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Authors: Brent Weeks

Tags: #Fantasy

The Burning White (8 page)

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She’d been different then. Better.

“Grab me that razor?” Gavin said. “This beard.”

Teia looked around the sterncastle to see who he was talking to. There was no one here. The nearby sailors had all disappeared.

Gavin said, “I’m ragged and beaten and half-blind and melancholy and exhausted, but I’m not deaf.”

Teia had been
damn near
silent.

“And you stepped in a water drop,” Gavin admitted. He smirked, as if he knew his life was in danger but he just didn’t care. “Which shimmercloak is that?”

“The fox,” Teia said, defeated. “How would—”

“The fox? That’s the one burnt all to hell. That means you’re new. And short. Woman, by your voice. Who are you working for?”

“I’ve been sent to kill you,” Teia said. “I mean, after you do whatever you’ve agreed to do.”

“The Order itself, then?” Gavin asked, still scrubbing his face and neck. He barely moved his mouth, didn’t look toward her, and spoke in a near mumble to keep his voice from carrying. Not a dumb man, Gavin Guile. “There is, after all, more than one group that would like me dead. Though several of them might hire the Order, I suppose . . .”

“I work for the Order itself. Everyone else thinks you’re already dead, so far as I know.”

Teia wasn’t sure why she said that. She worked for the Order? No, she still hadn’t decided, right? Why didn’t she say she worked for the Chromeria first, a lie to give him hope? He looked like he could use some.

“It’s enough to make you wonder, isn’t it?” Gavin said, picking up the razor and starting to shave. He didn’t seem to even consider using the little blade against her—with how weak he was, maybe he’d already rejected the notion. “I mean, bad guys double-crossing you after they blackmail you into helping them? What’s next?”

“It is kinda shitty,” Teia admitted.

“So. Deep cover or doubting convert?” Gavin asked.

“What? Why would you ask that?”

“Because we’re talking.” He tested the smoothness of his cheeks with a hand, then set down the razor, farther out of reach than necessary. “If you were fully theirs, there’d be no need for you to approach me in the few minutes before we sail when you can still change your mind. Less than a few minutes, now. You have a decision to make. It’s hard to go against the Order, after you’ve seen what they do.” He scrubbed an armpit and smelled the sponge afterward. Wrinkled his nose, coughed.

“Deep cover,” she said. Why was it so hard to let him know that?

“Very deep, if you’d kill the Prism to maintain it.”

“You think I’ve already decided,” she said, piqued.

“Adrasteia!” he whispered, triumphantly. “Kip’s Blackguard partner. Knew I’d heard that voice before.”

She didn’t think that before now she’d spoken two sentences in front of Gavin Guile, and he remembered her
voice
? Dammit. The man was a legend for a reason.

“They have my dad,” she said. Wasn’t sure why she said that, either.

It had been so long since she’d had anyone to talk to at all. Karris was the nearest thing, and Karris was her commander. A friendly commander was still not quite a friend. Not in these times.

Or maybe there was a reason so many had given their confessions to this man.

“Ah,” Gavin said, getting it. He scrubbed his other armpit. “So those goons guarding the passage back into the Chromeria are sub-reds, then. To make sure you go.”

“I can drop them,” Teia said. “Probably.”

“All four?” he asked, amused.

Four? She’d only seen two. “Two before the others attack . . . ?” It came out with a silent ‘maybe’ on the end, which she hated.

And I’m in deep cover. You’d think I’d be a better liar.

“And then everyone on this ship joins the fight,” Gavin said. “Not on our side, in case you were getting your hopes up.”

“What if we jump off at the last moment? Takes a while to turn a ship around . . . even if a few jump off and swim to pursue, we’d have a good head start.” It was desperation talking, though.

Gavin didn’t answer. He looked toward the rising sun. He was trembling merely from the effort of scrubbing his legs. A running leap from the ship, past how many people?

He couldn’t even run. Certainly couldn’t fight.

“What if—what if I had another cloak? Could you . . . ?” Gavin Guile had once been able to do everything anyone else could do with drafting. Maybe he, too, had discovered paryl dispersal clouds thick enough to fool sub-reds.

But he just shook his head. “It was just an idle game. I can’t go with you regardless.”

Teia couldn’t take four men by herself while trying to protect Gavin. Were all four Blackguards, or just the two?

