The night angel trilogy, p.17
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.17

           Brent Weeks
 

  Kylar slid the knife between her ribs, pulled it sideways, felt the shudder and the sigh of the woman dying beneath him.

  He stood and pulled the knife from her flesh, his mind suddenly detached, pulling away from him as it had the day in the boat shop with Rat. He wiped the red blade on her white dress, sheathed it along his thigh, and checked himself in the room’s mirror for blood, just like he’d been taught.

  It was all the sorrow in the world to him that he was clean. There wasn’t any blood on his hands.

  When he turned, Blint stood in the open doorway, arms folded. Kylar just looked at him, still hovering somewhere behind his own body, glad for the numbness.

  “Not great,” Durzo said, “but acceptable. The Shinga will be pleased.” He pursed his lips, seeing the distance in Kylar’s eyes. “Life is meaningless,” Durzo said, rolling a garlic clove between his fingers. “Life is empty. When we take a life, we take nothing of value.”

  Kylar stared at him blankly.

  “Repeat it, damn you!” Durzo’s hand moved and a knife blurred through the air, thunking into the bureau behind Kylar.

  He didn’t even flinch. He repeated the words mechanically, fingers atingle, feeling again and again that easy slip of meat parting around the knife. Was it so easy? Was it so simple? You just pushed, and death came? Nothing spiritual about it. Nothing happened. No one was whisked to Count Drake’s heaven or hell. They just stopped. They stopped talking, stopped breathing, stopped moving, finally stopped twitching. Stopped.

  “That pain you feel,” Master Blint said almost gently, “is the pain of abandoning a delusion. The delusion is meaning, Kylar. There is no higher purpose. There are no gods. No arbiters of right and wrong. I don’t ask you to like reality. I only ask you to be strong enough to face it. There is nothing beyond this. There is only the perfection we attain by becoming weapons, as strong and merciless as a sword. There is no essential good in living. Life is nothing in itself. It’s a place marker that proves who’s winning, and we are the winners. We are always the winners. There is nothing but the winning. Even winning means nothing. We win because it’s an insult to lose. The ends don’t justify the means. The means don’t justify the ends. There is no one to justify to. There is no justification. There is no justice. Do you know how many people I’ve killed?”

  Kylar shook his head.

  “Me neither. I used to. I remembered the name of every person I killed outside of battle. Then it was too many. I just remembered the number. Then I remembered only the innocents. Then I forgot even that. Do you know what punishments I’ve endured for my crimes, my sins? None. I am proof of the absurdity of men’s most treasured abstractions. A just universe wouldn’t tolerate my existence.”

  He took Kylar’s hands. “On your knees,” he said. Kylar knelt at the edge of a pool of the blood seeping from the woman’s body.

  “This is your baptism,” Master Blint said, putting both of Kylar’s hands in the blood. It was warm. “This is your new religion. If you must worship, worship as the other wetboys do. Worship Nysos, god of blood, semen, and wine. At least those have power. Nysos is a lie like all the gods, but at least he won’t make you weak. Today, you’ve become an assassin. Now get out, and don’t wash your hands. And one more thing: when you’ve got to kill an innocent, don’t let them talk.”

  Kylar staggered through the streets like a drunk. Something was wrong with him. He should feel something, but instead, there was only emptiness. It was like the blood on his hands had burst from some soul wound.

  The blood was drying now, getting sticky, the bright red fading to brown everywhere but inside his clenched fists. He hid his hands, hid the blood, hid himself, and his mind—less numb than his heart—knew that there was a point in this, too. He would be a wetboy, and he would always be hiding. Kylar himself was a mask, an identity assumed for convenience. That mask and every other would fit because before his training was done, every distinguishing feature of the Azoth who had been would be obliterated. Every mask would fit, every mask would fool every inspector, because there would be nothing underneath those masks.

  Kylar couldn’t wear his courier disguise into the Warrens—couriers never went to the Warrens—so he headed to an east side safe house on a block crowded with the tiny homes of artisans and those servants not housed at their lords’ estates. He rounded a corner and ran straight into a girl. She would have gone sprawling if he hadn’t grabbed her arms to catch her.

