The Burning White: Book Five of Lightbringer (Lightbringer #5)

When they’d practiced this, he’d landed on his feet. One time.

Not this time. He crashed onto his hands and knees behind Cruxer.

By the time Kip stood, Cruxer had slammed an oblivious serving girl out of the way and off her feet with a hard shove and planted himself in front of Kip, whose back was now against the wall. Cruxer, with one side of his blue spectacles knocked askew, was staring at the blue burning lux torch on the table and drafting.

The tall bodyguard whirled each hand in circles, building a blue luxin shield, swiping left and right, painting the air itself with crystalline protection.

To not make a stationary target of himself, Kip dodged left and right within the space behind Cruxer, drafting as much off the lux torches as he could while trying to identify a threat.

Ferkudi and Big Leo were barreling through the wide common hall to get to his side. The music of lyre and timbrel and psantria fell silent.

Kip had asked for a small party—which meant (not counting those laboring in the kitchens and stockyards) a hundred lords and ladies and lackeys and lickspittles, thirty-some servants and slaves, fifty men-at-arms (who, on Cruxer’s insistence, were allowed no more armament than a table knife), and a dozen performers.

All of them were shrinking back from the center of the room and the high table. Some of the men-at-arms were covering their charges with their own bodies or hauling them toward the doors. Other men-at-arms were still stupefied like blinking heifers, too dull to do the only work for which they’d been hired.

A hundred people in the room, and not one whom Kip could see as a threat.

In a far corner of the room, the petite Winsen had jumped up on a servant’s sideboard to get a view of the whole room, his bow already strung, arrow nocked but not drawn, its point sweeping left and right with Winsen’s gaze.

Then Kip’s view was obscured as Cruxer finished the shield-bubble of blue luxin.

It wasn’t elegant work. Despite being made of translucent blue luxin, it was nearly opaque, but Kip knew it was strong. Cruxer did nothing halfway.

“More men,” Cruxer muttered. “We need more men.”

It was only then that Kip finally processed the last bits: ‘Nine Kill Seven’ meant a possible assassination attempt by an unknown number of drafters, possibly involving a superviolet. With no one charging forward now, that sounded like a false alarm. Nine Kills were often false alarms.

But ‘Nine Kill Naught’ meant a paryl drafter.

An assassin from the Order of the Broken Eye. A Shadow.

Which meant the assassin might be invisible, the kind of monster who could reach through clothes and flesh and luxin unseen and stop your very heart.

With a pop like an impudent kid clicking his tongue, Cruxer’s solid shield-bubble of blue luxin burst and simply fell to dust.

Aghast, Cruxer hesitated, baffled at how something he’d built to be impervious could simply fail, but Kip was suddenly loosed. Paryl was fragile. It could slide through luxin or flesh, into joints or hearts. But it couldn’t stretch, couldn’t cut, couldn’t survive violent motion.

As some nerve was invisibly tweaked, Cruxer’s knee buckled under him even as Kip dove away.

Kip rolled to his feet and ran straight for the high table. Last thing he wanted with a paryl assassin nearby was to trap himself against a wall. Shouting, “Paryl!” he leapfrogged over the head table between the great clay jugs of wine.

In typically flamboyant Forester fashion, there was a tradition at big parties for the conn to line up all the wine he intended to serve his guests in great jugs on the head table as a sign of his largesse and wealth. The guests, for their part, were expected to drink all of it. Naturally, the jugs got bigger as the egos did.

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.

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