The night angel trilogy, p.16
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.16

           Brent Weeks
 

  Another time, Durzo had had Scarred Wrable—only Durzo called him Ben—wake Kylar. Scarred Wrable had even worn Durzo’s clothes and mimicked his voice perfectly—that was part of Scarred Wrable’s Talent. That time, Kylar hadn’t been caught. Even a garlicky meal didn’t give a man the same smell as chewing the cloves straight.

  Decoding Durzo’s words came last. Time to kill.

  “You think I’m ready?” Kylar asked, his heart pounding.

  “You were ready a year ago. I just needed the right job for your first solo.”

  “What is it?” I was ready a year ago? Blint’s compliments came like that, when they came at all. And usually, even a grudging compliment would be followed by some criticism.

  “It’s at the castle, and it’s got to be finished today. Your deader is twenty-six years old, no military training, shouldn’t be armed. But he’s well-liked, a busy little bee. Very busy. An assassin would incur… ancillary fatalities.” He said assassin with a sneer, as would any wetboy. “But it doesn’t matter for the contract. The deader just has to die. Just finish the job.”

  Kylar’s heart pounded. So this was how it was going to be. This wasn’t a simple test. It wasn’t, Can Kylar kill solo? It was, Can Kylar do what a wetboy does? Can Kylar decide a suitable entry strategy (to the castle itself, no less), can he kill solo, can he do it without killing innocents, can he get out after the hit? Oh, and can he use his Talent, the true measure of what separates a wetboy from a common assassin.

  How the hell does Blint come up with these things? The man had a brilliance for ferreting out and exploiting Kylar’s weaknesses, especially his biggest weakness of all: Kylar hadn’t been able to use the Talent. Not yet. Not even once. It should have quickened by now, Blint said. He was forever pushing Kylar in new ways, hoping that some new extreme of stress, of need, might bring it out of him. Nothing had worked yet.

  Durzo had wondered aloud if he should just kill Kylar. Instead, he’d decided that as long as Kylar could do everything a wetboy could do, Durzo would keep training him. He promised that it would ultimately fail. It was impossible. A wetboy wasn’t a wetboy without the Talent.

  “Who took out the contract?” Kylar asked.

  “The Shinga.”

  “You’re trusting me with that?”

  “You’re going in this afternoon. If you fuck it up, I go in tonight, and I bring the Shinga two heads.” Kylar didn’t have to ask who the other head would belong to.

  “What did the deader do?”

  “You don’t need to know.”

  “Does it matter?”

  A knife appeared in Durzo’s hand, but his eyes weren’t violent. He was thinking. He flipped the knife from finger to finger. Finger, finger, finger, stop. Finger, finger, finger, roll. Kylar had seen a bard do that once with a coin, but only Durzo used a knife.

  “No,” Durzo said. “It doesn’t. Name’s Devon Corgi and let’s just say that when most people try to turn away from the darkness, they want to take a few bags packed with goodies with them. It slows them down. They never make it. I’ve only known one man in all my life who was willing to pay the full price of leaving the Sa’kagé.”

  “Who was it?”

  “Boy, in two hours, you’ve got a date with a deader. You’ve got better questions to ask.”

  “Devon Corgi?” The guard furrowed his brow. “Nah, don’t know him. Hey, Gamble, you know a Devon Corgi?” he asked another guard walking through the castle’s enormous west gate.

  It was almost too easy. Kylar had long ago stolen the tunic and bag that was the uniform of the city’s most widely used courier service. People who didn’t have their own servants employed boys—east side boys, never guild rats—to take their messages. Whenever guards had looked like they might ask questions, Kylar walked up to them and asked for directions.

  Don’t they know? Can’t they see? These men were guards, they were supposed to be protecting Devon Corgi and everyone else in here, and they were going to direct a killer right to him? How could they be so dumb? It was an uneasy feeling of power. It was gratifying that all the hours with Blint were definitely doing something. Kylar was becoming dangerous. And yet—how could they not see what he was?

  “Sure, he’s the one came in all this week with his eye twitchin’, jumping at shadows. I think he’s up in the north tower. If you want me to take your message, I could. I’m on duty in ten minutes, it’s the first stop on my rounds.”