  “Sorry,” he said. His eyes took in the simple servant’s white dress, hair bound back, and a basket full of fresh herbs. Last, he saw the gory red smears he’d just left on each of her sleeves. Before he could disappear, start running down the street before she saw how he’d stained her, the arcs and crosses of scars on her face clicked into place like the pieces of a puzzle.

  They were white now, scars now, where he had branded them into his mind as deep, red, inflamed cuts, burst tissue, dribbling blood, the rough scrape and muted gurgle of blood being swallowed, blood bursting in little bubbles around a destroyed nose. He only had time to see unmistakable scars and unmistakable big brown eyes.

  Doll Girl looked down demurely, not recognizing this murderer as her Azoth. The downward glance showed her the gore on her sleeves, and she looked up, horror etched every feature not already etched with scars.

  “My God,” she said, “you’re bleeding. Are you all right?”

  He was already running, sprinting heedlessly through the market. But no matter how fast he ran, he couldn’t outrun the concern and the horror in those beautiful eyes. Those big brown eyes followed him. Somehow, he knew they always would.

  25

  You ready to be a champion?” Master Blint asked.

  “What are you talking about?” Kylar asked. They’d finished the morning’s sparring and he’d done better than usual. He didn’t even think he’d be sore tomorrow. He was sixteen years old now, and it seemed like the training was finally starting to pay off. Of course, he still hadn’t won a single fight with Master Blint, but he was starting to have hope. On the other hand, Blint had been in a foul mood all week.

  “The king’s tourney,” Master Blint said.

  Kylar grabbed a rag and mopped his face. This safe house was small and it got stiflingly hot. King Aleine Gunder IX had convinced the Blademasters to certify a tourney in Cenaria. Of course, they might watch and decide that not even the winner was good enough to be a Blademaster, but on the other hand, they might decide that three or four contestants were. Even a first echelon Blademaster could find great work at any royal court in Midcyru. But, typically, Blint had sneered about the whole affair. Kylar said, “You said the king’s tourney was for the desperate, the rich, and the foolish.”

  “Mm-hmm,” Blint said.

  “But you want me to fight anyway,” Kylar said. He guessed that made him “desperate.” Most children’s Talent quickened by their early teens. His still hadn’t, and Blint was losing his patience.

  “The king’s holding the tourney so he can hire the winners to be bodyguards. He wants to make sure he isn’t hiring any wetboys, so this tourney has a special rule: no one Talented allowed. There will be a maja at the tourney to check all the contestants, a Chantry-trained healer. She’s also there to ward the swords so the contestants don’t kill each other and to heal anyone who gets hurt. The Nine have decided to flex their muscle. They want one of their own to win, to remind everyone who’s who in this city. So it’s a situation that fits you like a peg leg fits a cripple. Not that that’s a coincidence. This tourney wouldn’t even be happening if they hadn’t suggested it. The Nine knows all about you and your little problem.”

  “What?” Kylar was incredulous. He hadn’t even known they knew who he was. What if he lost?

  “Hu Gibbet showed off his apprentice Viridiana to the Nine this week. A girl, Kylar. I watched her fight. She’s Talented, of course. She’d take you, no problem.”

  Kylar felt a wave of shame. Hu Gibbet was a murderer of the vilest sort.
Hu loved murder, loved cruelty for its own sake. Hu never failed, but he also always killed more than just the target. Blint despised him. Kylar was making his master look second-best to a butcher.

  “Wait,” Kylar said. “Isn’t the tourney today?”

  It was noon when Kylar arrived at the stadium on the north side of the Warrens. It had only been used for horse races for the last twelve years. Before that, it had been the home of the Death Games. As Kylar approached, he could hear the crowds within. The stadium could hold fifteen thousand people, and it sounded full.

  He walked in a cocky glide. It was meant not only to suggest an arrogant young swordsman, but also to disguise his own natural stride. Count Drake wouldn’t attend an event that he saw as reminiscent of the Death Games, but Logan Gyre might, as would any number of the young nobles Kylar had to interact with on a fairly regular basis. Usually, Kylar felt no anxiety when he was disguised. First, he was good enough with disguises now that he didn’t feel much danger. Second, anxiety drew attention like a lodestone. But now his stomach was in an uproar because his disguise was no disguise at all.

