The night angel trilogy, p.7
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.7

           Brent Weeks
 

  “I didn’t say the kingdom was Cenaria, did I?” That damn grin again. Then it faded. “Solon, you know I wouldn’t ask this if there were any other way—”

  “You don’t see everything. There’s got to be another way. At least tell me what I’m supposed to do. Dorian, you know what I’d be leaving. You know what this will cost me.”

  “I do,” Dorian said, his aristocratic features showing the pain a great lord might feel when sending men to their deaths to accomplish some necessary goal. “He needs you, Solon—”

  Solon’s memories were abruptly cut short with the jab of a dagger into his spine. He sat bolt upright, sloshing the dregs of his seventh glass onto the table.

  “That’s enough, friend,” a low voice said into his ear. “I know what you are, and I need you to come with me.”

  “Or else?” Solon asked, dizzy. Who could know that he was here?

  “Yes. Or else.” Amused.

  “Or else what? You’re going to kill me in front of five witnesses?” Solon asked. He rarely drank more than two glasses of wine at any time. He was too impaired for this. Who the hell was this man?

  “And you’re supposed to be smart,” the man said. “If I know what you are and still threaten you, do you think I lack the will to kill you?”

  He had Solon there. “And what’s to stop me—”

  The dagger jabbed his spine again. “Enough talk. You’ve been poisoned. You do what I say and I’ll give you the antidote. Does that answer the rest of your questions?”

  “Actually—”

  “You’ll know you’re really poisoned because any time now your neck and armpits will start itching.”

  “Uh-huh. Ariamu root?” Solon asked, trying to think. Was he bluffing? Why would he bluff?

  “Plus a few other things. Last warning.”

  His shoulder started itching. Damn. He could have taken care of ariamu root by itself, but this… “What do you want?”

  “Head outside. Don’t turn, don’t say anything.”

  Solon walked to the door, almost trembling. The man had said “what you are” not “who you are.” That might have referred to being Sethi, but his other comment obviously didn’t. The Sethi might be famous or infamous for many things, but rightly or wrongly, intelligence wasn’t one of them.

  He’d barely touched the street when he felt the dagger jab his spine again. A hand drew his sword from the scabbard. “That won’t be necessary,” Solon said. Was that his imagination, or was his neck itching? “Show me what you want.”

  The poisoner led him around the building where two horses were waiting. Together they rode south and then across the Vanden Bridge. They were swallowed by the Warrens, and though Solon didn’t think the man had been taking turns solely to get him lost, he soon was. Damn wine.

  Finally, they stopped in front of one tiny shack among many. He dismounted unsteadily and followed the man inside. The poisoner wore dark clothes and a voluminous gray-black cloak with its hood up. All Solon could see was that he was tall, obviously athletic, and probably thin. The man nodded toward the door, and Solon stepped inside.

  The smell of blood hit him instantly. A little girl was lying on a low bed, barely breathing, barely bleeding, her face a gory mess. Solon turned. “She’s dying. There’s nothing I can do.”

  “I did what I could,” the man said. “Now you do what you do. I’ve left all the tools you may need.”

  “Whatever you think I am, you’re wrong. I’m no healer!”

  “She dies, you die.” Solon felt the weight of the man’s eyes on him. Then the poisoner turned and left.

  Solon looked at the closed door and felt despair rising like twin waves of darkness coming from each side. Then he shook himself. Enough. So he was tired, still drunk, poisoned, itchy, and never had been much good at healing to begin with. Dorian had said that someone here needed him, hadn’t he? So surely Solon couldn’t die yet.

  Unless, of course, just making Logan stand up to his mother was all that Solon had been needed for.

  Well. That’s the problem with prophecy, isn’t it? You never know. Solon knelt by the little girl and began working.

  11

  Momma K crossed her legs in the absently provocative way that only a veteran courtesan could. Some people fidgeted habitually. Momma K seduced habitually. With a figure most of her girls could only envy, she could pass for thirty, but Momma K was unashamed of her age. She’d thrown a huge party for her own fortieth birthday. Few of those who’d told her she outshone her own courtesans had been lying, for Gwinvere Kirena had been the courtesan of an age. Durzo knew of a dozen duels that had been fought over her, and at least as many lords had proposed to her, but Gwinvere Kirena would be chained to no man. She knew too well all the men she knew.

