The night angel trilogy, p.147
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.147

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Thank you, I dare say we will have need of healers, but so many…”

  “Your Majesty, we’re war magae.”

  “War magae.” The king’s eyes widened.

  “We have withdrawn from the Accords, that we may help you.”

  He scrubbed a hand through his blond hair. “This changes things…. They may have two thousand meisters, two hundred Vürdmeisters among them. We have ten magi. How can you help me?”

  “Two thousand?” Vi despaired. “If they bring two thousand meisters against us before the rest of my Sisters arrive, we’ll be worm food in an hour.”

  “I may have drawn off half of them. How long could you and your three hundred hold out against a thousand?”

  “We might make it, and some of the Sisters should arrive during the day. My war magae are mostly good at defensive magic, Your Majesty.”

  “Good, then I want half of you to hold Black Bridge and the dam. Spread the others out through the lines.” A messenger trotted up and Logan held up a finger, forestalling the man. “Oh, and thank you, Sister. Your aid is desperately needed and greatly appreciated. I hope to speak more with you this evening.”

  “You’re welcome, and… Your Majesty, I know you were a friend of Kylar’s. He’ll be here.”

  Logan got a strange look on his face. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sure he shall.”

  Vi was stationed with a hundred and fifty of her Sisters at Black Bridge, almost in the shadow of the great dam, when she realized what that look meant. Logan thought Vi meant Kylar would be here in spirit. Logan still thought Kylar was dead. Stupid, Vi, stupid.

  Logan and Garuwashi were astride their mounts in the Great Market as the first rays of dawn revealed the God-king’s armies arrayed across from their own. “They fell for it,” he said. “They must have sent fifteen thousand men to Reigukhas. Last night, they had six thousand more men than we did. Now they have ten thousand less.”

  Lantano Garuwashi grinned. “Only two things can undo us now.”

  “Magic?”

  “And young men so drunk on glory they forget their discipline,” Garuwashi said.

  “So when do we attack?” Logan asked.

  “Right now.”

  It was still dark in the royal tent. Dorian ran a hand over Jenine’s bare shoulder, down her back, and over her hip. Her beauty made him ache. He shouldn’t have brought her here. It was too dangerous in too many ways. She wasn’t asleep, but she feigned it for him. She knew how he enjoyed her. He inhaled the scent of her hair once more and sat up. He began dressing.

  “That army is Cenarian,” Jenine said in the darkness. “Those are my people.”

  “Yes,” Dorian said.

  “How do I find myself in my enemy’s camp, my lord?”

  “Have you ever wondered what would happen if someone threw a war and nobody came?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I have no intention of killing any Cenarians,” Dorian said, “though I understand why they won’t believe that. We’re here only to destroy Neph and Moburu. At dawn our emissaries will let the Cenarians know that we will not attack, but I don’t think we have to worry about them. They’ve already taken a defensive position, as have we. They’ll stay until they see us withdraw, and then they’ll go home.”

  Jenine stood, and Dorian couldn’t help but glory in her beauty. The familiar panic-edged desire swept over him. He wanted to grab her and make love frantically, right now, as if he might never have a chance to again. But it was almost dawn, there were things he needed to do.

  “My people are aggrieved at your father’s predations, and that savage Lantano Garuwashi is with them. They say he bathes in blood. What will we do if they attack? I will be our emissary,” Jenine said. “They will believe me.”

  “No!” Dorian said.

  “Why not?”

  “It’s dangerous.”

  “They will not attack a woman approaching under flag of parley. Besides, better a hazard to me than to forty thousand lives.”

  “It’s not that,” Dorian said, thinking furiously. “Your presence might precipitate war, my love. What will Terah Graesin do—even under a flag of parley, if she sees you alive? Your life would be the death of all her power. People will do horrible things to keep what they love, Jenine.” The fact was, if he sent Jenine to Logan, the threat of Cenarian attack would end in one second—and so would his marriage.

  Unless… what if Jenine chose him? She’d barely known Logan. What Dorian had built with her was… real? It’s built on a lie. Oh, Solon, what would you say if you could see me now?

