The night angel trilogy, p.29
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.29
 

           Brent Weeks

  “Yes, master. I’m sorry.”

  “By the Night Angels! I don’t want apologies! I want obedien—” Durzo held up a finger for silence. The footfalls were close now. Durzo threw open the door and blurred into the hall, inhumanly fast, Retribution flashing silver in the low light.

  The guard fell in two thumps. It was Stumpy, the older guard who’d frisked Kylar so gingerly when he’d cased the estate this morning.

  The hall lantern behind Durzo swaddled darkness’s favorite child in shadow, casting his form over Kylar and making his face invisible. Silhouetted, black blood dripped from the tip of Retribution. Drip, drip. Durzo’s voice strained like bending steel. “Kylar, this is your last chance.”

  “Yes,” Kylar said, his bollock dagger hissing against its scabbard as he turned to face the man who’d raised him, who’d been more than a father to him. “It is.”

  There was the sound of something metallic rolling across marble. It came toward Kylar. He raised a hand and felt the ka’kari slap into his outstretched palm.

  He turned his hand over and saw the ka’kari burning a brilliant, incandescent blue. It was stuck to his palm. As he looked, runes began burning on the surface of the globe. They shifted, changed, as if trying to speak to him. Blue light bathed his face and he could see through the ka’kari. It was sucking blood from the cut on his palm. He looked up and saw dismay on Master Blint’s face.

  “No! No, it’s mine!” Blint yelled.

  The ka’kari pooled like black oil in an instant.

  Blue light exploded like a supernova. Then the pain came. The cold in Kylar’s hand became pressure. It felt like his hand was splitting apart. Staring at the now uniformly burning puddle in his hand with horror, Kylar saw that it was shrinking. It was pushing itself into his hand. Kylar felt the ka’kari enter his blood. Every vein bulged and contorted, freezing as the ka’kari passed through him.

  He didn’t know how long it lasted. He sweated and shivered and sweated coldly. Gradually the cold faded from his limbs. More gradually still, warmth replaced it. Perhaps seconds, perhaps half an hour later, Kylar found himself on the floor.

  Oddly, he felt good. Even face down on stone, he felt good. Complete. Like a gap had been bridged, a hole had been filled. I’m a ka’karifer. I was born for this.

  Then he remembered. He looked up. From the look of frozen horror on Durzo’s face, it all must have taken only seconds. Kylar jumped to his feet, feeling stronger, healthier, more full of energy than he could ever remember.

  The look on Durzo’s face wasn’t anger. It was grief. Bereavement.

  Kylar slowly turned his hand over. The skin was still cut on his palm, but it wasn’t bleeding anymore. The ka’kari had seemed to push into—

  No. It couldn’t have.

  From every pore in his hand, black poured out like sweat. It congealed. In a moment, the ka’kari rested in his palm.

  A strange glee filled Kylar. Fear followed. He wasn’t sure the glee was all his own. It was as if the ka’kari were happy to have found him. He looked back to Durzo, feeling stupid, so far out of his depth he didn’t know how to act.

  It was then he realized how clearly he could see Durzo’s face. The man still stood in the hallway, the lantern behind him. A moment before—before the ka’kari—his face had been all but invisible. Kylar could still see the shadows falling on the floor where Durzo blocked the light, but he could see through them. It was like looking through glass. You could tell the glass was there, but it didn’t impede your vision. Kylar glanced around Elene’s little room and saw that the same applied to everything he looked at. The darkness welcomed his eyes now. His eyes were sharper, clearer—he could see further, could see the castle across the river as if it were high noon.

  “I have to have the ka’kari,” Durzo said. “If he doesn’t get it, he’ll kill my daughter. Night Angels have mercy, Kylar, what have you done?”

  “I didn’t! I didn’t do anything!” Kylar said. He held the ka’kari out. “Take it. You can have it. Get your daughter back.”

  Durzo took it from him. He stared into Kylar’s eyes, his voice sorrowful, “You bonded it. It bonds for life, Kylar. Your Talent will work now, whether you’re holding it or not, but its other powers won’t work for anyone else until you’re dead.”

  There was sound of feet running up the steps. Someone must have heard Durzo’s yell. Kylar had to go now. The import of Durzo’s words was barely beginning to register.

