The night angel trilogy, p.15
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.15

           Brent Weeks
 

  Sleeping again only moved him from one nightmare to another. Day brought little relief, and only slowly did the memories fade. Every morning, he told himself that he’d done what he had to, that he’d had to kill Rat, that he’d had to abandon Doll Girl, that he’d had to leave Jarl, that it was best that he never see them again, that he couldn’t have known what would happen to Doll Girl. He told himself that life was empty, that he wasn’t taking away anything of value when he took a life.

  He wouldn’t have made it without Logan Gyre’s visits. Every other day, Logan would come to see him, inevitably with Serah Drake. At first, Kylar thought he came because he still felt guilty, but that soon passed. They enjoyed each other’s company, and they became fast friends. Logan was strange: he was as smart as Jarl, and he’d read hundreds of books. Kylar didn’t think he would survive for a week in the Warrens, but at the same time, he spoke about court politics as if it were all so easy. He knew the names, histories, friends, and enemies of scores of courtiers, and knew the major life events and important motivations of every highly ranked noble in the kingdom. Half the time, Kylar didn’t know if he didn’t understand what Logan was talking about because it was all part of the courtly life he’d never known, or just because Logan liked to use big words. A sesquipedalian, he called himself. Whatever that meant.

  Nonetheless, the friendship worked, and Serah Drake helped it work by happening to stop by often so she could be with Logan. She filled in the gaps. Kylar couldn’t count the times he sat silent because he hadn’t understood some reference Logan had made. The silence would begin to stretch, but before Logan could ever ask him why he didn’t understand, Serah would get uncomfortable and launch into something else entirely. The chatter might have driven Kylar mad if he hadn’t been so thankful for it. Anyway, maybe this was how noble girls were.

  Kylar was sitting in bed one morning after having spent another night cowering under the covers. He’d dreamed that he had been the one beating Doll Girl, that it had been his feet kicking her, and exultation writhed in his eyes as her beauty melted in the heat of his fury.

  Count Drake came in. His fingers were ink-stained and he looked tired. He pulled a chair close to the bed.

  “We think the danger’s passed,” he said.

  “Excuse me?” Kylar said.

  “I’m sorry we’ve had to keep you in the dark, Kylar, but we had to make sure you didn’t do anything rash. In the past few weeks, there have been a number of attempts on your master’s life. And consequently, there are now four fewer wetboys in the city. After three attempts, your master let the king know that if there were any more attempts, the king would die next.”

  “Master Blint killed the king?” Kylar asked.

  “Shhh! Don’t say that name. Not even here,” Count Drake said. “One of the Nine, Dabin Vosha, the man in charge of the Sa’kagé’s smuggling, heard about your master’s threat to the king. He decided it would be a good time to make his own play for power and sent a wetboy after Durzo, thinking Durzo would either be killed or would kill the king in retaliation. Durzo found out and killed both the wetboy and Vosha.”

  “You mean all this has been happening while I’ve been lying in bed.”

  “There was no way you could help,” Count Drake said.

  “But what did Dabin Vosha have against Master—my master?” Kylar had never even heard the name.

  “I don’t know. Maybe nothing. That’s the way the Sa’kagé works, Kylar. There are plots within plots, and most of them go nowhere. Most of them take one step and then die, like this one. If you worry about what everyone is trying to do, you become a spectator and not a player.

  “Anyway, the king’s learned of the last attempt on your master’s life and has become very frightened. Usually, this would be good news, but he’s rather clumsily consolidating his power. Logan is going to have to spend a while out of the city.”

  “He was just starting to be my friend,” Kylar said.

  “Believe me, son, a man like Logan Gyre will be your friend for life.”

  23

  Someone slapped Kylar. Not gently.

  “Wake up, boy.”

  Kylar clawed his way out of a nightmare and saw the face of Master Blint, a foot away, about to slap him again. “Master—” he stopped. “Master Tulii?”

  “Good to see you remember me, Kylar,” Master Blint said.

  Master Blint got up and shut the door. “I don’t have much time. Are you well yet? Don’t lie to please me.”

