The night angel trilogy, p.86
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.86

           Brent Weeks

  Logan smiled as he saw Gnasher sit down and grab the rope in both hands, squeezing it as hard as he could with all the concentration in the world, as if it were going to get away from him. The man truly lived in a different world.

  Logan was aware of the other Holers staring at him. He could tell what they were thinking. King. He’d called himself King as a grim joke when he’d jumped down here—a stupid, insane joke, but the joke of a man who’d just watched his wife bleed to death. It was taking them some time to absorb the fact that it was all real.

  Tatts stood and walked over. He squatted beside Logan. Beneath the grime that covered his skin, his dark tattoos looked like vir. He sucked at his gums and spat blood; the scurvy was getting to him, too.

  “I would have liked it,” Tatts said, speaking for only the third time Logan had ever heard. “If you’d been the king. You got balls like no royal I ever heard of.”

  “Balls!” Fin paused in his rutting and propped himself up on his hands and laughed. He was a gruesome sight, sweating and dirty, his mouth bloody, the sinew rope half undone, half still wrapped around his naked body. “Someone else is gonna have his balls soon enough.”

  Logan looked away, still embarrassed to see Lilly doing what she needed to do to survive, so he almost missed it. Lilly shoved and Fin cried out and Logan saw him at the edge of the Hole on his side, precariously balanced, arms scrambling.

  Then Lilly kicked him in the groin with all her strength and he fell in the Hole.

  Lilly flung herself away from the coils of rope that snapped taut beneath her. Tied to Fin, coil upon coil disappeared down the Hole.

  Gnasher’s arms jerked out and his entire body jumped forward. Then again and again as the sinew rope jerked Fin to a stop, dropped again, stopped again, and then began unwinding at great speed as gravity uncoiled the rope wrapped around Fin’s body.

  Finally, Fin’s body must have hit bottom, because the weight on the rope eased.

  Lilly cried out and hugged Gnasher and kissed him. “You did perfect! Just perfect!” She turned to Logan. “You, on the other hand, could have been a lot more helpful.”

  Logan was stunned. He’d tried to think of ways to kill Fin for—well, for however long he’d been in this hell. Now he was just gone. Gone, and Logan hadn’t done a thing.

  “Now listen to me,” Lilly said. “All of you. We’re fucked. We always have been. We all done what we done, and ain’t one of us worth trusting. But King ain’t one of us. We can trust him. We ain’t got but half a chance, and to have even that, it needs all of us.”

  “What’re you asking?” Nine-Finger Nick asked.

  “We had a key. Now we’ve got Fin’s rope. But we got no time. I say we lower King and Gnash into the Hole. King cuz we can trust him and he saw where the key fell, and Gnash because he’s the only one strong enough to climb back up the rope if he needs to. They go down and take a look around, see if they can find a way out from down there or find the key. One way or the other, it might give us a chance to get out before the palies come back.”

  “Why don’t we all climb down?” Nick asked.

  “Cuz we all got to hold the rope, idjit. There’s no place to tie it.”

  “We could tie it to the grate,” Nick said.

  “Fin’s body’s still tied to it. We’d have to make a tower three people high and then lift Fin’s body weight—it’s impossible. After King goes and unties Fin’s body, we can do that. Then all of us can get out. Or if there’s no way out down there, he might find the key and we’ll be able to make a rush up here.”

  “We’d have to go past that… thing,” Nick said, fearful.

  “Nobody said it was a good chance,” Lilly said. “You want to stay, you die for sure.”

  Tatts nodded. He was in.

  “I still say we lower someone else,” Nick said.

  “I got us the rope,” Lilly said. “We do it my way or not at all.”

  “Come on, Lill—”

  “Would you trust us to hold the rope with you on it, Nick? We let it go and we’d get your cut of the food.”

  That shut Nick up.

  “Can you trust us, King?” Tatts asked.

  “I trust you.” I don’t have anything to lose.

  It took them a few minutes to explain it to Gnasher, and even then Logan wasn’t sure the man understood. They got the rest of the Holers arranged holding the rope. Lilly stood at the front. She told the Holers that even if they let go, she wouldn’t. If they wanted to keep her sexual favors, they’d better not let go.

