The following is a novel extract from Wixon’s Day (available now from Amazon). It is a standalone chapter, written from the perspective of the main character, the boat pilot Marquos. He gives a detailed account of the world he has experienced. The chapter comes as an Appendix in the book, which can be read at any time before, after or during the story to provide background information (and some geographical bearing for Estalia, his world). All the physical locations and features he speaks of relate to the UK and its surrounding area, though the people of Estalia know nothing of the UK’s history, and have never effectively mapped it.
You can read it here in advance of the novel, to get an understanding of the world Wixon’s Day is set in and some of the trials that Marquos has already faced.
The World As I Understand It
Red says that I know things others don’t, so I should forever preserve my thoughts on paper. As a boatman in an empire connected by water, I have seen and heard much of our world, where minds are often dark as our days, so it befits me to share my knowledge. Maybe if we put it all into one workable picture we can start understanding how to improve things. Maybe if people started to read and write again, as I have been so blessed with the ability to do, we could start to understand where we all came from, and where we are going.
I have been travelling since I reached manhood, after I laboured long enough to purchase the boat and home where I now dwell. Since then, my place of residence has served as my tool of work, and it has taken me as far as any man. From the centre of Estalia, I have drifted north, through the powerplants of the Meth Fields, and beyond Chapel Way, the pass through the Peat mountains to the west, to the industrial might of Thesteran. I have seen the massive machines of the Construction Frame, where the Guard build their technological wonders. Beyond Thesteran, even further west, I have travelled to the boundaries of the harbour city of Nexter, which sits on the Kand Sea. That is a body of water I have never ventured over: it is generally said that the lands of our neighbouring island Kand are purely barbaric, icy cold and a sure death sentence. The few Kandish folk I have met have proved to be world-class drunkards with no regard for where they are from; I am yet to meet a man who has a kind word to say about Kand. To the far east lies the North Sea port of Yerth, said to be crawling with bandits, and beyond their borders lies the great unknown wastes of the Deadland, otherwise referred to simply as the North. The Deadland has not been mapped before, something I personally intend to rectify.
Along the coast from Nexter, far to the south, lie the remains of a large city called Mystle, long abandoned. Like much of the land to the west of Estalia, there is little life out that way, only sporadic dying communities. In fact, other than those few industrial centres either side of Chapel Way, it is a general truth that the further you get from the Metropolis the less life you find. The Metropolis is a thriving community. It lies a little way south of my hometown, and not far from the coast, spread over two sides of a great river, the Drain. Ramshackle homes have been twisted into sprawling towers and walkways, high above the ground to avoid the fumes that hover thicker than any in the Meth Fields. It is quite possible to walk from one side of the Metropolis to the other without touching the ground; indeed without even seeing the ground, for above a few stories the view is limited by smog, day or night. The waterways of the Metropolis are crowded with industrial vessels and small passenger ferries, but floating through the canals is a lonely experience. Everyone has somewhere to be, and no one wants to be in the lower reaches of the city, under the smoke from the Mines, an enormous pit complex to the west of the Metropolis, where the Mine Guard put countless slaves to work digging for fuel. It is an inhuman place, and I have had my fair share of conflict with those that run it, but without the Mines we would not have the fuel that drives crafts like my ship.
Steam-power is the norm across Estalia, having increased greatly in popularity since I was a child, and now it is rare to see any transport conveyed without it. I have heard people talk of alternatives, including liquid-fuelled machines, but steam is here to stay. The liquid fuels are scavenged, never produced, and what we produce in the Meth Fields, piping gasses from under the earth, is good only for lighting lanterns, and will never move a boat. No one will dedicate the time to devise machines that use such power; the only ones we have are relics from a civilisation lost long ago.
