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Wild Knight (Midnight Empire: The Tower #1)
Author:Annabel Chase

Wild Knight (Midnight Empire: The Tower #1)

Annabel Chase




1


The only things that ran underground these days were criminals and monsters.

And me, apparently.

I halted outside the entrance to what was once the London Underground station for Edgware Road. The Underground’s nickname was ‘the Tube,’ which seemed fitting, although it was hard to imagine all those trains running below the city. Then again, it was hard to imagine a lot of things about the past. It helped that my mother had been a teacher of history and instilled its importance in me. What we fail to remember, we’re condemned to repeat and all that.

“Found him,” I said to Minka, my colleague on the other end of the phone.

“He isn’t going anywhere. Come back and restock from the armory first.”

“And give him time to move? No way.” I’d spent hours tracking this guy and I wasn’t about to let him go. I wanted to finish this job today.

Minka sighed into the phone. I was personally responsible for the added carbon dioxide in the air thanks to the many, many times I forced a sigh from Minka.

“London, you don’t know what’s down there.”

“Nope.”

Only a fool would venture underground without backup and only a grade-A moron would go underground without a weapon.

Did it count that I had a weapon a scant two hours ago but broke it in an unexpected tussle with a pack of pygmy hydras? Technically the mace belonged to the Knights of Boudica and wasn’t a favorite of mine. I dispatched the heads with the mace, burned the stumps, and moved on to find my target.

A raven swooped down from the sky, a fresh inkblot spreading across a gray page. The bird perched on top of the entrance and cocked his head.

I lowered the phone. “Don’t look at me like that, Barnaby. I’m a big girl and I make my own decisions.”

The raven didn’t have to respond with “yes, bad ones.” I could see the answer in his beady, judgmental eyes.

“Caw, ca-caw.”

“Whatever. You stay here. It’s too dangerous down there for birds.” I raised the phone to my mouth. “I’m going down. See you in an hour.”

The voice on the other end of the line shrieked in protest and I held the phone away from my ear.

“What was that? I can’t hear you. Too busy getting eaten by whatever monster awaits me. Good-bye, cruel world!”

I secured the phone in its holster on my utility belt and took a quick drink of water from my flask before I sallied forth. If you couldn’t sally forth, could you even call yourself a knight?

I entered beneath the sign marked Edgware Road Station. When the city was still known as London, Edgware Road was a sprawling underground station where city commuters converged to start and end their workday. When humans were still in charge. The arrival of the Eternal Night changed all that.

I slid down the handrail of a defunct escalator and gave my eyes a chance to adjust to the absence of light. Busy city streets had the benefit of electric lights to create the illusion of daytime. Down here was a black ocean and I was already drowning. Good thing I knew how to swim.

My phone vibrated once and fell silent. Minka was probably trying to call me again, to reiterate her warnings and threaten me with bodily harm should I survive. The further I sank, the less likely technology was to work. Another downside of traveling underground.

Still, a job was a job and I needed to eat, preferably today.

A rat the size of a feral hog thundered past me, forcing my back against the wall. The species flourished during the Eternal Night and now they ran rampant above and below ground, carrying disease and scaring the daylights out of us.

Technically daylight was already long gone thanks to the simultaneous eruption of ten of the world’s supervolcanoes, an event now referred to as the Great Eruption. The Americas and Australasia were the areas hardest hit because of the locations of the active calderas. Together they spat enough ash into the atmosphere to block the sun. The never-ending eclipse wasn’t the only consequence. Magma and monsters spilled forth from the bowels of the earth where they’d been lurking for centuries, biding their time until they could return. And return they did—with a vengeance.

The crackle of my phone cut through the silence. I reached one hand to the side and pressed the off button. No need to alert anyone to my arrival. The mark himself wasn’t particularly dangerous—it was not knowing what else I might encounter along the way that ratcheted up the threat level. There was a reason this job was handed to me and not one of the other knights. To be fair, Kami could’ve handled it too, but she was nursing a wound from her meeting yesterday with two dwarf factions to negotiate a new boundary between their neighborhoods. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Kami and both parties limped away with injuries. They should’ve sent Briar instead. Briar radiated warmth whereas Kami radiated do-it-my-way-or-I’ll-kill-you-and-feed-you-to-my-cat. Minka was in charge of the schedule, though, and she was reluctant to accept input. The Knights of Boudica were a democracy steeped in bureaucracy and Minka owned the largest roll of red tape.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flurry of movement. It was small and airborne, and could’ve been something as insignificant as a moth.

Please don’t be a butterfly.

It amazed me that butterflies were once considered pretty and harmless creatures, yet bats were associated with vampires. A glimpse at the right history books revealed that some cultures knew better—to them butterflies represented a departed soul, which was close enough to the truth. In Britannia City, if you saw a swarm of butterflies coming toward you, there was no use running. You were already dead.

Slowly I craned my neck for a better glimpse of my underground companion. A fly landed on the wall of the tunnel and my shoulders relaxed slightly.