Exclusive excerpt from Mark Charan Newton's CITY OF RUIN

With his second book about to hit the shelves across the UK and beyond, I invited Mark Charan Newton to provide a second extract to help promote City of Ruin. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

We posted another excerpt a few months ago, which you can find here.

James, who kindly gave me persmission to use the name of his blog as the title for my own anthology, reviewed City of Ruin a couple of days ago. You can read his review here. You'll also find the first part of an interview with Newton on his blog.


Some people would see Villiren as a division of alleys and sections – issued forth by lines drawn on a map. Technically there was the Ancient Quarter, nestling under the long shadows cast by the Onyx Wings. North of that rose the Citadel, the imposing edifice where Malum was now headed. Saltwater and the Deeping lay just a few streets to the south, both districts dominated by the Screams. Further out on the opposite side of the wings there was Althing, and then Scarhouse south of that, a quarter where many decent traders lived. And beyond that, tucked just behind Port Nostalgia, with its harbour-front hotels that the Freeze had closed down, lay the Shanties, a district where the fishermen and stevedores lived, largely in poverty. And finally the various shades of the city, known collectively as the Wastelands – though they hadn’t been wasteland for thirty, maybe forty years at least. Multicultural niches had been established there, various pockets of exiles creating their own sense of belonging, like the Folke quarter or the Jokull district – unofficial names that meant little to the city’s developers. Beyond that again was the dark Abies-strewn Wych-Forest, a place that was eaten into constantly by the urban crawl outwards. And raising a peak within the foliage was the Spoil Tower – a pile of refuse so high it had become the highest point locally, harvested eagerly by gulls and the homeless.

Villiren was broken up into distinctive patches of territory, undrawn lines running across unnamed streets. Which you either dare not cross or else you were obliged to defend. This territorialism gave Malum and his gang a sense of belonging and, as in most major cities across the Boreal Archipelago, there was an underground complex of tunnels and excavated caverns for them to hide out in.

In fact, Malum did most of his work out of part of this basement network. In Villiren, you needed to ascertain the way down there from someone who trusted you. Then, a sidestep out of sight, followed by a downward journey from a certain corner of the Ancient Quarter. Such passageways were scored right through the heart of the city, guarded well by cloaked figures who knew their way around a blade.

Sporting three-day stubble, under his black surtout he wore a thick woollen tunic with the hood drawn up and his red bauta mask in place. A messer blade at his hip, he took the steps two at a time.

Eventually he came to the heart of the complex that was the Villiren underground. A gangland zone, a no-man’s-land, the place was constantly lit by a string of lanterns and biolumes, long passageways connecting cavernous dust-filled spaces in which the ancient houses were barely still standing, faded posters nailed to their doors. These stone facades remained only because the authorities were too scared to come down here and rip them apart.

Voices came to him through the hubbub as a few masked men nodded in his direction, or even stood up to give him vague acknowledgement. Others turned back to their tables, their faces anonymous behind their masks.

This place was a sort of decrepit tavern extending into a former marketplace, and had become a hang-out for mainly the two largest street gangs in Villiren – the Screams and his own, the Bloods. You could buy yourself the best of anything down here. Blades and drugs, ultra-strong alcohol and women, as well as decent cuts of reindeer and seal, or the more nutritious types of seaweed, for variety.

Three of his youngest recruits, none of them older than twelve, stood giggling over a crate of porno-golems. ‘Put those fucking things down!’ Malum shouted. ‘They’re not for you. Get out of here.’

He cuffed one lad around the ears and the three scampered off. Sighing, he realized his work here was endless.

Two of his men sauntered over to him, JC and Duka. The young red-headed brothers had been there from the beginning, when his business activities had turned to the darker side of life. Always ready to hand when he needed men to call in credit or clear up debts, they’d become his surrogate family early on, turning from callow boys into men he could trust. More to the point, they too had been bitten.

