The night angel trilogy, p.134
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.134

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Yes I do, I threw it into Ezra’s Wood.”

  “You what?!”

  “I made a deal with the Wolf. I didn’t get your note until afterward.”

  Durzo rubbed his temples. “And what did he give you in return for the most powerful artifact in the world?”

  “He brought me back to life faster—and gave me my arm back, which I kind of cut off.”

  Durzo’s flat stare was all too familiar, despite that it was coming through almond-shaped eyes. It suggested he was seeing previously undredged depths of stupidity. “And between assassinating a Godking and a Cenarian queen and rescuing a man from the Hole and making a king of him, when did you squeeze in the time to find and lose the world’s most coveted magical sword?” Durzo asked.

  “It only took me a week. Lantano Garuwashi had it. I dueled him for it.”

  “Is he as good as they say?”

  “Better. And he’s not even Talented.”

  “Then how’d you win?” Durzo asked.

  “Hey!” Kylar protested.

  “Kylar, I trained you. You’re not the best. Someday, maybe. So either he’s not as good as they say, or you got lucky, or you cheated.”

  “I got lucky,” Kylar admitted. “Is it so bad though? I mean throwing Curoch in the Wood?”

  “Do you know who the Wolf is?” Durzo asked.

  “That was the next question.”

  “The better question is who the Wolf was. No one knows what he is now.”

  “I’ll bite. Who was the Wolf?” Kylar asked.

  “In Jorsin Alkestes’ court, there was a mage with golden eyes. He was slightly less Talented than Jorsin himself in terms of raw power, but whereas Jorsin had to learn the arts of war and leadership and diplomacy in addition to magecraft, the golden-eyed mage had only magecraft to study, and he was the kind of genius of magic born once in a thousand years. He had few graces and fewer friends, but Jorsin meant the world to him. In the war, he lost everything: Jorsin, all his tomes of magic, his only other friend, Oren Razin, and his fiancée. He lost his sanity, too, and no one knows if he ever really regained it. He hid in a forest where he could work out his hatred. The forest, of course, took his name.”

  “Ezra’s Wood,” Kylar whispered. “The Wolf is Ezra?”

  “Jorsin had a close friend who betrayed him, a man named Roygaris Ursuul.”

  “Oh God.”

  “During the war, Roygaris Made something—out of himself. We called it the Reaver. It was impervious to magic, faster than thought. It killed thousands of us.” Durzo touched his cheek. “I was the first person to even wound it. My pockmarks are from where its blood sprayed me. Magic couldn’t heal me. After the last battle, the Reaver was badly wounded. Instead of killing it, Ezra took it to the Wood. Fifty years later, there was a power struggle of some sort, and every living thing in that wood died—and dies to this day, whether animal, krul, mage, or the purest virgin. Armies from both north and south have perished there. Whatever it is, the Wolf has been collecting artifacts for seven centuries, and he gets the best of every deal.”

  Kylar felt suddenly cold. “What did you give him?”

  “A couple of the ka’kari. He wants them all—and Curoch and Iures.”

  “Iures?”

  “The companion to Curoch. The Sword of Power and the Staff of Law. Jorsin died the day Iures was finished, before he could use it. No one knows what happened to it.”

  “But what’s the Wolf trying to accomplish?”

  “I don’t know. Kylar, we’ve held one ka’kari, and its power is awesome. Imagine what an archmagus could do with seven ka’kari and Curoch and Iures. Even if the Wolf is Ezra, would you trust a madman with that much power? Would you even trust yourself? What if the Wolf isn’t Ezra, what if it’s Roygaris?”

  “So you’ve opposed him,” Kylar said.

  “After I gave him the brown ka’kari, I thought better of it. Since then, I’ve scattered ka’kari to the ends of the earth. This is no short-term ambition. It has taken the Wolf seven hundred years to get a few ka’kari and now Curoch, and perhaps Iures. He doesn’t care if it takes another hundred years to get the rest. This is part of your burden. Make sure he doesn’t get them all.”

  “But he might be on our side,” Kylar said.

  “You tell that to all the innocents he’s murdered.”

  “What do I tell all the innocents you’ve murdered?”

