The night angel trilogy, p.151
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.151

           Brent Weeks
 

  Cocooned in soft, stinking leather, Kylar slipped toward the ground. He grabbed a wing bone as thick around as his thigh. He climbed as quickly as he could and Curoch came to hand as the Titan noticed that he was still hanging on. Kylar slashed once, twice, three times, and the soft, hand-thick membrane parted. He slapped Curoch onto his back and slipped through the hole as the Titan unfurled its enormous wings with a snap. Caught halfway through the wing, Kylar was almost knocked unconscious by the whiplash. The Titan furled its wings to try to shake him loose again and Kylar pushed through and jumped.

  He caught himself on one of the huge spines protruding from the Titan’s back. The Titan spun again, but didn’t see him, and then was distracted by some attack Kylar couldn’t see. Kylar’s feet found purchase on a lower spine, and timing the movements of the Titan’s body, Kylar clambered from spine to spine.

  There was nowhere to brace himself for a blow to cut into the Titan’s spine, so Kylar kept climbing until he reached the broad gorget that protected the Titan’s neck. A fringe of metallic hair protruded over it, and Kylar grabbed a handful, bracing himself to ram Curoch into the back of the Titan’s head.

  Magic arced through the metallic hairs and blasted him off his feet. Kylar spun, hanging on by one hand.

  He lost his grip and caught the gorget itself, his hand between the metal and the Titan’s skin. Kylar swung around and hacked blindly into the Titan’s neck. Magic burst from the Titan in a shockwave. The world went black and Kylar felt himself spinning into space. There was nothing to grab, no possible way to stop his fall—and from this height, falling would surely be lethal. It was like a dream: the rush of air, the sick emptiness in his stomach, the twist as he braced for the inevitable impact—but he didn’t wake up. He crushed something, and heard as much as felt his bones snapping. His collarbone, right arm, every rib on the right side and his pelvis crunched and crackled.

  When he blinked his eyes clear, he was flat on his back, a fire ant crushed beneath him. Kylar tried to move, but there was no way. Pain arced through him, so intense that black spots swam in front of his eyes. If he tried again, he’d black out. He was dead. Just like that, Kylar’s battle was finished.

  The Titan had staggered back several huge steps. Its neck was fountaining blood from the right side. Kylar had caught its carotid artery. It screamed. Then it caught sight of Kylar. If Kylar could read emotion in those silver and black cat’s eyes, he would have thought he read satisfaction. The Titan stepped forward. It was dying, and it knew it, and it was going to fall on top of Kylar to crush him.

  Kylar extended one finger to the Titan and lay back and looked at the sky. A speck floated in front of his eyes and he blinked, but it didn’t go away. In the sky, diving from mountainous heights was a bird of prey, diving at great speed. Even in a dive, it was clear it must have had a thirty foot wingspan, and it was diving straight at Kylar.

  Great, crushed by a Titan or by some huge bird. Beautiful.

  There was no question of moving. So many bones were broken that breathing was excruciating. Kylar looked back at the Titan. The blood-fountain from its neck still gushed. It was rocking forward, its perfect white teeth bared at Kylar.

  The bird snapped its wings open at the last second and swooped into the Titan’s face with bone-shattering force. The Titan’s head whipped back with a crack and it dropped like a stone—backward, onto the lines of krul.

  Kylar lay back. He’d hoped to do more. He might have even been tempted to think his destiny would have been to do more, but he knew better. Anyway, at least he’d killed the Titan. That was surely worth something.

  There was a ululating cry from the Ceuran lines, and the allies surged forward. Kylar saw men and horses leaping over him.

  He’d barely closed his eyes when he felt magic sliding into him. With a sure and brutal hand, his bones were wrenched into place and reconstructed in rapid order. When the magic receded, Kylar lurched over and threw up. He hadn’t even known he could be Healed so quickly. Who else would have tried?

  “One of these times, you’re really going to have to save my life. This is really getting old. By the way, I thought I told you to hold onto this.”

  Kylar gaped up at Durzo. His master was extending Curoch to him. Durzo was wearing a huge pack on his back that extended several feet above his shoulders—except it wasn’t a pack. “Oh, hell no,” Kylar said. “You cannot fly. Tell me you can’t fly.”