JC and Duka were now in their late-twenties, and equally tall, but JC always wore a black mask while Duka wore none. They could almost have been twins, otherwise, but JC had tribal-motif tattoos all over his neck and chest, and possessed the most ferocious blue eyes, while his brother’s were green. JC therefore looked the tougher of the two, but in reality he was more mellow, even slightly spiritual, and this helped to disguise his alcoholism. The brothers had been through a lot together – turf wars and smuggling and suffering bad drug trips, and they treated Malum like a wiser, older brother. They came from a vast family and Malum had always been welcome at their table after he was first bitten – they helped to set him straight again.

He now greeted them both in hand-slang, fingers and palms crossing according to the old code.

JC spoke first: ‘Malum, how’s it going? Thought you was working with those soldiers.’

‘Not until midday,’ Malum growled. ‘I was hoping to meet up with Dannan first. Seen him anywhere around?’ The man he spoke of was the bastard son of a banshee, a man who consequently called himself a banHe.

‘Not seen him,’ Duka confessed, burying his hands back in his pockets.

‘Anything important?’ JC slurred, and Malum could detect an alcoholic glaze in his eyes.
‘Some union activity we need to interrupt. And I just wanted to make sure we’re in agreement before we go to meet the soldiers.’

Duka muttered, ‘None of us give a damn about what those soldiers are up to.’
‘We might not have a choice in the end, and that’s what I’m afraid of. Don’t even know what it is they’re fighting. They suspect trouble’s on its way here so who knows what they’ll want from us.’

‘Hey, will you need us all to fight too?’ Duka said.

Malum wasn’t a military man, and he had no concern about the Empire. His own turf was all he cared about. ‘Forget about it for now.’

‘Right,’ JC muttered. ‘Hey, last night we got ourselves a crate of pirated relics off a dealer who said he’d just been to Ysla.’

‘Where’s he now?’ Malum asked.

‘Dead,’ JC replied, as Duka disappeared down one of the nearby passageways. ‘We dumped him in the harbour last night with his coat pockets full of masonry.’

‘You drink him first?’ Members of his gang had a habit of draining their victims before Malum himself could get to question them.

‘Nah, he smelled of bad blood – cultist-tainted or something.’

Malum grunted a laugh. ‘Are the relics any good? I don’t want any of us killing ourselves for no good reason.’

‘We ain’t tested them yet.’ JC glanced behind him, where Duka reappeared lugging a small chest. With a grunt he dumped the box at Malum’s feet, and then looked up at him expectantly.

Malum rummaged carefully among the collection of odd-shaped metallic devices.
Customers were always stupid enough to buy pirated relics. They sought the dream device, the object that could improve their lives. Punters were even prepared to kill themselves – literally – for the chance to own some magic. Markets in the city thrived on ordinary people being selfish, and for the last ten years his gang had thrived on exploiting such weaknesses, making money through whatever nefarious means he could contrive.

‘You did good, guys.’ Malum lightly punched Duka in the arm. ‘Even if they don’t work, we can still get a decent price for them.’

* * *

Two hours later, Malum sat coolly across the table from the albino
commander, only being here out of curiosity rather than any sense of duty. They were gathered in the obsidian chamber, with its view across the sea towards Tineag’l. In the distance, a garuda was curving through the air. Up on the walls cressets of burning oil were spaced at regular intervals between hunting trophies: gheel heads glaring down on proceedings, their triple-forked tongues hanging out as if hungrily.

The albino commander gave a slight smile that betrayed his need for Malum to play nicely . . . while Malum vaguely wondered if albino blood tasted any different from that of normal humans. The commander’s pallid features seemed to provide the most subtle of masks, but for Malum his expressions were clear to interpret: here was a man looking to bargain.

Two Night Guard soldiers, blond and black-haired, stood at the back with arms folded, behind their commander as if to enforce his air of authority. Another half a dozen of them sat on benches around the edge of the room, in carefully informal postures. Malum read this as a signal for everyone to stay relaxed.

