The black prism, p.22
The Black Prism, p.22Brent Weeks
As they crested the hill, on first glance, the Chromeria did look something like a flower. Six towers in a hexagon surrounded one central tower. Because Little Jasper rose in altitude from south to north, the towers farther away from Kip rose higher, though all were the same height from base to tip. And each tower was completely transparent on its south side. Completing the odd flower imagery was the bridge, if it could be called a bridge.
The bridge crossing the ocean between Big Jasper and Little Jasper was green, like a flower’s stem, heading right to the flaring towers and the bulbous walls that actually hung past vertical. But not only was the bridge green, it wasn’t supported by anything. It lay at the surface of the water. It wasn’t floating, because it didn’t move with the waves, and the sea was choppy on one side of it and much calmer on the other.
“Why green?” Kip asked, trying to kick his brain into working. Wasn’t green flexible?
“It’s blue reinforced with yellow. It only looks green,” Ironfist said, resuming his walk toward the bridge. Kip hurried to keep up, having difficulty gawking and walking at the same time, all tiredness fled.
“Yellow?” Kip asked. “How does that work? The Pr—erm, my uncle hasn’t told me anything about yellow.”
Ironfist looked at Kip, his gaze heavy as a sledge. He didn’t answer, not even when Kip shut up and walked quietly alongside him, looking expectantly up at the big man but not bothering him.
Finally, Ironfist glanced at Kip. “Do I look like a magister to you?”
“Just figured that you’re not much good as a fighter without your blue spectacles,” Kip said. Stop, you moron! Don’t—“So we might as well put you to some use.”
The Blackguard commander’s head snapped toward Kip. Kip swallowed. You deserve the crushed skull you’re about to get, Kip. You’re begging for it.
Then a small, unwilling smile crept over the commander’s face. He guffawed. “When Orholam hands out the brains, the folks at the front of that line have to go to the back of the common sense line, huh?”
“What?” Kip asked. “Oh.”
He waited patiently, thinking that his joke would buy him an answer about yellow luxin, but Ironfist ignored him. The perverse little grin on his face told Kip that he knew Kip was waiting for an answer and was only holding his tongue because he didn’t want to start another topic. But Ironfist wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of winning an answer. Pudgy force, meet immovable mass.
Within minutes, though, they had made their way onto the Lily’s Stem—or rather, into it—and Kip forgot whatever it was that he had asked. The bridge was fully enclosed, albeit with blue luxin so thin it was almost as colorless as glass. But beneath their feet, the bridge actually glowed. Kip shot a look at Ironfist.
“No matter how often you look at me, I’m still not going to be a magister,” the big man said.
“How about a guide?”
“A polite host?”
A jackass? Kip’s mouth actually opened to say it when he noticed again how thickly muscular Ironfist’s arms were. He closed his open mouth and scowled.
“You were going to say something?” Ironfist asked.
“Your name,” Kip said. “Is that common, among Parians?”
“Ironfist? Far as I know, I’m the only one.”
“That isn’t what I—” Oh, he was teasing.
Ironfist smirked. “You mean to take a name that describes us? Very common. Some use our old tongue, but the coastal folk—my people—use words that outsiders can understand. But the Ilytians do it too. To a lesser extent, the whole Chromeria does it. Gavin Guile is almost never called Emperor Guile or Prism Guile. He’s just the Prism. Orea Pullawr is just the White. A lot of people think that meaningless names are the true puzzle.”
“Meaningless names. You mean like Kip?”
Ironfist cocked an eyebrow. Shrugged.
Thanks a lot.
The crowds heading to Little Jasper for the day didn’t even seem to notice the wonder beneath their feet. The bridge was perhaps twenty paces wide and three hundred long from shore to shore. The surface was lightly textured, but that barely interfered with its transparency, aside from some dirt. Kip could see the water right under his feet, not even a foot away, swelling up with every wave and gapping in between them. They were on the side of the bridge with heavy seas, too—apparently here traffic traveled on the right, unlike at home, so waves crashed into the luxin right next to Kip. After having been pulled in and pounded by those same waves, it made him more than a little nervous. No one else seemed to even notice it.
Then, at about the time Kip and Ironfist reached the middle of the bridge, Kip saw a monster wave coming in. Just in time to meet the bridge, trough met trough, peak met peak, and the wave loomed high—its height easily half again as tall as the bridge. Kip braced himself and took a deep breath.
He didn’t notice he’d clamped his eyes shut until he heard Ironfist’s quiet chuckle. He opened his eyes as the last of the water sluiced off the outside of the tube, harmlessly. The bridge hadn’t groaned, hadn’t shuddered, hadn’t even acknowledged the power of the wave that had just fully passed over it.
A few passersby grinned knowingly. Apparently this was the kind of joke that didn’t get old.
“Is this why—” Kip stumbled as he reminded himself to use the correct term. “Is this why my uncle wanted me to come this way?”
“Part of the reason, I’m sure. Anytime we have to deal with a recalcitrant king or satrap or queen or satrapah or pirate lord, we make sure they come across at high tide. It’s a good little reminder of whom they’re dealing with.”
