Steven Savile returns with Coldfall Wood, a gritty new fantasy about a reluctant hero combatting a forgotten god.
Every legend promises the same thing: at the time of the land’s greatest need the heroes shall return. What they don’t mention is that we are the greatest threat our green and pleasant land has ever known, or that our obsession with concrete and steel, with technology and advancement, is slowly killing the land. In the legends saving the land never involves the slaughter of its inhabitants. Legends lie.
In the last primeval woodland of London an ancient force stirs, issuing the call.
His voice echoes in the minds of the disaffected and disenfranchised, the doomed youth of the city: Rise up!
In a single night, six girls who have never met and bear no relation to each other are struck down by a mysterious sickness that leaves them in persistent vegetative state. Across the city an old woman who hasn’t opened her eyes in years finally wakes. Her first words are: The Horned God is Awake. Soon the puzzling truth emerges. Each Sleeper’s final words were the same dire warning.
One for one. The message was seared into the floor, along with all of the craziness a hundred year old obsession had amassed. With the children disappearing across the city, two men are about to learn the terrible truth behind those three words. They are all that stand between our world and the cleansing fire of the once and future king. The question our heroes must answer: how do you kill a god the world has forgotten about?
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||5 MB|
About the Author
Steven Savile has twice been nominated for the British Fantasy Society Award for best short story and best original fiction collection, and was runner up in 2000 for his editorial work on Redbrick Eden, Scaremongers 2, which raised funds for the homeless charity SHELTER in the UK. He is the author of Glass Town and Silver, and lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where he also teaches.
Read an Excerpt
They found what remained of Huw Carter's body six months later.
It wasn't much: part of a jawbone, a fragment of skull, and a few teeth. The coffin was so much larger than it needed to be, the Union Jack draped across the lid.
There was a narrative being woven around Taff's death, the hopeless bravery of the Welshman standing up — tragically — to one of the oldest crime families in the city. It was a big fat steaming pile of bullshit, of course, but the truth didn't help anyone.
There were no pretty words or fond remembrances. No one stood up to give the eulogy. Things were kept simple. A few lines from the priest who could have been talking about anyone, so bland were his platitudes. Julie kept his head down, mumbled a few prayers and shuffled out of the church to watch them put what little remained of his old partner in the ground while history was rewritten to give Taff a kinder end.
Julie stuffed his hands into his pockets.
It really should have been raining, he thought. Rain was the right kind of weather for this.
The priest led them to the graveside and waited while the pallbearers folded the flag and lowered the coffin into the ground.
There were a few nods exchanged by the mourners. Everyone knew each other, which wasn't particularly surprising given there were only half a dozen people there. It was hardly the mark of a life lived well. Julie knew all of them: Ellie Taylor, his new partner; Melissa Banks and Sara Sykes and their solemn-faced gaffer, George Tenaka, representing the station; and Alex Raines, who held onto Julie's hand when it finally came out of his pocket. She was the only good thing to come out of the last few months. He looked at her and tried to smile as the priest offered his well-rehearsed last farewell to the flesh, of ashes and dust.
Beyond her, across the tops of the headstones, he saw the ancient forest that bordered the cemetery.
Once upon a time the trees had stretched for miles, but they'd been felled to make way for housing estates like the Rothery and the relentless creep of the modern world. Now, it was less than a quarter of the size it had been fifty years ago, and even that was less than a quarter of what it had been when Damiola had created Glass Town back in the '20s. It was difficult to imagine just how much the city could change, even discounting the fact that six months ago a labyrinth of streets no one had walked upon for decades suddenly redrew the familiar maps of the city overnight. No one seemed willing to talk about them or how they'd suddenly appeared at the mouths of familiar alleyways and street corners after Josh destroyed the anchors securing Damiola's grand illusion.
A car backfired somewhere off beyond the trees, which startled an unkindness of ravens into the sky. The black birds banked across the thick clouds and wheeled away, their caws carrying all the way back to the grave. It wasn't exactly a twenty-one gun salute.