  “He really does have you nervous, this Azoth. Doesn’t he?” Momma K said.

  “No.”

  “Liar.” Momma K smiled, all full red lips and perfect teeth.

  “What gave me away?” Durzo asked, not really interested. He was nervous, though. Things had spun suddenly out of control.

  “You were staring at my breasts. You only look at me like I’m a woman when you’re too distracted to keep your guard up.” She smiled again. “Don’t worry—I think it’s sweet.”

  “Don’t you ever stop?”

  “You’re a simpler man than you like to think, Durzo Blint. You really only have three refuges when the world overwhelms you. Do you want me to tell you what they are, my big, strong wetboy?”

  “Is this the kind of thing you talk about with clients?” It was a cheap shot. Moreover, it was the kind of comment a whore would have been hit with enough times that she was well armored against it now.

  She didn’t even blink. “No,” she said. “But there was a rather pathetically endowed baron who liked to have me pretend I was his nursemaid and when he was naughty, I’d—”

  “Spare me.” It was a loss to have her stop, but she’d have gone on for ten minutes, and not skipped a single detail.

  “Then what do you want, Durzo? Now you’re staring at your hands again.”

  He was staring at his hands. Gwinvere could be more trouble than she was worth, but her advice was always good. She was the most perceptive person he knew and smarter than he was by a long shot. “I want to know what to do, Gwinvere.” After a long moment of silence, he looked up from his hands.

  “About the boy?” she asked.

  “I don’t think he has it in him.”

  When Azoth came around the corner, Rat was sitting on the back porch of the ruin the guild called home. Azoth’s heart seized at the sight of the ugly boy. Rat was alone, waiting for him. He was spinning a short sword on its point. Spots of rust interplayed with the winking of the waning moon on bright steel as it spun.

  In this unguarded moment, Rat’s face seemed as mutable as that spinning steel, one moment the monster Azoth had always known, the next moment an overgrown, scared child. Azoth shuffled forward, more confused and frightened by that glimpse of humanity than soothed. He’d seen too much.

  He came forward through the stench of the alley that the whole guild used as their toilet. He didn’t even care to watch where he put his feet. He was hollow.

  When he looked up, Roth was standing, that familiar cruel grin on his lips, the rusty sword pointing at Azoth’s throat.

  “That’s far enough,” Rat said.

  Azoth flinched. “Rat,” he said, and swallowed.

  “No closer,” Rat said. “You’ve got a shiv. Give it to me.”

  Azoth was on the verge of tears. He took the shiv from his belt and held it out, handle first. “Please,” he said. “I don’t want to die. I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever you want. Just don’t hurt me.”

  Rat took the shiv.

  “I’ll give him that he’s smart,” Durzo said. “But it takes more than intelligence. You’ve seen him here with all the other guild rats. Does he have that…?” He snapped his fingers, unable to find the word.

 
“Most of them I only see in the winter. They sleep on the streets the rest of the year. I give them a roof, Durzo, not a home.”

  “But you’ve seen him.”

  “I’ve seen him.” She would never forget him.

  “Gwinvere, is he cunning?”

  Rat tucked the shiv in his belt and patted Azoth down. He found no other weapons. His fear dissolved and left only exultation. “Don’t hurt you?” he asked. He backhanded Azoth.

  It was almost ridiculous. Azoth practically flew from the force of the blow. He sprawled in the dirt and got up slowly, his hands and knees bleeding. He’s so small!

  How did I ever fear this? Azoth’s eyes bled fear. He was crying, making little whimpers in the darkness. Rat said, “I’m going to have to hurt you, Azoth. You’ve made me. I didn’t want it to be this way. I wanted you with me.”

  It was all too easy. Azoth had come back to the guild already destroyed. Rat didn’t like it. He wanted to do something to seal Azoth’s humiliation.

  He stepped forward and grabbed Azoth’s hair. He pulled him up to his knees, enjoying the little cries of pain the boy gave.

