The night angel trilogy, p.18
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.18
 

           Brent Weeks

  “Thanks,” Kylar said.

  “Sorry.”

  “So that’s it. There’s nothing for me?”

  “I’m sure the ancients could have helped you. Maybe there’s some forgotten old manuscript in a Gandian library that could help. Or maybe there’s someone at the Chantry who is studying Talent disorders and I simply don’t know about it. I don’t know. You could try. But if I were you, I wouldn’t throw my life away looking for something you’re never going to find. Make your peace with it.”

  This time, Kylar didn’t have to try. The Durzo Blint glare came to his eyes no problem.

  26

  Kylar walked onto the sands of the stadium ready to hurt someone. The stands were full to overflowing. Kylar had never seen so many people. Vendors walked the aisles hawking rice, fish, and skins of ale. Noblemen and women had servants fanning them in the rising heat, and the king sat in a throne, drinking and laughing with his retinue. Kylar thought he even spied a sour-faced Lord General Agon to one side. The crowd buzzed at the sight of Kagé.

  Then the gate opened opposite him and a big peasant stepped in. There was a smattering of disinterested cheering. No one really cared who won, they were just happy that another fight was about to start. A horn blew and the big peasant drew a big rusty bastard sword. Kylar drew his own blade and waited. The peasant charged Kylar and lifted his blade for an overhead chop.

  Kylar jumped in, jabbed his blade hard into the man’s stomach, then as the peasant tripped past, Kylar slashed his kidney and hamstring. His sword glowed yellow-orange-red.

  Everyone seemed taken off guard except for the Blademasters, sitting in a special section in their red and iron-gray cloaks. They pealed a bell immediately.

  There were a few cheers and a few boos, but most of the audience seemed more startled than anything. Kylar sheathed his sword and walked back into the fighters’ chamber as the peasant dusted himself off, cursing.

  He waited alone, sitting still, not talking to anyone. Just before his next turn, a huge basher with a tattoo of a lightning bolt on his forehead sat next to him. Kylar thought his name was Bernerd. Maybe it was Lefty—no, Lefty was the twin with the broken nose.

  “You’ve got Nine fans out there who’d love it if you’d make a bit of a show next time,” the big basher said, then he moved on.

  Kylar’s second opponent was Ymmuri. The horse lords didn’t often come to the city, so the audience was excited. He was a small man, covered with layers of brown horsehide, even his face masked behind leather. He too had kept the knives at his belt, big forward-curving gurkas. His blade was a scimitar, excellent for slashing from horseback, but not as good for a swordfight. Further, the Ymmuri was drunk.

  As ordered, Kylar played with him, dodging heavy slashes at the last moment, mixing in spin kicks and acrobatics, basically violating everything Durzo had taught him. Against a competent opponent, Durzo said, you never aim a kick higher than your opponent’s knee. It’s simply too slow. And you don’t leave your feet. Jumping commits you to a trajectory you can’t change. The only time to use a flying kick was what the Ceurans had developed it for: to unseat cavalry when you yourself were on foot and had no other option. This time when Kylar won, the crowd roared.

  As Kylar came in from his fight, he saw Logan going out. Logan’s opponent was either Bernerd or Lefty. Kylar hoped the twin wouldn’t be too hard on him. A few minutes later, though, Logan came in, flushed and triumphant. Bernerd (or Lefty) must have gotten overconfident.

  Kylar’s third fight was against a local sword master who made his living tutoring young noblemen. The man looked at Kylar as if he were the vilest snake in Midcyru, but he was overeager on his ripostes. After scoring a single touch on Kylar, he lost and stormed off.

  It was only when Logan won his third fight against another sword master that Kylar smelled a rat. Then Kylar won his fourth fight against a veteran soldier—oddly enough, a low-ranking one and not from a good family, but against whom Kylar should have had a tough match. The soldier wasn’t a good pretender. Kylar almost didn’t attack the openings the man left; they were so blatant that Kylar was sure they were traps.

