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The night angel trilogy, p.152
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.152

           Brent Weeks
 

  For moments it was paralyzed, then it picked up a horse from the Khalidoran side of the garden, where it could still see. It hurled the horse toward one of the magae, crushing her and half a dozen others. It extended an arm, and dozens of swords and spears bubbled to the surface and floated into its hand. It hurled all of them at the next maja.

  Logan craned his neck to see how much the press had eased. Not enough.

  “Jenine!” someone yelled. It was the man on the promontory with Solon, and it was a cry of utter despair. His arms were spread out, each hand swimming with intricate weaves—Logan wondered for a brief moment how he saw them; he’d never been able to see magic weaves before—then the man brought his hands together, squeezing the weaves into one ball. Magic leapt from his hands like an arrow and hit the ferali, and unbelievably, stuck. Magic never stuck to ferali.

  The ferali was lifting another horse from the Khalidoran side of the circle. There was a woman in the saddle, clambering back, trying to throw herself off the back of the horse, but the ferali’s hand was clamped over her dress. It was Jenine. Logan’s heart jumped into his throat, but there was nothing he could do.

  The man on the promontory screamed, and the magic in his hands went taut, like a rope tied to the ferali. Shrieking, he yanked.

  The horse dropped from the ferali’s hand and Logan lost sight of his wife. The ferali’s gray skin was shimmering. In a wave of black smoke, the skin evaporated. With a hiss of escaping gases, the ferali slumped, died, and burst apart, the maze of magic that held it together clipped like a Fordaean knot.

  Logan’s heels were into his destrier before the ferali’s last arm hit the earth. He rode over mounds of stinking entrails and crashed into the first Khalidorans he saw between him and where Jenine had fallen. Logan caught a glimpse of the Fourth Battalion coming into place and sealing the northern exit from the garden.

  A Ladeshian and two dozen men had dismounted and climbed onto a raised stone balcony. The mansion the balcony had been attached to was a ruin, but the balcony itself was pristine, commanding views of the whole garden. The Ladeshian raised his arms and threw fire into the sky. It faded slowly until it burned around him, forming the outline of a dragon.

  “Behold!” Moburu shouted. “The High King is come! King Gyre, come make your obeisance!”

  Moburu had no more than thirty men left, all of them stuck on the balcony with him. Logan ran up the steps. When he reached the top, he saw Jenine. Her rich velvet clothing was torn and dirty, smeared with black dust like soot, but she appeared uninjured. Her arms were bound to her sides and a spell sat around her neck and head, with vicious teeth dimpling her skin. The jaws were held open only by a thin weave Moburu held. If Moburu were killed, the jaws would snap shut and crush her skull. Logan didn’t question how he knew it, but he did.

  Seeing Jenine, Logan’s heart surged with a mix of feelings too powerful for words. To see her alive after giving up hope took his breath away. No one would take Jenine away from him again. No one would hurt her. Logan held up his hand, forestalling those following him from attacking Moburu.

  Moburu was raving, “It is written:

  “ ‘He passeth through Hell and waters below and rises,

  marked with death,

  “ ‘Marked with the moon dragon’s gaze,

  “ ‘In the shadow of the death of the barrow of man’s

  last hope he rises

  “ ‘And fire attends his birth.’

  “I tell you,” Moburu shouted, “this prophecy is fulfilled this day in your sight. I, Moburu Ursuul, son of the north, rightful Godking, rise this day to take my throne. Pretender, I challenge you. Your crown against mine,” he lowered his voice, “and her life.”

  “Done,” Logan said instantly. “Hand over the death spell to one of your wytches.”

  “What?” Vi asked. “Your Majesty, we have him! He’s got nowhere to go!”

  “No interference!” Moburu said.

  “Done!” Logan shouted.

  “And done!” Moburu turned and handed over the weave to a Vürdmeister at his left.

  Logan tore off his helmet and pulled the crown from it. He tossed it to the same man. “Jenine,” he said, meeting her wide eyes, “I love you. I won’t let them have you.”

  The battle had ended. There were no Khalidorans left to kill here.

  “I was born on the day foretold, twenty and two years ago. I bear the signs,” Moburu shouted, his eyes shining. He raised his right arm, and displayed a glittering green tattoo reminiscent of a dragon. “Be prepared to greet your High King!”

