The black prism, p.61
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       The Black Prism, p.61

           Brent Weeks
 

  The docks. They knew they were going to lose the city. They were just trying to make King Garadul pay as heavy a price as possible. Karris didn’t have much time to make sure that price was the ultimate price.

  She ran into an empty house—she was pretty sure all the houses were empty here. Pushing past the leavings of chickens and several dogs, and one live skinny cow—lots of people brought their animals inside during the night, both for safety and to warm the house—she found the stairs, ran up to the family’s quarters, which had been hurriedly emptied, and found the ladder to the roof.

  The square, squat houses of Garriston all had these flat roofs. The roof became a third room for most families. A perfect place to cool down on the hot, long summer evenings, the commoners’ only chance of catching a breeze off the Cerulean Sea. The buildings were packed tight, but by no means uniform. Not every building was three stories, and even of the many that were, the stories were different heights.

  All the same, as Karris reached the roof, for one moment she was struck by the beauty of the scene. The whitewashed roofs, little squares and rectangles, gleaming in the sun, with mist curling up around every edge, churches and a few mansions rising like mountains out of the clouds, and the Travertine Palace dominating everything. Farther south, she could just see Brightwater Wall, like a golden belt around the city. Nearer, there was black smoking rising from the city wall, flashes of magic from the gates.

  She shut it out. Found the market she’d been heading for. With the mist, she couldn’t see enough to tell if her guess had been correct.

  You’ve already bet Kip’s life on this course, might as well see if it pays off.

  Cursing herself for a fool, Karris drafted a green weapon harness, sheathed both blades on her back, messed with the harness for a second to get it to set right with the quiver and bow, cursed the torn, tight sleeves on her dress, cursed her muscular shoulders, and tore the sleeves off. She breathed. Then she sprinted to the edge of the roof and leapt.

  The houses here were so close, it was an easy jump. Some homes even had planks between them so neighbors could visit each other. So long as she didn’t want to cross the street, it was easy going. She ran as fast as she could. One street to clear, then another block of houses, then the market. Her eyes bounced back and forth as she approached the larger gap of crossing the street.

  There! One of the houses on the other side had a significantly lower roof. Karris veered left and leapt, passing over the heads of thirty or forty Mirrormen. She hit the lower roof, rolled, popped to her feet just in time to have to leap again—to a higher roof. She hit the next roof with one foot extended. She pushed up, trying to push herself just a little higher but not stop her forward momentum.

  Her body popped up, but not forward enough. She landed with half of her torso on flat, whitewashed stucco, then slid down, scrambling, trying to find purchase.

  She dropped to her fingertips, on dirty, cracked, crumbling stucco. She swung sideways, lost one handhold for a second as the stucco ripped away. She latched her hand back onto the roof, a clean grip this time, and swung back the other way. Her foot reached the edge, tearing the slit of her dress up even higher. She pulled herself up quickly, not trusting that the rest of the stucco wouldn’t crumble at any moment.

  No time to be elated at being alive. Karris checked her swords and bow, glanced once down at the twenty-foot drop onto an uneven surface below—a broken leg there if she’d fallen, at least. Then she ran again.

  She reached a roof overlooking the market and stopped. King Garadul was coming, with hundreds of Mirrormen and a few drafters—and Kip was hot on their heels. Literally.

  This was going to get messy.

  Karris smiled.

  Chapter 88

  Kip was on fire. Someone had doused him in red luxin and lit him up.

  It didn’t stop him. He simply thickened the green that encased him so the red wouldn’t burn through. The pyre jelly stuck to the green. He couldn’t rub it away from his face, it was glued in place, implacable. But he could move the green luxin itself, so he made it swirl outward, until his eyes were clear and he could see again. Using the same technique, he swirled all of the pyre jelly to his arms and shoulders, then along his sides, so he was outlined in flame. It all took only a few moments. He thought it, and the luxin did it. Or more precisely, he willed it, and it happened.

