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

“Should I summon the attendants?” Tisis already had the small bell in hand, a sign that he was already late.

He held out a staying hand. “Can I tell you something? Something bizarre?”

Of course he could, but she didn’t put down the bell.

“I dreamed of him as a young man. He’s going to woo a bride and trying to save the Guile family as he does so, and he doesn’t even realize—for all his smarts—that he’s broken, utterly broken by his own brother’s recent death.” He paused.

“So far . . . not that bizarre,” Tisis said. Her own lack of sleep was making her shorter with him than usual.

Kip looked down at the Turtle-Bear tattoo on the inside of his wrist. The inks or luxins that made the colors were all still vibrant from the Battle of Greenwall a few days before; it would fade, in time. He’d been using every color of luxin recently. The wick of his life was burning fast. Maybe that had something to do with the dreams.

“They’re not dreams, exactly,” Kip said. “I think they’re dreams of a card.”

“But you forget most of what you see when you wake. Exactly like a dream.”

“Well, yes. I didn’t say it wasn’t a dream at all. Just that it’s a dream of a card.”

“You said you’d never touched the full Andross Guile card. That he was too clever to allow all of his experiences to be captured.”

He had said that. Janus Borig had convinced Kip’s grandfather to let her do two very partial cards, stubs, that showed only particular scenes, similar to what an untalented Mirror could make, or what a good Mirror would make of an item. The card needn’t show the maker of that item’s entire life story; the card’s focus would be limited to the item itself. Kip had only touched a stub card. So he thought. “And I believed it fully to be true,” Kip said. “But these dreams . . .”

“Nightmares,” she said. “And, as they’re of that creature, it’s fitting that your dreams are twisted. This is the man who hired an assassin to murder you—his own grandson—before you’d even met, who forced you to play literal games for Teia’s life and freedom, who has killed Orholam only knows how many innocents in his life, and not incidentally arranged for my future husband to walk in on the most humiliating moment of my life, after he’d convinced me to whore myself. Thinking you’re living that disgusting thing’s life? That’s a nightmare. And you never touched his card, so it’s also a delusion. And considering everything you need to do—yesterday—it’s a distraction, too.” Tisis rang the bell to summon the servants more loudly than necessary. “You’re going to be late,” she said.

And then she was gone.

She wasn’t really mad at him, he knew. She’d apologize for this tonight. They were all of them adjusting to the burdens of their new, magnified positions and the quagmire they’d stepped into. Tisis was trying to take care of Kip as well as everything else—first, even—and it must seem to her that he wasn’t even trying to help her help him. He was spending precious minutes talking about dreams while he was late to a council of war?

But he hadn’t even told her the worst part, the thing out of all the landscape of impossibilities that had actually struck him as bizarre before he even woke. The young Andross Guile that Kip had seen from the inside during his dream? Kip had sort of liked him.

“No need to cry, Your High and Mighty, I’m here,” Winsen said.

Kip looked up, surprised. He hadn’t even heard the door open.

Winsen. Why did it have to be Winsen?

Kip wasn’t crying, anyway. Just feeling morose. Not that he expected Winsen to understand fine gradations of emotions.

“Where are the servants?” Kip asked.

“I asked them to step out so I could assassinate you,” Winsen said.

“You’re not gonna let that go, are you?” Kip thought he only thought it, but it slipped out. Damn, just when he thought he was getting better at governing his tongue, Kip the Lip showed up again.

“Let it go?” Winsen said. “You all looked at me like I was really gonna kill you. Except Ferk. But that’s only because he’s too dumb. I think he was just running over to give me a lecture on weapon safety.”

“You know,” Kip said, rubbing his eyes, “I kind of hate you sometimes.”

“Yeah, but you hate me less than anyone else does.”

For a moment, Kip was stunned to silence by the near compliment.

“And the feeling’s mutual!” Win said, as if to save them from having a moment. “You all done with your beauty rest, princess? Can we go now—you know, to that meeting you ordered us all to be at a half hour ago? Cruxer’s been shittin’ cobbles.”

