The night angel trilogy, p.73
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.73

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Kylar’s going to kill you,” Uly said. “Even if you are a girl.”

  “I’m not a girl. I’m a bitch, and don’t you forget it.” Vi tossed the bag with their food at Uly, who dropped it. “Eat slow and not much, or you’ll puke and die.”

  Uly took her advice and soon flopped down on her bedroll and was asleep in seconds. Vi stayed up. She was tired, achingly, grindingly tired. She only thought this much when she was exhausted. It did no good to think. It was worthless.

  She busied herself making the camp invisible. It was a foggy morning. They weren’t far from the road, but they were in a small hollow. The stream came burbling down from the Silver Bear Hills with enough volume that most of the noise the horses might make would be covered, and with the cold camp they’d made, the human presence was barely notable here. She’d done her best to hide the horses behind a thicket. She squatted with her back to a tree and tried to convince her mind how tired her body was.

  In the distance, she heard a clatter. It was dampened by the fog, but it could only be one thing: horses. She drew a sword and a knife, and dipped the knife into her poison sheath. She looked at Uly and considered trying to magically silence the girl, but it would expose her and she didn’t know if it would work anyway, so she just pressed her back to a tree and peered toward the sound.

  Moments later, Kylar appeared, leading two horses. He passed twenty paces away. He must have been riding almost straight through, switching from horse to horse. He barely slowed as he approached the ford. Vi’s horse stomped a foot and one of the horses Kylar was leading neighed.

  Kylar cursed and jerked the reins. Uly rolled over as Kylar splashed through the stream. The horses climbed the other bank and clattered into the distance. Kylar never even turned his head.

  Vi chuckled and lay down. She slept well.

  When she woke that evening, Uly was still asleep. That was good. Vi didn’t have time to chase the girl. In her place, another kidnapper would have just bound the girl and been done with it. But the strongest ropes weren’t the kind that bound hands. Hopelessness was Vi’s weapon, not hemp. Ropes of Uly’s own devising would bind her forever.

  Ropes of my own devising. I know all about that, don’t I?

  She kicked Uly to wake her, but not as hard as she meant to. The girl’s salvation had been so close, and she’d never even known it.

  31

  The most valuable skill Dorian ever learned turned out to be a simple one: he figured out how to eat and drink without breaking his trance. Instead of having Solon watch him for the inevitable signs of dehydration and wake him, Dorian was able to maintain his trances for weeks.

  Though he knew he appeared utterly disconnected from reality, the opposite was true. From his little room in the garrison at Screaming Winds, Dorian watched everything. The Cenarian garrison at Screaming Winds had been bypassed by Khalidor’s invasion. Most of the Khalidoran army had simply used Quorig’s Pass more than a week east. With the death of Logan’s father, Duke Regnus Gyre, the garrison was being led by a young noble named Lehros Vass. He was well-meaning, but he didn’t know what to do without a commanding officer.

  Solon was giving advice that over the days sounded less like advice and more like orders. If Khalidor attacked Screaming Winds now, they would attack from the Cenarian side, so he shifted the defenses, moved the men and the supplies inside the walls. No one expected an attack, though. The truth was that Screaming Winds now protected nothing. Garoth Ursuul could let them grow old and die here, and all he would lose would be a trade route that hadn’t been used for hundreds of years.

  Far to the South, Feir was doing less well, though he was tracking Curoch admirably. Feir had a hard road in front of him, and Dorian could do nothing to make it easier. Sometimes it made Dorian sick. He’d watched Feir die a dozen ways, some of them so shameful he wept even through his trance. At best, Feir would have about two decades and a heroic death in front of him.

  As always, Dorian strayed close to his own futures. He’d found a way to do it that didn’t risk madness. He simply watched the futures of other people at the places they met him. It didn’t work well, though. He would see half a dozen ways a person might interact with him, and how their choices might affect the meeting, but not his own. So he could see what, but not why. He couldn’t follow a single line of his own choices to see where it would lead him. Once in a while, he could watch his own face through other people’s eyes and guess what he was thinking, but those were rare flashes. It was taking too long, even with his trance stretching over a month, and while he pieced his own life together, everything else changed.

