Home > The Burning White(9)

The Burning White(9)
Author: Brent Weeks

No, the shimmercloaks made things invisible—when you looked at an active shimmercloak, you saw whatever lay beyond it. This was a bar of black, heavy nothingness. Usually, darkness is a hole, an absence, as death is the absence of life.

This was a piece of hungry night, of darkness breathing.

This was more than Death, hammered and folded into killing shape. This was not made by the hand of man. Perhaps in the youth of Old Man Time, some dead demigod, after his descent to the all-devouring depths of the ninth hell, had rallied instead of despaired at his imprisonment there. He’d charged hell’s gates from the inside. Then, confronting the three-headed hound who guarded that way, terrifying all lesser souls, he smashed its faces on the gates, using its snarling snouts as battering rams, snapping lupine teeth and bones, one, two, and three, throwing the mighty gates from their hinges.

Then the demigod had gone his way, triumphant to the heavens, heedless of the hellhound he left behind.

If such might be true, then this blade was one of hell’s jagged, broken fangs.

The cloaked man laid it across his gloved palms and offered it up.

But not to the flamboyant captain.

And there was another blow. A paryl marker, visible only to her, the sign that this man was her target, hung in the air above the wretch she’d dismissed as a slave.

He couldn’t be—he wasn’t Ironfist.

He wasn’t Ironfist.

Even from the back it was clear this man was too small. Broad across his hunched shoulders, square-jawed, but light-skinned and not tall enough. Hair covered with a grubby hat. He was just some broken old warrior.

All the cold courage she’d been knotting tight loosed its tension from her limbs and she could suddenly breathe.

She didn’t have to kill Ironfist.

Something like a prayer of thanks made its way to her teeth. But there it stopped.

Why would the Old Man think I’d have a hard time killing some stranger?

The man a sailor had referred to as Captain Gunner whistled a melodious little trill. “C’mon!” he said, waggling his bushy eyebrows at the slave. He had a winsome, goofy grin, but he struck Teia as not very stable, and very, very dangerous. “What’ll it be? Death or glory?”

Apparently, the poor bastard was being offered some kind of choice. Not much of one, though, since no matter what he did Teia was going to be killing him afterward.

“Let’s sail,” the slave said, straightening his stooped shoulders and taking up the blade. Some spirit came back into him, and recognition clobbered Teia like a left hook to the neck. “Death and glory, Cap’n Gunner,” said none other than Gavin Guile.

The Prism himself, Gavin Guile. The price for saving Teia’s father was that she assassinate Emperor Gavin Fucking Guile.



Chapter 4

The young goddess strode barefoot through the hidden shipyards in a dress mostly faded to blue from the original bright murex purple it had been when the White King had given it to her. That had been before he tried to kill her. Invisible to most, tornadoes of the airy spidersilk luxin billowed from her, spiraling out in orderly whorls, the patterns repeating themselves on every scale. Tendrils stuck to those in her path and wormed their way into them. And tradesmen and shipbuilders and the unpaid laborers whom no one here called slaves found reasons to move aside, most without even noticing her.

The dirty warehouse she approached made a tawdry throne room for a man who would be a king of the gods, but it had kept its secrets safe.

As she passed through the crowds that magically parted for her, she heard the cadences of their speeches warble, disparate words from a hundred conversations suddenly aligning, the pitches rising and falling in perfect uniformity with every other—and then falling simultaneously to silence, as everyone noticed.

Most were baffled, some alarmed. The words had been their own; the speakers hadn’t intended such conformity. Surely here, among the new pagans, odd magic was the norm. Wights of every color walked the streets. Six of the bane had been gathered in closer proximity than perhaps ever before in history. But this magic was different.

Aliviana, born Aliviana Danavis, now the goddess Ferrilux, passed the wights guarding the doors. The superviolet wights were the easiest of all: they could belong to her in an instant, if she willed it. The dull, animalistic sub-reds were the most challenging for her; they goggled bestial eyes at all those around them, as if everyone else had heard a tone to which they were deaf. One of the burned freaks even stared at her, but couldn’t comprehend why Aliviana might be important.

The cadences and then the silence rippled through the petitioners in two slow waves before her, only to burst at the circle of the White King’s nine bodyguards, all formerly elite drafter-warriors who had made the leap halfway to godhood and were now polychrome wights with black-luxin-edged vechevorals and ataghans and scorpions and flyssas and man catchers, even in their weapons preferring the old and provincial to the modern and universal.

Liv’s superviolet luxin died where she touched those spears, as all magic died when it touched living black luxin.

That these wights had such weapons told her that the White King had been experimenting with his black seed crystal. She wondered if he understood that he was playing with the most dangerous magic in all the world, and something tightened uneasily in her stomach.

An emotion, perhaps.

She could dredge up a name for it from her memory, if she tried, but she simply didn’t care to.

“That’s far enough!” the White King boomed.

And then everyone could see her, her will-crafting broken as if it were a spell. The people fell away from her, some literally so, tumbling over their neighbors in their astonishment and fear.

Weapons came to wights’ hands, but not even the reds or sub-reds moved to attack without the White King’s command.

A superviolet will-crafting compels only one’s reason, as an orange hex-crafting compels only one’s emotions, so anyone at all could have broken her webs with a shouted word.

But instead of noticing the artistry of her drafting that had allowed her to shift the vision of six hundred twenty-seven people and seventy-three wights, the people seemed impressed with their king instead. As if he had commanded her to be visible and she had no choice but to comply. As if it were proof that his magic was greater.

Her rage needed no help finding its name. It was quite well fixed to the condescending, pompous polychrome wight who now stood before an ivory throne.

Born Koios White Oak before a fire at his family’s mansion on Big Jasper had robbed him of his good looks and humanity and illusions, the White King was an imposing figure, she could admit. To his burn-scarred flesh, he added luxin and hexes. He’d refined his control of both in the time she’d been gone. He wore gold-edged white silk trousers of some flowing design that reminded her of something from an ancient woodcut, a fashion from the time of the nine kingdoms. He wore a matching tunic laced tight over his thin body with gold cords, with knots at ritual intervals. Rather than looking ruddy or pallid or freckled from his Forester heritage, his skin was now white as the noonday sun. His many and grotesque lumpy burn scars were somehow invisible, whether by the arts of cosmetics or will-crafting. She doubted he’d actually been healed; the White King was all about appearances, not changing underlying realities. His eyelids were kohled black so as to accentuate their many colors, and his ivory skin was studded with glued-on jewels and protruding luxin.

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