The night angel trilogy, p.71
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.71
 

           Brent Weeks

  “Can I show Kylar?” Uly asked. She was clutching the very doll that Kylar had picked up a few days before. Elene smiled; Kylar was doing better at being a father than he knew.

  “Yes,” Elene said, “but you run right home. Promise?”

  “Promise,” Uly said, and ran.

  Elene watched her go, feeling anxious, but she always felt anxious about little things. Caernarvon wasn’t like the Warrens. Besides, the house was only two blocks away.

  “We need to talk, don’t we?” Aunt Mea said.

  It was getting late. The sun’s rays slanted down on merchants who were packing up their goods and heading home. Elene swallowed. “I promised Kylar. We agreed that we’d never tell anyone, but—”

  “Then don’t say another word.” Aunt Mea smiled and took Elene’s arm to guide her back to the house.

  “I can’t,” Elene said, stopping her. “I can’t do this anymore.”

  So she told Aunt Mea everything, from the lie of their marriage to their fights about sex to Kylar’s being a wetboy and trying to leave it behind. Aunt Mea didn’t even look surprised.

  “Elene,” she said, taking her hands. “Do you love Kylar or are you with him because Uly needs a mother?”

  Elene paused to fully humble herself in the face of the question, to make sure what she would say was true. “I love him,” Elene said. “Uly is a part of it, but I really love him.”

  “Then why are you protecting yourself?”

  Elene looked up. “I’m not protecting—”

  “You can’t be honest with me until you’re honest with yourself.”

  Elene looked at her hands. A farmer’s cart loaded with the day’s unsold produce rattled past them. The light was fading and the street was beginning to get dark. “We have to get back,” Elene said. “Dinner must be getting cold.”

  “Child,” Aunt Mea said. Elene stopped.

  “He’s a killer,” Elene said. “I mean, he’s killed people.”

  “No, you were right. He’s a killer.”

  “No, he’s a good man. He can change. I know it.”

  “Child, do you know why you’re talking to me even though you promised Kylar you wouldn’t? Because you agreed to something that isn’t in your nature. You make a terrible liar, but you tried because you promised. Isn’t that what he’s done?”

  “What do you mean?” Elene asked.

  “If you can’t love Kylar for the man he is—if you only love him for the man you think he could be—you’ll cripple him.”

  Kylar had been so unhappy. When he’d started going out at night, she hadn’t asked, hadn’t wanted to know what he did. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked.

  “Do you think you’re the first woman who’s been afraid to love?” Aunt Mea asked.

  The words cut deep. It cast a different light on their nightly making out and fighting. She’d thought she was being holy by not making love with Kylar, but she was just terrified. She felt so far out of control already that surrender in the bedroom would have left her powerless. “Can I love him if I can’t understand him? Can I love him if I hate what he does?”

  “Child,” Aunt Mea said. She gently laid a thick hand on Elene’s shoulder. “Loving is an act of faith as much as believing in the God is.”

  “He isn’t a believer. An ox and a wolf can’t be yoked together,” Elene said, knowing she was grasping at straws.

  “You think a yoke only refers to wedding rings or lovemaking? You don’t need to understand him, Elene, you need to love him until you do.” Aunt Mea took Elene’s arm. “Come on, let’s go eat our dinner.”

  They walked back to the house together, Elene feeling lighter than she had in months—even if she was going to have to have a big talk with Kylar. She felt a new sense of hope.

  Elene threw the door open, but the house was silent, empty. “Kylar?” she said. “Uly?”

  There was no answer. The food was cold on the counter, the jelly Kylar had been making congealed and cracked. Her heart clogged her throat. Every breath was an effort. Aunt Mea looked horrified. Elene ran upstairs and clawed at the box of Kylar’s wetboy clothes and his big sword. It was empty. There was no sign of anything.

  She walked back downstairs, the truth coming to her as slowly as the setting sun.

  “Are we going to be all right?” she had asked him.

  “After tonight we are,” he’d said, unsmiling.

  Kylar’s wedding ring sat next to the stove. There was no note, nothing else. Even Uly was gone. Kylar had finally given up on her. He was gone.