  The wildness within him was so strong that he wanted to break free of the city and run away. But he wouldn’t allow it. He harnessed the wildness. The wildness would serve him. It would help him destroy the man who held the lash and the leash, the man who wanted to control him: King Garadul.

  He wasn’t sure that he was going the right way, but he followed the flow of King Garadul’s soldiers. Kip himself was like a beacon, burning as he was in the misty morning. But the light made his vision lousy. It was like holding a torch: if you held it over your head, you might see into the darkness, but if you held it between yourself and the darkness, you weren’t going to see anything at all. Kip was the torch. He couldn’t see much, and he didn’t care. He could see the men streaming away from him, some of them seeing him and just running like hell, but others seemed to be running toward something. A meeting place, a rallying point. Where King Garadul would be.

  Kip barreled around a corner into the backs of half a dozen soldiers. They hadn’t seen him and he couldn’t stop. He ran right over them in a mess of screams and burning flesh and curses and blood and a struggle just to keep from falling as he stepped on body parts. He swung his arms in big sweeping motions, fire and blood and blades unleashed into a crowd.

  And it was a crowd. Kip had made it. There were hundreds of soldiers here. He could see dim flashes of the winking armor of the Mirrormen on the other side of the square. Then he was subsumed, folded into the loving arms of battle. There was no morning mist. No counting of his foes. No deciphering the shouts of his enemies into plain language, orders that might help him know what was coming. There was only the roar coming from Kip’s own throat, the hammering of his own heart, the pulsing life that was his magic. There was only the burning in his muscles, the resistance his arm felt as a bladed arm cut into a man’s torso, and the freedom as he pulled it all the way through.

  The world closed in on Kip. He could barely see, barely turn his neck within the green armor. It drove him crazy. He needed freedom. He couldn’t be trapped. He was an animal. He crashed through ranks of soldiers as they formed against him. His sweeping arms snapped spears like nothing. He bludgeoned heads with his closed fists. Tore men off his back and snapped their spines in his hands.

  Then, abruptly, the ranks parted in front of him. All except one man, who didn’t move aside in time, and Kip saw two rows of ten musketeers each. The first row was kneeling, the second row standing, all muskets pointed at him. Someone shouted, his voice a command. And Kip saw the one soldier between him and the musketeers. The man heard too, and understood. Kip saw the panic on his face.

  The musketeers loosed a volley. Fire and smoke leaped like a pouncing, snarling lion from their muskets. Kip saw the soldier cut down, even as he steeled himself against the blast.

  The musket balls hit him like a fist, many striking at the same time, and a few instants behind the first, carrying him like a punch’s follow-through. He was swept off his feet.

  A cheer went up. Kip’s head swam and he felt the green luxin going soft all around him.

  No! I can take punishment. That’s my gift. That’s my talent.

  A musketeer ran over to Kip, pointed a blunderbuss at his head. Something streaked by the man’s head—an arrow?—but missed. Kip grabbed the yawning mouth of the blunderbuss and pulled it to himself, stuck it right to his forehead, and pressed green luxin down the barrel. The man pulled the trigger and the breech exploded.

  Kip jumped to his feet with inhuman strength. He stomped on the screaming musketeer and looked at himself. He could see the lead musket balls, flattened, inside his green armor. Like they’d shot a
tree. The bullets had penetrated, but been stopped. Kip laughed, damn near insane. He was bulletproof.

  Ignoring the musketeers, several of whom were running away while the rest were reloading furiously, fumbling with their ramrods and powder horns, trying to ready another shot, Kip looked for King Garadul. These men were no threat. They couldn’t bind him. But he couldn’t see. So he pulled green luxin around him and made himself taller. Simple.

  And there he was. Surrounded by his Mirrormen, King Garadul was mounted, shouting at a drafter beside him, pointing at Kip. The drafter’s skin was bright blue, but even as she gathered her magic, something streaked out of the sky. The woman’s hands opened limply and blue poured out of her, puddled on the ground. She toppled out of her saddle.

