The night angel trilogy, p.79
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.79
 

           Brent Weeks

  Vi had had enough of apprenticeship to last her for ten lives. She sneered. Keep her talking. I might as well learn what I can. “You said I’m not really a wetboy. I do all the wetboy stuff.”

  “Have trouble with the Embrace of Darkness, don’t you?”

  “What?”

  “Invisibility. You can’t do it, can you?”

  How did she know that? “That’s just a legend. It drives up prices. No one goes invisible.”

  “I can see you’re going to spend a lot of time unlearning things you think you know. True wetboys can go invisible. But mages don’t do invisibility. Your Talent has to practically live in your skin. Invisibility requires a total body awareness so profound that it extends to feeling how light is touching every part of your skin. What you are is something different—in fact, something forbidden by a treaty a hundred and thirty—umm—thirty-eight years old. The Alitaerans would be shall we say highly overwrought if we’d trained you this way. You see, if you mastered a few more things, you’d be a warmage. Oh, you’re going to cause the Speaker a few headaches, I can see that already.”

  “Fuck you,” Vi said.

  Sister Ariel leaned over and slapped her. “You will speak civilly.”

  “Fuck you,” Vi said without intonation.

  “Let’s settle something now, then,” Sister Ariel said, standing. “Loovaeos uh braeos loovaeos graakos.” Vi was yanked to her feet. Her bonds dropped away. A dagger flew from her pack and dropped at her feet.

  Vi didn’t reach for the knife. She didn’t stop to take the time. She cursed her Talent into a titanic punch into Sister Ariel’s stomach.

  The force of the blow blasted Sister Ariel off her feet. She flipped over the fire and skidded across the dirt on the other side, but Vi didn’t move. She didn’t even try to run. She was looking at her drooping hand.

  It was like she’d punched steel. Bones were sticking out of her skin. Her knuckles were a mass of blood. Her wrist was broken. Both bones in her forearm had snapped. One of them was pressing against the skin from underneath, threatening to jut out.

  Sister Ariel stood and shook her big, loose dress. Dust puffed out. She snorted as she looked at Vi, who was cradling her arm.

  “You should really strengthen your bones before you strike with your Talent.”

  “I did,” Vi said. She was going into shock. She sat—or maybe fell.

  “Then you shouldn’t punch an armored maja.” Ariel tsked as she looked at Vi’s destroyed hand. “It seems you’ve more Talent than sense. Not to worry, that’s common enough. We know how to deal with it. The truth is, Vi, that your body magic is untrained, undefined, and no match for any schooled sister. You could be so much more. Do you even know how to heal yourself?”

  Vi was shaking. She looked up dumbly.

  “Well, if you ever want to use your hand again, I can heal it. But it hurts and I’m slow.”

  Vi offered up her arm, mute.

  “Just a second, I need to ward Uly’s ears. Otherwise your screams will wake her.”

  “I won’t—I won’t scream,” Vi swore.

  As it turned out, she lied.

  Logan froze. Another time, he might have tried to get everyone down to build their tower again once Gorkhy was gone, but he knew he’d never summon the strength to try it again.

  “What’s going on down here?” Gorkhy demanded.

  What? We’ve been silent. How did he hear anything?

  Pressing in to the wall as much as he could, Logan looked up and saw that Fin was doing the same thing, and, sitting on his shoulders, Lilly was too.

  Torchlight slanted through the grate as Gorkhy came the last few feet. From where he was standing now, Lilly was only a few feet from his shoes. With the sheer edges of the Hole below the grate, though, the torchlight wouldn’t fall on Lilly unless he stepped closer.

  They heard Gorkhy sniffing, and the torchlight shifted as he leaned forward. He cursed them. “Animals. You stink worse than usual.” Gods, he was smelling Lilly. “Why don’t you wash yourselves?”

  This could go on for a while. If it was a bad day, he’d empty his bladder onto them. Logan shook with rage and weakness. There was no reason for a Gorkhy. There was no understanding it. Gorkhy gained nothing by tormenting them, but he did, and he loved it.

  Go away. Just go away.

  “What’s going on down there?” Gorkhy said. “I heard some noise. Whatcha doin’?”

