The night angel trilogy, p.60
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.60
 

           Brent Weeks

  “Just what I always do, love,” Kylar said. “I’m fucking it up.” With a surge of his Talent, he leapt out into the night.

  Ferl Khalius had been given the shit duty again. After his unit had been slaughtered during the invasion, he’d been picked for every bad assignment: throwing bodies off that rickety half-burnt bridge; helping the cooks move supplies into the castle; helping the meisters build the Godking’s new wall around the city; double and triple guard duties—and never a choice assignment like on the Vanden Bridge where the guards took a week’s pay home in bribes every shift just for letting a few crooks across. Now this.

  He looked at his prisoner with disgust. The man was fat, with the soft hands of a southron noble, though he wore his red beard in the Khalidoran fashion. His nose was crooked and his eyebrows looked like brushes. He stared at Ferl with obvious anxiety.

  Ferl wasn’t supposed to talk to him. Ferl wasn’t supposed to know who he was. But from the first, he’d had a bad feeling about this, ever since a captain had told him the Vürdmeisters wanted to see him. They’d requested him by name. He was to report immediately.

  That was something no Khalidoran wanted to hear. Ferl thought it was about his little souvenir, the dragon-hilted sword he’d taken from the bridge. But that hadn’t been why they’d wanted him, though he’d nearly wet himself when he saw he was speaking with the Lodricari Vürdmeister Neph Dada himself. No Vürdmeister was normal, but Neph was spooky even for a Vürdmeister. Ferl had stared at the twelve knotted cords representing the shu’ras Neph had mastered for the entire time Neph spoke. It was too scary to look at his face.

  Neph had given Ferl and Ferl alone this assignment. He was forbidden to speak about it with other soldiers, forbidden to even associate with them for the duration of the assignment. He and the noble were confined to some tradesman’s house on the east side. Meisters had hastily made part of the house a prison. Meisters had done the work. There was only one reason for that: this was so important it had to be done instantly and without anyone’s knowledge. Then they’d left him with enough food for several months and forbidden him to leave.

  That left everything feeling wrong. Ferl Khalius hadn’t become second—now first—in his warband by being stupid. He’d spoken with the noble and learned his name was Baron Kirof. The baron claimed not to know why he had been imprisoned. He protested his innocence and loyalty to Khalidor—and the fact he wasted his breath telling a mere soldier told Ferl that Baron Kirof wasn’t very bright.

  Disobeying his orders, Ferl snuck away and found out that Baron Kirof had supposedly been murdered. The good Khalidoran duke, Tenser Vargun, was now rotting in the Maw for having killed a Cenarian noble who wasn’t dead.

  That’s when Ferl knew he was screwed. His imagination couldn’t paint any picture in which things turned out well for Ferl Khalius. Why would you assign a man without a unit to this? Because you could kill him and no one would notice. When the time came, Baron Kirof would be released or killed—the only reason to keep him alive when he was supposed to be dead had to be so they could produce him at some point. But Ferl? Ferl would just be evidence that the Vürdmeisters were lying.

  I should have gone back to Khalidor. He’d been offered a job tending the oxen of the baggage train. He’d almost taken it. If he had, he might be on his way back to his clan by now. But everyone who escorted the treasure to Khalidor was thoroughly searched before they were released, and that would mean losing his precious sword. So he’d stayed, sure he could pick up a small fortune while they sacked the city. Right.

  “I should kill you,” Ferl said. “I should kill you just to spite them.”

  The fat man turned a paler shade. He could tell that Ferl meant it.

  “Tell me, fatty,” Ferl said. “If the Vürdmeisters told you that you could live if you lied about who kidnapped you, would you do it?”

  “What kind of stupid question is that?” Baron Kirof asked.

  So they’d known Kirof would play along. “You’re a brave man, aren’t you, fatty?”

  “What?” Baron Kirof asked. “I can’t understand your accent. Why do you keep calling me forty?”

  “Fatty. Fatty!”

  “I’m not forty. I’m thirty-six.”

