The night angel trilogy, p.87
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.87

           Brent Weeks
 

  Tenser cursed. “Take them, Neph. Kill them. Do whatever you do, but make it painful.”

  51

  Hu Gibbet crouched on the roof of a warehouse deep in the Warrens. In a more prosperous time, it had been used to store textiles. Later, smugglers had used it. Now, it was a crumbling ruin that housed guild rats of the Burning Man guild.

  None of that mattered to Hu, except for the inconvenience of having to kill the ten-year-old boy who was standing guard. Or maybe it had been a girl. Hard to tell. The only thing that mattered to Hu was a slab of stone on the floor by one crumbled wall. It looked like it weighed a thousand pounds and it was as weathered as all the other stones, but it opened on hinges that not even the guild rats knew about. It was the second exit for one of the largest safe houses in the city.

  Right now, if Hu’s source was correct, the safe house held approximately three hundred whores, enough food and water to keep them for a month, and the real prizes: Momma K and her lieutenant, Agon Brant. Hu didn’t expect those two to be here, not really. But he could always hope.

  He always had trouble with the big jobs. A big job required such balance. The pleasure in so much blood threatened his professionalism. It was so easy to get caught up in the sheer joy of it—watching blood spill or dribble or spurt, blood in all its glorious hues, the red red blood fresh from the lungs, the black blood from the liver, and every shade in between. He wanted to bleed every body dry to please Nysos, but on the big jobs he couldn’t usually take the time. It made him feel like he was doing things halfway.

  Plus it always left him depressed. After he’d killed and bled thirty or thirty-two at the Gyre estate, he hadn’t been the same for weeks. Even all the killing during the coup couldn’t satisfy him. It was all a letdown. The Gyre estate had been the best. He’d still been in the estate when the duke got home. He’d watched Regnus Gyre run from room to room, mad with grief, slipping in the Nysos-pools Hu had left in every hall. He’d been so excited by watching that he couldn’t even kill the duke, though he knew the Godking wished it.

  He’d finished that job the next night, of course, but that had been nothing. Not even close.

  This job wouldn’t be too hard. There would be some tight moments early on. First, he had to get in. He’d kill the children if he had to, but guild rats were slippery. They knew every hole in the Warrens the size a walnut and could fit into it with room to spare. It would be better not to give them the chance to warn anyone.

  After he got in, there would be a guard or two on the back exit. It was an exit that had never been used, and there was only so long a man could stare at a wall before he got bored and tired, so the guards there might well be asleep.

  Then Hu would need to kill the guards at the front exit without raising an alarm. Then he’d have to block or destroy the front exit. After that point, it wouldn’t matter if the whores found out he was there or not. He could handle whores.

  Then… well, the Godking had told him that he had twenty-four hours to do whatever he wanted. “Hu,” the Godking had said, “make me a cataclysm.”

  The Godking planned to open up the place afterward and march every noble in the city through it. When the bodies were starting to get ripe, they’d start marching the rest of the city through it. The residents of the Warrens would go last. Then the Godking would have a public ceremony. People selected at random from among the Rabbits, the artisans, and the nobility would be sent into the massacre site. While they were inside, the Godking’s wytches would seal the exits.

  Garoth Ursuul expected it would provide a forceful deterrent to future rebellion.

  But Hu felt uneasy. He was a professional. He was the best wetboy in the city, the best in the world, the best ever. He treasured that position, and there was only one thing that could threaten it: himself. He’d taken stupid risks at the Gyre estate. Idiotic risks. It had all worked out, but the fact remained that he’d been out of control.

  There had just been too much blood. Too much thrill. He’d walked like a god through an orgy of worship that was death. He’d felt invulnerable during the hours he’d butchered the Gyres and their servants. He’d spent time displaying the bodies. He’d hung up several by their feet and cut their throats to bleed them to create that glorious lake of blood in the last hallway.

  His job was to kill, and he’d gone dangerously beyond that. Durzo had been a killer. He took lives with the impersonal precision of a tailor. Durzo Blint would never have put himself at risk. It was why some people had considered him Hu’s equal. Hu hated that. He was feared, but Blint was respected. His niggling worry was that the judgment was deserved.

