The night angel trilogy, p.47
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.47
 

           Brent Weeks

  Momma K’s hideout was still being guarded by the sinewy Cewan pretending to fix the fence. Kylar didn’t bother becoming invisible. He approached the man unhurriedly, leaned over to ask directions and put a hand on the man’s concealed short sword. The man tried to draw too late and found the sword locked in Kylar’s grip. Kylar broke the man’s sternum with an open-handed strike, leaving him gasping, his mouth working like a fish’s.

  Kylar took the keys from the man’s belt and opened the door. He locked it after himself and embraced the shadows.

  Invisible, he found Momma K in the study looking over reports from her brothels. He read them silently over her shoulder. She was trying to piece together what had happened at the castle.

  The needle sank into the sagging flesh at the back of her arm. She cried out and clawed at it. She pulled the needle out then turned her chair slowly, looking ancient.

  “Hello, Kylar,” she said. “I expected you yesterday.”

  He appeared in the other chair, a lounging young Death. “How’d you know it was me?”

  “Durzo would have used a poison that would leave me in agony.”

  “It’s a tincture of ariamu root and jacinth spoor,” Kylar said. “The agony’s coming.”

  “A slow poison. So you decided to give me time. What for, Kylar? To apologize? To cry? To beg?”

  “To think. To remember. To regret.”

  “So this is retribution. There’s a new young killer on the streets doling out what old whores deserve.”

  “Yes, and you deserve to lose the very thing that made you betray Durzo.”

  “And what’s that, oh wise one?” She smiled a serpent’s smile.

  “Control.” Kylar’s tone was flat, apathetic. “And don’t reach for the bell rope. I’ve got a hand crossbow, but it’s not accurate. I might hit your hand rather than the rope.”

  “Control, is that what you call it,” Momma K said, her back ramrod straight, not making it a question. “Do you know that rapes aren’t spread out evenly, even among working girls? Some girls get raped again and again. Others never do. The ones who get raped are the victims. The rapist bastards can somehow tell. It’s not ‘control,’ Kylar. It’s dignity. Do you know how much dignity a fourteen-year-old has when her pimp won’t protect her?

  “When I was fourteen, I was taken to a noble’s house and enjoyed for fifteen hours by him and his ten closest friends. I had to make a choice after that, Kylar, and I chose dignity. So if you think giving me a poison that makes me shit myself to death is going to make me beg, you’re sadly mistaken.”

  Kylar was unmoved. “Why did you betray us?”

  Momma K’s defiance slowly faded as Kylar sat there with a wetboy’s patience. She didn’t answer him for a minute, five minutes. He sat with all the patience of Death. By now, he knew, she had to be feeling queasy.

  “I loved Durzo,” she said.

  Kylar blinked. “You what?”

  “I’ve slept with hundreds of married men in my life, Kylar, so I never saw the most flattering portrait of marriage. But if he’d asked me, I would have married Durzo Blint. Durzo is—was, I suppose you killed him? Yes, I thought so. Durzo was a good man in his way. An honest man.” Her lips twitched. “I couldn’t handle honesty. He told me too many unlovely truths about myself, and that hard, dark thing that lives in me couldn’t bear the light.”

  She laughed. It was a bitter, ugly sound. “Besides, he never stopped loving Vonda, a woman utterly unworthy of him.”

  Kylar shook his head. “So you thought you’d kill him? What if he’d killed me?”

  “He loved you like a son. Once you bonded the ka’kari, he told me. A life for a life, he said. The divine economy, he called it. He knew then that he’d die for you, Kylar. Oh, he fought it sometimes, but Durzo was never as unprincipled as he wanted to believe. Besides, he changed when Vonda died.

  “I warned him, Kylar. She was a lovely, careless girl. The kind of woman born without a heart, so she couldn’t imagine breaking anyone else’s. Durzo was exciting for her. He was nothing more than her rebellion, but she died before he ever saw through her, so she was always perfect in his sight. She was forever a saint, and I was always spit-in beer.”

  “He didn’t love her,” Kylar said.

  “Oh, I knew that. But Durzo didn’t. For every other way that he was unique, Durzo thought excitement plus fucking is the same thing as love, just like every other man.” She suddenly hunched over in pain as her stomach spasmed.