  Ferl’s hand darted through the bars and he grabbed a handful of the baron’s blubber and squeezed it as hard as he could. Baron Kirof’s eyes widened and he squealed and tried to pull away, but Ferl held him against the bars by his fat. “Fatty! Fatty!” he said. He grabbed the baron’s cheek and squeezed it with his other hand. The man flailed, trying to knock Ferl’s hands away, but he was too weak. He wailed. “Fatty!” Ferl yelled in his face. Then he released him.

  The baron dropped back in his cell onto his bed and rubbed his cheek and his love handle, his eyes misty with tears. “Fatty?” he asked, wounded.

  Ferl was lucky he didn’t have a spear on hand. “Get your fat ass moving,” he said. “We’re leaving.”

  13

  Just moving, leaping from roof to roof, flying over the world below, filled Kylar’s heart with joy. Cenaria’s buildings had been a mix of Ceuran-style rice fiber and bamboo houses with steep clay-shingled roofs and red brick and wood homes with thatch. It was rarely possible to move from roof to roof. Here, hundreds of miles from the nearest rice paddy and without the threat of snow, all the roofs were flat and solid clay, supported with good wood. For a man of Kylar’s talents, they made a highway in the air.

  Kylar reveled in it. He reveled in the strength of his muscles, reveled in the way the night air tasted and the secret power of moving through the night as a shadow. Everything was right. Nothing fit like his wetboy grays. Designed by Cenaria’s best tailor, Master Piccun, they moved with him. The mottled colors broke up his silhouette and would have made even a man without Talent difficult to see.

  He paused at the edge of a building, rolling his neck, and limbering up his back as he scooted back. The gap to the warehouse roof was a good twenty feet wide. He blew out a breath, and ran. His steps made scritching noises as he sprinted toward the edge. He leapt and his legs kept pumping as if he were running on air as he flew over the alley. He cleared the warehouse roof easily, landing six feet in.

  He hurtled straight at a wall where the part of the roof rose to a smaller third story. It was too high for him to jump and grab the edge. Instead, he ran up the wall as far as he could and then vaulted off it. He reached for the roof beams that extended out of the building, but he missed. His fingers were half a foot below the bottom of the beam.

  Phantom hands whooshed out from his hands, extending his reach, and pulled the beam into his grasp. Kylar flipped up and landed on the top of the three-inch-wide beam. He wobbled for a moment, then steadied himself and stepped onto the roof.

  He pumped his arm and whooped. It had only taken him three tries. Not bad. Not bad at all. Next time he’d try it while invisible. He was beginning to understand what his master had told him once about how much he would have to learn once he could use his Talent. Just shifting from using his Talent to leap to using it to extend the phantom hands was almost more than he could manage. Doing that while invisible and running full speed—well, he had nothing but time to train, did he?

  For what? Time to train for what?

  The thought soured the night air blowing in off the rivers. The freedom he’d felt blew away like fog. He was training for nothing. He was training because he couldn’t stand to lie next to Elene with his thoughts and emotions and lust warring in him. He alternated between wanting to tear her clothes off and take her roughly and wanting to shake her and scream at her. He feared the intensity of those emotions, feared how they overlapped. That wasn’t making love. That he even thought of it made him sick.

  He leapt across another huge gap and a couple strolling arm in arm and he heard their surprised questions to each other—did something just fly over us?—he laughed aloud, and all his thoughts dissolved in the poppy liquor of action, movement, freedom.

  As he slid pas
t a small gang waiting to ambush whatever drunk might stumble down their alley, Kylar was fully alive. He didn’t even need his powers. He was just there, every sense attuned, every fiber of his being poised to act—if one of the hoodlums discovered him, he’d have to use his powers, flee, attack, jump, duck, hide—something. As he slid past a hood holding a knife in one hand and a wineskin in the other, he could smell the man. Kylar had to regulate his breathing in time with the hood’s so he wouldn’t be heard, had to test every footstep, had to watch the changing light as the moon slid in and out of the clouds, had to watch the faces of all four young men as they joked and talked and passed a pipe of riot weed around.

  “Hey, shut up!” the man nearest Kylar said. “We’ll never get anyone if you idiots keep talking.”

