The night angel trilogy, p.72
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.72

           Brent Weeks
 

  The fifteen-foot fall onto solid rock broke his legs, and the Holers were on him in seconds. To Logan’s dismay, Gnasher joined them, flinging aside others and sinking filed teeth into living flesh.

  The second man froze at the spectacle he could hear but barely see. The guards pushed him in and he, too, became meat. After that, most of the other prisoners were willing to hang from the grate and drop in themselves.

  Logan had no time for it. On another day, he might have fought for meat himself. But he wouldn’t feed today, not with this girl here. Her presence made him remember better things. He wanted to weep.

  “Gods,” he said. “Natassa Graesin.” The words escaped his lips. He shouldn’t have said anything, but the shock of seeing another noble was too great. At seventeen, Natassa was the second-eldest Graesin daughter. She was his cousin.

  Natassa Graesin stared at him, her wide, frightened eyes taking in the tall, emaciated wreck of what had been a huge, athletic body. He was a shadow of what he had been, but though he had withered, he was still tall, unmistakably tall.

  He held his hands up to silence her, but he was too late.

  “Logan? Logan Gyre?” she said.

  He felt his world ending. In all the time he’d been down here, he’d been only King or Thirteen. In the madness of hunger, he’d eventually joined the others who stood around the Hole to catch bread—with his long reach, he got more than most, at the cost of letting Gorkhy know that a tall blond man was in the Hole. But he’d never, never, never used his real name.

  Shooting a glance over his shoulder, he saw that new prisoners were still dropping in the hole, sprawling as they hit the ground. In the near-total darkness, they were blind, terrified, whimpering and shrieking and cursing and weeping as they heard the Holers tearing into the fresh meat. The Holers were fighting and Gorkhy was laughing and cheering at the spectacle, taking bets on what would happen with each prisoner, and the howlers were howling. A lot of noise, a lot of confusion, a lot of distractions. Perhaps it had passed without notice.

  But one of the new prisoners wasn’t whimpering, wasn’t confused, wasn’t distracted. Tenser Vargun didn’t appear frightened, despite the noise and the heat and the stink and the darkness and the violence. His head was tilted toward Logan and Natassa, his eyes squinting against the midnight dark. He looked thoughtful.

  29

  Elene couldn’t breathe. Kylar hadn’t only left her; he’d taken Uly. The rejection was complete. Things had seemed to be going so well.

  No, things had been going so well. Elene couldn’t believe it, wouldn’t believe it. She scoured the kitchen for some sign. She found a stain on the floorboards, dark against dark wood, hastily cleaned up. Nothing looked like it had been spilled from the cooking, but she couldn’t tell what it might be. Then she found a deep, thin gouge in the floor nearby.

  She went upstairs. Kylar’s wetboy grays were gone, as was Retribution. She was sliding the box back under the bed when she saw the Cenarian Sa’kagé symbol scrawled into the bedside table. “We have the girl,” the script below it said, in a careful, neat hand. Elene’s heart dropped again.

  Someone had taken Uly, and Kylar had gone after them. The revelation brought fear and joy intermingled. Kylar hadn’t abandoned her, but Uly had been kidnapped by someone who knew who he was. Someone was trying to trap Kylar. But where had Kylar been when Uly was taken? If someone had grabbed Uly on the street, they might have left a note on the front doorstep, but Elene didn’t think they’d dare to break in with Kylar downstairs.

  There was a shout from downstairs and pounding on the door. “Open the door. In the name of the Queen, open the door!”

  When Elene saw Aunt Mea let the city watch in, her heart seized with fear again. In Cenaria, the guards were considered so corrupt that no one trusted them. But then Elene saw Aunt Mea’s obvious relief.

  It took almost an hour to sort things out. A neighbor had seen Kylar leave carrying a body over his shoulder, a handsome young man with dark skin, his hair in microbraids, capped with gold beads. Elene knew instantly it had to be Jarl. After Kylar left with the body, the neighbor had gone running for the guards. The guards were only halfway to the house when they were met by the neighbor’s wife, who’d seen a woman with a bow enter the house about a minute before Uly returned home, and then leave with the girl. From the evidence, the watch thought the woman was the murderer, thank the God, but they still wanted to talk to Kylar.

