The night angel trilogy, p.83
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.83
 

           Brent Weeks

  The magic would have baffled her. The magic combined with Uly’s expression that said she’d seen this before and was elated, that told her everything.

  Kylar was a creature out of legend. A legend no Sister believed. Until now.

  “You’re right, Uly,” Sister Ariel said gently, meeting Vi’s gaze as if to say “play along.” “How about we set up camp and you can start on our dinner while Vi and I tend to his wounds? She and I know more about healing, and you can make sure there’s dinner ready for him when he wakes up.”

  Ariel dismounted and helped Uly down.

  “I don’t want to go. I want to stay here,” Uly said.

  “Uly,” Vi said. “The best way you can help is to get dinner ready. You’ll get in the way here.”

  “Come on, child,” Ariel said. She led Uly away as Vi got off her horse and began pulling leaves away from Kylar’s body. Ariel turned and mouthed “start digging.” Vi nodded.

  If she’d had time to think, Ariel wouldn’t have played such a desperate hand. A thousand factors were in play and playing too fast for her to calculate the odds.

  She took Uly about twenty paces into the woods and bound her and gagged her with magic, setting her on the far side of a tree trunk. “I’m sorry, child. It’s for the best.”

  “Mmm!” Uly said, her eyes wide, but the sound was barely a whisper.

  Ariel came around the tree just in time to see Vi vault onto her horse’s back and gallop off into the woods. Ariel shouted and threw a ball of light whizzing past her, but didn’t put any heat into it. She wasn’t going to light the forest on fire just to scare the girl. Besides, she might have accidentally hit her.

  In moments, even the sound of hoofbeats faded. Sister Ariel shook her head and made no attempt to follow.

  So much for the obvious part of the gamble. What Vi did now was the real trick. Good luck, Vi. May you come back to us ready to heal.

  She hoped that someday she might sit with Vi in her chambers at the Chantry and laugh about what they’d done today, but she didn’t think it would happen. Not after what she’d just done. Passionate women tended to hate women like Sister Ariel. Or at least they hated being coldly manipulated—but what choice did Ariel have?

  “And now you,” she said, turning. “My undying warrior. How do you work?”

  “I didn’t see you last time,” Kylar told the Wolf. “I thought maybe I was done with you.” The Wolf was sitting in his throne in the Antechamber of Mystery, his lambent yellow eyes weighing Kylar. The indistinct ghosts who populated the indistinct chamber murmured beyond Kylar’s hearing. The whole place still unnerved him.

  He couldn’t feel the floor beneath his feet. He couldn’t see the ghosts when he looked directly at them. Couldn’t tell if the chamber actually had walls. His skin prickled, but he couldn’t have said if it was warm or cold here. He couldn’t smell. Aside from his voice, he heard nothing. He had a sense of noise, voices, the scuff of feet beyond his hearing, but that was only an intuition. He was disembodied and somehow he’d carried along some of his senses but not all of them, and none of them reliably. Only a few things were clear here: the Wolf, and the two doors. One was plain wood with an iron latch, the other gold with light leaking around the edges.

  “I was too furious to bear the sight of you,” the Wolf said.

  He didn’t look much happier now. Kylar couldn’t think of anything to say. Furious? Why?

  “It took Acaelus fifty years to rack up three deaths. You’ve done it in less than six months. You took money for a death. Money. Wasn’t the price for that blasphemy enough? Will you never learn?” the Wolf asked.

  “What are you talking about?” Kylar could sense that the ghosts or whatever the insubstantial people were who crowded the chamber had gotten very quiet.

  “You sicken me.”

  “I don’t—”

  The Wolf held up a burn-scarred finger and the weight of the small man’s authority was such that Kylar stopped immediately.

  “Acaelus took money once, too, after his first wife died. I think he didn’t really believe in his immortality until then. He took money twice and did something worse once. After that, I showed him what it cost. It stopped him, as it should be stopping you. If you persist in throwing lives away, I will make you rue every day of your interminable life.”