  The men quieted. The hood’s eyes passed straight over Kylar. Kylar had to keep himself from gasping aloud—there was something in the man’s eyes. Something dark. It itched at something in the back of Kylar’s mind.

  Down the alley, a man stumbled out of an inn. He braced himself against a wall and then turned to walk toward the ambush.

  What am I doing? Kylar realized that he didn’t even have a plan. I’m mad. I have to get out of here. He hadn’t broken his word to Elene. Not yet. After all, he’d never promised not to go out at night. He’d sworn not to kill.

  He had to go. Now. If they started beating the drunk, he didn’t know what he’d do. Or maybe he knew exactly what he’d do, and he couldn’t do that.

  The ka’kari oozed out of his pores like a sheen of iridescent black oil. It covered his skin and his clothes in an instant—covered him, shimmered for the briefest instant, and disappeared.

  One of the hoodlums on the other side of the alley frowned and opened his mouth, but changed his mind and shook his head, sure that he’d imagined whatever-it-was he thought he saw.

  Kylar leapt five feet in the air and grabbed the edge of the roof. He pulled himself up and started running away. When he heard a shout—and was that the thud of a cudgel hitting flesh?—he didn’t stop. He didn’t look.

  He was only four blocks away, still fleeing, heading toward Aunt Mea’s house when he saw a girl being followed by three more hoodlums.

  What the hell was she doing out this late? Anyone in this part of town had to know how stupid it was for a girl—a pretty golden-haired girl, of course—to travel alone.

  It was none of his business. Golden Hair looked over her shoulder and Kylar could see her tear-streaked face. Wonderful. Some stupid emotional girl being emotional and stupid.

  He stopped. Dammit. You can’t save the world, Kylar. You’re not really the Night Angel. You’re only a shadow and shadows can’t touch anything.

  Now he swore again, loudly. In the street below, all four characters in the little melodrama looked up to the rooftop, but of course they didn’t see him. They didn’t see him drop into the street and start following them.

  If they caught her, he’d have to kill them. He’d have to hurt them to get them off her, and then what was he going to do? Beat them up as an invisible man? Let them spread those stories? Someone would connect him to the Night Angel, sooner or later, and then everything would go to hell. No, if they caught her, and he had to break his promise to Elene, then he’d go all the way. So there was only one thing to do: make sure they didn’t catch her.

  Golden Hair did the first sensible thing she’d done all night—she started running. The hoodlums split up and started after her. Kylar drew Retribution off his back, but in its scabbard. He ran behind one of the running hoodlums, timed the man’s steps, and with the sheathed sword he knocked one foot behind the other in the middle of the man’s stride. The hoodlum went down hard, and his partner barely had time to look over his shoulder before he too encountered the ground in a far more intimate fashion than he would have liked.

  Both men cursed, but they weren’t too bright. They jumped up and started running after the girl again, once more closing ground rapidly. This time, Kylar tripped one into the other one. The men went down in a tangle of limbs and began cursing and hitting each other. By the time they got up, the girl was gone.

  Kylar lost sight of the girl and the last hoodlum. He leapt up to a roof and sprinted after the girl. As he ran, he dropped his invisibility so he could use all of his Talent for speed. After flying across several more rooftops, he caught sight of Golden Hair again. She was a block away from the only house in a dim alley that had a lantern burning in the window. Doubtless it was her home.

  Then Kylar saw the last hoodlum, coming down an intersecting alley Golden Hair would have to pass. The man caught sight of her and sank back into the shadows.

  There was no time. Kylar was still more than a block behind them. He sprinted to the edge of a building and leapt unseen over Golden Hair, drawing Retribution before he landed in the little alley, right in front of the hoodlum.

  The man had drawn a knife and in an instant Kylar saw from the pools of darkness in his eyes a deep, unreasoning hatred spawned from some perceived slight. The man had murdered before, and he planned to murder Golden Hair tonight. Kylar didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. And seeing that darkness that demanded death, it came to him that he’d seen it before. He’d seen it in Prince Ursuul’s eyes. Only afterward had he decided he must have been imagining things.

  There was a moment of stunned silence as hoodlum and Night Angel stared at each other.

