This is an original work of fiction and novella involving characters introduced in my draft novel The Gods’ Own, which can be found here and here under the penname Spikey44. All words, characters and concepts are mine (details about me the author can be found on this blog in the ‘about me’ section). Line drawn images are mine. Digital images are from Pixabay free image site.
Parts 1-29 of the story can be read on the blog.
‘I’m a bit disappointed,’ Ludo said peering at the slim seam of magic faintly glowing in the air under the spindly shadow of a few adolescent apple trees. ‘I was expecting more from a portal between realms.’
Alukov cocked his head. ‘Appearances can be deceptive,’ he said. ‘This is a very old portal. I’m not going to be able to seal it completely.’
Ludo whipped his head around. ‘I risked my life to get us here. I was treed to get us here. I ruined my clothes to get us here. And now you tell me you can’t close the damn thing. No,’ he jerked his hand through the air in a cutting motion. ‘That’s not good enough.’
Alukov rolled his eyes. ‘Calm down. I didn’t say I couldn’t close it. I said I couldn’t seal it permanently. Think of it like a ventilation shaft for magic. Sealing it means creating a magical bottleneck. No one wants that.’
Ludo narrowed his eyes. ‘I can’t tell if you’re making this up or not, but, for arguments sake, let’s say I believe you. What happens now?’
Alukov held out his left hand, palm up to the shimmering sliver of air that twinkled faintly iridescent in gloom. ‘I can’t seal this rift but I can seal the rifts it connects to on the Other Side. That should do the trick.’ Magic danced around his fingers like tendrils of green smoke, coiling to encircle his wrist. ‘You can come with me if you want,’ Alukov offered. ‘It’s probably safe.’
Ludo quirked a brow. ‘Probably?’
Alukov shrugged. ‘There is a small chance your lungs will explode or you’ll get stuck over there.’
Ludo sighed. ‘You could’ve just said you wanted to go alone. It’s not like I have a pressing urge to step through tears in reality. I like the one I live in just fine.’
‘I didn’t want you to feel excluded,’ Alukov shifted his stance, sparing him only a brief glance before focusing on the rift, which was now glowing a fetching chartreuse to match the magic licking its way up Alukov’s forearm.
A high-pitched whining noise came from the rift, like the chiming of a tuning fork, but much weirder. The metallic reek of magic in the air intensified.
Ludo took a step back, he could feel the pull of the Other Side. The anima thickening in the air until it pressed against his lungs with the force of pillow stuffed with sand. Ludo shielded his face with his arm, turning away from the light now filling the small copse.
‘Just remember, you owe me,’ he shouted to be heard over the whine of anima leaking through the rift. ‘You find anything useful over there I get half, got it?’
Alukov didn’t reply. There was an intense burst of greenish-tinged white light, fierce enough to dazzle and stun and a huge backwash of magic and displaced air that knocked Ludo over.
Ludo blinked back green afterimages to find Gambrische standing above him, extending a large-knuckled hand. ‘You are needed for the negotiations.’
Ludo stood. ‘Negotiations?’
The horned man nodded. ‘You must finish what you started. You have amused Varkarion; do not fail now.’
Amused was not the same as impressed, Ludo thought, but it was better than enraged, or offended, or even bored. ‘What does she want?’
‘Come and hear it for yourself.’
The wildr strode ahead, back toward the house. Ludo followed in his slope-shouldered wake.
Discussions had moved into the parlour, which had weathered the wyrm’s attack surprisingly well. It still had a ceiling and all its walls. The dark wood coffee table was upended and the cracked and crumbled remnants of a painted flower vase littered the carpet, but that was the only casualty. Ludo walked in to find Garnid Orgliov sitting on the loveseat her husband clasping her hand beside her, equal parts cowed and furious.
‘Your days are numbered, Silvandado,’ he croaked, round, flaccid features flushed with rage.
‘Numbered they might be,’ he replied flippantly, ‘but I happen to know its still a big number.’
