The night angel trilogy, p.35
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.35

           Brent Weeks
 

  Dorian shrugged.

  “Where is it?” Solon asked. From the bland looks on their faces, he knew. “You brought it here?!”

  Feir walked to the little bed and threw back the blankets. Curoch lay sheathed on the bed. The scabbard was white leather, inlaid with gold Hyrillic script and capped with gold.

  “That’s not the original scabbard, surely.”

  “It’s work like this that makes me want to never be a sword smith,” Feir said. “The scabbard is the original. Woven thick with magic as fine as Gandian silk, and I think all that’s just to preserve the leather. It won’t stay dirty, won’t take a mark. The gold inlay is real, too. Pure gold. Hardened to where it would stand against iron or even steel. If I could figure out that technique alone, my heirs would be rich to the twelfth generation.”

  “We’ve barely dared unsheathe the sword, and of course we haven’t tried to use it,” Dorian said.

  “I should hope not,” Solon said. “Dorian, why would you bring it here? Have you seen something?”

  He shook his head. “Artifacts of such power skew my vision. They themselves and the lusts they invoke are so intense that it fogs my sight.”

  Suddenly, he was drifting again, but drifting was too gentle a word for it. His vision latched onto Solon and images streamed past him. Impossible visions. Solon against incredible odds. Solon as a white-haired old man, except not old, but—blast, the image disappeared before he could understand it. Solon Solon Solon. Solon dying. Solon killing. Solon on a storm-tossed ship. Solon saving Regnus from a wetboy. Solon killing the king. Solon dooming Cenaria. Solon propelling Dorian into Khalidor. A beautiful woman in a chamber of a hundred portraits of beautiful women. Jenine. Dorian’s heart lurched. Garoth Ursuul.

  “Dorian? Dorian?” the voice was distant, but Dorian grabbed onto the sound and pulled himself back to it.

  He shook himself, gasping as if emerging from a cold lake.

  “It’s getting worse as you get stronger, isn’t it?” Solon asked.

  “He trades his mind for the visions,” Feir said. “He won’t listen to me.”

  “My sanity isn’t necessary for the work I must do,” Dorian said simply. “My visions are.” The dice were in his hand, not just two dice, a whole handful of dice, each with a dozen faces. How many twelves can I throw? He would be throwing blind; he could see that Solon already was thinking he should leave, that no matter how good it was to see his old friends, he had to try to save Regnus Gyre. But Dorian had a feeling. That was the damnable thing. Sometimes it was as logical as a sesch game. Sometimes it was just an itch.

  “Anyway, where were we?” he asked, playing the oblivious seer. “Feir doesn’t have enough Talent to use Curoch. If he tried, he’d either burn or explode. No offense, friend, you have finer control than either of us. I could use it, but only safely as a meister; my mage powers probably aren’t strong enough. Of course using it with the vir would be a total disaster. I don’t even know what I’d do. Of us, Solon, you’re the only mage in the room, or the country for that matter, who could hope to even hold it without dying, though it would be a near thing. You’d die if you tried to use more than a fraction of its power. Hmm.” He gazed into space as if he were suddenly caught by another vision. The line was set.

  “Surely you didn’t bring it all this way for nothing,” Solon said.

  Set and sprung.

  “No. We had to get it away from the brothers. It was our only chance. If we’d waited until after we returned, they would have known they couldn’t trust us. It would have been kept far from us.”

  “Dorian, you still believe in that one God of yours, don’t you?” Solon asked.

  “I think he sometimes confuses himself with Him,” Feir said. It was uncharacteristically bitter and it struck Dorian deeply. It hurt because it was deserved. He was doing it right now.

  “Feir’s right,” Dorian said. “Solon, I was setting you up to take the sword. I shouldn’t treat you that way. You deserve better and I’m sorry.”

  “Damn,” Solon said. “You knew I was thinking of taking it?”

  Dorian nodded. “I don’t know if it’s the right thing or not. I didn’t know you’d walk in our door until a second before you did. With Curoch, everything gets twisted. If you use it, Khalidor may well take it from us. That would be a disaster far greater than losing your friend Regnus, or even losing this entire country.”

  “The risk is unacceptable,” Feir said.

  “What good does it do anyone if we don’t use it?” Solon said.

  “It keeps it out of the hands of the Vürdmeisters!” Feir said. “That’s good enough. There’s only a handful of mages in the world who could hold Curoch without dying, and you know it. We also know that there are dozens of Vürdmeisters who could. With Curoch in their hands, what could stop them?”

  “I have a feeling about this,” Dorian said. “Maybe the God is nudging me. I just think it’s right. I feel like it’s connected to the Guardian of Light.”

  “I thought you’d given up on those old prophecies,” Solon said.

  “If you take Curoch, the Guardian will be born in our lifetimes.” Even as Dorian said it, he knew it was true. “I’ve been living so long saying I had faith, but it isn’t really faith when you just do what you see, is it? I think the God wants us to take this crazy risk. I think he’ll bring good out of it.”

  Feir threw up his hands. “Dorian, the God is always your out. You run into a wall rationally and you say the God is speaking to you. It’s ridiculous. If this one God of yours created everything like you say, he also gave us reason, right? Why the hell would he make us do something so irrational?”

  “I’m right.”

  “Dorian,” Solon said. “Can I really use it?”

  “If you use it, everyone in fifty miles will know it. Maybe even the ungifted. You run all the normal risks of drawing too much power, but your upper limit is higher than its lowest threshold. Things are happening too fast for me to see much, but I’m going to tell you this, Solon. The invasion force was headed for Modai.” Until Kylar didn’t kill Durzo Blint. “So they were prepared for a different kind of war. The boats arrive tonight. They have sixty meisters.”

  “Sixty! That’s more than some of our schools,” Feir said.

  “There are at least three Vürdmeisters capable of calling forth pit wyrms.”

  “If I see any little men with wings, I’ll run,” Solon said.

  “You’re mad,” Feir said. “Dorian, we need to leave. This kingdom’s doomed. They’ll capture Curoch; they’ll capture you, and then what hope will the rest of the world have? We need to pick a battle we can win.”

  “Unless the God is with us, we won’t win any battles, Feir.”

  “Don’t give me that God bullshit! I won’t let Solon take Curoch, and I’m taking you back to Sho’cendi. Your madness is taking you.”

  “Too late,” Solon said. He scooped up the sword from the bed.

  “We both know I can take that away from you,” Feir said.

  “In a swordfight, sure,” Solon agreed. “But if you try to take it, I’ll just draw power through it and stop you. Like Dorian said, every meister within fifty miles will know we have an artifact here, and they’ll all come looking for it.”

  “You wouldn’t,” Feir said.

  Solon’s face took on an intensity Dorian hadn’t seen since he’d left Sho’fasti wearing his first blue robes. Now, as then, the slab of a man looked more like a soldier than like one of the foremost mages of the day. “I will do it,” Solon said. “I’ve given ten years of my life for this backwater, and they’ve been good years. It’s been damn good to stand for something rather than just watch from the side and criticize everyone who’s actually doing something. You should try it. You used to, you know? What happened to the Feir Cousat who went and took this sword in the first place? I’m going to do something here. Don’t spoil my chance to make it be useful. Come on, Feir, if we can fight Khalidor, how could we not?”

/>   “Once you make your mind up, you’re about as easy to move as Dorian,” Feir said.

  “Thank you,” Solon said.

  “I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”

  48

  The man who had ordered soldiers to arrest Regnus hadn’t been much use. They’d captured him coming out of an inn after lunch. His interrogation had been short if not kind. He’d given them his commanding officer’s name, one Thaddeus Blat.

  Thaddeus Blat was currently being entertained upstairs in a brothel called the Winking Wench. Regnus and his men were waiting downstairs, seated at various tables, and not doing a good job of remaining inconspicuous.

  It all made Regnus nervous. He didn’t know this man, but soldiers tended to visit brothels in the middle of the afternoon only when they knew something big was going to happen. Something from which they might not return. He also didn’t like being out in public. Years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere without people recognizing his face. He had been presumed to be the next king, after all. But that had been years ago. Few people looked at him twice now. He was a big, threatening man in the Warrens. Apparently, that outweighed the fact that he was a rich nobleman in the Warrens.

