The night angel trilogy, p.49
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.49

           Brent Weeks

  He jumped away, cutting at the hands, but his sword passed through them harmlessly; there was nothing for him to cut.

  They swarmed over him and the hands thickened, strengthened as two of the wytches chanted in time with each other. Then, as the hands pulled him upright, Kylar felt something else seize him. He felt like a baby caught in giant’s fingers.

  It tore at him and he felt the ka’kari’s cloaking strip open. He let it go. It wouldn’t do him much good to be partly invisible if he couldn’t move.

  Well, that was glorious. In all the history of stupid men intentionally springing traps set for them, that was probably the lamest result ever.

  Kylar had hoped—hell, expected—that he’d at least take a few guards with him. Maybe a wytch. Two would have been nice. Durzo would be shaking his head in disgust.

  “I knew you’d come, Blint,” Roth crowed from the throne. He hopped to his feet and waved to the wytches. Kylar was lifted off his feet and shot forward, carried magically up the stairs and deposited on the landing below the throne.

  Blint? Gods. I sprang a trap that wasn’t even set for me.

  The magic fingers tore away Kylar’s mask. “Kylar?” Roth said, astonished. He burst out laughing.

  “My prince, beware,” a red-haired wytch at Roth’s right said. “He has the ka’kari.”

  Roth slapped his hands together and laughed again, as if unable to believe his luck. “And just in time! Oh, Kylar, if I were another man, I’d almost let you live.”

  The witty riposte dried on Kylar’s tongue as he saw into Roth’s eyes. If most of his deaders had a cupful of darkness in their souls, Roth had a river, boundless and bleak, a roaring, devouring darkness with a voice like thunder. Here was a man who hated all that was lovely.

  “Captain,” Roth said, “where are the girl and the scarred wench?”

  One of the men who’d entered after Kylar said, “We’ve lost them, Your Majesty.”

  “I’m disappointed, Captain,” Roth said, but his voice was jubilant. “Unlose them.”

  “Yes, Your Highness,” the soldier said. He grabbed his ten highlanders and headed back into the hall.

  Roth turned back to Kylar. “Now,” he said. “Dessert. Kylar, do you know how long I’ve been looking for you?”

  Kylar blinked and tore himself away, somehow shut his senses off to the evil in the man before him. He forced nonchalance into his voice. “Since I’m the man who’s going to kill you, I’d guess—oh, since you first looked in a mirror and realized just how damn ugly you are.”

  Roth clapped his hands. “How droll. You know, Kylar, I feel like you’ve been in my shadow for years, opposing everything I’ve done. Stealing my ka’kari really irritated me.”

  “Well, I aim to vex,” Kylar said. He wasn’t really listening. Opposing him for years? Roth really was crazy. Kylar didn’t even know him. But let the man rant as long as he wanted. Kylar surreptitiously flexed against the bonds of magic.

  They were like steel. This was not going well. Kylar didn’t have a plan. He didn’t even have the beginning of a plan. He didn’t think that there was a plan that might have worked even if he’d been smart enough to think of it. The Khalidoran soldiers had encircled him, the wytches were watching him like vultures, their vir wiggling faintly, and Roth looked altogether far too pleased with himself.

  “And vex you do. You seem to turn up at the most inopportune moments.”

  “Just like that rash you picked up from the rent boys, huh?”

  “Oh, personality. Excellent. I haven’t had a really satisfying kill since yesterday.”

  “If you fell on your sword, we’d all be satisfied.”

  “You had your chance to kill me, Kylar.” Roth shrugged. “You failed. But I didn’t know you were a wetboy. I only got your real name yesterday, and killing you had to wait while I gained a kingdom for my father.”

  “I won’t hold it against you.” I had my chance?

  “So gracious in defeat. Did Durzo teach you that?”

  Kylar had no response. It was probably stupid at this point to feel irked that he seemed to have lost a point in the battle of wits, but then if Kylar had been smarter, he wouldn’t have been here in the first place.

  “I must say,” Roth said. “I’ve not been impressed with this generation of wetboys. Hu’s apprentice was as much of a disappointment as you are. I mean, really. Durzo would have at least killed one of my men before we caught him, don’t you think? I’m afraid you’re a poor shadow of your master, Kylar. By the way, where is he? It’s not like him to have an inferior do a job that concerns him.”