  “You’re right, my lord husband. I just wish there were something I could do.”

  Dorian kissed her. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine.” He stepped through the tent flap and saw a young man sweating, obviously bearing a message for him, and obviously too afraid to wake a Godking. “What is it?” Wanhope demanded.

  “Your Holiness. The warchief wishes me to tell you that the attack on Reigukhas was a ruse. Our spies were wrong. The Cenarians outnumber us by more than ten thousand now, and… Your Holiness, they’re attacking.”

  86

  Fighting in these damn robes was going to be a chore, but Vi was glad she hadn’t worn her scandalous wetboy grays. Well, she’d worn them, but under the robes. Going into battle without her grays would be like going into battle with her hair unbound.

  A blond man wider than he was tall brought his horse into the line next to her. A mage, she could tell. “Feir Cousat,” he said. “You Vi?”

  She nodded. They were positioned ten ranks back, behind pikemen and shield bearers who were guarding the bridge in front of the dam. From their elevated position, they could see the whole valley.

  A flag went up among Garuwashi’s men down in the market. The third time it waved, the Ceurans began marching toward the river. Lantano Garuwashi himself rode beside the front lines, and when he drew his sword, it glowed in the low light. A cheer went up.

  Vi squinted at the sword. There was something wrong with it.

  “What’s wrong?” Feir asked.

  “The glow… did you make that?”

  “What?! You can see that from here?”

  “It just looks like you. Like your work, I mean. I don’t know.”

  The highlanders who made up the center of the Khalidoran line were slow to react. They did nothing until half of Garuwashi’s five thousand had made the opposite bank. “What are they doing?” Feir asked. “The Khalidorans didn’t shoot any arrows.” Then the highlanders began trotting forward.

  Garuwashi’s flag dropped when the highlanders were thirty paces away and a shrill keening shriek sounded from every Ceuran throat. Shrieking, they charged. To a man, the sa’ceurai ran with their long swords trailing behind them, the other hand extended forward. Charge was too inelegant a term.

  Then the lines crashed together. The average highlander was taller and thicker than the average sa’ceurai, but as the clash of arms and rattle of armor resounded to where Vi watched, it was highlanders who fell ten to one. The sa’ceurai whipped their swords under and up, or over and down, or feinted and threw their shoulders into the highlanders instead.

  “Best solo fighters in the world,” Feir said. “There are twice as many highlanders out there—and look.”

  Within minutes, the rest of the sa’ceurai had made the crossing. As Feir had said, both sides fought man-to-man, breaking into a thousand duels, though neither side was above hamstringing an enemy whose back was turned. Despite the bulkiness that made the sa’ceurai’s lacquer armor look heavy, the men danced.

  Lantano Garuwashi presided over it all, dealing death every time highlanders pushed through the lines to get to him, but mostly watching. The air around him winked and sparkled, and Vi figured those were arrows or magic the Khalidorans where shooting at him. A terrified-looking magus sat on a horse directly behind Garuwashi, making constant gestures as he protected the war leader.

  Vi saw the effect of the meisters b
efore she could see the meisters themselves. The sa’ceurai lines seemed to ripple back as if all of them had been struck at once. Then she saw green fireballs arcing over the highlanders to splatter among the sa’ceurai, the flame turning blue where it hit flesh and sizzling, black smoke rising from a hundred bodies on fire.

  In that instant, the sa’ceurai advance faltered. Lantano Garuwashi waved his hand forward frantically, and his standard bearer was waving a flag furiously, but his men sank back. A dozen green fireballs splattered against Garuwashi’s shields and they nearly collapsed. He swung his horse’s head back toward the river and joined his men’s retreat, waving his hands and cursing them all the way.

  A cry went up from the highlanders and they surged forward. They’d routed the Ceurans.

  But from the rear, where the Khalidorans couldn’t see, it looked all wrong. While those in the front made big, panicky gestures, none threw down their weapons as they fled. The sa’ceurai closest to the river sheathed their blades and calmly carried the wounded between them in twos. Lantano Garuwashi’s frenzied waving, the whipping flag—it hadn’t been the same flag he’d used for the advance, had it?—it was all a setup.

