The black prism, p.21
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       The Black Prism, p.21

           Brent Weeks
 

  “You’re a great favorite of artists here. Not that we have many talented ones, but the fair-skinned, exotic beauty with fiery hair still inspires artists good and bad to raptures. Even if most men wouldn’t dare believe you were the same woman—you’re usually portrayed in a wedding dress, sometimes torn—Rask doubtless owns paintings by talented artists who’d actually seen you.”

  “It wasn’t like that,” Karris said.

  “But it makes a good story.”

  “A good story?”

  “Good tragic. Good interesting. Not good happy.” Corvan cleared his throat. “I can’t believe you don’t know this.”

  “There are almost no Tyreans on the Jaspers now. And no one speaks to me of those days.”

  Corvan looked on the edge of saying something, but he held his tongue. Finally, he said, “So the question is, who would send you to our new King Garadul, knowing that he would surely recognize you, and what did they hope to achieve by delivering you into his hands?”

  The White. The White betrayed me? Why?

  Chapter 34

  It had been a long morning already. Gavin had woken painfully early to reach the coast by the dawn, and then had skimmed as soon as he’d been able to draft the sun’s first rays. Then he’d sculled to Cannon Island and made an unpleasant, claustrophobic trip through the escape tunnel, leaving him dirty, sweaty, sore, and deprived of sleep. But there was no other option than to push; not after what the color wight had told him.

  The tunnel met the Chromeria at a disused storage room in the basement, three levels underground. There was a plain closet set in the back of one of the rooms, and a hidden door in the back of that closet. Gavin grabbed a lantern from a hook, twisted the flint, and was gratified to see it light instantly. He released the luxin he’d been holding into two puddles on the floor that quickly dissolved—no need to terrify anyone he ran into—and slipped into the closet.

  The hidden door closed smoothly behind him. He opened the closet door. A hand’s breadth, then it stopped, blocked. With the light of the lantern only cutting through the little crack, he couldn’t see what the problem was. He reached through the crack into the darkness. Polished wood greeted his fingertips, smooth and straight, then more, right on top of it. Chairs.

  Well, that was the problem of a super-secret door hidden in a disused storage room, wasn’t it? Sometimes people saw a disused storage room and thought it should be used to store things.

  Sighing, Gavin set down the lamp and braced his shoulder against the door. He pushed, hard, harder. The door slid another hand’s breadth or two as the stacked chairs shifted, then stuck fast. He glanced at the lantern, drafted a green wand, and stuck a blob of red luxin to the end. He lit the red with sub-red and poked his narrow torch through the gap, holding it high. He poked his head through the gap after it.

  The entire room was packed with furniture, as if half a dozen lecture halls and dining areas had been cleared out and everything put in here. Dear Orholam. Gavin swore quietly. The only clearance was down at floor level. The only way out was to crawl between the legs of the chairs and tables.

  There was nothing for it. Unless Gavin wanted to start a fire, draft huge amounts, and obliterate everything in the room so he could simply walk out—not terribly discreet—he was going to be mopping the floor with his body. Great. He let the luxin torch disintegrate and started crawling.

  Ten minutes later, he stood. He didn’t try to brush the dust from his clothing. There wasn’t much point. He was muddy with dust, that’s how much dust there was, along with damp floors and sweat and dust he knocked off of the chairs and tables above him. He listened at the door for a full minute, heard nothing.

  Stepping into the hall lightly, he closed the door behind himself. He extinguished his lantern with a puff; the halls were brightly lit. Even three floors below the sea, the cherry glims (the red-drafting second- to fourth-year students) were expected to keep the lamps fueled with red luxin. The storeroom, wisely, was set almost at the end of one of the long hallways. Gavin ducked down to the lift at the end, mere paces away.

  The lifts had to serve the entire Chromeria, which meant they had to be serviceable by slaves or the dims, the newest students. So it was entirely mechanical. As anyone stepped into the lift, a scale would indicate how many counterweights were needed. If a drafter chose to use less counterweight, she would have to pull herself up the rope, albeit only lifting a fraction of her own weight. If she used more counterweight than her own weight, it could be difficult to stop at the correct floor. A central lift handled all the heavier loads and moved entire classes, while these side lifts took smaller loads. Additionally, each lift bay had numerous slots and ropes so that ambassadors wouldn’t have to wait while dozens of dims made their way to class.

