The black prism, p.35
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       The Black Prism, p.35
 

           Brent Weeks

  The intensity, the story, the lack of color in her eyes, the stumble that hadn’t been a stumble. It had been a lunge. The lack of embarrassment at Kip being pressed against her breasts—because you don’t let the touch of a little flesh deter you. Not when you’ve come to kill.

  Kip’s hands slapped against the edge of the balcony behind him. With only one leg in her hands, Mistress Helel lifted sharply. She was so strong that Kip’s weight was no problem for her.

  If he’d been a brave man, Kip would have fought her. If he’d been flexible, he would let her pick up the one leg while he stood on the other and beat her to a bloody pulp. Instead, Kip took the fatty’s way. He went limp, floppy, making all his weight dead weight, seeking the ground the way he’d done when Ram would try to show off by picking him up and throwing him on the ground. If Kip collapsed, Ram could never lift him, where if he held himself rigid, Ram could hold his weight easily.

  Mistress Helel brought one hand off Kip’s left leg, seeking a grip anywhere on his round body. Kip wriggled like a fish, pushing off the balcony, trying to push himself back into the tower. She pinned him against the corner of the balcony with her own substantial weight and drew back her left hand to punch him.

  But the floor called him, and without her strong arm to hold him, Kip answered. Her fist descended and landed a glancing blow, but Kip fell. She lost her hold and he went turtle, barely keeping a grip on his pant leg. Cursing, she tried to lift him by that alone.

  His pants ripped, and then slipped off his waist. They tangled around his knees, but however his baggy pants hampered his movements, they did nothing to help the assassin lift him either. She cursed him and punched his leg, taking a wide stance to pound him. He yelped. Then she slugged him in the stomach, taking his breath away. She snarled. “Take your death like a man.”

  Kip bit her ankle.

  The assassin cried out and fell on top of him. She recovered enough to land knee-first on his chest. Then she angled her fall so she crushed and trapped him. Apparently Kip wasn’t the only one who knew how to use his weight to good advantage. She landed with her head toward his feet.

  She trapped one of Kip’s legs in one iron hand. Then she punched his thigh. She caught it dead center. It was like being kicked by a horse. He screamed. Then she grabbed his other leg. No amount of thrashing could break her grip. It was hard to even breathe with her on top of him, her legs crushing his face. She pummeled his other leg, and it too went dead. She pushed herself up and punched him in the groin.

  Stars flashed in front of Kip’s eyes. Any thought of counterattack fled. He just wanted to curl into a ball. Her weight shifted, crushing him again, and then she stood. She had one of his ankles in each of her hands, and she lifted him easily. She was going to toss him over the balcony, dear Orholam. There was nothing he could do to stop it.

  Eyes squinted in pain, weakly thrashing, Kip saw a thin beam of superviolet luxin stick to the assassin’s head.

  “Stop it! Drop him now!” a young woman screamed from inside the room. Liv?

  The assassin snarled a curse and turned toward Liv just as a yellow luxin ball blasted from her hands, zipped along the superviolet line, and exploded in a blinding flash against the assassin’s face. Mistress Helel dropped Kip, lifting a hand to protect herself too late, and staggered backward.

  She was so tall that the rail of the balcony caught her below the waist. She hit it hard and tottered. Her meaty hands slapped onto the rail as she went on tiptoe, feet seeking purchase. Kip, lying on the ground, slid a hand under her foot and lifted. Not hard—he was in so much pain he could barely move—but it was enough.

  The assassin felt herself going over the edge and scrambled. She fell—and caught herself on the rail of the balcony. Through the clear yellow of the balcony, she swung face-to-face with Kip. Each balcony had a small gap for rainwater to sluice off so it wouldn’t fill with water, and the big woman’s face was barely a foot from Kip’s own.

  Kip looked at her. He knew how this ended. Some skinny woman might be able to pull her weight up, but not a woman this size. Kip was strong—he could lift heavier things than Sanson or even Ram—but when you were really big, heaving your entire weight over a ledge was impossible. And this woman was much bigger than he was. Mistress Helel heaved, and for one terrifying moment Kip thought he was wrong. Her elbows bent and her body lifted. She swung one heavy leg to the side, trying to reach it high enough to reach the rain-gap in the balcony.

