The night angel trilogy, p.88
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.88

           Brent Weeks
 

  Feir cursed and whipped around as the real Ferl Khalius charged out of the woods, Curoch held high. Feir barely had time to move. The highlander’s slash would have cut through Feir, except that he had thrown himself to one side. As it was, Curoch knocked the blade from his hand.

  “Naw much honor in stobbin’ a sleeping mon,” Ferl said with a thick Khalidor accent.

  “The stakes are too high for honor,” Feir said. He had thought the man had no idea he was being followed. “Give me the sword,” Feir said, “and I’ll let you live.”

  Justifiably, Ferl looked at him like he was crazy: he was armed, Feir wasn’t. “Me give it ta you? This is a warchief’s sword.”

  “A warchief? That sword is worth more than your entire clan and every other clan for a hundred miles put together.”

  Ferl didn’t believe him, but he didn’t care, either. “It’s mine.”

  Three points of white light, each smaller than Feir’s thumbnail, appeared before him and whizzed at Ferl Khalius. The man wasn’t half bad, but there was only so fast anyone could move a sword.

  The two missiles that Ferl blocked with the sword blasted off into the night. The third missile went right below Ferl’s hands into his belly. Feir reached out with difficulty—magic at a distance was never his strength—and yanked the missile up. It burned a path to Ferl’s heart.

  The highlander fixed his eyes on Feir and toppled sideways.

  Feir picked up Curoch without elation. He’d been right. All his guesses and gambles had paid off. If anyone ever heard this story, the bards would make it a legend. He’d just recovered one of the most powerful magical artifacts ever created.

  So why did he feel empty?

  It had been so easy this time. Slow, but easy. Maybe Ferl had been right. It hadn’t been honorable, but when one person had Curoch, the fight was never fair.

  But that wasn’t it, either. He’d recovered this damn sword three times—three! He could be declared the Official Finder of the Blasted Sword. He had it, but he could never use it. He was mediocre and he’d made the mistake of being friends with the great.

  Solonariwan Tofusin Sa’fasti had been a prince of the Sethi empire. His Talent put him in the top ranks of all living mages. Dorian was another prince, a Vürdmeister and more. He was a magus of the kind that came along once a generation. Feir was a cordwainer’s son with middling Talent and a good hand with a sword. He’d been an apprentice smith when his Talent had been discovered, and he’d later attended the Maker’s school and then been hired as a smith and blades instructor at Sho’cendi, where he’d met Solon and Dorian.

  Dorian had disavowed his birth, and neither he nor Solon had been officially granted any special treatment. But that, Feir knew, didn’t mean they’d gotten no benefit from their noble birth. No matter what happened to Dorian or Solon, they knew that they were something special. They knew they mattered. Feir never had that. He was always second place, if not third.

  The signal stick flashed and Feir pulled it out. The young Vürdmeister he’d killed had kept a translation key on him. Evidently it had been the first time he’d been entrusted with a signal stick, so Feir had been able to translate the flashes of light into letters, but they were still in code, and in Khalidoran. Breaking that code was simple. The first letter was its Khalidoran letter plus one, the second was the letter plus two, and so on. But the letters were spelled out rapidly, and Feir had nothing to write on, and his Khalidoran vocabulary was limited.

  The Godking was using them exactly the way Feir would have. He was coordinating distant troops and meisters. It was simple and yet an enormous advantage. His commands were delivered instantly, while his opponents had to wait hours or days for messengers. In those days or hours, situations changed, plans changed.

  No wonder he’s devastated every army to come against him.

  “Gather… north… of…” the signal stick flashed. Then it paused and the blue modified to red. What the hell did that mean? Feir spelled out the letters and on a hunch, transliterated them into Common. “P.A.V.V.I.L.S. G.R.O.V.E.” Pavvil’s Grove. It turned blue and went too rapidly for Feir to catch, but it repeated one section twice. “Two days. Two days.” Then it went dark.

  Feir let out a long breath. He’d passed through Pavvil’s Grove on his way south. It was a small logging town that produced some of Cenaria’s only oak. There was a plain north of the town suitable for a battle. Clearly, the Godking had a plan to wipe out the rebel army there.

