The night angel trilogy, p.46
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.46

           Brent Weeks
 

  Durzo was right. There were dozens of wytches. Some were getting back into their boat, but at least a score were accompanying Roth, who also had a bodyguard of a dozen gigantic highlanders.

  “Roth killed my best friend,” Kylar said. “I’m going to kill him. Tonight.”

  “Then you’ll have to go through me.”

  “I won’t fight you.”

  “You’ve always wondered if you’d be able to beat me when it came down to it,” Durzo said. “I know you have. And you have your Talent and the ka’kari now. As a boy, you swore you wouldn’t let anyone beat you. Not ever again. You said you wanted to be a killer. Have I made you one or not?”

  “Damn you! I won’t fight you! Who’s Acaelus?” Kylar shouted.

  Durzo’s voice rose, chanting over the sound of fans and hot wind:

  “The hand of the wicked shall rise against him,

  But it shall not prevail.

  Their blades shall be devoured

  The swords of the unrighteous shall pierce him

  But he shall not fall

  He shall leap from the roofs of the world

  and smite princes…”

  Blint trailed off. “I never made it,” he said quietly.

  “What are you talking about? What is that? Is that a prophecy?”

  “That isn’t me, just like the Guardian of Light wasn’t Jorsin. It’s you, Kylar. You are the spirit of retribution, the Night Angel. You are the vengeance I deserve.”

  Vengeance stems from a love of justice and a desire to redress wrongs. But revenge is damning. Three faces has the Night Angel, the avatar of Retribution: Vengeance, Justice, Mercy.

  “But I don’t have anything to avenge. I owe you my life,” Kylar said.

  Durzo’s face grew somber. “Yes, this life of blood. I served that goddam ka’kari for almost seven hundred years, Kylar. I served a dead king and a people who weren’t worthy of him. I lived in the shadows and I became like the shadow-dwellers. I gave all I was for some dream of hope that I never understood in the first place. What happens when you strip away all the masks a man wears and you find not a face beneath them but nothing at all? I failed the ka’kari once. Once I failed in seven hundred years of service, and it abandoned me.

  “I didn’t age a day, Kylar, not a day, for seven hundred years. Then came Gwinvere, and Vonda. I loved her, Kylar.”

  “I know,” Kylar said gently. “I’m sorry about Vonda.”

  Durzo shook his head. “No. I didn’t love Vonda. I just wanted—I wanted Gwinvere to know how it felt to have someone you love sharing other people’s beds. I fucked them both and I paid Gwinvere, but it was Vonda I made a whore. That was why I wanted the silver ka’kari at first—to give it to Gwinvere, so she wouldn’t die as everyone I’ve loved has died. But King Davin’s rock was a fake, so I left it for Garoth Ursuul’s men to find. The only way to save Vonda would have been to give them my ka’kari. I balanced her life against my power and my eternal life. I didn’t love her, so the price was too high. I let her die.

  “That was the day the ka’kari stopped serving me. I began to age. The ka’kari became nothing more than black paint on a sword that mocked me with the word JUSTICE. Justice was that I get old, lose my edge, die. You were my only hope, Kylar. I knew you were a ka’karifer. You would call the ka’kari to you. There were rumors that there was another in the kingdom. The black ka’kari had rejected me, but maybe the silver would not. A slim hope, but a hope for another chance, for redemption, for life. But you only called my ka’kari. You began to bond it that day I beat you, the day you risked your life to save that girl. I was insane. You were taking from me the only thing I had left. Reputation gone, honor gone, excellence fading, friends dead, the woman I loved hating me, and then you took my hope.” He looked away. “I wanted to end you. But I couldn’t.” He threw a garlic clove in his mouth. “I knew that first kill wasn’t in you. Not even that twist Rat. I knew you couldn’t kill someone for what he might do.”

  “What?” Kylar’s skin prickled.

  “The streets would have devoured you. I had to save you. Even if I knew it would come to this.”

  “What are you saying?” Kylar asked. No. God, please no. Don’t let it fit.

  “Rat didn’t mutilate Doll Girl,” Durzo said. “I did.”

