Home > The Burning White(6)

The Burning White(6)
Author: Brent Weeks

Here, for the man who had saved the city, some of the most brilliant examples of the big jugs ever crafted were lined up along the entire length of the high table like a rank of alcoholic soldiers.

In all the majesty of his gracefulness, the Turtle-Bear clipped one of them as he cleared the table. He rolled into the open space in the center of the big U of all the tables.

The priceless glazed clay jug painted with gold zoomorphic swirls and studded with precious stones tottered, teetered with the countervailing motion of the sloshing wine inside, tilted, toppled—and smashed.

A fortune of wine and pottery sprayed in every direction.

Beyond the spreading of wine, Kip was already looking for the assassin in sub-red, maybe near Cruxer.

Everyone else had retreated toward the walls or bolted for the doors, creating a shrieking knot of humanity.

Nothing.

Even with a shimmercloak, it took a gifted Shadow to hide himself or herself from sub-red vision.

Like the fearsome twin tusks of a charging iron bull, Ferkudi and Big Leo rushed to flank Kip.

Cruxer was still down, kicking his leg to restore feeling to it, breaking up the paryl. He was physically out of the fight for a while, but his eyes were up and he was already barking orders, no fear at all in his voice, despite his helplessness. “Ferk, Leo, wide! Keep moving! Paryl!”

Big Leo had already unlimbered the heavy chain he usually draped around his neck and tucked into his belt. He began whirring it in the air around him, sweeping it into a shifting shell of shimmering steel. No fragile fingers of paryl would make it through that. Because of Teia, the Mighty had an idea of what paryl could do.

Ferkudi, the grappler, had knots of luxin in and around each hand—a coruscating chunk of crystalline blue luxin in his right, and a spreading shillelagh of woody green in his left. He would count on deflecting any attacks with luxin just long enough to close the distance so he could seize an attacker.

Kip thought, if sub-red doesn’t work . . .

Still moving erratically, still scanning, Kip began narrowing his eyes to chi. It occurred to him a little late that the last time he’d messed with chi, he’d been blind for three days.

Too late.

The thunderclap of a pistol fired at close range rocked Kip. He saw fire gush from a barrel sweeping right past his face, heard the snap of a lead ball, and felt the concussive force flattening his cheek like a boxer’s punch.

In the barren, total focus that answers the sound of Death’s footfall, the world faded. No sound. No people. There was only the pistol, floating in midair held in a disembodied, gloved hand by the invisible killer. As the pistol jumped, the Shadow’s shimmercloak rippled with the shock wave, momentarily giving shape to the assassin.

A black burning powder cloud raced hard on the musket ball’s heels.

The burning cloud stung Kip’s face as he fell. He’d not noticed his feet tangled, but he definitely saw a second pistol sliding into visibility as it emerged from the cover of the shimmercloak.

Another boom and then a clatter.

Kip hit the ground on his side and saw Ferkudi leaping through the air over him, trying to snatch the assassin, blue luxin and green forming great jagged claws to make his arm span twice as wide.

Ferkudi caught nothing, though, his sweeping arms and luxin claws snapping shut on empty air. He landed on his chest with a thump and lost the luxin, both claws breaking apart and beginning to disintegrate on the floor.

Big Leo followed hard on Ferkudi’s attack, flinging his chain out to its full reach in a wide circle at waist height.

The last link caught the edge of the retreating Shadow’s cloak and threw it wide. The sudden glimpse of boots and trousers and belt where the rest of the man was invisible gave the impression they were staring through a tear in reality. Disrupted by the blow, the magics in a section of the cloak sizzled out of sync with any colors in the room before settling again as the assassin spun out of reach.

Then the cloak draped down again, covering him with its invisibility.

As Kip pulled himself together, deafened but unhurt, Big Leo pressed his advantage against the assassin, charging after the Shadow like a hound on the scent. His chain whipped out again, hitting nothing—

But there was a glimpse of boots as the assassin dove toward one wall.

This time, the whirling heavy chain came down with all the force in the warrior’s mountainous body. It cracked the floor tiles and shot sparks, but hit no flesh—the Shadow was fast.

People shrieked, cowering back in fear as Big Leo charged toward them. The Shadow must be nearly among them. If Big Leo struck again, he was going to kill or maim more than one of the bystanders.

But Big Leo pulled up short, flicking out the end of the chain just short of the crowd, who were panicked now, pushing one another through the nearest door as if pushing a cork down into a wine bottle.

With the easy grace of a squad that’s worked together so long they act like one body, Big Leo diverted the tornado of heavy chain for one instant as Ferkudi barreled past him.

Big Leo couldn’t attack too close to the crowd. Ferkudi had no such compunctions. Again, with arms and luxin spread and all of his considerable bulk at a full sprint, Ferkudi made a flying leap at the portion of the bunched crowd where he guessed the Shadow was.

Ferkudi’s tackle sent at least a dozen people flying—none of them the Shadow, and he went down in a tangle with all of them.

Which only left one way the Shadow could have gone—right back in front of the high table.

Kip saw Ben-hadad, wearing his knee brace but still hobbled by his injury from when they’d fled the Chromeria, standing at the far end of the high table. He had his heavy crossbow loaded and aimed—right at the crowd. But to shoot at the Shadow was to shoot at the crowd beyond it. The frustration was writ all over his bespectacled face.

Ben, Kip knew, felt useless. That all his brilliance was for naught. Couldn’t fight. Couldn’t help his friends who were in mortal peril. Couldn’t shoot unless he got the perfect opportunity—which he couldn’t, with these panicked strangers everywhere.

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.

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