The night angel trilogy, p.54
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.54
 

           Brent Weeks

  The Godking’s hands were clasped over his eyes, but shields like bubbles were already blooming around him. The arrow hit the outermost shield, stuck, and burst into flame as the shield popped. Another arrow was already on the way, and it passed through the fraying outer shield and hit one closer in. The next popped and the next as Jonus Severing shot with amazing speed. He was using his Talent to hold his spare arrows in midair so that as soon as he released a shot, the next arrow was already coming to his fingertips. The shields were breaking faster than the Godking could reform them.

  People were screaming, blinded. The fifty meisters around the yard were throwing shields up around themselves, knocking anyone nearby off their feet.

  The wetboy who’d been hiding beneath the platform jumped onto the platform on the Godking’s blind side. He hesitated as one last wavering shield bloomed inches from the Godking’s skin, and Kylar saw that he wasn’t a wetboy at all. It was a child of perhaps fourteen, Jonus Severing’s apprentice. The boy was so focused on the Godking, he didn’t keep low, didn’t keep moving. Kylar heard the snap of a bowstring nearby and saw the boy go down even as the Godking’s last shield popped.

  People were charging toward the gates, trampling their neighbors. Several of the meisters, still blinded and panicked, were flinging green missiles indiscriminately into the crowd and the soldiers around them. One of the Godking’s bodyguards tried to tackle the Godking to get him out of danger. Dazed, the Godking misinterpreted the move and a hammer of vir blasted the huge highlander through the nobles on the platform.

  Kylar turned to find who’d killed the wetboy’s apprentice. Not ten paces away stood Hu Gibbet, the butcher who had slaughtered Logan Gyre’s entire family, the best wetboy in the city now that Durzo Blint was dead.

  Jonus Severing was already fleeing, not sparing a moment of anguish for his dead apprentice. Hu released a second arrow and Kylar saw it streak into Jonus Severing’s back. The wetboy pitched forward off the wall and out of view, but Kylar had no doubt he was dead.

  Hu Gibbet had betrayed the Sa’kagé, and now he’d saved the Godking. The ka’kari was in Kylar’s hand before he was even aware of it. What, I wouldn’t kill the architect of Cenaria’s destruction, but now I’m going to kill a bodyguard? Of course, calling Hu Gibbet a bodyguard was like calling a bear a furry animal, but the point remained. Kylar pulled the ka’kari back into his skin.

  Ducking so Hu wouldn’t see his face, Kylar joined the streams of panicked Cenarians flooding out the castle gate.

  2

  The Jadwin estate had survived the fires that had reduced so much of the city to rubble. Kylar came to the heavily guarded front gate and the guards opened the sally port for him wordlessly. Kylar had only stopped to strip out of his tanner’s disguise and scrub his body with alcohol to rid himself of the scent, and he was certain that he’d arrived before the duchess, but word of the duke’s death had flown faster. The guards had black strips of cloth tied around their arms. “Is it true?” one of them asked.

  Kylar nodded and made his way to the hut behind the manse where the Cromwylls lived. Elene had been the last orphan the Cromwylls took in, and all her siblings had moved on to other trades or to serve other houses. Only her foster mother still served the Jadwins. Since the coup, Kylar, Elene, and Uly had stayed here. With Kylar’s safe houses burned or inaccessible, it was the only choice. Kylar was thought to be dead, so he didn’t want to stay in any of the Sa’kagé safe houses where he might be recognized. In any case, every safe house was full to breaking. No one wanted to be out on the streets with the roving bands of Khalidorans.

  No one was in the hut, so Kylar went to the manse’s kitchen. Eleven-year-old Uly was standing on a stool, leaning over a tub of soapy water, scrubbing pans. Kylar swept in and picked her up under one arm, spun her around as she squealed, and set her back down on the stool. He gave her a fierce look. “You been keeping Elene out of trouble like I told you?” he asked the little girl.

  Uly sighed. “I’ve been trying, but I think this one’s hopeless.”

  Kylar laughed, and she laughed too. Uly had been raised by servants in Cenaria Castle, believing for her own protection that she was an orphan. The truth was that she was the daughter of Momma K and Durzo Blint. Durzo had only found out about her in the last days of his life, and Kylar had promised him that he would look after the girl. After the initial awkwardness of explaining that he wasn’t her father, things had gone better than Kylar could have expected.

