54

When Kaldrosa Wyn and ten of the other girls from the Craven Dragon emerged from Momma K’s safe house, the Warrens were changed. There was a nervous excitement in the air. The Nocta Hemata had been a triumph, but repercussions were coming. Everyone knew it. Momma K had told the girls they needed to leave her subterranean safe house because the secret of its existence had leaked. Somehow, the Night Angel had saved them all from being slaughtered by Hu Gibbet.

Kaldrosa had heard rumors of the Night Angel before, right after the invasion, but she hadn’t believed them. Now they all knew he was real. They’d seen Hu Gibbet’s body.

Momma K had told them she would smuggle them out as quickly as possible, but moving three hundred women out of the city was going to take time. They had ways to get around or under the Godking’s new walls, but it wasn’t easy. Kaldrosa Wyn’s group was supposed to go tonight. Momma K had told them that if they wanted to stay in the city, if they had husbands or boyfriends or family to go back to, all they had to do was not show up at the rendezvous tonight.

The Warrens were quiet, expectant, as the women made their way to the safe house. They were conspicuous, of course, all of them still dressed in their rich whoring clothes. Master Piccun’s designs seemed obscene in the broad daylight, in the context of open streets. Worse, some of the girls’ costumes were stained with brown-black smears of dried blood.

But the women passed no guards, and it was soon clear that the Khalidorans didn’t go into the Warrens now. The residents who saw them looked at them strangely. One alley they tried to traverse was blocked by a building that must have been knocked down during the Nocta Hemata itself, and it forced Kaldrosa Wyn and the others to walk straight through the Durdun Market.

The market was busy, but as the former whores passed through it, a wave of silence preceded them. Every eye was on them. The girls set their jaws, ready for the derision their clothing would surely evoke, but nothing happened.

A stout fishwife leaned over her stall and said, “You done us proud, girls.”

The women were caught off guard. The approval hit them like a slap in the face. Everywhere it was the same. People everywhere nodded in greeting and acceptance, even the women who a week ago would have sneered at rent girls even as they envied their good looks and easy lives. Even as the Rabbits waited for the Godking to crush them, as they knew he must, they shared a unity forged of persecution. The Rabbits had surprised themselves with their own bravery that night, and somehow, the whores bore their standard.

The gloriously solitary two-day ride to Cenaria had only one problem. There was no irritating child. No domineering hag. No verbal sparring. No humiliation. But the time gave Vi an opportunity to see how flimsy her plans were.

The first plan was to go to the Godking. It had seemed great for about five minutes. She’d tell him that Kylar was dead. She’d tell him Jarl was dead. She’d ask for her gold and she’d leave.

Right. Sister Ariel’s musings about the spell on Vi were far too specific to be guesses. They were also far too plausible. Vi would either have a short leash or a long leash, but she’d have a leash. Garoth Ursuul had promised to break her. It wasn’t the kind of promise he’d forget.

In truth, Vi felt broken already. She was losing her edge. It was one thing to feel bad for killing Jarl. Jarl had kept her alive. He’d been a friend and someone who would never demand the use of her body. He hadn’t been a threat, physically or sexually.

Kylar was a different matter altogether, and yet even now, riding slowly through the streets of Cenaria, her hood close around her face, Vi couldn’t stop thinking about him. She was actually sorry he was dead. Maybe even sad.

Kylar had been a damn good wetboy. One of the best. It was a shame he’d been killed with an arrow, probably from hiding. Not even a wetboy could stop that.

“That’s it,” Vi said aloud. “Could happen to anyone. Makes me realize my own mortality. It’s just a shame.”

It wasn’t just a shame. That wasn’t what she felt, and she knew it. Kylar had been kind of cute. If you could think “kind of cute” with a mental sneer. Kind of charming. Well, not that charming. But he did try.

Really, it was Uly’s fault. Uly had talked and talked about how great he was. Fuck.