  Then he understood. The peasant had been real. The Ymmuri had been drugged. The sword master had been intimidated. The soldier had been bought. It was a single-elimination tourney, so now there were only sixteen men left. Kylar recognized four of them as Sa’kagé, which meant there were probably another four Sa’kagé he didn’t recognize. The Nine had stacked the brackets. It infuriated him. But he sailed through his last fights as if they mattered, doing jumping spin kicks, arm bars, leg sweeps, elaborate disarming combos, and everything else ridiculous he could think of.

  He’d thought that the Nine believed in him, that they were giving a real chance, do or die. But this was just another scam. There were great fighters here, but they’d been bought off. No doubt the bookies were making money hand over fist as Kylar rose through one bracket and none other than Logan Gyre rose through the other. Logan, tall, handsome Logan, the scion of a leading family, was hugely popular. So Logan’s first fights had been staged to be very close so the Sa’kagé could depress the odds against him. Then Logan had sailed through the more recent rounds. Great fighters took their dives at unlikely times, padding the Sa’kagé coffers further.

  In most cases, it was done convincingly. When a semi-competent swordsman was trying to stab you, it didn’t take much pretence to miss a block. But Kylar could tell, and he could tell that the Blademasters could tell. They looked furious, and Kylar imagined it would be a long time before they could be convinced to hold a tourney in Cenaria again. The process must be so obviously corrupt to them that Kylar doubted they would grant him Blademaster status even if he earned it twice over.

  Just as obvious was that the king couldn’t tell, at least not until one of the Blademasters went over and talked to him. Aleine jumped to his feet and it took his counselors some time before they could calm him enough to make him sit. So the Nine had made their point with the king, but there was still money to be made, and if Kylar guessed correctly, the Nine wanted to make their point with the whole city.

  Kylar was disgusted as he walked out onto the sand to face Logan. It was the last fight. This was for the championship. There was no good way out. He had half a mind to toss his sword at Logan’s feet and surrender—but the king would think that the Sa’kagé was declaring its support for Logan. Then it would only be so long before he hired a wetboy to go visit the Gyre estate—or a simple assassin, if the Sa’kagé wouldn’t take the job. Nor could Kylar let him win after a close fight. Now that the king knew the Sa’kagé had stacked the whole event, he would think they were trying to make Logan look good. So what was Kylar supposed to do? Humiliate his best friend?

  The earlier elation had faded completely from Logan’s face. He was dressed in fine, light chain mail with black links in the shape of a gyrfalcon on front and back, and the crowd roared as the two came together, but neither of the young men paid the crowd any attention.

  “I’m not good enough to make it this far. You’ve set me up,” Logan said. “I’ve been trying to decide what to do about it. I was thinking of throwing my sword down and capitulating to spoil it for you. But you’re Sa’kagé, and I’m a Gyre. I’ll never surrender to darkness and corruption. So what’s it going to be? Do you have another blade hidden that isn’t warded? Are you going to kill me publicly, just to remind Cenaria whose boot is on her throat?”

  “I’m just a sword,” Kylar said, his voice as gruff as Blint’s.

  Logan scoffed. “A sword? You can’t excuse what you are so easily. You’re a man who’s betrayed every part of his better nature, who at every junction has decided to walk deeper into the darkness, and for what? Money.” Logan spat. “Kill me if that’s what you’ve been paid for, Shadow, because I tell you this: I will do my best to kill you.”

  Money? What did Logan know about money? He’d had money every day of his life. One of his worn-out gloves could be sold to feed
a guild rat for months. Kylar felt hot rage wash through his blood. Logan didn’t know anything—and yet he couldn’t be more right.

  Kylar leapt forward at the exact moment the horn blew, not that he cared whether he was following the rules. Logan began to draw his sword, but Kylar didn’t bother. He launched himself forward with a lunging kick at Logan’s sword hand.

  The kick connected before Logan had the sword halfway out of the sheath. It smacked the hilt from his fingers and twisted him to the side. Kylar ran into Logan, twined a foot around the bigger man’s legs, and carried them both to the ground.

