The night angel trilogy, p.144
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.144
 

           Brent Weeks

  Stung, Kylar shrugged. “The ka’kari.”

  “The ka’kari.” Durzo stated the question like Momma K would have. The old man really had spent too long with her.

  “It absorbs magic, eludes magic, makes me invisible. I’ll figure something out.” Now he was sounding defensive.

  “Whose Wood is this again?” Durzo asked. “Oh yeah, Ezra’s. And who made the ka’kari? Oh, don’t tell me. Ezra.”

  “Ezra didn’t make the black.”

  “He understood it well enough to make six others. So tell me, fifty years after making six ka’kari he comes here—and at this point he and I aren’t on such good terms—and he makes himself a fortress. You think it never occurred to him that I might try to come in?”

  “Uh…”

  “Kid, you can scare a few Sisters with raw power and bravado, but you’re playing on a different plane here. If you live through Ezra’s defenses—which by the way, you strengthened tenfold by throwing Curoch into the wood—you still have to get around a creature so powerful and so cunning that it may have killed Ezra himself, unless it is Ezra gone utterly mad. Either way, the Hunter isn’t going to be impressed by raw magic. Your newfound confidence is inspiringly suicidal.”

  Kylar was silent. Then he said, “I won’t be stopped.”

  “Shut up, she comes.”

  Kylar rolled the ka’kari into the center of the fire. The flames collapsed into the ball, dying instantly, plunging the clearing into darkness. Kylar jumped left and Durzo rolled right even as purple magic blazed through the clearing in jagged hands. Kylar extended a hand and the ka’kari leapt into it, flooding him with the energy it had absorbed from the fire.

  He leapt from tree to tree, sinking black claws into the sides of each, and saw a maja flailing about herself, suddenly blind. Fires flared around her. She flipped them back and forth wildly like great scythes in her fear. The magic slapped against the trees, singeing bark, sending up gouts of steam, but the recent rains and snows prevented any fires from bursting forth. Durzo, on the ground, was beneath the swipes, and Kylar was above them.

  In moments, the maja had exhausted her Talent and with no sunlight and no fire to draw from, her magic guttered out.

  In the sudden darkness, both men moved. Kylar was on her almost before she could scream. He flew straight over her head, grabbed fistfuls of cloak and robe as he passed, and used her body weight like a beam to flip himself over and stop, which transferred his momentum to her. She flew backward half a dozen paces and crashed into a tree trunk, the breath whooshing from her lungs. Kylar landed on one knee on the forest floor and stood, blue flame trickling over his features.

  By the time she’d taken two breaths, something was rising from deep beneath her skin. It was vir, and it rose as rapidly as a shark striking from the deep, starting at her fingertips, over her hands, and wrists, disappearing in a wriggle that made her sleeves tremble, up to her neck like a black blush, and then—it stopped. Durzo stood behind the tree trunk, his arms wrapped around it, fingers poking into two points in the side of the maja’s neck. She shrieked as the vir bulged against the blockage like a river at flood assailing a levee. Her cries crested and then fell as the vir receded, faded and sank beneath her skin once more.

  Durzo stepped from behind the tree and grabbed her by the scruff of her neck. Holding her before him, he buried his fingers in those points on her neck again.

  “A trick you didn’t teach me?” Kylar asked.

  “You expect me to teach you all I know in a couple months? The vir needs a physical expression. Block the physical expression and you block the magical. It’s a weakness of the Ursuul family’s hidden vir.”

  “She’s an Ursuul?”

  “What better use for Garoth’s Talented daughters?” Durzo asked.

  “I thought he had them killed.”

  “Garoth wasn’t a man to throw away tools, no matter how blunt. What’s your name, sweetie?”

  She didn’t answer, so Kylar did for her. “It’s Eris Buel. You little bitch. We had our suspicions about you.”

  “Not enough to save your precious wife,” she snapped. In her eyes rose such hatred that Kylar felt his gift unfolding, saw the murders littering Eris’s path to power, but there was no dead Elene, nor Vi. He saw betrayals, broken vows, and, far down on the list, receiving Kylar’s sword from a thief and then delivering the blade to Neph’s spies.