  Durzo turned to face whoever was coming up the steps, and the prophet’s words echoed in Kylar’s ears: “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. If you do the right thing once, it will cost you years of guilt. If you do the right thing twice, it will cost you your life.”

  The bollock dagger was in his hand. Durzo’s back was turned. Kylar could end it now. Not even Durzo’s reflexes could stop him when Kylar was this close. It would mean stopping an invasion, saving everyone he loved—surely that meant he held Elene’s life in his hands right now. Logan’s. Maybe the Drakes’. Maybe the whole invasion hinged on this. Maybe hundreds or thousands of lives were balanced now on the point of his dagger. A quick, painless cut, and Durzo would die. Hadn’t he said that life was empty, worthless, meaningless, cheap? He wouldn’t be losing anything of value when he lost his life, he’d sworn that.

  Durzo had said it, and more, but Kylar had never really believed him. Momma K had already stabbed Durzo in the back with her lies; Kylar couldn’t do it with his hands.

  The moment took on a startling clarity. It froze like a diamond and rotated before his eyes, every facet gleaming, futures shearing off and sparkling. Kylar looked from Elene on his right hand to Durzo on his left, from Durzo to Elene, Elene to Durzo. There was his choice, and their futures. He could kill Elene, the woman he loved, or he could kill Durzo, who had raised him as his son. In every facet, this truth glared pitilessly: If one lived, the other must die.

  “No,” Kylar said. “Master, do it. Kill me.”

  Durzo looked at him as if he couldn’t believe his ears.

  “She’s only seen me. She won’t be a threat to anyone if I’m dead. You can take the ka’kari and save your daughter.”

  Blint’s eyes filled with a look Kylar had never seen before. The hard, jagged cast of his master’s face seemed to ease and it made him seem a different man, not old and tired and worn, but younger, a man more like Kylar than Kylar had ever imagined Blint could look. Durzo blinked as bottomless wells of grief threatened to spill over in tears. He shook his head. “Just go, son.”

  Kylar wanted to go. He wanted to run away, but he was right. It was the only way. He stood there, frozen, but not with indecision. He was just praying that Durzo would act before he lost his courage. What am I saying? I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to take Elene out of here. I want to—

  The door to the duke’s chambers opened and the blood-spattered duchess stumbled out, screaming, “Assassin! Assassin! He’s killed the prince!”

  Durzo acted instantly. He slammed into Kylar, driving them both into Elene’s room. It took all of Kylar’s presence of mind to not trample Elene, but Durzo was still moving. He had a hold of Kylar’s cloak and was swinging him with the surprising speed and force of his Talent. Kylar exploded through the window and out into the night.

  By the grace of the God, or His cruelty, or sheer dumb luck, or Durzo’s preternatural skills, Kylar landed squarely in the center of a hedge. He crashed through it, rolling out of control, and popped out onto the ground. It was ridiculous; nothing was broken, nothing was sprained, he didn’t even get scratched. He looked up and saw guests craning their heads on the balcony where so recently he’d kissed Serah, but they were on the other side of lamps and couldn’t make him out.

  Then the screaming from inside was taken up by others, women’s voices and men’s. Orders were being shouted and armed men were running, clanking and ringing in their c
hain mail. Kylar looked up at the second story with his heart in his throat. He didn’t know whether to curse or laugh. The decision was out of his hands for now. He was alive, and it felt good.

  There was nothing else to do. Kylar jogged to the estate’s garden gate, broke the lock, and disappeared into the night.

  42

  The Godking Garoth Ursuul was awake before the functionary knocked on his bedchamber door. No one could approach this room without waking him. It meant less sleep than he might like, but he was an old man now; he didn’t need much sleep. Besides, it kept the slaves on their toes.

