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Authors: Alan Campbell,Dave McKean

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Lye Street

BOOK: Lye Street
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Contents

LYE STREET

A Novella

by

Alan Campbell

Copyright ©
Alan Campbell 2011

Cover Art by Ian McQue

The right of Alan Campbell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

Acknowledgements

Writing can be a lonely endeavour. I'd like to thank all those fans who've emailed me over the years with their encouragement and support, the critics and bloggers who have taken the time to review my books, the people at TvTropes.org, and also everyone over at DeviantArt for their wonderful depictions of Carnival and her world. My usual thanks go to Simon, Peter and Caragh, of course, and to everyone at Writers Bloc: particularly, Andrew W, Andrew F, Caroline, Charlie, Gav, Guthrie, Hannu, Jack, Jane, Kirsti, Martin, Morag, Tim, and Stef.

Prologue

One night in the year 511, Henry Bucklestrappe set fire to an entire block of townhouses on Morning Road. He did this, he would later claim, to prevent the recurrence of certain evil missives which had been appearing on their walls – messages that foretold both the time and the gruesome manner of his future demise. The flames wreaked havoc, and few of the buildings could be saved. Deepgate's Spine assassins removed Bucklestrappe to a cell for punishment, but he did not die there.

He was murdered a year later – exactly as the messages had predicted – on one of the twelve nights of darkmoon. No one could fathom how he had been extracted from the Spine's own dungeons, yet his bloodless corpse was discovered half a league away, stuffed into a cistern in the district of Callow. The priests refused to bless the corpse in the Church of Ulcis, so Bucklestrappe's sons took it out of Deepgate and carried it into the Deadsands, where they left it to be eaten by crows.

For a while, the messages ceased.

Then, fifty years later in the spring of 561, people in the district of Lilley woke to find that the whitewashed archway on the southern side of Swan Bridge had been defaced. Someone had written this:

Buckle strapp of Applecross. Bled in 562.

Beneath the text was a rude picture of a knife, almost child-like in its simplicity. The locals painted over it that same day, but they could not whitewash the gossip. Rumours spread, inevitably reaching the ears of poor Henry's sons. One of them, a butcher by trade, left Deepgate with his family to start a new life in Sanpah. The other son was Norman Bucklestrappe. He had invested a considerable fortune in the city construction projects, and so he elected to stay. On the evening before each Scar Night of 562, when the darkmoon was due to climb above the city spires, he begged the priests for refuge in the temple.

They refused.

The Spine eventually found his corpse in a sewage pipe. His murderer had broken all of his bones and removed the blood from his veins.

For another fifty years the darkmoon came and went each month as usual, yet no further messages appeared.

By 612, the Bucklestrappe murders had been forgotten by most folks. Only Nellie Cripp, old Henry's granddaughter, remembered the curse, but she had married and so given up her doomed family name (if not the house and the pearls). She believed herself to be immune. The priests did not connect her violent murder to a message sketched in charcoal across a chimneypot nearby, in which the both the date and the vampiric nature of Mrs Cripp's demise had been accurately noted.

They had assumed the note to be a memorial, of sorts, written
after
the fact.

They were wrong.

Chapter One

One night in the autumn of 1012, an angel climbed into the attic of a clockmaker's house in Renton Avenue. She had been searching for a dark corner to hide from temple assassins, but what she found was a note scrawled across a large section of pulpboard.

Learn the TRUTH! Go to the tower in Lye Street.

Underneath this, someone had sketched a rude picture of a knife with a circle in the hilt, very much like the one she always carried with her. Carnival stared hard at the drawing, suspecting a trap. Her scarred lips narrowed. The message looked old, and had been stained by years of grime and bat guano, yet there was something oddly disturbing about the handwriting. Its tone and fervour made her feel uncomfortable. She decided to find another hideaway, and she vowed to avoid the tower in Lye Street.

She climbed up through the rafters and back out through the ragged hole she'd made in the roof. She ran lightly across the lead flashings, and then, reaching the edge of the building, spread out her wings and leapt into the night sky.