  Durzo shrugged. “Hollow bones, changes to the heart and eyes if you want to see while you dive, careful re-apportionment of body mass—it’s a real bitch. Helps if you study dragons.”

  “Dragons? No, don’t tell me.” Kylar stood, shaky from the vast amount of magic that had coursed through him. “I didn’t think I could heal that fast—” he cut off as Durzo’s wings melted into his back and his form subtly changed proportions. Durzo had taught him that shifting his features, even the relatively minor shifts from one human face to another, took eight to twelve hours. Now his master had lost thirty-foot wings in a matter of seconds. “Unbelievable,” Kylar said.

  “It’s too hard for you,” Durzo said, a note of apology sneaking into his voice.

  “Do you know where Elene is?” Kylar demanded.

  “Not for sure, but I know where the party is.” Durzo looked like he was about to say more, but he stopped. His face drained of humor.

  A moment later, Kylar caught what dismayed his master. By degrees, the ground beneath them seemed to sigh. The stench of the newly dead was magnified tenfold. Jorsin’s spell locking the ground had been broken. The Dead Demesne shook off its chains and breathed.

  94

  Godking Wanhope saw the Cenarian flare arc high over his command tents and his heart stopped.

  Jenine. They were taking Jenine.

  He stood on the last flight of steps before a great dome of the ancient castle. It was the tallest building he’d ever seen, with towering arches and flying buttresses that scraped the very heavens. Inside, he could feel Khali—and Neph Dada. Dorian was surrounded by a dozen highlanders and two hundred Vürdmeisters: more than enough. The real battle would be between himself and Neph, his old tutor. Neph, who was making his play at usurpation. Neph, who had raised a Titan and the red buulgari—the fire ants, the bugs—which had been imprisoned near the Titan.

  Nor was Neph Dada the only one making a play. Wanhope’s brother Moburu had spent almost all his strength in cutting through Wanhope’s forces yesterday to get to Black Barrow. Now he was emerging from one of the tunnels under the city. He had a ferali.

  From the stairs, the Godking had a vantage of everything north and east of the castle. To the north, he could see the small Cenarian force cutting through the Dead Demesne to the east, where they would meet Logan Gyre’s troops, led by the king himself. Moburu’s force looked to be only a few hundred, and it would meet Logan’s troops before the Cenarians who’d taken Jenine got there. Without the ferali, the Cenarians would obliterate Moburu’s force. With it—well, it depended on how good Logan’s magae were.

  All in all, the resulting clash should give him plenty of time to go inside, take Khali and cut off Neph from the vir. Without vir, Neph and Moburu would be helpless, and the entire army of krul would finally be united. Wanhope had made mistakes, but the day was far from lost. He was turning to go inside when he saw Moburu’s men turn and head for the Cenarians holding Jenine.

  His heart pounded. He’d seen this scene as his gift came back. Moburu’s ferali would demolish the kidnappers, and he would seize Jenine. Wanhope saw the picture vividly. Moburu held Jenine, his eyes wild, a spell wrapped around her head that would crush it like a melon if he released it.

  It was too late for Jenine. Wanhope could see her head popping, brains squirting out of the narrow holes in the spell. He blinked. Even if he saved her, his marriage was finished. The Cenarians had taken her. She must know now that Logan was alive. If he rescued her within sight of Logan, would she thank him for it? Inside, at least, was power. With Kha
li, Wanhope had magic, wealth, every pleasure of the flesh, comfort. There was the study of things lost, of magics no one could teach but a goddess. There was everything but friendship, companionship, love—but what were those things if he was going to go mad and couldn’t enjoy them anyway? This was his birthright, and people had been trying to take his birthright for as long as he’d lived. He’d given everything to be here. What would happen to his harem if he left? He’d given those girls a decent life, a better life than they could have imagined. He couldn’t live without the vir. He’d quit it once, and quitting had nearly killed him. He couldn’t do it again. Jenine was dead to him anyway. Besides, he wanted to crush Neph, to teach him finally who was the master and who the student, to avenge all the cruelties Neph had inflicted on him growing up.

  Wanhope turned to go inside.