  “I killed him last night. For working for you.”

  The prince clapped his hands with glee and giggled. “I think that’s the most lovely thing I’ve ever heard. He betrayed me by saving you, and you betrayed him for working for me. Oh, Kylar,” Roth came down the steps to stand in front of him. “If I could trust you damn wetboys, I’d hire you in a heartbeat. But you’re too dangerous. And, of course, you’ve bonded my ka’kari.”

  Roth’s wytch shifted, obviously nervous to have Roth standing so close to Kylar.

  The wytch must know something I don’t, Kylar thought. He couldn’t move a muscle. He was totally helpless.

  Wait. That’s it. That’s exactly why he’s nervous. He thinks the ka’kari’s a threat. And if he thinks it is, maybe it is.

  Roth drew a beautiful long sword from a hip scabbard. “I’m disappointed with you.”

  “Why’s that?” Kylar asked, racking his brain to think of how he might use the ka’kari. What did he know about it? It enabled his Talent. It made him see through shadows. It made him invisible. It came out of his skin, and hid him more perfectly than any wetboy could hide.

  But how?

  “I’d hoped this would be fun,” Roth said. “I was going to tell you how hard you made my life. But you’re like Blint. You don’t even care if you live or die.” Roth raised the sword.

  “Sure I do,” Kylar said, showing fear. “How hard have I made your life?”

  “Sorry, I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.”

  Oh, come on! “Not for me,” Kylar said. “You know your father’s meisters and soldiers are going to report everything they’ve seen and heard to him. Why not give them the whole story?” It was clumsy, but with his life on the line, it was harder to think quickly than he would have imagined.

  Roth paused, thinking.

  It was useless. The ka’kari just did what it did. It had eaten a knife last night, for the God’s sake! There was no telling by what logic it operated—if any. It was just magic.

  Absorbs. Eats. That’s what it does! He’d felt a huge jolt of power after it had absorbed the knife. The Devourer. Blint had called it the Devourer. He was close, maybe.

  “Sorry,” Roth said. “I don’t perform for anyone. Not even you. This is just between us, Azoth.” Roth handed his sword to the wytch to his left and smoothed his long hair back over his ears—

  Except he didn’t have ears. The left ear looked like it had been melted off. The right ear had been cut off.

  Azoth had been pushed to his knees in the middle of the boat shop. It had been hard to get Rat to come into the dark shop, but he’d done it. Now Rat’s foot was squarely in the middle of the noose Azoth had laid on the floor, but Azoth couldn’t move. He couldn’t draw a full breath. Rat was inches away, terrifying in his nakedness, giving an order. He clouted Azoth. Azoth tasted blood. He found himself moving. He grabbed the noose and snugged the knot tight against Rat’s ankle. Rat shouted and raised his knee sharply into Azoth’s face.

  He landed on the big rock and scraped his back, falling between the rock and the hole in the floor where boats had once been lowered into the river’s foul waters. He scrambled and braced his thin arms against the rock, and lifted his eyes, expecting the older boy to be already to be on him.

  Rat looked at Azoth, at the hole, at the rock, at the rope, at his ankle. Azoth would never forget the look in Rat’
s eyes. It was terror. Then Rat lunged, and Azoth shoved the rock into the hole.

  The rope went tight and Rat was pulled to the side in midlunge. He scrambled, grabbing for Azoth, missing. His fingers raked the rotting wood floor as he slid and disappeared into the hole. There was a splash.

  But moments later, Azoth heard crying. He walked to the edge of the hole.

  Rat was holding on by his fingertips, begging. It was impossible. Then Azoth saw that his rock had landed on one of the lattice-like support beams that held the shop up over the river. It was balanced precariously, but as long as Rat held tension on the rope, it wouldn’t drag him into the depths.

  Azoth walked to Rat’s pile of clothing and found his dagger. Rat was pleading, tears coursing down his pimply cheeks, but Azoth heard only the roar of blood in his ears. He squatted by Rat, careful but fearless. Even now, Rat’s arms were shaking from holding his weight; he was too fat to hold himself for long, too fat to let go with one hand and grab Azoth.

