The night angel trilogy, p.41
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.41

           Brent Weeks
 

  “The door!” Agon shouted.

  With the kind of courage many commanders would demand but few would get, the rest of the guards jumped up and began hacking at the door. They knew that some of them would die doing it, but they also knew it was their only way out, their only hope for life.

  Twang-hiss. Another royal guard crumpled in the middle of a swing at the door. Lord Ungert, weakly holding the portrait before himself, wailed like a little girl.

  Twang-hiss. A soldier seemed to leap sideways as a bolt punched through his ear hole and threw him bloodily into the doorframe.

  A rent appeared in the door. One of the remaining three royal guards gave a shout of triumph.

  An arrow flew in through the gash in the door and buried itself in his shoulder. The man spun around once before a bolt from above clove his spine.

  Both of the last two guards snapped. One dropped his sword and fell to his knees. “Please,” he begged. “Please no. Please no. Please…”

  The last was Captain Arturian. He attacked the door like a man possessed. He was a strong man, and the door shuddered and rocked under his blows, the gap widening, stretching to reach the latch.

  He dodged as two arrows sped through the hole and past his head, then attacked once more. Another arrow streaked past Vin Arturian, and Agon saw his head whip back. His cheek had been grazed, cut in a neat line, his ear sliced in half.

  Screaming, Captain Arturian threw his sword through the hole like a spear. He grabbed the latch and tore it out of the door, jerking as an arrow went into his arm and out the other side. Ignoring it, he seized the door and heaved, tearing it from the frame.

  Five Khalidoran archers wearing Cenarian livery stood on the stairs with arrows drawn. Six swordsmen and a wytch stood behind them. Another archer lay at their feet, the guard’s sword sprouting from his stomach. The five archers released their arrows simultaneously.

  Riddled with arrows, Captain Vin Arturian dropped backward. His body landed next to the guard on his knees, who shrieked.

  Twang-hiss. The shriek ended in a gurgle and the young man fell, drowning in his own blood.

  Then came one of those eerily normal moments in the chaos of battle that Lord Agon had seen before but could never get used to.

  One of the archers handed his bow off, stepped into the room, and grabbed the door. “Excuse me,” he said to the captain he’d just helped kill. His voice wasn’t sarcastic, simply polite. He pulled the door out of the captain’s death-clenched fingers, stepped back into the stairwell and propped the door in place as Lord Agon and the nobles watched him.

  In that no-time before reality came crushing back into place, Lord Agon looked at the nobles. They looked at him. These were the men who’d been willing to put their own lives at stake to rescue the prince. Brave men, if some of them fools, he thought as he looked at Lord Ungert shielding himself with a painting. These were the men he’d led to death.

  The trap was clever. The “Gyre servant” who’d announced the attack on Logan had doubtless been one of the usurper’s men. The ploy not only split the royal guard, taking most of them away from the Great Hall, it also neatly separated the wheat from the chaff. The lords who had come with Agon weren’t even exactly the men he himself would have expected to defend Prince Logan, but they were all men who had shown their loyalties in the only way that mattered—with their actions.

  By killing these men, the Khalidor would eliminate the very men most likely to oppose them. Brilliant.

  Under the sound of the dying soldier’s gurgling and rasping breath, Agon heard another sound. His ears identified it immediately. It was a crossbow’s windlass being cranked.

  Click-click-clack. Click-click-clack.

  “So you know whom to curse as you die,” a voice, darkly amused, said from his hideout above them. “I’m Prince Roth Ursuul.”

  “Ursuul!” Lord Braeton cursed.

  “Oh, it’s an honor then,” Lord lo-Gyre said.

  The bolt caught lo-Gyre through his fat stomach and struck with such force that it tore out of his back, taking a good part of his viscera with it. He sat roughly against a wall.

  Several of the lords damned Ursuul as he had invited. Some went to comfort Lord lo-Gyre, wheezing and shaking on the floor. Lord General Agon remained standing. Death would find him on his feet.

  Click-click-clack. Click-click-clack.

  “I want to thank you, Lord General,” Roth said. “You have served me well. First you killed the king for me—a nice bit of treason, that—and then despite that, you were able to lead these men to my trap. You will be rewarded well.”

