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The night angel trilogy, p.150
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.150

           Brent Weeks

  He lost sight of the battle as he sprinted down the valley. Those few armed men he encountered he passed before they could raise a challenge, until he got to Black Bridge. There, half a dozen men with pikes and short swords at their belts turned from the battle to watch his approach.

  “Hold!” a young man shouted.

  As Kylar stopped in front of them, a crack like thunder shook the earth. Kylar was the only one who kept his feet. He turned his eyes to Black Barrow. The slight rises and dips of the plain between him and the great dome were covered with warriors, both human and krul, but the battle slowed as those not in the front line looked to the great shining black sphere. Another thunder crack shook the plain, and this time, jagged cracks raced from the highest point of the dome down its sides. Men cursed in fear and wonder.

  The third crack shattered the dome from inside. Huge chunks of black rock three feet thick exploded into the air and rained onto the Dead Demesne and the battlefield, crushing krul and men alike. Most of the dome still stood, quivering, edges sharp around the hole in its crown.

  More sharp blows followed and the rest of the dome fell in, raising a huge cloud of black dust like a stain of night across the morning. Something huge moved inside it.

  “What is that?” the young man guarding the bridge asked.

  Kylar was already running.

  Most of the fighting men had noticed nothing. The grim business of war took all their attention. The allies’ armies were doing extremely well if what Kylar had seen of their relative numbers was accurate. He saw one of Agon’s archers fit an odd arrow to his Ymmuri bow and shoot. Two hundred paces away, one of the Khalidoran signal flags went up in flames. It was obviously on purpose, because only one or two Khalidoran signal flags remained on the entire plain. Kylar wondered briefly whose good idea that had been.

  Curoch was still strapped to his back and the black ka’kari concealed it. Kylar drew neither as he closed with the rear of the Cenarian line. His battle senses seemed to explode, obliterating conscious thought, blotting out everything but the sharp outlines of the figures in his path. This group was spearmen, packed tightly and surging forward. There would be no slipping through these men. They pushed against the backs of the men in front of them with oblong shields, holding their elbows up so their spears wouldn’t become entangled in the press.

  Kylar leapt lightly and pushed off one man’s shoulder, twisted, pushed off another’s spear hand, then planted both feet on the shoulders of a man in the second row and jumped as hard as he could. He was over the Cenarians so fast he didn’t even hear their cries of surprise.

  His leap took him over the first six lines of krul. Kylar read the bodies of those among which he would land. Five black creatures and one a diseased flaky white that seemed their leader. Two saw him. Kylar tucked his knees to his chest, flipped, then threw his feet forward at the last second. His feet connected with a big black krul over its eyes. Its head snapped back and its neck cracked. Kylar rolled to his feet.

  He’d never seen krul before. They were shaped like men with grotesquely bulging muscles, their eyes small and piggish, brows prominent, shoulders heavy, necks almost nonexistent, but beyond that, each was different, as if they were the products of many different hands. The one closest to Kylar’s left was covered with fur, two others were hairless. The one directly in front of him had a nose smashed upward into a snout. It also had thin curling horns. Three had an extra knuckle’s worth of finger on their hands, sharpened into claws. Their skin or fur was the black of a bloated corpse, and they smelled of rot. None wore armor or clothes except the white one, and few had weapons other than their claws or horns. The white was taller than the others, more than six feet, and recovered first, swinging a huge dull blade at Kylar.

  Kylar dodged it and crushed the white’s throat with a kick. Kylar darted behind another, grabbed its horns, and broke its neck before he realized that perhaps a dozen black krul weren’t moving at all; they simply stared at their dying white leader. It was hissing, trying to breathe. Unnerved by their sudden listlessness, Kylar paused for a moment—a pause that in a normal battle could have been lethal. He pulled a tanto from his belt and jammed it into the white krul’s heart. Krul apparently kept their hearts where men did, because it died as he withdrew the blade.

  What little light had been in the piggish eyes around him guttered out. The ten krul looked lost. For three impossible seconds, they didn’t move. Kylar could sense them searching for something. Then, as if each had been yanked on a leash toward a new master, the krul bolted in ten different directions.

