The night angel trilogy, p.142
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.142

           Brent Weeks
 

  “I know where it is,” Kylar said.

  The closer Kylar got to the Chantry, the more his anger grew. He became more and more certain from Vi’s guilt that Elene was somehow involved too, and that lit a fire in him. He thought he could read her. Yesterday afternoon he’d gotten her note that said she had some things she needed to work on in the Chantry, and she still wasn’t back. The timing seemed strange, but there was no doubting Vi’s guilt as he came closer. Having the vastness of the Chantry against him blew his rage to a flame. They wanted him passive, tame, emasculated, obedient. He was sick and tired of it. Sick of being worked on by vast, remote powers he couldn’t understand or counter. The Chantry was like fate, like the Wolf, like Death itself, working inexorably on the world, on Kylar, and turning a deaf ear to his pleas.

  When he stepped out of the punt onto one of the Chantry’s docks, two dozen pairs of eyes turned to him, scandalized. Some he recognized from Vi’s training sessions; others were more hostile. A Sister was lecturing a class of teens on the workings of the punts. Others were doing maintenance magic on the little bay itself, reworking the rain shield overhead. He ignored them and strode toward the double doors that led inside.

  A white robed woman stepped forward, “Sir, no men are allowed here.”

  He walked past her.

  Before he could touch the double doors, magic bonds latched onto him arm and leg. “Please, sir, we don’t wish to harm you—”

  Kylar shrugged the bonds off as easily as he might shoo a fly. He turned and looked at the faces of the two Sisters tasked with guarding the door. They were stunned. One of them was readying a lash of magic.

  “Don’t,” Kylar said, staring her in the eye. As he held her gaze, something in his eyes turned her resolve to water. The weaves slipped away. He threw the doors open.

  Vi was in a panic upstairs. Good.

  Kylar walked straight down a long hall to a set of huge double doors three times a man’s height. Doors along the length of the hall opened and Kylar heard cries of alarm. The smaller door inset in the double doors slammed shut by magic and a young maja yelped. The scraping of metal on wood told him that the double doors had been barred. Kylar didn’t slow; he didn’t turn to the right or to the left. He gathered power to his hands.

  ~I’ve seen stupider things, but it’s been centuries.~

  The voice was the buzzing of a gnat. There was something beautiful in this simplicity. Someone had stolen Kylar’s birthright. He was getting it back. This door was in his way.

  Kylar’s open hands shot into the doors. They bowed and then crashed open. One half of the timber that had barred the door shot across the floor toward dozens of tables. Perhaps two hundred magae were seated in the great hall, enjoying lunch. The splintered timber skimmed down one aisle at great speed, shooting between a Sister’s legs and finally crashing against the first step of a great curving staircase.

  As Kylar stepped through in a shower of kindling, the other great door sagged on its remaining hinge. Every eye turned to him.

  Sisters began standing all around the room and shields blossomed everywhere, but the first woman on her feet was Sister Ariel. She moved faster than Kylar had ever seen her move, coming straight at him. “What do you think you’re doing?” she shouted.

  “Where’s the Speaker? She’s stolen from me,” Kylar said.

  “You will go no further!” Sister Ariel shouted. She was purple.

  “Stop me,” Kylar said. He could see that his smirk infuriated her.

  Faster than he thought possible, she did. Giant chains of magic lashed his arms to his body, clamped his legs together. Magae around her openly gaped at her sheer power.

  ~You deserved that. Take it, apologize, and come back later.~

  Kylar had had enough of taking it, apologizing, and coming back when it was convenient for someone else. He was sick of being trapped. He felt something mighty rising within him.

  Fear flickered over Sister Ariel’s face at whatever she saw. Kylar sucked in a great breath and flexed, tensing every muscle in his body, physical and magical. He felt suddenly gigantic, his body a tiny vessel for a giant soul. As he strained, a groan deeper than Kylar’s voice came from his lips.

  His chains shattered, blew apart with a magical concussion that swept through the room. The tables didn’t move, the air didn’t stir, but everything magical was flattened. Every nimbus in the room winked out. Only a few held for an instant before popping and blowing away.

