The night angel trilogy, p.153
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.153

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Trace, that’s enough,” Durzo said suddenly.

  She stopped abruptly and stared at Durzo, disbelieving. “Acaelus? No, it can’t be.”

  “Hand it over, Trace. And the white ka’kari, too. Release that girl’s body.”

  Elene’s eyes narrowed. “It is you.”

  “What happened to you, Trace? You were one of the Champions. Jorsin trusted you. We all did. What have you become?” Durzo asked.

  “I am Khali.” At the word, the Vürdmeisters dropped to their faces. She laughed again. “Look at my pets, so humble, and every one of them scheming even now.” She looked around the Hall of Winds. She gestured with Curoch, and every crack in the dome was sealed, the scene unified: a spring day, mountains purple in the distance, flowers everywhere. “Do you remember this, Acaelus? We were supposed to be married here.” Her white dress shifted like liquid metal, shimmering into a high-necked full green gown with thousands of crystals sewn into it.

  “You were beautiful.”

  “I was a hag!” she shot back. “Bad teeth, bad skin, crooked back. Then Ezra gave me the white ka’kari. I heard you quarreling with him. You betrayed me first, Acaelus. You left me here in my wedding gown, shamed me in front of everyone. I waited hours. I was finally beautiful, and all you were was jealous.”

  Durzo’s face was gray, and bits and pieces that Kylar had heard over the years fell into place. To save the black ka’kari and keep its incredible power secret, Jorsin had given it to “The Betrayer” Acaelus. Acaelus hadn’t even been able to tell his fiancée that he had it, and knowing that he would soon have to act the betrayer, Acaelus had fled rather than marry. All without a word of explanation. Kylar remembered Durzo snarling at him when he was a child: “I will not allow you to ruin yourself over a girl.” Momma K had said women had always been Durzo’s downfall. The Wolf had said Durzo had once done something worse than take money for a death. Kylar had guessed it was suicide, but it was worse than that. Knowing the price of immortality was that someone he loved died in his place, Durzo had killed himself, hoping to kill Trace.

  But Trace, an archmage in her own right and the smartest of the Champions, had figured out a way around the black ka’kari’s death sentence. ~Acaelus and I always knew there was something strange about that death. We knew she fought the magic for months, but then her body died. We tried never to think of her again.~

  “Jealous?” Durzo said. “I had the black ka’kari, the most powerful of them all. Ezra and I quarreled because he gave you a ka’kari that confirmed a lie you believed. You weren’t ugly then, Trace; you’re ugly now. Look what you’ve done. For seven centuries the north has labored under your darkness. This is what Trace Arvagulania turned her mind to? This is what you created? Why?”

  ~For immortality,~ the ka’kari breathed to Kylar. Kylar could tell it was understanding for the first time. ~The white ka’kari can create a glamour so powerful it can be used for compulsion. She tried to turn her ka’kari into a dark imitation of me, using it to compel worship, and then trying to steal life from her “willing” worshipers. But it didn’t work because the soul of my magic is love—and love cannot be compelled. Trace has been disembodied until she could find someone who loves in a way that is totally foreign to what she has become. Someone willing—without compulsion—to let Trace have her body.~

  Now she’d found that person at long last: Elene.

  “Why? I do it because I wish it. I am Khali. I am goddess. Someone has to pay the price for immortality. Tell me, Acaelus, who’s paid for yours?”

  Durzo paled. “Too many people. Come, Trace. Our time is done.”

  “My time has just begun.” Curoch became a slender staff in her hand, and she raised it. A black cloud exploded in every direction, then disappeared. The walls of the Hall of Winds became clear as glass, showing the dark battlefield to every side. “Do you remember when Jorsin faced the grand armies of the Fallen?” Khali asked. “He could have stopped them, if he’d listened to me. He didn’t have to fight them. He could have controlled them. He was a greater mage than Roygaris. These armies could have been Jorsin’s, he could have simply taken them from Roygaris. We could have won.”

