The night angel trilogy, p.28
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.28

           Brent Weeks
 

  Then one of the vases caught Kylar’s eye. It was ornately carven jade, but more important, it had a square base. Kylar picked it up from the writing desk. Roses, spray roses, stargazer lilies, and snapserpents splayed every which way. Ignoring the flowers, he took it to the mantel and pushed aside a hardwood jewel box.

  There was an indentation in the stone of the mantelpiece. A square indentation. Kylar felt a surge of hope.

  The prophet was right.

  The base fit the indentation and Kylar turned it; there was a muffled click. Kylar pulled all the knickknacks off the mantel and put them on the ground. On hidden hinges the entire mantelpiece opened up.

  Ignoring the documents and gold bullion, Kylar grabbed the jewelry box. It was large, large enough to hold the Globe of Edges. Kylar opened it.

  Empty.

  Gritting his teeth, Kylar replaced the case and closed the mantel. So there was his lesson in prophecy. “A square vase will give you hope,” Dorian had said. He hadn’t said that it would turn out to be a false hope. Damn! Kylar paused long enough to fit a knockout needle into a small trap, just in case Hu came in here instead of following the duchess.

  Replacing the knickknacks and putting the vase back on the desk, Kylar tried to think. Where could it be? Everything that could have gone wrong tonight had. The only point of light was that he hadn’t seen Elene.

  Elene! The leaden feeling in his stomach told Kylar that he knew exactly where the ka’kari was.

  40

  The prince felt hands grab him as soon as he stepped out of the staircase. An instant later, Lady Jadwin was pressing hot lips against his mouth. She pressed him back as he retreated until he bumped into the door of the duke’s chambers.

  He tried to hold her back, but she just reached past him and pulled the latch. He almost fell as the door opened behind him. She closed the door behind herself and locked it.

  “My lady,” he said. “Stop. Please.”

  “Oh yes, I’ll stop,” she said. “When it pleases me. Or should I say, after you please me?”

  “I told you, we’re finished. If my father finds out—”

  “Oh, bugger your father. He’s as much of a bumbler out of bed as he is in it. He’ll never know.”

  “Your husband is just downstairs—anyway, it doesn’t matter, Trudana. You know what I’m here for.”

  “If your father wants his globe back, he can come get it himself,” she said. She put her hand on the front of his breeches.

  “You know he couldn’t come see you here,” the prince said. “It’d be a slap in my mother’s face.”

  “He gave it to me. It was a present.”

  “It’s magic. My father thought it was just a stone, but Khalidor demanded it. Why would they do that if it weren’t—no!” he slapped her hand away as she tugged open the laces.

  “I know you like it,” the duchess said.

  “I do like it. But we’re finished. It was a mistake, and it will never happen again. Besides, Logan is waiting for me downstairs. I told him what I was doing.” The lie came out easily. Anything to get away from this woman. The worst of it was how much he had enjoyed her. The woman might be ugly, but she was more skilled than almost any of the women he’d bedded. Still, waking up and seeing her the first thing in the morning was more than he wanted to think about ever again.

  “Logan’s your friend,” she said. “He’ll understand.”

  “He’s a great friend,” the prince said. “But he sees things in black and white. Do you know how uncomfortable he was with me leaving him downstairs while I came upstairs with my father’s mistress? I need you to get the gem. Now.” Sometimes, he could just thank the gods that Logan was a known prig.

  “Fine,” she said peevishly.

  “Where is it? Your husband could come in any second.”

  “My husband just came home today.”

  “So?”

  “So whatever else he is, the pig’s faithful, so he’s practically burning with passion whenever he gets back from a diplomatic assignment. He’s recuperating downstairs. The poor dear, I think I exhausted him.” She laughed, and it was a harsh, callous sound. “I kept imagining it was you—” With what she must have imagined was a seductive look, she shrugged her shoulders and the front of her dress fell open. She rubbed up against his body and tugged at the laces of his breeches again.

  “Trudana, please. Please keep that on. Where is it?” He didn’t even look at her body, and he could tell it infuriated her.

