Discover the origins of Durzo Blint in this original novella set in the world of Brent Weeks’ New York Times bestselling Night Angel trilogy.
Chateau Shayon is supposed to be impregnable. I love it when they say that. Crushing a bare rock just offshore with their weight, the chateau’s sheer walls ring the entire island, actually overhanging the waters of Lac Shayon in places.
This was to be my first kill for hire. It’s good to start with the impossible. Make a name for myself. Enter with a splash.
I emerged from the water with little more than a ripple. The walls loomed before me, above me. There were no shallows to stand in. In those few places where there once had been, some lord or another had sent masons to chip away rock to a depth of three paces below water. I was naked to the waist, skin smeared with fat and ashes for insulation and invisibility. Clothes would have simply filled with water, slowed me down.
As it was, I was bleeding from a slash along one cheek and several cuts along my forearms. Defensive wounds. I didn’t want to stay in that water any longer than I had to. There were more of those damned things out there.
But I waited. Clung to the rocks, buffeted by the waves, studying the wall. There were easier ways to do this, of course. The ka’kari could make most anything easy. Except those things that it makes damn near impossible.
~You don’t want to do this, Acaelus. Murder for hire? You?~
None of that. That’s not my name. Hasn’t been for a long time.
The overhang of the walls was lined with machicolations for rocks, murder holes for arrows, and spouts for jellied fire. I could see two sentries above me in mail and wool, chatting, checking the lake from time to time. It was a clear night, lit by a full moon. Not a night that required much vigilance. I saw six other men atop the wall, eight. Far enough away that I shouldn’t have been able to see them in the darkness.
But darkness welcomes my eyes. It was one way I couldn’t help but use the ka’kari. It forever altered how I see.
Almost every window of the chateau was shuttered against the cold night breeze. I wasn’t looking for an open window, though. Every window was barred, and every iron bar was in good condition. There were no balconies over the picturesque lake; that would only give grapnels a place to hook. This chateau had been built for defense, and not by fools.
A simple assassin would fail.
Only on the third story did the windows of the chateau—again barred with stout iron—glow with cheery firelight, shutters thrown open. That would be the great hall, where Baron Rikku was entertaining his vassals. Baron Rikku was a proud man. Proud of his parties. Proud of the fine Sethi wines he served. Proud of his ornaments, his silks, his art. Proud of his piety. Proud of seizing this little island chateau from its previous owner.
Unfortunately, the previous owner of the island hadn’t actually owned the island. He’d merely been holding it for another. One who wished to keep her ownership anonymous. One who wasn’t impressed by the baron. One who wouldn’t forgive him for his ignorance, or his theft.
But that’s what sucks about running an underworld, isn’t it? Tell people what you own, and you invite attacks from those strong enough to challenge you; don’t tell people what you own, and you won’t dissuade those who fear you.
Right, poor Sa’kagé, you really get the ass-end of life.
I checked the position of the moon, judging how far it had moved since I’d entered the water on the other side of the lake, some two thousand paces distant. The baron would retire from the party, make love with his wife in her chambers or with one of her ladies or a maid in a side room he kept for the purpose, and then use the lords’ privy before retiring to his own chambers on the top floor.
Classic defensive weaknesses of any fortification: how shit comes in and how shit goes out. Here, the garderobe overhung the water, so I was able to find the privies by their smell. The chute was narrow, probably as much to minimize how much wind blew up on your nethers as for defense. The chute didn’t start until five paces above the water, and its narrowness meant every surface was slick with effluents. With slimy fresh diarrhea caked over the top of crumbly feces dried and aged into soil, there was no telling where the cracks in the rock were.
I glanced up, saw that none of the guards were looking, and then something caught my eye behind me: a shadow in the waters.
More than one. Dozens. Fucking fanged fish. Undeniably stupid, but I’d heard they could smell blood for a league. Apparently I should have believed it.