So maybe she’d entertained a whim that Kylar could be the kind of man who could understand her. He’d been a wetboy, and somehow he’d left it and become a decent person. If he could do it, maybe she could, too.

Yes, he was a wetboy, but he was never a whore. You think he could understand that? Forgive it? Sure. You go ahead with your little crush, Vi. Bawl your eyes out like a little girl. Go ahead and pretend you could have been an Elene, making a little home and having a little life. I’m sure it would have been great fun to suckle brats and crochet baby blankets.

The truth is, you didn’t even have the courage to admit you had a crush on Kylar until you knew he was safely dead.

All the things Vi had always hated about women were suddenly showing up in herself. For Nysos’ sake, she even missed Uly. Like some sort of fucking mother.

Well that was nice. Boo hoo. Do we feel better now? Because we still have a problem. She sat on her horse outside Drissa Nile’s shop. The Bitch Wytch had said the weaves were dangerous, but Drissa might be able to free Vi from the Godking’s magic. Looking at the modest shop, Vi thought the smart money was on the Godking.

The Godking would make her a slave. Drissa Nile would either free her or kill her.

Vi went inside. She had to wait half an hour while the two diminutive, bespectacled Niles took care of a boy who’d been splitting firewood and buried an axe in his foot, but after his parents took him home, Vi said that Sister Ariel had sent her. The Niles closed shop immediately.

Drissa seated her in one of the patient rooms while Tevor drew back a section of the roof to let sunlight in. They looked alike, baggy clothes over short, lumpy bodies, graying brown hair as straight as sheaves of wheat, spectacles, and single earrings. They moved with the easy familiarity of long partnership, but Tevor Nile clearly deferred to his wife. They both appeared to be in their forties, but scholarly Tevor seemed perpetually befuddled, while Drissa left no doubt that she was aware of all things at all times.

They sat on either side of her, holding each other’s hand behind her back. Drissa rested her free hand on Vi’s neck, and Tevor laid his fingers on the skin of her forearm. Vi felt a cool tingle in her skin.

“So, how do you know Ariel?” Drissa asked, her eyes sharp through her spectacles. Tevor seemed to have completely sunk into himself.

“She killed my horse to keep me from going into Ezra’s Wood.”

Drissa cleared her throat. “I see—”

“Gwaah!” Tevor yelled. He jerked backward and fell off his stool, smacking the back of his head against the stone of the fireplace.

“Don’t touch anything!” As fast as he fell, he was on his feet again.

Vi and Drissa stared at him, baffled. He rubbed the back of his head. “By the hundred, I nearly incinerated all of us.” He sat down. “Drissa, look at this.”

“Oh,” Vi said. “Ariel said it was trapped in some interesting ways.”

“Now you tell me?” Tevor asked. “Interesting? She calls this interesting?”

“She said you were the best with small weaves.”

“She did?” Tevor’s demeanor changed in an instant.

“Well, she said Drissa.”

He threw his hands up. “Of course she did. Damn Sisters can’t admit a man might be good, not even for a second.”

“Tevor,” Drissa said.

He was abruptly calm. “Yes, dear?”

“I’m not seeing it. Can you lift it—”

She exhaled all at once. “Oh my. Oh my. Yes, don’t lift it.”

Tevor didn’t say anything. Vi turned to see what his expression was.

“Please hold still, child,” Drissa said.

For ten minutes, they worked in silence. Or at least Vi thought they worked. Aside from something like feather brushes on her spine, she felt nothing.

Finally, Tevor grunted as if satisfied.

“Are we done?” Vi asked.

“Done?” he said. “We haven’t started. I was inspecting the damage. Interesting? I’ll say it’s interesting. There are three side spells protecting the primary spell. I can get them. Breaking the last one is going to hurt, a lot. The good news is that you came to us. The bad news is that by touching the weave, I’ve disrupted it. If I can’t break it in perhaps an hour, it will blow your head off. You might have said it was a V?rdmeister who put the spell on you. Any other surprises?”