  “As I was saying,” she said finally, “I knew you’d be here tonight, so I gave the globe to my maid. She’s just two doors down. Are you satisfied?” She hitched up her dress and walked to her dresser. She looked at herself in the mirror.

  The prince turned without saying anything. He’d thought this was going to be easy, that he was going to make his father owe him a huge favor for doing practically nothing. Now he saw that Trudana Jadwin was going to be a lifelong enemy. Never again, he promised himself. I will never sleep with a married woman again.

  He didn’t even pay any attention to the sound of a drawer sliding open. He didn’t even want to look at Trudana. He wasn’t even going to stay long enough to lace up his breeches. One second more was one second too many.

  His hand was on the latch when he heard the rapid shuffle of her feet. Then something hot lanced into his back. It felt like a wasp sting. Then Trudana’s body crushed into him, and he felt the stinger sink deeper. His head smacked against the door in front of him, and he felt the sting again.

  It wasn’t a sting. It was too deep. He gasped as roaring filled his ears. There was something wrong with one of his lungs. He wasn’t breathing right. The stabbing continued and the roaring receded. The world took on a startling clarity.

  He was being stabbed to death. By a woman. It was embarrassing, really. He was the prince. He was one of the top swordsmen in the realm, and this fat-assed old woman with saggy, uneven breasts was killing him.

  She was breathing, practically gasping in his ear, the same way that she had when they made love. And she was speaking, crying as if every stab were somehow hurting her. The self-pitying bitch. “I’m sorry, oh, oh, I’m sorry. You don’t know what he’s like. I have to I have to I have to.”

  The stabbing continued, and it irritated him. He was already dying, his lungs filling with blood. Coughing, he tried to clear them, which succeeded in spraying blood on the door, but his lungs were mincemeat and blood just rushed back into the gaps.

  He slumped, hit his knees in front of the door, and she finally stopped. His vision was going dark, and his face slumped forward into the door.

  The last thing he saw, through the keyhole, was an eye on the opposite side of the keyhole, emotionlessly watching him die.

  He found the door with no problem. It was locked, but he picked it in seconds. Let her be asleep. Please.

  Easing open the door of the cramped room, Kylar found himself staring at an oversized meat cleaver. It was being held by Elene. She was very much awake.

  In the darkness, Elene obviously didn’t recognize him. She looked torn between screaming and hacking at him. Her eyes locked on the sword in his hand. She decided to do both.

  Slapping her hand with the flat of his bollock dagger, Kylar launched the knife out of her grip. He dodged a grasping hand and got behind her in a moment, clapping a hand over her mouth.

  “It’s me. It’s me!” he said as he had to twist this way and that to dodge flying elbows. He couldn’t hold a hand over her mouth and pin both arms and stop the kicks she was aiming at his groin. “Be quiet or your mistress dies!”

  As she seemed to regain her sanity, Kylar finally let Elene go. “I knew it!” she said, furiously but quietly. “I knew I couldn’t trust you. I knew it was just going to be you.”

  “I meant your mistress will die because your noise will bring the wetboy here.”

  Silence, then, “Oh.”

  “Yes.” In the dim moonlit room, he couldn’t be sure, but Kylar th
ought he saw her blushing.

  “You could have knocked,” she said.

  “Sorry. Old habit.”

  Suddenly awkward, she picked up the cleaver off the bed and put it under her pillow. Looking down at her nightgown, which was disappointingly chaste, she seemed embarrassed. She grabbed a robe and turned her back while she pulled it on.

  “Relax,” Kylar said as she turned back to face him. “It’s a little late for modesty. I saw your statue. You look good naked.” Why had he twisted that last bit to make her sound like a whore? Even if she was sleeping with the duke, what choice did she have? She was a servant in the man’s house. It wasn’t fair, but Kylar still felt betrayed.

  Elene folded as if he’d hit her in the stomach.

  “I begged her not to display it,” Elene said. “But she was so proud of it. She said I should be proud too.”

  “She?”

  “The duchess,” Elene said.

  “The duchess?” Kylar repeated stupidly. Not the duke. Not the duke?

  He felt at once vastly relieved and more confused than ever. Why should he feel relieved?

