The night angel trilogy, p.24
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.24

           Brent Weeks
 

  Kylar focused on the sensation even as his eyes scanned the shop and his ears strained to hear the slightest sound. It was like a touch, but it was pressing past him, toward—

  The lock on the back door clicked home. He was trapped.

  34

  Restraining an impulse to run to the door and fling it open, Kylar stayed utterly still. No one was in the room with him. Of that he was certain. But he thought—yes, he could hear someone breathing in the shop.

  Then he realized that it was more than one person. One was breathing quickly, shallowly, excited. The other was breathing lightly but slowly. Not tense, not excited. That scared Kylar.

  Who could ambush a wetboy and not even be nervous?

  Afraid of losing all initiative, Kylar moved slowly toward the wall that separated the herbiary from the shop. If he was right, one of the men was standing just on the other side of it. Sheathing a short sword—to be silent he had to do it so slowly that it was painful—Kylar then drew out the Ceuran hand-and-a-half sword he carried in a back scabbard.

  He brought the tip of the blade close to the wall and waited for the slightest sound.

  There was nothing. Now he couldn’t even hear the excited man breathing. That meant the excited one must be on the other side of this wall, while the calm man was further.

  Kylar waited. He trembled with anticipation. One of the men on the other side of the entry was a wytch. Were they with the Khalidorans Jarl had warned him about? Kylar pushed the thought out of his head. He could worry about that later. Whoever they were, they had trapped him. Whether they thought he was Master Blint or just a common thief didn’t matter.

  But which one was the wytch? The nervous one? He wouldn’t have thought so, but the feeling that had pressed past him and had locked the door had seemed to come from that side.

  A board creaked. “Feir! Back!” the man further away from Kylar shouted. Kylar rammed his sword through the finger-thick pine.

  He yanked the sword back as he charged through the entry. He burst through the curtain and launched himself off the doorpost and over the sales counter, toward the man he’d tried to stab.

  The man was on the ground, rolling over as Kylar took a slice at his head. He was huge. Bigger even than Logan, but proportioned like a tree trunk, thick everywhere, with no definable waist or neck. For all that, even on his back, he was bringing up a sword to block Kylar’s blow.

  He would have blocked it, too, if Kylar’s sword had been whole. But half of Kylar’s Ceuran blade was lying on the ground by the man, sheared off with magic a moment after he had rammed it through the wall.

  Finding no sword where he expected it, the big man’s parry went wide as Kylar attacked from his knees. Without the full weight of the blade, Kylar brought his half-sword down faster than the big man could react and stabbed for his stomach.

  Then Kylar felt as if his head were inside the soundbow of a temple bell. There was a concussion, pitched low but focused, as if a cornerstone had fallen two stories and landed an inch from Kylar’s head.

  The force blew him sideways through one shelf of herb jars and into a second, sending them crashing down underneath him.

  Then there was nothing but the light flashing in front of Kylar’s eyes. His sword was gone. He blinked, vision slowly returning. He was face down on the floor with a shattered shelf, lying amid the remnants of broken jars and scattered herbs.

  He heard a grunt from the big man, and then footsteps. Kylar kept still, not having to fake much to appear incapacitated. A few inches from his nose, he was slowly able to make out some of the plants. Pronwi seed, Ubdal bud, Yarrow root. This shelf should have—and there it was, near his hand, delicate Tuntun seed, ground to powder. If you breathed it, it would make your lungs hemorrhage.

  The footsteps came closer and Kylar lurched, spinning to one side and flinging Tuntun powder in an arc. He came to his feet and drew a pair of long knives.

  “Enough, Shadowstrider.”

  Air congealed around Kylar like a jelly. He tried to dive away, but the jelly became as hard as rock.

  The two men regarded Kylar through the cloud of Tuntun seed hanging frozen in the air.

  The blond mountain folded meat-slab arms across his chest. “Don’t tell me you expected this, Dorian,” he growled at the other man.

  His friend grinned.

  “Not much to look at, is he?” the Mountain asked.

