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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 8

‘Sit,’ Mladin gestured expansively to the low couch set against the back wall. The couch was black, like every other damn thing in the room. Yasha was really beginning to get sick of the depressive aesthetics.

‘Do you need a torch to find things in here?’ he asked trying not to sink into the couch cushions. The only source of light came from a handful of coloured glass light fixtures stuck to the wall. Each light gave off a different coloured glow adding to his headache.

 ‘Your criticism of my décor is duly noted,’ Mladin replied drily, making a show of relaxing into the armchair pulled up to the couch.

There was a low glass coffee table between them. The only thing on it was a ceramic ashtray shaped like a winged insect. Little golden butterflies fluttered over the crushed butts and ashes. Yasha squinted at them. His head was really pounding now.

‘Can I get you a drink?’ Mladin offered, waving to the fancy wood and glass drinks cabinet that blended into the wall in the corner. ‘Or a cigarette? I’ve recently acquired a crate of genuine Banaborra Red Crowns.’

Yasha stared at him, incredulous. ‘Is that a serious question?’ He’d have to be out of his ever loving mind to accept anything from Mladin.

Mladin drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. A cloud of green, yellow and pink butterflies settled along his arm, opening and closing their wings in slow, rhythmic beats. Yasha found himself drawn to the movement and blinked hard.

Mladin was watching him intently when he focused on him again. ‘I don’t want to be your enemy, Yasha,’ he said sounding sincere.

 Yasha rubbed his forehead. ‘You sold me out,’ he said.

He was pretty sure he should be angrier about that. It was just difficult to think about it when Mladin’s body was suppurating with glowing magic insects and, Pit damn it, now the coffee table was covered in more of the creepy little bastards. He almost missed Mladin’s next words, distracted by the flapping horde.

 ‘You didn’t give me a choice. You left me out of the Moslany job.’ He shook his head. ‘You picked Torbin. A second rate practitioner, over me.’ Mladin sat forward, disturbing his vestment of insects, causing them to rise in the air in a beautiful, colourful cloud.

‘You know what that sort of snub does to someone in our line of work,’ Mladin pressed earnestly, as if he really, truly was trying to convince Yasha to see reason. ‘I had to retaliate.’

Yasha had to look away. The butterfly cloud was making his head spin. The colours lurid and too bright against the unrelenting darkness of the room. Sweat beaded along his hairline and he felt sick, almost woozy. He clenched his fingers into the arm of the couch in a death-knuckled grip.

‘There was a vote,’ he said. ‘The others voted for Torbin over you.’

Mladin was leaning so far forward he had to brace himself against the coffee table. ‘But not you?’ he asked like it mattered.

Yasha shook his head. It was hard to keep his thoughts straight in his head. ‘I could’ve overruled ‘em. I didn’t.’ He’d been more than happy to go along with the maturity rule despite the fact that he knew Mladin was the better choice for the job.

A caustic smile touched Mladin’s lips. ‘You’ve never liked me very much.’  

The butterflies were advancing. Yasha pushed back into the couch as a cloud of them landed on the cushion next to him. More butterflies filled the air above his head.

‘What does that matter?’ Yasha asked, most of attention on the insects buzzing around him.

Mladin sighed, the sound rippling like silk between them. ‘We could do great work together,’ he said. Yasha turned back to him, something in his voice sending a jolt down his spine. Butterflies whirled around Mladin's head like a spinning diadem. ‘We’re not like everyone else, Yasha,’ he pitched his voice low. ‘We were born for greater things.’

Yasha rubbed at his brow. Mladin’s voice…his everything... was playing with his head. ‘Ludo was right,’ he mumbled. ‘You’re working for the new guy aren’t you?’

Mladin’s expression had been ridiculously open, wide eyed and beseeching. Now it closed down like a steel trap. ‘What else has Ludo told you?’ he asked.

 ‘You really think I’m going to tell you?’ Yasha asked. ...

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