The night angel trilogy, p.37
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.37

           Brent Weeks
 

  “You’ve never done well with threats,” Kylar said.

  “I think I’ve always done well with them,” Durzo said. “The thing was, there was going to be a limited time to get the ka’kari. The man who’d allegedly bonded the ka’kari was on his death bed, so the time to get it would be immediately after he died. Naturally, Garoth had Vonda held way outside of town. I knew that the Sa’kagé was going to poison the man that night. I guessed that Garoth knew it too. I couldn’t be two places at once, so I had to make a choice.

  “I knew Garoth Ursuul. He’s a master of traps. He’s smarter than I am. More devious. So I guessed that if I went for Vonda, either the traps or meisters of his would kill me. I knew of one trap he’d used before that would use my entrance as a trap’s trigger that would kill her. That was like him, turning my attempt to save Vonda into the very thing that killed her. Getting the ka’kari would just make a sweet deal sweeter for him. That was my Crucible, Kylar. Would I fling myself into a trap in an attempt to be a hero, or would I use my mind, give up Vonda for lost, and get the ka’kari?”

  “You chose the ka’kari.”

  “It was a fake.” Durzo studied the tabletop, and his voice shook. “Afterward, I sprinted, stole a horse, ran it to death, but it was half an hour after dawn when I got to the house where Vonda was. She was dead. I checked all the windows, but couldn’t find any sign of traps. I’ll never know if it’s because he had someone remove them, or if they were purely magical, or if they were never trapped at all. The bastard. He did it on purpose.” Blint took a long pull from his stout. “I’m a wetboy, and love is a noose. The only way to redeem my choice was to become the best wetboy ever.”

  Kylar felt a lump in his throat.

  “That’s why we can’t have love, Kylar. That’s why I did everything I could to keep you out of it. I made one mistake, let myself be weak one time, and now after all these years, it’s come back to haunt me. You’re not going to die because you failed, Kylar. You’ll die because I did. That’s the way things work. Others always pay for my failures. I failed, Kylar, because I thought you only go through the Crucible once. I was wrong. Life is the crucible.”

  From what Kylar could see, Durzo’s choice had never stopped haunting him. The man was a shell. He was a legendary wetboy, but he’d sacrificed everything to that god. Kylar had always wanted to be Durzo, had always held his skills in awe. Durzo was the best, but where was the man beneath the legend?

  “So my Crucible was Elene.” Kylar chuckled on the hollowness inside him. “There’s no way you’ll fight with me, against them?”

  “And let Roth torture and kill my daughter? Here’s my choices, kid: You die or my daughter dies.” Durzo pulled a gold gunder from a pouch. “Crowns Roth wins, castles I lose.”

  He flipped the coin. It bounced on the table and, impossibly, landed on edge.

  “There’s always another choice,” Kylar said, slowly releasing his Talent. Damn, it actually worked.

  Blint centered and re-centered his empty mug on the table. “I worked for almost fifteen years to get the Globe of Edges, Kylar. I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know if it was bonded to someone. I didn’t know what kind of magical defenses protected it. I knew people like you were supposed to call the ka’kari, and that your need for it would make the call stronger. That’s why I took you on jobs in every corner of the city. How could I have known King Gunder had it and thought it was just jewelry? No one talked about it because no one knew it was special. No one cared. And I thought maybe I was wrong, that you just had a block. That if I pushed you enough, you’d use your Talent. After working for fifteen years, you think it’d be easy to just hand it over? You think it’s easy to give away fifteen years of your life?”

  “But you were going to.” Kylar was amazed.

  “Hell no. Once I had it, I’d never have given it away,” Durzo said. But Kylar didn’t believe him. Blint had been planning to give him the ka’kari all along—until Roth.

  “Master, work with me. Together we can take Roth.”

  Durzo was silent for a few moments. “You know, I used to be like you, kid. For a long time. You should have known me back then. You would’ve liked me. We might have been friends.”

  I do like you, master. I’d like to be your friend, Kylar said, but only in his mind. Somehow those words wouldn’t force their way past his lips. Maybe it didn’t matter. Durzo wouldn’t believe him anyway.

