The night angel trilogy, p.76
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.76

           Brent Weeks
 

  The plaque had been clutched in Sister Jessie’s hands.

  Sister Ariel carefully walled up all the emotions she felt and set them aside. She would examine them later, allow herself tears if tears must come. For now, she might be in danger. She looked at the plaque. It was too far away to tell what symbols if any were on its surface, but there was something about it that chilled her to the bone.

  The square plaque had hooks embedded in the rope. They looked as if they had formed when the lasso had landed to help her pull it out.

  She pulled the plaque close to the ward but kept it on the far side. There was no telling what pulling something that might be magical through the barrier would do. The script was Gamitic, but Ariel found she remembered it surprisingly well.

  “If this is the fourth day, take your time. If it’s the seventh, pull this through the ward now,” the script said.

  The runes went on, but Ariel stopped and scowled. It wasn’t at all the sort of thing someone would usually write on a plaque. She wondered to whom the words could possibly have been addressed. Perhaps this plaque had been part of some ancient test? A rite of passage for mages? How had Sister Jessie interpreted it? Why had she thought it was so important?

  She read on: “Days at the ward, Horse Face. You’re a lousy throw, by the way.”

  Ariel dropped the rope from nerveless fingers. She’d been called Horse Face when she was a tyro. She tried to translate the words another way, but the Gamitic runes made it clear that it was a personal name, a specific insult, not generic.

  Looking at the way the plaque had caught on the rope now, she was suddenly sure that it had grabbed the rope. As if it was sentient. The hooks weren’t equally placed on opposite sides of the plaque. Instead, it was as if they had grown in response to the lasso’s touch.

  The plaque glowed and Sister Ariel stumbled backward in fright.

  It was a mistake. Her foot caught in a loop of the rope and as she fell, she yanked the plaque through the ward.

  She scrambled to her feet as quickly as her fat limbs would lift her. The plaque was no longer glowing. She picked it up.

  “Prophecy,” it said, the Gamitic runes dissolving into common as she touched the plaque. “Not sentience.”

  She swallowed, not sure she believed it. The script continued to appear before her, as if written by an invisible quill. “If this is the seventh day, look two stadia south.”

  Stadia? Perhaps units of measure didn’t translate. How far was two stadia? Three hundred paces? Four hundred?

  Fear paralyzed Sister Ariel. She’d never been the type for adventures. She was a scholar, and a damned good one. She was one of the more powerful sisters, but she didn’t like charging into things she didn’t understand. She turned the plaque over.

  “Wards in trees,” Jessie al’Gwaydin had written in a panicked hand. “Don’t trust him.”

  Oh, perfect.

  Sister Ariel was rooted to the ground. The words Sister Jessie had written could only have been written with magic. Surely Sister Jessie wouldn’t have used magic inside the wood. It would have been suicide.

  She is dead.

  It could all be a trap. The plaque might have triggered something as it was pulled through the ward. There might be a trap in the trees to the south where the plaque was trying to get her to go. Maybe she should go write down everything, ignore the trap, play by her own rules.

  But Sister Ariel didn’t go back to Torras Bend to write in her journal. She’d studied the ward to the south. If there had been a trap, she’d already triggered it.

  There was a time and a place for haste. Apparently, that was now and here.

  37

  So you’re kind of a pain in the ass. Why’d Kylar take you in?” Vi asked.

  They’d been on the trail for a week, and if Uly wasn’t the best company, at least she was more interesting than the horses and the trees and the little villages they had to avoid. Vi wasn’t making conversation, she was gathering much information. Kylar was coming to kill her.

  “He did it because he loves me,” Uly said, as defiant as usual. “Someday he’s going to marry me.”

  She’d said such things before, and it had immediately aroused Vi’s suspicions, but after asking a few questions that left Uly puzzled, Vi had realized her suspicions were wrong. Kylar wasn’t a pedophile.

  “Yes, yes, I know. But he couldn’t have loved you before he knew you, could he? You said that when he took you out of the castle was the first time you saw him.”