  “What?” old Lord Braeton asked, looking at Brant with alarm. “Say it’s not true, Brant.”

  The next bolt went through Lord Braeton’s heart.

  “It’s a lie,” Lord Agon said, but Lord Braeton was dead.

  Click-click-clack. Click-click-clack.

  Lord Ungert looked at Agon, terrified. The canvas shook in his hands. “Please, tell him to stop,” he begged Agon as he saw that he was the last noble standing. “I didn’t even want to follow you. My wife made me.”

  A small hole appeared in Sir Robin’s painted shield and Lord Ungert staggered backward. For a long moment, he stood against the wall, grimacing, canvas still in hand. He looked disgusted, as if the canvas should have stopped the crossbow bolt. Then he fell on the painting, breaking the frame to splinters.

  Click-click-clack. Click-click-clack.

  “Bastard,” Lord lo-Gyre said between thin gasps, staring at Lord General Agon. “You bastard.”

  The next bolt hit Lord lo-Gyre between the eyes.

  Lord General Agon raised his sword defiantly.

  Roth laughed. “I wasn’t lying, Lord General. You’ll have your reward.”

  “I’m not afraid,” Lord General Agon said.

  Click-click-clack. Click-click-clack. The bolt hit Agon’s knee and he felt bones shatter. He stumbled to the chair and fell. Moments later, another bolt tore through his elbow. It felt like it had torn his arm off. He barely held himself sitting on the floor, clutching the arm of the chair like a man drowning.

  “My wetboy told me I could trust you to run blindly into this trap. After all, you were stupid enough to trust him,” Roth said.

  “Blint!”

  “Yes. But he didn’t tell me you’d betray your king! That was delicious. And marrying Lord Gyre into the royal family? Friend of yours, isn’t he? You cost Logan his life with that. I know you’re not afraid to die, Lord General,” Roth said. “The reward I give you is your life. Go live with your shame. Go on, now. Crawl away, little bug.”

  “I’ll spend the rest of my sorry life hunting you down.” Agon said between gritted teeth.

  “No, you won’t. You’re a whipped dog, Brant. You could have stopped me. Instead, you helped me every step of the way. My men and I are going upstairs now. The prince and princess will die because you didn’t stop me. So why would I kill you? I couldn’t have done this without you.”

  Roth left the lord general there, gasping on the floor. Shattered.

  55

  Sergeant Bamran Gamble drew the Alitaeran longbow with the broad muscles of his back. It didn’t matter if you were as strong as an ox; you couldn’t draw an Alitaeran longbow with your arms. This bow was thick yew, seven feet long unstrung, and it could punch through armor at two hundred paces. He’d heard of men hitting a four-foot target at over five hundred paces, but thank the God, he didn’t need to do that.

  He stood on the roof of the guardhouse in the castle yard. They’d been barricaded in by a traitor, but the coward had either not had the stomach or not had the torch to set fire to the guardhouse with them inside it. Gamble’s men had knocked a hole in the roof and lifted him out.

  The wytch’s first bolt had flown high past the sergeant’s head before he’d even strung his bow. The wytch was the only meister in the yard, stationed to keep an eye on things, evidently. From Gamble’s perch, he could see that more troops were streami
ng over the East Kingsbridge even now, but he had eyes only for the wytch. It was a woman, her hair red, skin pale. She was breathing heavily, as if the last bolt had taken something out of her, but she was already pulling herself together, chanting, the black vir on her arms straining.

  If he missed, he wouldn’t get a second shot. The wytch would aim this shot low, and it would set fire to the thatch roof of the guardhouse. More than forty of Sergeant Gamble’s men would die.

  His back flexed and the broadhead slid back. Three fingers slid toward his face; the gut string touched his lips. There was no aiming. It was purely instinctive. A ball of fire ignited between the wytch’s palms. The broadhead jumped right through the flame, and the power that would have carried the arrow through armor had no trouble piercing ethereal flame or a young woman’s sternum. She was blasted off her feet as if tied to a horse at full gallop. The arrow pinned her body to the great door behind her.

