The night angel trilogy, p.45
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.45

           Brent Weeks
 

  What was it Kylar had told him once? They had been propositioned by black-black market prostitutes, girls who operated outside of the Sa’kagé’s control and protection. The girls, neither more than twelve, had offered themselves specifically for degrading practices Logan hadn’t even heard of. Kylar had just said, “You’d be surprised at what you’d do to stay alive.”

  You’d be surprised at what you’d do to stay alive.

  Logan opened the grate and slipped inside. He hung on the iron bars by one hand while he locked it. Then he tucked the key back into a pocket, drew his knife, and dropped into hell.

  58

  It wasn’t until Kylar was flying through the air that he realized just exactly how far down it was to the river. He had no excuse, really. He’d been dangling out of this very window, looking at this very view, not five minutes ago. Except now the view was enlarging. Rapidly. He was going to clear the rocks. That was good. He was also going to hit the river at incredible speed, face first. Maybe a trained diver could have taken such a plunge without harm, but Kylar wasn’t a diver.

  The river filled all his vision and he flung his hands out. A thin wedge of Talent wrapped around him.

  Then he plunged into the river. His outstretched hands did nothing, but the wedge of Talent protected him and drove him under the river’s skin like a splinter.

  The wedge collapsed an instant after he hit and the water slapped him as brutally as if a giant had clapped his hands together over the whole of Kylar’s body.

  He was dreaming again, if it was called a dream when…. When what? The thought dribbled through Kylar’s fingers and he lost it.

  It was the dream he dreamt whenever he’d seen death for the last ten years. Like always, for a brief moment, he knew it was a dream. He knew it was a dream, but by the time he realized what dream it was, he couldn’t pull away. It swelled around him, and he was eleven again.

  The boat repair shop is dark, abandoned, cold in the silver moonlight. Azoth is terrified beyond terror even though he planned this. Now he turns and Rat is behind him, naked.

  Azoth edges toward the hole where boats once were lifted from the filthy waters of the Plith, edges toward rope and the rock tied to it and the noose he knotted on the end.

  “Kiss me again,” Rat says, and he’s right in front of Azoth, hands grabbing at him lustfully. “Kiss me again.”

  Where’s the noose? He’d put it here, hadn’t he? He sees the rock that was supposed to drag Rat to a watery death but where’s the—Rat pulls him close and his breath is hot on Azoth’s face, and his hands are pulling at Azoth’s clothes—

  Kylar hit the bottom of the river with a bump. His eyes flicked open and he saw Retribution inches away from his face. In the shock of hitting the water, it had been torn from his grasp. He was lucky he hadn’t cut himself to pieces with it. He was lucky that the silver blade had plunged straight to the bottom with him.

  Suddenly aware of the burning in his lungs, Kylar grabbed Retribution and pulled for the surface.

  How long have I been down here? It couldn’t have been more than a moment, or he would have drifted away and drowned. Seconds later, Kylar was surprised to find himself breathing air again and uninjured, at least from the fall. His nose and fingers were still bleeding, though, briefly staining the waters around him. The current jostled him up against a rock and he pulled himself up.

  He’d washed up on the rocks on the Vos Island side under East Kingsbridge, directly across the river from the Jadwin estate. The bank of the river where he stood was also the foundation of the castle wall, so to go upstream, he had to half climb and half swim. It took him ten exhausting minutes to get to a point where he could climb out of the water again.

  The docks where he’d seen Roth were at the northern tip of the island. To get there, he’d have to either continue through the water and the boulders along the river, or he’d have to go through the squat, stinking building that covered the Vos Island Crack.

  Kylar didn’t think he could make it over the rocks for another ten or twenty minutes. Even if Roth were still there when he arrived, Kylar was too weak to go that way. His nose had finally stopped bleeding, and he’d wrapped his hand so it wasn’t bleeding too badly, but if he tried to swim, it would bleed again. His hand throbbed and his whole body felt weak from the blood he’d lost.

  If it were any other night, Kylar would have left. He was in no shape to attempt an assassination. But logic didn’t mean much. Not tonight. Not after what Roth had done.

