The night angel trilogy, p.77
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.77
 

           Brent Weeks

  “I’ll be with you soon,” he’d told Jenine. It was true now. He was going to die here. He already was dying.

  He looked at Natassa’s face, and she was weeping with him. The poor girl; she’d been captured, betrayed by someone in the resistance and put down here with these monsters. Logan didn’t know how much she wept for him and how much she wept for herself. He didn’t blame her. She had to know that once he was gone, the Holers would take her.

  Even Lilly was crying. He wouldn’t have imagined she was capable of it. Why was she crying? Was she afraid that once the Holers had Natassa—who was younger and prettier—that she’d lose her power and her position? That she would be killed?

  Looking at Lilly’s face, Logan hated himself for the cynicism of that thought. He’d been down here too long. The look on her face wasn’t fear. It was love. Lilly wasn’t weeping for herself; she was weeping for him.

  Who am I to deserve such devotion? I’m not worthy of this.

  “Help me up,” he said, his voice raw.

  Lilly looked at Natassa, and her tears ceased. She nodded. “Up we go.”

  Everyone in the Hole was looking at Logan now. Some with curiosity, some with hunger. Fin looked positively jubilant.

  “All right, you fucks!” Logan said. It was the first time he’d used profanity, and he could see that some of them noticed. Well, the crazier they thought he was, the better.

  “Listen up. I’ve kept a little secret from you because I didn’t know what fine upstanding felons you all are. I’ve kept a little secret that might make a big difference—”

  “Yes, yes, we know,” Fin said. “Our little King thinks he’s Logan Gyre. He thinks he really is the king!”

  “Fin,” Logan said. “There’s two good reasons for you to shut your shit hole. First, I’m dying. I’ve got nothing to lose. If you keep that tooth-filled anus of yours shut, I’ll die and you won’t have to do a damn thing. But if you keep talking, I’ll come kill you. I might be weak, but I’m strong enough to drag your poxy asshole down the hole if I don’t mind falling in myself. Believe me, if we start fighting, there’s more than one person down here who’ll make sure we both go in.”

  “And the second reason?” Fin practically hissed. He was uncoiling his rope, adjusting the noose on the end of it.

  “If you don’t shut up,” Logan said, “It’ll be your fault that I throw this down the hole.” He reached inside his belt, and pulled out an iron key. “It’s the key to the grate,” Logan said.

  Instant hunger filled every eye. “Give it here!” someone said. The Holers started pressing close, and Logan staggered toward the hole. He held the key out over the darkness and swayed back and forth, in not completely feigned dizziness.

  The threat quieted the Holers.

  “I’m feeling real sick, real dizzy,” Logan said. “So if you all want this key to go to its little home up there, you’ll listen real close.”

  “How could you have held onto it for all this time?” Nine-Finger Nick demanded. “We could have escaped months ago!”

  “Shut up, Nick,” someone said.

  Logan looked around, trying to see where the greasy Khalidoran duke was, but the faces were a blur. “If we want to use the key, we have to work together. Do you all understand? If one person does the wrong thing, we all die. The worst thing is, we have to trust each other. It will take three of us to reach the lock.” They started murmuring, some volunteering, others objecting.

  “Shut up!” Logan said. “We do this my way, or I throw away the key! If we do this my way, we’ll all get out. Understand? Even you, Fin. Once we get up into the Maw, I have a plan that will get at least half of us out. Maybe all of us. They’ve been doing construction at the other end of this level, and I think can use that as long as we kill Gorkhy before he raises an alarm. But you all have to do exactly what I say.”

  “He’s crazy,” Nick said.

  “It’s our only chance,” Tatts said. “I’m in.” Everyone looked at Tatts in wonder. It was the first time anyone had heard the tattooed Lodricari speak.

  “Good,” Logan said. “We need three people to make a tower to reach the grate. Gnasher will be the base, I’ll be second, and Lilly will unlock the grate. From there, we’ve got two options—and which one we choose is up to Fin.”

  Fin looked even more suspicious.

  “First option, all of you who are light enough and strong enough to climb up the three of us can get out, but I won’t let Fin climb out. So me and Gnasher and Fin will die.”