The next wave crashed over the bridge as well, and soon even the wave troughs were higher than the bottom of the bridge. By the time Kip and Ironfist stepped off the bridge, it was half submerged in the sea. Unbelievable. Kip hadn’t grown up on the sea, but even he knew that the tide coming in so hard and high and fast was unusual. It made him wonder if there was some magic to that too. And through it all, the bridge didn’t even shudder. Some reminder.
The bridge curved up before it spilled them onto the shore, of course, but when it did, Kip was finally able to start paying attention to the Chromeria.
The first two towers, to the right and left as one stepped onto Little Jasper, were set narrower than the back two towers, either to help strengthen the wall near the huge gate where it was most likely to be attacked or—
Oh. It’s all about the light.
As soon as Kip realized that, everything else made sense. Everything about the Chromeria was designed to maximize exposure to sunlight. Building on a slope meant that more sun could reach the lower levels of the northerly towers and the yard. Having the first two towers of the hexagon set narrower meant that they didn’t cast shadows on the back towers. The “glass” northern walls and the north sides of each of the towers meant that every north-facing room got as much sunlight as they could use, while the southern rooms had opaque walls more amenable to privacy and comfort. Kip imagined that those with a stifling fear of heights might not do well in some of the Chromeria’s rooms—minimizing its footprint, and adding to the flaring lily shape, all the towers except the central one leaned out. It was no accident either; despite the lean, the floors were all level. Perhaps it was that the Chromeria needed more space than was available on the island, so the only way to have more space was to make the towers extend beyond the island. Perhaps it was simply because they could.
Either for support or convenience, there was a lattice of translucent walkways between each tower and its adjacent ones. Encircling the central tower, halfway up, a clear walkway connected to the tower at two points and then radiated out to each of the other towers in turn. Kip could see that those enclosed walkways were filled with people making their way between towers. Doubtless it was much faster if you had business high in each tower to be able to travel directly rather than walk all the
“Each color has its own tower,” Ironfist said.
“Thought you weren’t a guide,” Kip said before he could stop himself. He blinked. If he didn’t dislike pain so much, he would have physically bit his tongue to give himself a reminder.
Ironfist simply looked at him.
“Sorry,” Kip squeaked. He cleared his throat and said, deeper, “I mean, sorry.”
Ironfist still looked at him flatly.
“Let me guess,” Kip said, squirming, wanting to deflect Ironfist’s intense gaze. He pointed to the tower to the left of the gate they were approaching, then in a sunwise circle. “Sub-red, red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.” Blue was the last one, just to the right of the gate.
“Good guess,” Ironfist said reluctantly.
“So why do the superviolets get bent over the fence?” Kip asked.
“Excuse me?” Ironfist’s voice pitched higher.
“You know,” Kip said. What?
Ironfist’s right eyebrow climbed.
“Like for a whipping.”
“That expression doesn’t mean what you think it means,” Ironfist said.
Kip opened his mouth to ask what it did mean then, but could tell the commander wasn’t going to tell him.
“There are never enough superviolets to fill an entire tower, and superviolets can draft best if they are higher up. The quality of light there is better for their work, plus a good majority of their work is directly for the White. So they inhabit the Prism’s Tower, close to the top.”
They walked to the great gates with hundreds of other people who were coming, to work or conduct business. The gates were covered with beaten gold, but were open, so Kip only caught a glimpse of the scene and figures depicted on them. The walls, however, were a wonder themselves. It became obvious that blue luxin was their main element, but the luxin itself could be lighter or darker, and it apparently had to be mixed with yellow. For strength? That had to be it, given that the entire bridge was made of that mix. But each wall of the hexagon was different. There were patterns of blue and yellow and green throughout, and that wasn’t even including the towers. While the north side of each tower was as close to perfectly transparent as possible for maximum sun exposure, the rest was constructed to mark the buildings for their owners, so that even the untrained could tell which building belonged to whom. And, apparently, to show off.
Every surface of the blue tower was cut like a giant sapphire so that the entire tower gleamed off a thousand surfaces no matter what angle you saw it from. The sub-red tower, over its base of interwoven blue and yellow and green, seemed to burn. Illusory flames licked up the luxin for ten and twenty feet and occasionally threw sparks and flames even higher. All the rest of the tower seemed to ripple, like the air over a fire.
Kip stumbled as they entered the central yard. He looked at his feet. Great grooves cut the ground in a broad arc, connecting the gates. But the gates Kip had passed didn’t slide shut, they just shut on hinges, like normal doors. He looked at Ironfist, confused.
“Glass flower,” Ironfist said.
“What do flowers do?”
Look pretty? “Uh…”
Ironfist looked pleased to have stumped him. “With regards to the sun.”
“And how would that work with a group of buildings?”
Kip thought about it, and gave up.
“It wouldn’t,” Ironfist said.
“Do you ever answer questions straight?” Kip asked.
“Only to my superiors.” Which was, Kip realized, a straight answer. He wrinkled his nose, too intimidated by Ironfist to point that out, but the twitch at the corner of the big man’s mouth told him he knew. “Flowers follow the sun from morning to night,” Ironfist said, perhaps by way of apology.
