The night angel trilogy, p.19
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.19

           Brent Weeks
 

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Go in to Daydra. She’ll thank you for it. It’s on the house. If you’re worried because you’re inexperienced, she’s a virgin, too.” “Too”? Gods, did Momma K have to know everything?

  “No,” Kylar said. “No thanks, I’m not interested.”

  “Kylar, what are you waiting for? Some glorious soul union with that girl out there? It’s just fucking, and that’s all you get. That’s the deal, Kylar, and you knew it when you started. We all make our deals. I did, Durzo did, and you did too.”

  Giving up, Momma K gestured to one of her bashers downstairs to let a client through.

  A hairy-knuckled slob wheezed his way up the stairs. Though richly dressed, he was fat and ugly and foul smelling and grinning broadly with black teeth. He paused on the landing, licking his lips, a slack-jawed picture of lust. He nodded to Momma K, winked conspiratorially at Kylar, and went into the virgin courtesan’s room.

  “Maybe they were bad deals,” Kylar said.

  “It doesn’t matter. There’s no going back.”

  28

  Feir Cousat knocked on a door high inside the great pyramid of Sho’cendi. Two knocks, pause, two, pause, one. When he and Dorian and Solon had been students at the magi’s school of fire, they hadn’t rated such prestigious rooms. But he and Dorian hadn’t been given the rooms now so much to thank them for their historic services as to keep an eye on them.

  The door cracked open, and Dorian’s eye appeared on the other side. Feir always thought it was funny: Dorian was a prophet. He could foretell the fall of a kingdom or the winner of a horserace—a lucrative trick when Feir could convince him to do it—but he couldn’t tell who was at his own door. He said that prophesying concerning himself involved spiraling uncomfortably close to madness.

  Dorian ushered Feir inside and barred the door behind him. Feir felt himself passing through an improbably high number of wards. He looked at them. A ward against eavesdropping he’d expected. A ward against entry was unusual to maintain when you were in the room yourself. But the truly strange one was a ward to keep magic in. Feir fingered the threads of the weave, shaking his head in astonishment. Dorian was the kind of magus born once a generation. After studying at Hoth’salar, the Healers’ School on Gandu, and mastering all they had to teach him by the time he was sixteen, Dorian had come to the school of fire and mastered fire magics while not even pretending to be interested in them. He’d only stayed because he’d become friends with Feir and Solon. Solon’s talents were almost solely in Fire, but he was the strongest of the three. Feir wasn’t sure why the two had become friends with him. Maybe because he wasn’t threatened by their excellence. They were so obviously the kind of men who’d been touched by the gods that Feir didn’t even think to be jealous for a long time. Maybe it helped that he’d been born a peasant. It probably also helped that whenever he was struggling with his studies and started to be jealous, one or the other of his friends would suggest sparring with him.

  Feir looked fat, but he could move and he trained daily with the Blademasters, who kept their central training facility mere minutes from Sho’cendi. For Solon or Dorian to volunteer to spar with him was to volunteer for bruises. Dorian could heal bruises later, but they still hurt.

  Dorian had half-packed saddlebags open on the bed.

  Feir sighed. “You know the Assembly’s forbidden you to leave. They don’t care about Cenaria. Honestly, if Solon weren’t there, I wouldn’t either. We could send him a message to leave.” The school’s leaders hadn’t phrased it that way, of course. They were more worried about delivering the continent of Midcyru’s only—perhaps the world’s only—prophet into the Godking’s hands.

  “You don’t even know the best part yet,” Dorian said, grinning like they were children.

  Feir felt the blood draining from his face. The wards to keep magic in the room suddenly made sense. “You aren’t planning to steal it.”

  “I could make the argument that it’s ours. The three of us were the ones who tracked it, found it, and brought it back. They stole it from us first, Feir.”

  “You agreed it would be safer here. We let them take it from us.”

  “So I’m taking it back,” Dorian said, shrugging.

  “So it’s you against all the world again.”

  “It’s me for all the world, Feir. Will you come with me?”