“Thank you for that,” Kip said.

Winsen grunted, as if straining to pass a cobblestone.

Kip was a stone.

Kip didn’t give him the pleasure of a reproof or any sign of amusement. Winsen didn’t stop grunting.

Kip cracked a grin. “Dammit, Winsen!”

Winsen waggled his eyebrows.

Kip wanted nothing more than to grab yesterday’s tunic and head out. “I’d love to just charge down there, but I do actually need to get dressed properly. Tisis and I had a long conversation on why I do actually need to dress like . . . you know, the rich and careful way I’ve been dressing—so as to encourage people not to see me as overly young or sloppy or a barbarian.”

Too late, Kip realized that Winsen was not the person Kip wanted to recount any more of that conversation with.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Winsen said. “I totally understand why you spend a Blackguard’s yearly wages on a single set of clothes. I’d do it myself if I’d been paid in the last six months. Or, you know, ever.”

Kip rang the summons bell again, louder.

“I understand your need to project yourself at a certain standard,” Winsen said, as if offended. He lowered his voice momentarily. “And how much work it takes to try to make you look good. And I know Cruxer’s irritated at waiting, so I sent your servants on ahead of us.”

“Oh gods,” Kip said. “You’re not gonna have the servants primp me in front of the Mighty!” Being naked in front of the Mighty was nothing. But being bathed (by strangers!), and tweezed, and picked at, and salved, and massaged, and having strangers chatter things like, ‘Should we emphasize or de-emphasize the surprising and obvious power of his buttocks?’

Torture.

Winsen said, “Me? And embarrass you like that? Your Grace, I am shocked!”





Chapter 6


Hope leaped in Teia like a gazelle from a lion’s grip.

Gavin Guile is alive! And he’s here!

That had to mean that the man with the Hellfang blade was the Old Man of the Desert himself—for who else would the Old Man trust with such a weapon or such a prisoner?

And if that was the Old Man, Teia could follow him from here now and find his lair and his real identity and report to Karris and maybe even find word of where her father was—

But lose Gavin. The former Prism had already boarded the Golden Mean with Captain Gunner. Sailors were preparing the ship to leave immediately.

Teia had made it halfway up the quay, following the Old Man back to the Chromeria, when she saw the Blackguards standing at their posts out back. They either hadn’t been there when she came down or they’d been hidden. Friends! Comrades! She could tell them and—

They saluted the Old Man as he approached.

Not a Blackguard salute. A Braxian salute.

Teia skidded to a stop. They were his.

And the Old Man had known she was coming down here. He’d ordered her to board the ship, after all. That meant those Blackguards were here not for him but for her.

They were here in case she decided to disobey and not board the ship.

Which meant they must be sub-reds. The Old Man trusted no one, especially not his well-nigh-invisible assassins. He was not a man—or woman perhaps, Teia still couldn’t assume—who would hone a blade to razor sharpness and then let it cut his own throat.

Teia’s heart sank like a panting gazelle into the lion’s patient paws.

The Order didn’t know it, but she could defeat sub-red with a sufficiently dense cloud of paryl now. But it was a blustery morning, and a gust of wind would be the death of her.

It would be a huge gamble to try to make it past the traitor Blackguards without being seen.

And Gavin would be lost to the wide sea and whatever desperate mission the Old Man was sending him on. If Teia did make it past these Blackguards, how long would it take her to reach Karris? How long to get her alone so Teia could report the truth?

How could Karris mobilize skimmers without breaking Teia’s cover? There were other Blackguard traitors than these two, Teia knew.

What contingency plans did the Old Man have ready, just in case Gavin were rescued?

He wouldn’t let him be taken alive, would he? No. Gavin had seen him, heard his voice.

There had to be a course here where Teia did everything right and somehow averted disaster, but she was paralyzed. If Gavin left on that ship without her, her father was dead.

I’m seriously considering obeying them again. Her belly filled with sick horror.

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