  “I owe you everything,” Logan told her. Lilly was anything but a beautiful woman, but right now, she looked radiant. She looked proud of herself for the first time Logan had ever seen.

  “No, I owe you, King. When you came down here, I told you to hold onto something good, but you’re the one who showed me how. I’m more than this, no matter what I done. If I die now, it don’t matter. I ain’t good, but you are, and I’m helping you. No one can take that away. You just promise me, King, when you get it all back and go to your fancy parties, you remember. You’re the king of us criminals, too.”

  “I won’t forget.” He stepped up to the edge to the Hole. “Lilly, what’s your real name?”

  She hesitated as if she almost didn’t remember, then said shyly. “Lilene. Lilene Rauzana.”

  He straightened his back and spoke, “By the powers vested in our person and in our royal office, be it known that Lilene Rauzana is absolved of all crimes committed heretofore and that all penalties thereof are commuted. Lilene Rauzana is innocent in our sight. Let the record of her wrongs be taken as far as the east is from the west. So let it be written, so let it be done.”

  It was a ridiculous thing for a man in rags to say to a prostitute. Somehow though, it was right. Logan had never had more power than at this moment, when he had the power to heal. The Holers didn’t even mock.

  Lilly’s eyes spilled tears. “You don’t know what I done,” she said.

  “I don’t need to.”

  “I want to make it right. I don’t want be like I been—”

  “Then don’t. As of now, you’re innocent.”

  With that, Logan stepped into the Hole.


  It turned out that Sister Ariel Wyant Sa’fastae had stayed in Torras Bend for several weeks, and the villagers knew her well. Though few people were comfortable having a Sister in their presence, she had struck them as scholarly, absent-minded, and kind. The description was an immense comfort to Elene. It meant the letter was probably legitimate.

  That left her with a problem. Did she go north, toward the Chantry after Uly, or did she go west, after Kylar?

  She’d decided she had to go after Uly. Cenaria wasn’t safe for her. Her presence would make Kylar’s work harder to accomplish, and she couldn’t help him. The Chantry was safe, if intimidating, and Elene could at least make sure that Uly was safe—if not take her home.

  So she’d continued north the next morning. Aside from nearly exhausting her small savings, a night in a bed had only seemed to remind her body of all its aches, so she wasn’t making good time. She’d get to the Chantry faster if she made her horse go faster than a walk, but the very thought of a canter made Elene groan. The mare’s ears flicked up, as if wondering what she was saying.

  Then Elene saw the rider, forty paces away. He wore black armor, though no helmet, and he carried neither sword nor shield. He was hunched over in the saddle on a small, long-haired horse. The man’s hand was pressed to his side, covering a wound, his pale face spotted with blood.

  As Elene pulled her mare to an abrupt stop, he looked up and saw her. His lips worked but no words came. He tried again. “Help. Please,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

  She flicked her reins and came to his side. Despite the pain on his face, he was a handsome young man, barely older than she was. “Water,” he begged.

  Elene grabbed her water skin, then paused. The young warrior had a full wineskin dangling from his saddle. His
pallor wasn’t the paleness of blood loss; he was Khalidoran.

  His eyes lit with triumph even as she dug in her heels. He snatched the rein nearest him. Elene’s mare danced in a circle that the man’s smaller horse quickly followed. Elene tried to jump out of the saddle, but her leg was trapped between the horses.

  Then his mailed fist flashed. It caught her above the ear. She fell.

  It was a descent into Hell. Logan was still too weak to do even half of the work in lowering himself, but Gnasher seemed content to do almost all of it, lowering them hand under hand. Logan just watched.

  The first twenty feet was sheer black fireglass that made up the Hole, utterly smooth and featureless. Then the Hole opened up in an enormous chamber.

  Iridescent green algae clung to the distant walls and gave off just enough light to see dimly, and it was as if they’d plunged into an alien world. The rotten-eggs smell was sharper down here, and puffs of heavy smoke rolled up toward them, obscuring Logan’s view of thousands of stalagmites jutting unevenly from the invisible cavern floor. The howlers were quiet, and Logan prayed they would stay that way. Over the months, he’d lost his confidence that the sound was merely wind rising through the rocks.