Kip looked at the tracks again as he and Ironfist approached the central building. Before the road came to the gate, it flared wide—so wide that most of it simply abutted the wall in a wide crescent. “You mean the whole thing turns?” It was the only thing that made sense, Kip realized. If the buildings were all transparent on the north side, they would only take full advantage of the sunlight in the middle of the day, but if the whole compound turned, they would get maximum light from dawn until dusk. But all of it? Impossible!
“Here we are,” Ironfist said.
Kip swiveled his head back to the front as they stopped in front of a huge silvery gate. It was as plain as everything else here was ornate.
Two guards on either side of the gate, dressed in full mirror armor, each wearing a sword and holding a matchlock musket nearly as tall as he was. “Commander Ironfist,” they said in greeting.
“Finally,” Ironfist said, pushing Kip inside. “You are about to meet the Thresher.”
Meetings with Dazen were always a practice in deception.
Gavin’s tightened chest didn’t ease at the sight of his brother. He should have killed him years ago. How simple that would have been. How simple it still could be. All he needed to do was stop dropping bread down the chute. Just like that, his problem would go away. He thought of it every morning, after every sleepless night. But this was his brother. He hadn’t killed him in the heat of battle, how could he kill him in cold blood?
Seven years, seven purposes.
Three times now, he’d put “Tell Karris Everything” on the list. Not just about loving her. About this. That Dazen wasn’t dead, that he was here. That so much was built on lies. She deserved to know; she could never know. Because if she knew, it might bring them reconciliation and happiness together—or it might bring a new war to consume the Seven Satrapies.
“Hello, brother,” Gavin said again. The air was cool on his skin, the scent of resin and stone inescapable. He braced himself for the response. His brother, after all, was a Guile too. And unlike Gavin, he had nothing else to think of except what he would say to Gavin the next time he came to visit. That, of course, and plot to escape. After sixteen years, most men would have given up, but not a Guile. That was their legacy: absolute, unreasoning faith in their supremacy over other men. Thank you, father.
“What do you want?” Dazen asked, his voice rough from disuse.
“Did you know that during the war, I fathered a bastard? I just found out about a month ago. As big of a surprise to me as to anyone, but all sorts of things happen during war, don’t they? Karris was furious, of course. She wouldn’t share my bed for three weeks, but, well… making up with Karris has always been so good that I almost want to fight with her.” He looked up and left and smiled for an instant, as if at a private memory.
It was important to layer the lies with a Guile. In Gavin’s narrative to his brother over the years, he had established an alternate life. He and Karris were married, but had no children—a nagging heartache, and a source of conflict with Andross Guile, who wanted Gavin to put Karris aside and find a woman who could produce heirs. He leaked those details slowly, grudgingly, making his brother work to uncover them. Then, every time, Gavin could leak more information to see if his brother looked either confused by the lies or contemptuous of them.
Dazen had a nasty smile on his face. “So who was it? Do you even know her name? Did she have proof?”
He was fishing, hoping Gavin would give him something for nothing. And he would suspect Gavin if Gavin gave it to him. But Gavin went ahead. “His face is proof enough. He’s the very image of Sevastian.”
Dazen’s face paled. “Don’t you bring Sevastian into your lies, you monster, don’t you dare.”
“We’ve adopted the boy. His name is Kip. Good kid. Smart. Talented. A bit awkward, but he’ll grow.”
“I don’t believe you.” Dazen looke
Gavin shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. “Lina.”
“You lie!” Dazen snarled and slapped a hand against the blue luxin separating them. “Karris would never take that harlot’s bastard!” It was real fury, after sixteen years bathing in placid blue light, something deep and hot and too instant to be false.
Which told Gavin three things. But some purposes are best achieved by misdirection. “She had a rosewood box,” he said, “about this long. Do you know what was in it?”
The expression on Dazen’s face told Gavin he’d made a mistake. Head pulled back, stunned, then confusion, hope, and finally laughter. There was genuine joy. Dazen kept laughing, shaking his head, prolonging the laugh, now, rubbing it in. He leaned against the blue luxin between them, but naturally, confident. “Here’s what bothers me more than everything else,” Dazen said. “More than your betrayal. More than your murders. More than the cruelty of imprisoning me rather than just killing me. More than you stealing Karris. More than all the rest of it together. How is it that no one has noticed?”
“We’re not doing this again, dead man,” Gavin said. “You don’t want to trade, fine. I’ll be going.”
“This is my trade. Let me hear you say it, and I’ll tell you all about the dagger.”
Dagger? Dazen had dropped that tidbit deliberately. Oh, shit. Gavin had overlooked something. His chest tightened, throat clamped shut. It was hard to breathe, harder still to keep his face smooth.
There was no one here. No one who could overhear if he said it aloud. It wasn’t new information. If he could get new information for old, it wasn’t a loss. But it felt like one.
Gavin moistened his lips. “My name is Dazen Guile, and I stole your life.”
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes