The night angel trilogy, p.36
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.36
 

           Brent Weeks

  Then the huge shape turned and went out to sea.

  The soldiers cheered and the wytches collapsed on the deck. But something wasn’t finished. Kaldrosa saw that immediately. Even as she ordered the oars pulled and the sails raised once more, she kept an eye on the wytches.

  The leader was speaking to the young man who—if Kaldrosa guessed correctly—had taken control and saved all of their lives. The young man shook his head, staring at the deck.

  “Obedience unto death,” she heard him say.

  The leader spoke again, too low for Kaldrosa to make out, and the other eleven wytches gathered around the two men. They laid their hands on the young man who’d saved them all, and Kaldrosa saw his tattoos rise from below his skin. They swelled and swelled until his arms were black, and then they burst—not outward, away from the wytch’s body, but in, as if they were veins that had been overfilled and now leaked through the rest of his body. The ruptured tattoos bled beneath the young man’s skin and he collapsed to the deck, twitching violently. In moments, his entire body was black. He thrashed and choked, and in moments he was dead.

  Everyone else on the ship was studiously ignoring the wytches. Kaldrosa found herself the only one watching the exchange. The leader of the wytches said a word, and the other wytches tossed the corpse overboard. Then he turned and watched her with too-blue eyes.

  Never again, Kaldrosa swore to herself. Never again.

  “Do you know the secret of effective blackmail, Durzo?” Roth asked. He was seated at a fine oak table incongruously placed in a typical Warrens hovel. Durzo stood before him like a chastened courtier standing before the king. Roth’s chair was even raised. The presumption.

  “Yes,” Durzo said. He wasn’t in any mood for games.

  “Refresh me,” Roth said, looking up from the reports he’d been reading. He was not amused.

  Durzo cursed himself and cursed fate. He’d done everything to avert this, paid every price of misery, and yet it had come. “Use your hold to get a better hold.”

  “You’ve made that difficult for me, Durzo. You’ve convinced everyone that you don’t give a damn about anything.”

  “Thank you.” Durzo didn’t smile. It wasn’t in him to play the abased servant.

  “The problem is, I’m more clever than you are.”

  “Cleverer.”

  Roth’s close-set eyes narrowed at Blint’s blithe monotone. Roth was a lean young man with an angular face obscured by an oiled black goatee and long hair. He disliked making words for their own sake. He disliked people. He stuck out an open hand. Waited.

  Durzo tossed him the bit of pretty silver glass.

  Roth looked at it briefly and threw it back, unamused. “Don’t toy with me, assassin. I know there was a real one there. We have two spies who saw someone bond it.”

  “Then they should have told you someone got there first.”

  “Really?”

  Roth was mimicking Momma K’s tendency to state questions. He probably thought it made him seem authoritative. Roth was out of his league if he thought mimicking Momma K would be enough to hold power. Part of Durzo wanted to tell Roth that Momma K was the Shinga. Roth obviously didn’t know, and Momma K had betrayed Durzo, but Durzo had no taste for using rats to do a man’s work. If he killed Gwinvere, he’d do it with his own hands. If? I’m going soft. When. She betrayed me. She must die.

  “Really,” Durzo answered, with no intonation.

  “Then I think it’s time for you to meet another of my cards.” There was no signal that Durzo could see, but an old man stepped into the hovel instantly. The creature was short and bent still further by more years than a mortal frame should endure. He had piercing blue eyes and a fringe of silver hair combed over a bald dome of head.

  The man gave a toothless grin. “I am Vürdmeister Neph Dada, counselor and seer to His Majesty.”

  Not just any wytch. A Vürdmeister. Durzo Blint felt old. “How exalted. I thought you called your dog kings His Holiness,” Durzo said.

  “His Majesty,” Neph Dada said, “Roth Ursuul, ninth aetheling of the Godking.” He bowed to Roth.

  By the Night Angels. He wasn’t kidding.

  Neph Dada grabbed Durzo’s chin with a frail hand and pulled it down toward himself until Durzo looked into his eyes. “He knows who took the Globe of Edges,” Neph said.