  “Hopeless? I’ll show you hopeless,” a voice said. Elene carried a huge cauldron with the grime of yesterday’s stew baked onto the sides and set it down next to Uly’s stack of dishes.

  Uly groaned and Elene chuckled evilly. Kylar marveled at how she’d changed in a mere week, or perhaps the change was in how he saw her. Elene still had the thick scars Rat had given her as a child: an X across her full lips, one on her cheek, and a crescent looping from her eyebrow to the corner of her mouth. But Kylar barely noticed them. Now, he saw radiant skin, eyes bright with intelligence and happiness, her grin lopsided not because of a scar but from planned mischief. And how a woman could look so good in modest servant’s woolens and an apron was one of the great mysteries of the universe.

  Elene grabbed an apron from a hook and looked at Kylar with a predatory gleam in her eye. “Oh, no. Not me,” Kylar said.

  She looped the apron over his head and pulled him close slowly and seductively. She was staring at his lips and he couldn’t help but stare at hers as she wet them with her tongue. “I think,” she said, her voice low, her hands gliding across his sides, “that…”

  Uly coughed loudly, but neither of them acknowledged her.

  Elene pulled him against her, her hands on the small of his back, her mouth tilting up, her sweet scent filling his nostrils. “… that’s much better.” She yanked the apron knot tight behind his back and released him abruptly, stepping back out of range. “Now you can help me. Do you want to cut the potatoes or the onions?” She and Uly laughed at the outrage on his face.

  Kylar leapt forward and Elene tried to dodge, but he used his Talent to grab her. He’d been practicing in the last week, and though so far he could only extend his reach a pace or so behind his own arms, this time it was enough. He pulled Elene in and kissed her. She barely pretended to put up a fight before kissing him back with equal fervor. For a moment, the world contracted to the softness of Elene’s lips and the feel of her body tight against his.

  Somewhere, Uly started retching loudly. Kylar reached out and swatted the dishwater toward the source of his irritation. The retching was abruptly replaced with a yelp. Elene disentangled herself and covered her mouth, trying not to laugh.

  Kylar had managed to drench Uly’s face completely. She raised her hand and swatted water back at him, and he let it hit him. He rubbed her wet hair in the way he knew she didn’t like, and said, “All right, squirt, I deserved that. Truce now. Where are those potatoes?”

  They settled smoothly into the easy routine of kitchen work. Elene asked him what he’d seen and learned, and though he checked constantly for eavesdroppers, he told her everything about studying the baron and helplessly watching the assassination attempt. Such sharing was, perhaps, the most boring thing a couple could do, but Kylar had been denied the boring luxuries of everyday love for his whole life. To share, simply to speak the truth to a person who cared, was unfathomably precious. A wetboy, Durzo had taught Kylar, must be able to walk away from everything at a moment’s notice. A wetboy is always alone.

  So this moment, this simple communion, was why Kylar was finished with the way of shadows. He’d spent more than half his life training tirelessly to become the perfect killer. He didn’t want to kill anymore.

  “They needed a third man for the job,” Kylar said. “To be a lookout and backup knife man. We could have done it. Their timing was so good. One second different and they would have pulled it off with only the two of them. If I’d been there, Hu Gibbet and the Godking both wou
ld be dead. We’d have fifty thousand gunders.” He paused at a black thought. “ ‘Gunders.’ Guess they won’t be calling them that anymore, now that all the Gunders are dead.” He sighed.

  “You want to know if you did the right thing,” Elene said.

  “Yes.”

  “Kylar, there are always going to be people so bad that we think they deserve to die. In the castle when Roth was… hurting you, I was this close to trying to kill him myself. If it had been only a little longer… I don’t know. What I do know is what you’ve told me about what killing has done to your soul. No matter what good it seems to do for the world, it destroys you. I can’t watch that, Kylar. I won’t. I care about you too much.”

  It was the one precondition Elene had for leaving the city with Kylar: that he give up killing and violence. He was still so confused. He didn’t know if Elene’s way was right, but he’d seen enough to know that Durzo’s and Momma K’s wasn’t. “You really believe that violence begets violence? That fewer innocent people will die in the end if I give up killing?”

