The night angel trilogy, p.99
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.99

           Brent Weeks
 

  The Godking gave a running commentary to Vi. “No,” he was saying, “I don’t know why the Cenarians are using that formation. Seems awfully open to me.”

  Kylar watched, upside down, as the Cenarian ranks slammed into the Khalidoran line. The first rank to hit them was thin—he wondered if they’d lost so many from the archers, but a few seconds later, the next line slammed into them.

  The Godking cursed. “Damn them, brilliant. Brilliant.”

  “What is it?” Vi asked.

  “Do you know why I made all this, Vi?”

  Heart pounding, Kylar released the ceiling with his hands and slowly uncurled, upside down. He drew his daggers, hanging on the ceiling with his feet, bat-like. Garoth Ursuul stepped directly beneath him.

  Then there was no fear, only calm certainty. Kylar dropped from the ceiling.

  One of the dark faces twisting in the miasma around the Godking screamed. Green-black caltrops of vir burst in every direction from the Godking. Kylar hit one and they all exploded.

  The concussion blasted Kylar off course. He sprawled sideways, missed his landing, and tumbled down the stairs. He rolled across the landing and down the second flight. When he came to rest at the bottom of the stairs, his head was ringing. He tried to stand and promptly fell.

  “I made it because a god ought to have some fun. Don’t you agree, Kylar?” Garoth smiled a predatory smile. He wasn’t surprised. “So, Vi, you’ve done what you promised. You killed Jarl, and you brought Kylar to me.”

  Kylar had trusted her. How could he have been so foolish? It was the second time he’d walked into a trap in this room. Inexplicably, he felt calm. He felt lethal. He hadn’t come this far to fail. This kill was his destiny.

  “I didn’t betray you, Kylar,” Vi said in a small, desperate voice.

  “Oh, he put a spell on you that made you do it? I gave you a chance, Vi. You could have been different.”

  “She didn’t betray you,” the Godking said. “You betrayed yourself.” He pulled out two diamonds, each the size of his thumb. They were the ones that had held the monster downstairs together. “Who else would have the physical prowess to snatch these but a wetboy, and who else could survive the magic but the bearer of the black ka’kari? I’ve known you were here for an hour.”

  “So, why are you going to reward her?” Kylar asked.

  “What, you want me to kill her, too?”

  Kylar scowled. “I did until you said that.”

  The Godking laughed. “You’re an orphan, aren’t you, Kylar?”

  “No,” Kylar said. He stood. His head was slowly clearing, and he could swear he could feel his body healing his bruises.

  “Oh right, the Drakes. Magdalyn told me all about that. She thought you’d save her. Sad. When you killed Hu Gibbet, you really upset me. So I killed her.”

  “Liar.”

  “Hu’s dead?” Vi asked. She seemed absolutely thunderstruck.

  “Do you ever wonder who your real father is, Kylar?”

  “No,” Kylar said. He tried to move and found thick bands of magic around his body. He examined them. They were simple, unvaried. The ka’kari would devour them easily. Go on, keep smiling, you fiend.

  Garoth smiled. “There’s a reason I knew you were coming, Kylar, a reason you’re so extraordinarily talented. I’m your father.”

  “WHAT?”

  “Ah, just joking.” Garoth Ursuul laughed. “I’m not being much of a host, am I? You came in here all prepared to fight some big battle, didn’t you?”

  “I guess so.”

  Garoth was in high spirits. “I could use a bit of a warm-up myself. What do you say, Kylar? Want to fight a ferali?”

  “I don’t actually have a choice, do I?”

  “No.”

  “Well, then, golly, I’d love to fight a ferali, Gare.”

  “Gare,” the Godking said. “Haven’t heard that in thirty years. Before we start…” He turned. “Vi, decision time. If you serve me willingly, I can reward you. I’d like that. But you’ll serve regardless. You’re chained to me. The compulsion won’t allow you to hurt me. It won’t allow you to let anyone else hurt me while you live, either.”

  “I’ll never serve you!” she said.

  “Fair enough, but you might want to leave the worst of the fighting to the boys.”

  “Fuck you,” she said.

  “A distinct possibility, child.”

  Garoth gestured and a door flew open behind him. “Tatts, why don’t you come in?”