  “I thought he was my real father at first,” Uly said.

  “Hmm,” Vi said, as if she weren’t very interested. “Who are your real parents?”

  “My father’s name was Durzo but he’s dead now. Kylar won’t talk about him. I think my mother is Momma K. She always looked at me funny when we stayed with her.”

  Vi had to grab the back of her saddle to steady herself. Nysos, that was it! She knew Uly looked familiar. Uly was Durzo and Momma K’s daughter! No wonder they’d concealed her. It also explained why Kylar had taken her in.

  Inexplicably, the thought made her ache. She couldn’t imagine taking in one of Hu’s bastards. For that matter, she couldn’t imagine Hu caring about one of them. Suddenly Uly was twice as valuable to the Godking. Holding Uly would mean controlling Momma K.

  Maybe it would be enough to free Vi from his clutches. But Vi knew better. The Godking rewarded his servants well. Any vice she had, she would be allowed to indulge to satiety. He’d give her gold, clothes, slaves, whatever she wanted. But he’d never give her freedom. She’d proven herself too valuable for that.

  The more Vi learned about Kylar, the more she despaired. She needed Uly to talk, because she needed to know everything about her enemy she could. Everything she learned was from a twelve-year-old girl who had a crush on the man, but Vi was good at sifting truth from opinion. Still, Kylar was sounding more and more—fuck!

  She wasn’t going to think about that again. It just left her feeling worse. Damn this trail. Damn this long trip. One more week and she could wash her hands of this. Maybe she wouldn’t even stick around for her payday, much as she deserved it. She’d drop off the girl with a note about what she’d done, and she’d disappear. She’d killed Jarl. She’d deliver Kylar and Momma K to the Godking. Surely he wouldn’t waste his resources sending someone after her then. Even if he did, he wouldn’t come after her with the fury he would have if she betrayed him. She could disappear. There were only a few people she feared, and all of them were too valuable to be sent after her.

  One of them was Kylar, but he wouldn’t survive long. Maybe he’d killed Roth Ursuul, thirty elite highlanders, and some wytches—Uly seemed to know a lot about that—but he’d never survive the Godking.

  Vi would head to Seth or Ladesh or deep into the mountains of Ceura where her red hair wouldn’t be so unusual. She’d never spread her legs for another man, and she’d never take another contract. She didn’t know what a normal life looked like, but she’d give herself time to figure it out. After this.

  She pulled the scrap of note she’d taken from Kylar’s house and read it again. “Elene, I’m sorry. 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.”

  “Hey, ugly.” Vi said, “what did Elene and Kylar fight about?”

  “I think it was about how the bed wasn’t creaking.”

  Vi furrowed her brow. What? Then she burst out laughing. “Well, that’s normal enough. Was that all?”

  “Why, what’s it mean?” Uly asked.

  “Fucking. Men and women fight about it all the time.”

  “What’s fucking?” Uly asked.

  So Vi told her as explicitly as possible, and Uly looked more and more horrified.

  “Does it hurt?” Uly asked.

  “Sometimes.”

  “It sounds gross!”

  “It is. It’s messy a
nd sticky and sweaty and smelly and gross. Sometimes it even makes you bleed.”

  “Why do girls let them do that?” Uly asked.

  “Because men make them. That’s why they fight about it.”

  “Kylar wouldn’t do that,” Uly said. “He wouldn’t hurt Elene.”

  “Then why’d they fight about it?”

  Uly looked sick. “He wouldn’t do that,” she said. “He wouldn’t. I don’t think they ever did it anyway ’cause the bed never creaked and Aunt Mea said it would. But Aunt Mea said it was fun.”

  The bed never creaked? “Whatever. Is that all they fought about?” Vi asked.

  “She wanted him to sell his sword, the sword Durzo gave him. He didn’t want to, but she said it proved he still wanted to be a wetboy. But he didn’t. He really wanted to be with us. It made him really mad when she said that.”

  So he wanted out, too. That’s what he meant in the note when he said he tried. He tried to leave.

