The night angel trilogy, p.52
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.52

           Brent Weeks
 

  Kylar walked toward the golden door. It was so beautiful there. He’d had such peace. What fool would trade the eternal peace and happiness in that gold light for the blood and gore and dishonor and despair and duplicity of the life he’d led?

  As he stepped closer to it, the door changed. The gold melted, puddled to the ground in an instant and a raging inferno leapt up, eager to devour Kylar. Then it was gone, and the gold door was back. Kylar shot a look at the Wolf.

  “Eternity,” the Wolf said, “might not be a pleasant place for you.”

  “You did that?”

  “A simple illusion. But if you sat in judgment of Kylar Stern, would you give him eternal paradise?”

  “You’re not exactly disinterested in my choice, are you?”

  “You’ve become a player, Night Angel. No one is disinterested in your choice.”

  How long Kylar stood there, he didn’t know. All he knew was that if he made the wrong choice, he might have a very very long time to regret it. The mathematical formulae were no help; they were full of infinities and zeroes, with no way of knowing on which side of the equation they landed. There was no hedged bet when you might be throwing away eternity in paradise or avoiding eternity in hell or taking an eternal existence on earth with all its flaws, weighed against merciful oblivion. Kylar didn’t have Count Drake’s faith in a loving God or Durzo’s faith that there was no such God. He knew that he had done a lot of evil, by anyone’s definition. He knew that he had done some good. He’d given his life for Elene.

  Elene. She filled his mind and his heart so utterly that it ached. If he chose life, even if she accepted him, she would grow old and die in the smallest fraction of his life. The odds were that she never would accept him, never could.

  All the ifs and maybes rose and fell in great towers of foundationless suppositions, but Elene remained. Kylar loved her. He had always loved her.

  Elene was the risk he would take every time.

  He made his choice and ran toward the plain door. He screamed—

  —and jerked upright.

  Elene screamed. Uly screamed.

  Taking huge, gasping breaths, Kylar ripped open his blood-encrusted tunic.

  His chest was smooth, the skin perfect. He touched his demolished shoulder. It was whole, as healthy as the fingers of his right hand. There wasn’t a scar on his body.

  He sat there blinking, not even glancing at Uly or Elene, who were frozen, staring at him.

  “I’m alive. I’m alive?”

  “Yes, Kylar,” Momma K said, coming into the room. Her calm was surreal.

  Kylar sat stupidly for a moment. It had all been real. He said, “Unbelievable. Kylar: one who kills and is killed. Durzo knew all along.”

  Uly, seeming to take her cue from the calm Kylar and Momma K were showing, seemed to be fine with Kylar sitting up and talking when he’d been dead a moment before. Elene was not doing as well. She stood up abruptly and walked out the door.

  “Elene, wait,” Kylar said. “Wait, just tell me one thing.” She stopped and looked at him, confused, terrified and hopeful at the same time, her eyes full of tears. “Who was it who gave you those scars? It wasn’t Durzo, was it? It was Rat, right?”

  “You come back from the dead to ask me that? Of course it was Rat!” She fled.

  “Wait! Elene, I’m sorry!” He tried to move, but it seemed he’d used up all his strength to sit up. She was gone. “Wait, what the hell am I sorry about?”

  Uly looked at Kylar accusingly. “You aren’t going to let her go, are you?”

  Kylar held onto the edge of the bed like a lifeline. He looked at Uly, and raised a hand helplessly—and had to quickly put it down to keep from falling over. “How can I stop her?”

  Uly stomped her foot and stormed out of the room.

  Momma K was laughing, but it was a different laughter than he’d heard from her before, deeper, fuller, truly happy, as if with the same act of will that had made her choose life, she’d set aside her cynicism. “I know what you’re thinking, Kylar. Durzo lied to you when he told you he’d hurt Elene. Of course he did. It was the only way he could save you. You had to kill him to succeed him. The ka’kari couldn’t complete the bond until its former master died.”

