Mark Newton: The Broken Isles

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Mark Newton The Broken Isles
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    The Broken Isles
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Mark Charan Newton

The Broken Isles


Jeza left the city alone and headed along the coast on horseback.

It was early, and her head pounded from a hangover. She was still a little dazed from all the cheap alcohol, furious with herself for having left her dagger somewhere under a table, and still contemplating whether or not her partner, Diggsy, was actually playing around behind her back. She should not have gone out, not with a dawn start ahead of her, but it seemed a good way of forgetting about those gestures, those second glances and the sudden in-jokes she didn’t understand.

Jeza was an hour out of the city, far away from the comforting stone walls of her home, Factory 54, which she shared with a group of friends. She had left them there, too, deciding that this lead was one she should explore on her own.

The road south, along the coastline, was quiet. To her left, the chalk cliffs rose up from the sea; down below the surf ground upon the rocks. There were few clouds, and the sun cast its long blood-orange rays across the skies. Jeza pulled her green woollen shawl around her shoulders more tightly. Her breeches were thick, as were her boots — a present from Diggsy for her recent seventeenth birthday — so at least she was prepared for the rawest of conditions. As it happened, just a gentle breeze was all that challenged Jeza and her mare that morning.

One day, she thought, I’ll be able to live far away from the city. I’ll be able to be out here, with my relics and my theories, and not have to scrape a living in Villiren — what’s left of it anyway.

The city was recovering, though — she had to give it that. Last night Jeza had been to one of the underground taverns, in a zone untouched by the recent battle, but one that had once again become dominated by gang types. The place had a post-war energy: those who had survived were too jaded by the heavy loss of life, or too euphoric from the victory, to care any more. Whatever a person’s background, they were offered cheap drink and decent music, and that was just the kind of night she had needed. Even so, if she wanted to forget about things then coming out here would have done just as well. The view was remarkable. To her right she could see the fields that fed the city with cultist-treated crops; there were farmhouses, little smallholdings, and forests opening out into tundra. Beyond, the hills faded into the blue morning mists. Everything here was untouched from the recent battle, which had focused solely on the city itself.

Jeza rode for another hour at least. The sun banked. She scrutinized the horizon for any signs of the obelisk marked on her map, but it took a while longer before she could see a bleak structure puncturing the skyline.

As she approached the obelisk, which must have been fifty feet high, she noticed a figure sitting at its base, and a horse munching grass nearby. Her heart beat a little quicker. She didn’t make a habit of visiting strange men outside the city, but she had a knife in her boot and a relic up her sleeve should he try anything.

Stop it, she told herself. He’s just a tribesman — they’re as gentle as can be, despite what people say in the city.

When she arrived and dismounted, she was surprised to see that they were both the same height, a little over five feet. His broad features and narrow eyes had a warmth to them; his skin was darker, presumably from spending a life outdoors. Long, black hair reached the shoulders of his dark waxed coat, and his breeches appeared to be of the same material.

‘You are Jeza?’ he asked sternly.

‘Were you expecting anyone else out here?’ she replied.

His smile widened massively. ‘Good! You have some spirit. That will mean my trip won’t be completely dull.’

‘You speak Jamur very well,’ Jeza replied.

‘Do you think we nomads all talk in smoke signals?’ He whistled and his horse came trotting to his side. It was a beautiful brown mare, with no saddle or any decoration. ‘You have the coin?’

‘Sure.’ Jeza turned to her horse, and opened one of the saddlebags. She pulled out a heavy purse and tossed it across to him.

He caught it in his left hand, assessed its weight, looked inside, then placed it in a pocket. ‘How does this young woman get money like this, eh? You mind my asking?’

‘I have a job. My group struggles along. We do a little work outside normal circles, try to sell our wares. Deal in relics to cultists who should know better.’

He stared at her for a little while before nodding.

‘I don’t know your name yet,’ Jeza observed. ‘They never told me.’

‘It is better this way. I do not want word getting back that I have defiled a sacred site.’

‘So you work outside of your normal circles, too?’ Jeza observed.

‘I’m one of the few nomads who dare to do business with folk from Villiren. That is as wild as our people can possibly be.’

‘Aren’t you worried they’ll trace this back to you anyway?’

‘That depends,’ he replied. ‘I do not yet know what you intend to do at the site.’

‘We’ll do no harm, if that’s what you mean. We respect your people’s beliefs.’

‘Well, that is more than I can say for myself,’ he smiled, and with remarkable grace he leapt up onto the back of the mare. ‘Come.’


Their horses trotted at a steady pace away from the sea and into the hills inland. The sun was high now, the shadows short, the temperature climbing above freezing. They appeared to be heading to the peaks in the distance, but after his initial conversation the tribesman became taciturn.

This time in silence, away from the distractions of the city, allowed Jeza to think of Lim, who was no longer with the group. His absence grew more profound each day. However, the group still felt near him, by reading his notebooks as if he was guiding them from another realm. He had been one of the most talented people back at the factory.

Stop it, she told herself. You’re getting worse. You had your chance, but he’s dead. Besides, you have Diggsy now. Unless you haven’t. .

They passed through evergreen forests and thickets of spindly bushes, back into tundra and then up a gentle stone path towards the grey cliffs. Birds scattered from the treetops, arcing up out of sight. Snakes unfurled in the damp undergrowth, and she wondered how they could survive such cold conditions. There were wolves there, too, peering furtively from behind tree trunks.

Knowing little of her guide, Jeza half expected to end up the victim of an aggressive, Villiren-hating attack, but none came. They headed up a slope and deep into this ragged cliff region. The tops of the hills were crowned with snow, but little of it had fallen here.

And, as the horses navigated a path no wider than the width of a man’s shoulders, with a hundred-foot drop to her left, she was grateful for the lack of ice. Jeza clung on to the animal, her heart racing every time she caught a glimpse of the steep drop.

‘Have we much further to go?’ she asked nervously.

‘Don’t be such a coward,’ the tribesman laughed. ‘They don’t breed you city folk to be hard, do they? Anyway, it is not far now. Did you bring your source of light, as requested?’

‘A light relic? Yeah, I brought a couple.’

‘Good. Because we will need it soon.’

Wind buffeting them, they reached the mouth of a cave, a gaping hole some twenty feet high. Looking back, a beautiful vista presented itself. She could even see the obelisk now on the lip of the coast, the rolling farmland either side. In front of her, in the cave, there was only darkness.

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