  Master Blint had given him the clothes without comment. They were wetboy grays as fine as anything Master Blint owned himself. These were the mottled gray and black that made a better camouflage in darkness than pure black did, the mottling breaking up the human shape. They were fitted perfectly, thin and tight on his limbs, but not impeding his movement. He suspected that the slender cut had another purpose: the Nine wanted him to look as young as possible. We sent an un-Talented child as our champion. He thrashed you. What happens when we send a wetboy?

  His clothes were completed with a black silk—silk!—cloak, a black silk mask that left only holes for his eyes, a slit for his mouth, and a shock of his dark hair uncovered. He’d rubbed a paste into his hair to make it look utterly black and pulled it into short, disheveled points. In place of his black weapons harness, Blint had given him one of gold, with gold sheaths for each of his daggers, throwing knives, and sword. They stood out starkly against the drab wetboy grays. Blint had rolled his eyes as he gave it to Kylar. “If you’ve got to go for melodrama, you might as well do it right,” he said.

  Like this is my fault?

  Few people lingered on the streets, but when Kylar strode to the side entrance of stadium, spectators and vendors gawked at him. He walked inside and found the fighters’ chamber. There were over two hundred men and a couple dozen women inside. They ranged from huge bashers Kylar recognized to mercenaries and soldiers to indolent young noblemen to peasants from the Warrens who had no business holding a sword. The desperate, the rich, and the foolish indeed.

  He was noticed immediately and a silence spread through the men joking too loudly, soldiers stretching, and women checking and double-checking their blades.

  “Is that everyone?” a bookish woman asked, coming in from a side room. She almost bumped into the huge man who was walking in with her as he stopped abruptly. Kylar’s breath caught. It was Logan. Logan wasn’t going to watch—he was going to compete. Then the maja saw Kylar. She covered her surprise better than most. “I—I see. Well, young man, come with me.”

  Acutely aware of maintaining his cocky glide, Kylar walked right past Logan and the others. It was oddly satisfying to hear whispers erupt behind him.

  The examination room had once been used to treat injured slave fighters. It had the feel of a room that had seen a lot of death. There were even gutters around at the base of each wall so blood could be washed away easily. “I’m Sister Drissa Nile,” the woman said. “And though Blademasters learn to use all edged weapons, for this tourney you can only use your sword. I’m going to have to ask you to remove your other weapons.”

  Kylar gave her his best Durzo Blint stare.

  She cleared her throat. “I suppose I could bind them magically to their sheaths. You won’t be able to draw them for perhaps six hours, when the weaves dissipate.”

  Kylar nodded acquiescence. As she muttered under her breath, wrapping weaves around each of his sheaths, he studied the brackets that had been posted on the wall. He found Logan quickly, then actually looked for a few moments for his own name. Like the Nine entered me under my real name. “What am I listed as?” Kylar asked.

  She paused and pointed. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that’s you.” The name was listed as “Kage.” Drissa muttered, and an accent appeared out of nowhere over the E. “Kagé, the Shadow. If the Sa’kagé didn’t send you, young man, you’d better find yourself a fast horse.”

  No pressure. Kylar was just glad to see that he was in the opposite bracket from Logan. His friend had grown into his height. Logan Gyre was no longer clumsy; he had a huge reach, and he was strong, but training for an hour every other day wasn’t the same as training for hours every day under Master Blint’s tutelage. Logan was a good fighter, but there was no way he’d make it to the top of his own bracket, which meant Kylar wouldn’t have to face him.

  Kylar drew his sword and Sister Nile warded it. He tested the edge and it was not just flat but blunted in a small circle around each edge, which showed she knew what she was doing. Even a practice sword could cut if you sliced someone hard enough. At the same time, the weaves didn’t appear to add any weight to the blade, or to change how it traveled through the air. “Nice,” Kylar said. He was trying to be as laconic as Durzo so he didn’t give away his voice. Most of Kylar’s voice disguises still made him sound like a child trying to sound like a man. It was more embarrassing than effective.

