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  Roil

  ( Nightbound land - 1 )

  Trent Jamieson

  Trent Jamieson

  Roil

  PART ONE

  DISSOLUTION

  Chapter 1

  Since the founding of the first city, with a few obvious exceptions (see Connor Mcmahon, also Julian Hardacre), two political parties have ever battled for dominance. The Engineers and the Confluents. The Confluents were always regarded as too emotive, too populist in their endeavours, the Engineers too focused on civic structures and their construction whatever the cost to their workers and their people (see The Levees Built on Blood: Milde and Whyte, page 125). A gross simplification, perhaps, but all such political narratives are (if they are to survive) and both parties played upon this perception in each of the twelve metropolises.

  Throughout the centuries, Confluent and Engineer would have torn each other apart, and on several occasions almost did (see The Right Bank Insurgency page 878), but always the Vergers stood between them, the knife bearers keeping a brutal peace.

  That ended with the Dissolution.

  Considering the Roil’s rapid expansion, and the stinging memory of the Grand Defeat (and the flood of refugees it brought with it), a decade prior, it was surprising it didn’t happen much sooner.

  • Dissolution: The Bloody Avenues of Bloody Mayors. Deighton and Bogert

  THE CITY OF MIRRLEES-ON-WEEP 300 MILES NORTH OF THE ROIL EDGE

  Midnight, and Council Vergers reduced the front door to splinters. They dragged David Milde’s father onto the street. Kicked his legs out from under him. And, their long knives gleaming in the streetlight, slashed his throat.

  David watched it all from his bedroom window with a cold impassivity fed by Carnival.

  He slapped his face, once, twice. Hardly felt it. He’d taken the drug, as he often did, after his father had accused him of taking the drug. The argument had been loud and wild, and of utterly no consequence now.

  They’d be coming for him next. David hesitated as his father bled to death down below, the rain washed the blood away: it never stopped raining in Mirrlees, blood was always being washed away.

  Run.

  Run.

  Run.

  David’s hands shook as he gripped the windowsill.

  He blinked a heavy Carnival-induced blink. The world lumbered into a brutal sort of focus.

  Bundles of Halloween orbs, strung down the street just the night before, coloured everything in reds and greens. Windows from here to almost the next suburb banged shut. Lights switched off.

  David’s father lifted himself almost to his feet, his head loose on his neck; barely on his neck at all. Oh, what kind of strength the man possessed! But it meant nothing now. The Vergers kicked him back to the ground, where he lay and did not rise again, and David knew his father was dead.

  Footsteps and the hard voices of men not needing nor desiring to hide their approach echoed up the stairs. David considered crawling under the bed. But they would find him, and drag him kicking and screaming out into the rain, and they would slash his throat, and he would lie there with his father.

  The thought held some temptation.

  He wasn’t stupid. The Vergers would keep hunting him, and the realisation filled him with a great and awful weariness.

  He didn’t know where to run. He knew that if they had come for his father, they’d have come for everyone else. There’d be no one he could turn to. Not James Ling or Medicine Paul or the Cathcart Sisters. Any survivors would be running for their own lives

  All these considerations in under a second and, while he thought them, he opened his window and slid out, with just the clothes on his back, clinging to the slimy windowsill with his fingertips – the Carnival-calm in tatters – and knowing it might end here with just one slip.

  It nearly did.

  David lost his grip, and dropped into the dead tree beneath his window, its rotten limbs snap-crash-snapped under his weight. He landed in a heap on the soft mud beneath and clambered to his feet – no bones broken as far as he could tell. He leapt a stone wall, almost tripping, and sprinted onto the road.

  Someone shouted from his window. Whistles blew.

  David did not look back, because if he did he would stop, and stopping would end him.

  Such are politics in Mirrlees.

  MIRRLEES – DOWNING BRIDGE

  David wiped the vomit from his lips for the third time in under an hour.

