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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 10
The Rules

Ludo was sitting at a corner table with two other men when Yasha entered the smoky pub. The two men stood and left without making eye contact as he approached. Yasha turned and watched them leave. Ludo gave him a funny look as he sat down.

              ‘Pit damn, what happened to you?’ he asked. ‘You smell like a phantasma fire.’

             ‘That’s good, ‘cuz I was just in one.’ Rubbing his scratched cheek Yasha looked around the interior.

             The decor favoured heavy wood panelling and moody, and the wooden board floor was scuffed and unvarnished. The smell of stale beer and tobacco saturated the walls, the floors and the air, which carried the added piquancy of ripe sweaty bodies. A dart board pinned to the far wall was the only entertainment. It had Voisera hangout written all over it. The sort of place a clever cutthroat could get away with murder.

             ‘Seriously, what happened?’ Ludo asked him again, dragging his attention back front and centre.

             ‘Someone attacked the club while I was there. ‘Ladni almost shot him.’

             ‘You’re kidding me.’

             Yasha sat back in his chair and spread his arms. ‘Does it look like I’m kidding?’

             Ludo pursed his lips in thought. ‘Y’know, I’d forgotten this sort of thing happens to you. Only you could decide to go to the club on a whim and get caught up in an attack. Most people, this sort of thing would be planned. Y’know that right?’ He asked tiredly.

‘Most people walk into surprise attacks on purpose?’ Yasha cocked an eyebrow. ‘No offence, but that makes most people idiots.’

Ludo sighed again reaching for his pint glass and draining the dregs. ‘That it, then? Nothing else happened? Just a dose of near immolation.’

             Yasha raised both his brows. ‘A lot happened,’ he corrected. ‘‘Ladni tried to possess me with mind control butterflies…Oh, and I talked to Vee.’

             Ludo winced and looked away. ‘Look, mate, I can explain –‘ his expression cleared of guilt only to cloud with confusion. ‘Wait, what? Mind control…butterflies?’

             ‘Yup,’ Yasha was beginning to enjoy himself. He grinned, showing teeth. ‘A whole flock of them,’ he paused. ‘Or is it a swarm? A horde?’ he frowned. ‘What’s the correct term for a room full of magical butterflies?’

             Ludo looked him over sceptically. ‘Are you sure you’re feeling alright?’

Yasha rolled his eyes. ‘I’m not possessed. It didn’t work.’

‘How’d you know? I mean, how do you know he was trying to possess you in the first place?’

‘He sent his butterflies into my soul and ordered me to surrender my free will to him. So, yeah, I’m sure,’ Yasha said, voice bone dry. ‘I think there was also something about his every desire being my only command,’ he added thoughtfully. ‘Which, honestly, I’m not sure works grammatically, but more importantly, it took the experience to a whole other level of weird and creepy.’

‘Yeah, you don’t say.’ Ludo sat back in his chair. ‘Still, the bastard’s always been weird and creepy. You think they were demons or something, or is he some kind of conjuror? ‘Cuz, if he is a conjuror that would explain why he’s always been so weird about you.’  

‘Weird about me?’ Yasha cocked his head.

 ‘Uh, yeah.’ Ludo replied drily. ‘He sent you down because you left him out of a job. I mean, he was never part of the crew in the first place. So I don’t know why he’s always acted like you and him were close.’

‘He was like that at the club,’ Yasha admitted. ‘He kept insisting we could be a great team.’

‘Right, that’s what I mean,’ Ludo gestured with his hands as he warmed to the subject. ‘Y’know, when I went to the club, he tried to make out that it was my fault you went down? Said that if I’d had your back like I should’ve you’d’ve beat the rap. The really mad thing is, he sounded like he meant it.’

 ‘We’re getting sidetracked,’ Yasha shook his head. ‘Why don’t you tell me about you and the Bloom,’ he suggested forcibly redirecting the conversation.

Ludo looked down at the tabletop. ‘I told you things were rough,’ he said staring down at his fingers spread over the pitted surface. ‘The Bloom started breathing down my neck, almost the minute you went down.’ He looked up and met Yasha’s eyes. ‘I fobbed ‘em off for a bit and they let me, but once the new guy took up in the Snacks…’ he traile...

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