  There was no denying it. Not with a Vürdmeister here. Vürdmeisters were supposed to be able to read minds. It wasn’t true, but it was close enough. Most of them couldn’t do it, Durzo knew. Even those who could didn’t actually read minds. The way Durzo had heard it explained, longer ago than he liked to remember, was that they could see hints of images that their subject had seen. The best Vürdmeisters could intuit a lot of truth from a few images, though. It was almost the same thing at this point. How can I take advantage of the differences between what I’ve seen and what I know?

  “It was my apprentice,” Durzo said.

  Roth Ursuul—by the Night Angels, Ursuul?—raised an eyebrow.

  “He doesn’t know what it is,” Durzo said. “I don’t know who sent him. He never does jobs without telling me.”

  “Perhaps you should not be so sure of this?” Neph said.

  “I’ll get the ka’kari for you. I just need some time.”

  “Ka’kari?” Roth asked.

  Roth had never used the word. It was a stupid mistake. Totally uncharacteristic. Durzo was falling apart.

  “The Globe of Edges,” Durzo said.

  “I’ve given you a chance to be honest with me, Durzo. So what I’m going to do is your own fault.” Roth motioned to one of the guards at the entrance to the hovel. “The girl.”

  Several moments later, a little girl was carried in. She was drugged, whether chemically or magically, and the guard had some trouble carrying her limp body. She was maybe eleven years old, skinny and dirty, but not the skinny and dirty of a street rat—healthy skinny, healthy dirty. Her black hair was long and curly, and her face had the same angelic-demonic cast that her mother’s had had. She would be even prettier than Vonda, some day. She took her height from Durzo, but thank the gods, everything else from her mother. Uly was a damn fine-looking kid. It was the first time Durzo had seen his daughter.

  It made him ache somewhere that was already sore.

  “You’ve already chosen not to cooperate enthusiastically, Durzo,” Roth said. “So usually, I’d make an example of you. We both know I can’t do that. I need you too much, at least for the next few days. So maybe I should, say, cut off her hand as a warning, and let the little girl know that it’s because you won’t stop it. That you are choosing to hurt her. Perhaps something like that would help gain your cooperation?”

  Durzo was frozen, just looking at his daughter. His daughter! How had he put her in the hands of this man? She had been the king’s leverage, and Roth had taken her right out from under the man’s nose.

  “How about this?” Roth said. “We’ll cut off a hand or you cut off a finger.”

  There was a way out. Even now, there was a way. One of his knives was poisoned. He’d put the asp poison it. For Kylar. It would be painless, especially for such a small person. She’d be dead in seconds. Maybe Roth would be surprised enough that Durzo could get away. Maybe.

  He could kill his daughter and probably be killed himself, and Kylar would live. Or this Roth Ursuul would demand he kill Kylar and get the ka’kari. That would have been easy enough to fake, if Roth didn’t have a Vürdmeister.

  Could he kill his own daughter? He’d be letting them kill Kylar if he didn’t.

  “She didn’t do anything,” Durzo said.

  “Spare me,” Roth said. “You’ve got too much blood on your hands to cry about the suffering of innocents.”

  “Hurting her isn’t necessary.”

  Roth smiled. “You know, from anyone else, I’d laugh. Do you remember what happened the last time you called an Ursuul’s bluff?” Durzo couldn’t keep his expression blank; grief flashed through him.
Who’d have thought,” Roth said. “My father takes the mother and I take the daughter. Have you learned your lesson, Durzo Blint? I think you have. My father will be pleased that I’m closing the circle. He tried to blackmail you for a false ka’kari and failed. I’ll blackmail you for a true ka’kari and succeed.” Neph’s eyes flashed when Roth said that. It was clear he didn’t appreciate the prince’s presumption, but Durzo was still reeling. He couldn’t see any way to take advantage of that tiny split between the men.

  “Here’s how blackmail is going to work for you, Durzo Blint: if I think you’re resisting me, your daughter will die. And there are other, shall we say indignities, that she will suffer first. Let your imagination work on what those might be—I know I’ll let mine. She’ll be a husk by the time we’re finished. I will spend months eking out every drop of suffering from her mind and body before we kill her, and I enjoy such work. I am one of Khali’s most dedicated disciples. Do you understand me, Blint? Am I being clear?”

  “Perfectly.” His jaw was tense. He couldn’t kill her. By the Night Angels. He just couldn’t do it. He’d think of something. He always had before. There was some way out of this. He would find it, and he would kill both of these men.

