Bantam Spectra, 2008
|Series:||Deepgate Codex: Book 2|
|If you liked Iron Angel you might like these books.|
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In this stunning follow-up to his epic fantasy debut, Alan Campbell propels readers into a captivating city battling for its own survival-and that of humankind-in a world of deities and demons, fallen angels and killers.
After a destructive battle, the ancient swaying city of Deepgate has been overtaken. Most of the chains that suspend it have given way, and the temple now dangles upside down above the once-uncharted abyss. The victorious Spine have initiated martial law and are ruthlessly pursuing all who attempt to leave. But amid the turmoil, two captives are returned: the young angel Dill, now toughened by war, and traitor assassin Rachel Hael.
Incarcerated in the crumbling temple, the prisoners await their fate-while ghosts rise through the abyss from the open gates of Hell. But as the city teeters on the brink, plans for vengeance are set in motion. And in the coming battle between gods, it is the world of men that is at stake.
MINA GREENE'S CIRCUS OF HORRORS
FROM THE WINDOW of their tavern room, Rachel Hael watched a small flotilla of fishing skiffs jostle past a barge at the bend in the river. Gulls swooped around the clutter of boats, their cries like harsh laughter, or perched on yards and basked in the late-afternoon sun. The larger vessel carried sandstone from the quarry at Shale, twenty leagues further up the Coyle. The skiffs were local and manned by louts with robbery in mind.
She had watched them use the same tactic on a Dalamoor palace barge yesterday morning. The Dalamooran captain and his men had been so busy yelling from the stern at the apparently hapless sailors responsible for the river jam that they'd failed to notice a small boy climb out of the water and steal inside the pilot's tent.
Now Rachel was watching a replay of yesterday's events. Amidst all the raucous confusion, the shouts and curses and steering poles knocking against hulls, nobody saw the young swimmer drag himself up and over the barge's stern bulwark. Once aboard, the boy moved quickly. He darted into the wheelhouse and emerged a moment later, stuffing a roll of paper into a waxed tube as he hurried back to the edge of the deck.
The captain's mercantile license, Rachel knew. The thieves would ransom it back to him shortly after his vessel docked. And the captain would be forced to pay whatever fee they demanded or risk facing the Avulsior's justice on the killing stage—for the Spine had brought martial law to Sandport.
Faced with this new and rigidly enforced system of order, the local thieves and cutthroats had added blackmail and extortion to their list of crimes. Sandporters, after all, looked for profit in any situation.
The presence of so many temple assassins in the town made Rachel uneasy. She had abandoned her own leather armour for a gabardine and wood-soled sandals, even weaving beads into her hair in the local fashion, but her pale complexion and striking green eyes still drew inquisitive gazes from the men who inhabited this desert settlement. She was clearly an outsider here. Despite all her efforts, she still looked like a Spine assassin, the image of the very people who now hunted her.
Of course Dill could not leave the room at all, nor even show himself at the window. Rachel had been fortunate enough to smuggle him unnoticed into the heart of Sandport in the first place, but she could not risk exposing him now. She glanced back to the bed where her friend was still sleeping. He was lying on his stomach, his wings furled against his back like a thick feather cape, still wearing the tattered chain-mail vest that had once cost him his life. His sword lay on the floor beside the bed, the gold guard gleaming in the morning sunshine.
Down on the river, the barge was approaching one of the deepwater pontoons where two Spine Officiators waited to check its cargo. The captain gave the men a cheerful halloo. The temple assassins stood perfectly still in their black leathers and did not respond.
Behind the harbor, the town of Sandport rose in tiers of brown adobe dwellings, like an amphitheater built around a bend in the river Coyle. Over the cluttered houses and streets hung a thin pall of dung smoke, the smell of which almost masked the odor of boiled fish and crab from the harbor broth shops. A unit of Spine moved through the market crowds on Hack Hill, ignoring eager calls from the costermongers' stalls. Rachel took an involuntarily step back from the window, before she stopped herself. The assassins were too far away to identify her.
Three knocks sounded on the door, followed quickly by another two: a code Rachel recognized at once.
She went over to let the tavern proprietor in.
Olirind Meer carried a tray laden with a jug of water, some bread, and two bowls of cold milk chowder, which he set upon a table by the window. A small dark man, he came from a small village, little more than a trading post, on the North Eastern fringes of the Deadsands. His hair and eyebrows were raven black and his skin was the colour of amarid bark: nomad blood. "Another day without pay," he said brightly, showing his small white teeth in a grin.
