The black prism, p.23
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       The Black Prism, p.23

           Brent Weeks

  “How’d you do it, Dazen? How did no one notice?”

  I took your clothes and strode out of the flames at Sundered Rock. My face was swollen from our fight. I’d already given myself your scar and cut my hair like yours. I just started giving orders, and your people became mine. “I just acted like a selfish asshole, and everyone assumed I was you,” he said, feigning nonchalance.

  The prisoner laughed, ignoring the last part. “Well, it’s a beginning. Feels good, doesn’t it? They say confession is good for the soul.”

  Dazen—Gavin!—snarled, “Now… about that dagger.”

  “It’s my vengeance, little brother,” the prisoner said. “It is the sweet song of victory,” the prisoner said. “It is the sting in the night. Dryness in your bones. Sleeplessness and terrors. It is your death and my freedom, Dazen. It is the end of all your lies.”

  “And apparently I’ve only heard the beginning of yours,” Gavin said, sneering. His brother was lying. Had to be. He was just trying to make Gavin worry. He was chained, not witless. Confined, not toothless.

  The real Gavin laughed. “No, you see, the beauty of it is that I don’t have to lie. What are you going to do, little brother? You don’t have the spine to starve me. No, you’ll just watch it coming. Death will draw his sword and you will stand and do nothing. It’s always been your way.” He laughed again. “I have nothing more to say to you. Begone.”

  Dazen trembled. Every word his brother said touched some deeper well. The time Karris’s elder brother Rodin had sworn to beat Dazen, and Dazen had stood still, waiting, not really believing Rodin would do it until it was too late. The terrible dreams Dazen had had as a child, and for which the elder Gavin had mocked him. Even being dismissed, as Dazen had always hated. Orholam damn him, Gavin had always known the cracks in his armor. Dazen shook his head.

  No, he was Gavin now. The mask had to be total, even in his own thoughts. At all times. Dazen was another life. “Dazen” was the wretch on the other side of the luxin now. Dazen was the weak bastard trying to anger him so that Gavin would kill him. That’s all this was. The prisoner was terrified, weak. He was a shell. He was trying to provoke Gavin to kill him because he couldn’t summon the courage to suicide. That was all.

  The man Gavin had once been would have killed the prisoner and been done with it. In the war, Dazen had become ruthless. Dazen loved the clash of arms, the splash of blood. Dazen loved his mastery over other men. Dazen would crush those who rose against him. Now, as Gavin, he wouldn’t be pulled back to that. He wouldn’t give his brother the satisfaction. “Well,” Gavin said. “It was a pleasure as always, but it’s getting late”—of course, it was barely noon, but he liked making the real Gavin wonder just how disoriented he was down here—“and Karris is eager tonight. She made me promise not to keep her waiting.” That’s for cheating on her and leaving me with the mess, you bastard. “So a good evening to you, Dazen.”

  The prisoner said, “Your lies are failing already, Dazen. You just keep wondering who already knows, and how they’re plotting against you. Sweet dreams.”

  “There are worse things than waking from a nightmare to find yourself in the arms of the woman you love. Say, waking in a cell. Sweet dreams to you too, brother.” Gavin touched the glass and it went dark, and once more the cell began its slow, slow rotation into the earth.

  Gavin leaned against the cold wall, trying to calm his racing heart. It wasn’t a loss; he’d learned some things from his brother. First, he had indeed been cheating on Karris. Kip was Gavin’s bastard. Second, Gavin had known Kip’s mother—and she wasn’t a prostitute. If she had been, he would have said, “Karris would never take a harlot’s bastard.” Instead, he’d said, “That harlot’s bastard,” which meant he intended the word as a slur, not a description. Third—unless he was far, far smarter than Gavin gave him credit for, which was possible—the real Gavin still wasn’t getting information from the outside.

  That was why Gavin had put all of this lies all in the past tense: Kip’s discovery. A month of not sharing a bed with Karris, decisions already made about raising Kip. If someone were passing him news, the prisoner would be confused by the chronological disparity—which, because it didn’t seem to serve a purpose, he wouldn’t expect to be a lie. Gavin didn’t expect his brother to voice his confusion, of course, but he was hoping to see it in his eyes. There had been none.