  Roth smiled. “Now tell me everything about this apprentice of yours. And I mean everything.”

  49

  Kylar stepped out of the shadows of the Blue Boar’s office and grabbed Jarl around the throat with his arm, putting a hand over his mouth.

  “Mmm mmmph!” Jarl protested against Kylar’s hand.

  “Quiet, it’s me,” Kylar whispered in his ear. Wary of Jarl shouting, he released his friend slowly.

  Jarl rubbed his throat. “Damn, Kylar. Take it easy. How did you get in here?”

  “I need your help.”

  “I’ll say. I was just going to come looking for you.”

  “What?”

  “Look in the top drawer. You can read it as fast as I could tell you,” Jarl said.

  Kylar opened the drawer and read the note. Roth was Roth Ursuul, a Khalidoran prince. He’d just been elected Shinga. Kylar was a suspect in the prince’s murder. The king’s men were looking for him. Kylar tossed the note aside.

  “I need your help, just one more time, Jarl.”

  “Are you telling me you knew all that?”

  “It doesn’t change anything. I need your help.”

  “Is this going to get me killed?”

  “I need to know where Momma K is hiding.”

  Jarl’s eyes narrowed. “Do I need to ask why?”

  “I’m going to kill her.”

  “After all she’s done for you? You—”

  “She betrayed me, Jarl, and you know it. She manipulated me into trying to kill Durzo Blint. She’s so good, I thought it was my own idea.”

  “Maybe you should get her story before you kill her. Maybe murder shouldn’t be your first resort against the people who’ve helped you,” Jarl said.

  “She convinced me that to save a friend, I had to kill Hu Gibbet, except that it wasn’t Hu. It was Durzo. She betrayed us. She made me ruin a friend and take away everything he loves.”

  “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

  “I’m not asking,” Kylar said.

  “Are you going to beat it out of me?” Jarl asked.

  “I’ll do what I have to.”

  “She’s hiding out,” Jarl said, unafraid. “She had a terrible fight with Blint not long ago. I don’t know what it was about. But she’s helped me, and I won’t betray her.”

  “You know she’d give you up in a second, Jarl.”

  “I know,” Jarl said. “I might sell my body, Kylar, but I do what I can to keep the rest of me. I’ve only got a few shreds of dignity left. If you take those, you won’t just be killing Momma K.”

  “It’s one thing to say you’ll keep a secret to the death. It’s quite another to go through with it,” Kylar said. “I’ve never tortured anyone, Jarl, but I know how.”

  “If you were going to torture me, you’d already have started, my friend.”

  They stared at each other until Kylar looked away, defeated.

  “If you need help with anything else, I’ll do it, Kylar. I hope you know that.”

  “I do.” Kylar sighed. “Just be ready, Jarl. Things are going to happen faster than anyone expects.”

  There was a knock at the door.

  “Yes?” Jarl asked.

  A bodyguard poked his bald head in. “D—Durzo Blint to see you, sir.” He looked terrified.

  Kylar tried to draw on his Talent to cloak himself in shadows the way he had done when he came into the Blue Boar.

  Nothing happened. Oh, shit. He practically dived behind Jarl’s desk.

  “Sir?” the bodyguard asked Jarl, not seeing Kylar through the crack of the door he had opened.

  “Uh, show him in,” Jarl said.

  The door closed and soon opened once more. Kylar didn’t dare to look. If he exposed enough of his face to be able to see Durzo, Durzo would see him.

  “I won’t waste your time or mine,” Kylar heard Durzo say. Steps whisked softly across the floor and the desk groaned as someone sat on it. “I know you’re Kylar’s friend,” Durzo said, only inches above Kylar.

  Jarl made a sound of acknowledgment.

  “I want you to get a message to him as soon as possible. I already sent him the message, but I need to make sure he gets it. Tell him I must speak with him. I’ll be at the Tipsy Tart. I’ll be there for the next two hours. Tell him it’s arutayro.”

  “Spell that,” Jarl said, moving to his desk and grabbing a quill from the inkpot.

  Durzo spelled it, and then Jarl made a strangled sound of protest as Durzo must have grabbed him.

  “Get it to him fast, rent boy. It’s important. I’ll hold you responsible if he doesn’t get it.” The desk protested again as Durzo got off it and walked out.

