The Devil in Green (Dark Age Series #1)by Mark Chadbourn
Humanity has emerged, blinking, from the Age of Misrule into a world substantially changed: cities lie devasted, communications are limited, anarchy rages across the land. Society has been thrown into a new Dark Age where superstition holds sway. The Tuatha De Danaan roam the land once more, their terrible powers dwarfing anything mortals have to offer. And in
Humanity has emerged, blinking, from the Age of Misrule into a world substantially changed: cities lie devasted, communications are limited, anarchy rages across the land. Society has been thrown into a new Dark Age where superstition holds sway. The Tuatha De Danaan roam the land once more, their terrible powers dwarfing anything mortals have to offer. And in their wake come all the creatures of myth and legend, no longer confined to the shadows. Fighting to find their place in this new world, the last remnants of the Christian Church call for a group of heroes: a new Knights Templar to guard the priesthood as they set out on their quest for souls. But as everything begin to fall apart, the Knights begin to realize their only hope is to call on the pagan gods of Celtic myth for help...
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The Devil in Green
By MARK CHADBOURN
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Mark Chadbourn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIN THESE TIMES
"It is not bad luck, but right and just that you have found yourselves travelling this road, far from the beaten track followed by others. It is right that you should learn all things and develop the unshakeable heart of well-rounded truth, unlike the opinions of men that contain no truth at all. You shall learn how mere appearances seem as though they actually exist." Parmenides
The weight of a man's soul is greatest in the dark hours before dawn. On a night when even the moon and stars were obscured, Mallory carried the burden of his own intangible more heavily than ever. He was in the thrall of an image, a burst of fire in the night like the purifying flame of some Fabulous Beast. It was clear when he closed his eyes, floating ghostly across his consciousness when he opened them, both mysterious and haunting. Yet a deeply buried part of him knew exactly what it meant, and that same part would never allow it to be examined.
He had briefly been distracted by the passage of a man in his midtwenties who looked unusually frail, as if gripped by some wasting illness. He was hunched over the neck of his horse, buffeted by a harsh wind hurling the first cold stones of rain. Autumn was drawing in. Mallory was protected from the elements in his Porsche, which he had reversed behind a hedgerow so that it couldn't be seen from the road; he'd felt the need to clear his head before continuing on to his destination.
Briefly, he caught his reflection in the rearview mirror: shoulder-length brown hair framing a good-looking face that took its note from an ironic disposition. It sent a shiver through him, and he looked quickly away.
Obliquely, Mallory wondered if Salisbury was no longer there, like the rumours he had heard of Newcastle and some of the villages in the Scottish borders. The night had been so impenetrable as he drove south that the whole world could have been wiped away.
If he'd had a choice in the matter, he would have travelled in daylight. The countryside was filled with gangs armed with shotguns and knives, raiding villages and the outskirts of towns for food; life had become infinitely more brutal since everything had turned sour. But it was the other things that cast more disturbing shadows across life. The silhouettes of little men moving slowly across the open fields under the stars. The thing he'd glimpsed up close once, emerging from an abandoned pig farm: eyes like saucers, scales that glinted in the moonlight and fingers that were too, too long. It only confirmed the stories that kept everyone confined to their homes once the sun set: the night didn't belong to man anymore.
Mallory watched the traveller's slow progress and wondered obliquely what was on his mind.
The rider bowed his head into the rising storm, pulling his waterproof cloak tighter around him as the gusts of wind threatened to unseat him. Seeking shelter was undoubtedly the wise thing to do, but the hard weight of his fear wouldn't let him. To rest in a place where he could be cornered was more than he could bear to consider; at least on the road he had the chance to flee. Single-minded determination was the only thing that kept him going. He didn't even glance behind him, because he knew his imagination would conjure faces in the trees and hedgerows, the rustling noises of pursuit, the presence of something coming up hard to drag him from his horse.
Nothing there, he told himself.
He'd planned his journey to skirt Salisbury Plain-it was a no-man's-land and anyone who was stupid enough to venture in never came out again-yet even the surrounding countryside felt unbearably dangerous. But if he made it to Salisbury, it would all be worth it. Finally: salvation, redemption, hope.
