The night angel trilogy, p.43
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.43

           Brent Weeks
 

  The Drakes liked to talk about a divine economy: the God turning weeping into laughter, sorrow into joy. A wetboy was the merchant prince of the satanic economy. Murder begat murder, and as Durzo had said, others always paid the price.

  Must others always pay for my failures? Is there no other way? The blood on his hands said no, no. This is reality; it’s hard, uncomfortable, hateful, but it’s true.

  “I’m breaking my own rules,” a blur of shadows said.

  Kylar didn’t look up. He didn’t care if he died. But the man said no more. After a long moment, Kylar asked bitterly, “ ‘Don’t play fair. A kill is a kill’?”

  Durzo stepped out of the shadows. “Kylar, I have one last rule to teach you.”

  “And what’s that, master?”

  “You’re almost a wetboy now, Kylar. And now that you’ve learned to win almost any fight, there’s one more rule: Never fight when you can’t win.”

  “Fine,” Kylar said. “You win.”

  Durzo stood there a long moment. “Come, apprentice. Here is your Crucible.”

  “Is that all your life is?” Kylar asked, finally looking up. “Tests and challenges?”

  “My life? That’s all life is.”

  “That’s not good enough,” Kylar said. “These people shouldn’t be dying. Khalidor shouldn’t be winning. It’s not right.”

  “I never said it’s right. My world isn’t cut into black and white, right and wrong, Kylar. Yours shouldn’t be either. Our world only has better and worse, shadows lighter and darker. Cenaria couldn’t win against Khalidor no matter what happened tonight. This way, a few nobles die rather than tens of thousands of peasants. It’s better this way.”

  “Better? My best friend’s dead and they’re probably raping his wife! How can you stand by and do nothing? How can you help them?”

  “Because life’s empty,” Durzo said.

  “Bullshit! If you believed that, you’d have died a long time ago!”

  “I did die a long time ago. All the good passes by and all the evil passes by, and we can’t do a damn thing to change anything or anybody, Kylar. Least of all ourselves. This war will come and go, there will be a victor, and people will die for nothing. But we’ll be alive. Like always. At least, I will.”

  “It’s not right!”

  “What do you want? Justice? Justice is a fairy tale. A myth with soft fur and reassuring strength.”

  “A myth you believed in, once upon a time,” Kylar said, gesturing to the word JUSTICE etched into Retribution’s blade.

  “I used to believe a lot of things. That doesn’t make them true,” Durzo said.

  “Who’s better off? Logan or us? Logan could sleep at night. I hate myself. I dream of murder and wake in cold sweat. You drink yourself oblivious and blow your money on whores.”

  “Logan’s dead,” Durzo said. “Maybe he’ll wear a crown in the next life, but that doesn’t do him much good now, does it?”

  Kylar looked at Durzo strangely. “And you’re the one who says life is empty, meaningless. That we don’t take anything of value when we take a life. Look how you hold on to yours. You fucking hypocrite.”

  “Every man worth a damn is a hypocrite.” Durzo reached into a breast pocket and pulled out a folded scrap of paper. “If you kill me, this is for you. It explains things. Consider it your inheritance. If I kill you… well, when I die, I’ll take a break on my way to the lowest plane of hell and stop to talk.”

  Durzo tucked the paper in a breast pocket and drew a huge sword with a long red ribbon dangling from its hilt. It was a longer, heavier blade than Retribution, but with his Talent, Durzo could wield it with a single hand.

  “Don’t do this,” Kylar said. “I don’t want to fight you.”

  The wetboy closed on him. Kylar stood still, making no move to defend himself. “Did you already give him the Globe of Edges?” Kylar asked.

  The wetboy stopped. He reached into a pouch and pulled out the silvery globe. “This?” he said. “This is nothing. Another fake.” He hurled the globe through at the window. Glass broke as it punched through the window and sailed out into darkness.

  “What have you done?” Kylar asked.

  “By the Night Angels!” Durzo said. “You bonded my ka’kari. You stole it from me. You still don’t understand?”

  It was like he was speaking another language. Bonded? Kylar thought he’d bonded the ka’kari—must have, because his Talent worked now. And Durzo said it was glass?