  Gavin grabbed the second to the last rope. Secrecy meant he couldn’t take the last one, though if someone saw and recognized him, they would wonder why he wasn’t taking the lift reserved for a man of his rank, so it was probably a wash as to which way was more discreet. He drafted a brake, threw the lever to double his own weight, and kicked the release.

  He flew upward at great speed. Though he started deep beneath the earth, the lifts were brightly lit. At the top of each chute were holes to the outside, and mounted there were highly polished mirrors from Atash that sent natural light down the chutes for as long as the sun was visible to that chute each day. Adjusting the mirrors every few minutes was another fun job for the dims, and every evening they would have to crank all the counterweights back into place. Gavin could remember doing that himself. As memories went, it wasn’t a terribly pleasant one.

  The lift didn’t go all the way to his chamber near the top of the Chromeria, of course. That would be far too convenient—or, as the Blackguards preferred to say, insecure. No reason to give assassins a direct path to the Prism or anyone else important. Instead, after whizzing upward at high speed halfway up the Chromeria, zipping past students and magisters and servants and slaves so fast that they had no chance to see who was in such a hurry, Gavin threw the brake.

  He stopped at the top of the chute and stepped out in front of the guard station that protected this floor. There were four men here, guards, not Blackguards, all looking up from their dice guiltily. Apparently they hadn’t noticed the whizzing rope until too late. Their mouths hung open at the sight of him, Gavin Guile himself, sweaty, dirty, and here.

  “Tell you what,” Gavin said, tucking the brake into his belt. “You keep this quiet and I will too.” He stared significantly at their dice and the coins on their table. Guarding the lift at this high a floor had to be boring, but Luxlord Black wouldn’t be pleased to learn that his soldiers were gambling on duty.

  Four heads bobbed as one. Gavin stepped into the next lift, which was right next to the one he’d exited, and got in his accustomed position. This time, he chose a more human speed.

  There were two Blackguards guarding the lift at his level, and these men weren’t dicing. They were barely even blinking. Both had their spears in hand, knees lightly bent, spectacles on.

  When the Blackguards were on duty, they were on duty.

  The men snapped salutes and slapped their spears crisply to their shoulders, swiveling smoothly back into their spots. Gavin walked past and slipped into his room. A bit of superviolet dropped all the shades, giving him light. He pulled a summons chain by his desk and walked over to his bathtub. Today was going to involve a lot of diplomacy, but most importantly, it was going to involve his brother, and there was no way he could appear before Dazen disheveled. It might be interpreted as weakness. He opened the tap, tested the water, and heated it with sub-red.

  He was starting to take off his clothes when the door opened and his room slave Marissia walked in. She’d been captured during the war between Ruthgar and the Blood Foresters. Like most of her people, she was red-haired and freckled, eyes like jade. Karris had Blood Forester blood. Gavin had never thought it a coincidence that his room slave was a young, pretty g
irl from the Blood Forest. The White had hoped, doubtless, to dull some of his appetites that had caused so much trouble before the war. The girl had even been a virgin when she came to serve him ten years ago, which meant that the Ruthgari who’d captured her had had more of a taste for gold than flesh.

  Marissia helped him strip off his filthy clothes and piled them to take them for laundering. Then Gavin stepped in the bath. “I have messages for you,” she said. “Are you ready to take them?”

  Gavin held a hand out, telling her to wait, then sighed as he slipped into the hot water. Messages, demands, barely a minute to think.

  “Call a meeting of the full Spectrum. When do you think is the earliest possible, Marissia?”