  “No thanks. I’m hoping for a good tip. Which way is it?”

  As the guard gave Kylar directions, he tried to formulate his plan. The kill itself shouldn’t be hard. A kid could get much closer than a grown-up before he roused suspicion, and then it would be too late. The hard part was finding the man. Devon didn’t just have an office somewhere. He moved around. That added all sorts of risk, especially because Kylar needed to get the kill done today. The north tower sounded good. Isolated. The guard coming sounded bad. Kylar had just talked to the man, and told him who he was looking for.

  With the makeup Blint had used on him, Kylar looked totally different and younger by years. But it was best to let every death be a mystery. A wetboy leaves corpses, not evidence. So Kylar would find Corgi and hide until the guard came and left, then he’d kill him.

  In and out, no problem, even without the Talent.

  The castle was awe-inspiring. Though Blint always spoke of it with scorn, it was the most magnificent building Kylar had ever seen. It was the same black granite as the old aqueducts in the Warrens, quarried in the mountains on the Ceuran border. The entire quarrying industry was owned by the Sa’kagé, so now only the wealthy could afford to build with stone. It was one of the reasons most of the aqueduct pillars were gone now. The non-Sa’kagé poor in the Warrens scavenged the rock for their own use, or their own black–black market sale (bilking the Sa’kagé entailed distinct dangers) to the middle class.

  The castle had been built four hundred years ago, when for the thirty years of King Abinazae’s rule Cenaria was a major power. He had barely finished the castle when he decided to push further east and take the Chantry, and several thousand magae had ended his ambitions permanently. The castle had first been constructed on the motte-and-bailey design at least a hundred years earlier. Surrounded by the natural moat of the Plith River, Vos Island had been built up into a larger hill, on top of which sat the fortress. What was now the north side of the Warrens had been the original bailey. The Warrens were on a narrow peninsula that dropped off sharply into the sea except for the last half mile, which flattened out before the shoreline. The design was so defensible that neither the wood fortress nor the wood-walled Warrens had ever been taken. But the city had expanded along with King Abinazae’s pride, so Castle Cenaria had been built of stone and the city jumped to the east shore of the Plith. The aqueducts, however, were a mystery. They had been there long before King Abinazae and seemed to serve no purpose, as the Plith was freshwater—if not terribly clean.

  Leaving the diamond-shaped castle yard, Kylar walked up stone stairs that had been climbed by so many feet over the centuries that the middle of each step dipped several inches lower than the sides. The guards ignored him, and he assumed the attitude of a servant. It was one of his most frequent guises. Blint liked to say that a good disguise cloaked a wetboy better than the shadows. Kylar could walk right past almost anyone he knew with the exception of Count Drake. Not much escaped him.

  Soon he passed through most of the buzz of activity that filled the inner yard and the great hall. He went past the lines of people waiting for an audience in the throne room, past the open double doors of the gardens, and made his way to the north tower. The halls were busy everywhere until he stepped into the north tower’s antechamber.

  Devon Corgi wasn’t there. For the first time taking pains to be silent, Kylar opened the door that led to the stairs and climbed them quietly. The stairway was blank. Nothing decorative, no niches, no statues, no ornamental curtains or anything that would afford Kylar a plac
e to hide.

  He made his way to the top of the tower. It was, it seemed, just a large bedchamber, currently not being used. A young man balancing a large ledger book was going through the drawers of a bureau, apparently taking an inventory of the neatly folded sheets for the enormous featherbed and the alternate curtains for the large shuttered window. Kylar waited. Devon was turned sideways to the door, and without the Talent to shadow Kylar’s approach, there was a good chance the man would see him enter.

  The waiting was always the worst. Keyed up with no place to go, Kylar began to entertain fantasies that the guard was going to come up the stairs at any minute. Seeing him here, this late, he’d search him. Searching him, he’d find the slit in Kylar’s trousers. Finding that hand-sized slit, he’d find the long knife strapped to Kylar’s inner thigh. But there was nothing for it. Kylar waited just out of sight, listening, willing his ears to hear even the scritch of the quill on the ledger.