  “Dorian?” a man shouted from halfway down the hill. “Dorian?!” In the cobblestone street, a hundred paces away, Solon emerged around a corner, riding a chestnut destrier. He gestured with one hand to what must have been soldiers in the street behind him, telling them to stop. “Dorian! My God, Dorian, it’s good to see you! I thought you were dead!”

  Godking Wanhope was wearing his white robes and heavy gold chains of office. The vir were darkening his skin, and Solon pretended not to see any of it.

  Solon rode toward him, not touching his Talent, not holding any weapon, not making any move that might seem threatening, as if he were approaching a wild animal. “It is you. Dorian.”

  He said the word like it had power, like he was calling a dead man back to life. And it was life. Even with all the luxury and the fulfillment of every whim, Dorian had lived these last months hunted. There had been no rest, only stupor. There had never been communion, not even with Jenine.

  The two hundred Vürdmeisters were getting nervous at Solon’s approach. They could smell the potency of his Talent, and even to Wanhope’s nostrils it reeked. He hated it. It smelled of light, scouring, revealing, shaming light. But the Vürdmeisters wouldn’t attack Solon, not without the Godking’s word. Solon ignored them. The man always did have brass balls. “Dorian,” he said. “Dorian.”

  Dorian had spoken a prophecy over Solon once. Ten, twelve years ago? It ended: “Broken north, broken you, remade if you speak one word.” The cheeky bastard was asserting that the word was “Dorian”? He was turning Dorian’s own prophecy back on himself? Solon had a little grin twisting his lips in the way Dorian knew so well. A laugh burst out of Wanhope and then was strangled in a sob. It sounded insane to his own ears.

  He looked down the hill. Moburu had closed with the Cenarians holding Jenine, and the ferali was plowing through them in a cloud of black dust, tearing them apart, sticking their bodies to its flesh—growing.

  Inside, Neph was working to give Khali flesh. The goddess would enslave all Midcyru, maybe all the world. Enslave and destroy. Without a body, she had turned Khalidor into a cauldron of filth, a culture of fear and hatred. What could she do with a body? The best thing Dorian could do was stop him. Godking Wanhope could stop Neph. He knew Neph. He knew how Neph would fight. The girl was a tangent, a distraction in the big picture. Dorian was too important, his skills too valuable to go after a girl when the real battle—the battle that would determine the fate of nations, perhaps of all Midcyru—was only paces away. Dorian would go inside as Godking Wanhope one last time. He would take the vir one last time, and destroy all Neph had wrought. He would destroy Khali’s works—and he would die. His fighting would be done at last. Unable to live well, he would at least die well.

  Besides, Jenine was dead to him.

  “Dorian,” Solon said. “Dorian, come back.”

  Jenine was dead to Godking Wanhope, she was dead even to Dorian—but she wasn’t dead. This delusion was the same temptation that had snared him a hundred times: allow this present evil for some grand, future good. To change an entire nation, to undo the evil his father had wrought, he had taken a harem, raised krul, slaughtered children, raped girls, and started a war. In fact, he’d accomplished most of the things for which he hated his father, and in far less time. The truth was, Dorian had always been more interested in being known as good than in simply being good. And he was about to do it again. No wonder he’d been so willing to throw away his prophetic gift at Screaming Winds: he’d seen then what he was going to become.

  “Go inside, kill the usurper,” Godking Wanhope ordered his Vürdmeisters. “I’ll follow momentarily.” They went inside instantly. They might even obey. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t keep them here. They might try to stop him. “You too,” he told his bodyguards, and they, too, obeyed instantly.

  With his stomach revolting at even touching his Talent, weak and frail as it was, Dorian readied the weaves, not giving himself time to think. He knew these weaves; he’d used them once as a young man. It was probably too little, too late. There was no way he could pay for what he’d done. He should just smash Neph and die.

  No, that was the same old voice he’d obeyed too many times. Every time he decided to think about the temptation, he fell into the temptation. Now was the time to act. To simply do good, whether or not anyone ever knew, whether or not it was enough.

  With a deep breath and as much Talent as he could hold, he ripped the vir out of himself. Parts of his Talent ripped away with it, as he cut deep, deep. It ripped so many parts open that he knew he would never again control when his prophetic gift came or went. The madness he had feared and fought for so long would come, and it would stay, forever.