"And very much appreciated," Rachel said with genuine affection. Meer had sheltered them from the Spine for almost a week now, although Rachel's coin had run out after the first two days. "I will pay you back as soon as I'm able to," she added.
"Pah." The tavern proprietor dismissed her comment with a wave. "You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to. Friendship means more to the Ban-Heshette than profit. Unlike these quick-fingered Sandporters, we repay our debts of honour."
She had met Meer after the slaughter in Hollowhill, where she'd beaten a Deepgate Regular into a coma for what he'd done to the captured tribeswomen. One of those women had been Meer's wife.
"How is the angel today?" he asked.
"Much the same," Rachel replied. "Quiet, sullen, evasive. I think, in his own way, he's still struggling to come to terms with what happened." She gazed down at his sleeping form. "I'm not sure he'll ever fully recover."
"Archons are resilient," Meer observed. "Have faith in Providence. The boy is sane, which is more than most people could have hoped for after a visit to Hell. He'll talk when he's ready to."
Rachel was responsible for Dill's present condition. She had used angelwine to bring him back from the dead, plucking his soul back from the Maze, but then she'd pushed him to remember the experience. Her foolish inquisition had unearthed a horde of painful memories which now haunted the boy.
"You must not keep blaming yourself," Meer said. "There are too many other things that must concern you here." He hesitated. "More and more Spine arrive each day by airship. And they have offered a substantial reward for your return. It is no longer safe for you to venture outside."
The former assassin nodded. They should not have lingered in Sandport as long as this, but Dill needed food and rest, time to recover from his ordeal, and Rachel hadn't known where else to go. The Deadsands were brutally unforgiving to travelers and the tribal villages still harbored resentment against those from the chained city. Olirind Meer remained one of the few people she could trust. The scarred angel, Carnival, had spat when Rachel had announced her intentions, and then deserted them without a word of farewell. Rachel had not been sorry to see her go. Carnival was unpredictable and her intentions could not be trusted.
"I have another room in the back." Meer moistened his lips. "It's a bit smaller and darker, not having windows as such, but it's cozier, and more . . . private. People will be less likely to notice you there, less likely to ask questions. I've already had a dozen inquiries about the availability of your current room. It's very much in demand among some of my better clientele, you see? They like the view."
Rachel liked the view, too. It allowed her to see who was approaching the tavern. Swapping it for a cramped, windowless cell lacked any appeal. "Are we inconveniencing you here, Olirind?" she asked. "I wouldn't want to your business to suffer because of us."
"No, no, no," the small man replied. "Business is fine. Don't concern yourselves with that. I was only thinking of your security."
Yet Rachel had noticed a difference in Meer's attitude of late. As the days had passed, his lighthearted remarks had increasingly hinted at his fragile financial situation, his responsibilities to his regular guests, and how pleased he was to be able to offer his two stowaways the finest and most expensive accommodation on the south bank in repayment of his debt of honour. Rachel suspected he was beginning to consider that debt paid. The steadily diminishing quantity of fish in the chowder he brought them each day suggested as much.
Nomad blood might run in his veins, but Meer had become a Sandporter at heart.
"Just a couple more days," she said. "Then we'll be out of your hair for good."
The proprietor tutted. "I wouldn't hear of it. Let the boy recover in his own good time." Grinning again, he headed for the door. "I shall continue to deflect persistent guests with the skills for which I have become famous. Enjoy your breakfast."
Once he had gone, Rachel took one of the chowder bowls over to the bed and gave the young angel a gentle shake. "Dill?"
The angel opened his eyes, and jerked away from her with a start. But then he seemed to realize where he was, and his panic subsided. "A terrible dream . . ." He sighed, running a hand through his lank hair.
"The same one?" she asked.
He nodded. "I dreamed I was this room. The walls were my skin and bones, the windows my eyes. My blood ran through wooden veins in the floorboards. My nerves . . . I could feel you walking through me, and . . ." As he looked up at her, the colour of his eyes darkened from white to grey. "Meer? Was he here?"
"He just left."
Dill stared at his own hands for a long time. "I dreamed of him, too."
"He was outside this room, outside me, but searching for a way in. I couldn't see him, but each time I peered out of the window I spotted something odd: a house that hadn't been there before, a new pontoon in the harbor, a crooked tree. Are there any trees in Sandport?"
"No," Rachel admitted. "And there aren't any trees out there now. It was only a dream."
Her friend's nightmares had been consistent since his return from Hell. He dreamed of becoming the environment around him, whether it was a room in Sandport or a petrified ...
Copyright © 2008 by Alan Campbell
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