  A jolt of fear more intense than any he’d ever felt lashed through Kylar’s bond with Vi. She was two hundred paces to his left.

  Kylar ran through the Dead Demesne, over corpses that looked oddly fresh but didn’t stink. He was behind the main line of krul, but there were still hundreds that saw him. His Talent filled him like a fire. He was a blur.

  As always, he could feel Vi more intensely the closer he got. She was in the middle of a thick knot of fighting. The sheer volume of magic was astounding. Magae flanked Vi and they faced a dozen Vürdmeisters with vir clawing through every inch of exposed skin. On a white charger in white enameled armor, Logan and a score of his bodyguards faced dozens of monsters. A great sword-tooth cat leapt for the king. Logan slashed his sword into the top of its head. Its claws scored his horse’s armor as it fell dead.

  A wash of fire spurted from a Vürdmeister toward the king and lapped against a shimmering shield one of the magae had put around him. A squat red krul, a head shorter than most of its kin but three times as wide, with skin that looked like it was entirely made of bone, grabbed a horse’s leg. The horse whinnied as its leg cracked. It fell, spilling one of Logan’s bodyguards to the ground. He jumped up and slashed at the creature, but his thin blade rang off its skin. He stabbed it; his blade bowed but then pierced the creature’s skin. It ignored it and grabbed his arm, then his face. Gnasher grabbed the man’s other arm and tried to pull him up onto his horse. His scream was muffled against the krul’s palm until it crushed helmet and head together. Gnasher kept pulling, not understanding the guard was already dead.

  Greenish krul with splayed legs like frogs leapt at Logan, trying to knock him from his saddle. Vi blasted them aside with Talent and bodyguards opened their throats.

  As Logan’s knot of warriors ground slowly toward the Dead Demesne, a Vürdmeister beyond the fighting chanted calmly. Kylar saw the sword-tooth cat’s split head mend, and moments later it stood. Everywhere, the scene was repeated. The Vürdmeisters were instantly replacing the most powerful krul they lost.

  Kylar unlimbered Curoch and decapitated that Vürdmeister, and then another before it could raise the red-skinned ogre, and cut a third in half. Through the press of bodies, he saw Vi. A krul claw slapped into her arm, but bounced off as her blood-red dress hardened like armor. She sliced off the krul’s arm and met Kylar’s eyes. She pointed behind him.

  It was the Titan, looming huge. It had cracked open Black Barrow and now it was coming to war. The sheer size of it was hard to believe. It was shaped almost like a man, its skin a coolly luminous blue under scale armor, its hair gold and short and spiky like an unruly boy’s, its eyes black with silver vertical irises like a cat’s, its muscles smooth and beautiful. But if it was a god from the front, it was a demon from behind. Huge spikes extended from its spine, reptilian wings draped from its shoulders, and a rat-like hairy tail dragged behind it. It wielded a spiked pole as a cudgel.

  “Kylar!” Vi shouted. “Kill it!”

  He could feel her intimately enough to know she hadn’t meant to invoke the bond, but she’d done it anyway. Like he’d been lashed with a cat o’nine tails, his attention focused instantly, irrevocably on the Titan. He had no choice.


  Kaldrosa Wyn was lying in the shadow of a huge krul corpse. This one was shaped like a bear with scabby pale skin devoid of fur. She was near the crest of a hill in the Dead Demesne, north of Black
Barrow—or north of where Black Barrow had been. The dome had come down minutes earlier, scaring the hell out of her. From her position, she could see several hundred of the other soldiers. Most of them were sa’ceurai, the rest were Agon’s Dogs. She’d come because her husband Tomman had, and if he was going to take a mission this dangerous, she was going with him.

  A low whistle trilled in the distance, and seconds later, was repeated by someone closer. It was time. Kaldrosa pulled the muddy bag at her feet up and opened it. She dressed slowly, carefully, trying to work blood into her stiff arms and legs. They’d been crawling and lying in muck for two days, and it was a wonder she could move at all. They’d blackened their armor and weapons so they wouldn’t reflect sunlight, but she was still as quiet as possible. They didn’t want to spoil their gambit this close to its fruition.

  The Ymmuri bows were the biggest problem. To string them, the Ymmuri warmed them by a fire for at least half an hour. That wasn’t an option. Someone had foreseen it, though, and the archers gathered around an odd, kohled Modaini magus named Antoninus Wervel.

