The night angel trilogy, p.50
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.50
 

           Brent Weeks

  The old wytch behind them—from the thickness of his vir Solon guessed he was a Vürdmeister—was drawing magic once more. Feir grabbed Solon’s collar and threw him behind the fire pot. The move put Solon in a safe place, but exposed Feir. This time it wasn’t wytchfire, but something else Solon had never seen. An angry red beam didn’t so much fly as streak through the air toward Feir. He threw up a magical shield and ducked.

  The shield barely deflected the beam—again into a soldier running to join the fray—but the force of the magic blew Feir’s shield apart and flung him to the other side like a rag doll. Curoch spun from his grasp.

  Drawing on strength he didn’t know he had, Solon grabbed Feir and pulled him into the shadow of the fire pot with him.

  Two more meisters were running to join the Vürdmeister and soldiers were behind them. The gate at the far end of the bridge opened and soldiers were pouring through.

  Feir sat up and looked out at Curoch, twenty feet away, exposed. “I can use it,” he said. “I can save it.”

  “No!” Solon said. “You’ll die.”

  The soldiers and the meisters had paused, regrouping, advancing slowly now, cautious and orderly.

  “I don’t matter, Solon. We can’t let them have it.”

  “You wouldn’t even live long enough to use it, Feir. Not even if you were willing to trade your life for one second of power.”

  “It’s right there!”

  “And so is this,” Solon said, motioning to the edge of the bridge.

  Feir looked. “You’ve got to be joking.”

  Over the edge, a black silk rope had been tied to the underside of either end of the bridge. It only extended out below them when the wind blew. Feir was looking not at the rope but at the fall.

  “Hey, it’s prophecy, right? It has to work,” Solon said. If only the world would stop flashing yellow.

  “It never works out exactly like Dorian says!”

  “If he told you that you were going to do this, would you have come?”

  “Hell no. And don’t you nod knowingly to me. I get enough of that from Dorian.” Feir looked at the approaching soldiers and meisters. “Right. You first.”

  He’s going to go after Curoch. The heroic idiot.

  “I can’t,” Solon said. “I’m not strong enough to grab the rope. I’ll die if I go alone.”

  Feir stood. “Just let me try—” he reached out with his Talent and grabbed the sword. Instantly, hands of vir crackled visibly over his magic and started climbing toward him. Solon slashed the magic loose with his own.

  Spots exploded in front of Solon’s eyes. “Oh, don’t do that. Don’t do that, please. Oh.”

  “Let me ride pony-back, Feir.” Solon didn’t have time to explain. The meisters were close.

  “I’m crazy, and you’re fat,” Feir said. But he picked up Solon and put him on his back.

  “Magically too. I’ve got a plan. And I am not fat.”

  For all that he second-guessed plans when they were all safe, Feir knew to obey in battle. He opened himself quickly, and Solon dipped into Feir’s Talent. He lashed himself onto Feir’s back with magical bonds. Then he quickly readied five thin weaves. It still hurt, but not nearly as much as using his own Talent.

  “Now,” he said. “Jump.”

  Feir leaped over the side of the bridge. The rope was in the perfect place—not because of the wind or the power of prophecy, but because Solon pulled it there with magic. As Feir grabbed the rope, Solon activated the other weaves.

  Holes were torn in the sides of each of the fire pots and air inside them suddenly compressed, jetting the oil in the pots out onto the bridge. The last weave dropped a little spark in middle of the oil.

  There was a satisfying whoosh. The river suddenly lit orange and white and heat washed over the falling mages.

  Then things were happening too rapidly to follow. Feir had caught the rope with both hands and a leg. He immediately flipped upside down. The sudden change in direction caught Solon’s arm across Feir’s shoulder and snapped it. If it weren’t for the magical bonds holding him, he would have dropped like a stone. The rope, anchored on both sides of the bridge, first stretched, bowing down toward the middle. Because Feir and Solon hadn’t made it to the middle of the bridge, that meant they zipped headfirst for fifteen paces. Then the rope tore loose at the castle end.

  Solon was watching light explode over them, distantly aware that they were swinging with terrific speed toward the river. The bridge was engulfed in flames leaping merrily into the night. Or maybe that was pain exploding in his head. Then they slapped into something cold and hard.

