Kip still wasn't putting it together. No one in Rekton trusted the soldiers who came through, and the alcaldesa had told the town's young people to give any soldiers a wide berth for a while-apparently the new satrap Garadul had declared himself free of the Chromeria's control. Now he was King Garadul, he said, but he wanted the usual levies from the town's young people. The alcaldesa had told his representative that if he wasn't the satrap anymore, he didn't have the right to raise levies. King or satrap, Garadul couldn't be happy with that, but Rekton was too small to bother with. Still, it would be wise to avoid his soldiers until this all blew over.
On the other hand, just because Rekton wasn't getting along with the satrap right now didn't make this man Kip's friend.
"So you are a criminal?" Kip asked.
"Of six shades to Sun Day," the man said. The hope leaked out of his voice. "Look, boy-you are a child, aren't you? You sound like one. I'm going to die today. I can't get away. Truth to tell, I don't want to. I've run enough. This time, I fight."
"I don't understand."
"You will. Take off my hood."
Though some vague doubt nagged Kip, he untied the half-knot around the man's neck and pulled off the hood.
At first, Kip had no idea what the prisoner was talking about. The man sat up, arms still bound behind his back. He was perhaps thirty years old, Tyrean like Kip but with a lighter complexion, his hair wavy rather than kinky, his limbs thin and muscular. Then Kip saw his eyes.
Men and women who could harness light and make luxin-drafters-always had unusual eyes. A little residue of whatever color they drafted ended up in their eyes. Over the course of their life, it would stain the entire iris red, or blue, or whatever their color was. The prisoner was a green drafter-or had been. Instead of the green being bound in a halo within the iris, it was shattered like crockery smashed to the floor. Little green fragments glowed even in the whites of his eyes. Kip gasped and shrank back.
"Please!" the man said. "Please, the madness isn't on me. I won't hurt you."
"You're a color wight."
"And now you know why I ran away from the Chromeria," the man said.
Kip was on the verge of bolting, but the man wasn't making any threatening moves. And besides, it was still dark. Even color wights needed light to draft. The mist did seem lighter, though, gray beginning to touch the horizon. It was crazy to talk to a madman, but maybe it wasn't too crazy. At least until dawn.
The color wight was looking at Kip oddly. "Blue eyes." He laughed.
Kip scowled. He hated his blue eyes. It was one thing when a foreigner like Master Danavis had blue eyes. They looked fine on him. Kip looked freakish.
"What's your name?" the color wight asked.
Kip swallowed, thinking he should probably run away.
"Oh, for Orholam's sake, you think I'm going to hex you with your name? How ignorant is this backwater? That isn't how chromaturgy works-"
The color wight grinned. "Kip. Well, Kip, have you ever wondered why you were stuck in such a small life? Have you ever gotten the feeling, Kip, that you're special?"
Kip said nothing. Yes, and yes.
"Do you know why you feel destined for something greater?"
"Why?" Kip asked, quiet, hopeful.
"Because you're an arrogant little s.h.i.t." The color wight laughed.
Kip shouldn't have been taken off guard. His mother had said worse. Still, it took him a moment. A small failure. "Burn in h.e.l.l, coward," he said. "You're not even good at running away. Caught by ironfoot soldiers."
The color wight laughed louder. "Oh, they didn't catch me. They recruited me."
Who would recruit madmen to join them? "They didn't know you were a-"
"Oh, they knew."
Dread like a weight dropped into Kip's stomach. "You said something about my town. Before. What are they planning to do?"
"You know, Orholam's got a sense of humor. Never realized that till now. Orphan, aren't you?"
"No. I've got a mother," Kip said. He instantly regretted giving the color wight even that much.
"Would you believe me if I told you there's a prophecy about you?"
"It wasn't funny the first time," Kip said. "What's going to happen to my town?" Dawn was coming, and Kip wasn't going to stick around. Not only would the guard's replacement come then, but Kip had no idea what the wight would do once he had light.
"You know," the wight said, "you're the reason I'm here. Not here here. Not like 'Why do I exist?' Not in Tyrea. In chains, I mean."
"What?" Kip asked.
"There's power in madness, Kip. Of course..." He trailed off, laughed at a private thought. Recovered. "Look, that soldier has a key in his breast pocket. I couldn't get it o, not with-" He shook his hands, bound and manacled behind his back.
"And I would help you why?" Kip asked.
"For a few straight answers before dawn."
Crazy, and cunning. Perfect. "Give me one first," Kip said.
"What's the plan for Rekton?"
"What?" Kip asked.
"Sorry, you said one answer."
"That was no answer!"
"They're going to wipe out your village. Make an example so no one else defies King Garadul. Other villages defied the king too, of course. His rebellion against the Chromeria isn't popular everywhere. For every town burning to take vengeance on the Prism, there's another that wants nothing to do with war. Your village was chosen specially. Anyway, I had a little spasm of conscience and objected. Words were exchanged. I punched my superior. Not totally my fault. They know us greens don't do rules and hierarchy. Especially not once we've broken the halo." The color wight shrugged. "There, straight. I think that deserves the key, don't you?"
