The black prism, p.5
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       The Black Prism, p.5

           Brent Weeks

  The laughter did it. It was one thing to give up and die, it was something else to let some giggling morons murder you. But there was no time. The horsemen had reached a full gallop, trampling the tender, radiant green grass the way they would trample Kip. They finally split, one switching his vechevoral to his left hand so they could cut Kip down simultaneously.

  Kip lashed out, jumping, determined to at least punch one stupid grin to oblivion before he died. It was a poor jump, and far too early. But as Kip’s body rose to meet the extended lances, a radiant green mass rose through him. He felt energy rush out from his body. A dozen blades of grass rose through his hand, with his punch, tearing his skin as they ripped out of him. They thickened to the width of boar spears as green light poured from him, and became blades in truth. As he threw them into the air, Kip was thrown back down to the ground. The butts of a dozen radiant jade spears thunked into the ground around him.

  The horsemen barely had time to jerk on their reins before they rammed into a wall of spears. Their vechevorals went flying out of their hands as their horses were impaled, lifted off the ground by the angle of the spears, snapping those in front with the force of their impact, only to find more behind those and be impaled further. The riders were thrown from their saddles into the waiting green spears. The lighter of the two caught and was held, five feet off the ground. The heavier rider snapped off the spears and fell flat on his back beside Kip.

  For a long, stupid moment, Kip had no idea what had happened. He heard a shout from the bridge: “Drafter! Green drafter!” He looked at his hands. Radiant green was slowly leaking from his bloody fingertips—the exact shade of the grass, and the spears. There were cuts at his knuckles, wrists, and under his nails, like something had ripped the skin on its way out. A scent like resin and cedar filled the air.

  Kip felt woozy. Someone was cursing in a low, desperate voice. He turned.

  It was the soldier, bleeding on the ground near him. Kip had no idea how the man was still alive. There were four spears through his body, but they were disappearing now, bowing under their own weight, shimmering as if on some tiny level they were boiling away into nothingness. The soldier sucked in a breath. The movement made the two spears through his chest shift. The soldier whimpered and cursed, and slowly the spears disappeared, leaving only chalky green grit to mix with his blood. Despite the mail hanging askew across the man’s face, Kip could see the gleam of his dark eyes, shining with tears.

  For a few moments, Kip had felt connected. The green was unity, growth, wildness, wholeness. But as it slipped from his fingers, the great spears bowing like wilting flowers, he felt alone once more. Scared. The smaller rider who’d been held off the ground was released with a thump and the clanging of mail as he hit the ground. The spears shimmered, dissipated, and blew apart like heavy dust.

  Kip heard weeping. It was the bigger rider, still cursing. The man drew in a great breath and abruptly coughed, spitting blood all through the mail over his face. He turned over onto his stomach, and more blood poured out of his broken toep.

  Kip turned away. He looked toward the bridge. The king’s soldiers were gone. Kip could only guess that they had assumed that some trained drafter had shown up to rescue him. Maybe they would wait until dark to come after him, or maybe they had their own drafter back at camp. Either way, Kip had to run, fast.

  He turned on wobbly legs, fingers stinging, his brain thick with grief and exhaustion, and stumbled toward the orange grove.

  Chapter 9

  Gavin Guile plunged past classrooms and barracks and knew that not a few people would rush to the windows to see what came next. In fact, this was the first day of drafting classes for the dims, so he was probably about to be a perfect illustration of one of the primary lessons every magister taught.

  The magister would light a candle and instruct the students to comment on what was happening. This always gave the magisters plenty of opportunities to abuse the bewildered children, who would invariably say, “It’s burning.” “But what do you mean by this word, ‘burning’?” “Uh, it’s burning?” The eventual point was that every fire began on something tangible and left almost nothing tangible. When a candle burned, where did all the tallow go? Into power—power we experience as light and heat, with some residue—whether much or little depended on how efficiently the candle burned.