  “I’m still a little weak, sir, but I’m getting better.” Kylar’s heart was pounding. He’d been desperate to see Master Blint for weeks, but now that he was here, Kylar was inexplicably angry.

  “You’ll probably feel terrible for a few more weeks. Either the kinderperil and avorida paste interacted in a way I didn’t expect, or it might have something to do with your Talent.”

  “What’s that mean? The Talent?” Kylar asked. His words were sharper than he’d intended, but Blint didn’t seem to notice.

  “Well, if it was that.” Master Blint shrugged. “Sometimes a body doesn’t react well to magic at first.”

  “I mean, what does it mean? Will I be able to—”

  “Fly? Become invisible? Scale walls? Throw fire? Walk as a god among mortals?” Blint smirked. “Doubtful.”

  “I was going to ask if I’ll be able to move as fast as you do.” Again, that edge came into his voice.

  “I don’t know yet, Kylar. You’ll be able to move faster than most men without the Talent, but there aren’t many who are as gifted as I am.”

  “What will I be able to do, then?”

  “You’re weak, Kylar. We’ll talk about this later.”

  “I don’t have anything to do! I can’t even get out of bed. No one tells me anything.”

  “Fine. It means everything and nothing,” Master Blint said. “In Waeddryn or Alitaera, they’d call you a mage and six different schools would fight over where and what you should study and what color robes you should wear. In Lodricar or Khalidor, they’d call you a meister and you’d grow the vir on your arms like tattoos and worship your king as a god while you plotted how to stab his royal back. In Ymmur, you’d be a stalker, an honored and honorable hunter of animals and sometimes men. In Friaku, you’d be gorathi, a Furied warrior invincible in your clan and one day a king versed in the arts of subjugation and slavery. In the west, well, you’d be in the ocean.” He grinned.

  Kylar didn’t.

  “The mages guess—they’d say hypothesize to make it more respectable—that different countries produce different Talents and that’s why men with pale skin and blue eyes become wytches while swarthy men are warrior gorathi. They say that’s why the only mages they get from Gandu are Healers. They see men with yellow skin who can heal and proclaim that yellow skin means healing. But they’re wrong. Our world is divided, but the Talent is one. Every people recognizes some form of magic—except for the Lae’knaught who hate magic and simultaneously don’t believe in it, but that’s a different subject—but every people has its own expectations about magic. Gandu once produced some of the most destructive archmagi the world has known. They saw horrors you couldn’t imagine, and because of that, they turned away from magic as weaponry. The only magic they value is healing magic. So as centuries have passed, they’ve added greatly to their knowledge of healing magics, and lost most others. A Gandian who is greatly Talented with fire is a shame to himself and his family.”

  “So we’d never hear about him,” Kylar said.

  “Right. There’s an intersection between what the people around you know well enough to teach, what you’re naturally good at, and what it is possible for you to learn. So the Talent both is what it is and it is what it has to be. Like your mind.”

  Kylar just looked at him.

  “Take it this way: some people can add long lists of numbers in their heads, right? And some can speak a dozen languages. To do that, they have to be smart, right?”

  “Right.


  “But just because you can learn to add lists of numbers doesn’t mean you will. But a woman who handles account books and has a gift for numbers can. Or a diplomat might have a gift for languages, but if he never learns another language, he’ll still only know one.”

  Kylar nodded.

  “The woman with a head for numbers could probably learn another language if she worked hard enough, but she’ll never be fluent in a dozen, and the man will never be able to add columns of numbers mentally. Do you see where this is going?”

  Kylar thought, and Master Blint waited. “We know that I’m Talented but not how or how much, so you can’t tell what I’ll be able to do.”

  “Right,” Master Blint said. “From having me teach you, you’ll definitely learn some things. You need to hide? Your Talent will bend some light away. You need to walk quietly? It will muffle your steps. But like any talent, it has limits. If you walk in the noonday sun, you’ll be seen. If you step on dry leaves, you’ll be heard. You’re Talented; you’re not a god. You might have the smoothest tongue in the world, but if you swear at the king, you’ll meet the headsman.”

  “If I know twelve languages, and you speak to me in a thirteenth, I won’t know what you’re saying.”

