The night angel trilogy, p.141
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.141

           Brent Weeks
 

  Beneath the cloak, Dorian—Wanhope—had decided to go bare-chested. A god felt not the cold. He strode forward, decisive to cover for his earlier hesitation, great knots of vir rising in his skin. He gestured and a young man was brought forward. Dammit, Wanhope hadn’t wanted Jenine to see this. But it was too late, and there was no way she would go where she couldn’t see him after he’d almost doomed them all by standing around looking lost.

  The young man’s name was Udrik Ursuul. All of the aethelings in Khaliras had been killed, but seventeen who’d already left for their Harrowings still lived. Udrik had impregnated the wrong Modaini oligarch’s daughter and had to flee, thus failing his uurdthan. He’d come home to beg mercy.

  “Do you know, Udrik, if you raise thirteen legions of krul, you can command them yourself, but if you raise just one more, you have to master an arcanghul?”

  “A what?” Udrik’s brows were still heavily kohled, menacing despite his fright.

  “It’s a creature that these wild men didn’t dare try to master,” Wanhope said. “Tell me, brother, is it better for one man to die, or the whole people?”

  Udrik’s eyes widened, and then widened again as Wanhope cut his throat with the obsidian knife. He dropped to his knees, throat spurting, then tumbled awkwardly on his back. Dorian felt—or imagined—the jubilation of a thousand Strangers. He blinked. Control, Dorian. Control it. He didn’t dare to watch what this next part looked like from that other reality.

  Wanhope extended his arms and his wings toward the host before him. “Arcanghulus! Come! Be known to me!” The weaves spun out from him easily as if the vir itself was helping him, as if he’d done this a thousand times. Green lightning danced around him. A train of blue fire looped around him. Then the ground began to boil around Udrik’s corpse. Clumps of dirt burst and stuck to the body. Flares danced over Udrik and the corpse’s muscles tore, skin ripped.

  The shamans saw their mistake. They hadn’t dared raise an arcanghulus, and Dorian had. An aurochs-horn bugle called the wild men to charge. But only half did.

  A bolt of lightning cracked the earth before Wanhope, blinding him, and thunder ripped over him and over both armies, dropping men to the ground on both sides.

  When Wanhope’s vision returned, the wild men’s charge had faltered and broken. There was a man standing where Udrik had been and every eye was on him. He was easily seven feet tall, with hair of molten gold falling to the nape of his neck. Though his skin was the color of polished silver, it wasn’t shiny or artificial. His eyes were an arresting emerald of a shade barely within human possibility. Perhaps one man in a million had such eyes. Perhaps mimicking Wanhope, he too was bare-chested, though his body was lean and angular. He was the most beautiful man Wanhope had ever seen.

  The arcanghulus laughed, and even his laughter was beautiful. “We’re Strangers, Godking, not monsters.”

  “What is your name?” Wanhope asked.

  “I am Ba’elzebaen, the Lord of Serpents.”

  “Awfully cold in the Freeze for a snake.”

  “I’m not in the Freeze any more, am I?”

  “I would have you serve me, Ba’elzebaen,” Wanhope said. He desperately wanted to look at Ba’elzebaen as he was, but he didn’t dare. If he lost himself to madness now, Ba’elzebaen might take Dorian’s body instead of Udrik’s.

  The Stranger chuckled. “And I would have the sun and moon bow down to me.”

  “But one of these things will happen.”

  Ba’elzebaen laughed as if at a precocious child. “I am stronger than you.”

  “It is only the will and the call that matters. I have called you, and my will is implacable.” The stunning green eyes locked onto his, and Dorian had only to think of how Jenine would be taken if he didn’t compel this snake. He felt the arcanghulus’s will rise against him, higher and higher. Ba’elzebaen was ever so much more than this body before Dorian. He was immortal, omnipotent, there was nothing Dorian could do to stop him. It was hopeless. He should bow and beg for mercy.

  Dorian knew that this was the arcanghulus’s attack, and he held onto what he knew. The arcanghulus would obey, would bow, would serve. I am Godking. I am implacable. I will destroy those who challenge me. I will not serve. I am a god.

  Ba’elzebaen relaxed and the attacks stopped. “Very well, Godking, I will serve you.”

  “Where is my half-brother Moburu?”

