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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 7
The Butterfly Club

Reunited with Mati, Yasha felt rejuvenated. He dropped into the passenger seat and grinned at Ludo in the driver’s seat.

Ludo rolled his eyes and started the engine. ‘Go all right then, did it?’ he asked drily.

Yasha hummed in the affirmative. He was buzzing with newfound energy, tapping out an arrhythmic beat with his fingers on his thighs.

‘You still want to go to the club tonight?’ Ludo asked as he drove them eastward.

He thought about it. There was a part of him that knew it wasn’t a good idea. He was unprepared for a confrontation. The sensible, prudent thing to do was to call it a night and come up with a plan in the morning.

His skin itched as he imagined Ludo’s cramped and cluttered flat. The darkness of his small living room. The bolts on his front door. The confinement of four solid walls. It was hard to imagine going to sleep without the heavy hushed tread of warden feet on the cold stone floor outside. Waking to the sudden clatter of a baton whacked against bars, or Preacher’s anguished cries.

Yasha shook himself, dislodging the thoughts. ‘Yes,’ he said firmly. ‘I want to go to the club. Where is it anyway, the Snacks?’

Ludo shook his head. ‘Nah, Milos Street.’ 

Yasha consulted the city map in his mind and scoffed. ‘You’re splitting hairs. Milos Street runs into Miran-Kovahna.’

‘But the Butterfly is the other end of Milos; it’s inside the protection of the Third Ring.’

Yasha sighed. ‘Just barely.’

‘When you’re talking the Snacks, mate, just barely is enough.’

It was true. No sane person with options wanted to live in the Miran-Kovahna neighbourhood, colloquially known as the Snacks. Miran-Kovahna had the bad luck of being a magical hot spot. The ground was saturated in it and the air crackled with anima.

Supernatural calamities tended to happen in the Snacks without instigation. Corpses rose up to feast on grieving relatives, grey souls turned phantom in droves oozing through thin tenement walls to suck the souls out of sleeping residents, not to mention some of the odd creatures and hidden Other Siders who called the Snacks home.

The pylons along the Third Ring road that circled the city had no impact, because the magic wasn’t Other Side in origin. It was native weirdness and the Djisi forum had given up any attempt to clean up the neighbourhood, allowing supernatural survival of the fittest to run its course.

The Voisera had once had a strong presence in the Snacks, but even the Bloody Bloom had moved out to better neighbourhoods, leaving the smaller gangs to eke out what territory they could by hook and by crook. It made sense for the new boy in town to make his base in the Snacks. It was where magic liked to hide in plain sight.

The Butterfly club itself was a shabby, squat square building, one storey tall, wedged between an adult video rental and a Bhuvanti fast food restaurant. Rubbish cluttered the gutters and the road was pitted with potholes large enough to fill with rainwater. Graffiti tags decorated the walls of the boarded up department store opposite, declaring the territorial ranges of a couple of different wildr gangs.

A few suspect individuals loitered on the street. A wizened old man used a hook to draw down the heavy shutters on his barber shop. A middle-aged woman in a brown knee-length coat and an ugly felt hat hurried passed laden with canvas shopping bags, disturbingly normal except for the pair of greys who trailed in her wake, shackled to her by psychic energy tethers.

An older woman with matted yellow-white hair pushed a trolley laden with filthy bedding ahead of her in the direction of the Snacks. She grinned at Yasha, her stained teeth a little too long and sharp. There was blood on her chin and a pigeon feather stuck to the lapel of her overcoat. Yasha nodded respectfully as the old wildr trundled passed.

Ludo had told him he’d wait for him at Jarno’s, a pub on Chernow Avenue about fifteen minutes away on foot.

‘Best I not linger, mate. There’s people round here who won’t be pleased to see me.’

Yasha supposed he probably should be worried. Aside from his own history with the proprietor, if Ludo had caused that much ruckus those unhappy people might well take it out on him by association. But he didn’t care. He already knew it was stupid idea to come without a plan and he’d done it anyway. After so long inside he relished the chance to do something stupid and foolhardy.

He still scoped out the area. Walking down the opposite side of the street from the club. He paced down each narrow alley between buildings and peered into recessed doorways. He checked the height and sturdiness of the walls encircling empty lots and the sightlines from tenement windows. He clocked the people on the streets, dead and alive. He watched the sporadic traffic at the corner and eyed the group of greys at the bus shelter, squashed so close together it was impossible to tell how many there were.

Crossing the road he walked away from the club and cut down a side street that ran parallel to the back of the club. Extending his left arm he summoned Mati. ‘Scope out the back of the club,’ he instructed jerking his arm to make her fly.

Twilight had settled over the city like a sweet purple drape, a few brave stars poked out of the darkening sky above the last streaks of orange haze painting the edges of the building broken horizon. There was a charge to the air, the burnt tin reek of magic clogging his sinuses.

Mati came back to him and landed on his outstretched hand. Immediately he saw what she had seen. A walled ca...

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