  Nysos! Kylar might not even know she’d taken Uly. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. It did explain why he’d gone charging past them in the fog that morning, though. He would have been sure she’d return to Cenaria as quickly as possible.

  Several hundred paces ahead, Vi saw the forest change. No, not change. It transformed as abruptly as if the earth had been split with an axe. On the near side, the forest was like what they’d been riding in for days. On the far side, enormous sequoys grew. They must be near Torras Bend. It didn’t mean much to her, but it looked like the riding would be easier under those great trees. There was almost no undergrowth in a forest that old.

  They were only fifty paces from the sequoys when an old woman stepped out from the trees in front and to one side of them. She looked as startled as Vi felt. She was holding a glowing sheet of gold in her hands.

  Glowing gold could only mean magic. The woman was a mage.

  “Stop!” the old woman yelled.

  Vi snapped her body back in the saddle and yanked the reins of Uly’s horse out of her hands. As she sat back up, she jabbed her heels in and looked toward the mage. The woman was running heavily, awkwardly—and not toward Vi and Uly. She was running away from the old forest and she had flung aside the glowing gold sheet.

  What the hell? It was strange, but not so strange that Vi stopped. In all the world, the only people she had to fear were wetboys, wytches, and mages.

  The horses charged for the forest, almost throwing Uly out of the saddle.

  The mage was only thirty paces away now, almost even with them. She ran a few more steps, and Vi could have sworn that the woman was emerging from something like a vast, nearly invisible bubble covering the forest.

  The woman brought up her hands and spoke. Something crackled and whipped forward. Vi dropped her body as far on the opposite side of her horse as she could. There was a concussion nearby and Uly flew off the horse.

  Vi didn’t stop to look. She grabbed a throwing knife from an ankle sheath and threw it as she brought herself back up into the saddle. It was a long throw—twenty paces at a target she couldn’t see before the she released the knife—but it was really only meant as a distraction. Vi looked back.

  Uly was lying on the ground, unconscious.

  There was no hesitation. A wetboy doesn’t hesitate. A wetboy acts, even if it’s the wrong action. Vi couldn’t stay still, it made her a target. She dug her heels into her horse’s flanks again. The horse lunged forward—

  And promptly crashed into the ground, its front legs cut out from under it.

  Vi pulled her feet from the stirrups. She would land in a ball, roll free of the horse, draw throwing knives—except the horse fell faster than she expected. She slapped into the ground hard, her body flipping over as she skidded on her back. Her head kissed an iron-hard root and black spots swam before her eyes.

  Up, damn you! Get up! She got on her hands and knees and tried to stand, eyes watering, head ringing.

  “I’m sorry, I can’t let you do that,” the old woman said. She looked like she actually meant it.

  No. It can’t end like this.

  The beefy old woman raised a hand and spoke. Vi tried to throw herself to one side, but she didn’t make it.

  38

  It was two small cuts. A line along the ribs, and a matching line across the inside of his arm. Neither was deep. The knife had cut skin but not muscle. Even together, they were nothing a clean bandage and some fresh air wouldn’t have seen heal in a few days.

  But in the Hole, nothing was clean. Fresh air was only a memory.

  Logan recognized the signs, but there was nothing he could do. He was hot and cold already, shivering and sweating. The odds were, he wouldn’t come out of the fever. After all the time he’d spent in the Hole, he was a shadow of his former self. Cheeks sunken, eyes bright, face skeletal, his tall frame now skin and bone.

  If he survived, he could get worse yet, he knew. For all that he’d starved, Logan still didn’t have the malnourished, emaciated look that those who had been in the Hole for years had. His body was clinging to its strength with a stubbornness that surprised him. But the fever cared nothing for that. It would take days, at the least, to fight off the fever. Days of total vulnerability.

  “Natassa,” he said. “Tell me again about the resistance.”

  The younger Graesin daughter had a hunted look in her eyes. She didn’t respond. She was looking across the hole at Fin, who was gnawing on sinews to add to his rope.

  “Natassa?”