  Durzo blinked. He chewed on his lip. “The problem with the black ka’kari is that it doesn’t work in a mirror. I could never see the state of my own soul, and you can’t see yours either. But if you wish, bring it to your eyes now. Judge me.”

  Kylar didn’t dare. Durzo had poisoned dozens during the coup alone. There were surely hundreds—thousands—more deaths on his soul. If Kylar saw profound guilt, he might not be able to stop himself from killing Durzo. Or at least trying. It wasn’t a fight he wanted to win, and now that he knew the cost of losing, that was even worse. “What should I do about the Wolf?” Kylar asked.

  “Nothing now. But if you hear that Mount Tenji isn’t spitting fire for the first time in two centuries, or you hear that the Tlaxini Maelstrom has stilled, you need to move fast. Like I said, this is not a short-term threat.”

  “When does it end?”

  Durzo snorted. His hand moved to his belt where he used to carry a small pouch of garlic cloves. He noticed and gritted his teeth. “It could be hundreds of years. It could be twenty. Giving him Curoch was a big mistake.”

  Thanks. “Can we win?”

  “We? I’m mortal now, kid. At best I have thirty, forty years left? I’m not terribly interested in tangling with the Wolf. Can you win? It’s possible. He can’t live forever. His magic’s only an imitation of ours. Yours.”

  “He made one black ka’kari, why not make another one for himself?” Kylar asked.

  “Made it? No. Ezra found it. He studied it to make the others, but they were all inferior copies.”

  “It told me—”

  “Let me guess, something about being crafted with ‘limited intelligence’? The black ka’kari was ancient when I was born, Kylar. It told you that so it wouldn’t scare the shit out of you. You’re sharing your head with a being whose power dwarfs yours.”

  ~I wouldn’t say my power exactly dwarfs yours.~

  “Give the fucker my regards,” Durzo said.

  ~I loved you better than you loved yourself, Acaelus.~

  “I have to say, though, if he tells you to move, do it,” Durzo said.

  Right. Thanks. The first time the ka’kari had spoken to Kylar, it told him to duck. He hadn’t—and had taken an arrow through the chest moments later. “Wait,” Kylar said. “You never answered my question about dying by Curoch before the ka’kari kills someone in my place.”

  “Don’t,” Durzo said. “It’s not the ka’kari that kills anyone. It’s us. You’re twenty years old and you’ve died five, six times? That’s not the ka’kari’s fault.”

  “Fine, it’s my fault. Curoch?”

  Irritation passed over Durzo’s face, but he let it go. “Dying by Curoch might leave the person you love alive. Equally possible is that it will kill everyone you love. It’s a feral magic. Curoch means the Sunderer. It was not intended for gentle things. It’s a bad gamble, kid.”

  Kylar exhaled heavily. “This is all kind of a lot to absorb at once.”

  “Then absorb while we ride. We’re burning daylight.”

  They rode until dark, and ate together, speaking only of inconsequential things. Kylar told Durzo everything that had happened in his absence. Durzo laughed, sometimes in the wrong places, as if laughing at similarities to his own memories, but more frequently than Kylar remembered him ever laughing before.

  Then Durzo began telling stories. Kylar was surprised to find him an excellent raconteur. “I was a bard one life,” Durzo said. “I took it up to train my memory. I wasn’t very good.”

  Some of the stories he told were familiar from bards’ tales Ky
lar had heard, though the details were very different. He told of a young Alexan the Blessed caught with dysentery in the mountains during his first campaign taking off his plate cuisses and dropping his mail trousers to squat in the bushes and then getting ambushed. His descriptions of Alexan fighting with a sword in one hand and trying to hike up his armor with the other had Kylar howling. Then Alexan tumbled down the mountain and fell a hundred feet. They found him at the bottom without a scratch—or his trousers, which had caught in a tree ten feet from the bottom of the ravine, slowing his fall and saving his life. “The Tomii used shitting as an intensifier, like we might say someone was damn lucky, they said he was shitting lucky. That’s why they called him Alexan the Shitting Lucky. Later some prude translated it Alexan the Blessed. He was a good kid.” Durzo laughed. Then his smile faded. “Broke my heart to kill him. But he needed killing by the end.”

  Kylar looked at his master intently. He said, “You’re different now.”

