Authors: Brent Weeks
Then, faster than Kip could think, Ben-hadad swiveled on his good leg so that he was aiming parallel with the table’s front edge. He fired his bolt at nothing Kip could see—
—and blew out the front of every one of the priceless wine jugs lined up on the high table. They jetted rivers of wine onto the floor in front of the high table as if someone had opened spigots on all of them.
Then, in orderly succession, they tumbled and exploded on the floor.
The wide wave of wine washed every which way. Then the wave parted around two barriers, momentarily indistinct, then surrounded and revealed. Wine covered the floor everywhere, except in two, foot-shaped depressions.
Kip nearly unleashed the bolt of magical death he’d gathered in his right hand, until he saw the stunned face of Lady Proud Hart directly in the line of fire behind where the invisible Shadow was standing. The noblewoman was still seated. Hadn’t moved from her place, frozen by shock.
Then there was splashing as the Shadow realized he’d been discovered, and bolted.
Wine-wet footprints marked his passage, but Kip had it now. If this Shadow was too good at his work to be seen in sub-red, then . . .
Kip’s eyes spasmed to an inhuman narrowness as he peered at the world through chi. Faint skeletons grinned at him everywhere through their flesh suits. Metal in cold black and bones like pink shadows; all else was merely colored fog.
In chi, though, the shimmercloak flared with weird energies, magic boiling off it in clouds like a sweaty horse steaming on a cold morning.
The Shadow stopped running, his shoes finally dry enough not to leave footprints. He turned back into the middle of the room, checking that he was unseen, skeletal hands pulling the folds of the cloak in place.
Kip kept moving his head, as if he, too, were blind.
The Shadow drew a short sword, but kept it tucked down, covered by his cloak. He walked toward Kip, secure in his invincibility.
Orholam, he wasn’t giving up, even though they were all on alert now. Kip couldn’t decide if it was overweening pride or terrifying professionalism that the man thought he could still pull this job off against these odds.
Waiting until the Shadow was close, Kip suddenly looked directly at him. “You’ve a message for me,” Kip said. “What is it?”
The Shadow stopped as suddenly as if he’d been slapped. Kip could see the man’s skull dip as he checked himself.
No, no, I’m still invisible. It’s a bluff.
“You’ve got a message,” Kip said.
The skeleton-man paused, as if he thought Kip was trying to fool him into speaking and giving his position away. After a moment, he shook his head slightly.
“Ah,” Kip said, gazing straight where the man’s veiled eyes must be. The air began humming with Kip’s gathering power. “Then you
The Shadow twitched as he finally accepted that Kip really could see him. He lunged forward, stabbing—
And Kip’s pent-up fury of tentacled-green and razored-blue death blasted into the assassin and threw him across the room.
The danger past, Kip released chi, and was immediately reminded why he hated chi. Drafting chi was like riding a horse that kicked you every time you got on, and every time you got off. In the face.
Kip fell to his knees, his eyes burning, lightning stabbing back into his head, tears blinding him. He squeezed his eyes tight shut, but when he opened them, they were still locked in chi vision, people around the room showing up only as dim shadows and skeletons and metal-bearers.
Chi was the worst.
Kip willed his eyes to open to their normal apertures, and mercifully, they did. This time, thank Orholam, chi hadn’t stricken him blind.
Big Leo materialized, standing over Kip, as Ferkudi went over to make sure the Shadow was dead. Ben-hadad and Cruxer limped over, leaning on each other, Cruxer looking better by the step.
Only Winsen hadn’t moved. He still perched on his table in the corner of the room, an arrow still nocked, never having shot. He wasn’t usually shy about shooting in questionable circumstances.
Ferkudi stood back up. The Shadow was, indeed, dead. Very dead. Gory, don’t-look-at-that-mess-if-you-want-to-sleep-tonight dead.
It was a mistake.
Not killing the man, but that he’d obliterated him: Kip had destroyed a shimmercloak.
No one reproved him. No one said he should have done better, as Andross Guile or Gavin Guile would have. Maybe they didn’t even think it.
But he did. He’d been out of control.
It was a reminder that he’d been drafting a lot. In its unfettered strength, green had taken him further than he wanted to go. If nothing else killed him first, it would be green that got him in the end. Indeed, he hadn’t looked at his own eyes in a mirror in a while, fearing what the bloody glass would tell him.