Deepgate spun below her as she banked, the vast foundation chains turning around her like the spokes of an enormous wheel. Townhouses and bridges crowded around the temple at the very heart of the city, their old stonework alternately wreathed in darkness or illuminated by the pools of yellow light around street lanterns. Starlight glimmered upon a million roof slates. Countless lesser chains and cables wove between those ancient foundation chains, forming tangled webs of iron that held whole streets above the abyss below. She flew out across the Warrens, that labyrinth of brick defiles wherein the city workers lived and bred. It was dark and empty down there now, for every shutter had been closed against the night. Further out, a few lamplighters wandered through the District of Callow, their flaming poles winking among great wickers of chain and hanging walkways.

A gust of wind lifted Carnival higher, up towards the half-moon and the star-encrusted heavens. The ancient knife cuts etched across her pale hands seemed as white as the light of the cosmos itself. Her wings thumped languidly, driving her slender body skywards. Air cold and cleaned by the recent rains rushed across the countless old scars on her face. She paused, her hand lingering on the tightened skin of the rope mark around her neck, as she gazed down at her domain.

Spine assassins were crawling like lice over the rooftops. From this height she could not distinguish between the black leather armour of the Cutters and the Adepts. But it hardly mattered. Both ranks would be armed with nets and crossbows, and trained to look for her silhouette against the stars.

Carnival lifted her knees and dived. Her long black hair streamed behind her head. Her blood pounded in her ears; she felt it coursing through her tightly muscled arms and thighs. She threw herself into the dive, picking up enormous speed, before looping around a column of factory smoke and then levelling her descent. And there she hovered, her dark wings pounding at the night.

A lane zigzagged beneath her, the tenements crooking back and forth to no apparent design. She flew under a cross-chain, then over another, savouring the smell of wet iron. Then she pulled back hard, beating her wings furiously, and settled on the upper storey of a partially built house-bridge. Her landing made no sound at all.

This house-bridge was one of many such constructions presently underway. Carnival glanced at the freshly painted street signs on either side of the abyssal gap. The building on which she now crouched spanned a canal of empty air, connecting the new Chapelfunnel coalgas works to a rut of labourers' tenements in Gardenhowe. The walls on this level had been built to chest-height and already linked by spears of iron to the foundation chains below the building itself. Yet the project had evidently halted months ago. The tarpaulins had blown clean off and now hung from nearby nests of cable, leaving the warped timber floor exposed to the elements. Shutters had yet to be installed in the lower storey, which meant it would be considered uninhabitable and left deserted at night. As good a hiding place as any. She squeezed her wings through a square opening in the floor and let herself drop.

Down here, only the dimmest glimmer of moonlight permeated the darkness, but Carnival's night eyes were accustomed to gloom. She found two chairs used to prop up timbers for sawing, dragged one aside and sat down in it. Then she blinked.

Someone had scrawled a message across the plastered wall.

Make haste! Go to the tower in Lye Street!

Below this was a sketch of a knife, very much like the one Carnival always carried.

Chapter Two

At the end of that autumn, an old prospector named Sal Greene went to visit a colleague of his, a scoundrel and self-proclaimed occultist who lived in a private suite above the Phantasmacists Club in Ivygarths.

"Ten twelve, Laccus, is swiftly running out."

"Ah, yes," said the other man, closing the door behind his guest. "The year you bleed to death, Sal?"

"Not if you can help it."

Greene was grey-haired now, with black veins pushing out of the backs of his hands, but under his tatty woollen topcoat he remained the same powerful man who'd swung a miner's pick in Hollowhill back in the seventies.

He hung his coat on a stand, then halted when he saw the grisly display Laccus Ravencrag had arranged for his benefit. "What sort of barbarism is this?" he said gruffly.

"What? Oh, you mean the dead dogs?"

"Aye, the dead dogs."

The phantasmacist had nailed three dogs to a plank of wood, one above the other, and then linked the bodies together with all manner of rubber tubes, wires and strips of metal. One of the tubes dripped blood into a jar.

"Thaumaturgy, I suppose?" Greene said.

"You know me, Sal."

"And what does all this colourful surgery accomplish?"

Ravencrag coughed a wedge of phlegm into his cheek then chewed it. "This
surgery
,” he said. “Is necessary to summon the demon I told you about. Sit down, Sal. I reckon I just saved your life."