  “Roth’s a Khalidoran prince, kid. He’s got a Vürdmeister. Soon he’ll have more wytches than all the southlands have mages and an army to boot. He owns the Sa’kagé. There’s no hope. There’s no way to oppose him now. The Night Angels themselves wouldn’t try it.”

  Kylar threw up his hands, fed up with Blint’s fatalism and his superstitions. “Here I thought they were invincible.”

  “They’re immortal. It’s not the same thing.” Blint popped a garlic clove. “You can take what you need from my place. I wouldn’t want you to die just because I’ve got better gear.”

  “I won’t fight you, master.”

  “You’ll fight. You’ll die. And I’ll miss you.”

  “Master Blint?” he said, remembering something Dorian had said. “What does my name mean?”

  “ ‘Kylar’? You know the word cleave?”

  “To cut, right?” Kylar asked. “Like a meat cleaver.”

  “Yes, but it has another meaning, too. In old wedding ceremonies, a husband and wife were commanded to cleave together.”

  “Like cleavage?”

  Blint smirked, but the dark cloud over him didn’t shift. “Right. Cleave means both ‘to come together’ and ‘to split apart.’ Two opposite meanings. Your name’s like that. It means one who kills and one who is killed.”

  “I don’t understand,” Kylar said.

  “You will. May the Night Angels watch over you, kid. Remember, they have three faces.”

  “What?”

  “Vengeance, Justice, and Mercy. They always know which to show. And remember the difference between vengeance and revenge. Now get out of here.”

  Kylar stood and stashed his weapons expertly. His hip brushed the table as he stood and the balanced coin wobbled and fell before he could reach out with his Talent again and stop it. He ignored it, refused to see it as an omen. “Master Blint,” he said, looking his master in the eye and bowing, “kariamu lodoc. Thank you. For everything.”

  “Thank you?” Master Blint snorted. He picked up the coin. It was castles. Castles I lose. “Thank you? You always were the damnedest kid.”

  50

  Kylar had an hour before Durzo came after him. He knew that because he’d watched Durzo drink a full mug of stout, and Durzo Blint wouldn’t work when he had alcohol in him.

  It was the perfect time to go to Master Blint’s safe house. He might get lucky and be able to figure out how Master Blint intended to kill him from what tools were missing.

  To be careful, he used the back alleys to get to the safe house. In short order, Kylar disarmed the trap on the lock, then searched for the second trap. If he’d been fully visible, he would have felt exposed, but his Talent obeyed him this time and covered him with shadows. He still had no idea how well he was concealed, but in the heavily shadowed and rarely traveled street, he felt comfortable taking his time. The second trap was embedded in the doorframe opposite the latch. Kylar shook his head. And Blint said he was no good at traps. Setting a trap which used the release of pressure from the bolt itself for a trigger was no easy feat.

  Having disarmed that trap, Kylar started picking the lock. Blint had always told him that setting more than two traps on a door was a waste of time. You should get someone with the first trap, but if it was set so poorly that it made them overconfident, you might get them with a perfectly placed second trap. After that, only an idiot wouldn’t check the door over so carefully that they’d find anything you could hide.

  Kylar didn’t have to fumble with the rake. He’d practiced on this door for years, so he pr
essed the tumbler in place almost instantly. Then he felt something wrong. He threw his fingers apart and dropped the rake just as the spring released. A black needle darted out between his spread fingers, grazing his knuckle and almost breaking the skin.

  “Whew.” The black compound on the needle was henbane and kinderperil. It wouldn’t have been fatal, but it would make a person ill for days, and he wouldn’t have had time to get far before the poison did its work on him. It was a nasty bit of business—and its presence meant that Master Blint was still testing him. “Only an idiot wouldn’t check the door over carefully after two traps.” Gods.

  Kylar stepped inside carefully. This safe house wasn’t as spacious as the one where he’d spent his first months with Master Blint, and with the animals in it, it had been terribly noisy, smelly, and dirty.

  Now the animals were gone. Kylar scowled. A cursory examination told him they’d been here this morning.