  Marissia had already loosened the laces of her dress, and now she pulled it and her shift over her head, folding them right side out next to the tub. If there was one skill Marissia hadn’t mastered in her ten years serving Gavin, it was pretending that the rest of the world ceased to exist when there was the possibility of making love with him. She would bathe with Gavin, she would make love with Gavin if he wanted to, but she wouldn’t let her hair get wet, and afterward she would pick up her perfectly folded dress, slip it on in a moment, and be on to her next duty. Marissia was many excellent things, but “abandoned to the moment” wasn’t one of them.

  “Luxlords Blue and Yellow are over on Big Jasper today,” she said, picking up soap and a washcloth. “Yellow has family visiting and is hiding out in one of the taverns. Black is working on his ledger and swearing at anyone within a league, and Red is likely in the kitchens. So far as I know, the others are in their normal places on Little Jasper.”

  For as pretty as she was—and how the White had obviously chosen her because she looked like Karris—the most surprising thing about Marissia was how competent she was. She knew everything, and carried everything she knew right at her fingertips. Gavin had taken great care to win her full loyalty, knowing there was no way he could keep his prisoner’s existence secret from his room slave—not forever—and knowing full well that she’d been sent to spy on him by the White.

  Gavin’s options had been simple: to let a succession of room slaves parade through his chambers, getting rid of each quickly, hoping that they didn’t have enough time to discover his secret, or win one’s loyalty completely. Karris didn’t like Marissia, but she ignored her. It would have been ten times worse if Gavin had a new room slave every month—and doing so would doubtless also have meant that over time he was allowing a spy for every noble family to ransack his room and report the most intimate details about him to all the satrapies.

  Besides, he needed someone to throw bread down the chute when he was gone.

  Still, the White had shown impeccable taste in choosing Marissia. Though her body was nearly as familiar as his own after ten years, it was still a joy to see her lean curves. She slid into the tub behind him, holding soap and a washcloth, and began washing his back and shoulders.

  “Tonight, then, after dinner. Let the White know I would like to see her in an hour.”

  “Yes, Lord Prism. Is there anything else before I give you the messages?”

  “Go ahead.”

  “Your father wishes to speak with you.”

  Gavin gritted his teeth. “He’ll have to wait.” He lifted an arm as Marissia scrubbed his armpit.

  “And the White wishes to remind you that you promised to teach that cohort of superviolets when you returned.”

  “Oh, hell.” How’d she even know he was back?

  “Would you like me to wash your hair, Lord Prism?”

  Gavin wanted nothing more than to enjoy Marissia and then relax in a hot bath until evening, but there was something he had to do before he spoke with the White, before he met with the whole Spectrum, and definitely before he spoke with his father.

  “No time,” he said, trying to shut off the rising feeling of panic, ignoring the tightness in his chest at the prospect of what he had to do.

  She soaped his chest, her body warm and slippery against his back. Soft, comforting. It was almost enough to relax him. She kissed the spot on the back of his neck that always made him shiver, and trailed her fingernails down his soapy chest, over his stomach, lower. She kissed his neck again, hesitated. A question in that pause.

  He made a plaintive sound. “No, no time for that either.” How well did Marissia know him? Often when there was no time for meetings or other duties, there was still time for that.

  Often? Almost always.

  She squeezed him under the water, hesitated for a moment more, as if to say, Your lips say no, but someone else says yes, please! But then she kissed his neck again, a peck, and began scrubbing the soap off his body. “I’ve missed you greatly, Lord Prism,” she said quietly. She finished and stepped out of the bath. “I’ll lay your clothes out,” she said, toweling off briefly, then wrapping the towel around her waist, walking to a closet to select clothes for him.

  He watched her appreciatively, then shook himself.

  I’m not going to be able to lace my pants if I keep this up.

  After she laid out his clothes, she came back to the bath as Gavin stood, but he waved her off, he could towel himself dry today. Marissia dried and dressed herself in about the time it took Gavin to pat his chest dry. Then she went out.

  After getting dressed, Gavin opened the little service closet, carefully lifted the stacked, folded linens from the shelves, and walked them over to another closet where he stacked everything carefully. He then lifted out the shelves themselves and slid them into a nook on the other side of the room. The result was an open space in a closet that barely came up to his chest. The process was slow, but the point was that no one ever discover his secret. If someone came while he was gone, the room must simply look empty. If they searched the room, they should find nothing that appeared out of the ordinary. That was worth extra time and inconvenience.