  Magic was the converse. It began with power—light or heat—and its expression was always physical. You made luxin. You could touch it, hold it—or be held by it.

  Halfway down, Gavin drafted a blue bonnet and a harness from the cold blue of the sky with some green added for flexibility. It unfurled with a pop and slowed his fall. When he was a few paces from the ground, he threw down blastwaves of sub-red that slowed him enough that he could land lightly in the street. The bonnet dissolved into blue dust and green grit and a smell like resin, chalk, and cedar. He strode toward the docks.

  He found her within minutes, just arriving at the docks herself, a bag slung over her shoulder. She’d changed from her Blackguard uniform, but was still wearing pants. Karris only wore a dress once a year, for the Luxlords’ Ball, where it was required. She’d also somehow dyed her hair almost black so as not to stand out so much in Tyrea.

  Of course, it was impossible not to stand out with those eyes, like an emerald sky adorned with ruby stars. Karris was a green/red bichrome—almost a polychrome. It was an “almost” she’d hated all her life. Her red arc extended into the sub-red so far that she could draft fire, but she couldn’t draft stable sub-red luxin. She’d failed the examination. Twice. It didn’t matter that she could draft more sub-red than most sub-red drafters, or that she was the fastest drafter Gavin had ever seen. She wasn’t a polychrome.

  But on the other hand, polychromes were too valuable to be allowed to join the Blackguard.

  “Karris!” Gavin called out, jogging to catch up with her.

  She stopped and waited for him, a quizzical look on her face. “Lord Prism,” she said in greeting, ever proper in public—and still, evidently, not having read the note.

  He fell in step beside her. “So,” he said. “Tyrea.”

  “The armpit of the Seven Satrapies itself,” she said.

  Five years, five great purposes, Gavin. He’d given himself purposes since he’d first become Prism as a focus and distraction. Seven goals for each seven-year stint. And the first was—the first had always been—to tell Karris the whole truth. A truth that might ruin everything. What I did. Why. And why I broke our betrothal fifteen years ago.

  And you can rot in that blue hell forever for that, brother.

  “Important mission,” he said.

  She shrugged. “How come the important missions never take me to Ruthgar or the Blood Forest?”

  He chuckled. Ruthgar was the most civilized and prosperous nation in the Seven Satrapies, and of course, as a green drafter, Karris would feel a strong fondness for the Verdant Plains. Alternately, the Blood Forest was where her people were from, and she hadn’t walked among the redwoods since she was young. “Why don’t you make it a quick trip, then? I can scull you there.”

  “To Tyrea? It’s on the opposite side of the sea!”

  “It’s on my way to a color wight I’ve got to deal with.” And I may not have many more chances to be near you.

  She scowled. “Seems like there’ve been a lot of wights recently.”

  “It always seems like there’ve been a lot recently. Remember last summer, when there were six in six days, and then none for three months?”

  “I guess so. What kind?” she asked. Like most drafters, she felt a special outrage when a wight had come from her own color.

  “A blue.”

  “Ah. So I’m guessing you’ll be right on your way.” Karris knew about Gavin’s special hatred for blue wights. “Wait, you’re hunting a blue wight… in Tyrea?” she asked, turning to look at him with her haunting green eyes with red flecks.

  “Outside Ru, actually.” He cleared his thr

  She laughed. At thirty-two, she had the faintest lines on her face—more frown lines than smile lines, sadly, but she still had the same dimples. It just wasn’t fair. After years of knowing her, a woman’s beauty shouldn’t be able to reach straight into a man’s chest and squeeze the breath out of him. Especially not when he could never have her. “Tyrea’s a thousand leagues from Ru!”

  “Couple hundred at most. If you stop wasting daylight arguing with me, I might be able to get you there before nightfall.”