  All the darkness demanded an answer. “Justice has been denied you too long,” Kylar said. His dagger punched through Eris’s solar plexus, driving the breath from her lungs once more, and her guilty eyes flared wide, the light in them dimming.

  A hand cracked hard against Kylar’s cheek. Kylar staggered from the force of the blow. “Dammit, we need to question her, you fool!” Durzo shouted. Durzo grabbed Eris by her hair, holding her upright. “The ka’kari, Kylar, give me the ka’kari, quick!”

  Kylar handed it to his master. The bastard had nearly torn off his jaw. Kylar put a hand to his face and took it off, sticky. Kylar looked at his fingers. It wasn’t blood.

  Durzo dropped Eris’s body.

  Kylar rubbed the golden liquid between his fingers. “Peri peri and xanthos?” Kylar asked. It was a contact poison, and though it would only leave him unconscious, the tincture still left permanent scarring. “On my face?”

  “You deserve a permanent slap-print, but you heal too well.”

  “Why?” Kylar’s legs were getting shaky.

  “I needed this,” Durzo said, lifting the ka’kari. “Sweet dreams.”

  Kylar crumpled to the ground and his lips smashed on a root. His mouth filled with blood. The bastard could have at least caught me.

  79

  Neph Dada strode through the dark streets of Trayethell. It was nearly noon, but he was inside the dome of Black Barrow, and the solid black rock dome above him cast the hidden city in perpetual darkness. He could only see his way by the bobbing yellow light hovering over his head and by the thousands of torches his Vürdmeisters had burning around the monolith at the covered city’s heart.

  Despite the darkness, Trayethell was an almost cheerful place. It had the air of a city whose inhabitants had stepped out and would be back momentarily. There was no dust, and the siege that had seen the city’s death hadn’t lasted long enough to destroy its beauty. Sections of the city were scorched and blackened or even leveled by magic, but many were pristine. Perhaps, though, the cheerfulness was all Neph’s.

  His fortunes had changed radically since winter began. He’d sent his thief to steal Kylar’s sword, expecting to find that it was covered with the black ka’kari. As soon as he’d touched it with magic, he’d known it wasn’t the ka’kari—it was something better. The sword was Iures, the Staff of Law. Like Curoch, Iures had been made by Ezra or perhaps by Ezra and Jorsin together. Unlike Curoch, Iures didn’t amplify power, but it made vastly complicated weaves a hundred times easier to make—or unmake.

  The cylindrical monolith was halfway up the hill to Trayethell Castle, extending up to the dome like a glass pillar. In the light of the torches, the monolith looked like a jar of churning smoke. The smoke betrayed only hints of the Titan imprisoned within. Here, a claw pressed against the glass, there, the side of a gigantic, disturbingly human-looking foot. It irritated Neph that he still felt a tremor at sight of the frozen monster. With Iures, he could destroy the monolith in an instant—after all, Ezra the Mad had used Iures to create the monolith, trapping the Titan until Jorsin Alkestes had killed it.

  The glassy prison of frozen air was broken only by the Titan’s death wound. Jorsin had unleashed a bar of fire from the top of Trayethell castle. It had burned through the prison and the Titan’s chest in a perfect circle ten feet in diameter. The raw amount of magic necessary for such a thing made Neph hope Jorsin had been using Curoch.

  Neph approached the monolith with small steps, coughing more from habit than necessity. Iures was doing wonders for Neph’s health. The Vürdmeisters nearby made their obeisance and then
returned to their work at his wave. Standing on scaffolding, they were lifting buckets of earth and packing it into the hole Jorsin had burned in the Titan. Soon, that earth would be made into flesh, and the Titan would rise. It would break open the great dome of Black Barrow, and then it would break any army that faced Neph.

  Neph’s tent was undisturbed. The fifty Soulsworn guards and his spells guaranteed that. Neph paused inside before entering Khali’s room. Hiking up his robe, he touched his silver staff—the form he had chosen for Iures—and touched it to his ankle. It dissolved from his hand and wrapped smoothly around his ankle and calf. He willed it to be hidden, to remain inert even if touched with Khali’s magic, to simply record all the magic that occurred around it. Khali didn’t know about Iures, and Neph didn’t intend for her to find out until it was too late. Iures changed everything.

