Home > The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2)

The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2)
Author: Genevieve Cogman

PROLOGUE

The London air was full of smog and filth. Kai’s senses were better than those of a human, though he tried not to be too self-indulgent about it. But even he couldn’t see down a dark alley any better than the average Londoner. And even native Londoners walked carefully in the narrow streets behind King’s Cross Station.

But where crime flourished, so too did detectives. And he was here to meet Peregrine Vale, friend and fighter of crime.

He paused to inspect a pawnbroker’s window, trying to gauge the street behind him. While he couldn’t see anyone specifically following him, there was something in the air that set him on edge, a foretaste of danger. But there were very few humans who could challenge a dragon, even in his human form, and he didn’t expect to meet any of them in the back-alleys here.

Vale was in a warehouse just round the corner. Almost there, and then Kai could find out what kind of assistance Vale needed with his case.

And then someone screamed nearby. It was a woman’s scream, genuinely terrified, cut off in the middle with a coughing yelp. Kai turned abruptly, peering into the swirling fog. Two men and a woman were huddled at one end of a particularly dank passageway. The woman had her arms pinned behind her back by one aggressor, while the other was drawing back his fist to strike again.

‘Let her go,’ Kai said calmly. He could handle two humans easily enough. Even if they were werewolves, they weren’t a significant danger. But this would make him late.

‘Back off,’ one of the men snarled, turning away from the woman to face him. ‘This isn’t none of your business, nor your part of town neither.’

‘It’s my business if I choose to make it my business.’ Kai advanced down the alley towards the group, automatically assessing them as his father’s arms-masters had trained him to. The men were muscular in the shoulders, well built, but both showed signs of a paunch and dissipation. He could take them, just as he’d taken others of their kind a few days before.

The free man advanced towards him, fists up in a crude boxer’s stance. He was lighter on his feet than Kai had expected, but not fast enough. He bluffed with his right fist, then tried a straight left at Kai’s jaw. Kai side-stepped, slammed his hand sideways into the man’s kidneys, kicked him in the back of the knee to take him off-balance and ran his head into the wall. The man went down.

‘Now don’t be like that,’ the other man said, backing deeper into the alley and holding the woman in front of him like a shield. Panic was starting to show in his eyes. ‘You just walk away and nobody gets hurt …’

‘You just let go of that woman,’ Kai corrected him, ‘and you don’t get hurt.’ He walked forward, considering his openings. A dodge to the side and a strike to the man’s neck might be the least risky option for the woman, and yet—

‘Now,’ a voice said from above.

Doors slammed open on either side of him and behind him, and at the same moment something fell from above, tumbling down towards him in a knot of shadows. Kai dived to one side on instinct, but then there were too many men in the alley with him. A dozen of them, the combat-trained part of his mind noted, and more behind those open doors. He had no room to dodge and it looked like a trap. They didn’t even hang back and let other people take the first blows, in the normal manner of thugs. They came charging in, most of them bare-handed, but a couple with knuckledusters or small weighted saps.

He had to get back and out. There was no shame to it. Part of a warrior’s training was acknowledging superior force and reacting appropriately. An arm came around his neck from behind. He grabbed it, went down on one knee and flung the man over his head and into the ones closing in on him. Staying low, he pivoted, bringing a foot round and scything another combatant’s feet from under him. He used the momentum to turn and rise. Four men were between him and the way out. Four obstacles to remove.

Vale’s case must be important to warrant this sort of interference.

Kai noted the coils of the net, which had barely missed him, tangled on the street. It was a nasty piece of work, with metal woven into the ropes. Curious. Why go to this trouble to snare him personally? If they had already caught Vale, they would regret it.

He slammed an elbow backwards, feeling the jolt as it connected with a chin, and started forward at a swinging run. At least one of the men in front of him should back away …

He didn’t expect them to all come at him at once, like a sudden human tidal wave. He struck high for a throat, and then low to a groin - disabling blows. But they weren’t going down. They felt the pain, they grunted, they staggered, but they were still in his path.

A blow took him across the back of the head in a sudden burst of pain, and his attempted nerve-strike lost its force as he went down on one knee. He knew that he was a sitting target, but for that moment his muscles wouldn’t respond.

Another man hit him in the face. He spat blood.

A man behind him threw himself on top of Kai, bringing him down to the filthy pavement. Kai struggled for breath, sparks still dancing in his vision. He could feel pure fury running in his veins now. How dare these humans assault him like this?

There was no room in him for fear. It was not possible that this scum could win.

He felt his natural body assert itself, his hands becoming claws, scales beginning to trace their way across his skin, as his true nature rose with that fury. He would call up the river against them, he would scour them from this London, he would make them pay for this insolence.

   
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