  “Palies comin’!” someone shouted.

  Across the bridge in front of Vi, hundreds of Khalidoran soldiers were running to their places. Their archers loosed a flight of arrows. Feir threw his hands up and a shimmering transparent blue sheet of magic unrolled above the Cenarians, covering those at the foot of the bridge. The first arrows hit the shield and, to Vi’s surprise, didn’t burst into flame. Rather, they hit the shield like it was a pincushion, poked through it, and robbed of all speed, simply dropped the last five feet onto the Cenarians.

  “Archers, shoot from outside the umbrella!” Feir shouted, but not before several of them had loosed shots into it. The outgoing arrows stabbed through the umbrella, flew half a dozen feet, then came to rest back on top of the umbrella again, lacking even the energy to make it back to the ground.

  “Meisters!” someone screamed.

  Before Vi found the dark figure across the bridge, something blasted her from her saddle. She met the rocky ground with far less speed than she had any right to expect.

  “Make that ‘vürdmeisters,’ ” Feir said, helping her up. “The bastards.”

  “You saved me,” Vi said, noticing the unfamiliar shield around her as she stood.

  “You owe me. Now do something. I’m tapped out.”

  A dozen green fireballs of various sizes arced across the bridge. Vi fumbled for her Talent, but her ears were still ringing. She was too slow.

  Nonetheless, every one of the Khalidorans’ falling fireballs was lifted like an arrow catching a sudden updraft, then curved in the air and smashed back into the Khalidoran lines. A woman whooped, and Vi recognized Sister Rhoga’s voice. Vi’s battle magae had practiced that weave for four days straight, but seeing it actually work took Vi’s breath away.

  Vi couldn’t find her horse, though she had no idea how it could have gone anywhere through the massed ranks of pikemen, archers, and shield bearers who were holding the foot of Black Bridge. She pushed her way to the front.

  The men maintaining the shield wall at the front line looked at her. Their shields were studded with dozens of arrows each. The Khalidoran archers had figured out that if they shot at a low enough trajectory, they could find targets here. “How much cover you want, Sister?” a skinny officer at least twenty years her senior asked. The first row of soldiers were on one knee, their shields covering them completely; the second row held their shields at an angle and a third held theirs overhead despite the umbrella. They were packed as tightly as possible.

  “You, rest,” Vi told a man in the second row. She pushed her way into place and poked her head through the shields.

  She found the Vürdmeister by the swirling black vir-shield spinning in front of him. A moment later, half a dozen darts of mage fire plunged into his shield, magic breaking and spitting and sizzling in chunks on the bridge at his feet, but the Vürdmeister barely seemed to notice. He was looking down the river toward the ford at the Great Market.

  The Khalidoran highlanders had pursued the sa’ceurai across the river, and thousands had now gained the Cenarian side. Vi’s heart jumped into her throat.

  A blue flare streaked into the sky over the Great Market. To Vi’s right, a magus struggled out onto the narrow stone walkway that ran across the face of the dam. Because the waters poured over the top of the dam rather than through its centuries-closed sluices, the magus made his way through a deluge as water poured from fifty feet overhead. He held the handrail and climbed forward, hand over hand, struggling to keep his feet anchored to the stone. At the center of the walkway were two enormous pulleys, the chains wrapped around them still pristine. The chains themselves disappeared into the face of the dam where they would open the sluice gates. The magus threw thick blue ropes of magic at each of the pulleys, straining.

  He had barely started when half a dozen Vürdmeisters who’d been hiding in the Khalidoran ranks burst forward. Fire, hammers of air, gales, and missiles engulfed the lone magus from every direction. The magus’s shields held until a gleaming white homunculus winged its way to him. The magus screamed as the air ripped open and a pit wyrm struck.

  The wyrm’s jaws crunched through shield and man and one of the huge pulleys, then it pulled back into whatever hell it had come from and disappeared.

  A moment later, half a dozen green fire missiles ripped into the other pulley, cracking it and snapping the chains.

