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

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Winsen shouted. “Easy, Ferk! Ben! Easy, Ben!”

Kip unearthed himself from the living mountain that was Big Leo and saw Winsen with bow lifted high in surrender.

Ben-hadad had his crossbow leveled at the archer, his fingers heavy on the trigger plate. Ferkudi was slowing down, already having charged over most of the distance, closing off Winsen’s view of Kip—and therefore angle of fire—with his own bulk. Cruxer had his arm drawn back, blue luxin boiling, hardening into a lance.

“I know one thing about the Shadows,” Winsen said loudly. He dropped the arrows from his right hand to show he was no threat. “They often work in pairs.”

There was a clatter behind the Mighty. Metal hitting stone—not three paces behind them.

War-blinded by the threat in front of them, not one of them had looked back. But they did now.

A cloaked figure was shimmering back into visibility, Winsen’s two arrows protruding from his chest. A Shadow. He pitched facedown.

None of them said a word as the Shadow twitched in death.

The Mighty fanned out, securing Kip, checking that the dead assassin was really dead.

Then Commander Cruxer cleared his throat. “Did I say Dead Weight? I meant, uh, Dead Eye.”

They chuckled. It was an apology.

Except Ferkudi. “You can’t call him Dead Eye. There’s already an Archer from a year behind us called that. Beat Win’s score at the three hundred paces by four p—”

“Ferk!” Cruxer said, not looking at him, his smile cracking. “Dead Shot it is.”

“Oh, definitely not, Commander,” Ferkudi said. “That’s been used like seven times. Most recent one’s retired now, but still alive. Very disrespectful to take a living Blackguard’s n—”

“Ferk,” Cruxer said, his smile tightening.

“I’d settle for you calling me ‘Your Holiness,’ ” Win offered.

“No,” Cruxer said.

“ ‘Commander Winsen’?” Winsen suggested.

Cruxer sighed.





Chapter 3


Maybe it isn’t treason.

Teia ghosted through the barracks after her meeting with the Old Man of the Desert and Murder Sharp, wondering if it would be the last time she ever set foot here. As she packed in early-morning darkness, her brothers and sisters of the Blackguard slept.

Brothers and sisters, she thought. Huh. What would that make Commander Ironfist? Their father? It sure had felt like it.

What kind of person would kill her own father?

No. No! This is to save my father. My real father.

She hoisted her pack to her shoulders and looked around the barracks as if hoping someone would see her, stop her.

What am I doing? Saying goodbye?

Pathetic. This is all gone. This is all already gone.

Besides, her closest remaining friends weren’t even here: Gav and Gill Greyling and Essel and Tlatig were all out on one of the semi-clandestine Gavin Guile search expeditions that so many of the Blackguards had been doing for the last year. The trips weren’t exactly allowed—responsibility for seeking the lost Prism had passed to other hands—but they weren’t exactly forbidden, either.

Even if Gavin Guile had only been the Blackguards’ professional patron, not their Promachos who had fought for them on the fields of battle and bled for them in the halls of power, earning himself a Blackguard name and all the Blackguards’ devotion; even then, even if it had only been an affront to their pride and not an assault on their love, losing a Prism was an unbearable blot on the Blackguards’ honor.

Their chief purpose was to protect him, and he’d been kidnapped right under their noses.

They would do anything to get him back. It’s what a family does.

The day they’d lost him had been the day everything went north for Teia. Karris had become the White. Zymun became Prism-elect. Commander Ironfist had been fired. Kip and the Mighty had nearly been killed escaping, and Tremblefist had died silencing the cannons to save them.

Teia had stupidly decided to stay behind. She’d told herself she could do more good here.

Do good?! Mostly she’d learned to use her magic to murder slaves.

She wasn’t even good at her bad work.

She’d botched the assassination of Ironfist’s sister so badly that he’d immediately figured out who’d sent her and who she was—Teia was the reason Ironfist had declared himself a king rather than a satrap.

And now, in his revenge, the Chromeria had lost Paria.