  The smaller man, Dorian, wore a short black beard under intense blue eyes, had a sharp nose and straight white teeth. He reached forward and took some of the floating Tuntun powder between two fingers. Black hair lightly oiled, blue eyes, pale skin. Definitely Khalidoran. He was the wytch. “Don’t be a sore loser, Feir. Things would gone badly for you if I hadn’t broken his sword.”

  Feir scowled. “I think I could hold my own.”

  “Actually, if I hadn’t intervened, right now he’d be wondering how he was going to move such a large corpse. And that was without his Talent.”

  That got an unhappy grunt. The smaller man waved a hand and the Tuntun powder fell to the ground in a tidy pile. He looked at Kylar and the bonds holding him shifted, forcing him to stand upright, with his hands down at his sides, though still holding the knives. “Is that more comfortable?” he asked, but didn’t seem to expect a reply. He touched Kylar’s hand with a single finger and stared into him as if his eyes were cutting him open. He frowned. “Look at this,” he said to Feir.

  Feir accepted the hand Dorian put on his shoulder and stared at Kylar the same way. Kylar stood there, not knowing what to say or do, his mind filled with questions that he wasn’t sure he should give voice to.

  After a long moment, Feir said, “Where’s his conduit? It almost seems shaped, like there’s a niche for…” He exhaled sharply. “By the Light, he ought to be…”

  “Terrifying. Yes,” Dorian said. “He’s a born ka’karifer. But that’s not what worries me. Look at this.” Kylar felt something twist in him. He felt as if he were being turned inside out.

  Whatever he was seeing, it scared Feir. His face was still, but Kylar could almost feel the sudden tension in his muscles, the slight tang of fear in the air.

  “There’s something here that resists me,” Eyes said. “The stream’s winning. The Shadowcloaked makes it worse.”

  “Let it go,” Feir said. “Stay with me.”

  Kylar felt whatever had been pulling him open drop away, though his body was still bound in place. Dorian rocked back on his heels, and Feir grabbed his shoulders in meaty hands and held him up.

  “What’d you call me? Who are you?” Kylar demanded.

  Dorian smirked, regaining his balance as if by the force of good humor alone. “You ask who we are, Wearer of Names? It’s Kylar now, isn’t it? Old Jaeran punning. I like that. Was that your sense of humor, or Blint’s?” At the startled look on Kylar’s face, he said, “Blint’s apparently.”

  Dorian looked through Kylar again, as if there were a list inside him that he was reading. “The Nameless. Marati. Cwellar. Spex. Kylar. Even Kagé, not terribly original, that.”

  “What?” Kylar asked. This was ridiculous. Who were these men?

  “Sa’kagé means Lords of the Shadow,” Dorian said. “Thus Kagé means ‘Shadow,’ but I don’t suppose that one’s your fault. In any case, you ought to be more curious. Did it never occur to you to wonder why your peers had common names like Jarl, or Bim, or slave names like Doll Girl or Rat, and you were burdened with Azoth?”

  Kylar went cold. He’d heard that wytches could read minds, but he’d never believed it. And those names. That wasn’t a random list. “You’re wytches. Both of you.”

  Feir and Dorian looked at each other.

  “Half right,” Dorian said.

  “A little less than half, really,” Feir said.

  “But I was a wytch,” Dorian said. “Or, more properly, a meister. If you ever have the misfortune of meeting one, you may not want to use a slur.”

  “What are you?” Kylar
asked.

  “Friends,” Dorian said. “We’ve made a long journey to help you. Well, not only to help you, but to help you and—”

  “And we’ve come at great personal cost and greater risk,” Feir interrupted, looking at Dorian sharply.

  “We hope you have no doubt that we could kill you. That if we wished you harm, we could have already done it,” Dorian said.

  “There are more types of harm than just killing. A wetboy knows that,” Kylar said.

  Dorian smiled, but Feir still looked wary. Kylar felt the bonds release him. That unnerved him. They’d seen how fast he could move and yet they released him, armed.

  “Allow me to introduce us,” Dorian said. “This is Feir Cousat, one day to be the most renowned swordsmith in all Midcyru. He is Vy’sana and a Blademaster of the Second Echelon.”

  Great. “And you?” Kylar asked.

  “You won’t believe me.” Dorian was enjoying this.

  “Try me.”

  “I am Sa’seuran and Hoth’salar, and once a Vürdmeister of the twelfth shu’ra.”