  Feir could get there in two days. But it was still two hours until dawn. Did the Khalidorans count a day from dawn or from midnight? Did two days mean two, or three?

  Feir cursed. He could break an obscure cipher in another language, but he couldn’t count to three. Great.

  The signal stick turned yellow—something it had never done before. “Vürdmeister Lorus report…”

  Oh, no.

  The stick flashed, “Why… going… south?”

  Feir blanched. So the signal sticks didn’t just communicate, they transmitted his position. That wasn’t good.

  “Punishment will… when you return.” My punishment will be decided when I return? “… Lantano… rumored to be near you. Any sign?”

  Feir wanted to grab his own ignorance by the neck and shake the life out of it. What was rumored to be near him?

  “Vürdmeister? Lorus? Failure to respond will…”

  Feir threw the stick away and scurried backward. Nothing happened. A minute passed. Still nothing happened. He was beginning to feel silly when the signal stick exploded with such force that it shook snow from the trees for a hundred paces.

  Well, that’ll wake the neighbors.

  The neighbors. That wasn’t a pretty thought. And Lantano? The name sounded familiar.

  Feir climbed a rock hill nearby to get a better view of his surroundings. He almost wished he hadn’t. Four hundred paces to the south an army was camped, with perhaps six thousand men. The usual camp followers added perhaps four thousand to that: wives and farriers and smiths and prostitutes and cooks and servants.

  The army’s flags bore a stark black vertical sword on a white field: Lantano Garuwashi’s sigil. That was the name, Feir remembered: a general who’d never been defeated, a commoner’s son who had won sixty duels. If the stories were to be believed, sometimes he fought with wood practice swords against his opponents’ steel to make things interesting.

  The neighbors had definitely heard the noise, and a knot of ten horsemen was riding toward Feir right now. At least a hundred others followed.

  53

  Kylar opened his eyes in an unfamiliar room. It was getting to be an all-too-common occurrence. This rendition was small, dirty, cramped. The bed smelled as if the straw hadn’t been changed in twenty years. His heart raced as he prepared himself for whatever might come next.

  “Relax,” Momma K said, coming to stand near his bed. It was a safe house doubtless, on the north side of the Warrens by the smell.

  “How long?” Kylar asked, his voice a croak. “How long have I been out?”

  “Nice to see you, too,” Momma K said, but she smiled.

  “A day and a half,” a man’s voice said.

  Kylar sat up. The speaker was Lord General Agon. That was a surprise. “Well, looks like the huge new wall around the city isn’t the only thing that’s changed.”

  “Amazing what the bastards can do when they try something constructive, isn’t it?” Agon said. He had a crutch and moved like his knee pained him.

  “It’s good to see you, Kylar,” Momma K said. “The rumors have already started about how the Night Angel killed Hu Gibbet, but the only people who know that it was actually you are my guards. They’ve been with me a long time. They won’t speak.” So his identity was safe, but Kylar wasn’t going to be distracted. He’d come too far, too fast, and given too much with only one thing in mind. “What do you know about Logan?”

  Momma K and Agon looked at each other.

  “He’s dead,” Momma K said
.

  “He’s not dead,” Kylar said.

  “The best information we have—”

  “He’s not dead. Jarl came to tell me, all the way to Caernarvon.”

  “Kylar,” Momma K said, “the Khalidorans found out who Logan was yesterday. As best we can tell, he either was killed by another inmate because of it, or he threw himself down the Hole to avoid what the Godking would do to him.”

  “I don’t believe it.” Yesterday? While I was sleeping? I was this close?

  “I’m sorry,” Momma K said.

  Kylar stood and found a new set of wetboy grays piled on the foot of the bed. He began getting dressed.

  “Kylar,” Momma K said.

  He ignored her.

  “Son,” Agon said, “it’s time to open your eyes. No one likes that Logan’s dead. He was like a son to me. You can’t bring him back, but you can do some things that no one else can.”

  Kylar pulled on his tunic. “And let me guess,” he said bitterly. “You two already have some ways you want to put my talents to use?”

  “In a few days, Terah Graesin’s army will meet the Godking’s army just north of Pavvil’s Grove. She’ll get there first and have the advantage both of terrain and numbers,” Momma K said.