It was too much information to soak up at once-broken the halo?-but it was a straight answer. Kip walked over to the dead man. His skin was pallid in the rising light. Pull it together, Kip. Ask whatever you need to ask.
Kip could tell that dawn was coming. Eerie shapes were emerging from the night. The great twin looming ma.s.ses of Sundered Rock itself were visible mostly as a place where stars were blotted out of the sky.
What do I need to ask?
He was hesitating, not wanting to touch the dead man. He knelt. "Why my town?" He poked through the dead man's pocket, careful not to touch skin. It was there, two keys.
"They think you have something that belongs to the king. I don't know what. I only picked up that much by eavesdropping."
"What would Rekton have that the king wants?" Kip asked.
"Not Rekton you. You you."
It took Kip a second. He touched his own chest. "Me? Me personally? I don't even own anything!"
The color wight gave a crazy grin, but Kip thought it was a pretense. "Tragic mistake, then. Their mistake, your tragedy."
"What, you think I'm lying?!" Kip asked. "You think I'd be out here scavenging luxin if I had any other choice?"
"I don't really care one way or the other. You going to bring that key over here, or do I need to ask real nice?"
It was a mistake to bring the keys over. Kip knew it. The color wight wasn't stable. He was dangerous. He'd admitted as much. But he had kept his word. How could Kip do less?
Kip unlocked the man's manacles, and then the padlock on the chains. He backed away carefully, as one would from a wild animal. The color wight pretended not to notice, simply rubbing his arms and stretching back and forth. He moved over to the guard and poked through his pockets again. His hand emerged with a pair of green spectacles with one cracked lens.
"You could come with me," Kip said. "If what you said is true-"
"How close do you think I'd get to your town before someone came running with a musket? Besides, once the sun comes up... I'm ready for it to be done." The color wight took a deep breath, staring at the horizon. "Tell me, Kip, if you've done bad things your whole life, but you die doing something good, do you think that makes up for all the bad?"
"No," Kip said, honestly, before he could stop himself.
"But it's better than nothing," Kip said. "Orholam is merciful."
"Wonder if you'll say that after they're done with your village."
There were other questions Kip wanted to ask, but everything had happened in such a rush that he couldn't put his thoughts together.
In the rising light Kip saw what had been hidden in the fog and the darkness. Hundreds of tents were laid out in military precision. Soldiers. Lots of soldiers. And even as Kip stood, not two hundred paces from the nearest tent, the plain began winking. Glimmers sparkled as broken luxin gleamed, like stars scattered on the ground, answering their brethren in the sky.
It was what Kip had come for. Usually when a drafter released luxin, it simply dissolved, no matter what color it was. But in battle, there had been so much chaos, so many drafters, some sealed magic had been buried and protected from the sunlight that would break it down. The recent rain had uncovered more.
But Kip's eyes were pulled from the winking luxin by four soldiers and a man with a stark red cloak and red spectacles walking toward them from the camp.
"My name is Gaspar, by the by. Gaspar Elos." The color wight didn't look at Kip.
"I'm not just some drafter. My father loved me. I had plans. A girl. A life."
"You will." The color wight put the green spectacles on; they fit perfectly, tight to his face, lenses sweeping to either side so that wherever he looked, he would be looking through a green filter. "Now get out of here."
As the sun touched the horizon, Gaspar sighed. It was as if Kip had ceased to exist. It was like watching his mother take that first deep breath of haze. Between the sparkling spars of darker green, the whites of Gaspar's eyes swirled like droplets of green blood hitting water, first dispersing, then staining the whole. The emerald green of luxin ballooned through his eyes, thickened until it was solid, and then spread. Through his cheeks, up to his hairline, then down his neck, standing out starkly when it finally filled his lighter fingernails as if they'd been painted in radiant jade.
Gaspar started laughing. It was a low, unreasoning cackle, unrelenting. Mad. Not a pretense this time.
He reached the funerary hill where the sentry had been, taking care to stay on the far side from thearmy. He had to get to Master Danavis. Master Danavis always knew what to do.
There was no sentry on the hill now. Kip turned around in time to see Gaspar change, transform. Green luxin spilled out of his hands onto his body, covering every part of him like a sh.e.l.l, like an enormous suit of armor. Kip couldn't see the soldiers or the red drafter approaching Gaspar, but he did see a fireball the size of his head streak toward the color wight, hit his chest, and burst apart, throwing flames everywhere.
Gaspar rammed through it, flaming red luxin sticking to his green armor. He was magnificent, terrible, powerful. He ran toward the soldiers, screaming defiance, and disappeared from Kip's view.
Kip fled, the vermilion sun setting fire to the mists.
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Copyright 2011 by Brent Weeks.
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