  Elene lay in bed late that night, mourning Jarl and trying to make sense of it. Why would Jarl come here? Because he was in danger? Because he wanted Kylar to do a job? Just to visit? Elene had to think it was to get Kylar to do a job. Jarl was too important to leave Cenaria on a whim, and if he had left because he was in danger, he’d have had bodyguards. So Jarl had been killed—by accident?—while trying to hire Kylar. Kylar had either agreed to do the job, or he was going out for vengeance. Either way, he’d left before Uly’s kidnapping. He might not know about it.

  By noon the next day, Kylar still hadn’t returned. There was a knock on the door and Elene hurried to answer it. It was one of the guards from yesterday.

  “I just thought you should know,” the young man said, “we talked to the gate guards as soon as we could, but shifts change and it’s hard to get word to everyone. A young woman matching the killer’s description left yesterday, headed north. She had a little girl with her. We’ve already sent men after her, but she’s got a good head start. I’m sorry.”

  After the guard left, Braen and Aunt Mea looked at Elene as if they expected her to burst into tears.

  “I’m going after Uly,” Elene said instead.

  “But—” Aunt Mea began.

  “I know, believe me, I know I’m the last person who should go. But what else am I going to do? If Kylar comes back here, tell him where I went. He’ll catch up with me, I’m sure. If he’s already gone after them, I’ll meet him on his way back. But if he doesn’t know Uly’s been kidnapped, I might be her only chance.”

  Aunt Mea opened her mouth to protest once more, then closed it. “I understand.”

  Elene’s things fit in a small pack, and by the time she got downstairs, Aunt Mea had packed her enough food for a week. “Is Braen going to say goodbye?” Elene asked.

  Aunt Mea took Elene outside. “Braen says goodbye in his own way.” There was a horse saddled in front of the shop. It was sturdy and gentle looking. Elene’s eyes flooded with tears. She’d thought she was going to walk. “He says he’s had some big orders recently,” Aunt Mea said, obviously proud of her son. “Now go, child, and may the God go with you.”

  Kylar was standing over the grave he’d dug and doing his best to get drunk. It was still two hours before dawn. The cemetery was quiet. The only sounds were leaves rattling in the wind and the complaints of night insects. Kylar had chosen this cemetery because it was the richest one on his way out of the city. After killing the Shinga, he’d robbed the man so he had plenty of money, and Jarl deserved the best. If the grave keeper were true to his word, there would even be a headstone here in a week.

  They made quite a pair. Jarl laid out on the ground next to the hole, the gore a darker black than his skin, limbs slowly stiffening. Kylar was more blood-spattered than his dead friend, cruor drying into hard ridges on his limbs, cracking as he worked, reconstituting as he perspired. It made him look like he was sweating blood.

  The grave was finished. Now Kylar was supposed to say something significant.

  He drank more wine. He’d brought four skins and already emptied two. A year ago, two would have flattened him. Now, he wasn’t even tipsy. He finished the third skin then dutifully took deep draughts of the fourth until it was gone.

  His eyes kept going back to Jarl’s corpse. He tried to imagine the wounds closing as his own had so long ago. But they weren’t closing. Jarl was dead. He’d been alive one second, and now he was simply not. Kylar finally understood the wry look in Jarl’s eyes, too.

  The Cenarian wetboy that Shin
ga Sniggle had ordered killed wasn’t Kylar. It was Vi Sovari, and it was Vi Sovari who had killed Jarl with a red-and-black traitor’s arrow.

  It was just like Jarl to find humor in it. Jarl confessed his love for a woman as she released the arrow that killed him.

  “Shit,” Kylar said.

  There were no words to express the magnitude of the ruin before him. Jarl was no more. This thing in front of Kylar was a slab of meat. Kylar wished he could believe in Elene’s God. He wanted to think Jarl and Durzo were in a better place. But he was honest enough to know that was all he wanted—some half-assed good feeling. Even if Elene’s God were real, Jarl and Durzo didn’t follow him. That meant they got to burn in hell, right?