  So he started touching his own life directly. He knew several things instantly. First, he was going to be a source of either hope or despair for tens of thousands within a year.

  Second, a gaping hole stretched across his possible futures. He traced it back and realized the hole was because in some paths, he would choose to renounce his gift of prophecy. He was stunned. He’d thought of it before, of course. In all his training with the healers, disabling his gift was the only cure he’d been able to find for his growing madness. But Dorian’s gift had seemed a gift for the whole world, and he’d gladly borne the consequences because he knew he’d be able to help others avert disaster.

  Third, Khali herself was coming to Screaming Winds.

  Dorian’s heart dropped into his stomach. If she passed the garrison, she would go to Cenaria and take up residence in the hellish gaol they called the Maw. Garoth Ursuul would have two of his sons build ferali. He would use one against the rebel army. There would be a massacre.

  Khali and her entourage were still two days away. Dorian had time. He looked back at his own life, trying to figure out how to avert disaster. In a moment, he was swept up in the current. Faces streamed past him, became a maelstrom, sucking him down. His young wife, crying. A girl, hanged. A little village in northern Waeddryn where he might live with Feir’s family. A red-haired boy who was like a son to him, fifteen years from now. Killing his brothers. Betraying his wife. Telling his wife the truth and losing her. A gold mask of his own face, weeping golden tears. Marching with an army. Neph Dada. Walking away from an army. Solitude and madness and death, a dozen different ways. Down every path, he could see only suffering. Every time he chose any good for himself, those he loved suffered.

  “You knew?” his wife asked. “You knew all along?”

  “No!” Dorian shot upright in bed, waking.

  Solon flinched in the chair across from Dorian. He gestured, and the lamps in the room lit. “Dorian? You’re back! I hope whatever you were doing was important, because I wanted to wake you about a hundred times.”

  Dorian’s head was aching. What day was it? How long had he been catatonic?

  His answer was in the air itself. Khali was close. He could feel her.

  “I need gold,” Dorian said.

  “What?” Solon asked. He rubbed his eyes. It was late.

  “Gold, man! I need gold!”

  Solon pointed to his purse on the table and pulled on boots.

  Dorian spilled the gold coins into his hands. It barely even hit his palm before the coins melted into a glob, instantly cooled and wrapped around his wrist. “More. More! There’s no time to lose, Solon.”

  “How much?”

  “As much as you can carry. Meet me in the back courtyard, and rouse the soldiers. All of them. But don’t ring the alarum bell.”

  “Dammit, what is it?” Solon demanded. He grabbed his sword belt and strapped it on.

  “No time!” Dorian was already running out of the room.

  In the courtyard, Dorian could swear he smelled Khali even more strongly, though the scent was purely magical. She was perhaps two miles distant. It was midnight now, and he suspected she’d strike an hour before dawn, the wytching hour, when men are most susceptible to the night’s terrors and Khali’s delusions.

  Dorian tried to untangle what he’d seen. He couldn’t imagine the garrison would hold, and
if Khali caught him, the results would be as terrible for the world as for him. A prophet, delivered into her hands? Dorian thought of the futures he’d seen for himself. Was it so great a sacrifice to give up seeing those rush inexorably toward him? But if he gave up his visions, he would be blind, rudderless, and useless to anyone else. It also wasn’t a simple procedure. He’d described it to Solon and Feir as being like smashing his own brain with a sharp rock in order to stop seizures. Ideally, he could sear one part of his own Talent in such a way that it would eventually heal, but not for years. If Khali captured him, she might think his gift was gone forever, and kill him.

