The night angel trilogy, p.157
The Night Angel Trilogy, p.157Brent Weeks
No one came back. No one.
Now Feir was trying. There were only three credits on his side of the ledger. First, Feir was probably the first magus to attempt to infiltrate the wood while the Hunter was being distracted by five thousand other intruders, which should be an excellent mundane distraction. Even the Hunter couldn’t be everywhere at once. Surely. Second, probably no one else had entered after throwing an artifact of Curoch’s magnitude into the Wood, which should be an excellent magical distraction. Third, Feir’s Talent was small. A raging fire of a Talent like Solon or Dorian could never have done this, but Feir’s Talent was diminutive, his specialty tiny weaves, and knowing that he would be so close to the wood, he had already compressed his Talent within the tightest shell he could, and he thought that work was the equal of anything any magus in the world could do—these days.
Doubtless the other dead magi and meisters had been confident, too.
The wood was glowing a deep red now and as Feir approached, he saw that the glow stretched to the east and west, curving slowly to the north. It was contained, an enormous globe of light that emanated from the wood’s center. It was magic made visible. Feir had never thought himself arrogant in his abilities; the constant company of Dorian and Solon had prevented that, but looking at this miles-wide globe of magic was humbling. Feir knew how to make simple wards such as you might stretch over a door to warn yourself of intruders, but every ward he had known was stretched like a net. The actual magic always—always—took up only a thin fraction of the physical space it was warding. This ward, or these wards, weren’t webs; they were walls. Miles of solid magic that had lasted seven hundred years and the assaults of untold thousands of magi.
He came within a foot of the wall. The vegetation changed abruptly on the other side, the oaks and tamaracks of the mundane forest ceasing and the enormous sequoys beginning. Wherever the mundane trees’ branches encroached on that wall, even hundreds of feet in the air, they ended. Feir could hear the cries of men through the dead spaces between those sequoys and something howling, sometimes near, sometimes far away in such quick succession it made him wonder if all the stories were wrong and there wasn’t one Hunter but many. Surely nothing could move so fast.
Feir stared at the wall as he would stare at a blade he was forging as he wove matrices into the steel to harden the edge, and looking like that, as a Maker himself, the secrets unfolded like a flower. The wall wasn’t solid after all, it was thousands of webs laid together in hundreds of varieties. Webs that detected the smell of men, webs that detected heat, webs that detected the stench of wytches’ magic, webs that detected women’s magic and men’s magic, webs that detected latent Talent that had never been tapped, webs that detected any animal and would snap only for those of man size or larger, webs that detected a hundred different spells. There were webs like locks, so thick they could only be broken, and webs like minuscule knots that would have to be untied. There were microscopic filaments attached to the knots that would have been invisible to ninety-nine out of a hundred magi.
The webs, all of them, were jangling, rattling, vibrating at the violation of five thousand Lae’knaught, some of whom—Feir could see from the webs—were Talented. Webs were snapping and reforming an instant later.
Defeating some of them was easy. As a Maker, he’d mastered weaves to seal himself away from whatever he was making. Those were tiny, laborious weaves; at first, they felt like trying to tie fishing line with a thumb and one finger, but Feir had perfected them long ago, and the magic required was minimal. In fact, many mages couldn’t do them because they weren’t able to draw such small amounts of power. That had never been Feir’s problem. Today, his weakness was his strength.
A light flashed white through the wood, a magical concussion of some minor artifact being destroyed—a Lae’knaught great helm, Feir guessed—and several thick webs snapped right in front of Feir. Before he realized what he was doing, he stepped forward, pushing just the edge of the ball into which he’d compressed his Talent into the gap. The webs reappeared, reconnecting above and below the ball. Feir held as still as he could, barely breathing, hoping that movement wasn’t tearing filaments he hadn’t seen, hoping that in all the jangling of those thousands that this slight perturbation would go unnoticed.
The webs slowly morphed from red to green. They were, Feir realized, healing, growing. When they had first burned visible, they had been thin and cracked and dying, but since Kylar had thrown Curoch into the forest, it had been changing.
Gods, it feeds on the magic. The entire forest fuels itself, feeds itself, heals itself with the magic used against it.
But as the magic was growing and green with new life, it was also flexible. Looking down, looking through his own body to see the magic penetrating him, Feir used extra space his very breathing created around the ball to move forward. His Talent was small enough to slip through the mightiest bands of webbing, and he slowly, slowly pushed the filaments to the side, not interrupting them but instead directing their growth.
In minutes, as the glow burned fully, vibrantly green, it was done. The glow faded from the air and, though still jangling and snapping and reforming instantaneously, the webs no longer bit into Feir’s ball of Talent.
He stepped into the wood. Turning, he looked at the empty air behind him. With his Sight, he could see a tiny hole in the wall, less than a handspan across. He had made it.