  Kylar shook his head. “He told me he was trying to make you jealous, make you feel how he felt when you were with other men. When she died, he thought you could never forgive him. Gwinvere, he loved you.”

  She snorted in disbelief. “Why would he say such a thing? No, Kylar. Durzo was going to let his daughter die.”

  “That’s why you betrayed him?”

  “I couldn’t let her die, Kylar. Don’t you understand? Uly is Durzo’s daughter, but she’s not my niece.”

  “Then who’s her m—… No.”

  “I couldn’t keep her. I knew that. I always hated taking tansy tea, but that time, I couldn’t do it. I sat with the cup growing cold in my hands, telling myself something like this would happen—and still I couldn’t drink. A Shinga with a daughter, what more perfect target could there be? Everyone would know my weakness. Worse, everyone would see me as just another woman. I could never hold my power if that happened. So I left the city, had her in secret, and hid her away. But how could he let Uly die, even thinking she was Vonda’s? How could he? Roth threatened him, but Durzo called his bluff. You don’t know Roth. He would have done it. The only way I could save Uly was for Durzo to die first. If Durzo was dead, Roth wouldn’t have to carry out his threat. I had to choose between the man I’ve loved for fifteen years and my daughter, Kylar. So I chose my daughter. Durzo wanted to die anyway, and now I do too. You can’t take anything from me that I won’t gladly give.”

  “He didn’t call their bluff.”

  Momma K couldn’t seem to grasp it. “Uh-uh,” she said, shaking her head. He could see the edifice of suppositions she’d built crash down brick by brick. A Durzo who let himself be blackmailed was a Durzo who cared for a daughter he’d never seen. A Durzo who could do that was a Durzo who could love. She’d hardened her heart against him because she thought he didn’t care, and couldn’t.

  So for fifteen years she’d been hiding her love for a man who had been hiding his love for her. That meant she’d betrayed the man who loved her. In pitting Kylar against Durzo, she’d killed the man who loved her. “Uh-uh. Uh-uh. No.”

  “His dying wish was that I save her. He said you’d know where she is.”

  “Oh gods.” The words barely squeezed out, a strangled sound. Another spasm passed through her and she seemed to welcome the pain. She wanted to die.

  “I’ll save her, Momma K. But you need to tell me where she is.”

  “She’s in the Maw. In the nobles’ cells with Elene.”

  “With Elene?” Kylar stood bolt upright. “I have to go back.” He got to the door, then turned and drew Retribution. Momma K looked at him hollowly, still absorbing his words.

  “I used to wonder why Durzo called this ‘Retribution’ and not ‘Justice,’ ” Kylar said. He drew the ka’kari off the sword and exposed the word MERCY on the steel beneath it. “Or, if this is what was under JUSTICE, why not call it MERCY? But now I know. You’ve shown me, Momma K. Sometimes people shouldn’t get what they deserve. If there isn’t more in the world than justice, it’s all for nothing.”

  He reached into his pouch and pulled out a tiny vial of the antidote. He set it on Momma K’s desk. “That’s mercy. But you’ll have to decide if you want to accept it. You’ve got half an hour.” He opened the door. “I hope you’ll take it, Momma K,” Kylar said. “I’d miss you.”

  “Kylar,” she called out as he reached the door. “Did he really—did he really say he loved me?”

  Her mouth was set, her face tight, her eyes har
d, but tears rolled down her cheeks. It was the only time he’d ever see her cry. He nodded gently and left her then, her back bent, sunk on the cushions of her chair, cheeks wet, her eyes fixed grimly on the bottle of life.

  62

  Kylar hurried to the castle. Even going as fast as he could, he might be too late. The effects of the coup were being felt throughout the city. The Sa’kagé’s bashers had been among the first to figure out the most practical consequence of a coup: with no one to report to, and no one to pay them, the city guards didn’t work. No guards, no law. The corrupt guards who had worked for the Sa’kagé for years were the first to start looting. After that, the looting spread like plague. Khalidoran highlanders and meisters were stationed on Vanden Bridge and on the east bank of the Plith to keep the looting confined to the Warrens. Apparently, Khalidor’s invasion leaders wanted the city intact, or at least they wanted to do the more profitable looting themselves.