  That was why three hundred might be his undoing. The beast within would come out. Three hundred might be too much.

  No. He was Hu Gibbet. Nothing was too much for Hu Gibbet. He was the best wetboy in the world. Tactically, this job wouldn’t be nearly the challenge some other jobs had been, but when people whispered his name, this would be what they remembered. This would be his legacy. They would remember this all over the world.

  The guild rats were all asleep, huddled together in clumps against the cold. Hu was about to drop through the hole in the roof when he saw something.

  At first, he thought he was imagining it. It began as a whisper of wind, a puff of dust scattered in the moonlight. But the dust didn’t settle, and there was no wind tonight. Still, the dust seemed to swirl in one place, gathering in one of the patches of moonlight in the warehouse near the children.

  One of the children woke and gave a little cry, and in a second, every child in the guild was awake.

  The whirlwind became a tiny tornado. Though there was still no wind, something was taking shape, black specks obscuring and spinning at a dizzying pace to a height of six feet. The tornado glowed an iridescent, scintillating blue. Sparks shot out and danced across the floor and the children cried out.

  Taking shape through the tornado was a man, or something like a man. The figure flashed blue, spraying light in every direction, and not even Hu was fast enough to cover his eyes.

  When he looked again, a figure unlike any he had ever seen stood before the children who were cowering wide-eyed on the floor. The man appeared to be carved from glossy black marble or shaped from liquid metal. His clothes weren’t so much clothes as skin, though he appeared to wear shoes and was sexless, his whole body was unrelieved black and every contour was crisply defined. He was lean and every muscle was etched, from his shoulders to his V of a chest to his stomach to his legs. There was something funny about his skin, though. At first, the man or demon or statue made of flesh had reflected light like burnished steel. Now, only parts of him gleamed: the crescents of his biceps, the horizontal slashes of his abdominal muscles. The rest of him faded from glossy black to matte black.

  Most frightening was the demon’s face. It looked even less human than the rest of it. The mouth a small gash; cheekbones high; hair a disheveled, spiky black; brows prominent and disapproving above overlarge eyes out of a nightmare. The eyes were the palest blue of the coldest winter dawn. They spoke of judgment without pity, of punishment without remorse. As the figure studied the children, Hu became more and more certain that the eyes were actually glowing. Wisps of smoke curled out from them from whatever infernal fires burned within that hellish figure.

  “Children,” the figure said. “Be not afraid.” There were gulps all around, and despite the words, every guild rat looked on the verge of bolting. “I will not harm you,” the demon said. “But you are not safe here. You must go to Gwinvere Kirena, the one you know as Momma K. Go and stay with her. Tell her the Night Angel has returned.”

  Several children nodded, wide-eyed, but they all seemed frozen to the ground.

  “Go!” the Night Angel said. He stepped forward through a shadow that cut the moonlight on the warehouse floor and an eerie thing happened. Where the shadow cut across the Night Angel, the demon disappeared. An arm, a diagonal slash of his body, and his head disappeared—except for two glowing sp
ots that hung in space where his eyes should be. “Run!” the Night Angel yelled.

  The children bolted like only guild rats can.

  Hu knew that he should kill this Night Angel. Surely the Godking would reward him. Besides, the demon blocked Hu’s entrance to his assignment. The Night Angel stood between him and more than three hundred succulent kills.

  But it was hard to breathe. He wasn’t afraid. It was simply that he didn’t do jobs for free. He’d kill this angel, but he’d leave for now, make the Godking pay him for it. If the Night Angel knew about the underground chamber, it was already too late. If the Night Angel didn’t know about the chamber, the whores would still be there tomorrow. He’d go get a contract on the Night Angel today and come back tomorrow and kill all the whores and the Night Angel too. It was completely logical. Fear had nothing to do with it.

  The Night Angel turned his face up and as his eyes locked on Hu Gibbet’s, they flashed from a smoldering blue to a fiercely burning red. In the next moment, the rest of the Night Angel vanished except for the burning red points of light.

