The night angel trilogy, p.84
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.84

           Brent Weeks
 

  “What are you doing?” Kylar asked as she found a scrap of parchment and scribbled on it, then magically sealed it.

  “Either trust me or don’t, Kylar. If you don’t trust me, kill me. Since you’ve already decided not to do that, you might as well make yourself internally coherent and trust me.” He blinked at the rush of words, but she continued anyway. “I can get you to the city by tomorrow night, maybe tomorrow afternoon.”

  “It’s a three-day ride—”

  “But you have to promise me two things. Promise you’ll deliver this letter first, and promise you’ll rescue Logan second. Swear it.”

  “What’s in the letter?”

  “It’s to a healer named Drissa Nile, and it’s not about you. Events you’ll put into motion will require changes in the Chantry’s position. Our people need to know how to react if you save Logan Gyre, you understand?” It wasn’t the whole truth, of course, but she wasn’t going to tell him the letter was mostly about her clever plan for Vi, which did concern Kylar. “When you get to the city, eat a huge meal and sleep for as long as your body needs. It’ll still put you ahead by a day or two.”

  “Hold on, hold on,” Kylar said. “I don’t want Logan to rot in there any longer than I have to, but why do you care that I save a day or two?”

  Ah, yes. Reckless, not dumb.

  “Vi’s ahead of you. She’s heading for Cenaria.”

  “That bitch! Going to report her successful hit, no doubt. Wait, how do you know where she’s heading?”

  “She was traveling with me.” Sister Ariel winced.

  “What?!”

  “You have to understand, Kylar. She’s enormously Talented. I was taking her back to the Chantry. She escaped me just after we found your body. She thinks you’re dead.” Now the tricky part. “Jarl is the one who told you about Logan being alive?”

  “Yes, why?”

  “Did she… did she torture Jarl before she killed him?”

  “No. She didn’t talk to him at all.”

  And the hook—letting the lie sit in the water as if you had no interest in it, not fleshing it out so much that it looked too good: “Then I don’t know how she knew, but she said something about the king and a hole. I think she knows about Logan.”

  Kylar’s face paled. He’d bought it. Now he’d go after Logan immediately, rather than trying to kill Vi.

  Light! Sister Ariel had thought that she loved studying. She’d always been comfortable in her cloistered life. Now she understood why Sisters left the Chantry to do work in The World. That’s what they called it, The World, because the Chantry was another reality entirely. Ariel thought she didn’t care what happened in The World, thought that books would always be more fascinating that some petty kingdom’s petty politics. But right now, she felt so alive. Here she was, sixty-some years old, thinking on her feet, gambling futures—and loving it!

  “She’s only got a few minutes on me. I can catch her and kill her now! Let me have your horse!”

  “It’s dark, Kylar, you’ll never—” Stupid! She’d been thinking like a Sister, not like an assassin. She’d just given him more reason to kill Vi.

  “I can see in the dark! Give me your horse!”

  “No!” she said. He can see in the dark?

  A change came over Kylar in an instant. One moment, he was a furious young man, his intensity such that despite standing in his undergarments in the cold he still looked formidable. The next moment, his entire body flashed iridescent. The coruscation went beyond the visible spectrum into the magical, leaving Ariel’s eyes watering. When she blinked them clear, Kylar was utterly changed.

  In Kylar’s place stood an apparition, a demon. Every curve and plane of Kylar’s body was sleeked in black metal, his face a mask of fury, his muscles exaggerated but not his power. Ariel realized she was seeing the Angel of the Night in all its fury. She was denying the avatar of retribution his chance to mete out justice.

  There was no dissembling, no clever deception in her fear. She stumbled backward and put a hand on her horse—as much to steady herself as to keep the frightened beast from bolting.

  “Give. Me. The horse,” Kylar said.

  So Ariel did the only thing she could do. She drew a sliver of magic and killed the horse. That’s two innocent beasts I’ve killed for Vi.

  Kylar leapt some inhuman distance into the woods as soon as Ariel touched her magic. But as the horse crumpled to the earth, she released the magic and raised her hands.

  She didn’t even see him move, but a second later Kylar was standing in front of her, the point of her knife an inch from her eye. Light! Had she thought she enjoyed this? Gambling futures looked different when your own was on the table.