Dannan had arrived late, obviously deciding to saunter here at his own leisurely pace – either that, or too messed-up on drugs to notice what the time was. With harsh and angular features, the pale banHe deported himself with surprising neatness and elegance. Malum loved to test him occasionally to see if it was all an act, but the banHe always stayed true. Malum had once caught him engaged in some occult ritual centring on a bowl of blood, three naked women, various body organs, and an old book of rituals he assumed were cultist. And close members of his gang suggested that they’d witnessed the banHe getting stabbed, manically and repeatedly, but there was little or no sign of wounding afterwards, and at the time of the attack, Dannan had simply laughed it off. The banHe was here now representing the Screams, a guild with a thousand men in its ranks. Usually these gangs comprised a dozen men at the top, and everyone else working for them, but Malum’s group was much larger, as was Dannan’s, yet these two were the only leaders present.

Lutto, the portreeve of Villiren, suddenly blundered through the door still wrapped in a thick green cloak, and clutching a sheaf of papers under one arm. There was something comically duck-like about his gait, and his cheeks were flushed; and despite the chill there was a constant, sweaty glow to this panjandrum’s demeanour.

‘Sele of Jamur, Commander Brynd! Dannan and Malum, my greetings, gentlemen.’
The albino greeted him formally, correcting ‘Jamur’ to ‘Urtica’. Each of the gang leaders gave a disinterested nod.

‘You gang types,’ Lutto chuckled, as he squeezed himself into a chair next to the commander, and then spilled his papers across the table. ‘Will you not remove your mask for this meeting?’ Lutto asked, as he cleared them up.

‘No,’ Malum snapped. ‘Just tell us why’re we here?’

‘Ah, straight to business,’ Lutto announced. ‘A man after my own heart!’

‘Leave me out of your heart,’ Malum growled. ‘Or are you into fucking men these days, you queer?’

Malum then noticed a flicker of darkness cross the albino’s face. That was strange, Malum thought. The commander certainly didn’t like that comment, he could tell. He was a weird-looking man, with those devilish eyes and that angular face, but something in his expression definitely tightened. Very odd . . .

The albino hurried on with the meeting. ‘I called you gentlemen here because ... very simply, we need your assistance. Lutto here reliably informs me that you each control a large number of citizens – a few thousand, so I believe.’

Dannan broke his hush. ‘What of it?’ His voice sounded mildly feminine.

‘If I may just give you a summary of our latest intelligence?’ The commander glanced warily between his two visitors. It was clear that the man regretted having to be so polite to a couple of thugs.

What the commander then described was both enlightening and alarming. He confirmed the rumours they had heard of the extent of genocide on Tineag’l, whole towns and villages wiped from the map, creatures called Okun currently crossing the ice sheets. The commander certainly presented the gang leaders with something to think about.

As drinks were eventually fetched, the commander’s tone softened into something more relaxed. Anticipation still hung in the air, however.

‘Now, I’m not expecting you to want to help us out of the goodness of your hearts,’ the albino continued. ‘You’re tough men, primarily interested in your own affairs, I understand that.’

‘We’ve got morals, commander,’ Malum snapped. ‘Our world isn’t black and white.’

‘So you will help?’ ‘Never said that.’ Whispering, the commander leaned over to Lutto, who nodded, his

cheeks wobbling. ‘Lutto here has agreed to open some of the city’s vaults for a payment to you, to be refunded to the citizens by Villjamur at a later date. But the point is we’d be hiring your services, should we need you. I cannot be sure when, as for the moment we’re just . . . waiting.’

So nothing was resolved; no conclusion was reached. Both Dannan and Malum agreed they would consider the situation in principle. Did they want to be employed by the Empire? Would they become just another unit of irregular soldiers?

