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Authors: Mark Latham

The Iscariot Sanction

BOOK: The Iscariot Sanction
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Also by Mark A. Latham

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About the Author

Also by Mark A. Latham and available from Titan Books

The Lazarus Gate

The Iscariot Sanction
Print edition ISBN: 9781783296828
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783296835

Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: September 2016
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.

© 2016 Mark A. Latham. 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 without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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Hark! death is calling
While I speak to ye,
The jaw is falling,
The red cheek paling,
The strong limbs failing;
Ice with the warm blood mixing,
The eyeballs fixing.
Nine times goes the passing bell:
Ye merry souls, farewell.

, L

Saturday, 23rd August 1879

The whore giggled as Lord de Montfort stroked her cheek. He had missed London of late. His visits were all too infrequent, and it was good to be back. There was nothing as important as family, after all. That did not mean, however, that he could not find some entertainment whilst fulfilling his duties in the capital, and there was no place where entertainment could be bought so readily as on the Ratcliff Highway.

Lord de Montfort helped the girl down from the hansom cab. At his signal the driver flicked the reins and departed, leaving his passengers standing on the cobbles. The hour was late and the weather inclement; no one was about, and even if they had been, no one would care.

‘Are we going somewhere fancy, m’lord?’ Her voice grated on de Montfort’s nerves a little, but he let it pass.

‘Of a sort. I have a place set aside for… special liaisons.’

She giggled again, an annoying snort preceding a rolling, childish laugh. De Montfort remembered how she had behaved when he’d first approached her—hard-faced and unobliging. His coin had done some of the work; his unique talents, and a few glasses of gin, had done the rest. Lord de Montfort was not a man for fumbling around with girls in a filthy East End alley, and so he had brought her here, to a quiet street in Seven Dials. As they walked arm-in-arm, the bang-tail’s head leaned on his shoulder as she sighed drunkenly.

De Montfort looked up at the sky. There were hardly any stars visible any more as the deep crimson fire rippled overhead like liquid. He remembered the day that the sky had started to burn: it had been in 1872, the day of the Awakening; the day that de Montfort had torn free of the estimable shadow of his forebears and become something more than he’d ever dared hope. The great minds of the time had since been fixated on healing the world, of closing the Rift and ending the madness that swept the globe; but not he. De Montfort turned his eyes back to the street and smiled. He liked the fire in the sky—it felt like an eternal dawn, and it filled him with the same hope that a new day’s light might bring to lesser men.

* * *

Just hours earlier, de Montfort had found himself in another vile area of the forsaken city. Deep within the Isle of Dogs, in a stinking slum, he had stridden into the House of Zhengming—the most iniquitous den of vice in the Empire. Lord de Montfort had not been there as a patron, to partake of the opium pipe, for such earthly pleasures were far beneath him these days. No, he had been there on business, to talk with a man whose tangled web of intrigue had made him indispensable to the plans of arch-criminal and law-bringer alike; to every tyrant and politician in the realm. Tsun Pen, ‘the Artist’—a man who had earned a reputation as a self-effacing, loathsome master of lies and broker of intelligence. How de Montfort hated the Artist, but how he needed him…

De Montfort had steeled himself before entering the Artist’s lair, for one never seemed to leave the House of Zhengming with a full hand, regardless of how well one played the game.

On this night, de Montfort had disembarked his carriage and entered the Artist’s domain with far less than a full hand. His power, wealth and talents were of no use in this matter. Of all the Majestics created at the Awakening, only Tsun Pen had the infallible gift of foresight. If de Montfort’s people were to stake their claim to the Empire, to wage a secret war against the rulers of Britain, they had to be certain their gamble would pay off. Only Tsun Pen could tell them that.

De Montfort followed Tsun Pen’s guards into the opium den, stepping over the dreamers who lolled on cushions on the floor as they chased the dragon in the smoke. At the end of the room, Tsun Pen sat languidly on an ornate throne, set atop a raised dais. Where the low stage would once have sited a piano and bawdily dressed songstress, Tsun Pen now sat like an emperor of old, surveying his kingdom of darkness and depravity. The Artist ever had a feel for the dramatic. He dressed in the finest silks, and his black hair flowed long around his shoulders. His eyes were quick and cunning, observing everything and revealing nothing, while a sickly, sardonic smile seemed rarely to leave his features.

Lord de Montfort took an envelope from his breast pocket and held it out. At the merest nod of Tsun Pen’s head, a servant took the envelope and began to count the money inside. The Artist was always surrounded by servants and burly henchmen—de Montfort mused that a man as hated as this wretch could not afford to take chances. For every fortune Tsun Pen helped to make, there were those whose lives he would destroy. Only the highest bidder could rely on Tsun Pen’s assistance, or his integrity.

‘Your predecessor asked me a question, and I have striven to answer it,’ said the Artist, the vestiges of his Chinese accent softened to an almost aristocratic purr. ‘Yet you must have eyes to see. Look there, and tell me if you are pleased with the result.’ Tsun Pen waved a slender hand at the large rectangular object to his right—a canvas, some six feet high, covered by a dust sheet.

De Montfort stepped towards it. The Artist was notorious for his cryptic messages, delivered through the medium of his paintings. Sometimes the glimpses of the future were vague and abstract; other times they were clear as day. De Montfort sought certainty on behalf of his people—of his master, though he hesitated to admit such—and he would brook no tricks this night. He pulled the sheet away and studied the painting, illuminated by the flickering Chinese lanterns that hung all around. De Montfort gasped.

He had his answer, it was clear. Victory, it seemed, was at hand. But there was something more; something less easily interpreted, which filled him with dread. He gazed at the canvas, searching for clues, for there was clearly a danger ahead—the Artist had laced this painted prophecy with a dire warning, a price for triumph that perhaps even de Montfort was not ready to pay. And there was an implication for his own part in the future—an implication that would surely not be lost on his master.

He turned on his heel and glared at the Artist. ‘A simple “yes” would have sufficed,’ he snapped.

‘“For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be,”’ Tsun Pen said. ‘Tennyson. Do you care for poetry?’ De Montfort’s glare gave its own answer, and the Artist sighed. ‘The future is sometimes made clear to me; but I can assure you, “Lord” de Montfort, the path that takes us there is never simple. Your people asked a question, the answer is clear, is it not?’ Tsun Pen’s voice was soft, almost musical, but his mocking tone tested de Montfort’s patience, as always.

‘But this… what does it mean? How can this outcome be avoided?’

Tsun Pen looked to the servant who had finished counting the notes at last. The little celestial nodded to his master, answering an unspoken question. The Artist turned back to his customer and sighed lazily.

‘In my line of business, speculation is a dangerous pastime; more dangerous, even, than handing out free advice. If you wish me to undertake more work, to commune with the fates once more on your behalf, then you know the fee.’

De Montfort allowed rage to well up inside him, revealing for an instant his true nature. He took two paces forward, fists clenched, and was met in an instant by three blades, held at his throat by Tsun Pen’s guards. The Artist’s smile broadened, and de Montfort checked himself.

‘You understand, Tsun Pen, who I am? And whom I represent? You understand that these men of yours risk their pitiful lives by threatening me?’

BOOK: The Iscariot Sanction
2.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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