“What’s the primary spell?” Vi asked Drissa.

“It’s a compulsion spell, Vi. Go ahead, Tevor.” The man sighed and sank back into himself. He didn’t seem to be able to speak while he was working. Drissa, on the other hand, had no problem. Vi could see her hands beginning to glow faintly even as she spoke. “It’s going to start hurting soon, Vi, and not just physically. We can’t numb you to the pain because he’s trapped that area of your brain. Numbing you is one of the first things a healer would do, usually, so he’s made it lethal. Hold still now.”

The world went white and stayed white. Vi was blind.

“Just listen to my voice, Vi,” Drissa said. “Relax.”

Vi was breathing quick, shallow breaths. Suddenly, the world returned. She could see.

“Four more times and we’ll have the first spell,” Drissa said. “It might be easier if you close your eyes.”

Vi snapped her eyes shut. “So, uh, compulsion,” she said.

“Right,” Drissa said. “Compulsion magic is very limited. For the spell to hold, the caster must have authority over you. You have to feel you owe the caster your obedience. It would be worst with a parent or a mentor, or a general if you were in the army.”

Or a king. Or a god. Holy hells.

“Regardless,” Drissa said, “the good news is that you can throw off a compulsion if you can throw off that person’s hold over you.”

“Brilliant,” Tevor said. “Bloody brilliant. Mad and sick, but genius. Did you see how he’s anchored the traps in her own glore vyrden? He’s making her sustain his spells. Horribly inefficient, but—”

“Tevor.”

“Right. Back to work.”

Vi’s stomach muscles convulsed like she was throwing up. When it passed, Vi said, “Throw it off how?”

“Oh, the compulsion? Well, we should be able to break it this afternoon. It is a little tricky, though. If you try to untie it the wrong way, you just make it tighter. It won’t be a problem for you.”

“Why’s—” Vi’s convulsing stomach cut off the rest of her question.

“Magae are forbidden the use of compulsions, but we learn to protect ourselves from them. If you didn’t have us, to throw off the compulsion requires an outward sign of an inward change, a symbol to show you’ve changed your loyalties. You’ll have that covered too, as soon as you take the white dress and the pendant.”

Vi looked at her blankly.

“When you enroll in the Chantry,” Drissa said. “You do intend to enroll in the Chantry, don’t you?”

“I guess,” Vi said. She hadn’t really thought about the future, but the Chantry would be safe from the Godking.

“Two. Ha,” Tevor said triumphantly. “Tell her about Pulleta Vikrasin.”

“You just like that story because it makes the Chantry look bad.”

“Oh, go on, ruin the story,” Tevor said.

Drissa rolled her eyes. “Long story short, two hundred years ago the head of one of the orders was using compulsion on her subordinates, and they didn’t find out until one of the magae, Pulleta Vikrasin, married a magus. Her new loyalty to her husband broke the compulsion and led to several sisters being severely punished.”

“That was the worst rendition of that story I’ve ever heard,” Tevor said. He looked at Vi. “That marriage not only probably saved the Chantry, but in the twisted minds of those spinsters it also confirmed that a woman who married would never truly be loyal to the Chantry. I can’t wait until the Chattel gather and—”

“Tevor. One more?” Drissa said. Again the little man went back to work. “Sorry, you’ll get more than enough Chantry politics soon. Tevor’s still bitter about how they treated me after we got ringed.” She pulled at her earring.

“Is that what those mean?” Vi said. No wonder she’d seen so many earrings in Waeddryn. They were wedding earrings.

“Besides a few thousand queens out of your purse, yes. The ringsmiths tell women that the rings will make their husbands more submissive, and they tell men that they’ll make their wives more, shall we say, amorous? It’s said that in ancient times a ringed husband could be aroused by no woman but his wife. You can imagine how well they sold. But it’s all lies. Maybe it was true once, but the rings now barely have enough magic to seal seamlessly and stay shiny.”

