is. As of this afternoon, you’ll have a roommate. In case you’re curious, the room will be only slightly larger than this one.” Vi pitched back onto the bed. “Now, since you are my responsibility, you’ll go to lecture. Now. Elene will have to wait until later.”

  Vi didn’t move.

  “Do we need to repeat certain lessons we learned on the trail?” Ariel asked.

  Vi stood quickly.

  “And by the by, lest you being put under my care be seen as a reward, all the punishments that your unfortunate floor monitor imposed will be carried out, as well as a few of my own. Follow.” Ariel left, and Vi had no choice but to follow her like a whipped dog.

 
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