The night angel trilogy, p.70
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.70

           Brent Weeks
 

  It was Jarl.

  Kylar felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. He couldn’t believe his eyes. But there he was, lean, athletic, impeccably dressed, as beautiful a man as you’d ever see, his dazzling white teeth showing an uncertain smile. “Hey-ho, Azo,” he said.

  Why that greeting? Was Jarl just being cute, or was he also throwing in an appeal to their history together? Definitely the latter. For a long moment, they just stood there, looking at one another. Jarl wasn’t here for a visit. Jarl didn’t visit. For the God’s sake, the man was the Shinga. A true Shinga, the leader of the most feared Sa’kagé in Midcyru.

  “How in the nine hells did you find me, Jarl?” Kylar said, being cute too. It was what Jarl had expected Kylar to say the last time Jarl had shown up unexpectedly.

  “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

  “Please,” Kylar said. He put some ootai on and sat across from Jarl, who helped himself to a seat by the window. Silence.

  “There’s this job—” Jarl began.

  “Not interested.”

  Jarl took that in stride. He pursed his lips and looked around the humble room quizzically. “So, uh… what is it about this that you like again?”

  “Didn’t Momma K teach tact?”

  “I’m serious,” Jarl said.

  “So am I. You show up after I tell you I’m out of the business, and the first thing you do is insult the place I live?”

  “Logan’s alive. He’s in the Hole.”

  Kylar just stared at him, uncomprehending. The words collided with each other and shattered on the floor, shards sparkling with the light of truth, but the whole nothing more than splinters and points too sharp to touch.

  “All the wetboys are working for Khalidor. The resisting nobles have retreated to the Gyre estates. Several of the frontier garrisons are still manned, but we have no leader who can unite us. There’s some trouble up in the Freeze that the Godking is worried about, so he hasn’t done anything to consolidate his power yet. He thinks that the noble families will tear each other apart. And if we don’t have Logan, he’s right.”

  “Logan’s alive?” Kylar asked stupidly.

  “The Godking has our former wetboys looking for me. It’s part of why I came here. I had to get out of Cenaria until we could get word out that Kagé himself is protecting me.”

  “No,” Kylar said.

  “Every day, the chances that Logan will be discovered get worse. Apparently none of the prisoners in the Hole has recognized him, but they’ve started throwing a lot of people down there. It might please you to know that Duke Vargun is one of them. Look at it as a little bonus. When you rescue Logan, you can kill that twist, too.”

  “What?” Kylar said. Wheels were turning too fast for him to catch up. “Jarl,” he said. “Tenser isn’t Tenser Vargun. Don’t you see? He got himself thrown in the Hole so he can do the hardest time there is. Then they produce the real baron—alive—and Tenser is released. He comes to the Sa’kagé a month later with a grudge for his false imprisonment and all the access of a duke and what happens?”

  “We take him in,” Jarl said quietly. “How could we resist?”

  “And he destroys you, because he’s not Tenser Vargun,” Kylar said. “He’s Tenser Ursuul.”

  Jarl sat back, stunned. After a minute, he said, “You see, Kylar? This is why I need you. Not just for your skills, for your mind. If Tenser’s there right now, he’s only going to wait long enough that his stay in the Hole is credible, and then he’ll tell his father that Logan’s in there. We have to go now. Now!”

  The ring box was burning against Kylar leg. He looked through the open window as Jarl spoke, seeing the city he’d hoped would be his home for the rest of his life. He loved this city, loved the hope here, loved healing and helping, loved the simple pleasure of being praised for his potions. He loved Elene. She proved to him that he could do more good by healing than by killing. It all made sense… and yet… and yet….

  “I can’t,” Kylar said. “I’m sorry. Elene would never understand.”

  Jarl rocked back on two legs of the chair. “Don’t get me wrong, Azo, because I grew up with Elene too, and I love the girl. But why do you give a shit what she thinks?”

  “Fuck, Jarl.”

  “Hey, I’m just asking.” Then he let the question sit, his eyes never leaving Kylar’s face.

  The bastard, he really had been studying under Momma K for all those years.

  “I love her.”