  The smoke half-filled the tunnel now. The huge fan turned slowly and the smaller fan was spinning as fast as Kylar’s heart was beating. The moonlight was chopped into pieces and scattered wantonly through the roiling smoke.

  Kylar couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t even protest. It was a lie. It had to be a lie. He knew Rat. He’d seen his eyes. He’d seen the evil there.

  But he’d never seen Durzo’s evil, had he? Kylar had seen his master kill innocents, yet he’d never let himself see the evil there.

  The big fan spun quickly now. Its whup-whup-whup chopped time into pieces, marked its passage as if time had significance.

  “No.” Kylar could barely force the word through the stranglehold of truth tightening his throat. Blint would do it. Life is empty. Life is empty. A street girl is worth exactly what she can get for whoring.

  “No!” Kylar shouted.

  “It ends now, Kylar.” Durzo shimmered and disappeared, the darkness embracing him. Kylar felt rage, stark, hot rage rush through him.

  Under the sounds of the protesting fans and the hot wind, Kylar barely heard the footsteps. He wheeled and dived.

  The smoke swirled as the shadowy wetboy ran past him.

  He heard a sword clearing a scabbard and he drew Retribution. A shadow appeared, too close, too fast. They clashed and Kylar’s sword went flying. He dove backward.

  Kylar came to his feet slowly, silently, straining his senses, crouching low in the smoke. The rage overcame his fatigue, and he channeled it, forced it to bring clarity.

  He looked for any advantage, but there was little to be found. He could stand close to the huge southern fan and it would protect his back, but Blint could easily knock him into the spinning blades. They weren’t so sharp or turning so fast that they’d sever a limb, but they’d certainly stun him. In a fight against Durzo, that would mean death.

  Handholds were set into the walls and ceiling of the tunnel at intervals so the workers could replace sections. But where Kylar stood, the handholds were at least ten feet over his head.

  A brief jolt of his Talent coursed through him as he leapt. He found a rung in his grip. As his right hand flexed, he almost fell. He’d forgotten that the window had slashed his hand open.

  Kylar swung and looped his feet behind another rung to stabilize himself. His right hand was too weak to hold his weight, so he drew the tanto with that hand. The gong sounded again as Kylar looked at the tanto. It was straight, eight inches long, and had an angled point for punching through armor. With his hand as weak as it was, he couldn’t slash with this knife.

  He sheathed the tanto, popped the catch on a special sheath, and drew out a short curving knife only half the size of the tanto. Four tiny holes up the spine of the blade were stuffed with cotton. The sheath was wet. Kylar didn’t know if the white asp poison had been washed off by the river or not. But he had no choice.

  The wind slowed and then stopped abruptly. The great fans still spun, rattling on their greased axles.

  Kylar held still and waited. The smoke was gradually drifting lower again, no longer filling the entire tunnel. The next time Durzo moved through the smoke, Kylar would be able to see the disturbance even if he couldn’t see the wetboy himself.

  The fans rattled down to a bare whisper and soon Kylar could hear no other sound but the pounding of his pulse in his own ears. He was straining now, not just to see or hear the wetboy, but merely to hold himself in place—and hold himself there silently.

  If Durzo heard him, Kylar was totally exposed. With his feet locked behind the rung, he wouldn’t be able to move quickly. And he made a huge target.

  His only advantage would be surprise. But Durzo had tau
ght him that that was the most important advantage of all.

  A minute passed.

  The fans went completely silent. Even the low mutter of voices from outside was gone. The smoke, cooling once more, settled back into its cradle along the bottom of the tunnel.

  Agonizingly slowly, Kylar turned his head, careful that not even his collar rustled. Surely with the smoke this low, drifting slowly as it did to the north, he should be able to see something, some eddy, some curl out of place.

  He breathed the way he moved: slowly, carefully. His nose, bloodied earlier against the tower wall, allowed air to pass only through one nostril. His left arm was burning; his legs ached, but still he made no move, no sound.

  Dread grew in his heart as he hung there. How could he fight Durzo? How many men had his master killed? How many times had Durzo beaten him in every test, every challenge? How could Kylar fight now, injured and weak as he was? Durzo could wait on the bottom of the tunnel forever. He’d probably placed himself by the smaller north fan. With the light at his back, he’d see as soon as Kylar dropped and be on him in a second.

