The black prism, p.42
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       The Black Prism, p.42

           Brent Weeks

  “It’s wonderful to see you well, Kip… Kip Guile.” Corvan shook his head, astounded. “Liv, Kip, I’d love to catch up with you both, but the Prism has just given me work.”

  “Work?” Liv asked.

  “I’ve been put in charge of the defense of Garriston, under only the Prism himself.”

  “What?!” Liv said. “You’re a general again?”

  “Not as enviable a position as you might think. A softer bed doesn’t make for easier sleep when ten thousand lives rest in your shaking hands. King Garadul’s army will be here in about five days. They’ll attack the day after Midsummer’s. If we’re to hold this city, I’ll have to devise a more brilliant defense than I’ve ever seen. I need to go set some things in motion now, but Liv, I’ll come find you sometime after midnight. Kip, maybe tomorrow?”

  “I’d like that, Master Danavis. General Danavis?”

  Master Danavis smiled. “Yes. Hadn’t noticed how much I’d missed that. Despite everything. Say, Liv, do you know anything about Karris White Oak?”

  Liv shrugged. “Only Blood Forester Blackguard, astounding fighter, bichrome who was nearly a poly, maybe the fastest drafter on the Jaspers. Why?”

  The new general said, “She was captured by King Garadul. The Prism won’t admit it, but I know it’s going to drive him to distraction. He cares a great deal about her. I doubt it will be possible to rescue her, not with the limited assets I have, but I’m going to learn all I can to see if there’s any hope at all.”

  And just like that, a stupid, mad, impossible idea took root.

  Chapter 62

  “Wake up, Kip,” a voice said.

  Kip was usually a heavy sleeper, but he sat upright instantly at that voice. “My Lord Prism?” he asked, blinking. It felt like it had barely been ten minutes since he went to bed.

  Gavin said, “Get dressed. We’re going for a walk.” He turned toward Commander Ironfist, who was standing by the door. “You’re invited.”

  A grin flashed over Ironfist’s face, visible only because his teeth were so starkly white against his ebony skin. He would have accompanied them regardless.

  Kip pulled on his clothes. Within minutes, they were walking the streets of Garriston. Kip was playing his part of the gawker once more, still a little overwhelmed by being in a city of this size, despite that it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Jaspers. The construction, of course, wasn’t all towering minarets. Like back home, the buildings were square, with flat roofs where people could relax in the evenings or sleep during the unbearably hot nights. Even with the sea breezes, it got stiflingly hot here. But the buildings here weren’t solely the stone construction that was used in Rekton. Interspersed with the stone, often on the same building, were mud bricks and date palm wood, all stuck together with gypsum mortar. Even the whitewash, helpful in cooling homes and preserving the mortar and mud bricks from the sun, was applied haphazardly. The buildings were, however, three and four stories tall. Only a few buildings in Rekton rose to three stories. People in the streets looked dirty, and there was garbage everywhere.

  Gavin, Kip noticed, was wearing a worn, faded cloak with a single button holding it closed in front. Disguising his status? Indeed, Commander Ironfist was getting more stares than either Kip or Gavin.

  “Hey, Ironfist, you think you could be a little less conspicu—” Gavin started, then traced his eyes from Ironfist’s feet up, until he had to tilt his head back to take in the huge, hugely muscled man. “Never mind.”

  Kip smiled. “Where are we going?” he asked.

  “You’ll see,” Gavin said. “How are your studies?”

  “I don’t know that anything I’ve done yet counts as studying,” Kip said. He scrunched his face. “Liv was barely beginning to explain how drafters’ dependence on will makes for a lot of dangerous men when her father came in.”

  “What’d she say?”

  “Well, nothing. I didn’t really understand it, and she didn’t get the chance to explain.”

