The black prism, p.2
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       The Black Prism, p.2

           Brent Weeks

  “They think you have something that belongs to the king. I don’t know what. I only picked up that much by eavesdropping.”

  “What would Rekton have that the king wants?” Kip asked.

  “Not Rekton you. You you.”

  It took Kip a second. He touched his own chest. “Me? Me personally? I don’t even own anything!”

  The color wight gave a crazy grin, but Kip thought it was a pretense. “Tragic mistake, then. Their mistake, your tragedy.”

  “What, you think I’m lying?!” Kip asked. “You think I’d be out here scavenging luxin if I had any other choice?”

  “I don’t really care one way or the other. You going to bring that key over here, or do I need to ask real nice?”

  It was a mistake to bring the keys over. Kip knew it. The color wight wasn’t stable. He was dangerous. He’d admitted as much. But he had kept his word. How could Kip do less?

  Kip unlocked the man’s manacles, and then the padlock on the chains. He backed away carefully, as one would from a wild animal. The color wight pretended not to notice, simply rubbing his arms and stretching back and forth. He moved over to the guard and poked through his pockets again. His hand emerged with a pair of green spectacles with one cracked lens.

  “You could come with me,” Kip said. “If what you said is true—”

  “How close do you think I’d get to your town before someone came running with a musket? Besides, once the sun comes up… I’m ready for it to be done.” The color wight took a deep breath, staring at the horizon. “Tell me, Kip, if you’ve done bad things your whole life, but you die doing something good, do you think that makes up for all the bad?”

  “No,” Kip said, honestly, before he could stop himself.

  “Me neither.”

  “But it’s better than nothing,” Kip said. “Orholam is merciful.”

  “Wonder if you’ll say that after they’re done with your village.”

  There were other questions Kip wanted to ask, but everything had happened in such a rush that he couldn’t put his thoughts together.

  In the rising light Kip saw what had been hidden in the fog and the darkness. Hundreds of tents were laid out in military precision. Soldiers. Lots of soldiers. And even as Kip stood, not two hundred paces from the nearest tent, the plain began winking. Glimmers sparkled as broken luxin gleamed, like stars scattered on the ground, answering their brethren in the sky.

  It was what Kip had come for. Usually when a drafter released luxin, it simply dissolved, no matter what color it was. But in battle, there had been so much chaos, so many drafters, some sealed magic had been buried and protected from the sunlight that would break it down. The recent rain had uncovered more.

  But Kip’s eyes were pulled from the winking luxin by four soldiers and a man with a stark red cloak and red spectacles walking toward them from the camp.

  “My name is Gaspar, by the by. Gaspar Elos.” The color wight didn’t look at Kip.


  “I’m not just some drafter. My father loved me. I had plans. A girl. A life.”

  “I don’t—”

  “You will.” The color wight put the green spectacles on; they fit perfectly, tight to his face, lenses sweeping to either side so that wherever he looked, he would be looking through a green filter. “Now get out of here.”

  As the sun touched the horizon, Gaspar sighed. It was as if Kip had ceased to exist. It was like watching his mother take that first deep breath of haze. Between the sparkling spars of darker green, the whites of Gaspar’s eyes swirled like droplets of green blood hitting water, first dispersing, then staining the whole. The emerald green of luxin ballooned through his eyes, thickened until it was solid, and then spread. Through his cheeks, up to his hairline, then down his neck, standing out starkly when it finally filled his lighter fingernails as if they’d been painted in radiant jade.

  Gaspar started laughing. It was a low, unreasoning cackle, unrelenting. Mad. Not a pretense this time.

  Kip ran.

  He reached the funerary hill where the sentry had been, taking care to stay on the far side from the army. He had to get to Master Danavis. Master Danavis always knew what to do.

  There was no sentry on the hill now. Kip turned around in time to see Gaspar change, transform. Green luxin spilled out of his hands onto his body, covering every part of him like a shell, like an enormous suit of armor. Kip couldn’t see the soldiers or the red drafter approaching Gaspar, but he did see a fireball the size of his head streak toward the color wight, hit his chest, and burst apart, throwing flames everywhere.