  He had begun preparing the weaves before he realized he’d made up his mind. The fact that it was dark and he couldn’t replenish his glore vyrden was no problem because the amount of magic he needed was slight. He set up the weaves deftly, sharpening some and setting them aside, holding the prepared portions as if in one hand. As the magic came together, he realized that all his time in his visions, juggling different streams of time and holding place markers at decision points, had paid off in his magic. Not five years ago, he’d come this far with the weave, practicing it to see if he could hold seven strands simultaneously. It had been brutal, especially knowing that letting any one slip could make him an amnesiac, an idiot, or dead. Now, it was easy. Solon came into the yard and saw what he was doing, a look of horror on his face, and even that didn’t distract Dorian.

  He sliced, twisted, pulled, seared, and covered one section of his Talent.

  The courtyard was curiously silent, strangely flat, oddly constricted. “My God,” Dorian said.

  “What?” Solon asked, his eyes full of concern. “What have you done?”

  Dorian was disoriented, like a man trying to stand after losing a leg. “Solon, it’s gone. My gift is gone.”

  32

  Three days north of the Silver Bear Hills, Kylar came to the small town of Torras Bend. He’d been pushing hard for six days, barely stopping long enough to rest the horses, and his body ached everywhere from his stint in the saddle. Torras Bend was halfway to Cenaria, at the base of the Fasmeru Mountains and Forglin’s Pass. The horses needed the rest, and so did he. South of town, he’d even had to submit to a Lae’knaught checkpoint looking for magi. Apparently, Waeddryn’s queen didn’t have the will or the power to expel the Lae’knaught either.

  He asked a farmer for directions to the town’s inn and soon found himself in a warm building filled with the smells of roasting meat pies and fresh ale. Most inns smelled of stale beer and sweat, but the people of northern Waeddryn were fastidious. Their gardens lacked weeds, their fences lacked rot, their children very nearly lacked dirt. They prided themselves on their industry, and the attention to detail of these simple folk was incredible. Even Durzo would have been impressed. All in all, it was a perfect place to rest.

  Coming into the common room, Kylar ordered enough food to make the goodwife raise her eyebrows. He sat by himself. His legs were throbbing and his butt was sore. If he never saw another horse again, it would be too soon. He closed his eyes and sighed, only the heavenly odors coming from the kitchen keeping him from going to bed immediately.

  In what was obviously a nightly ritual, probably half the men of the village pushed their way through the inn’s great oak door to share a pint with their friends before going home. Kylar ignored the men and their inquisitive glances. He only opened his eyes when a stout, homely woman in her fifties set two enormous meat pies in front of him, along with an impressive tankard of ale.

  “I think you’ll find Mistress Zoralat’s ale is as good as her pies,” the woman said. “May I join you?”

  Kylar yawned. “Ah, excuse me,” he said. “Sure. I’m Kylar Stern.”

  “What do you do, Master Stern?” she said, sitting.

  “I’m a, uh, soldier, as a matter of fact.” He yawned again. He was getting too old for this. He’d considered saying “I’m a wetboy” just to see what the old goat’s reaction would be.

  “A soldier for whom?”

  “Who are you?” he asked.

  “Answer my question, and I’ll answer yours,” she said, as if he were a recalcitrant child.

  Fair enough. “For Cenaria.”

  “I was under the impression that country no longer existed,” she said.

  “Were you?” he said.

  “Khalidoran goons. Meisters. The Godking. Conquest. Rape. Pillage. Iron-fisted rule. Ring any bells?”

  “I guess some people would be deterred by that,” Kylar said. He smiled and shook his head at himself.

  “You frighten a lot of people, don’t you, Kylar Stern?”

  “What was your name again?” he asked.

  “Ariel Wyant Sa’fastae. You can call me Sister Ariel.”

  Any vestige of fatigue vanished instantly. Kylar touched the ka’kari within him to be sure it was ready to call up in an instant.

  Sister Ariel blinked. Was it because she’d seen something, or had he just let his muscles tense?

  “I thought this was a dangerous part of the world for people like you,” Kylar said. He couldn’t remember the stories, but he remembered something linking Torras Bend with mages’ dying.

  “Yes,” she said. “One of our young and foolhardy sisters disappeared here. I’ve come to look for her.”

  “The Dark Hunter,” he said, finally remembering.

