The night angel trilogy, p.132
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.132

           Brent Weeks
 

  “It’s definitely the bond,” Sister Ariel said. That was good and bad. The only other guess they’d had was that Vi’s rapid progress with her Talent had been hiding some flaw, and all her power had rebounded on her. From her talks with Sister Ariel, Elene had learned that Vi was terrifically Talented, but completely uneven in what she learned. Her wetboy training had enabled her to use her Talent easily, but she’d missed certain basics—and the Sisters had no idea which ones, so it seemed Vi mastered some difficult things as easily as breathing, and some easy things she couldn’t get at all. When she’d collapsed, everyone had been frightened.

  Of course, if it was the bond, that meant something had gone really wrong with Kylar. Elene looked at Sister Ariel.

  “We’ve had pigeons from Cenaria that a treason trial was being concluded,” Sister Ariel said. “I deduce from Vi’s state that the sentence is being carried out even now. The wheel, I would imagine.” She looked up and down the corridor. “With Kylar’s special… gifts, it’s taking longer than it should. And Vi has been helping him heal by taking some of his suffering onto herself. It’s only making the inevitable last longer, so it’s a cruel kindness, but it is well meant.”

  Kylar was dying, right now? Elene should have felt it, she should have known as Vi did. In fact, she would have, if Vi hadn’t stolen her ring. Jealousy flashed through her, and she suppressed it only with difficulty. Dammit, why couldn’t you forgive someone once and be done with it? “Why would she help him like that?” Elene asked.

  “One can only guess. But then I don’t claim to know much about love.”

  The word was a blow. Vi loved Kylar? This much?

  Vi sat bolt upright and shrieked. Her eyes met Elene’s. She grabbed her own shins. “No, I can’t—I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough. It hurts too much.” She fell back on the bed, babbling, then shrieked again, holding her arms. “No, Kylar, no!” Then she lost consciousness, and Elene knew Kylar was dead.

  Sister Ariel stepped forward immediately and grabbed Vi’s earring. She tried to pry it off, but it wouldn’t budge. “Dammit. The bond’s not broken. Not even by his…” she trailed off, realizing that this place was too public to admit Kylar’s immortality. “I was hoping—well, not hoping that he would… you know what, but that if he did, that the bond would break.” Sister Ariel grimaced and looked away. “It was my last hope for you. The bond really is forever. I’m sorry, Elene. I’m sorry.”

  The walk through the golden halls of death was familiar now. Kylar glided forward, not really touching the ground. It was as if the mind constructed movement as walking, having to impose some order on a realm that existed without human analogues.

  The Antechamber of the Mystery was exactly as he remembered it. The Wolf sat on his throne, yellow eyes lambent, hostility etched into his burn-scarred face. Two doors sat opposite him: the plain wood door through which Kylar would walk back to life, and the gold door leaking warm light around its edges, barred to him forever. The ghostly presence of others filled the room. They moved unseen, staring, talking about him.

  “Congratulations, Nameless,” the Wolf said. “You’ve proved you can sacrifice yourself like you don’t care if you die. Like you don’t give a damn about the living. How like the young.” The wolfish smile was cruel.

  Kylar was too tired to play games. The Wolf didn’t intimidate him anymore. “Why do you hate me?” he asked.

  The Wolf cocked his head, taken off guard. “Because you’re a waste, Nameless. People love you more than you have any right to, and you treat them like they’re shit to be scraped off your boots.”

  It was so unfair after what Kylar had gone through that he threw his hands up. “You know what, to hell with you. You can make your little cryptic comments and hate me if you want to, but at least call me by my fucking name.”

  “And what name is that?” the Wolf asked.

  “Kylar. Kylar Stern.”

  “Kylar Stern? The stern, undying dier? That’s not a name; it’s a title. It’s a judge.”

  “Azoth, then.”

  “You are many leagues from that shitless, witless rat, but even were you he, do you know what azoth is?”

  “What do you mean?”

  The Wolf laughed unkindly. “Azoth is an old word for quicksilver. Random, formless, unpredictable, literally mercurial. You, Nameless, can be anyone and thus are no one. You’re smoke, a shadow that melts away in the light of day. Kagé they call you. A shadow of what you could be and a shadow of your master, who was a titan.”