  Vi slung the wiggling child off her shoulder as they came into the stable of the seedy inn where she’d put up her horse. The stable boy lay unconscious and bleeding by the door. He’d probably live. It didn’t matter; he hadn’t seen Vi before she’d clubbed him with the pommel of her short sword.

  The girl squeaked through the rag Vi had tied over her mouth. Vi knelt and grabbed the girl’s throat in one hand. She pulled out the gag.

  “What’s your name?” Vi asked.

  “Go to hell!” The girl’s eyes flashed, defiant. She couldn’t be more than twelve.

  Vi slapped her, hard. Then she slapped her again, and again, and again, impassively, the way Hu used to slap her when he was bored. When the girl tried to get away, she clamped her hand down on her throat, the threat explicit: the more you wiggle, the more you choke.

  “Fine, Go To Hell, you want me to call you that, or something else?”

  The little girl cursed her again. Vi spun her in to her body and clamped a hand over her mouth. With the other hand, she found a pain point in one of the girl’s elbows and ground her fingers in.

  The girl screamed into her hand.

  Why haven’t I killed her yet?

  The job had gone flawlessly. Kylar had taken Jarl’s body after arming himself for hunting. Vi had only seen brief glimpses of blades being sheathed and disappearing—surely it was a trick of the light and the distance, Kylar couldn’t really be invisible. Regardless, after a while he’d taken Jarl’s body and Vi had gone into the house.

  She intended to set a few traps. There was a perfect contact poison that she could smear on the door latch of his bedroom and a needle trap that would fit perfectly in the little box he kept under the bed. But she couldn’t do it. Still reeling from Jarl’s murder, she walked around the house like a common prowler.

  Vi found a note and a pair of earrings that looked expensive—the note said as much—even though they were oddly mismatched, one larger than the other. She pocketed both but didn’t touch the thin gold wedding band by the stove. Let the happy little family keep its heirlooms. She wasn’t sure what the note meant. Kylar had tried? Tried to protect Jarl?

  The door opened, surprising Vi, and the little girl had walked in. Vi bound and gagged her, then stood looking at the mess she’d got herself into.

  She was finished. She couldn’t kill this child. She couldn’t even kill Kylar. No, that wasn’t true, she was sure she could still kill Kylar. The only way she could escape the Godking with her life was to please him. He would be more pleased if she delivered Kylar alive. If she delivered Kylar alive, the Godking would never know her weakness. She’d buy herself time to recover whatever it was that had cracked in her as she’d watched Jarl die in a spray of blood.

  Galvanized, Vi went back to Kylar’s bedroom. She carved the Cenarian Sa’kagé’s glyph into the bedside table in a fine, light hand. Beneath it she traced, “I’ve got the girl.” When Kylar came back, he’d find his daughter gone and he’d scour the entire house. He’d find it, and he’d follow Vi straight to the Godking.

  So now all Vi had to do was figure out how to smuggle a wailing child out of the city.

  “Let’s try again,” Vi said. “What’s your name?”

  “Uly,” the little girl said, tears making her face blotchy.

  “All right, Ugly, we’re leaving. You can come with me alive or dead. It doesn’t matter. You’ve served your purpose. I’m going to tie your
hands to the saddle, so you can jump off the horse if you want, but you’ll just get kicked and dragged to death. Your choice. Open your mouth.”

  Uly opened her mouth and Vi stuffed the gag in. “Be silent,” she said. She scowled at the rag. “Say something.”

  “Mmm?” Uly said.

  “Damn.” Vi fixed her will on the rag. “Be silent!” she whispered. “Again.”

  Uly’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. Vi pulled out the rag; it wasn’t necessary now. It had been a little trick she’d discovered a few years ago by accident. It was spotty, but a merely silent child would be easier to get out of the city than a gagged one. Vi saddled her horse and the second-best horse in the stable.

  In half an hour, Caernarvon was fading into the distance, but freedom was still a long way off.

  27

  Cold fury burned the world white. Kylar sprinted across the rooftop. He reached the edge and leapt, soaring through the night air. He cleared the twenty-foot gap easily and ran up the wall. He pushed off it, grabbed the extended roof beam, and flipped himself up onto it, not even wobbling.

