The black prism, p.64
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       The Black Prism, p.64

           Brent Weeks
 

  Seated still—there was no reason to move from here, he wouldn’t be able to make it back if he moved—he studied every surface of his body that was visible.

  Then he started slapping himself. Everywhere that he would be able to see. Hard.

  “This strikes you as rational?” the dead man asked. “Maybe sixteen years in blue hasn’t been enough for you.”

  Gavin—Dazen, damn it—ignored him. He slapped his forearms, his stomach, his chest everywhere except where the cut was—he didn’t want to pass out this close to victory—and his legs. Every surface of his body that he could see he slapped until it was insensitive, numb to the pain and, more important—red.

  Gavin was only human. Though he was a superchromat, even he made tiny errors. That was Dazen’s bet. That was why Gavin hadn’t let anything with color down here. If he’d made the blue light perfectly, all in only one incredibly tight spectrum, there would have been only blue light to reflect from any item. Gavin wouldn’t have had to worry even if his prisoner had red or green or yellow spectacles. But the tiny flash of green Dazen saw every time he pissed into his bowl before it was leached of color told him that there was some spectrum bleed.

  Now everything depended on how much and how fast he could draft.

  Shivering, trembling hard from fever and from beating his skin nearly bloody, he pissed. Not straight into the depression. Not straight into the hair bowl. If he pissed too hard, he was worried he’d break right through the oil that he’d so painstakingly smeared around the inside of the hair bowl. So he pissed into his hand, and let the warm liquid flow gently into the hair bowl.

  You’ve made me an animal, brother.

  But if animal he was, Dazen was a fox. The dehydration had made his urine as shockingly yellow as his body could produce, and the woven, oiled hair bowl held. Dazen’s heart leapt—he wanted to weep—as he saw yellow for the first time in sixteen years. Yellow! There was spectrum bleed! By Orholam, it was beautiful.

  He drafted off of it. Just a tiny amount, it was like trying to suck water through a bag, even as the bowl slowly drained. He drafted a yellow ball, not even as big as his thumb, into the palm of his left hand.

  It immediately started shimmering into light—but yellow light. For the first time, Dazen saw his cell in something other than blue light. He saw his body in something other than blue light. And yellow, being in the middle of the spectrum rather than at the opposite end, made red a hell of a lot easier to see. And it had spectrum bleed both up and down.

  And Dazen’s whole body was red from him slapping it.

  Dazen drafted red hard, as hard as he could, even as the little yellow marble sputtered out and disappeared. It was enough. It had to be enough. The skin down to his right arm looked dull in the blue light that once again dominated the cell, but he knew it was red.

  And now the whole reason he’d given himself a fever.

  Dazen drafted heat from his own body. It was incredibly inefficient. It had never worked before. He was shaking, the fever was so bad he couldn’t think. Surely… surely…

  He drew on his body’s heat, tried to imagine it rising in waves as from a desert. A tiny flame, a spark was all he needed. He had as much as he could get. Like an old man, Dazen propped himself up. Magic had weight, and with as much as he was planning to throw, he needed to not fall over as soon as he started. He got up to his knees and grinned at the dead man.

  The dead man grinned back, like he’d been expecting this. Like he’d been waiting for it for years.

  Dazen brought his hands together. He threw a tiny starter stream of red out of his right hand, directly at the dead man’s face. His left hand let all the heat he’d gathered go at once—

  And made a tiny spark.

  The spark caught. The red blazed, and suddenly the blue cell was flooded with red light and heat. Dazen drafted more and more and released it in a hammer blow, straight at the dead man, straight at the weak spot in the cell wall.

  The concussion bowled him over despite his attempt to brace himself. He’d thrown his fireball with so much will there’d been no way he could take the force in his weakened body.

  He didn’t think he lost consciousness, but when he opened his eyes, the world was still blue. Failure. Dear Orholam, no.

  Dazen rolled over, expecting to see the dead man leering at him. But the dead man was gone. A hole stood in his place. Jagged, broken in the wall, the edges smoldering, glowing with sludgy low-burning red luxin. A hole, and a tunnel beyond.