  With a quick motion, Azoth grabbed his ear and sliced it off. Rat screamed and let go.

  His body hit the rock, dislodged it. The last thing Azoth saw was his terrified face as he was pulled under the water, then even that was obscured by his hands churning, reaching for something, anything—finding nothing.

  Azoth waited and waited, and then staggered away.

  The pimples were gone. He’d grown a beard to cover the few pits they’d left. The build was right, though he’d lost weight since he left the Warrens, but that jaggedly cut ear, and his eyes—gods! how didn’t I notice those dead eyes?—the eyes were the same.

  “Rat,” Kylar breathed. His plan burst into a thousand shards. His heart stopped. He felt like a child again, waiting in line for Rat to beat him, too cowardly to do anything but weep.

  “I’m dead, right? Funny, that’s what they told me about you.” Roth shook his head, but his voice was low. This was just for him. “Neph burned off my other ear to punish me for what you did. You cost me three years, Azoth. Three years before I became a guild head again. I held my breath for—gods it seemed like forever. Forever working at the knot you tied on my ankle, bleeding my life out into that filthy water until Neph finally pulled me out. He watched the whole thing, said he was debating letting me die. Neph had to kill one of my bigs—you remember Roth, don’t you?—and put him in my place before your master came. I had to move to some shitty guild on the opposite side of the Warrens and start all over. You almost made me fail my father.” He was shaking with rage. He exposed his melted ear again. “This was the least of my punishments. And then you conveniently ‘died.’ I never believed it, Azoth. I knew you were out there, just waiting for me. Believe me, if I had time, I would torture you for years, I would push you to the end of human endurance and beyond. I’d heal you just to make you hurt again.” He closed his eyes and lowered his voice once more. “But I don’t have that luxury. If I leave you alive, my father might come up with other plans for you. He might do something else with the ka’kari. I paid for that ka’kari, and I intend to bond it immediately.” He smiled grimly. “Any last words?”

  Kylar had lost his focus, gotten distracted. Fear and horror had made his mind wander from the puzzle, when nothing should have been as important. Durzo had taught him better. Fear was to be acknowledged, then ignored. Where had he been? Devourer? Magic? “Shit,” he said, not realizing he spoke aloud.

  Roth arched an eyebrow. “Hmm. Boring, but accurate enough.” His grip turn on his sword, and his shoulder rolled back. The blade was coming up. The man was going to cut his head off. Everything in Kylar cried out for help.

  A boom sounded somewhere below the range of human hearing, but Kylar felt it wallop his stomach like a thunder crack. His vision went blue-white with magic. He could see the magic streaming through the air as fast as an arrow, a wall of magic.

  The castle itself rocked and everyone fell. Everywhere he looked, Kylar saw the same stunned looks. Roth was sprawled on the stairs, his sword still in hand, mouth wide.

  Kylar suddenly felt one of the magic bonds holding him snap. He looked toward the others and saw that the magic—it looked like a storm of blue-white rain falling sideways, flying invisibly through walls and people—was spattering against the bonds, collecting around them. The bonds were as black as the wytches’ vir, and the blue magic hissed and spat wherever it touched the black.

  Then the blue magic latched on to the wytches’ magic and roared up the black tendrils like wildfire climbing a hill to the wytches holding them.

  Shrieks burst from three of the wytches and the bonds holding Kylar disappeared as three living blue torches lit the room. But Kylar’s eyes were drawn to himself. The ka’kari was covering him like a black skin, and everywhere the blue magic pelted him, the magic danced like a puddle in the rain, then disappeared—and the ka’kari swelled more powerful.

  The Devourer ate magic, too.

  Then the magical shockwave was gone.

  There was the briefest silence, then Roth screamed at the wytches who hadn’t been using the vir—the two wytches in the room still alive, “Get him!” Roth plucked his sword from the stairs and swung it at Kylar’s face.

  Incredibly, the wytches obeyed instantly. Bonds leapt into place around Kylar’s arms and legs. Everywhere the bonds touched Kylar, in response to his will, the ka’kari swelled, twisted through them, shifted, sucked, and devoured them.

  Kylar threw himself back against the bonds even before they were completely dissolved. He burst through them with all the strength of his Talent as Roth’s sword slashed the air inches from his throat.

