That slow sick spread of certainty: he has spent weeks, months, both evading and cinching the net ever tighter. The streets are dark with crematory smoke, greasy with ash. Those who can, leave; run for the cleaner air of the hills, the safety of the monasteries. Those who must stay bar their doors, cover their heads and eyes with ruby glass, tattoo gargoyles and demons on their arms against sickness.

Superstitious nonsense.

He has forged his chains himself, from brutal logic: cause and effect in terrible array. He has studied charts and stars, the movement of mice across the temple steps, the simple tests of cards and books. He has worn his eyes ragged in the lab. No. The signs are clear. He is cause and generation of this plague; it is his sin, his crime, that grips the city, that runs red and joyous through the shuttered houses and the empty streets.

And now?

He climbs the five thousand steps from the water to the cliff top and looks out and down at his city, Albion, Albion on the winedark sea. He has bled and suffered for its glory, fought against the seeping corruption eating at its bones, dosed its worm-raddled heart with bitter tonic. Weeping, gnashing his teeth, he turns his face to the white line of the desert and flees.

Born in Flames, Cauled in Blood

Normally Tits doesn’t give a hot fuck what happens in the parks, on account of it’s usually empty words and full cocks, but lately something’s set her city aroil like a nest full of hornets. The poets and the socialists are armed to the teeth and there’s a new one dead every day for a month before she figures she has to step in.

“Look,” she tells the sad-mouthed boy facedown in a fountain, “what the hell goes on here? What’s got you kickin’ up, my breaker of words?” Gurgles, mostly, so she hauls him up by his hair and lets him get one lungful in, two, before she slaps his mouth hard on his teeth. “Talk to me, sweet summer’s child.”

“War,” he grins through a copper jawful of blood. “War and fire and new beginnings. Thursday is coming, and he’ll drag you down, all of you down, to the mud and the snakes and a ruby-bright stone.” Useless chatter, so she pushes him back under water and leaves him there till life comes foaming out of his nose.

War, huh. She’s an old hand at war, the bloody spirit of the times, a walking apocalypse already. Let cities and nations fall: she’ll be riding the cycle with a sword in her mouth.