World's End (Age of Misrule, Book 1)

BOOK: World's End (Age of Misrule, Book 1)
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world's end

Also by Mark Chadbourn

The Kingdom of the Serpent:

Jack of Ravens

The Dark Age:

The Devil In Green

The Queen of Sinister

The Hounds of Avalon

The Age of Misrule:

World's End

Darkest Hour

Always Forever

Underground

Nocturne

The Eternal

Testimony

Scissorman

For more information about the author and his work, visit: www.markchadbourn.com

 
world's end
book one of
the age of misrule

MARK CHADBOURN

an imprint of Prometheus Books
Amherst, NY

Published 2009 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books World's End. Copyright © 2009 by Mark Chadbourn. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a Web site without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

The right of Mark Chadbourn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. Inquiries should be addressed to Pyr 59 John Glenn Drive Amherst, New York 14228-2119 VOICE: 716-691-0133, ext. 210 FAX: 716-691-0137 WWW.PYRSF.COM 13 12 11 10 09 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Chadbourn, Mark. World's end / by Mark Chadbourn. p. cm. - (Age of misrule ; bk. 1) First published: London : Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group, 1999. ISBN 978-1-59102-739-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Title.

PR6053.H23W67 2009 823'.914-dc22 2009005803 Printed in the United States on acid-free paper

For Elizabeth, Betsy, and Joe

 
contents

Prologue
11

ONE Misty Morning, Albert Bridge
13

TWO Different Views from the Same Window
28

THREE On the Road
49

FOUR The Purifying Fire
63

FIVE Where the Black Dog Runs
84

SIX A View into the Dark
105

SEVEN Here Be Dragons
124

EIGHT The Light That Never Goes Out
141

NINE At the Heart of the Storm
162

TEN The Hunt
184

ELEVEN Away from the Light
196

TWELVE Mi Vida Loca
219

THIRTEEN The Hidden Path
240

FOURTEEN A Murder of Crows
259

FIFTEEN A Day as Still as Heaven
274

SIXTEEN The Harrowing
286

SEVENTEEN Hanging Heads
307

EIGHTEEN The Shark has Pretty Teeth
332

NINETEEN Flight
351

TWENTY Revelations
369

TWENTY-ONE Last Stand
389

TWENTY-TWO Beltane
409

 
acknowledgments

ob Rickard and the Gang of Fort; John Charlick and Sean Devlin at Trebrea Lodge; Coach and Horses, Salisbury; White Hart Hotel, Okehampton.

For information about the author and his work:

www.markchadbourn.net

www.jackofravens.com

www.myspace.com/markchadbourn

 
prologue

nd now the world turns slowly from the light. Not with the cymbal clash of guns and tanks, but with the gently plucked harp of shifting moods and oddly lengthening shadows, the soft tread of a subtle invasion, not here, then here, and none the wiser. Each morning the sun still rises on supermarket worlds of plastic and glass, on industrial estates where slow trucks lumber in belches of diesel, on cities lulled by the whirring of disk drives breaking existence down into digitised order. People still move through their lives with the arrogance of rulers who know their realms will never fall. Several weeks into the new Dark Age, life goes on as it always has, oblivious to the passing of the Age of Reason, of Socratic thought and Apollonian logic.

No one had noticed. But they would. And soon.

 
chapter one
misty morning,
albert bridge

t was just before dawn, when the darkness was most oppressive. London was blanketed by an icy, impenetrable, February mist that rolled off the Thames, distorting the gurgle and lap of the water and the first tentative calls of the birds in the trees along the embankment as they sensed the impending sunrise. The hour and atmosphere were unfriendly, but Church was oblivious to both as he wandered, directionless, lost to thoughts that had turned from discomfort to an obsession, and had soured him in the process. If anyone had been there to see his passing, they might have thought him a ghost: tall and slim, with too-pale skin emphasised by the blackness of his hair and a dark expression which added to the air of disquieting sadness which surrounded him. The night-time walks had become increasingly regular over the past two years. During the routines of the day he could lose himself, but when evening fell the memories returned in force, too realistic by far, forcing him out on to the streets in the futile hope he could walk them off, leave them behind. It was as futile as any childhood wish; when he returned home he could never escape her things or her empty space. The conundrum was almost more than he could bear: to recover meant he would have to forget her, but the mystery and confusion made it impossible to forget; it seemed he was condemned to live in that dank, misty world of not-knowing. And until he did know he felt he would not be whole again.

But that night the routine had been different. It wasn't just the memories that had driven him out, but a dream that God had decided His work, the world, had gone irrevocably wrong and He had decided to wipe it away and start again. Inexplicably, it had disturbed Church immeasurably.

There was a clatter of dustbins nearby, some dog scavenging for food. But just to be sure, he paused, tense and alert, until a russet shape padded soundlessly out of the fog. The fox stopped in its tracks when it saw him, eyed him warily for a second, until it seemed to recognise some similar trait, and then continued across the road until it was lost again. Church felt a frisson of some barely remembered emotion that he gradually recognised as a sense of wonder. Something wild and untamed in a place shackled by concrete and tarmac, pollution and regulations. Yet after the initial excitement it served only to emphasise the bleak view of the world he had established since Marianne. Perhaps his dream had been right. He had never really been enticed by the modern world. Perhaps that was why he was so drawn to archaeology as a child. But now everything seemed so much worse. If there was a God, what would he want with a world where such a vital force as a sense of wonder was so hard to come by? Although most people seemed to hark back to some golden age where things were felt so much more vibrantly, it seemed to Church, with his new eyes, that they didn't even seem to have the passion to hate the world they lived in; they were simply bowed by the boredom of it: a place of routine and rules, where daily toil was the most important thing and the only rewards that really counted were the ones that came in currency. There wasn't anything to get excited about any more; nothing to believe in. You couldn't even count on God. Churches of all denominations seemed to be in decline, desperately stripping out the supernatural wonder for some modernist sense of community that made them seem like dull Oxfam working parties. But he had no time for God anyway. And that brought him in an ironic full circle: God was preparing to wipe the world clean and God didn't exist.

He snorted a bitter laugh. Away in the mist he could hear the fox's eerie barking howl and for a hopeful second he considered pursuing it to a better place. But he knew in his heart he wasn't nimble enough; his legs felt leaden and there seemed to be an unbearable weight crushing down on his shoulders.

And then all the thoughts of God got him thinking about himself and his miserable life, as if there were any other subject. Was he a good person? Optimistic? Passionate? He had been once, he was sure of it, but that was before Marianne had turned everything on its head. How could one event sour a life so completely?

It wasn't the damp that drew his shiver, but he pulled his overcoat tighter nonetheless. Sometimes he wondered what the future held for him. Two years ago there had been so much hope stitched into the direction he had planned for his life: more articles for the learned magazines, a book, something witty and incisive about the human condition, which also instigated a quiet revolution in archaeological thinking, building on the promise he had shown at Oxford when he had become the first member of his family to attain a degree. At twenty-six, he had known everything about himself. Now, at twenty-eight, he knew nothing. He was flailing around, lost in a strange world where nothing made sense. Any insight he thought he might have had into the human condition had been expunged, and poking about in long-dead things suddenly hadn't seemed as attractive as it had when he'd been the leading light of his archaeology course. It sounded pathetic to consider it in such bald terms, and that made it even more painful. He had never been pathetic. He had been strong, funny, smart, confident. But never pathetic. He had potential, ambitions, dreams, things that he thought were such a vital part of him he would never be able to lose them, yet there he was without any sign of them at all. Where had they all gone?

BOOK: World's End (Age of Misrule, Book 1)
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