Authors: Scott Lynch
Had there been many staring eyes, they might have noticed that the procession had already failed to turn toward the Hill of Whispers; that it had instead gone north and snaked toward the western tip of the Rust-water district, where the great abandoned structure called the Echo Hole loomed in the darkness and the fog.
A curious observer might have wondered at the sheer size of the procession—more than a hundred men and women—and at their accoutrements. Only the pallbearers were dressed for a funeral. The torchbearers were dressed for
, in armor of boiled leather with blackened studs, in collars and helmets and bracers and gloves, with knives and clubs and axes and bucklers at their belts. They were the cream of Barsavi’s gangs, the hardest of the Right People—cold-eyed men and women with murders to their names. They were from all of his districts and all of his gangs—the Red Hands and the Rum Hounds, the Gray Faces and the Arsenal Boys, the Canal Jumpers and the Black Twists, the Catchfire Barons and a dozen others.
The most interesting thing about the procession, however, was something no casual observer could know.
The fact was, Nazca Barsavi’s body still lay in her old chambers in the Floating Grave, sealed away under silk sheets, alchemically impregnated to keep the rot of death from setting in too quickly. Locke Lamora and a dozen other priests of the Nameless Thirteenth, the Crooked Warden, had said prayers for her the previous night and placed her within a circle of sacred candles, there to lie until her father finished his business this evening, which had nothing to do with the Hill of Whispers. The coffin that was draped in funeral silks was empty.
“I AM the Gray King,” said Locke Lamora. “I am the Gray King, gods damn his eyes, I
the Gray King.”
“A little lower,” said Jean Tannen, struggling with one of the gray cuffs of Locke’s coat, “and a little scratchier. Give it a hint of Tal Verrar. You said he had an accent.”
“I am the Gray King,” said Locke, “and I’ll be smiling out the other side of my head when the Gentlemen Bastards are through with me.”
“Oh, that’s good,” said Calo, who was streaking Locke’s hair with a foul-scented alchemical paste that was steadily turning it charcoal gray. “I like that one. Just different enough to be noticed.”
Locke stood stock-still as a tailor’s mannequin, surrounded by Calo, Galdo, and Jean, who worked on him with clothes, cosmetics, and threaded needles. Bug leaned up against one wall of their little enclosure, keeping his eyes and ears alert for interlopers.
The Gentlemen Bastards were hidden away in an abandoned storefront in the fog-choked Rustwater district, just a few blocks north of the Echo Hole. Rustwater was a dead island, ill-favored and barely inhabited. A city that had thrown off its old prejudices about the structures of the Eldren still held Rustwater in an unequivocal dread. It was said that the black shapes that moved in the Rustwater lagoon were nothing as pleasant as mere man-eating sharks but something
. Whatever the truth of those rumors, it was a conveniently deserted place for Barsavi and the Gray King to play out their strange affair. Locke privately suspected that he’d been taken somewhere in this neighborhood on the night the Gray King had first interrupted his life.
They were working every trick of their masquerade art to fashion Locke into the Gray King. Already his hair was gray, his clothes were gray, he was dressed in heavy padded boots that added two inches to his height, and he had a drooping gray moustache firmly affixed above his lips.
“It looks good,” said Bug, an approving note in his voice.
“Damn showy, but Bug’s right,” said Jean. “Now that I’ve got this stupid coat cinched in to your proper size, you do look rather striking.”
“Pity this isn’t one of our games,” said Galdo. “I’d be enjoying myself. Lean forward for some wrinkles, Locke.”
Working very carefully, Galdo painted Locke’s face with a warm, waxy substance that pinched his skin as it went on; in seconds it dried and tightened, and in just a few moments Locke had a complete network of crow’s-feet, laugh-lines, and forehead wrinkles. He looked to be in his midforties, at the very least. The disguise would have done very well in the bright light of day; at night, it would be impenetrable.
“Virtuoso,” said Jean, “relatively speaking, for such short notice and the conditions we have in which to put it all together.”
Locke flipped his hood up and pulled on his gray leather gloves. “I am the Gray King,” he said, his voice low, mimicking the odd accent of the real Gray King.
“I bloody well believe it,” said Bug.
