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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2021 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 16
One Man's Foolishness

Yasha stared at her in horror. ‘You think this is my fault. You think Annika and Torbin died because of me.’

‘No,’ Vee shook her head hard enough to set spectral locks of hair swirling through the air. ‘No,’ she said again as if trying to convince herself. ‘I don’t blame you. You’re not responsible for what happened.’

‘Funny,’ Yasha sneered, lip curling in a snarl, ‘because from where I’m standing, it doesn’t sound like you mean that. Unless it escaped your notice,’ he said voice hot, ‘I was behind bars. If anyone should feel guilty for what happened, it’s you.’ Anger lit his veins, lighting up his synapses with a dangerous live-wire energy. He pushed forward, forcing Vee to back away, her feet stumbling human slow until he’d backed her to the edge of the pool.

‘You know so much Vee, why didn’t you warn them?’ he spat. ‘You could’ve saved them. But I guess speaking up would ruin the little victim fantasy you have going, wouldn’t it? Poor little Vee, so weak, so hard done by. So useless, she can’t even save her friends. But the truth is, you just couldn’t be bothered, could you? I mean, why do something when it’s so much easier to whine about how sad you are and how mean we all are for leaving you out.’

Varnah gasped, a visceral sound, torn from the soul. Yasha rocked to a halt, head and heart filling with a sick sort of horror. ‘I,’ he stuttered, ‘I’m sorry that was…that was uncalled for. I didn’t mean it.’ Shame flooded his bloodstream, leaving him cold. What was wrong with him? How could he say that?

Vee pressed her hands to her face, a face that was now so painfully human, it looked like a sculpture formed of running water. She teetered on the edge of the pool, her body fluctuating between human awkwardness and insubstantial spirit. Yasha grabbed her arm before she could fall, a searing flash of magic racing from his soul to hers. Her body fully solidified with a snap, feet hitting the floor and finding purchase. He let go of her, flexing the fingers of his hand. Vee stared at him hurt dropping away, replaced by wonder.

‘How did you do that?’ she asked sidling around him away from the pool edge. She walked to the balcony door, where Mati watched her from the lintel disapprovingly. Vee held out her human hands and turned them, watching the play of sunlight glowing through her not-skin. ‘I feel…different; alive.’ She turned to him, the sunlight making her face bloom with white-gold light. ‘Is this what you do?’ she asked. ‘Can you make me human again?’

Yasha swallowed hard. His eyes burned and he had to look away from her, meeting his familiar’s glowing green glare. The anger that had galvanized in his veins seconds ago had hardened into a dragging grief he didn’t want to feel. ‘Nothing can make you human again, Vee,’ he said softly. ‘The eyrie…it just makes being dead tolerable.’ 

‘Oh,’ Vee let her hands drop. ‘I’m angry with you,’ she admitted, sounding almost surprised by the admission but determined to deal with it anyway. ‘When I realised what you were…it made me angry. All this,’ she waved her hands at their surroundings, ‘and you threw it away. You abandoned us when we needed you.’

Yasha objected, ‘I didn’t know.’

‘You didn’t care.’ Vee countered. ‘You didn’t think about us at all. All you cared about was keeping your secrets.’

‘I need to keep my secrets, Vee,’ Yasha said fiercely. ‘If I’m exposed—‘

‘You can’t keep running away from everything that matters,’ Vee’s voice echoed strangely making the dead vines climbing the trellises shiver as if moved by her emotion. They stared at each other in the silence that followed. Yasha had the uncomfortable feeling that had she been able, Vee would have been crying.

He shut his eyes, fists opening and closing at his side. Shame burned through him and with it a wave of helpless fury. He wanted to rail against her allegations. He wanted to fight back against the insinuation that he was responsible for anyone but himself, that he owed more to her and Ludo than he could hope to repay. It wasn’t his fault they hadn’t coped without him. It wasn’t his fault everything went wrong.

He forced himself to look her in her dead eyes. ‘Do you want me to say I regret it?’ he asked. ‘Do you want me to say that if I had the time all over again I’d do things differently?’

Light shimmered over her face like tears. ‘Would you?’ she asked tremulously.

He could lie. He could tell her what she wanted to hear. He could repent and be absolved, but it wouldn’t be true. He wished with all his heart that Vee was still flesh and blood and Annika and Torbin were still here. He wished he could wipe away Vee’s pain and Ludo’s sadness, but he knew that when push came to shove he would do whatever it took to protect his secrets, because his secrets were bigger than he was. His purpose was bigger than he was.

‘If I’m discovered, if I fail in my mission, it’s not just me who will ...

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