The thunder made him start so sharply that he almost jumped from the saddle. It was the roar of a giant beast bearing down on him. The lightning came a few seconds later, turning the inky fields and clustering trees to stark white.
Nothing there, he confirmed with relief.
To his right, the stern mount of Old Sarum rose up in silhouette. Soon he might see a few flickering lights-candles, probably, to light loved ones home. Perhaps someone had even got a store of oil to keep a generator running. He was surprised at how much that simple thought gave him a thrill.
More thunder, another flash of light. His thighs were numb beneath sodden denim; he couldn't feel his fingers. He wished it were still high summer.
The wind deadened his ears and started to play tricks on him. A gust eddying around the cochlea became a song performed by a string quartet; a breeze penetrating deeper was the whisper of an old friend. The blood banging around inside his head only added to the dislocation that made him ignore his most vital night sense. When the high-pitched whistle came, it was nothing more than the protest of the trees' uppermost branches.
The second time the whistle rose, he clung on to the desensitised state protecting him from the night fears; but the third blast gave him little space to hide: it was closer, and had an insistence that suggested purpose. Even then he couldn't bring himself to look around. He gave a futile spur to the horse, but its weariness made it immune. Even his illusion of having the freedom to escape had been taken from him.
A whistle is nothing to be scared of, he told himself, while at the same time picturing the bands of skinhead men with blue tattoos and dead eyes, signalling to each other that it was time for the attack. He was armed for defence, but he wasn't ready; he never had been a violent man, but he could learn to change. The kitchen knife was in a makeshift scabbard of insulating tape against his thick hiking socks and the cricket bat with the nails hammered through it was slung over his back in a loop of washing line. Which would be the best for use on horseback?
The whistle became insistent and continual, the high-pitched screech somehow unnatural, not the product of men or musical instrument. Suddenly it was all he could hear, and it was like nothing he had ever heard before. It was growing louder, the unfortunate pitch making him feel sick and disoriented; he wanted to plug his ears or sing loudly to drown it out.
Instead, he forged on. So near to Salisbury, with its medieval cathedral rising up to proclaim the majesty of God, with its ordered streets, its gentility, its cafés and pubs, intelligence and history. Salisbury, the New Jerusalem in the West.
Whistling is nothing compared to what I've been through, he thought, but the notion only made him feel worse.
As the road drove down steeply, the trees drew in to create a funnel channelling the blasting wind. He felt like ice, and not just because of the weather. To add to his discomfort, the rain started, quickly becoming a downpour.
Shortly before he passed the first stretch of abandoned houses, he allowed his gaze-stupidly-to wander away to the field on his right. A flash of lightning brought it up like snow: across it dark shapes bounded; not men.
He raced through the possibilities of what he might have seen, but nothing matched the reality and the impossibilities were infinitely more terrifying. Salisbury grew distant.
The whistling pierced deep into his brain, no longer a single sound but a chorus of alien voices. Now he wanted to claw at his ears until they bled. It was a hunting call.
He urged himself not to look around, but the magnetism was irresistible. Tears blurred his eyes as he turned, and he had to blink them away before he could see what was closing in on him. Another flash of lightning. Across the countryside, the shapes fluttered eerily like paper blown in the wind, drawing in on the road; some were already amongst the nearby trees, dancing around the boles or swinging from the branches. Their whistling grew louder as they neared, scores of them, perhaps even more than a hundred. They had his scent.
He dug his heels hard into the weary horse's flanks, but all he could get out of it was a burst of steaming breath and a shake of sweat. A cry caught in his throat. He wanted to wish himself somewhere else, he wanted his parents, but the shakes that swept through him drove everything away.
Though the blasting wind made his eyes sting, he kept his gaze fixed on the wet road ahead, but soon his peripheral vision was picking up motion. He was caught in a pincer movement. Some of them could have had him then, but they were waiting for the others to catch up. Briefly, the hellish whistling faded, but that was only because it was drowned beneath the constant low shriek that rolled out of his own mouth. Dignity no longer mattered, only his poor, pathetic life.
And then the things were at the side of the road, tracking the horse with wild bounds. With rolling eyes and flaring nostrils, his mount found some reservoir of energy.
