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Titans of Chaos

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Titans of Chaos

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Author: John C. Wright
Publisher: Tor, 2007
Series: The Chronicles of Chaos: Book 3

1. Orphans of Chaos
2. Fugitives of Chaos
3. Titans of Chaos

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Heroic Fantasy
Contemporary Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
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Titans of Chaos completes John Wright's The Chronicles of Chaos. Launched in Orphans of Chaos--a Nebula Award Nominee for best novel in 2006, and a Locus Year's Best Novel pick for 2005--and continued in Fugitives of Chaos, the trilogy is about five orphans raised in a strict British boarding school who discovered that they are not human.

The students have been kidnapped, robbed of their powers, and raised in ignorance by super-beings. The five have made incredible discoveries about themselves. Amelia is apparently a fourth-dimensional being; Victor is a synthetic man who can control the molecular arrangement of matter; Vanity can find secret passageways through solid walls; Colin is a psychic; Quentin is a warlock. Each power comes from a different paradigm or view of the universe. They have learned to control their strange abilities and have escaped into our world: now their true battle for survival begins.


Chapter One

Ships of Sable, Dark and Swift


It was our fault.

We fled the old gods; fleeing, we drew our pursuers after us, so that the frail and mortal men we hid among were in the shadow of destruction meant for us, to be whelmed by the fury of heaven, and malice of the deep.

Here was the great luxury liner Queen Elizabeth II, an engineering marvel of seventy thousand tons and nine hundred sixty feet, as wealthy as a palace afloat, more opulent than what antique kings in Nineveh lavished on their splendors. For many idle days we five children lolled among the passengers, giddy with freedom as if with wine, and the equatorial sun hovered, weightless gold, above calm, blue Atlantic waves.

That was then. Now it was night, and the stars hid, and the wind howled, and trumpets sounded, echoing across the black abyss of storm-lashed waters. Clouds like boiling floodwaters fell past overhead, and waves like thunderclouds rose and trembled and collapsed down below.

The gods we fled did not want men to see them. The Queen Elizabeth II was struck with slumber: As if that archangel who had entranced Adam on the day when Eve was born without pain from his side had shaken dark wings above the ship, the mortals were drowned in oblivion. No one, young or old, could stir, but lay where chance tumbled him, in cabins or passageways, or heaped at the bottom of ladders.

No one human. I was alert, gripping the broken rail and staring out into the utter darkness.


"Why did you two come back?" I shouted. "I ordered you to abandon ship! We will all die if we don't follow orders. My orders! Didn't you vote for me as leader?"

I have heard that there are grown-ups who do not take seriously the ideas about voting, obeying authority, or acting with purpose and discipline. Lucky them. What soft and comfortable lives they must lead! Lives without foes.

Vanity Fair was shorter than me, a dress size smaller, but with more generous hip and bust measurements. We were closer than sisters, having been raised in the same, well, you can call it a jail cell, since that's what it was. The freezing rain had plastered her hair to her head, and her thin coat tight to her body. She was shivering. Her real name was Nausicaa, of the mythic land called Phaeacia, beyond Earth's shore, but our real names had been taken from us in youth and, until recently, we had only the names we chose for ourselves as children.

"You are not going to run away and get killed!" She was a green-eyed redhead, and her eyes seemed to glow like emeralds when she was angry. I could see only her silhouette, but from her tone of voice I knew her eyes blazed.

"If the leader orders a retreat, you retreat!" (I was screaming louder than regulation for a British military officer, but I was still new at this, and was outshouting the storm-wind.)

Colin mac FirBolg was blue-eyed, with unruly hair and ruddy skin, built like a wrestler. He gave me a stiff-armed Roman salute. "Sieg Heil, mein Obergruppenfräulein! But we thought you were dead! Didn't Echidna kill you?"

Vanity hissed, "Stupid! No matter how far away, she hears whenever her name is spoken! Speaking summons her!"

Colin shrugged. "Is she going to get through that fleet?" To me, he said: "Besides, Leader, we came to report that your dumb order could not be carried out. We are entirely surrounded, cut off, doomed, so we can't retreat! There may be time for a quickie, though, so if I can suggest, without seeming insubordinate, ma'am—I mean, you don't want me to die a virgin, do you?"

Thunder drowned out any words I might have spoken back. I slapped him. I could hear the smack of my palm on his not-quite-shaven cheek even above the storm.