  “This is madness, Logan,” Vi said. “The man’s a Vürdmeister! You can’t face him!”

  Logan’s eyes finally left Jenine. “Nice tattoo,” he told Moburu. He drew his sword.

  Logan’s right arm felt burning heat. Logan looked down. The incandescent green pattern etched into his arm had melted through the chain mail of his sleeve. It burned as bright as the moon dragon’s eyes. Logan caught one glimpse of fear in Moburu’s face before Moburu’s skin was overwhelmed with black knots of vir.

  Moburu threw out a hand and a gout of magic leapt for Logan. Something burst from Logan’s arm to meet it. All Logan saw was rushing scales and the burning green of the moon dragon’s eyes, as if the entire creature had taken up residence in his arm and was now springing free, full-sized. Its mouth snapped shut on Moburu. Then it disappeared.

  Moburu stood immobile. At first, Logan thought the moon dragon had been illusory or his imagination. It appeared to have done nothing at all to his opponent. Then, every tracery of vir within Moburu’s skin shattered.

  With a dragon’s strength, Logan swung his sword down on the pretender. It caught Moburu at the crown of his head and sheared through him. Before the halves of Moburu’s body hit the ground, Vi was on top of the Vürdmeister holding the death spell on Jenine.

  He and every other Khalidoran and Lodricari and wild man on the balcony raised their hands slowly. The death spell dissolved. The Khalidorans dropped to their knees and looked at Logan with something in their eyes uncomfortably close to worship.

  “Battle Mistress!” a voice called out in the sudden silence. It was the odd mage who’d killed the ferali. His eyes were unfocused. He smelled strange to Logan’s sensitive nose. He laughed suddenly, then stopped and said somberly, “Battle Mistress, you’re needed in the Hall of Winds! Come, quickly, or Midcyru is dead!” He turned to Logan. “High King, summon every man you’d have live to see the night!”

  Jenine was staring at the madman with horror.

  “Who is this man?” Logan demanded. High King?

  The mage had made it onto the balcony. He held a thick gold chain in his hands, but abruptly seemed lost.

  “Dorian,” Jenine said. “Gods, what have you done?”

  “Dead to me. Not dead but dead to me,” Dorian mumbled.

  “He’s a prophet,” Solon said, following in Dorian’s wake. “What he speaks is true. There’s no time, Your Majesty. We must go!”

  Jenine was crying. Logan pulled her into his arms, not knowing exactly what her tears were for.

  The ground trembled and sound rolled over the whole land, like the earth itself was sighing.

  Solon swore a string of curses. “Neph’s done it. Damn him. He’s broken Jorsin’s spell.” Solon was staring at the black dust that covered everything within miles. It suddenly congealed, forming a thin sludge everywhere.

  Logan turned to the Sethi king. “You’re sure of this man? You’d bet sixty thousand souls on his word?”

  “That and more,” Solon said.

  Dorian wept. Solon took the great gold chain from his hands and draped it over Logan’s shoulders.

  Logan turned to Vi. “Send up flares. All our armies to the castle, immediately. And then get yourself there. Fast.”

  96

  Kylar and Durzo approached the Hall of Winds together, unlimbering their swords as one. Both men were liberally spattered with blood. They paused outside a rosewood s
ide door. “You ready?” Kylar asked.

  “I hate this part,” Durzo said.

  “Relax, I killed four Vürdmeisters once, didn’t I?” Kylar asked, grinning evilly.

  “There are two hundred Vürdmeisters in there.”

  “There is that,” Kylar admitted.

  “All right, we do the highlanders guarding the door in no more than five seconds. Then you draw the Vürdmeisters’ attention, and I go for Neph Dada,” Durzo said. He shrugged. “It might work.”

  “Not likely.” Kylar patted Durzo’s back.

  Muted light flared to the tip of Curoch. Kylar threw open the door and Durzo dashed inside.

  The four highlanders guarding the side door had their backs to them. In less than two seconds, all four were dying. Only after killing his two did Durzo allow himself to take in what everyone else was staring at.

