A Thief in Gragonatt
In the dim light of the steam carriage, Lady Melodia Gold looked hungry, but not for food. The gold pleated tissue of her gown spilled from the front of her red velvet cloak, which was laced tight against the cold. Lord Prometheus Iron, sitting opposite her, observed the extraordinary eagerness in her expression, which she sought to hide beneath a mask of chill disdain. This hunger slightly disgusted him. His own interest in the task ahead was more academic. He wanted to interview the prisoners as much as Melodia did—they’d been caught in the process of stealing some of her jewellery from New Mint Yard— but his motives were more complex, even to himself.
The cold was a predatory beast on the darkened streets that led to the prison building, Gragonatt Fortress, which lay in the centre of Ihrn Fief. Night was always a punishing time in Karadur. The chill that had crept in off the ice sought to freeze and still the mechanisms of the carriage, so that the furnace in the forecabin would ﬂicker away. Then, the breath of night might investigate the cooling interior and put the blue mark of death upon the passengers within. A cast-iron grille beneath the seats exhaled warm, stuffy breath from the engine up front, but without it, the travellers might freeze and die.
The only other passenger was Captain Cornelius Cofﬁn, who sat on the same plush bench as Lord Iron, but some distance away from him. Cofﬁn was dressed in a severe steel-studded black uniform and a thick black coat, which hung open. His wide-brimmed beaten iron hat lay on the seat beside him. His face was strong-featured and square-jawed, and always appeared slightly unshaven, whatever the time of day. Cofﬁn looked both eager and gloating, clearly aware he was due praise, if not promotion. So far, Lord Iron had remained purposefully tight-lipped about the reason for their journey that evening. He had made it clear that before he made any assessment, he would have to see for himself if the man now incarcerated in the Fortress was indeed the infamous thief Max Silverskin.
Silverskin had been an irritant for years. Bad blood. Something wrong with him. The parentage was dubious, after all. His father had been a nobleman of Clan Silver, who for reasons known only to himself, but which were probably no more than simple lust, had taken up with a distant cousin, a woman of the Silverskin family, who were a minor tributary of the Silver Clan. Maximilian had been the unfortunate fruit of this imprudent union. The Silverskins had always been questionable characters, obviously nonconformists no matter how much they tried to justify themselves as innovators and thinkers. They lived at the edge of Akra Fief, as close to the free zones as it was possible to get without being part of them. The Silverskin women had reputations associated with banned or unwholesome arts, and the whole family was famous for its heresies. Clan Silver had refused to countenance a marriage between the two. Neither was it known when or where Augustus Silver and Sophelia Silverskin had married, though the most fanciful stories suggested it had taken place in one of the legendary Cities of the Rim, which lay far beyond the visible horizon. Other tales declared the eloping couple had escaped to the Ice Caverns below the surface of the plain, where it was rumoured that entire towns existed. These were undoubtedly only fantasies, but there wasn’t a person in Karadur who could or would venture onto the ice in an attempt to see whether any of the stories were true. For a start, the journey would be impossible. Steam carriages could only travel a short distance from the city before they seized up, and no one could survive on the ice without transport. In the distant past, a few reckless souls had set out to explore, but none had ever returned to tell of fabulous Cities of the Rim or underground lands.
Lord Iron did not, for a moment, believe the romantic notions that Max’s parents had died or disappeared out on the ice or in some mythical landscape. It was ridiculous to think that some strange denizen of the frozen waste had brought the child back to Karadur, where he’d been taken in by kind-hearted people of the zones. Iron knew exactly what had really happened. Silverskin’s parents had run into the warrens of the free zones, and had there lived with the lowlifes until becoming ultimately their prey. What happened next was well known. The boy had been fostered by the questionable Menevek Vane, obviously a miscreant of the lowest order. It had only been Vane’s persistence that, when Max was nine years old, had eventually persuaded Clan Silver to relent, declare the boy one of their own and take him back into the bosom of his family. No doubt Vane had hoped to ingratiate himself with the clan, but he’d been proved wrong there. The doors of the Moonmetal Manse had slammed in his face.