  Then her strength gave out and she swung back to vertical. She was finished. Kip could see it in her eyes. “Light cannot be chained, Little Guile,” she said. “Anat blind you. Mot smite you to the tenth generation. Belphegor blight your sons. Atirat spit on your mother’s grave. Ferrilux corrupt your father’s—”

  Kip punched her through the rain-gap. Her nose crunched in a spray of blood. She must have been expecting the blow, because she tried to snag his fist—but missed.

  She fell, flailing all the way, screaming something, but Kip couldn’t make out the words. She slammed into a sharp boulder not five paces from the crashing waves of the Cerulean Sea, and her body actually burst asunder, a piece—a leg?—shearing off and flying to splash into the water as the rest of her crunched in one long bloody smudge.

  It didn’t seem real. Part of Kip knew that could have been him, maybe should have been him, but he was suddenly aware of Liv standing just inside her apartments. “Kip, Kip, we killed her,” Liv was saying. Kip was more aware that his balls were aching and he was pretty much naked in front of the only girl he knew, and he was fat and gross and should cover himself immediately.

  He’d barely hiked up his pants by the time Liv lurched to the balcony rail and vomited. Kip hated throwing up. He hated himself throwing up, and he hated other people throwing up. But worst, he discovered, as the wind blew across the yellow tower and carried mist through the rain-gap, Kip hated being thrown up on. Little misty wetness stuck to his face and in his open mouth.

  He rolled over, spitting and coughing and slapping at his own face to wipe off puke-mist. He rolled to his feet, balls still aching, face scrunched.

  “Oh no,” Liv said, her face gray and mortified, realizing she’d thrown up on him. She looked from him, to his crotch where his pants were torn, and then to the rocks so far below. She struggled for words and found none.

  “You know, I’m glad things aren’t awkward between us,” Kip said. Did I really just say that? It was like part of him couldn’t help being totally inappropriate. He’d just killed someone, and he was so terrified and pained and embarrassed and mortified and thankful to be alive and he didn’t even know what all else, he couldn’t help himself.

  Liv’s mouth twitched up for half a moment, and then she leaned back over the rail and vomited again.

  Always something to say, never the right thing. Well done, Kip.

  Chapter 51

  “Midsummer is coming,” the White said. “Sun Day.”

  Gavin stood in front of her on the top of the Chromeria. Together, they were waiting for the sun to rise. Midsummer, as far as Gavin was concerned, was always coming.

  “I’ve started preparations for the Freeing,” she said. “Do you think your father will commune this year?”

  Gavin snorted. “Not this year. Not ever.” He rubbed his temples. He hadn’t slept.

  “It’s not natural,” the White said quietly. “I used to marvel at his self-control, you know. Living in that awful room, keeping his mind sharp, keeping the nightmares at bay.”

  “Nightmares have to keep him at bay.”

  “I live half in darkness, Gavin,” the White said as if he hadn’t interrupted. “That’s how it feels to live without drafting. But to live fully in darkness? Is that not a denial of Orholam himself? ‘They love the darkness, for their deeds are dark, and the light shames them.’ ”

  “I leave the state of my father’s soul to my father. Are we not to honor our fathers, rendering obedience unto the authority the Father of All has entrusted
to them?”

  “You’re not just a son, Gavin. You’re the Prism. You should honor Orholam by practicing the authority he’s given you, not just the power.”

  “Maybe it’s time for you to be Freed,” Gavin said bitterly. He had these conversations at least once a year. He was sick of it. The White asked after his father, his father suggested the White go first. Both pressured him to pressure the other.

  The White held her hands out, palms up. “If you command it, my Prism, I will join the Freeing. Gladly.”

  Her words stopped him cold. She meant it.

  “I also obey,” the White said. “It might surprise you to learn it, Gavin, but I drew the straw to become the White before I began to understand what it was to even be a drafter, much less a Color, much less the White. But perhaps it is not a lesson that can be taught, only learned.”

  “What are you talking about?” Gavin asked.