  “If anyone’s going, I’m going,” Fin said. “You’re not—”

  “Shut up, Fin!” someone said, suddenly brave at the prospect of freedom.

  “Second option, Fin gives Lilly his rope. She can tie it to something up there and we all climb out. Fin, it’s your rope, so it’s your choice. Oh, and if I don’t get out, I’m not telling you my plan to get out of the Maw.”

  Everyone looked at Fin. Logan was suddenly sweating again. Come on, body, just a little longer.

  “You can use the rope,” Fin said. “But you want to use my rope, I’m going to be part of the tower. I’ll open the grate.”

  “Forget it,” Logan said. “No one here trusts you. If you get out, you’ll leave us here.”

  There was mumbled agreement to that, even from some of the Holers on Fin’s side.

  “Well I’m not climbing up that toothy freak. You want my rope, I’m part of the tower, and that’s final.”

  “Fine,” Logan said. He’d figured it would be this way all along. He’d just needed to offer the first position so Fin could feel that he’d won something. “I’ll be the base. You be second. Lilly opens the grate.” Logan handed her the key. “Lilly,” he said loudly enough for everyone to hear. “If Fin tries anything, you throw the key down the hole, got it?”

  “If anyone tries anything, I throw the key down the hole,” she said. “I swear by all the gods of hell and pain and the Hole.”

  “We do this one at a time,” Logan said. “I’ll tell you who goes next.” He drew the knife and handed it to Natassa. “Natassa, anyone comes close before their turn, you stick them with this, all right?” Again, he said it loudly so everyone would know.

  “Natassa will be the first out. She’ll tie the rope to something up there so we can all climb out. Fin and me will be the last, but everyone’s going to get out. We’ve paid for our crimes.”

  Fin walked around the hole, uncoiling the sinew rope from around his body. He rolled it into big loops with an almost frightening ease. He claimed to have strangled thirty people before he was caught, not counting islanders and women. Underneath the ropes, he looked like anyone who’d been in the Hole for a long time. Scrawny, skin deep brown with dirt, reeking, his mouth bloody sometimes from the scurvy that every long-time Holer suffered.

  He smacked his lips as he stepped close to Logan and sucked blood through his teeth. “We’ll settle us later,” he said. He took the coiled rope and settled it around his neck.

  Logan wiped the sweat off his brow. He wanted to kill the man now. If he grabbed the rope and shoved, maybe…. Maybe. It wasn’t worth the risk. He was too weak, too slow now. He should have tried this plan earlier, but earlier, Fin would never have come this close to him. Fin would have expected Logan to try to kill him any other time, and before Logan had regained the knife, trying it would have made him too vulnerable.

  Bracing himself against the wall with his hands, Logan squatted. Fin edged close to him, sneering and swearing under his breath. He finally put a foot on Logan’s thigh, stepped onto his back, and then up onto his shoulders, walking his own hands up the sheer wall.

  Surprisingly, the weight wasn’t that bad. Logan thought he could make it. He just had to lock his knees and lean on the wall, and he could make it. There was no way he’d be able to climb up the rope on his own strength, but maybe his friends would pull him out. If he went out last, he’d tie the rope around himself and Lilly and Gnash and Natassa could pull him out. If only h
e’d stop shivering.

  “Hurry,” he said.

  “You’re too damn tall,” Lilly said. “Can you squat down?”

  He shook his head.

  “Shit,” she said. “Fine. Ask Gnasher to help. You’re the only one he listens to.”

  “Ask him what?” It should be obvious, he knew, but he wasn’t thinking clearly.

  “To lift me,” Lilly said.

  “Oh. Gnash. Pick her up. No, Gnash, not like that.” It took some coaching, but finally, Gnash understood, and squatted beside Logan while Lilly climbed up onto his back and then stood on his shoulders. Then she put the key in her teeth and started trying to transfer over.

  Logan was much taller than Gnasher, so Lilly had to step up onto Logan’s shoulder, where Fin was already standing. The uneven weight made Logan sway.

  “Stay still,” Fin hissed. He cursed Logan repeatedly as Natassa put a hand on Logan’s shoulder, trying to brace him.

  Logan felt cold wash over him. “Go,” he said. “Just hurry.”

