The night angel trilogy, p.56
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.56

           Brent Weeks
 

  She wore a fitted cerulean dress, so light it was faintly translucent. She had made her intentions clear to Master Piccun, so the tailor kept the dress simple—hardly any embroidery, just a little in the old Khalidoran runic style around the hem and wrists, an inscription from an ancient erotic poem. No lace, no frills, just clean lines and curves. Master Piccun was an inveterate letch, and this was the only dress he’d declared fit for the Godking. “The man has dozens of wives,” the tailor sniffed. “Let those cows speak with silk. You will sing the sweet tones of flesh.”

  If the guard was like most men, he would stare for two to four seconds, double-check that no one was noticing him stare, and then stare again. The trick was—Now.

  Vi flicked her eyes up suddenly and caught the guard just as he was starting to stare again. She pinned him to the wall with her eyes. Guilt flashed across his features and before he could cover it with boldness or glance away, she stood and walked toward him.

  He was Khalidoran, of course, so she adjusted accordingly. Khalidorans’ sense of personal space didn’t extend as far as Cenarians’. Pricking the bubble of his personal space, with all the attendant connotations, meant stepping so close that he could smell not just her perfume but her breath. She stepped in and held him with her eyes for one more second, until he was about to speak.

  “Excuse me,” she said, still looking him in the eye, her expression intense. “May I sit here?”

  “I wasn’t staring—I mean—”

  She sat in his chair, a foot from the door, her shoulders forward, face turned up, angelic. She wore her blonde hair up so the elaborately woven plaits didn’t obscure the view.

  It was too tempting. The guard’s eyes shifted the fraction of an inch from her eyes to her cleavage and then leapt back to her face. “Please?” she said with a little smile that told him yes, she’d seen and no, she didn’t mind.

  He cleared his throat. “I, uh, don’t think that would be a problem,” he said.

  Vi instantly forgot him and listened.

  “… can’t go directly to the Hole, that would defeat the purpose,” a tenor voice said. That would be Duke Vargun. But he sounded confident.

  What? How can he sound confident?

  Vi heard her master reply, but couldn’t tell what he said. Then the Godking spoke, but she caught nothing but “—common cells until the trial…. Then the Hole…”

  “Yes, Your Holiness,” Duke Vargun said.

  Vi’s head spun. Whatever they were planning, the Khalidoran duke had nothing in his voice that suggested a prisoner begging for clemency. He sounded like an obedient vassal, accomplishing some high purpose with a reward waiting at the end of it.

  She didn’t have any time to try to put it together before the doors opened and her master led Duke Vargun out. Contradicting what she’d just heard, the duke looked beaten, both physically and mentally, his clothes disheveled and dirty, and his eyes stuck to the floor.

  Hu Gibbet turned to her as they walked past. The wetboy had such delicate features that he couldn’t be called handsome. With fine blond hair that reached his shoulders, large eyes, and a sculpted figure, he was still beautiful even in his mid-thirties. He smiled his serpent’s smile at Vi and said, “The Godking will see you now.”

  Vi felt a chill, but she just stood and walked into the throne room. From this room, the late king Gunder had hired her to kill Kylar Stern. As she was apprenticed to Hu Gibbet, Kylar was apprenticed to the city’s other great wetboy, Durzo Blint, who was more respected, equally feared, and less reviled than her own master. Killing Kylar was to have been Vi’s master’s piece, the last kill of her apprenticeship. It would have meant freedom, freedom from Hu.

  She’d botched it, and later that very day in this very room, someone they called the Night Angel had killed thirty Khalidorans, five wytches, and the Godking’s own son. Vi thought she might be the only person who suspected that Kylar was the Night Angel. Nysos! Kylar stepped into legend the same day I had him under my knife. I could have aborted a legend.

  There was no sign of the battle now. The throne room had been cleaned of blood and fire and magic, and stood pristine. On each side, seven columns supported the arched ceiling, and thick Khalidoran tapestries draped the walls to fight the autumnal chill. The Godking sat on the throne, surrounded by guards, Vürdmeisters in their black-and-red robes, advisers, and servants.

