Since the founding of the first city, with a few obvious exceptions (see Connor Mcmahon, also Julian Hardacre), two political parties have ever battled for dominance. The Engineers and the Confluents. The Confluents were always regarded as too emotive, too populist in their endeavours, the Engineers too focused on civic structures and their construction whatever the cost to their workers and their people (see The Levees Built on Blood: Milde and Whyte, page 125). A gross simplification, perhaps, but all such political narratives are (if they are to survive) and both parties played upon this perception in each of the twelve metropolises.
Throughout the centuries, Confluent and Engineer would have torn each other apart, and on several occasions almost did (see The Right Bank Insurgency page 878), but always the Vergers stood between them, the knife bearers keeping a brutal peace.
That ended with the Dissolution.
Considering the Roil’s rapid expansion, and the stinging memory of the Grand Defeat (and the flood of refugees it brought with it), a decade prior, it was surprising it didn’t happen much sooner.
THE CITY OF MIRRLEES-ON-WEEP 300 MILES NORTH OF THE ROIL EDGE
Midnight, and Council Vergers reduced the front door to splinters. They dragged David Milde’s father onto the street. Kicked his legs out from under him. And, their long knives gleaming in the streetlight, slashed his throat.
David watched it all from his bedroom window with a cold impassivity fed by Carnival.
He slapped his face, once, twice. Hardly felt it. He’d taken the drug, as he often did, after his father had accused him of taking the drug. The argument had been loud and wild, and of utterly no consequence now.
They’d be coming for him next. David hesitated as his father bled to death down below, the rain washed the blood away: it never stopped raining in Mirrlees, blood was always being washed away.
David’s hands shook as he gripped the windowsill.
He blinked a heavy Carnival-induced blink. The world lumbered into a brutal sort of focus.
Bundles of Halloween orbs, strung down the street just the night before, coloured everything in reds and greens. Windows from here to almost the next suburb banged shut. Lights switched off.
David’s father lifted himself almost to his feet, his head loose on his neck; barely on his neck at all. Oh, what kind of strength the man possessed! But it meant nothing now. The Vergers kicked him back to the ground, where he lay and did not rise again, and David knew his father was dead.
Footsteps and the hard voices of men not needing nor desiring to hide their approach echoed up the stairs. David considered crawling under the bed. But they would find him, and drag him kicking and screaming out into the rain, and they would slash his throat, and he would lie there with his father.
The thought held some temptation.
He wasn’t stupid. The Vergers would keep hunting him, and the realisation filled him with a great and awful weariness.
He didn’t know where to run. He knew that if they had come for his father, they’d have come for everyone else. There’d be no one he could turn to. Not James Ling or Medicine Paul or the Cathcart Sisters. Any survivors would be running for their own lives
All these considerations in under a second and, while he thought them, he opened his window and slid out, with just the clothes on his back, clinging to the slimy windowsill with his fingertips – the Carnival-calm in tatters – and knowing it might end here with just one slip.
It nearly did.
David lost his grip, and dropped into the dead tree beneath his window, its rotten limbs snap-crash-snapped under his weight. He landed in a heap on the soft mud beneath and clambered to his feet – no bones broken as far as he could tell. He leapt a stone wall, almost tripping, and sprinted onto the road.
Someone shouted from his window. Whistles blew.
David did not look back, because if he did he would stop, and stopping would end him.
Such are politics in Mirrlees.
MIRRLEES – DOWNING BRIDGE
David wiped the vomit from his lips for the third time in under an hour.
He knew what was coming, just as much as he knew he couldn’t stop it, which was almost as terrifying as the Vergers that hunted him.
The Carnival’s claws tightened. How could something get so bad, even as it left your body? It was just another awfulness to add to his collection, only this one would grow, and quickly.
He tried to occupy his mind with other thoughts, possible options of escape, the long term, anything but the drug and his body’s rising hunger for it.
The north was his best choice now.
If he could make it to the city of Hardacre he would find refuge. He had an aunt who lived there, and she would take him in, they had always been close.
But the road to Hardacre was impossibly perilous, the Margin and Cuttlefolk, half wild and with long and bitter memories of war, lay between here and there. And the one bridge that crossed into those lands, on the edge of the Northmir, was heavily guarded. He may as well be striking out to the moon. But, then again, he had proven himself more adept at survival than he had first thought.
All night he had been running, hiding, keeping to the shadows, moving only when the Vergers in their whistling packs passed.
It had been surprisingly easy, perhaps because escape was all he could allow his mind to focus on. As he had run he had found himself instinctively heading to the one place he might hide. Once or twice he had scored Carnival here, though only when most desperate.
Usually, he’d not needed to look far to find people willing to supply him. After all, he was the great Confluent Leader Warwick Milde’s son. And if his father’s currency had decreased in the last few months, well, he had never expected it to go so low.
Downing Bridge loomed out of the murk. David was familiar with it, had often come this way as a boy with his father. The master engineer would point out its various structural peculiarities, its vast size being the least of them, for Mirrlees was a city of excess; its levee banks blocking out the sun, channelling away the rain. Once the River Weep had been just a trickle between the embankments, a trickle two hundred yards across. Now it had climbed their walls to a height of nearly fifty feet and was rising every day.
The Dolorous Grey rattled overhead; David could just make out its plumes of smoke. That’s what he really needed, to be on the train, steaming away from Mirrlees. Even though its destination couldn’t be considered safe it was better than what faced him here, and he could lose himself in the colour of the Festival of Float.