  He couldn’t stop himself. Dazen started weeping. Freedom. He couldn’t stand, he was too weak, but he knew he had to get out. He had to go as far as he could from here before Gavin discovered he was gone. So he started crawling.

  As he crossed out of the blue luxin cell, he held his breath, sure there would be some trap, or some alarm. Nothing. He breathed deep, fresh, clean air filling his lungs with strength, and began crawling to freedom.

  Chapter 93

  Kip woke in a little blue room. Every surface was blue luxin, even the pallet where he was sleeping, though it had been softened with a heap of blankets. From the faint rocking motion, he realized he was on one of the blue barges.

  And his back hurt like hell. In fact, most of his body hurt. His left hand was bandaged heavily and he could feel that a thick poultice had been spread all over it. His shoulders and both arms were bruised everywhere, he felt like someone had beaten both of his legs with a board, his head was throbbing, and he was sore pretty much any other place on his body he could think of. He wiggled a pinky toe. Yep, that was sore too.

  And he was hungry. Unbelievable.

  You’re on a refugee ship, Kip. There ain’t gonna be any food.

  He tried to go back to sleep. That was the best thing for it. He’d feel better when he woke up. And they might catch some fish or something by then. He rolled over, and his lower back still hurt. What the—He shifted, and realized he was lying on something.

  Reaching down to his waistband, his fingers brushed something. His eyes shot open. The knife. His inheritance. If it didn’t hurt so bad, he would have laughed about it. Clearly, he’d been carried in here wrapped in blankets, and left. No one had even noticed. In an armada of ships with thousands of refugees and soldiers and maybe a hundred boats, with pirates and everything else to worry about, apparently Kip hadn’t been the first thing on Gavin’s mind. Well, what did I expect? They couldn’t strip me and get me dry clothes—there are no dry clothes.

  Kip rolled off the knife and sat up. He groaned. He really was sore. And hungry. But that didn’t matter now.

  A figure passed the door, and Kip hid the knife by his leg hurriedly.

  Gavin poked his head in. “You’re awake!” he said. “How do you feel?”

  “Like an elephant sat on me,” Kip said.

  Gavin grinned and came and sat on the edge of Kip’s pallet. “I heard you were trying to be Ironfist for a while out there. He’s pretty steamed. He’s supposed to be the one who saves my life, you know.”

  “He’s mad?” Kip asked, worried.

  Gavin sobered. “No, Kip. No one’s mad at you. He won’t admit it, but he’s proud of you.”

  “He is?”

  “And I am, too.”

  “I thought I was too late.” Gavin was proud of him? His mind couldn’t really register the thought. His mother had always been ashamed of him, and the Prism himself was proud? Kip blinked quickly, looked away. “You’re really fine?” Kip asked.

  Gavin smiled. “Never felt better,” he said. “Oh, did you… did you know that boy? The assassin?”

  Kip felt a lump in his throat. “He was one of the drafters who wiped out Rekton. Zymun was his name. He tried to kill me there. Did he get eaten?” Kip remembered the boy bleeding profusely, swimming toward all those sharks.

  “I don’t know,” Gavin said. “My rule is, if you don’t see an enemy dead with your own eyes, assume they’re still alive.” He grinned, almost grimly, at a private thought. “But,” he said
, shaking himself out of it, “I guess that explains this.” He pulled out the rosewood box that had held Kip’s dagger.

  Gavin handed it to Kip. “It’s empty,” he said. “But I thought it looked like that box your mother tried to give you. Either your Zymun stole it from King Garadul, or this is a common style. Looks like it held a knife, but I guess that went into the waves. I’m sorry.”

  Kip wanted to rush to confess, but the knife was his. Gavin might take it away from him. Kip hadn’t even gotten to see it yet, not really.

  “Anyway,” Gavin said, “you rest up. I’ve got work to do. I’ll have someone send in some food to you, and we’ll talk later. All right?” He got up, stopped at the door. “Thank you, Kip. You saved my life, son. Well done. I’m proud of you.”

  Son. Son! There was pride in Gavin’s voice as he said it. Kip had made the Prism proud. It was like light bursting over hills to illuminate places in his soul that had never seen it.

  The lump in his throat grew huge, his eyes filled with tears. Gavin turned to go. “Wait! Father, wait!”