  “Come with you? Is this the madness?” When Dorian’s gift for prophecy had surfaced, one of the first things he’d tried was to tell his own future. He’d learned that no matter what he did, he would go mad one day. Delving into his own future would only hasten that day’s arrival. “I thought you said you had still had a decade or so.”

  “Not so long, now,” Dorian said. He shrugged like it didn’t matter, as if it didn’t break his heart, exactly the way he’d shrugged when he’d asked Solon to go to Cenaria, knowing it would cost Solon Kaede’s love. “Before you answer, Feir, know this: if you come with me, you will regret it many times, and you will never again walk the halls of Sho’cendi.”

  “You make such a convincing plea,” Feir said, rolling his eyes.

  “You will also save my life at least twice, own a forge, be known throughout the world as the greatest living weaponsmith, have a small part in saving the world, and die satisfied, if not nearly so old as you or I hoped.”

  “Oh, that’s better,” Feir said sarcastically, but his stomach was doing flips. Dorian rarely told what he knew, but when he did, he never lied. “Just a small part in saving the world?”

  “Feir, your purpose in life isn’t your happiness. We’re part of a much bigger story. Everyone is. If your part is unsung, does that make it worthless? Our purpose on this trip isn’t to save Solon. It’s to see a boy. We will face many dangers to get there. Death is a very real possibility. And do you know what that boy needs from us? Three words. Maybe two if the name counts as only one. Do you want to know what they are?”

  “Sure.”

  “ ‘Ask Momma K.’ ”

  “That’s it? What’s it mean?” Feir asked.

  “I have no idea.”

  Sometimes a seer could be a pain in the ass. “You ask for a lot from me,” Feir said.

  Dorian nodded.

  “I’ll regret it if I say yes?”

  “Many times. But not in the end.”

  “It might be easier if you told me less.”

  “Believe me,” Dorian said, “I wish I didn’t have such a clear view of what lies before you down each possible choice here. If I told you less, you would hate me for holding back. If I told you more, you might not have the heart to carry on.”

  “Enough!” Gods, was it going to be that bad?

  Feir looked at his hands. He’d have a forge. He’d be known throughout the world for his work. It had been one of his dreams. Maybe he could even marry, have sons. He thought of asking Dorian, but didn’t dare. He sighed and rubbed his temples.

  Dorian broke into a big smile. “Good! Now help me figure out how we’re going to get Curoch out of here.”

  Feir was sure he had misunderstood. Then he felt the blood draining from his face. There were wards on the door to keep magic in. “When you say ‘here’ you mean ‘here, in the school.’ Like I still have a chance to convince you not to try to steal the most guarded artifact in Midcyru. Right?”

  Dorian threw back the covers on the bed. There was a plain sheathed sword on it. It looked entirely normal, except that the sheath was made entirely of lead, and it covered the sword entirely, even the hilt, damping the magic. But this wasn’t just a magic sword. It was more like The Magic Sword. This was Curoch, Emperor Jorsin Alkestes’ sword. The Sword of Power. Most magi weren’t even strong enough to use it. If Feir (or most others) tried, it would kill him in a second. Dorian had said even Solon couldn’t use it safely. But after Jorsin Alkestes’ death, there had been quite a few magi who had been able to—and they’d destroyed more than one civilization. “At first, I thought I
was going to have to prophesy my own future to get it, but instead, I prophesied the guards’. Everything worked perfect except one guard came down a hallway that he only had maybe a one in a thousand chance of taking. I had to knock him out. The good news is, he’s going to be nursed back to health by a lovely girl whom he’ll later marry.”

  “You’re telling me there’s some guard unconscious upstairs right now, just waiting to be found? While we’re talking? Why are you even doing this?”

  “Because he needs it.”

  “He? You’re stealing Curoch for ‘ask Momma K’ boy?” Feir asked.

  “Oh no, well, not directly. The boy who needs to hold Curoch—the one the whole world needs to hold Curoch—isn’t even born yet. But this is our only chance to take it.”

  “Gods, you’re serious,” Feir said.

  “Stop pretending this changes anything. You’ve already decided. We’re going to Cenaria.”

  Sometimes a seer could be a pain in the ass? Try always.

  29

  What is your problem!” Master Blint screamed.

  “I don’t—” Kylar said.