Maximilian’s acceptance by his family had never worked. Despite the best in education and the guidance of more honourable peers, Max had turned out bad. He balked at authority, even as a child committing immeasurable indiscretions and petty crimes within the conﬁnes of the Moonmetal Manse. Lord Iron knew the trouble Silver had had with him. Later, of course, when the boy became more self-aware, his excursions out into the city had led to all sorts of problems. He was attracted to scum, no doubt the legacy of his mother’s blood, and clearly felt more at home in the free zones than in the respectable atmosphere of Akra. No amount of discipline and punishment had curbed his criminal urges. He’d actually stolen from the clan houses, apparently taking delight in the consternation this caused. What was worse, the lowlifes of the city looked upon him as a kind of folk hero, which had undoubtedly contributed towards his self-important disregard for tradition. Eventually, Silver had had no option but to cast out the embarrassing by-blow. It was hoped that this indignity would chasten him, that once the privileges of palace life were lost to him, he’d recognise the error of his ways and reform. Clan Silver had been conﬁdent the reprobate son would come crawling back to them, begging for readmittance. Unfortunately, the opposite had proved true.
Among the free zones and the markets of the city proper, Max Silverskin had claimed he’d left his clan of his own volition and had publicly scorned the long-held orthodoxies of the Metal. He had adopted his mother’s name of Silverskin and bore it like a banner in deﬁance of the Moonmetal Manse, whose protection and disciplines he had rejected and abused. By taking his mother’s name, he had declared himself in opposition to all the Lords of the Metal stood for. Now, the scum of the zones viewed him as a herald for their witless causes. With verminous cunning, Silverskin did more than live up to his reputation. He had continued to steal from clan houses and revile their names. No more, though. For years, Captain Cofﬁn had hunted the thief, the self-styled Fox of Akra, and now he’d trapped him. Fortunate that there were still lowlifes prepared to accept a bribe for information. One of Silverskin’s own tribe of reprobates had betrayed him. This had enabled Cofﬁn to corner and arrest Silverskin, and charge him with the loathsome crime of Public Deceit, as well as the lesser violation of Common Larceny. It had been convenient that Silverskin had had no help from his mother’s family. The Silverskins might spout heresies, but they were obviously too cowardly to shield a wanted criminal in their midst.
Lost in these aggravating thoughts, Lord Iron arranged his grey robes around him more securely and uttered a tut of disapproval, which conjured curious glances from his fellow passengers. The mere idea of the Silverskins annoyed him. Despite being shunned by respectable society, the family still persisted in their delusions. More than one Silverskin had claimed to possess actual knowledge of the Cities of the Rim and the lands that lay beneath the ice and, in days when they’d possessed more credibility, had sought to initiate exploratory expeditions. Such ideas were not only forbidden but dangerous. They had invoked stringent punishment. During the disruptive early years of the Reformation, Silverskins had died in the Brass Jester and on Old Granny’s Skillet, which were two legendary instruments of torture still exhibited in the great Museum of the Metal in the Shinlech Fief of Clan Copper. Now the law was far more humane. Instead, it sentenced miscreants to Gragonatt Fortress for reeducation.
Lord Iron twitched aside the heavy woollen curtain of the observation port. Outside, the cityscape was shrouded in the eternal mist that rose from the ice at night and drifted throughout the city, freezing to a crust upon the roads and buildings as it went. The carriage’s metal wheels threw up a vicious spray of glittering shards from the road that tinkled against the sides of the vehicle. And there, ahead, the Fortress itself, rearing up against the indigo sky. It was crafted of a strange fusion of stone and metal, huge and impregnable, an image of human suffering worked in its bulk and severe lines. This was the symbol of law and order in Karadur. It represented the immutable truth that crime would not be tolerated. Criminals, by their very nature, were deceitful and duplicitous.
Now Max Silverskin and Menevek Vane would be sentenced to a lifetime of reeducation in the Fortress—from which not so much as a scream had escaped in all the millennia of its existence.
Gragonatt Fortress was a product of the Clan Wars, when the noble families of Karadur had built themselves impregnable cities within cities, wasting generation after generation of workers to realise their architectural dreams. Countless healthy bodies had broken upon the unyielding basalt, so that the rock itself had bloomed with rich young blood. The Fortress was all that remained of that dark period of civil strife, and had been a prison for most of its existence. No place for a person of spirit. It was hard to imagine that once the elegant Clan Gold had lived within it, but that had been immeasurable years before, and the building had undergone many structural changes since then.
Lord Iron glanced at Melodia, who was also looking out of the port. Did she imagine herself dwelling there, imprisoned by the severe walls, gazing out wistfully at the mist-veiled spires of Karadur?
“Nearly there,” Cofﬁn announced unnecessarily. He shifted in his seat.