  Composing himself, Neph pulled back the flap. Tenser was sprawled on as fine a bed as they’d been able to make, his limbs loose, features slack, breath slow, eyes open but unfocused and rarely blinking. Neph pretended difficulty kneeling at Tenser’s feet and extended the magic as Khali had taught him. “Holy One,” he called. “I am here to serve.”

  Tenser’s eyes closed then opened again, and She was present. Her presence filled the little tent like a sooty cloud, making it hard to breathe. “You have been neglecting your duties,” Khali said. Her voice was Tenser’s but the intonations were wrong, the accent unfamiliar. “This host has bedsores.”

  Neph’s throat relaxed. “I will attend to it personally. Immediately. I’ve been about your business, collecting specimens for you.” He cleared his throat but didn’t cough. His coughing irritated Khali. “I was hoping we could talk about my reward.”

  Her laughter was amused, Neph thought. It was hard to tell because though Khali controlled Tenser’s voice and eyes, She didn’t control his facial expressions. They remained blank, slack except when tongue and jaw worked to make words.

  Khali wanted to be truly embodied, not the rude parody of it She had in Tenser. She needed three things: Ezra’s weaves on Black Barrow to be broken, a willing host, and a spell that would require the blood of an Ursuul and the combined might of Neph’s two hundred Vürdmeisters. Godkings in the past had delivered two of the three, but none could dismantle Ezra’s work, because Ezra had used Iures to deny Khali embodiment. But Neph could undo Ezra’s spells—because Iures remembered every weave it had ever helped make.

  “I want two things,” Neph said. “Godking Wanhope will arrive soon to kill me. I want to deny him the use of the vir. Second, I want to live another hundred years.”

  “Impossible,” Khali said.

  “Fifty then. Forty.”

  “Once embodied, I can give you a hundred years. But I can’t deny Dorian the vir.”

  Neph’s heart sank. Dorian was Godking Wanhope? Of all Garoth Ursuul’s sons, the last one Neph wished to face was his old pupil. “I thought You controlled—”

  “I do,” Khali said, cutting him off. “The vir are magical parasites. Most of them were wiped out in antiquity, but Roygaris Ursuul captured several. What he liked about vir was that in the early part of an infestation, they broke open new channels in their host’s Talent, adding to the host’s power. Of course, they slowly devour their host’s Talent itself, but Roygaris hoped to keep the vir in that first stage indefinitely. He failed, until I helped him. We slowed the progress of an infestation, but they can’t be stopped. Try to use your Talent; you’ll see it’s a shadow of what it was when you were young. But I taught Roygaris something far more important. The vir is a like a grove of aspens. Each looks like a separate tree, but they’re one organism. Control the right part, and you control the vir of everyone who’s been infected with that strain. Your vir, Dorian’s, Garoth’s, every Khalidoran’s—they are all one. Roygaris and I made a grand bargain: his blood line would control the vir, and I would control the reservoir of magic. The vow was made in a way that breaking it will destroy the vir and the reservoir.”

  Neph had expected Her to lie. He hadn’t known the details, but just holding Iures had made much of Khali’s magic plain to him. “If I can’t stop him from taking the vir from me, Dorian will kill me,” Neph said.

  “When I am embodied, I shall protect you. Your service will not be forgotten. This I swear.”

  Neph wondered about that. Did Khali really need to be embodied to protect him from a mere man? Was she not a goddess? Or was it simply that she wouldn’t protect him because if he wouldn’t help her she had no reason to help him? He wondered what Khali would do to the world if she were embodied. Would she wreak havoc on everything, simply because she hated life as all the Strangers did? Or was her thirst for power more nuanced? Neph’s interactions with her had been as infrequent as he could afford, but he hadn’t sensed the same all-encompassing rage from her that he had seen in the other Strangers.

  It was vital to judge correctly—Neph wanted to be Godking, but he wanted to rule over more than ashes and the dead. Still, he might not have much choice. If by not raising her, he would certainly die, but by raising her, all the world might die, he would risk the world.

  “I am an old man,” Neph said, defeated. “I have not the strength for this task.”