  Kip froze, as did Gavin, outlined in the door. The last time Kip had used the word he was being a snot, and things hadn’t gone well.

  And then it got worse, as Kip suddenly realized Gavin had meant “son” like “young man.” Kip wished he could go jump back into the water for the sharks. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I didn’t—”

  “No!” Gavin cut him off with a hand. “Whatever else you did, you proved yourself a Guile today, Kip.”

  Kip licked his lips. “Did Karris… I saw her hit you. Was that because of me?”

  Gavin laughed gently. “Kip, a woman is the mystery you’ll never stop investigating.”

  Kip paused. “Is that a yes?”

  “Karris hit me because I needed hitting.”

  That didn’t really help.

  “Get some sleep… son,” Gavin said. He paused, as if he was tasting the word. “We’re done with that ‘nephew’ nonsense. The world will know you’re my son. And to hell with the consequences.” A little reckless grin. And then he was gone.

  Kip didn’t sleep. He propped his back against one blue wall and pulled out the dagger. The blade was a dazzling strange white metal with a spiraling core of black threaded from point to hilt. There was little ornamentation except for seven clear, perfect diamonds on the hilt. Well, six diamonds and maybe a sapphire. Kip didn’t really know his jewels, but six stones were clear as glass but brilliantly refractive. The seventh matched the others in size and clarity, but it glowed a brilliant, magical blue. Kip sheathed the dagger.

  How did my mother get such a thing? How did she not pawn it for haze?

  Kip opened the rosewood box to put the dagger away, and with his bandaged left hand he fumbled it, dropping it upside down in his lap. He turned it over and saw that the silk lining was loose, not attached to the box itself but to a frame that filled the box. He pulled on the frame, lifting it out. Underneath was a thin compartment that held extra laces that matched the color of the sheath to tie it to different sizes of belt. It wasn’t a secret compartment, but obviously Zymun hadn’t noticed it, nor had King Garadul, because there was a note there.

  With trepidation, glancing at the door to make sure no one was passing, Kip read the note, written in his mother’s hard, deliberate strokes: “Kip, go to the Chromeria and kill the man who raped me and took away everything I had. Don’t listen to his lies. Swear you won’t fail me. If you ever loved me, if you’ve ever wanted to do anything good in this world, use this dagger to kill your father. Kill Gavin Guile.”

  Kip felt locked up, paralyzed. Someone was lying to him, betraying him. Kip felt those deep, sucking pools of rage stirring. It had to be his mother. Addict. Whore. Liar. Kip’s mother would lie for haze: she would abandon Kip in a closet. Gavin had been hard on him, but he’d never lied to him. He never would. Never. He was Kip’s family. The first Kip had ever had.

  But his mother had kept the dagger, and even the box. She could have sold either for a mountain of haze. She would have thought of them every time the madness of craving had been on her. If this was more important to her than haze, why would she lie?

  Kip shivered, feeling like he was being ripped out of his moorings. He didn’t know the truth. But he would. He swore it.

  He folded the note and saw a quick scribble on the back he’d missed before, written looser and faster than the rest, but undeniably in his mother’s hand: “I love you, Kip. I always have.” She’d never said those words. Not once. Not in his whole life.

  He threw the note away like it was a serpent. Pushed his face into the blankets so no one could hear. And bawled.

  Chapter 94

  Dazen was crawling through darkness. This was death, but life lay beyond, somewhere. The floor was sharp, cutting his hands and knees cruelly. He’d sucked up as much red luxin as he could before he’d left the blue cell, and if he hadn’t been fevered, he would have kept a flame alive, but his thoughts were still sluggish, stupid. All he could do was hold on to his anger, and the red had helped him do that at first.

  I will have my vengeance, he thought, but it was passionless. There was only the pain in his hands and knees and the crawling. He refused to stop. This tunnel had curved and curved again, but it couldn’t go on forever. Soon, he would sleep, and either die or wake stronger. Strong enough to gather his strength and bring down Gavin. He laughed weakly and kept crawling.

  Damn this sharp rock. What had his brother done? Carved his prison out of pure hellstone?