  Gnasher was beginning to breathe heavily, but he maintained the same pace, hand under hand. All around them except from directly beneath the Hole itself, stalactites glistened like icy knives and the sound of water dripping from their tips lay just beneath the rush of wind. The wind barely moaned as it rose from the depths.

  They descended for two more minutes before Logan saw the first corpse. It was desiccated from the hot dry winds, but it must have been a Holer who had fallen, been pushed, or jumped decades or centuries ago. The body rested, impaled for so long on a stalagmite that the rock was growing over it, the stone slowly entombing the man.

  Then there were others. Gnasher had to slow his descent several times to push off from stalagmites, and each time, they saw inmates who’d never had rope. Some were even older than the first, their bodies gashed from hitting several stalagmites on the way down. Some were missing body parts, having had them sheared off by the rock or fallen off through the years, but the slickness of the stalagmites had prevented rats from getting to them, and the sere wind had kept them from rotting. The only unrecognizable bodies were the few along the wetter areas by the wall that had become homes for the algae. These glowed green, like ghosts trying to pull out of the wall.

  Finally, they began reaching ledges, most of them too far off to one side for Logan and Gnash to reach, but on one against a wall, he saw a corpse seated. His dried-out bones were intact. Somehow this man had lived through the descent, whether he’d used a rope or just fallen and been spared through some miracle. Then he’d died down here. His empty eye sockets stared a question at Logan, “Can you do better?”

  Suddenly, the sinew rope shook. Logan looked up, but there was only blackness. His vision below was blocked by Gnasher.

  “Let’s hurry, Gnash.”

  The big man protested wordlessly.

  “I know, you’re doing great. You’re doing fantastic, but I don’t know how long Lilly can hold the rope. We don’t want to end up like these guys, do we?”

  Gnasher went faster.

  They passed another ledge and Logan saw that the ground around the base of the stalagmites was thick with soil rather than bare rock. Soil? Here?

  Not soil. Human waste. Generations of criminals had been kicking their feces into the Hole. Among the spires of rock, not all of it was dried, so the entire area smelled like an open sewer with rotten eggs mixed in.

  Logan started to turn away when he saw something glint as they passed right next to another ledge. He looked again and couldn’t see anything.

  “Stop for a second, Gnasher.”

  Logan reached his hand into the six-inch deep layer of shit and groped around. Nothing. He pushed his arm in up past the elbow, ignoring the slime that oozed all over his skin. There.

  He pulled out a lump of something and wiped it against his other arm. It was the key.

  “Amazing,” he said. “A miracle. We aren’t going to die down here after all, Gnash. Now let’s get to the bottom and untie Fin’s body, then we can try to climb back up. They might even be able to pull us up.”

  As it turned out, they were close to the bottom, or at least another ledge. There was a steam vent nearby that billowed acrid smoke over them, obscuring everything below and killing the luminescent algae, so Logan couldn’t see far enough to tell where they were. If, indeed, such a question had any meaning in hell.

  Gnasher stopped and grunted. He stepped away from the rope, spreading his fingers out to ease the pain in them. Logan put his feet back on semisolid ground—the sewage here was only a few inches deep—with a sigh. He hadn’t held nearly as much weight as Gnasher had, but he was still exhausted.

  Then he saw the rope. It was loose.

  “Gnasher,” Logan called, his throat tight. “How long’s there been slack in the rope?”

  Gnasher blinked at him. The question didn’t mean anything to the simpleton.

  “Gnash, Fin’s alive! He could be—AH!”

  Something sharp stabbed into Logan’s back and he fell.

  Fin more fell than jumped on top of him. The convict moved like he’d dislocated his hip, and he was bleeding from his head, his mouth, both shoulders, and one leg. In his right hand, he held the broken, bloodied tip of a stalagmite. As he fell on Logan, he began slashing. He was injured and pitifully weak, but Logan was weaker.