  “Why protect a murderer?” the black-sleeked demon asked.

  “I’m trying to redeem Vi. I won’t let you kill her until I’ve tried.”

  “She doesn’t deserve a second chance.”

  “And who are you to say that, immortal? You get as many second chances as you want.”

  “It’s not the same thing,” Kylar said.

  “I’m only asking you to save Logan first. If you don’t accept my help, you’ll be lucky to get to Cenaria this week.”

  The glowering mask disappeared into his skin, but he still looked furious. “What do I have to do?”

  She smiled, hoping he couldn’t see how her knees were trembling.

  “Hold onto your trousers,” she said.

  47

  Applying the last touches of kohl around her eyes, Kaldrosa Wyn looked deep into the mirror. I can do this. For Tomman.

  She couldn’t have said why, but she wanted to look perfect tonight. Maybe it was just that tonight would be her last night. Her last night whoring or her last night, period.

  The costume was pure fantasy, of course. A Sethi woman would never wear such a thing on deck, but for tonight it was perfect. The trousers were so tight that she hadn’t even been able to get them on until Daydra had laughingly told her that she couldn’t wear underclothes beneath them. (“But you can see right through them!” “And your point is…?” “Oh.”) For some reason, they exposed not just her ankles but even her calves—horrifying!—while the blouse was just as tight and sheer, with a lacy flounce at the wrists—ridiculous!—and down the front an open V that reached to her navel. Buttons on the shirt suggested it could be closed, but even if Kaldrosa could have stretched the tiny piece of fabric over her slender frame—she’d tried—there were no buttonholes.

  Momma K had been very pleased with Master Piccun’s work. She insisted that being scantily clad was sexier than naked. Tonight, Kaldrosa didn’t mind. If she had to run, she’d be harder to grab in this than in skirts.

  She came into the foyer and soon the other girls came out of their rooms. Everyone was working tonight except for Bev, who was too scared. Bev was pretending to be sick and was staying in her room all night. Kaldrosa almost panicked when she saw them. All of them looked fantastic. Every one of them had spent extra time on makeup and hair and clothes. By Porus’ spear. The Khalidorans would notice. They’d have to notice.

  Her suitemate, Daydra, who’d saved her more than once by calling for bashers when she heard Kaldrosa scream her codeword, smiled at her. “Here goes nothing, huh?” Daydra said. Daydra looked like a new woman. Though barely seventeen, she’d been a successful prostitute before the invasion, and tonight wasn’t the first time that Kaldrosa saw why she had done so well. The woman glowed. She didn’t care if she died.

  “You ready?” Kaldrosa asked, knowing it was a dumb question. Their floor was going to be opened to clients in just a few minutes.

  “So ready I’ve told all my girlfriends at the other brothels.”

  Kaldrosa froze. “Are you insane? You’ll get us all killed!”

  “Didn’t you hear?” Daydra asked quietly, her face somber.

  “Hear what?”

  “The palies killed Jarl.”

  The breath whooshed out of Kaldrosa. If she’d held onto any
slim hope for the future, it had been because of Jarl. Jarl and his radiant face, his talk of expelling the Khalidorans and going legitimate, of building a hundred bridges across the Plith and eliminating all the laws that bound the Warren-born and the slaveborn and former slaves and the impoverished to the city’s west side. Jarl had spoken of a new order, and when he spoke, it sounded possible. She’d felt powerful in a way she never had before. She’d hoped.

  And now Jarl was dead?

  “Don’t cry,” Daydra said. “You’ll mess up your makeup. You’ll get all of us crying.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “The whole city’s talking about it,” Shel said.

  “I saw Momma K’s face. It’s true,” Daydra said. “So you really think any lightskirt’s going to rat us out to them? After they killed Jarl?”

  The last door on the landing opened and Bev came out wearing her bull dancer costume, ponytails wired up into twin horns, midriff bare, and short pants. The dancer’s knife at her belt didn’t look like the usual blunted blade. Bev was pale but resolute. “Jarl was always kind to me. And I’m not going to listen to that damned prayer of theirs one more time.”

  “He was good to me, too,” another girl said, choking back tears.