  He took a breath. It was bad timing. The cold hard stuff had become cold wet stuff. They were under water. He coughed as Feir came to the surface, and Solon thought dimly that the man was either a hell of a swimmer or something was dragging them out.

  Feir was on his knees in the shallows, holding up his hands. From his perch on the man’s back, Solon saw that Feir’s hands had been torn to bloody pieces by the rope. He could see bone.

  “Ah, you’re better off than I thought you’d be,” Dorian’s voice was saying as his magic hauled them out of the river. “Stop lollygagging, you two. We need to get going if we’re going to make it to Khalidor in time.”

  “Lollygagging?” Solon asked, glad to find that he had strength to be outraged.

  “Khalidor?” Feir said.

  “Well, that is where my bride is waiting. I can’t wait to find out who she is. I think Curoch is going to find its way there, too.”

  Feir cursed, but Solon—broken arm, purple vision, and all—just laughed.

  65

  As they came within the arc of his sword or the reach of his lashing feet or striking fists, men went down like grain in a summer storm. To Kylar, who had always been gifted at fighting, battle suddenly made sense. The chaos unfolded into beautifully intricate, interlocking, and logical patterns.

  Just by looking at a man’s face, he could judge instantly: parry left, hesitate, lunge, clear. A man died and fell far enough away that he didn’t impede Kylar’s movements. Next, sweep right, roll in, bear fist to nose. Spin, hamstring, throat. Parry, riposte. Stab.

  Parsed to the individual percussion of each chamber of his heart, battle had a rhythm, a music. Not a sound was out of place. The tenor of ringing steel layered over a bass of the fists and feet hammering flesh—soft to hard, hard to soft—and the baritone of men’s curses, punctuated by the staccato percussion of rending mail.

  With his Talent singing, Kylar was a virtuoso. He fought in a fine frenzy, a dancer possessed. Time never slowed, but he found his body reacting to sights he didn’t consciously see—turning, dodging under blows his mind never registered, striking with the awesome speed and grace of that angel of death, the Night Angel.

  The highlanders sought to overwhelm him by force of numbers. Their blades caught the air within an inch of Kylar’s ear, within half an inch of his stomach, a quarter of an inch from his thigh. He rode the front of each beat, cut the margins closer and closer, until the bodies he was killing were being pushed forward instead of falling back, and pressing in closer on him.

  He sheathed Retribution and grabbed the hand holding a blade aimed at his belly and yanked a skinny highlander across the circle to stab his fellow. Reaching around his own back with a knife, he diverted a sword thrust while his other knife found an eye socket.

  Two spears came for him and he dropped to the floor, yanking both forward. As each impaled a body, he swung up, destroying another highlander’s face with a kick.

  But the situation was hopeless. Within a cage of tangled weapons and thrashing, dying men, he’d be trapped in moments.

  Light as a cat, he sprang to the back of a man dying on his knees and vaulted off the shoulder of one of the impaled spear bearers.

  As he flipped sideways through the air, a ball of green wytchfire the size of his fist streaked through the air at him. It caught his cloak and broke into pieces. He lande
d on his feet and ducked under a sword cut. His cloak burst into green flame. Kylar tore the cloak off as he dove between two spears.

  Holding one edge of the cloak, he came to his feet and wrapped the cloak around another of his attackers. The green flame raced for the man’s skin, and there burned a fierce blue as he screamed.

  Another ball of wytchfire sizzled through the air and Kylar dove behind one of the pillars supporting the high ceiling.

  There were two beats of rest. Kylar had killed or disabled more than half the Khalidorans, but now the others played to their strengths. Point, counterpoint.

  “To the captain! Keep a meister in view!” Roth shouted. Men streamed to the captain to form a wedge between Kylar and Roth, who had retreated to the throne to watch.

  But Kylar wasn’t wasting his time as he stood in the protection of the pillar. He knew that if he wanted a chance at Roth, he had to kill the wytches. Both of them were eyeing the spaces between the pillars where he would have to run.