  Sergeant Gamble wasn’t conscious of having drawn another arrow. If he’d had a choice, he would have chosen to get off the roof and let his men out, but suddenly, battle was singing in his veins. After seventeen years as a soldier, he was fighting for the first time.

  The arrow touched his lips and leapt away. This one hit another wytch leading a file of highlanders across the bridge. It was a brilliant shot, one of the best shots of Gamble’s entire life. It flew between three rows of running soldiers and hit a wytch in the armpit as she pumped her arms while running. It blew her sideways off the edge of the bridge. She tumbled, limp, into the waters of the Plith.

  The highlanders didn’t even slow. That was when Sergeant Gamble knew they were in trouble. Two archers and a wytch peeled off from the group and began looking for him, but all the other men proceeded across the bridge. As the archers drew their arrows, the wytch touched each and fire attached to each arrowhead.

  Gamble slid down the roof and dropped into the yard as two burning arrows sank into the thatch. The fire spread unnaturally fast. By the time he unbarred the door, there was already smoke pouring out of the inside of the barracks.

  “What do we do, sir?” one of the men asked as they crowded around him.

  “They can’t take us all at once, so they’re trying to separate us. I’d guess there’s two, maybe three hundred of them. We gotta get to the lower barracks.” There would be two hundred men there. That would be even odds, at least, not that Sergeant Gamble thought even numbers would even anything, not against Khalidoran highlanders and wytches.

  “To hell with that,” a young guard said. “I’m not dying for Niner. We still got East Kingsbridge. I’m outta here.”

  “You head for that bridge, Jules, and it’s the last thing you’ll do,” Sergeant Gamble said. “This is what they pay us for. Anything less than our duty is betrayal, just like Conyer locking us in the barracks to die.”

  “They don’t pay us shit.”

  “We knew what they paid when we signed up.”

  “You do what you gotta do, sir.” Jules sheathed his sword and turned confidently. He started jogging for the bridge.

  Every man of his thirty-nine was looking at Sergeant Gamble.

  He drew, whispered a prayer for two souls as the string touched his lips, and sent an arrow through the back of Jules’s neck. I’m turning into a regular war hero, aren’t I? Skilled at killing women and my own men.

  “We’re going to fight,” he said. “Any questions?”

  Kylar sprinted through the servants’ quarters unseen. Still no soldiers had come running. Things had to be bad somewhere for the soldiers not to have organized any resistance.

  Abruptly, he was on a fight. At least one detachment of highlanders must have come in another way, because twenty of them were busy slaughtering twice as many Cenarian soldiers.

  The Cenarians were on the verge of breaking, even as their sergeant was bellowing orders at them. The sight of the man’s face stopped Kylar. He knew that sergeant. It was Gamble, the guard who’d come into the north tower the day of Kylar’s first kill.

  Kylar joined the fray and killed Khalidorans as easily as a scythe cuts wheat. It was simple labor. There was no joy in killing men who could barely see him.

  At first, no one noticed him. He was a smear of darkness deep in the bowels of a castle constructed of dark stone and lit with flickering torches. Then he saved Gamble’s life, beheading one Khalidoran and eviscerating another as they cornered the officer.

  Kylar didn’t even slow. He was a whirlwind. He was the first face of the Night Angels; he was vengeance. Killing was no longer an activity, it was a state of being. Kylar became killing. If every drop of guilty blood he spilled might blot out a drop of innocent blood, he would be clean tonight.

  The feeling of mail parting, of leather parting, of flesh parting along the icy judgment that was Retribution was the best feeling in the world. Kylar was lost in a madness, a kind of bizarre meditation, spinning, thrusting, lunging, cleaving, piercing, battering, smashing, ruining faces, snuffing futures. It passed all too quickly. For in what couldn’t have been more than half a minute, every last Khalidoran was dead. None was even dying. The killing wrath was nothing if not thorough.

  The effect on the Cenarians was monumental. These sheep-in-guards’-armor stood, gaping, at the ragged darkness that was Kylar. Their weapons weren’t even raised. They didn’t stand in ready positions. They just marveled at Death’s avatar among them.

  “The Night Angel fights for you,” he said. He’d already paused too long. Logan could be dying right now. He ran deeper into the castle.

