The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon

War has often been called a game, with good reason. Both have combatants. Both have sides. Both carry the risk of losing. There is just one difference. Every game is a gamble. Certainty is the last thing you want when you begin. If you are guaranteed to win, there is no game at all. In war, however, we crave certainty. No fool ever went to war without the cast-iron belief that they could win, that they would win; or at least, that the likelihood of losing was so small as to make the bloody price of every move worthwhile. You don’t go to war just for the thrill, but for the gain. The question is whether any gain, any outcome, can justify the way you play. 27 November, 2059 In the heart of its financial district, London was burning. On Cheapside, Didion Waite, poet of the underworld and bitter rival of Jaxon Hall, was howling over the remains of a derelict church. Once a fixture of the capital, it was now a mass of charred and smoking rubble.

In his powdered wig and tailcoat, Didion was eye-catching even by Scion London standards, but everyone was too engrossed in the drama to take notice of one madman – everyone but those of us who had answered his call. We stood at the mouth of a lane, masked and shrouded, taking in what was left of St Mary-le-Bow. According to reports from local voyants, an explosion had obliterated its foundations around midnight. Now several of the nearest buildings were on fire, and graffiti had been sprayed across the street. ALL HAIL THE WHITE BINDER TRUE UNDERLORD OF LONDON A sunset-orange flower had been painted beside it. Nasturtium. In the language of flowers, it meant conquest, or power. ‘Let’s get the poor man out of there,’ said Ognena Maria, one of my commanders. ‘Before Scion does.’ I didn’t volunteer to help.

Didion had demanded that I come here in person, but I couldn’t risk speaking to him, not when he was in this state. He must expect me to compensate him for the damage from the Underqueen’s coffers, and I knew from experience that he would have no qualms about exposing me to the whole street if I refused. Better not to let him see me at all, for now. ‘I’ll go.’ Eliza checked that her hood was fastened. ‘We’ll take him to Grub Street.’ ‘Be careful,’ I said. She hurried towards Didion, who was now pounding the cobbles with his hands and screaming incoherently. Maria followed, motioning to her hirelings to come with her. I stayed behind with Nick.

We had taken to wearing the winter hoods that had come into fashion in recent weeks, which could be worn so they covered most of the face, but by now I was so recognisable that even that might not protect me. After the scrimmage – when I had fought Jaxon Hall, my own mime-lord and mentor, for the right to rule the clairvoyants of London – Nick had quit his job with Scion and vanished from their view, only staying long enough to steal a few cases of medical supplies and take as much cash from his bank account as he could. Within days, his face had appeared on the screens alongside mine. ‘You think this was Jaxon?’ He nodded to the wreck of the church. ‘His loyalists.’ The heat of the fire baked my eyes dry. ‘Whoever’s leading them is starting to gather a following.’ ‘It’s a tiny group of troublemakers. Not worth your time.’ His tone was reassuring, but this was the third assault on a syndicate landmark in as many days.

The last time, they had raided the Old Spitalfields Market, scaring the traders and looting stalls. Those responsible considered Jaxon to be the rightful Underlord, despite his conspicuous absence. Even after I had told them the facts, they refused to believe that the White Binder, the glorious mimelord of I-4, could be involved with Scion. In the grand scheme of things, this was a minor nuisance; the majority of voyants did support me. But the message this attack sent was clear: I had not yet won all of my subjects’ hearts. That came with the territory, I supposed. My predecessor, Haymarket Hector, had been widely despised. Those who had obeyed him had done so out of fear, or because he paid them well. Didion wailed as he was hoisted to his feet and led away by Maria and Eliza. He was drowned out by the siren of a Scion fire engine.

It might be able to douse the neighbouring buildings, but anyone could see that the church was beyond saving – as was the Juditheon, the auction house beneath it. We retreated, leaving another part of our history to be swept away. Once I might have mourned. I had whiled away many an hour at the Juditheon, shelling out extortionate amounts of Jaxon’s money for spirits Didion had no right to sell – but since the revelation of Jaxon’s true nature, all of my memories of life as his mollisher had gained a taint, a film of scum that smeared their surface. All I wanted was to scrape them all into a pit, close the earth on top of them, and build again on the new ground. ‘Nearest safe house is Cloak Lane,’ Nick said. We slipped into another backstreet, away from the ring of heat around the church. I kept us clear of other people. Nick checked for security cameras. Since the scrimmage, we were no longer just unnatural criminals, but nascent revolutionaries, with ever-growing bounties on our heads.