  “Dost thou desire thy judgment this night, Hubert Marion?” the Night Angel asked.

  Cold dread paralyzed him. Hubert Marion. No one had called him that in fifteen years.

  The Night Angel was moving toward him. Hu was on the verge of fleeing when the Night Angel stumbled. Hu stopped, puzzled.

  The ruby eyes dimmed, flickered. The Night Angel sagged.

  Hu dropped to the floor and drew his sword. The Night Angel drew itself up once more by an act of will, but Hu read exhaustion there. He attacked.

  Their swords rang in the night, then Hu’s kick blew through a block and connected with the Night Angel’s chest. The creature flew back, its sword flying from its hand. It landed in a heap and began to shimmer.

  In moments, the Night Angel was gone. In its place lay a man, naked, barely conscious.

  It was Kylar Stern, Durzo’s apprentice. Hu cursed him, his fear bleeding into outrage. It was all tricks? Illusions?

  Hu stomped forward and slashed at Kylar’s exposed neck. But his blade went completely through the man’s head without resistance—shattering the illusion. Hu had barely stopped the slash when he felt a rope tighten around his ankles and yank him off his feet.

  Fingers dug into his right elbow, hitting the pressure point and enervating his arm. A hand grabbed his hair and smacked his face against the floor again and again, breaking his nose with the first smack. On the third time, Hu’s descending face came down on a rock. It ripped into his eye. Then he was rolling over and over.

  He thrashed with all his Talent and hit nothing. Then his arms were behind his back and with a swift jerk upward, both shoulders were dislocated. Hu screamed. When he next thought to thrash, he found his arms and legs tied together.

  From his remaining eye Hu caught sight of Kylar Stern, wobbling, clearly exhausted, but still pulling Hu across the floor by his cloak. Hu thrashed again, trying to kick something, anything, trying to stand. Kylar dropped him on his back and Hu screamed again as it put pressure on his bound, dislocated shoulders. Kylar stood over him.

  Whatever the black skin had been, illusion or something else, Kylar obviously didn’t have the power to hold it now. He stood naked, but his face was as much of a mask as the mask had been. Hu gathered his Talent to try another kick.

  Kylar’s foot streaked down first, breaking Hu’s shin. Hu screamed against the exploding blackness of pain that threatened to make him fall unconscious, and when he looked again, Kylar was kicking a section of the floor. It came open on unseen hinges. Inside, a hidden water wheel turned, driven by the flowing waters of Plith River. Hu realized it must be the mechanism that opened the huge door of the safe house, its mighty gears currently disengaged, spinning slowly.

  “Nysos is the god of waters, right?” Kylar asked.

  “What are you doing?” Hu shouted, hysterical.

  “Pray,” Kylar said, his voice pitiless. “Maybe he’ll save you.” Kylar did something with Hu’s cloak. For a moment, nothing happened. Then the cloak tightened around Hu’s neck. It started dragging him across the floor.

  “Nysos!” Hu screamed through the strangling tightness. “Nysos!”

  The cloak pulled him into the water and for a long, blessed moment, the tension around his neck vanished. Hu kicked his good leg and found the surface. Then the cloak tightened and drew him into the gear. The disengaged gear pulled him out of the water by his throat and then flipped him over, dragging him back under the water again. He couldn’t breathe. It dragged him out of the water again, flipped him again, and pulled him back under the water.

  This time, he kicked as he came out of the water. It gave him enough slack to suck in a great breath, then he was flipped and plunged under the water once more. Hu tried to fight his bonds, but any pressure he put on his shoulders was agony. His arms were tied so tightly he couldn’t pop his shoulders back into their joints and his good leg kicked against nothing but water.

  He screamed again as he came out of the water, but the gear ground on. Up, down, up, down.

  Kylar watched Hu Gibbet pulled from the water and then pulled under, over and over, sometimes begging, sometimes coughing up dirty river water. He felt no remorse. Hu deserved it. However Kylar knew what he knew, he knew that. And maybe it was as simple as that.