  Gaspar rammed through it, flaming red luxin sticking to his green armor. He was magnificent, terrible, powerful. He ran toward the soldiers, screaming defiance, and disappeared from Kip’s view.

  Kip fled, the vermilion sun setting fire to the mists.

  Chapter 2

  Gavin Guile sleepily eyed the papers that slid under his door and wondered what Karris was punishing him for this time. His rooms occupied half of the top floor of the Chromeria, but the panoramic windows were blackened so that if he slept at all, he could sleep in. The seal on the letter pulsed so gently that Gavin couldn’t tell what color had been drafted into it. He propped himself up in bed so he could get a better look and dilated his pupils to gather as much light as possible.

  Superviolet. Oh, sonuva—

  On every side, the floor-to-ceiling blackened windows dropped into the floor, bathing the room in full-spectrum light as the morning sun was revealed, climbing the horizon over the dual islands. With his eyes dilated so far, magic flooded Gavin. It was too much to hold.

  Light exploded from him in every direction, passing through him in successive waves from superviolet down. The sub-red was last, rushing through his skin like a wave of flame. He jumped out of bed, sweating instantly. But with all the windows open, cold summer morning winds blasted through his chambers, chilling him. He yelped, hopping back into bed.

  His yelp must have been loud enough for Karris to hear it and know that her rude awakening had been successful, because he heard her unmistakable laugh. She wasn’t a superviolet, so she must have had a friend help her with her little prank. A quick shot of superviolet luxin at the room’s controls threw the windows closed and set the filters to half. Gavin extended a hand to blast his door open, then stopped. He wasn’t going to give Karris the satisfaction. Her assignment to be the White’s fetch-and-carry girl had ostensibly been intended to teach her humility and gravitas. So far that much had been a spectacular failure, though the White always played a deeper game. Still, Gavin couldn’t help grinning as he rose and swept the folded papers Karris had tucked under the door into his hand.

  He walked to his door. On a small service table just outside, he found his breakfast on a platter. It was the same every morning: two squat bricks of bread and a pale wine in a clear glass cup. The bread was made of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, unleavened. A man could live on that bread. In fact, a man was living on that bread. Just not Gavin. Indeed, the sight of it made his stomach turn. He could order a different breakfast, of course, but he never did.

  He brought it inside, setting the papers on the table next to the bread. One was odd, a plain note that didn’t look like the White’s personal stationery, nor any official hard white stationery the Chromeria used. He turned it over. The Chromeria’s message office had marked it as being received from “ST, Rekton”: Satrapy of Tyrea, town of Rekton. It sounded familiar, maybe one of those towns near Sundered Rock? But then, there had once been so many towns there. Probably someone begging an audience, though those letters were supposed to be screened out and dealt with separately.

  Still, first things first. He tore open each loaf, checking that nothing had been concealed inside it. Satisfied, he took out a bottle of the blue dye he kept in a drawer and dribbled a bit into the wine. He swirled the wine to mix it, and held the glass up against the granite blue sky of a painting he kept on the wall as his refe

  He’d done it perfectly, of course. He’d been doing this for almost six thousand mornings now. Almost sixteen years. A long time for a man only thirty-three years old. He poured the wine over the broken halves of the bread, staining it blue—and harmless. Once a week, Gavin would prepare a blue cheese or blue fruit, but it took more time.

  He picked up the note from Tyrea.

  “I’m dying, Gavin. It’s time you meet your son Kip.—Lina”

  Son? I don’t have a—

  Suddenly his throat clamped down, and his chest felt like his heart was seizing up, no matter that the chirurgeons said it wasn’t. Just relax, they said. Young and strong as a warhorse, they said. They didn’t say, Grow a pair. You’ve got lots of friends, your enemies fear you, and you have no rivals. You’re the Prism. What are you afraid of? No one had talked to him that way in years. Sometimes he wished they would.