  Fin’s sharp rock bit into his chest, gashed open his forearm as he tried to block, cut from his forehead past his ear. Logan tried to throw Fin off the ledge, but he was too weak.

  There was a feral roar louder than the roar of a sudden eruption of the vent below them. Hot steam and fat drops of boiling water flew past them a moment before Gnasher hit.

  He knocked Fin off of Logan and bit his nose, rising a moment later with a bloody chunk in his filed teeth. Fin screamed a bubbly scream. Before he could scream again, Gnasher grabbed Fin’s dislocated leg, pulling him away from Logan.

  The wounded man screamed again, louder, higher. He reached out, tried to grab anything to get away from Gnasher. Then Fin’s body caught between two stalagmites. Gnasher either didn’t see or didn’t care. He had decided to pull Fin away from Logan, and that was what he was going to do. Logan saw the misshapen man’s shoulders bunch, the muscles stringy knots of power. Gnasher braced his feet and roared as Fin screamed.

  There was a rending sound as the dislocated leg gave way. Gnasher stumbled and fell as he ripped Fin’s leg off and sent it sailing into the abyss.

  Fin locked hateful eyes on Logan as he gasped his last breaths, his life’s blood spurting from his torn hip, his face ghost-pale. “See you… in hell, King,” he said.

  “I’ve already done my time,” Logan said. He held up the key. “I’m leaving.”

  Fin’s eyes flared with hatred and disbelief, but he didn’t have the strength to speak. The hate slowly left his open eyes. He was dead.

  “Gnash, you are amazing. Thank you.”

  Gnash smiled. With his filed, bloody teeth, it was a gruesome sight, but he meant well.

  Logan trembled. He was bleeding pretty badly. He didn’t know if he’d make it, even if they ran into no problems getting out of the Hole and out of the Maw. But there was no reason for Gnash to die, too, or Lilly. And Gnash wouldn’t climb the rope without him, he knew that.

  “All right, Gnash, you’re strong. Are you strong enough to climb out of here?”

  Gnasher nodded and flexed. He liked being called strong.

  “Then let’s get out of this hell,” Logan said, but even as he grabbed the rope, he felt a slackness in it. A moment later, the entire length of the sinew rope fell around them. There would be no climbing out. There would be no using the precious key. There would be no escape. The Holers had dropped the rope.

  “Where the hell are they?” Tenser Ursuul demanded. The Ho
lers barely recognized him in his fine tunic with his face shaved and his hair washed.

  “Where do you think they are? They escaped,” Lilly said.

  “They escaped? Impossible!”

  “No shit,” Lilly said.

  Tenser flushed, embarrassed in front of Neph Dada and the guards accompanying him.

  A magical light bloomed in the Hole, illuminating everyone. It even dipped to the cutout where Logan had so frequently hidden. There was no one there.

  “Logan, Fin, and Gnasher,” Tenser said, naming those missing. “Logan and Fin hated each other. What happened?”

  “King wanted—” Lilly started to say, but something cracked across her face and sent her sprawling.

  “Shut up, bitch,” Tenser said. “I don’t trust you. You, Tatts, what happened?”

  “Logan wanted to build another pyramid. He wanted to attract Gorkhy and see if we could grab his legs and get the key off of him. Fin wouldn’t go for it. They fought. Fin threw Logan in the Hole, but then Gnasher attacked him and all of them fell in.”

  Tenser cursed. “Why didn’t you stop them?”

  “And fall in myself?” Tatts said. “Anyone who’s tangled with Fin or Logan or Gnash gets killed, buddy—Your Highness. You were down here long enough to know that.”

  “Could they have survived the fall?” Neph Dada asked in his icy voice.

  One of the newer inmates yelped and everyone looked at him. “No,” he shouted. “Please!” A bright ball of magical light stuck to his chest and another to his back and lifted him over the Hole. Then he fell.

  Everyone crowded around the hole, watching the light disappear into the darkness.

  “Five… six… seven,” Neph said. The light winked out right before eight. He looked at Tenser. “No, then. Well, I can’t say your father will be pleased.”

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