  It was like a bad dream: the frowning tribunal holding him to a standard he didn’t understand, declaring his guilt, the looming watchful figures, the doors of judgment, the threat of a truth he couldn’t bear. He would have shaken himself, pinched himself—if he’d had a body to shake or pinch. If he didn’t remember being killed.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What the hell am I supposed to do?” Kylar asked bitterly. “What am I for?”

  Light flashed in those hard gold eyes and the world telescoped. Perspectives changed and Kylar felt suddenly awkward. Fat and uncoordinated, he was seated in a small chair. His fingers were short and pudgy and wailing filled his head. His head itself seemed almost unbearably heavy. He flailed and realized he was the one screaming.

  He was back in a body, but it wasn’t his. He was a baby. In front of him, the gray-haired man, now a giant, held a spoon full of gruel. “OPEN WI—IDE!” the Wolf crooned, pushing the gruel toward Kylar’s face.

  Kylar snapped his screaming mouth shut.

  Light flashed once more and he was back in his own body.

  The man smiled wolfishly at him. “You are nothing but a fat, awkward child in the land of giants. You close your mouth instead of eating. You speak when you should listen. What are you for? Any answer I gave you’d reject. So why should I waste my time? You’re as arrogant as your master ever was, and you don’t have a shred of his wisdom. I find you wanting.”

  “What am I supposed to do?”

  “Better. Do better.”

  Part of Ariel wished she could slow whatever was happening in Kylar’s body. As it was, he was almost recovered. As she watched, the arrow in his chest wobbled and began to shift. Then it quivered and began to rise out of his body as if being pushed from within.

  With an audible plop, the arrowhead broke through skin that had already healed flush around the shaft. The arrow fell to the side and Ariel grabbed it and put it in her pack next to the gold tablet for later study.

  The skin over Kylar’s heart the arrow had just broken was knitting together so quickly she could see it. In moments, it was smooth once more, unscarred. Sister Ariel reached out with her magic, but as soon as it touched Kylar’s body it was absorbed. A tremor passed through him and his heart started beating. A long moment later, his chest rose and he coughed violently, spitting half-congealed lumps of blood out of his lungs. Then the coughing passed. Sister Ariel tried to watch without touching, but the streams of magic were so fast she couldn’t begin to understand them. She put a hand close to his body, and the air felt cold there. The grass beneath him was wilted and white.

  It was like his whole body was sucking up energy in any form and using it to heal him. What would happen if he were put in a cold, dark room? Would the healing stop? How the hell was he translating all that energy into magic? How was he doing it at all, much less unconsciously?

  Gods, studying such a man might even tell the sisters about the afterlife. That was something they’d given up on long ago, considering it outside the realm of experimentation. Kylar could change everything.

  She pooled magic in a white ball in her hands and brought it close to his body to watch the way the magic was sucked in like water down a drain.

  Amazing.

  Now this, this was a puzzle she could devote her life to solving.

  The last of the magic dissolved from her hands and Kylar’s eyes flicked open.

  Sister Ariel raised her hands. “I’m not here to hurt you, Kylar. Do you remember me?”

  He nodded, his eyes darting around like a wild animal’s. “What are you doing here? What’s happened? What did you see?”

  “I saw you dead. No
w you live again. Who killed you?”

  Kylar seemed to deflate, too tired or too rattled to bother with a denial. “It doesn’t matter. A wetboy. Nothing personal.”

  “A wetboy like you and Vi?”

  He stood, feigning stiffness. She knew he was feigning it because she could see that he was in absolutely perfect condition now. “Graakos,” she whispered under her breath, armoring herself.

  “What do you want, wytch?” he asked. Abruptly, the tendrils of magic she’d extended toward him vanished. Not just vanished; they blew apart like smoke in strong breeze. He’d done that—scattered her magic. His eyes glittered dangerously. Would her magical armor disappear just as easily? For the first time in decades, Sister Ariel was in danger from a man.

  “I want to help you, if your cause is just,” she said.

  “You mean if I’ll help you in return?”

  She shrugged, willing herself to calmness. “What are the extents of your powers, young man? Do you even know?”

  “Why would I tell you?”