  Vi had expected her summons, but she had no idea of the reason for it. Did the Godking know Kylar was the Night Angel? Was she to be punished for letting the Godking’s son die? Did the man with dozens of wives want to fuck another pretty girl? Or was he just curious to see the city’s only female wetboy?

  “You think you’re clever, Viridiana Sovari?” the Godking asked. Garoth Ursuul was younger than she had expected, maybe fifty, and still vigorous. He was thick through the arms and body, bald as an egg, and his eyes fell on her like a millstone.

  “Pardon me, Your Holiness,” she started to make it a question, then changed her mind. “Yes. And it’s Vi.”

  He beckoned her forward, and she climbed the fourteen steps to stand directly in front of his throne. He looked her up and down, not surreptitiously as men so often did, nor hot and boldly. Garoth Ursuul looked at her as if she were a pile of grain and he was trying to guess her weight.

  “Take off your dress,” he said.

  The inflection of his voice gave her nothing to work with. It might have been a comment on the weather. Did he want her to seduce him? She didn’t care if Garoth Ursuul banged her, but she planned to be lousy if he did. Becoming the Godking’s lover was too dangerous. She’d been warming one monster’s bed since puberty, and she didn’t fancy trading up. Still, god or king or monster, Garoth Ursuul was one you didn’t cross.

  So Vi obeyed instantly. In two seconds, Master Piccun’s dress slid to the floor. Vi hadn’t worn undergarments, and she had worn perfume between her knees. It was the most punctilious obedience. He couldn’t fault her for it, but at the same time, she knew sudden nudity wasn’t nearly as enticing as slow disrobing or the tease of lace undergarments. Let Ursuul think her an ineffectual tease, let him think her a slut, let him think whatever he wanted, as long as he did it from a distance. Besides, she wouldn’t give any man the satisfaction of seeing her back down. Vi felt the stares of every courtier, adviser, Vürdmeister, servant, and guard in the room. She didn’t care. Her nudity was her armor. It blinded the drooling fools. They couldn’t see anything else while they saw her body.

  Garoth Ursuul looked her up and down again, his eyes not shifting in the least. “You wouldn’t be any fun,” the Godking said. “You’re already a whore.”

  For some reason, from this terrible man, those words sank in with barbs. She stood naked before him, and he’d completely lost interest. It was what she’d wanted, but it still hurt.

  “All women are whores,” she said. “Whether they sell their bodies or their smiles and their charm or their childbearing years and submission to a man. The world makes a woman a whore, but a woman makes her terms. Your Holiness.”

  He seemed amused at her sudden fire, but his amusement passed. “Did you think I wouldn’t see what you did with my guard? Did you think you could eavesdrop on me?”

  “Of course I did,” Vi said, but now her flippancy was a farce. He saw me? Through the wall? She knew she had to hold on to her bravado or she might dissolve right into the floor. With the Godking, if you wanted to win, you had to play as if you despised life. But she’d heard about gamblers who’d lost.

  The Godking chuckled, and his courtiers followed his lead. “Of course you did,” he said. “I like you, moulina. I won’t kill you today. Not many women would get in a pissing match with a king, much less a god.”

  “I’m not like any woman you’ve ever met,” Vi said before she could stop herself.

  His smile withered. “You give yourself too much credit. For that, I will break you. But not today. Your Sa’kagé is giving us trouble. Go to your little underworld friends a
nd find out who the real Shinga is. Not a figurehead. Find out, and kill him.”

  Vi felt naked for the first time. Her armor wavered. God or man, Garoth Ursuul had titanic confidence. He told her he would break her, and then exhibited not the slightest concern that she would disobey him. It wasn’t a bluff. It wasn’t arrogance. It was a simple exercise of the prerogatives of vast power. The courtiers eyed her now like the dogs under a king’s table eyed a fine scrap of meat that might fall to the floor. Vi wondered if the Godking would give her to one of them—or all of them.