  “He attempted to take over the ten tribes. He failed. Only one tribe joined him, but he did take enough bones to raise a legion of krul. He’s heading for Black Barrow.” A legion was about two thousand krul. It wasn’t good, but it was far better than facing Moburu at the head of this army. “But it isn’t Moburu you have to worry about.”

  “Neph,” Dorian said, his suspicions confirmed.

  “Yes. Neph is the one who taught the wild men to raise krul. All this was nothing more than a diversion to keep any Ursuul away from Black Barrow.”

  “What’s he trying?”

  “To make himself Godking, whether by raising a Titan or by giving Khali flesh.”

  Surely Neph Dada didn’t mean to raise Khali herself. It would be madness. If what Dorian had seen of the Strangers’ nature was true, giving their leader flesh would be inviting the devastation of all Midcyru. The good news was that no one since Roygaris Ursuul had been powerful enough to raise Khali. A Titan, on the other hand, was far more probable, and plenty frightening enough. Where in the Strangers’ hierarchy did a Titan fall? Two ranks above Ba’elzebaen? Three? By the God.

  But all that was a conversation for another time. “To claim the wild men’s krul, we must strike down the shaman who controls them, correct?” Wanhope asked. “Who is it?”

  Ba’elzebaen pointed to a wild man covered completely in woad tattoos. The man had dozens of shields surrounding him, both his own, and other magi’s, but as Ba’elzebaen gestured, the shields simply melted away. Wanhope threw a single green fiery missile at the man. The mage watched it contemptuously, secure in his shields—and it burned a hole in his chest. He died with a shocked look on his face.

  Ba’elzebaen smiled and Dorian noticed something strange in how the skin crinkled at the corners of his eyes: the arcanghul’s skin was made of thousands of tiny scales. “Master,” Ba’elzebaen said, “what would you have the Fallen do?”

  “Kill the wild men. No feeding until nightfall, and then load the bones onto the wagons. We may need them to make more krul at Black Barrow.”

  “As you desire.” Ba’elzebaen bowed. By the time he straightened, panicked cries were already rising from the wild men’s army as the krul in their own ranks turned on them.

  74

  Spring is upon us,” Elene said.

  Vi joined her on the balcony, still sweating from her exertions with the hundreds of magae practicing in the yard below. Kylar was outside the city, training with his master again, and Elene had asked to meet. Vi tried to swallow away the lump in her throat as Elene turned and smiled at her.

  “You’ve been avoiding me,” Elene said.

  Vi wanted to say that she’d been busy. She had. The Chattel were gathering; women were joining Vi’s Shield Sisters every day; messages had to be passed secretly to the Speaker; and always tactics and magic had to be practiced. But all those weren’t why she hadn’t met with Elene. The past two months had seen them grow strangely closer, but the coming of spring was a naked sword.

  “I need your advice, Vi. You know how Kylar’s gift works, and you also know how his mind works. I’m afraid he’ll try to do something stupid to save me, if…” She laid a hand on her stomach.

  “If what?” Vi asked. Then it hit her. “Ah shit, you’re pregnant!”

  Elene blushed, and said quietly. “A Healer confirmed it for me this morning. I’m one month along. Haven’t even had a touch of morning sickness. Lucky, I guess.”

  Lucky. That was one way to put it. If Kylar found out…. Actually, Vi had no idea what he’d do, but stupid heroism was likely. Unfortunately, she
had no idea how stupid heroism would show itself.

  “It complicates things,” Elene said. Vi could see from her face that she didn’t mean only for Kylar.

  “I can make you tansy tea,” Vi said.

  Elene was incredulous. “If I wanted it to die, I’d wait a month! God, that’s the most stupidly callous thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

  Vi stood transfixed. I’m stupid and callous. This is why you never let anyone in. If you do, they shit all over you.

  Elene closed her eyes and when she opened them, the anger was gone. “I’m sorry. I’m feeling really emotional and upset, but that doesn’t make it right to take it out on you. You’re not stupid. I’m sorry.”

  “But I am callous.”

  Elene paused. “You’ve been through hell, Vi. You are callous, but less and less every day, and I’m sorry I said that. Can you forgive me?”

