The black prism, p.63
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       The Black Prism, p.63

           Brent Weeks
 

  “I’ll be back for you in a little while.” Karris patted his arm. Suddenly, her face came into tight focus. Like he was looking through her, like he was understanding her. She looked… vulnerable.

  Vulnerable? Karris White Oak? At another time, Kip would have laughed at the thought. Now his focus was too great. Her eyes were tight. Some of that was concern for Kip, but that pat of his forearm was a “You’ll be fine in a little while” pat. She wasn’t worried about Kip. She was nervous about something else.

  Karris turned and Kip saw her square her shoulders. Her shoulders lifted—she was taking a deep breath. Then she strode down the dock as if she were as confident as always in between soldiers, drafters, sailors, and scared civilians. Despite the bustle and the nerves and the not-so-distant fighting, the crowd parted for this vision of war and beauty: knotted muscles and femininity, the luxin sword on her back still smoking, soot on her naked shoulders and cleavage, a clawed bich’hwa in her fist, barefoot, black hair windblown, her stride fearless.

  She stopped behind a copper-haired drafter who was working on a great barge. Spoke. The man’s head whipped around like it was on a swivel. Not just any man. The Prism.

  Gavin swept Karris into a huge hug immediately. Relief.

  Karris’s body was stiff, her arms still at her sides, either shocked or repulsed, Kip couldn’t tell. Then, slowly, the stiffness in her arms and shoulders seemed to melt by degrees. Her arms were moving, coming up to Gavin’s back to return the embrace.

  Then Gavin saw Kip. Surprise. He released Karris, said something.

  Karris’s open hand cracked across Gavin’s cheek.

  Gavin’s hands turned up. What did I say?

  But Karris was storming off, not answering.

  Gavin looked from her to Kip to the unfinished barge behind him. Threw his hands down. Kip could swear he heard the curse all the way from here. He wanted to shrink into himself. It was like he’d just seen his parents fighting. All he wanted was to be gone.

  He turned toward the city. His vision was still intensely focusing on one thing at a time, losing the wholes for the parts. The lightsickness. He knew it was an army there in front of him, but he only saw this man checking the fuse on his matchlock; this one with half of his mustache burned off fiddling with his musket’s ramrod, spinning it in its rest; this man with his plug bayonet out, using it as a back-scratcher and joking with his comrades as if he were totally unafraid, while his tight, dead eyes told otherwise; this man talking nonstop while no one paid him any attention.

  Kip looked over empty slips at the dock. Not a single ship left. Even the smallest dory was gone. Almost on the dock parallel to theirs, he saw a huge swarthy man chased down and surrounded by a dozen Mirrormen. Something defiant was written in the man’s stance, but the Mirrormen had muskets on him from every angle.

  Ironfist.

  “Have I gone mad or is that Commander Ironfist?” Kip asked.

  “Sir?” a man standing next to Kip’s horse asked.

  “Move!” Kip shouted. “Move!” With a few curses, the men parted for him.

  “Kip! What are you doing?” Corvan Danavis shouted. From his angle, he couldn’t see Ironfist.

  Kip barely heard him. He dug his heels into the horse and held on for dear life. Breaking free of hundreds of nervous men, the horse ran. Kip was tossed around like a sack of pomegranates being crushed to juice and seeds. The horse galloped along the edge of the docks, going in the right general direction—but it wasn’t slowing down. Kip pulled hard on the reins, but the horse had its bit in its teeth. And it wasn’t letting go.

  The Mirrormen saw Kip coming and yelled. A few had time to discharge shots. Kip swore a musket ball licked his ear with a hot tongue.

  I am the stupidest person I have ever met. As the horse streaked toward Ironfist and his captors, still not slowing, Kip kicked his feet free of the stirrups and jumped out of the saddle, diving for the Mirrormen.

  Whatever he’d done before with all the green luxin that had cushioned everything—this time he didn’t do it. He missed the Mirrormen and hit the ground hard, flipping over and over, smacking his cracked, burned left hand hard against something. It felt like fire traced through every joint in his hand. He smacked his head, skidded on his back, clothes tangling him up, and tried to stand.

