The black prism, p.32
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       The Black Prism, p.32

           Brent Weeks

  I’m cute to her. Cute. Ugh.

  She set the counterweights on the lift, paused for a moment—she must have been surprised how much weight she needed to add to account for Kip—and added more. In moments, they were speeding up the tower, passing other students going both up and down. They stopped and stepped into a wide lobby area that dimpled out to one of the clear tubes that connected the central tower to all the others.

  Kip looked at Liv, eyebrows up.

  “My apartments are over in yellow. Yellow’s in the middle of the spectrum, so bichromes and polychromes include yellow more often than other colors, so the yellow tower has more bichrome apartments. They don’t have the space for those in the Prism’s Tower. Are you afraid of heights?”

  “Not usually,” Kip said uneasily.

  “Oh, so you can talk!”

  “I can fall too,” he mumbled.

  “You’ll be fine, I promise,” she said. She walked out into the tube. It was four paces across and enclosed with blue luxin so thin it was almost clear. The bottom of the walkway was thicker blue reinforced with thin bars of yellow. It looked impossibly thin. As Kip had seen from far, far below, the walkway attached to the Prism’s Tower only at two places: on the east side and here, on the west. After going straight out about halfway to the green tower that was directly west of the Prism’s Tower, this walkway met a great almost clear luxin circular walkway. From that circle, there were spokes out to each of the six towers.

  Liv led Kip out to one of those intersections between circle and spokes, the point farthest from any support. She jumped up and down. “See, totally safe.” She laughed. “Now you try it.”

  “I don’t know,” Kip said. If he could ever overcome his fear, the view from up here was magnificent. Of course, it was hard to look at mere magic towers when he had Liv right here. “Okay,” he said weakly. He didn’t want to let her down.

  Of course, if I break this spindly walkway, I’ll be letting us both down. The quick way.

  Trying to be a good sport, Kip hopped a little, landing as lightly as possible on his toes and absorbing all the shock in his knees.

  “Oh, seriously,” Liv said.

  Kip sighed and jumped so high he thought he was going to touch his head on the canopy. As he landed, he heard a loud crack.

  He threw his hands out looking for something to grab, his heart seizing up. He was about to throw himself at the handrail when he saw Liv’s face.

  She laughed and covered her mouth. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have. It’s kind of a tradition for new students, and the Prism wanted me to give you the whole experience.” Kip looked at her hands. They seemed to be clenched around something invisible. He tightened his eyes, and sure enough, she had a bar of superviolet luxin snapped in her hands.

  Kip chuckled. It only sounded a little forced. “Give me the traditional mop, would you? I think I left a traditional puddle.”

  She laughed. “Thanks for being a good sport. If it makes you feel better, I almost fainted when my magister did it with our whole class. Come on, it’s just a little farther now.”

  They walked together around the spindly circle, then turned toward the yellow tower. The yellow tower had been at the back right when Kip had entered the Great Yard, so he hadn’t really seen it. Now it loomed both above and below.

  “I think my eyes are full,” Kip said.


  “I’ve seen too many amazing things today. Either this is just not as impressive, or I’ve lost my ability to be amazed, because to me, this looks like a plain yellow tower. No flames, no jewels, no twisty movement.” The tower was luminous, but otherwise it looked like cloudy yellow glass, translucent, but not transparent. Maybe it was hard to see because the sun was going down beside the tower.

  Liv smiled. He didn’t know how he’d forgotten her dimples. “The yellow is amazing because it’s made entirely of yellow luxin.”

  “And the others aren’t,” Kip said, not understanding. He blinked. “I mean, they’re not made of their own colored luxin?”

  “No, no, no. The others have magical façades built over traditional building materials. The yellow is made entirely of yellow.”