  The torch shifted again and light dipped perilously close to Lilly. Gorkhy was walking around the grate, holding up the torch, staring as deeply into the Hole as he could. He was moving counterclockwise, away from them first.

  The Holers were frozen. None of them were cursing or fighting or talking or anything. It was a dead giveaway. Only Natassa moved, away from Logan.

  The light cut a path across the grate and lit up Lilly’s entire head.

  “GO TO HELL, GORKHY!” Natassa shouted.

  The torch shifted away from Lilly suddenly. “Who’s… ah, it’s my little girl? Isn’t it?”

  “You see my face, Gorkhy?” Natassa asked. Clever girl. “This is the last thing you’re ever going to see, because I’m going to kill you.”

  Gorkhy laughed. “You got a mouth on you, don’t you? But then, you already showed me that before we sent you down there, didn’t you?” He laughed again.

  “Fuck you!”

  “Did that too, ha ha. You were the hottest little thing I’ve had in years. You been letting the rest of them boys have a piece? I was your first, though. You never forget your first. You’ll never forget me, will ya?” He laughed again.

  Logan marveled at Natassa’s courage. She was taunting the man who had raped her, just to give them a chance.

  “How’s Lilly takin’ it? I’m sure all them boys would rather stick you than that old whore. How’s it going, Lilly? Competition get fierce all the sudden? Where are you, Lilly?” He shifted again, searching the depths for Lilly.

  “I threw that bitch down the hole,” Natassa said.

  Logan was shaking so hard he could barely stand.

  “No shit? You are a little wildcat, aren’t you? I bet you even tempt our virginal little King, don’t you? You banged her yet, King? I know Lilly was a little scabby for you, but this is some fine meat, eh, King? Where are you?”

  Across the Hole, Tatts said, “Fuck you,” into his hands. Muffled, it sounded almost like Logan. At the quick thinking, Logan felt a rush of warm feeling for the Holers. Gods, they were all in this together, and they’d get out together, too.

  Gorkhy laughed. “All right, well, it’s been fun. You all let me know when you’re hungry. I got extra steak tonight, and I’m so full I don’t think I could force another bite down.”

  Logan had no strength left. He wanted to cry out, his body felt so weak. He couldn’t even feel himself standing. He just knew that if he tried to move he’d collapse. His body was bathed in cold sweat. His vision was blurring.

  Logan heard ragged breathing, breaths of relief, a moment later.

  “He’s gone,” someone said. It was Natassa. She was standing next to Logan again, and her eyes were full of fierce tears. “Just hold on, Logan. We’re close.”

  Something rattled loudly on the grate.

  “What are you doing?” Fin hissed. “Lilly, what the hell—”

  “I didn’t even touch it! I swear!” she said.

  “Get down!” Logan cried.

  But it was too late. There was already the sound of running steps and a moment later Gorkhy was over the grate, Lilly and Fin and Logan fully lit by his torch. With savage speed, he smashed Lilly in the face with the butt of his spear. All of them collapsed.

  Even as the bodies landed on him, crushing him to the sloping stone floor, Logan saw his treasure—the key he had saved for months—fly free of Lilly’s hand. It rang as it bounced off the stone floor, gleaming in the cutting light of the torch—and fell into the hole.

  Every one of his hopes, every dream, was tied to that key. As
it disappeared into the hole, it dragged them along with it.

  A second of fragile peace passed as every eye watched the key disappear. Then one by one, the Holers grasped the new reality—which was just like the old reality before they’d known the key existed. Fin was punching someone—it had to be Lilly because when he got to his knees, he was holding his rope. Then he punched Logan in the face.

  Logan couldn’t stop him. Fin was too strong; all of Logan’s strength was exhausted. He fell limp.

  There was an inhuman snarl and a solid form slammed into Fin, sending him flying, tumbling right to the edge of the hole.

  It was Gnasher, and he crouched over Logan, baring his teeth.

  On his hands and heels, Fin scrambled to get away from Gnasher. When Gnasher didn’t follow, Fin stood slowly.

  Logan tried to sit up, but his body refused to obey. He couldn’t even move. The world swam before his eyes.

  “I get the new bitch first,” Fin said.