  Durzo said nothing for a long time. He was like a caterpillar half-metamorphosed. One minute he was the old, hard-as-nails Durzo. The next he was this laughing, reminiscing stranger.

  “The Wolf has worked with me for almost seven hundred years. Ezra and Roygaris were the best Healers ever. Whichever the Wolf is, he’s seen me die and come back dozens of times. He knows the magic and how exactly the ka’kari worked with my body. But he isn’t a prophet. At least not a natural-born one, unlike Dorian. So even with all his magic, he can only get bits and pieces. When I died, I think he spent a long time trying to figure out if my being alive one more time would help him or hurt him. Then he decided to raise me.”

  Kylar wondered about that. The Wolf had said Durzo’s resurrection was a mystery, a gift. Was he simply being modest, or did he really not know how Durzo had come back?

  “Anyway, by the time the Wolf started working on me, my body had pretty much rotted away. So I feel like a new man.” He grinned, then stirred their little fire, watching the sparks.

  “So this life is different, isn’t it?” Kylar asked.

  “Sometimes to love is easy, but to accept love is hard. I used to always be the man who led the charge. The Devourer steals that. Tell me, what kind of man would put his eight-year-old daughter at the spear tip of a cavalry charge? A monster. But what kind of man would refuse to fight when his enemies threaten all he holds dear? That’s why I trained relentlessly. That’s why I became the perfect killer. Because every time I wasn’t good enough, I murdered someone I loved. I thought I finally defeated love when the ka’kari abandoned me, but then there you were in the tower, standing athwart fate and crying, No! I realized three things as your crazy ass dove into the river. First, you… cared about me.”

  Kylar nodded silently. To hear Durzo say it without scoffing was alien, and the man seemed to marvel at it himself.

  Durzo plowed ahead. “I knew your regard wasn’t easily won, and I knew you’d seen darker sides of me than I’d let even most of my wives see.” He chuckled. “You know, I can ignore it when Count Drake loves me. He’s a saint. He cares about everybody. No offense, but you’re no saint.”

  Kylar smiled.

  Durzo studied the fire. “Second, I…” He cleared his throat. “I’d tried to root out feeling anything at all with drinking and whoring and killing and isolation, and I’d made myself into a monster, but I’d still failed. I still cared about you more than I cared about myself. That tells me something about myself.” He grew quiet.

  “And third?” Kylar prompted.

  “Third, ah hell, I don’t remember. Oh, wait. I spent years beating into your skull how hard and unfair life is. And I wasn’t wrong. There’s no guarantee that justice will win out or that a noble sacrifice will make any difference. But when it does, there’s something that still swells my chest. There’s magic in that. Deep magic. It tells me that’s the way things are supposed to be. Why? How? Hell, I don’t know. This spring I’ll turn seven hundred, and I still don’t have it figured out. Most poor bastards only get a few decades. Speaking of which…” Durzo cleared his throat. “I’ve got bad news.”

  “Speaking of which which?” Kylar asked, chest tightening.

  “Life being unfair and all that.”

  “Oh, great. What is it?”

  “Luc Graesin? Kid you died on the wheel to save?”

  “It was more for Logan than for Luc, but what about him?”

  “Hanged himself,” Durzo said.

  “What? Who killed him? Scarred Wrable?” Kylar could see Momma K deciding that even a remote threat to Logan would have to be eliminated.

  “No, he really hanged himself.”

  “Are you joking? After what I did for him? That asshole!”

  Durzo grabbed his blanket and lay down, resting his head on his saddle. “Letting someone die for you can be tough. If anyone should understand that, it’s you.”

  61

  … get up in three seconds, I’m gonna nail you with a biscuit.” Kylar struggled to open his eyes, and the voice went on without even slowing. “One, two, three.” Kylar’s eyes shot open, and he snatched the hard biscuit out of the air with such force that it exploded into crumb shrapnel.

  “Dammit,” he said, combing biscuit pieces out of his hair. “What’d you do that for?”

  Durzo was grinning from ear to ear. “Fun,” he said.

  Kylar scowled. There was something different about his master. His eyes seemed a little more round, his skin a little lighter, the shirt he was wearing tighter across the chest and shoulders. “What are you doing?” he asked.