  From his admittedly brief instruction with the Prism, Kip thought that yellow was used like magical lanolin or something—it nourished other luxin, but otherwise degraded back into light easily. “Uh, I thought yellow was kind of a bad choice for a building material, being unstable and all.” Kip was just remembering why he had been keeping his mouth shut. The more he talked with Liv, the more natural it would be for him to talk about home. And the more unnatural for him not to say anything about home. The moment they went there, he was going to have to tell Liv her father was dead, and the pleasant ease of being in her company would be shattered. She would go from this bright, glowing, dimpled young woman to a bereaved orphan.

  “It is a bad choice,” Liv said. “That’s why this is so amazing.” She pulled him toward the tower’s entrance. Suddenly Kip didn’t know if he wanted to leave the solidity of the blue-yellow spindles.

  Sure, a minute ago, I was worried to step out on these, and now I don’t want to leave.

  “Yellow is usually the least stable luxin. It shimmers right back into light at the least movement, like water boiling away in a moment. That’s why they call it brightwater. But do you remember when that harper played a few years ago back in Rekton, and he stopped between every song to retune his harp?”

  Kip nodded. “It didn’t seem to make any difference to me.” Dangerous ground, talking about anything back home, but if he could keep her talking until he collapsed from exhaustion, he might avoid telling her the news for one more day.

  Liv said, “The thing was, he could tell when his harp was even a fraction out of tune. No one else could, though. There are people who can do that with light. To make luxin of any color, you have to hit the right note within the color or the luxin won’t form. If you are only approximately on pitch, the luxin is much more likely to fail. You can cover some mistakes with more will, but you need someone really special to do work like this.”

  “Does this have something to do with superchromats?” Kip asked. He felt like he was finally starting to put together some pieces.

  “Yes.” She seemed surprised that he’d heard of that. “You’re not really going to stand out there all night, are you?”

  “Oh.” Kip followed her into the tower.

  “Superchromats can see finer gradations in colors than most people.”

  “Are you one?” Kip asked.

  “Mmm-hmm. About half of all women are.”

  “But not that many men.”

  “There are only ten male superchromats in the entire Chromeria.”

  Ah, thus Mistress Hag calling Kip a freak. “That doesn’t seem fair,” Kip said.

  “What does fair have to do with it? Because you’re blue-eyed you’ll be able to draft more than I can. It’s not a matter of fair.”

  Kip frowned. “So you’ve got to be a superchromat to make yellow stay?”

  “Short answer? Yes. In truth, even superchromacy has degrees to it. You took that superchromacy test and there were maybe a hundred blocks with fine gradations? Imagine there were a thousand blocks, with the gradations of color that much finer. To make solid yellow that will stay, you’d have to pass that test—and then have the control to draft yellow in that tight, tight spectrum. The result, though, is the strongest of any luxin.”

  “Can you do it?” Kip asked.


  “Uh, that was probably a rude question, huh?” Kip asked, wrinkling his face.

  “I’m the last person here who’s going to hold the minutiae of tower etiquette against you.”

  “Which is a yes.”

  “Yes,” she said, smiling. Why were dimples so beautiful, anyway? “I still can’t believe you’re the Prism’s… nephew, Kip.”

  “You’re not the only one,” Kip said. So Gavin had been right. They all did p
ause before they said nephew. He guessed it should have felt better than hearing that he was a bastard all the time. It didn’t.

  They got on another lift and went down. Apparently there was some sort of order of precedence for who got what rooms. When they got into Liv’s room, Kip was surprised. It was not only large, but it was a suite of rooms—and facing the sunset. This had to be the kind of room most drafters would kill for.

  “I just moved here,” Liv said apologetically. “I’m a bichrome. Barely. I’m sure you’re exhausted. You can sleep in my bed.”

  Kip looked at her, flabbergasted, sure that she wasn’t saying what he thought she was saying, trying not to let his expression say anything at all.

  “I’ll sleep in the next room, silly. These new carpets are so thick I can sleep on them like a Parian.”

  Kip swallowed. “No, I didn’t think you were—I mean, I was just—um, I was thinking I shouldn’t take your bed. I should sleep in the next room.”

  “You’re my guest, and you’ve got to be exhausted. I insist.”