  “Do you know,” the Godking said, “that you’re wytchborn? As you southrons say, Talented. So here’s your incentive. If you kill this Shinga, we’ll call it your master’s piece, and not only will you be a master wetboy, but I’ll train you myself. I’ll give you power far beyond anything Hu Gibbet could even imagine. Power over him, if you wish. But if you fail me—well.” He smiled a thin-lipped smile. “Don’t fail. Now begone.”

  She went, her heart thumping. Success meant betraying her world. Betraying the Cenarian Sa’kagé, the most feared underworld in Midcyru! It meant killing their leader for a reward she wasn’t sure she wanted. Train to become a wytch with the Godking himself? Even as he spoke, she imagined his words were webs, binding her tighter and tighter to him. It was almost tangible, a spell draping over her like a net, daring her to struggle. She felt sick. Obedience was the only possibility. However bad success was, failure wasn’t an option. She’d heard the stories.

  “Vi!” the Godking called. She stopped, halfway to the door, feeling a shiver at that horror using her name. But the Godking was smiling. Now his eyes touched her naked body the way a man’s eyes might. Something flashed like a shadow toward her and she snatched the wad of cloth out of the air on reflex. “Take your dress,” he said.

  6

  I feel like I’ve been breathing sawdust for a week,” Kylar said.

  “River water. Five minutes,” Uly answered. Terse. Snotty.

  Kylar struggled to open his eyes, but when he did, he still saw nothing. “So you did pull me out. Where are we, Uly?”

  “Take a whiff.” She was acting tough, which meant he’d really scared the hell out of her. Is this what little girls do?

  He got half a breath in before coughing on the stench. They were in Momma K’s boathouse on the Plith.

  “Nothing like warm sewage on a cool night, huh?” Uly said.

  Kylar rolled over. “I thought that was your breath.”

  “Which smells as good as you look,” she said.

  “You ought to be respectful.”

  “You ought to be dead. Go to sleep.”

  “Do you think domineering is cute?”

  “You need to sleep. I don’t know what dumb earrings have to do with it.”

  Kylar laughed. It hurt.

  “See?” Uly said.

  “Did you get the dagger?”

  “What dagger?”

  Kylar grabbed her by the front of her tunic.

  “Oh, the one I had to use a prybar to get out of your shoulder?” she asked. No wonder his shoulder hurt. He’d never seen Uly quite so snotty and glib. If he didn’t watch it, she’d burst into tears. It was one thing to feel like an ass. It was another to feel like a helpless ass.

  “How long have I been… out?”

  “A day and a night.”

  He cursed quietly. It was the second time Uly had seen him murdered, his body mutilated. If she had an ironclad conviction that Kylar was coming back, he was glad. He had promised her that he would, but he’d never known. All he knew was that he’d come back once. The Wolf, the strange yellow-eyed man he’d met in the place between life and death, hadn’t made any guarantees. Indeed, this time Kylar hadn’t met him at all. Kylar had been hoping to ask him a few questions, like how many lives he got. What if it had only been two?

  “And Elene?” he asked.

  “She went to get the wagon. The guards Jarl bribed are only on duty for another hour.”

  Elene had gone alone to get the wagon? Kylar was so tired. He could tell Uly was right on the verge of tears again. What kind of a man put a little girl through this? He wasn’t much of a substitute father, but he used to think that he was better than nothing.

  “You should sleep,” she said, doing her best to be gruff again.

  “Make sure…” He was so sore he couldn’t complete the thought, much less the sentence.

  “I’ll take care of you, don’t worry,” Uly said.

  “Uly?”

  “Yes?”

  “You did good work. Great work. I owe you. Thanks. I’m sorry.” Kylar could almost feel the air around the girl go all warm and gooey. He groaned. He wanted to say something witty and mean like Durzo would have, but before he could find the words, he was asleep.

  7

  When Kaldrosa Wyn joined the queue behind the Lightskirt Tavern at noon, there were already two hundred women standing behind the brothel. Two hours later, when the line started moving, it was three times that. The women were as diverse a group as could be found in the Warrens, from guild rats as young as ten who knew that Momma K wouldn’t hire them but were so desperate they came anyway to women who had lived on the rich east side just a month ago but had lost their homes in the fires and then been herded into the Warrens. Some of those were weeping. Others just wore vacant expressions, clutching shawls tight around them. And some were long-time Rabbits, laughing and joking with their friends.

