The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4) by Samantha Shannon



PORT OF CALAIS

REPUBLIC OF SCION FRANCE

1 JANUARY, 2060

Dawn had set its match to a clear sky when our cargo ship sailed out of Dover. Now, rain thundered from sullen clouds and the grey sea raged itself to spume against the Port of Calais.

At least, that was what I imagined was happening outside, from the jolting and the noise. All I could see was the corrugated steel of a shipping container and the bruised daylight that leaked between its panels.

I was curled up on a plywood floor that smelled of brine and rust. Warden had stayed at my side for the journey, trying to warm me as I listed in and out of sleep. Even though I was wrapped in his coat, my hands were still like ice in my gloves, and I shook in the sodden chill of the ship. Beneath my oilskin, I was sticky with blood. Whatever painkiller had padded my bones was starting to wear off.

Years I had dreamed of leaving England, but never as contraband. Damaged contraband.

As we waited for the ship to dock, I remembered another journey I had made to an unknown land. Back then, it had been my father who kept watch over me as a plane carried us across the Irish Sea, away from our war-torn home.

My memories of that night still glinted. Splinters of glass, buried deep, sharp enough to catch me when I least expected it.

I had been sound asleep. Before dawn, my father had lifted me from bed, carried me downstairs, and buckled me into his car. My grandmother must have heard him, or sensed it—she had always said she could feel my fear, like a hook lodged in her chest—because she had come running from the farmhouse, a fleece thrown over her pyjamas, shouting at him to stop. I had beaten on the window, pleaded with him to let me out, to no avail.

He had let her tuck me into bed and read to me, as always, neither of us knowing it would be for the last time. After weeks of silent planning, he was defecting to the Republic of Scion. And I was going with him.

Under cover of darkness, he had driven through rebel-held territory to Shannon Airport. The car was pitted with bullets by the time he parked it. The rebels had already marked his vehicle, suspecting Scion might have turned him.

My father had come prepared, with a suitcase and a coat for each of us. Other people sleepwalked through customs with blood on their faces and little more than the clothes on their backs. Later, I had come to understand that all of the passengers on Flight 16—Shannon to London Docklands Airport—were collaborators. They had sold their friends and our secrets to Scion, and the laochra scátha, the rebel militias, had named them traitors to the nation. Marked for death, they had seen no choice but to flee to the country they had been serving.

There were others, too: Scion diplomats, sent to negotiate a surrender, returning home in defeat. Then there were people like my father, enlisted by the enemy, who, for whatever reason, had chosen to answer the summons from London. Aside from a grizzling baby, I was the only child.

Soon enough, the plane had touched down on the other side of the Irish Sea, and we, the uprooted, formed a column at the border—all of us waiting, in hollow-eyed silence, to throw ourselves on the mercy of the anchor.

Our first steps outside had been too much for my senses. Raised on green pastureland cupped by low mountains, I was dazzled and terrified by London, with its cobalt streetlamps and blinding screens and skyscrapers—bright as the sun—that knifed toward the godless blue. It had seemed grotesque in its immensity, stretched out of all rational proportion, this place I was supposed to call home. My father had bought a black coffee from Brekkabox and brazened out the citadel, unaware that London would be the death of him.

London, monstrous and marvelous and magnificent, too wild for even tyranny to tame. It had eaten me whole, and in its gut, I had grown a skin hard enough to cocoon me. I never imagined that I would burst out of that skin as Black Moth, leader of the revolution. Never predicted that I would find a new family in the Seven Seals. Never guessed that I would be the one to tear the mask off London when I found out who and what controlled it.

No, we were blind to our fates that day. Just as I was now, approaching the Scion Republic of France. I had no idea what would befall me in this new theatre of war. What names and faces I would wear. Who I might become.

If I had, I might have turned back.

****

The dockworker who had met us in Dover appeared at the door to our container, face creased beneath the peak of his cap.

“They’re searching all ships that arrive from England.” His breath clouded. “We have to leave.”

When I lifted my head, pain bolted down my nape. My eyes felt tightly screwed into my skull.