  Orholam, the note hadn’t even been sealed.

  Gavin walked out onto his glass balcony, subconsciously checking his drafting as he did every morning. He stared at his hand, splitting sunlight into its component colors as only he could do, filling each finger in turn with a color, from below the visible spectrum to above it: sub-red, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, superviolet. Had he felt a hitch there when he drafted blue? He double-checked it, glancing briefly toward the sun.

  No, it was still easy to split light, still flawless. He released the luxin, each color sliding out and dissipating like smoke from beneath his fingernails, releasing the familiar bouquet of resinous scents.

  He turned his face to the sun, its warmth like a mother’s caress. Gavin opened his eyes and sucked in a warm, soothing red. In and out, in time with his labored breaths, willing them to slow. Then he let the red go and took in a deep icy blue. It felt like it was freezing his eyes. As ever, the blue brought clarity, peace, order. But not a plan, not with so little information. He let go of the colors. He was still fine. He still had at least five of his seven years left. Plenty of time. Five years, five great purposes.

  Well, maybe not five great purposes.

  Still, of his predecessors in the last four hundred years, aside from those who’d been assassinated or died of other causes, the rest had served for exactly seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years after becoming Prism. Gavin had made it past fourteen. So, plenty of time. No reason to think he’d be the exception. Not many, anyway.

  He picked up the second note. Cracking the White’s seal—the old crone sealed everything, though she shared the other half of this floor and Karris hand-delivered her messages. But everything had to be in its proper place, properly done. There was no mistaking that she’d risen from Blue.

  The White’s note read, “Unless you would prefer to greet the students arriving late this morning, my dear Lord Prism, please attend me on the roof.”

  Looking beyond the Chromeria’s buildings and the city, Gavin studied the merchant ships in the bay cupped in the lee of Big Jasper Island. A ragged-looking Atashian sloop was maneuvering in to dock directly at a pier.

  Greeting new students. Unbelievable. It wasn’t that he was too good to greet new students—well, actually, it was that. He, the White, and the Spectrum were supposed to balance each other. But though the Spectrum feared him the most, the reality was that the crone got her way more often than Gavin and the seven Colors combined. This morning she had to be wanting to experiment on him again, and if he wanted to avoid something more onerous like teaching he’d better get to the top of the tower.

  Gavin drafted his red hair into a tight ponytail and dressed in the clothes his room slave had laid out for him: an ivory shirt and a well-cut pair of black wool pants with an oversize gem-studded belt, boots with silverwork, and a black cloak with harsh old Ilytian runic designs embroidered in silver thread. The Prism belonged to all the satrapies, so Gavin did his best to honor the traditions of every land—even one that was mainly pirates and heretics.

  He hesitated a moment, then pulled open a drawer and drew out his brace of Ilytian pistols. They were, typical for Ilytian work, the most advanced design Gavin had ever seen. The firing mechanism was far more reliable than a wheellock—they were calling it a flintlock. Each pistol had a long blade beneath the barrel, and even a belt-flange so that when he tucked them into his belt behind his back they were held securely and at an angle so he didn’t skewer himself when he sat. The Ilytians thought of everything.

  And, of course, the pistols made the White’s Blackguards nervous. Gavin grinned.

  When he turned for the door and saw the painting again, his grin dropped.

  He walked back to the table with the blue bread. Grabbing one use-smoothened edge of the painting, he pulled. It swung open silently, revealing a narrow chute.

  Nothing menacing about the chute. Too small for a man to climb up, even if he overcame everything else. It might have been a laundry chute. Yet to Gavin it looked like the mouth of hell, the evernight itself opening wide for him. He tossed one of the bricks of bread into it, then waited. There was a thunk as the hard bread hit the first lock, a small hiss as it opened, then closed, then a smaller thunk as it hit the next lock, and a few moments later one last thunk. Each of the locks was still working. Everything was normal. Safe. There had been mistakes over the years, but no one had to die this time. No need for paranoia. He nearly snarled as he slammed the painting closed.

