Home > Chosen (Alex Verus #4)

Chosen (Alex Verus #4)
Benedict Jacka

Chapter 1

The night was warm and still. Through the open windows of my flat a gentle breeze blew, faint scents carrying on the air: tarmac, burnt rubber, the distant smell of a barbecue. The street outside was filled with the steady whisper of traffic, voices rising briefly above the background noise before fading into it again, and from two blocks over came the rhythmic thump of club music. A helicopter was prowling the skies above, tracking the wail of police sirens, and from time to time it would pass overhead in a clatter of rotors.

Inside, my flat was peaceful. Flies moved in lazy arcs under the light, and birds and animals looked quietly down from the pictures on the walls. The coffee table had been moved to the centre of the room; it was covered with cardboard hexes and wooden playing pieces, and four out of the five of us were sitting around it. Sonder and I were on chairs, Luna was sitting cross-legged on a beanbag, and Variam was at one end of the sofa, scowling down at his cards. At the other end of the sofa and a little way from the game was Anne, curled up with her legs tucked under her.

“Uh, Variam?” Sonder said. Sonder has messy black hair and glasses, and always seems to have a permanent air of scruffiness about him, as though he’s just slept in his clothes. “Your turn.”

Variam picked up the dice and threw them without looking. “Seven.”

Luna stretched to see. “That’s an eight, you idiot.”

Sonder perked up. “Awesome! Five ore, two grain.”

Variam ignored them both. “We should be practising,” he told me.

“You’ve been practising for weeks,” I said, waiting for Sonder to finish scooping cards before taking my own.

“It’s better than just sitting here.”

“Are you done?” Sonder asked Variam.

Variam nodded, and Sonder picked up the dice. “We could do more combat drills,” Variam said as Sonder made his roll.

“You don’t need more combat drills.”

“She does,” Variam said, pointing at Anne.

Luna looked at Variam in annoyance. “Your appointment tomorrow’s for a consultation, not a battle,” I said before Luna could start an argument. “She just wants to find out a bit about you. I’ll be surprised if she even asks you to cast a spell.”

Sonder hesitated, looking between us. “We might need to show her what we can do,” Variam said.

“Variam, she’s a little old lady,” I said. “She lives in a terraced house in Brondesbury. She is not going to want you to show her how well you can incinerate things.”

Variam sat back with an aggravated look. “Um,” Sonder said. “I’ll get a city and a development card.” He pushed the dice over to Luna. “Your turn.”

Luna waited for Sonder to withdraw his hand before picking up the dice and rolling them. To my mage’s sight Luna’s curse appeared as a silvery aura, twining around her limbs and body like living mist. Silver tendrils played over the dice as they bounced, and disappeared once the dice came to rest. “Seven,” Luna said with satisfaction. “Let’s see, I think the robber can go”—she picked up the black piece and traced a circle with it over the board—“there.” She set it down in the middle of Variam’s settlements and held out a hand, fingers extended. “Gimme.”

Variam woke up. “What?”

“Card, please.”

“Why are you going for me? They’re going to win!”

“Annoying you is more fun. Card, please.”

Variam scowled and held his cards out with poor grace. Luna took her time over picking one, making Variam’s scowl deepen before she plucked one out. The silver mist of her curse pulled in close to her fingers as she did. Luna’s curse brings bad luck, and it’s quite lethal; even a strand of that mist is dangerous, and skin-to-skin contact is deadly. Once upon a time Luna would never have been able to get so close to another person without putting them at risk, but she’s been training to control her curse for nearly a year and a half now and it’s paid off. The silver mist was layered in near to her skin, bright and dense, and only a few faint traces had spread to the playing pieces, leaving them bathed in tiny silver auras. The auras around the items weren’t a problem; her curse doesn’t do much to objects. Living creatures are another story.

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