  “I’m, uh, I don’t want to get your bed all dirty. I’m sweaty and gross. From the testing.” Kip was looking at her bed. It was beautiful. Everything here was beautiful. At least they’d been treating her well.

  “The Thresher does that to people. I’ll get you a basin and you can sponge off a little before you pass out, but really, I insist.”

  Liv disappeared into the next room. Kip felt a lump growing in his throat. He hadn’t said anything so far about her father, but he could practically feel the subject growing between them. Liv came back in the room with steaming hot water, a sponge, and a thick towel. She set them down and then sat in a chair, facing away from Kip.

  “You don’t mind if I sit here and chat while you wash, do you?” she asked. “I won’t turn around, swear.”

  “Uh.” Of course he minded. She’d turn around when he was half naked and run screaming from the room, for Orholam’s sake. It was one thing for someone to know you were rotund, but it was something else entirely for them to see your fat rolls. At the same time, he was her guest and she hadn’t asked anything else of him. And he’d been rude.

  “So, Kip… how’s my father? You haven’t said anything about home.”

  For a long moment, Kip couldn’t say anything. Just start talking, Kip. Once you start, you’ll be able to tell her everything.

  “You’re sighing,” Liv said. “Is something wrong?”

  “You know how the satrap would send messengers to Rekton every year asking for levies?”

  “Yes?” Liv said her voice rising more with concern than asking a question.

  “You can turn around, I’m not naked.”

  She turned.

  “When Satrap Garadul’s son Rask took power, he declared himself king. He sent another messenger. The town sent that one away empty-handed too, so he decided to make an example of us.” Kip heaved a deep breath. “They killed everyone, Liv. I’m the only one who got away.”

  “My father? What about my father?”

  “He was trying to save people. But Liv, they completely surrounded the town. No one got out.”

  “You got out.” She didn’t believe him; he could see it on her face.

  “I was lucky.”

  “My father is one of the most talented drafters of his generation. Don’t tell me that you made it out and he didn’t.”

  “They had drafters and Mirrormen, Liv. I watched the Delclara family get run down. All of them. The whole town was on fire. I watched Ram and Isa and Sanson die. I watched my mother die.”

  “I don’t care about your drug-addled mother. I’m talking about my father! Don’t you tell me he’s dead. He’s not, damn you. He’s not!”

  Liv left the room in a whirlwind and slammed the door behind her.

  Kip stared at the door, his shoulders slumped, tears that he didn’t even understand in his eyes.

  Well, that went well.

  Chapter 47

  Seven years, seven great purposes, Gavin.

  Gavin held his right hand out and counted up from his thumb, drafting each color in turn: thumb to pinky, to ring finger, to middle finger, to index finger, back to middle, to ring, to pinky. A seven count, each color in turn, from sub-red to superviolet, feeling the little thread of emotion from each.

  For Orholam’s sake, I’m the Prism. I am the whole man. Master of all colors. In my prime. Stronger than any Prism in living memory. Maybe the strongest for hundreds of years. Most Prisms only lived seven years after their ascension. Only four had made it to twenty-one years. Always in multiples of seven—of course, they could be killed or die of natural causes too, but none burned out except on the multiple years. Gavin had made it to sixteen, so he had at least five years left. In fact, if any Prism could make it past twenty-one years, he would be the one to do it. He felt strong. He felt stronger and more in control of his colors than he had in his whole life.

  Of course, it could all be an illusion. He’d been exceptional in other ways; perhaps he’d pitch over and die tomorrow.

  He felt that familiar tightness in his chest again at the thought. He wasn’t afraid of death, but he was afraid of dying before he accomplished his purposes.

  He stood outside his father’s apartments in the Prism’s Tower. His father’s slave—Gavin knew the man’s name was Grinwoody, though it was rude to use a slave’s name if they didn’t reveal it to you themselves—was waiting, holding the door open. It was a door into darkness of more than one kind. There was sharp pain in Gavin’s chest. It was hard to breathe.