Julie watched the birds take flight, but didn't really think about what he was seeing.
He just wanted to get out of there.
Alex squeezed his hand, mistaking his restlessness for grief.
The priest closed his bible, and lowered his head, leading them in one final prayer for Taff's soul, before Mel and Sara came forward to drop roses on the coffin lid. Julie threw a handful of dirt into the grave. There was plenty of symbolism in the gesture, despite the ritualistic nature of it.
He turned his back on the grave and walked back toward the car.
"We're going back to the Green Man to raise a glass for Taff," Tenaka said, coming up behind him.
"I'm not in the mood," Julie told him.
"Do you think we are?"
"Then we'll see you there?"
"I'll catch up with you."
He unlocked the driver's side door and climbed in. Alex got into the seat opposite. He fired up the engine, but didn't pull away until the other cars had all left the small graveled parking lot. Instead, he put the radio on, catching the last few lines of Martin Stephenson and the Daintees "Even the Night" as it morphed into "Wholly Humble Heart." They were the songs of his youth, and on another day might have put a smile on Julie's face. It was getting dark, so he turned the headlights on. Spring flowers were in full bloom along the dry-stone wall cordoning off the holy ground. They were a riot of color against the gray.
"How are you holding up?" Alex asked. "It can't be easy ..."
The one peculiarity of their relationship was that despite the fact that Taff, the Lockwoods, and Glass Town had brought them together, even tangentially, they never actually talked about what had happened to him. The past was embargoed. Nothing from back there could find its way here. It was for the best.
"I'll be fine," he said.
"I know you will, but that's not what I asked."
The last car left the church, taking the left-hand turn that would lead them back toward the Rothery, skirting the limits of Coldfall Wood, and driving down the slope of Cane Hill toward the Rothery and the Green Man.
Julie followed. The song changed. He drove without thinking. It was one of the few escapes left to him where he didn't have to worry about what the recovery of Taff's body meant for him. After all, he was the man whose partner hadn't just been killed, he'd been dissolved down to a couple of bones by a prime suspect who himself had disappeared right around the same time. It didn't matter that Julie knew that Seth Lockwood wasn't coming back, or why his body would never turn up in the concrete stanchions of some flyover. He couldn't tell anyone, and not talking was eating him up inside.
He didn't see the man until it was too late. He was a blur of pale flesh as he dashed out from between the rows of dark trees into the road, and in front of them. With Alex's screams filling the car, Julie hit the brakes and wrestled with the wheel, trying desperately to change direction of their sudden slide even though the momentum was against him. Caught in the headlights at the moment of impact, the man went up over the bonnet of the car and sprawled, broken, in the road.
The sound of bones breaking and steel crumpling was sickening.
With the engine still idling, Julie reached for the door handle, but before he could open the door, the man rose up into the full beam of the bright headlights and turned his head to stare at them.
He was naked, long dark hair cascading down across his shoulders, and even crouched down it was obvious that he was considerably taller than Julie. That wasn't what stopped Julie from opening the door. The naked man wore some sort of antlered headdress, only the glare of the headlights made it look as though the horns grew out of his scalp.
The moment was broken by the sound of another car coming up the road.
The horned man rose to his full height, turned, and in a blur of motion ran back toward the dark trees at the heart of Coldfall Wood. It had to be a trick of the light and dark, but in the last few strides, the man's pale skin seemed to shift, shimmering as he transformed into a majestic white stag that bounded off through the trees without looking back.
Julie stared at the trees, haunted by the visceral recollection of another accident on another street not so far from here. Everything about that first accident was as sharp in his memory as it had been the moment it happened. And understandably so. It had been his first glimpse into the wonders and horrors of Glass Town.
"What just happened?"