The only firm outcome for Malum was that he ordered one of his men to shadow the commander from a distance. Whether it was just his ultra-pale skin, he didn’t know, but there was something really weird about him.

* * *

Under a sleet-filled sky, in a area of the city currently blocked off for renovation, Malum and the banHe had words. The banHe smoked his roll-up nervously, as if paranoid, though there were always a couple of his thugs loitering nearby, their boots crunching on the vacant rubble-patch. This place used to be an educational establishment until the rents got too high, but now it was marked out for being turned into a larger apartment block. At the moment, it made a good place to meet: there were no places to hide a crossbow, not even enough cover behind which someone could crouch with a blade.

‘What is it, Malum?’ the banHe enquired, an almost musical quality to his voice.

‘Portreeve says there’s going to be a massive march of strikers heading through the northern districts – protests from stevedores on the docks, support from the smaller merchants, that sort of thing.’

‘What they angry about?’

‘Dangerous working conditions mainly.’

‘Why ain’t they taking it up with their employers? What’s Lutto got to do with it? It’s a free market, right?’

Malum smirked. ‘C’mon, you know better than that, Dannan.

Private companies in this city means no one takes responsibility for things like deaths occurring at work – mainly from hypothermia at the moment. No one wants to work shit jobs for shit money in the ice, especially when they’re dying all round, but their employers say shut up or they’ll just ship in cheaper workers from off-island. Even talk of slaves coming in to work for next to nothing, though Lutto told me that he’s uncomfortable with that – might spoil his image back in Villjamur. Not even the Inquisition can get involved, in case it sends out a bad signal – that there isn’t much democracy here. Got to create the illusion of freedom just to placate the rest of the masses.’

‘So what’s Lutto want us to do then? Kill a load of innocent protestors?’

‘Kind of – but from within. Business leaders have asked politicians to help them out as times are tough, and they don’t need this kind of unrest. They fired a hundred men for organizing action just a few weeks ago – illegally, according what laws we do have – but soon things are going to get out of hand. And the portreeve doesn’t want it either. He’s offered special tariffs and subsidies and tax relief to businesses to keep them here in Villiren – part of that free market thing, I’m sure! – and this unrest just interferes with his grand plans for development. So Lutto comes to us, as usual, to help out. Treats us like business leaders because we do what we do well. There’s a lot of money up for grabs, here, same as the Scarhouse Massacre two years back.’

The banHe made wide eyes at him.

‘Exactly,’ Malum said. ‘We didn’t have to do another job of the kind for a long while after that. So we’re meant to join the protests and kick up a bloodstorm inside the movement. Claim that unions are nothing but violent thugs, good for no one. Not only does it get rid of the key troublemakers who stop private industries from fattening up their wallets, but it means others won’t want to get involved with unions. Less solidarity, you see. People just get on with their work. This is all part of Lutto’s long strategy, his campaign for free democracy.’

‘What, so stopping people from having any control over their lives and their work conditions is a free democracy now? Who changed the fucking definitions?’

‘Welcome to Villiren, Dannan. Anyway, they get to vote, right?’

‘Between two or three men who are indistinguishable from one another. Anyway, Lutto always wins because he’s got the most money – and our support, too.’

‘Yeah, I know all this shit.’

‘You seem to know a lot,’ the banHe remarked, genuinely impressed.

‘Just because I’m a thug doesn’t mean I don’t read any books. But, anyway, we’re part of this now – so can I guarantee him some of your men for the job, too?’

Dannan sighed deeply and contemplated a response. ‘How many you got involved?’

‘ ’Bout a hundred, but there’ll be best part of a thousand protesting.’

‘I’ll throw in a hundred as well. Enough yeah?’

‘Should do it. I’ll send on the details to you on time and location. We already got a couple of men undercover with the unions at the moment.’

The banHe nodded and inhaled on his roll-up and continued looking around him.

Malum walked away with the intention of fading into the cityscape.

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