The night angel trilogy, p.65
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.65

           Brent Weeks
 

  Usually, the comments went unchallenged because the vast majority of the Sisters at the Chantry were single. Either they were instructors or they were students. It was considered rude to call a married Sister a chattel to her face, but it happened.

  If the married Sisters formed an order—and Ariel couldn’t see how they could be denied—they would have tremendous power. Their numbers included more than half of all the Sisters. If they became a bloc, things would change radically.

  “It’s a ploy, of course,” the Speaker said. “Most of the… married Sisters aren’t militant enough to rally behind such a name. It’s just a shot over the bow to let us know they’re serious.”

  “What do they want?” Ariel asked.

  Istariel’s eye twitched, and she rubbed it. “Many things, but one of the primary demands is that we start a new school of magic here. A school that breaks with our traditions.”

  “How much of a break?”

  “A men’s school, Ariel.”

  That was more than a break from tradition. It was a seismic upheaval.

  “We believe some of them have married magi already.”

  “What do you want me to do?” Ariel asked immediately.

  “About this?” Istariel said. “Nothing. Heavens no. Forgive me, sister, but you’re the last person to help with this. It requires a lighter touch. I have something else for you. The leader of the married sisters is Eris Buel. I can’t oppose her directly. I need someone ambitious, respected, and young to carry our standard.”

  Which of course excluded Ariel. “You describe perhaps a third of our sisters, or would, if you added unscrupulous.”

  Istariel’s eyes went hot and then cold. Ariel knew she had overstepped the bounds, but Istariel wouldn’t do anything about it. She needed her. Besides, Ariel had said it not so much because it was true as for the quarter of a second when Istariel would either look guilty or not.

  She had.

  “Ari, not even you may speak that way to me.”

  “What do you want?” Ariel asked.

  “I want you to bring Jessie al’Gwaydin back to the Chantry.”

  Ariel thought about it. Jessie al’Gwaydin would be an ideal rock to crush Eris Buel against. She was everything the Chantry loved: well-spoken, good-looking, intelligent, nobly born, and willing to pay her dues to climb to the top. She wasn’t terribly Talented, but she might be a good leader one day, if she had some sense knocked into her.

  “She’s studying the Dark Hunter in Torras Bend,” Istariel said. “I know it’s dangerous, but I gave her sufficient warning that I’m sure she won’t do anything precipitous.” Istariel chuckled. “In fact, I threatened to send you after her if she wasn’t good. I’m sure it will please her enormously to see you.”

  “And if she’s dead?” Ariel asked.

  Istariel’s grin faded. “Find me someone the Chattel can’t ignore. Someone who will do what needs to be done.”

  There was a terrible latitude in that ambiguity. But latitude could be used both ways, and the fact was, Ariel would rather be included. Oh, sister, you play with a terrible fire. Why would you use me for this? “Done,” Ariel said.

  Istariel signaled that she was dismissed, and Ariel walked to the door. “Oh,” Istariel said, as if it had slipped her mind, “whomever you bring, make sure she’s married.”

  19

  Kylar was outside the shop closing up when he sensed he was being watched. He curved his fingers unconsciously to check the knives strapped to his forearms, but there were no knives there. He closed the big shutters over the counter where they displayed their wares and fitted the lock on it, feeling suddenly vulnerable.

  It wasn’t being weaponless that made him feel vulnerable. A wetboy was a weapon. He felt vulnerable because of his oath. No killing, no violence. What did that leave him with?

  Whoever it was, they were standing in the shadows of the alley beside the shop. Kylar had no doubt they were waiting for him to walk to the front door, which was only steps away from the alley. With his Talent, he could get into the door and lock it—and give away his abilities. Or he could run away—and leave Uly unprotected.

  Seriously. Before there had been a woman in his life, things had been so simple.

  Kylar walked toward the door. The man was disheveled and wearing rags, with the bloodshot eyes and missing teeth of a riot weed addict. The knives the Ladeshian held seemed serviceable enough, though. He leapt out of the alley. Kylar expected the man to demand money, but he didn’t.