  Gavin drafted a blue-green board fit to his feet, shoulder width, with a hole in the center. Then, tucking a mag torch into his belt and clutching the board in one hand, he stooped and stepped into the closet. He closed the door behind him. The floor beneath his feet clicked. In order to keep it secret, he’d designed the floor not to open unless the door was shut. Hunched, he found the hook and pulled it up, threaded it through the hole in the board, and wrapped it around his belt. He dropped the board and slid his feet into the slots on it. His design was based on the tower’s lifts, but simplified because he had no one to maintain it, and no space for counterweights. It was basically ropes into the darkness and a pulley at the top.

  Now the terrifying part. Gavin edged the floor open farther—and dropped like a stone into the darkness.

  The pulley whizzed, but its high-pitched protests disappeared within moments as Gavin fell. There was no resistance at all. He fell faster, faster. He drew the blue mag torch and broke it against his leg. The lift shaft, which he had cut himself into the Chromeria’s heart, was barely a pace and a half wide. There was nothing to be seen except smooth cut stone and the rope, one side whizzing up and the other side speeding down with Gavin.

  He reached to the rope brake at his belt, but his movement tilted the board strapped to his feet, making one side touch a wall. The friction yanked that side upward, slamming him into the rock on the other side. The brake went tumbling from his fingers—and landed on his board. He snatched for it. Missed. He drew his knees up, his back skidding along the smooth wall, and grabbed the brake.

  As he stood back up slowly, he grabbed the hook, attached the board to the brake, and threw the brake onto the whizzing lines. He squeezed the brake, all too aware that if he didn’t brake quickly he might hit the bottom of the shaft at incredible speed, but if he braked too quickly he could break either the board or his own legs.

  His legs trembling from the strain of trying to remain standing as he rapidly decelerated, he passed five broad white lines painted on all walls of the shaft. It was the warning that he was almost to the bottom. A mo
ment later, he passed four broad white lines. Still too fast. Three. Two.

  Okay, not too bad. One.

  He hit the ground with a surprisingly hard thump. His natural reaction was to try to roll with the impact—which didn’t work well, given that there wasn’t any slack in the rope. He flopped over onto his back and rolled on top of the mag torch. It burned through his shirt instantly.

  Gavin jumped to his feet with a yelp. Mercifully, the shirt didn’t catch fire. He examined the angry red burn on his ribs. Very painful, but not very serious. He unhooked himself from the lift.

  The chamber at the bottom of the lift was only four paces square. Gavin saw none of it. In the blue light of the mag torch, he walked to one blue wall. At his touch, it became translucent, but there was nothing behind it. Not yet. Slowly, ever so slowly, the chamber opposite lifted from its resting place and spun into position.

  This was Gavin’s greatest work. He’d constructed it in one furious month, sinking everything he knew into it. But whenever he called the blue chamber forth, his heart seized. And it did so today. The slow speed of the blue chamber’s lift and rotation was necessary so that the man inside wouldn’t even know he was moving.

  On the other hand, it gave Gavin five minutes with nothing to do but wait. It would be empty today. Dear Orholam. Gavin’s chest tightened. It was hard to breathe. The chamber was too small. There was no air. Breathe, Gavin, breathe. Paint that nonchalance on thick.

  Finally, the translucence revealed the smooth globe of the dungeon’s interior. Opposite Gavin stood a man who looked much like himself, though thinner, less muscular, dirtier, and with longer hair.

  “Hello, brother,” Gavin said.

  Chapter 35

  “Now this,” Ironfist said, “is how you should be introduced to the Chromeria. High tide and dawn.” He’d arrived before dawn, waking Kip to the bewildered feeling of not knowing if it was morning or night. Kip had only slowly been able to get his bearings as the commander hustled him through the less-crowded streets, finally cresting this hill. “They call it the Glass Lily,” Ironfist said. “A rather softer name than it deserves, but then steel isn’t transparent, is it?”

 

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