  She sat up. “They move around. There are a number of estates that welcome them in the east, especially—especially the Gyres’. Even the Lae’knaught have helped.”

  “Bastards.”

  “Bastards who are our enemy’s enemy.”

  She said that like she’d said it before. Damn, she had said it before, hadn’t she?

  “And our numbers are growing?”

  “Our numbers are growing. We’ve been conducting raids, small groups going and doing anything they can to hurt the Khalidorans, but my sister wouldn’t let us try anything big yet. Count Drake has set up informants for us in every village in eastern Cenaria.”

  “Count Drake? Wait, I asked that before, didn’t I?”

  She didn’t respond. Her eyes were still on Fin. Fin had killed four of the newcomers in the last three days. Three days? Or was it four now?

  Count Drake was part of the resistance. That was great. Logan hadn’t known if the man had made it out alive.

  “I’m glad Kylar didn’t kill him, too,” Logan said.

  “Who?” Natassa asked.

  “Count Drake. He betrayed me. He’s the reason I’m down here.”

  “Count Drake betrayed you?” Natassa asked.

  “No, Kylar. Dressed all in black, called himself the Night Angel.”

  “Kylar Stern is the Night Angel?”

  “He was working for Khalidor all along.”

  “No, he wasn’t. The Night Angel’s the only reason there’s a resistance at all. I was there. We were all herded into the garden and he saved us. Terah offered him whatever he wanted to escort us out of the castle, but he only cared about you. He left us to try to save you, Logan.”

  “But he—he killed Prince Aleine. He was the one who started all of this.”

  “Lady Jadwin killed Aleine Gunder. She’s been given a portion of his estates as her reward.”

  It didn’t seem possible. After everything had been stripped away from him, Natassa was giving him back his best friend. He’d missed Kylar so much.

  Logan laughed. Maybe it was the fever. Maybe he’d imagined that she said that because he wanted it so much. He was so sick that the entire world hurt. Everything was fuzzy, so fuzzy. He thought he was going to start blubbering like a little girl.

  “And Serah Drake? Was she with you, too? She’s part of the resistance? Kylar saved her?” Logan asked. He’d asked that before, hadn’t he?

  “She’s dead.”

  “Did she… did she suffer?
He hadn’t dared ask that before.

  Natassa looked down.

  Serah. His fiancée, not so long ago. She seemed part of another life. Another world. He had loved her once. Or thought he loved her. How could he have loved her when she’d barely crossed his mind in all the time he’d been down here?

  She’d betrayed him. She’d slept with his friend, Prince Aleine Gunder, when she had never even slept with him—the man she said she loved. Had that been it? Had that betrayal extinguished his feelings for her? Or had he ever loved her at all?

  He’d thought that he was finally understanding love on his wedding night.

  Everyone who’s infatuated thinks he understands love. But Logan couldn’t help it. What he’d felt for Jenine Gunder—the fifteen-year-old girl he’d been so sure was too young and immature for him—had seemed like love. Maybe she’d been snatched away before he’d had time to see her flaws, but Jenine Gunder—Jenine Gyre, his wife, if only for a few tragic hours—was the woman who had haunted his thoughts. He’d dreamed of her in the moments before sleep yielded to the hard stone and cruel stink and howling and heat of the Hole—her full smile, her bright eyes, her golden curves in candlelight as he had seen her just once, so briefly, before the Khalidoran soldiers had broken into the room, before Roth had cut her throat.

  “Oh, gods,” Logan said, putting his face in his hands. Suddenly, the grief rose up in him. His face contorted and he couldn’t stop the tears. He’d held her, her body so small and vulnerable against him, as she’d bled. Gods, how she bled! He told her everything would be all right. He’d spoken peace to her, and that was all the protection he could give her, because he could do nothing else.

  Someone wrapped an arm around him. It was Lilly. Gods. Then Natassa hugged him, too. It made it worse. He was sobbing uncontrollably. Everything was fuzzy and getting fuzzier. He had held off grief for so long, but he couldn’t do it anymore.

 
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