  So Dazen wasn’t getting information from the outside, which meant he wasn’t plotting with this “Color Prince,” whoever the hell that was. So the Color Prince was merely using a retelling of the Prisms’ War to agitate dissent. All the world believed Gavin had won, and the Color Prince didn’t like how things had turned out, so he was pretending to be in league with the losing brother—whom he had no idea was actually alive. This Color Prince was a liar and an opportunist then, not a zealot who knew the truth.

  Which meant there was only one place the Color Prince could be: Tyrea. Either King Garadul was the Color Prince himself, or the two were connected.

  Thank you, brother. Very helpful. And you used to be better at lying than I was.

  But after the prison finally settled into place, he checked and double-checked all his chromaturgy. Nothing was out of place. And yet, even as he ascended up the shaft and out of the evernight he’d created down here for his brother, he trembled. He was as trapped as Gavin was.

  I could just stop feeding him. I wouldn’t even have to do anything. I could just take a vacation, tell Marissia not to drop the dyed bread down the chute while I’m gone. He’d simply… die.

  He remembered when they’d been children and Dazen had climbed the lemon tree to prove he could do everything his older brother could—and fallen. They thought he’d broken his ankle. Gavin had carried him all the way home. A small thing, for an adult, but Gavin had been reduced to tears by the effort. But he refused to give up. His little brother had never forgotten it.

  And now the little brother is going to kill that man in cold blood, without even having the courage to face him as he did it?

  Enough. All the world knows your brother is dead. You are all they know. Besides, you need your wits about you. You have to tell the Spectrum you started a war. And then you need to convince them to fight it your way.

  I do have a chance. Just as long as the White’s in a good mood.


  Oh, Gavin Guile, sometimes you do play a deep game, don’t you? He grinned to himself. Seven years, seven goals. One impossible prize. A small failure could serve his greatest success.

  Gavin made it back to his room and was putting everything back in place to disguise the door in the closet again when there was a sharp rap at the door. He threw the closet closed as the White opened the door.

  “Good to see you, Lord Prism!” she said.

  Gavin was painfully aware of the mess in front of him and the burn on the back of his shirt—a burn he had no good way to explain if she saw it. “And you, High Mistress,” he said, smiling. “Just the person I wanted to talk to, if we could meet in a few moments, perhaps in your chambers?”

  Orea Pullawr looked at him sharply. “I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait. There’s a class waiting for you. A class you promised me you’d teach.” Her nose twitched. “Did you burn something in here?”

  “Um, yes?” Gavin said. It came out as a question. Damn it.

  “ ‘Um, yes?’ ”

  Gavin cleared his throat. “Yes.”

  She waited.

  He said nothing more.

  “Very well, then. Be like that. I thought you left to take care of that color wight.”

  Ah, she was angry because she thought he’d neglected a mission whose abandonment might mean people dying. And she would have been sure, it being a blue, that he would go immediately. And she didn’t know why he’d summoned the Spectrum. The White didn’t like to be left in the dark. “Consider it taken care of,” Gavin said. Which she would interpret to be him blowing her off, but he didn’t know how to not t
ell her about the skimmer if he was fully honest.

  After showing it to the boy and Karris, it was a secret he couldn’t expect to keep much longer, but that would be a big conversation, and he wasn’t ready for it yet.

  She lifted her eyebrows, like, You’re going to be dismissive, to me?

  A thought hit him. “The class is superviolets?”

  The White nodded, suspicious.

  “There’s a girl from Tyrea in that class, isn’t there? Alivia?”

  “Aliviana Danavis, from Rekton.”

  So he’d remembered correctly. A girl from Kip’s town. Perfect.

  He hesitated. Kip had said Corvan was there, but…“No relation, surely?”

  “Actually, she’s General Danavis’s daughter.”

  Gavin let the shock show as dull surprise, like he’d just heard about some minor tragedy on the other side of the world. He’d heard the girl’s surname was Danavis before, but he’d assumed it was some distant relation, if any. Corvan’s own daughter? And why had Corvan been living in the same town as Gavin’s bastard? Coincidence? If so, that was a heavy coincidence.

  Regardless, it required Gavin’s attention, right away. “Huh. You’re right, I need to go teach that class. It’s a holy responsibility.” Juggling, always juggling.