  “Gavin, that’s impossible. Even for you. And even if it were possible, I couldn’t ask you—”

  “You didn’t. I volunteered. Now tell me, would you really prefer to spend two weeks on a corvette? It’s clear today, but you know how those storms come up. I heard the last time you sailed, you got so green you could draft off your own skin.”


  “Important mission, isn’t it?” he asked.

  “The White’s going to kill you for this. She’s got an ulcer named after you, you know. Literally.”

  “I’m the Prism. There’s got to be some advantages. And I like sculling.”

  “You’re impossible,” she said, surrendering.

  “We all have our special little talents.”

  Chapter 10

  Kip woke to the smell of oranges and smoke. It was still hot, the evening sun slipping through the leaves to tickle his face. Somehow, he had made it to one of the orange groves before collapsing. He looked down the long, perfect rows for any soldiers before he stood up. His head still felt foggy, but the smell of smoke drove away any thoughts of himself.

  As he approached the edge of the orange grove, the stench grew stronger, the air thick. Kip caught flashes of light in the distance. He emerged from the grove and saw the sun setting behind the alcaldesa’s mansion, the tallest building in Rekton. As he watched, the sun went from a beautiful deep red to something darker, angry. Then Kip saw the light again—fire. Thick smoke billowed suddenly into the sky, and as if on signal, smoke billowed up from a dozen places in the town. In moments, the smoke blossomed to raging fires towering dozens of paces above the roofs.

  Kip heard screams. A ruin of an old statue lay in the orange grove. The townsfolk had always called it the Broken Man. Much of it had dissolved in the centuries since its fall, but the head mostly remained. Someone had long ago carved steps into the broken neck. The head was tall enough to watch the sun rise over the orange trees. It was a favorite spot for couples. Kip clambered up the steps.

  The town was on fire. Hundreds of foot soldiers surrounded the town in a vast, loose circle. As the flames drove some townsfolk from their hiding place, Kip saw King Garadul’s horsemen set their lances. It was old Miss Delclara and her six sons, the quarrymen. The biggest one, Micael, was carrying her over one burly shoulder. He was shouting at the others, but Kip couldn’t hear what he was saying. The brothers ran together toward the river, apparently hoping to find safety there.

  They weren’t going to make it.

  The horsemen lowered their lances as they reached a full gallop, maybe thirty paces away from the fleeing family.

  “Now!” Micael yelled. Kip could hear it from where he stood.

  Five of the brothers dropped to the ground. Zalo was too slow. A lance punched through his back and sent him sprawling. Two of the others were skewered as their pursuers quickly adjusted their aim and caught the men low to the ground. Micael’s pursuer dipped his lance too, but missed. He caught the ground instead, and the lance stuck.

  The horseman didn’t release his lance in time, and was slammed out of his saddle by the force of his own charge.

  Micael ran over to the fallen soldier and drew the man’s own vechevoral. With a savage chop, despite the layers of mail, he nearly cut the man’s head off.

  But the other horsemen had drawn rein already, and in seconds there was a forest of flashing steel blocking Micael, his brother, and his mother from Kip’s view.

  Kip felt like he was going to throw up. At some signal he didn’t see or hear, the horsemen formed back up and charged off toward new victims in the distance. Kip was only glad that they were far enough away he couldn’t recognize them.

  Around the rest of the town, the foot soldiers were moving in.

  Mother! Kip had been watching the town burn for several minutes, and he hadn’t thought about anything. His mother was in there. He had to go to her.

  How was he going to get into the town? Even if he could get past the soldiers and the fire, was his mother even still alive? The king’s men had seen the direction he had run away, too. They would think that the “drafter” they’d seen earlier was the only threat in the whole area. Surely they would be watching for him. In fact, they might have men out hunting him now.

  If so, perching on the highest point in the orange grove was probably not the smartest thing to do.

  As if on signal, Kip heard a branch snap. It might have been a deer. Evening was coming on after all. There were lots of deer in the orange groves after—

  Not thirty paces away, someone cursed.