  Working for Momma K was the safest gig a rent girl could get. They traded stories how the Mistress of Pleasures dealt with their new Khalidoran clientele. They claimed that when the twists hurt you, they had to pay you enough silvers to cover the bruise. Another claimed it was enough crowns to cover it, but no one believed her.

  When Duchess Terah Graesin—the old duke her father had been killed in the coup—led the resistance out of the city, her followers had all put their shops and homes to the torch. The fires, of course, didn’t stop after devouring the properties of those who left. Thousands who’d stayed had been made homeless. It was even worse in the Warrens, where the poor were packed like cattle. Countless hundreds had died. The fires had burned for days.

  The Khalidorans wanted the east side to get productive as quickly as possible. Those who were homeless were seen as an encumbrance, so soldiers forced them into the Warrens. The dispossessed nobles and artisans had become desperate, but desperation changed nothing. Being forced into the Warrens was a death sentence.

  For the past month, the Godking had allowed his soldiers to do whatever they wished in the Warrens. The men would descend in packs to sate whatever lusts motivated them. Chanting that godsdamned prayer to Khali, they raped, they killed, they stole the Rabbits’ meager possessions merely to throw them in the river and laugh. It seemed it couldn’t get worse, but after the assassination attempt, it had.

  The Khalidorans had moved through the Warrens in an organized fashion, block by twisting block. They made mothers choose which of their children would live and put the others to the sword. Women were raped in front of their families. Wytches played sick games blasting off body parts. When anyone offered resistance, they rounded up and publicly executed dozens.

  There were rumors of safe hideouts deeper in the Warrens, underground, but only people well-connected in the Sa’kagé could get into those. Everyone had places to hide, but the soldiers came every night and sometimes during the day. It was only a matter of time before they caught you. Beauty had become a curse. Many of the women who had lovers or husbands or even protective brothers had lost them. Resistance meant death.

  So women came to Momma K’s brothels because they were the only safe places in the Warrens. If you were going to get raped, many figured, you might as well get paid for it. Apparently the brothels still did good business, too. Some Khalidorans didn’t like the risks of going into the Warrens. Others just liked being assured of bedding a clean and beautiful woman.

  Already though, the brothels didn’t have many openin
gs—and no one wanted to speculate why they had any at all.

  Kaldrosa had held off as long as she could. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. That Vürdmeister, Neph Dada, had recruited her specifically because she was a former Sethi pirate who’d been marooned in the Warrens years ago. She hadn’t sailed in ten years—and had never been a captain, despite what she told the Vürdmeister. But she was Sethi, and she had promised she could navigate a Khalidoran ship through the Smugglers’ Archipelago up the Plith River to the castle. In return, she would get to keep the ship.

  It had sounded like a fine price for an unsavory bit of work. Kaldrosa Wyn had no loyalty to Cenaria, but working for the Khalidorans was enough to make anyone’s skin crawl.

  Maybe they even would have kept their part of the deal—giving her that sea cow of a barge that wasn’t worth the nails holding it together. Maybe she could have cobbled together a crew to join her, too—except that some bastard had sunk her ship during the invasion.

  She’d been able to swim to shore, which was more than she could say for the two hundred armored clansmen she’d been ferrying, who were now feeding fish. Four rapes and two times of Tomman being beaten half to death later, here she was.

  “Name?” the girl at the door asked, holding a quill and paper. She had to be eighteen, a good decade younger than Kaldrosa, and she was stunning: hair perfect, teeth perfect, long legs, tiny waist, full lips, and a musky-sweet scent that made Kaldrosa aware of how foul she herself must smell. She despaired.

  “Kaldrosa Wyn.”

  “Occupation or special talents?”

  “I was a pirate.”

  The girl perked up. “Sethi?”

  Kaldrosa nodded, and the girl sent her upstairs. In another half an hour, Kaldrosa Wyn stepped into one of the small bedrooms.

  The woman here was young and beautiful, too. Blonde, petite but curvy, with big eyes and amazing clothes.

 
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