Monsters of men, p.1
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       Monsters of Men, p.1

         Part #3 of Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness
slower 1  faster
Monsters of Men


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

  Copyright © 2010 by Patrick Ness

  Cover photograph copyright © 2010 by Harald Sund/The Image Bank/Getty Images

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

  First U.S. electronic edition 2010

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

  Ness, Patrick, date

  Monsters of Men / Patrick Ness. — 1st U.S. ed.

  p. cm. — (Chaos walking; bk. 3)

  Summary: As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions, questioning all they have ever known as they try to step back from the darkness and find the best way to achieve peace.

  ISBN 978-0-7636-4751-3 (hardcover)

  [1. Science fiction. 2. War — Fiction. 3. Space colonies — Fiction. 4. Social problems — Fiction. 5. Telepathy — Fiction.] I. Title. II. Series.

  PZ7.N43843Mon 2010

  [Fic]—dc22 2009049727

  ISBN 978-0-7636-5211-1 (electronic)

  Candlewick Press

  99 Dover Street

  Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

  visit us at www.candlewick.com

  Who’s in the bunker?

  Who’s in the bunker?

  Women and children first

  And the children first

  And the children

  I laugh until my head comes off

  I swallow ’til I burst

  –Radiohead, “Idioteque”

  “War,” says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. “At last.”

  “Shut up,” I say. “There ain’t no at last about it. The only one who wants this is you.”

  “Nevertheless,” he says, turning to me with a smile. “Here it comes.”

  And of course I’m already wondering if untying him so he could fight this battle was the worst mistake of my life–

  But no–

  No, it’s gonna keep her safe. It’s what I had to do to keep her safe.

  And I will make him keep her safe if I have to kill him to do it.

  And so with the sun setting, me and the Mayor stand on the rubble of the cathedral and look out across the town square, as the army of Spackle make their way down the zigzag hill in front of us, blowing their battlehorn with a sound that could tear you right in two–

  As Mistress Coyle’s army of the Answer marches into town behind us, bombing everything in its path Boom! Boom! BOOM!–

  As the first soldiers of the Mayor’s own army start arriving in quick formayshun from the south, Mr Hammar at their front, crossing the square towards us to get new orders–

  As the people of New Prentisstown run for their lives in any and every direkshun–

  As the scout ship from the incoming settlers lands on a hill somewhere near Mistress Coyle, the worst possible place for ’em–

  As Davy Prentiss lies dead in the rubble below us, shot by his own father, shot by the man I just set free–

  And as Viola–

  My Viola–

  Races out on horseback into the middle of it all, her ankles broken, not even able to stand up on her own–

  Yes, I think.

  Here it comes.

  The end of everything.

  The end of it all.

  “Oh, yes, Todd,” says the Mayor, rubbing his hands together. “Oh, yes, indeed.”

  And he says the word again, says it like it’s his every last wish come true.

  “War.”

  [TODD]

  “We hit the spackle head on!” the Mayor shouts at the men, aiming his Noise right in the middle of everyone’s heads.

  Even mine.

  “They’ll be gathering at the bottom of the road,” he says, “but that’s as far as they’re going to go!”

  I put a hand on Angharrad’s flank beneath me. In under two minutes, the Mayor had us up on horseback, Morpeth and Angharrad coming running from round the back of the ruins of the cathedral, and by the time we’d hopped up, stepping over the still unconshus bodies of the men who tried to help me overthrow the Mayor, there was the army taking messy shape in front of us.

  Not all of it, tho, maybe less than half, the rest still stretched up along the southern road to the hill with the notch on it, the road to where the battle was sposed to be.

  Boy Colt? Angharrad’s thinking and I can feel spikes of nerves all thru her body. She’s scared nearly half to death.

  So am I.

  “BATTALIONS READY!” the Mayor shouts and immediately Mr Hammar and the later-arriving Mr Tate and Mr O’Hare and Mr Morgan snap salutes and the soldiers start lining up in the right formayshuns, twisting thru each other in coils and getting into order so quickly it almost hurts my eyes to watch it.

  “I know,” the Mayor says. “It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?”

  I point my rifle at him, the rifle I took from Davy. “You just remember our agreement,” I say. “Yer gonna keep Viola safe and you ain’t gonna control me with yer Noise. You do that and you stay alive. That’s the only reason I let you go.”

  His eyes flash. “You realize that means you can’t let me out of your sight,” he says, “even if you have to follow me into battle. Are you ready for that, Todd?”

  “I’m ready,” I say, even tho I ain’t but I’m trying not to think about it.

  “I have a feeling you’ll do well,” he says.

  “Shut up,” I say. “I beat you once, I’ll beat you again.”

  He grins. “Of that I have no doubt.”

  “THE MEN ARE READY, SIR!” Mr Hammar shouts from his horse, saluting fiercely.

  The Mayor keeps his eyes on me. “The men are ready, Todd,” he says, his voice teasing. “Are you?”

  “Just get on with it.”