  Otaru Tomaki, one of Lantano Garuwashi’s advisers, was in command. Kaldrosa didn’t know what he’d seen to make him decide they should attack now—or if he had seen anything. Tightening the last stubborn leather strap between Tomman’s shoulder blades with numb fingers, she poked her head over the bear, not shrinking from its touch. Her horror at the monsters had peaked the first night. She might have gone mad if Tomman hadn’t lain next to her, his fingers interlaced with hers. Now, the monsters were just meat, and oddly unstinking meat at that.

  The Khalidoran command tents seemed almost abandoned. There were a score of rich pavilions in a rough circle, but only a half dozen guards patrolled the area, and they focused on a pavilion beside the largest one. Four female meisters stood around it. That confirmed it for Kaldrosa. It was the concubines’ pavilion.

  The Dead Demesne ended a hundred paces from the pavilions. Tomman and the other archers were creeping as close as they could. She knew Tomman could make the shot from two hundred paces, but they didn’t want to take chances; everything depended on being quick and lethal.

  Turning to sit against the bear, she stretched her arms and rolled her head. South of her hill, the black dust from the dome was settling in the city that had been hidden beneath Black Barrow. In the center was an expansive white castle. The city itself was at the highest point of the plain, so Kaldrosa could see nothing of the battle beyond it. She pulled on her helmet and turned in time to see every guard and meister in sight tumble to the ground with arrows stuck in them.

  There was another whistle and a thousand men jumped to their feet and ran toward the pavilions. The sa’ceurai usually shouted war cries, but now they were silent. A few stumbled and fell with muscles cramping from their nights of exposure, but most reached the pavilions in seconds.

  Otaru Tomaki held up a hand with four fingers extended, gave a tempo, and cut. A hundred sa’ceurai ringed the pavilion that had been guarded while the others fanned out. On the count Tomaki had given, they cut through the walls of the pavilion on four sides simultaneously and stormed in.

  By the time Kaldrosa arrived, maybe five seconds later, the six eunuchs inside the tent were dead, and the lone woman was ringed by wary sa’ceurai. The woman was dark-haired, of a slender build, maybe sixteen. She was dressed richly and held a sword, waving it wildly. “Get away! Stay back!” she shouted.

  It struck Kaldrosa that a hundred sa’ceurai were probably not the kind of rescuers a Cenarian princess would expect. “Your Highness,” Kaldrosa said, “be calm. We’re here to save you. We’ve come from your husband.”

  “My husband? What madness is this? Stay back!”

  “You’re Jenine Gyre, aren’t you?” Kaldrosa asked. The girl fit the description, but she’d never seen her.

  “Time!” Otaru Tomaki said. “We’ve got to go!”

  “Jenine Gyre?” the girl laughed, twisting the name. “That’s been one of my names.”

  “King Logan sent us. He’s missed you terribly, Your Highness. You’re the reason we’re here,” Kaldrosa said.

  “Logan? Logan’s dead.” Their puzzled looks must have convinced her it was no trap. She went white. “Logan’s alive? ‘The Cenarian king.’ Oh gods.” The sword tumbled from her fingers. She passed out.

  Otaru Tomaki caught her before she hit the floor. He hoisted her over a shoulder. “Good work, easier this way.”

  “I’ve never seen someone actually swoon,” Antoninus Wervel said. The kohl connecting his eyebrows had smudged and run from his days in the Dead Demesne, making him look more freakish than menacing. “Very well, are we ready?”

  “Thirty seconds,” Tomaki barked.

  The sa’ceurai, who’d held perfect order to that moment, bolted, looting every pavilion they could in a frenzy. Kaldrosa counted, and every last warrior was back by twenty-eight. At thirty, Antoninus Wervel extended his hands to the sky and a blue flame whooshed out, turning green at its apex.

  Then they waited. A tense minute later, an answering green flare arced into the sky from the opposite side of Black Barrow.

  “We go east, through the Dead Demesne,” Tomaki said. “Go!”