  The building on the Vos Island Crack was built of stone in a square, thirty paces on a side and only a single story above ground. It was supposed to be a marvel of engineering, but Kylar knew little about it. He supposed nobles weren’t impressed by a marvel that smelled like rotten eggs.

  It was stupidity to go on. Kylar was so exhausted he could barely even think of using his Talent. It took a certain kind of strength of its own to do that. He propped himself against the heavy door, gathering his strength. He was still holding Retribution. Looking down at the blade, he stared at the word etched into the blade. JUSTICE. Except it didn’t say “justice” now. He blinked.

  MERCY, it said in the same silver script, exactly where it used to say JUSTICE in black. On the hilt, perpendicular to that, now also silver where it had been ka’kari-black, it said VENGEANCE.

  The ka’kari was gone. Kylar was so tired-stupid that for a moment he despaired. Then he remembered where it had gone. It went into my skin? Just how tired was he? Surely that must have been his imagination. A hallucination.

  He turned his hand over and black sweat suddenly poured from his palm like oil, fluid for an instant, then suddenly congealing into a warm metal sphere. It was midnight black now, utterly featureless. A black ka’kari. Logan’s stories had mentioned only six: white, green, brown, silver, red, and blue. Emperor Jorsin Alkestes and his archmagus Ezra had given them to six champions, slighting one of Jorsin’s best friends, who then betrayed him. After the war, the six ka’kari had been objects of great lust, and those who carried them died quickly.

  Kylar tried to remember the name of the betrayer. It was Acaelus Thorne. Jorsin hadn’t slighted him after all. By pretending to slight him, Jorsin had given his best friend a way to escape—and keep an artifact out of enemy hands. Because no one had known of the black’s existence, Acaelus hadn’t been hunted. Acaelus had survived.

  Durzo had signed his letter “A Thorne.”

  “Oh, gods,” Kylar breathed. He couldn’t think about it now, couldn’t stop or he wouldn’t be able to start moving again. “Help me,” Kylar said to the ka’kari. “Please. Serve me.” He squeezed the ka’kari and it dissolved, rushing along his skin, up over his clothes, over his face, over his eyes. He flinched, but he could still see perfectly—still see through the dark as if it were natural. He looked down at his hands, his black sword, and saw them shimmer with magic and disappear. They weren’t just cloaked in shadows, as wetboys cloaked themselves. They disappeared. Kylar wasn’t a shadow like before. He was invisible.

  There was no time to marvel; he had work to do. It had been ten minutes or more since he’d seen Roth on the dock. If Roth was going to die tonight, Kylar needed to move. He picked the lock and stepped inside.

  The inside of the building was stiflingly hot. Wooden catwalks surrounded a mammoth central chimney fifteen paces in diameter. It was made of broad sheets of metal riveted together and supported by an external wood frame. The chimney descended at least four stories into the ground to meet the natural crack in the earth’s crust.

  Looking into the shadowed depths of the Crack, Kylar understood why people called this a marvel. The men who worked here not only harnessed the power of the hot air that blew out of the earth itself, they also kept the Plith River from spilling into the earth.

  If that happened, the river would boil; the fish would die; the fishermen would be wiped out; and Cenaria would lose its major source of food.

  Even now, oblivious to the chaos not a quar
ter of a mile away, men were working: servicing ropes, checking pulleys, greasing gears, replacing sections of sheet metal.

  Kylar crossed a long catwalk, took a few turns, and found himself at a crossroads where he could go to a door below ground level or go up to a maintenance door by the outlet of the chimney on the north side of the building—where Roth would be.

  He went down. The door was set beside double doors used for bringing in huge pieces of equipment. Kylar eased it open a crack.

  A young wytch was standing outside, her hair pulled back and vir-marked arms folded. She was looking up a long stone ramp. Someone was talking to her, but Kylar couldn’t see the other person. Beyond her were a dozen others, dressed similarly.

  Kylar eased the door shut. He went back to the other branch of the catwalk and opened the door set into the horizontal section of the chimney.