  He was facing the city. There was no one that direction. He turned toward Commander Ironfist, got his feet tangled, fell. Caught himself with his left hand. Tears sprang out of his eyes unbidden. Agony.

  “No!” Ironfist screamed.

  Kip was tottering on one knee, dizzy, propped up only by his shrieking left hand. He wanted to fall on his back, show these men he wasn’t a threat, beg them not to hurt him.

  I spend more time on my back than a rent girl. Enough.

  One of the men had his bayonet fixed. He was stepping toward Kip. Kip pushed himself up—off his left hand. The fire of pain shot up his arm.

  Kip just pointed his ruined left hand at the Mirrorman and made that fire shoot back down, propping himself up on his good hand. Flame roared out and engulfed the man. He baked, his mirror armor useless.

  Staggering to his feet, Kip threw more and more fire into the guards. And then he found out why Corvan had said he wouldn’t want to draft for a month when you were lightsick. His stomach boiled; he puked.

  He couldn’t keep his feet. The dizziness and nausea dropped him like he’d been cut off at the knees. His stomach cramped so hard he bent in half, curling into a fetal position, still puking, splattering vomit on his own pants.

  Once again, Kip the Charging White Knight manages to do nothing.

  He was dead. He knew he had to be dead. The men had been charging at him and he’d killed at least one of them. They should have killed him by now.

  “Let go of the rest of the luxin. It’ll make you sick again, but it’s better, I promise. Now, boy! I can’t carry you and draft at the same time!”

  “Ironfist?”

  Kip cracked his eyes open, saw dead men scattered around and Ironfist standing over him, his fists bearing spikes of bloodied blue luxin. Ironfist had cuts and dried blood and powder burns everywhere. He wore blue spectacles close to his eyes, the earpieces tied tight around the back of his head. His ghotra had been knocked off his head, and his hair was singed on one side. How had the man gotten away after commandeering a cannon? Surely the whole of King Garadul’s army had fallen on him.

  Nonetheless, here he was. Bruised, exhausted, injured, but not so hurt that he couldn’t save Kip one more time.

  “Now!” Ironfist demanded. “I’m lightsick myself. I know what I’m asking!”

  Kip let go of the rest of the luxin and threw up again, his insides heaving, all of his viscera trying to rush out of his mouth.

  But then, miraculously, he did feel better. Almost able to stand. Ironfist grabbed the shoulder of his shirt and lifted him bodily to his feet.

  “Idiot boy, I did all this to save you, and you nearly throw it away. What the hell were you thinking?”

  But Kip was in no state to answer.

  He was staring at the army, back on the other dock.

  Orholam’s balls.

  A full-scale battle was being waged just two hundred paces away. Perhaps a hundred soldiers and drafters were holding the dock against thousands of soldiers and dozens of drafters. The confined space was all that kept Gavin’s men from being overwhelmed. The front lines were a mess of bayonets and swords, a few spears and hoes and scythes and long-handled orange limb shears and magic being thrown and blocked each way. Behind the front lines, Gavin and some other drafters were just finishing the last barge, unable to join the fighting because their drafting talents were needed for shipbuilding.

  The mass of invaders was pushing Gavin’s men steadily backward, their sheer weight unstoppable. To Kip, it looked like they were already too late. And he was still sick, still dizzy, still feeling stronger than ever in his life, torn between wanting to lie down and feeling like he needed to go
running or he would burn up.

  “Follow me,” Ironfist said. “Stay as close as you can. It doesn’t float for long.”

  With no more explanation—float? what was floating?—Ironfist ran straight off the side of the dock, one hand spraying blue luxin out in a wide stream.

  Kip followed, charging down the slick surface, holding his pants tight in his left hand and praying he didn’t fall. The blue path dove off the end of the dock steeply and then leveled out at the water, floating on top of the surface like a very unsteady boat.

  “Keep running!” Ironfist said.

  In front of them, the defense was crumbling just as the great luxin barge pushed off the dock. The last remnants of the defenders were trying to fight and retreat at the same time. Some turned and were cut down as they tried to run to make the jump to the barge. Others abandoned the idea of making it to the ship themselves and stood their ground.

