Ex-government assassin Nyx is good at solving other people's problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey—it's a living.
Nyx's disreputable reputation has been well earned. After all, she's trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that's consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. Every new job is another day alive—but only if she can survive.
"Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert," is one of the great opening lines of science fiction, and how the futuristic assassin-turned-bounty hunter Nyx was first introduced to the world. This latest book collects her most recent adventures and is not to be missed. – Lavie Tidhar
"The plots are taut, thrilling, gritty, violent, profane, magical—everything Hurley's readers expect."– Booklist
"As always, Hurley's worldbuilding is bonkers fun . . . a great read."– Elitist Book Reviews
"Apocalypse Nyx, like its title character, is swaggering and brash, bristling with guns and spitting quips."– Strange Horizons
"Gritty with a capital grit . . . In all—I love this world, I love these stories."– Fangs for the Fantasy
NYX HAD BEEN FALLING APARTsince the magicians put her back together again sometime after the war. Now, at thirty, staring down the barrel of an acid gun, she figured she was about to break apart for good. She'd heard that lots of people found God again when looking that hard at death, but mostly she felt relief. At thirty, Nyx was lucky to be alive, let alone facing a messy death at the end of a gun.
The kid holding the gun was fresh from the front, so fresh it looked like she still had all of her original fingers. The dusty corridor of the hotel was tight. The girl had swung up the gun just as Nyx came up from murdering one of the hotel's security guards. Nyx let her gaze tarry on those smooth fingers, fascinated with the final details of her own death.
But the fingers gave the girl away: too straight, unblemished, not a callous or crack or dirty fingernail. Those weren't thehands of a kid who'd spent time with weapons in trenches. They weren't the hands of a kid who knew how to handle a big girl gun. Nyx followed the line of the fingers up to the trigger device, and the little round safety plug that was still inserted just behind it.
"Bloody amateur," Nyx said, and lunged.
The girl fumbled with the gun, frantically clicking the locked trigger. Nyx ripped the weapon away and bashed her on the side of the head with it. The girl stumbled against the bullet-riddled wall of the hallway and sat hard on her rump.
The door to the stairwell behind the girl popped open. Anneke burst in, rifle first. She brought with her the stink of gun oil and citronella. Anneke was a wiry, fearsome little woman with a face like a hammer. She was nearly as dark as a Chenjan, but far less modest, geared up in her dhoti and breast binding—though she really didn't need one—and little else. Her lips were smeared red with sen, and when she spoke, she showed crimson-stained teeth, like some demon from a Chenjan parable.
"Lotta fucking stairs, boss," Anneke said, huffing hard.
"You seen any more of her team down there?" Nyx asked. "We've got four more notes to fill."
"Naw, just the one in the morgue."
"Got tied up at the morgue with Rhys."
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Rhys said, uh, autopsies take time."
"She had a gun at my head."
"Bad place for it," Anneke said, "hardest place on the skull, there." Anneke spit on the floor next to the girl. The sputumwas bloody red with sen. She nudged the girl with her boot. The girl squinted up at Anneke, vomited, and promptly passed out.
Nyx might have hit her too hard. Could have been Nyx down there on the floor, bloody and vomiting her guts out. If only.
"You sure this is the girl on the note?" Anneke said, picking at her teeth. "Real raw to pull a gun and not a swarm, you know? I mean, if she's a magician like she's supposed to be."
Nyx knelt beside the girl and pulled up the sleeves of her tunic. Both forearms bore thorny black tattoos that marked her as a member of the rogue Death Magicians. Nyx pushed back the dark mat of hair on the girl's head and found the shiny scar on her forehead where she must have had the other marks removed.
"Didn't have much time for conversation," Nyx said, "but the markings are right."
"Let's throw her in the trunk and eat," Anneke said. "I'm starving."
"Morgue first, then food."
"Story of my life, boss." Anneke slung her rifle over her shoulder and moved to do the same with the girl, but Nyx stopped her.
"Let me search her," Nyx said. She rifled through the woman's burnous and came out with a couple of notes, two death beetle larvae in matchboxes, and a pamphlet advertising the theatrical production ofThe Horned Magician in Mushtallahat the brothel next door. Nyx pocketed the cash and frowned at the rest. Part of her wanted to know what the kid was up to, but most of her just wanted to get paid and move on. She wasn't being paid to solve some mystery. She was being paid for a head. Several of them.
The girl was still out. Nyx figured any brain injury wouldn't be permanent. Probably. Once she turned the girl over, the junk in her pockets was somebody else's concern.
"Load her up," Nyx said.
Anneke hefted the girl up over her skinny shoulders and hauled her downstairs. Nyx followed, shoving the girl's contraband into the sack at her hip that she usually used for carting around heads. Girl should be thankful that the government paid more for her alive than dead. The Death Magicians were up to all kinds of scary shit. The Queen wanted her piece of that before she burned them all alive or whatever it was the government did to rogue magicians. Unlike bel dames—the elite assassins the government hired out—magicians were still largely policed by government agencies. She was fine not knowing what the government did to them after she brought them in.
Anneke rolled up their catch into a cooling blanket and then secured her in the trunk. Nyx strolled across the dusty street to the morgue just as mid-afternoon prayer began at the mosque at the edge of town. This was Shibaz, a northern border town. The call this far out from the big cities was a lot nicer. In Amtullah and places like that on the interior, dozens of mosques competed with one another, each starting the prayer just ahead of or behind the mosque down the street, until all you could hear was discordant warbling.
Nyx scanned the horizon. Six missing magicians could do a lot of damage on the interior, which begged the question as to why they had come all the way out here. The note she'dpicked up made it sound like they were running illegal contraband—poison agents, shit like that. The border was a good place for that, she knew. She used to run her own illegal shit around the border towns, back before she got caught. Prison hadn't been all that inspiring. Mercenary work was more legal, but didn't pay as well. At least sometimes the view was good.