  He pooled the ka’kari in his hand, and keeping the feel of those fingers of magic in his mind, willed it to dribble down the length of his sword. Seeming to sense his urgency, the ka’kari coated the steel instantly. Both ka’kari and steel shimmered out of visibility.

  Kylar dodged out from the pillar and the fingers were on him instantly. He cut in a quick circle and felt them shrivel and die out of existence. Grabbing the edge of one of the long tapestries that covered the walls of the throne room, Kylar moved toward the pillar, but not before wytchfire leaped from a wytch’s fingers.

  If he’d had time to think about it, Kylar wouldn’t have tried to block with his sword—it was insanity to try to block magic—but it was his ingrained response. The flat of his blade hit the green globe of fire. Instead of bursting, the fire whooshed into the blade.

  Kylar dodged around a pillar with the tapestry in one hand and a sword now visible because of the green flame crackling through it. With all the strength of his Talent, he leaped.

  He soared into the air in the middle of the throne room, and then as the tapestry met a pillar, it abruptly changed his trajectory and launched him up the steps.

  The other wytch must have thrown wytchfire that Kylar hadn’t seen, because the tapestry gave way and tore a moment before Kylar was going to release it. He hit the landing between the flights of stairs with eight feet of burning tapestry in his hands. He hurled it toward the highlanders and slashed at the wytch chanting not two steps away.

  The top of the wytch’s head opened, exposing his brain. The man spun, but his lips completed his incantation. The thick black tendrils that had been squirming under the skin of his arms fattened grotesquely like rippling muscles and tore free of the wytch’s arms, bursting through his skin.

  Power roared from the dying wytch and he staggered, trying to find Kylar. Kylar jumped behind him. He kicked the wytch so hard that the man lifted off the ground and crashed into the highlanders.

  The flailing black tendrils ripped into the men, sucking them in like greedy hands and chewing through them with a sound like logs in a sawmill.

  Even as the black tendrils were tearing through the soldiers, Kylar felt more than saw the white light forming behind him. He turned in time to see the homunculus streaking through the air. It dodged under his desperate slash and stabbed tiny claws into his chest.

  He was already jumping to the side when he felt the concussion and saw the air ripple. Reality bubbled in a line toward him. The rippling air curved, following him as he ran. Then the air tore open. He vaulted all the way to the wall and nearly caught another ball of wytchfire with his face.

  The pit wyrm lunged forward into reality, barely missing him. It thrashed, furious, tearing the hole open wider and hooking fiery claws around two of the pillars, mere feet away. Kylar ripped the homunculus from his chest and slapped it onto a soldier’s face.

  As the pit wyrm lunged again, Kylar leapt straight up. Its lampreylike mouth shot out, latched onto the screaming man, and sucked him back into the pit. By the time Kylar landed, both pit wyrm and soldier were gone.

  Kylar turned and jumped for the top of the stairs, but he was too slow. Even as he left the ground, he saw a blur of light streaking toward him. There was no time to draw a throwing knife. Kylar hurled his sword at the last wytch.

  The bolt of magic blasted his left shoulder. As the momentum of his leap carried him up and forward, the blast made him flip end over end backward. He crunched into the marble floor at the foot of the throne and felt his left knee shatter.

  For a long moment, his eyes refused to focus. He blinked and blinked and finally cleared the blood away. He saw Retribution buried to the hilt through a wytch ten paces away, its blade black with his ka’kari.

  He realized that he was viewing the dead wytch through a pair of legs. His eyes followed the legs up to Roth’s face.

  “Stand up,” Roth said. He plunged his long sword through Kylar’s lower back.

  Kylar gagged as Roth twisted the blade in his kidney. Then the hot metal lifted away. Something pulled Kylar to his feet.

  The pain was like a cloud making everything fuzzy and indistinct. Confused, Kylar stared at the dead wytches. Who picked me up?

  “All the aethelings of Godking Ursuul are wytchborn,” Roth said. “Didn’t you know?”

  Kylar stared at Roth dumbly. Roth was Talented? The invisible hands released him and he folded as he put weight on his destroyed left leg. The marble floor jarred him once more.

  “Get up!” Roth said. He stabbed Kylar’s groin and cursed him. Kylar dropped his head onto the marble as Roth’s screaming became inarticulate. The sound of Roth’s voice faded to a murmur next to the roaring voice of pain.