  Finally, sickened, Dorian threw off the gold chains and the white cloak of his office. “Solon. Friend,” he said, heaving a deep breath, “ride with me. Quickly. The madness comes.”

  95

  Logan had no idea how the battle was going. Shortly after the signal had gone up that Jenine had been recovered and he’d committed himself to meeting those soldiers on the east side of the hill below the castle, flares had gone up behind them, calling for all of the reinforcements. But for the moment, none of it mattered.

  At the base of the hill beneath the huge castle, the expedition Logan had sent to recover Jenine was caught in a battle with a few hundred Khalidorans. The ground here was covered with the black dust that was all that remained of Black Barrow. It had settled quickly, but as the forces fought and as Logan’s men rode forward, they kicked it up once more, obscuring the battle.

  With six inches of dust on the ground, Logan didn’t dare a full charge. If that black snow concealed pitfalls, horses would fall. The riders behind, blinded by thick black dust, would ride right over their companions.

  Logan and his foremost riders were within thirty paces when he saw something looming through the black dust. It was vaguely bear-shaped, but men were stuck to its skin, screaming. “Break! Break!” Logan shouted. “Ferali!”

  He veered left. A crowd of Khalidorans appeared out of the dust before him, all pressing to get away from the ferali. The Khalidorans were panicked, totally unprepared for the sudden appearance of cavalry, and Logan’s line plowed through them. His destrier trampled half a dozen before the press of bodies became so thick it stopped them.

  A vast arm, its skin writhing with gaping little mouths, passed over Logan’s head, brushing his helmet with a scraping sound as little teeth tried to chew through metal. Logan couldn’t see the rest of the creature except as a shadow against the lesser blackness of the dust.

  He lurched as a horse collided into the back of his destrier. It jarred him forward and the men before him slowly yielded, either crushed, or faces laid open from his destrier’s teeth.

  A crackling ball of mage fire whizzed through the air and exploded against the ferali’s hide, doing nothing. The magae didn’t know what they were facing.

  More screams rose as the force of Logan’s charge pushed his men directly into the ferali. Logan found horses wedged to either side of him. Gnasher on one side, Vi on the other, her red dress glowing from within as she hurled a flurry of fist-sized fire balls, some
into the Khalidorans packed before them, and some at the ferali. “It’s not doing anything!” she shouted.

  The ferali suddenly disappeared, hunkering down into the earth.

  “Ah, shit,” Logan said. He’d seen this before. The ferali wasn’t leaving or hiding, it was rearranging itself to use all its new meat. The press of the lines pushed men toward it.

  The ferali exploded upward, and men and horses were flung into the air in every direction. They fell and crushed their fellows.

  “Spread out! Spread!” Logan shouted. Vi threw up a flare, but Logan bet no more than a hundred men saw it.

  Suddenly, he saw magic rippling through the air over his head, diffuse as a cloud.

  With a sound like a slamming door, the magic plunged to the ground. Within a square a hundred paces on each side, the black dust dropped to the earth and was held there. The air was clear.

  Logan looked up the hill and saw the source of the magic: Solon Tofusin, the man he’d thought he’d known for a decade. He stood with a dark-haired man on a promontory. The other mage was crackling with light, weaving a dozen strands of magic. Logan barely registered their presence before looking back to the battle.

  He saw that they were caught in what had been an estate’s garden. There were walls on two sides, and it was toward those walls that Logan had been trying to retreat. The ferali sat in the middle. It had forgone legs to simply squat with half a dozen arms, plucking men and horses from the ground indiscriminately, and if the clear air helped Logan and his forces, it helped the ferali too.

  “Second, Third, Fourth battalions, circle behind!” Logan shouted. Vi threw up the signal, but getting an army to change direction wasn’t a quick process. The Fourth Battalion might arrive in time to stop the Khalidoran force from retreating, but nothing could save the thousand men trapped with Logan in this garden.

  Vi began attacking the ferali again, but now she was throwing a stream of balls of light toward the ferali’s eyes. She wasn’t trying to hurt it now, merely blind it, distract it, slow its killing. In moments, a dozen other magae followed her lead and dazzling streams of light flowed toward the great armed blob in the garden’s center.

 
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