  Who was Kylar to kill a legend?

  He tried to still the racing of his heart. His throat was tight. The hot emotions that had fueled him throughout the night cooled. He was cold. Empty. Durzo was right, justice had no place in this world. Logan was dead. Elene had been beaten, and the men who had done all the evil Kylar could imagine were winning. They always had. They always would.

  He couldn’t hold on much longer. Durzo would hear the sound of his heart, thudding as it was against his chest. He forced himself to breathe slowly.

  Patience! Patience.

  He drew a slow breath again and paused. There was the slightest tang on the air.

  Garlic! Both master and apprentice had had the same thought. Durzo was hanging exactly as Kylar was, mirror-image, inches away, poised watching the smoke for the slightest eddy.

  Kylar jerked his head up and lashed out with the little knife. He must have made a sound, because the smear of darkness that had been just one rung above him was moving too.

  His knife cut cloth and he blocked an attack with his other hand as they both dropped off the ceiling.

  Kylar hit the floor heavily, splashing in the puddle gathered in the tunnel’s bottom and hitting the metal so hard that he felt a sting in his neck. He rolled and jumped to his feet. He heard the ring of a sword clearing its scabbard.

  Durzo winked back into visibility. Kylar let himself become visible too. He was too tired to maintain invisibility for another second. He felt like a wrung-out rag. He stared at three feet of steel in Blint’s hand and the four inches in his own.

  “So it comes to this,” Durzo said. “I don’t suppose you have any more tricks like that one up in the tower?”

  “I don’t even know how that happened,” Kylar said. “I’ve got nothing left.”

  “Good thing I didn’t let you go after Roth then, isn’t it?” Durzo said, that infuriating little smirk on his lips.

  Kylar didn’t have it in him to get angry. He was a shell. “I don’t see how it matters,” he said. “But I’d rather my blood was on his head than yours.”

  He sheathed the dagger.

  “You used the asp venom, didn’t you?” Durzo said. He laughed. “Of course you did.” Durzo saluted Kylar and sheathed his sword.

  Then he sagged and had to grab onto a rung on the wall to keep from falling. “I always wondered how it really felt,” Durzo said. He reached up to the gash in his tunic. Kylar had thought he’d only cut cloth, but Durzo’s chest bled from a shallow cut.

  “Master!” Kylar rushed to him and kept him from falling as he swooned again.

  Blint chuckled, his face was a cadaverous white. “I haven’t worried about dying in a long time. It’s not so bad.” He winced. “It’s not so good either. Kylar, promise me something.”

  “Anything.”

  “Take care of my little girl. Save her. Momma K will know where they’ve got her.”

  “I can’t,” Kylar said. “I would, but I can’t.”

  He turned his head and pulled Durzo’s dart out of his neck. At first, he’d thought the twinge in his neck was from hitting the ground, but as soon as he moved, he knew better. It was a poisoned dart. Kylar was dying, too.

  Durzo laughed. “Lucky throw,” he said. “Get me out of this tunnel. I’ll have to smell brimstone soon enough.”

  Kylar pulled the two of them out of the door of the tunnel. He helped Durzo sit on the walkway and then sat across from him. Kylar was exhausted.

  Maybe the poison on the dart was king snake venom with hemlock, then.

  “You really love that Elene girl, don’t you?”

  “I do,” Kylar said. “I really do.” Oddly, that was his only regret. He should have been a different man, a better man.

  “I should be dead by now,” Durzo said.

  “The knife got wet.” Was that touch of dizziness the poison?

  Durzo tried to laugh, but eyes filled with sorrow instead. “Jorsin told me, ‘Six ka’kari for six angels of light, but one ka’kari stands watch in the night.’ The black has chosen you, Kylar. You are the Night Angel now. Give these petty, ungrateful people better than they deserve. Give them hope. This is your master’s piece: Kill Roth. For this city. For my daughter. For me.” His fingers dug painfully into Kylar’s arm. “I’m sorry, son. Sorry for all of it. Someday, maybe you can forgive….” his eyes dipped drowsily and he fought to open them, to stay focused.

  Durzo wasn’t making sense. He knew Kylar was dying. It must have been the poison. “I do forgive you,” Kylar said. “May our deaths not be on each other’s heads.”