  “Don’t start,” Daydra said. “No tears! We’re gonna do this.”

  “For Jarl,” another girl said.

  “For Jarl,” the rest of the girls repeated.

  A bell tinkled that told the girls their guests were coming.

  “I told some other girls, too,” Shel said. “I hope that’s all right. As for me, I get Fat Ass. He killed my first suitemate.”

  “I get Kherrick,” Jilean said. Under her makeup, her right eye was still a puffy yellow.

  “Little Dick’s mine.”

  “Neddard.”

  “I don’t care who I get,” Kaldrosa said. She clenched her jaw so hard it hurt. “But I’m taking two. The first one’s for Tomman. The second’s for Jarl.”

  The other girls looked at her.

  “Two?” Daydra asked. “How are you gonna do two?”

  “I’ll do what I have to. I’m getting two.”

  “Fuck it,” Shel said. “Me too, but I’m taking Fat Ass first. Just in case.”

  “I’m in,” Jilean said. “Now shut up. We’re on.”

  The first man up the stairs was Captain Burl Laghar. Kaldrosa’s heart stopped beating. She hadn’t seen him since she’d moved in to the Craven Dragon to escape him. She stood frozen until he came to stand in front of her.

  “Well, if it isn’t my little pirate bitch,” Burl said.

  She couldn’t move. Her tongue was lead in her mouth.

  Burl saw her fear and stuck his chest out. “See? I knew you were a whore before you did. I could tell you liked it the very first time I banged you in front of your husband. And here you are.” He smiled and was obviously disappointed that none of his sycophants were with him to laugh. “So,” he said finally. “You happy to see me?”

  Inexplicably, the fear vanished. It was just gone. Kaldrosa smiled impishly.

  “Happy?” she said, grabbing the front of his trousers. “Oh, you have no idea.” And she led him to her room. For Tomman. For Jarl.

  That night, a gray-haired cripple climbed to the roof of the manse that had briefly belonged to Roth Ursuul but was now infested with hundreds of Rabbits. He balanced on his crutch in the moonlight and screamed into the night, “Come, Jarl! Come and see! Come and listen!” As the Rabbits gathered to watch the madman, a wind kicked up off the Plith. Tears shining in his eyes like stars, the general began reciting a dithyramb of hatred and loss. He sang a threnody to Jarl, a dirge for the hope of a better life. The words swirled with the wind and not a few Rabbits felt that not only the winds but the spirits of the murdered were gathering to the general’s voice, rising with the cadences of vengeance.

  The humbled general screamed and shook his crutch at the heavens as if it were a symbol of every Rabbit’s impotence and despair. He screamed at the very moment the winds fell still.

  The Warrens answered. A scream rose. A man’s scream.

  As if released by that sound, the winds roared. Lightning cracked against the castle looming to the north, and the light painted the general black against the sky. Black clouds covered the moon and rain lashed down.

  The Rabbits heard the general laughing, crying, defying the lightning, waving his crutch at the heavens as if conducting a wild chorus of rage.

  Screams rose that night from the Craven Dragon as never before. Women who had refused to scream for their clients before now screamed loudly enough to make up for all their previous silence. Beneath those screams, the grunts and whimpers and soft cries and begging of dying men were never heard. Forty Khalidorans died at the Craven Dragon alone.

  Momma K’s plot had been for one brothel, after which she planned to smuggle the girls out of the city. It was supposed to make the Khalidorans think twice about brutalizing the working girls. But the plan, whipped up by the news of Jarl’s death, spread like wildfire. One brothel owner invented a holiday as an excuse to serve lots of ale cheap to get his customers as drunk as possible. He called it Nocta Hemata. The Night of Passion, he claimed, smiling broadly at his guests. Another brothel owner who’d worked with Jarl for years confirmed that it was an old Cenarian tradition. The Night of Abandon, he said.