  Instead, he attacked instantly, screaming insanity. It sounded like he was saying, “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” Kylar simply moved and the addict went sprawling. Kylar leaned against the wall, puzzled. The man picked himself up and charged. Kylar waited. Waited. Then he moved abruptly. The addict smashed into the wall.

  After kicking away the bleeding man’s daggers, Kylar rolled him over with a foot.

  “Don’t kill me yet,” the man said, spluttering through the blood streaming from his nose. “Please, immortal. Don’t kill me yet.”

  “I brought you a present,” Gwinvere said.

  Agon looked up from the paper he was writing. It was a list of the strengths and weaknesses of their tactical situation in the Warrens. So far, it was a depressing list. He got up from the table and followed Gwinvere into the next room of her house, trying not to think about how good she smelled. It made his heart ache.

  Her dining room table was covered with a cloth that had ten lumps beneath it.

  “Aren’t you going to open it?” Gwinvere asked.

  Agon raised an eyebrow at her; she laughed. He pulled the cover cloth off and gasped.

  On the table were ten unstrung short bows. They were adorned with simple, almost crude scrimshaw of men and animals, mostly horses.

  “Gwinvere, you shouldn’t have.”

  “That’s what my accountants tell me.”

  He picked one up and tried to bend it.

  “Careful,” she said. “The man who… procured these bows said you need to warm them by a fire for half an hour before you string them. Otherwise they’ll break.”

  “They really are Ymmuri bows,” Agon said. “I’ve never even seen one before.” The bows were one of the marvels of the world. No one but the Ymmuri knew the secret of their construction, though Agon could plainly see that somehow they used not only wood but also horn and glue from melted horse hooves. They could punch an arrow through heavy armor at two hundred paces, a feat only Alitaeran longbows could match. And these bows were short enough to be used from horseback. Agon had heard stories of the lightly armored horse lords riding circles around heavily armored companies, outside the range of traditional archers, shooting the entire company to pieces. Every time lancers charged, the light Ymmuri on their little ponies fled, shooting arrows the whole way. No one had yet figured out how to counter such an attack. Thank the gods no one had ever united the Ymmuri, or they would overrun all of Midcyru.

  The bows would be perfect for Agon’s wytch hunters. He caressed the one in his hand.

  “You know the way to a man’s heart, Gwinvere,” he said, delighted as a child with a new toy.

  She smiled and for a golden moment he smiled too. Gwinvere was beautiful, so smart, so capable, so formidable, and now as she looked in his eyes, somehow fragile, rocked by the death of Durzo, the man she’d loved for fifteen years. Gwinvere was deep and mysterious, and though he’d thought himself too old to be stirred by such things, he was stirred by her beauty. Her smell—gods, was that the same perfume she’d worn all those years ago? It shook him to his core. But there, at his core, he saw his wife. Whether she was dead or alive, he might never know. He could never mourn, never move on, never give up hope without giving up on her and somehow betraying her.

  His smile dropped a notch, and Gwinvere saw it. She touched his arm. “I’m glad you like them.” She walked to the door, then turned. “Just tell your men that each of those bows cost more than they’ll make in their lives.” And she s
miled. It was a smile to give them a ramp back up to levity. A smile that told him she saw, she knew, and though she didn’t reciprocate his interest, she wouldn’t use it against him.

  Agon barked a laugh, accepting her lead. “I’ll take it out of their hides.”

  More shocking than the mugger’s words was his face. He was the same man whom Kylar had sworn he’d seen briefly from Count Drake’s window the day Vi tried to kill him.

  Kylar dosed the man with poppy wine, and took him to a home for the treatment of addicts. Addicts from wealthy families, of course. The treatment itself was simple: mostly, time. The attendants administered teas and other herbs of doubtful usefulness, restrained the addict, cleaned up the diarrhea and vomit, and waited. The walls were thick, the cells separate and private. Kylar had no trouble with the guards, who took one look, saw an addict, and let them in.

  “Please restrain me,” the Ladeshian said as they entered a tiny cell. There was a writing desk, a chair, a basin and pitcher, and a bed, but the walls were blank brick. It was deliberately spartan. The fewer things in the room, the less likely a suicide attempt would be successful.