History repeated itself, he thought, but he wasn't about to say it aloud, because saying it made it real. And he wasn't ready for that.CHAPTER 2
It started with a single shocking act of violence. It wasn't random. It wasn't senseless, at least not to the kid holding the knife. It was about honor. Ollie Underwood died on the pavement outside the fried chicken fast-food place on the High Street, his blood slipping down between the cracks. It looked like paint in the too-bright glow of the restaurant's lights. "I hope she was worth it," were the last six words he ever heard. "Always," the last one he said. He even managed a smirk.
Jamshid Kirmani hated him body and soul.
He deserved to die for what he'd done. It wasn't romantic. No one would write a musical about his one-night stand with Aisha Kahn, which didn't last even close to a night or make it as far as a bed. Poets wouldn't be inspired by their jeans around the ankles — hands against the wall of this very restaurant — grunting not-so-sweet nothings.
Jam stood over the body, knife in hand; Ollie's blood on his jeans, honor only partially satisfied. There was still the matter of Aisha.
In that moment he was the poster boy for Broken Britain.
He had become everything the bigots hated and feared.
Jam saw himself reflected in the window, wiping the knife on his jeans, and inside himself, the frozen faces of two teenage girls beneath their hijabs: Darya trapped midbite unable to look away from him, Hajara holding her mobile phone. She stared at its screen, seeing him through it as she filmed the whole thing. He knew both of them from school. That recognition went both ways. They knew him.
The first scream came from behind him.
It broke the weird spell that had trapped the street in that moment, letting dread and panic and all of those mixed emotions that came with reality hit him with the shock of defibrillator paddles. Jam looked down, saw the consequences of his anger sprawled out one arm across his chest where Ollie had tried to stem the flow of blood, the other dragging its knuckles in the road, and he doubted himself.
Another scream made it real.
He started to run.
He didn't know where.
He wasn't thinking that far ahead.
He heard sirens in the distance, but surely they couldn't be for him already?
He didn't look back. Let them yell at him. Let them chase him.
He just needed to get out of there before the girls could name him, but then what?
It had always been about Aisha.
It wasn't just about honor or shame, it was more than that.
She was everything to him.
And she had betrayed him.
That hurt in ways he couldn't put words to.
He'd been stupid to think that what they had would last forever. He didn't understand her twisted version of love. How could he? He had nothing to compare it to or contrast it against. The only thing he knew for sure was that it shouldn't have been like this.
Jam reached the corner. Behind him, the screams became another instrument in the soundtrack of the city.
He dodged around an old woman struggling with overflowing shopping bags, the plastic stretched to the limit, and pushed between student lovers in their uniforms of torn jeans and T-shirts with the faded faces of long-dead musicians, breaking through their clasped hands. Thou shalt not worship false idols unless they died with heroin in their veins or choked on their own vomit in the name of their art.
He crossed the road without looking either way and kept on running. An endless line of cars of every shape, color, and size lined the curb, making it impossible to get to the other side.
He kept on running, feeling the adrenaline burn in his muscles and the fear trickle down his inside leg. His route took him out of the bright lights of the High Street into the garbage-lined avenues of grubby lace curtains and dirt-smeared windows that made up the façade of a city used to turning blind eyes when people were in trouble. Every window harbored a secret, every door some dark desire. None of them could be saved.
Street after street, each indistinguishable from the last, until he crossed into the Rothery. The first landmark he passed was the burned-out shell of The Hunter's Horns. Black scorch marks on the red bricks told their own story. The place had been abandoned for six months, ever since the fire had killed Gideon Lockwood, the old guy who'd owned it. He crossed the street again, well and truly in the estate now. Up ahead, crossing the road like it had every right to be there, he saw a majestic white stag with huge antlers. The great beast's hooves clipped on the asphalt road. It ignored him and walked on.
The lights were on in Sal's.
Faded bill posters filled with thick black block capital names — Eubank, Lewis, Haye, Hamed, Benn, Bruno, Froch, and Fury — covered the windows. Sometimes those familiar names were low down the bill, beneath the names of fighters no one remembered now, as if that offered Sal's some sort of authenticity if you ignored the fact that they could be picked up for a couple of quid on eBay.