  He owed what would come next to Neph. Rat didn’t particularly like boys more than girls. He didn’t see much difference. But Rat never would have thought of this as a weapon if Neph hadn’t told him how much it broke a person’s spirit to be forced.

  It had become one of Rat’s favorites. Anyone could make a girl scared, but the boys in the guild feared him more than they had ever feared anyone. They looked at Bim or Weese or Pod or Jarl and they melted. And the more he had done it, the more it stirred him. Just looking at Azoth now, on his knees, eyes round with fear, made Rat’s loins stir. There was nothing like watching the fire of defiance roar high and then, quickly or over many nights, die, flare up again, and die forever.

  “A wetboy has to lose himself,” Durzo said. “No, abandon himself. To be a perfect killer, he has to wear the perfect skin for each kill. Gwinvere, you understand, don’t you?”

  She recrossed her long legs. “Understanding is what sets courtesans apart from whores. I get under the skin of every man to walk through my doors. If I know a man, I know how to please him. I know how to manipulate him so that he’ll try to buy my love and become competitive with the others trying to do the same thing, but not become jealous of them.”

  “A wetboy has to know his deaders like that,” Durzo said.

  “And you don’t think Azoth can do that?”

  “Oh no. I think he can,” Durzo said. “But after you know a man or a woman like that—after you wear their skin and walk a few miles in it, you can’t help but love them—”

  “But it’s not real love,” Gwinvere said quietly.

  “—and when you love them, that’s the moment a wetboy has to kill.”

  “And that’s what Azoth can’t do.”

  “He’s too soft.”

  “Even now, even after what happened to his little friend?”

  “Even now.”

  “You were right,” Azoth said through his tears. He looked up at Rat standing over him, moonlight throwing his shadow over Azoth. “I knew what you wanted, and I wanted it, too. I just… I just couldn’t. But I’m ready now.”

  Rat looked down at him, a faint light of suspicion blooming in his eyes.

  “I found a special place for us…” Azoth stopped. “But it doesn’t matter, we can do it here. We should do it here.” Rat’s eyes were hard, but unreadable. Azoth stood slowly, holding on to Rat’s hips. “Let’s just do it here. Let the whole guild hear us. Let everyone know.”

  His whole body was shaking and there was no way to hide it. Revulsion was arcing through him like lightning, but he kept his face hopeful, pretended his trembling was pure naive uncertainty. I can’t. I can’t. Let him kill me. Anything but… If he thought, if he considered anything for another second, he was lost.

  Azoth reached a trembling hand up to Rat’s cheek, and stood, then stood on tiptoe and kissed him.

  “No,” Rat said, slapping him. “We do this my way.”

  “To ply this trade, a man has to value nothing, has to sacrifice…” Durzo trailed off.

  “Everything?” Gwinvere asked. “Like you’ve done so well? My sister might have words about that.”

  “Vonda’s dead because I didn’t,” Durzo said. He wouldn’t meet Gwinvere’s gaze. Out the window, night was just beginning to lose its hold on the city.

  Looking at Durzo there, his hard, pockmarked face glowing yellow sorrow in the lamplight, Gwinvere softened. “So you fell in love, Durzo. Not even wetboys are immune. Love is a madness.”

  “Love is failure. I lost everything because I failed.”

  “And what do you do if Azoth fails?” Gwinvere asked.

  “I let him die. Or I kill him.”

  “You need him,” she said gently. “You told me yourself that he’ll call a ka’kari to you.”

  Before Durzo could say anything, there was a knock at the door.

  “Come,” Momma K said.

  One of Gwinvere’s maids, obviously a former courtesan herself, now too old for the brothels, poked her head in the door. “There’s a boy to see you, milady. His name is Azoth.”

  “Show him in,” Gwinvere said.

  Durzo looked at her. “What the hell is he doing here?”

  “I don’t know.” Gwinvere was amused. “I suppose that if he’s the kind of boy you can mold into a wetboy, he can’t be without certain resources.”

  “Damn, I left him not three hours ago,” Durzo said.

  “So?”