  Lord Omichrome’s army, though, was so huge and had so much pent-up pressure that without a hundred soldiers pushing it back, it burst down the dock, the men behind shoving the men in front of them so hard and so relentlessly that both defenders and the front lines of Lord Omnichrome’s men were pushed straight off the edge of the dock. Dozens, perhaps a hundred men and women splashed into the bay.

  We’re not going to make it. There’s nowhere for us to go!

  But Ironfist merely turned his blue path over the waves out. By Orholam, they were going to run all the way out to the barge?

  Kip couldn’t make it. He was too dizzy. It was too far.

  “Faster, Kip! Damn you! Faster!” Ironfist shouted.

  Water jumped up into the air to their right. Kip glanced that way, saw nothing, found himself running right along the edge of the blue path, almost falling in the water, and curved back. More water jumped to each side of them.

  They’re shooting at us!

  Lungs heaving, head swimming, in front of them Kip saw magic setting the air alight between the barge and the dock. Gavin was standing at the stern of the boat, throwing out great swathes of flame, darts, light grenadoes—a veritable artillery barrage of chromaturgy. A space cleared around him on the barge as everyone else shrank back, stunned, awed, afraid of anyone who could handle so much magic. Gavin was fighting all the drafters on the dock—by himself. And winning.

  That’s my father. I can’t let him down. I’ve screwed up everything else. I’m going to get to that damned boat.

  “I can’t keep this up,” Ironfist shouted, his voice strained. “I’ve got to make it narrower, Kip, or we won’t make it!”

  “Do it!” Kip yelled.

  The platform abruptly shrank to barely three hand’s breadths wide. It sank into the water even as Kip ran across it, his feet splashing water.

  But they had only thirty paces to go. The path started arching up, out of the water to attach to the side of the barge, out of the way of all the magic going back and forth.

  Kip looked up at Gavin, and saw that someone had stepped into the empty circle behind the Prism. Though the boy wore peasant’s garb, Kip recognized him instantly. Zymun! Zymun had snuck onto the barge with the rest of the refugees, and he was holding a box. Kip’s box. The last thing Kip’s mother had ever given him. The only thing she’d ever given him.

  Gavin was still hurling magic and deflecting magic. Everyone was either watching him or had crowded to the side of the barge and was watching Ironfist and Kip come in. Ironfist was looking down at the path he was drafting, intent on the magic. Kip was the only person who saw a gleaming knife come out of that box.

  Kip’s next step missed the narrow luxin platform. He plunged hard into the water. Clumsy Kip. Stupid Kip. His huge splash would make even more of a distraction for Zymun to take advantage of.

  Lord Omnichrome had sent Zymun to assassinate Gavin. Kip had seen it—and he’d decided to go somewhere else. He’d had a dozen chances to do the right thing, and he’d missed them all. Even five minutes ago, if he hadn’t gone after Ironfist, he would have been on the barge. He could have stopped Zymun.

  Kip wouldn’t fail again. He refused. He threw his hands down, opened his eyes despite the water, and starting sucking in light. It hurt like hell. He didn’t care. He sucked it in like he was the mouth of one of Gavin’s great skimmer engines. And threw it down.

  He shot out of the water. By Orholam’s own hand, or by all the luck that had gone against him for his whole life now finally reversing course, he shot in the right direction. He flew onto the barge’s deck, blasting through half a dozen people gathered at the railing looking for him—and he kept his feet, though he was at a crazy angle and had to run as fast as he could just to not fall down.

  He burst into the opening around Gavin just as Zymun closed on the Prism. Zymun sank the great white dagger into Gavin’s back an instant before Kip collided with him, the top of Kip’s head smashing Zymun’s nose. His momentum carried them both off the opposite side of the barge.

  They landed with a great splash. Kip got a breath before they went under and immediately began tearing at Zymun, punching him, ripping at the dagger in his one hand and the sheath in the other. Zymun hadn’t taken a breath. He let both go and flailed, trying to get away from Kip with panicky motions. Kip tried to slash the other boy, still underwater, and missed.

  With a gasp, Kip surfaced. Zymun surfaced five paces away, blood streaming from his broken nose, staining the water.

  Kip heard screams beyond Zymun. The sharks had come and were turning the water between Zymun and the docks to white froth in the frenzy.