  “I really do,” Elene said.

  “All right,” Kylar said. “Then there’s a job I need to do tonight. We should be able to leave in the morning.”

  3

  Hell’s Asshole was no place for a king. Appropriately, the Hole was the lowest extremity of the gaol Cenarians called the Maw. The entrance to the Maw was a demonic visage carved from jagged black fireglass. Prisoners were marched straight into its open mouth, down a ramp often made slick by fear-loosened bladders. In the Hole itself, the stone carver’s art had been eschewed for the sheer visceral fears evoked by tight spaces, the dark, heights, the eerie howling of the wind rising from the depths, and the knowledge that every prisoner with whom you shared the Hole had been deemed unworthy of a clean death. The Hole was unrelentingly hot and reeked of brimstone and human waste in its three forms: their shit, their dead, and their unwashed flesh. There was only a single torch, far overhead, on the other side of the grate that separated the human animals from the rest of the prisoners in the Maw.

  Eleven men and one woman shared the Hole with Logan Gyre. They hated him for his knife and for his powerful body and for his cultured accent. Somehow, even in this nightmare menagerie of freaks and twists, he was different, isolated.

  Logan sat with his back to the wall. There was only one wall because the Hole was a circle. In the middle was a hole five paces wide that opened into a chasm. The chasm’s sides were perfectly vertical, perfectly sheer fireglass. There was no guessing how deep it was. When the prisoners kicked their waste into the hole, they heard no sound. The only thing that escaped the Hole was the deep stench of a sulphuric hell and the intermittent wailing made by the wind or the ghosts or the tortured souls of the dead or whatever it was that made that sanity-breaking sound.

  At first, Logan had wondered why his fellows would defecate against the wall and only later—if ever—kick the feces down the hole. The first time he had to go, he knew: you’d have to be insane to squat near the Hole. You couldn’t do anything down here that made you vulnerable. When one inmate had to move past another, he shuffled quickly and suspiciously, snarling and hissing and cursing in such strings that the words lost meaning. Pushing another inmate into the Hole was the easiest way to kill.

  What made it worse was that the shelf of rock that circled the Hole was only three paces wide and the ground slanted down toward the Hole. That shelf was all the world to the Holers. It was the thin, slippery slope to death. Logan hadn’t slept in the seven days since the coup. He blinked his eyes. Seven days. He was starting to get weak. Even Fin, who got most of the last meat, hadn’t eaten in four days.

  “You’re bad luck, Thirteen,” Fin said, glaring at him over the chasm. “They ain’t fed us since you got here.” Fin was the only one who called him Thirteen. The rest had accepted the name he’d given himself in a moment of madness: King.

  “You mean since you ate the last guard?” Logan asked. “You think that might have something to do with it?”

  That got chuckles from everyone except Gnasher the simpleton, who just smiled blankly through teeth filed to sharp points. Fin said nothing, just kept chewing and stretching the rope in his hands. The man already wore an entire coil of rope that was so thick it almost obscured a frame as sinewy as the ropes themselves. Fin was the most feared of the inmates. Logan wouldn’t call him the leader because that would have implied that the inmates had a social order. The men were like beasts: shaggy, their skin so dirty he couldn’t guess what color they had been before their imprisonment, eyes wild, ears alert to the slightest sound. Everyone slept light. They’d eaten two men the day he’d arrived.

  Arrived? I jumped in. I could have had a nice clean death. Now I’m here forever, or at least until they eat me. Gods, they’ll eat me!

  He was distracted from his rising horror and despair by motion on the other side of the Hole. It was Lilly. She alone didn’t cling to the wall. She was heedless of the hole, fearless. A man reached out and grabbed her dress. “Not now, Jake,” she told the one-eyed man.

  Jake held on for a moment more, but when she lifted an eyebrow at him, he dropped his hand and cursed. Lilly sat down next to Logan. She was a plain woman, her age indeterminate. She could have been fifty, but Logan guessed she was closer to twenty: she still had most of her teeth.

  She didn’t speak for a long time. Then, when the interest in why she had moved had subsided, she scratched at her crotch absently and said, “What you gonna do?” Her voice was young.