  Lilly’s weight pressed down again on his left shoulder, then weight shifted back and forth above him as she and Fin tried to balance. Logan couldn’t tell what they were doing. He squeezed his eyes shut and held onto the wall.

  “You can do this,” Natassa whispered. “You can do this.”

  The weight shifted suddenly, hard to the right, and the Holers gasped. Logan sagged and then fought, his right leg shaking with the exertion.

  The burden suddenly lightened and there were little gasps around the Hole. Logan squinted up and saw that Lilly was on Fin’s back, and she had grabbed the grate above her with one hand, stabilizing herself and taking some of her weight.

  Then they heard the sound they dreaded. It was the sound of leather and chain mail clinking and protesting, curses floating freely, a sword tapping on the rocks. Gorkhy was coming.

  39

  The wytching hour had come. An icy wind scoured clouds through the mountains’ teeth. It was cold, too cold for snow. The wind cut through cloaks and gloves, made swords stick in their scabbards, made the men shiver at their posts. The clouds looked like phantoms scurrying over the killing fields and rushing up and over the walls. Thick wide braziers of coal that were burning all along the walls did nothing to stave off the chill. The heat was carried off and swallowed into the night. Beards froze and muscles stiffened. Officers barked at the men to keep moving, shouting over the familiar scream of the wind.

  Those high screams were usually the subject of endlessly retold jokes and comparisons to the men’s last bedchamber conquests, sometimes done with imitations. Regnus Gyre had never disciplined the men for howling into those winds. It staved off fears, he said. Anywhere else, it would be a distraction, would make the men unable to hear invaders, but you couldn’t hear a thing at Screaming Winds anyway.

  No one howled tonight. Tonight those screams seemed ominous. And if the men’s hearing was bad, their sight wasn’t much better. The swirling, racing clouds were thick enough and obscured the moon and stars so fully that they’d be lucky to see fifty paces out. The archers would only be useful to about that distance anyway, with this wind. It had been Regnus’s nemesis. No matter now much the archers trained, shooting into that damn inconstant wind, their accuracy never improved much. One or two had an uncanny sense of when the wind would gust and could hit a man-size target at sixty paces, but that wasn’t nearly the advantage a garrison usually got from holding a wall.

  Solon had taken a position on the opposite side of the first wall from Vass, hoping that if worst came to worst, he’d be able to help the men without Vass’s interference.

  He couldn’t hate the boy. Armies were full of men like Lehros Vass, and he was a good enough man. Better than most. He was just a soldier who needed a commanding officer, and the times had conspired to make him one instead. It was a cruel trick of fate that would probably make Vass be remembered as a bold idiot who’d gotten his men slaughtered, rather than as a heroic soldier.

  The waiting was the worst. Like every soldier, Solon hated the waiting. It was good to be an officer when it came time to wait. You could fill your time encouraging the men to stand strong. It kept you from having the time to worry yourself.

  Solon thought he saw something through the swirling clouds and darkness. He stiffened, but it was nothing. “It’s time. Remember, don’t look directly at her,” he told the men near him. He pulled out the beeswax plugs he’d been rolling in his fingers to warm, and jammed one in his ear, then paused.

  He thought he saw something again, but it wasn’t the outline of a man or a horse, but an enormous square—no, it was nothing. Around him, other men were leaning forward, squinting into the darkness.

  Then his skin began prickling. Like most male mages, Solon had little talent as a Seer. The only magic he could usually see was his own. But he could feel magic, especially when it was close, and always when it was used against him. Now he felt as if he had walked outside on a humid day. The magic wasn’t intense, but it was everywhere. It was so diffuse that if Dorian hadn’t put him so much on edge, he would never have noticed it. “Do any of you know how to tie knots well?”

  The soldiers exchanged puzzled looks. Finally, one of them said, “I practically grew up on a fishin’ boat, sir. I reckon I know ’bout every knot there is.”

  Solon grabbed the coil of rope tied to a bucket that the soldiers used to refill the water cisterns at the top of the wall. He cut the bucket free. “Tie me up,” he said.

  “Sir?” The soldier looked at him like he was crazy.

  Is that how I looked at Dorian? Sorry, friend.

  The magic was thickening.

  “Tie me to the wall. Tie me so I can’t move. Take my weapons.”