The wood was alive, redolent with the perfume of eucalyptus and sequoy and power. Feir felt as if he were part of the whole forest. To the east, he could feel the bodies of thousands of Lae’knaught. A quarter of their number lay dead, in pieces. The rest were screaming. They’d run back to the edge of the forest, fleeing—and were now pressing against air that had become an invisible, solid wall. They were trampling each other, suffocating each other, pushing pushing pushing against a barrier that their beliefs told them couldn’t affect them. They were being slain by what they’d called superstition. Others were fleeing through the wood in every direction, screaming, throwing down weapons and armor that slowed them, hoping against hope that some other part of the wall would be permeable.
Then Feir felt the Hunter. It was as fast as thought, flying back and forth like an enraged animal, pausing here to savage a single body for ten seconds, ripping it to shreds, flinging the pieces about, then it was on the other side of the wood, a whistling sound as it cut through the air the only evidence of its passage. Everywhere, it killed. It gloried in the slaughter.
As yet, it hadn’t detected Feir. If it worked its way methodically through the Lae’knaught army, it could be finished with the killing in mere minutes, but the creature seemed to have no method, only rage. None of the Lae’knaught had come as far as Feir yet, but as they fled and spread out, the Hunter’s path might cross Feir’s at any time.
But he had done it. He was here, undetected, unknown. He, the lowly worm, had triumphed where mighty dragons had fallen.
Feir took three victorious steps into the wood, a tremendous sense of glory and victory coursing through his blood. Then the ground beneath his feet gave way. He plunged into darkness.
Feir could see nothing. Worse, he could feel nothing at all. He couldn’t feel his lungs expand as he breathed. He couldn’t feel ground beneath him, or even which direction beneath might be. He told himself to get up to his knees. Was he lying down? He couldn’t tell.
He thought he might be shivering from pure terror, but there was no sensation of his skin. His magical senses were similarly blind. The forest that had felt like a second body was amputated. There was no sense of his own Talent. He’d fallen into a dead space.
Or maybe he was dead. He tried to scream—nothing. Gods, what if his sense of time was similarly deadened? Was he stuck like this forever? Was this the fate that every other mage and meister for nearly a millennium had found in Ezra’s Wood?
He had no idea how long he existed in that bubble, that torture, when s
Soft, warm breaths gusted onto his fingertips. So he was alive. There was something slick there. His fingers rubbed together. Blood? He manipulated that face, feeling for a wound. It was the nose, broken, and bleeding freely and making the floor sticky. Without thinking, Feir the Maker—who’d mended broken bones along with broken plowshares and broken weapons—set his own nose. There was no sickening crunch, no gasp, no curse, no flinching. He touched that dead face to make sure he’d done it right. Yes, perfectly. He’d always been good with his hands.
He groped around his body, finding he could move his arm though he couldn’t tell how. If he wanted his hand to explore the left side of his left leg, it would be there, with no sensation of the arm moving into position. He was lying on his stomach, so it was hard to get much of a sense of what else might be damaged.
But before he flipped his body over, Feir stretched his hand around the dead space. He didn’t want to roll himself into a chasm or a fire or some other trap. His hand hadn’t moved far when he found a groove. Next to it was another, and another, four in a row with a fifth set lower.
He hesitated, afraid. A handprint? Like someone had planned this. Like it was waiting for him. What fresh horrors might await him if he put his hand into that trap?
Then he realized that there was nothing else to do. How long could he wait here? How long had he been here already? Did he want to stay forever? He might have other injuries. He might be dying. Besides, whoever had made this place could clearly have killed him already. He put his hand in the handprint.
Sensation returned. Pain had never been so welcome. He must have dropped ten feet. The palms of his hands and his elbows and knees throbbed from the fall. His nose burned; he was glad he’d already set it.
Light trickled through the walls as if in little waterfalls through the stone, gradually brightening, but still wavering like rolling water the whole time.
The dead space was a stone chamber ten feet across and forty feet long. The first thing Feir saw was a solid gold sheet like parchment on the floor directly in front of him. Unthinking, he picked it up. Hyrillic runes on its surface slowly bent, shifting into something Feir could read.
In moments, the gold parchment said, “Hail and be hale, little brother. Drat, punning is horrific in your language, don’t you think? Translation magics aren’t worth a chipped dwymor—ach, see? Yes, my latter-day Maker, this missive is for you, Feir the Lesser of the lineage Cousat. Unless of course you have stumbled into this sanctuary, Grozel Verzarek, in which case, I give you this warning—Feir can touch what he wants, I’ve crafted this chamber for him, but if you touch anything in this chamber or this forest aside from the climbing stones behind you, it will be your death.”
Grozel Verzarek? Feir had heard of the magus, but he couldn’t place him. Then he saw a desiccated corpse lying in front of an ornate ironwood chest filigreed with gold at the far end of the chamber.
Well, perhaps I can place him.
Feir drew a slow breath. The gold sheet he held wasn’t then the words of a living man, but a prophecy—or at least a letter from a man who’d prophesied that Feir would come. That could only mean Ezra, for who else would Ezra allow to work such magics in his own wood?