  “Eating breakfast,” Durzo said, chomping into another biscuit.

  “I mean your face!”

  “What? Pimple?” Durzo asked, patting his forehead, the word coming out “pimpuh?” around the biscuit.

  “Durzo! You went to bed Ymmuri, and you woke up halfbreed.”

  “Oh, that. What, you want to hear more? I talked last night more than I’ve talked in a hundred years.” Kylar thought he might not be exaggerating. “You need to learn everything at once?”

  “You’re mortal now. And you’re old. You could keel over at any moment.”

  “Hm, you have a point,” Durzo said. “You saddle the horses, I’ll talk.”

  Kylar rolled his eyes—and began tending to the horses.

  “You’ve tried illusory masks. I’ve seen your whole little scary-black-mask thing that the Sa’kagé found so impressive.”

  “Thanks,” Kylar griped. It had been impressive, dammit. “Wait, when did you see that?”

  “In Caernarvon.”

  “You came to Caernarvon? When did you—”

  “Too late to save Jarl, but early enough to save Elene. Now stop interrupting,” Durzo said. “You might have noticed there are some drawbacks to making masks of real faces, especially with disguises of people of different height from yours. I made some good masks in my time, but it was horrible work, and if someone touched you or it even started raining, the illusion would break. Then one time I died. Got a leg hacked off and bled to death. When I came back, as always, my body was whole. Look at yourself—dead six times and not a scar. How can that be? How could I regrow an arm?”

  “I thought you said it was a leg,” Kylar said, throwing a saddle over Tribe’s back. For once, the brute didn’t try to bite him. “And what’s that about Elene?”

  “It was an arm. Just remembered. I’ll tell you about Elene later. What I figured out is that somehow our bodies know what shape we’re supposed to be. I mean, when you cut any man’s arm, arm skin grows back there, not a nose or another head. Why? Because the body knows what’s supposed to be where. I figured that if that was the case, all I had to do to make a perfect disguise was change the instructions. Hah, if only it were that simple. I figured out a few things along the way. Like Ladeshians aren’t just really tanned. And if you change your height dramatically, expect to be uncoordinated for a year. And don’t mess with your eyesight. And don’t change things about your body that you merely don
t like. Pretty soon you’ll be so damn beautiful people will stop on the streets to watch you—it makes for a lousy disguise. Anyway, it took me—I don’t know—a hundred years? I have about twenty bodies I do now. That is, bodies I’ve spent enough time in that I know how they work, understand their stride, their movement, their quirks. Twenty is probably too many, but I got nervous once when I found two different paintings of me made two hundred years apart from different sides of Midcyru and obviously me in both of them. Some Alitaeran collector had the two hanging side-by-side in his study. I’d moved to Alitaera to start a new life and I was using that same damn body.”

  “Wait, you’re telling me you could have chosen any face? And you chose the nasty ugly Durzo Blint face?”

  “That’s my real face,” Durzo said, offended.

  Blood rushed to Kylar’s cheeks. “Oh, by the God, I’m so sorry. I mean, I’m sorry I said that, not that your face is…”

  “Gotcha,” Durzo said.

  Kylar pursed his lips. “Bastard.”

  “Anyway, it takes time to make the transition, especially when you start, and doing it halfway can be rather horrifying. We’re on the trail, so we may meet people. If the skin on the upper half of my body is blackest Ladeshian, but my legs are white, or if half my face is young and half old, folks don’t take it too well. I can actually do it much faster now, but I figured I’d show you body magic that’s merely intensely difficult before I show you the damn-near impossible stuff.”

  “Wait, does that mean you can make yourself look like anything? So you could be a girl?”

  “I don’t want to hear your twisted fantasies,” Durzo said.

  “Hey!”

  “I’ve never been a girl or an animal. I have a small fear of getting stuck: once I made a disguise that I was a man without a trace of Talent. What was supposed to be a quick, one-month disguise while I infiltrated the Chantry instead took me a decade to undo and cost me my chance to recover the silver ka’kari,” Durzo said. “Being stuck as a fat Modaini, bad. Being stuck as a woman, unthinkable.”

  “So why are you changing now? And what into?”

 
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