  “Again!” Blint roared.

  Kylar stopped the practice knife with an X block, crossing his wrists in front of him. He tried to grab Durzo’s hand and twist, but the wetboy slipped aside.

  They ranged around the practice building of Blint’s newest safe house, vaulting off walls, maneuvering each other into beams, attempting to use every uneven edge of the floor against each other. But the match was even.

  The nine years Kylar had spent under Blint’s tutelage had seen him harden and grow. He was maybe twenty now. He was still not as tall as Blint and never would be, but his body was lean and taut, and his eyes were the same light blue. As he sweated and fought, every muscle in his arms, chest, and stomach was distinct and moving precisely to its task, but he couldn’t make himself really engage.

  Durzo Blint saw it, and it infuriated him. Swearing long and eloquently, Master Blint compared his attitude unfavorably with a lackadaisical prostitute’s, his face with unlikely and unhealthy body parts, and his intelligence with several species of farm animals. When he attacked again, Kylar could see him mentally ratcheting up the level.

  One of the many dangerous things about Master Blint was that even when he was furious, it never showed in his fighting. His fury would only be allowed expression after you were lying on the ground, usually bleeding.

  He moved Kylar across the open room slowly, hand clenched in fist or extending in knife hand, the practice knife glittering in quick arcs and jabs. For a fraction of a second, he overextended a stab and Kylar managed to slip around it and hit Master Blint’s wrist.

  But Master Blint held onto the knife, and as he drew it back, the dull blade caught Kylar’s thumb.

  “That impatience cost you a thumb, boy.”

  With his chest heaving, Kylar stopped, but he didn’t take his eyes off of Master Blint. They’d already practiced with swords of several kinds, with knives of varying lengths. Sometimes they fought with the same weapon, and sometimes they’d mismatch—Master Blint taking a double-edged broadsword against a Gandian blade, or Kylar taking a stiletto against a gurka. “Anyone else would have lost the knife,” Kylar said.

  “You’re not fighting anyone else.”

  “I wouldn’t fight you if you were armed and I wasn’t.”

  Master Blint drew back the knife and threw it past Kylar’s ear. Kylar didn’t flinch. It wasn’t that he didn’t still wonder sometimes if Master Blint was going to kill him. It was that he knew he couldn’t stop him.

  When Blint attacked again, it was full speed. Kick met stop kick, punches were diverted, jabs dodged, blows absorbed against arms, legs, and hips. There were no tricks, nothing showy. Just speed.

  In the midst of the flashing limbs, as usual, Kylar realized that Master Blint would win. The man was simply better than Kylar. It was usually about now that Kylar would try something desperate. Master Blint would be waiting for it.

  Kylar unleashed a storm of blows, fast and light as a mountain breeze. None of them alone would hurt Master Blint even if they connected, but any would cause him to miss the next. Kylar fought faster and faster, each blow being brushed aside or only connecting with flesh tensed for the impact.

  One low spear hand got through, jabbing Master Blint’s abdomen. As he hunched over involuntarily, Kylar went for the full strike on Blint’s chin—then stopped. Blint lashed up fast enough that he would have blocked the strike, but with no contact where he’d expected it, he brought the block too far and couldn’t bring his hand back before Kylar lashed his still-cocked fist at his nose.

  But Kylar’s strike didn’t catch Master Blint. It was brushed aside by an unseen force like an invisible hand. Stumbling, Kylar tried to recover and block Durzo’s kick, but it blew through his hands with superhuman force. Kylar smashed into the beam behind him so hard that he heard it crack. He dropped to the ground.

  “Your turn,” Blint said. “If you can’t touch me, I’ll have a special punishment for you.”

  “Special punishment”? Beautiful.

  Hunched on the ground with both arms throbbing, Kylar didn’t answer. He stood, but when he turned, in Blint’s place stood Logan. But the sneer on Logan’s face was all Durzo Blint. It was an illusion, an illusion seven feet tall, matching Blint’s moves precisely. Kylar kicked viciously at his knee—but his foot went right through the figure, shattering the illusion and touching nothing at all. Blint stood two feet behind it. As Kylar staggered off balance, Blint raised a hand. With a whoosh, a phantom fist shot from his hand and knocked Kylar off his feet.