  A dozen of the standing magae simply folded and dropped to sit on their benches or the floor. No one else moved, not even Sister Ariel. “What are you?” she whispered. The question was mirrored in every eye.

  “Out of my way,” Kylar said. He strode forward. They got out of his way.

  76

  Istariel Wyant eyed the Alitaeran ambassador’s untouched ootai. Marcus Guerin was bordering on fifty, bald with a fringe of blond hair, a small paunch, no bottom, and a restless intelligence in his blue eyes.

  “There are some troubling rumors we’ve been hearing that I think we need to discuss,” Ambassador Guerin said.

  Istariel took the opportunity of taking a sip of ootai to cover her sudden rage. Someone had leaked this to the Alitaerans? If he’d learned about Vi’s practices, that was one thing, but Istariel had only told three Sisters about her plan to withdraw from the Accords. If he knew about that, it was treason. She simply arched an eyebrow.

  “What do you know about this ‘High King’?” he asked.

  Oh, those rumors. Thank the Seraph. “Little,” she said. There was a twinkle in his eye that made her wonder if he had done that on purpose. Bastard. “What we’ve heard has only told us that you ought to know more than we do. He’s Alitaeran, or at least raised in your glorious country. His name is Moburu Ander, though he claims Ursuul blood. We know he’s half Lodricari, he led a company of lancers, and he’s found a position of some importance among the savages of the Freeze.” She knew more, but there was no point telling Ambassador Guerin.

  “He’s the adopted son of Aurelius Ander, of a once-powerful family that has fallen far in the last two generations. Moburu was adopted at fifteen, before that, we can’t find any record or recollection of him anywhere, so we give some credence to his claim of Ursuul patrimony.”

  “I doubt that an absence of records was enough to make you believe he’s an Ursuul,” Istariel said.

  The ambassador stroked his moustache. “The captain is both intelligent and charismatic. Nothing was ever found to link him to the scandals and disappearances that seem to swirl in his wake. Last autumn, the king’s sister bore a daughter, Yva Lucrece Corazhi. The child and her wet nurse disappeared. At the same time, Moburu led his company—all of them—to a place called Pavvil’s Grove, where they fought beside the Khalidorans. There are wild tales surrounding that, but most of Moburu’s company escaped and headed north.”

  “You believe he kidnapped the child?”

  “What I believe has no relevance. Some very powerful people in Skon insist that he did not. They are having a harder time explaining why he has taken an entire company out of our country without leave, though some whisper it’s a secret mission for the king. There are generals who don’t wish to appear fools who have not discouraged such whispers. There are even those who claim that Moburu’s company itself is trying to recover Yva Lucrece.”

  “It appears to me that this man must be declared a traitor,” Istariel said. “Otherwise, if he joins Khalidor again, this time to attack us, Alitaera will be making war on the Chantry.”

  The slight wince that passed the ambassador’s face told Istariel she had voiced an argument he had presented to his superiors himself. “Our response to Captain Ander will be determined soon, and I promise you will be among the first to know.” Ambassador Guerin’s face looked like he was chewing lemons. “Now speaking of sharing intelligence,” he said, “you never did turn over that intelligence you told us about a few months ago,” he said. “But let’s return to that in a
moment. First, we were hoping this house of learning might tell us some more about who this High King is supposed to be, and how one identifies him.”

  Ariel leaned back in her chair. “Meaning you won’t move against Moburu until you know if he’s the real thing.”

  “Meaning it is wise to know all one can about one’s enemies—and friends.”

  Istariel took another slow sip of ootai, considering. “The High King is a legend mostly confined to the rural areas of Khalidor, Lodricar, Cenaria, and Ceura. His coming is not spoken of by any of the prophets recognized by the Chantry. We keep track of prophecies spoken by those who have the perishingly rare Talent of prophecy. We think of that one as simply a hope kept alive in Lodricar and Khalidor as a longed-for end to oppression. In Cenaria and Ceura, it’s probably more a wish to be consequential, something Cenaria hasn’t been for centuries.”