  “The rules of the tourney are the first swordsman to touch his opponent three times wins. I’ve bonded a ward to each fighter’s body that makes opponents’ swords react. The first time you touch your opponent, your sword will glow yellow. Second, orange. Third, red. Now, the last thing,” she said. “Making sure you have no Talent. I’ll have to touch you for this.”

  “I thought you could See.”

  “I can, but I’ve heard rumors of people being able to disguise their Talent, and I won’t break my oath to make sure this fight is fair, not even here, not even for the Sa’kagé.” Drissa put her hand on his hand. She mumbled to herself the whole time. As Blint had explained it, women needed to speak to use their Talent, but apparently it didn’t need to be comprehensible.

  She stopped abruptly and looked him in the eye. She chewed her lip and then put her hand back on his. “That’s no disguise,” she said. “I’ve never seen… Do they know? They must, I suppose, or they wouldn’t have sent him, but…”

  “What are you talking about?” Kylar asked.

  Sister Nile stepped back reluctantly, as if she didn’t appreciate having to deal with a human being when she had something far more interesting on her hands. “You’re broken,” she said.

  “Go to hell.”

  She blinked. “I’m sorry, I meant… People colloquially speak about ‘having the Talent’ as if it’s simple. But it’s not simple. There are three things that must all work together for a man or woman to become a mage. First, there’s your glore vyrden, roughly your life-magic. It’s magic gleaned perhaps from your living processes, like we get energy from food, or maybe it’s from your soul—we don’t know, but it’s internal. Half of all people have a glore vyrden. Maybe everyone, just in most it’s too small to detect. Second, some people have a conduit or a process that translates that power into magic or into action. It’s usually very thin. Sometimes it’s blocked. But say a man’s brother has a loaded hay wagon fall on him—in that extremity, the man might tap his glore vyrden for the only time in his life and be able to lift the wagon. On the other hand, men who have a glore vyrden and a wide-open conduit tend to be athletes or soldiers. They sometimes perform far better than the men around them, but then, like all others, it takes them time to recuperate. The amount of magic they can use is small and quickly exhausted. If you told them they were using magic, they wouldn’t believe you. For a man to be a mage, he needs a third component as well: he must be able to absorb magic from sunlight o
r fire so that he can refill his glore vyrden again and again. Most of us absorb light through the eyes, but some do it through the skin. That is why, we think, Friaku’s gorathi go into battle naked, not to intimidate their foes, but to give themselves access to as much magic as possible.”

  “So what’s that got to do with me?” Kylar asked.

  “Young man, you can absorb magic, either through your eyes like a magus, or through your skin. Your skin is practically glowing with it. I’d guess you would have a natural bent toward body magics. And your glore vyrden? I’ve never seen one like it. You could use magic for half the night and not empty it. It’s perfect for a wetboy. But…” She grimaced. “I’m sorry. Your conduit.”

  “What, it’s blocked? Is it bad?” He already knew it was blocked. Blint had been trying to break the block for years. That also made sense of why Blint had made him lie out in the sun, or sit uncomfortably close to forge fires—he’d been trying to force an overflow of magic, so that Kylar couldn’t help but use it.

  “You have no conduit.”

  “Will you fix it? Money’s no object,” Kylar said, his chest tight.

  “It’s not a matter of drilling a hole. It’s more like making new lungs. This is not something any healer in the Chantry has even seen, much less tried to fix, and with a Talent of your Talent’s magnitude, my guess is that the attempt would be lethal to you and the healer both. Do you know any magi who would risk their life for you?”

  Kylar shook his head.

  “Then I’m sorry.”

  “Could the Gandians help me? They have the best healers, don’t they?”

  “I’m going to choose not to take offense at that, though most Sisters would. I’ve heard wild stories from the men’s green school. Not that I believe it, but I heard of a magus who saved a dying woman’s unborn child by putting it in her sister’s womb. Even if that’s true, that’s dealing with pregnancy, and we healers work with difficult pregnancies all the time. What you’ve got we never see. People come to us because they’re sick. They bring their children to the Chantry or one of the men’s schools because they’ve set a barn on fire, or healed a playmate, or thrown a chair at someone’s head using only their minds. People like you don’t come to us; they just feel frustrated by life, like they’re supposed to be something more than they are, but they can never break through.”

 
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