  Bent sideways, the chimney was more like a steam tunnel here. It was fifteen paces across until it pinched down to four paces at the last fan. The floor was sheet metal reinforced underneath so the workers could stand inside it as they worked on either the massive fan set just before the chimney turned straight down, or the much smaller last fan before the hot air escaped into the Cenarian night. The northern fan spun slowly enough that Kylar should be able to see Roth through it.

  He stepped inside carefully, testing the floor to see if it would squeak as he put his weight on it. It didn’t. But even before Kylar closed the door behind himself, he had a vaguely uneasy feeling.

  Cooled from its long journey up the metal chimney, sulfuric smoke poured sluggishly through the tunnel into the night air outside. Heavy smoke filled the bottom third of the tunnel, curling and rolling. The only light came from the moon outside but was filtered through the spinning fan. Between the dense smoke and the dancing shadows, Kylar’s vision was no better than any other man’s.

  There’s someone here.

  59

  Durzo’s heart had just leapt out that goddam window. He walked to the window and watched until he saw Kylar surface.

  Amazing. In all my years, I never tried anything so dumb, and here he does it on his first day—and it works. Kylar clambered onto shore and began working his way north. Durzo knew where he was headed. The stubborn fool. He’d always had that streak, from the time he’d refused to accept that he’d failed in Rat’s murder and had gone and killed the twist in the next three hours.

  Kylar did what he thought was right, and to hell with the consequences, to hell with what anyone thought, even Durzo. He reminded Durzo of Jorsin Alkestes. Kylar had chosen his loyalty to Durzo, had clung to it despite Durzo. He’d put faith in Durzo Blint as Jorsin had put faith in him. Kylar was just a damned kid, but he’d also put his faith in a much worse man than Acaelus Thorne.

  The pain resonated along every string in Durzo Blint’s life. He’d been a thousand kinds of fraud in his years, so everyone who had believed in him during his deceptions could be written off, but Jorsin had known him. Kylar had known him. Not for the first time in seven centuries, existence ached. All the world was salt and Durzo Blint was an open wound. Where did I go wrong?

  He moved, because like every man Acaelus Thorne had been, Durzo Blint was a man of action. His Talent puddled around his hands and feet—funny that it still worked like that, despite losing the ka’kari—and he stepped out of the window. He didn’t fall.

  The magic around his feet gripped the stone and he pitched forward, catching himself with his hands so that he hung face down on the castle wall like an insect. Kylar hadn’t learned all of Durzo’s tricks. Hell, he hadn’t even seen all of Durzo’s tricks.

  He knew where Kylar was headed, and he knew how to get there faster than Kylar could, so he was in no hurry. The clash of arms in the courtyard attracted his attention. He cloaked himself in shadows and crawled down to the courtyard.

  The battle was deadlocked. Two hundred Cenarian guardsmen and the forty or more useless nobles with them couldn’t budge the hundred Khalidorans who were blocking the gate to East Kingsbridge. The Khalidorans had half a dozen meisters with them, but this late in the battle, they weren’t doing much except psychologically. They’d used pretty much as much magic as they were able to.

  With eyes long honed in battle and the arts of assassination, Durzo picked out the cornerstones of the battle. Sometimes that was simple. Officers were usually important. Meisters always were, but sometimes there were simple soldiers in the lines who were strength for the men around them. If you killed the cornerstones, the whole battle would shift. On the Khalidoran side, the cornerstones were two officers and three of the meisters and one giant of a highlander. On the Cenarian side, there were only two: a sergeant with an Alitaeran longbow and Terah Graesin.

  The sergeant was a simple soldier, probably in his first battle despite his age, and Durzo knew the look on his face. He was a man who had joined the military to find his measure and had finally found it in battle. He had passed his own Crucible, and approved of himself. It was a potent thing, that approval, and every man around the sergeant felt it.

  Terah Graesin, of course, would have stood out in any crowd. She was all tits and haughtiness, a vision in a torn cerulean gown. She believed no harm would dare step into her presence. She believed everyone around her would obey her, and the men felt that, too.

  “Sergeant Gamble,” a familiar voice said, just below Durzo. The sergeant loosed another arrow, killing a meister, but not one of the important ones.

  Count Drake emerged from the front gate and grabbed the sergeant. “Another hundred highlanders on their way,” Count Drake said, his voice almost swallowed by the clash of arms and the press of men back and forth in the courtyard.