  “My master was a coward! He never even told me who he was!” Kylar shouted. He blinked. The depth of his rage left him shaken. Where had that come from?

  The Wolf was pensive. The ghosts in the room fell silent. Then, in a murmur unintelligible to Kylar’s ears, one of them spoke to the Wolf. The Wolf folded his hands over his stomach. He nodded, acquiescing. “Prince Acaelus Thorne of Trayethell was a warrior and not much else. Neither introspective nor wise, he was one of the rare good men who love war. He didn’t hate himself or life. He wasn’t cruel. He simply gloried in a contest with the highest possible stakes. He was good at it, too, and he became one of Jorsin Alkestes’ best friends.

  “That nettled one of Jorsin’s other best friends, an easily nettled archmagus named Ezra, who thought Acaelus a charismatic fool who happened to be good at swinging a sword. In return, Acaelus thought Ezra a coward who took Jorsin away from where he belonged in the front lines. When the Champions were chosen—the men and women who were Jorsin’s final hope of victory—Ezra intended to bond the Devourer himself. It was by far the most powerful ka’kari and he had sweat and bled for it. The only man to whom he would willingly surrender it was Jorsin. But the Devourer didn’t choose Ezra. Or Jorsin. It chose the sword-swinger.

  “Perhaps you can appreciate why it seemed odd that an artifact which by its nature was concerned with concealment would go to a man completely lacking subtlety.”

  It did seem odd, though the choice had obviously proved wise.

  “The Devourer didn’t choose your master simply because he was an obscure choice. It chose Acaelus because it understood his heart. Acaelus loved the clash of arms, but most men who love battle love it because it proves their mastery over others. If the Devourer had given itself to a man who loved power as Ezra did, it would have spawned a tyrant of terrible proportions. Think of a Godking made truly a god and you have a bit of it. What your master loved, at his core, was the brotherhood of war. He thirsted for the camaraderie of men risking all to come through for each other.

  “The Devourer is nothing if not talented at setting up tensions. For your master to take the black ka’kari, he had to leave that brotherhood. He had to give up what he loved most and become known as a traitor. That tension forced Acaelus to become a deeper, wiser, and sadder man. Then of course, there was the Devourer’s greater tension and greater power. Your master was a man of war, but the vagaries of war are such that even the mighty might be clipped by a stray arrow or a falling horse or the mistake of a friend. So your master lived with the tension of his calling pulling against his fear for any he loved.

  “Acaelus sought to live in peace. He had a few lifetimes as a farmer, a hunter, an apothecary, a perfumer, a blacksmith—can you imagine? Yet though they were full lives—sometimes married, even with children—they were not fulfilled lives, for a man who denies what is essential to his being is a man who drills holes in the cup of his own happiness. How could he help but resent those he loved as they kept him from his calling? Here was a man who could lead armies, who could defeat invasions almost single-handedly. This man was compelled to farm? By his own love? Time and again, he returned to the battlefield because the evil was too great to be ignored. And sometimes he was victorious and there was no price to pay. And sometimes his wife died, but it was worse when his children died; his marriages never survived his children’s deaths. He was a man who never learned to forgive himself.”

  Kylar was missing some essential piece that t
he Wolf thought he understood, but the man kept speaking, and Kylar was so hungry to hear more about his master that he didn’t dare interrupt.

  “So in the end, he sought to defeat the power of the ka’kari by defeating love,” the Wolf said. “He thought that if he refused to love, death could take nothing from him. He deafened himself to love’s voice with killing and whoring and drinking. He became a wetboy because wetboys cannot love. He was ultimately successful, and the ka’kari abandoned him because he finally knew love’s antithesis.”

  “Hatred?”

  “Indifference. When Vonda’s life was threatened, Durzo was relieved. The path he took was a reasonable one—he kept the ka’kari out of young Garoth Ursuul’s hands—but the truth was that he didn’t really care if Vonda died. That was what broke the ka’kari’s bond.”

  “But he came back. Even after I bonded the ka’kari.”