  “Because I already know you’re Kylar indeed. You’re the killer who is killed. The undying dier. What’s your real name? How did you get this power? Were you born with it? What do you see when you’re dead?”

  “Shouldn’t have told you my name, should I? You overeducated types will be the death of me. Or the ruin of me, at least.”

  Having seen how the healing worked, Ariel knew the shell of this man, his body, wouldn’t change, wouldn’t age in a thousand years. Kylar might be centuries old, but no matter how she looked at him, she saw a young man behind those cool blue eyes. A young man’s bravado, a young man’s invincibility. He’d certainly evinced a young man’s foolishness in telling her so much already. “How old are you?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “Twenty, twenty-one.”

  “So the Society’s wrong?”

  “The Society?” Kylar asked.

  Drat. How can I be so subtle with Vi and so clumsy with this boy? She knew why, though. She wasn’t used to dealing with men. She’d spent too much time cloistered in the company of women. She understood women. Even if they could be terrifically illogical, over the years she’d learned to gauge when illogic was about to strike. Men were a different matter entirely. It would have been, well, logical, that she would feel more at home in the company of men, but it wasn’t the case. Still, every word Kylar said was teaching her volumes. He hadn’t lied about his age. That felt true—but who didn’t know their exact age? Was that because he couldn’t remember how long he’d been in this incarnation? She felt that it was something different. Still, she shouldn’t have said anything about the Society. Now she’d have to tell him more. If she refused to share, so would he.

  “ ‘Lo, the long night passes and he is made new.’ That Society,” she said. Kylar was rubbing his eyes like they felt funny. He seemed overwhelmed, which was good, because she didn’t want to explain how she knew about the Society. “They believe you come back from the dead and they hope to learn how. Apparently, their belief is justified. And what more could a man hope for but to conquer death?”

  “Lots,” Kylar snapped. “I’m immortal, not invincible. It’s not always a blessing.” He was still disoriented. He looked like he was regretting every word he said. He wasn’t stupid, this one. Reckless, maybe, but not stupid. “So, Sister, what do you plan to do about me? Chain me and bring me to the Chantry?”

  As he said it, it spun a fantasy out for Ariel. What temptation! Oh, she’d never try to chain him with magic. But she had something better than magic. She had Uly. A few lies about how Uly would die if she weren’t taken to the Chantry immediately, a subtle weave to make Uly sick a few times, and Kylar would come with her of his own accord. Kylar’s existence would be hidden from most of the sisterhood. Only Istariel would know. Ariel herself would study the man.

  Oh, the challenge of it! The sheer intellectual puzzle. The depth of the magical complexity! It was intoxicating. She would be part of something great. Kylar wouldn’t lead a bad life. They’d provide him with everything he asked for. The best food, the best apartments, training with the swordmasters, visits with Uly, whatever entertainments they could bring to him, and doubtless they’d be curious to breed him with Sisters to see what gifts his progeny had. For his sake, they would surely choose the most attractive women. Most men would find such duties quite pleasant. He would have whatever he wanted but freedom. He was immortal! What were a few decades for him? One single lifetime of pampered luxury and the knowledge that by resting in opulence he would change the course of history. He would have meaning and purpose, just by indulging.

  What might happen if the sisterhood—if Ariel herself—unraveled his secrets? Perfect healing for anyone injured, without scars. Immortality! How powerful would the Chantry become if they could choose to whom to give a thousand years of youth?

  What would that do to the world?

  She, Ariel Wyant, had finally found a puzzle worthy of her gifts. No, not a puzzle, a mystery. She would take her place in history as the woman who gave humanity eternal life. It was breathtaking, and—she realized after far too long—terrifying.

  She laughed under her breath. “I see now why the Society has gotten nowhere with you. The temptations are simply too great, aren’t they?”

  The young man didn’t answer. He seemed to have determined that anything he said would tell her more. At the same time, it seemed to her that he thought she knew things that he wanted to know.