  “I always distrust you when you get dutiful,” the White said.

  He smiled, blandly innocent.

  Chapter 37

  It seemed to Kip that the entire first floor of the Prism’s Tower was a jungle of benches, desks, signs, queues, and clerks. Obviously, the whole business of the Chromeria passed through this room. There were queues for traders seeking contracts for food, queues for traders delivering contracted food, the same for every other trade good Kip could imagine, queues for redress of grievances caused by Chromeria residents, queues for laborers seeking work, queues for adjudicating fee disputes on Big Jasper. There were even queues for nobles—although there were many more clerks staffing that one than any of the others. The room had a busy hum, but despite the crowd, it was obvious that the Chromeria ran like a well-oiled mill. The people were impatient but not angry, bored but not surly.

  Commander Ironfist led Kip to a desk with a single clerk, and no queue at all. “All the rest of this year’s darks were admitted weeks ago.”

  “Darks?” Kip asked.

  “That’s what people like you are called. Unofficially. Supplicants, officially: you want to be part of the Chromeria, but you aren’t yet. So you’re a dark. Darks, dims, glims, gleams, beams. But you don’t need to remember any of that right now.”

  Kip opened his mouth, shut it. Ironfist said nothing until they reached the desk. The clerk, obviously daydreaming, sat bolt upright when he noticed Commander Ironfist.

  “Yes, Commander? How may I assist you?”

  “I have a supplicant for immediate testing.”

  “Immediate as in…”


  The clerk’s throat bobbed. “Yes, Commander. Supplicant’s name?”

  “Kip. Kip Guile,” Ironfist said.

  The clerk grabbed his quill, began writing, got halfway, froze. “Guile as in…?”

  “As in, no one needs to hear it from you. Is that a problem?” Ironfist asked.

  “No, sir. I’ll just go talk to my superiors. You could go ahead up to the testing room. I’m sure the testers will be along presently.” With a quick bob of his head, the clerk got up and ran to a back office.

  “I understand the rest, but what’s a glim?” Kip ask as they climbed the stairs together. He trod on his sagging pant leg, which had fallen lower as he climbed the stairs, and he almost pitched forward on his face. He cleared his throat and hiked up his pants. Life would be so much easier if he had a waist.

  “A glimmer,” Ironfist said.

  Ah, dark, dim, glimmer, gleam, beam. A light progression, then.

  Ironfist said, “Now quiet. This is supposed to be solemn. You go into the room and don’t say anything until your testing is finished. Got it?”

  Kip almost said yes, then nodded instead. This might be harder than he had thought. Ironfist gestured to the door, and Kip walked in. Ironfist closed the door behind him.

  The room was utterly plain. One wall curved slightly inward, so Kip guessed that was the outer wall of the tower. Other than that irregularity, the room was a square, ten paces wide, all white stone with a single wood table and a single wood chair. The room was lit by a strange white crystal set into the wall, the same kind Kip had seen in all the halls and even, now that he thought of it, in the great room downstairs with all the queues. Kip flopped into the chair. It had been an exhausting week. Had it only been yesterday that he’d been skimming across the waves, that he’d tried to drown, tried to sail? Had it only been a few days since… No, Kip wasn’t going to think about that. Too jagged. Too heavy. He’d be blubbering again if he wasn’t careful.

  He’d been waiting for several hours when he heard the muffled exchange of angry words from the hall. That was definitely Ironfist, laying into somebody. Kip swallowed hard. He wanted to get up and eavesdrop, but he knew that with his luck as soon as he got to the door it would open.

  Whatever the argument had been about, it was over as quickly as it began. The door didn’t open. Kip waited. And waited. He was just starting to get tired, eyes drooping, when the door popped open.

  A man of perhaps thirty, wearing red spectacles hung from a red cord around his neck, came in. He was clearly furious. Apparently not the winner of the argument, then. “Darks will stand!” he snarled.

  Kip shot to his feet. His chair skittered back, caught its legs, and went crashing to the floor. Kip flinched, smiled weakly in apology, and picked up the chair.

