Chris Wooding: The Fade

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Chris Wooding The Fade
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    The Fade
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Chris Wooding

The Fade


The outposts of Eskara are lonely, desolate places. Beyond the network of chthonomantically carved roadways and rivers, the world becomes hostile. Here, there are caverns that can only be reached by clambering up ancient gas vents or negotiating treacherous dust fields and fungal marshes that can swallow the unwary. Beasts roam, enormous insectile things with jaws strong enough to shear off a leg. Civilisation ends.

The people that choose to come here are the damaged, the exiled, the explorers. Those who don't mesh well with society, or who seek to live on its boundaries. They pay little attention to strangers, and they tend to keep to themselves. Most are occupied with the tough business of eking out a livelihood. That suits me well enough.

I've been all over the edges of Eskara this past season. I've stayed in outposts ranging from shanties to little towns. I've been put up in farms and slept in sheds with animals. I've used a dozen names and disguises.

It doesn't matter. They're still on my trail. The Cadre of Clan Caracassa, now under Casta's domination, as the elder of the twins by a few minutes. I've already killed two of them, but they keep coming.

I can't run any more.

The town of Scratch, where I find myself now, is a crude and empty place. They've planted luminous fungi where they can, but they haven't grown big enough yet, so the place is always dark. Lantern oil is always in short supply so none of the three streets are lit, and there's not a shinestone to be found. Small, square buildings hunker unevenly together, with stony paths winding between them. This place runs on little more than hope.

It's freezing cold here. The site is badly chosen: the cramped cavern is near enough to the surface to be far from the warmth at the core of our moon, but deep enough that hot air from outside doesn't reach this far. What money I had is almost gone, and only the most desperate would give me a job, fearing the retribution of my Bond-master. I could steal, but there's nothing to steal out here, and I daren't go back to a city.

It's a soulless, terrible place to spend a life. I've got better things to do with mine.

In a rented upper room of a house in Scratch, I write my letter. The walls are bare stone. A tatty bedroll lies on the floor behind me. In the lantern-light, I sit hunched over a desk so roughly carved that my hands are peppered with splinters. I'm wearing a fur cloak that I took from a man I found lying dead on a path, a few dozen turns ago. It doesn't keep me warm.

By next turn, this will all be over. Knowing that, I can endure anything.

Even so far away from Veya, I've heard the news. Casta is now Plutarch Nathka Caracassa Casta, Magnate of Clan Caracassa. And they're raking it in over the wounded and limbless and maimed that are left behind in the wake of the Eskaran Army's doomed attempt at a military breakthrough. Operation Deadfall was a failure, but they've painted it as a heroic attempt to stall a massive Gurta assault. A brave stand against overwhelming odds, thwarted by Gurta treachery. The populace are furious. Calling for an increase in the budget for the Eskaran Army. Calling for revenge. The Turnward Claw Alliance are back in the ascendant, and Clan Caracassa is at their head.

You have to hand it to her. That Casta, she's a piece of work.

And now the only loose end is me, and that's why I have Cadre on my tail. I'm the only one except Casta who knows what really happened. Well, except for Keren, but he'll never say a word. He knows better.

Keren still lives in Veya, I assume. I left him with enough tips, contacts and secrets to last him for years. The cream of a lifetime dealing in the Veyan underworld. My little reward for being a good friend to me.

I gave him a message to deliver to Reitha, too. To tell her that the letter from the Army was a lie. That if my son was dead, it wasn't because he took his own life. I needed her to know that. I couldn't have her believing that he'd give up that way.

I think of Jai, still and always. Is he alive, even now? Was he dead long ago, or did he become another victim of Casta's machinations, killed by the Gurta in the military catastrophe she engineered? I don't know, but I choose to believe. I believe he is alive.

And so I write my letter. A letter to Jai. The handwriting is disguised, the signature false, the content drab and typical. But it's what's underneath that counts. The code. The language that only he and I know.

It's a long letter, and in it I explain many things. I tell him how his father died, and I tell him about the letter from the Dean, and I tell him that I have to go away forever. I can never see him again, because there will always be people watching, waiting. People who would use him to draw me out, who would hurt him to get to me. I can't allow that. I tell him how dearly I love him, and how much I miss him, and how I hope he will be happy in his life.

But I say nothing about Casta, nor how she made me her fade, nor what I did to my master. These are things it's better that he doesn't know.

I've been cheated of the chance to see my son again, but at least I can make him understand. So I'll send this letter, borne on faith. I'll believe that it will get to him eventually, and he'll be alive and well. I'll believe that he'll read it in the end.

That'll do for me. That's enough.

When it's done and folded and sealed, I cry a little. But I've shed a thousand tears over this already, and there aren't many left in me. I've written many letters and burned them all, half-finished. It's only now, with time pressing, that I manage to reach the end. I'll put it in the post on my way out of this dreary place.

I glance at the pocket-watch lying on the desk, beneath the lantern. Not too long now. My guide will come for me on the sevenhour. The man who'll take me away from all of this, and from those that hunt me.

Even the Cadre won't follow me onto the surface.

I look down, at the skinmark on the inside of my wrist. Two chevrons pierced by three vertical lines. I hear the voice of a boy I knew once. It means you are a friend to the SunChildren, he says. It means you belong to a coterie.

I hear him again, asking me to stay with him. And I hear him telling me about a certain vine, that if burned in the right way would give off a smoke that could be smelt from afar. A smoke that would bring the SunChildren.

We will pass this way again, at the season's end.

Spore Season is drawing to a close and Swell Season is coming on. Up above, the Season of Nights is dying and the Season of Dust begins: a time of harsh winds and terrible storms. The coteries of the SunChildren will be on the move.

The nights are becoming short. More and more, Callespa will be ruled by the suns that scorched me. The surface is an alien world in which I'm not equipped to survive.

But I've been through the Shadow Death. I stood in the gaze of the suns and I lived. So I'm going. I'm heading to a place with no ceilings and no walls, where the sky keeps on forever and you could go mad with the freedom of it. Perhaps it will kill me, as sure as the Cadre on my tail would.

We'll see.


That's when it hits me. The one thing I never considered, the one possibility that never entered my head, because I never stopped seeing the Gurta as the enemy. I hated them too much to believe anything good of them. I was so accustomed to seeing them as monsters that I forgot that they were people. That they also had children who were being killed on the battlefields. I forgot that, just like us, they might not want to see their loved ones coming home in pieces. They wanted an end to the fighting as much as we did.

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