  They sat there in silence, Kylar thinking of how Durzo’s death cast his life in a completely different light. It was disconcerting to think how wrong he’d been about his master, thinking him so hateful—actually believing Durzo was capable of mutilating Doll Girl—but Kylar liked the picture that was emerging. Durzo Blint, the legend, had been Acaelus Thorne, the hero. Kylar wondered how many other heroes’ names his master had worn. He felt a stabbing pain, an emptiness in his stomach, a surge toward tears that he suppressed. “I’m going to miss him,” he said, his throat tight.

  Momma K’s eyes mirrored his. “Me too. But it’s going to be all right. I don’t know why, but I really believe that.”

  Kylar nodded. “So you decided to live,” he said, blinking tears away. He didn’t want to break down in front of Momma K.

  “And so did you.” She arched an eyebrow at him, somehow holding both grief and happiness and amusement in her eyes all at once. “She loves you, Kylar. Whether she realizes it or not. She dragged you out of the castle by herself. She refused to leave you. Jarl’s men found her. It was only when they got you here that Uly saw your wounds were healing.”

  “She’s furious with me,” Kylar said.

  “Furious the way a woman in love gets. I know.”

  “Have you told Uly who her mother is?” Kylar asked.

  “No, and I never will. I won’t raise her into this.”

  “She needs a family.”

  “I was hoping you and Elene would be interested in the job.”

  Night came to the east shore of the Plith River in a smothering cloud. The city had been burning all day and the night winds wafted the smell over the entire city. Fires reflected in the Plith, and low-hanging clouds held the ashy air like a pillow against the face of the city.

  A wagon clattered down a street, its driver hunched, face muffled against the malodorous air. He overtook a crippled woman with a bent back and a foot turned sideways.

  “Want up?” his scratchy voice asked.

  The woman turned expectantly. Her face too was muffled, but her eyes were young, though both eyes had been blackened.

  Her Khalidoran driver was supposed to be dark-haired and fat. This man was white-haired, lean as a rail, stooped and almost lost in his clothes. She shook her head and turned away.

  “Please, Elene?” Kylar asked with his own voice.

  She flinched. “I should be scared of you, shouldn’t I?”

  “I’d never hurt you,” he said.

  Eyebrows above the eyes he’d blackened lifted incredulously.

  “Well, not really hurt you.”

  “What are you doing?” she asked, looking around. There was no one else out on the streets.

  “I’d like to take you away from here,” Kylar said, brushing back his bleached hair and smiling through his makeup. “You and Uly both. We can go anywhere. I’m going to pick her up next.”

  “Why me, Kylar?”

  He was dumbfounded. “It’s always been you. I l—”

  “Don’t you say you love me,” she said. “How could you love this?” She jerked the scarf down and pointed at her scars. “How could you love a freak?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t love your scars, Elene. I hate them—”

  “And you’ll never see past that.”

  “I’m not finished,” he said. “Elene, I’ve watched over you since we were children. For a long time, you’re right, I couldn’t see past your scars. I’m not going to give you some crap that they’re beautiful. Your scars are ugly, but you aren’t, Elene. The woman I see when I look at you is amazing. She’s smart, she’s got a quick tongue, and she’s got such a heart that it makes me believe that people can be good despite all I’ve seen to the contrary for my whole life.”
>
  His words were sinking into her, he could tell. Oh, Momma K, tell me I learned something about words from you. Tell me I learned something despite myself.

  Elene’s hands waved like little birds. “How can you say that? You don’t know me!”

  “Aren’t you still Doll Girl?”

  Her hands came down, the little birds fluttering to rest. “Yes,” she said. “But I don’t think you’re still Azoth.”

  “No,” he admitted. “I’m not. I don’t know who I am. Right now, I only know I’m not my master and I won’t live like he did.”

  Hope seemed to leach out of her. “Kylar,” she said, and he saw that the name was a deliberate choice, “I will always be grateful to you. But we would be a disaster. You would destroy me.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Momma K said your master intercepted all my letters.”