  “Sure, that’s part of it.”

  Again, that I’m-waiting stare.

  “She’s good, Jarl. I mean, like people aren’t good where we came from. Not good because it will get her something. Not good because people are watching. Just good. At first I thought she was just made that way, you know, like your skin is black and I’m devastatingly handsome.”

  Jarl raised an eyebrow. He didn’t laugh.

  “But now I’ve seen that she has to work at it. She does work at it, and she’s been working at it for as long as I’ve been working at learning to kill people.”

  “So she’s a saint. Doesn’t answer my question,” Jarl said.

  Kylar was silent for a full minute. He rubbed the grain of the wood table with a fingernail. “Momma K used to say that we become the masks we wear. What’s under the mask for us, Jarl? Elene knows me in a way no one else does. I’ve changed my name, changed my identity, left everything and everyone I’ve ever known. I’m all lies, Jarl, but as long as Elene knows me, maybe there is a real me. Do you know what I mean?”

  “You know,” Jarl said. “I was wrong about you. When you got yourself killed saving Elene and Uly, I thought you were a hero. You’re no hero. You just fucking hate yourself.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “You’re a coward. So you’ve done bad stuff. Join the club. You know what? I’m glad you did; it made you something better than a saint.”

  “A killer’s better than the saint? What sort of fucked-up Sa’kagé thinking is—”

  “It made you useful. Do you know what it’s like in Cenaria right now? You wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t come here to find a killer. I came to find The Killer, the Night Angel, the man who’s more than just a wetboy because the problems we have now are bigger than any wetboy could handle. There’s only one man who can help us, Kylar, and that’s you. Believe me, you weren’t my first choice.” He stopped abruptly.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  Jarl wouldn’t meet his eye. “I didn’t mean—”

  “What were you about to say?” Kylar said in a dangerous tone.

  “We had to be sure, Kylar. We were very respectful, I want you to know that. It was Momma K’s idea. He used to be immortal, we had to make sure…”

  “You dug up my master’s corpse?” Kylar demanded.

  “We put it—him—back just how you’d buried him.” Jarl winced. “It was maybe a week after the invasion—”

  “You dug him up while I was still in the city?”

  “We couldn’t tell you beforehand, and afterward there was no reason to. Momma K said the body would be there, that Durzo had given his immortality to you, but when she saw him…. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, Kylar. I mean, I was practically raised by the woman and I’ve never seen her like that. Hysterical, weeping and screaming—here we are, in the middle of the cloudy night, we’d paddled out to Vos Island with oars wrapped in wool, and she starts wailing, out of her mind. I was so sure a patrol would come that I wanted to get off the island immediately, but she wouldn’t leave until he was just how you left him.”

  Like Kylar cared that Durzo be left on that damned rock. If they were going to dig him up, they could have at least brought him…. Where? Home? What home did Durzo Blint ever have?

  “How’d he look?” Kylar asked quietly.

  “Shit. He looked like he’d been in the ground a week, what do you think?”

  Of course he did. Dammit, Master Blint, why’d you give me your immortali
ty? Were you just sick of living? Why didn’t you tell me anything? But then, maybe he had told him in the note he’d given Kylar: the note that had been soaked with blood, illegible. “You want me to break into the Hole and save Logan?”

  “Do you know who the Godking keeps as his concubines? Young girls from noble families. Prefers virgins. He guesses how much humiliation and debasement each girl can take. Puts them in tower rooms with balconies where all the railings have been torn off so the jump beckons every day. It’s a game for him.”

  Kylar kept his voice hard. “Get to the point.”

  “He took Serah and Mags Drake. Serah killed herself in the first week. Mags is still there.”

  Serah and Mags were practically Kylar’s sisters. Mags had always been his pal. Always quick with a laugh, always smiling. He’d been so self-absorbed since the coup that he’d barely thought of them.

  Jarl said, “I want you to rescue Logan, and then I want you to assassinate the Godking.”

  “Is that all?” Coldly amused. It was a tone Kylar had heard Durzo use a hundred times. “Let me guess, Logan first because my odds with the Godking aren’t so great?”