  “Impressive.” Kylar had no idea what those were.

  “What should be important to you is that I’m a prophet. My name is Dorian,” Dorian said with a native Khalidoran accent. “Dorian Ursuul.”

  “You were right,” Feir said. “He doesn’t believe you.”

  Aside from carelessness, the only things that could kill wetboys were other wetboys, mages, and wytches. In Blint’s estimation, wytches were the worst. He hadn’t neglected Kylar’s education. “Let me see your arms,” Kylar said.

  “Ah, so you know about the vir,” Dorian said. “How much do you know about them?” Dorian bared his arms to the elbows. There were no marks on them.

  “I know that all wytches have them, that they grow in proportion to the wytch’s power and their intricacy shows the wytch’s level of mastery,” Kylar said.

  “Don’t do it, Dorian,” Feir said. “I’m not going to lose you over this. Let’s tell him the words and get the hell out of here.”

  Dorian ignored him. “Only men and women who are Talented can use the vir. It’s easier to manipulate than the Talent and more powerful. It’s also terribly addictive and, if one dare speak in moral absolutes—which I do—it’s evil,” Dorian said, his eyes bright, holding Kylar. “Unlike the Talent, which can be good or bad like any talent, it is in itself evil, and it corrupts those who use it. It has proven useful to my family to have all meisters marked, so they are. My ancestors never saw any reasons to be marked ourselves unless we so chose. The Ursuuls can make their vir disappear at will, so long as they aren’t using it.”

  “Blint must have skipped that lesson,” Kylar said.

  “A pity it is, too. We’re the most dangerous Vürdmeisters you could possibly imagine.”

  “Dorian, just tell him the words. Let’s—”

  “Feir!” Dorian said. “Silence. You know what to do.”

  The big man obeyed, glowering at Kylar.

  “Kylar,” Dorian said. “You’re asking a drunkard who’s quit drinking to take just one glass of wine. I’ll live in misery for weeks for this. Feir will have to watch me constantly to see that I don’t slip away to that madness. But you’re worth it.”

  Feir’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t say a word.

  Dorian held his arms out and a shimmer passed over them. As Kylar stared at them, it looked as if veins deep in the man’s arms were wriggling, struggling to get to the surface of his skin. Then, rapidly, they rose all together. Dorian’s arms turned black like a million fresh tattoos were being inked over each other. Layer knotted on layer, each distinct, interlocking with those below and above, darker over lighter with darker still coming in above. It was beautiful and terrible. The vir swelled with power and moved, not just with Dorian’s arms, but independently. It seemed that they wanted to burst free of the confines of his skin. The darkness of the vir spread to the room, and Kylar was sure it wasn’t his imagination: the vir were sucking the light from the room.

  Dorian’s eyes dilated until the cool blue irises were tiny rims. A fierce joy rose in his face and he looked ten years younger. The vir started to swell, crackling audibly.

  Feir picked up Dorian like most men might pick up a doll and shook him violently. He shook and didn’t stop shaking. It would have been comical if Kylar weren’t too scared to move. Feir just shook and shook until the room was no longer dark with power. Then he set Dorian down in a chair.

  The man groaned and abruptly looked frail and older once more. He spoke without raising his head. “I’m glad you’re convinced, Shadowstrider.”

  It had convinced him, but Dorian couldn’t know that. “How do I know it wasn’t an illusion?” Kylar asked.

  “Illusions don’t suck light. Illusions—” Feir said.

  “He’s just being stubborn, Feir. He believes.” Dorian glanced at Kylar and quickly looked away. He groaned. “Ah, I can’t even look at you now. All your futures….” He squeezed his eyes shut.

  “What do you want from me?” Kylar asked.

  “I can see the future, Nameless One, but I am only human, so I pray that I can be wrong. I pray that I am wrong. By everything I’ve seen, if you don’t kill Durzo Blint tomorrow, Khalidor will take Cenaria. If you don’t kill him by the day after that, everyone you love will die. Your Sa’kagé count, the Shinga, your friends old and new, all of them. If you do the right thing once, it will cost you a year of guilt. If you do the right thing twice, it will cost you your life.”