And that meant that Ezra had intended for Feir to get this far. He’d left the way open for him, knowing that would mean this other mage might get in, too. Feir felt sick. He wasn’t as clever as he thought. He hadn’t sneaked into the woods, Ezra had propped the door open for him.
Having been surrounded by great mages for his whole life, Feir shouldn’t have let it get to him, but it did. There was something infuriating about finding out that someone that everyone else admired and said was the greatest really was worthy of admiration, and really was the greatest. Legends should fade the closer you walk to them.
He continued reading, “If you are here, Cousat, it means Curoch has come. And it never would have without you. You have served me unwittingly but well. Now, little brother, I would have you serve me again. You have held a great sword. Would you like to Make one?”
Feir’s heart expanded until it seemed he wouldn’t be able to contain it. The ironwood chest popped open. It was full of tools.
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THE BLACK PRISM
by Brent Weeks
Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home.
Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable… despite his body never being found.
He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection, though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
Kip crawled toward the battlefield in the darkness, the mist pressing down, blotting out sound, scattering starlight. Though the adults shunned it and the children were forbidden to come here, he’d played on the open field a hundred times—during the day. Tonight, his purpose was grimmer.
Reaching the top of the hill, Kip stood and hiked up his pants. The river behind him was hissing, or maybe that was the warriors beneath its surface, dead these sixteen years. He squared his shoulders, ignoring his imagination. The mists made him seem suspended, outside of time. But even if there was no evidence of it, the sun was coming. By the time it did, he had to get to the far side of the battlefield. Farther than he’d ever gone searching.
Even Ramir wouldn’t come out here at night. Everyone knew Sundered Rock was haunted. But Ram didn’t have to feed his family; his mother didn’t smoke her wages.
Gripping his little belt knife tightly, Kip started walking. It wasn’t just the unquiet dead that might pull him down to the evernight. A pack of giant javelinas had been seen roaming the night, tusks cruel, hooves sharp. They were good eating if you had a matchlock, iron nerves, and good aim, but since the Prisms’ War had wiped out all the town’s men, there weren’t many people who braved death for a little bacon. Rekton was already a shell of what it had once been. The alcaldesa wasn’t eager for any of her townspeople to throw their lives away. Besides, Kip didn’t have a matchlock.
Nor were javelinas the only creatures that roamed the night. A mountain lion or a golden bear would also probably enjoy a well-marbled Kip.
A low howl cut the mist and the darkness hundreds of paces deeper into the battlefield. Kip froze. Oh, there were wolves too. How’d he forget wolves?
Another wolf answered, farther out. A haunting sound, the very voice of the wilderness. You couldn’t help but freeze when you heard it. It was the kind of beauty that made you shit your pants.
Wetting his lips, Kip got moving. He had the distinct sensation of being followed. Stalked. He looked over his shoulder. There was nothing there. Of course. His mother always said he had too much imagination. Just walk, Kip. Places to be. Animals are more scared of you and all that. Besides, that was one of the tricks about a howl, it always sounded much closer than it really was. Those wolves were probably leagues away.
Before the Prisms’ War, this had been excellent farmland. Right next to the Umber River, suitable for figs, grapes, pears, dewberries, asparagus—everything grew here. And it had been sixteen years since the final battle—a year before Kip was even born. But the plain was still torn and scarred. A few burnt timbers of old homes and barns poked out of the dirt. Deep furrows and craters remained from cannon shells. Filled now with swirling mist, those craters looked like lakes, tunnels, traps. Bottomless. Unfathomable.
Scavengers had long since taken all the valuable arms, mail, and luxin from the battlefield, but as the seasons passed and rains fell, more mysteries surfaced each year. That was what Kip was hoping for—and what he was seeking was most visible in the first rays of dawn.
The wolves stopped howling. Nothing was worse than hearing that chilling sound, but at least with the sound he knew where they were. Now… Kip swallowed on the hard knot in his throat.
As he walked in the valley of the shadow of two great unnatural hills—the remnant of two of the great funeral pyres where tens of thousands had burned—Kip saw something in the mist. His heart leapt into his throat. The curve of a mail cowl. A glint of eyes searching the darkness.
Then it was swallowed up in the roiling mists.
A ghost. Dear Orholam. Some spirit keeping watch at its grave.
Look on the bright side. Maybe wolves are scared of ghosts.
Kip realized he’d stopped walking, peering into the darkness. Move, fathead.
He moved, keeping low. He might be big, but he prided himself on being light on his feet. He tore his eyes away from the hill—still no sign of the ghost or man or whatever it was. He had that feeling again that he was being stalked. He looked back. Nothing.
A quick click, like someone dropping a small stone. And something at the corner of his eye. Kip shot a look up the hill. A click, a spark, the striking of flint against steel.
The mists illuminated for that briefest moment, Kip saw few details. Not a ghost—a soldier striking a flint, trying to light a slow-match. It caught fire, casting a red glow on the soldier’s face, making his eyes seem to glow. He affixed the slow-match to the match-holder of his matchlock and spun, looking for targets in the darkness.
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