"A captivating story set in a brilliantly-conceived world."
- TRUDI CANAVAN, BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF
THE BLACK MAGICIAN
"This is what modern fantasy looks like. Debris is a strong debut novel from a promising new writer, featuring a tough, professional heroine, a clever magic system and a complex, beautifully realised city. I couldn't put it down."
- TANSY RAYNER ROBERTS, AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF
THE CREATURE COURT
"Anderton's debut builds a marvelous world, shakes it to the core with adventure and romance, then wraps the whole thing in one hell of a mystery. I can't wait for the rest."
- IAN TREGILLIS, AUTHOR OF
"Jo Anderton combines elements of steampunk with her own unique vision to create something striking. Debris is a first novel NOT to be missed."
- MARIANNE DE PIERRES, AWARD WINNING AUTHOR OF THE
SENTIENTS OF ORION
Book One of theÂ
Veiled World Trilogy
The great silver bones of Grandeur's hand reflected the morning light and it looked, for an instant, like the giant statue was holding the sun itself. I couldn't have arranged a more perfect moment to lead three veche inspectors into my construction site. We paused, blinking away the after-image of the statue's skeletal palm.
Â Â "As you can see," I said, "her construction is right on schedule. If I may, my lords, I still do not understand the need for this impromptu inspection."
Â Â "You and your statue represent a significant investment to the veche, Lady Tanyana," the oldest of the three said. "Considering the amount of kopacks we are paying, surely you do not begrudge us the opportunity to oversee that investment."
Â Â I met his bland expression with a false smile. There was something jarring about this man. So ancient he walked with the support of a cane â in an era where such inefficient aids were unnecessary â but still managed to do so with an undeniable aura of authority. The large silver bear's head, inlaid with opals and flecks of gold, hanging by a thick chain around his neck marked him as a member of an old family.
Â Â "Of course not, my lord," I answered. "What I do not understand is the need to do this today, without notice, and outside of the prearranged inspection dates." And why him? Why would the veche send one of their most senior members to inspect the construction of a statue, no matter how grand she was?
Â Â The other two inspectors, younger men, were already peering at the bindings in Grandeur's feet. The insignia on their garish, bright yellow woollen jackets marked them as sitting members on the Construction for the Furtherment of Varsnia. More the calibre of people I'd expect on an inspection. If I'd expected one at all.
Â Â "You're worried there has been a complaint?" The old man wandered, slowly, peering about, tapping at the ground. "Hmm. Good, strong pion-bonds. Clean systems. I don't see why anyone would complain about this construction site."
Â Â I gritted my teeth. "Neither do I, my lord. But what other reason would there be?"
Â Â "Indeed."
Â Â That was not an answer, not an Other-cursed answer at all.
Â Â "My lady?"
Â Â I glanced over my shoulder. Volski was the first of my circle to arrive. He usually was. His gaze flickered to the inspectors, and his mouth pinched into a small, concerned frown. "What are they doing here?"
Â Â I lifted a hand, gestured to quiet him. "We are being inspected," I whispered.
Â Â His eyes widened. "But why, my lady? Has there been a complaint about our binding?"
Â Â I shook my head, and wished I had an answer. "I don't know. Other's hell, Vol, I've got no idea what's going on." I drew a deep breath, calmed myself. "Just warn the others as they arrive, won't you?"
Â Â Volski nodded and stepped back to wait outside the gate to the construction site. I hurried to the inspector's side. He was smiling as I approached. A cheeky, impish kind of smile that made me shudder.
Â Â "Your circle is loyal to you, aren't they?" He continued to tap the ground with his cane.
Â Â "Yes, my lord."
Â Â My critical circle made me â nine skilled binders who worked below me, in harmony with me, to manipulate pions and alter the very structure of the world. Everything was made up of pions, from the steel in Grandeur's finger bones to the sun-spotted skin that stretched across the back of my hand. I saw them as lights, a myriad of tiny fireflies. Some were brighter than others: those on the surface layer of reality were easy to see, eager to please, but weak. I could manipulate them with little more than a coaxing whisper, but any structure I built with them would not last the first brush of wind.
Â Â It was the stronger pions, the dim lights that kept themselves hidden, that my critical circle and I could manipulate. It took all ten of us to pry the pions free, to entice their cooperation and set them to work. But once we did, oh, the wonders we could create.
Â Â I glanced up at Grandeur with a smile, breath deepening, my palms itching just to start. There was so much work left to do on her, and how the pions were calling me. From all across the construction site they flickered a coordinated phosphorescent dance â in time to the twitch of my fingers, the beat of my heart â to work with me, to bond with me, to build Grandeur's wonder high into the sky. I was used to the enthusiasm of my pions, but this seemed stronger than usual: their caress like a tug, their call a demand.
Â Â Perhaps they were feeding on my frustration. There were pions in all of us, in everything, and we were all connected by their light. I could ride that, I could control that, if only the veche inspectors would let me get on with my job.