"Thank you, ma'am! May I have another!" he barked out, unperturbed, still holding his Nazi salute. His real name was Phobetor, son of Morpheus, and he was a dream-lord of Cimmeria, the sunless world.

Even if he meant it in mockery, his stiff bearing reminded me I had no time for anger. We were within minutes of recapture, and if I was the leader, I had to invent the plan and give the orders.

If we failed, we failed under my leadership. It would be my fault.


Giddy with freedom, we had been! Because all our lives had been spent on the orphanage grounds, behind pitiless walls, under strictest watch, beneath the tutelage of Boreas. He could pass for human, but Headmaster Boggin, as we called him, had been the North Wind himself. My real father, a sovereign of some ulterior dimension, never knew his daughter, did not raise me: Boreas, my enemy, did.

A flash of lightning lit the sea for a frozen moment, dazzling, burning.

I was expecting to see Echidna. Echidna, the mother of all monsters, who had dragged the giant luxury ship into these unearthly waters, had been looming over the rail just a moment ago, her beautiful maiden's face cold with tearless grief and scaly snake-tail swollen with scorpion poison. She had raised that sting to kill me, but had spared my life because I shed a tear for her dead son. Then, she turned and dove beneath the waves when I whispered the name of the war-god who had slain him.

Perhaps she was somewhere in the deep, brooding on revenge, her huge bulk drowned in fathoms below fathoms, her long snaky body, furlong after furlong, writhing. But my special powers were blind, and I did not see her.

Instead I saw the fleet. There were at least a dozen barges, larger than oil tankers, built like stepped pyramids, with shields on every deck, and cannons, arbalests, catapults, and ballistae behind every shield, and both upper and lower decks had raised gangplanks with iron teeth built along the bottom, like a siege-tower at sea. The barges were made of some black wood or metal that shone darkly in the lightning flash, mountains of iron. Even from here I could hear the drumbeats counting time for the oars. At the apex of each tall barge, strung between two tall poles that jutted up and diverged, was a triangle of storm-beaten cloth. The cloth was black and on its field, in red, was a circle with an arrow coming from it at an angle.

It was the armada that Lord Mavors, whom the Greeks worshipped as Ares and the Romans as Mars, sent for us. Perhaps he was here, and Echidna hunted him; perhaps it was merely his men, and the unearthly flesh-eating Laestrygonians.

Between these barges and the ocean liner, slender as spears in the water, was a flotilla of black ships. They were as light and swift as racing sculls, but each one held fifty men or more, with shields hung along the rail, Viking-style. Each one had a sloping nose ending with an iron-beaked ram, and red eyes painted on the narrow hulls to each side of the ram.


Boreas raised us, I should say, in a second childhood. Either by magic, or by science unknown on Earth, we had been forced out of our original forms and made into children. Having robbed us of our memories and homes, the Olympians held us hostage against uneasy peace with Chaos. The plan would have worked, except that we adapted to human shape too well; the impersonation was so perfect that normal human biology, normal emotions, began to grow in us. The plan would have worked, except that we grew up.

The orphanage had been designed to contain monster cubs from Chaos: five children. It could not hold five adults, raised as human, with the dreams and ideals of humans, but armed with the strange powers of adult chaoticists. We grew up. We wanted our freedom. By stealth and cunning and violent battle, we had won it.

And the first thing we did when we won our freedom was... Well, we took a cruise. (Come on. Wouldn't you?)

We should have just fled to a desert island. All these humans were about to die, and it was our fault.

My friends were about to die, and it was my fault.


I said to them, "Where are Quentin and Victor?"

Colin said, "Ma'am! They took off in a lifeboat, like you said!"

Victor had always been the one in charge, back at the orphanage, back when we were young students together. (How long ago had that been? A week? Less?) He was the logical one, cold-bloodedly brave, dispassionate, determined. Somehow I had won the last show of hands, and the group was now counting on me. So I had to be Victor.

So get a grip. Square your shoulders and start barking out orders. They don't have to make sense; they just have to get the group moving. Tell the troops the leader is leading. Say something.

So I said, "Vanity! Call your magic silver ship over to the other side of the liner. Once the three of us are on your ship, have her find the lifeboat Victor and Quentin are in. If they haven't been captured already."

She could summon her ship by thought alone. The Phaeacian ships had neither pilot nor rudder, but understood the unspoken wishes of their masters, and sped as swift as winged falcons, swift as thought, to their destinations. Vanity ...

Copyright © 2007 by John C. Wright


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