  “I don’t think you’ll get out of control for a few hours at the least,” Kylar said.

  “Don’t be so sure.”

  So Kylar bound him to the bed with the thick leather straps and the man looked relieved. He smiled his gap-toothed addict’s smile. It turned Kylar’s stomach. Hadn’t this man once had a brilliant smile?

  “Who are you?” Kylar asked. “And what is it you think you know about me?”

  “I know that you have a ka’kari, Kylar Stern. I knew Durzo Blint and I know you were his apprentice and I know this is your second incarnation. You used to be called Azoth.”

  Kylar’s stomach flipped. “Who are you?”

  The man smiled again, a huge smile, as if he had gotten so used to smiling to show his perfect white teeth that he hadn’t yet adjusted to his addict’s grin. Oddly, now that he was bound, he seemed arrogant. “I am Aristarchos ban Ebron, shalakroi of Benyurien in the Silk province of Ladesh.”

  “Is shalakroi the Ladeshian name for a riot weed addict?”

  The hauteur fell from the man’s face like a load of bricks. “No. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for the attempt on your life. I wasn’t in control of myself.”

  “I could tell.”

  “I don’t think you understand,” Aristarchos said.

  “I’ve seen addicts before.”

  “I’m not just an addict, Kylar.” He smiled a wry, lopsided smile that showed more of his rotten teeth. “Same thing every addict would say, huh? I tried to get out of Cenaria when the city fell, but my Ladeshian skin betrayed me. The Khalidorans stopped me and interrogated me about the silk trade. They hate the silk monopoly as much as the rest of you Midcyri. That interrogation would have been fine, but a Vürdmeister named Neph Dada saw me. He has the Viewing. I don’t know what he saw, but they began torturing me.” His eyes grew distant. “That was bad. What was worse was that they force-fed me some seeds after every time. They took the pain away. They made everything better. I didn’t even recognize what they were. The Khalidorans didn’t let me sleep. They’d just torture me, feed me seeds, torture me. They didn’t even ask questions until he came.”

  “He?” Kylar felt sick to his stomach.

  “I… fear to speak his name,” Aristarchos said, ashamed of his fear and yet frightened to silence nonetheless. He began drumming his fingers.

  “The Godking?”

  He nodded. “The cycle just kept going until they didn’t have to force the seeds on me anymore. I begged for them. The second time he came, he used magic on me…. He’s fascinated with compulsion. Magical, chemical, and blends of the two, he said. I was just another experiment. After a while, I… I gave them your name, Kylar. He laid a compulsion on me to kill you. I had a box with my seeds in it that would only open once I obeyed.” A tremor passed through him. “You see? I tried riot weed to get me by. I tried poppy wine. Nothing works. I thought if I could get here fast enough, I could warn you. I did hold some things back. They don’t know you come back from death. They don’t know about the Society or your incarnations.”

  It was all going too fast for Kylar. The implications were exploding in a hundred different directions. “What society?” Kylar said.

  Aristarchos looked incredulous, his fingers even stopped their drumming. “Durzo never told you?”

  “Not a word.”

  “ ‘The Society of the Second Dawn.’ ”

  “Never heard of it.”

  “ ‘The Society of the Second Dawn is devoted to the study of reputed immortals, the delineations of their abilities, and the confinement of said powers to those who would not abuse them.’ We’re a secret society, spread over all the world. It’s how I was able to find you. We were founded centuries ago. Back then we thought there were dozens of immortals. Over the years, we concluded that there were at most seven, and maybe just one. The man you knew as Durzo Blint was also Ferric Fireheart, Vin Craysin, Tal Drakkan, Yric the Black, Hrothan Steelbender, Zak Eurthkin, Rebus Nimble, Qos Delanoesh, X!rutic Ur, Mir Graggor, Pips McClawski, Garric Shadowbane, Dav Slinker, and probably a dozen others we don’t know.”

  “That’s half the stories of Midcryu.”