  “That’s right,” Jarl said angrily. “That’s how I have to think, Kylar. I’m fighting a war, and people better than us are dying in it every day. And you’re sitting around because of what some girl thinks?”

  “Don’t you talk about Elene.”

  “Or what? You’ll breathe heavily on me? You’re the dumbass who swore off violence. Yes, I know about that. Let me tell you something. Roth made a lot of people miserable. I’m glad you killed him, all right? He fucked me up bad. But he doesn’t hold a candle to his father.” Jarl swore. “Look at yourself! I know this hit is impossible. I’m sending you after a god. But if anyone in the world can do it, it’s you. You were made for this, Kylar. Do you think you made it through all the shit you made it through so you can sell hangover potions? Some things are bigger than your happiness, Kylar. You can give hope to an entire nation.”

  “It’ll only cost me everything,” Kylar whispered. His face was gray.

  “You’re an immortal. There’ll be other girls.”

  Kylar gave him a disgusted look.

  Jarl’s expression changed instantly. “I’m sorry. I guess there will be other Godkings and other Shingas too. I just… we need you. Logan will die if you don’t come. So will Mags, and so will a lot of other people you’ll never know.”

  It would have been easier if he disagreed with anything Jarl said. Kylar had asked Momma K, “Can a man change?” Here was his answer, and it sucked the life right out of him. “All right,” Kylar said. “I’ll take the contract.”

  Jarl smiled. “It’s good to have you back, my friend.”

  “It’s bad to be back.”

  “I didn’t want to say it before, but have you done something to piss off the local Shinga?” Jarl asked. He took Kylar’s expression to be an admission. “Because one of my sources told me the Shinga put out a contract on a Cenarian wetboy. He didn’t know any details, but uh, I don’t figure there’s all that many Cenarians wetboys hanging around. The longer you’re here, the more you put Elene and Uly in danger.”

  Durzo had taught Kylar that the best way to cancel a contract was to cancel the contract-giver. For Elene and Uly and Aunt Mea and even Braen to be safe, Barush Sniggle had to die.

  Kylar stood woodenly and went upstairs. He returned a minute later with a visage as dark as the wetboy grays he wore once again.

  Vi looked at the bow in her hands, trying to convince herself to pull back the red-and-black arrow. She was on a rooftop looking into the midwife’s home. She’d been there for an hour. Her back was to a chimney, and she’d wrapped herself in shadows. She wasn’t invisible by any means, but crouched low in the dying light, with the sun behind her, she was close enough.

  She’d come to Caernarvon to escape this. She’d thought the only way to not kill Jarl and still escape the Godking’s wrath was to kill Kylar. In the time she was away, Jarl would flee or be killed by another wetboy.

  How could he have come here?

  She wanted to shoot past him, shoot Kylar and pretend that Jarl wasn’t here, pretend that she’d never gotten the note. But she didn’t have the shot to take Kylar down, and lies would go nowhere with the Godking. Jarl sat right in front of the window. The window was even open. Vi was using a Talent-tension bow, a bow so powerful that only a person with the Talent could draw it, so the red-and-black traitor’s arrow could have punched right through a window, through shutters for that matter. But she didn’t even need it.

  Jarl sat there, utterly exposed. He never would have made such a mistake in Cenaria, but here he felt safe. He’d fled straight into Death’s arms.

  Yet she waited. Damn Jarl for his stupidity. If Vi didn’t kill him, the Godking would know. He would find her. Damn you, Jarl. Damn you for your kindness.

  Finish the job. Hu Gibbet liked to torture his deaders first, but he only did it when he was sure he wouldn’t be interrupted. Hu Gibbet always finished the job. The perfect shot never comes. Take any shot that kills.

  Cursing under her breath to activate her Talent, Vi stood and drew the arrow to her cheek. It moved her out of the silhouette of the small chimney into the dying light. She was shaking, but it was barely thirty paces. “Damn you, Jarl, move!” she said.

  She could run away. In Gandu or Ymmur the Godking would never find her. Would he? She couldn’t believe it. She had told no one she was coming here, left no sign, and yet he knew. If she fled, the Godking would send her master after her, and Hu Gibbet never failed. For everything that Vi’s beauty accomplished for her, the one thing it made nearly impossible was hiding. She’d never worried about disguises. She’d never thought of it as a weakness. Until now.