  “Yes, but I’ve had a busy afternoon catching up,” Kylar said.

  She smiled sadly. “And you still don’t understand?”

  Do girls ever make sense? He shook his head.

  “When we were children, you were the one who protected me, who looked out for me. You were the one who put me with a real family. I wanted to be with you forever. Then when I was growing up, you were my benefactor who made me special. You were my secret young lord whom I loved so desperately and so foolishly. You were my Kylar, my poor nobleman that the Drake girls told me stories about. Then you were the one who came to save me in gaol.”

  He paused and paused. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

  “Oh, Kylar. What happens to that silly girl when it turns out I’m not good enough for the man I’ve loved for my whole life?”

  “You not good enough?”

  “It’s a fairy tale, Kylar. I don’t deserve it. Something will happen. You’ll find somebody prettier or you’ll get tired of me, and then you’ll leave me, and I’ll never recover, because the only kind of love I have to offer is stupid and blind and so deep and powerful that I feel like I’m cracking just to hold it in. I can’t just swoon and fall into bed with you, because you’ll hop right out and get on with your life, and I never will.”

  “I’m not asking you to make love with me.”

  “So I’m too ugly for—”

  He couldn’t say a damn thing right. “Enough!” he roared, emotion filling his voice so suddenly that it shocked her into silence. “I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Elene. And the purest. And the best. But I’m not asking you to fuck!”

  Consternation played over her features, but she obviously didn’t like being yelled at.

  “Elene,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry I yelled. I’m sorry I hit you—even if it was to save you. I’ve thought I was dying twice in the last few days—maybe I did die, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I thought I was dying, you were my regret. No! Not your scars,” he said as she touched her face. “I regretted that I hadn’t turned myself into the kind of man that you could be with. That it wouldn’t be just for me to be with you, even if you wanted me. Our lives started in the same shit hole, Elene, but somehow you’ve turned into you, and I’ve turned into this. I don’t like what I’ve done. I don’t like who I’ve become. You don’t deserve a fairy tale? I don’t deserve another chance, but I’m asking you for one. You’re afraid that love is too risky? I’ve seen what happens when you don’t risk it. Momma K and my master loved each other, but they were too afraid to risk it and that destroyed them. We risk everything either way.

  “I’m willing to risk it to see the world through your eyes, Elene. I want to know you. I want to be worthy of you. I want to look in the mirror and like who I see. I don’t know what’s next, but I know I want to face it with you. Elene, I’m not asking you to fuck. But maybe some day, I’ll earn the right to ask you for something more permanent.” He turned, and facing her was harder than facing thirty highlanders. He extended his hand. “Please, Elene. Will you come with me?”

  She scowled fiercely at him, then looked away. Her eyes were shiny with tears, but it could have been from all the ash in the air. She blinked quickly before looking back up at him. She searched his face for a long moment. He met her big brown eyes. He had turned away from them so many times, afraid she would see what he really was. He had turned away, afraid that she couldn’t bear the sight of his filth. Now he met that gaze. He opened himself to it. He didn’t hide his darkness. He didn’t hide his love. He let her gaze go all the way through him.

  To his wonder, her eyes filled with something softer than justice, something warmer than mercy.

  “I’m so scared, Kylar.”

  “Me too,” he said.

  She took his hand.

  BOOK 2

  Shadow’s Edge

  For Kristi, for never doubting—not even when I did

  &

  For Kevin, because it’s a big brother’s job to

  make a little brother tough. What you taught me, I’ve needed.

  (But I never have been right since that dirt clod incident.)

  1

  We’ve got a contract for you,” Momma K said. As always, she sat like a queen, her back straight, sumptuous dress perfect, hair immaculately coifed if gray at the roots. This morning she had dark circles under her eyes. Kylar guessed that none of the Sa’kagé’s surviving leaders had slept much since the Khalidoran invasion.