  Moving further in, Kylar saw a letter sitting on Durzo’s desk. He drew a knife in each hand and opened the letter without touching it. He doubted Durzo would use a contact poison in the paper, but he hadn’t thought the wetboy would put a third trap on the door, either.

  “Kylar,” it read in Durzo’s tight, controlled script:

  “Relax. Killing you with contact poison would be terribly unsatisfying. I’m glad the third trap didn’t get you, but if you had used what you thought you knew about me instead of checking, you’d have deserved it.

  “I’ll miss you. You’re the closest to family I’ll ever have. I’m sorry I brought you into this life. Momma K and I did everything we could to make you a wetboy. I suppose it’s to your credit that we failed. You mean more to me than I ever thought another person could.”

  Kylar blinked back tears. There was no way he could kill the man who’d written this. Durzo Blint was more than his master; he was his father.

  “Tonight it ends,” the letter continued. “If you want to save your friend, you’d better find me.—A Thorne”

  A thorn? Well, Blint was certainly prickly enough to call himself a thorn, but he was also usually a good speller. And what did he mean about saving my friend? Did Durzo know where Elene was? Why was he threatening her? Or was he talking about Jarl? The blood drained from Kylar’s face.

  The animals were gone. Everything else Blint owned was still here, so he wasn’t moving.

  The animals would look fine to a cook, and the taste tester who tried the foods wouldn’t be affected for hours—long enough for the foods to be served at a dinner.

  Blint only drank after he finished a job.

  The animals were gone. All of them. There weren’t many places that could take all of them.

  “Oh shit.” Blint was poisoning the nobles at the Midsummer’s banquet. Elene wouldn’t be there, of course. Neither would Jarl. Blint must have known something he didn’t. It must mean that Logan would be there.

  Roth was attempting his coup. Tonight.

  Kylar felt dizzy. He threw a hand down on the table to steady himself and set the glass vials and beakers to clinking against each other. His eyes raised to one he’d stared at for years. The asp poison was there. It was low. Blint had really meant the threats. For a while after talking with him at the arutayro, after seeing the letter, Kylar might have thought Blint wouldn’t kill him. But he would. It was all professional for Blint. He’d crossed a line years ago when he let Vonda die, and there was no going back.

  It was classic Durzo Blint. He was giving Kylar a chance now, giving him enough information so that he would show up, enough motivation so he’d fight, but when it came to the fight, Blint would do everything in his power to win. He always had.

  Kylar’s body knew what to do even though his mind was far away. He threaded cotton through the tiny holes on a tiny poisoner’s knife and dripped asp venom on it.

  Logan didn’t like rabbit, so Kylar prepared the antidotes for the poisons they’d fed the pheasants and starlings and hoped that Logan didn’t touch the pork. Alone, it wouldn’t be fatal, but there was no antidote for it. If Logan got really sick, there was no way Kylar could carry him.

  He scoured his body without soap so as to have as little scent as possible. He strapped knives to his bare forearms and a tanto to one calf. Pulled on his trousers and tunic, both tight, mottled black, made of Gandian cotton. Buckled his weapons harness. Checked the belt for his poisons and grappling hooks. Slid home the poisoner’s knife in its special sheath. Slapped home daggers and his Ceuran hand-and-a-half sword.

  Then he saw Retribution. Blint had left the big black sword on the wall. He’d left his favorite sword for Kylar. Doubtless, he’d make some quip about either taking it off his body, or if things went the other way, not needing it anymore.

  He really means it. This is really to the death. Kylar lifted the sword reverently and strapped it to his back. It was heavier than he was used to using, but with his Talent, it would be perfect.

  Finally ready, he walked to the door, then stopped. He put his head against the wood and just breathed, breathed. How had it come to this? Tonight, either he or Master Blint would die. Kylar didn’t even know what he was going to do when he got to the castle. But if he didn’t do something, Logan would die.

  51

  Durzo crept along the rafters supporting the roof of Castle Cenaria’s Great Hall, cloaked in shadows. His work had a lot of variety. He’d always liked that. But he’d never wanted to be a maid.