  In the tumult of clashing arms, grunts, curses, clashing sword on sword or sword on shield, the thump of cudgels hitting flesh, the muted crack of breaking limbs or shattering skulls, the whistle of air escaping from a throat instead of a mouth, the familiar stench of blood and bile and death-loosened bowels and the sweat of exertion and the sweat of fear, Kylar was suddenly serene. He kicked low into a white krul’s shin, snapping it. He slid past the falling beast, lunged to slide Curoch into another krul’s throat, reversed his grip on the sword, and stabbed it through the white krul’s skull before it hit the earth.

  Its death and the sudden slackness in the krul nearest him gave Kylar a moment to look at the Titan. It had reached the thick of the fight, a hundred paces away. It swept its spiked club in a savage swathe. Krul and men alike were lofted into the air, pierced by spikes longer than swords and then flung free on its next slash.

  Kylar plunged back into the maelstrom like a diver into a cool lake on a blistering day. Vi’s command to kill gave the world a beautiful focus. There was no fear about protecting others less capable. No worry about advancing at a slow enough rate that the rest of a line of plodding sword-swingers could keep pace. No thought of concealing how good he was. Not even the muted horror of killing men. A dark facsimile of a Harani bull reared up before Kylar, lashing stump-like feet, slashing mighty tusks. Kylar dodged backward, hesitated until it was about to land on all fours, then dove beneath it. Curoch passed through the bull’s abdomen like a comb passing through a princess’s hair on the hundredth stroke. It was beautiful. The creature trumpeted in pain and its bowels squirted onto the ground. Kylar was already killing something else.

  He’d acquired a stabbing spear somewhere, and now he spun into another knot of krul. None had time to swing weapon or claw at him. The spear spun and Curoch darted like a hummingbird, and eight beasts died. He wasn’t fighting, or killing, or butchering. It was a dance. He didn’t decapitate a krul unless he needed to change the direction of its falling body; it was faster to clip a single artery. Faster to cut a hamstring. Faster to cut across a face to take both eyes. He stopped killing the black krul half the time, focusing on the white, the bears, the aurochs, and the Harani bulls—anything that was in his path to the Titan.

  He blinded a Harani bull in one eye, made it spin, slashing at him with its tusks, then speared its other eye. Blinded and mad with rage, it charged, plowing through line upon line of krul, trampling and killing. Kylar found himself laughing.

  When the Titan was less than thirty paces away, for the first time, Kylar had a cut parried. This krul was different from any he’d yet seen. Where most krul seemed to be crafted on the idea that stronger-is-better, bigger-is-best, this creature was man-shaped and as lean as Kylar. Instead of skin, it had a
blood-red chitin exoskeleton. Its face was a featureless chitin oval. It held two swords of the same material and stood in a perfect ready stance. It countered Three Daisies with Garon’s Stand. Kiriae’s Crouch with Boulders Falling. But when it tried to stop the Knot Loosed with Sydie’s Wrath, Curoch punched through its chitinous chest. Kylar decapitated it to be sure and saw that the exoskeletoned red warriors were the only krul around the Titan. As the Titan swung its club, they easily rolled out of the path of every swipe. There were thirteen thirteens of them, swarming like fire ants.

  Between the fire ants and the Titan, the Cenarian center was close to collapsing. The Lae’knaught, the Cenarians, the Ceuran reserves, and the Alitaeran reserves had all come here, but the center could not hold. The Titan was as tall as seven or eight men, and neither stupid nor slow. Where the cavalry bunched, it killed half a dozen horses and men in a single swipe. Where they spread out, the fire ants darted into the gaps and killed men at every turn.

  The Titan lifted a foot to stomp on a horseman charging him, and the ants scattered. Kylar leapt through the gap. The Titan’s foot came down, crushing man and horse to jelly and shaking the ground. Kylar jumped and grabbed its calf. The Titan wore scale armor made of scales so big that Kylar didn’t dare imagine what they had come from, but the straps holding the armor together were thick leather and enormous hemp ropes. With Curoch sheathed, Kylar clambered up to the Titan’s belt.

  The Titan noticed him and spun so fast Kylar’s feet lost their grip and swung out horizontal. Kylar saw chitin warriors crushed by the unexpected move. The Titan swatted at him and Kylar was batted into the folds of its furled wings.

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