  He climbed down into the grave and pulled Jarl’s body in. Jarl’s skin was cold, clammy; morning dew was condensing on it. It didn’t feel right. Kylar laid him down as gently as he could and climbed back out. He still didn’t feel drunk.

  Sitting on the pile of soft dirt next to the grave, he realized it was the ka’kari’s fault. His body treated alcohol like any poison, and healed him of it. It was so efficient that he’d have to drink massive quantities to get drunk. Just like Durzo had.

  And I dismissed him as a drunk. It was yet another way Kylar had misunderstood his master, another way he’d blithely condemned the man. It made everything ache all over again.

  “I’m sorry, brother,” Kylar said, and realized as the words crossed his lips that Jarl had been exactly that to him: an older brother who looked out for him. Why was Kylar condemned to having revelations about what people meant to him only after they were dead? “I’ll make it worth something, Jarl.” Making Jarl’s sacrifice mean something meant abandoning Elene and Uly and the life that might have been. He’d sworn to Uly that he wouldn’t abandon her as every other adult in her life had. And now he was doing it.

  Was it like this for you, master? Is this where that ocean of bitterness began? Is giving up my humanity the cost of my immortality?

  There was nothing else to do, nothing more to say. Kylar couldn’t even weep. As the first birds of morning began singing beauty to the waking sun, he filled the grave.

  30

  For two days, Uly didn’t speak or eat or drink. Vi drove them at a grueling pace along the queen’s road heading west and then north. The first night they passed the great estates of the Waeddryner nobility. By the time they stopped, a few hours after sunrise, they were in farmland. The fields were bare, the rolling hills covered with the irregular stubble of harvested spelt.

  The first day, Uly waited until Vi had been breathing regularly for about ten minutes, then she bolted for her horse. She hadn’t even untied the beast before Vi yanked her away. The second day, Uly waited for an hour. She got up quietly enough that Vi almost missed it. Uly got the tether undone that time, and nearly jumped out of her clothes when she turned to reach for the horse’s head and saw Vi standing behind her, hands on hips.

  Both times, Vi beat her. She was careful not to injure the girl. No broken bones or scars for this one. She wondered if she was being too easy on the girl, but she’d never beaten a child before. Vi was used to killing men, used to giving Talent-strength to her muscles and letting her victims deal with the consequences. If she did that with Uly, the child would die. That didn’t fit Vi’s plans.

  By the third day, Uly wasn’t doing well. She still hadn’t taken a drink. She refused anything Vi offered, and she was losing strength. Her lips were cracked and parched, her eyes red. Vi couldn’t help but feel a grudging admiration.

  The girl was tough, no doubt about it. Vi could stand pain better than most people, but she hated not eating. When she was twelve Hu had routinely withheld her food, giving her only one meal a day “so she wouldn’t get fat.” He’d put her back on full meals when he decided it was all going to her tits. But worse than the starving were the times he’d withheld water because he thought she was being lazy.

  The bastard never did grasp the concept of a woman’s cramps.

  She’d had to pretend the thirst didn’t bother her, because she’d known if she let it show, it would have become his favorite punishment.

  “Look, Ugly,” she said as she made camp in a small valley as the sun began to rise. “I don’t give a shit if you die. You are more useful to me alive than dead, but not by much. Kylar will follow me to Cenaria now either way. You, on the other hand, would probably like to see Kylar again, right?”

  Uly stared back at her with sunken eyes full of hate.

  “And I’d guess he’d kick your ass if you die for no reason. So, hey, if you want to keep starving, you’ll die pretty soon. Tomorrow, I’ll have to tie you to the saddle, and you might not make it through the night. That inconveniences me, but it hurts Kylar more. If you’d rather die like a kitten than stay alive and fight me, go ahead. But you’re not impressing anyone.”

  Vi put a skin of water in front of Uly and set about securing the horses. She wasn’t worried about Uly escaping now. The girl was too weak. But Vi Talent-locked the ropes anyway. She was going to sleep today, dammit.