  After the door closed, Kylar crawled out from under the desk.

  Jarl’s eyes widened. “You were under the desk?”

  “Can’t always be fancy.”

  Jarl shook his head. “You’re unbelievable.” As he wadded up the paper that had his note on it, he said, “What does arutayro mean?”

  “Bloodless. It means we don’t kill each other while we’re meeting.”

  “And you trust him? After you tried to kill him last night?”

  “Blint will kill me, but he’ll do it professionally. He thinks I deserve that much. Mind if I use your window? I have a lot to do before I see him.”

  “Help yourself.”

  Kylar threw open the window, then turned to his friend. “I’m sorry. I had to try. I have to kill her and you were the fastest way to find her.”

  “Sorry I couldn’t help.”

  Crawling out the window, Kylar moved out of Jarl’s line of sight, then tried to draw the shadows again. This time it worked easily. Perfect. He couldn’t even tell what he had done differently from what he did in the office.

  By the Night Angels. Kylar figured that learning to control his Talent would have been hard enough if he had Durzo to explain it to him. Figuring it out on his own would be well-nigh impossible.

  He moved back to the window. After a minute, Jarl checked the window, then walked to his desk and scrawled a quick note. He summoned a boy to his office and handed him the note.

  Kylar circled around the building, and followed the boy after he came out a side door. He’d known Jarl wouldn’t tell him—and he hoped his friend never figured out that Kylar had used him anyway.

  The messenger boys were of uneven quality. Some of them made their passes so well that Kylar could barely follow them. Others simply held the letter out to the next boy.

  It took a half hour for them to get to a small house on the east side. Kylar recognized the guard who took the message from the last boy. He was a Ymmuri with almond-shaped eyes and straight black hair. Kylar had seen the man at Momma K’s house before. It was good enough. Momma K was here. Ky
lar would deal with her later.

  He headed to the Tipsy Tart.

  Durzo Blint was seated against a wall, with a wrapped bundle on the table. Kylar joined him, removed the sash from his waist, and set each of his weapons in it: the dagger and wakizashi that had been tucked into the sash, the Ceuran hand-and-a-half sword across his back, two daggers from his sleeves, throwing knives and darts from his waistband, and a tanto from one boot.

  “That all?” Blint asked sardonically.

  Kylar rolled up the sash and set it beside Blint’s, which was just as large. “Looks like we’ll both be working soon.”

  Blint nodded and set down mug of a foul Ladeshian stout exactly in the center of a board so that it didn’t cross any of the cracks.

  “You wanted to speak with me?” Kylar said, wondering why Blint was drinking. Blint never drank when he had to work.

  “They have my daughter. They made threats. Credible threats. This Roth is a real twist.”

  “They’ll kill her if you don’t give them the ka’kari,” Kylar guessed.

  Blint only drank in response.

  “So you have to kill me,” Kylar said.

  Blint stared him in the eye. It was a yes.

  “Is it just the job, or did I fail?” Kylar asked, butterflies roaring in his stomach.

  “Fail?” Blint looked up from the stout, snorted. “A lot of wetboys go through what we call the Crucible. Sometimes it’s designed deliberately for journeymen wetboys who have some serious problem—anything that hinders a gifted apprentice from becoming a gifted wetboy. Sometimes, it happens to a wetboy after he’s a master. It’s one of the reasons there are so few old wetboys.

  “My Crucible was Vonda, Gwinvere’s little sister. We thought we were in love. We thought certain realities didn’t apply to us. I became a wetboy with an obvious weakness and Garoth Ursuul kidnapped her. He was looking for a ka’kari, as he still is. So was I.”

  “I don’t know what-all it does. I can’t even use my Talent all the time. Can I use the ka’kari when I don’t even have it in my possession?”

  “Stop interrupting. This story has a point, and you should know better than to expect me to give you a tutorial on the very day I’m going to have to kill you,” Durzo said. “Suffice it to say that the power of a ka’kari is vast. I’d been working for years to get one. Garoth Ursuul had been doing the same. He thought a ka’kari would give him an edge over the princes and the Vürdmeisters so he could become Godking. So he took Vonda and told me where he was holding her, and told me that if I went for the ka’kari, he’d kill her.”

 
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