  Across the city, fueled by drugged food and excessive drink, brothels celebrated an orgy unlike any ever seen. The air filled with shrieks and screams and wild ululations. Screams of terror, screams of vengeance, frenzied screams of blood lust and blood debts repaid. Men, and women, and even the small men and women in children’s bodies who were the guild rats killed with savagery too terrible to comprehend. Bereaved men, women, and children stood over bloodied Khalidoran corpses and called upon the ghosts of their dead beloved to see what vengeance they had wrought, called upon Jarl to see what retribution they had exacted from the flesh of the enemy. Dogs howled and horses panicked at the feral smells of blood and sweat and fear and pain. Running men and women poured through the streets in every direction. There was too much blood for even the torrents of rain to wash away. The gutters ran red.

  Soldiers arrived to find the doors of brothels adorned with dozens of small trophies, one cut from each rapist’s body. But every brothel was empty of all but corpses. In the early hours of the morning, gangs of aggrieved husbands and boyfriends tore apart the drugged Khalidorans who had escaped the brothels and were wandering, trying to find their way out of the Warrens. Even the fully armed and lucid units sent to investigate wandered into ambushes. Rocks were thrown from rooftops in storms, archers picked off soldiers from a distance, and every time the soldiers charged, the Rabbits who had spent months learning to disappear did it again. It was like attacking ghosts, and every narrow twisting alley had a perfect place for an ambush. The Khalidorans who entered the Warrens didn’t leave.

  That night, the Godking lost 621 soldiers, 74 officers, three brothel owners who had acted as informants, and two wytches. The Rabbits didn’t lose a soul.

  Forever after, both sides would call it the Nocta Hemata, the Night of Blood.

  Logan woke. He didn’t move. He just let the fact wash over him until he was sure it was true. He was alive. Somehow, he had survived unconsciousness and delirium. Here.

  He remembered snippets of Gnasher roaring, standing over him. Of Lilly putting a damp rag over his forehead. Between those fragments, like pus in a suppurating wound, were nightmares, garish beasts of his lost life, of dead women and gloating, ghoulish Khalidoran faces.

  When he moved, he knew he wasn’t out of the woods. He had a kitten’s strength. Opening his eyes, he struggled to sit up. Around the Hole, he heard muttering. It sounded like everyone else was as surprised as he was. People who got sick down here never survived.

  A meaty hand grabbed him and pulled him to a sitting position. It was Gnasher, grinning his fool’s grin. A moment later he was kneeling, hugging Logan, crushing t
he wind out of him.

  “Easy, Gnash,” Lilly said. “Let him go.” Logan was surprised when Gnasher actually let go of him immediately. Gnasher didn’t listen to anyone but him.

  Lilly smiled at him. “Good to see you’re back.”

  “I see you made a new friend,” Logan said, feeling jealous and guilty for it.

  She dropped her voice. “You should have seen him, King. He was magnificent.” She grinned her gap-toothed smile and rubbed Gnasher’s knobby head. He closed his eyes, his filed teeth showing as he smiled broadly. “You did good, didn’t you, Gnash?”

  “Yehhss,” he said, his voice rising oddly through the middle of the word.

  Logan almost fell over. It was the first time he’d heard Gnasher speak.

  “You can talk?” he asked.

  Gnasher smiled.

  “Hey, whore,” Fin called from across the Hole. He had uncoiled most of his sinew rope and was adding a newly braided section to it. Logan saw that there were now only seven Holers left. “Time for you to get back to work.”

  “You’ll wait’ll I’m good and ready,” Lilly said. “I haven’t let any of ’em have a throw since you got sick,” she told Logan.

  “What’s that sound?” Logan asked. He hadn’t noticed it at first because it was so constant, but there was some sort of chipping sound and a low murmuring echoing down into the Hole from elsewhere in the Maw.

  Before she could answer, Logan felt something shift in the air. The Holers looked at each other, but every face was blank. Something had changed, but no one could tell what.

  Logan felt weaker, sicker. The air seemed thicker than it had been before, oppressive. He was once more aware of the stench and the foulness of the Hole—smelling it for the first time in months. He felt as if he were for the first time aware of the sludge covering the surface of life. He was being covered in filth and there was no escape. Every breath filled him with more toxins, every movement stroked more filth along his body, ground oil deeper into every pore. Just to exist was to let that scum be pressed into him, to let darkness pierce his skin so deeply that it tattooed him, making filth forever part of him, so anyone who ever saw him would see every evil he’d ever done, every unworthy thought he’d ever entertained.

 
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