  “You said in Torras Bend that you were a Cenarian soldier,” Ariel said. “But it doesn’t seem like you’re with the rebels. From how long your body was lying here, I’d guess you didn’t even stop at the camp for orders. So here’s the deal. You tell me what you’re really doing, and I’ll help you. You do happen to be alone in the woods, in your undergarments, in the cold, without a horse, without money, and without weapons. I’m sure the being without weapons part isn’t a problem, but the rest certainly are.”

  “Oh, so we’re friends now?” Kylar asked, arching an eyebrow. “To me, the question seems to be why I don’t kill you to keep the Chantry from finding out about me.”

  “You’re immortal, not invincible,” Ariel said, smirking. “If I needed to, I could kill you a dozen times as I dragged you to the Chantry. Neither of us knows if by killing you with magic I might disrupt the delicate balances that bring you back to life, so that’s a risk for both of us, isn’t it? Of course, after killing you with magic once, I could kill you manually thereafter. And of course, you might kill me. So it’s a conundrum for me as well. I might end up with a bag of meat for all my troubles. You might end up dead. Permanently dead.”

  “If you tell the Chantry of my existence, I’ll have every Sister in the world on the lookout for me. For the rest of a very long life. Maybe for me it’s better to take the risk once, with one Sister, than to have to deal with every newly frocked tart looking to make a name for herself for all eternity.”

  “So you’d murder me in cold blood?” she asked.

  “Call it preemptive self-defense.”

  She stepped closer to him and peered into the cool blue eyes. He was a killer, yes. A wetboy, yes. But was he a murderer? The saddest thing about all he’d said was that he was right. If he wanted freedom, if he prized secrecy as much as he or his predecessor or predecessors had, he should kill her. If the Chantry learned he existed, they would never rest until they had him. He was uniquely suited to elude them, but who wanted to live a hunted life? He could escape for five years or fifty, but not forever. The Chantry would never give up. Never. He would become every ambitious Sister’s greatest ambition, the greatest test and greatest prize imaginable.

  Ariel pictured Istariel interrogating this man. She was shocked to see how ugly the scene became. Istariel would want immortality—not for the Chantry, for herself. She wouldn’t pursue a slow, studied method of experimentation. Istariel hated growing old, hated losing her beauty, hated stiff joints and the smell of growing old. To Istariel, Kyla
r would be an obstacle, defying her, condemning her to death by refusing to yield his secrets.

  And what if they pried his secrets from him? What kind of stewards of immortality would the Sisters be?

  The answer was disheartening. Who was pure enough and wise enough to know to whom to grant everlasting life? Who, having received the gift, could be trusted not to abuse it?

  “You must be a good man, Kylar,” she said quietly. “Don’t let your gift corrupt you. I won’t share your secret with the Chantry. At least not until I can speak with you again. I know you have no reason to trust me, so here.” She drew a knife from her belt and handed it to him. “If you must kill me, do so.” She turned her back.

  Nothing happened.

  After a long moment, she turned around. “Will you let me help you?” she asked.

  He looked weary. “Logan Gyre is alive,” he said. “He’s in the Maw’s deepest pit, a place called Hell’s Asshole.”

  “You think he’s still alive?”

  “He was a month ago. If he made it through the first two months, he’s made it through the hardest part. I’d guess he’s still kicking.”

  “And you mean to bring him out?”

  “He’s my friend.”

  Ariel breathed slowly to get hold of herself. She wanted to berate this boy for his idiocy. How dare he endanger the ka’kari for a mere king? “Do you know what it will mean if Garoth Ursuul gets his hands on your ka’kari? What it will mean for the world?” Sister Ariel asked. It might be terrible for the world for the Chantry to unlock Kylar’s secrets; it would be apocalyptic if the Khalidorans did.

  “Logan’s my friend.”

  Ariel bit her tongue, literally. If Istariel ever found out what she was about to do, expulsion from the Chantry would be the least of Ariel’s punishments.

  “Well, then. All right.” She exhaled. “I’m going to help you. I think I can do something really special. I think, yes. Don’t ask another Sister to do this. It will only be possible because of how much I’ve already seen of you. But hold on. I need you to take a note to someone.”

 
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