  Kylar landed on top of him and heard the breath whoosh from Logan’s lungs. He grabbed each of Logan’s arms and yanked them up behind his back, trapping them in one hand. He grabbed a fistful of Logan’s hair with the other hand and slammed his face into the sand as hard as he could, again and again, but the sand was too yielding to knock him out.

  Standing, Kylar drew his sword. The sounds of Logan moaning and his own heavy breathing seemed to be the only sounds in all the world. The stadium was silent. There wasn’t even any wind. It was hot, so damned hot. Kylar slashed viciously across Logan’s left kidney and then his right. The sword was warded, so it didn’t cut of course, but it was still like getting smacked with a cudgel.

  Logan cried out in pain. He sounded suddenly so young. Despite his huge body, Logan was barely eighteen, but the sound embarrassed Kylar. It was weakness. It was humiliating, infuriating. Kylar looked around the stadium. Somewhere, the Nine were here watching, each dressed as an ordinary man, pretending to share his neighbors’ horror. Pretending to be friends with men they despised, men they would betray for nothing more than money.

  There was a noise behind Kylar, and he saw Logan had fought to his hands and knees. He was struggling to stand. His face was bleeding from a hundred tiny cuts from the sand, and his eyes were unfocused.

  Kylar lofted his glowing orange sword to the crowd. Then he spun and smashed the flat of the blade into the back of Logan’s head. His friend crumpled, unconscious, and the crowd gasped.

  Humiliating Logan had been the only way to save him, but humiliation served in such a dishonorable manner would not draw attention to Logan’s defeat, but instead to the Sa’kagé. They were vile, and shameless, and omnipotent, and today Kylar was their avatar. He tossed the red sword down and raised his hands to the crowd once more, this time in dual one-fingered salutes. To hell with all of you. To hell with me.

  Then he ran.

  27

  The Modaini Smoking Club’s windows were Plangan plate glass cut into wedges and fanciful zoomorphic shapes. If you looked at the shapes in the glass, you could ignore the outside world completely, which was the point. If you looked at the shapes, you wouldn’t notice the bars on the other side of the window. Kylar stood at that window, staring through those bars at a girl down in the Sidlin Market.

  She was bargaining with a vendor for produce. Doll Girl—Elene—was growing up, perhaps fifteen years old now that Kylar was eighteen. She was beautiful—at least from this safe distance. From here he could see her body, supple curves clad in a simple serving dress, her hair pulled back and shining gold in the sun, and the flash of an easy smile. Though he couldn’t make out her scars from this distance, through the colored glass, her white dress was blood red. The leaded zoomorphic whorls reminded him of the whorls of her scars.

  “She’ll destroy you,” Momma K said behind him. “She’s part of a different world from any you’ll ever know.”

  “I know,” he said quietly, barely glancing over his shoulder. Momma K had come into the room with a new girl, an east side girl, young and pretty. Momma K was combing the girl’s blonde hair out. The Modaini Smoking Club was very different from most of the brothels in the city. The courtesans here were trained in the arts of conversation and music as much as the arts of the bedchamber. There was no scandalous dress, no nudity, no groping in the public areas, and no commoners allowed.

  Momma K had found out about Kylar’s excursions long ago, of course. You couldn’t keep anything secret from Momma K. She’d argued with him about it, and still made her comments whenever she happened to be here, but once she’d found out that he wouldn’t stop coming, she’d made him swear that he come into the smoking club and watch from inside. If he was going to be stupid, she said, he might as well be safe. If he went outside, sooner or later he’d bump into the girl and talk to her and bed her and fall in love with her and get himself killed for his defiance.

  “Don’t be shy,” Momma K said to the girl. “You’re soon going to be doing a lot more while a man’s in the room than changing your clothes.”

  Kylar didn’t turn as he heard the sounds of clothes being shed. Just what he needed. He was depressed already.

  “I know it’s scary your first time, Daydra,” Momma K said gently. “It’s a hard business. Isn’t that right, Kylar?”

  “It had better be. It doesn’t do much when it’s soft.”

