Underworld, p.1

Underworld, page 1

 

Underworld
 



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Underworld


  OUT OF THE MIST

  He heard breathing. His own was short and shallow, gasping almost, but this was loud and steady and coming from—where? One second it seemed to be ahead of him, the next from behind. The scuttling came again. A bang startled him, but it came from one of the tenements above. A couple began arguing—he had come home drunk again. No, she had come home drunk again. Boot allowed himself a little smile, found himself relaxing a bit. Here he was, jumping at ghosts, scared of a few rats and a pair of old birds quarreling. Whatever next?

  He turned to go. In the same moment the mist ahead of him billowed and striding out of it came a figure in robes who, before Boot could react, had grabbed him and pulled his fist back as though to punch him. Only instead of striking out, his assailant flicked his wrist and with a soft snick a blade shot from within his sleeve.

  Boot had squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them it was to see the man in robes behind the blade that was held steady a millimeter from his eyeball.

  Ace titles by Oliver Bowden

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: RENAISSANCE

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: BROTHERHOOD

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: THE SECRET CRUSADE

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: REVELATIONS

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: FORSAKEN

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: BLACK FLAG

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: UNITY

  ASSASSIN’S CREED: UNDERWORLD

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  ASSASSIN’S CREED® UNDERWORLD

  An Ace Book / published by arrangement with Penguin Books, Ltd.

  Copyright © Ubisoft Entertainment 2015. All rights reserved. Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft, and the Ubisoft logo are trademarks of Ubisoft Entertainment in the U.S. and/or other countries. The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  ACE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  The “A” design is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  For more information, visit penguin.com.

  eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18926-3

  PUBLISHING HISTORY

  Ace premium edition / December 2015

  Cover art: Hugo Puzzuoli & Grant Hillier.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  Contents

  ACE TITLES BY OLIVER BOWDEN

  TITLE PAGE

  COPYRIGHT

  PART I: GHOST TOWN CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

  PART II: LOST CITY CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

  CHAPTER FORTY

  CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

  CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

  CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

  CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

  CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

  CHAPTER FIFTY

  CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

  CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

  CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

  CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

  CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN

  PART III: METROPOLIS RISING CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

  CHAPTER SIXTY

  CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

  CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO

  CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE

  CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX

  CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE

  CHAPTER SEVENTY

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-SIX

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE

  CHAPTER EIGHTY

  CHAPTER EIGHTY-ONE

  CHAPTER EIGHTY-TWO

  CHAPTER EIGHTY-THREE

  CHAPTER EIGHTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER EIGHTY-FIVE

  EPILOGUE

  LIST OF CHARACTERS

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  PART I

  GHOST TOWN

  ONE

  The Assassin Ethan Frye was leaning on a crate in the shadows of Covent Garden market, almost hidden by the tradesmen’s carts. His arms were folded across his chest, chin supported in one hand, the soft, voluminous cowl of his robes covering his head. And as the afternoon dwindled into evening he stood, silent and still. Watching. And waiting.

  It was rare for an Assassin to rest his chin on his leading hand like that. Especially if he was wearing his hidden blade, which Ethan was, the point of it less than an inch from the exposed flesh of his throat. Closer to his elbow was a light but very powerful spring mechanism designed to deploy the razor-sharp steel; the correct flick of his wrist and it would activate. In a very real sense, Ethan was holding himself at knifepoint.

  And why would he do this? After all, even Assassins were not immune to accidents or equipment failure. For safety’s sake the men and women of the Brotherhood tended to keep their blade hands clear of the face. Better that than risk ignominy or worse.

  Ethan, however, was different. Not only was he practiced in the art of spying—and resting his chin on his strongest arm was an act of deception designed to fool a potential enemy—but he also took a dark delight in courting danger.

  And so he sat, with his chin in his hand, watching and waiting.

  Ah, he thought,
what was this? He straightened and shook the rest from his muscles as he peered through the crates into the market. Traders were packing up. And something else was happening, too. The game was afoot.

  TWO

  In an alleyway not far from Ethan lurked a fellow by the name of Boot. He wore a tattered shooting jacket and a broken hat, and he was studying a pocket watch lifted from a gentleman not moments ago.

  What Boot didn’t know about his new acquisition was that its erstwhile owner had intended to take it to the menders that very day, for reasons that were shortly to have a profound effect on the lives of Ethan Frye, Boot, a young man who called himself The Ghost and others involved in the eternal struggle between the Templar Order and the Assassin Brotherhood. What Boot didn’t know was that the pocket watch was almost exactly an hour slow.