  Swaying on his feet, Kylar looked for the switch to open the safe house. He hadn’t been faking his exhaustion. He was just lucky that he’d had enough Talent left to fool Hu. In a fair fight, Hu would have taken him. Kylar had no illusions about that. But Durzo had taught him there was no such thing as a fair fight. Hu let himself be taken by surprise because he thought he was the best. Durzo had never considered himself the best; he just thought everyone else was worse than he was. It might seem like the same thing, but it wasn’t.

  Finally Kylar found what he was looking for. He grabbed a plank beside the rock and pulled it up.

  The spinning gear slid sideways until its teeth met another gear’s. They grated for a moment, then meshed together and turned. Hu was pulled inexorably out of the water one more time. He screamed. His head caught between the great teeth of the gears and his scream pitched abruptly higher. The gears stopped, straining.

  Then Hu’s head popped like bloody pimple. His legs jerked spastically and his whole body arched out of the water. Then his corpse flopped to the side and the gears turned on, blood staining the water.

  The enormous rock lifted, revealing a tunnel into the earth. An alarm bell clanged in the depths.

  In moments, a pair of guards thundered up the steps, spears in their hands.

  “Have to… evacuate,” Kylar said. He wobbled and neither man made a move to help him. “Godking knows you’re here. Tell Momma K.” Then he passed out.

  52

  Feir Cousat huddled as much of his bulk behind a tree as he could. It was two hours before dawn, and the figure lying beside the fire had been still for hours. In just a few moments, Feir would know whether all his gambles had paid off.

  His search for Curoch had taken him to Cenaria, through the camps of the Khalidoran highlanders, and into the mountains on the Ceuran border. His hope and his despair for weeks had been that he hadn’t even heard a whisper of a special sword. That meant if he was on the right track, Curoch might be held by a man who had no idea what it was. That scenario was vastly preferable to the idea of trying to take it from a Vürdmeister. Any Vürdmeister with the ability to use Curoch would have the ability to kill Feir a hundred ways.

  What was more likely was that he was on the wrong track. He’d made a dozen guesses as he’d narrowed his list of possibilities. First, he’d taken a Khalidoran uniform and stitched messengers’ insignia on it and sat at lots of campfires. When they’d been in school, Dorian had taught him Khalidoran, so even when the conversation lapsed into the old tongue—all young Khalidorans were bilingual; the Godking thought they could better rule if they knew the schemes of those they conquered—he knew what
they were saying.

  Because they hadn’t immediately found Curoch, and Feir guessed rumors would have spread about that if they had, he figured someone must have taken the sword. He found the units that had done the cleanup detail on the bridge. Most of the men had been from units nearly destroyed in the fighting. Later they’d been lumped into a new unit and sent home guarding the wagons taking loot back to Khalidor—the very wagon train he and Dorian and Solon had been following.

  Because Dorian had sent him south, Feir knew that the sword hadn’t gone with the baggage train. So he’d asked after anyone from those units who hadn’t gone home, and he’d found one.

  Finding where Ferl Khalius had gone was an entirely different matter. In fact, Feir had never found the man. Instead, he’d followed a Vürdmeister who had been sent south. The Vürdmeister tracked Ferl Khalius and Feir tracked the Vürdmeister. He’d watched the Vürdmeister throw missiles at Ferl Khalius and the lord he’d kidnapped. The Vürdmeister lost interest as soon as the lord fell from the heights of Mount Hezeron.

  While the Vürdmeister used his signal stick to tell the Godking of his failure, Feir had crept close. The falling snow and the concentration required to work magic had covered Feir’s approach. As soon as the Vürdmeister was finished, Feir killed him.

  Then he’d done something he would never do again. He’d crossed the broken ledge, in the snow. He’d jumped across a five-foot gap, from slick snow to slick snow. There had been places steep enough that his feet slid back as far as he climbed. He’d ended up using magic to melt some of the ice just long enough to take a few more steps. He’d made it, but it had been close.

  Curoch was worth it.

  He drew his sword and stepped forward in a modified zshel posto, a fighter’s stance for keeping balance and agility on slick ground. In a few quick steps, he was over the man. His sword dipped and stabbed through the figure’s chest—a chest made of snow wrapped in a cloak.

 
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