  He’d done it all while invisible, a fact that would have pleased him immensely a few days ago. Today, he had no ability to feel pleasure at all. His eyes scanned the dark streets.

  Before he’d left, he’d cleaned Jarl’s blood from the floor—he wasn’t going to make Elene deal with that. He’d taken his friend’s body to a cemetery. Jarl wouldn’t rot in a sewer like some guttershite. Kylar didn’t even have the money to pay a grave digger—thanks, God—so he left Jarl and swore to return.

  Jarl was dead. Part of Kylar didn’t believe it, the part that had thought the soft life of a Waeddryner healer might be his. How could he have believed that? There was nothing soft in a Night Angel’s life. Nothing. He was a killer. Death rose in his passage like mud swirling behind a stick dragged across the bottom of a clear, still pond.

  There. Two punks were hassling a drunk. Gods, was that the same drunk he’d left to his fate the other night? Kylar dropped from the roof, swung off the next level, and in ten seconds was on the street.

  The drunk was already down, bleeding from his nose. One of the punks was tearing the man’s purse from his belt while the other stood watch, a long knife in his hand.

  Kylar let himself shimmer into partial visibility, muscles gleaming iridescent black, eyes black orbs, face a mask of fury. He only intended to scare the knife-wielder, but as the hoodlum’s eyes widened at the sight of him, Kylar swore he saw something so dark in them that it compelled him to act.

  Before he knew it, the punch sword was drinking heart’s blood. The hoodlum’s knife dropped on the ground.

  “What are you doing, Terr?” the mugger asked, turning.

  A moment later, Kylar had the mugger pinned against the wall by his throat. He had to suppress the urge to kill, kill, kill.

  “Where’s the Shinga?” he demanded.

  Terrified, the man flailed and screamed. “What are you?”

  Kylar caught one of the mugger’s flailing hands in his own and squeezed. A bone popped. The man screamed. Kylar waited, then squeezed harder. Another bone popped.

  The stream of curses was unimpressive. Kylar ground the mugger’s hand to pulp, then grabbed his other hand. The man started gibbering as he looked at his mangled hand. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit, my hand.”

  “Where’s the Shinga? I won’t repeat myself again.”

  “You f—no! Stop! Third warehouse down from dock three! Oh, gods! What are you?”

  “I am retribution,” Kylar said. He cut open the man’s neck and dropped him. The drunk gaped at him. He looked like he thought he’d gone crazy.

  The warehouse was definitely the Shinga’s place, but Barush Sniggle wasn’t there. Kylar supposed it was too much to expect. There were, however, ten guards waiting inside the front door. Kylar stared down at them from the ceiling beams, looking for one who might know more than the others.

  The presence of the guards was evidence enough that Barush Sniggle had sent the wetboy who killed Jarl. Kylar had no idea how they’d learned that he was the one who’d made Sniggle wet himself the other night, but killing the wrong man for it was exactly what this Shinga would do.

  Kylar dropped behind a man who looked like the leader. He broke the man’s right arm and drew the man’s sword.

  Half of the thugs were down before they grasped the idea that they actually were supposed to fight the invisible man killing them. Those who fought, fought poorly. Dress a thug in armor and give him a sword instead of a cudgel and you don’t get a soldier, you get a thug who swings a sword like a piece of wood. They hurried to Death’s embrace.

  Kylar stood over the leader, the last man alive, and again allowed his eyes and face to become visible. He put one foot on the man’s broken arm and touched the sword to his neck.

  “You’re the wetboy.” The man cursed. He was sweating, his broad face pasty. His bushy black beard quivered as he trembled. “He said you were a girl.”

  “Wrong, tell me,” Kylar said.

  “The Shinga said he pissed off some Cenarian wetboy. We were supposed to kill you if you came here.”

  “Where is he?”

  “If I tell you, will you let me live?”

  Kylar looked into the man’s eyes, and curiously didn’t feel or imagine—or whatever it had been the other times—the darkness that demanded death. “Yes,” he said, though the killing rage was still on him.

  The man told him of a hideout, and another trap, an underground room with only one entrance, another ten guards.

  With teeth gritted against the white-cold fury, Kylar said, “Tell them the Night Angel walks. Tell them Justice is come.”

