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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2021 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 17
A Truth Revealed is a Truth Ignored

Mati merged with him just as the implosion of anima absorbed them, which was an interesting experience. The anima deposited him on the street and Yasha rubbed his left arm to rid himself of the tingle of magic. Mati’s feathers spread under his skin from shoulder to the back of his hand, moving like a shimmering black and green tattoo as he flexed his fingers.

             Stepping out of the building’s alcove he was immediately enveloped in the throng of foot traffic swarming the street. It was late for lunch hour but the corporate towers lining the waterway divulged wave after wave of suited drones in search of nectar, or returning to the hive with their bounty. Yasha knew he stood out in the crowd. A young man with short, messy black hair, wearing an old brown jacket over a darker brown cotton tunic, his trousers a dark moss green with a stripe of black silk running down the outer seam of each leg. He walked with his head up and shoulders relaxed, his strides long and confident.

             He almost missed the floating cube floating in mid-air at the mouth of a small, dead-end alley between a Chyan takeaway and a Kitviker clothing store. It was the buzz of magic surrounding the small device that stopped him in his tracks and made him look. As soon as he recognised what it was, he was seriously tempted to keep walking.

             He slipped into the mouth of the alley and was immediately surrounded by four more floating cubes. They were six-sided and the size of dice. Each cube was borne aloft within a bubble of magically charged anima that glowed a pretty blue-green colour. Either cubes or the magic emitted a soft humming noise. The cubes orbited Yasha’s head, their faces flashes in a series of different colours from dragon’s blood red to deep empyrean feather blue in a fast moving sequence, almost as if they were talking to one another. Or recording his image to report back to their maker. After the last cube had flashed at him, the quintet broke away, formed into an arrow head formation and zipped over the back wall of the alley.

             Yasha raised his wrist to check his watch, only to remember he didn’t have one. Dropping his arm in annoyance he leant back against the brickwork and waited. A long seven minutes later Ludo appeared in the mouth of the alley, slightly breathless and sans cubes.

             Yasha pushed off the wall. ‘Are you stalking me?’

             ‘What, no,’ Ludo straightened his black jacket, he was wearing a rusty gold coloured tunic underneath in some sort of crepe material; it looked fashionably wrinkled. His tight fawn coloured trousers emphasised the skinniness of his legs. A couple of gold rings winked at his knuckles as his hands nervously smoothed his clothes. The rings were more than decorative; each one was charmed and at least one of them probably controlled the cubes he’d sent looking for Yasha.

             ‘I was looking for you,’ Ludo explained, ‘there’s a difference between looking and stalking.’

              Yasha quirked an eyebrow. ‘Really? And why did you think sending recon drones out searching for me was a good idea? Those things are still illegal, y’know.’

             ‘Shows what you know,’ Ludo scoffed. He pulled two of the deactivated cubes from his jacket pocket, ‘These babies are classed as recreational technomancy. They’re toys, mate. Completely legal so long as their used in accordance with the law.’

             ‘And what is the law?’ Yasha prompted.

             Ludo quoted, ‘You can’t use ‘em to infiltrate a building; can’t use ‘em to take pictures in public buildings or to take pictures during the execution of a crime, or with the purpose of using them to facilitate the execution of a crime.’

             Yasha’s other eyebrow joined the first. ‘Uh-huh. How many times have you used them to do just that?’ he asked drily.

             ‘That’s not the point,’ Ludo waved his hand blithely. ‘The point is that sending ‘em out to find my stupid friend who went haring off to the Snacks this morning and never came back, isn’t a crime. And thus, I win.’

             Yasha frowned. ‘You win what?’

             ‘The moral highground and the argument,’ Ludo beamed. ‘Now, you gonna tell me what you’re doing in the financial district, mate?’

             Yasha shrugged. ‘Maybe I’m planning a job?’

             Ludo shook his head, unimpressed. ‘You’re up to something, but it’s not a job,’ he said seriously. ‘I went to the Snacks looking for you, found a grey – a whole lot of greys – one of ‘em told me you’d gone out this way.’ Ludo stared at him hard. ‘Are you recruiting again? Is that what’s happening here? Are you back to bad habits already?’ Ludo shook his head. ‘What is with you and greys, mate? You’re the only person I know who deals with ‘em that’s not into the deader stuff. Except Mladin, and I’m not sure about him.’

             ‘Maybe I just prefer their—‘ Yasha froze mid-quip, the memory of his argument with Vee looming large. He clamped his mouth closed.

             ‘You alright, mate? You’ve got a funny look on your face.’

             This was his chance, Yasha thought. His chance to prove he did trust Ludo. His chance to come clean. Three years he’d kept quiet, evading, living by omission and outright lying when the first two failed him. Was he really going to throw all that away over something Vee said? Yes, he thought, because she’s right. She’s right about me and I don’t want her to be.

Heart pounding in his chest he blurted out, ‘I’m a Pit Lord. At least, that’s what I was sent here to be. That’s my secret. I’m not like you; my mother is an Other Side queen and my father is…actually never mind about him. The point is, I was sent here three years ago to take control of the city’s undead, infiltrate the magic underground and build a permanent connection between here and the Other Side to enhance my mother’s power and influence.’

             Ludo was silent for several agonising heartbeats. ‘Funny,’ he deadpanned, ‘Cuz...

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