  “Come on, Kylar,” she whispered. “Just walk in front of the window. Just once.” She was shaking violently now, and not just from the Talent burning in her, not just from the tension of holding the bow drawn for so long. Why did she want Kylar dead so badly?

  She saw a leg, a leg dressed in wetboy grays, but no more appeared. Dammit. If Kylar was going out, she was in serious trouble. She’d heard that he could make himself invisible, but that was just the typical wetboy lies. They all bragged about their abilities so they could drive prices up. Everyone wanted to be another Durzo Blint.

  But this was Durzo’s apprentice, the man who’d killed Durzo. Fear gripped her.

  Jarl’s face was drawn with compassion, sorrow. At that look—that look she’d seen before when Jarl had taken care of her after Hu Gibbet came in to test the new skills Momma K had been teaching her and found her lacking and beat her senseless and violated her in every way he could imagine—at that look, Vi’s vision went blurry. She blinked and blinked, refusing to believe it was tears. She hadn’t cried since that night, since Jarl had held her, rocking her, helping her put the fractured pieces of herself back together.

  Jarl stood and walked to the window. He lifted his eyes and saw Vi, her dark silhouette limned with sunlight. Surprise lit his eyes, and as it was followed by recognition—what other wetboy had a woman’s silhouette?—she could swear she saw her name on his lips. Her fingers went limp and the bowstring slipped.

  The red-and-black traitor’s arrow leapt across that narrowest of chasms: the distance between a wetboy and her deader. It cut a red path through the air as if the night itself were bleeding.

  26

  Elene, I’m sorry,” Kylar wrote in a shaky hand. “I tried. I swear I tried. Some things are worth more than my happiness. Some things only I can do. Sell these to Master Bourary and move the family to a better part of town. I will always love you.” Taking the ring box from his pocket, he placed it on top of the scrap of parchment.

  “What’s in the box?” Jarl asked.

  Kylar couldn’t look back at his friend. “My heart,” he whispered and slowly uncurled his fingers from the box. “Just some earrings,” he said, louder. He turned.

  Jar
l saw right through him. “You were going to marry her,” he said.

  A lump rose in Kylar’s throat. There were no words. He had to look away from Jarl’s eyes. “Have you ever heard of cruxing?” he asked finally.

  Jarl shook his head.

  “It’s how Alitaerans execute rebels. They stretch them on a wood frame and pound nails through their wrists and feet. To breathe, the criminal has to lift his weight on the nails. It sometimes takes a man a day to die, asphyxiated by his own weight.” He couldn’t complete the metaphor, though he could feel himself being stretched out, a rebel against fate in a malevolent universe bent on crushing all things good, stretched between Logan and Elene, nailed to each with loyalty owed and gasping under the crushing weight of his own character. But it wasn’t just Elene and Logan that stretched him here. It was two lives, two paths. The way of the shadows and the way of the light. The wolf and the wolfhound. Or was it wolfhound and lapdog?

  Kylar had thought he could change. He’d thought he could have everything. He’d run headfirst into either/or and chosen both. That was what had driven him to the crux—not the machinations of a trickster god or the implacable roll of Fortune’s wheel. Kylar’s options had spread further and further apart, and he’d held on until he couldn’t breathe. Only one question mattered now: What kind of man am I?

  “Let’s go,” Kylar said, all wolfhound.

  Jarl was standing at the window, pensive. “I was in love once,” Jarl said. “Or something like it. With a beautiful girl nearly as fucked up as I am.”

  “Who was she?” Kylar asked.

  “Her name was Viridiana, Vi. Beautiful, beautiful—” Jarl looked up and stiffened. “Vi?”

  He went down in a spray of blood, an arrow passing fully through the center of his neck. His body dropped to the wood floor like a sack of flour. He blinked once. His eyes were neither afraid nor angry. His expression was wry.

  Can you believe that? his eyes asked as Kylar drew him into his lap.

  And then Jarl’s eyes said nothing at all.

 
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