  28

  The grate squealed open and Gorkhy’s face appeared in the dim light of his torch. He looked pleased. Logan hated the man with all his heart. “Fresh meat, kiddos,” Gorkhy said. “Sweet, fresh meat.”

  Some of the prisoners behind Gorkhy started sobbing. It was a deliberate cruelty to bring them here at this time of day. It was noon; the howlers were shrieking for all they were worth, hot fetid air gusting up out of the Hole like a giant, endless fart. It made the torches dance and the figures of the Holers seem to leap and twist as their sweat gleamed.

  Since Logan had jumped down the Hole eighty-two days ago, they had only thrown one prisoner in the Hole. Gorkhy had done it, and he had thrown the man into the Hole—straight into the Hole. The convict’s face had smacked wetly against the lip of the Hole and his body had plunged into the abyss. So now the animals and the monsters crowded around the Hole as they did when Gorkhy threw in bread. It wasn’t to save the prisoners’ lives. It was to save their meat.

  “All right, my lovelies,” Gorkhy said. “Who’s first?”

  Keeping an eye on Fin, who was also eyeing him, Logan stayed back from the edge of the Hole. He had the longest reach, but catching a falling body was different from catching falling bread, and Fin had uncoiled his sinew rope from around his body.

  There was a scuffle above and curses and a woman flung herself at the grate. Gorkhy tried to intercept her, but she dove under his arms. She dropped headfirst toward the floor, then jerked to a stop as Gorkhy caught her dress.

  She screamed and kicked as she hung directly over Logan’s head. He jumped and grabbed one of her flailing arms and yanked, but his hand slipped. She dropped a few more feet forward so that she was hanging upside down, ten feet from the stone floor.

  “Fin!” Lilly cried. “Get him!” Gorkhy was on his knees, holding on to the girl’s dress with one hand and onto the grate with the other. His head was exposed. For Fin, who practiced incessantly with his lasso, it was an easy target.

  Gorkhy was cursing, but he was strong. Logan jumped and reached for the girl’s hand again, but missed. Fin came running with the lasso in his hand. The rest of the Holers were howling and flinging feces at Gorkhy. Logan jumped again and caught the girl’s hand.

  Her dress tore and she fell on top of Logan
. He was barely able to break her fall, only trying to angle her away from the abyss.

  Logan staggered to his feet and saw Gorkhy’s face livid in the torchlight, still exposed, just waiting for a noose to drop around his neck, just begging to be dragged into the Hole and torn apart. Turning, Logan saw Fin just feet away, but the man had dropped his lasso. Logan barely had time to see the glittering steel in Fin’s hand before Fin stabbed him.

  Flesh parted along Logan’s ribs and his left arm as he twisted hard to avoid the blade. Fin’s hand got caught between Logan’s left arm and his body as Logan twisted and Logan heard the knife fall to the stone floor. Logan brought a fist toward Fin’s head, but the man ducked, fell to the floor and scurried back. Logan started to go after him, determined to kill the man while he had the chance, but as he moved forward, behind him the Holers closed on the girl.

  He couldn’t leave her. He knew what they saw when they looked at a young, half-naked woman, dazed from her fall. He’d heard the rapists reminisce about it, tell how many sweets they’d banged. Some of them couldn’t even bang Lilly: a willing woman left them limp.

  Logan roared with pain and frustration. The animals collapsed backward.

  The girl had picked up the knife and was standing now with her back to the wall. She braced herself to keep from falling. From the way she stood, she’d sprained her ankle in the fall.

  “Stay back,” she said, waving the knife around ineffectually. “Stay back!” Her eyes darted from Logan to the abyss and then to Gnasher.

  The girl was shaking. She was pretty in a fragile sort of way, with long blond hair and fine features. She was barely dirty, though, so she couldn’t have been in prison long. Long enough for Gorkhy, though, damn him to the ninth circle of hell. There was fresh blood staining her torn dress between her legs.

  Logan held his hands up. “Easy,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. But we need to move or they’ll start falling on us.”

  Her eyes flashed up the grate and she began scooting along the circular wall.

  Gorkhy had been pulled away from the grate by the other guards. The rest of the prisoners were herded to the grate. The first man didn’t want to jump in, so they pushed him.

 
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