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Authors: Matthew S. Cox

Archon's Queen

BOOK: Archon's Queen
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A Division of
Whampa, LLC
P.O. Box 2160
Reston, VA 20195
Tel/Fax: 800-998-2509
http://curiosityquills.com

© 2015
Matthew S. Cox
http://www.matthewcoxbooks.com

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information about Subsidiary Rights, Bulk Purchases, Live Events, or any other questions - please contact Curiosity Quills Press at
[email protected]
, or visit
http://curiosityquills.com

ISBN 978-1-62007-746-7 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-639-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-640-8 (hardcover)

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espair billowed through the sky in the guise of clouds. Formless, the shroud of charcoal mist devoured life and hope, leaving the city below to wallow in its own tragedy. Rain, four days of it this week, saturated the ground with rivulets of muck and poison. As black as the mud, the rounded girth of an aging monolith of plastisteel and broken glass glimmered wherever moonlight caught it. Old wires drifted from its side, like the probing tentacles of some great beast searching the air, connected only to the frigid wind lofting them about.

Coventry Tower clawed at the heavens, reminiscent of the raised finger of an enormous old crone. Its shadow spread ominous upon the field of debris over which it ruled. The old tower block apartment had been the only structure in the district to survive the airstrikes; fate itself had ordained it the home of the unwanted.

It was barren here. So empty even advert bots did not bother with the place.

Annabelle squinted up into the droplets, a mournful stare sent at evil shapes drawn by the drugs in her blood. Clouds had become a roiling fog circling the upper parts of the building, alive in the images of demons and imps. Their eyes flickered from the glow of hidden moonlight, they grinned and wrung themselves out to bring more rain out of spite. Whorls of grey churned about in the devils dance, and took on ever more terrifying forms as the faces called her by name.

She glanced down at her old boots while navigating puddles dotting the blackened muck. The hiss of the downpour overpowered her squishing steps and let her approach a group of four men, three crowded around one, without notice.

The three were clad in black; a red smear on each of their arms approximated a capital ‘E,’ the mark of the East End Boys. At their center, the tallest loomed over the fourth. A wiry figure tried without success to avoid the rain with a poncho of dull beige plastic. The small man whined and pleaded, his effort to wheedle a bargain out of the Boys failing.

Annabelle shivered as the wind reached under her ragged half shirt. Loose, the decrepit cloth flapped like a flag for the Manchester United Frictionless club. Her glossy indigo skirt of faux leather did little to stop the chill swirling about. She stared at the men, her trembling fingers tugged at the hem in an attempt to pull it down a little further over her rain-soaked thighs. She had helped herself to Spawny’s jacket, hoping he wouldn’t notice while passed out. Water beaded and rolled off the coated synthetic denim that held his fragrance as well as Penny’s perfume. Either was an improvement over the stink of the dusty chemical rot lurking in The Ruin.

Again to the sky she looked, while the men argued in dire whispers. The demons and creatures had faded into steely clouds, wafting in the wind. She rubbed her face with one hand, as a tremor started in her arm. The zoomer was wearing off. Anna tuned out the conversation in front of her, and pulled her sleeve down to expose her left wrist. She tugged at a skin-colored patch of rubberized plastic. The spent derm came free from her arm, leaving a one-inch square mark with rounded corners.

She winced at the touch of her thumb rubbing cold rainwater over the red burn at the center. Too many times hitting the same spot had let the chemical eat into her skin. Drawing her arm against her chest, she suppressed a whimper. Anna tried not to think about the drugs so close to being out of her system, or about cold water matting her short white hair to the sides of her head, or the miserable wreck of a life she led.

A gurgling wheeze startled her into looking up. The tallest of the Boys had a hand around the neck of the little man, lifting him into the air with a metal fist. Knux was the first of the East End Boys to get a whole arm replaced, and few dared ask where he got the money for it. Rain flowed around the dark plastisteel limb. Anna stared transfixed; for an instant, something inside it called to her.

The ever-present shadow of a beard twisted as Knux frowned. “Oi Mate, what do you think this is, a charity?”

The man gurgled, his attempt to speak failing. His legs kicked as Knux lifted him higher, and he flailed. Annabelle looked down, thankful it wasn’t her getting the treatment. The chirp of a firing circuit added fear to the cold. Between the sound and an icy trickle down her back, she could no longer resist shivering. Knux stuffed a boxy grey pistol into the face of his would-be customer. Rain beaded on the plastisteel frame, running over the glowing LED ammo counter and onto his still-flesh left hand.

“You’re into it for almost a grand now, bucko. The tap’s cut off till ya make a payment.”

Knux’s cybernetic fingers snapped open, releasing his grip at the same instant his other hand smashed the pistol sidelong across the man’s face. The impact sent the junkie to the ground with a wet
splat,
where he sprawled on his hands and knees in black mud. Straw-brown hair hung past the hood of the poncho, blotches of red appeared in the puddle below his face as blood fell, drop by drop, from his nose.

The man sat back and rubbed his neck, coughing. “I s-s-swear I’ll g-g-get it, really I swear. Is
bad
man… I just need―”

The Boy to Knux’s right kicked the man in the face, flipping him over backwards into a puddle large enough to count as a tiny lake. “Cut off means cut off. When ya got at least half the dosh, we kin deal.”

Poncho wailed in protest as two Boys hauled him to his feet and sent him off with a boot in the ass, howling with laughter at his frantic sprint. She knew they would kill him to make an example of not paying; in this case, quite likely the police would do it when the man did something foolish in his haste to get money.

Knux spun on Annabelle, startled by her quiet approach. She cowered, staring at the ground where water pooled around her boots up to the shin. Looking down felt like staring up; shifting leaden clouds rolled across the surface, swirling. The sight gave her vertigo, as though she could fall into the endless sky.

He grinned, baring metal fangs where his canine teeth used to be. “Well hey there, luv. Mus’ be in need if yer out in this parky mess.”

She rubbed her hands up and down her arms, trying to find some warmth. “Me last zoomer’s all clapped out. I’m in a bad way.”

The other two returned from taking out the trash, the trio formed a half-ring around her as they had with the other man. Fear of what they could do with her added to the angst of her sobriety. In another life, it would have been them cowering from her. The thought of it sent a tingle crawling up her spine. They loomed, indelicate in their obvious gandering. The man on her right brushed a hand over her cheek, wiping the remains of mascara away. A thunderclap rolled through her mind as the image of a well-dressed man smiled at her.
What was his name…

BOOK: Archon's Queen
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