Lord Iron both respected and despised the captain. He was efﬁcient, but ofﬁcious, diligent but often petty. It was also apparent he harboured an affection for Lord Iron’s daughter, the Lady Rose. What was he thinking of? True, the man had dragged himself up from the gutters sufﬁciently to own a modest fortune. Also, if the captive in Gragonatt really was Silverskin, Cofﬁn would soon add to his fortune the substantial reward the clans had put up for Max’s capture. Cofﬁn had revolutionised the security forces of the city. His private army of brutal “Irregulars”—who were kin to the honest foundrymen, but appeared more like monstrous throwbacks to the dawn of humanity— policed the streets with greater and greater impunity. The free zones were nominally under the jurisdiction of their inhabitants, and the clans of the Metal were by tradition barred from their streets. This did not stop Cofﬁn and his Irregulars from roaming them at will, behaving with increasing arrogance. The free zoners naturally objected to this and continually sent deputations to the Lords of the Metal, demanding that Cofﬁn’s men should be prevented from entering their territory. In view of recent civil unrest, however, the petitions were ignored.
The majority of the Irregulars had been drawn from the ranks of outcast foundrymen, who had been banished from their families for worshipping at unwholesome shrines. Religion was seen as a sickness in Karadur, a delusion spawned by fear. Reasonable people were not subject to such fears. Cofﬁn had offered his recruits a reeducation of sorts. They were massively muscled, men of few words, who were adept with every kind of skinning knife and ﬂensing tool a butcher could dream of owning. When times were slack, many Irregulars worked in the slaughterhouses, where it was supposed they achieved considerable job satisfaction. Cofﬁn insisted they had abandoned the practice of adoring their secret goddess, Sekmet, who was the old pagan deity of the Foundry, scoured from history since the Reformation. When Cofﬁn had ﬁrst introduced the Irregulars to impress the lords with their effectiveness, they had been tolerated by the clans. The lords’ own mechanical guards, the Roaring Boys and the Blinding Boys, had begun to show signs of decrepitude, despite their enormous power. They were likely to lock up suddenly, in a spray of sparks, and emit choking clouds of steam. A familiar sight in Karadur was of teams of mekkaphants—half-organic beasts of burden created in the Foundry— towing away mechanical failures for repair.
Captain Cofﬁn was openly contemptuous of the automated constables. They could no longer keep the peace. The likes of Silverskin were able to run rings round them most of the time. The captain made plain his view that they were redundant and should be scrapped, replaced by his own efﬁcient force. Reluctantly, the lords had partly complied and now paid him for his services, while still retaining some control via their ailing Battle Boys.
No doubt Cofﬁn thought that once the million platinum mirror reward was safely in his hands, his power and inﬂuence would equal that of the lords themselves. Let him think it. He had his uses.
The carriage puffed to a halt at the gates to the Fortress. The driver sounded the horn. Guards within the Fortress, who had no doubt been watching the visitors approach and had recognised the crest of Clan Iron ﬂuttering from the carriage’s forecabin, began to unseal their domain. First, a great portcullis squealed upwards, followed by the agonised opening scrape of three sets of metal-bound doors. Mist swirled at ground level. The Fortress was mostly dark within, lit by the feverish glow of a few torches. The carriage surged beneath the shadow of the gates and stood panting in a shawl of steam in the great courtyard beyond.
Lord Iron alighted from the vehicle and held out his hand to assist Lady Melodia down to the rusting cobbles. Captain Cofﬁn jumped out nimbly beside them and slapped his hands together, exhaling plumes of smoking breath. “Ah, here’s Mantwick,” he said, nodding his head towards the large man emerging from a lighted doorway.
Mantwick, governor of the Fortress, bowed respectfully to Lord Iron and Lady Gold. “Welcome, Lords. The prisoners are ready for your inspection.”
Lord Iron made a fastidious gesture. “Lead on. We have little time. We have to attend the ﬁnal ceremony of the Jewel in a couple of hours.”
“This way, Lords.” Mantwick gestured for them to enter the building.
Within, the Fortress was haunted by the distant hiss of steam and the churning of great machinery as shifts of prisoners toiled in the workshops. The air was oddly scentless, which always surprised Lord Iron. With so many miscreants packed in together, he expected the rotten efﬂuvia of their corruption to ﬁll the air with foulness. Mantwick led the group down a series of metal-walled passages lined with doors, all of which had closed observation windows at eye level. Halfway down one corridor, Mantwick paused and lifted the keys from his belt. He unlocked the door before him and pushed it open. Lord Iron and Captain Cofﬁn entered the cell together.