  As she spoke, it slowly became clear that the sudden darkness on the battlefield was moving, standing up. The black blanket was countless thousands of krul corpses rising from seven centuries of death, standing, healing, and moving into ranks. Earlier in the day, even with a hundred and fifty thousand men and krul fighting, all the armies together had occupied only a wedge of the plain south of the Hall of Winds. At Khali’s gesture with Curoch, krul rose in a writhing black ocean north, south, east, and west as far as the eye could see. Kylar saw the Titan he’d killed get back to its feet. Dozens more like it stood around the battlefield. Beasts that dwarfed even Harani bulls rose. Birds great and small rose in clouds. Fire ants by the thousands. Flying beasts. Beautiful, fanged children. Brute wolves. Great cats. Horses with bone-scythes extending from each shoulder. Ferali by the hundreds. Kylar’s mind couldn’t take it all in. Jorsin had faced this?

  The allied armies had reached the Hall, and now they turned outward, back to back, guarding the hilltop in a circle dwarfed by the numbers of krul they were about to face.

  “I can banish them,” Khali said. “All of them. But I need Iures to banish the Strangers. What do you say, Acaelus? Will you watch everyone you love die a second time?”

  “You’ll not have Iures from my hand,” Durzo said.

  “So be it,” Khali said. “Kylar, kill him. Kill all of them.” Her words washed over him with the whipcrack of authority. He recognized it as a compulsion spell even as he rose to obey. The spell was the full-grown older sister to the spell Garoth had laid on Vi, akin to the glamour Vi had used on him the first time they’d met, when she’d tried to kill him. But where that glamour had been anchored only by Vi’s attractiveness, this compulsion hit every note from lust to awe at standing in front of another immortal, a goddess. It pulled on his adoration for Elene, his loyalty and trust for her as his wife. She was princess, goddess, immortal, lover, companion, wife—and all those bonds were amplified a hundredfold through Curoch. There was no question of disobedience.

  Kylar stood. The black ka’kari formed twin swords in his hands. It was trying to speak to him, tell him how to combat the magic she was bombarding him with. But to use the ka’kari, he had to want to use it, and the compulsion stole his very willpower. He looked into Elene’s big eyes and nothing mattered but pleasing her. Even as his heart despaired and he wanted nothing more than to throw himself on his own swords, he wanted to please her more.

  “Kylar! Stop! I command you!” Vi shouted, advancing alone from among the magae. The command flashed like lightning through Kylar’s compulsive wedding earring to the core of his being. It felt like he’d been falling from a great height only to have a rope tied around his wrists suddenly stop his fall. Kylar gasped with pain—and stopped.

  Khali paused, surprised. She looked at Vi. “Dear girl,” she said, “don’t you know what happens when a woman contends with a goddess?” She turned to Kylar and put a hand on her stomach. “My love, you wouldn’t betray the mother of your child, would you?”

  He couldn’t breathe. Elene’s stomach was indeed slightly swollen. His child. The sudden delight on Khali’s face told him it was true. Elene was pregnant. She’d known. She hadn’t told him. The new claim to his loyalty added another layer to the power of the compulsion spell.

  “Darling, kill them. Starting with that slut,” Khali said. The command snapped tight like a rope around his ankles. He felt himself being torn between compulsions like a man on the rack.

  One of the mages chose that moment to loose a fireball. It fizzled before it went an arm’s length. Khali made a little snatching motion and Kylar saw every glore vyrden in the room emptied in an instant. The magi were left gasping.

  “Kylar, help me,” Vi cried. She fell to her knees, concentrating on him, sending strength to him. She reached for the neare
st elements of their bond: His guilt at what he’d put her through, how he owed her better, and his desire for her.

  Khali matched those and overmatched them. Khali tugged on what he owed Elene, on his desire for her, on the moments they’d shared making love. The compulsion spell worked by magnifying whatever hold a person had, whether authority, or love, or lust, or obedience. Fueled with the might of Curoch, it almost obliterated Kylar’s mind.

  Kylar raised his swords and started walking toward Vi. He could feel Khali’s triumph, her pleasure at her mastery of him.

  Vi’s eyes held his as he walked closer. She reached up and pulled out the band that held her braid. Her hair spilled down like a copper waterfall. For the first time in her life, Vi made no attempt to protect herself, no attempt to cover this one thing that she had kept private as she had lost all else.