  “Unbelievable,” Durzo said, shaking his head. “Draw your sword and fight, boy.”

  “It’s my sword now, is it?” Kylar asked.

  “Not for long. You aren’t worthy to succeed me.” Durzo raised his blade.

  “I don’t want to fight you,” Kylar said, refusing to draw the blade. “I won’t fight you.”

  Durzo struck. At the last second, Kylar drew Retribution and blocked. Talent-strengthened blow met Talent-strengthened blow. The blades shivered from the impact.

  “I knew it was in you,” Durzo said. He smiled fiercely.

  Any delusion Kylar might have had that Durzo would take it easy on him because he hadn’t had time to learn to use his Talent dissolved instantly. Durzo launched into a blistering attack so fast it should have been impossible.

  Kylar staggered backward, blocking some blows and jumping back to avoid more. Durzo used every weapon in his arsenal. His sword blurred through combinations, whipping the hilt ribbon into a scintillant red stream. The ribbon’s purpose was to pull an opponent’s eyes from the point of danger. Anyone who let his attention wander would find a steel reminder in his ribs.

  But it wasn’t just the sword that confused Kylar. Durzo would follow a cut at Kylar’s head with a kick at his knee then a spinning backhand with his free hand at his face. Combinations followed and flowed into each other in a raging river of deadly motion.

  Blocking and dodging, Kylar retreated back and back. Durzo didn’t give him time to think, but Kylar was aware of the room. It took up the entire top floor of the tower, so it formed a large circle flattened at one end for the entrance and at the other for a closet.

  The very familiarity of fighting against Durzo slowly calmed him. Of course, he’d always lost, but things would be different this time. They had to be.

  The surge of power flowed through his arms with a rush of tingles that made him feel like every hair on his body was standing on end. He parried a thrust and Durzo’s blade was slapped aside as if it weighed a quarter of what it did. Blint recovered in a blink, but he stopped advancing.

  Kylar was standing a yard from the wall with a cherry-wood bureau next to him. Blint’s sword flicked toward his eyes, but it was a feint. Blint’s real attack was a kick at Kylar’s leading knee. Kylar dropped backward toward the wall and lashed out with a foot, halting Blint’s foot as it came forward. Expecting his sword to meet resistance, Blint slashed too hard. His heavy blade slashed deeply into the bureau.

  The stone wall slapped against Kylar’s back as he stumbled and levered himself upright again. But instead of trying to drag his sword out of the bureau, Durzo reached over his shoulders and grabbed twin hook swords. Each bore a crescent-shaped blade over the knuckles, but was otherwise a normal sword with a hooked point for catching an enemy’s sword.

  “I hate those,” Kylar said.

  “I know.”

  Kylar attacked, still trying to adjust to the Talent’s effect on his fighting. So far as he could tell, it could make his muscles move more quickly and more powerfully, but there was a limit to how fast even two Talented fighters could fight. The Talent didn’t help you make decisions faster, so it wasn’t a simple matter of accelerating regular fighting. Kylar had to be more careful—and he still had no idea if the Talent would defend his body itself. If Blint got through Kylar’s defenses with a Talent-aided kick, would it crush his ribs like twigs, or were they strengthened as well?

  The only way to find out was no way to find out.

  Blint let Kylar co
me forward, using the hook swords defensively. Then, as they neared the bed, he started using the hooks. As Kylar struck, Durzo turned his blade down to the hook and wrenched Retribution aside. He followed with an overhand slash with the other sword.

  Leaping backward, Kylar found himself being driven toward one of the tower’s broad windows. Durzo strode in and caught a slow slash, but instead of sweeping it aside, he caught it with his other hook, trapping Kylar’s blade.

  As Kylar lunged forward, Blint guided the blade past his head and wrenched it free. Retribution clattered on the floor behind Kylar. Blint kicked him in the chest, his foot barely slowed by the arms Kylar brought up as he drew daggers.

  Kylar slammed into the window and felt glass break, wood splinter, and the latch burst. He had the sickening sensation of launching into space.