  And his smile gets even wider. He turns to the men. “Two divisions down the western road for the first attack!” His voice snakes thru everyone’s head again, like a sound you can’t ignore. “Captain Hammar’s division at the front, Captain Morgan taking the rear! Captains Tate and O’Hare will round up the rest of the men and armaments yet to arrive and join the fray with the greatest despatch.”

  Armaments? I think.

  “If the fight isn’t already over the by time they join us–”

  The men laugh at this, a loud, nervous, aggressive kind of laugh.

  “Then as a united army, we will drive the Spackle back up that hill and make them regret the day they were EVER BORN!”

  And the men give a roaring cheer.

  “Sir!” Captain Hammar shouts. “What about the army of the Answer, sir?”

  “First we beat the Spackle,” says the Mayor, “then the Answer will be child’s play.”

  He looks across his army of men and back up the hill to the Spackle army still marching down. Then he raises his fist and gives the loudest Noise shout of all, a shout that bores right down into the very centre of every man hearing it.

  “TO BATTLE!”

  “TO BATTLE!” the army cries back at him and sets off at a fierce pace outta the square, racing towards the zigzag hill–

  The Mayor looks at me one last time, like he can barely keep from laughing at how much fun he’s having. And without another word, he spurs Morpeth hard in the sides and they gallop into the square after the departing army.

  The army heading off to war.

  Follow? Angharrad asks, fear coming off her like sweat.

  “He’s right,” I say. “We ca
n’t let him out of our sight. He’s got to keep his word. He’s got to win his war. He’s got to save her.”

  For her, Angharrad thinks.

  For her, I think back, all my feeling about her behind it.

  And I think her name–

  Viola.

  And Angharrad leaps forward into battle.

  {VIOLA}

  Todd, I think, riding Acorn through the mash of people crowding across the road, each of them trying to run away from those awful horn blasts in one direction and the bombs of Mistress Coyle in the other.

  BOOM! goes another one and I see a ball of flame coughed up into the sky. The screaming around us is almost unbearable. People running up the road get tangled with people running down the road and everyone gets in our way.

  Gets in the way of us getting to the scout ship first.

  The horn blasts again and there’s even more screaming. “We have to go, Acorn,” I say between his ears. “Whatever that sound is, the people on my ship can–”

  A hand grabs my arm and nearly yanks me off the saddle.

  “Give me the horse!” a man screams at me, pulling harder. “Give it to me!”

  Acorn twists around to try to get away but there are too many people in the road crowding us–

  “Let go!” I shout at the man.

  “Give it to me!” he screams. “The Spackle are coming!”

  This surprises me so much he nearly gets me off the saddle. “The what?”

  But he’s not listening and even in the dying light I can see the whites of his eyes blazing in terror–

  HOLD! shouts Acorn’s Noise and I grip even harder on his mane and he rears up, knocking the man away and leaping forward into the night. People scream to get out of our way and we knock more of them over as Acorn ploughs up the road, me holding on for dear life.

  We reach a clearing and he charges on even faster.

  “The Spackle?” I say. “What did he mean? Surely they couldn’t be–”

  Spackle, Acorn thinks. Spackle army. Spackle war.

  I turn to look back as he runs, back to look at the lights coming down the distant zigzag hill.

  A Spackle army.

  A Spackle army is coming, too.

  Todd? I think, knowing that I’m getting farther away from him and the tied-up Mayor with every hoofbeat.

  The best hope is the ship. They’ll be able to help us. Somehow, they’ll be able to help me and Todd.

  We stopped one war, we can stop another.

  And so I think his name again, Todd, sending him strength. And Acorn and I race up the road towards the Answer, towards the scout ship, and I’m hoping against hope that I’m right–

  [TODD]

  Angharrad runs after Morpeth as the army surges down the road in front of us, brutally knocking down any citizens of New Prentisstown who happen to be in their way. There are two battalions, the first led by a screaming Mr Hammar on horseback and a less shouty Mr Morgan leading the second behind him. It’s maybe four hundred men in all, rifles up, their faces twisted in screams and yells.

  And their Noise–

  Their Noise is a monstrous thing, tuned together and twisted round itself, roaring as a single voice, like a loud and angry giant pounding its way down the road.

  It’s making my heart beat right outta my chest.

  “Stay close to me, Todd!” the Mayor shouts from Morpeth, pulling up to my side as we ride on, fast.

  “You ain’t gotta worry bout that,” I say, gripping my rifle.

  “I mean, to save your life,” he says, looking over. “And don’t forget your end of the bargain either. I’d hate for there to be any casualties from friendly fire.”

  And he winks at me.

  Viola, I think right at him, sending it to him in a fist of Noise.

  He flinches.

  And he ain’t smiling so much now.