  Kylar bounced back to his feet in time to see Blint leap. The ceiling was twelve feet high, but Blint’s entire back hit it—and stuck to it. He started crawling, and then disappeared as shadows writhed over him and merged with the greater darkness of the ceiling. First Kylar could hear Blint moving to a spot above him, then the sound cut off abruptly. Blint’s Talent was covering even the scuffing sound of brushing against wood.

  Moving constantly, Kylar searched the ceiling for any shadow out of place.

  “Scarred Wrable can even throw his voice, or any other sound,” Blint said, from the far corner of the ceiling. “I wonder if you could.”

  Kylar saw, or thought he saw, the shadow moving back toward him. He flung a throwing knife at the shadow—and it burst apart, leaving his knife quivering in the wood. It was another illusion. Kylar turned slowly, trying to hear the slightest sound out of place over the pounding of his heart.

  The slight brush of cloth hitting the floor behind him made him spin and lash out. But there was nothing there except Blint’s tunic in a pile on the floor. A thump announced Blint himself landing behind Kylar. Kylar spun once more, but something caught his left hand, then his right.

  Master Blint stood bare-chested, a dead look in his eyes, his real hands at his sides. Kylar’s wrists were held in the air by magic. Slowly, his arms were pulled apart until he was spread-eagled, then further. Kylar held his silence for as long as he could, then screamed as he felt his joints on the verge of dislocating.

  The bonds dropped and Kylar crumpled, defeated.

  Durzo shook his head in disappointment—and Kylar attacked. His kick slowed as it approached Durzo’s knee as if it were sinking into a spring, then bounced back, spinning him hard and throwing him in a tangle to the floor.

  “Do you see what just happened?” Durzo asked.

  “You kicked my ass again,” Kylar said.

  “Before that.”

  “I almost hit you,” Kylar said.

  “You fooled me and you would have destroyed me, but I used my Talent and you still refuse to use yours. Why?”

  Because I’m broken. Since meeting Drissa Nile four years ago, Kylar had thought a hundred times about telling Durzo Blint what she’d told him: he didn’t have a conduit, and it couldn’t be fixed. But the rules had always been clear. Kylar became a wetboy, or he died. And as Blint had ju
st proved again, Kylar wouldn’t be a wetboy without the Talent. Telling Blint the truth had always seemed like a quick way to die. Kylar had tried everything to get his Talent to work or to learn about anything that might help, but had found nothing.

  Blint breathed deeply. When he spoke again, his voice was calm. “It’s time for some truth, Kylar. You’re a good fighter. Deficient still with pole arms and clubs and crossbows and—” He was starting to lecture but noticed it. “Regardless, you’re as good at hand-to-hand fighting and with those Ceuran hand-and-a-half swords you like as any fighter I’ve seen. Today you would’ve had me. You won’t win next time, but you’ll start winning. Your body knows what to do, and your mind has got it mostly figured out, too. In the next few years, your body will get a bit faster, a bit stronger, and you’ll get cleverer by half. But your weapons training is finished, Kylar. The rest is practice.”

  “And?” Kylar asked.

  “Follow me. I’ve got something that may help you.”

  Kylar followed Blint to his workroom. This one was smaller than the one Azoth had first seen in Blint’s old safe house, but at least this house had doors between the animals’ pens and the work area. It smelled much better. It was also familiar now. The books lining the shelves were like old friends. He and Blint had even added dozens of recipes to them. In the past nine years, he had come to appreciate Blint’s mastery of poisons.

  Every wetboy used poisons, of course. Hemlock, and blood flower, and mandrake root, and ariamu were all local and fairly deadly. But Blint knew hundreds of poisons. There were entire pages of his books crossed out, notes scrawled in Durzo’s tight angular hand, “Fool. Dilutes the poison.” Other entries were amended, from how long it took for the poison to take effect to what the best methods for delivery were, to how to keep the plants alive in foreign climes.

  Master Blint picked up a box. “Sit.”

  Kylar sat at the high table, propping an elbow on the wood and holding his chin. Blint upended the box in front of him.

 
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