The previous excerpts from upcoming finale Whom Gods Shall Fear were brief, but this one is possibly the one many of you have been waiting for!
The murderous Maber Castigon is worryingly popular, but who am I to judge?
Here is a whole Deep-damned scene from his flashback chapters...
Maber lay in his cold, hard cot, unable to sleep, and listened intently. Somewhere in this frigid dormitory another of the men was receiving outsourced punishment, his own companions in misery and servitude delivering it so that Tsar’s dogs would not have to. If the overseers were left to correct this young man’s misapprehensions themselves he would be punished for that, too. The dogs did not like being made to work any more than was strictly necessary. Work burned up a lot of energy in this unforgiving climate, and so did punishing someone enough that they would remember the lesson. If it had been left to Tsar’s men to dole out this punishment they would have made sure the memory of it could never be left behind.
Maber stared into the pitch black dark above him as he listened to the thumps and slaps. The beating had been going on for some time now, and soft moans were all the unfortunate recipient could manage by this point.
Maber did not care — the man had brought it on himself, and he should be grateful that the dogs would let his transgression slide by without any questions or additional consequences. Once they saw the bruises they would know that he had been pressed by his peers.
As long as those peers were satisfied with delivering just the one beating, and did not come this way next, Maber was well at ease with inaction.
He moved his hand out to feel along the edge of the absurdly thin mattress, running his fingers between its frayed base and the taut, unforgiving canvas of the cot. There it was — the handle of the knife he had fabricated. Very reassuring. He thought of it as a knife, but if he was honest with himself it was more of a crude puncturing tool. Mister Discouragement would, however, certainly get the job done, should he ever be called upon.
Just over a solar it had been since he had arrived here. If only he had fashioned Mister Discouragement sooner, perhaps he would never have been sent. Perhaps he would still be living at home with Uncle Tyoma. Perhaps that disagreeable old **** would still be alive.
No, he told himself. You’d be dead if you’d fought them.
The patience of the prefect at Yekaterinburg had, it turned out, been limited immovably to the span of one Solar month. During that month, after Tyoma had turned away the first foreman, there had been three more visits which could have been loosely described as ‘diplomatically tilted’. But during the same period both outhouses had burned down mysteriously, their one dairy cow had apparently chosen to find somewhere new to live, and the solar array had been damaged one night by a strangely aerodynamic rock.
Tyoma’s attitude towards the visitors had deteriorated faster than even Maber had expected, starting as it had with his robust dismissal of the foreman and ending with him knocking the final emissary right off his feet.
It had been, to be fair, an incredible uppercut. But the conversation which had taken place as that particular envoy staggered away was extremely threatening indeed. He had not at all appreciated the skill with which the blow was delivered.
Tyoma had fetched his felling axe and felled some trees. He had fetched his forest axe and stripped the smaller branches off the trunks, those which had not already succumbed to his near-obsessive bouts of regular brashing. He had fetched his splitting axe and split those trunks down until they were rough posts. He had erected those rough posts and created a tall fence around their dwelling.
It certainly looks imposing, Maber had thought at the time. But not so very practical.
The fence had been too close to the house to stop people outside it from testing the aerodynamic properties of rocks, and access was still perfectly achievable on foot through the entranceway, which Tyoma had left as an open space. If they had still had a cow it could have just wandered through the gap.
The barrier was more, Maber had reflected, a physical manifestation of Tyoma’s stubbornness. That, and his deep-seated need to keep and mark that which he considered to be his.
The fence, of couse, had done nothing of any great value.
Much like Tsar, the presiding custodian of the so-called Taymyr Production Facility, the prefect at Yekaterinburg had had his own dogs. He had sent them without warning, one midsummer’s night, and that had been the end of Tyoma’s resistance against what he had always insisted was an imposter state.
It had also been the effective end of Maber’s family connections, so far as he knew. There was his aunt still, but he had not heard from her since she had left to help colonise Whiste. From what he had learned on the network over the solars, that particular world was turning out to have quite a lot more teeth than the settlers had originally thought. It was entirely possible she had perished, and if she had not… well he would not have known where to send his messages, even if he had had the means to send them.
They’d burned the place down, after they killed Tyoma. There hadn’t been a comm in there, but still… it had been Maber’s home, for all its many shortcomings.
As he lay in his cot, impermeable to the whimpering and blubbering coming from the other end of the dorm, Maber wondered what it said about him that Tyoma’s death was merely a side-note in his recollection of losing his home.