  Chapter 3

  Three thunks. Three hisses. Three gates between him and freedom. The chute spat a torn brick of bread at the prisoner’s face. He caught it, almost without looking. He knew it was blue, the still blue of a deep lake in early morning, when night still hoards the sky and the air dares not caress the water’s skin. Unadulterated by any other color, drafting that blue was difficult. Worse, drafting it made the prisoner feel bored, passionless, at peace, in harmony with even this place. And he needed the fire of hatred today. Today, he would escape.

  After all his years here, sometimes he couldn’t even see the color, like he had awoken to a world painted in grays. The first year had been the worst. His eyes, so accustomed to nuance, so adept at parsing every spectrum of light, had begun deceiving him. He’d hallucinated colors. He tried to draft those colors into the tools to break this prison. But imagination wasn’t enough to make magic, one needed light. Real light. He’d been a Prism, so any color would do, from those above violet to the ones below red. He’d gathered the very heat from his own body, soaked his eyes in those sub-reds, and flung that against the tedious blue walls.

  Of course, the walls were hardened against such pathetic amounts of heat. He’d drafted a blue dagger and sawn at his wrist. Where the blood dripped onto the stone floor, it was immediately leached of color. The next time, he’d cupped his own blood in his hands to try to draft red, but he couldn’t get enough color given that the only light in the cell was blue. Bleeding onto the bread hadn’t worked either. Its natural brown was always stained blue, so adding red only yielded a dark, purplish brown. Undraftable. Of course. His brother had thought of everything. But then, he always had.

  The prisoner sat next to the drain and began eating. The dungeon was shaped like a flattened ball: the walls and ceiling a perfect sphere, the floor less steep but still sloping toward the middle. The walls were lit from within, every surface emitting the same color light. The only shadow in the dungeon was the prisoner himself. There were only two holes: the chute above, which released his food and one steady rivulet of water that he had to lick for his moisture, and the drain below for his waste.

  He had no utensils, no tools except his hands and his will, always his will. With his will, he could draft anything from the blue that he wanted, though it would dissolve as soon as his will released it, leaving only dust and a faint mineral-and-resin odor.

  But today was going to be the day his vengeance began, his first day of freedom. This attempt wouldn’t fail—he refused to even think of it as an “attempt”—and there was work to be done. Things had to be done in order. He couldn’t
remember now if he had always been this way or if he’d soaked in blue for so long that the color had changed him fundamentally.

  He knelt next to the only feature of the cell that his brother hadn’t created. A single, shallow depression in the floor, a bowl. First he rubbed the bowl with his bare hands, grinding the corrosive oils from his fingertips into the stone for as long as he dared. Scar tissue didn’t produce oil, so he had to stop before he rubbed his fingers raw. He scraped two fingernails along the crease between his nose and face, two others between his ears and head, gathering more oil. Anywhere he could collect oils from his body, he did, and rubbed it into the bowl. Not that there was any discernible change, but over the years his bowl had become deep enough to cover his finger to the second joint. His jailer had bound the color-leaching hellstones into the floor in a grid. Whatever spread far enough to cross one of those lines lost all color almost instantly. But hellstone was terribly expensive. How deep did they go?

  If the grid only extended a few thumbs into the stone, his raw fingers might reach beyond it any day. Freedom wouldn’t be far behind. But if his jailer had used enough hellstone that the crosshatching lines ran a foot deep, then he’d been rubbing his fingers raw for almost six thousand days for nothing. He’d die here. Someday, his brother would come down, see the little bowl—his only mark on the world—and laugh. With that laughter echoing in his ears, he felt a small spark of anger in his breast. He blew on that spark, basked in its warmth. It was fire enough to help him move, enough to counter the soothing, debilitating blue down here.

  Finished, he urinated into the bowl. And watched.

  For a moment, filtered through the yellow of his urine, the cursed blue light was sliced with green. His breath caught. Time stretched as the green stayed green… stayed green. By Orholam, he’d done it. He’d gone deep enough. He’d broken through the hellstone!

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