  The pain flashed in another bar through his stomach as Roth stabbed him again. Then he must have picked Kylar up again, because Kylar felt his head lolling to one side. If he’d felt pain before, now it became agony.

  Every part of his body was being scoured with fire, dipped in alcohol, packed with salt. His eyelids were lined with crushed glass. His optic nerves were being chewed by little teeth. And after his eyes, every tissue, sinew, muscle, and organ marinated in misery in its turn. He was screaming.

  But his mind cleared.

  Kylar blinked. He was standing before Roth, and he was aware. Aware and dismayed. He must have landed on his left knee when he’d crashed to the marble, because it was demolished. He was bleeding inside—his intestines leaking slow death into his viscera, stomach acids scorching his intestines, a kidney pouring black blood. His left shoulder looked like it had kissed a giant’s hammer.

  “You won’t die easy,” Roth said. “I won’t allow it. Not after what you’ve done. Look what you’ve done! My father will be furious.”

  There it was. He was dying. Kylar could perch unsteadily on his one good leg, but he had no weapons. His sword and the ka’kari were ten paces away—they might as well have been across the ocean. No weapons, and Roth was—even now—careful not to come within range of his hands. Kylar didn’t have so much as a belt knife.

  “Are you ready to die?” Roth said, his eyes glowing malevolence.

  Kylar was staring at his right hand. Of all the beaten, sliced, and smashed places on his body, his fingers were healthy, perfect, healed. Wasn’t that the hand he’d cut on the window last night? “I’m ready,” he said, surprising himself.

  “Any regrets?” Roth asked.

  Kylar looked into Roth, and understood him. Kylar had always had enough darkness in his soul to understand evil men. Roth was trying to wring anguish from him. Roth wanted to kill him while he thought of all the things he hadn’t done. Roth reaped despair. “Dying well is easy,” Kylar said, “it only takes a moment of courage. It’s living well that I couldn’t do. What’s death compared to that?”

  “You’re about to find out,” Roth spat.

  Kylar smirked, and then smiled as rage washed over Roth.

  “Killing Logan was more fun,” Roth said. He rammed his sword into Kylar
s chest.

  Logan! The thought cut through Kylar more cruelly than the sword in Roth’s hand. Kylar had lived by the sword. Dying by it was neither unexpected nor unjust. But Logan had never even wanted to hurt anyone. Roth killing Logan wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t just.

  Kylar stared at the steel stabbed through his chest. He took Roth’s hand in his own and pulled, pulled himself up the sword, impaling himself to the hilt. Roth’s eyes widened.

  “I am the Night Angel,” Kylar said, gasping on the steel through his lung. “This is justice. This is for Logan.”

  There was a ting and the sound of metal rolling on marble. The ka’kari leaped for Kylar’s hand—

  And was caught squarely by Roth. Triumph lit his eyes. He laughed.

  But Kylar grabbed Roth’s shoulders and stared him in the eye. “I am the Night Angel,” Kylar repeated. “This is justice. This is for Logan.” Kylar lifted his right hand.

  Roth looked confused. Then he looked at his left hand. The ka’kari was turning to liquid and gliding through his fingers. His hands scrambled as they’d scrambled across the wood floor of the boat shop, and found nothing. The ka’kari slapped into Kylar’s palm and formed an enormous punch dagger on his fist.

  Kylar slammed his fist into Roth’s chest.

  Roth looked down, his disbelief turning to horror as Kylar drew the dagger out, his horror turning to fear as his heart pumped blood directly into his lungs.

  Roth shrieked a shrill denial of his own mortality.

  Kylar released the prince and tried to step away, but his limbs refused to obey him. His knee buckled and he crashed to the ground with the Khalidoran prince.

  Roth and Kylar lay eye to eye on the marble at the foot of the throne, staring at each other, dying. Each trembled as uncontrollable twitches ran through his limbs. Each breathed terrible, labored breaths in time with the other. Roth’s eyes brimmed with fear, panic so intense it paralyzed. He seemed to no longer see Kylar lying inches away. His gaze grew more distant and filled with soul-deep terror.

 
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