Around the Metropolis there are a number of other settlements, but the only one of serious note is the Extraner, a large seaport to the very south of Estalia. It is the location where the Water Guard and Border Guard come to rest, when they choose to do so, and you can always find a colourful array of bizarre technology and people there. It is also the easiest place to find work for a man like me, and a good point of departure if you ever wish to visit Afta. Afta, across the water from Estalia, is an enormous body of land that dwarves Estalia, but there is little out there. Numerous nomadic plains and poorly kept canal-systems lead to the Eastern Tracts, where the water becomes impassably icy. The people are sometimes friendly, but they have little to offer; without the fuels and food production of our Estalian industry, the people of Afta are merely trying to survive, day to day. Some believe Afta was once a proud society called the Gracian Kingdom, a legend that many use to try and explain our world today.
The Gracian Kingdom disappeared from the known world too many seasons ago to recall, and every man that speaks of it can offer no logical chain to the world as we know it. It existed in a time when countries were united by race and led to similar goals. The Gracian Kingdom and the Estalian Empire clashed in a war that would decide ownership of the known world, but it was a war that left one nation entirely destroyed and the other in a state of anarchy. No one believed in fighting for their nations after that, and whilst the Guards remain and some sense of Estalian identity continues, actual governance is a thing of the past. I can’t say for sure if such a thing ever really existed. But sometimes there are pieces of technology lying in the wilderness, which we can adapt and learn from, which hint to predecessors who knew more than we realise. Some even think that there was a time when the sky was clear.
The sky has been dark for as long as I have known, hidden behind cloud. Some believe it is getting darker, but I do not ever remember a time when the sun broke through. Some call it the Chilling, saying the world is freezing. For sure, around the Southern Aftan Boundaries, the Eastern Tract and the Estalian North there are harsher climates than any man can safely endure, but it is as warm now as when I was a child. Others say it was not a natural thing, but some great disaster many seasons ago that brought this darkness upon us. These are all invented ideas, though; no one can give an accurate history beyond saying how his father survived long enough to raise him to adulthood. Including me. All I know of my town before my birth is that it was home to a few writers and the fields were slightly more fertile.
Of the rest of the world, all I can really tell you is what I know of the Guard. The Border Guard have fought many wars against our enemies, including vanquishing raiders from Afta and Norgang, the lands across the North Sea, but are seldom seen in Estalia itself. The Road Guard keep bandits from our towns, and the Water Guard maintain our waterways. The Mine Guard are a matter I had best not dwell on.
I am aware that Supreme Commander Felez now heads the Border Guard, only because it is a name that is thrown around. Before him, when I was young, was Commander Klant. I have heard a dozen different stories about what might have become of him, but considering no one seems to know what he even looked like, let alone what he might have done, I think it is a matter for the imagination. Regardless, though I believe the larger Border Guard vessels may have dozens, even hundreds, under one leader, and certain towns may also listen to select bodies of elders, there is no one knowingly co-ordinating any of it. We give to the local Guards and they give their services back. In turn, they are supplied by their colleagues in alternative Guard positions, for another exchange of services. The knock-on effect has led to the Guards appearing to operate across the whole of Estalia, but I know for a fact that a Road Guard working in Thesteran will likely never even know what their kin in the Metropolis are up to. Estalia operates in a wonderful system of disorder.
The Border Guard collect and distribute the finest advances of our people, including lighting and transport systems, but you are just as likely to find old remnants of machines in the wastelands as you are from a trader. Machines as we use today have been around all throughout history; a lucky explorer can find discarded ones just as valuable as the ones still being made today. It suits me; when I am not working as a transporter, I unearth and sell what I find in the locations others are afraid to investigate. Another reason I am eager to visit the Deadland. We’re not always sure where they come from, the wastes of past civilisations, but in a world where survival is everything a lot gets left by the way.
Likewise, those past civilisations have given us names, measurements and language that does not entirely make sense now. Our ignorance of the origins of the numerous names we have for Estalia, the Estal Nation, the Estalian Emprie, as well as the names we use to measure distances, or our theories about plotting time in moons and counting value in metal chips, are all evidence of how little we really understand our own place in the world. There was once something more than our individual communities, many hundreds of seasons ago. But I cannot bring up such questions, because, as anyone I might ask would also say, anything we can conceive of existing in the long past must surely have played a part in our downfall. Most people say that it is as it always was. A select few, who give me a little more time, simply say some things were not meant to be remembered.