  “Did you think I’d model naked for the duke?” she asked. “What do you think, that I’m his mistress?” Her eyes widened as she saw the expression on his face.

  “Well…” Kylar felt like he’d unjustly accused her, then felt mad that she was making him feel embarrassed for drawing a perfectly good conclusion, then felt mad that he was wasting time talking to a girl when a wetboy was probably waiting out in the hall. This is madness. “It happens,” he said defensively.

  Why am I doing this?

  For the same reason I’ve watched her from afar. Because I’m intoxicated by her.

  “Not with me,” Elene said.

  “You mean you’re a…” he was trying to sound snide, but he trailed off. Why was he trying to sound snide?

  “A virgin? Yes,” she said, unembarrassed. “Are you?”

  Kylar clenched his jaw. “I—look, there’s a killer here.”

  Elene seemed about to comment about Kylar avoiding her question, then her look darkened as the joy leached out of it. “Two,” she said quietly.

  “What?”

  “Two killers.”

  She meant him. Kylar nodded, again feeling a lump in his throat, and suddenly he was ashamed of what he was. “Yes, two. I saw Hu coming in, Elene. Is the Globe safe?”

  He was watching her eyes. As expected, they darted to where she’d hidden it: the bottom of her closet.

  “Yes,” she said. “It’s…” her voice died. “You’re going to steal it.”

  “I’m sorry,” Kylar said.

  “And now you know where I hid it. You set me up.”

  She was naive, but she wasn’t stupid. “Yes.”

  Anger built in her brown eyes. “Is there even an assassin, or was it all a lie?”

  “There is one. I give you my word,” Kylar said, looking away.

  “For all that’s worth.”

  Ouch. “I am sorry, Elene, but I have to.”

  “Why?”

  “It’s hard to explain,” he said.

  “I spent all day being embarrassed about everything I’d ever written to you. I spent all day feeling terrible how much you’d given for me. I didn’t even tell the guards you were coming because I thought—I thought… You’re a real piece of work, Kylar,” she said. “I guess Azoth really did die.”

  Not like this. Not like this.

  “I really do have to take it,” he said.

  “I can’t let you do that,” she said.

  “Elene, if you stay here, they’ll think you helped me. If Hu doesn’t kill you, the Jadwins might. They could throw you in the Maw. Elene, come with me. I couldn’t live with myself if they did that.”

  “You’ll manage. Just take a new name. Throw money at whatever makes you feel guilty.”

  “They’ll kill you!”

  “I won’t repay good with evil.”

  He was running out of time. He had to get out of here.

  Kylar exhaled. So everything was going to go the worst possible way tonight. “Then I’m sorry for this,” he said, “but it’s to save you.”

  “What is?” she asked.

  Kylar punched her, twice. Once in the mouth, hard enough to draw blood. And once in her beautiful, piercing eyes, hard enough that they would blacken and swell shut, so they wouldn’t see what he did. As she staggered backward, he spun her around and clamped her in a chokehold. She flailed vainly against his grip, doubtless thinking he was killing her. But he merely held her and jabbed a needle in her neck. In seconds, she was unconscious.

  She’ll never forgive me for this. I’ll never forgive me for this. Kylar laid her on the floor and pulled out a knife. He cut his hand and dripped blood onto Elene’s face to make it look like she’d been beaten. It was gross, and the contrast of her beauty with the ugliness of what he was doing made him uncharacteristically squeamish, but it had to be done. She had to look like a victim. Looking at her there, unconscious, was like eating his own little slice of the bitter business. The bitterness of the business was the truth of the business. Even here, when he hadn’t killed, when he didn’t have to bathe in the all-permeating odors of death, Kylar had closed the eyes that saw the truth of him, blackened the eyes of light that illuminated the darkness in him, had bloodied and blinded the eyes that pierced him. Who says there are no poets in the bitter business?

  Finished, Kylar arranged Elene’s limbs in a suitably graceless pattern.