Oh, Nysos. Kylar’s note to Elene suddenly made a lot more sense. Vi hadn’t stolen some expensive jewelry; she’d stolen a man’s promise of his undying love. Vi had a sick feeling in her stomach again, but this time she didn’t think it had anything to do with Tevor’s magic.

“Are you ready, Vi? This one’s really going to hurt, and not just physically. Lifting compulsion will make you relive your most significant experiences with authority. I’m guessing it won’t be pleasant for you.”

Good guess.

Drissa Nile was the only one who could help now. Logan was in bad shape. Getting him off of Vos Island had been easy enough, but it had taken time and Kylar wasn’t sure how much of that Logan had left.

Logan had been stabbed in the back, and he had all kinds of cuts, including some along his ribs and arm that were red, inflamed, and filled with pus.

Few mages had made the city their home for the last couple of decades, but Kylar was starting to believe that the Chantry never abandoned any corner of the world. He knew of a woman in town who had a great reputation as a healer, and if anyone was a mage in the city, she was. It’d better be so; if anyone needed healing magic, it was Logan. Especially with that stuff on his arm.

Kylar wasn’t even sure what it was, but it seemed to have burned its way into the flesh. The strangest thing was that it appeared not to have fallen randomly on Logan’s arm, like he would have expected from gushing blood, but in a pattern. Kylar didn’t even know if he should put water on, cover it, or what. Anything might make it worse.

And what the hell had that thing been? In repayment for the many cuts it had given him, Kylar had taken a fang from the beast, but his survival had been as much luck as skill. If there hadn’t been so many stalagmites in the chamber, the creature’s speed would have overmatched anything Kylar could do. Its skin was impregnable, even with all the strength of Kylar’s Talent. He’d guessed that its eyes would be vulnerable, but it had already protected them from him three times before it got distracted by Logan and Gnasher. And the swim—that thing speeding after him under the water—had been sheer terror. He’d probably dream of it for the rest of his life.

Regardless, saving Logan was the best thing he’d ever done. Logan had needed to be saved, had deserved to be saved, and Kylar had been the only one who could save him. This was Kylar’s purpose. This redeemed his sacrifices. This was why he was the Night Angel.

He crossed into the Warrens with his odd cargo and loaded them into a covered wagon. Then he drove to Drissa Nile’s shop.

The place was in the wealthiest location in the Warrens, right off the Vanden Bridge, and it was fairly large, with a sign above it that read “Nile and Nile, Physickers,” over a picture of the healing wand for the illiterate. Like Durzo before him, Kylar had avoided the place, fearing that a mage might recognize what he was. Now he had no choice. He pulled up in back of the shop, grabbed Logan from the bed of the wagon, and carried him to the back door with Gnasher following him.

The door was locked.

A small surge of Talent took care of that. The latch burst and wood splintered. Kylar carried Logan inside.

The shop had several rooms off a central waiting area. At the sound of the latch bursting through the frame, a man was emerging from one of the patient rooms where Kylar glimpsed two women talking before the physicker closed the door. A quick glance confirmed that the front door was barred, too.

“What are you doing?” the physicker asked. “You can’t break in here.”

“What the hell kind of physicker locks his doors in the middle of the day?” Kylar asked. As he looked into the physicker’s eyes, he knew the man wasn’t a criminal, but he did see something else, a warm green light like a forest after a storm when the sun comes out.

“You’re a mage,” Kylar said. He had thought that this man had simply been a front, a male physicker that Drissa Nile had used to take away the attention from her own too-miraculous cures. He was wrong.

The man went rigid. He wore spectacles, and the right lens was much stronger than the left, giving his suddenly widened eyes a disconcertingly lopsided appearance. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking—” Kylar felt something brush him quickly, try to probe him, but the ka’kari didn’t allow it. The mage never finished his sentence. “You’re invisible to me. It’s like—like you’re dead.”