  The room wasn’t what one might expect of a Godking. It was open, light and airy, filled with beautiful Plangan stained glass and ivory mirrors and Sethi lace on the bed and dire bear rugs from the Freeze on the floors and freshly cut flowers on the desk and the mantel, all chosen and arranged by a slave with aesthetic sensibilities. Garoth cared for none of it but the paintings. Portraits of his wives lined the walls. His wives had come from almost every nation in Midcyru, and with few exceptions, all were beautiful. Petite or willowy, buxom or boyish, pale or dark, the images all pleased Garoth Ursuul. He was a connoisseur of feminine beauty, and he spared no expense in indulging this vice. It was, after all, a service to his family and the world that he breed the best sons possible. That was where the unattractive women came in. He’d experimented with kidnapping women from royal families in hopes that they might produce more acceptable sons. Two of his current nine aethelings had been born of such women, so Garoth supposed that nobles might produce acceptable sons at a slightly better rate than the rabble, but it was ever so much more tedious to breed with an ugly woman.

  Partly for his sons’ sake and partly for his own amusement, he’d even indulged in making some of the women love him. It had been surprisingly easy; he hadn’t had to lie as much as he’d expected. Women were so willing to do that to themselves. He’d heard that love made the sex better, but he wasn’t impressed. With magic, he could make a woman’s body respond to him however he pleased, and there was a joy in watching a woman try to hold her fury and hatred while his magic pleased her in ways she’d never felt before. Unfortunately, such pleasures did have their price: those wives had to be watched closely; he’d lost two to suicide.

  The functionary’s hand banged on the door and Garoth gestured it open. The functionary came in on his knees, scooting forward, crossing his arms on his chest. “My god, my majestic king—”

  Garoth sat up. “Out with it. You have a message from the Jadwin slut.”

  “She reports that she has killed the prince, but has lost possession of the ka’kari. So sorry, Your Holiness.”

  “Doubtless it’s another counterfeit,” Garoth said, addressing himself, not the functionary. “Have the ships arrived for the Modaini invasion?”

  Cenaria he could deal with whenever he pleased, but a straight march south would tie up his armies for weeks or months. That damned Duke Gyre had turned the defenses at Screaming Winds into a serious obstacle. He could take it, of course. He could probably defeat any army in the world now except the Alitaerans’, but a Godking didn’t waste men or meisters on frontal assaults. Not when he had other options.

  Besides, what conqueror would really want a hive like Cenaria, anyway? He’d almost do better to exterminate everyone there and send his own subjects to colonize the city.

  Garoth Ursuul’s interest wasn’t in temporal power. The bid for Cenaria was just an amusement. He had far more reliable intelligence that the red ka’kari was in Modai. Once there, he would have Cenaria surrounded. He could probably take the country without even fighting for it. Then, Ceura, and a strike right into the mages’ heart, Sho’cendi. He wouldn’t have to face Alitaera until he was sure of victory.

  “Two ships are still passing through Cenarian waters.”

  “Good, then—”

  “Your Holiness—” the man squeaked as he realized whom he had just interrupted.

  “Hopper?”

  “Yes, Your Holiness?” Hopper’s voice was barely a whisper.

  “Don’t ever interrupt me again.”

  Hopper nodded, wide-eyed.

  “Now what did you have to say?”

  “Lady Jadwin claims to have seen someone bond the ka’kari in the hallway outside her room. Her description was… accurate.”

  “By Khali’s blood.” Garoth breathed. A ka’kari, after all this time. A ka’kari someone had bonded. That almost made it easier. A ka’kari alone was small enough it could be hidden or lost anywhere, but a ka’kari that was bonded would be kept close by whomever bonded it.

  “Reroute those ships. And order Roth to go ahead with the assassinations. The Gyres, the Shinga, all of them. Tell Roth he’s got twenty-four hours.”

  Something was terribly wrong. Regnus Gyre knew that as soon as he reached the gates of his home. No guards were standing outside. Even with how many of his servants and guards the king had managed to have fired or driven off in the last decade, that was disturbing. The lamps were still burning inside the manse, which was odd, an hour past midnight.

  “Should I call out, my lord?” Gurden Fray, his guard, asked.

  “No.” Regnus dismounted and looked through his saddlebags until he found the key. He opened the gate and drew his sword.

  On either side of the gate, out of the lamplight, was a body. Each had his throat cut.

  “No,” Regnus said. “No.” He started running for the manse.