  Only as they destroyed the second pulley did Vi realize that she’d just seen Garuwashi’s trap defanged. Garuwashi had feigned the rout to draw the Khalidorans into the river where he meant to drown them. But the Khalidorans had known. Why else would they have concealed the presence of six Vürdmeisters? Now Garuwashi had just had his trap turned back on himself.

  “Feir!” Vi shouted. She turned and was surprised to see he was right behind her, the dread in his eyes telling her he understood. “Can you protect me?”

  His eyes flicked to the Vürdmeisters, who to Vi’s eyes looked all the same. “Three seconds, two thirds, and a sixth shu’ra. Shit. Maybe?”

  One of the younger Vürdmeisters laughed, turning his head over his shoulder to say something. Vi lashed out, grabbed the hem of his robe, and yanked. If Vi had thought about it, she wouldn’t have tried. She couldn’t reach that far. She never had.

  The man was halfway down the gorge before he screamed.

  Feir’s eyes were huge. “Nice grab.”

  “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Vi said. With her Talent, she pushed men aside right and left. The dam’s walkway was a good thirty feet out and twenty down. She ripped off her robes.

  “Distract them. Now!” she shouted.

  The battle magae complied, flinging dozens of fireballs.

  Vi ran through the space she’d cleared, a few quick steps taking her to a full sprint. She leapt into the void, barely remembering to shield herself. The jump was perfect. She landed with both feet on the middle of the walkway, splashing water every direction, then her momentum carried her into the wall of the dam. Her shield helped, it was still a twenty-foot fall. Vi crunched into the wall and then rebounded. She clawed blindly and felt stone under her fingertips for a brief instant, then she was flying into space.

  Stupid, Vi, stupid.

  She imagined she could hear Nysos laughing. She hadn’t thought of the god of potent liquids in months, and here she was, killed by water.

  She tensed for impact, but it never came. Vi opened her eyes and couldn’t see anything through the torrent. Then she was clear of it. She saw a thick rope of Talent knotted around her and extending all the way back to Sister Ariel, who was grimacing with the effort. In another moment, Vi was next to one of the chains. She grabbed it and Sister Ariel released her.

  Vi was instantly swept off her feet and spun by the force of the water, but with effort she regained her feet. Above her
she saw the Vürdmeisters—there were only three now—throwing fiery death toward her, but nothing came even close. On the Cenarian shore two hundred women glowed like torches with Talent: her Sisters. They were protecting her, and nothing could stop them. Vi’s heart swelled to bursting. These women would die for her. For the first time in her life, she belonged.

  She was crying and laughing even as she found the other chain. She stood with one chain in each hand, each link as long as her forearm. She heaved, but without the pulleys it was just too heavy.

  She moved back a step, out of the dam’s shadow into the sun. It wasn’t quite noon. She felt sunlight drenching her skin and she opened herself to it, opened herself until it burned, until it filled every pore with heat.

  Then she heaved again. At first, nothing moved, and then she felt as if deep within the dam mechanisms were threatening to give way, protesting deep in their iron throats, and finally… turning. Her Talent extended beyond her arms, gripping the chains like half a dozen hands, grabbing, pulling, and grabbing again. Hissing filled her ears, and she opened her eyes. Something was glowing, blindingly bright. It was her. She was luminous. Vi glowed like the Seraph herself. Steam rose in great hissing billows where the water washed over her limbs.

  The sluice gates cracked open, three on the left and three on the right. Vi pulled, feeling her strength waning. She had to finish. She pulled one more time and felt the gates lock open. The water pouring over the top of the dam onto her slowed, stopped. She could see again.

  The six open gates below her jetted water into the valley with incredible force. The water blasted into the thousands of highlanders crossing into the Great Market. Men clambered for higher ground, stampeding toward shore, crushing their fellows underfoot.

  Only Garuwashi’s men were unfazed by the flood. Whether or not they had seen how near their trap had come to collapsing, the sa’ceurai were ready for it to work. Through all the high ground surrounding the Great Market, they closed ranks and shut down choke points expertly. Then they surged back, pushing Khalidorans to a watery death. In places, men clawed their way over the sa’ceurai’s shields, but they were quickly cut down.

 
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