Â Â It took a moment to collect myself, to draw my focus back on my body and the elderly inspector in front of me. The pions dimmed. They never truly left, of course, but only the shallow ones still shone if I wasn't concentrating on them. If I wasn't letting myself get carried away by them.
Â Â The inspector's smile deepened. "Impatient, are you?" he said, with a chuckle. "Don't fear, my lady, we will not keep you long."
Â Â The rest of my circle arrived as I answered a pointless set of rudimentary questions. Yes, I had two healers on site as the edict required. Yes, my raw materials were sourced from veche-accredited mining operations and handled by an experienced circle of lifters. I'd worked with them before. Six point circle, a high number for something as straightforward as carrying heavy rocks, but all in the name of safety.
Â Â Hardly seemed worth dragging an old family veche member all this way just to ask questions like this. Why were they really here?
Â Â From the corner of my eye I watched Volski organise the site. He spoke to each member of my circle, sent the healers to their usual corner to set up, and admitted a ragtag band of debris collectors. It was unusual for collectors to arrive so early. Debris was the waste created by all our pion manipulation. Our work on Grandeur would certainly produce a lot of it, but we hadn't even started binding so there was nothing for them to collect yet.
Â Â Finally, when the first slabs of raw stone started to arrive, I could make my excuses. I had a statue to build, after all.
Â Â "Yes, of course." The elderly inspector and his fellows withdrew to the fenced-in edges of the site, near the healers' small white tent. "We won't hold you up." But they didn't actually leave.
Â Â "You're staying?" I asked, before I could stop myself.
Â Â "Of course." Another of those Other-cursed smiles. "To watch you work. Wouldn't be much of an inspection if we didn't, now â would it?"
Â Â "I suppose not, my lord." I gave him a small bow, as his status in the veche deserved. "If you will excuse me."
Â Â Just what I needed.
Â Â I hurried over to my circle, where they stood in a tight knot in the centre of the site, and held up a hand to silence any questions before they could be asked.
Â Â "Veche inspection," I said. "Don't let it worry you." I clapped my hands together, forced a hopefully bright smile. "Let's get started."
Â Â The members of my circle spread out to surrounded the statue, evenly spaced, and began gathering pions. Across the site the tiny particles of light flared up again, fast and eager, in response.
Â Â I turned to Grandeur, and found myself grinning. Such enthusiasm was infectious. All around me it was building: bright lights and raw energy, swirling, coalescing in vast daisy chains around my circle, around me. Flashing, brilliant particles brushed against my skin, stirring the bonds inside my very body, linking us all together: the statue, the circle, the world. Me. I pushed down a sudden and unseemly need to laugh as the thrill of it tickled through me. Better than any food, better than passion, better â dare I say it? â than the syrupy black coffee with a dot of caramel cream Thada at
poured for me every morning.
Â Â This was me, the truest me. Tanyana Vladha. Pionbinder, architect, centre of a circle of nine and good â Other-damned good â at all of it.
Â Â "Help me up there," I whispered to the pions. They hardly needed convincing.
Â Â We fashioned stairs out of the very air. Tied thousands of tiny drops of water with miniscule fragments of sand, and ash, and whatever trace metals the pions could find, and froze them, then burned them, crushing them together until something like glass appeared. And we did this with every step I took, binding and rebinding, until I stood on the bones of Grandeur's incomplete palm, eight hundred feet high.
Â Â The tension of a site full of riled-up pions travelled through her steel beams and hardened glass tiles in a constant tremor. Nothing she couldn't handle, I was sure. I had designed and built her to be strong.
Â Â "Are you ready to begin, my lady?" Volski's pions carried his words to me, up a current of wispy blue lights that smelled of dust. Each member of my circle was different. Llada bullied hers along on a solid track of authoritarian purple. Tsana's touch was green, sharp as the eyes of a child.
Â Â "I am." The tiny bright particles couldn't speak, of course. Rather, they replicated the vibrations of my words, carrying and depositing them where instructed. I could ask them to shout across the whole of the site, if I wanted, but these words I kept for Volski alone, "Are the inspectors watching us, Vol?"
Â Â A pause. Either Volski was collecting his thoughts or â and, I thought, more likely â his pion stream was struggling to push its way through to me. The construction site was so full of light, countless different streams and loose particles attracted to us but not yet incorporated; a single thread could get tangled on its journey.
Â Â "Of course they are," he answered, finally. "You really don't know why they're here, my lady?"
Â Â "Vol." It took several attempts to get down to him. "Don't let it upset you." I opened up my pion thread and sent my words to everyone in my nine point circle. "Let's use this opportunity to show these so-called inspectors, and the veche, just how good we are."
Â Â The pions, at least, surged with agreement, even if I couldn't quite make out all of my circle's reply.
Â Â "If you say so, my lady," Volski said. Then, after another pause, "The first block is on its way to you now."
Â Â I stepped to the very edge of Grandeur's palm, lifted my arms, spread my hands wide and urged the circle on. They gave everything I could have asked for. Colours surged as the pions they had gathered travelled up their threads toward me, like blood through veins. From nine points spread out across the site below me, my pionbinders coaxed power from the world around them and sent it all up to me.