What was Teia going to do? Try to carry him and keep him invisible, then fight four men by herself? Four men with muskets?

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Gavin Guile said, looking at the sunrise. “I can’t see the colors. The Blinding Knife took that from me, and I—fool that I was—for a long time I cursed every new dawn for the beauty I recalled but could no longer see. Instead, I should’ve blessed every dawn for the beauty it granted everyone else, regardless of my handicap. I should’ve blessed Orholam for the memory He gave that let me call to mind so perfectly the thousand hues and tones of a summer dawn. I was an ingrate.”

“We need you,” Teia said. “I need you. I can’t stop them.”

“You can get past them?” he asked. “You can escape if you’re alone?”

“Paryl cloud. Works for sub-red, even paryl itself, if you’re good enough and there’s no wind.”

“Funny. I never really bothered with paryl. They all said it was useless, and it always hurt my eyes when I tried to play with it. Of course, I didn’t know it had any real use. Now . . . Shimmercloaks. Magic swords. It’s like I’ve lived long enough to see all my childhood stories come to life. Just need a dragon now.” He paused. “On second thought, no dragons. I think we’re fine without dragons.”

He pulled on his new trousers. Threw on the loose tunic. “Tell Karris I live. Tell her . . . tell her to give me twelve months before she marries some other lucky bastard. I’ll either be back by then or I won’t be back ever. And you, go save your dad.”

“I can’t,” Teia said. “He’s hidden. I’ve got no way to find him. All the Order’s cells are kept separ—”

They were interrupted by Captain Gunner coming up to the waist of the ship from belowdecks.

“It’s just a matter of will, Adrasteia,” Gavin said. “You grab the one thread your fingers can reach, and you pull until the whole cloth unravels.”

“It’s not that simple. They’ re—”

“And if you can’t save your father, then you poison the well. You rip them out by the root. And every time your heart inclines to mercy, if you love your father, you remember whatever tiny shred of devotion you hold toward that poor man, and you make sure they don’t steal and murder any other little girl’s father ever again.”

She trembled with sudden rage that he would question her love. Cold, hot, fierce, impotent, and utterly misplaced rage. “The extra cloak. You want it?” she asked flatly.

“Do I look like the hooded-man type to you? No. What waits for me is not a subterfuge kind of job.”

“Anything else you want me to tell her? I mean, if I do.”

“It was my father who kidnapped and imprisoned me,” he said. “Karris will ask. But he thought I was insane when he did so. He thought he was saving the satrapies. I have no rage left for him. She shouldn’t fight him. He’ll kill her, too, if he thinks he has to.”

“All right, boys!” Gunner shouted, climbing halfway up the stern-castle toward his wheel and turning to address the sailors. “We’re about to sail to legend—or infamy!”

“Not antonyms,” Gavin said under his breath.

“Wait,” Teia said as she was plotting her course through the milling bodies to still get to the dock. “Why is your father working with the Order?”

“Oh, he’s not. Not on
this
anyway,” Gavin mumbled to the deck as he folded his old clothing. “This is all on—” He stopped himself, it seemed, from saying a name. “On your old man, not mine. Andross needs the Blinding Knife to make a new Prism. Which is another excellent reason I can’t get off this ship. I’m useless now, but the Knife isn’t. I need to try to save it.”

“My old man?” Teia asked. “You say that like you know who the Old Man is . . . or who
she
is?”

“I’d love to tell you, but if I do, or even hint, this stone”—he tapped the black jewel on his eye patch, and winced as if it hurt more than he’d expected—“goes through my brain. Nasty little bit of magic, or nice little bit of bluffing, but I’m not desperate enough to call those cards to the table yet. Besides, telling you would only help if you went back now. I thought you were going to kill me. Your father for me. Good trade, if he’s a halfway decent man. Of course, if you come with us, you’ll most likely die with all the rest of us on this fools’ errand. But maybe the Order will honor their promise? I mean, they lied to me and plan to double-cross me, but . . . one can hope.”

“Or one can fight,” Teia said. She didn’t know if she was arguing with him or agreeing now.

Damned Guiles, getting you twisted up inside.

But she didn’t move.

“You do strike me as one not inclined to run away. Which way is running away now, though?” he asked, chuckling to himself. It was a dangerous mood, like he was this close to doing something incredibly rash.