  He knew what was coming, just as much as he knew he couldn’t stop it, which was almost as terrifying as the Vergers that hunted him.

  The Carnival’s claws tightened. How could something get so bad, even as it left your body? It was just another awfulness to add to his collection, only this one would grow, and quickly.

  He tried to occupy his mind with other thoughts, possible options of escape, the long term, anything but the drug and his body’s rising hunger for it.

  The north was his best choice now.

  If he could make it to the city of Hardacre he would find refuge. He had an aunt who lived there, and she would take him in, they had always been close.

  But the road to Hardacre was impossibly perilous, the Margin and Cuttlefolk, half wild and with long and bitter memories of war, lay between here and there. And the one bridge that crossed into those lands, on the edge of the Northmir, was heavily guarded. He may as well be striking out to the moon. But, then again, he had proven himself more adept at survival than he had first thought.

  All night he had been running, hiding, keeping to the shadows, moving only when the Vergers in their whistling packs passed.

  It had been surprisingly easy, perhaps because escape was all he could allow his mind to focus on. As he had run he had found himself instinctively heading to the one place he might hide. Once or twice he had scored Carnival here, though only when most desperate.

  Usually, he’d not needed to look far to find people willing to supply him. After all, he was the great Confluent Leader Warwick Milde’s son. And if his father’s currency had decreased in the last few months, well, he had never expected it to go so low.

  Downing Bridge loomed out of the murk. David was familiar with it, had often come this way as a boy with his father. The master engineer would point out its various structural peculiarities, its vast size being the least of them, for Mirrlees was a city of excess; its levee banks blocking out the sun, channelling away the rain. Once the River Weep had been just a trickle between the embankments, a trickle two hundred yards across. Now it had climbed their walls to a height of nearly fifty feet and was rising every day.

  The Dolorous Grey rattled overhead; David could just make out its plumes of smoke. That’s what he really needed, to be on the train, steaming away from Mirrlees. Even though its destination couldn’t be considered safe it was better than what faced him here, and he could lose himself in the colour of the Festival of Float.

  But the train was beyond his reach now. All he had was the sanctuary of the bridge. Or, more correctly, what lay beneath it: Mirkton, the undercity.

  Water streamed from the iron lips of the bridge. Through the falling water he could see a few dim lights, and darkness.

  He only hoped it was a darkness deep enough to swallow him.

  THE CITY OF MIRRLEES – RUELE TOWER 302 MILES NORTH OF OBSIDIAN CURTAIN

  “So the son escaped?” Stade’s tone made it more of an accusation than a question.

  Mr Tope nodded. Dry blood caked his grey suit, he picked at it with dark, cracked nails, and Stade wanted to slap those hands away even though they had just given him uncontested government.

  “It’s a minor setback.” Tope’s voice suggested he wasn’t used to setbacks (minor or not), there was a kind of wonder in it, and dismay. “We’ll find him;
he is an addict, his options are limited, and only decrease with every hour he runs. He cannot go to ground, because without Carnival in his veins the ground will swallow him and spit out his bones. We have staked out his usual suppliers. We have eyes on all his friends and family allies: and there aren’t too many of them now.”

  “If you can get to him, then they might as well. I don’t like loose ends.”

  Tope’s lips pursed. “We’ve few loose ends left, and the boy is the least of them. Both John Cadell and Medicine Paul have evaded us.” Again that wondering tone.

  Stade’s gaze dropped to the withered fingers floating in the jar on his desk, the Orbis on one of them thick with verdigris. He should have never been so lenient those decades past. Perhaps none of this would have happened if he had cut off Medicine Paul’s head instead of his fingers. “You are right, and those are loose ends enough. The Confluents are broken, all credit to you and your Long Knives, fine and bloody work, indeed, but you have not removed the threat in its entirety.”

  “We will find him.”