  Oblivious of that fact, Boot snapped it shut, thinking himself quite the dandy. Next, he eased himself out of the alleyway, looked left and right, then made his way out into the dying day of the market. As he walked, his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets, he glanced over his shoulder to check he wasn’t being followed and, satisfied, continued forward, leaving Covent Garden behind and entering the St. Giles Rookery—the slum they called Old Nichol. The change in the air was almost immediate. Where before his bootheels had rung on the cobbles, now they sank into the ordure of the street, disturbing a stink of rotting vegetable and human waste. The pavements were thick with it, the air reeking of it. Boot pulled his scarf over his mouth and nose to keep the worst of it out.

  A wolfish-looking dog trotted at his heel for a few paces, ribs visible at its shrunken belly. It appealed to him with hungry, red-rimmed eyes but he kicked it away and it skittered then shrank off. Not far away, a woman sat in a doorway wearing the remnants of clothes tied together with string, a baby held to her breast as she watched him with glazed, dead eyes, rookery eyes. She might be the mother of a prostitute, waiting for her daughter to come home with the proceeds and woe betide the girl if she returned empty-handed. Or she might command a team of thieves and cadgers, soon to appear with the day’s takings. Or perhaps she ran night lodgings. Here in the rookery the once-grand houses had been converted to flats and tenements, and by night they provided refuge for those in need of shelter: fugitives and families, prostitutes, traders and laborers—anyone who paid their footing in return for space on a floor, who got a bed if they were lucky, and had the money, but most likely had to make do with straw or wood shavings for a mattress. Not that they were likely to sleep very soundly anyway: every inch of floor space was taken, and the cries of babies tore through the night.

  While many of these people were unfit or unwilling to work, many more had occupations. They were dog-breakers and bird dealers. They sold watercress, onions, sprat or herring. They were costermongers, street sweepers, coffee dealers, bill stickers and placard carriers. Their wares came into the lodgings with them, adding to the overcrowding, to the stench. At night the houses would be closed, broken windows stuffed with rags or newspaper, sealed against the noxious atmosphere of the night, when the city coughed smoke into the air. The night air had been known to suffocate entire families. Or so was the rumor. And one thing that spread about the slums more quickly than disease was rumor. So as far as the slum dwellers were concerned, Florence Nightingale could preach as much as she liked. They were going to sleep with the windows sealed.

  You could hardly blame them, thought Boot. If you lived in the slum, your chances of dying were great. Disease and violence were rife here. Children risked being suffocated when adults rolled over in their sleep. Cause of death: overlaying. It was more common at weekends when the last of the gin had been drunk and the public houses emptied, and mother and father felt their way home in the soupy fog, up the slick stone steps, through the door and into the warm, stinking room where they at last laid down their heads to rest . . .

  In the morning, with the sun up but the smog yet to clear, the rookery would ring to the screams of the bereaved.

  Deeper into the slum went Boot, where tall buildings crowded out even the meager light of the moon and fogbound lanterns glowed malevolently in the dark. He could hear raucous singing from a public house a few streets along. Every now and then the singing would grow louder as the door was thrown open to eject drunkards onto the street.

  There were no pubs on this street, though. Just doors and windows wadded with newspaper, washing hanging from lines overhead, sheets of it like the sails of a ship, and apart from the distant singing just the sound of running water and his own breathing. Just him . . . alone.

  Or so he thought.

  And now even the distant singing stopped. The only sound was dripping water.

  A scuttling sound made him jump. “Who’s that?” he demanded, but knew immediately it was a rat, and it was a pretty thing when you were so scared you were jumping at the sound of a rat. A pretty thing indeed.

  But then it came again. He whirled and thick air danced and eddied around him, and it seemed to part like curtains and for a moment he thought he saw something. A suggestion of something. A figure in the mist.

  Next he thought he heard breathing. His own was short and shallow, gasping almost, but this was loud and steady and coming from—where? One second it seemed to be ahead of him, the next from behind. The scuttling came again. A bang startled him, but it came from one of the tenements above. A couple began arguing—he had come home drunk again. No, she had come home drunk again. Boot allowed himself a little smile, found himself relaxing a bit. Here he was, jumping at ghosts, scared of a few rats and a pair of old birds quarreling. Whatever next?