  Finally the man came downstairs. He was swarthy, with a single thick black eyebrow and a face etched with a permanent glower. Regnus stood after the man walked past and followed him to the stable. They’d already paid the stable boy to abandon his post, and by the time Regnus got there, Thaddeus Blat was bleeding from his nose and the corner of his mouth, disarmed, held by four soldiers, and cursing.

  “That’s not what I want to hear coming out of your mouth, Lieutenant,” Regnus said. He gestured and the men kicked the back of Blat’s knees so he dropped in front of the trough. Regnus grabbed a handful of hair and pressed his head under water.

  “Tie his hands. This may take a few minutes,” Regnus said.

  Blat came up gasping and flailing, but the soldiers bound his hands in short order. Thaddeus Blat spat toward Regnus, missed, and cursed him.

  “Slow learner,” Regnus said, and heaved. The man went under and this time Regnus waited until he stopped flailing. “When they stop fighting,” he said to his men, “it means they understand for the first time that they might actually die unless they really concentrate. I think he’ll be a little more polite this time.”

  He pulled Blat up, his dark hair plastered to his forehead down to his single brow, and Blat saved his air for breathing for a long moment. “Who are you?” he asked.

  “I’m Duke Regnus Gyre, and you’re going to tell me everything you know about my people’s death.”

  The man cursed him again.

  “Turn him a little,” Regnus said. They did, and he drove his fist into the man’s solar plexus, driving the wind from his lungs. Thaddeus Blat only had time to suck in half a breath before he went under.

  Regnus held him below the water until bubbles burst on the surface, then he dragged Thaddeus up, but only for a moment. Then he pushed him back down again. He repeated the process four times. When he pulled Blat up the fifth time, he released his head.

  “I’m running out of time, Thaddeus Blat, and I’ve got nothing to lose by killing you. I’ve already killed my wife and all my servants, remember? So if I have to put your face under that water one more time, I’m going to hold it there until you’re dead.”

  Real fear was painted across the lieutenant’s face in dripping watercolors. “They don’t tell me anything—no, wait! I swear it. I don’t get my new orders until tonight. But this one goes all the way to the top. To the top of the Kin, you know?”

  “The Sa’kagé?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Not good enough. Sorry.”

  They plunged his head back under the water and he thrashed like a demon, but on his knees, with his hands tied, there was nothing he could do. “You set a limit, and then you break it,” Regnus said. “Most people can hold out if they’ve been given a limit. They tell themselves, ‘I can hold out that long.’ Let him up.”

  The man spluttered as he came up, spitting out inhaled water and wheezing. “You think of anything else?” Regnus asked, but he didn’t give Thaddeus time to respond.

  He dunked the man again. “Sir,” one of the soldiers said, looking a little queasy. “If you don’t mind my asking, how do you know all this?”

  Regnus grinned. “I got captured by the Lae’knaught during a border raid when I was young. But we don’t have the time to use everything I learned from them. Up.”

  “Wait!” Thaddeus Blat cried out. “I overheard them saying that Hu Gibbet’s next deader was the queen. Her and her daughters. That’s all I know. Gods, that’s all I know. He’s going to kill them tonight in the queen’s chambers after the banquet. Please don’t kill me. I swear that’s all I know.”

  They had promised Kaldrosa Wyn a man-o’-war and put her on a sea cow instead. The Sethi pirate hadn’t been able to say no to the money. Damn the mother who whelped me, why didn’t I say no? Looking over the port side, she barked an order and men scurried to adjust the sails to catch another cupful of wind. Sails? Bedsheets, more like. The sails were too small. The ship and its sister were too fat and ungainly to outrun a rowboat piloted by a one-handed monkey. In short, the Cenarian warships would be on them in minutes, and there wasn’t a damn thing Kaldrosa Wyn could do about it.

  “If you’re going to do something, now might be a good time,” she told the circle of wytches sitting on the barge’s deck.