  The thing about Elene that made her a good friend and a pain in the ass was that she didn’t lie, not even when apologizing. If she were less tender-hearted, the lack of guile would be infuriating. Hu Gibbet had “always told the truth” and used it to hammer everyone. Elene’s gentleness made it hard to stay mad. “Yes,” Vi said. “What do you need?”

  Elene smiled slowly and it was like the sun breaking through dark clouds. When she smiled unself-consciously, she was beatific. It wasn’t a courtesan’s beauty—though the gods and Vi knew that Elene had spent a lot of time in the last two months exploring the courtesan’s skills and pleasures—yet it was feminine and utterly alluring. When Elene felt joy, it was always joy shared. Her naïveté in expecting the best from others somehow drew out the best in them. “I’m glad you’re my friend, Vi. I’ve been meaning to have this talk with you for a while.”

  She scowled, uncertain how to begin. Vi felt the lump rise again in her throat, but there was no leaving, no escape.

  “I’m going to die,” Elene said. “I’m scared, especially with this.” She put her hand on her stomach protectively. “I’ve complained to the God a lot about it, to tell you the truth. I know you think I’m either totally holy or totally deluded, but I’ve asked God every way I know how to let me live without it disrupting His plan. I want to live, and I want Kylar to live, and I want our baby to live, and I want Kylar to do all the big things God created him to do.”

  “And what’s your God say?” Vi asked. The way Elene related to her God wasn’t at all how Vi had related to Nysos, but whether or not He was real, He was real in Elene’s mind, and you don’t mock the beliefs of someone so near death.

  “He says He’s with me.”

  “That’s helpful,” Vi said.

  “Yes,” Elene said, missing or deciding to miss the sarcasm. “Kylar thinks… Kylar fears that he’s a man born to be forever alone. He thinks the last couple of months has been him cheating fate. He’s not a man born to be alone, Vi, but some lies take a long time to heal. I don’t have time. When I’m gone, I want you to take care of Kylar. In every way. He is the most precious thing in all this world to me, and I trust you with him. He’ll need you. You’ll know when he’s ready, and when you are.”

  Vi had thought of it, of course. As she sat in her room with the newlyweds canoodling on the other side of a not-thick-enough wall, she’d thought of it a hundred times: this torture wouldn’t last forever; Elene would die come spring. Worse, she’d thought that once Elene was dead, she might have Kylar herself.

  “I’ve been selfish,” Elene said, “I knew we only had a couple of months, so I’ve been selfish for myself and for Kylar. I know you’ve paid the price for that. I’ve seen your face some of the mornings after—” Elene cleared her throat, “after Kylar and I stayed up late. I know you love him, Vi, and I can’t imagine how I would have felt if our places were reversed. If I were in your place, I’d look forward to… this ending. It’s all right.”

  “It’s not all right to wish your friend was dead,” Vi said stiffly. Her eyes felt hot.

  “For that and anything else you may have thought or done, I forgive you, Vi. Everything really is going to be all right. God has a purpose in this, even if we don’t see it.”

  “You’re leaving,” Vi said.

  “Yes.”

  “And you haven’t told him.”

  “I’ve tried. Kylar’s not ready to hear it. Vi, help him know that loving again is no betrayal. He’s immortal, and living forever without love is hell.”

  “When are you leaving?” Vi asked.

  “Now.”

  “Where?”

  “King Gyre’s marching into Khalidor in a few weeks. There are women in his army. I’ll join them. At least that’s my plan. God might have something different for me.”

  “Why join them?”

  “To force Kylar to be there. He’s sworn he wouldn’t leave me again for Logan, but that’s where he needs to be. If nothing else, I’ll die fighting for something.”

  “You’re not a warrior, Elene.”

  “No. But I am a fighter.”

  “Do you have any idea what Kylar will do when he finds out?” Vi said.

  “I’ve left a letter for him on the table telling him that I’m staying at the Chantry overnight. I hope I lie better in writing than in person because I’ll need the head start. But here’s another letter that tells the truth.” She paused. “Well, not the whole truth. I didn’t tell him I’m pregnant. He’s going to hurt enough. Please make sure he gets it.” She handed the note to Vi.

  “You’re putting me in the middle of this?”

  “He’d feel your complicity through your bond. You might want to stay at the Chantry for a couple days.”