“What the hell, Win?!” Big Leo demanded. “Where were you?”
But the lefty still stood silent, a bundle of arrows held with the bow in his right hand for quick drawing, as if he didn’t even hear them.
Big Leo blew out an exasperated breath, dismissing him. “And what the hell’s with you, Ferk? You say you smell
—and then shout Nine Kill Naught?”
“My goof,” Ferkudi said as if he’d said he wanted wine with dinner but then decided he’d really wanted beer. “Saffron. Not cloves. I meant I smelled saffron. Paryl smells like saffron. Superviolet is cloves. Always get those two mixed up.”
“You confused saffron and
? They don’t smell anything alike!”
“They’re both yummy.”
Big Leo rubbed his face with a big hand. “Ferk, you are the dumbest smart guy I know.”
“No I’m not!” Ferkudi said, a big grin spreading over his face. “I’m the smartest dumb guy you know.”
“Yeah,” Ben-hadad said, “
the dumbest smart guy you know. I smelled saffron half an hour ago, out by the palace’s front doors. Didn’t even think about it. Breaker, my apologies.” He knuckled his forehead. “I think it’s customary to offer my resignation?”
“None of that,” Cruxer said. “This is none of your faults. It’s mine. You’ve all been right. The Mighty’s too small. We’re spread too thin. And that’s on me.” Kip had kept it secret that Teia was infiltrating the Order of the Broken Eye, but he had mentioned that Karris was afraid the Order had people even in the Blackguard itself, which had made Cruxer stop any talk of adding to the Mighty, fearing that whoever they welcomed in might be a traitor.
‘How can you be certain one of us isn’t with the Order already?’ Winsen had asked. ‘I say we add people. Might as well get a few shifts’ rest while we wait to get stabbed in the back.’
As if they weren’t already sometimes nervous about Winsen, what with his alien gaze, total disregard for danger, and overeagerness to shoot.
“You all did your part,” Cruxer continued. “And you all did your parts brilliantly. I mean, except Winsen, who I think might be angling for a Blackguard name. What do you think of Dead Weight?”
The Mighty were all just starting to laugh, delighted, turning toward Winsen, when Kip saw something go cruel and hungry in the little man’s eyes. Win had never taken mockery well.
Win’s obsidian arrow point swept left as the archer drew the nocked arrow fully, pointing straight at Cruxer, who was standing tall, flat-footed.
There was no time for him to evade. Win’s move was as fast as a man stepping in a hole while expecting solid ground. The bowstring came back to his lips in the swift kiss of a departing parent and then leapt away.
He couldn’t miss—
—but he did.
He loosed another arrow and was drawing a third before the Mighty dove left and right. Kip was throwing a green shield in front of himself—I always knew it would be Win. That saurian calm. That unnatural detachment.
Big Leo crushed Kip to the ground, disrupting his drafting and blotting out all vision as he offered his own body as a shield.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Winsen shouted. “Easy, Ferk! Ben! Easy, Ben!”
Kip unearthed himself from the living mountain that was Big Leo and saw Winsen with bow lifted high in surrender.
Ben-hadad had his crossbow leveled at the archer, his fingers heavy on the trigger plate. Ferkudi was slowing down, already having charged over most of the distance, closing off Winsen’s view of Kip—and therefore angle of fire—with his own bulk. Cruxer had his arm drawn back, blue luxin boiling, hardening into a lance.
“I know one thing about the Shadows,” Winsen said loudly. He dropped the arrows from his right hand to show he was no threat. “They often work in pairs.”
There was a clatter behind the Mighty. Metal hitting stone—not three paces behind them.
War-blinded by the threat in front of them, not one of them had looked back. But they did now.
A cloaked figure was shimmering back into visibility, Winsen’s two arrows protruding from his chest. A Shadow. He pitched facedown.
None of them said a word as the Shadow twitched in death.
The Mighty fanned out, securing Kip, checking that the dead assassin was really dead.
Then Commander Cruxer cleared his throat. “Did I say Dead Weight? I meant, uh, Dead Eye.”
They chuckled. It was an apology.