  Daydra giggled, more from her nerves than Kylar’s cleverness, no doubt. He didn’t turn from the barred window. He was soaking his eyes in Elene. What would her clear brown eyes say as she looked at the girl behind him, preparing for her first client?

  “You’re going to feel guilty at first, Daydra,” Momma K said. “Expect it. Ignore it. You’re not a slut, you’re not a liar. You’re an entertainer. Men don’t buy a fine Sethi wine because they’re thirsty. They buy it because it makes them feel good and buying it makes them feel good about themselves. That’s why they come here, too. Men will always pay for their vices, whether it’s wine or lifting your skirt—”

  “Or murder,” Kylar said, touching the full coin purse and the dagger at his belt.

  He could almost feel a chill in the air, but Momma K ignored him and continued on. “The secret is to decide what you won’t sell. Never sell your heart. Some girls won’t kiss. Some won’t be kept by one man. Some won’t perform certain services. I did it all, but I kept my heart.”

  “Did you?” Kylar said. “Really?” He turned, and his heart jumped into his throat. Through Momma K’s art, Daydra now looked identical to Elene. Similar build, similar glorious curves, the same gleaming gold hair, the same simple servant’s dress, similar to everything but that she was on this side of the bars, close enough to touch, and Elene was out there. Daydra had an uncertain smile, like she couldn’t believe how he was talking to Momma K.

  Momma K was furious. She swept across the room and grabbed Kylar’s ear like he was a naughty little boy. She hauled him out of the room by his ear onto the second-story landing. It was full of overstuffed chairs and fine rugs, with a bodyguard sitting in one corner and doors leading to four different courtesans’ rooms. Stairs led down to a parlor lined with suggestive but not explicit paintings and leather-bound books. Momma K finally released his ear and closed the door behind her quietly.

  “Damn you, Kylar. Daydra is terrified already. What the hell are you doing?”

  “Telling an ugly truth.” He shrugged. “Telling lies. Whatever.”

  “If I wanted truth I’d look in the goddam mirror. This life isn’t about truth, it’s about making the best of what you’ve got. This is about that girl, isn’t it? That madness. You saved her, Kylar. Now let her go. She owes you everything.”

  “She owes me her scars.”

  “You’re a damned fool. Have you ever looked at what’s happened to all the other girls in your guild? Not even ten years out, they’re drunks and riot weed smokers, cutpurses and cripples, beggars and cheap whores, fifteen-year-old mothers with starving children, or unable to bear children at all because they’ve used tansy tea so many times. I promise you Elene’s not the only girl from your guild with scars given to her by some twist. But she is the only one with a hope and a future. You gave her that, Kylar.”

  “I should have—”

  “The only thing you could have done better was murder that boy earlier—before he did anything to you. If you’d been the kind of child capab
le of murder, you wouldn’t have been the kind of boy who cared what happened to some little girl. The truth is that even if they were your fault, Elene’s scars are a small price for the life you’ve given her.”

  Kylar turned away. The landing had a window overlooking the market, too. It was simple glass, clear, neither cut nor colored like the glass in the courtesan’s room. It too was barred, though with simple straight iron, the bars’ edges as sharp as one of Blint’s knives. Elene had come closer and he could see her scars, but then she smiled and her scars seemed to disappear.

  How often did girls in the Warrens smile like that? Kylar found himself smiling in response. He felt lighter than he could ever remember. He turned and smiled at Momma K. “I wouldn’t have expected to find absolution from you.”

  She didn’t smile back. “It’s not absolution, it’s reality. And I’m the perfect person to give you that. Besides, you carry guilt as badly as Durzo.”

  “Durzo? Durzo never feels guilty about anything,” Kylar said.

  A flicker of disgust passed over her face. She turned to look at Elene. “End this farce, Kylar.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Durzo told you the rules: you can fuck but you can never love. He doesn’t see what you’re doing, but I do. You believe you love Elene, so you won’t fuck at all. Why don’t you get this out of your system?” Her voice got gentle. “Kylar. You can’t have that girl out there. Why don’t you take what you can have?”

 
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