The walls of the cell were all of polished metal, which must make the eyes ache after a period of incarceration. The prisoners were sitting on the ﬂoor, their hands and feet shackled. “Maximilian Silverskin and Menevek Vane,” announced Mantwick in a toneless voice.
Lord Iron drew in a breath through his nose, conscious of the rustle of Lady Melodia’s gown behind him. There was no doubt the prisoners were who Cofﬁn claimed them to be. Max had sunk low. At twenty-six, he had already reached the end of useful life. His pale hair was lank about his shoulders, his eyes deep sunk. Where was his dashing mien now? He looked defeated, dazed, while Vane simply looked old and worn out, his greying dark hair a lunatic mane about his face.
“It was only a matter of time before you found yourself here, Max,” Lord Iron said.
Lady Melodia stalked past him. “Where is my ring, scum? Where is it?”
Silverskin merely gaped up at her, as if mindless. His face bore the bruises and swellings of an earlier beating.
“My lady,” Captain Cofﬁn murmured, stepping forward. “Allow me.” He leaned down and struck the prisoner hard across the face, making his head slam against the metal wall behind him. “Answer the lady, that’s a good boy.”
Silverskin shook his head, perhaps to gather his senses rather than to answer.
“He must have it,” Melodia said coldly. “It was not recovered from the scene. It was my grandmother’s. I want it.”
Lord Iron didn’t care about the missing jewellery. He was curious about Max Silverskin. Some part of him felt Max should be disposed of quietly and neatly. There was something dangerous about him, a whiff of chaos. But another part of him wanted Max alive, to understand him somehow. There was something compelling about Silverskin. Perhaps if he were ugly, this would not be so. Was a handsome countenance enough to save a man from execution? He was an enigma, certainly. How could anyone voluntarily give up a life of privilege for that of a common criminal? He wasn’t a stupid person. As a boy, his mind had outshone those of the majority of his clan siblings. Max could have had a great future, but he’d thrown it away. “What are we to do with you, Max?” Lord Iron said, shaking his head.
Max smiled crookedly, rather madly. Lord Iron wondered whether the beating he’d received had affected his brain.
“You’ll get no sense from him,” Cofﬁn said with a sneer. “The legend is bigger than the man. Disappointing really. I’d expected more.”
Lord Iron said nothing. Cofﬁn was a dolt, in that he had no idea what was before him. Still, he’d done his work well. That was all that mattered.
“My ring,” said Lady Melodia.
Cofﬁn raised his hand, clearly relishing the prospect of striking Max again.
“There is no ring,” Menevek Vane said abruptly, in a croaking voice. “If there was, wouldn’t you have found it?”
Cofﬁn bunched his ﬁst, but Lord Iron reached out and stayed his hand. “There is nothing to be gained from that,” he said coldly.
“They must have it,” said Melodia.
“Max, you know you must remain here, don’t you?” Iron said. “You have brought this upon yourself. I only hope that the hospitality of Mr. Mantwick will eventually drum some sense into you. When you are older and wiser, perhaps you may return to life in Karadur. In the meantime, you can help yourself by revealing the names of your confederates in the free zones. I should imagine that one year could be knocked off your sentence for each name you give us.”
Max said nothing, blinking stupidly.
“Insolent wretch!” Cofﬁn snarled, kicking Max’s legs.
Lord Iron gritted his teeth. Whatever Max was, or had become, he still carried clan blood, and it galled the Lord to see him being abused by an out-clan. “Max, I’m sure you appreciate it would be better for you to comply. Neither I, nor any of your family, can help you here. It grieves me to see a scion of the Silver sink to this state. You owe it to your clan and yourself to salvage what you can from this sad circumstance.”
“He needs no help from you,” said Vane. “And why should he care for his so-called clan? Where are they? They don’t give a ﬁsh about him.”
Lord Iron ignored the man. He was nothing, even if he did regard himself as Max’s surrogate father. “Think on my words,” Lord Iron said softly. “I will return.” He turned to the captain. “Come, Cofﬁn, we must leave.”
“But my grandmother’s ring,” said Lady Melodia. “We still know nothing.”
“Perhaps you mislaid it,” said Lord Iron. “Have your servants search your rooms again.” He marched from the cell, and his companions, rather reluctantly, followed.
The door slammed shut, and gradually the gas lights dimmed to leave the prisoners in darkness, which was actually preferable to being blinded by the shining walls. The lights would remain dark for six hours. Max expelled a groan, and felt Menni’s hand grip his shoulder. “There, lad. There,” the man said grufﬂy. The only comfort he could offer was human contact.