  He turned to go. In the same moment the mist ahead of him billowed and striding out of it came a figure in robes who, before Boot could react, had grabbed him and pulled his fist back as though to punch him. Only instead of striking out, his assailant flicked his wrist and with a soft snick a blade shot from within his sleeve.

  Boot had squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them it was to see the man in robes behind the blade that was held steady a millimeter from his eyeball.

  Boot wet himself.

  THREE

  Ethan Frye awarded himself a small moment of satisfaction at the accuracy of his blade—then swept Boot’s legs from beneath him and slammed him to the filthy cobbles. The Assassin sank to his haunches, pinning Boot with his knees as he pressed his blade to his throat.

  “Now, my friend”—he grinned—“why don’t we start with you telling me your name?”

  “It’s Boot, sir,” squirmed Boot, the point of the knife digging painfully into his flesh.

  “Good man,” said Ethan. “Good policy, the truth. Now, let’s you and me have a talk, shall we?”

  Beneath him the fellow trembled. Ethan took it as a yes. “You’re due to take delivery of a photographic plate, am I right, Mr. Boot?” Boot trembled. Ethan took it as another yes. So far so good. His information was solid; this Boot was a connection in a pipeline that ended with erotic prints being sold in certain pubs in London. “And you are due at the Jack Simmons to collect this photographic plate, am I right?”

  Again Boot nodded.

  “And what’s the name of the fellow you’re supposed to meet, Mr. Boot?”

  “I . . . I don’t know, sir . . .”

  Ethan smiled and leaned even closer to Boot. “My dear boy, you’re a worse liar than you are a courier.” He exerted a little more pressure with the blade. “You feel where that knife is now?” he asked.

  Boot blinked his eyes yes.

  “That’s an artery. Your carotid artery. If I open that, you’ll be painting the town red, my friend. Well, the street at least. But neither of us want me to do that. Why ruin such a lovely evening? Instead how about you tell me who it is you planned to meet?”

  Boot blinked. “He’ll kill me if I do.”

  “That’s as may be, but I’ll kill you if you don’t, and only one of us is h
ere holding a knife at your throat, and it’s not him, is it?” Ethan increased the pressure. “Make your choice, my friend. Die now, or later.”

  Just then Ethan heard a noise to his left. Half a second later his Colt sidearm was in his hand, the blade still at Boot’s throat as he drew aim on a new target.

  It was a little girl on her way back from the well. Wide-eyed she stood, a bucket brimming full of dirty water in one hand.

  “I’m sorry, miss, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Ethan smiled. His revolver went back into his robes and his empty hand reappeared to assure the girl he wasn’t a threat. “I mean harm only to ruffians and thieves such as this man here. Perhaps you might like to return to your lodgings.” He was gesturing to her but she wasn’t going anywhere and just stared at them both, eyes white in a grubby face, rooted to the spot with fear.

  Inwardly Ethan cursed. The last thing he wanted was an audience. Especially when it was a little girl watching him hold a blade to a man’s throat.

  “All right, Mr. Boot,” he said, more quietly than before, “the situation has changed so I’m going to have to insist you tell me exactly who you intended to meet . . .”

  Boot opened his mouth. Maybe he was about to give Ethan the information he required, or perhaps he was going to tell Ethan where he could stick his threats, or more likely it was to simply whine that he didn’t know.

  Ethan never found out because just as Boot went to reply, his face disintegrated.

  It happened a twinkling before Ethan heard the shot, and he rolled off the body and drew his revolver just as a second crack rang out. He remembered the girl, his head whipping round just in time to see her spin away, blood blooming at her chest and her bucket dropping at the same time, dead before she hit the cobbles from a bullet meant for him.

  Ethan dared not return fire for fear of hitting another unseen innocent in the fog. He pulled himself into a crouch, steeling himself for another shot, a third attack from the dark.

  It never came. Instead there was the sound of running feet, so Ethan wiped the shards of bone and bits of brain from his face, holstered the Colt and flicked his hidden blade back into its housing, then leapt for a wall. Boots only just finding purchase on the wet brick, he shinned a drainpipe to the roof of a tenement, finding the light of the night sky and able to follow the running footsteps as the shooter tried to make his escape. This was how Ethan had entered the rookery and it looked like this was how he was going to leave, making short leaps from one roof to the next, traversing the slum as he tracked his quarry silently and remorselessly, the image of the little girl seared onto his mind’s eye and the metallic smell of Boot’s brain matter still in his nostrils.

 
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