  Andross Guile didn’t know Gavin wasn’t Gavin. He didn’t know his elder son was rotting under the Chromeria. He thought Dazen was dead, and he’d never seemed concerned about it, much less sorry. Traitors were to be dismissed and never spoken of.

  “Lord Prism?” the slave asked.

  Gavin shook the last tendrils of luxin from his fingers, the waft of resinous smells a small comfort.

  Andross Guile’s room was kept completely dark. Thick velvet drapes had been hung over the windows, then the whole wall hung with more of the same in layers. An entry chamber had been erected around the entrance so that light from the hallway wouldn’t come in with his few visitors. Gavin drew in superviolet light and then stepped into the entry.

  Grinwoody pulled the door shut behind them. Gavin drew a little ball of superviolet into his hand, drafted imperfectly so it would be unstable. The instability caused it to slowly disintegrate back into light of its own spectrum. For a superviolet drafter, it was like carrying a torch whose light was invisible to everyone else. Neither Grinwoody nor Andross was a superviolet, so Gavin could have as much of the eerie violet light as he wanted.

  As Gavin watched, Grinwoody pushed a heavy pillow in front of the slight crack at the bottom of the door behind them. The man paused, letting his eyes become used to the darkness. He wasn’t a drafter, so he couldn’t directly control his eyes. In darkness, it took a dull—a non-drafter—half an hour or more to reach full sensitivity to light. Most drafters naturally could do it in ten minutes, just from spending so much time attuned to light. A few could reach full light sensitivity in seconds. But Grinwoody wasn’t trying to see. He had obviously memorized the layout of the room years ago; he was simply making sure he wasn’t allowing any light into High Master Guile’s chamber. Finally, satisfied, he opened the door.

  Gavin was glad to be holding superviolet. Like all drafters, he’d been taught not to rely on colors to change his moods. Like most, he failed often. It was a particular temptation for polychromes. There was a color for every feeling, or to counteract every feeling. Like right now. Using the superviolet spectrum was attended by a sense of remove or alienation or otherness. Sometimes it seemed ironic or cynical. Always it was like looking down at himself from above.

  You’re the Prism, and you’re afraid of an old man.

  In the superviolet light of his torch, Gavin saw his father sitting in a high-backed padded chair turned toward a covered
, boarded-up window. Andross Guile had been a tall, powerfully built man. Now his weight had dropped from his broad shoulders to form a little ball in his paunch. He wasn’t corpulent; it was just that what weight he had was in his gut. His arms and legs had grown thin from years spent hardly moving from that chair, his skin loose and spotted already at sixty-five.

  “Son, so good of you to come visit. An old man grows lonely.”

  “I’m sorry, father. The White keeps me very busy.”

  “You shouldn’t be so supine with that wheeled wench. You should arrange for the hag to join the Freeing this year.”

  Gavin let that pass without comment. It was an old argument. The White said the same things about Andross, minus the derogation. Gavin sat beside his father and studied him in the eerie superviolet light of his torch.

  Despite the absolute darkness of the room, Andross Guile wore blackened spectacles molded tight around his eye sockets. Gavin couldn’t imagine living in utter darkness. He hadn’t even done that to his brother. Andross Guile had been a yellow to sub-red polychrome. Like so many other drafters during the False Prism’s War, he’d pushed himself to his absolute limit. And beyond. He’d fought, of course, for his eldest son. Using too much magic, he’d finally destroyed his body’s defenses against it. But after the war, when so many drafters had taken the Freeing, Andross had instead withdrawn to these rooms. When Gavin had first come to visit Andross here, there had been blue filters set on the windows. With his own power at the opposite end of the spectrum, Andross had felt safe with blue light. Since then, the chirurgeons had told him he needed complete darkness if he was to keep fighting the colors. If he was taking such extreme precautions, he must be very close to the brink indeed.

  “I hear you’re trying to start a war,” Andross said.

  “I rarely try without succeeding, I’m afraid,” Gavin said. He didn’t bother marveling that his father already knew. Of course Andross Guile knew. The man owned the loyalty or the fear of half of the most powerful women and men in the tower.

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