Alex Verus Novels, Books 1-4 (9780698175952)

BOOK: Alex Verus Novels, Books 1-4 (9780698175952)
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The Alex Verus Novels, Books 1-4
Benedict Jacka

Deadly Possibilities

The two of us stood facing each other across the grass. The wind had dropped, and the birds around had gone silent, sensing danger. I stood still, keeping my face blank and not letting myself show any sign of the sickening sensation you get when you’ve made a really bad mistake. I’d left my house without weapons or defences. Once upon a time I never would have dreamt of stepping outside without them, but months of safety had lulled me into dropping my guard.

Now I was paying for it. I was standing in front of a Dark mage, and if he decided to come at me, I was toast. The silence stretched out while I looked frantically into the future, trying to see what would happen. “I guess we haven’t been introduced,” I said at last, keeping my voice steady.

“You can call me Cinder.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Subtle.”

“Trying to be funny?”

“I don’t know, are you laughing?”

He grinned then. “Smart mouth.”

I didn’t answer, but as I looked at the futures branching out ahead of us, I felt a chill.

f a t e d



Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author


Ace mass-market edition / March 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Benedict Jacka.

Excerpt from
copyright © 2012 by Benedict Jacka.

Cover photographs: London © Jonathan Chritchley / Trevillion; smoke © Thinkstock.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

Interior text design by Laura K. Corless.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

EISBN: 9781101560419


Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”


f a t e d

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

chapter 1

t 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 Tshirt 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—?”


“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
. Through the window, I saw the kid unlock his bike and ride off. About thirty seconds later a traffic warden walked by.

My shop’s 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 to just 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’s 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.

Mages like me aren’t common, but we aren’t as rare as you might think either. We look the same as anyone else, and if you passed one of us on the street, odds are you’d never know it. Only if you were very observant would you notice something a little off, a little strange, and by the time you took another look, we’d be gone. It’s another world, hidden within your own, and most of those who live in it don’t like visitors.

Those of us who
like visitors have to advertise, and it’s tricky to find a way of doing it that doesn’t make you sound crazy. The majority rely on word of mouth, though younger mages use the Internet. I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under “Wizard,” though that’s probably an urban legend. Me, I have my shop. Wiccans and pagans and New Agers are common enough nowadays that people accept the idea of a magic shop, or at least they understand that the weirdos have to buy their stuff from somewhere. Of course, they take for granted that it’s all a con and that the stuff in my shop is no more magical than an old pair of socks, and for the most part they’re right. But the stuff in my shop that isn’t magical is good camouflage for the stuff that is, like the thing sitting upstairs in a little blue lacquered cylinder that can grant any five wishes you ask. If
ever got out, I’d have much worse problems than the occasional snigger.

The futures had settled and the phone was going to ring in about thirty seconds. I settled down comfortably and, when the phone rang, let it go twice before picking up. “Hey.”

“Hi, Alex,” Luna’s voice said into my ear. “Are you busy?”

“Not even a little. How’s it going?”

“Can I ask a favour? I was going through a place in Clapham and found something. Can I bring it over?”

“Right now?”

“That’s not a problem, is it?”

“Not really. Is there a rush?”

“No. Well…” Luna hesitated. “This thing makes me a bit nervous. I’d feel better if it was with you.”

I didn’t even have to think about it. Like I said, it was a slow day. “You remember the way to the park?”

“The one near your shop?”

“I’ll meet you there. Where are you?”

“Still in Clapham. I’m just about to get on my bike.”

“So one and a half hours. You can make it before sunset if you hurry.”

“I think I
going to hurry. I’m not sure…” Luna’s voice trailed off, then firmed. “Okay. See you soon.”

She broke the connection. I held the phone in my hand, looking at the display. Luna works for me on a part-time basis, finding items for me to sell, though I don’t think she does it for the money. Either way, I couldn’t remember her ever being this nervous about one. It made me wonder exactly what she was carrying.

BOOK: Alex Verus Novels, Books 1-4 (9780698175952)
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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