With obvious difficulty, Gavin stood and stared up at the Prism’s Tower soaring high above them, like a man who would never see it again.

“I’m finished,” Gavin said loudly to the sailors.

He meant bathing.

“Draw the mooring lines!” Gunner shouted as he approached the sterncastle. “Lift the gangplank! Rowers ready!” Then Gunner wheeled suddenly and pointed sharply at Gavin. “Guile! I see what you’re doing!”

Teia’s blood froze.

Gunner wagged his finger. “Black eye. Gave you a black eye. That’s funny. Took me a moment. Forgot how you be. Always liked that white of yourn.”

Gavin forced a smile and lifted his chin in acknowledgment. Under his breath, he said, “Time makes a coward’s decisions for her.”

“ ‘White of yourn,’ thet ain’t right,” Gunner grumbled. “Whiting bit. Bidding white. Biding . . . shit!”

Waiting, waiting just a few more seconds, meant trusting the Order. Casting in her lot with them completely. It meant helping them. It meant doing evil, hoping that an evil man would do her some good.

How stupid do they think I am?

Stupid enough to get on this boat.

True. But I’m not stupid enough to stay.

“Biting wit!” Gunner crowed. “Ha!”

Drawing her paryl cloud around her, Teia jumped up on the handrail, running down it to the ship’s waist, stepping over Gunner’s hand and onto a finial as his bearded, bushy head swung under her as he began to climb.

She dropped to the deck and dodged between sailors, past the two men lifting the plank. With a heave, she leapt—

—and she wasn’t going to make it. Her feet were going to strike the dock’s side just short of the front edge.

She lifted her feet, tucking her knees as if in a deep squat, and barely cleared the gap, but the position left her nothing to absorb the shock of landing. She tumbled head over heels, barely having the wherewithal to swirl the cloak and cloud back over her body as she stopped.

One of the Order sailors lifting the plank paused, staring right at where she was. He lifted a hand to shade his eyes, and Teia saw that she had jumped right between him and the rising sun—which was either brilliant or the worst possible thing she could have done. Any part of her that had been exposed would have thrown a shadow over his face. On the other hand, he was now looking directly into the rising sun.

The sailor on the other side of the heavy plank looked over at the man, peeved he’d stopped. “You fookin’ gonna help me stow this fookin’ thing, ya beaver shite eater?”

The man cast his eye around the dock again, puzzled, but then he said, “Man can’t appreciate a sunrise for two fookin’ heartbeats? You and your dysent’ry gams, foulin’ a liminal moment.”

“It’ll be a
sub
liminal moment if you don’t start helping, because I’mma knock you the fook out.”

“Take one deep breath through that poo pincher disfiguring your gob for a moment, won’tcha? It’s a sunrise.”

“It’s Orholam’s Eye coming up. Curse it like ya ought.”

“What kinda lead-souled, hieroproctical—”

“Lead-soled? You’re the one with heavy feet, you laggard son of a slattern mum—”

“Don’t you talk about our mum that way. If she’d been faithful to dad, you’d not be here. And I weren’t talking about that kind of soul, not that you’d be familiar . . .”

Teia lost the rest as another man came to the rail with a long pole to push the ship away from the dock far enough for the slaves belowdecks to get their oars out.

She watched as the gap between her and obedience grew until it was unbridgeable.

She was committed.

The Old Man’s command had been the kind of ultimatum on which a whole world turns: murder Gavin and become fully one of us and be given all you could want or hope for, or else.

I choose ‘or else.’

For no reason that Teia could understand, for no reason that made any sense at all, her heart suddenly soared.

She’d failed in her every single attempt against the Order so far. But she would not fail again.

She straightened her back and drew her powers about her. As far as the Old Man knew, she was gone for at least a month and a half, if not twice that.

The Order didn’t have their own skimmers yet, so that meant six weeks at least before anyone could return with word of her absence—and therefore, her disobedience.

She couldn’t tell the commander or even her friends that she lived, lest someone betray her, or let it slip to someone who would. So she must become a ghost, moving invisibly through the world of men, leaving nothing but terror and death.

In commissioning Teia to infiltrate the Order of the Broken Eye, Karris had wanted her to destroy the Order utterly, so they wouldn’t be able to enslave and blackmail and murder ever again. Teia had always understood her mission was necessary, but now it was personal.

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