  At tables around them, conversations ceased. Dour faces turned toward Kylar. From their expressions, he could see that the topic wasn’t so much taboo as it was gauche. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and began attacking a meat pie.

  Sister Ariel watched in silence as he ate. He felt a twinge of suspicion, wondering what Durzo would have said if he knew Kylar was eating food served to him by a maja, but he’d died twice already—maybe three times—and lived again, so what the hell? Besides, the pies were good, and the ale was better.

  Not for the first time, he wondered if it had been the same for Durzo. He’d lived for centuries, but had he been unkillable, too? He must have. But he had never risked his own life. Was that only because by the time Kylar knew him, the ka’kari had abandoned him? Kylar wondered sometimes if there were a downside to his power. He could live for hundreds of years. He couldn’t be killed. But he didn’t feel immortal. He didn’t even feel the sense of power that, when he was a boy, he thought he would feel once he became a wetboy. He was a wetboy now, more than a wetboy, and he felt like he was still just Kylar. Still Azoth, the clueless, scared child.

  “Have you seen a beautiful woman come riding through here, sister?” he asked. Vi had seen where Kylar lived. She would tell the Godking and he would destroy everything and everyone Kylar loved. That was how he worked.

  “No. Why?”

  “If you do,” he said, “kill her.”

  “Why? Is she your wife?” Sister Ariel asked, smirking.

  He gave her a flat look. “The God doesn’t hate me that much. She’s an assassin.”

  “So, you’re not a soldier, but an assassin hunter.”

  “I’m not hunting her. I wish I had the time. But she may come through here.”

  “What’s so important that you would abandon justice?”

  “Nothing,” he said without thinking. “But justice has been too long denied elsewhere.”

  “Where?” she asked.

  “Suffice it to say that I’m on a mission for the king.”

  “There is no king of Cenaria except the Godking.”

  “Not yet.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “There’s no man who can unite Cenaria, even against the Godking. Perhaps Terah Graesin can, but she’s scarcely a man, is she?”

  He smiled. “You Sisters like to think you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?”

  “Do you know that you’re an infuriating young ignoramus?”

  “Only as much as you’re a tired old bag.”

  “Do you truly think I’d kill some young woman for you?”

  “I don’t suppose you would. Forgive m
e, I’m tired. I forgot that the Seraph’s hand only reaches beyond its ivory halls to take things for itself.”

  Her lips pressed into a thin line. “Young man, I don’t take well to impudence.”

  “You’ve succumbed to the intoxication of power, Sister. You like watching people jump.” He raised an insolent eyebrow, bemused. “So color me scared.”

  She was very still. “Another temptation of power,” she said, “is to strike down those who vex you. You, Kylar Stern, are tempting me.”

  He picked that moment to yawn. It wasn’t feigned, but he couldn’t have found a better moment. She turned red. “They say the old age is a second childhood, Sister. Besides which, the moment you drew power, I’d kill you.” By the gods, I can’t stop. Am I really going to get on the wrong side of half the world’s mages because one old lady irritates me?

  Instead of getting angrier, Sister Ariel’s face grew thoughtful. “You can tell the moment I draw magic?”

  He wasn’t going there. “One way to find out,” he said. “But it would be a bother to dispose of your corpse and cover my tracks. Especially with all these witnesses.”

  “How would you cover your tracks?” she asked quietly.

  “Come now. You’re in Torras Bend. How many of the mages who have been ‘killed by the Dark Hunter’ here do you think were really killed by the Dark Hunter? Don’t be naive. The thing probably doesn’t even exist.”

  She scowled, and he could tell she’d never thought of it. Well, she was a mage. Of course she didn’t think like a wetboy. “Well,” she said. “You’re wrong about one thing. It exists.”

  “If everyone who’s ever gone into the woods has died, how do you know?”

  “You know, young man. There’s a way for you to prove that we’re all crazy.”

  “Go into the woods?” he asked.

  “You wouldn’t be the first to try.”

  “I’d be the first to succeed.”

  “You’re awfully full of braggadocio about the things you’d do if you only had the time.”

 
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