Even if we hadn’t yet made a move against Scion, they knew our objective. I had to wonder how much longer we could survive in the capital. It was dangerous for us to be out this late at night, but when Didion had sent for me, I had wanted to come; to convince him that we were on the same side. He was, after all, Jaxon’s long-time adversary, which now made him a potential ally. The Cloak Lane safe house was a studio apartment rented by an ex-nightwalker, who was keen to help the Mime Order in whatever way she could. Unlike most of our buildings, it had heating, a fridge, and a proper bed. The warmth was a relief after a long night on the streets. Over the last few weeks, the temperature had plummeted and snow had fallen almost every day, leaving London as thickly iced as a birthday cake. I had never experienced a winter so ruthless. My nose and cheeks were almost always a raw pink, and my eyes streamed every time I stepped outside.

When I refused it, Nick dropped on to the bed. He, at least, got a few hours’ rest. A hint of moonlight shone on his pale face, drawing out the crease that pinched his brow even in sleep. I lay on the couch in the dark, but I was too restless to close my eyes for long. The image of the burning church, a promise of devastation, was scorched on to my mind. A reminder that while Jaxon Hall was gone, he wasn’t yet forgotten. In the morning, I took a buck cab to the Mill, an industrial ruin in Silvertown – one of several abandoned buildings we had recently occupied across the citadel. It was home to our largest cell. Changing the structure of the syndicate, with the view to eventually turning it into an army capable of fighting Scion, had been far from easy. I had ended the traditional system of territory and dens, though I had tried to keep gang members together where possible.

Syndicate voyants were now organised into cells. Each was based in one location, known only to cell members and the local mime-lord or mime-queen, who received orders through a high commander. Forcing my subjects to limit contact outside their cells hadn’t pleased them, but it was the only way we were going to survive. It was also the only way to evade Jaxon, who had known the old syndicate inside-out. Now anyone who was captured would only be able to betray the whereabouts of a certain number of people to the enemy. We were going to war with Scion, and in war, we took no risks. When I arrived at the Mill, I climbed the stairs. Leon Wax, one of the few amaurotics who worked with the Mime Order, was at the end of the upper hall in his wheelchair, handing out packs of essentials, like soap and water bottles, to two newly arrived soothsayers. Leon was sixty and losing his hair, and his skin was a deep, rich brown. ‘Hello, Paige,’ he said.

‘Leon.’ I nodded to the newcomers, who were staring at me. ‘Welcome to the cell.’ Both of them looked slightly awestruck. They must have heard plenty of talk about me: the mollisher who had stabbed her mime-lord in the back, the dreamwalker with allies from the æther. I wondered faintly how I matched up to their expectations – all they would be seeing now was a woman with dark circles under her eyes. My hair was back to white-blonde, with a single streak of black at the front. The only evidence that I had been in the scrimmage were my fading bruises and the conspicuous welt on my jaw, where my skin had been split open by a cutlass. Proof that I could fight and win, written on my face. One of the newcomers – a pale redhead – actually curtsyed.

‘Th-thank you, Underqueen. We’re honoured to be part of the Mime Order.’ ‘You don’t need to curtsy.’ Leaving them in Leon’s capable hands, I made my way to the top floor. My deepest injuries still throbbed, but we had just enough medicine to keep the pain under control. The surveillance centre was eleven floors up. When I entered, I found Tom the Rhymer and the Glym Lord – two of my high commanders – eating breakfast and poring over a map of the citadel, which showed the positions of newly installed Senshield scanners: our latest concern. Numa were spread among the paperwork and laptops on the table: shew stones, keys, a knife, and a fist-sized crystal ball. ‘Good morning to you, Underqueen,’ Glym said. ‘We have a problem.

’ Tom raised his bushy eyebrows. ‘Now, that’s no way to greet anyone at this time of the morning. I’ve not even finished my coffee.’ He pulled out a chair for me. ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘Jaxon’s supporters burned down the Juditheon.’ He sighed. ‘Maria told us. They’re small fry.’ ‘Even so, it’s not something we can ignore for much longer.’ I poured a coffee for myself.