  “Wench,” the leader of the wytches said, “no one tells a meister his work. Understood?” The man’s eyes didn’t rise from her bare breasts until the last word.

  “Then to hell with ya,” Kaldrosa said. She spat over the side, not betraying the queasiness that rose in her at the touch of that wytch’s eyes. The bastards had been staring at her breasts for the entire trip. Normally around foreigners, she’d have covered herself, but she liked making the Khalidorans uncomfortable. Wytches were another matter.

  Kaldrosa reefed the sails and had the men below decks start rowing, but even that was hopeless. Khalidoran craftsmanship. They’d even designed the oars poorly. They were too short. Even with the hundreds of men she was carrying, she couldn’t translate their strength into speed because not enough men could man the oars at once, nor was there room below for full sweep. She cursed her greed and the wytches—quietly.

  In minutes, the three Cenarian warships were on them. It was a shame. In all the ocean, Cenaria couldn’t have had more than a dozen ships in her navy, and Kaldrosa had found the three best ships of it. In her Sparrowhawk or any Sethi ship with a Sethi crew, she’d be safe.

  The wytches finally stood as the first Cenarian ship drew within a hundred paces. They were going to ram her sea cow at an angle and sheer off the oars. Eighty paces. Seventy. Fifty. Thirty.

  The wytches had their hands twined. They were chanting and it seemed darker on deck than it had been a moment before, but nothing was happening. The sailors and soldiers on the Cenarian ship were shouting to each other and at her, getting ready for the collision and the battle to follow.

  “Damn you,” she yelled, “do something!”

  Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something immense pass by, under the ship. She turned to brace for the impact, but instead only got a face full of water. There was a tremendous crack, and when her vision cleared, she saw pieces of the Cenarian ship flying through the air. But not many pieces. Not enough to account for an entire ship.

  Then she saw the rest of the ship through the shallow blue waters. Somehow, it had been sucked down in an instant. The flying pieces were merely what had broken off the decks and the sails as the water broke over the ship.

  The sea went black, as if a thick cloud had passed in front of the sun, but it undulated. It took Kaldrosa a moment to realize that something enormous was passing beneath her ship. Something absolutely immense. She saw the wytches chanting, more than their hands intertwined now. It seemed as if the bla
ck tattoos that all of them wore had torn free of their hands and were holding each other, pulsing with power. The wytches were sweating as if under tremendous strain.

  Water swelled as if an immense arrow were passing just under the surface of the sea—and then stopped as it reached the second Cenarian warship. The men on its deck, fifty paces away, were shouting, shooting arrows into the water, brandishing swords, the captain trying to turn the ship.

  For five seconds nothing happened, then two gray massive somethings slapped against the Cenarian ship’s deck. They were too big for Kaldrosa to even guess what they could be for a moment—each one covered nearly a quarter of the ship’s hull. Then the ship bounced ten paces out of the sea, straight up, and Kaldrosa saw that they were fingers of a massive gray hand. Then the hand went down and the entire ship disappeared under the waves, bursting apart as the water closed over it, throwing splinters in a wave.

  Then the black shape was moving again. It was too big to be real. And this time, the men on the last Cenarian ship were screaming. Kaldrosa heard orders being shouted, but there was too much chaos. The ship drifted, even though it had closed the distance with her sea cow while the other ships had been being destroyed, and was now almost touching it.

  The sea swelled again, but this time there was no pause. The leviathan swam beneath the Cenarian ship at incredible speed, rising high enough in the water that spines from its back rose thirty feet in the air.

  The spines cut the ship in half and two flicks of a gray tail smashed each half into the ocean. The Khalidoran soldiers who’d crowded the deck—Kaldrosa hadn’t even noticed them emerging—cheered.

  She was about to begin ordering them back to their places when the cheering suddenly stopped. The soldiers were pointing. She followed their gaze and saw that swell rising again, this time pointed straight for them. The wytches were sweating freely, open panic on their faces.

  “No!” a young wytch shouted. “That won’t work. Like this.”

  Something rippled out from the wytches toward the leviathan. It met the oncoming beast, and nothing happened. The soldiers cried out in horror.

 
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