  “Do you know why faith is harder for us, my Lord Prism?” The White grinned. Sometimes despite her years, she seemed a mischievous girl.

  “Because we know Orholam sleeps a hundred years for every day he wakes?” Gavin asked. He was tired, and not just from the insomnia.

  She refused the bait. “Because we know ourselves. Because others obey us as though we were gods, and we know we’re not. We see the fragility of our own power, and through it we see the fragility of every other link. What if the Spectrum suddenly refused my orders? Not hard to imagine, when you consider the scheming and lust for power it takes to become a Color. What if a general suddenly refuses his satrap’s orders? What if a son refuses his father’s orders? What if that first link in the Great Chain of being—Orholam Himself—is as empty as every other link before him? Seeing the weakness of each link, we think the Great Chain itself is fragile: surely at any moment it will burst if we don’t do everything in our power to hold it together.”

  Gavin swallowed involuntarily. He’d never really universalized the thought as she was doing, but he always thought his whole life was like that. His deceptions, his authority, his imprisoned brother, his relationships. A chain of wet paper, drooping under its own sodden weight. A chain to which he added new weight every day.

  “Here’s what I’ve learned,” the White said. “Orholam doesn’t need me. Oh, I can do good work for him, work that pleases him, and if I foul it, others will suffer. You see, what I do still matters, but in the end, Orholam’s will prevails. So I think I still have work to do. I see unfinished business everywhere I look. But if you tell me that I should be Freed this Midsummer’s, I will do so gladly, not because I have faith in you, Gavin—though I do, more than you know—but because I have faith in Orholam.”

  Gavin looked at her like she was a visitor from the moon. “That was very… metaphysical. Can we talk about the Freeing now?”

  She laughed. “Here’s the thing, Gavin. You remember everything. I know you do. You think I’m crazy now, but you’ll remember this, and someday it might make a difference. And with that, I can be content.”

  Madwoman or saint—but then, Gavin didn’t think there was any difference.

  “I’m going to Garriston,” he said.

  She folded her hands in her lap and turned toward the rising light.

  “Let me explain,” Gavin rushed to say. Then he did, ignoring the beauty of the sunrise. Ten minutes later, he was almost finished when the White raised a finger. She held her breath, then sighed as the sun itself mastered the horizon. “Do you ever watch for the green flash?”

  “Sometimes,” Gavin said. He knew people who swore they’d seen it, though no one could explain what it was or why it happened, and he knew others who swore it was a myth.

  “I think of it as Orholam’s wink,” the White said.

  Is everything about Orholam with her? Maybe she is fading.

  “You’ve seen it?” Gavin asked.

  “Twice. The first time was… fifty-nine years ago now? No, sixty. It was the night I met Ulbear.” Gavin had to reach to remember the name. Oh, Ulbear Rathcore, the White’s husband and quite a famous man in his day. Dead now twenty years. “I was at a party, quite disgusted with the drunk young gentleman who’d escorted me there and most certainly wasn’t going to be escorting me home. I went outside to get some air. Watched the sun set, saw the green flash, and was so excited I jumped. Unfortunately this very tall fellow was leaning over me to grab his wineglass that he’d left on the balcony, and I broke his nose with the back of my head.”

  “You met Ulbear Rathcore by breaking his nose?”

  “The woman he was escorting that night was none too pleased. She was beautiful, graceful, prettier than I was by half, and somehow she couldn’t compete with little clumsy me. Though I can’t imagine she would have been happy if she’d married Ulbear, your grandmother didn’t forgive me for two years.”

  “My grandmother?”

  “If I hadn’t seen the green flash at that instant, your grandmother would have married Ulbear, and you wouldn’t be here now, Gavin.” The White laughed. “See, you never know what you’ll learn when you let old women prattle.”

  Gavin was left speechless.

  “You can go to Garriston, of course, Gavin, but no one else can perform the Freeing, and it can be done at no other time. So there’s only one option: I’ll send all those to be Freed to Garriston. I’ll have to send our fastest ships to intercept theirs so they can arrive in time.”

  “We’re talking about war,” Gavin said.