Out of the original seven satrapies, that left them with only two and a half: Abornea, Ruthgar, and half of Blood Forest.

The empire had been a seven-legged feast table; now it was a top-heavy end table teetering on two golden legs. The only question was which way it would fall.

Best for Teia to side with the Order, then. Kingdoms rise and empires fall, but the cockroaches survive.

And that’s what this next kill for the Old Man meant, when Teia stripped away all her pretenses. It meant siding once and for all with the Order. Not pretending anymore. No longer a double agent, an agent.

She arrived at Little Jasper’s back docks in the last minutes before dawn, feeling as sere and barren inside as the wind-scoured Red Cliffs.

Her father wouldn’t want her to buy his life at such a price, but Teia had worried for far too long what other people wanted.

Though the Old Man hadn’t come right out and said it, Teia’s next kill was Ironfist.

To guarantee her obedience, the Order held her father hostage. He would leave their company a rich man or not at all.

‘This is the pain that will transform you into Teia Sharp,’ the Old Man had said.

May Orholam—absent or blind or uncaring as He was—send that vile man and all the Order with him to the ninth hell.

Teia didn’t know how or why, but Ironfist was either on that odd bone-white ship she spied coming into the dock now, or he waited wherever it was sailing next.

It wasn’t ‘betrayal,’ technically. He’d declared himself a king. That made him the traitor.

And killing a traitor wasn’t wrong . . . Right?

Ironfist had been like a father to her, but in infiltrating the Blackguard for the Order, he’d betrayed the man who was like a father to them all: savant and savior, paterfamilias and Promachos, godlike Gavin Guile.

Ironfist had sworn loyalty to Gavin! He’d administered those very oaths to half the rest of the Blackguard! Before the blades come out, you have to decide where you stand. King Ironfist had decided to stand for himself. He’d thrown off his loyalty to Gavin, and now he must be trying to do the same with the Order.

Why else would they be sending Teia to assassinate him? He was one of their own.

Had been, anyway.

Now Teia would be the shield that came down on his neck. Hers would be the hand that brought his head to her masters.

It would hurt to kill Ironfist. But it wouldn’t break her. She was beyond that now.

Invisible in the master cloak, Teia made her way out onto the lonely dock. Cheerless dawn was threatening the horizon as sailors prepared the ship in hushed tones. There was no harbormaster present, nor any of the usual dockhands or slaves or attendants Teia would have expected. It was a ghost ship—fitting for the departing condemned.

Three figures stood on the quay. One was hunched and swaddled as if ill, or perhaps to hide his height. The second was a broadly gesticulating man with a wild, woolly beard with match cords woven into it and a gold-brocaded jacket worn open over his bare chest, despite the chill of the morning. The third figure had his back to Teia. There was something in his carriage that spoke of being human freight, a slave about to be passed from one man to another. Teia had seen that broken shuffle before; in truth, she’d walked like that herself.

So she dismissed that one, flaring her eyes to paryl to look at the others just as the heavily cloaked man presented a sword.

Its appearance hit her like a rapid blow to the nose, leaving her blinking: that blade should have shone white in her paryl vision. Metal always did, with minute variations of tone for different metals. This thing was invisible.

No, the shimmercloaks made things invisible—when you looked at an active shimmercloak, you saw whatever lay beyond it. This was a bar of black, heavy nothingness. Usually, darkness is a hole, an absence, as death is the absence of life.

This was a piece of hungry night, of darkness breathing.

This was more than Death, hammered and folded into killing shape. This was not made by the hand of man. Perhaps in the youth of Old Man Time, some dead demigod, after his descent to the all-devouring depths of the ninth hell, had rallied instead of despaired at his imprisonment there. He’d charged hell’s gates from the inside. Then, confronting the three-headed hound who guarded that way, terrifying all lesser souls, he smashed its faces on the gates, using its snarling snouts as battering rams, snapping lupine teeth and bones, one, two, and three, throwing the mighty gates from their hinges.

Then the demigod had gone his way, triumphant to the heavens, heedless of the hellhound he left behind.

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