  Kylar killed two men about to murder a woman, but otherwise didn’t pay any attention to the looters. He cloaked himself and snuck across the river, dodging meisters who should have been more attentive.

  When he got to the east side, he stole a horse. He was thinking about the Night Angels. Blint had talked about them over the years, but Kylar had never paid any attention to him. He’d always thought them just another superstition, some last vestige of old, dead gods.

  Then Kylar thought about how Elene would take it even if he did rescue her. The thought made him ill. She was in gaol because of him. She thought he’d killed the prince. She hated him. He tried to plan how he was going to kill Roth—a man who would be guarded by meisters, Khalidoran highlanders, and maybe the odd Sa’kagé basher. That didn’t make Kylar feel any better. The more he thought, the worse he felt.

  He didn’t even know if meisters could see him when he was cloaked, but the only way he could test that had serious drawbacks. He had, however, finally used his head and taken a look at himself in a mirror to see if the ka’kari was as effective as he thought. He’d been amazed. Wetboys bragged about being ghosts, about being invisible, but that was all it was: braggadocio. No one was invisible.

  The only other wetboy Kylar had seen go stealthing looked like a big blob of an indeterminate something. Blint had looked like a six foot smear of mottled darkness—good enough for all practical purposes when the light was poor. And when Blint held still, he dwindled to a shadow of a shadow.

  But Kylar was invisible. All wetboys became more visible when they moved. When Kylar moved, there wasn’t so much as a distortion in the air.

  It almost irritated him that he’d spent so much time learning to sneak without his Talent. It seemed like wasted effort. Then he thought of having to sneak past the wytches. Maybe the effort wasn’t wasted after all.

  He rode up Sidlin Way to Horak Road, then veered around the Jadwin estate, leaving his horse and cloaking himself with the ka’kari. The sun was setting as he scouted East Kingsbridge.

  As he’d expected, the security was daunting. A score of Khalidoran regulars were stationed in front of the gate. Two meisters paced among them. Two more talked together on the other side of the gate. At least four boats patrolled Vos Island, going around it in measured circles.

  It was a good thing Kylar wasn’t planning on getting into the castle. It was a good thing he’d come with a small arsenal. Dodging from rock to rock, tree to shrub, Kylar moved to the bridge. He unlimbered the heavy crossbow from his pack. He hated crossbows. They were unwieldy, slow, and could be shot by any idiot who could point.

  Kylar fitted the special bolt in place, checked the silk spool and braced his body against the side of the bridge. What was it that Blint used to tell him? That he should practice more with weapons he didn’t like?

  Scowling, Kylar aimed. Thanks to the iron sheathing on the bridge pilings, his target was tiny. He’d have to hit the last piling above the iron sheathing where the wood was exposed, a target four inches wide from forty paces away, with a slight breeze. This crossbow’s accuracy at that range was within two inches. So he had two inches to spare.

  If he erred, he had to make sure he erred right. Up or down and the bolt would hit iron—and the sound would wake the dead. Left and the bolt would fly past the bridge and hit the rocks of the castle, and probably rebound to splash in the river.

  Kylar hated crossbows.

  He waited until the boat was almost directly underneath the bridge. If he made the shot—when he made it—he’d take advantage of the boatmen having just left the brilliance of the dying sun and coming into the shadow of the castle. Their vision wouldn’t be good. He exhaled half a breath and pulled smoothly, riding the release point until the catch gave.

  The bolt sped from the crossbow, the spool whizzing faintly—and the bolt sailed four inches to the right of the last piling.

  Kylar grabbed the still-unreeling rope as it went taut. The bolt jerked to a stop not three feet from the castle wall.

  The bolt started falling and Kylar pulled it in hand over hand as fast as he could. The rope draped over one of the crossbeams to the right of the piling he’d aimed for. It swung back toward the piling. Kylar dragged in rope as fast as he could, but the bolt pinged off the iron sheathing.

  The hooks on the bolt caught and Kylar drew the rope taut, flush against the underside of the bridge.

  A meister stepped to the edge of the bridge, holding onto the railing nervously. He looked down and saw the boat passing under the bridge. “Hey!” he called. “Watch it!”