  “I, sir, I—”

  “I’m a mage, dammit, I’m more susceptible to what she’s—dammit! She’s coming!” Soldiers were turning, staring at him. “Don’t look at her. Don’t believe what you see. Damn it, man, now! The rest of you, shoot!”

  That was an order more of them were comfortable with. Even if Lehros Vass was angry at them in the morning, the most they’d have to do is go fetch their arrows in the killing ground before the walls.

  The former sailor looped the rope around Solon expertly. In moments, Solon’s hands were tied behind his back, secured to his feet, and only after that was his cloak bound around him so he wouldn’t freeze. Then the man bound him to the winch they used to raise the bucket.

  “Now a blindfold and my other earplug,” Solon said. The man had bound him facing over the wall. Solon should have told him to make sure he couldn’t face her. “Hurry, man.”

  But the soldier didn’t respond. He was looking over the wall into the darkness, as was everyone else.

  “Elana?” the soldier said. “Elly, is that you?” His face flushed and his eyes dilated. He threw his cloak off. Then he jumped off the wall.

  He was halfway to the ground before he flailed wildly, suddenly aware, trying to find something to save himself. The rocks broke his body cruelly and the wind swallowed the sound of his death scream.

  There was a sudden flurry of arrows as men began obeying Solon’s earlier command to start shooting as soon as anything strange happened. The fog billowed and he saw the vast wagon being drawn forward, surrounded by Khalidoran soldiers, pulled by six aurochs. Solon’s heart leapt as he saw a dozen Khalidorans cut down by the first wave. The aurochs took several arrows and didn’t even falter.

  But the rain of arrows was slowing.

  Across the wall, Solon saw men flinging themselves off the wall. Others were shaking their heads, each lost in a private vision, bows held in limp hands.

  Don’t look, Solon. Don’t look.

  I won’t believe it. Just a quick—

  The magic roared past him as he were flying at tremendous speed.

  And then calm.

  He blinked. He was standing in the Hall of Winds. The magnificent jade throne shone green like the waters of Hokkai Bay. Upon the throne sat
a woman he barely recognized. Kaede Wariyamo had been sixteen when he’d left the Islands. Though he’d known from the times he’d played with her when they were both young that she would be beautiful, her transformation had made him awkward. She’d reproached him for avoiding her. But he’d had no choice. He knew he had to leave forever, but he’d never been prepared for what the sight of her would do to him.

  Twelve years later, she had grown in grace and confidence. If he hadn’t known her so well, he never would have seen the slight apprehension in her eyes—will he still think I’m beautiful?

  He did. Her olive skin still glowed, her black hair poured around her shoulders like a waterfall, her eyes still gleamed with intelligence and wisdom and mischief. Perhaps there used to be less wisdom there and more mischief, but those lips looked like they still held three lifetimes of smiles. And if she had the faintest smile lines around her eyes and lips—what a tribute to a life well lived. To him, they were a mark of distinction.

  His eyes swept over her body, clad in light blue silk nagika, cut to emphasize the perfection of each curve, bound at the waist by a narrow belt of gold, the silk looped up over one shoulder. Her stomach was still flat, athletic. There were no stretch marks. Kaede had never borne children. His eyes lingered on her exposed breast.

  Perfect. She was perfect.

  He was interrupted by her laugh. “Have you been on Midcyru so long you’ve forgotten what breasts look like, my prince?”

  Solon blushed. After so many years of seeing women treat ordinary parts like they were erotic, and erotic parts like they were ordinary, he was thoroughly confused. “I apologize, Your Majesty.” Remembering himself, he tried to kneel, but something was interfering with his motion.

  It didn’t matter. All that mattered was before him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

  “You’ve been a hard man to find, Solonariwan,” Kaede said.

  “It’s just, just Solon now.”

  “The empire needs you, Solonariwan. I won’t make any demands of you besides the—besides producing an heir, and if you require rooms for a mistress, it will be arranged. The empire needs you, Solon. Not just for your family. For you. I need you.” She looked terrifically fragile, as if the wind would break her. “I want you, Solon. I want you as I wanted you twelve years ago and as I wanted you before that, but now I want your strength, your fortitude, your companionship, your…”

 
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