  “Sometimes you do listen,” Master Blint said. “I have to go now. Count Drake will take care of you. He’s a good man, Kylar. Too good. You can trust him with your life; just don’t get him started on your soul. And think of yourself as Kylar always. Azoth is dead.”

  “Dead?” That released all the memories and fear and anger that had been building up in Kylar like pressing the trigger plate of a crossbow. Just like that his mask fell away, and he was Azoth once more.

  Azoth grabbed Master Blint’s arm. “I—I really d—”

  “No! No you didn’t. Does this look like hell?” Blint gestured. “Ha. And they wouldn’t let me visit heaven.”

  But Azoth could remember looking down at a knife sticking out of his chest—it had seemed so real. How could such a thing be?

  “I couldn’t work for them,” Master Blint said. “I’d be a bloody sword to them. They wouldn’t be able to clean me, and they wouldn’t be able to sheathe me. They’d have killed me eventually. It’s easier to keep your eye on your enemies than on your friends.”

  “So you’ve been killing wetboys?” Azoth asked, trying to get a hold of himself. For weeks, he’d been keeping himself from thinking about that afternoon, but now he couldn’t hold it back. He remembered the look in the lord general’s eyes, the utter shock. He remembered following those eyes to his own chest….

  “Nobody good would take the job on me. Men like Wrable and Gibbet and Severing get paid too well doing regular jobs to risk their lives taking on a real wetboy. Now remember, you’re a Stern. You’re proud of that, even if you are poor. The Sterns are barons, so they’re upper nobility, but at the lowest level—”

  “I know,” Azoth said, cutting him off. “I know.”

  Was it just his imagination, or had Master Blint just looked guilty? The wetboy fished in a pocket and popped a garlic clove in his mouth. If it were anyone else, Azoth would have sworn he was trying to distract him, rushing to get out of the room before Azoth could pin him down. Why was I so eager to please a man who was willing to murder me?

  I thought he cared. In the weeks that he’d been here in bed, Kylar had been alone. He’d left everything of his old life. He’d had real friends in Jarl and Doll Girl. They had cared about him. Now he was pretending to be friends with Logan Gyre—and even he had left. Not even Momma K came to visit.

  It almost physically hurt when the count and countess came in at the same time. They so obviously loved each other; they were safe and happy and real together. Even Logan and Serah sometimes traded looks that made it obvious they liked each other. Those looks, that love, filled Kylar with a yearning so deep he thought his chest was going to cave in. It wasn’t just hunger; a guild rat knew hunger like he knew the sewers where he huddled for warmth in the winter. Hunger wasn’t comfortable, but it was familiar and it was nothing to fear. This was a thirst, like his whole body was parched, drying up, about to crumple. He was dying of thirst on the shores of the world’s biggest lake.

  None of it was for him. To him, that lake was an ocean. It was salt sea that if he drank would make him thirstier and thirstier until he went mad and died. Love was death for a wetboy. Madness and weakness and vulnerability and death, not just for the wetboy himself, but also for anyone he loved. Everything about Azoth’s life was dead. He’d sworn that he would never love, but he’d never seen anything like what the count and countess shared when he’d promised that. It would be tolerable if anyone cared about him at all.

  In the time he’d been with Master Blint, he’d started to think that the wetboy liked him, cared about him. He’d believed that sometimes Master Blint was even proud of him. Even though everything about the gray-haired lord general was foreign to Azoth, there was something right in the outrage and disbelief that had been in his eyes when Master Blint stabbed Azoth. He shouldn’t have done it.

  Azoth burst into tears. “How could you do it? What’s wrong with you? It wasn’t right.”

  Blint was caught off-guard for a moment, then he was suddenly furious. He grabbed Azoth’s tunic and shook him. “Damn you! Use your head! If you aren’t smarter than this, I should have killed you. Did he believe me when I said I didn’t care if they killed you?”

  Azoth looked away, admitting it. “You planned it all along.”

  “Of course I did! Why do you think we bleached your hair? It was the only way to save you. Azoth had to die so Kylar could live. Otherwise they had a hold. Any attachment you make in this life will be used against you. That’s why we’re strong. That’s why four wetboys couldn’t kill me. Because I have no attachments. That’s why you can’t fall in love. It makes you weak. As soon as you find something you can’t walk away from, you’re trapped, doomed. If anyone thinks I give the hair on a rat’s arse what happens to you, you become a target. For everyone.”