  “And the problem is?”

  “That the Godking’s going for it. After the Nocta Hemata, he should be twice as careful as he ever has been, but he’s walking straight into this. Kylar, our spies have only caught hints, but I’m sure this is a trap. Terah Graesin won’t listen. She wouldn’t fight until the Godking presented her with a fight she couldn’t lose. Now she has that, and nothing will stop her. All we know is that he’s doing something magical, and it’s big.”

  “Don’t say it,” Kylar said.

  “We want to hire you for a hit, Kylar,” Momma K said. “A hit worthy of the Night Angel. We want you to kill the Godking,” Momma K said.

  “You’re insane.”

  “You’ll be a legend,” Agon said.

  “I’d rather be alive.” It was eerie. It was exactly what they’d wanted him to do before he left the city. It was exactly what Jarl had died to ask. Kill the Godking. Redeem all the pain and waste of his wetboy training. One kill, and he could hang up the sword, satisfied that he’d done more than his part. One kill that would save thousands. It had the feel of destiny.

  “Even if Logan is still alive, it won’t be any good to save his life if you let his only chance to have a kingdom be destroyed,” Agon said. “If he’s survived this long, he can make it for another day or two. Kill the Godking and save the kingdom, then go looking for our king.”

  Kylar selected weapons from the wide array Momma K had prepared for him, and secreted them about himself in silence.

  “You’ll doom us all,” Agon said. “You have the kind of power I’d die for, and you won’t use it to help us. Damn you.” He turned on his heel and hobbled out of the room.

  Kylar looked at Momma K. She didn’t leave, but she didn’t understand, either.

  “It’s good to see you again, too, Momma,” Kylar said. He took a deep breath. “I left Uly with Elene. They’re both going to be all right. I left them with enough money that they’ll be taken care of for the rest of their lives. And Elene will love her. I did the best I could…. Jarl…” Suddenly, tears were hot in his eyes.

  Momma K put a hand on Kylar’s arm and he looked down.

  “I know it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “But I swore to leave this behind me. I broke that vow for Logan. That cost me Elene’s love and Uly’s trust. I didn’t abandon them so I could steal another life, but so I could save a life. Do you understand?”

  “Do you know who you remind me of?” Momma K asked. “Durzo. When he was younger, before he lost his way. He would be proud of you, Kylar. I… I’m proud of you, too. I wish I could believe that the fates wouldn’t be so cruel as to make you sacrifice everything just to find Logan dead, but I don’t have that kind of faith. But I tell you what I do believe in. I believe in you.” She hugged him.

  “You’re different,” he said.

  “It’s all your fault,” she said. “Next I’ll go senile.”

  “I like it,” he said.

  She put her hands on his cheeks and kissed his forehead. “Go, Kylar. Go and please do come back.”

  Logan had fallen asleep twice now, each time expecting that he wouldn’t wake up. He had stopped eating: he wouldn’t touch Fin’s body. He had stopped smelling the thick, corrosive air. He had stopped noticing Gnasher’s little moues of concern. He had stopped bleeding, too, but it was too late. He had no strength.

  After Gnasher had helped him sit up against a stalagmite, Logan saw another crushed body lying broken in the gloom not ten feet away. It was Natassa Graesin. The screams of the howlers didn’t frighten her now. Her limbs were mangled but her face looked at peace. Her eyes held no accusation. They held nothing.

  The most passion Logan could wake was simple regret. He was sorry for Natassa, who’d never even told him how she ended up down here. He was sorry for all the things he would never do. He had never truly desired the throne. He’d always suspected that being a king was far harder than it looked. In the Hole, he’d sometimes regretted that he wouldn’t be remembered as someone who mattered.

  Now, as he sat with his back propped against the stalagmite that would someday flow over his body and entomb him for eternity, he wished for simpler things. He missed sunlight. He missed the smell of grass, of fresh rain, of a woman. He missed Serah Drake and all her trivialities. He missed his wife. Jenine was so young, so smart, so pretty. She had been a diamond found and then lost forever. He missed Kylar, his best friend. Another diamond stripped away, found, and lost.

