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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 11
A Meeting of Scions

Phantasma smoke hung heavy in the air and soot grimed the surfaces of the tables and booths filling the Butterfly’s barroom. Krystof hung back loitering by the beaded curtains, just inside the room.

A little over ninety minutes ago he’d been in the Vanguard training room, running through conditioning drills when he’d felt a flare of magic run through his soul as the protection seal he’d placed on Yasha Alukov activated. Suffice to say, he’d been alarmed.

He’d run to the Seer department, convinced that his charge was in mortal danger and equally convinced that it was all his fault for letting him go when he should have stayed and frog-marched him all the way to the safe-house no matter how much the man complained about it. That was certainly Commander Ghorki’s view. Krystof was not going to forget his summons to the Commander’s office that afternoon.

‘You let the man walk free?’ Commander Ghorki had sat back in his chair, his imp Natchochka settled in his lap. Krystof had fancied the creature, a hideous hybrid mix of ferret and lizard, had given him the evil eye. All four of them.

‘Yes sir, he’ he stammered, ‘…Uh, well, it’s not like we have legal grounds to hold him under house arrest is it?’

The Commander had been expressionless behind his thick drooping moustache, yet somehow that very lack of expression seemed to shout his true opinion louder even than his words, drily delivered. ‘We’re the Vanguard. We don’t need legal grounds.’

‘Sir?’ Krystof had stood at the desk unsure what to do. Ghorki terrified him. The man almost never lost his temper, maintaining a constant mien of ironic annoyance, but that just left Krystof with the dread that an explosion was imminent and he was the one who would set him off.

‘You realise if our little jailbird flies off you’ll be directly responsible for his apprehension, don’t you, Agent Heugar?’ The commander asked him.

Krystof was morbidly aware of the danger that Alukov would skip out on his parole. He swallowed. ‘Yes sir. That why I gave him my seal. Wherever he goes, I’ll be able to find him.’

‘Only if the seal is activated,’ Commander Ghorki corrected him. ‘So I suppose we’ll have to hope Alukov finds himself in mortal danger, otherwise we’ll never track the little sod. Thank Vishon, Matriev’s surrounded himself with psychopaths. None of them are known for their gentleness.’ 

‘Sir?’ Krystof had sputtered, greatly concerned.

The commander had waved him away. ‘You’re dismissed, Agent Heugar.’

             Krystof wondered if the commander was pleased at the speed with which Alukov had found himself in danger. Somehow he doubted it, especially given the source. Dima had sworn a blue streak when Seer Djuan managed to use the link between Krystof and Alukov to pinpoint his last known location to the Butterfly Club.

             Now, here they were. Too late to catch Alukov, but they had cornered Yaroslav. Or rather, Ren had. She was presently pinning him to the far wall of his club with her sword to his throat.

             ‘Give me one reason,’ she told the blond man, ‘not to touch my blade to your skin and suck you dry.’ She meant it. Joliard was old, old necromancy, the soul within the blade tempered by centuries into something fierce and powerful. Reniah was the only person alive who could wield the sword without the spirit draining her life energy, and she didn’t need to cut Yaroslav to kill him.

To give him grudging credit, Yaroslav did a pretty good job pretending to be unimpressed by the threat, a far more creditable job than Krystof could’ve manage, but there was no way he didn’t know how dangerous the sword hovering a half inch away from his throat really was.

‘It would go against your oath to the Vanguard not to harm another scion, necromancer,’ he sneered. ‘And I’m sure you’re feeling guilty enough about all the times you’ve broken your oath already.’ Jaroslav smiled meanly. ‘Djemys sends his best regards, by the way. He remembers your time together most fondly. Nothing like torture to bond two souls, I suppose.’

‘Oh give it up, Mladin,’ Dima scoffed, using the man’s given name instead of his family as etiquette dictated. He jumped down from the bar stool he’d been sitting on and strode forward easily, rubbing soot off his dark sleeve. ‘No one is impressed by your villain impression. So, why don’t you tell me what happened here?’ He gestured around the room. ‘Receive an unexpected visitor, did we? Someone with a grudge?’ 

             ‘I don’t have to tell you anything,’ Yaroslav sneered. ‘You have no legal jurisdiction here.’

             ‘All the more reason to talk,’ Ren told him pressing in close and forcing Mladin to tilt his head back as she angled the blade. She smiled. ‘We’re not bound by any legal restraint either.’ Her smile stretched, looking strained to Krystof. ‘If you’ve spoken to Djemys you know what I can do to you.’

             ‘Empty threats,&r...

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