Home > Cursed (Alex Verus #2)

Cursed (Alex Verus #2)
Benedict Jacka

Chapter 1

The old factory was the kind of place you only find in the very worst parts of big cities. Its bricks had once been red, but years of grime and pollution had darkened them to a brownish-grey. The outer wall was topped with ragged coils of razor wire. The wire was rusted and full of holes that hadn’t been repaired in years, as if the owners had decided that they couldn’t keep the burglars out but might at least be able to give them tetanus on the way in.

The rest of the dead-end street was dark, empty-looking buildings and shops hiding behind steel security gratings. The gratings were covered in graffiti and it was hard to tell whether the businesses locked behind them were still open or whether they’d been abandoned too. The only shop that looked in good shape carried the triple-sphere sign of a pawnbroker’s. Behind the shops and factory was the sort of council estate where the muggers use broken bottles because they can’t afford knives.

It was only eleven o’clock and the rest of London was filled with the sounds of the city, but on the street nothing moved. The road was empty except for parked cars. Half of them were missing wheels, windows, or both, and none would have looked out of place in a junkyard—except for the minivan parked at the top of the street. Its polished black paint melted into the shadows, with the orange glow from the streetlights picking out the silver hubcaps and lights along with the Mercedes symbol mounted on the grill. I rolled my eyes when I saw it. My senses told me there was no immediate danger but I stayed in the shadows of the alley and scanned the street for another minute before walking out towards the van.

Most of the streetlights were broken and the ones still working were patchy. I walked the street’s length cloaked in darkness, with only the occasional circle of orange piercing the gloom. Looking over my shoulder I could see the pillars of light of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers, visible over the rooftops. We were close to the river, even if I couldn’t see it, and as I walked I heard the mournful sound of a boat’s horn echoing off the water. Ragged clouds covered most of the sky, their cover blending with the glow of the streetlights to hide the stars.

As I reached the van one of the front windows slid down, and the street was quiet enough that I could hear the purr of the motor. I stopped by the door and looked at the man sitting inside. “Could you possibly have made it any more obvious?”

My name is Alex Verus. I’m a mage, a diviner. In mage terms I’m unaligned, which means I’m not affiliated with the Council (the main Light power block) but don’t count myself as a Dark mage either. Although I’m not part of the Council I do freelance jobs for them, like this one. The man in the passenger seat to whom I was talking was my contact with the Council, a mage named Talisid, and he gave me a patient nod. “Verus.”

“Good to see you.” I looked the van up and down. “Seriously, a Mercedes? Did you get it waxed, too?”

“If you’re concerned about stealth,” Talisid said, “perhaps we shouldn’t be talking in the open?”

Talisid is a man in his forties, shorter than average, with greying hair receding from a balding head. He always seems to be wearing the same understated business suit, but with a sort of steadiness that suggests he might be more than meets the eye. I’d met him in the spring, at a ball in Canary Wharf where he’d offered me a job. Things didn’t exactly go to plan, but Talisid had held up his end of the bargain, and when he’d asked for my help tonight I’d agreed. I stepped back and watched as the passengers piled out of the van. Talisid was first and following him was a tall, thin man with a long face like a greyhound, who gave me a nod. His name was Ilmarin, an air mage. I didn’t recognise the next three but I hadn’t expected to; their guns marked them as Council security.

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