  The silver ka’kari was tucked in a slipper in the bottom of the closet. Kylar held it up to examine it in the moonlight. It was a plain, metallic sphere, utterly featureless. In truth, it was a little disappointing. Despite the metallic sheen, it was translucent, which was novel. Kylar had never seen anything like that, but he’d been hoping the ka’kari would do something spectacular.

  He tucked the ball into a pouch and moved to the door. So far, so good. Well, actually, so far tonight had been pretty much an unmitigated disaster. But getting out should be relatively easy. If he couldn’t sneak past the guard at the bottom of the servants’ stairs, he could walk right up to the man and pretend that he’d been looking for the toilet and had needed to go so badly that he’d gone for the first available one. The guard would give him a warning that the upstairs was off limits, Kylar would say they should have guards at the bottom of the steps if they didn’t want anyone to go up them, the guard would be chagrined, and Kylar would go home. Not foolproof, but then, tonight Kylar would have distrusted anything that was foolproof.

  Looking through the keyhole, he watched the hallway and listened closely for thirty seconds. There was nothing out there.

  The moment he cracked the door, someone kicked the other side with more than mortal strength. The door blew into him, hitting his face first, then his shoulder. It launched him back into the room.

  He almost kept his feet, but as he flew back, he tripped over Elene’s unconscious body and went down hard. He slid across the stone floor until his head collided with the wall.

  Barely holding onto consciousness, black spots exploding in front of his eyes, Kylar must have drawn the pair of daggers on pure instinct because his hands protested in pain as the daggers were knocked out of them.

  “Boy?”

  Kylar had to blink several times before he could see again. When his vision cleared, the first thing he saw was the knifepoint an inch from his eye. He followed that up the gray-clad arm and hooded body.

  Woozy, Kylar wondered why he wasn’t dead. But even before Hu pulled back his hood, Kylar knew.

  Momma K had betrayed them. She’d sent him to kill the wrong man.

  “Master Blint?” he asked.

  41

  What are you doing!” Master Blint backhanded Kylar soundly. He stood, furious, the illusory features of Hu Gibbet melting away like smoke.

  Kylar staggered to his feet, his head still spinning and his ears ringing. “I had to—you were gone—”

&nbs
p; “Gone planning this!” Blint whispered hoarsely. “Gone planning this! Never mind now. We’ve got three minutes until the guard’s next round.” He nudged Elene’s limp form with a toe.

  “That one’s still alive,” Durzo Blint said. “Kill her. Then go find the ka’kari while I fix the deader. We’ll discuss your punishment later.”

  I’m too late. “You killed the duchess?” Kylar asked, rubbing his shoulder where the door had hit him when Durzo burst in.

  “The deader was the prince. Someone else got there first.” Boots were clomping up the steps. Durzo unsheathed Retribution and checked the hallway.

  Gods, the prince? Kylar looked at the unconscious girl. Her innocence was irrelevant. Even if he didn’t kill her, they’d think she helped steal the ka’kari and kill the prince.

  “Kylar!”

  Kylar looked up, dazed. It was all like a bad dream. It couldn’t be happening. “I already…” He held out the pouch limply.

  Scowling, Durzo snatched it away from him and turned it over. The Globe of Edges fell into his hand. “Damn. Just what I thought,” he said.

  “What?” Kylar asked.

  But Durzo wasn’t in any mood to answer questions. “Did the girl see your face?”

  Kylar’s silence was enough.

  “Take care of it. Kylar, that’s not a request. It’s an order. Kill her.”

  Thick white scars crisscrossed what had once been a beautiful face. Her eyes were swelling, blackening—and that was as much Kylar’s fault as the ten-year-old scars were.

  “Love is a noose,” Blint had told him when he began his apprenticeship a decade ago.

  “No,” Kylar said.

  Durzo looked back. “What did you say?” Black blood dribbled down Retribution, pooling on the floor.

  There was still time to stop. Time to obey, and live. But if he let Elene die, Kylar would be lost in shadow forever.

  “I won’t kill her. And I won’t let you. I’m sorry, master.”

  “Do you have any idea what that means?” Durzo snapped. “Who is this girl that she’s worth being hunted for the rest of your short—” he stopped. “She’s Doll Girl.”

 
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