  “Your pardon, Speaker, but I’m not terribly interested in why they believe as I am in what they believe. Does this have anything to do with the Ceuran Regency?”

  “It could. The Battle of Mount Tenji was as crushing for the Ceurans as it was for Alitaera. King Usasi and his son and seven daughters were all killed; that was so devastating to the country that after that time Ceuran women were no longer taught the sword. The regency was established both because of the profound respect for tradition engrained in Ceuran culture, and the fact that the first Regent had no blood claim to the throne. The other contenders realized a regency meant that they themselves could hold power without needing a blood claim, if only they were powerful enough to take it. It suited everyone, and the myth of the coming High King gave them a hope of future glory. Our scholars’ best guess is that there was a High King who ruled those lands for a single generation in the dark centuries that followed Jorsin Alkestes’ fall.”

  “Wasn’t Alkestes himself called the High King?”

  “Rarely. In the early years of his reign, he ruled over seven kings and styled himself the High King. Three of the seven—Rygel the Blue, Einarus Silvereyes, and Itarra Lachess—rebelled. After that, Jorsin was Emperor Alkestes. We don’t know if the latter High King claimed descent from Jorsin or not—almost all records of him were lost in the dark ages—but he only claimed the lands now encompassing Ceura, Cenaria, Khalidor, and Lodricar, not all of Jorsin’s kingdoms.”

  The ambassador looked unimpressed. “So that’s it? A long-dead legend?”

  Istariel said, “Well, the magi give some credence to a prophet or two whom we don’t recognize.”

  “And they know more?”

  “They don’t know more. They believe more.”

  “By the God’s beard! I don’t care what’s true—I care what people believe! What are these prophecies?”

  Istariel gave him a look that let him know he was treading on thin ice and didn’t answer until he looked on the brink of apologizing. “They say he will be a dragon—the accepted interpretation is that he’ll be Talented, though any conqueror brings fire. They say he will raise a standard of death—I hope that’s clear enough, things aren’t going to be all prancing ponies and cuddly kittens. Then the prophecies get strange. They say he’ll bring peace—peace everlasting is a pretty normal staple of prophecies, right? Well, these prophecies say he’ll bring peace for two years or eighteen. They say his coming will open the way for the return of Jorsin Alkestes, who will both be taken under his wing, and test the mettle or taste the metal—it’s unclear which—of his sword.”

  “When was this prophecy given?” the ambassador asked.

  “Five years ago. A magus named Dorian, who claimed to be a rogue Ursuul. Not exactly a reliable source.”

  “It sounds like a nightmare.”

  “Yes, and these things tend to spread with a religious fervor once they get started. Even if Moburu is the High King, I’d strongly advise King Alidosius to make sure he never sits in any throne—not unless you want to invite civil unrest or even civil war to Alitaera. Jorsin Alkestes still stirs all sorts of emotions. A High King would itself be bad enough, considering the sheer area such a man would rule, but in the Alkestian prophecies, he is a harbinger. Think what may happen in each of our lands if people really believe that the Lord of Hell is coming in bodily form, that creatures from their nightmares will walk again, that kingdoms are doomed to fall.”

  Ambassador Guerin looked moderately ill. “Yes, I’ll convey all this to the king. Is that all?”

  “No, I need to know if your lancers are on their way.”

  “You ask me this now, after you’ve only just given me the information which might make the king amenable to such a request?”

  “I gave you the information when we got it. We need those soldiers now.”

  “I told you months ago that without access to whatever intelligence you had about an invasion we would be unable to grant your request. If you’ll pardon an old military man speaking bluntly, we can’t send five thousand lancers every time an old ally gets nervous. That’s not what the Accords oblige.”

  An old military man? You haven’t lifted a lance in thirty years. “The Accords oblige a robust defense of the Chantry, which seems even more pressing now that Moburu Ander’s company—an Alitaeran company—fought for Khalidor at the Battle of Pavvil’s Grove. We’re facing two enemies here even without Moburu Ander’s men, and each alone may be capable of annihilating us. The fact is, even the two thousand lancers you have across the border—yes, of course I know about them—probably won’t be enough to defend us. The best I can expect is that they will hold our flank against the Lae’knaught while we go to Black Barrow.”