  Clawing for something, anything, Kylar turned, twisting with the desperate grace of a falling cat. Abandoned to gravity, his daggers spun away, glittering in the moonlight.

  Kylar punched his fingers through a delicate windowpane. His hand clamped on wood and jagged glass as his momentum swung the window open.

  His face met the tower wall with a crunch. Glass glided through the flesh of his fingers then ground against bone as his hand slipped. Held.

  Blinking, he dangled by one hand. Blood coursed down his arm. Blood coursed down his face. He hung two hundred feet over the basalt of the castle’s foundation and the broad expanse of the river. Steam escaped from the single volcanic vent that opened on Vos Island and obscured a barge pulled up to the shore. The steam shone in the moonlight, and far below, by the ship, Kylar saw men talking. Even from this height, he could hear the ringing of steel, and catch glimpses of Khalidoran invaders overwhelming foot soldiers in the castle courtyard.

  Then Sergeant Gamble emerged from the front gate. He was leading the nobles and more than two hundred Cenarian soldiers. They were trying to escape the castle, just as Kylar had told them, but even as they pushed toward the east gate, the Khalidorans were reinforced by more than a hundred highlanders coming from the opposite side of the castle.

  In seconds, the courtyard had become the frontline of the battle and the war for Cenaria. The castle and the city were lost. If the nobles were slaughtered, so was all of Cenaria. If the nobles could press through the massed highlanders and get across East Kingsbridge, they could begin a resistance.

  It was the dimmest sort of hope, but hope had never come in the blinding bright variety in Cenaria.

  Something popped and Kylar dropped four inches. He scrambled up the window frame as the next hinge tore out of the sill. The last hinge protested and popped out.

  Kylar hurled himself at the storm shutter tied back against the tower wall. His fingers raked over slats. Caught. Three slats broke and then finally arrested his fall.

  The window sailed peacefully below him, turning end over end in the whistling wind. It hit the rocks just paces short of the river—exactly where Kylar would land if he fell. The window exploded into splinters and slivers of glass.

  Kylar looked up. The shutter’s hinges were straining, slowly pulling out of the rock.

  Perfect.

  Durzo Blint stood in the carnage and saw none of it. Bodies were strewn about the bedchamber. Freshly cut lilies bloomed next to the royal bed—white lilies flecked red with blood.

  A delicate, once-white nightgown lay soaking in a wide pool of crimson near his feet. The floor mosaic was scorched in a black circle. The acrid tang of wytchfire smothered the hint of perfume in the air.

  But Durzo saw only the open window in front of him. His pockmarked face looked stricken. Wind howled through the window, sending the curtains fluttering and his gray hair into his eyes.

  His fingers flipped a blade end over end in his right hand. Finger to finger to finger, stop. Finger to finger to finger, spin. He noticed what he was doing and jammed the dagger into a sheath. His face set and he pulled his mottled gray and black cloak around his shoulders, covering a belt full of darts, daggers, and numerous tools and pouches.

  It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to be so empty. He turned his back to the window, then stopped. His head cocked to the side as he heard something over the screaming wind.

  Kylar willed himself to release the shutter with his bloody right hand. His hand found empty sheaths for daggers that matched the empty scabbard on his back. Grunting, he contorted himself to draw a tanto from his calf. His fingers were deadened, lacerated, weak. The tanto almost slipped out of them.

  The ropes tying the shutter against the wall parted easily. Rusty hinges creaked loudly. Kylar stiffened, but there was no help for the noise. He took two quick breaths, then launched off the tower wall with both feet. He swung back toward the open window and heaved his body up with the force of his Talent as if he swinging on a giant swing.

  The shutter tore away from the tower in his hands, and he barely made it high enough not to slam into the wall, instead sliding into the bedchamber along the floor.

  His body swept Durzo’s feet out from under him and the wetboy fell on top of Kylar, one of his hook swords going flying out the window. The shutter was between them, trapping Durzo’s hands in an awkward position. Kylar slapped the shutter into Durzo’s face.

  “I don’t—” Kylar slammed the shutter into Durzo’s face with all of his strength and Talent. The man flew off him.