  Gods be merciful.

  “You’ll be the first to die, you asshole!” Natassa screamed. She was trembling, holding the dagger like she had no idea what to do with it.

  The Holers—the fucking animals!—surrounded her on three sides. She retreated to the edge of the hole, slashing at the air with the dagger.

  Above them, Gorkhy was laughing. “Sweet meat, boys, sweet meat!”

  “No,” Logan said. “No. Gnash, save her. Save her, please.”

  Gnasher didn’t move. He was still snarling, making everyone stay away from Logan.

  Natassa saw it. If she could only get to Logan’s side of the Hole, everyone’s fear of Gnasher would keep them back. But Fin saw it too. He unlimbered a coil of rope into a lasso.

  “You can make this easy, or you can make it hard,” Fin said, smacking bloody lips.

  Natassa looked at him, her eyes fixed on the lasso in his hands as if she’d forgotten the dagger in her own. She looked across the hole and met Logan’s eyes.

  “I’m sorry, Logan,” she said. Then she stepped into the hole.

  The Holers cried out as she fell out of sight.

  “Shut up and listen!” Gorkhy screamed. “Sometimes you can hear ’em hit bottom.”

  And the bastards, the animals, the monsters, they did shut up and listen, hoping to hear a body smash against the rocks below. They were too late. The Holers grumbled the customary curses about lost meat, and looked over to Lilly. Logan’s tears were as hot as his fever.

  “Now who the fuck’s Logan?” Gorkhy shouted. “King, was she talkin’ to you?”

  Logan closed his eyes. What did it matter anymore?

  41

  It’s time, Fatty,” Ferl Khalius said. “He’s not crazy enough to follow us across this.”

  They were fourteen hundred feet up Mount Hezeron, the tallest mountain on the Ceuran border. So far, the hike had been arduous, but the worst exposures had been of a dozen feet. From here, there were two ways over the mountain: through the notch to one side, or straight across the face. Ferl had nearly started a brawl at the last village by asking which way a brave man in a hurry would go.

  Some of the villagers maintained that the face was never a good option, but that it would be especially bad this time of year. Even a light dusting of snow or freezing rain would make the path suicide. Others had maintained that going over the face was the only way to make it through the mountains before the snows hit. Getting stuck in the steeps and the deeps that made the devil’s pass through the notch would be certain death if it snowed.

  And snow was coming.

  Baron Kirof wasn’t doing well. He was so scared of heights he’d been crying. “If—if he’d be crazy to follow us, what does that make us?”

  “Eager to live. I grew up in mountains tougher than this.” Ferl shrugged. “Follow or fall.”

  “Can’t you leave me?” Baron Kirof was pathetic. Ferl had brought him along because he didn’t know what would happen when he fled, and he’d wanted a bargaining chip. But maybe it had been a mistake. The fat man had slowed him down.

  “They want you alive. If you stay here, that Vürdmeister will blast me off the rock. If you’re with me, he might not.”

  “Might not?”

  “Move, Fatty!”

  Ferl Khalius looked at the dark clouds grimly. His tribe, the Iktana, was a mountain tribe. He was one of the best climbers he knew, but he’d never liked climbing. Battle he liked. Battle made you feel alive. But climbing was arbitrary, the mountain gods capricious. He’d seen the most devout clansman plunge to his death when he’d put his weight on a stone that had held Ferl—who was heavier—only a moment before. In battle, a stray arrow might kill you, of course, but you could move, you could fight. Death might still come, but it wouldn’t find you scared, clinging to a bit of rock with slick fingers, praying against the next blast of wind.

  This traverse wasn’t the worst he’d seen. It climbed perhaps a hundred feet and its entire length was narrow, maybe three feet wide. Three feet was pretty damn wide. It was the sheer drop that made that three feet seem ever so much smaller. Knowing that if you slipped you had absolutely no chance of catching yourself, that stumbling meant certain death, that did things to a man.

  It was doing things to Fatty Kirof.

  The baron, unfortunately, had no idea why he was important. Ferl hadn’t been able to find out anything either. But Fatty was important enough that the Godking had sent a Vürdmeister after them.