  The sight of the count packed the wound Kylar had opened with more salt. Durzo had thought the count was staying home, but here he was, still ill from Durzo’s poison, about to die with all the rest.

  “Dammit!” Sergeant Gamble cursed.

  Durzo turned away from them. The Cenarians would be slaughtered. It was out of his hands. He had his own date with judgment.

  “Night Angel,” the sergeant yelled. “If you fight with us still, fight now! Night Angel! Come!”

  Durzo froze. He could only guess Kylar had already intervened in the castle somehow. Very well, Kylar. I’ll do this for you, and the count, and for Jorsin, and for all the fools who believe that even a killer may accomplish some good.

  “Give me your bow,” Durzo said. It was a hard, menacing voice, pitched with Talent to carry. Sergeant Gamble’s head whipped around and he and Count Drake looked at the shadow over the gate. The sergeant threw him his bow and a fresh quiver of arrows.

  Durzo caught the bow in his hand and the quiver with his Talent. As he drew one arrow, he pulled another from the quiver with his Talent. He squatted against the vertical face of the wall and in an instant locked his deaders into his mind’s eye.

  The giant highlander went down first, an arrow catching him between the eyes. Then the meisters, every last one of them, then the officers, then a wedge of the highlanders directly in front of the bridge. Durzo emptied the quiver of twenty arrows in less than ten seconds. It was, Durzo thought, some damn fine shooting. Of course, Gaelan Starfire had been quite a hand with the longbow.

  Durzo tossed the bow back to Sergeant Gamble, who didn’t seem to comprehend yet what had happened. Count Drake was a different matter. He didn’t even look at the courtyard as the Cenarian line surged forward into the gap. He wasn’t surprised at the sudden hesitation in the Khalidoran ranks that within seconds would turn into a rout. He was looking toward Durzo.

  Sergeant Gamble uttered an awed curse, but Count Drake’s mouth opened to bestow a blessing. Durzo couldn’t take it. He was already gone.

  No more blessings. No more mercy. No more salt. No more light in my dark corners. Let this end. Please.

  60

  Fear flashed through Kylar. He dropped into the smoke. A thunk and a metal whine resounded above him. He rolled and saw one knife stickin
g out of the door and one sticking through the sheet metal of the chimney.

  “So you figured out that it will make you invisible, huh?” Durzo Blint said from somewhere in the darkness near the huge fan at the south end of the tunnel.

  “Dammit, Blint! I told you I don’t want to fight,” Kylar said, then moved away from where he’d been standing when he spoke.

  He scanned the darkness. Even if Durzo weren’t fully invisible, in the smoke and flickering interplay of light and shadow he might as well be.

  “That was quite a dive, boy. You trying to become a legend yourself?” Durzo asked, but his voice oddly strangled, mournful. Kylar stumbled. Durzo was now by the smaller fan at the north end of the tunnel. He must have passed within a pace of Kylar to get there.

  “Who are you?” Kylar asked. “You’re Acaelus Thorne, aren’t you?” Kylar almost forgot to move.

  A knife sailed a hand’s breadth from Kylar’s stomach and pinged off the wall.

  “Acaelus was a fool. He played the Devil and now I draw the Devil’s due.” Durzo’s voice was raw, husky. He’d been weeping.

  “Master Blint,” Kylar said, adding the honorific for the first time since before he’d taken the ka’kari. “Why don’t you join me? Help me kill Roth. He’s outside, isn’t he?”

  “Outside with a boatload of meisters and Vürdmeisters,” Durzo said. “It’s over, Kylar. Khalidor will hold the castle within an hour. More highlanders arrive at dawn, and an army of Khalidoran regulars is already marching for the city. Anyone who could have led an army against them is dead or fled.”

  There was a distant gong, reverberating up the raw throat of the chimney. Warm air started blowing up from the depths.

  Kylar felt sickened. His work had been for nothing. A few soldiers killed, a few nobles saved—it hadn’t changed anything.

  He padded over to the small north fan, which was now turning faster. Through its blades, he could see Roth conferring with the wytches.

 
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