‘We need to consolidate the syndicate, and fast. A replacement for Jaxon would be a good start.’ I said it more to myself than to them. ‘How are you both getting on?’ ‘New recruits are arriving daily,’ Glym said. ‘We need far more, of course, but I have no concerns at this stage. Many voyants seem to be taking to the idea of the Mime Order, and the more of them that join us, the more will feel emboldened to follow them into our ranks.’ Tom nodded. ‘We rescued a pair last night – mediums. They were caught by a Senshield scanner. I had a vision of it happening; Glym sent some of his people to where we knew they would be hiding.

’ He cleared his throat and glanced at Glym. ‘They had an . interesting story. Said the scanner went off, but they couldna see it. They just heard the alarm.’ I frowned. Scion had started to put Senshield scanners in the Underground – an unwelcome development – but they were so big that it was fairly easy to avoid them. ‘They must have seen it – they’re huge. Where was this?’ ‘I havena heard all the details yet.’ ‘Send your mollisher to investigate.

I don’t like the sound of it.’ I purloined a ginger bun before I left, causing Tom to gather the rest protectively into their box. Downstairs, in the training room, daylight spilled through the broken windows, dappling the concrete and the disused machines. At some point, a cave-in had taken out most of the ceiling; you could see up to the pearl-grey sky. There were rings for cell members to train in physical and spirit combat, as well as a knife range. At Terebell’s command, the Ranthen had taken to regularly visiting cells to help our recruits hone their skills. Pleione Sualocin was in the ring on the left side of the room, teaching spirit combat. The voyants around her were transfixed by their instructor. ‘When the spool makes contact with your opponent’s aura, the spirits will unleash a disturbing sequence of images, disorienting them. However, a weak spool can be deflected or broken.

To hold true, spools must be tightly bound. In the fell tongue, we call this art weaving.’ She cast a gloved hand in front of her, lacing the spirits together. When she saw me, she let them go and said to her students, ‘There are enough spirits in this building for you to practise with. Go.’ The class raced off. Some of them mumbled ‘Underqueen’ as they passed me. Pleione watched them leave. ‘The sovereign-elect has asked me to inform you that she will be carrying out an inspection of the I Cohort cells tomorrow,’ she said to me. ‘Fine.

’ The light in her irises burned low; she was hungry. I had forbidden all the Ranthen from feeding on the voyants in my care, forcing them to lie in wait for those who lived outside the syndicate. It hadn’t done much to improve their temperaments. ‘Terebell is disappointed,’ she continued, ‘that you have had no success in erasing the influence of the arch-traitor from London.’ ‘Trust me, I’m trying.’ ‘I advise you to try harder, dreamwalker.’ She gave me a wide berth as she left. I was used to it by now. Mutual hatred of Jaxon was holding us together, but barely. All of the Ranthen knew now that he was the human who had betrayed them the first time they had revolted against the Sargas, the ruling family of Rephaim.

I wasn’t wholly sure that I had been spared from guilt by association. After all, I had worked for the arch-traitor, their sworn enemy, for three years – it was hard to believe that I had never noticed anything, never learned his dirty secret. There were voyants sparring nearby. An augur rolled a spool together and hurled it at the other Rephaite instructor, who was standing in the middle of the ring. Warden. A quick motion of his hand shattered the spool and put the spirits to flight. Arcturus Mesarthim is nothing but her lure. His head turned slightly. I hung back, nursing my coffee. Everyone but you can see it.

The augur sighed and retreated. After a moment, Warden beckoned two more voyants from the line. First was Felix Coombs, one of the other Bone Season survivors. He stepped into the ring and filled a bowl with water for hydromancy. His opponent was Róisín Jacob, a vile augur, whose plaited hair was dark with sweat. Since I had ordered the release of the vile augurs from the Jacob’s Island slum, she had given herself, heart and soul, to the cause, training for hours every day. Warden stood with his arms folded. ‘Felix,’ he said, making him start – he was still jumpy around Rephaim, ‘you are slouching. I assure you, a Vigile will still see you.’ Felix squared up to Róisín, who was a head taller than him.

‘Róisín, strike true,’ Warden said, ‘but give him a chance to attempt the technique.’ ‘A small chance,’ Róisín agreed. Clearing his throat, Felix beckoned several spirits and spooled them. Warden paced around the ring. ‘Turn your backs.’ They did. ‘Now, take three steps away from one another.’ They did. ‘Good.’ He always made combat a duel, a dance, an art form.

