Hollowpox The Hunt for Morrigan Crow - Jessica Townsend


Unit 919

Winter of Two

On a glossy black door inside a well-lit wardrobe, a tiny circle of gold pulsed with light, and at its centre was a small, glowing W.

Come in, it seemed to say with each gentle beat. Hurry up!

Morrigan Crow finished buttoning her starched white shirtsleeves, pulled on a black overcoat and carefully fixed her gold W pin to the lapel. Finally, she pressed her fingertip to the shimmering circle and, just as if she’d turned a key in a lock, the door swung open onto an empty train station.

These quiet, still moments had become Morrigan’s favourite time of day. Most mornings, she was the first to arrive at Station 919. She liked to close her eyes for just a few seconds, listening to the distant rumbling of trains in the Wunderground tunnels. Like mechanical dragons waking from slumber. Ready to carry millions of people all over the city of Nevermoor on a complex tapestry of tracks.

Morrigan smiled and took a deep breath.

Last day of the autumn term.

She’d made it.

The rest of her unit began arriving, shattering the peace and quiet as the remaining eight doors were flung open up and down the platform – from Mahir Ibrahim’s ornate red door at one end, all the way to Anah Kahlo’s small, arched, unvarnished wooden one at the other – and the tiny station filled with chatter.

Hawthorne Swift, Morrigan’s best friend, arrived in his typical morning state – unbalanced by armfuls of dragonriding gear, grey shirt not quite properly buttoned, unbrushed brown curls sticking out at wild angles, blue eyes sparkling with some mischief he’d either just dreamed up or just committed (Morrigan didn’t want to know which). Archan Tate – who was always impeccably mannered and dressed – took half of Hawthorne’s teetering pile of kit for him without a word and gave the badly buttoned shirt a discreet nod.

Cadence Blackburn was the last to make it this morning. She ran in with seconds to spare – thick black braid whipping behind her, long brown limbs taking great strides – and arrived just as a single, slightly battered train carriage chugged into view, trailing puffs of white steam. Painted on its side was the familiar W symbol and the number 919, and hanging halfway out the door was their conductor, Miss Cheery.

This was Hometrain, a mode of transport and home-away-from-home exclusively for them, the 919th unit of the Wundrous Society. Inside were beanbags, a lumpy old sofa, piles of cushions, a wood-burning stove that was always lit in winter and a ceramic polar bear biscuit jar that was rarely empty. It was one of Morrigan’s favourite and most comfortable places in the world.

‘Moooorning!’ the conductor shouted, beaming from ear to ear and waving a handful of papers at them. ‘Happy last day of term, scholarly ones!’

Miss Cheery’s role as Unit 919’s official ‘conductor’ was an interesting one – part transport operator, part guidance counsellor. She was there to smooth a path through their first five years as members of Nevermoor’s most elite and demanding organisation. The Wundrous Society was made up of extraordinary people with extraordinary talents, but most of them were too absorbed in their own extraordinary endeavours to pay much attention to the Society’s youngest inductees. Without their conductor, Unit 919 would be lost in the wilderness.

Miss Cheery was the only person Morrigan knew who utterly lived up to her name: she was pure sunshine. She was fresh linen, birdsong at twilight, perfectly cooked toast. She was all rainbow-coloured clothes and impeccable posture, deep brown skin and enormous smile, and when the light shone through the edges of her cloud-like halo of curly black hair, she made Morrigan think of an angel … though, of course, she would never say anything so cheesy out loud.

As their designated grown-up, the one thing she probably ought to have had was a bit more decorum. But 919 liked her exactly as she was.

‘Last! Day! Last! Day! Last! Day!’ she chanted, kicking her legs out from the train door in celebration, before it had even come to a halt.

Anah shouted back in a fretful voice, ‘Miss Cheery, that is NOT safe!’

Miss Cheery responded by contorting her face into something comically terror-stricken and flailing her arms as if she was going to fall out – and then actually falling out onto the platform when the train suddenly stopped.

‘I’m okay!’ she said, jumping up to take a bow.

The others laughed and applauded, but Anah turned to glare at them one by one, pink-faced,