  “You’re going to Black Barrow?” Marcus Guerin asked.

  “The Khalidorans have learned to raise krul.”

  “Krul? A legend!” Marcus Guerin scoffed. “This is completely—”

  “Have you been to Black Barrow, ambassador?”

  His blue eyes looked troubled.

  “Black Barrow is the only place where, once killed, the krul can’t be Raised again. It’s the only place we can fight them with any hope of winning.”

  “So you want us to help you invade your neighbor? That’s an awfully bold interpretation of accords intended to curtail the Chantry’s imperial ambitions.”

  Suddenly, from many stories below, the Speaker felt an unfamiliar magic. Though she’d only met a half dozen magi, and had never seen them use their Talents, she knew instantly that this was a magus—in her Chantry.

  “Speaker, is something wrong?”

  Istariel had only moments to decide how to react. Could she turn the presence of a hostile mage to her advantage? Would interrupting the meeting be to her advantage? Perhaps it could have been, if the Chantry’s objective in this talk were anything positive. As it was, she wished only to back out of a centuries-old treaty without declaring war. “Yes, you slap us in the face with old, unfounded allegations, sir. We wish only to survive as a house of learning.” A rush of magic much more familiar to her snapped in response to the intruder, whoever he was. Istariel was surprised at the force of it. It was a chaining magic, and the only maja she could imagine powerful enough to use it was Ariel, blessed oblivious Ariel. Or, perhaps, Vi.

  “A house of learning?” the ambassador asked. “Does that include learning battle magic?”

  So he knew. Dammit. “If our allies abandon us in the face of a massacre? Yes.”

  His lips thinned to a tiny line. “This is most precipitous.”

  Istariel opened her mouth to deliver a historical reminder when a magical concussion ripped through the Chantry. The constant buzz of magae’s Talent ceased and, for the first time in centuries, perhaps the first time since it was built, the Chantry was utterly silent. The magic ripped through everything, though it destroyed nothing except whatever the Sisters were actively weaving. It had character, a distinct flavor: free and fierce, not hostile, but rather a strength unaware of itself. The impossible image that leapt to Istariel’s mind was of a teenage archmage, and it shook her to her core. Ariel had tried to
chain him, and he refused to be chained.

  Magically, Istariel felt like a little girl trapped between screaming parents.

  “Wh-what was that?” the ambassador asked.

  By the Seraph, it was powerful enough even this un-Talented toad could feel it.

  “We hereby withdraw from the Accords, ambassador. If Alitaera wishes to expel the magae from its dominions, they will leave peacefully. I do request, however, that you give us six months to show our good faith. This is no declaration of war with you. Please let the emperor know that we fight only to live.”

  The ambassador sat silently. He sipped his ootai, which Istariel was certain was cold by now, but he didn’t seem aware of it. “The king always thought you were one of the Chantry’s more moderate voices, Istariel. Surely the discussion needn’t end on this. You wouldn’t throw away hundreds of years of cooperation and progress.”

  The archmage was climbing the Chantry, getting ever closer. He’d used so much magic that he still burned with it. Istariel could almost see him through the floor. She didn’t want to have this conversation now, but she couldn’t exactly throw the ambassador out. “No,” she said, “I don’t wish to throw away anything, least of all our lives. Perhaps this fall I can come to Skon and meet with the emperor personally.”

  It wasn’t some random archmage, Istariel realized. It was Vi’s damned husband. What the hell was he doing? Was Vi attempting a coup? No, that made no sense, leading a coup with a man? Even Sisters with dual loyalties would automatically side against him. So it was something else entirely. That scared the hell out of her.

  “Perhaps we could conclude this conversation later this afternoon,” Istariel said.

  “Your pardon, Speaker, but I can’t imagine there’s really anything more important than the dissolution or defense of an alliance three hundred years old. I must insist we finish.”

 
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