The prospector eased himself into a big leather chair and waited to be convinced or repulsed and angered enough to beat this crooked little schemer out of his skin for wasting precious time. Any one of the outcomes suited him at the moment. Laccus Ravencrag had a ticking clock on the wall, and Greene didn't much care for the smell of corpses.

"When the hounds died," said Laccus, "they all made different sounds. That's death chatter, you see?"

Greene frowned. "I'm not moved, Laccus."

"See this one." The phantasmacist peeled the skin back from the skull of a dog and showed the gleaming bone by the light of his tallow candle. The cranium was etched with criss-cross scars. "You see the markings?"

"You cut those in?" asked Greene.

"I cut them in," agreed Laccus. "That's Azzarat's summoning script. Now watch the jar at the end."

Greene saw something shift in the red fluid. "What you put in there? Newts?"

"Maggots. And I didn't put them there. They grew from nothing."

The prospector peered closer. "You're saying you got one of your spells to work at last? Forgive me, Laccus, but I think you put the maggots in the jar yourself. What's more, I reckon you're diddling me. Anyone would think you wanted to clean me out in my final days."

"Watch them for a while, Sal, before you make up your mind. You'll have a drink?"

"Have you poisoned it?"

"Heavily."

They drank and, to Greene's actual surprise, Laccus Ravencrag had not poisoned the whisky. The prospector got healthily drunk, and watched the maggots closely as he'd been asked to. They were black, shadowy little things, eerie and unnatural looking. They seemed to appear and disappear like shadows under fast moving clouds. The two men talked some more, and in time Greene came to understand the significance of the spell.

"You're making ghosts, Laccus."

"I am."

"Ghosts," said Greene, "in a jar."

"And they're behaving exactly like the grimoire said they would," said Ravencrag. "I've been watching them for days now. At first they barely moved at all, but now they wriggle constantly. They've been getting more and more excited as the demon gets closer. He's coming to hear you out, old man, just like I promised he would."

For once Greene chose to believe the phantasmacist: Laccus Ravencrag, the man they said had flung his own wife into the abyss; the man who, in his declining years, had turned his fetish for the grotesque towards the study of apparitions.
The Phantasmacists Club?
Of late Greene had come to think of them as a bunch of old fools who just so happened to enjoy wearing colourful
robes and pudding bowl hats. Not one of them had come close to solving the problem until now. Yet looking at the tiny apparitions within the jar of blood, the prospector felt his hope renewed. Those vaporous grubs were the strangest looking things he'd seen in a long while.

He shook his head in astonishment. "The last grimoire worked? You know how much that cost me?"

"Tuppence, I seem to recall you saying."

"How come that one worked when all the expensive ones failed?"

"You were robbed on the expensive ones, Sal."

"So you'll be handing them back to me?"

"It's winter," the phantasmacist said. "I need
something
to keep my fire going." He grinned under his odd little hat. "You paid me to test the spell, and that's what I've done. Judging by the results, Basilis should be arriving in a couple of days."

That soon?
"What? He's got wings?"

"Did have once, or so the grimoire says. He was an angel before he became a demon."

“Like Carnival?”

Ravencrag just grunted.

The prospector exhaled through his teeth. It was true that he felt relieved, and not simply because he'd not been poisoned by a dose of dogweed in the booze. But this relief was tempered by a gnawing sense of dread, for the summoning spell had demanded a payment. Ravencrag's apparent success now meant that Greene would be obliged to pay the demon two fists of virgins' gall stones, which was a problem now that he came to think about it.

"You'd better pay him," said Ravencrag, as though he'd the read the other man's mind. "Or you're dead." He poured himself another shot of whisky. "Worse than dead, in fact. Ayen's one powerful, spiteful goddess, so you can imagine what her hired killers are like." He waved his glass at Greene. "Then imagine what the hired killers she kicks out of Heaven are like, the ones strong enough and dangerous enough to actually try to assassinate her. That's Basilis. Once Ayen sent him packing, he went to work for the god of chains. But do you see him grovelling at the feet of our Lord now? No. He betrayed Ulcis just as he betrayed Ayen. As soon as the uprising failed, he wandered off into the wilds, leaving the god of chains trapped down there in the abyss. This demon doesn't care how many deities he offends. So tell me, Sal. You do have Basilis's fee, don't you?