  The rolling hills here were covered with forests broken now and then by a small village in a group of farm fields. The road was still broad and well-traveled, though. They’d made excellent time. There was no way to tell how far ahead of Kylar they were, but Vi had avoided villages and she had no doubt that had given Kylar precious hours on them. Yesterday evening, she’d traded the horses. If Kylar had somehow divined which tracks were theirs among the many, he’d be thrown.

  Still, at the rate they’d been traveling, they’d passed numerous other parties, and though she could swaddle herself in a formless cloak that disguised her sex and identity, there was no disguising that Uly was a child. Nor was there any practical way to pass unseen on the barren hills they’d already come through. Usually, they’d just barreled past the traders’ wagons and farmers’ carts. It was an uneasy balance. They made better time on the road, but they were more likely to be recognized.

  Her only contact with Kylar had been when she’d tried to kill him at the Drake house. Ironically enough, King Gunder had hired Vi, who’d tried to assassinate his son, to kill Kylar, who’d tried to protect him.

  She’d had Kylar under her hips and under her knife the very day she took the contract. She’d liked him. He’d been surprisingly calm for a man in his situation. Calm and a little charming, if you thought lame humor in the face of death was cute.

  And she would have killed him, but she’d hesitated. No, not hesitated. It hadn’t been lack of will that stayed her hand that day so much as pride that she’d accomplished such a difficult job so quickly. Hu never complimented her work. Though under duress, Kylar’s compliments had seemed genuine, and there weren’t that many people a wetboy could talk shop with. So Vi had given in to the temptation Kylar had laid out for her, stalling so obviously that she’d let it work.

  Then the do-gooder count had broken into the room and Kylar landed a knife in her shoulder as she escaped. Months later her shoulder still throbbed at times. She’d lost a little flexibility, despite instantly heading to the wytch Hu used for his healing.

  Next time, she wouldn’t hesitate.

  She knew she should feel elated that she’d killed Jarl. She was free now. A master wetboy. Hu would have no say over anything in her life, and if he tried, she could kill him without worrying about the repercussions in the Sa’kagé. That is, if the Sa’kagé survived whatever the Godking had planned.

  I killed Jarl. The thought wouldn’t go away. Hadn’t gone away for two days. I killed the man who was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a friend.

  There hadn’t been much to the kill. Any child could climb up on a roof and shoot an arrow. She’d wanted to miss, hadn’t she? She could have missed. She could have just not taken the shot. She could have gone inside and joined Kylar and Jarl and fought against the Godking. But she hadn’t.

  She’d killed, and now she was alone again, going somewhere she didn’t want to go, taking
a little girl against her will, forcing a man she respected to follow her into a trap.

  You are a cruel god, Nysos. Could you not leave me with more than dust and ashes? I, who serve you so faithfully. From my knife and my loins flow rivers of blood and semen. Do I not deserve an honored place for that? Do I not deserve one friend?

  She coughed and blinked rapidly. She bit her tongue until it threatened to bleed. I will not cry. Nysos can have his blood and semen, but he will never have my tears. Curse you, Nysos. But she didn’t say it aloud. She had served her god too long to risk his wrath.

  She had even made a pilgrimage of sorts—it had been on her way to a kill—to a small town in the Sethi wine country that was holy to Nysos. The harvest festival was dedicated to the god. Wine flowed freely. Women were expected to abandon themselves to whatever passion moved them. They even had an odd form of storytelling where men stood on a stage holding masks and enacting while the audience watched a three-part cycle full of the suffering of mortals and their need for gods to straighten it out, followed by a bawdy, vicious comedy that seemed to make fun of everyone in the village, even the writer of the enactment. The town loved it. They clapped and wailed and sang along drunkenly with the holy songs and fucked like rabbits. For a week, no one was allowed to turn down a sexual advance. For Vi, it turned into a long week. It was one time in her life that she’d felt justified in complaining about being beautiful. She’d taken to wearing baggy clothing in the hopes she would entice fewer men.

  All that service, Nysos. For what? For life? Hu’s nearing forty, and for all that he says he serves you, the only times a god’s name passes his lips is in curses.

  By the time Vi came back to where the bedrolls were laid out, Uly had finished the entire bag of water. She looked like she was about to be sick.

  “If you throw up on those blankets, you’ll sleep in them dirty,” Vi said.

 

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