  The ferali shuffled in. It now had the shape of an enormous man, tattoos still visible on its lumpy skin. Despite his height—at least nine feet—and the thickness of his limbs, Kylar saw that the ferali wasn’t as big as it had been just an hour before. The monster’s face was all too human, though, and it looked ashamed.

  “It’ll all be better in a moment. I promise,” the Godking said. He slammed the diamonds into the ferali’s spine. It cried out with a voice no longer human, and then was still. Garoth abruptly ignored it. “Do you know why you’ve never heard of a ferali? They’re expensive. First, you need diamonds or you can’t control the damn things. But you already figured that out, didn’t you? Second, you have to take a man and torture him until there is nothing left but rage. It usually takes hundreds of tries to find the right kind of man. But even that isn’t enough. The magic involved is beyond what even a Godking can do unaided. They require Khali’s direct intervention. That has a cost.”

  “I don’t understand,” Kylar said. He was studying the ferali. It only had so much mass. It could only change shape so quickly. Fixing those things in mind would change everything.

  “Neither did Moburu or Tenser. They do, now. This time I made them pay the price. You see, Khali feeds on suffering, so we dedicate every cruelty we can invent to her. In return, she gives us the vir. But for greater power, Khali asks more.

  “When I was warring with my brothers, She offered to help me create a ferali if I would host a Stranger. You’re not familiar with them? My first was named Pride. He was a small price to pay for godhood. Unfortunately, Khali didn’t tell me that a ferali will devour itself if given no other meat. I didn’t make another until my son Dorian betrayed me, and I’ve found Lust to be a more odious companion—as Vi shall discover, my appetites grow ever more exotic. Hold on, that line’s not doing well, is it?” On the phantom battlefield, Logan was pushing the Khalidoran line out into a half moon.

  “Hmm,” the Godking said. “Much faster than I expected.” He pulled out a stick. It started flashing in his hand. From the edges of battlefield, thousands more Khalidoran troops began closing on the Cenarian army’s flanks. Other ranks moved to reinforce the arcing section of the line.

  Garoth wasn’t trying to win the battle. He merely wanted to fence in the Cenarians so he could unleash Moburu’s ferali on them. Kylar felt sick. What would it do with an unlimited number of victims?

  “It will take a few minutes before they get in position,” Garoth said. “Where was I?”

  “I think we were at the fight-to-the-death part,” Kylar said.

  “Oh, no, no. You see,” Garoth went up to the carved fireglass throne and sat. Kylar could see him erecting magical wards around himself. “Left alone, a ferali is nearly mindless, but—and this is the beautiful thing—they can be ridden. Tell me, how much fun is that?”

  “It’s a lot more fun if I can move,” Kylar said.

  “Do you know why I’ve gone to so much trouble to bring you here, Kylar?”

  “My excellent wit?”

  “Your Devourer has another name. It is also called the Sustainer. It heals everything shy of death, doesn’t it?”

  “It won’t help you,” Kylar said.

  “Oh but it will. I know how to break the bonding. There’s an unnatural growth in my brain. It’s killing me, and you’ve brought the only thing that can save me into my hands.”

  “Ah. The tumor it can help,” Kylar said, “but your arrogance is terminal.”

&nbs
p; The Godking’s eyes flashed. “How droll. Come. This ‘Night Angel’ business is finished.”

  “Finished?” Kylar said. “I’m just warmin’ up.”

  68

  The bonds dropped away and Vi started fighting. She swore constantly under her breath to use her Talent, but she wasn’t angry. She’d always thought she was a cold, heartless bitch. She’d taken hold of that identity. It had made her strong against the nightly emptiness, the soul bankruptcy she’d carried for as long as she could remember. With the declaration that she would never serve the Godking—melodramatic or not—she felt that she’d made her first deposit in that bank ever.

  Now she was fighting for something. No, for someone, and it was the first selfless thing she’d ever done.

  The ferali hunched and its bones sped beneath its skin. In the time it took Vi to armor herself, it had become something like a centaur, except instead of a horse’s body, it had a cougar’s. It was shorter, more mobile on its four legs, but it had a human torso and arms. It grabbed a spear in its human hands and launched itself after Kylar, who dashed behind a pillar.