In a brief instant of lucidity, he remembered the cricket bat. His panic made him yank at it so wildly that the clothesline caught around his neck. Frantically, he tried to rip it free, but it was plastic and wouldn't break. His actions became even more lunatic until, miraculously, the makeshift weapon came loose. He whirled, ready to beat off the first of the wave.
One of the things was already at his side. It moved with the easy grace and awkwardness of a monkey, long arms flipping it forward as fast as the horse could gallop. It had orange-red fur like an orangutan and it reeked of rotting fish. Then it turned its head toward him and it had the face of a child.
It said, in its infant voice, "Your mother has cancer. You will never see her again."
He almost fell from the horse in shock. A thought ... a secret fear ... plucked from the depths of his mind. The creature bared its teeth-a horrifying image in the innocent face-and then launched itself at him. He brought the bat down sharply, but as the creature caught on to the saddle its long arm snaked up, snatched the bat from his grip, and snapped it in two with the force of one hand.
His shrieks rose above the wind as he attempted to slap the thing away with the hand that wasn't clutching the reins. It was an emasculated gesture, filled with hopelessness; the creature didn't even attempt to defend itself. It brought its young-boy face up closer and the big eyes blinked. As he stared into their depths, he was sickened by the incongruous sight of something hideously old and filled with ancient fury. The beast bared its teeth again, ready to attack.
He threw back his head and cried out to God. In a burst of blind luck, his flailing arms caught the creature under the chin just as it jumped and it flipped head over tail behind him. It did him little good; the other beasts were already preparing to rush in.
Above the wind and the whistling came the throaty rumble of a car engine. At first he barely recognised it, so lost to his terror was he; and it had been an age since he had heard that sound. But as it roared closer and bright light splayed all around him, he looked back in disbelief. Twin beams cut a swathe through the creatures as they scrambled to avoid the light. Whoever was driving floored the pedal, swerving across the road to hit the beasts slowest at getting out of the way. He winced: their screams actually sounded like those of small children.
A body slammed across the hood, leaving a deep dent. Another turned part of the windshield to frost. Others were flattened, midscream, beneath the wheels.
The headlights burned toward him as the car accelerated. He wasn't going to be torn apart by a pack of supernatural creatures, he was going to be run down in a world where you rarely saw a car anymore. The irony didn't really have much time to register.
At the last moment, the car swerved until it was running alongside him. The black Porsche was still bright with showroom gleam. His mount jumped and shied in terror, almost throwing him under the wheels.
The passenger window slid down electronically and Mallory leaned across the seat while steering blindly; the rider squinted to make out his face. "Are you doing this for sport?" Mallory called out.
The rider gave a comical goldfish gulp, his comprehension flowing treacle-thick.
Mallory shook his head dismissively, then readjusted the wheel as the car drifted dangerously close to the horse. "You'd better get off that and get in here," he called again.
His words broke through the rider's fug. Along the weed-clogged pavement the creatures were jumping up and down, their whistling unbearably shrill and threatening. The horse didn't want to be reined in, but the rider slowed it enough to dismount, wincing as he landed awkwardly on his left ankle. Mallory brought the Porsche to a screeching halt and flung the passenger door open. The rider gazed worriedly after his departing mount until Mallory yelled, "It'll be fine. It's not horse meat they're after. You've got about two seconds to get in-"
The rider dived in and slammed the door. The creatures bounded closer in fury; it seemed as if they might even risk the light. As the car jolted off with a spin of wheels, the rider threw his head forward into his hands, sobbing, "Thank God."
"Don't thank Him yet. I've been running on empty for the last mile or so. We'll never make it to Salisbury." The rider noted Mallory's expensive black overcoat that looked as new as the car and couldn't mask his discomfort that both had plainly been looted.
Mallory checked over his shoulder before reversing the Porsche at high speed, eventually swinging it around sharply through a hundred and eighty degrees. The rider clutched his stomach and groaned. "Now, let's see if we can get some of those bastards." Indecent pleasure crackled through Mallory's voice.
He hit the accelerator, popped the clutch, and at the same time launched the car toward the edge of the road. Golden sparks showered all around as the under-carriage raked up the curb. The rider squealed as the expensive car tore through long grass and bushes, then squealed more as the creatures failed to get out of the way. They slammed against the already fractured windshield, their bodies bursting to coat the glass with blood so black it resembled ink.