“Of course I do,” Greene lied. Where the Hell was he going to find two fists of virgins' gall stones in the next two days? Did he even
know
any virgins?

"And don't you try to cheat me neither," Ravencrag added. "I want my own bonus the moment Basilis gets here."

"Aw... I was just going to have you murdered, Laccus. Save myself some gold."

"That would be funny if I didn't believe you." Nevertheless Ravencrag grinned, showing a mouth of yellow teeth. "I spent thirty years learning about ghosts," he said with pride. "And another five avoiding harm from them. You know how you get shades appearing after you spill a beggar's guts? That got me thinking. I mean, why would Hell come sniffing round a
beggar's
corpse? What use are those bleeders going to be in the Maze? What they going to beg for?" His laugh sounded like a pig snort. "Souls are worthless, Sal. Even scum have them."

He leaned forward, conspiratorial like, reeking of whisky. "But I knew
he
would come when
I
summoned him, and I wanted to prove it to you, Sal. I respect you for standing your ground here in Deepgate. Folks like you and me have decent souls. We matter more than all of Deepgate's wastrels combined."

This admission was, Greene reckoned, intended to be a compliment. His fist relaxed on the glass.

"That's why you're sitting here all rubbery with drink," Ravencrag went on, "and not crowded into the back of an ox carriage bound for Sanpah." His long hooked nose dipped over his glass like a well pump. "Most men would have fled when they read Mack's letter, taken their fortunes and quit the city."

Greene remembered his father's letter, delivered by a suit from the firm of Messrs Hooke and Highfield.

Dear Son,

If you're reading this then it's 1012 and I've been dead for 50 years. I hope you've had a good life in our Holy City, and that you stayed away from heathens and harlots like I told you to, and found God in the end. And I hope your life's been free of worry, because that's all about to change. Our family is cursed...

He'd gone on to describe the scarred angel's vendetta against the descendants of Henry Bucklestrappe, and how he would pray to Ulcis to keep them all safe.

Trust in the god of chains, son. The faithful will prevail.

Yet the letter proved that Mack Greene had had reservations. He'd left strict instructions with the family solicitors not to deliver his warning before 1012, the very year his son was due succumb to the curse. He hadn't done this to hide the awful truth and so spare Sal fifty years of worry. No, he'd done this because he'd been a bastard. Had Greene known of the family curse fifty years ago, he'd have sold the house at once and fled across the Deadsands, spending his father's fortune in every gin den and brothel from here to Sanpah.

But then Mack Greene had always disapproved of his son's godless, wandering nature. This was the old man's way of reprimanding Sal from the grave.

The prospector grumbled, "I don't run from my troubles any more, Laccus. I'm too old for that nonsense now."

"Here's to dead angels." Ravencrag clinked his glass against Sal's then raised his own and hallooed like a priest at the Sinner's Well gallows: "Every fifty years! How the
hell
does a creature with no memory remember? Your great, great granddaddy must have seriously pissed her off."

"He had that way with women. Much like yourself."

The phantasmacist grinned.

"But what if the demon doesn't agree to help," said Greene, who had begun to feel wheezy and uncertain.
Two fists of virgins' gall stones?
"I mean, what if he doesn't want to kill the angel?"

Ravencrag looked thoroughly unconcerned. "Then he'll probably just slit your throat and stuff your soul in a bottle of wasps. Torture it for all eternity, that sort of thing."

"Nothing too bad, then?"

"You shouldn't worry about it." He took another sip. "I don't. I think we should talk about my bonus now."

Frankly, Ravencrag could stuff his bonus up his arse. Greene didn't intend to give him a penny of it. Spooky maggots notwithstanding, the phantasmacist had no real power. But the
demon? Now that was a whole different level of nastiness. Two whole
fists
of gall stones? Removed
from virgins? In
this
city? Greene wondered if Ayen's former cutthroat would accept two fists of
spinsters' teeth. He might, at least, be able to purchase those from the Heshette. The prospector's
supposed wealth had been a carefully constructed web of lies. He had the house in Lye Street, of course, yet he'd nothing but cobwebs left in his coffers. Ravencrag and his penchant for expensive grimoires had eaten the last of it over the previous few months. Greene had probably financed the Phantasmacists Club out his own pocket.

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