  Vi sprinted up the steps three at time, to attack the Godking. He was about to find out how wrong he’d been about the compulsion. Let Kylar fight the beast; she’d cut it off at its source.

  She was drawing back her sword when she hit the ward that extended ten feet around the Godking like a bubble. It was like sprinting into a wall. She found herself sprawled on the stairs—she must have rolled partway down them without even noticing. Her nose was bleeding and her head was ringing. She blinked at Kylar.

  The man was a virtuoso. As the ferali charged with spear leveled, Kylar waited until the last moment and then launched himself forward. Knives flashed as he passed over the beast and its spear passed inches under him, harmlessly. But he wasn’t done. He threw out a hand and somehow hooked the marble pillar, scoring it with a smoking gouge. As the ferali spun to catch him, Kylar emerged from the other side of the pillar and flew over the ferali’s back, blades flashing again.

  Kylar landed in a crouch, one hand on the ground, the other on his sheathed sword. The ferali paused, bleeding profusely, the mouthy skin cut open over the back of one hand, one shoulder and across the cougar’s haunches. The blood was red, all too human, but even as Vi watched, the gouges knit together in scars. The ferali threw its spear at him. Kylar deflected it with a hand, but the ferali was already moving.

  As Kylar leapt toward the wall, the ferali slashed one arm at him, and in the space of the heartbeat that it took for its arm to move forward, the arm elongated, bones snapped into place and an enormous scythe-blade of a claw swept through the air. Kylar flipped off the wall directly into the path of the claw. It slammed him to the ground.

  Vi thought he was surely dead, but even as Kylar hit the ground, the claw snapped off and skipped along the floor away from the ferali. Kylar had somehow managed to draw his sword and block the slash. The ferali, its left leg hanging limp and boneless, looked stunned. It sank into itself, becoming a great cat.

  Before the beast could attack again, Vi finally gathered her wits and charged it, screaming. It wheeled. She danced just outside of the range of its claws, the sides of which it had armored into bone. Kylar got back to his feet, but was swaying from side to side, dazed. The ferali dashed away from Vi and touched its belly to the ground where its dead claw lay.

  In a second, that flesh was part of the ferali again. Bones shifted and it stood as a tall man with bone-swords for arms. It seemed more comfortable in this guise, thickly muscled, quicker than any man, much of its skin reinforced with bone armor plates.

  Together, Vi and Kylar fought. Kylar was capable of aerial moves Vi couldn’t even comprehend, flipping off walls and the pillars, always landing on his feet like a cat, always leaving bloody furrows with his steel claws. Vi had less strength, even with her Talent, but she was quick. The ferali morphed again and again. It became a slight man with a living chain that it whipped around its head and flung around the pillars, hoping those mouthy links would catch either one of them. One of the links snagged Kylar’s sleeve in midflight. It flipped him off balance and he crashed into the floor. The ferali pulled the chain in until Vi’s sword passed in the inch between Kylar’s skin and his sleeve and freed him. Kylar didn’t even pause. He was just up and fighting.

  Then the ferali was a giant with a war hammer. Marble exploded as it laid about itself with the huge weapon. Kylar and Vi ranged through the illusion of battle on the throne room floor, fighting as desperately as those men and women fought.

  As they fought together, Kylar and Vi began to not just fight in unison, but with unity. As Vi understood Kylar’s strengths, she could move, counting on him to react appropriately. They were warriors, they were wetboys, and they understood. For Vi, who had always had trouble with words, battle was truth.

  She and Kylar fought together—leaping, meeting in mid-air, pushing off to go flying a new direction before the ferali could respond. They covered each other, saved each other’s lives. Kylar clipped off the end of a bone mace Vi could have never avoided. Vi said, “Graakos”—and jaws closed on Kylar’s arm and then bounced off.

  It was, for her, a holy moment. She had never communed with another, never trusted another so implicitly, as she communed with and trusted Kylar. In this, through this, she understood the man in ways a thousand thousand words wouldn’t have revealed. They were in total harmony, and the miracle was how natural it was.

  At the same time, despair rose in her. They cut the ferali a hundred times. Two hundred. They attacked its eyes, its mouth. They cut off parts of its body. It bled, and its total mass decreased by a few pounds, but that was all. They cut it and it healed. But they could never make a mistake. Once that skin touched theirs, they would die.