“Well, let’s get on with everything, then.” Locke moved his jaw up and down, feeling the false wrinkle-skin stretch back and forth as he did so. “Galdo, hand me my stilettos, would you? I think I’ll want one in my boot and one in my sleeve.”
came a cold whisper, the Falconer’s voice. Locke tensed, then realized that the noise hadn’t come from the air.
“What is it?” asked Jean.
“It’s the Falconer,” said Locke. “He’s…he’s doing that damn thing…”
Barsavi will soon be at hand. You and your friends must be in place, ere long.
“We have an impatient Bondsmage,” said Locke. “Quickly now. Bug, you know the game, and you know where to put yourself?”
“I’ve got it down cold,” said Bug, grinning. “Don’t even have a temple roof to jump off this time, so don’t worry about anything.”
“Jean, you’re comfortable with your place?”
“Not really, but there’s none better.” Jean cracked his knuckles. “I’ll be in sight of Bug, down beneath the floor. If the whole thing goes to shit, you just remember to throw yourself down the damn waterfall. I’ll cover your back, the sharp and bloody way.”
“Calo, Galdo.” Locke whirled to face the twins, who had hurriedly packed away all the tools and substances used to dress Locke up for the evening. “Are we good to move at the temple?”
“It’ll be smoother than a Guilded Lily’s backside if we do,” said Galdo. “A sweet fat fortune wrapped up in sacks, two carts with horses, provisions for a nice long trip on the road.”
“And there’s men at the Viscount’s Gate who’ll slip us out so fast it’ll be like we’d never even set foot in Camorr in the first place,” added Calo.
“Good. Well. Shit.” Locke rubbed his gloved hands together. “I guess that’s that. I’m all out of rhetorical flourishes, so let’s just go get the bastards and pray for a straight deal.”
Bug stepped forward and cleared his throat.
“I’m only doing this,” he said, “because I really love hiding in haunted Eldren buildings on dark and creepy nights.”
“You’re a liar,” said Jean, slowly. “I’m only doing this because I’ve always wanted to see Bug get eaten by an Eldren ghost.”
“Liar,” said Calo. “I’m only doing this because I fucking
hauling half a ton of bloody coins up out of a vault and packing them away on a cart.”
“Liar!” Galdo chuckled. “I’m only doing this because while you’re all busy elsewhere, I’m going to go pawn all the furniture in the burrow at No-Hope Harza’s.”
“You’re all liars,” said Locke as their eyes turned expectantly to him.
“We’re only doing this because nobody else in Camorr is
enough to pull this off, and nobody else is
to get stuck doing it in the first place.”
They shouted in unison, forgetting their surroundings for a bare moment.
I can hear you shouting,
came the ghostly voice of the Falconer.
Have you all gone completely mad?
“Uncle doesn’t like us keeping him up all night with our carrying on,” he said. “Let’s get to it, and by the grace of the Crooked Warden, we’ll all see each other back at the temple when this mess is over.”
THE ECHO Hole is a cube of gray stone mortared with a dull sort of Elderglass; it never gleams at Falselight. In fact, it never returns the reflection of any light passed before it. It is perhaps one hundred feet on a side, with one dignified entrance—a man-sized door about twenty feet above the street at the top of a wide staircase.
A single aqueduct cuts from the upper Angevine, past the Millfalls, south at an angle and into Rustwater, where it spills its water into the heart of the Echo Hole. Like the stone cube itself, this aqueduct is thought to be touched by some ancient ill, and no use has ever been made of it. A small waterfall plunges through a hole in the floor, down into the catacombs beneath the Echo Hole, where dark water can be heard rushing. Some of these passages empty into the canal on the southwestern side of Rustwater; some empty into no place known to living men.
Locke Lamora stood in darkness at the center of the Echo Hole, listening to the rush of water down the break in the floor, staring fixedly at the patch of grayness that marked the door to the street. His only consolation was that Jean and Bug, crouched unseen in the wet darkness beneath the floor, would probably be even more apprehensive. At least until the proceedings started.
came the voice of the Falconer,
very near. Stand ready.