A train of observers wound around the outside of the ring. As Felix and Róisín waited for their cue, the audience called encouragements. ‘Three,’ Warden said, ‘two, one.’ Felix sliced his arm downward. The spirits wheeled after it in a smooth arc and dived into the bowl of water, making its surface tremble and the æther strain. I raised my eyebrows. As the spirits rose again, carrying a chain of sparkling droplets with them, Róisín put a sudden end to the grace period and sprang towards Felix. She knocked his arm upward with her fist and threw him against the ropes before her fingers bit into his shoulder. His body gave a violent jolt, causing the spirits to panic and flee. Water sprayed everywhere as he slid into a heap on the floor.

‘Yield, I yield,’ he yelled, to gales of laughter. ‘That hurt, Róisín! What did you do?’ ‘She used her gift against you,’ Warden said. ‘Róisín is a talented osteomancer. Your bones responded to her touch.’ Felix recoiled. ‘My bones?’ ‘Correct. They may be enveloped in flesh, but they will always answer an osteomancer’s call.’ Applause smattered for Róisín’s victory. I put my coffee down and joined in. With a little finetuning, Warden had transformed her osteomancy into an active gift – something she could use to defend herself.

Even what Felix had done was nothing like the hydromancy I had seen before. ‘Told you we should never have released them,’ a whisperer hissed. Trenary, I thought his name was. ‘Vile augurs don’t belong here.’ ‘Enough.’ Warden kept pacing around the ring. ‘The Underqueen has forbidden that sort of talk.’ Several people started. Rephaim, as it turned out, had keen hearing. Anyone else would have quailed at his tone, but the whisperer recovered quickly.

‘I don’t have to do what you say, Rephaite,’ he sneered. Felix swallowed and glanced at Warden. ‘I’ll take my orders from the Underqueen, if she ever shows up.’ ‘Then listen to this, Trenary,’ I called. Heads turned in my direction. ‘We don’t hold with that attitude any longer. If you can’t let go of it, take it elsewhere. Outside, perhaps, where the snow is.’ There was a pause before Trenary stormed out of the hall, leaving Róisín to grind her teeth. ‘Warden, what can you teach me?’ Jos Biwott piped up, snapping the tension.

‘All I can do is sing.’ ‘That is no small gift. All of you have the potential to use your clairvoyance against Scion, but my time is short today.’ Groans of disappointment rang through the hall. ‘I will return next week. Until then, keep practising.’ I watched them disband. On the other side of the hall, Warden reached for his coat. It had been weeks since we had spoken more than a few stiff words to one another. I couldn’t put this off any longer.

Trying to shake off my apprehension, I crossed the hall to stand beside him. ‘Paige.’ His voice had the same effect on me as wine. The heaving, clumsy weight behind my ribs was still. ‘Warden,’ I said. ‘It’s been a while.’ ‘Indeed.’ I tried to appear as if I was observing the knife range, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was too aware of the eyes on us, of those who were regarding the Underqueen and their Rephaite instructor with open curiosity. ‘That was very impressive,’ I said frankly.

‘How did you teach Felix to use hydromancy that way?’ ‘We call it fusion. An advanced form of spirit combat for certain types of soothsayers and augurs. You saw the Wicked Lady use it during the scrimmage.’ He watched as a medium allowed herself to be possessed. ‘Some voyants can learn to command certain spirits to carry their numen. The art can be used to manipulate fire, water, and smoke.’ This could give us a real advantage. Before the Ranthen had come along, soothsayers and augurs could only really use spooling against an opponent; it was part of why Jaxon thought them so weak. ‘That one has been speaking against the vile augurs.’ Warden nodded in the direction Trenary had left.

‘And, less openly, speaking in favour of Jaxon as the rightful leader of the Mime Order. Apparently he often quotes the more incendiary passages from On the Merits of Unnaturalness.’ ‘I’ll ask Leon to keep an eye on him. We can’t have anything leaked to Scion.’ ‘Very well.’ There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. I closed my eyes for a moment. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I have business to attend to. Excuse me.’ I’d already taken a few steps towards the door when he said, ‘Did I do something to insult you, Paige?’ I stopped.