He looked around the room. Irinoi sat in the wingback chair by the fireplace with his instrument on his lap, flanked by a trio of imposing looking wildr. One of them had so many teeth dangling from his dangerous overbite he couldn’t close his mouth and drooled onto the floor. Another had rather delicate fawn ears but arms as wide as tree trunks. Another hunkered on all fours, cord-like tail up and twitching in the air.
There were also a large number of imps of various breeds and sizes lurking at the periphery of the room, huddled in the corners, hanging from the floor lamp or skittering about the floor. He’d passed several house staff on his way inside, all of whom were in different degrees of recovery from their ordeal and some of whom had crowded the hallway to eavesdrop. The wyrm Ludo had noted, was asleep in the back courtyard. Some of the wildr were bathing it with buckets of water filled from the outside spigot.
The entire scene, inside and out, was bizarrely domestic. A picture of bucolic contentment; just a possessed woman, her gangster husband, his bewildered and outwitted heavies and their menagerie of assorted monsters. Almost cliche, really.
There was nowhere to sit, so Ludo went to stand beside the upended coffee table, momentarily distracted to find someone had laid out a plate of bread and butter slices and placed them on the underside of table. He blinked, wondering who in their right mind would bring buttered bread but no tea.
‘I understand you would like to make a request of me,’ he said to Garnid Orgliov, looking into her very human blue eyes. There was no hint of the seraph Varkarion in her body language and the lack of glowing yellow eyes was a clear giveaway that the seraph had sunk back into whatever subconscious abyss she lurked in when not in control. No wonder Orgliov felt brave enough to hold her hand.
‘The imp tourneys must continue,’ she told him. He’d expected the real Garnid to be a timid woman for some reason, perhaps because she looked so tortured, but she certainly didn’t sound timid. She squeezed her husband’s hand. ‘And the wyrm must stay with me.’
Immediately irinoi brayed an objection. Ludo waved his hand for silence. ‘The wyrm needs the wetlands, madam,’ Ludo replied calmly. ‘However, if your husband agrees to reinstate the original deal he had with Irinoi’s clan –with a generous increase in payment for the inconvenience he’s caused,’ –he added smoothly spotting the swift signalling Gramische sent his way, ‘then I see no reason why you and your deified tagalong can’t have access rights to the wyrm.’
Orgliov looked sour. ‘What about the duke?’ he grumbled. ‘He’ll never allow it.’
Ludo smirked. ‘That’s your problem.’
Garnid pivoted to glare at her husband. ‘You promised me more playmates, Fydor. You promised blood and death and the symphony of violence and pain. But all your deal with the duke has done is make everything worse. Do what the man says, or I won’t stop Her next time she tries to pluck your eyes out.’
Orgliov stared at Ludo eyes bulging, perhaps due to his wife’s threat or perhaps due to bad genes, it was hard to tell. ‘The duke will come for you too,’ he reminded Ludo.
‘He’s about to lose access to the Other Side,’ Ludo pointed out. ‘He’s going to have other problems. And that is an opportunity,’ he beamed, ‘for a pre-emptive strike against his minions while he’s distracted. I know you know who they are. Get your boys to take them out before he has time to come after you.’
Orgliov flexed his wide, thin-lipped mouth. ‘Some of them are well placed in the Voisera. I’d risk exposure.’
Ludo rolled his eyes. ‘You’d risk nothing,’ he scoffed. ‘Just tell your bosses they have traitors in the fold and reap the rewards for your initiative in taking them out. Pit damn it man,’ he exclaimed, ‘how did you get so high up in the Bloom in the first place?’
‘He’s right, Fydor,’ Garnid pressed. ‘You’ve gotten too comfortable. It’s been years since you killed anyone important.’ She complained, ‘I can barely see anything of that dashing cut throat I married. That man had dreams, ambition. Bloodlust. You’ve let it all go. And for what? A house in the country, playing second fiddle to a jumped-up phantom,’ she sneered. ‘You’ve gone soft, old man.’