  Logan wished for love and children and the running of his estates. A simple life, a big family, a few close friends. That would give him all the immortality he needed.

  For a while, he prayed to the old gods. There was nothing else to do, and Gnasher wasn’t much for conversation, but the old gods had nothing to say. He even prayed to Count Drake’s One God. He wasn’t sure how one was supposed to pray to the god of all things. Why would He care? Logan gave it up.

  Mostly, he tried to ignore the pain.

  He was about to close his eyes to try to die again—or sleep, whichever—when Gnasher started howling. It was a high, piercing, irritating sound unlike anything Logan had ever heard.

  The vent belched acrid smoke, and the figure Logan glimpsed for an instant was devoured in the thick cloud and darkness. Then, as the cloud dissipated, a demon strode out of it.

  For the first time Logan had ever seen, Gnasher showed fear. He retreated to Logan’s side and crouched, whimpering, but that was as far as he would retreat. The simple man’s loyalty knew no bounds.

  The demon walked forward slowly, its glowing blue eyes fixed on Logan. Was this a howler? Or was this Death, finally come to claim him? Logan wasn’t afraid.

  “Well, shit, man,” Death said with a familiar voice. “I thought I was going to have to climb all the way up the Hole to find you.”

  “What are you?” Logan croaked.

  The demon’s face shimmered and melted off of Kylar’s face. Logan was sure he’d finally gone crazy.

  “Sorry, I forgot about the face,” Kylar said. He was half-grinning his crazy smirk to cover his concern. “You, ah, look like the south end of a northbound horse.” It was one of Logan’s old lines—gods!—from back when he barely knew a tenth of the curses he’d learned in the Hole. Kylar smirked again. “Is, ah, the big guy here going to be all right?”

  Gnash was trembling all over, and even Logan couldn’t tell if it was from anger or fear. “Gnash,” Logan said, “he’s a friend. He’s here to help.” Gnasher’s expression didn’t change, but he didn’t move to attack. “It really is you, isn’t it?” Logan asked.

  “Here to save the day,” Kylar said. When Logan failed to respond, he came over and checked Logan’s body. The expression on his face was grim. “Well, what’
s one more miracle, huh? You’re still kicking,” he said to himself.

  Logan felt himself drifting away from consciousness as Kylar helped him to his feet. Kylar was speaking, and part of Logan realized that he was just trying to keep Logan with him. He did his best to listen to Kylar’s voice and ignore the voices of pain and death calling to him.

  “… because it’s damn near impossible to get into the Maw now. Not like the old days… they say someone or something has taken up residence. I mean, ‘residence,’ like the Maw’s a palace or something.”

  “Khali,” Logan whispered.

  Kylar was taking them deeper into the Hole. Logan stumbled again, and when he opened his eyes, he found he was lashed to Kylar’s back. That couldn’t be right. Even with all the weight Logan had lost, Kylar shouldn’t have been able to carry him this easily. But the sensation didn’t fade. Kylar was picking his way farther and farther down. There was no path and no luminous moss down here, but Kylar moved surely, and kept talking, his voice itself warding off Logan’s terror of the dark.

  “… was in the Stacks once, and I remembered how the pipes seemed to go down into the very center of the earth. I figured that the Maw goes down and the stacks’ pipes go down and they’re right next to each other. I thought that if I went deep enough, the tunnels might connect.

  “You ever seen the inside of those pipes in the Stacks, Logan? Sheer metal, going straight down just about forever. Big windmill blades spinning as they catch the rising air. I figured I could take the slow way down or the fast way. You know me, you can guess which I took. I grabbed a shield made myself a little sled with hand brakes so I could steer a little…. I tell ya, it was a helluva ride. I almost made it all the way down, too. Good thing I’d lost most of my speed before that last fan. I was sure it was turning faster. I pity the poor bastards who’ll have to climb down to fix it.”

  Then Kylar stopped. He breathed deeply. “I’m not going to lie to you. This is the bad part. We have to go under water. This is the line, Logan. This is what separates the Hole from the Stacks. The water’s hot, and it’s tight, and it’s going to feel like you’ve been buried. I promise you, if you can make it through this death, you’ll come out into a new life. You just hold your breath, and I’ll do all the work.”

 

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