  King Garadul stopped in midsentence, looked around. The drafter on his other side, a red, fell out of her saddle. This time Kip—and all the Mirrormen—followed the arrow’s path back to its source. Up on a rooftop. Karris, skinny, muscular, bloody, wearing a torn dress and already drawing another arrow. One of the Mirrormen tackled King Garadul out of his saddle. Karris’s third arrow cracked a Mirrorman’s greave and pinned his leg into his horse. The stallion went crazy, bolting, knocking down half a dozen men and trampling them before it tripped and rolled over on the Mirrorman.

  Kip ignored the havoc. He had his target now. He could feel his strength ebbing. He had to do this now. There would be no second chance. He bulled forward, men and women dodging out of his way, slowly reaching full speed.

  I’m crazy.

  Kip laughed. If this was insanity, so be it. He collided with the first ranks of Mirrormen before they had all recovered from looking for Karris. Some were turned, some were mounted, others had dismounted, some were still drawing or reloading muskets to fire at the rooftop assassin. Kip bowled over a horse, smashed men, deflected weak strikes.

  Swinging one big luxin fist, he crushed a Mirrorman’s helmet, but the blow also sheared off half of Kip’s green hand. Elsewhere, he saw that the spikes and blades he’d drafted onto his body had been cut or broken off where it collided with mirror armor. He smashed left and right, but even as he crushed men, his armor was disintegrating. He was hacking parts of himself off with every blow he inflicted.

  The Mirrormen, recovering, formed up behind the front row. Kip burst through the row and found himself staring at dozens of pistols, all roaring. It knocked him back once more, even though he braced himself. He felt hot lines against his skin—the luxin was thinner now. Some of the shots must have gotten through.

  I will not fail. Not now. Not so close. Damn it, where’s the king?

  Kip lashed out at the nearest Mirrorman, shooting a ball of green luxin at the man. It hit the Mirrorman’s chest and split in half, gobs of green luxin flying off in either direction, leaving no more damage than if Kip had thumped the man’s chest lightly with his fist, scored only because a musket ball had been carried unintentionally inside the green luxin Kip had thrown.

  The rest of the Mirrormen dropped their muskets and drew sharp, mirror-bright swords as one. Kip was looking at his chest, studded with those flattened musket balls suspended in green luxin, some of them surrounded by blood where they had cut him. He was drawing in more luxin to replenish his armor and he saw the little balls swirling around like little boats under a waterfall.

  Luxin doesn’t hurt? How about lead?

  Kip drew one of the lead balls up from his chest into his hand. He extended his hand and shot out a tiny ball of green luxin carrying the musket ball with all his will.

  A little hole lined in green goo appeared in one of the Mirrormen’s chest plates. His mirror armor cracked in splintery, spidery lines around the hole, and then crimson blood joined the emerald luxin and he toppled backward.

  It was like Orholam had breathed new life into Kip. He was exhausted, broken, elated, and free. He was laughing again. Totally insane. Totally unstoppable. Lead bullets swirled through his armor and into his palms and he fired them like he was a musket himself. The weight of green armor, which had been so crippling before, now allowed him to shoot the little bullets so hard that if he had been doing it without the armor it would have bowled him over.

  He extended right hand, left hand, right hand, left. Shooting everywhere. At each place, men died. Kip wasn’t accurate in the least, but this close, he didn’t need accuracy. He pointed at a chest and might hit a neck or a belly or someone else in the second rank. Either way, it killed, and ranks disappeared before him. He emptied all the musket balls from his chest and found more in his back and arms, and new ones added every moment. He cut a gory path through the Mirrormen. He couldn’t see King Garadul, but he figured that wherever the resistance was greatest was probably the right way. Nothing good is easy.

  Through the ranks and chaos, Kip saw a flash of something. Royal garments. Garadul.

  He burst through just as King Garadul was pulled up onto a platform at the back of the market square. His men were trying to hustle him down some narrow alley there. Kip bounded forward, and found that his green luxin legs bounced him much farther than he’d intended. He landed between King Garadul and the alley, crushing two of the king’s men, including his last drafter. The ground was littered with dead drafters, but Kip didn’t care how they’d died. He had eyes only for the king. He extended a hand behind him and shot out a dozen musket balls toward the remaining Mirrormen.

