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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2021 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 18
Guided by Seraphim

 ‘I’m sorry Acolyte,’ Krystof said over the phone, hoping none of his impatience fed into his voice, ‘I can’t take any home visits right now. I’m waiting for my parolee. Yes,’ he sighed deeply, ‘I know but it’s only be twenty minutes. I have to wait.’

 Standing in the tiny adherent break room in the north precept of the Temple of Dalleon, Krystof glowered up at the wall clock. The minute hand kept marching on, eating away at the hour. It was now twenty-two minutes past noon. Alukov was late. Who am I kidding, Krystof scoffed, he’s not coming. I knew he wouldn’t and yet, despite all that, here I am still waiting.

 He should be doing home visits, administering to the sick and the dying, giving comfort to the bereaved, fulfilling the duties of an adherent as Acolyte Leminov asked. No, he should be calling the Cave and letting them know that their asset was in the wind. Instead he stood dithering in indecision. The story of his life, it would seem. Replacing the phone receiver Krystof’s thoughts skittered back to the night before. Dima had wanted to hunt Alukov down after they’d left the Butterfly Club and take him into custody.

  ‘For his own good,’ he’d said, fingers dancing over the sigils etching his left gauntlet. ‘Pit damn it,’ he’d sworn savagely. ‘They made us look like fools. Like damned amateurs. We need to get ahead of this.’ He’d walked off in fierce temper, causing the streetlights to the flicker and fine cracks to appear in the window of a laundrette.

 Krystof had kept quiet as they piled into Dima’s car and made the drive back to the Cave. He’d been painfully aware of the tension in the air. The anger radiating off Dima like heat haze and the pensive disquiet Ren was holding inside, but also he’d been aware that much of the night’s failure was his. He couldn’t shake the conviction that had Dima and Ren gone to the club alone they could have detained Mladin and Enid. What a result that would have been. Enid was a menace to society, almost as dangerous as Matriev himself. Perhaps more so, as Enid was able to move freely and Matriev was in hiding. Mladin had no respect for the power he’d been granted, using Anshion’s power in the most base and cruel ways. He needed to be taken off the streets, this Krystof was sure of.

Instead, the pair had escaped back to Matriev with knowledge of Krystof’s identity. A fact commander Ghorki had been incredibly upset about. More so than the fact that they hadn’t found Alukov. Ghorki had dismissed Krystof early into the “debrief” so he didn’t know all the details of what had been said and decided. The fact of which, alongside the nature of his dismissal made Krystof feel a little like a child being sent from the room so the adults could talk in peace. Still, he was glad to be spared the harsh dressing down Dima and Ren had received while he was in the room and then afterward well toward dawn. He supposed that sort of cowardice was why the commander continued to treat him like a rookie. He didn’t deserve to be treated any better. A real man would proudly face the consequences of his own failures, even if, in Krystof’s case, he wasn’t sure what he could have done differently.

He’d done everything he was supposed to do, reporting the activation of the seal and taking his teammates to the source. But if it wasn’t his fault they’d failed to find Alukov, or apprehend Enid and Mladin, then it had to be Dima’s and even thinking like that made Krystof uneasy.

The fact was there was still so much he didn’t know or truly understand about this mission. It was affecting his judgement; his ignorance causing him to see only half the story. His mind, with few facts to grasp onto was forced to cast unjust aspersions on his teammates because he didn’t know any better.

He’d been told that Matriev had once been Vanguard, a scion of the fallen seraph Sabron, the great white stag, god of the harvest. Scripture said that the seraph Kaekelion charged Sabron with the task of creating the veil between the realms of the dead and the living. When the task of managing the realms of the dead had been giving to the Pit lords, Sabron had rebelled, angered that lesser beings were granted dominion over realms he created. Sabron had led Bakareon, the bear seraph, Varkarion and Anshion into the Other Side to oust the Pit lords and take back control. The rebellion had failed.

‘One must never challenge a Pit lord in his domain,’ Krystof quoted softly. ‘For he is of the land and in turn the land is of him.’

Scripture preferred poetry over any sort of concise battle analysis but it made clear the fate of the four seraphim at the hands of the victorious Pit lords. Wily Anshion had talked her way free, betraying her fellow seraphim. Varkarion and Bakareon had been tortured, their power stripped from them until both were mad. Varkarion became little better than a demon and Bakareon devolved into a bestial rage, but they were eventually released. Not so Sabron. The stag seraph remained imprisoned somewhere on the Other Side, his p...

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