Scar Night

Acknowledgements

Sincere thanks and appreciation to Simon Kavanagh, Peter Lavery, and Juliet Ulman, three people who possess such a formadable wealth of talent that I wonder how there can be any left in the gene pool for the rest of us.

To Susi Quinn for the exhaustive crits and the zillions of printer cartridges she used up (I’ll get you some new ones honest), and to Justin Chisholm, Barnaby Dellar, and Jocelyn Ramsay, three more good friends who gave up oodles their time and ink to offer advice.

A huge thanks to my writers’ group: Gavin Inglis, who helped me nail the start of the story, and Martin Page for his knoledge of old weaponryand those quirky verbs, which I nicked—also to Stefan Pearson, Andrew J. Wilson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Charles Stross, Andrew C. Ferguson, Jack Deighton, Jane McKie, and Guthrie Stewart, all of whom gave encouragement and feedback.

My graditude to the kind folks at Macmillan for all their hard work—Rebecca Saunders, Liz Cowen, and Jon Mitchell among many others. If I haven’t mentioned you, it’s only because I was feeling euphoric when we met.

Cheers to Oliver Chetham and Dagmar Tatarczytk for the cool video, and to Bret, owner of the Welsh Nun Pub in Koh Chang, for the chats and the dental work.

And love to Caragh. Without your support this page and the ones after it would probably be blank.

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Contents

Prologue

Part I

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Part II

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

Part III

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

Epilogue

About the Author

* * *

Prologue

Chains snarled the courtyard behind the derelict cannon foundry in Applecross: spears of chain radiating at every angle, secured into walls with rusted hooks and pins, and knitted together like a madwoman’s puzzle. In the centre, Barraby’s watchtower stood ensnared. Smoke unfurled from its ruined summit and blew west across the city under a million winter stars.

Huffing and gasping, Presbyter Scrimlock climbed through the chains. His lantern swung, knocked against links and welds and God knows what, threw shadows like lattices of cracks across the gleaming cobbles. When he looked up, he saw squares and triangles full of stars. His sandals slipped as though on melted glass. The chains, where he touched them, were wet. And when he finally reached the Spine Adept waiting by the watchtower door he saw why.

“Blood,” the Presbyter whispered, horrified. He rubbed feverishly at his cassock, but the gore would not shift.

The Spine Adept, skin stretched so tight over his muscles he seemed cadaverous, turned lifeless eyes on the priest. “From the dead,” he explained. “She ejects them from the tower. Will not suffer them there inside with her.” He tilted his head to one side.

Below the chains numerous Spine bodies lay in a shapeless mound, their leather armour glistening like venom.

“Ulcis have mercy,” Scrimlock said. “How many has she killed?”

“Eleven.”

Scrimlock drew a breath. The night tasted dank and rusty, like the air in a dungeon. “You’re making it worse,” he complained. “Can’t you see that? You’re feeding her fury.”

“We have injured her,” the Adept said. His expression remained unreadable, but he pressed a pale hand against the watchtower door brace, as if to reinforce it.

“What?” The Presbyter’s heart leapt. “You’ve injured her? That’s… how could you possibly…”

“She heals quickly.” The Adept looked up. “Now we must hurry.”

Scrimlock followed the man’s gaze, and for a moment wondered what he was looking at. Then he spotted them: silhouettes against the glittering night, lean figures scaling the chains, moving quickly and silently to the watchtower’s single window. More Spine than Scrimlock had ever seen together. There had to be fifty, sixty. How was it possible he’d failed to notice them before?

“Every single Adept answered the summons.”

“All of them?” Scrimlock hissed, lowering his voice. “Insanity! If she escapes…” He wrung his hands. The Church could not afford to lose so many of its assassins.

“She cannot escape. The window is too narrow for her wings; the roof is sealed, the door barricaded.”

Scrimlock glanced at the watchtower door. The iron brace looked solid enough to thwart an army. That still did not give him peace of mind. He looked for reassurance in the Adept’s eyes, but of course there was nothing there: only a profound emptiness the priest felt in his marrow.Could they have injured her? And what would be the cost to the Church? What revenge would she seek? God help him, this was too much.

“I will not sanction this,” he protested. He waved a hand at the heap of dead bodies, at the blood still leaking onto the cobbles. “Ulcis will not accept these opened corpses; every one of them is damned.”

“We have reinforcements.”

“And

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