  She spread her open hands and dropped the threads of lust and guilt in their bond. Kylar saw her then as he’d never seen her before. He saw the nights of agony with which she had paid for his nights of pleasure with Elene. He saw how gladly she’d done that for him, and at what cost. Vi loved him. Vi loved him fiercely. Kylar missed a step as she clung to that single cord—love—with all her might.

  She looked up at him as he drew the twin swords back. “Kylar,” she said quietly, at complete peace, “I trust you.” Then, impossibly, she released the bond. Every claim she had to him, she dropped. She let him owe her nothing—not friendship, not honor, not dignity, not friendship, not her life—nothing at all.

  With no claim to magnify, their wedding earrings failed.

  It shook him like a bell had been rung from his ear through his whole body. It shook him from his suddenly freed wrists down to his bound ankles—and there, Khali had no answer to this kind of love. She knew only taking. It was like two people had been playing tug-of-war and one released the rope. All the magic held in tension by the wedding ring rushed outward—toward Khali. Kylar felt the huge wave of power passing through him as the vast pressures of the bond released into her, their force doubled and redoubled by her own pull on them.

  There was a giant crack that rattled Kylar’s teeth. Something tinged on the marble floor. It was Kylar’s earring. The earrings were broken. The bond was broken. The compulsion had vanished. Kylar couldn’t feel Vi—or Khali. He was free of both of them.

  Ten paces away, Khali was rocking on her heels, stunned.

  “I’m so sorry, Kylar,” Khali said, but the tone was Elene’s.

  Kylar was at her side in an instant. “Elene?”

  She pushed Curoch into his hands. “Quickly, quickly. I can’t stop her. She’s recovering.”

  “What are you talking about?” Kylar asked. “Honey?”

  Tears were rolling down Elene’s face. “Wasn’t Vi magnificent? I’m so proud of her. I knew she could do it. You take care of her, all right?”

  “I’m not letting you go.”

  Her eyes filled with sudden pain and her jaw tightened as a convulsion passed through her. “You know how I used to think I’d never be important like you are? I found it, Kylar. I found something I can do that no one else can. The God told me. Khali could only possess someone who let her, but she didn’t know I can hold her in. You can kill her once and for all. You can kill the vir.”

  “But I can’t kill them without killing you,” he said.

  She took his hand and smiled gently, acknowledging it. She was more beautiful than anything he’d ever imagined.

  “No!” he shouted.

  The ground shook. Kylar looked through the clear walls and saw one of the Titans pick up an entire building and hurl it at the allies. It crushed hundreds. There was no time. He looked back to Elene just as another spasm passed through her frame.

  “But… Curoch,” he said. “It can kill me. If it does, the spell that makes people die for me will be broken. I can still save you.”

  Kylar heard Durzo curse behind him, but he ignored him.

  “Kylar,” Elene said, “when Roth Ursuul killed you, that first time before we knew you were immortal, I prayed that I could trade my life to save yours. I thought the God said yes. I was so sure of it that I dragged you out of that castle. Later, I told myself that it was just a coincidence, but God did say yes. Yes in his time, not mine. My death then would have accomplished nothing. Now I can do something no one else can. Please, Kylar, don’t be too proud to accept my sacrifice.”

  He clutched her hand convulsively. He was crying. He couldn’t stop. “You’re pregnant.”

  Tears coursed down her cheeks. “Kylar… there are so many people we love here. I’d give our son for them. Won’t you?”

  “No! No.”

  Elene held his face in her hands and kissed him gently. “I love you. I’m not afraid. Quickly now.”

  The ground shook again, and outside, choruses of magic rose into the sky. Whatever krul had been raised, some of the newer ones had Talent. But inside, no one moved, they all knew that their fates and the fates off all Midcyru’s nations were balanced on Curoch’s edge.

  Kylar pulled Elene into his arms and hugged her fiercely. Sobs burst from him. He drew back Curoch, and slid it into her side. She gasped, squeezing him.

  As Curoch pierced Khali, light exploded, engulfing him in fire. It was clean and hot and purifying. Kylar thought he might be dead. He hoped he was.

  97

  A voice in the darkness: “I thought it was finished. He killed Khali. Why are they still coming?”

  “She lied,” another voice said, Dorian’s voice. “She wasn’t the queen of the Strangers, only an ally. Our work isn’t done yet. Not by half. We need Curoch.”