  Aristarchos was starting to shiver and sweat, but he continued in a level voice, “He successfully masqueraded as a native of at least a dozen different cultures, probably twice that. He spoke more languages than I’ve even heard of—at least thirty, not counting dialects—and all of them so fluently natives couldn’t detect an accent. There were times when he would disappear for twenty or even fifty years—we don’t know if he lived in solitude or married and settled down in remote regions. But he appeared in every major conflict for six centuries, and not always on the side you would expect. Two hundred years ago, as Hrothan Steelbender, he fought with the Alitaeran expansion campaigns for the first thirty years of the Hundred Years’ War, and then ‘died’ and fought with the Ceurans against them as the sword-saint Oturo Kenji.”

  Now it was Kylar who was shivering. He remembered when his guild had tried to mug Durzo. When they saw who he was, they shrank back from the legendary wetboy. Legendary wetboy! How little they knew. How little Kylar had known. He felt an unreasoning stab of resentment.

  How could Durzo not tell him? He’d been like a son to the man. He’d been closer to him than anyone—and he hadn’t told Kylar anything. Kylar had only seen a bitter, superstitious shell of a man, and thought himself somehow superior to him.

  Kylar hadn’t known Durzo Blint at all. And now the hero out of legends—dozens of legends—was dead. Dead at Kylar’s hands. Kylar had destroyed something without knowing its worth. He hadn’t known the man he’d called his master and now he never would. It felt like a hole in his stomach. He felt numb and distant and angry and near tears all at once. Durzo was dead, and Kylar missed him more than he could have imagined.

  The beads of sweat were sticking out on Aristarchos’s face now. He had wadded the bed sheets in his fists. “If you have any questions you need to ask me about his incarnations or yours or anything at all, please ask quickly. I’m not… feeling well.”

  “Why do you keep saying incarnations like I’m some kind of god?” It wasn’t a great question, but the real questions were so big that Kylar didn’t even know how to ask them.

  “You are worshipped in a few remote areas where your master wasn’t very careful about showing the full extent of his powers.”

  “What?!”

  “The Society says incarnations because ‘lives’ is too confusing, and we aren’t sure if you have as many lives as you want, or a finite number, or just one life that never ends. None of us have ever actually seen you die. ‘Incarnations’ has its critics, too, but that’s mainly among the Modaini separatists who believe in reincarnation. Let me tell you, your existence really throws them for a theological loop.” Aristarchos’s legs were twitching, almost convulsing. “I’m sorry,
” he said, “there’s so much I wish I could tell you. So much I wish I could ask.”

  Suddenly, among all the big questions about Durzo, about Kylar’s powers, about the Godking and what he knew or thought he knew, Kylar just saw a man sweating on a bed, a man who’d lost his teeth and his good looks for Kylar, a man who’d been tortured and made an addict, who’d been compelled to try to kill Kylar and had fought against it with everything he had. He’d done all that for a man he didn’t even know.

  So Kylar didn’t ask about the Society, or magic, or what Aristarchos could do for him. That could come later, if they both lived until later. “Aristarchos,” he said, “what is a shalakroi?”

  The man was taken off guard. “I—it’s a little below a Midcyri duke, but it’s not an inherited position. I scored better than ten thousand other students on the Civil Service examinations. Only a hundred scored higher in all Ladesh. I ruled an area roughly the size of Cenaria.”

  “The city?”

  Aristarchos smiled through his sweat and clenched muscles. “The country.”

  “It’s an honor to meet you, Aristarchos ban Ebron, shalakroi of Benyurien.”

  “The honor is mine, Kylar ban Durzo. Please, will you kill me?”

  Kylar turned his back on the man.

  Pride and hope whooshed out of Aristarchos with his breath. He slumped in the bed, suddenly small. “This is no kindness, my lord.” He convulsed again, and strained against the leather bonds. His veins bulged on his forehead and his emaciated arms. “Please!” he said as the convulsion passed. “Please, if you won’t kill me, will you give me my box? Just one seed? Please?”

  Kylar left. He took the box and burned it. Aside from a poisoned-needle trap, it was empty.

  20

  Your Holiness, our assassin is dead,” Neph Dada said as he stepped onto the Godking’s balcony. “I apologize to report this failure, though I do wish to point out that I recommended—”

 

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