‘No. I’ve just been . preoccupied.’ My tone was too defensive. It was clear to both of us that something was wrong. ‘Of course.’ When I was silent, he said, softer, ‘The company you keep is yours to decide. But you may always speak to me, if you ever desire counsel. Or someone to listen.’ Suddenly I was aware of the hard line of his jaw, the caged flame in his eyes, the warmth I could feel from where I was standing.

I was also aware of the tension in my back. The flutter in my stomach. I knew why it was there. What was keeping me from opening up to him. It wasn’t anything he’d done. He had accepted me as the woman who had spent years working for Jaxon Hall without realising who and what he was. Unlike the other Ranthen, he had treated me no differently. He had excused my ignorance. It was the warning about him that Jaxon had given me. Words that still played on my mind.

And I couldn’t tell him so; I couldn’t admit to him that Jaxon Hall, a serial liar, had poisoned my view of him. That Jaxon Hall had made me doubt that he was anything but a vessel for Terebell’s will. ‘Thank you. I know.’ Conscious of the interest we were attracting, I turned away. ‘I’ll see you soon.’ I spent the rest of the day taking stock of our supplies. As I left the Mill at dusk, Nick and Eliza were on their way in, looking for me. They had taken an urgent report from a mime-queen in II Cohort, who was convinced there was a Vigile squadron watching a phone box in her section. ‘She says a few of her voyants have been to make calls.

Half of them never come back,’ Nick told me as we trudged through the snow. ‘When she tried it herself, she was fine, but she wants hirelings posted around it.’ ‘Didn’t we have something like this last week, with the medium who went into a pharmacy and was never seen again?’ I said tersely. ‘We did.’ ‘Did you go to the phone box yourself?’ ‘Yes. Nothing.’ I lowered my head against the wind. ‘Don’t waste any more time on it, then.’ ‘Right. Back to the den?’ I nodded.

We had been out for too long today, and we needed to assess our finances. We caught a rickshaw to the Limehouse Causeway and went on foot from there, keeping our heads down and our scarves over our faces. Partygoers were already out in force, high on Floxy and excitement, weaving past dockworkers from the Isle of Dogs. Oxygen bars were always busy in the run-up to Novembertide, especially the cheap ones that dominated this part of the citadel. Eliza stopped at a cash machine and covertly took out a pickpocketed bank card. Stolen cards were useful, even if they only lasted as long as it took for their owners to realise they were missing. Terebell often refused my requests for money, something I was convinced she took pleasure in. Nick glanced over his shoulder, checking for observant passers-by, as Eliza fed the card into the machine and tapped her foot. An alarm shrilled. Nick and I stiffened; Eliza flinched back with a sharp intake of breath.

The ear-splitting wail drew the eyes of everyone in the vicinity. For a moment, we just stared at each other. I knew that sound. That was the sound a Senshield scanner made when it detected the presence of a clairvoyant, a sound that portended arrest – but it was coming from inside the cash machine. And that wasn’t possible. Senshield scanners were cumbrous, full-body contraptions. You could see one from the other end of the street. If you stayed alert, you might never encounter one. They weren’t hidden. Were they? I thought all of this in the split second it took me to react.

‘Run,’ I barked at the others. As one, we fled from the machine. ‘Unnaturals,’ someone shouted. A hand snatched at Nick’s coat. His fist swung up, striking the man away. I looked back to see a squadron of night Vigiles swarming from the bank, flux guns at the ready, bellowing ‘halt’ and ‘get down’, their voices gnarling into a roar that made people scatter in panic around them. The telltale click-hiss of a flux dart made me drop into a roll and veer into the next street, hauling Eliza along with me. Shock had already ramped up my heartbeat; now terror carved my body, cutting my breaths short. I hadn’t felt fear like this in a long time, not since the day I had been captured and taken to the colony by Scion. The three of us were the highest-ranking members of the Mime Order – we could not be detained.

We sprinted in the direction of the dockworkers’ shantytown, where we could vanish into the close-knit labyrinth of shacks. Just as it came into sight, a van screamed into our path. We turned, like cornered animals, only to find ourselves face-to-face with the squadron. Their uniforms were a blur of black and red. ‘Oh, shit,’ Eliza murmured. Slowly, I raised my hands. The others echoed my position. As the Vigiles formed a half-moon in front of us, shock batons glowed to life and flux guns were levelled at our torsos, no doubt loaded with the newest version of the drug. I glanced at Nick. His aura was changing, reaching farther into the æther.

.

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