The smudge of low mountains to the north hinted at something other than desert out there, but Nyx knew better. By all counts, the northern desert went on and on, more wild and contaminated than anything south of here. She hoped she never had a reason to go any further north than this shitwater for whatever remained of her life. Thirty was such a great age for dying, really, before any of this shit could catch up to her. Maybe this job would do her in, finally. Rounding up a gang of rogue magicians with just one mediocre magician, a moralist shapeshifter, felon sniper, and snot-nosed kid of a com tech was pretty much doomed to fail. But weren't they always doomed to fail? It's what made it so exhilarating when they survived the day. Or the hour. The minute, really. This was why she drank so much.
"What you frowning at?" Anneke asked as they crossed the dusty street. The air smelled like wood smoke and brine—not a natural combination out here. It was most likely something left over from a spent burst heaved over from the Chenjan side of the front.
"Thinking about our odds," Nyx said.
"We can just take her and go back," Anneke said. "Figure her dead friend in the morgue, plus her, that's a good pay day."
"Naw," Nyx said. "Too easy."
"How much trouble we get into 'cause we're bored, boss?"
"A fucking lot," Nyx said.
"I do like trouble," Anneke said.
The local morgue was in the basement of the general store, a not uncommon combination in these little towns. Signs outside the store proudly proclaimed that they also offered moneylending, tattoo, and discount inoculation services. All three of those were either illegal or highly regulated services, which had signaled to Nyx that the owner would be more than happy to let them into the morgue to examine unclaimed bodies—for a fee. Which is, of course, what she'd done.
Nyx walked past the grocery clerk, who studiously pretended to be engrossed in the misty yakking projections oozing from the radio. Nyx descended the steps into the basement, Anneke close at her heels, and ducked to clear the low beam at the end of the stairs. She slid through a transparent filter, noticeable only because it made her skin prickle. Once through it, the smell of death clogged her nostrils, a smell so heavy that it felt like a physical force. The filter was an expensive thing for the shop owner to invest in, but clearly necessary to keep the patrons upstairs from fleeing en masse.
Khos, her shapeshifter, stood over the sink at the back, pressed back his mane of yellow dreads as he dry-heaved. Three bodies lay on stone slabs behind him. One of the bodies was relatively fresh, but the other was pretty far gone. Jars of mostly human organs lined the walls, just as they would in a magician's operating theater, and Nyx wondered if they did illegal tissue repair here as well. Should have that up on the door, too.
Rhys, Nyx's magician, was elbow deep in a pretty fresh corpse at the center of the room. Next to him was a skinny woman with tangled hair, the current clerk on duty. She gnawed at her nails while watching him work. Nyx had paid her five notes to get access down here. The clerk wasn't the owner, though, and getting caught down here could get messy.
"You got the goods?" Nyx said.
Rhys didn't look up, but the clerk did. She spit bits of her nails across the body. "I need you gone in an hour. I keep telling this fucker—" she sputtered.
"He'smyfucker," Nyx said, "not yours. He answers to me. And I told him to stay until he found what that dead magician was smuggling in that meat suit of hers. My note is for the girl and her friends and the goods they're carrying. If they dropped the goods, I need to know."
"Here it is," Rhys said. The clerk took a step back as Rhys pulled a slimy black blob from the body's chest cavity.
"Bag it," Nyx said.
"I need to neutralize it."
"Can it travel without doing that?"
"Certainly, but there's a chance it could burst and give us all . . . whatever this is. You want to risk that?" His gaze met hers, all big eyes and long lashes, daring her to risk it so he could get all self-righteous about it.
"Do it," Nyx said.
A knocking sound came from the direction of the stairs.
"Now the fuck what?" Nyx said, turning. "This place is fucking closed until further—"
Nyx saw the big glowing barrel of a buzz gun pass over the threshold of the doorway. She didn't wait to see who wieldedit. She'd already had enough of gun barrels in her face today. She pulled her pistol, let off two wild shots in the direction of the interloper, and rolled behind the nearest slab.
"Let it alone!" the woman on the stairs yelled. "Don't touch another body!"
Nyx chanced a look around the slab, gun first. The woman on the stairs was young, with the elaborate locs and dress of a Mhorian, but her bold features and complexion were Nasheenian. She was a skinny young thing, all sharp angles and elbows. The lack of flesh made her fearful expression that much more intense. Another fucking scared kid with a gun. Nyx was used to grizzled war vets and tough old cats here at the edge. What the fuck were all these kids doing out here? Back in her day . . .
"Drop that!" the woman said again, to Rhys.
Rhys raised his hands. The black bag of contraband rested on the body's bloodless hip.
"I've got a note on this body and its goods!" Nyx said. She hoped that would swing the barrel her way, but the woman kept it fixed at Rhys. Buzz guns were nasty things. They packed a big, poisonous punch. At this range, at Rhys's weight, the chances of him surviving a single blast without immediately rolling him into a magician's gym were slim.
While the barrel's trajectory didn't shift, the woman did spare a glance Nyx's way. Nyx considered tossing off a few more shots, but even at this distance she wasn't liable to hit anything. At best, she'd just be making a bigger distraction, and that hadn't worked so far.
"This is a government note," Nyx lied. It sort of was, kind of. It was a mercenary note, not a bel dame note, but it wasclose enough. She had been a government-sponsored bel dame once, running down deserters and other criminals for the government, but that hadn't lasted. She wasn't so good at rules. But this kid didn't need to know that. "You interfere, you go to prison. I've been to prison. It's not fun. What do you think they'd make of a kid like you?"
That swung the barrel.
Well, shit, Nyx thought, I need to try words more often.