Home > Fated (Alex Verus #1)

Fated (Alex Verus #1)
Benedict Jacka

1

It was a slow day, so I was reading a book at my desk and seeing into the future.

There were only two customers in the shop. One was a student with scraggly hair and a nervous way of glancing over his shoulder. He was standing by the herb and powder rack and had decided what to buy ten minutes ago but was still working up the nerve to ask me about it. The other customer was a kid wearing a Linkin Park T-shirt who’d picked out a crystal ball but wasn’t going to bring it to the counter until the other guy had left.

The kid had come on a bicycle, and in fifteen minutes a traffic warden was going to come by and ticket him for locking his bike to the railings. After that I was going to get a call I didn’t want to be disturbed for, so I set my paperback down on my desk and looked at the student. ‘Anything I can help you with?’

He started and came over, glancing back at the kid and dropping his voice slightly. ‘Um, hey. Do you—?’

‘No. I don’t sell spellbooks.’

‘Not even—?’

‘No.’

‘Is there, um, any way I could check?’

‘The spell you’re thinking of isn’t going to do any harm. Just try it and then go talk to the girl and see what happens.’

The student stared at me. ‘You knew that just from these?’

I hadn’t even been paying attention to the herbs in his hand, but that was as good an explanation as any. ‘Want a bag?’

He put verbena, myrrh and incense into the bag I gave him and paid for it while still giving me an awestruck look, then left. As soon as the door swung shut, the other kid came over and asked me the price for the second biggest crystal ball, trying to sound casual. I didn’t bother checking to see what he was going to use it for – about the only way you can hurt yourself with a crystal ball is by hitting yourself over the head with it, which is more than I can say for some of the things I sell. Once the kid had let himself out, hefting his paper bag, I got up, walked over and flipped the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED. Through the window, I saw the kid unlock his bike and ride off. About thirty seconds later a traffic warden walked by.

My shop is in a district in the north centre of London called Camden Town. There’s a spot where the canal, three bridges and two railway lines all meet and tangle together in a kind of urban reef-knot, and my street is right in the middle. The bridges and the canal do a good job of fencing the area in, making it into a kind of oasis in the middle of the city. Apart from the trains, it’s surprisingly quiet. I like to go up onto the roof sometimes and look around over the canal and the funny-shaped rooftops. Sometimes in the evenings and early mornings, when the traffic’s muted and the light’s faded, it feels almost like a gateway to another world.

The sign above my door says ‘Arcana Emporium’. Underneath is a smaller sign with some of the things I sell – implements, reagents, focus items, that sort of thing. You’d think it would be easier just to say ‘magic shop’, but I got sick of the endless stream of people asking for breakaway hoops and marked cards. Finally I worked out a deal with a stage magic store half a mile away, and now I keep a box of their business cards on the counter to hand out to anyone who comes in asking for the latest book by David Blaine. The kids go away happy, and I get some peace and quiet.

My name is Alex Verus. It’s not the name I was born with, but that’s another story. I’m a mage; a diviner. Some people call mages like me oracles, or seers, or probability mages if they want to be really wordy, and that’s fine too, just as long as they don’t call me a ‘fortune teller’. I’m not the only mage in the country, but as far as I know I’m the only one who runs a shop.

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