  “Because he loved you, Kylar. He chose to die for you, to give up everything he still had—his sword, his ka’kari, his power, his life—for you. There is no greater love. Such a death was rewarded with new life.”

  “By who? You?” Kylar asked. The Wolf said nothing. “The ka’kari? The God?”

  “Perhaps it is just the way greatest magic works: justice and mercy entwined. It’s a mystery, Kylar. A mystery on a par with the question of why is there life at all? If you wish to answer the mystery by positing a God, you can, or you can say that it just is—and either way, be glad for it, for it is a gift. Or a most fortunate accident.”

  Kylar felt suddenly small in the workings of a universe vast beyond comprehension, vast and yet perhaps not ambivalent even to Durzo’s suffering. One last life—a sheer gift. The ka’kari was even more strange and marvelous than he’d imagined.

  “I thought…” Kylar shook his head. “I thought it was just amazing magic.”

  The Wolf laughed, and even the ghosts in the room seemed startled. “It is amazing magic, it just isn’t just amazing magic. The most potent magics are tied to human truths: beauty and passion and yearning and fortitude and valor and empathy. It is from these that the ka’kari draw their strength as much as it is from the magic they are imbued with.”

  “And the darker truths?” Kylar asked.

  “All human truths. Vengeance and hatred and glorying in destruction and ambition and greed and all the rest have power. The trick to being truly powerful is that your character be in line with the magic you attempt. Meisters make terrible healers. By the same token, most green mages have too much empathy to make war. The more fully human you are, the greater the diversity of your talents. The more deeply you feel, the more potent your gifts. That, Kylar, is why you called the ka’kari. You ached for love. Not only did you want be loved, as do we all, but you wanted to lavish love on your beloved. You wanted it with your whole being and you thought it had been denied you forever.”

  The way he said it embarrassed Kylar.

  “Don’t be embarrassed,” the Wolf said. “What is more human than to love and be loved? Between loving and thinking that love was denied you, that tension amplified your power.”

  “That tension’s with me still, isn’t it?” Kylar asked. “For my love will always be dangerous to those I love.”

  “Clever, isn’t it? Your power is tied to your capacity for love. The creator of the ka’kari gave you a gift and built into it the means to keep it forever powerful. No mean trick, that.”

  “A mean trick is exactly what it is,” Kylar snarled. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”

  “It’s a problem,” the Wolf said, shrugging.

  But Kylar wasn’t listening. He could feel the blood draining out of his face. “Oh my God,” he said. His heart was a thunder in his ears, a rock in his chest. He’d meant he was dangerous to those he loved because his enemies could always threaten them. That wasn’t what the Wolf meant. He’d been telling Kylar for five minutes and Kylar hadn’t understood. Breathless, Kylar asked, “You mean every time I’ve died someone I love has died for me?”

  “Of course. That’s the price of immortality.”

  Kylar’s throat constricted. He was suffocating. “Who…?”

  “Serah Drake died when Roth killed you. Mags Drake died for Scarred Wrable’s arrow on the trail. Ulana Drake died when the Godking killed you.”

  Kylar’s knees buckled. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to faint. Anything, anything to not be. But the moment stretched on and in the midst of the gale, he found himself thinking, thank the God it wasn’t Uly or Elene, and then he cursed himself for the thought. Who was he to weigh one life against another and be thankful that one should die, simply because he loved her less? He’d killed them. Count Drake had taken in a foul-mouthed, amoral guttershite and made him part of his family. And Kylar had murdered the Drakes through his carelessness, his arrogance. For every gift Count Drake had given Kylar, he’d repaid him with grief.

  “And for my blasphemy? When I took money to be killed?”

  “Jarl.”

  Kylar screamed. He tore his cloak. He pounded the ground with his fists, but there was no pain here, no body to mortify. The tears rolled down his cheeks and there was no comfort. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Oh, God.”

  The Wolf was astounded. “But of course you knew. Durzo left you a letter on his body. He explained everything. He told me he put it in his breast pocket.”