“They’ll kill us,” Max murmured. “With small abuses every day. With torment. With boredom, with darkness.”
“No, lad, no. We’ll work the machines like every other poor sod in this place. We can make it.”
“That is not life,” Max said. “Even if Cofﬁn doesn’t try to kill me, I’ll die anyway. I can feel it already. If my body lives, it will be without a soul.”
“Come on, buck up. This isn’t like you.”
Max uttered a sorrowful caustic laugh. “There’s nothing left of me. We were careless, stupid.”
“We always danced on the edge of a blade,” Menni said. “We both knew it. Luck turned away and we tripped. It was a risk we took.”
Variations on this conversation had taken place since they’d been brought to Gragonatt a few days before. Menni had suffered less than Max. The guards seemed to take pleasure in abusing a fallen member of the clans. Max had harboured the hope, ridiculously as he now realised, that Clan Silver would be so ashamed to have one of their kind incarcerated in Gragonatt that they’d pull strings to get him out of here. But no Silver had come to visit him, and even the head of the Council of Guilds, Lord Iron, lacked the power or desire to help him. Max felt he’d lived a lie, laughing in the face of the clans, robbing them, teasing them. He’d thought himself invincible. Now, sore and hopeless, he realised that ultimately he’d only been playing, like a child. The adult hand of authority had slapped down and curbed him. He was powerless. Sighing, he lay back and rested his head on Menni’s lap, the man who was the closest to a father he’d ever had. Menni shouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t live to see the day of release. If it came at all, it would be decades into the future.
“Sleep, lad,” said Menni, laying a rough hand on Max’s hair, which was spiky with dried blood.
“Sleep forever,” Max mumbled. He could feel feathery clouds closing about him, smothering him, pressing him down into a dark place in his mind.
There came to him a strange dream. Thin sheets of brilliantly polished metal clattered and ﬂashed before his eyes and then melted into a shining ﬂuid that poured over him like mercury. He would drown in it.
He heard a mighty roaring voice, the cry of metal itself. His ﬂesh was ﬂayed by ﬂames, as if he were being reforged from white-hot steel. He could almost feel the hammers pounding him into existence.
Blind, he heard voices about him, whispering, cruel and quick. A scream lanced his ears, which he realised was his own. Sight returned in gouts of brilliant light. He was awash in quicksilver, sliding down a helter-skelter of iron.
His whole being, his very soul, was ﬁlled with a mighty, rhythmic pounding: the spiteful hiss of steam, the crack of sparking furnaces. A ﬂying shadow passed brieﬂy across the all-destroying, all-creating blaze. It seemed to be an immense mechanical owl, fashioned from glowing copper. Blackness again. The dolour of bells in his ears.
Max opened his eyes. His head was encased in a pressure that had no visible cause. By dim light that had no source, he saw he was in his cell, lying on the ﬂoor. He was aware of someone else being present, and could see Menni asleep nearby, but it was not his mentor’s presence he could sense. Someone else. An invisible visitor.
Max scrambled to his knees. This must still be dream. He could see no one, but felt as if there were someone very close to him, a face inches from his own.
“Who are you?” Max murmured, and his voice hissed like steam.
Scarlet ﬂames burst before his eyes, a burning brand. He shied away, shielding his face with his hands, but could see what appeared to be a helmet looming before him. It was fashioned of iron and rimmed with gold. At its centre, a circle pulsed, of copper, pale green and terracotta.
Max shaded his eyes and tried to discern who wore this helmet, but it was impossible. The light of the brand concealed more than it revealed. Now, it ﬂared and swooped towards him. Max uttered an instinctive cry of horror and covered his eyes. He was pushed backwards, and a heavy pressure fell upon his shoulders, pinning him down. Iron-gloved hands ripped away his shirt. Max was consumed by pain as white heat was thrust against his naked chest. His unseen visitor meant to murder him, burn him with the brand. He could feel the ﬂames eating into his ﬂesh, transforming it to cinders, eating down to his heart. Pain. Confusion. Heat and light. His own screams like the cruel lament of crows that roosted in Gragonatt’s lofty eaves.
Then, someone was shaking him. “Max! Max!” It was Menni. Max opened his eyes, blinked. It seemed the cell was ﬁlled with blue-white radiance, even though the gas lamps were still dead. How was that possible? Then he realised the source of the light was himself. A blinding effulgence emanated from the centre of his chest. He scrabbled backwards, staring down at his body. A disk of silver blazed over his heart, sending out spiralling rays of light. Was this real? Was he still dreaming? His body was scored by claws of terrible pain. He could not think, focus.