  “You’re going first, Fatty. I’ll take all the gear, but that’s all the mercy you get.”

  It wasn’t mercy. It was practicality. Fatty would go slower with a pack, and if he fell, Ferl didn’t want to lose his supplies.

  “I can’t do it,” Baron Kirof said. “Please.” Sweat was coursing down his round face. His little red whiskers quivered like a rabbit’s.

  Ferl drew his sword, the sword he’d given so much to protect, the sword that would make him a clan warlord. It was everything a warlord could want, a perfect sword, down to the highland runes on the steel that Ferl recognized but couldn’t read.

  He gestured with the sword, a little shrug that said, “Take your chances with the path, or take your chances with the sword.”

  The baron started onto the path. He was muttering too low for Ferl to hear him, but it sounded like he was praying.

  Surprisingly, Fatty made good time. Ferl had to slap him once with the flat of his blade when he froze up and started scooting. They didn’t have time to scoot. If they weren’t far enough away from the Vürdmeister when he made it out of the trees, Ferl was dead. He’d chosen to go behind Fatty because it was the only way to keep the man moving, but it meant that he was exposed to whatever magic the Vürdmeister threw at them. If they weren’t far enough away to make the Vürdmeister worry that he would kill the baron, it would be all over.

  The view was breathtaking. They were past the middle of the exposure, and they could see forever. Ferl thought he could see Cenaria City, far to the northwest. It made it seem that they’d hardly covered any ground at all. But Ferl wasn’t interested in the cloudless expanses to the north. He was interested in the slight prick he’d just felt on his skin. Snow.

  He looked up. The leading edge of the black wall of clouds was directly above them.

  Fatty stopped. “The path is getting narrower.”

  “The Vürdmeister’s out of the woods. We’ve got no choice.”

  The baron swallowed and started shuffling forward, his face pressed to the rock, his arms spread-eagled.

  Behind them, the Vürdmeister was standing with his fists on his hips, furious.

  Ferl looked ahead. Another thirty paces, and just one more hard section where the ledge narrowed to a foot and a half across. Fatty was sucking down the thin air, frozen.

  “You can do this,” Ferl told him. “I know you can.”

  Miraculously, Fatty started moving, shuffling, but with confidence, as if he’d found some well of courage in himself that he’d never known he had. “I’m do
ing it!” he said.

  And he did. He made it past the narrowest part of the ledge and Ferl followed hard on his heels, kicking gravel out into space and trying not to follow it.

  The ledge began to widen and Fatty turned to walk rather than shuffle—even though the ledge was still less than three feet wide. He was laughing.

  Then there was a blur of green past them and the ledge exploded in front of them.

  As the smoke blew away in the icy winds, the clouds opened up and it started snowing. Big, fat flakes were driven in circles and horizontal lines by the wind. Fatty and Ferl both stared at the gap in front of them.

  It was barely three feet across, but there was no room to run for the approach. The far side didn’t look stable, either.

  “If you do this,” Ferl said, “I’ll never call you Fatty again.”

  “Go bugger yourself,” Fatty said—and jumped.

  He scrambled on the other side, but he made it.

  Another missile hit the rock over Ferl’s head and rock chips cut his face and rained down over him. He shook his head to clear his eyes, lost his balance, and then found it again, all in a moment. He took two steps and leapt.

  The ledge crumbled under his feet faster than he could scramble up it. He threw out his arms, grabbing for anything.

  A hand grabbed his. The baron yanked him to safety.

  Gasping, Ferl bent over at the waist, hands on his thighs. After a moment, he said, “You saved me. Why’d you—why?”

  The baron’s answer was lost as the rock behind them exploded again.

  Ferl surveyed the rest of the ledge. It was another thirty paces before they would disappear around a corner from the Vürdmeister. The ledge from here on was five feet wide or wider, too wide for one of the missiles to demolish, but they were still exposed, and Ferl sure as hell wasn’t going to stay in the back anymore. He sheathed his sword and grabbed the baron, turning him around.

  “This is the only way we get out of this,” he said.

  “It’s fine,” the baron said. “I’m not climbing back across that ledge, and I have no idea what to do in the wilderness anyway. I’m with you.”

 
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