  The Hall of Winds was a vast circle topped by a high dome without any interior supports. The entire panorama of the ceiling and the walls themselves was imbued with magic. Looking east, it was as if the walls weren’t there: he could see Logan’s men battling a ferali. The presentation of what was happening outside continued as he looked south, but ended abruptly at a crack that had slivered down from the top of the dome. From south to west, the scene portrayed was of sunrise over the bustling city this once had been. It was a summer day; ships crowded the river. The terraced hills were a tapestry of gardens, bearing a thousand different kinds of flowers, and the city was vast beyond comprehension. Beyond the next crack was the night sky, half a moon shining brightly enough to cast shadows. Beyond that one was a narrow panel of a thunderstorm, with lightning flashing and rain falling in torrents. Other panels were dark, the magic gone, leaving plain stone.

  But none of these wonders were what held the highlanders’ and Vürdmeisters’ attention.

  In the middle of the domed room, the Vürdmeisters stood in concentric circles around Neph Dada, who held a thick scepter. At his feet, clutching a wrinkled leather fetish, was a slobbering Tenser Ursuul. Every one of the Vürdmeisters held the vir, and every one of them was linked to Neph Dada, who stood at the center of a vast web of magic. Thick bands of every color disappeared into the floor and the earth itself, and he was manipulating the weight of two hundred Vürdmeisters’ vir, expanding that web. Iures was shifting in his hands, morphing faster than the eye could follow, twisting the web, expanding parts of it, pulling parts together.

  Neither swordsman hesitated. Kylar dashed along the outside of the circle, his sword at neck level like a kid running a stick along a slat fence, except this stick cut throats, leaving twenty men dead. Then, even as the first yells went up, he leapt ten feet in the air and light exploded from him.

  Durzo ran straight for Neph Dada, up one of the aisles, passing between dozens of chanting Vürdmeisters. He was within five paces of the wytch when Neph raised a hand. Durzo stopped instantly. He couldn’t even bounce backward. Magic wrapped him every way.

  Neph extended his hand again and air gelled in a wall, cutting off Kylar and another score of Vürdmeisters from the rest of the hall. Kylar plowed into them, and they—their vir still connected to Neph—could do nothing. In seconds, they were all dead. Neph reached with magic to grab Kylar, but the wetboy moved too fast. After a few seconds, Neph gave up. He threw up three more walls to make a wide cage, and then ignored him.

  Returning his attention to Iures in his left hand, Neph began chanting once more. Iures morphed again into Retribution. Neph wrapped liver-spotted fingers through Tenser’s hair and cut his throat open. Blood spilled all over the leather fetish Tenser held, hissing and spitting as if it were white hot. Tenser pitched over, dying as the magic released.

  There was a second sigh through the land.

  “It is finished,” Neph Dada declared. “All Jorsin’s works are broken. Khali comes.” He released the vir back to the two hundred Vürdmeisters in the room. He slipped into a coughing fit, and when it stopped, he turned to Durzo. With a gesture, the bonds holding Durzo fell away. “You must be Durzo Blint. Or should I say Prince Acaelus Thorne? Oh, surprised? The Society of the Second Dawn has let its standards for membership slip, I’m afraid. I know all about you, Durzo Blint—even that you gave up the black ka’kari. Poor choice.”

  “Seemed good at the time,” Durzo said, never shifting from his ready stance. “We gonna do this or not?”

  “No,” Neph said. He turned to Kylar and gave a little mocking bow. “Well met, Kylar Stern, Godslayer, ka’karifer. You’re not using the black ka’kari. Why?”

  “Lost it in a card game,” Kylar said.

  “Not a very good liar, are you? When a ka’kari is surrendered willingly, it must serve its new master. They can be broken, but it takes time. I’m an old man. I’d like to bond the black as soon as possible, but I can take it from your corpse if need be. If you don’t give it to me, I’ll kill your master. If the Society’s right, this time he won’t come back.”

  Kylar’s face twisted. “My master understands about necessary sacrifices.”

  Neph turned to Durzo. “There you have it,” he said. A sliver of magic jutted out of Durzo’s chest. Neph had stabbed him from behind. The magic faded and Durzo stood, weaving.

  “Dishonorable,” Durzo said. His legs folded.

  “What’s honor? A ninety-year-old man fighting you with a sword?”

  But Durzo made no reply. He was already dead. Kylar made a wordless sound of protest, staring at the corpse with disbelief. It was like seeing the sun set at noon. He’d known that Durzo would die someday, but not now, not so easily. Not without a fight.