Shit. “Are you a healer or not? My friend’s dying,” Kylar said.

For the first time, the man turned his bespectacled eyes to Logan. Kylar had thrown a blanket over the king to ward him from curious eyes. “Yes,” the man said. “Tevor Nile at your service. Please, please put him on the table there.”

They went into an empty room. Tevor Nile threw the blanket back and clucked. Kylar had laid Logan on the table face down. The physicker sliced open Logan’s blood- and dirt- and sweat-encrusted rag of a tunic to look at the gash on Logan’s back. He was already shaking his head.

“It’s too much,” he said. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“You’re a mage, start with magic.”

“I’m not a—”

“If you lie to me one more time, I swear I’ll kill you,” Kylar said. “Why else a hearth that size in a room this small? Why else the retractable section of roof? Because you need fire or sunlight for magic. I’m not going to tell anyone. You have to heal this man. Look at him. Do you know who he is?”

Kylar rolled Logan over, throwing away the rag of a tunic.

Tevor Nile gasped, but he wasn’t looking at Logan’s face. He was looking at the glowing imprint on his arm.

“Drissa!” he shouted.

From the next room, Kylar could hear the sound of the two women talking. “…you think? What do you mean you think? Is it gone or isn’t it?”

“We’re fairly certain that it’s gone,” a woman said.

“DRISSA!” Tevor yelled.

A door opened and closed and then their door opened and Drissa Nile’s irritated face appeared. Like her husband, she had a wizened look, despite being maybe in her late forties. Both were small and scholarly, wearing spectacles and shapeless clothes. As with her husband, Kylar saw no taint of evil in her, but there was definitely that something extra there that he thought was magic.

Two mages married to each other. In Cenaria. It was an oddity, certainly, especially here. Kylar could only believe that it was the most fortunate oddity possible. If two mage healers couldn’t fix Logan, no one could.

Drissa’s irritation disappeared the second she saw Logan. Her eyes went wide. She came close and stared from his glowing arm to his face and back again in wonder.

“Where’d he get this?” she asked.

“Can you help him?” Kylar demanded.

Drissa looked at Tevor. He shook his head. “Not after what we just did. I don’t think I’ve got enough power in me. Not for this.”

“We’ll try,” Drissa said.

Tevor nodded, submissive, and Kylar noticed the rings in their ears for the first time. Gold, both of them, matching. They were Waeddryners. If it had been any other circumstance, he would have asked them if those damn rings really did hold spells.

Tevor drew back the section of roof to let the cloudy morning sunlight in. Drissa touched the wood already stacked in the hearth and it began blazing. They took up positions on either side of Logan and the air above him shimmered.

Kylar brought the ka’kari up within him to his eyes. It was like putting spectacles on a man nearly blind. The weaves over Logan that had been just barely visible to him were suddenly clear.

“Do you know herbs?” Drissa asked Kylar. At his nod, she said, “In the great room, get Tuntun leaf, grubel ointment, silverleaf, ragweed, and the white poultice on the top shelf.”

Kylar came back a minute later with the ingredients, plus a few others he thought would be helpful. Tevor looked at them and nodded, but didn’t seem capable of speech.

“Good, good,” Drissa said.

Kylar began applying the herbs and poultices while Drissa and Tevor worked the weaves of magic. Over and over, he saw them dipping a weave as thick as a tapestry into Logan, adjusting it to fit his body, raising it above him, repairing it, and dipping it into his body again. What surprised him, though, was the way some of the herbs responded.

He’d never considered that normal plants might react to magic, but they obviously did. The silverleaf that Kylar had packed into the stab wound on Logan’s back turned black in seconds—something he’d never seen it do.