  Elene hugged her. At first awkwardly and then fiercely, Vi hugged her back. Her eyes teared up faster than she could blink away, and through her bond, she felt Kylar’s sudden alarm from a mile away. It wasn’t in words, but she could feel his wonder: are you crying?! She sent a wave of reassurance to him, which left him even more befuddled.

  “I don’t want you to go,” Vi said.

  Elene pulled back and searched Vi’s eyes. “You mean that. I can tell. Even with how hard this has been, you mean it.”

  “I’ve never had a friend,” Vi said. “I don’t want to lose you.”

  “You’re a better woman than you know, Vi. God bless you.”

  75

  The passes are clear,” Durzo said. “The magae are going to march tomorrow.”

  Kylar had known there was something different in his master’s attitude as they’d sparred today. They sat together on a table in the practice room of Durzo’s house, each holding a towel and blotting the sweat from their faces. Durzo didn’t make eye contact. “You’re leaving,” Kylar said.

  “If you can believe it, Uly’s kicking me out the door,” Durzo said ruefully.

  “I thought you were getting along great.”

  “She’s worried about her mom. Says I should have gone to her first.”

  “I think Uly’s smarter than both of us put together,” Kylar said lightly, though his heart was lead. Durzo was leaving him again, and if for the first time Durzo was letting him know about it beforehand, it didn’t make it much easier.

  “Watch out for women smarter than you, kid. By which—”

  “You mean all of them, I know.” Kylar shared a grin with his master.

  “Guess I need to give you your gear,” Durzo said. “You going with the magae?”

  “If I go, Elene will go, and she’ll die. I’m steering clear of this fight.”

  Durzo examined his fingernails. “I told you that’s not how it works. She can fall in a puddle and drown as easily as take a sword in the guts. Death won’t be cheated, not in this.”

  Kylar took it like a shot in stomach. He said quietly, “I won’t let her die. I won’t let anyone take her away. Not Death, not the Wolf, not God himself.”

  “Kid, remember your first time in the Antechamber of the Mystery? Was there one door or two? It wasn’t Death or the Wolf or the boogeyman that made you immortal. This was
your own damn choice.”

  “I became immortal so I could save Elene, not so I could kill her.”

  “You want her to live forever? Go ahead. See if you can make another deal with the Wolf so someone else will die in her place. Maybe you can choose which one of the other people you care about dies. Won’t that be fun? Maybe then you can get a ka’kari for Elene, so she won’t age. But be glad that the other ka’karis’ immortality isn’t like our own. She won’t age, but she can still be killed. And be glad for that too. Because when she becomes a monster, corrupted by the very gift you sold your soul to give her, you’ll be the one who has to do something about it.”

  Durzo’s anger was too focused, his description too detailed. “You did that?” Kylar asked.

  His master didn’t answer him, wouldn’t even look at him. He opened the bureau, released the bottom drawer and pulled it out. He lifted Retribution, skinned black with the ka’kari, from the false bottom.

  “I can’t let Elene die for me,” Kylar said.

  “You haven’t got any goddam choice. You’ve had a few months to get used to the idea. That’s more than the Wolf ever gave me. Be grateful. Now take your shit and get out.” Durzo tossed the big black sword to Kylar.

  As soon as the ka’kari touched his skin, it began shrilling. ~Why didn’t you listen! I tried to tell you! It’s gone. Three months gone. Stolen!~

  Dumbfounded, Kylar stared at the sword. Frustrated at his stupidity, the ka’kari sought to sink into his skin of his hand and he let it, forgetting that it would destroy his disguise. As the black metal rushed into him, it revealed a pitted, half-devoured sword blade. Retribution was gone, replaced with a counterfeit that Kylar hadn’t noticed when they’d hidden the blade. It was impossible, but someone had stolen his sword before he hid it here, probably when he’d first been gawking like an idiot on the crowded sidewalks of Vestacchi.

  Durzo was aghast. “Kid, you have no idea what that sword is. You have to get it back.”

  Then Kylar felt Vi through his bond. She’d been nervous since yesterday, and now he could feel her starting guiltily as she felt his emotions. Vi knew, and she was hiding in the Chantry, certain he wouldn’t go there. For all his help, the Sisters had stabbed him in the back. They’d stolen Retribution.

 
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