  Yet somehow, he found himself pushing a damp rag over wood, scooping up dust meticulously, scooting forward slowly as he cleared each inch. Strangely enough, hovering fifty feet over the floor of the hall, the rafters hadn’t been dusted recently. And Durzo hated being dirty.

  Still, no matter how careful he was, he couldn’t help but dislodge little clumps of dust from time to time—clumps that would puff out like clouds heavy with snow and drift downward, marking his otherwise invisible progress.

  The nobles below, mercifully, weren’t exactly staring at the ceiling. The festivities were in full swing. The events of the night before had brought out everyone. Voices drifted up to the rafters in a dull roar as men and women celebrated Midsummer’s Eve and gossiped about what the king could possibly be doing. Obviously, the biggest morsel was what Logan was doing at the high table. Everyone knew he’d been arrested, and they couldn’t keep their eyes off him. Why was he here?

  For his part, Logan was sitting like a man doomed—which was exactly what Durzo suspected he was. Knowing Aleine, the king had summoned Logan so he could publicly humiliate him in front of all the peers of the realm. Maybe he’d announce Logan’s death sentence. Maybe he’d have it carried out at the table.

  Durzo moved again and dislodged a large clump of decades-old dust. He watched, helpless, as it spiraled down toward one of the side tables. Part of the clump broke apart in the air, but part of it hit the arm of a gesticulating noblewoman.

  She brushed her arm and continued her story without a pause.

  Brushing more dust and still moving slowly, Durzo gritted his teeth. He was slipping. Of course, he always told himself he was slipping. It kept him sharp. Maybe this time, though, he really was. Too much was happening. It was all too personal.

  Durzo reached a joint where several beams came together to support the roof. There was no way to stay on top of the rafter and get past. He would have to go around or under. Whoever had designed these rafters hadn’t had convenient skulking in mind.

  Setting climbing hooks around each of his wrists, Durzo wedged his fingers where two beams came together at an angle. It was painful, but a wetboy learned to ignore pain. He swung out over space, letting his feet release the beam. He wondered what the fat noblewoman below him would think if her dinner were suddenly crushed by a falling shadow. He held his entire weight by his fingertips and used his weight to wedge his fingers deeper into the painful crack, then released his right hand and swung to grab the other side of the joint, past the solid surface where all the beams came together.
r />   He had only his long reach to thank for making it. He got three fingertips into the crack on the far side of the beam. As he shifted his weight, the dust in the crack was just enough to slide his fingertips off.

  Blint rolled his wrist forward as his fingers slipped. He dropped three inches, and then the wrist hook caught in the crack his fingers had just left. The hook held. Blint released his left hand and his body swung again—now he’d fall directly on the woman, instead of on her food. He pulled against the iron hook biting into his wrist and was able to reach high enough to grab with his fingers. He swung again, pulled out the hook, and grabbed the edge of the beam with his other hand.

  He hung there, fingertips holding his entire weight from the same side of the beam, and the grip slick with an inch of dust. Had he thought he liked his work?

  But with practiced grace, he swung sideways and caught the edge with a foot. Deftly, he wriggled back up onto the beam, ignoring the dust he pushed off the beam as he did so. Some risks you can’t help.

  And some you can. I haven’t exactly minimized my risks, have I? Durzo tried not to think about it, but scooting along the beam acting like a cleaning lady didn’t take his full attention. He’d given Kylar all the hints he needed to interrupt what Roth had planned here. And he’d given him motive to make sure he came here rather than leaving town. It’s bad luck, old boy. But what was bad luck to him now? He was going to lose no matter what.

  At the head table, the king stood. His face was flushed and he wobbled. He raised his glass. “My friends, my subjects, today is Midsummer’s Eve. We have much to celebrate and much to mourn. I—words have abandoned me in light of what’s happened in the last day. Our kingdom has endured the grievous loss of Catrinna Gyre and her entire household at the hands of her murderous husband, and the loss of our beloved prince.” The king choked out the words and his emotion was so obvious that not a few eyes brimmed with equal tears. The prince had been young and dashing if unwise, and the Gyres had been respected for decades personally and for generations familially.

 
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