  “Good. We have limited resources and not much time. Milde’s death was unfortunate but he let the Old Man out. Such open dissent could not be without penalty, and not just the death of his brother. The Engine… what he had proposed… actions with consequences far too dangerous. We could not let it continue, knowing what we know.”

  Tope’s eyes were inscrutable. He never gave much away, and he certainly didn’t now. “Knowing what we know, yes.”

  Stade sighed. “I should have killed him sooner. The day he defied me. The day he crossed the floor. I should have cut his throat, then the Old Man would not have been set free and none of this would be necessary. But I was a gentler soul in those days. And we had been friends. Ah, Tope; it’s always the ones I don’t kill that I regret. Blood and murder, how else do you reach the top of the Tower?”

  He turned to the window, glared down at Mirrlees as though it might reveal his enemies if he scowled hard enough. Ruele, the tower of the Council of Engineers extended into the sky, almost as high as the low layer of cloud from which rain fell and fell and fell.

  Stade’s offices had an unmatched view of the city, from the outer orbit of radio arrays, round which Aerokin circled – their flagellum twitching in ceaseless hungry jactitation from their underbellies, water tumbling from their flesh until they breached the cloud bank – to the vast bulk of Downing Bridge and the levees, nearly five hundred yards high, yet barely containing the River Weep. The Dolorous Grey crossed the bridge, bellowing smoke, the train making its way south, to Chapman and the edge of the Roil.

  Rain wormed along the office windows. Wind whistled through a crack in the lower edge of the window frame, bringing with it the smoky, rotten odours of the city, and dribbles of water that pooled upon and stained the carpet. Stade grimaced at the mess. Such was the pace of work required with other endeavours he had no one to spare for even the simplest of maintenance.

  “Not long for this city,” Stade said. “The bastard had to die. Now tie me up those loose ends, Mr Tope. We’re running out of time.”

  Chapter 2

  That the city of Tate could have survived its absorption by the Roil was unthinkable. That Shale lost its brightest minds in the Penns was an absolute tragedy.

  The Penns, though, had never been popular leaders outside their city, seen in the north by Confluents as too much in their sympathies like Engineers, and by the Engineers as far too much like Confluents. It could be argued that little effort was expended by the three Allied Metropolises of the North to aid their southern cousin, and that all parties were complicit in it.

  The Roil baffles radio signals but, without a doubt, more energy could have been applied in trying to contact the city.

  However, it must never be forgotten that those first years of the Roil’s rebirth were madness, its creatures (outside popular fictions and fairytales) unfamiliar, and terrifying.

  • Deighton – Night’s Engines

  THE CITY OF TATE 600 MILES SOUTH OF MIRRLEES: WITHIN THE ROIL

  Margaret’s parents were late. She sat in the basement of the family home beneath the Four Cannon, seeking distraction in weapons prep and failing. It was a mindless sort of work (charging vascular systems, checking regulators, resetting clips) that set your thoughts wandering, and all her thoughts wandered in one direction.

  Two days ago a bullet-shaped balloon drone flew over the Jut and the wall, passed beneath the Four Cannon of Willowhen Peak and the vast and twisting buttresses of the Steaming Vents, and landed on the forecourt of Tate’s Breach Hold Chambers, meeting place of the Council.

  Within the balloon’s storage nacelle, along with various letters to Ministers and Engineers alike was a short note to Margaret written in her mother’s crabbed hand:

  Tests successful. The I-Bombs drove back the Roil and we saw the sun. Hah! Knew you’d be jealous, my child. This will be an end to it all. Combined with my iron wings we can destroy the Roil. A new age is begun!

  A few things to conclude, then we’ll begin the journey home. Your father sends his love. Back tomorrow, no later than six.

  Both anxious to see you

  A

  Margaret read the note again, it was particularly jubilant for her mother: beginning of a new age or not.

  Margaret had finished her sentry duty for the day, a twelve hour shift, dull, nothing to mark the time but the occasional opportunity to launch a cannonade at Quarg Hounds, or a dusty-winged Endym, or practice her marksmanship on Hideous Garment Flutes – though so many of them filled the skies it was harder to miss than strike one.