  Finally, he checked and saw Devon disappearing into the closet on the far side of the nearly circular chamber. Kylar crept into the chamber and looked for places to hide. His feet made no sound, not even the sound of leather scuffing against stone. Master Blint had taught Kylar how to boil the sap of the rubber tree to make a shoe sole that was soft and silent. It was expensive to import, and only a little quieter than properly worked leather, but to Master Blint, even the smallest margin mattered. It was why he was the best.

  There were no good places to hide. A great place to hide was one where Kylar would be able to see the entire room, keep his weapons at ready, and be able to move quickly either to strike or to escape. A good place to hide gave a decent view and the ability to strike or escape with only a little difficulty. This room had no dark corners. It was practically a circle. There were rice paper screens, but they’d been folded and were leaning against the wall. Pitifully, the only place to hide was under the bed. If Kylar were a wetboy, perhaps he could have vaulted up a wall and dangled off the chains of the chandelier, but that wasn’t an option.

  Under the bed? Master Blint will never let me live this down.

  But there was no other option. Kylar dropped flat onto his toes and fingertips crawled under the bed. It was good he was still slight, because there wasn’t much space. He was uncomfortably in place when he heard someone coming up the stairs.

  The guard. Finally. Now take a quick look and get the hell out.

  He’d chosen the side of the bed with a view of the closet, and that meant that he didn’t have a view of the stairs, but from the sound of the footsteps, he became certain that it wasn’t a guard. Devon stepped out of the closet holding a chest, and guilt flashed across his face.

  “You can’t be here, Bev,” he said.

  “You’re leaving,” the unseen woman said. It was an accusation.

  “No,” he said. His eye started twitching.

  “You stole from them, and now you’re stealing from the king, and for some reason I’m surprised you’d lie to me. You asshole.” Kylar heard her turn, and then Devon was stepping close to the bed, putting the chest down on it, his legs just inches away from Kylar.

  “Bev, I’m sorry.” He was moving toward the door, and Kylar was stricken with panic. What if Devon went after her, and she went down the steps? Kylar would have to kill both of them on the stairs, knowing that the guard would be coming along any minute. “Bev, please—”

  “Go to hell!” she said, and slammed the door.

  Wish granted. It was the blackest kind of humor, Durzo’s kind of humor. He liked to say that the irony of overheard conversations was one of the best perks of the bitter business, though he said that the wisdom of last words was highly overrated. Wish granted? Kylar didn’t like that he’d even thought that. Everything this man had planned was about to end, and Kylar was smirking about it.

  Devon swore to himself, but he didn’t follow the woman. “Where’s that guard anyway? He was supposed to be here by now.”

  This was what it was like, Durzo had told Kylar. You come in at the end of a drama—whether it’s just started or has been going on for years, your arrival signals the end—and you rarely get to know what the story was about. Who was Bev to Devon? His lover? His partner in crime? Just a friend? His sister?

  Kylar didn’t know. He’d never know.

  There was jingling on the stairs, muffled behind the door. Devon picked up his ledger. The door opened.

  “ ’Lo, Dev,” the guard said.

  “Oh, hello, Gamble.” Devon sounded nervous.

  “That courier find you?”

  “Courier?”

  “Little shite musta got lost. Everything fine up here?”

  “Sure, just fine.”

  “See ya round.”

  Devon waited until the guard had been gone thirty seconds, and then he stepped close to the bed and started stuffing his pockets. Kylar couldn’t see with what.

  Here it is. The guard would be far enough away now that even if Devon managed to cry out, he wouldn’t be heard. Devon stepped away from the bed toward the bureau and Kylar crawled out from beneath the bed like a bug. He stood and drew the knife. Devon was mere paces away. Kylar’s heart was pounding. He thought he could hear the rush of blood in his ears.

  Kylar did everything right. Low ready stance, advancing quietly but quickly, balanced so that if at any moment the deader reacted, Kylar wouldn’t be caught flat-footed. He brought the knife up to eye level, preparing to grab Devon and give him what Durzo called the red grin—a slash across the jugular and deep through the windpipe.