Except Ferkudi. “You can’t call him Dead Eye. There’s already an Archer from a year behind us called that. Beat Win’s score at the three hundred paces by four p—”
“Ferk!” Cruxer said, not looking at him, his smile cracking. “Dead Shot it is.”
“Oh, definitely not, Commander,” Ferkudi said. “That’s been used like seven times. Most recent one’s retired now, but still alive. Very disrespectful to take a living Blackguard’s n—”
,” Cruxer said, his smile tightening.
“I’d settle for you calling me ‘Your Holiness,’ ” Win offered.
“No,” Cruxer said.
Winsen’?” Winsen suggested.
Maybe it isn’t treason.
Teia ghosted through the barracks after her meeting with the Old Man of the Desert and Murder Sharp, wondering if it would be the last time she ever set foot here. As she packed in early-morning darkness, her brothers and sisters of the Blackguard slept.
Brothers and sisters, she thought. Huh. What would that make Commander Ironfist? Their father? It sure had felt like it.
What kind of person would kill her own father?
No. No! This is to
my father. My real father.
She hoisted her pack to her shoulders and looked around the barracks as if hoping someone would see her, stop her.
What am I doing? Saying goodbye?
Pathetic. This is all gone. This is all already gone.
Besides, her closest remaining friends weren’t even here: Gav and Gill Greyling and Essel and Tlatig were all out on one of the semi-clandestine Gavin Guile search expeditions that so many of the Blackguards had been doing for the last year. The trips weren’t exactly allowed—responsibility for seeking the lost Prism had passed to other hands—but they weren’t exactly forbidden, either.
Even if Gavin Guile had only been the Blackguards’ professional patron, not their Promachos who had fought for them on the fields of battle and bled for them in the halls of power, earning himself a Blackguard name and all the Blackguards’ devotion; even then, even if it had only been an affront to their pride and not an assault on their love, losing a Prism was an unbearable blot on the Blackguards’ honor.
Their chief purpose was to protect him, and he’d been kidnapped right under their noses.
They would do anything to get him back. It’s what a family does.
The day they’d lost him had been the day everything went north for Teia. Karris had become the White. Zymun became Prism-elect. Commander Ironfist had been fired. Kip and the Mighty had nearly been killed escaping, and Tremblefist had died silencing the cannons to save them.
Teia had stupidly decided to stay behind. She’d told herself she could do more good here.
Do good?! Mostly she’d learned to use her magic to murder slaves.
She wasn’t even
at her bad work.
She’d botched the assassination of Ironfist’s sister so badly that he’d immediately figured out who’d sent her and who she was—Teia was the reason Ironfist had declared himself a king rather than a satrap.
And now, in his revenge, the Chromeria had lost Paria.
Out of the original seven satrapies, that left them with only two and a half: Abornea, Ruthgar, and half of Blood Forest.
The empire had been a seven-legged feast table; now it was a top-heavy end table teetering on two golden legs. The only question was which way it would fall.
Best for Teia to side with the Order, then. Kingdoms rise and empires fall, but the cockroaches survive.
And that’s what this next kill for the Old Man meant, when Teia stripped away all her pretenses. It meant siding once and for all with the Order. Not pretending anymore. No longer a double agent, an agent.
She arrived at Little Jasper’s back docks in the last minutes before dawn, feeling as sere and barren inside as the wind-scoured Red Cliffs.
Her father wouldn’t want her to buy his life at such a price, but Teia had worried for far too long what other people wanted.
Though the Old Man hadn’t come right out and said it, Teia’s next kill was Ironfist.
To guarantee her obedience, the Order held her father hostage. He would leave their company a rich man or not at all.
‘This is the pain that will transform you into Teia Sharp,’ the Old Man had said.
May Orholam—absent or blind or uncaring as He was—send that vile man and all the Order with him to the ninth hell.
Teia didn’t know how or why, but Ironfist was either on that odd bone-white ship she spied coming into the dock now, or he waited wherever it was sailing next.
It wasn’t ‘betrayal,’ technically. He’d declared himself a king. That made
And killing a traitor wasn’t wrong . . . Right?
Ironfist had been like a father to her, but in infiltrating the Blackguard for the Order, he’d betrayed the man who was like a father to them all: savant and savior, paterfamilias and Promachos, godlike Gavin Guile.