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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 11
A Meeting of Scions

Phantasma smoke hung heavy in the air, sooting 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 already 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 safehouse 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 this afternoon.

‘You let the man walk free?’ Commander Ghorki had sat back in his chair, his imp Natchochka settled in his lap. Krystof fancied the creature had given him the evil eye.

‘Yes sir, he…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?’

Krystof was morbidly aware of the danger that Alukov would skip out on his parole. ‘He has my seal, sir.’ He said. ‘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.’ 

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

             They’d arrived too late to catch Alukov, but they had cornered Yaraslav. Or rather, Reniah 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 Yaraslav to kill him.

To give him grudging credit, Mladin Yaraslav 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 do no harm with your magic, Calvahno. And I’m sure you’re feeling guilty enough about all the times you’ve broken your oath already.’ Jaraslav smiled meanly, ‘Djemys sends his best regards, by the way.  He remembers your time together most fondly. Nothing like torture to bond to 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. ‘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,’ Yaraslav sneered. ‘You have no legal jurisdiction.’

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

             ‘Empty threats, you won’t do anything to me I can’t heal.’ Jaraslav somehow managed to make it appear that he was looking down his nose at Reniah in contempt and not because she had her sword under his chin and could end his life with a flick of her wrist. ‘Not even you lot are stupid enough to make the same mistake first. And you won’t kill me, because that would break the Vanguard’s golden rule never to strike down a child of the gods.’

             ‘We won’t kill you,’ Dima agreed easily, ‘but we can make you disappear. You’re small fry, Mladin, a pawn. We let you operate freely because you’re not a threat.’ Dima leaned against the wall beside Mladin, speaking almost into the other man’s ear. ‘But a special little birdi...

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