  ~I also cut.~

  Kylar alighted on the side of a pillar and stopped. Runes were glowing in ka’kari black edged in blue along his arm. He stared at them. “You what?” he asked.

  “I didn’t say anything,” Vi said. Her eyes were on an enormous spider chittering on the floor in front of her.

  “Stupid! How slow am I?” Kylar said, dropping to the floor.

  ~Is that a rhetorical question?~

  The ka’kari poured a dark liquid from his hand onto his sword. But then the liquid solidified as a thin sword. Kylar cut left and right and spider legs went flying. It wasn’t like hacking through bone, he was shearing them off like butter.

  He dodged back, and the spider gathered its legs to itself, but this time, the stumps kept bleeding. They smoked and wouldn’t allow new limbs to be grown there. It morphed back into the man with swords for arms, but now the wounds were on the man’s chest, still flowing with blood and smoking. It roared and attacked Kylar.

  Kylar slashed left and right and the sword-arms tumbled across the floor. He rammed the ka’kari into the ferali’s chest. With a sharp motion, he pulled it down to the creature’s groin. Smoke billowed, blood gushed. Kylar yanked the sword up, making another huge cut.

  He saw it too late. The ferali’s skin drew back from the sword, like a pond might crater when a stone falls into it, only to burst upward. The skin rushed up the sword all at once.

  It engulfed Kylar’s hand.

  He threw himself back, but the ferali, limp now, fell forward with him, attached to his hand. Kylar jerked the sword back and forth and smoke gushed from the ferali as he gutted it, but it didn’t lose its grip.

  Kylar reached for a dagger, but he’d used them all in the battle. “Vi,” he shouted. “Cut it off!”

  She hesitated.

  “Cut off my hand!”

  She couldn’t do it.

  The skin twitched again and it rushed up his forearm.

  Kylar screamed and twisted. A blade of ka’kari formed along the ridge of his left hand and he cut off his right arm. Released from the pull of the dying ferali, he collapsed backward.

  He held the gushing stump in his left hand. A moment later, black metal shimmer
ed in every exposed vein and the bleeding stopped. A black cap sheathed his stump. Kylar looked at Vi dumbly.

  Ten feet away, the ferali’s corpse was oozing. It began to break apart, weaves of magic unraveling. The mouthy skin rippled and evaporated and then all that was left was stinking ropes of meat and sinew and bone.

  “That,” the Godking’s voice said, “was impressive, Kylar. You showed me some things that I wasn’t aware the ka’kari could do. Most instructive. And Vi, you’ll serve admirably, and not just in my bed.”

  Something in Vi snapped. In the last two days, she’d changed everything. A new Vi was fighting to be born—and the Godking was here, saying nothing had changed. The new Vi would be a stillbirth. She’d go back to being a whore. She’d go back to being the same cold, hard bitch.

  She’d thought that life was the only one open to her, so she’d borne the unbearable. But having seen a way to be a woman she didn’t hate, she couldn’t go back.

  “Get it through your fat head, Gare,” she said, even as she felt magical bonds wrapping around her limbs and Kylar’s again. “I won’t serve you.”

  Garoth smiled godly benevolence. “The feisty ones always make me hard.”

  “Kylar,” Vi said. “Snap out of it. You gotta help me kill this fucking twist.”

  The Godking laughed. “Compulsion doesn’t hold on everyone, Vi. The Niles’ magic would have freed most people. About nineteen years ago, there was some Ceuran slut that I seduced during a diplomatic trip. I sent men to collect her when I found out she was pregnant, but she ran away before they got there. When I found out she bore a girl, I dismissed the matter. I usually have my daughters drowned—it’s good practice for my boys, it makes them tough—but it wasn’t worth the effort. Compulsion, Vi, only works on family, and sometimes not on boys. You—”

  “You’re not my father,” Vi said. “You’re just a sick fuck who’s about to die. Kylar!”

  “Now Vi, let’s not get all teary-eyed,” Garoth Ursuul said. “You’re nothing to me but five minutes of pleasure and a spoonful of seed. Well, that’s not true. You see, Vi, you’re a wetboy I can trust. You will never disobey me, never betray me.”

 
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