‘I’ve been protecting you,’ Fydor objected. ‘Everything I’ve done has been for you.’
‘Everything you’ve done is to keep me caged,’ she snapped back. ‘Varkarion knows it and so do I.’
Ludo cleared his throat. ‘Not to interrupt, but I wasn’t finished.’ He fixed Orgliov with a hard look. ‘There is the matter of my compensation. You did try to kill me, plus digging you out of your hole deserves a reward, I think.’
‘You want me to waive the debt your brother owes,’ Orgliov sighed deeply.
‘No,’ Ludo retorted. ‘I expect you to waive the debt. I want you to pay me one hundred thousand shenka.’
Orgliov croaked loudly, mouth opening and closing. ‘I should kill you right now,’ he said when he could.
‘Perhaps, but you won’t. We all know you’ve lost your nerve, old man.’ Ludo buffed his nails on his jacket, or tried to, all he actually managed to do was send a crust of mud and tree bark scattering to the floor.
‘As I’m feeling generous, and because I want to see the duke put out of business in these parts. I’ll offer you a deal. I happen to be Djisi’s pre-eminent technomancer. I’m offering to outfit your men with my tech –for a small rental fee — to aid you in your campaign.’
Orgliov sat back against the loveseat. His expression had shifted from flushed outrage to a wary calculation. ‘I know your reputation,’ he admitted. ‘And you did defeat my security at the warehouse. I’ll offer a counter offer. You provide my men with tech for free and I’ll ensure they protect you from the duke.’
Ludo cocked his head. He had intended to extort Alukov for protection; the scion did seem to know the most about the Pit Lord, but it didn’t hurt to have an extra layer of protection. ‘Extend that protection to my sister and her family and agree to pay me the hundred thousand and we have a deal,’ he said. ‘So long as the duke is still a threat,’ he added the caveat to be clear. ‘After that, you want my stuff you pay for it.’
There was a skitter of tiny claws across the wood and Ludo looked down to see Rolanda and Josefet tucking in to the bread and butter slices. Ludo rocked crossed his arms in thought.
‘One other thing,’ he said. ‘I want a stake in the imp fights. One percent of the door charge, and myself and Alukov will be checking in with Irinoi and his people to make sure the imps are being cared for properly.’
Orgliov looked unimpressed. ‘I suppose you want me to stop extorting the breeders as well?’
Ludo snorted, ‘Of course not,’ he said, ‘If they’re stupid enough to buy insurance from you, that’s their look out. But you will stop murdering imps.’
‘That was the duke’s doing,’ Orgliov grumbled. ‘He forced me to take his stock and his breeders, after he decimated my own.’
Ludo hummed in appreciation, pleased that the final mystery had been solved. He never had understood why Orgliov would undermine his own racket, by taking out imps. That the Duke of Bones had been behind the exploding imps so he could leverage Orgliov did make a lot more sense.
‘No human murder matches,’ he said, ‘unless they’re the duke’s men, in which case, have at it.’
Orgliov glanced over to his wife. ‘Garja, is that alright?’
Garnid Orgliov sighed, slumping sulkily into the cushions. ‘Very well. The men you found were poor sport, anyway.’
‘Excellent,’ Ludo clapped his hands together, already considering all the things he could do with an extra fifty thousand shenka and Alukov’s promised windfall of aurite crystals, as well as round the clock Voisera protection and the prospect of lifelong leverage against the Voisera’s Djisi commander. His future in the magical underground was all but assured and all it had cost him was two suits, two pairs of imported shoes, a portion of his sanity and a few minor knocks to his dignity.
He looked around the room, taking in the assorted wildr, the Orgliov’s and various human and a imp onlookers. Yes, he rather thought things had gone rather well. He’d ascended to a new level of prominence in the magical world, faced off against real powers and come out of it richer, which was always the goal.
Bending down to scoop Josefet and Rolanda up in his arms, Ludo beamed. ‘What do you say to sketching out a contract so we can put this caper to bed, eh?’