  “Good morning to you, too,” Kylar said, settling into the wing-backed chair in the study. Momma K didn’t turn to face him, looking instead out her window. Last night’s rain had quenched most of the fires in the city, but many still smoked, bathing the city in a crimson dawn. The waters of the Plith River that divided rich eastern Cenaria from the Warrens looked as red as blood. Kylar wasn’t sure that was all because of the smoke-obscured sun, either. In the week since the coup, the Khalidoran invaders had massacred thousands.

  Momma K said, “There’s a wrinkle. The deader knows it’s coming.”

  “How’s he know?” The Sa’kagé wasn’t usually so sloppy.

  “We told him.”

  Kylar rubbed his temples. The Sa’kagé would only tell someone so that if the attempt failed, the Sa’kagé wouldn’t be committed. That meant the deader could only be one man: Cenaria’s conqueror, Khalidor’s Godking, Garoth Ursuul.

  “I just came to get my money,” Kylar said. “All of Durzo’s—my safe houses burned down. I only need enough to bribe the gate guards.” He’d been giving her a cut of his wages to invest since he was a child. She should have plenty for a few bribes.

  Momma K flipped silently through sheets of rice paper on her desk and handed one to Kylar. At first, he was stunned by the numbers. He was involved in the illegal importation of riot weed and half a dozen other addictive plants, owned a race horse, had a stake in a brewery and several other businesses, part of a loan shark’s portfolio, and owned partial cargos of items like silks and gems that were legitimate except for the fact the Sa’kagé paid 20 percent in bribes rather than 50 percent in tariffs. The sheer amount of information on the page was mind-boggling. He didn’t know what half of it meant.

  “I own a house?” Kylar asked.

  “Owned,” Momma K said. “This column denotes merchandise lost in the fires or looting.” There were checks next to all but a silk expedition and one for riot weed. Almost everything he had owned was lost. “Neither expedition will return for months, if at all. If the Godking keeps seizing civilian vessels, they won’t come back at all. Of course, if he were dead—”

  He could see where this was going. “This says my share is still worth ten to fifteen thousand. I’ll sell it to you for a thousand. That’s all I need.”

  She ignored him. “They need a third wetboy to make sure it works. Fifty thousand gunders for one kill, Kylar. With that much, you can take Elene and Uly anywhere. You’ll have done the world a good turn, and you’ll never have to work again. It’s just one last job.”

  He wavered only for a moment. “There’s al
ways one last job. I’m finished.”

  “This is because of Elene, isn’t it?” Momma K asked.

  “Momma K, do you think a man can change?”

  She looked at him with a profound sadness. “No. And he’ll end up hating anyone who asks him to.”

  Kylar got up and walked out the door. In the hallway, he ran into Jarl. Jarl was grinning like he used to when they were growing up on the streets and he was up to no good. Jarl was wearing what must be the new fashion, a long tunic with exaggerated shoulders paired with slim trousers tucked into high boots. It looked vaguely Khalidoran. His hair was worked into elaborate microbraids capped with gold beads that set off his black skin.

  “I’ve got the perfect job for you,” Jarl said, his voice lowered, but unrepentant about eavesdropping.

  “No killing?” Kylar asked.

  “Not exactly.”

  “Your Holiness, the cowards stand ready to redeem themselves,” Vürdmeister Neph Dada announced, his voice carrying over the crowd. He was an old man, veiny, liver-spotted, stooped, stinking of death held at bay with magic, his breath rattling from the exertion of climbing up the platform in Cenaria Castle’s great yard. Twelve knotted cords hung over the shoulders of his black robes for the twelve shu’ras he’d mastered. Neph knelt with difficulty and offered a handful of straw to the Godking.

  Godking Garoth Ursuul stood on the platform inspecting his troops. Front and center were nearly two hundred Graavar highlanders, tall, barrel-chested, blue-eyed savages who wore their black hair short and their mustaches long. On either side stood the other elite highland tribes that had captured the castle. Beyond them waited the rest of the regular army that had marched into Cenaria since the liberation.

 
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