  King Garadul tripped over a body on the platform. In an instant, Kip was on top of him. He kicked at Kip. Kip brought a big fist down and broke the king’s leg like kindling. The man screamed. Kip grabbed his head, latching big luxin fists together on either side and lifting. The rattle of musket fire stopped. Kip was too close to the king; no one would dare.

  “You killed my mother!” Kip shouted in the king’s face.

  The king’s eyes focused on Kip’s face within the green armor. “You?” he said. “Lina’s brat? She’s not worthy of vengeance and you know it.”

  “Kip!” Someone was shouting, but Kip barely heard it. The king was trying to draw a bich’hwa from his belt, but he was in too much pain.

  “Go to hell!” Kip screamed. “You go to hell!” He lifted the king high and squeezed with all his strength and all his will.

  “Kip! Stop! This is just what Lord Omnichrome wants—”

  Nothing could penetrate the madness, the sheer fury. Kip wasn’t even sure whether it was more at this man for massacring his village or at his mother. He loved her. He hated her.

  King Garadul screamed and Kip screamed and together they drowned out Corvan Danavis’s scream. Kip’s hands clapped together and the king’s head popped like a grape, like a watermelon dropped from a great height, splattering juice all over.

  “Kip! No! It’s just what they want you to do!” Corvan Danavis’s voice penetrated Kip’s iron skull as he dropped the king’s limp corpse onto the platform.

  Looking up, stunned, Kip saw Corvan Danavis, mounted at the head of perhaps a hundred men riding into the square. The invaders, already broken and leaderless without King Garadul, scattered at the sight of so many fresh soldiers.

  Kip heard a body fall behind him, and turned to see a Mirrorman with an arrow in his heart. Someone had saved him. Again. He hadn’t even seen the man. His brain was swimming. He felt like he was shrinking. He was standing on his own feet again, the green luxin was gone. He tottered, and felt someone steady him on his feet. He turned. Karris had come down from the roofs and was taking the bich’hwa from the king’s body. Karris? He’d meant to save her, hadn’t he?

  That turned out well.

  He looked at King Garadul’s body and felt nothing but emptiness. When he looked up, Corvan Danavis was there, swearing. Kip had never heard Master Danavis swear.

  “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” Corvan asked.

  “Go to hell,” Kip said, empty, dry, lifeless. “He killed our whole town. He deserved worse.”

  Corvan stopped and looked at Kip with a new respect in his eyes. He d
idn’t say anything for a moment, then said, “Mount up. We have to get out of the city. Now.”

  “But I killed him. Don’t we win?” Kip asked. His head felt so thick and fuzzy. And the light was hurting his eyes. He wanted nothing so much as a blanket and a dark room. They had won, hadn’t they? “Why do we have to go?”

  “Look at that,” Karris said, coming close. She was already mounted. She was pointing toward the wall.

  Lord Omnichrome stood on top of the Mother’s Gate, perhaps four hundred paces distant, and when he spoke, through some trick of magic, they could hear him perfectly. “They’ve killed King Garadul! Avenge the king! Drive out the foreigners!”

  The gate opened, revealing hundreds of drafters—hundreds—and dozens of color wights. They were followed by thousands more soldiers.

  “That’s why,” Karris said.

  Chapter 89

  Gavin’s intuition was wrong.

  On arriving at the Hag’s Gate, he’d become like a man trying to plug a leaky hull with his fingers and toes. He could only reach so far. He and the Blackguards had held the Hag’s Gate alone, with no other support, against thousands of soldiers, for ten minutes now. At this point he could hold it by simply standing here behind the bullet shield his Blackguards had drafted in front of him.

  They weren’t fighting him. Everywhere he went, the army facing him withdrew. If the city had only had one gate, that might have been helpful. But with three gates and a crumbling three-quarters circle for a wall, it was hopeless. No one would face him. They simply sent men around the sides and waited. If he held these men up for long, the armies would simply enter through the other gates. By this time surely all the gates had fallen.

 
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