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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 2

‘Sorry to keep you.’

A flustered young man with a head of cinnamon curls and a prominent cleft chin and a long aquiline nose hurried into the room. He wore a blue striped white shirt with a high Kitviker button collar and his wide blue tie loose at his neck. His skin was almost the same shade of brown as his hair, seeming to have almost russet undertones, ruddier than Yasha’s own more olive gold tones.

The long thin features and messy ringlets combined with his skin tone had Yasha suspecting the man had Tabrisi blood in him, or maybe something from even further south. He looked flushed as if he’d been running.

Plunking down a leather writing case on the table, he extended his hand. ‘I’m Krystof,’ he said his accent pure Valk. ‘Krystof Heugar. I’m here to lift your seal.’

Yasha stared at the hand long and hard. ‘What happened to the other guy?’ he asked. This guy must be very new if he thought Yasha was crazy enough to shake the hand of soulsmith he didn’t know.

 ‘Ah,’ Krystof withdrew his hand, embarrassed at the faux pas. ‘Mr Prozniak only performs sealing on inmates.’ He smiled suddenly. ‘And you’re about to become a free man. Well, almost.’

‘Almost?’ Yasha tensed. What the Pit damn? He was done. He’d served his time. They didn’t have anything more to hold him on. He’d made very certain of that.

Krystof nodded vigorously. He seemed very happy about something. The shift in mood was unnerving. ‘Are you aware of the new provincial forum initiative?’ He asked.

Yasha stared at him. ‘I’m in prison,’ he pointed out. ‘We don’t get newspaper delivery here and the only TV we’re allowed to watch are soaps and Pit be-damned Cloister sermons.’

Yasha was certain it was a form of psychology torture, designed to rot the brain. It had worked on Preacher. 

Krystof winced – albeit delicately – when Yasha cursed the Cloister. Yasha’s eyes widened. ‘No. Oh, Pit no.’ He turned to Waliwala in dismay. ‘I thought I was being released, not converted.’ Waliwala shrugged but had the grace to look mildly guilty.

‘You were convicted of a magical crime related to necromancy,’ Krystof said drawing Yasha’s attention back to him. ‘Recidivism rates among street practitioners are high, and the Reagir provincial forum is very worried about the proliferation of the Voisera.’

‘I’m not Voisera,’ Yasha stated. ‘And none of you people could find a trace of necro taint on me with all your tests,’ he added acidly. They’d been nothing to find, but the prison service had been vigorous in their testing. Far more so than they had been in any of their other magical tests.

They didn’t want psychic vampires infesting their prisons. You couldn’t seal a black hole and the bad kind of necromancy, the sort that was derived from violence and murder and the forced subjugation of a victim’s soul in both life and death, tended to corrupt the perpetrator, turning their soul into a bottomless pit that only stolen life energy to could fill.  

The only plus side was that psychic vampirism was easy to spot and nigh impossible to hide. Which made the invasive tests Yasha had been subjected to even more degrading and frustrating.

‘We know all about your tests,’ Krystof said a light of shrewdness sharpening his features. Then, as if donning a mask he smiled and resumed his inane prattle. ‘The Rehabilitation Act is a joint initiative between the Reagir provincial forum and the Cloister of Reagir. Offenders with a high risk of recidivism like yourself undergo a mandatory parole with a Cloister nominated practitioner.

‘The aim of the initiative is to rehabilitate the offender and show them how to use their magic to benefit society.’

Beaming like a moron Krystof said, ‘I’m your new parole officer.’

All of this was horrifying but Yasha’s attention was snagged on something else he said. ‘You said “we” before. What did you mean by that?’

Krystof blinked. ‘I, err, was referring to the parole service and the Cloister, of course,’ he lied and poorly.

On the face of it, there was no reason to disbelieve Krystof. The use of the plural pronoun was entirely innocuous, but somehow Yasha still knew the man was lying. He trusted his instincts. Even when they were wrong, they were right, especially if one believed, as Yasha did that you could never be too paranoid when it came to people.

‘So you’re a Cloisterer?’ he asked. ‘Which Seraphim did you sell your soul to?’

‘Excuse me?’ Krystof seemed affronted.

Yasha thought about how easy it was to think of this man by his given name. Valk etiquette demanded that men be addressed by their family name in polite society, especially when not well acquainted, as a mark of respect. Yasha enjoyed disregarding that, even if just in his head.

He rolled his eyes, ‘You heard me. I asked which of the gods owns you.’ 

‘I assure you I have not sold my soul—‘

‘Of course you have,’ Yasha said cutting him off. ‘You’ve finished your acolyte training, right?’

‘Yes?’ Krystof nodded cautiously, clearly expecting a trap.

‘Well then,’ Yasha shrugged. ‘Everyone knows Cloister practitioners sell a bit of their soul to a seraph in return for patronage. That’s how it works, no different than a summoning pact with a demon, except you don’t get burned at the stake for it.’ 

There was a lot of hypocrisy baked into the laws that governed magic, not just in Valkieres but on the whole continent of Tybur. It was like the deal with clairvoyance insurance; build a corporate empire around predicting the financial future, lie about it, causing the markets to collapse, and not a single executive faced worse than public censure and a generous severance package. Give false prophecy on a street corner and you could do five years for it.

There was a reason Yasha had little time for the traditional definitions of right and wrong. Mostly because they were clearly stupid and Yasha had no intention of obeying stupid laws.

‘Adherents don’t sell our souls,’ Krystof snapped, &ls...

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