“Max, lie still.” Menni’s voice was ragged, edged with fear.
He couldn’t obey. He could see his reﬂection distorted in the metal walls. His head had turned to metal: iron and gold, with a circle of copper edged in pale green at the centre. His mouth opened and closed, his eyes rolled, but they were made of iron. He tugged at his head, trying to pull it away, sure his real self of ﬂesh and blood still existed beneath it. But it would not come free. The metal had become one with his ﬂesh. And in the centre of his chest burned the disk of silver.
Menni was still speaking urgently, but Max could not hear the words. His head ﬁlled with a humming, crackling sound. Menni’s face was a mask of disbelief and fear. It was he who was backing away now. His hand shook as he pointed at Max’s chest.
Max could hear words now, but they were not Menni’s. They existed only inside Max’s head. “You are doomed and blessed, son of silver. Fulﬁl your destiny—or die. Discover what you are or may be, for you are now truly of silver heart.”
Max uttered a cry and tried to claw the glowing silver disk from his chest, but it had bonded with his ﬂesh. Wrenching at it was like trying to tear out his own heart. He couldn’t do it. His senses shrieked in horror.
The dream world engulfed him abruptly once more, but this time with tranquillity. He and Menni drifted on their backs, side by side, in a calm sea of liquid silver. All the colours of the Metal swirled lazily around them. There was nothing else. The ocean was endless limbo.
Then a faint sound, gradually growing louder: the tolling of a monstrous bell.
Out of the ocean, shapes began to form. He saw a great city rearing upwards. Outlined in metal, a soaring central tower dominated the fantastic roofs and domes, the turrets and chimneys. The structure seemed almost organic, ﬂickering and shifting in the weird light. The stones and bricks of its buildings were bound and buttressed, tied with beams and bands of iron and steel, decorated with gold, silver, bronze, tin and brass. Its stained glass was rimmed with gleaming lead. What was this place? Could it be the legendary Shriltasi, the city of dreams that Max had heard tales of as a child? Menni had always told him the stories weren’t true, that there was no magical city hidden beneath the ice, but for some years in his childhood Max had been obsessed with the idea. He had even searched for it. Perhaps Shriltasi existed only beyond life, and this was no dream, but death.
Once the city had fully emerged from the ice, the metal ocean began to cool. Its colours faded to misty steel blue and then, eventually, to blue white. Ice. It spread outwards in all directions, to every horizon. Nothing but ﬂat, pale ice under a strange, unchanging sky where no sun burned.
The dark city reposed upon a great crag of limestone, perhaps the peak of some buried mountain. It was not Shriltasi, for Max recognised it now. Karadur. She was beautiful and terrible. Fire and smoke constantly curled around her tall towers and massive masonry, ﬁlling the surrounding sky and bringing a false, hellish night.
Max was hauled painfully from the dream. He opened his eyes. He was cold, so cold. Menni was shaking him. They were enclosed in chill fog. Another dream? Max moved and winced. His chest burned. Someone had struck him with a ﬂaming brand, that was it. What had happened? Why were they so cold? Had the Fortress been breached to let in the night?
“We’re out!” Menni cried. “Don’t ask me how or why—I don’t know what happened—but we’re out. Must have been an explosion in the workshops. Get to your feet, Max. We may not have much time.”
Dazed, Max peered around himself, unable to obey Menni’s frantic command immediately. They were not only outside Gragonatt, but outside the city itself. Karadur was ahead of them, only a hundred yards or so away. “Someone came,” he said. “Into the cell . . . Freed us.”
“No,” Menni said. “Get up, Max.” He began pulling at Max’s arms. “I was dozing. You were still lying across me. Then it happened. I don’t know what. It was like being punched by the sky. I fell, or was thrown; then we were here. Lucky to be alive. Our bodies were relaxed.”
Thick mats of fog swirled around them, but Max thought he could make out the stark lines of Gragonatt’s upper stories rearing above the city. It looked intact. He tried to point, say something, but Menni wouldn’t listen. He had the walls of Karadur in his sight and was clearly determined to reach them before pursuit came from the Fortress or the cold froze the life from them. Max stumbled forward, but was brought to his knees by a sharp, crippling pain in his chest.
“What is it? Are you hurt?” Menni looked almost impatient that that might be the case.
Max touched the fabric of his shirt. Something beneath it. Something hard, retaining heat. “It’s nothing,” he said.
Silverheart © Michael Moorcock & Storm Constantine