  “And?”

  “What do you mean ‘and’?” he demanded. “I’m not going to have time to throw parties and set off fireworks and give speeches.”

  “The list I have so far is only perhaps a hundred and fifty drafters. Not a large flight this year. A good proportion of those definitely won’t make it to next year. You want another eighty or ninety color wights?”

  “Of course not.”

  “The parties are nice, Gavin, but understand what you are. This is the flip side of your first purpose.” She’d figured out that he’d sworn to wipe out color wights because of Sevastian. Like everything she learned, she used it to control him. “Even if you don’t believe the Prism is Orholam’s gift to mankind, they do. The minutes each drafter spends with you being Freed are the holiest moments of her life. You can take that away, but it would be the worst thing you could do. I for one can forgive you much, but I’d never forgive you that.”

  That stung.

  “Now, tell me how you dropped off Karris in Tyrea, killed a giist, and brought back a son, all within a few days. The trip alone should have taken you two weeks.”

  Well that was quick. He’d known she would learn of the skimmer and the condor as soon as he’d shown Karris, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself. Maybe he was impulsive. So he told her about the skimmer and the condor. Her eyes lit up. “That would be something to see, Gavin. Flying! And the speed! I suppose you’ll want to go back to Garriston the same way?”

  “Yes, and I’m taking Kip with me.”

  Again she surprised him and didn’t protest. “Good,” she said. “It will be good for you to learn about a father’s love.”

  Because I sure as the evernight didn’t learn about that from my own father. Then Gavin realized that was exactly what she meant, and he bristled. But there was no point fighting over his father again.

  “So what was the second time?” he asked instead.

  “Second time?”

  “The second time you saw the green flash. The second time Orholam winked.” He kept the sarcasm out of his voice. Mostly.

  She smiled. “I look forward to the day when I tell you that, my Lord Prism, but that day is not today.” Then her smile passed. “When you return, we need to talk about Kip’s testing.”

  “You noticed the wall crystals. I thought I stopped it in time.”

  “Old? Yes. Addled? Not yet.”

  “You want to hear me admit it? Kip nearly broke the test,” Gavin said. “Like Dazen did.”

  “Or worse, passed
it,” the White said.

  Chapter 52

  Karris knew she was even deeper in trouble than she’d feared within five minutes of being captured. King Garadul’s Mirrormen walked her at gunpoint over to a wagon. They didn’t bind her hands, which she thought was curious and gave her a momentary hope. Then the Mirrormen handed her off to half a dozen drafters, all women. Two Mirrormen stayed, their pistols leveled at her head, barely blinking.

  The women—two reds, a green, a blue, and a super—stripped her naked and searched her and her clothes, quickly finding her eye caps. The two Mirrormen barely even glanced at her body, and though men around the camp turned to see whatever they could between all the drafters surrounding her, there wasn’t a single ribald comment.

  Disciplined. Damn it.

  Crossing her arms over her breasts, Karris looked down, feigning embarrassment. Well, maybe not completely feigning.

  “Eyes up!” one of the reds commanded.

  Karris looked up. They wanted to see her eyes so they would know as soon as she tried to draft. Smart too, damn it twice.

  In rapid order, they went through all her clothing, scrunching every seam to look for hidden pockets. Then they went through her bag, one carefully cataloguing all the items in a codex. After they’d found everything, Karris hoped they’d give her back her clothes.

  No such luck. Instead, they opened the door of the wagon and threw a violet dress and shift inside.

  “Get in,” the same red who’d spoken before said.

  Karris got in and the door slammed behind her. She heard a bar being lowered and chains pulled into place. The inside of the wagon was fairly spacious. There was a pallet to sleep on, a chamber pot, a cup of water, several blankets and pillows—all violet, the deepest into the blue spectrum they could find. And from the noxious smell, all freshly painted. The windows were fitted with bars and violet glass, draped on the outside with violet cloth. Apparently they were taking her drafting seriously, and from their study of her eyes and the mag torches, they knew she could draft green and red. Rather than risk a color that was between her colors, they’d picked the one farthest to the end of the spectrum she didn’t draft.

 
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