  “Kip! Grab the rope! Grab the rope!” someone shouted. A coil hit the water close to him.

  Zymun gave Kip one hateful glance and started swimming for shore. He was a good swimmer, too. Faster than Kip. It would be madness to go after him. And he was bleeding.

  “Kip!”

  Kip felt the first tremor of lightsickness hitting him. Oh shit.

  But he’d lost his dagger before. It was everything. He wouldn’t lose it again. Bobbing in the waves, trying to ignore at least another score of triangular fins cutting the water headed for the dock, he sheathed the blade and tucked it inside his pants, and only then did he grab the rope.

  Good thing there was a loop on the end. Kip managed to pull it over his head before he threw up the first time. There was nothing in his stomach, so he dry heaved as the barge towed him along for a way until the men on deck could haul him out of the water.

  “Let go of the rest of the luxin, Kip,” someone was saying to him.

  “I can’t, I can’t.” He knew it was going to be bad. He couldn’t take any more pain. He couldn’t even open his eyes.

  “Come on, Kip, do it for me,” Gavin said gently.

  Kip let go of the last of the luxin. The last thing he was aware of was pain shooting through his head, lances of light blotting out darkness, only to leave more behind.

  Chapter 92

  The prisoner was full in the fever’s grip. The gash he’d cut across his chest and the foul hair he’d packed into the cut had done their work. Death or freedom. It was time.

  He tried to stand, but couldn’t. He was shaking too hard. Maybe he’d waited too long. He’d wanted—needed—to wait until the fever was at its hottest in order to have any chance at all. If he’d miscalculated, he would simply die, and end all of Dazen’s problems for him.

  That would just be tragic.

  He propped himself up, found his dirty little hair bowl close at hand, tried to inspect it for flaws for the thousandth time. He couldn’t tell. He felt like weeping, the fever throwing his very emotions into disarray.

  “I’m sorry, Dazen. I failed you,” he said aloud. Meaningless words. From nowhere. The part of him that had marinated in blue for so many years found that curious. Not unexpected, but still strange. Why should he feel emotions simply because his blood was literally hotter than normal? Strange, but inconsequential.

  He pulled the cut on his chest open, pulled out the chunky, dirty, blood-clotted wad
of filth, and threw it aside. It didn’t all come out together. Some was stuck in the wound. With a grimy fingernail, he scratched out the remaining filth. It made him gag with pain.

  Stupidity. He’d used his fingernail? When trying to clean a wound? He should have drafted tweezers. He wasn’t thinking straight. He blinked, his body tottering. No, there was no failure. Lesser men might fail. Not him. Not without trying his plan.

  Gavin scooted over to the shallow bowl he’d scraped with his own hands over the course of sixteen years.

  Well, some men might have nothing to show for sixteen years of labor.

  He laughed aloud.

  The dead man in the wall looked concerned. Keep it together, Dazen. Gavin. Whatever. Whoever you are, today you’re a prisoner, today you can be a free man. Or a dead man, which is a freedom of its own, isn’t it?

  Dazen took his finely woven hair bowl and laid it inside the stone bowl he’d dug over the years. It fit perfectly, as well it might. He’d made it to fit, and checked it a thousand times as he crafted it. Sitting right in front of the bowl and its depression, Dazen untied his loincloth and shifted awkwardly until he could set it aside.

  “If only Karris could see us now, huh?” the dead man said. “How could she choose him over this?”

  Dazen barely glanced at the dead man, sitting in his shiny blue wall, mocking him, seated with legs spread grotesquely in front of a hair bowl and a shallow hole. “You can’t debase me,” Dazen told the dead man. “I do what I must. If that’s depravity, so be it.” He licked dry lips. He hadn’t been drinking water. He needed to be nearly dehydrated for this. His tongue felt thick.

  The dead man said something in response, but Dazen ignored him. For a moment, he forgot what was next. He needed to make water. He wanted to lie down. Orholam, he was tired. If only he could rest, he’d have the strength…

  Slapping! That was what was next. A little more pain, and then freedom, Dazen. A little more. You’re a Guile. You can’t be chained like this. You’re the Prism. You’ve been wronged. The world needs to know your vengeance.

 
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