  Son of a bitch, that was exactly what Gavin had done. Spent a fortune simply to cut Dazen up. The hateful bastard. But Dazen wasn’t so easy to stop. He kept crawling. Freedom would not be denied him so easily.

  Still, obsidian was so rare that lining an entire tunnel with the stuff would have cost more than the Guile family made in a year. Why would Gavin have done such a thing? The magic properties of the stuff meant that with pure darkness and a direct connection—such as through blood or an open cut—it could drain the luxin out of a drafter. No wonder the red luxin wasn’t helping Dazen feel hatred anymore. It had all been drained away.

  Something niggled at Dazen’s mind. The bends in the tunnel, maybe that was it. The tunnels had bent so that no blue light would spill from the blue cell into the tunnel. Thus the tunnel would be totally dark. So the obsidian would work.

  Damn Gavin to the evernight. He’s not stopping me. I don’t care if I’m a bloody wreck. I’m getting out of here.

  Part of Dazen was telling him to stop, to think. That blue, rational part of him. But he couldn’t stop. If he didn’t keep moving, he’d never get anywhere. He was so sick, so fevered that if he stopped he might never move again. Gavin wanted to paralyze him.

  No. No no no. Dazen pushed on. The floor here felt different. Not obsidian. He’d gotten past it. He crawled farther. He could swear there was a glow ahead of him. Dear Orholam, there was—

  The floor dropped out from under him, swinging open on hidden hinges. Dazen tumbled down, rolling over and over, unable to stop himself, down a chute that snapped shut behind him. He rolled over, bathed in green light.

  Green?

  An entire, round chamber, with green walls like trees. A hole up top for water and food and air, and a hole in the bottom for waste. Dazen looked desperately at his skin for the red luxin. It was gone. All gone, all sucked up by the obsidian tunnel.

  Dazen started laughing stupidly, desperately, madly. A green prison, after the blue prison. He laughed until he was sobbing. There wasn’t one prison. There weren’t two. He knew it now. He had no doubt. There were seven prisons. One for every color, and in sixteen years, he had only escaped the first.

  He laughed and sobbed. In one luminous green wall, the dead man laughed with him. At him.

  Chapter 95

  “Not bad for a defeat,” said Corvan Danavis, coming into Gavin’s cabin.

  Gavin sat up, blinking the sleep from his eyes. His “quick nap” after talking to Kip had
left him wooly. But he’d drafted so much over the past week, it was no wonder he felt off. He said, “We lost a city, three-quarters of the Blackguard, and hundreds if not thousands of soldiers. My natural son—whom I just acknowledged—publicly murdered a rightful satrap, which will make the other satraps worry I’m trying to rule the world again. We have thousands of refugees that we have to put Orholam knows where; there’s some pagan army in charge of Garriston; and I’ve built them a damn near unassailable wall, which will now protect my enemies. Oh, and your daughter has joined our foes. If that’s not bad for a defeat, I’m not really sure what is.”

  “Could be worse,” Corvan said.

  Gavin rubbed his cheek where Karris had slapped him. It was worse, Corvan, he wanted to say. He’d been so delighted to see Karris alive that he’d hugged her without thinking. He’d deserved the slap for that alone. But she’d clung to him, for half a moment. Maybe she just felt relieved to be safe, away from King Garadul’s army, but he’d hoped it was something more.

  Then she’d whispered, “I know your big secret, you asshole. Why couldn’t you be man enough to tell me yourself?”

  Big secret? His heart froze up in his chest. Which big secret?

  She released him and stared into his eyes. Unable to take it, he’d glanced away—and saw Kip. Kip, whom he’d thought was most likely dead. Like a moron, he said, “Kip?”

  He hadn’t meant Kip was his big secret. That would be stupid. Of course she knew about Kip. But his brain wasn’t working. Her closeness, the battle, the effects of his drafting so much, and the sudden sense of exposure throttled his thoughts.

  She’d slapped him. He’d deserved it.

  Gavin said to Corvan, “It can always be worse. Is the weather holding?” He sat up. If he had to make these barges weather a storm, he was going to have a lot of work to do.

  “Hold up,” Corvan said. “Your attitude when you go out there matters.”

 
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