  “So that’s what this is? All this is just a setup so I’ll betray Master Blint? Did your masters think I would buy it?” Kylar said. “Oh, you learned a lot about me, must have cost a fortune to buy all that information.”

  Dorian held up a weary hand. “I don’t ask you to believe it all now. It’s too much all at once. I’m sorry for that. You think now that we’re Khalidorans and we want you to betray Blint so that he can’t stop us. Maybe this will convince you that you’re wrong: What I beg of you above all else is that you kill my brother. Don’t let him get the ka’kari.”

  Kylar felt as if he’d just been stung. “The what?”

  “Feir,” Dorian said. “Say the words we came to say.”

  “Ask Momma K,” Feir said.

  He shook his head. “Wait! What? Ask her about the ka’kari?”

  “Ask Momma K,” Feir said.

  “What about your brother, who is he?”

  “If I tell you now, you’ll lose when you fight him.” Dorian shook his head, but still didn’t look at Kylar. “Damn this power. What good is it if I can’t tell you in a way you’ll understand? Kylar, if time is a river, most people live submerged. Some rise to the surface and can guess what’s going to happen next, or can understand the past. I’m different. When I don’t concentrate, I detach from the flow of time. My consciousness floats above the river. I see a thousand thousand paths. Ask me where a leaf will fall, and I couldn’t tell you. There are too many possibilities. There’s so much noise, like I’m trying to follow a drop of rain from the clouds to a lake, then over a waterfall and pick it out in the river two leagues downstream. If I can touch someone or chant rhymes, it gives me focus. Sometimes.” Dorian seemed to be looking through the wall, lost in reverie.

  “Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes when I transcend the river, I start to see a pattern. Then it isn’t like water, it’s a fabric made up of every insignificant decision of every peasant as much as it is of great decisions by kings. As I begin to comprehend the vastness and intricacy of that skein, my mind starts to pull apart.” He blinked, and he turned his eyes to Kylar. He squinted, as if even looking at him caused him pain.

  “Sometimes it’s merely images, totally unbidden. I can see the anguish on the young man’s face who will watch me die, but I don’t know who he is or when that will be or why he’ll care. I know that tomorrow, a square vase will give you hope. I see a little girl crying over your body. She’s trying to pull you away but you’re too heavy. Away
from what? I don’t know.”

  Kylar felt a chill. “A girl? When?” Was it Ilena Drake?

  “I can’t tell. Wait.” Dorian blinked and his face went rigid. “Go, go now. Ask Momma K!”

  Feir threw open the front door. Kylar stared from one mage to the other, stunned at the abruptness of his dismissal.

  “Go,” Feir said. “Go!”

  Kylar ran into the night.

  For a long moment, Feir stared after him. He spat. Still staring into the depths of the night, he said, “What didn’t you tell him?”

  Dorian let out a shaky breath. “He’s going to die. No matter what.”

  “How does that fit?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe he’s not what we hoped.”

  35

  Kylar ran, but Doubt ran faster. The sky was lightening in the east, and the city was showing its first signs of life. The odds of running into a patrol were small, especially because Kylar knew better than to run on the roads past the rich shops that somehow saw patrols more frequently than roads with poor shops, but if he did run into guards, what would he say? I was just out for a morning walk with dark gray clothes, illegal plants, a small arsenal, and my face smudged with ash. Right.

  He slowed to a walk. Momma K’s wasn’t far now, anyway. What was he doing? Obeying a madman and a giant? He could almost see the vir rising from Dorian’s arms, and it turned his stomach. Maybe not a madman. But what was their piece? The only people Kylar knew who did things just because they should were the Drakes, and he figured that they were the exception to the rule. In the Sa’kagé, in the court, in the real world, people did what was best for themselves.

  Feir and Dorian hadn’t denied that they had other motives for coming to Cenaria, but they certainly acted like he was the most important thing. They’d acted like they really believed he would change the course of the kingdom! It was madness. But he had believed them.

  If they were just liars, wouldn’t they try to tell him how great things would be if he killed Blint? Or were they just that much cleverer than most liars? It seemed that by what Dorian had said that Kylar was going to lose everything no matter what he did. What kind of fortune-teller told you that?

 
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