  Then he imagined Doll Girl giving him the look she’d given him when he took the biggest piece of bread for himself. What are you doing, Azoth? You know this is wrong.

  He recovered late, and it was as if his training abandoned him. Kylar was inches away from Devon, and Devon still hadn’t heard him, but the very nearness panicked Kylar. He stabbed for Devon’s neck and must have made some sound, because Devon was turning. The knife bit into the back of Devon’s neck, hit spine, and bounced out. Because of his convulsively tight grip that Durzo would have beaten Kylar for, the knife bounced right out of his hand, too.

  Devon turned and yelped. It seemed he was more surprised by Kylar’s sudden appearance than by the sting in his neck. He stepped back at the same time Kylar did. He put a hand to his neck, looked at his fingers and saw the blood. Then they both looked down to the knife.

  Devon didn’t go for it. Kylar scooped up the knife and as he stood, Devon dropped to his knees.

  “Please,” he said. “Please don’t.”

  It seemed incredible. The man’s eyes were big with fear—looking at little Kylar, whose disguise made him look even smaller and younger. There was nothing frightening about him, was there? But Devon looked like a man who’s seen his judgment come. His face was white, eyes round, pitiful, helpless.

  “Please,” he said again.

  Kylar slashed his throat in a fury. Why didn’t he protect himself? Why didn’t he even try? He was bigger than Kylar. He had a chance. Why must he act like a sheep? A big stupid human lamb, too dumb to even move. The cut was through the windpipe, but barely clipped one jugular. It was deep enough to kill, but not fast. Kylar grabbed Devon’s hair and slashed again, twice, slightly up, so the blood shot down rather than up. Not a drop got on Kylar. He’d done it just like Durzo had taught.

  There was a sound on the stairs. “Devon, I’m sorry,” Bev said before she even got into the room. “I just had to come back. I didn’t mean—” She stepped into the room and saw Kylar.

  She saw his face, she saw the dagger in his hand, she saw him holding the dying Devon by his hair. She was a plain young woman wearing a white serving dress. Wide hips, wide-spaced eyes, mouth open in a little O and beautiful raven hair.

  Finish the job.

  The training took hold. Kylar was across the room in an instant. He yanked the woman forward, swept a foot in, pivoted, and she flipped over onto the ground. He was as inexorable as Durzo Blint. The woman was beneath h
im, face down on the carpet that covered this section of floor. The next move was to slide the knife between her ribs. She’d hardly feel it. He wouldn’t have to see her face.

  He hesitated. It was his life against hers. She’d seen him. His disguise was good only as long as no one knew there was a fourteen-year-old murderer about. She’d seen his face. She had intruded on a deader. She was just collateral damage. An ancillary fatality, Blint said. A wetboy would do what needed to be done. It was less professional but sometimes unavoidable. It doesn’t matter, Blint had said. Just finish the job.

  Blint only allowed him to live so long as he proved he could do everything a wetboy did, even without the Talent.

  Yet here she was, face down, Kylar straddling her on the floor, the point of his dagger pricking her neck, his left hand twisting her hair, trying not to imagine the red blood blooming on her white servant’s dress. She’d done nothing.

  Life is empty. Life is meaningless. When we take a life, we aren’t taking anything of value. I believe it. I believe it.

  There had to be another way. Could he tell her to run? To tell no one? To leave the country and never come back? Would she do it? No, of course not. She’d run to the nearest guard. As soon as she was in the presence of some burly castle guard, any fear Kylar might inspire in her would look as small and weak as a guild rat with a knife.

  “I told him what would happen if he stole from the Sa’kagé,” she said, her voice oddly calm. “That bastard. With everything else he took from me, he didn’t even have the decency to die alone. I was coming to apologize, and now you’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”

  “Yes,” Kylar said, but he was lying. He had moved the knife to the correct place on her back, but it refused to move.

  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow shift on the stairs. He didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge that he’d seen it, but he felt a chill. It was the middle of the afternoon; there were no torches burning now, no candles. That shadow could only be Master Blint. He’d followed Kylar. He’d watched everything. The job was for the Shinga, and it wouldn’t be botched.

 
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