Locke heard the capa’s procession before he saw it; the sound of funeral drums came through the open door to the street, muffled and nearly drowned out by the falling water. Steadily, it grew louder; a red glow seemed to kindle beyond the door, and by that light Locke saw that the gray mist had thickened. Torches flickered softly, as though glimpsed from underwater. The red aura rose. The barest outline of the room around him became visible, etched in faint carmine. The beating of the drum ceased, and once again Locke was alone with the sound of the waterfall. He threw back his head, placed one hand behind his back, and stared at the door, his blood pounding in his ears.
Two small red fires appeared in the doorway like the eyes of a dragon from one of Jean’s stories. Black shadows moved behind them, and as Locke’s eyes adjusted to the influx of scarlet light he saw the faces of men, tall men, cloaked and armored. He could see enough of their features and posture to see that they were almost surprised to spot him; they hesitated, then continued forward, one moving to his left and the other to his right. For his part, he did nothing, moving not a muscle.
Two more torches followed, and then two more; Barsavi was sending his men up the stairs in pairs. Soon a loose semicircle of men faced Locke, and their torches cast the interior of the Echo Hole into red-shaded relief. There were carvings on the walls—strange old symbols in the tongue of the Eldren, which men had never deciphered.
A dozen men, two dozen; the crowd of armored shapes grew, and Locke saw faces that he recognized. Throat slitters, leg breakers, maulers. Assassins. A hard lot. Exactly what Barsavi had promised him, when they’d stood looking down at the body of Nazca together.
Moments passed. Still, Locke said nothing. Still, men and women filed in. The Berangias sisters—even in a dimmer light, Locke would have recognized their swagger. They stood at front and center of the gathering crowd, saying nothing, arms folded and eyes gleaming in the torchlight. By some unspoken command, none of Barsavi’s people moved behind Locke. He continued to stand alone, as the great press of Right People continued spreading before him.
At last, the crowd of cutthroats began to part. Locke could hear the echoes of their breathing and murmuring and the creaking of their leathers, bouncing from wall to wall, mingling with the sound of falling water. Some of those on the edges of the crowd extinguished their torches with wet leather pouches; gradually, the smell of smoke seeped into the air, and gradually the light sank, until perhaps one in five of the capa’s folk were still holding lit fires.
There was more than enough light to see Capa Barsavi as he turned the corner and stepped through the door. His gray hair was pulled back in oiled rows; his three beards were freshly brushed. He wore his coat of sharkskin leather, and a black cloak of velvet lined with cloth of gold, thrown back from one shoulder. Anjais was on his right and Pachero on his left as the capa strode forward, and in the reflected fires of their eyes Locke saw nothing but death.
Nothing is as it seems,
came the voice of the Falconer.
At the front of the crowd, Barsavi halted, and for a long moment he stared at the apparition before him, at the cool orange eyes within a shadowed hood, at Locke’s cloak and mantle and coat and gloves of gray.
“King,” he finally said.
“Capa,” Locke replied, willing himself to feel the hauteur, conjuring it forth from nothing. The sort of man who would stand in front of a hundred killers with a smile on his face; the sort of man who would summon Vencarlo Barsavi with a trail of corpses, the last of them his only daughter. That was the man Locke needed to be, not Nazca’s friend but her murderer; not the capa’s mischievous subject, but his equal. His
Locke grinned, wolfishly, then swept his cloak back from his left shoulder. With his left hand he beckoned the capa, a taunting gesture, like a bully in an alley daring his opponent to step forward and take the first swing.
“Oblige him,” said the capa, and a dozen men and women raised crossbows.
give me strength.
He ground his teeth in expectation. He could hear his jaw muscles creaking.
The snap-hiss of release echoed throughout the hall; a dozen taut strings twanged. The bolts were too fast to follow, dark afterimages that blurred the air, and then—
A dozen narrow black shapes rebounded off nothing right before his face, and fell clattering to the floor, scattered in an arc like dead birds at his feet.
Locke laughed, a high and genuine sound of pleasure. For one brief moment, he would have kissed the Falconer if the Bondsmage had stood before him.
“Please,” he said, “I thought you’d listened to the stories.”
“Just establishing your bona fides,” said Capa Barsavi, “Your
.” The last word was sneered. Locke had at least expected a certain wariness following the blunting of the crossbow attack, but Barsavi stepped forward without apparent fear.