  He tore through the shriveling bonds and flew back clumsily, his feet tearing free last, tripping him. He twisted in the air and threw a knife with his off hand.

  A soldier grunted and hit the floor.

  Kylar landed below the second flight of steps, flat on his back. The impact knocked the wind out of him, but even as he slid across the floor his sword was moving. Highlanders stood to the left and right of him and his sword flashed twice, cutting through boots and ankles on either side of him.

  Three highlanders had fallen, but others were already attacking. Kylar flipped his feet over his head and stood, gasping but ready to fight.


  Solon tried to climb down from the statue. King Logan Verdroekan had been one of the earliest kings of Cenaria, perhaps mythic, and Solon couldn’t remember what he’d done, for all that it must have been heroic to have Regnus Gyre name his son after him. And he must have been special to get a statue of such size, holding his sword aloft in defiance. Solon had chosen it not for its metaphoric significance but simply because he wanted every meister in the garden to see him. Every meister that had used vir within five hundred paces in the few seconds he’d been able to hold Curoch was dead.

  Curoch lay on the stones beneath him. Feir was snatching it up and wrapping it in a blanket. He was shouting at Solon, but Solon couldn’t make out the words. He still felt as if he were on fire. Every vein in his body was tingling so fiercely it was hard to even feel Verdroeken’s stone sword under his fingers. Solon had perched on the dead king’s shoulders and held onto the stone sword for balance, holding Curoch aloft the same way when he’d released the magic. He shifted his grip, his legs shaking, and suddenly fell.

  Feir didn’t quite catch him, but he at least broke his fall.

  “I can’t walk,” Solon said. His brain was burning, his vision flaring every color in the rainbow, his scalp felt afire. “It was amazing, Feir. Such a tiny piece of what it can do…”

  Feir grabbed him and threw him over his shoulders as a lesser man might lift a child. He said something, but Solon couldn’t quite make it out. He said it again.

  “Oh, I got about fifty of them. Maybe ten left,” Solon said. “One on the east bridge.” He was trying to remember what Dorian had told him. Something urgent. Something he hadn’t let Feir hear.

  Don’t let Feir die. He’s more important than the sword.

“I’m going to have to set you down,” Feir said. “Don’t worry. I’m not leaving you.”

  In outrageous hues of green and blue, Khalidoran soldiers were swarming in front of the east gate. Solon couldn’t even remember leaving the garden. He laughed at what he saw. Feir was using Curoch as a sword.

  Watching Feir with a sword was more than amazing; it was a privilege. Feir had always been a natural, deceptively quick, unbelievably strong, his movements as precise as a dancer’s. In hues of green and blue and red, Feir demolished the soldiers. There was no extended swordplay. At most, each soldier had time to swing his own weapon once, miss or have it parried, and then die.

  Feir cursed, but when Solon tried to follow his gaze, the riot of colors was too intense. The big man lifted him, threw him over a shoulder again, and started running. Solon saw the wood of the bridge beneath Feir’s feet.

  “Hold on tight,” Feir said.

  Not a moment too soon, Solon latched onto Feir’s belt on either side of the man’s broad back. Feir dodged to the side and his great shoulders rolled. With his feet sticking out in front of Feir and his head merely bobbing along behind him, all Solon saw was a brief flash of Curoch. Feir spun—the right way so Solon wasn’t flung off—and Curoch came up again, then he was running full speed once more. Solon saw three bodies behind them, lying on the bridge. The man had killed three men while holding Solon over his shoulder. Astounding.

  Feir said, “Dorian told me our hope is in the water, but not to jump. Look for a rope!”

  Solon lifted his head, as if he would be much help in finding a rope while bouncing on Feir’s back. He didn’t see a rope, but he did see a meister behind them, conjuring a ball of wytchfire. He tried to yell, but couldn’t draw breath.

  “Damn you, Dorian!” Feir was shouting. “What goddam rope?”

  “Down!” Solon said.

  With the reflexes of the sword master he was, Feir dropped instantly. Wytchfire crackled over their heads and burst against a dozen Khalidoran soldiers holding the far gate in front of them. Solon went sprawling and was almost brained by one of the great fire pots that guarded the bridge.

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