Maber had to hand it to Tyoma, the man had fought hard. That old bastard had always been mean. Up until that night he still had his reputation for being a brawler, despite having lived in the woods for the three decades or more since his last evening adventure as a young man about town. Tyoma had been getting on in Solar years, sure, but living off the land had been his workout routine for many of them. He had certainly been no weakling, and Maber himself still bore some of the scars which proved Tyoma’s quick temper and expert aim as well as his gross strength.
None of that had been enough.
Maber still remembered the shock of being shaken awake violently in the wee hours of the morning. It had been starting to get light outside, but his bedside clock had assured him with implicit authority that he should definitely still be sleeping.
Tyoma had urged him to stay quiet, grab his clothes, and go outside through the back door.
Maber had heard banging and shouting at the front door as he stole through the kitchen entrance. He had crept across what was now the back yard — enclosed by a tall fence which impeded his ability to simply walk off and hide in the woods — and sneaked around to the front of the house. There he had hidden behind the charred remains of one of the burned outhouses. He had watched Tyoma fight the five grown men, and while his uncle punched and kicked and shoved them Maber had cursed both Tyoma and his stupid fence for making escape so very difficult.
Sometimes, when he thought back to that moment, Maber wondered if it was odd that that should have been his primary concern at the time. What was more odd was that he knew most people would feel guilty about a thing like that, yet he did not experience that feeling. It just never came.
He wondered if that said more about him, or more about Tyoma.
Once, purely as a sort of personal experiment, he had tried to find that feeling of guilt. He was no expert on meditation or emotional intelligence or any of that fluffy stuff, but he had been confident that if the feeling was hiding somewhere in there he would find it.
He had not found it. The fact of that failure interested him for a while, in a clinical kind of a way, then a few hours later it had been forgotten.
They’d beaten Tyoma to death, more or less, before stabbing him. The old man hadn’t reacted when the blade went between his ribs, so Maber still had no idea which part of it all had finally ended that fiercely insular existence.
The prefect’s dogs had dragged Tyoma back to the house, dumping him in one of the downstairs rooms, then they had set about turning the place upside-down inside. Maber had come to the conclusion very quickly that they knew he existed, and they now wanted to implement some additional, editorial fatality, just in case any witnessing had been going on during their first murder. He had taken the opportunity to slink through the single entrance in the fence and retreated to the periphery of the woods. There he had found some undergrowth in which to hide, and continued to watch them.
The house had been burning merrily as they left.
Revda had not had any sort of fire service for many solars, and even if they had nobody would have seen the flames and the column of thick, black smoke. It had been far too early in the morning for that, and even the most enthusiastic worm-catchers would still have been snoring.
A summer rain had come next, the big, heavy drops smashing straight through the canopy to drench his clothes. The fire had been too well-fed by that point, and the rain did nothing to douse the flames. It just smelled different.
Maber Castigon had stared at that home-shaped pyre for two hours before standing up and walking in the general direction of the old town.
Even in this sweaty dorm he could still smell the scent of burning timber, mixed with damp and tinged with the odour of the worst kind of barbecue.
That time is gone, he told himself. This time is the one you should be worrying about.
Perhaps ‘worrying’ was not the right word. Taymyr Production Facility was a thing to be endured, as far as Maber Castigon was concerned.
Tsar, like all self-appointed dictators, was no more of a problem for Maber than Tyoma had been. The man was, truth be told, exactly how Tyoma would have turned out, if anyone had ever been stupid enough to leave him in charge of people and never check up on the results.
The dogs were not so much of a problem, either. They were mostly satisfied with exerting minimal effort as they carried out Tsar’s instructions, with the odd exception being made only when one of the workforce said or did something extremely inadvisable. Maber had learned the rules quickly, and he was not concerned about falling afoul of any of those self-interested men.
The real problems were the weather conditions, and the other prisoners. Either could impose difficulty on a perfectly innocent party without warning, and without provocation.
They were not ‘prisoners’ in any legal sense, he knew, but he had come to think of Taymyr as a prison very quickly. They could not simply leave, the work was mandatory, and the workers — many of whom had in fact been inmates at some point or other in their lives — turned it into that environment through their thoughts and behaviours.
But, most of all, it was a prison because Tsar operated it like one.
If you're not already subscribed, you can get notified the moment Whom Gods Shall Fear goes into preorder by joining the official mailing list.