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Authors: Chris Wooding

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The Ascendancy Veil

BOOK: The Ascendancy Veil
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub







Also by Chris Wooding in Gollancz
The Braided Path:























About the Author
Also By Chris Wooding



Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three



A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © Chris Wooding 2005


All rights reserved.
The right of Chris Wooding to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2005 by




The Orion Publishing Group Ltd


Orion House


5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane


London, WC2H 9EA


An Hachette UK Company
This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978 0 575 08593 0
This eBook produced by Jouve, France
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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 permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Chris Wooding is the author of sixteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. In addition to being critically acclaimed, his writing has won a number of awards and his novels are published around the world. In addition to his novels, he writes for film and television, and has several projects in development. He lives in London.
Learn more about Chris Wooding at




They loomed through the smoke, shadows in the billowing murk. In the instant before they came charging into the hall, they seemed as demons, their forms huge and vaporous. But they were not demons. The demons were still outside.
The pitiful scattering of defenders met the assault with grim stoicism. Some had taken up station on the balcony that ran around the room, but most were arranged at ground level behind a barricade they had assembled from toppled statues, plinths and the few small tables they had found. The Saramyr tendency towards minimal furniture had not worked to their advantage here. Still, they took what cover they could, aimed their rifles, and filled the air with gunfire as the ghauregs came pounding towards them.
Once, the entrance hall had been exquisite, a cool and echoing chamber intended to impress dignitaries and nobles. Now it had been stripped of its finery and ornaments, and the walls were scorched. The floor had been cracked by the same explosion that had set fire to the hangings and tapestries near the doorway. A dozen or so monstrous corpses were scattered there. One well-timed bomb had dealt with the first wave of creatures; the rifles would take care of a portion of the next. But beyond that, the defenders’ cause was hopeless.
The ghauregs thundered across the wide open space at the centre of the hall and were cut down, their thick grey pelts ribboning with red as the rifle balls punched through them. But for each one that died there was another behind it, and several that fell got up again, their wounds only enraging them further. Eight feet high at the shoulder and apelike in posture, they were savage ogres of fur and muscle. Pain and death meant nothing to them, and they raced through the crossfire with suicidal fury.
The defenders managed to reprime fast enough for a second volley before the creatures crashed into the barricade and began tearing it apart, clambering over the top to reach the men behind. Rifles were dropped and swords drawn, but against the sheer size and power of the ghauregs there were too few blades. They knew this, and still they fought. They had been ordered to hold the administrative complex and they would do so with their lives. Saramyr soldiers would take death before the shame of disobeying orders.
The ghauregs punched and grabbed at their targets. Where the defenders were not quick enough to evade, they were bludgeoned to pulp or snatched up to be flung through the air like broken mannequins. Those who dodged away struck back with their swords, slashing at tendons and hamstrings. In moments, the floor was slippery with blood, and the cries of men were drowned by the bellowing of the beasts.
The soldiers on the balcony picked their targets as best they could in the melee, but they had problems of their own now. For behind the ghauregs had come several skrendel: slender, nimble things with long, strangling fingers that swarmed up the pillars. What little support the soldiers could give the men below dissipated swiftly as they struggled to keep the newcomers away.
The beasts had destroyed the barricade now and were sowing mayhem. Outsize jaws bit and snapped, crunching through bone and gristle; enormous shoulders strained as they rent apart their small and frail prey. In less than a minute, the remaining half-dozen ghauregs had decimated the tiny force holding the entrance hall, and only a few soldiers were left, their deaths merely an afterthought. But as the ghauregs’ small yellow eyes fixed on the final, defiant dregs of resistance, one of their number burst into flames.
The two Sisters of the Red Order swept into the hall from the back, an arrogant lethality in their stride. Both wore the sheer dark dress of the Order, both the intimidating face-paint of their kind: the black and red shark-tooth triangles across their lips, the twin crimson crescents curving over their eyes from forehead to cheek. Their irises were the colour of smouldering coals.
The other ghauregs shied away from the heat of their burning companion, and in that moment of hesitation the Sisters took them apart. Two of the beasts fell, spewing blood from every orifice; two more burst into white flames, becoming pillars of fire and smoke and bubbling fat; the last was picked up as if by some invisible hand and pulverised against the wall with enough force to shatter the stone. The skrendel began to scatter, winding back down the pillars and making for the entranceway. One of the Sisters made a casual gesture with a black-gloved hand and maimed them, popping and cracking their thin bones and leaving them flailing weakly on the floor.
In seconds, it was done. All that was left in the wake of the conflict was the restless industry of the flames, the mewling of the dying skrendel and the cries of wounded men. The remnants of the defenders regarded the Sisters with ragged awe.
Kaiku tu Makaima surveyed the scene before her. Her vision was poised on the cusp of the world of natural light and that of the Weave, overlaying one on top of the other. She looked past the battered and bloodied figures gazing at her, past the corpse-strewn hall to the doorway where smoke from the fire plumed angrily into the room. But beneath that veneer of reality she saw a golden diorama of threads, the stitches and fibres of existence: the whole hall rendered in millions of tiny, endless tendrils. She saw the inrush and exhalation of the stirred air as the living drew it into their lungs; the curl and roll at the heart of the smoke; the stout, unwavering lines of the pillars.
She flexed her fingers and tied up the frantic threads of the flame, wrapping it tighter and tighter until it choked and extinguished itself.
‘Juraka has fallen,’ she said, her voice ringing out across the hall. ‘We retreat south-west to the river.’
She felt their disappointment like a wave. She had not wanted to tell them this. Their companions lay dead around them, dozens of lives sacrificed to defend this place, and she was the one who had to inform the survivors that it was all for nothing. Perhaps they hated her for doing so. Perhaps, in their breasts, they harboured a bitterness that she had arrived and made their struggles meaningless, and they thought:
filthy Aberrant
She cared little. She had greater concerns.
She left her companion, Phaeca, to explain matters in more sensitive terms while she walked through the dispersing smoke of the snuffed-out fire and out into the warm and bright winter’s day.
Juraka had been founded on a hillside overlooking the shores of the colossal Lake Azlea, an ancient market town that had begun as a stop-off point for travellers making the long trek from Tchamaska to Machita along the Prefectural Highway. In time, it had evolved a fishing and boatmaking industry, and sometime during the bloody internecine wars following the death of the mad Emperor Cadis tu Othoro it had been fortified and garrisoned. Latterly, it had become a vital part of the line which the remnants of the Empire had held for years against the Weavers and the hordes at their command.
But by the time Nuki’s eye sank below the horizon today, it would be in the enemy’s hands.
Kaiku swore under her breath, an unladylike habit picked up from her long-dead brother and never shed. She knew that the stalemate would have to end sooner or later, that eventually one side would devise an advantage over the other. She just wished the Weavers had not got there first.
The administrative complex was a sprawling, walled enclosure of several grandiose buildings in a circular formation. To her right, houses ran up the hill to the fringe of a small forest; to her left, streets and tiny plazas fell away in a clutter of ornamental slate rooftops to the vast expanse of the lake, which glittered sharply in the crisp daylight until it was lost to the haze of distance. Ships were battling out there in a slow dance, the sporadic crack of gunfire and the bellow of cannons drifting up to her. The shore was crowded with jetties and warehouses, most of which were smashed and burning now. Smoke rose in indistinct columns, cloaking the lower streets in a fug.
BOOK: The Ascendancy Veil
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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