  “So I told him I’d kill him if I saw him without proof. You know I can’t make idle threats.” Durzo sighed. “You might have been right, but it’s out of my hands.”

  “He’s not here for you, Durzo. He’s here to see me. So why don’t you do your little shadow thing and disappear?”

  “My little shadow thing?”

  “Now, Durzo.”

  The door opened and a bleeding, wretched boy was shown in. But even beat up as he was, Gwinvere would have picked him out from a thousand guild rats. This guild rat had fire in his eyes. He stood straight even though his face was abraded, his mouth and nose dribbling blood. He looked at her unabashedly, but was either young enough or smart enough that he looked at her eyes rather than at her cleavage.

  “You see more than most, don’t you,” Momma K said. It wasn’t a question.

  He didn’t even nod. He was too young to be mocking her tendency to state questions, so there was something else in that flat stare he was giving her.

  Of course. “And you’ve seen something terrible, haven’t you?”

  Azoth just looked at her with big eyes, trembling. He was a picture of the naked innocence that died every day in the Warrens. It stirred something in her that she’d thought long dead. Without so much as a word, she knew she could offer the boy a mother’s arms, a mother’s embrace, a safe place. She could give a refuge, even to this child of the Warrens, who’d probably never been held in his life. A soft look, a touch on his cheek, and a word, and he would collapse into her arms and cry.

  And what will Durzo do? Vonda had barely been dead three months. He’d lost more than lover when she’d died, and Gwinvere didn’t know if he’d ever recover. Will he understand that Azoth’s tears don’t make him weak?

  To be honest with herself, Gwinvere knew that holding Azoth wouldn’t be just for Azoth. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d held someone who hadn’t paid for the privilege.

  And what will Durzo do if he sees real love now? Will it make him be human, or will he tell himself Azoth is too weak and kill him rather than admit that he needs him?

  It all took her just a second to read the boy and weigh her options. There was too much at stake. She couldn’t do it.

  “So, Azoth,” she asked, folding her arms under her breasts, “who’d you kill?”

  The blood drained from Azoth’s face. He blinked as fear suddenly cleared his eyes of the tears that were thre
atening.

  “First kill, too,” Momma K said. “Good.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Azoth said, too quickly.

  “I know what a killer looks like.” Her voice was sharp. “So who did you kill?”

  “I need to talk to Durzo Blint. Please. Where is he?”

  “Right here,” Blint said, behind Azoth. Azoth flinched. “And since you’ve found me,” Blint continued, “someone better be dead.”

  “He…” Azoth looked at Momma K, obviously wondering if he could speak in front of her. “He is.”

  “Where’s the body?” Blint demanded.

  “It’s, it’s in the river.”

  “So there’s no proof. How convenient.”

  “Here’s your proof,” Azoth shouted, suddenly furious. He threw what he was holding at Durzo. Durzo snatched it out of the air.

  “You call this proof?” Durzo asked. He opened his hand and Momma K saw he held a bloody ear. “I call it an ear. Ever known a man to die from losing an ear, Gwin?”

  Momma K said, “Don’t you put me in the middle of this, Durzo Blint.”

  “I can show you the body,” Azoth said.

  “You said it’s in the river.”

  “It is.”

  Durzo hesitated.

  “Damn you, Durzo. Go,” Momma K said. “You owe him that much.”

  The sun sat fully above the horizon when they arrived at the boat repair shop. Durzo went inside alone and came out ten minutes later, rolling down a wet sleeve. He didn’t look down at Azoth as he asked, “Son, he was naked. Did he…”

  “I got the noose around his foot before, before he could… I killed him before.” In cold and distant tones, Azoth told him everything. The night was fading like a bad dream, and what he remembered doing, he couldn’t believe he had done. It must have been someone else. As he told his story, Blint looked at him in a way no one ever had before. It might have been pity. Azoth didn’t know. He’d never seen pity before.

  “Did Doll Girl make it?” Azoth asked.

  Durzo put his hands on Azoth’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I don’t know. She looked bad. I got the best person I could find to try to save her. Kid,” Blint looked away, blinking. “I’m going to give you one more chance.”

 
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