With a surge of my Talent, I shot out of the water. I stabbed fingers and bare toes into the shit-slick walls, pushed off, twisted, leapt for the inside wall of the chute, twisted, and had both my left hand and left foot betrayed by bad holds.
I fell, fingers clawing at the walls, toes scratching, tearing off toenails, finally stopped. I gave myself a few deep breaths and then launched upward again with magic-augmented strength. This time, bounced lightly from one side to the other.
Almost at the top, I found the remains of a grate. It must have been installed hundreds of years ago, because the iron was corroded to little more than nubs sticking out of each wall. Too much trouble to replace, apparently, or too gross. Now it made good footholds for the very kind of man it had originally been intended to keep out.
The problem with a place like Chateau Shayon wasn’t that it had a weakness. Every castle has weaknesses. The problem was that when you steal a chateau from Gwinvere Kirena, you have an enemy who knows your weaknesses exhaustively. Most assassins wouldn’t try the garderobe. Not because they’re squeamish, but because there’s always a security grate. Honestly, if I’d thought it was still one—well, maybe I’d have chosen a cleaner path to a dirtier kill.
Balancing on the stubs of the grate, ignoring my bleeding toes, I drew a plane saw. The privies were a simple board: oak, with three holes in it. Three so you and two friends can drop mud together, I guess. Call me unsociable, but no thanks. Regardless, if Gwinvere’s intelligence were still accurate, the board was fitted with a lock and bolted down. No one even had the key to that lock anymore. I picked the middle hole, setting the plane saw to work inscribing a circle slightly larger than the current one.
~This goes against everything you’ve lived for. Gaelan, this isn’t you.~
No, this isn’t Gaelan. There is no Gaelan. I’m nameless.
No one came to use the lords’ privies in the time I was there. Lucky. It does happen. That’s the thing. If you’re prepared to get shit on and do your work anyway, sometimes you get lucky. Over the distant sounds of laughter and carousing—You will be alone. You will be separate. Always.— I listened for footsteps.
None. I scraped some feces off the wall next to my head, reached my hand up through the right side privy-hole, and plopped the feces on the seat. I pulled an empty leather winebag, smaller than my clenched fist, from where it was rolled flat under my belt. I opened it, balanced somewhat precariously on the grate-stubs, and pissed in the bag.
Then I poured the urine liberally around the left-side privy’s seat.
I’d barely finished when the door banged open. The baron. He was preceded by a soldier carrying a lantern.
The soldier searched the room for intruders, though there wasn’t much searching to do. The room was bare rock with a low ceiling and only the one entrance. Apparently the baron was nervous.
The soldier walked toward the privies. I pressed myself against one wall and drew the shadows around me. It wasn’t anything like invisibility, but it helped. And the lantern’s light was diffuse—that’s the problem of using a lantern to look straight down: the base gets in the way. The man’s head appeared, but he was light-blind.
“Quickly, would you?” the baron said. “I’m going to die of a burst bladder here.”
No, you’re not.
The light above steadied as the soldier put it on a hook, and then the door closed.
A moment later, I heard the baron swear, mumbling to himself, “. . . swine. Can’t even piss without missing the hole . . . whoreson Alitaerans.” There was a rustle of clothing as he dropped his trousers, and his ass blocked out the light over the middle privy. “. . . wines from Seth, chef from the best Modaini . . . Probably shat on the edge on purpose.”
He was a lean man, but the wood groaned slightly where I’d incised the larger circle. But it didn’t give way. Not yet.
I let him finish his business. Never say I’m not a gentleman.
I was once the avatar of retribution. Now I just try to be polite.
A moment later, the baron disappeared down the privy without a trace. When his soldiers grew suspicious and checked, he was simply gone. You’ll forgive me if I don’t dwell on the details. You see, this isn’t the tale of Baron Rikku’s death. It’s the tale of mine.
But afford me a moment for my professional pride and let me say this: in the Chateau Shayon, no one ever again shat unworried.