  Kylar opened his eyes as someone touched him. Sister Ariel stood over him, and he was curled on the floor with Elene. “We need the sword, child.” Her voice was gentle, but firm. “Now. Khali’s dead, Kylar, but Elene’s not, not yet, but her wound can’t be Healed. Nothing can mend what Curoch cuts,” Sister Ariel said. “We need you. Both of you. Or we’ll never stop the krul.”

  Curoch was buried almost to the hilt in Elene’s side. Her eyelids fluttered briefly but didn’t stay open. “I can’t,” Kylar said.

  Sister Ariel put a thick hand on the hilt and drew it out swiftly. Elene grunted weakly and a wash of blood poured from her ribs.

  “Open the doors!” Dorian shouted. “Both sides!”

  “Do it!” Logan shouted. “Do everything he says.”

  The two hundred Vürdmeisters lay in concentric rings, all dead, all bleached white. The vir itself was dead.

  But the krul hadn’t been affected. They still surrounded the Hall of Winds in a vast, churning black ocean. And even now, some of the most frightful of them were winning their way to the front of their lines. Shoulder to shoulder, Ceurans and Lae’knaught and Cenarians and Sethi and Khalidoran soldiers fought the horde. Kylar had somehow thought that killing Khali would mean a total victory, but the krul on every side—tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of them—told another story. The army of men in the center was like a lonely rock in the face of the incoming tide.

  God, there was no way they could stand up to so many.

  Someone squeezed Kylar’s shoulder. It was Logan. His cheeks glistened with tears of mingled joy and sorrow. “Kylar, brother, come. We have a chair for her.” Logan squeezed his shoulder again, and that touch was worth a thousand words.

  The earth shook again, but Kylar didn’t turn from Elene, who was breathing lightly now. The flow of blood had slowed. The open doors had magnified the cacophony of the battle. Kylar barely heard it. He allowed himself to be prodded into place in a tight circle between the open doors. Sister Ariel laid Curoch unsheathed across a dozen palms.

  Pushed by Durzo, Kylar put his hand on the blade. Durzo took Kylar’s other hand in both of his. It was an uncharacteristically tender gesture, and Durzo held it until Kylar looked up at him. As ever, Durzo didn’t have words, but there was a respect in his eyes, and shared heartache, and pride. It was the look of a fath
er whose son has done something great, and that look from Durzo, told Kylar he was an orphan no more. Then, with Kylar’s hand still in his, Durzo cupped his hand, a request in his eyes.

  Kylar understood, and let the ka’kari flow out into his hand, and gave it to Durzo. Durzo nodded and released his hand. Then Vi put her hand next to his on Curoch, just touching him. Conscious once more, Elene put hers on the other side of Kylar’s. Several powerful magi of both genders knelt, each reverently resting two fingers on the blade. Solon and Sister Ariel did the same. Durzo had Retribution—Iures—in hand. It was black-bladed but its grip was uncovered, and Durzo spoke quietly to Dorian as he handed the prophet the Staff of Law.

  As he touched Curoch, Kylar became aware of everyone else touching the blade. They sounded like an orchestra warming up, each on his own instrument and pitch. Then, beneath them, Curoch began humming. As Dorian laid his right hand on the blade, his left still holding Iures, a gust of wind blew through the Hall.

  Solon found his pitch first, a bass as deep as his speaking voice, wide and strong, oceanic. Sister Ariel matched him, a powerful mezzo, broad but sharper. Then the magi joined in a chorus of baritones and basses, pure and simple and masculine, laying the foundation. The magae settled over them, fine and feminine, adding depth and complexity. Vi joined, her Talent like a high note with a rapid vibrato, higher than any of the others could possibly go. Then a startling new voice joined, richer than any of the others, layered in mystery, a baritone with such depth and range it dwarfed all the others put together. Kylar’s eyes shot open, and he and everyone else stared at Durzo, who had laid a single insolent finger precisely on Curoch’s point.

  Then Kylar felt his place. He sang a tenor, soaring over the other men, interweaving with Vi. He himself was startled at the power of his voice and noticed that all eyes had turned to him, as awed as they had been when Durzo joined. Fierce pride filled Durzo’s eyes.

 
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