  A lightly armed boatman looked up, squinting in the gloom. “Right, you piece of—” He swallowed his words as he realized he was speaking to a meister.

  The meister disappeared and the boatman starting haranguing his rowers. Both boatman and wytch thought the other had made the sound.

  Without pausing to consider how lucky he was, Kylar secured his end of the line and hid the crossbow. The next boat was still a good distance away. Kylar threw a leg over the line, approached the precipice that sloped off to the river, and slipped out into space.

  For a long time, he thought he was going to die as the silk rope drooped toward the river. It’s come free! But he held on, and the rope finally accepted his weight. He climbed across the chasm almost upside down, pulling himself with his hands, his legs crossed over the rope. The droop of the rope meant that after he crossed the halfway point he was climbing sideways and up.

  Instead of fighting it, Kylar just pulled himself as far as the second-to-last piling. He looked at the iron sheathing. It was pitted with age and exposure. It was also vertical. Not exactly the best climbing surface.

  There was no good choice. Kylar had to get off the rope before the next boat came. He was invisible, but the drooping rope wasn’t.

  He flung himself from the rope to the piling—and fell. He slapped all of his limbs around the iron sheathing, but its diameter was so great that his arms couldn’t reach around it. The uneven iron surface didn’t provide enough friction to stop his descent, but it was enough to tear at the skin on the insides of his arms and his inner thighs.

  He hit the water slowly enough that the splash was quiet. He clambered back up to the surface and held himself against the piling as the next boat passed.

  With the number of weapons he was wearing, he couldn’t swim, but when he pushed himself off the piling, he sank close enough to shore that he was able to walk along the river bottom and pull himself out of the water before he drowned. Barely.

  He moved north, along the same route he’d followed the night before. Kylar was glad Blint was dead. The wetboy would never have let him live this down. Between the missed shot and the undoubtedly embarrassing cuts he’d have on his inner thighs, Blint would have had gibes for a decade. Kylar could hear it now: “Remember that time you tried to hump the bridge?”

  Kylar found a perch inside the boathouse and cleaned his weapons. He’d have to assume that all of his poisons had washed away—for the second day in a row. He wrung out his clothes, but didn
t dare take the time to let them dry fully. Now that he was here, he wanted to get in and get out, fast. He looked around the boathouse. It wasn’t guarded. Evidently the Khalidorans thought their patrols were enough.

  Two men guarded the long ramp down that led to the Maw. They were tense, obviously uncomfortable with their assignment. Kylar didn’t blame them. Between the stink, the periodic cries, and the occasional rumblings in the earth, he wouldn’t have been comfortable either.

  Retribution slashed left and right and the men died. He pulled their bodies into the brush and took the keys to the door.

  The entrance to the Maw was designed to terrify the men and women incarcerated there. On opening the gate, Kylar saw that the ramp down did indeed look like a tongue leading down a gigantic throat. Hooked teeth were carved out of the black volcanic glass around him, and torches were set behind red glass to look like two flickering, demonic eyes.

  Nice. Kylar ignored everything except for the sounds of men. He glided down the tongue and turned down a hall toward the nobles’ cells. From Durzo’s friends he’d gained a rough idea of the layout of the place, but he’d certainly never had any wish to visit.

  He found the cell he was looking for, checked the door for traps, and spent a moment waiting in the hallway, just listening. It was insane—he was afraid to open the door. He was more afraid to face Elene and Uly than he was to sneak past wytches and fight the Sa’kagé.

  Gods! He was here to save Elene, and he was scared what she would say. Ridiculous. Or maybe what she wouldn’t say, just how she’d look at him. He’d given everything for her! But she didn’t know that. All she could know was that she’d done nothing and now she was in jail.

  Well, it wasn’t going to get any better by waiting.

  Kylar picked the lock, released the ka’kari’s cloaking, and pulled down his black mask.

  The ten-by-ten cell was occupied by a pallet and a pretty little urchin sitting on Elene’s lap. Kylar hardly noticed the little girl. His eyes were glued on Elene. She stared back at him, stunned. Her face was a mask—more literally than Kylar would have liked, since both of her eyes were blackened from when he’d hit her. She looked like a scarred raccoon.

 
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