  Gavin turned into an alley to help them bypass the crowded streets surrounding the water market. “Very few men are superchromats, Kip. Even I’m not a superchromat, though Dazen was, so apparently it runs in the family. If you want to draft something that will endure, you have to draft the exact middle of the spectrum you’re working with. You want to make a blue sword that will last years after you draft it? It has to be perfect, and of course, you have to keep it out of light, but that’s a different topic. Because men, aside from the few exceptions, can’t do that—can’t draft in the exact middle of a color, not can’t keep it out of the light, obviously. Ahem, that is, if men want to make anything permanent, they have to add will. Makes it sound like it’s meat you add to a stew, doesn’t it? Hmm. I don’t teach much, obviously. Let me try this.” Gavin appeared perfectly heedless of the dark corners they were passing and the acquisitive eyes that followed them. But then, once any acquisitive eyes alit on Ironfist, they found other things to study in a hurry.

  “Every time you draft, you use your will. You have to decide that something totally outlandish, weird, unnatural-seeming is going to happen, and you’re going to make it happen. In other words, you decide to do magic. Now, the more outlandish it is, the harder it is to believe you can really do it. Or to put it another way, the more will it takes. You with me?”

  “Makes sense so far,” Kip said.

  “Good. Now, blue sword.” Gavin lifted a hand from beneath his cloak. His hand was solid blue, and as Kip watched, blue luxin blossomed from it. Gelled, solidified, hardened into the form of a blue sword. Gavin handed it to Kip.

  Kip took it, feeling self-conscious as they passed through an intersection with another alley and he was bearing the blade like he was following it to his destiny. “Uh,” he said, but then he felt the hilt go slippery. A moment later, the blade drooped, broke off the hilt of its own weight, and splatted on the dirty cobblestones of the alley. There was a light shimmer of blue, and then nothing but blue dust. The same happened moments later to the hilt in Kip’s hand, leaving only that gritty blue dust.

  “What’s the dust?” Kip asked.

  “A later lesson,” Gavin said. “I’m having trouble teaching the basics as it is. The point for you is to imagine I’d drafted you a plow instead of a sword. Great, it works while the drafter is at your farm, but ten minutes after he leaves, all you’ve got is dust, literally. Not helpful. This is why superchromats are heavily recruited by all satrapies.”

  “So they can make plows?”

  “Not all magic is for fun and dismemberment, Kip. In fact, most drafters spend their whole lives doing practical things like making plows. For every artist, there’s ten men who repair roofs with green luxin. Anyway, men—and the women who aren’t lucky enough to be superchromats—can cover their failings with will.”

  “You mean just by trying harder.”

  “Pretty much.”

  “That doesn’t sound so bad. So they try harder. Liv was making men among drafters sound like slaves compared to the freeborn.”

  “More like dogs, I’d say,” Gavin said.


  “Well, they are second-class because using will constantly wears you. It’s exhausting. And will isn’t just effort, it’s belief and effort together. So if you need belief to do magic, what happens to the man who loses all his belief in himself?”

  “He can’t do magic?” Kip guessed.

  “Exactly. That’s half of what all the hierarchy among drafters is about. Satraps and satrapahs treat drafters like they’re Orholam’s gift to the world not just because they are Orholam’s gift, but because if the drafter doesn’t believe he’s special and you call on him to do magic, he won’t be able to do it. Drafter who can’t draft? Useless.”

  “I never thought of that.” So the rigid hierarchy wasn’t simply because they could? Kip guessed that this wasn’t the way Liv’s tutors had explained things to her.

  “Of course, it’s a circle that spirals on itself. You’re a sa
trap, you’ve paid a fortune for a bichrome drafter, well, now you’ve invested so much in him that you can’t afford for him to fail you, so you have to reinforce his feelings of superiority and pamper him, give him slaves and so forth. It makes the more powerful drafters more and more difficult to manage.”

  There was a cough from behind them. Ironfist.

  “Commander,” Gavin asked, “you have something to add to this discussion?”

  “Little dust in my throat. Apologies,” Ironfist said, sounding not at all apologetic.

  “Problem with will is, we think that the more will a man or woman expends in their life, the faster they die. Or it could merely be that men or women with great will tend to draft a lot more. Either way, their careers are spectacular. And short. It’s probably why male drafters don’t tend to live as long as women do, expending will all the time in order to have their drafting be useful. Side effect is that among the most powerful drafters, we have a lot of people with titanic will. Or, to put it bluntly, a lot of arrogant assholes. Especially the men. And madmen. Delusional people tend to believe in what they’re doing. Makes them powerful.”