  Neph turned back to Kylar. “One more chance. Give me the black ka’kari. That’s all I want. I’ll leave you to Khali. You may even escape.”

  Kylar drew himself to his full height, and rolled his shoulders, loosening his muscles for action. “That sounds like a great deal, but there’s three problems,” Kylar said. He smiled. “First, I’m not Kylar.” He laughed, and his face morphed into one leaner, pock-marked, with a wispy blond beard. He was Durzo Blint. “Second, that corpse isn’t Durzo.”

  “What?”

  “Third,” he continued, “if someone would move his ass….” He cleared his throat.

  Neph turned belatedly. In a smooth motion, the corpse stood—and was Kylar. Shields flew up around the Vürdmeister.

  Skin sheathed in black metal, face covered by the mask of Judgment, Curoch sliding out of his fists as white-hot claws, Kylar punched. The Vürdmeister’s shields popped like soap bubbles. Claws of Curoch crossed on either side of the Vürdmeister’s spine, eight bloody points poking out of his back. “Third, I’m not dead,” Kylar said, lifting Neph off the ground. “And this is Curoch.”

  “Shit, that’s four things, isn’t it?” Durzo said.

  Neph Dada screamed. He threw his arms out spastically. The vir leapt to the surface of every inch of his skin. Neph shrieked and shrieked as white light blasted through every vein of vir. Kylar roared and ripped the claws in opposite directions, shearing the Vürdmeister in half.

  The walls surrounding Durzo evaporated into nothing and there was silence in the Hall of Winds. Kylar sheathed Curoch on his back and gingerly picked up Iures. He tossed it to Durzo. “You could have given me a few more seconds,” Kylar said. “You just taught me rapid healing ten minutes ago. What if I hadn’t got it right on the first try?”

  Durzo grinned. Bastard.

  An earthquake rocked the ground.

  Kylar looked at the dome, hundreds of feet overhead, swaying out of time with the ground. At Kylar’s feet, he saw the focus through which Neph had been pulling all the power he’d worked on with Iures. It was a leather bundle, ancient, cracked, and yellowing, with gems sewn to it and a horrid, desiccated, hairless, boneless skull grinning formlessly from the front. It could only be one thing. This horror was Khali.

  He hefted Curoch and jammed its point through the fetish.

  A dozen Vürdmeisters cried out, but nothing happened. There was a h
iss of escaping air, and the section of the floor beneath the fetish and Curoch sank.

  Kylar stepped back and the floor opened like a coffin lid. There was a woman inside. Her hair was long and blonde, carefully arrayed in small braids and curls. Her long-lashed eyes were closed, her cheeks flushed, full lips pink, skin flawless alabaster. For some reason, to Kylar’s eyes, the girl was a collection of details that refused to coalesce into a woman: a familiar dimple here, the sweep of her neck. Her dress was white silk, slim cut to her figure, backless, more daring or more scandalous than anything Elene would have worn. Elene. Kylar staggered back. “Elene!”

  Her lips curved into a smile. She drew a breath. Lovely brown eyes opened. Kylar’s knees went weak. She reached out a regal hand, and when he took it, she rose almost magically to her feet. Every move spoke perfect grace.

  “You—you don’t have any scars,” Kylar said.

  “I can’t stand ugliness. I want to be beautiful for you,” Elene said, and she smiled, and every part of her was beauty. “Kylar,” she said gently, “I need Curoch.”

  He looked into her smiling face and was lost. Through the ka’kari, Elene looked like an archmage. Magic swirled thickly around her. Elene wasn’t Talented, but this was Elene.

  His heart froze.

  Distantly, he heard the main doors of the hall bang open. His knees hit the floor.

  “Kylar! No!” Vi shouted. Numbly, Kylar watched the doors open wide. Following Vi was Logan, one arm glowing green; Solon, Logan’s old adviser, wearing a crown; the mountainous Feir Cousat; four magae, all greatly Talented; Dorian the prophet; Lord General Agon Brant; and Captain Kaldrosa Wyn with fifty of Agon’s Dogs.

  The scent of Elene filled Kylar’s nostrils as she stepped close. What had she done?

  His eyes snapped open as Elene snatched Curoch from his limp fingers. The look in Elene’s eyes was foreign. She looked intoxicated as she gazed at the blade. She laughed and twirled.

 
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