  The man continued staring at him, his mouth a tight white line. He had a large hooked nose and the deep olive skin of an Atashian, though he was beardless, but it was the eyes that captured Kip’s attention. The brown eyes were interrupted by a hard circle of royal red in the middle of the iris. Scarlet streaks like sunbeams pierced the rest of the brown irises. Kip put the chair back as he’d found it, looked back to the man, and got nothing, no hint of what he expected.

  Kip moved away from the chair. The man stared liquid hatred at him. “Sorry,” Kip mumbled, defensive.

  “Darks will not speak! Ignorant Tyrean trash.”

  “Oh, kiss my blubbery butt cheeks,” Kip said. Oops.

  He squeezed his eyes shut to curse himself, so he didn’t even see the blow coming. The fist cracked across his jaw, and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground, drooling blood.

  Kip was slow to anger. Usually. But he popped up to his feet almost as fast as he’d fallen, and the rage was there, everywhere. Everyone he knew was dead. Everything he cared about was gone. He didn’t care if the drafter tore him apart.

  But as he bounced to his feet, he saw the light in the drafter’s eyes. Do it! the man’s eyes said. Give me the excuse. I will bounce you out of the Chromeria before you know what hit you.

  And like that, Kip’s anger dropped into a more familiar channel, and he had control again. There was a footstep in the hall. “Good,” Kip said. “We’ve got something to build on there. A little clumsy for a kiss, but I understand your eagerness. I’m sure with that ugly face you don’t get much practice. But I said kiss my butt cheeks. Butt cheeks. Butt cheeks, cheeks.” He gestured. “They’re different. Try again, this time with feeling.”

  The drafter’s face went from incredulity to rage. He stepped forward and—just as the door opened—buried his fist in Kip’s stomach. The drafter was distracted by the opening door and didn’t put his full weight into the blow, but Kip doubled up as if it were the hardest blow he’d ever taken. He crumpled and coughed blood, retching.

  “Magister Galden, what in Orholam’s name is going on here?”

  The drafter who’d hit Kip said, “I—I—He defied me!”

  “So you struck him? Like the benighted do? Get out. Get out now! I’ll deal with you later.”

  Magister Galden turned and stood over Kip. “I’ll remember this, and I’ll find you someday when there’s—”

  “So help me Orholam, if you threaten a student in my presence for your own malfeasance, Jens Galden, I will strip you of your colors and put you off Little Jasper this very hour. Test me. Please.”

  Magister Galden looked absolutely stricken. Like his life was falling apart without warning.

  That embarrassment and pain could be turned to rage, oh so easily.

  Sometimes Kip frightened himself. Magister Jens Galden was standing between him and the man who’d come in the door. Kip couldn’t see the man, and that man couldn’t see Kip. All he had to do was give Jens Galden a big, triumphant smile and leave his stomach open. The magister would lose control—Kip knew all about losing control—and kick him. Kip would leave his stomach open, inviting it. Jens would kick him, and lose everything.

  And for what, Kip? For having a temper and being an asshole? Kip hesitated. The man had made him furious, but that was too much.

  But if Kip didn’t smile, he’d have an enemy. An enemy he could destroy right now.

  Wherever that thought was going, he didn’t get time to follow it. The moment passed. Jens Galden snarled and wheeled out of the room. Kip was left on the floor, the inside of his lips still lacerated, bleeding and painful. He’d done what was right; maybe he should have done what was smart.

  He picked himself up. The man who’d saved him was just poking his head out the door after Magister Galden. He said, “Arien, I need you to conduct the testing.”

  A woman said, “Luxlord, I’m not a tester.”

  “And I don’t want to wait while a new one is summoned!” he said sharply. “I’m supposed to meet with the Prism in half an hour. We need to get started now.”

  The luxlord came back into the room. He was a tall man, wearing Ilytian hose and doublet though his skin was olive like Jens Galden’s rather than deep black. He was balding; his fringe of dark, wavy hair was streaked with white and brushed out long, halfway down his back. He was somewhere in his fifties, fit, and wearing a heavy black woolen cloak embroidered with gold thread in intricate lattice. His fingers were burdened with wide gold rings and jewels of every color of the spectrum, oddly worn between the knuckles in the middle of his fingers rather than closest to his hand. But Kip was learning to look at people’s eyes—and the odd thing about the luxlord’s eyes was perhaps that they were normal. They were green; there was no foreign color shot through those eyes.


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