  Durzo’s eyes lit suddenly and he seemed to rally against the poison in his veins. He smiled. “I didn’t poison… the dart…. The letter…” Durzo died in mid-breath, a slight tremor passing through his body, his eyes still fixed on Kylar.

  Kylar closed Durzo’s eyes. A hollow enormity swallowed his stomach. A cry was stuck somewhere inside him, lost in the dark emptiness in his throat. Kylar stood woodenly, not taking enough care. The corpse slid from his lap, its head smacking roughly on the iron walkway. Its limbs were loose, graceless, lying in an uncomfortable position. Unmoving. Just like any corpse. In life, every man was unique. In death, every man was meat. Durzo was like any deader.

  Numb, Kylar reached into the corpse’s breast pocket and pulled out the letter Durzo had said was his inheritance. It was just under where Kylar had cut the wetboy’s chest.

  The letter was soaked with blood. Whatever words had been scrawled on the paper were illegible. Whatever Durzo had meant to excuse, whatever he had meant to explain, whatever gift he had meant to give Kylar with his last words had died with him. Kylar was alone.

  Kylar dropped to his knees, all his strength gone. He took the dead wetboy in his arms and wept. He stayed there for a long time.

  61

  Dawn found Kylar stumbling through the streets to one of his safe houses. Before he’d finally left, he’d erected a cairn over Durzo’s body on the northern tip of Vos Island. At that hour, no one had been in sight. Kylar had stolen a rowboat from the dock and let the current carry him to the Warrens, too exhausted to paddle.

  He’d docked at the shop where he’d killed Rat. It was still dark and inconspicuous, perfect for his kind of work. He wondered if Rat was still anchored in the muck, his unquiet spirit staring up at Kylar’s little boat with the hatred and evil that had once lived in his adolescent heart.

  It was a morning for lonely meditations. Kylar disabled the traps on his door automatically and stumbled inside. Blint had been right. It would have been suicide to go after Roth last night. Kylar had been so exhausted he’d thought it was poison working on him. He probably wouldn’t have made it through a single meister.

  It might be worth it to trade life for life to rid the earth of Roth Ursuul, but Kylar wasn’t going to die for nothing. He locked the door, then stopped and turned back. He locked each of the thre
e locks three times. Lock, unlock, lock. For you, master.

  He took the pitcher of water and filled the basin with water and took the soap and began cleaning the blood from his hands. The face in the mirror was cold, calm as he washed the last vestiges of his master’s life away. Blood marred the handle of the pitcher, just a little. Just a small, dark smear from the blood on his hands.

  Kylar snatched the pitcher up and hurled it through the mirror. Both pitcher and mirror shattered, spraying glass and porcelain and water against the wall, into the room, onto his clothes, onto his face. He dropped to his knees and wept.

  Finally, he slept. When he woke, he felt better than he had any right to. He washed himself and felt refreshed. As he scraped off his stubble, he caught himself grinning in one of the shards of the mirror. Blint didn’t mean to kill me at all, but he couldn’t resist putting a dart in me just to show that he could. The old bastard. Kylar laughed. The really old bastard.

  It was gallows humor, but he needed whatever he could find.

  He got dressed and armed, thinking mournfully of the gear he’d lost last night. Daggers, poisons, grappling hooks, throwing knives, tanto, poisoner’s knife—he’d lost all of his favorites except for Retribution. Mourning my gear, but not Logan or Durzo or Elene. It was so ridiculous that Kylar laughed again.

  He was, he decided, a little off. Maybe it was natural. He’d never lost anyone he really cared about before. Now he’d lost three in one night.

  The streets were crowded in the late afternoon when Kylar finally emerged from his safe house. Rumors were flying about what had happened at the castle in the night. An army had appeared from thin air. An army had boiled up out of the Vos Island Crack. An army of mages from the south had come. No, they were wytches from the north. Highlanders had killed everyone in the castle. Khalidor was going to raze the entire city.

  Few of the rumormongers seemed worried. Kylar saw a few people with their belongings loaded onto carts or wagons and heading out of the city, but there weren’t many. No one else seemed to believe that anything bad could happen to them.

 
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