  “Mother? Father?” the girl called out as she passed the alley.

  The hoodlum attacked and Retribution darted out, punching through the hoodlum’s solar plexus, driving the air from his lungs and pinning him to the wall.

  Around the corner, a door was flung open and Golden Hair was ushered inside in a storm of blubbered apologies and forgiveness and tears. Kylar gathered that she’d fought with her parents about something none of them remembered and had stormed off.

  The hoodlum twitched. He was straining to breathe, but he couldn’t because Retribution had crushed his ribs and pushed them hard against his diaphragm. His legs were completely limp. Kylar must have at least partially cut his spine, because the only thing keeping him standing was the sword pinning him to the wall.

  The man was already dead, he just hadn’t figured it out yet.

  Damn me, what have I done? Kylar pulled Retribution back and the hoodlum fell. Dispassionately, Kylar stabbed the sword into his heart. He was committed now. He couldn’t leave the body here. It was unprofessional, and its discovery would certainly wreck the tenuous happiness he could hear through the open windows. There was a little blood on the wall, so Kylar blotted it up with the hoodlum’s cloak, and then scrubbed dirt over it.

  Inside, it was all joy and reconciliation. Mother served a kettle of ootai and clucked about how worried they had been. The girl was telling her story of how she’d been followed and run away and been so terrified and somehow the men kept falling.

  Kylar felt a surge of pride, followed by disgust at how sweetly domestic it was.

  But that was a lie. He wasn’t disgusted. He was moved. Moved and profoundly lonely. He was left outside, in the streets with the dead, alone. He kicked dirt over the blood on the ground, and stuffed rags into the corpse’s wounds.

  “Praise the God,” mother said. “Your father and I have been praying for you the whole time.”

  That’s me, Kylar thought as he hefted the body over his shoulder, the answer to everyone’s prayers. Except Elene’s.

  “Why would anyone destroy a ka’kari, Neph?” The Godking was pacing in one of his state rooms.

  “The southrons are frequently illogical, Your Holiness.”

  “But surely these heroes who supposedly destroyed the ka’kari—Garric Shadowbane, Gaelan Starfire, Ferric Fireheart—surely they must have been wytchborn. Not trained as meisters, of course, but Talented. Such warriors could have bonded the ka’kari themselves. And they didn’t? We’re saying that at least three warriors chose to destroy artifacts that could have made them ten times more powerf
ul than they already were? Great men are not so selfless.”

  “Your Holiness,” Neph said, “you’re attempting to duplicate the thought processes of a people who embrace the virtues of weakness. These are people who tout compassion over justice, mercy over strength. Theirs is a diseased philosophy, a species of madness. Of course they do the inexplicable. Look at how eagerly Terah Graesin rushes to her doom.”

  The Godking waved that away. “Terah Graesin is a fool, but not all southrons are. If they were, my forefathers would have overrun them centuries ago.”

  “Surely they would have,” Neph Dada said, “if not for the incursions from the Freeze.”

  Garoth dismissed that. The average meister had always been stronger than the average mage, often had more companions in his craft, and he and his fellows weren’t split into bickering schools spread halfway across Midcyru. The Khalidoran armies were as good as most and better than many. Despite those advantages, the Godkings’ ambitions had been foiled time and again.

  “I feel… opposed,” Garoth said.

  “Opposed, Your Holiness?” Neph asked. He coughed and wheezed.

  “Maybe these southrons really believe what they claim to about mercy and protecting the weak, though our experience here tells me they don’t. But the call of power is not easily ignored, Neph. Perhaps one saint of their faiths might destroy a ka’kari that he could use. But how could all six ka’kari disappear and stay hidden for so long? You’re talking generations of saints—each new guardian as virtuous as the one before. It doesn’t make sense. One of them would fail.”

  “The ka’kari have surfaced from time to time.”

  “Yes, but ever more rarely as the centuries have passed. The last time was fifty years ago,” Garoth said. “Someone has been trying to destroy or at least hide the ka’kari. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

  “So someone out there has been squirreling away ka’kari for seven centuries?” Neph asked, deadpan.

 
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