  “I couldn’t read it! It was soaked with blood! I couldn’t read a damned thing!” Then the last revelation hit him. “Who is it this time?” he asked, desperately. “Who dies for me this time?”

  The Wolf was aghast. His lambent eyes and scarred face softened, and he looked fully human for the first time. “Kylar. I’m sorry. I thought you knew. I thought you knew all along.”

  “Please. I’ll trade back! Let me trade back.”

  “It doesn’t work like that. There’s nothing either of us can do. This time it’s Elene.”

  58

  Kylar woke on a cold stone slab in a cold room. He didn’t open his eyes. If he could have willed himself never to wake again, he would have. He was still except for his breath and the currents of his life’s blood rushing through his veins. As always when he came back from the dead, his body felt wonderful. Absolutely whole, powerful, bursting with energy. He’d stolen a life and it came to him abundantly. He was overfull, spilling life in every direction. His health was a mockery.

  Tears welled in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks to his ears. No wonder the Wolf had thought him a monster. He’d thought Kylar was throwing away the lives of those he loved and who loved him.

  He lay on his back, but it only got worse, so he opened his eyes. The air was stale, dank. The ceiling was ornate, cool white marble. He was in a crypt. Only feet away, on slabs like his, were a man’s body and a woman’s. The man was big, holding a big sword. The woman’s throat had been cut, and from how she’d decomposed, Kylar guessed she’d been bled dry. The man had died around the same time, surely during the coup. They were Logan’s parents. Around them, the walls were filled with row upon row of Gyre corpses, stretching back centuries. Logan had put Kylar in his own family’s crypt.

  Kylar stood, not even feeling stiffness from having slept on marble. He’d been dressed in a cloth-of-gold tunic and white breeches, and fine fawnskin shoes. It was, of course, pitch black in the crypt. There was no way of telling what time of day it was, and the mouth of the crypt was sealed with a massive rock cut into the shape of a wheel taller than a man. If Kylar remembered correctly, the crypt was located outside the city and sunk beneath the ground. If so, he had a good chance of getting out without anyone knowing. Regardless, he had to get out, so he grabbed the wheel and heaved with his Talent.

  Slowly, the massive stone rolled a half turn and settled into another rest. Kylar went invisible and stepped outside.

  It was night, but the harvest moon was bright and high overhead. In the narrow stairwell that led to the crypt stood a young girl, her eyes wide with fear. It was Blue, the little gutt
ershite from Black Dragon guild.

  Kylar stopped, still invisible, and rubbed his face. Blue didn’t move. He could tell she wanted to run but refused to. Brave little shite. “Kylar?” she whispered.

  What was he supposed to do? Kill her? Avoid her and let her blab stories about the crypt opening? It was unlikely, but someone might open the crypt to check it out. And what would they do when they saw Kylar was gone?

  “Kylar, I know you’re there. Take me with you.”

  Staying invisible, Kylar asked, “Have you ever killed anyone, Blue?”

  She gasped and swallowed, looking for the source of the voice. “No,” she whispered.

  “Do you want to kill people?”

  “I’d kill Dag Tarkus. He kicked Piggy in the stomach for stealing and the next day he died.”

  “What if I told you that to be my apprentice you’d have to kill a dozen kids like Piggy? What if I told you you had to kill your whole guild?”

  Blue started crying.

  “You just want out, don’t you?”

  She nodded her head.

  “Then I need you to do two things, Blue. First, never—ever—speak about this. If you tell anyone, bad people will find out, and they’ll kill lots of good people. You understand? You can’t even tell your best friend.”

  Blue nodded. “I got no friends, not after Piggy died.”

  “Go to the corner of Verdun and Gar. I’ll meet you in an hour.”

  “Promise?”

  “I promise.”

  Blue left and Kylar closed the crypt. He found a safe house and loaded up everything he needed, including Retribution, which he had left before he killed the queen, knowing his weapons would be confiscated. He wrote a note to Rimbold Drake, first explaining about the laundress he’d maimed and asking Drake to pay restitution, and then explaining what the Wolf told Kylar he’d cost the Drakes. He grabbed several bags of gold and a few poisons and changes of clothing, took a cloak and pulled the hood over his face.

 

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