  Talking deer?

  Kip dropped to his stomach. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. They were going to kill him. Just like they killed the Delclaras. Micael Delclara was big. Tough as old oak. And they’d slaughtered him.

  Move, Kip, just move. His heart was a riot in his chest. He was shaking. He was taking tiny breaths, way too fast. Slow down, Kip. Breathe. He took a deep breath and tore his eyes away from his trembling hands.

  There was a cave not far from here. Kip had found his mother there once, after she’d disappeared for three days. There’d long been rumors of smugglers’ caves in the area, and whenever his mother ran out of haze and money she went looking for them. She’d finally gotten lucky about two years ago and found enough of the drug that she hadn’t come home. When Kip had found her, she hadn’t eaten for days. She’d nearly died. He’d overheard someone saying aloud that they wished she had, for his sake.

  Reaching the ground, Kip started jogging, trying to keep the ruin between himself and the man he’d heard. He ran about as fast as Sanson would run if Sanson carried another Sanson on his back. So Kip jogged, trying to be quiet, zigzagging through the straight rows of trees. Then he heard a sound that froze his bones to the marrow: dogs barking.

  Fueled by fear, Kip found a flat-out run. He ignored the burning in his legs, the stabbing in his lungs. He was already headed toward the river; the cave was on its banks. He heard a soldier shouting curses, maybe two hundred paces back, maybe less. “Keep those dogs on the lead! You want to find a drafter while it’s still light out?”

  It was getting darker by the minute. So that was why he was still alive. With all colors muted by darkness, drafters weren’t nearly as powerful at night. And between the smoke and a bank of black clouds rolling in, the sky was darkening faster than normal. If they’d let the dogs go, they’d have run him down already. But with darkness coming on so fast, they might feel safe to let them go at any minute.

  Suddenly, Kip was on the riverbank. He stepped on one pant leg and almost fell down, barely catching himself with one hand. He stopped. The cave was upstream, away from town, not two hundred paces away. He picked up two stones that fit nicely in his hands. If he had the cave to protect his sides and back, he could… What? Die slowly?

  He looked at the rocks in his hands. Rocks. Against soldiers and war dogs. He was stupid. Insane. He looked at the rocks again, then threw one onto the opposite bank of the river, downstream. He threw the second rock farther. Then he grabbed two more, rubbed them against his body, and threw them as far as he could. The last one crashed through the branches of a willow tree. Lousy throw.

  No time to mourn his ineptitude. Kip’s scent trail already was headed upstream—the direction he did need to go. He’d just have to hope. It was a pathetic attempt, but he had nothing else. He kept moving upstream up the bank, trying to ignore the sound of the barking dogs closing in. Then he stepped i
nto the river, careful not to let his clothes touch any dry rocks. The place where he had come to the river was a bend, so soon he was out of the line of sight.

  “Let the dogs go!” the same voice shouted.

  Then Kip was opposite the cave entrance. It was invisible from the river, obscured by boulders that had fallen in front of the opening. But as soon as he stepped out of the river, he’d be leaving scent for the dogs, and a visual trail of wet rocks for the soldiers. He couldn’t get out of the water. Not yet. He looked up at the black clouds.

  Don’t just sit there. Give me some rain!

  “What’s the problem? What’s wrong with them?” the soldier demanded.

  “They’re fighting dogs, sir, not trackers. I’m not even certain they’re on the drafter’s trail.”

  Kip kept pushing upstream another hundred paces where the bend in the river straightened out and a tree had fallen down the bank into the water. It wouldn’t do anything for the scent trail, but it would hide the water he was dripping. He cut up the bank and then stopped. If he headed back downstream, he’d be going closer to the men hunting him. But the soldier’s mention of other trails had put a small desperate hope in Kip’s breast. Other trails meant maybe other fresh trails. And if it weren’t for the dogs, the cave would be the safest place to spend the night.

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