  “So I’m going to be spending my time with crazy, arrogant bastards.”

  “Well, many of them are of the finest blood.”

  Oh, that’s right, I’m the only bastard around here. “I thought being a drafter was going to be fun,” Kip said.

  “Grunts never get to scull,” Gavin said.


  “Grunts, mundies, norms, grubbers, clods, shovelslingers, blinders, dulls, scrubs, mouth breathers, slumps, the benighted—there’s lots of names. Most of them not as nice as those. They all mean the same thing: non-drafters.”

  “So what about you?” Kip asked, as they finally left the alleys. They crossed a wide, peaked stone bridge over the Umber River.

  Gavin looked at him. “You mean what nasty names do they call me?”

  “No!” Oh, Gavin was teasing. Kip scowled. “Your eyes don’t”—he looked for the right word—“halo. So does that mean you can draft as much as you want?”

  “I tire like anyone, but yes. For a time I can draft every day as much as I can handle and it won’t burn me out. Someday, most likely five years from now, I will start to lose colors. It will take about a year, and then I’ll die.”

  “Why five years from now?” Kip asked. It was still odd to him how matter-of-fact drafters were about their impending deaths. I guess they have time to get used to the idea.

  “It always happens on multiples of seven from when a Prism begins his reign. I’ve made it sixteen years, so I have until twenty-one. Long time for a Prism.”

  “Oh. Why multiples of seven?”

  “Because there’s seven colors, seven virtues, seven satrapies? Because Orholam likes the number seven? Truth is, no one knows.”

  They walked on through streets swelling with people starting their morning errands, and those eager to get as much work done as possible before the heat of the day. They approached a long line of workers bottlenecked at the Lover’s Gate, heading out to work outside the city. Though Kip didn’t even see him draft, Gavin turned and handed him a green rock. Not a rock. Green luxin, perfectly the size to fit in Kip’s palm. Kip took it, confused.

  “You bring your specs?” Gavin asked. He handed Kip a square board, not a foot on each side, perfectly white.

  Kip produced them. Smiled weakly. I have a bad feeling about what he’s going to tell me next.

  “Your turn. You can have lunch—or dinner or possibly breakfast—when you make a green luxin ball of your own. You’ve got the spectacles, a white reflector, plenty of sun, and an example. I couldn’t make it easier if I tried.”

  “But I need Skill, Will, Source, and Still. I don’t have skill. Any skill. At all.”

  Gavin looked at him sardonically. “And how do you think you get skilled? Skill is the most overrated of the requisites. Will covers a multitude of flaws.”

  I keep hearing that. Kip hadn’t even had breakfast, and he wasn’t going to get to eat until he made a magic ball? Fantastic.

  They came upon the back of the line. Gavin glanced at Commander Ironfist. Without further prompting, Ironfist said, “Looks like a wagon broke down. It’s blocking half the gate.”

  Gavin swept a hand forward, as in, You go first. Commander Ironfist went first, and the impatient farmers and craftsman parted easily for him. Or at least those who looked furious at being pushed aside quickly hid it once they saw the size of the man towering over them. “We’re going to help,” Gavin said.

  “Sure, you Parian scum,” someone said, spitting. Gavin stopped and scanned the crowd for who’d spoken. As men met his eyes and saw those prismatic orbs, they quieted, confused, stunned.

  “You can have my help, or you can have my enmity,” Gavin said loudly. He unbuttoned the nondescript cloak and threw it back over his shoulders, exposing the almost blindingly white coat and shirt he wore underneath, worked with gold thread and jewels.

  He walked on, and Kip scooted close to him. The crowd parted around them, murmuring questions and imprecations. In a minute, they were at the front of the line. At least a dozen men were straining to move a wagon. Apparently, the horses had spooked and veered to the side as they passed through the gate. The wagon’s wheel had smashed into the gate’s support—here actually the Lover’s hair. The wheel was completely shattered, as was the wagon’s axle, and the whole thing was still stuck against the wall, making normal efforts at repair impossible. The men were straining to lift the wagon by sheer brute strength, with a few using long poles to try to crank the mass off the wall.

