Excerpt: Against the Encroaching Darkness by Aliette de Bodard
I was going off like a frog in a sock with excitement when we approached Aliette de Bodard for a short story to be published in issue #5 and she agreed. Aliette has a long list of awards – two Nebulas, a Locus, a BSFA, and she won the Writers of the Future… *deep breath*… She’s also a Hugo, Sturgeon, and Tiptree finalist. Add to that, the’s a prolific author of short stories and puts many of them up on her site for you and I to check out for free.
One of my favourite characters in the story is Morningstar. I love the effect the Fallen has on those less powerful around him, which makes the interaction between Victoire and Morningstar all that more awesome.
Without further ado, go on and get stuck into the excerpt!
Against The Encroaching Darkness
The first Victoire knew of Morningstar’s presence was when the air in the room became impossibly light, impossibly tight—until even breathing seemed to hurt, and the air in her lungs burnt with the force of a firestorm. Then she turned, struggling to compose herself, and watched, shock-still, as he crossed the room to where she stood, the crowd of well-wishers parting in his wake like a flock of scared birds. ‘My lady,’ he said, bowing to her.
He had blue eyes, impossibly clear, the colour of summer skies in a season long gone. Now the city lay under a pall of black clouds, dust and ashes blown from the incessant battles in the streets, and summer followed winter with hardly a pause or a difference. Unlike all other Fallen, he wore wings—a metal armature of sharp, cutting edges that moved as he moved, cutting the air to pieces around him, a living weapon, a living fount of power in a city where magic was scarce.
‘My lord,’ Victoire bowed, though her every instinct screamed at her to abase herself flat on the floor—he was firstborn among Fallen, most powerful; he could undo her with a glance or a word. ‘I didn’t expect you here.’
The major Houses—Harrier, Aiguillon, Hawthorn—had sent not their heads but their diplomats, just enough to keep up appearances. And here was the head of House Silverspires, the unstated leader of them all, standing in her ballroom with all her other guests, grave and courteous and speaking to her as an equal. Morningstar smiled, an expression that seemed to illuminate the room. ‘I thought I ought to come myself. To apologise.’
Morningstar shrugged; the wings at his back moved, slicing the air with a sound like the lament of dying souls. ‘We didn’t mean to kill her. I have … no grudge against House Lazarus.’
He had nothing against them. House Lazarus wasn’t even big enough for him to be aware of it: just Eugénie’s lost souls, a collection of the weak and desperate she’d sworn to keep safe. ‘I—’ Victoire struggled for words against the presence that seemed to wrap the room around itself.
Morningstar continued as if she had not spoken. ‘It was a skirmish that went badly. I assume Harrier will offer their excuses, as well.’
They had, but not in the same way. They were not standing there—not speaking in that voice that turned her innards to jelly, that made her measure, irretrievably, the distance that separated her from Silverspires—from Fallen, to whom magic and charisma came effortlessly. ‘A word of advice,’ Morningstar said finally. He raised a hand, as if to forestall any objections, but Victoire was still struggling to find her voice from where it had fled. ‘You’re young and weak, like infant Fallen, except without any magic of your own. If you don’t show the other Houses that you’re strong—if you don’t seize your opportunity to do something loud and ruthless—then you’ll vanish.’
‘We won’t,’ Victoire said, every word a struggle to articulate. ‘We—’
Morningstar smiled, brief and wounding, like a knife stroke across her throat. ‘I’ve seen it happen. You’re not the first House to lose a founder. You might be the first to do so … in such peculiar circumstances.’
The war—it was always there. The battles hadn’t stopped, not even for a mourning reception—people tearing each other in the streets, the slow toll of the wounded and the dead Amaranth and Gérard reported to her every week, the dependents of House Lazarus caught in the crossfires. ‘We’re not fighting,’ Victoire said at last.
‘Of course. Eugénie had … ideals. Commendable of her.’ He said it in a way that implied she’d been young and foolish, and of course she had been. She was mortal, forty years old; whereas Morningstar had been in Paris for centuries. ‘Albeit impractical. Only the strongest, or the dead, can afford neutrality.’
Victoire opened her mouth to say that they were strong—to lie, as Amaranth had advised her to—and then met his gaze and found the words shrivelling in her throat.
‘Remember. A show of strength,’ Morningstar said, and his smile seemed to fill the entire world, teeth as sharp as a predator’s—and she ached to lean forward, to let him take her, consume her utterly; it wouldn’t even hurt much—she wouldn’t feel anything more than the grief and worry that was already tearing her apart …
End of Excerpt
Find the rest of Against the Encroaching Darkness in Grimdark Magazine Issue 5. To find out what else you’ll get for your $2.99, find our Issue 5 lineup here.