For Kylar, it was like watching a dance. Tevor and Drissa worked together in perfect harmony, but Tevor was tiring. Within five minutes, Tevor was flagging. His parts of the weaves were getting shaky and thin. His face was pale and sweaty. He kept blinking and pushing his spectacles back up his long nose. Kylar could see the mage’s exhaustion, but could do nothing about it. Critiquing a dancer was different from being able to step in and do better. That was what he wished he could do. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but it seemed that Drissa was attempting smaller and smaller changes in Logan each time, and he still had some things terribly wrong in him. Looking at him through the healing weave, his entire body seemed to be the wrong color. Kylar touched him, and he felt hot.

Kylar felt impotent. He had Talent here. Talent to spare, even after everything, he still had Talent. He willed the ka’kari back, willed himself to be unshielded, tried to will all that magic into Logan. Nothing happened.

Take it, damn you. Get better!

Logan didn’t stir. Kylar couldn’t use the magic; he didn’t know how to form any weave, much less one as complex as what the Niles were doing.

Tevor looked at Kylar apologetically. He patted Kylar’s hand.

At the contact, light blazed through the entire room. It burned beyond the magical spectrum into the visual, throwing their shadows on the walls. The weaves over Logan, which had been flagging, dimming, fading into nothing just a moment before, now burned incandescent. Heat flashed through Kylar’s hand.

Tevor gaped like a fish.

“Tevor!” Drissa said. “Use it!”

As Kylar felt the Talent flood out of him, he felt his magic all the way through Tevor being pulled down into Logan’s body. It was out of his control. Tevor was directing Kylar’s Talent completely. Kylar realized that Tevor could turn that magic to kill him, and having submitted like this, Kylar wouldn’t be able to stop him.

Sweat broke out on Drissa’s face and Kylar could feel the two mages working feverishly. They ran magic through Logan’s body like a comb through tangled hair. They touched the glowing scar on his arm—still glowing, hours later—but there was strangely nothing wrong. It wasn’t something they could fix. The healing magic moved right past it.

Finally Drissa breathed and let the weave dissipate. Logan would live, in fact, he was probably healthier than when he’d gone into the Maw.

But Tevor didn’t let go of Kylar. He turned and stared at him, eyes wide.

“Tevor,” Drissa said, warning.

“What are you? Are you a V?rdmeister?” Tevor asked.

Kylar tried to draw the ka’kari up to sever the connection, but he couldn’t. He tried to ready his muscles with Talent strength, but he couldn’t.

“Tevor,” Drissa said.

“Did you see? Do you see this? I’ve never—”

“Tevor, release him.”

“Honey, he could incinerate us both with this much Talent. He—”

“So you’d use a man’s own magic against him after he submitted it to you? How do the Brothers look on that? Is that the kind of man I married?”

Tevor dropped his head and his hold on Kylar’s Talent simultaneously. “I’m sorry.”

Kylar shivered, drained, empty, weak. It was almost as disconcerting to get control of his Talent back as it was to give it away. He felt like he’d gone two days without sleeping. He barely had the energy to be excited that Logan was going to make it.

“I think we’d better see to you and your simple friend. Your wounds can use more mundane treatments,” Drissa said. She lowered her voice, “The, ahem, king should wake this evening. Why don’t you come with me to another room?”

She opened the door and Kylar stepped into the waiting area. Gnasher had curled up in a corner and was sleeping. But directly in front of Kylar was a beautiful, shapely woman with long red hair. Vi. She was staring at him down the length of a bare sword. Its tip touched his throat.

Kylar reached for his Talent, but it slipped through his fingers. He was too tired. It was gone. There was nothing he could do to stop her.

Vi’s eyes were red and puffy like she’d just gone through a wringer, though how or why Kylar had no idea.

She stared down the length of steel for a moment that seemed to stretch and stretch. He couldn’t read the look in those green eyes, but it was something wild.

Vi stepped back three measured and balanced steps, Vald? Docci, the Swordsman Withdraws. She knelt in the center of the room, bowed her head, pulled her ponytail to one side, and laid the bare sword across her hands. She raised the sword in offering.

“My life is yours, Kylar. I surrender to your judgment.”

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