  We ride after the army thru the west end of town, down the main road, past what can only be the wreckage of the original jails the Answer burnt down in their biggest attack before today. I only ever been down here once, when I ran thru it the other way with Viola in my arms, carrying her down the zigzag road when she was dying, carrying her into what I thought was safety, but all I found was the man riding by my side, the man who killed a thousand Spackle to start this war, the man who tortured Viola for informayshun he already knew, the man who murdered his own son–

  “And what other kind of man would you want leading you into battle?” he says, reading my Noise. “What other kind of man is suitable for war?”

  A monster, I think, remembering what Ben told me once. War makes monsters of men.

  “Wrong,” says the Mayor. “It’s war that makes us men in the first place. Until there’s war, we are only children.”

  Another blast of the horn comes roaring down at us, so loud it nearly takes our heads off and it puts the army off its stride for a second or two.

  We look up the road to the bottom of the hill. We see Spackle torches gathering there to meet us.

  “Ready to grow up, Todd?” the Mayor asks.

  {VIOLA}

  BOOM!

  Another explosion just up ahead of us now, sending smoking debris flying high above the trees. I’m so scared I forget the state of my ankles and I try to spur on Acorn like I’ve seen in vids on my ship. I curl forward from the pain. The bandages that Lee – still out there somewhere, trying to find the Answer in the wrong place, oh please be safe, please be safe – the bandages he wound around my feet are good but the bones are still broken and for a minute the agony flashes all the way up my body, right to the throbbing burn in the band around my forearm again. I pull back my sleeve to look. The skin around the band is red and hot, the band itself still just thin steel, immovable, uncuttable, marking me as number 1391 until the day I die.

  That’s the price I paid.

  The price I paid to find him.

  “And now we’ve got to make it worth it,” I say to Acorn, whose Noise says Girl colt back to agree with me.

  The air is filling with smoke and I can see fires burning up ahead. People are still running past us in all directions, though fewer and fewer as the town starts to thin out.

  If Mistress Coyle and the Answer started at the Office of the Ask, marching towards the centre of town from the east, then they’d already be past the hill where the communications tower used to be. Which is the most likely place where the scout ship landed. Mistress Coyle would have turned around and taken a fast cart to get there, to be the first one to talk to them, but who would she have left in charge?

  Acorn presses ahead, around the road as it curves–

  And BOOM!

  There’s a flash of light as another dormitory goes up in flames, reflecting the road for a shining second–

  And I see them–

  The Answer.

  Lines of men and women, blue As written across their fronts and sometimes even painted on their faces.

  And every one with guns pointed out–

  In front of carts loaded with weaponry–

  And though I recognize some of them (Mistress Lawson, Magnus, Mistress Nadari), it’s like I don’t know them at all, they look so fierce, so focused, so scared and brave and committed and for a second I pull back on Acorn’s reins, too afraid to ride towards them.

  The flash of the explosion dies and they’re plunged into darkness again.

  Forward? Acorn asks.

  I take in a breath, wondering how they’ll react to seeing me, wondering if they’ll see me at all and not just blow me right out of the saddle in the confusion.

  “We’ve got no choice,” I finally say.

  And just as he readies himself to move again–

  “Viola?” I hear from out of the darkness.

  [TODD]

  The road outta town reaches a wide clearing bounded by the river on the right, with the massive crashing of the falls and the zigzag road down the hill direcktly in front of us. The army roars into the clearing, Captain Hammar in
the lead, and even tho I’ve only been here once, I know there were trees here before, trees and small houses, and so the Mayor musta had his men clearing it all this time, making it ready to be a battlefield–

  As if he knew this was coming–

  But I can’t stop to think about that cuz Mr Hammar is shouting “HALT!” and the men are stopping in formayshun and looking across the clearing–

  Cuz there they are–

  The first troops of the Spackle army–

  Fanning out into the open ground, a dozen, two dozen, ten dozen of ’em, surging down the hill like a river of white blood, torches held high, bows and arrows and some weird long white stick things in their hands and there are Spackle foot soldiers swarming round other Spackle riding these huge white creachers, built wide like a bullock but taller and broader and with a massive single horn shooting out from the end of their noses and the creachers are covered in heavy armour that looks like it’s made from clay and I see that a lotta the Spackle soldiers are wearing it too, the clay covering their white skin–

  And there’s another horn blast so loud I swear my ears are starting to bleed and you can see the horn with yer own eyes now, strapped to the backs of two of the horned creachers up on the hilltop and being blown by that huge Spackle–

  And oh, God–

  Oh, my, God–

  Their Noise–

  It comes tumbling down the hill like a weapon on its own, cresting across the open ground like foam on a raging river, and it’s coming right for us, pictures of their army cutting us down, pictures of our soldiers being ripped to pieces, pictures of ugliness and horror that you could never describe, pictures–

  Pictures that our own soldiers are sending right back to ’em, pictures rising from the mass of men in front of me, pictures of heads torn from bodies, of bullets ripping Spackle apart, of slaughter, of endless endless–

  “Keep your focus, Todd,” the Mayor says, “or the battle will take your life. And I, for one, am more than curious as to what sort of man you’re going to turn out to be.”

 
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