  “We’re going to have to bring up an empty wagon and unload this before we’ve got a chance,” one of the guards was saying.

  To Kip’s admittedly inexperienced eye, the man was right. The combined muscle of all these laborers was barely budging the wagon. But the assembled crowd groaned, a few complaining aloud.

  “Bring an empty wagon? From where? Through that whole mess behind us? It’ll take hours!”

  “You all are going to have to use the other gates today,” the guard said.

  That met similar protests. With how thickly crowded the street was, none of the men at the front of the line would be able to leave until everyone at the back dispersed. It would take hours.

  “What?” the guard shouted. “I didn’t do this. I’m just trying to fix it! You have a better idea?”

  “I do,” Gavin said.

  “Oh, sure, you smart—Lord Prism!” the guard said.

  That sent a ripple of murmurs through the crowd.

  Gavin ignored it. He gestured to the men to step back. They did, some in awe, others more peeved, some hostile. He simply walked to where the wagon was smashed against the wall. “I see why you had trouble,” he said. “But I have a few extra tools available to me.”

  Kip, still holding his green luxin ball and the white board, realized Commander Ironfist had disappeared.

  He’s gigantic. How does he disappear? Kip looked around, and finally found him. The commander was standing behind a man in the crowd whose hand had dropped to the big work knife at his belt. Commander Ironfist’s huge hand enveloped both the man’s hand and his knife. The commander himself, towering over the man, was quietly speaking in his ear.

  As he spoke, the man’s face blanched and his whole body slackened.

  Commander Ironfist gave the man a friendly pounding on his shoulder—which nearly crushed him—and stepped back toward Gavin.

  “Always running off when I need you,” Gavin said.

  Commander Ironfist grunted.

  Kip couldn’t help himself. “I think he might have just saved your—” He saw the look on Gavin’s face belatedly. Gavin knew. “Oh. Um. Never mind.” Clever Kip.

  But Gavin was back to work already. “I need ropes.” He held a hand up over his head and a bar of yellow luxin formed in his hand and snapped out in both directions, until it was three times the height of a man. He handed it t
o one of the stunned workers. “You and you, get this in position, I’ll need you to lever the wagon off the wall.”

  The man bobbed his head. He and the other man started jamming the pole as deep between the wall and wagon as they could.

  Gavin walked as far around the wagon as he could, sending out thin jets of luxin in a number of places under the axles. “Now,” he told the men with the lever.

  They strained and moved the wagon less than a hand’s breadth. After a three count, they relaxed and set their shoulders to try again.

  “Not necessary,” Gavin said. “You gave me enough already. Well done.” And indeed, there was luxin even behind the wagon, encasing the whole in a shimmering web of various colors, mostly greens and yellows.

  Gavin rolled his shoulders, braced himself, pointed at the arching luxin-and-stone of the gate, and shot out a stream of blue and yellow. In moments, it congealed into a pulley. He took coils of rope from a nearby farmer and shot out another bolt, anchoring one end of the rope to the ceiling. Then he threaded the rest of the rope through the pulley. He pulled some slack into the rope between the fixed pulley and the attached end and drafted a free-rolling pulley onto that, which he then fixed to the web of luxin around the wagon. He beckoned the farmer, apparently the wagon’s owner, and tossed him the rest of the rope. “It’ll still take all of you helping,” he said.

  Kip swallowed. “Please tell me he isn’t designing those off the top of his head,” he said to Commander Ironfist, who was silently watching the crowd.

  “He’s not. You’d be surprised how often wagons break down when your army is pursuing another army across half the Seven Satrapies. I’ve seen him lift heavier loads by himself. Albeit with lots more pulleys.”

  Which meant the real question was why Gavin didn’t just do this himself. He could draft luxin better than any hemp rope. He could draft another four pulleys and make the burden so light he could lift the wagon himself. But as soon as Kip asked himself, he knew. Gavin was building rapport with the townsfolk. If he marched in and did it all himself, they’d be awed, but they’d not be a part of it. This way, he was simply enabling them to help themselves. His power might still be awesome, but it was power in service of them.

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