  “I’m going to get out, and I’m going to take back my country,” he said.

  “You hold onto that King shit,” she said. “Make ’em think you’re crazy. I see you looking round like a little boy lost. You’re living with animals. You want to keep living, you be a monster. You want to hold onto something, you bury it deep. Then do what you gotta.” She patted his knee and went over to Jake.

  In moments, Jake was rutting on top of her. The animals didn’t care. They didn’t even watch.

  The madness was taking him. Dorian stayed in the saddle only from instinct. The external world seemed distant, unimportant, buried under mist while the visions were near, vital, vibrant. The game was on and the pieces were moving, and Dorian’s vision was expanding as it never had before. The Night Angel would flee to Caernarvon and his powers were growing, but he wasn’t using them.

  What are you doing, boy? Dorian grabbed onto that life and followed it backward. He’d spoken with Kylar once, and had prophesied his death. Now he knew why he hadn’t also foreseen that this Night Angel would die and wouldn’t die. Durzo had confused him. Dorian had seen Durzo’s life intersecting with other lives. He had seen but he hadn’t understood.

  He was tempted to try to follow Durzo’s lives back to the first life, when Durzo had received the ka’kari that Kylar now bore. He was tempted to see if he could find Ezra the Mad’s life—surely such a life would burn so brilliantly he couldn’t miss it. Maybe there he could follow Ezra, learn what Ezra knew, learn how he had learned it. Ezra had made the ka’kari seven centuries ago, and the ka’kari had made Kylar immortal. It was only three steps to one of the most respected and reviled magi of history. Three steps! To find someone so famous who had been dead so long. It was tempting, but it would take time. Maybe months. But oh, the things he could learn!

  The things I could learn about the past while the present falls apart. Focus, Dorian. Focus.

  Clambering back onto Kylar’s life, Dorian followed it from his youth in the Warrens, his friendship with Elene and Jarl, Jarl’s rape, Elene’s maiming, Kylar’s first kill at eleven, Durzo’s apprenticeship, Momma K’s instruction, Count Drake’s softening influence, Kylar’s friendship with Logan, meeting again with Elene, stealing the ka’kari, the coup at the castle, killing his master, and finding Roth Ursuul—my little brother, Dorian thought—and as much of a monster as I once was.

  Focus, Dorian. He thought he heard something, a yell, some motion in the mundane world,
but he wouldn’t let himself be distracted again. He was just starting to get somewhere. There! He watched as Kylar poisoned Momma K for justice, and gave her the antidote for mercy.

  He could know what choices a man made, but without knowing why, Dorian wouldn’t be able to guess which way Kylar would turn in the future. Kylar had already taken less obvious routes, impossible routes. Given the choice of taking his lover’s life or his mentor’s, he’d chosen to give his own. The bull had offered each of its horns, and Kylar had vaulted over the bull’s head. That was the Kylar that mattered. In that moment, Dorian saw Kylar’s naked soul. Now I have you, Kylar. Now I know you.

  There was a sudden pain in Dorian’s arm, but now that he had a firm grip on Kylar, he wasn’t letting go. Kylar ached to synthesize the cruel realities of the street with the pious impulses Count Drake had somehow infected him with. Infected? The word came from Kylar. So, like Durzo, he sometimes saw mercy as weakness.

  You are going to be damnably difficult, aren’t you? Dorian laughed as he watched Kylar dealing with Caernarvon’s incompetent Sa’kagé, as Kylar picks herbs, as he pays taxes, as he will fight with Elene, as he tried to be a normal human being. But he isn’t doing well, the pressure is building. Kylar takes out his wetboy grays, goes out on the roofs—funny, he does that regardless of the choices he makes up to this point—and then one night, there’s a knock on the door and Jarl shows up to stretch Kylar on another crux between the woman he loves and the life he hates and the friend he loves and the life he ought to hate and one duty and another duty and honor and betrayal. Kylar is Shadow in Twilight, a growing colossus with one foot planted in the day and another in the night, but a shadow is an ephemeral beast and twilight must either darken into night or lighten into day. Kylar opens the door for Jarl, futures crashing—

 
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