The beasts were too intelligent to be victims for long. One of them dropped from an overhanging branch, clutching on to the windshield with its phenomenally long arms. It fumbled for the spot where the glass was most frosted and hammered sharply. Tiny cubes showered over the rider, who threw up his hands to protect himself. The creature drove its arm through the hole it had created and clawed toward his face. The rider squealed again like a teenage girl and attempted to scramble into the back of the car. His eyes fixed on a shotgun lying across the rear seat just as Mallory shouted, "Use the gun!"
The creature tore chunks out of the windshield and thrust its head partway into the car. The black eyes ranged wildly in the freckled, pink-cheeked face, the teeth snapping furiously.
"I can't use a gun!" the rider shrieked.
"Give it here!" Mallory said with irritation. "It's already loaded."
The rider snatched up the shotgun and threw it at the driver as if it were red hot. Mallory cursed before grabbing it, and then in one simple movement he shouldered it, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The thunderous blast in the confines of the car made their ears ring. The creature's faceless body flapped at the windshield like a piece of cloth before the air currents dragged it away behind.
The cold night air rushing through the hole cleared the rider's senses. "Where can we go?" he whimpered.
Mallory accelerated from the trees along the road out of Salisbury. He pointed to the silhouette of Old Sarum towering over the landscape.
The car died on them on the steep slope to the parking lot between the high banks of prehistoric ramparts constructed for defence more than 2,500 years earlier. Jumping into the driving rain, Mallory and the rider headed along the road, which ran straight for around four hundred and fifty feet to a wooden bridge across a deep inner ditch. Beyond were the ruins of the Norman castle built in the heart of the Iron Age hill-fort. Although the car hadn't taken them far, they'd earned themselves enough breathing space to cover the remaining distance on foot.
"Shouldn't be long till dawn," Mallory said as they ran, head down against the deluge. "They'll leave us alone at first light."
The rider was finding it hard to keep up with his twisted ankle. "How do you know?"
"Are you sure we'll find somewhere to hide out up there?"
Excerpted from The Devil in Green by MARK CHADBOURN Copyright © 2010 by Mark Chadbourn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Mark Chadbourn—a two-time winner of the British Fantasy Award—is the critically-acclaimed author of sixteen novels and one non-fiction book. A former journalist, he is now a screenwriter for BBC television drama. His other jobs have included running an independent record company, managing rock bands, working on a production line, and as an engineer’s ‘mate’. He lives in a forest in the English Midlands. Visit him online at www.markchadbourn.net.
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One year has passed since the new dark Ages began with the Fall. Technology has vanished and is all but forgotten as mankind cowers in corners with the food chain altered as the supernatural roam and hunt humans. Britain no longer claims the last successful invasion was William as the ancient faerie and the deadly demons stalk the blood of Englishmen and their compatriots. A slim hope flickers at Salisbury Cathedral, where Christian Knights Templar prepare for combat against the immortal while spreading the Lord's Word amongst the faithless. Even with these volunteers, belief is nonexistence. For instance Mallory, who is fleeing his past, assumes there is no God but works diligently to become one of the Brothers of Dragons. In the countryside, Paganism is entrenched as the Celtic Nation has formed that includes Sister of Dragons Sophie Tallent the witch. Mallory and Sophie meet, but before they can explore their feelings, his unit deploys on a search and rescue mission that fails. He survives, but after barely making it through a supernatural landmine he arrives at Salisbury to find a demonic army of occupation outside while inside a paranormal serial killer terrorizes the residents. Mallory now knows he can run but never hide as no place is safe. The first stirring Dark Age's thriller wastes no time to get the audience inside the beleaguered world as Mallory on his way to join the human army rescues a man Miller who becomes his brother in arms. The story line is fast-paced and loaded with action as the paranormal attack mortals throughout. The human cast is solid while the supernatural seem genuine as Mark Chadbourn manages to make his Dark Age's world seen frighteningly genuine. Fans of his Age of Misrule and those who relish a post-apocalyptic thriller will want to join Mallory's escapades in a world gone mad. Harriet Klausner