  He burst through the front door and saw red everywhere. At first his mind refused to accept it. In every room, he found the dead. All looked like they had been caught unawares. Nothing was broken. There were no signs of violent conflict at all, except the bodies. Not even the guards had fought. Almost everyone had had his throat slashed. Then the bodies had been turned so they would bleed as much as possible. Here, old Dunnel was seated upside down in a chair. There Marianne, who had been Logan’s wet nurse, was laid down the stairs with her head on the bottom step. It was as if Death himself had strolled through the house, and no one had even tried to stop him. Everywhere, Regnus saw trusted servants, friends, dead.

  He found himself running up the stairs, past the statue of the Grasq Twins, toward Catrinna’s room. In the hall, he saw the first signs of a struggle. An errant sword had smashed a display case. A portrait of his grandfather had a chunk of frame missing. The guards here had died fighting, the killing wounds on their chests or faces. But the winner was clear, because each body had had its throat cut, and its legs propped up on the walls. The puddles from a dozen men met, coating the floor as if it were a lake of blood.

  Gurden knelt, his fingers touching a friend’s neck. “They’re still warm,” he said.

  Regnus kicked open the door of his room. It banged noisily; if it had been closed and locked earlier in the night, it wasn’t now.

  Four men and two women were there, stripped, lying face down in an open circle. Above them, naked, hanging upside down from one foot tied to the chandelier high above while the other leg flopped grotesquely, was Catrinna. Cut into the backs of the corpses, one word to each, were the words: LOVE AND KISSES, HU GIBBET. The knife standing straight out of his steward Wendel North’s back served as the period.

  Regnus ran. He ran from room to room, checking the dead, calling out their names, turning them over to look at their faces. He became dimly aware of Gurden shaking him.

  “Sir! Sir! He’s not here. Logan’s not here. We have to leave. Come with me.”

  He let Gurden drag him outside, and the smell of air without blood in it was sweet. Someone was repeating over and over, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” It was him. He was babbling. Gurden paid no attention to him, just pulled him along, stumbling.

  They got to the front door just as six of the king’s elite lancers rode up to it with lances leveled.

  “Hold!” their lieutenant called. His men fanned out around Regnus and Gurden. “Hold! Are you Regnus Gyre?”

  Something about the bared steel and
the sound of his own name wakened him. “Yes,” he said, looking at his bloody clothes. Then, stronger, “Yes, I am he.”

  “Lord Gyre, I’ve been ordered to arrest you. I’m sorry, sir.” He was young, this lieutenant. His eyes were wide, as if he couldn’t believe whom he was arresting.

  “Arrest me?” His mind was slowly coming back under his power, like a horse that had taken the bit in its teeth and galloped its own way, and was now willing to submit once more.

  “Yes, my lord. For the murder of Catrinna Gyre.”

  A wave of cold washed through Regnus. He could brace, or he could break. He clenched his jaw, and the tears that sprang from his eyes seemed oddly out of place with the command in his voice. “When did you get your orders, son?”

  “An hour ago, sir,” the lieutenant said, then looked peeved that he’d so automatically obeyed a man he was supposed to be arresting.

  “She hasn’t been dead fifteen minutes. So tell me, what does that say about your orders?”

  The lieutenant’s face blanched. A moment later, the lances were wavering. “Our captain said you’d been seen killing—doing it, sir. An hour ago he said that.” The lieutenant looked at Gurden. “Is it true?”

  “Go see for yourself,” Gurden said.

  The lieutenant went inside, leaving the men nervously guarding them. Some of the men peeked through the windows and quickly looked away. Regnus felt impatient, as though, if he were given time, he might think again, might detach from his mind. Tears were running down his cheeks again, and he didn’t know why. He had to think. He could find out the captain’s name, but the man was also just obeying orders. Whether from the Sa’kagé, or the king.

  Several minutes later, the lieutenant emerged. He had vomit in his beard and was shaking violently. “You may go, Lord Gyre. And I’m sorry…. Let him go.”

  The men withdrew and Regnus mounted, but he didn’t leave. “Will you serve the men who massacred my whole family?” Regnus asked. “I intend to find my son, and I intend to find who—” His voice betrayed him, and he had to clear his throat. “Come with me, and I swear you will serve with honor.” His voice cracked on the last word, and he knew he could say no more.

 
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