  Tenser Ursuul’s arm flopped up as if lifted on strings, his hand limp. Neph touched the extended hand, and Khali’s magic flowed into him, invigorating him, setting cool fire to his lungs. When it faded, he felt stronger than he had in years, and Iures had recorded every detail both of the Healing, and of how Khali herself drew from the reservoir of magic. It might be enough.

  “Thank you, Holy One.” Neph had only days to figure out the magic necessary, but with Iures in hand, he might depose more than Dorian.

  “The latest ones approach,” Khali said. “Bring them in.”

  Neph went outside and gestured to the Soulsworn. There were six young women chained together standing with them, and they all looked terrified. Khali’s potential hosts were all peasant girls. Neph’s men hadn’t had much to choose from in this wilderness. Neph led them inside. They were surprised that the goddess was a drooling young man. Perhaps they’d expected claws and fangs. Neph studied the girls as they studied Khali. Four were either ugly or plain. Khali hated ugliness. Two were pretty, but Neph could See that one had been raped—against Neph’s explicit orders. He would kill someone for that. Khali wanted any violation of Her host to come at Her own hands. The other girl was even prettier, with big brown eyes and radiant skin, but she was disfigured with scars.

  “What’s your name, child?” Khali asked the scarred one.

  “Elene Cromwyll… uh, Mistress.”

  “Would you like to live forever, Elene?”

  The girl’s big eyes filled with such longing that even Neph couldn’t help but pity her. “More than anything,” Elene said.

  80

  Feir was standing at a table in Ezra’s secret workroom under Black Barrow with a polishing cloth in his hand. He wasn’t polishing the blade. He’d polished it a dozen times already, and it didn’t need polishing in the first place.

  “It’s finished,” he said aloud. “Except for one thing.” Feir unveiled the sword. His fraud was nearly Ceur’caelestos’ twin. He had held Ceur’caelestos, had marveled at it, had studied every whorl in the patterns of the mistarille. The heads of twin dragons were etched in either side of his blade, facing the tip, dragons of sun and moon, in accordance with Ceuran mythology. The blade had a single edge, curving slightly to give it more cutting surface. The thicker spine of the blade was to give it strength, the flexible iron core compensating for the sharp, hard fragility of the steel edge. This blade’s form was pure show. It was mistarille, and it wouldn’t break even if a man stood on the side of the blade and the wielder lifted it. Despite its incredible strength, Ceur’caelestos was lighter than it should have been. The mistarille, folded and refolded like steel, had the same steel patterns Ceur’caelestos’ blade had borne. The difference between the original and Feir’s fraud was
that the original held the “fires of heaven.” In response to danger or magic or its wielder’s mood, the dragons could breathe what looked like fire out to the tip of the blade.

  Feir knew the weaves to duplicate that, now. What he didn’t have was a heartstone to hold the weaves. Certain stones resonated with different frequencies of magic. A ruby resonated with fire magics, specifically those having to do with red and orange light. If a stone was pure enough and exactly the right size, which varied by weave, a resonance could be built that sustained itself. This was nearly always imperfect, which was one reason magic imbued in items failed after a time. Feir needed as perfect a ruby as possible to be the dragon’s heart.

  “This part was supposed to be simple,” Feir said. Even his own voice was depressing. “The prophecy was ‘The greatest red gives dragon’s heart and head.’ ” The greatest red had to be a big ruby, a heartstone, but placed at the dragon’s head on the sword.

  Feir had done a dozen impossible things over the course of the winter. With the barest of clues he’d been given in his time in Ezra’s Wood, he’d come to Black Barrow and found the secret tunnel to this room. He’d found the magically hardened gold tools. He’d avoided the hundreds of Vürdmeisters who shared the shadowed city with him and found seven broken mistarille swords. He’d discovered Ezra’s notes—a treasure any Maker would give his right arm to read. By all the gods, Feir had learned to reforge mistarille! He’d made the most beautiful fraud in history.

  But he couldn’t find a red rock.

  “Could any other smith now living make this?” Antoninus Wervel asked, his voice low.

  Feir shrugged. Antoninus waited. Feir gave in. “No.”

  Antoninus picked up the blade reverently, and in spite of himself, Feir was warmed. Antoninus wasn’t a Maker himself, but he appreciated the mastery required for what Feir had done. He turned the blade over, examining it. “I thought you put your crossed war hammers on it.”

 
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