He pushed open the door.
Sal's was an old sweat-and-sawdust gym.
It stank of every musk and pheromone; reeked of sweat and blood.
He knew she'd be here. She was always here. According to her, the old man had offered her salvation and she'd taken it with two clenched fists.
Two fighters sparred in the ring, one with flat parrying gloves in front of his face while the other wailed on him, repeating the left-left-right jab-jab cross pattern of blows over and over twenty times in the short time it took Jam to walk down the ramp into the main gym. "Again! Again! Good, chin down, guard up! Again!" Aisha was on the speedball, her bandaged fists going to town on the pigskin. She was relentless. There were patterns to the punches, rhythms. Some dirty grunge rock with gravelly vocals offered a musical counterpoint to the endless punches. She was playing the tune, matching it riff for riff on the ball.
Her black hair was tied up in a ponytail. Sweat glistened on the skin at the nape of her neck and trickled down the bare curve of her spine beneath her training top. She pushed herself harder as the beat quickened. It was a dance. A brutal, violent dance.
The constant motion gave illusion of flight to the hummingbird tattoo on her shoulder. Jam hated that damned thing. She'd been buzzing with excitement as she peeled off her shirt and teasing away the gauze to expose the angry red skin beneath. It had been their first real fight. The beginning of the end. Aisha just refused to accept that she'd changed Allah's creation and what that meant. She didn't care. She was a modern woman. She wasn't bound by rules made up by some long-dead prophet who couldn't know the life she was going to live. He tried to argue with her, but she countered everything he could think of saying with the truth that women in Iran had more rights in the '70s than girls like her did now. It was burned in his brain. He didn't know how to argue with her. That hummingbird was more than just ink; it was the fundamental difference between them.
She didn't take her eye off the ball.
Maybe she was imagining his face in place of the leather?
There were four other men in the gym. Two well-defined muscle boys hovering over the weights, another wiry lightweight toweling himself down as he watched the guys spar in the ring. The fourth, a brute of a man with no neck and a serious case of roid rage was working the heavy bag. The sounds of his fists slapping the punch bag and the dance of the chain anchoring it to the ceiling filled the momentary silence between tracks. Sal's specter was all over the gym despite the fact the old man had been dead three years. There were no lights on in the office overlooking the training floor. They were never on these days. No one went up there.
Jam made it all the way to the speedball without anyone noticing him.
Aisha missed her punch, blowing the rhythm.
The ball cannoned off the backboard and swung violently on its spring.
"What are you doing here, Jam?" she said, and then she saw the blood and the knife in his hand. He had run all this way without letting go of it. "What have you done?"
Even with the world reduced to a point where it was just the two of them he couldn't find the words.
He wanted to tell Aisha he'd protected her honor. He wanted her to understand that he'd done it for her. But nothing would come out of his mouth.
He felt stupid.
"What did you do, Jam?"
She looked down at his hands.
"You're frightening me, Jam. What did you do? Look at me." She reached out for him, to touch his cheek, but he backed away a step, keeping the distance between them.
He was shaking. He held his hands out, the knife and blood like an offering. "I did it for you."
"What? What did you do?" She sounded frightened. Properly scared. She should. She had no idea what he was capable of. He'd only just found out himself.
Jam said his name, "Ollie. He had to pay for what he did to you."
"He didn't do anything to me. We did it together, Jam. I'm not a victim."
"You didn't know what you were doing."
"Stop it. Stop talking like that, Aye. Tell me what to do. Just tell me."
"Everything all right, Eye?"
Eye. That was what they called her here. Eye. Eye of the Tiger. Not Aye like him. They thought they were being clever. She turned slightly, showing him the wing tips of that hummingbird on her shoulder. Flaunting her imperfection.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Coldfall Wood"
Copyright © 2018 Steven Savile.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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