  Kylar rolled aside and jumped to his feet.

  But Blint was already up. He kicked a footstool at Kylar. Kylar blocked it with a foot, but it caught him off-balance and tripped him. He landed face-first on a decorative rug.

  Running forward like lightning, Blint raised the hook sword. Instead of trying to stand or roll aside, Kylar grabbed the rug and yanked.

  Durzo lurched forward faster than he expected and cut only air as his knees collided with Kylar’s shoulder. He flipped over headfirst.

  Durzo’s heavy curved sword was still lodged in the bureau next to the window, but Retribution was closer. Kylar grabbed it and turned.

  “—want to—”

  The wetboy lunged to grab the hook sword off the ground.

  “—fight you!” Kylar jumped on the hook sword.

  Durzo pulled up with all the strength of his Talent. For an instant, it seemed the iron core of the blade would hold. Then the sword snapped an inch from the hilt.

  “You might not want to, son, but there’s something in you that refuses to die,” Durzo said. He threw the broken blade aside, but didn’t draw any other weapon.

  “Master, don’t make me fight you,” Kylar said, pointing the blade at Durzo’s throat.

  “You made your choice when you disobeyed me.”

  “Why’d you do it?”

  “I wouldn’t have apprenticed you, but I thought you were something you’re not. May the Night Angels forgive me.”

  “I don’t mean me!” Kylar’s hands shook on the sword. “Why’d you make me betray my best friend?”

  “Because you broke the rules. Because life’s empty. Because I broke the rules too.” Durzo shrugged. “It catches up.”

  “That’s not good enough!”

  Durzo tented his hands and pursed his lips. “Logan died screaming, you know. Pathetic.”

  Kylar lashed out. The sword streaked for Durzo’s neck. But Durzo didn’t flinch. The blade slapped into his palm and stopped as if it didn’t even have an edge.

  But Durzo’s hands were still tented in front of him. The hand holding Kylar’s sword was made of pure magic.

  It flung Retribution out of Kylar’s grip. Other hands bloomed in the air, striking at him. Kylar blocked and stumbled back as Durzo walked forward calmly, surging with Talent.

  There was nothing Kylar could do. He blocked faster and faster, but the hands came faster still. Dimly, a few hands of his own Talent bloomed in front of him and blocked some of the attacks, but it wasn’t enough. Durzo drove him back and back.

  Finally, hands latched onto each of Kylar’s limbs and p
inned him to the wall. He couldn’t move an inch.

  “Ah, kid,” Durzo said. “If I could have taught you to use your Talent, you’d have been something really special.”

  Durzo drew a throwing dagger. Spun it in his fingers. Brought it up. He paused as if to say something, then shook his head.

  “I’m sorry, Kylar.”

  “Don’t be. Life’s empty, right?”

  Durzo sighed. He was staring at Retribution, gleaming blackly at Kylar’s feet, as close as the moonlight and as far away as the moon. The look on his scarred face was anguish, regret.

  Following his gaze, Kylar stared at the black sword that Durzo had carried for so many years, and remembered—

  Scowling, Durzo had snatched the pouch away from him and turned it over. The Globe of Edges fell into his hand. “Damn. Just what I thought,” he said, his voice harsh in the quiet of the Jadwin hallway.

  “What?” Kylar asked.

  It was a fake, another fake ka’kari.

  But Durzo wasn’t in any mood to answer questions. “Did the girl see your face?”

  Kylar’s silence was enough.

  “Take care of it. Kylar, that’s not a request. It’s an order. Kill her.”

  “No,” Kylar said.

  “What did you say?” Durzo asked, incredulous. Black blood was dribbling down Retribution, pooling on the floor.

  “I won’t kill her. And I won’t let you.”

  “Who is this girl that she’s worth being hunted for the rest of your short—” he stopped. “She’s Doll Girl.”

  “Yes, master. I’m sorry.”

  “By the Night Angels! I don’t want apologies! I want obedien—” Durzo held up a finger for silence. The footfalls were close now. Durzo blurred into the hall, inhumanly fast, his sword flashing silver in the low light.

 
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