  All the doors were closed, and the halls were eerily quiet. He could only assume that the servants were huddled in their rooms or already fleeing.

  The pounding of many footsteps keeping time brought him up short. Kylar sank into a shadowed doorway near a corner. He might be safe from the eyes of men, but there were things more dangerous than men in the castle tonight.

  “There must be a good two hundred of their soldiers trapped downstairs,” one of the officers was saying to a man whose narrow build gave him away as a wytch even though he wore armor and a sword. “It’ll hold for maybe fifteen minutes, meister.”

  “And the nobles in the garden?” the wytch demanded.

  His answer was lost in the tramp of the highlanders’ feet as they wound past Kylar and into the distance.

  So the nobles were trapped in the garden. Kylar had never been to the garden before—indeed had avoided the castle as much as possible—but he’d seen paintings of the garden, and if the artists hadn’t taken too much license, Kylar supposed he could find it. He guessed that was as good of a place as any to look for Logan and Durzo.

  As he wound deeper into the castle toward the garden, dead men began to clutter the halls, their blood slickening the floors. Kylar didn’t even slow as he ran past. The dead were mostly nobles’ guards.

  Poor bastards. Kylar didn’t have much sympathy for men who took up the profession of arms and then didn’t train themselves, but these men had been massacred. Well over forty guards were dead and dying, kicking and frothing in pain. Kylar only saw eight highlanders dead.

  Following the blood and the corpses led Kylar to double doors of walnut, barred from the outside. He lifted the bar and eased the door open.

  “What in the hell?” a gruff voice with a Khalidoran accent said.

  Retreating from the crack to stand behind yet another picture of Niner standing in a heroic pose, Kylar saw several highlanders guarding a room full of nobles. There were men, women, and even a few children in the group. They were disheveled and frightened. Some were crying. Some were throwing up, poisoned.

  Footsteps tapped across the floor from beyond Kylar’s line of sight, and the highlanders he could see readied their weapons. The point of a halberd hooked the corner of the door and pulled it open, revealing a squat Khalidoran officer as thick as he was tall.

  The officer pulled the other door open with the halberd, then he beckoned and two men jumped into the hall, back to b
ack, swords raised. They looked right at the statue, right at Kylar, who’d pressed himself against the statue’s back, putting his arms behind its arms, his legs behind its legs.

  “Nothing, sir,” one said.

  Inside the garden, which wasn’t nearly as grand as it looked in the paintings, were ten guards and forty or fifty nobles—none of them armed. Mercifully, the highlanders had no wytches with them. Kylar assumed wytches were too valuable to be wasted guarding prisoners.

  The nobles included some of the highest in the land. Kylar recognized more than a few of the king’s ministers. That they were all here meant that Roth believed he would take over the castle quickly, and he wanted to be able to personally decide whom to kill and whom to add to his own government.

  The men and women looked dazed. They didn’t seem to believe what had happened to them. It was beyond their comprehension that their world could turn so completely upside down so quickly. Many were obviously ill. Some were torn and bloodied, but others were absolutely untouched. Some ladies whose hair was still perfectly coifed wept while others bearing gashes and torn skirts seemed poised and calm.

  Behind Kylar a soldier said, “Bleeding mercy, Cap! It didn’t just unbar itself!”

  “We’re here to guard this room, and we stay here.”

  “But we don’t know what’s out there… sir.”

  “We stay,” the squat captain said in a voice that brooked no argument.

  Kylar almost felt bad for the young highlander. The young man’s instincts were right. One day he’d have been a good officer.

  But that didn’t stop Kylar from dropping the shadows a pace away from him.

  He told himself he wasn’t becoming visible to be fair. He’d need his strength later.

  The young Khalidoran’s sword had barely cleared its scabbard when Kylar disemboweled him. Then he danced past the man, throwing a knife with his left hand, parting hardened leather armor and ribs with an upward cut, and guiding a sword hand past his side and the sword into another soldier’s body in a smooth motion. Kylar jerked his head forward into a highlander’s face and spun with the man quickly. The man’s back absorbed the captain’s halberd with a meaty crunch.

 
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