  How does he do it? How is he so strong?

  “Now look. Look at my damn hands!” Blint held them up. Both were empty. He made a fist and smacked it down on one arm. A bloody dagger sprouted from the opposite side. He jerked his hand away and the knife pulled back through his flesh. Then it frayed apart like smoke and disappeared.

  “I have a small Talent with illusions, Kylar. I did a better job with yours because I had to sell it. But all I did was hit you in the back with a knockout needle, then hold the illusion until it took effect.”

  “But I felt it,” Kylar said. He was regaining his balance. The tears were gone. He was thinking of himself as Kylar again.

  “Sure you felt it. You felt me hit you and you saw a dagger coming out of your chest. At the same time your body was trying to fight off a dozen minor poisons. You made what sense of it you could. It was a gamble. That illusion used up almost all the power I can use in a day. If Agon’s men had stormed the place, we would have been finished. The poisons I used wreaked havoc with your body. They could have killed you. Again, a gamble I had to make.”

  Master Blint does care what happens to me. It hit him like lightning. Master Blint had risked using up his power to save Azoth. Even if it were just the affection a master might have for a talented apprentice, Blint’s approval washed over Azoth—Kylar!—as if the wetboy had given him a hug.

  No adult had ever cared what happened to him. The only other person who’d ever risked anything for him was Jarl, and Jarl was part of another life.

  The truth was, Azoth hated Azoth. Azoth was a coward, passive, weak, afraid, disloyal. Azoth had hesitated. Master Blint didn’t know it, but the poisons on the needle had killed Azoth. He was Kylar now, and Kylar would be everything Azoth hadn’t dared to be.

  In that moment, Azoth became Kylar and Kylar became Blint’s. If he had ever obeyed his master half-heartedly before, or out of fear, if he had ever fantasized about one day coming back and kil
ling him for how hard the training was, it all dried up and blew away now. Master Blint was being hard on Kylar because life was hard. Life was hard, but Blint was harder, stronger, tougher than anything the Warrens could throw at him. He forbade love because love would destroy Kylar. Master Blint knew better than Kylar did. He was strong and he would make Kylar strong. He was fierce and Kylar would be fierce. But it was all for Kylar. It was all to protect him, to make him the best wetboy he could be.

  So it wasn’t love. So what? It was something. Maybe nobles got to live on the shores of that lake and drink at their pleasure. That life hadn’t been decreed for a guild rat. Kylar’s life was a desert life. But there is life in the desert, and a small oasis had Kylar’s name on it. There was no room for Azoth. The oasis was too small and Azoth was too thirsty. But Kylar could do it. Kylar would do it. He’d make Master Blint proud.

  “Good,” Master Blint said. Of course, he couldn’t see what Kylar was thinking, but Kylar knew the eagerness in his eyes was unmistakable. “Now, boy, are you ready to become a sword in the shadows?”

  24

  Get up, boy. It’s time to kill.”

  Kylar was awake instantly. He was fourteen years old, and the training had sunk in enough that he went through his survival checklist instantly. For each question, there was only a terse answer. Each sensation got only the briefest moment of his attention. What woke you? Voice. What do you see? Darkness, dust, afternoon light, shack. What do you smell? Blint, sewage, the Plith. What do you feel? Warm blanket, fresh straw, my bed, no warning tingles. Can you move? Yes. Where are you? Safe house. Is there danger? The last question, of course, was the culmination. He could move, his weapons were in their sheaths, all was well.

  That wasn’t guaranteed, not even here, in this dingy safe house in the shadow of one of the few sections of the ancient aqueduct that was still standing. More than once, Durzo had tied a sword to the ceiling over Kylar’s bed, and the damn thing was nearly invisible when you had to look at it point first. Durzo had woken Kylar, and when he didn’t recognize the danger within three seconds, Durzo had cut the rope. Fortunately, he’d capped the point that first time, and the second time. The third time, he didn’t.

 
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