  She hadn’t even spied a Walker: those driven to despair who clambered down the spiked and ice-slicked outer wall of the Jut and walked into the dark, never to be seen again. Of course, such despair was unjustified now.

  Margaret had barely slept the night before, and her superior officer, Sara, had ordered her off the Jut, promising to alert her as soon as her parents arrived with three rings of the intercom bells.

  Margaret had agreed wearily, but her head was buzzing and soon there’d be no need for such vigilance. The I-Bombs had been successful. The Roil could be forced back. She would see the sky, the real sky, and its sun and moons and stars.

  Her parents had achieved what many had considered impossible. No less than a means of destroying the Roil that did not involve the near mythical Engine of the North – the ancient saviour and scour of the world.

  But it hadn’t happened yet. She cleaned her guns, swapped the old fuel cells for new, and set to charging the drained ones.

  She checked her watch. Her father had given her that on her seventeenth birthday. All it did was remind her of him. Why were they late?

  Nearly six. As her watch reached the hour, the Four Cannon fired, launching endothermic shells out into the darkness of the Roil, driving its substance away from the Outer Wall – though it would quickly return. The Four Cannon – designed by her parents, like every other endothermic defence in Tate – were the city’s heartbeat. Without that regular cannonade Tate would have long ago succumbed to the Roil.

  Conventional weapons did little harm to the creatures of the Roil, indeed they only seemed to encourage them to fury. However, Roilings could not survive in temperatures below three degrees Celsius, and Roil Spores themselves were killed by temperatures below freezing. All the city’s weapons took advantage of this, creating a zone of cold around Tate that kept the Roil out.

  Margaret stretched her arms, appreciating the quiet. As much as she looked forward to seeing her parents again, she knew that once they drove through the gates it would be non-stop, starting with her flight down the wireway to see them.

  The bells rang three times.

  Margaret sprinted up to the Wire Room and responded with three rings of her own. From here she could ride the wires down the slope of Willowhen Peak to the Outer Wall itself. She took a moment to admire the view before all the noise and fury of her parents’ return.

  Tate was
about to change: the I-Bombs had been a success. She glanced from the Outer Wall and the Jut, and the beginning of the white thread of Mechanism Highway leading north, then back over the Wall Secundus to the ice sheathed inner walls and the Swarming Vents.

  These monstrous chimneys rose high above the Four Cannon, their buttresses lit with low voltage electric lights and crammed with all manner of endothermic weaponry. Keeping the city cold generated heat and not all of it could be recovered and distributed back into the city’s engines. The waste heat released by the Vents was a constant draw to Roil spores and other more horrible entities. An endless battle raged around them. A unit of men and women called Sweepers garbed in cool-suits and more weaponry than any Sentinel, clambered over vent and chimney or rode the thermals on sharp-winged gliders into the spore cloud.

  A knot of them slid down, another rose up. Their mocking whistles echoed over Tate as they passed one another; tallies added up, kills expressed in swift signals; the sign language of the Sweepers.

  Men and women died above the city in the dry and ceaseless heat, but there were always more to take their place, drawn by the glamour and the terror of it. Margaret herself had hinted at such a career path, her parents promptly made her swear she would do no such thing: as if her parents did not risk their lives every day.

  She grabbed her harness, just as another bell began to toll. And another. She stopped and tilted her head towards the city beyond the Wire Room, and the cacophony that was building there.

  The ringing rippled over Willowhen Mount, taken up in watchtower after watchtower. In every house, in every quarter of the city, lights came on and doors swung open. Searchlights broke up the city airspace into grids of brilliance, revealing the nets and the dense darkness rising beyond.

  A gun-prickled dirigible rushed east. Something flashed, from beyond the walls. The dirigible fell, a long exclamation mark of fire. And the bells kept tolling.

 
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