Mark Newton: City of Ruin

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Mark Newton City of Ruin
  • Название:
    City of Ruin
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  • Жанр:
    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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City of Ruin

M ark Charan Newton


PROLOGUE

It entered the deep night, a spider reaching taller than a soldier. Street by street, the thing retched thick silk out of itself to cross the walls, using the fibrous substance to edge along improbable corners. Two, then four legs, to scale a wall – six, then eight, to get up on to the steps of a watchtower, and it finally located a fine view across the rooftops of Villiren. Fibrous skin tissue trapped pockets of air and, as tidal roars emerged from the distance, the creature exhaled.

A couple walked by, handy-sized enough to slaughter perhaps, their shoes tap-tapping below – but No, not them, not now, it reflected – and it slipped down off the edge of a stone stairway to stand horizontally, at a point where observation took on a new perspective. Snow fell sideways, gentle flecks at first, then something more acute, adding to the brooding intensity of the streets.

Within this umbra, the spider loitered.

As people sifted through the avenues and alleyways, it sensed them by an alteration in the chemistry of the air, in minute vibrations, so no matter where they were they couldn't hide. With precision, the spider edged across to a firm overhang constructed from more recent, reliable stone. Webbing drooled again, then the creature lowered itself steadily, suspended by silk alone, twisting like a dancer in the wind. Lanes spread before it, grid-like across a plain of mathematical precision. The frequency of citizens passing below had fallen over the last hour; now only a handful of people remained out to brave the extreme cold.

It could almost sense their fear.

One of them had to be chosen – not too young, not too old. The world collapsed into angles and probabilities as the creature made a controlled spiral to the ground.

Scuttling into the darkness, the spider went in search of fresh meat.

*

That was a shitting scream all right, Haust thought. Unlike a banshee's, this one was cut off so suddenly, it sounded almost as if it had been stolen from someone's throat. Maybe a last gasp for help? His senses were provoked wildly, his fear grew extreme. Pterodettes flapped and squawked eccentrically as they carved circles through the night sky.

Fucking hell, last thing I bloody want on a night patrol. And here was the deal: he should have already been in bed – no, better still, in the officers' mess, necking cheap vodka – but it was all the bloody commander's fault, him and his public-security nonsense. Patrol the streets, maintain a sense of control and authority, reassure the populace, reduce their scepticism regarding the army. At the moment, Haust didn't care if he was a Night Guard, therefore a man with advantageous augmentations – he was freezing his balls off, and no amount of augmentations could stop that.

Torches flared up the underside of snowflakes, conferring upon them the appearance of sparks from a blacksmith, an enhancement the snow didn't need these days, not in an ice age when everyone was sick of it.

Few citizens were loitering at this hour. The last figure he'd seen was a hooded man picking at his teeth assiduously as he ran through the passageways. There was a deviant psychology generated from the regularity of these surrounding buildings, from their sheer modernity. Bland labyrinths. When you turned one corner you thought you had just come from there, and before long you began thinking you might never leave. Buildings in this particular neighbourhood had been constructed without much desire for aesthetics, and he was glad he didn't live here.

Haust had only been a member of the Night Guard for a few months, but already thought himself a hero. Brought in from the Third Dragoons, Wolf Brigade, because of his flair with a bow, he now found himself in the Empire's elite guard deployed far across the Boreal Archipelago, in a city preparing for a war. Tall, blond, handsome – he thought he was invincible. And why not? After all, being a Night Guard, you practically are. The albino commander had selected him above others, to fight alongside them. It was a promotion that set his career in stone, gave him recognition as one of the best. When he dreamed at night, voices came and told him that he was a chosen one. You can't ignore facts like that.

He pulled his black cloak around him while tromping an exploratory path through the alleyways. He was somewhere about a mile from the Ancient Quarter, towards the centre of the city, which lay beyond the bad hotels and closed bistros. Bone archways from large whales were embedded in the cobbles, totems to the thousands of lost fishermen across the ages, and it was one of the few remaining features that suggested the ancient city had once been something grander. Also in that quarter rose three pairs of massive reptilian Onyx Wings, two hundred feet high and positioned in a triangle about a hundred yards apart on each side.

Another scream, but he couldn't tell where exactly it had come from. Devil take me, this is a creepy place. Something moved above his head, maybe one of the garudas? Why was he so scared? He was in the military, for Bohr's sake: a man meant to be at the top of his professional form.

Cats suddenly began to spill into the passageway, two, four, then countless numbers, all pouring through the streets like it was a mouthpiece, their claws tapping stone, occasionally lashing out at each other, before they spread out in exploratory arcs into the distance.

'Anyone there?' he offered.

Only his own voice came back at him, and he experienced something like vertigo – the very fabric of the streets changing in that same moment. He seemed an awfully long way away from a comforting bottle of vodka right now.

Around the next corner he spotted something and moved closer – it was a young body on the stone, severed down the centre, the ribcage split, organs spilling out into the night. Curiously, this body looked as if it had been dead for a while, certainly for longer than the gap in time between now and when Haust had heard the terrible scream. More detail he detected: the wound wasn't clean, and there were loose hairs around the edge of it, fine but firm, and the length of a thumb. To one side lay a butcher's meat cleaver, silvery and bloodied. The public torches exposed steam as the under-city heating system bled warmth into the icy evening air above.

Who'd done this?

A scuffle of boots on stone approached from somewhere behind him, and he immediately unsheathed his sabre. He couldn't see anything yet, so he followed the symmetrical line of the buildings to one side. Stone crumbled from a corner – Fuck was that? – but there was still nothing evident. He stood perfectly still to gain the most from his heightened senses. A cat padded down an alley to one side, but a hundred paces away. There was the glint of a broken, discarded sword up ahead. One of the Jorsalir priests was chanting, his voice carried on the breeze from some distance way to the south of the city.

A blow to his head and Haust blacked out…

*

The sound of metal woke him eventually, a grim shudder of sharp surfaces being raked across one another, and quickly he discovered that he was lying flat in a dark chamber. For some reason it felt as if it must be situated beneath the city itself, although he couldn't tell why – something about the air, perhaps, or maybe the vaguely domed ceiling that reminded him of a tomb. At the periphery of his vision, light defined the edges and flat surfaces of blades and knives and small swords hanging along the perimeter wall.

A clear voice spoke up suddenly: 'Welcome to my abattoir.'

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