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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 9
The Mad Grenadier

‘What in the Pit…‘ Mladin leapt to his feet, an ugly scowl twisting his features. He snapped his fingers and a host of butterflies gathered around his head, forming a protective halo.

             Varnah phased through the door. ‘We’re under attack.’

‘Who is it?’ Mladin demanded moving toward the door. Smoke had started to ooze underneath the crack. The smell of phantasma fuel seared Yasha’s nostrils. Was the building on fire?

Staggering up from the couch, his head clearer now Mladin was distracted, Yasha skirted the table unsteadily moving to the door. He’d missed Varnah’s answer, but whatever she’d said left had Mladin incensed. ‘Damn it,’ he snarled, ‘who let the bastard in?’

‘No one, he broke through the outer ward.’

Mladin’s eyes blazed, ‘How?’

‘I don’t know.’

Mladin growled,‘I don’t have time for this.’ He flung open the door.

A wave of smoke rolled in, but there was no wash of heat or flame, just the cold stink of phantasma. Varnah reared back, cowering away from the substance that was toxic to spirits.

 ‘Monsters,’ a man’s voice roared. ‘Go back to the Pit you came from!’

The bar was filled with low hanging smoke, thick enough Yasha couldn’t see the floor. The smoke was a rusty red colour and faintly iridescent, casting oil slick colours to ripple over the roiling surface. The man in the army coat Yasha had seen on the street earlier stood in the middle of the room, an uncorked wine bottle in his upraised hand. A steady stream of phantasma vapour poured from its open neck. He hurled the bottle across the room toward an grey cowering in the corner.

The grey screamed as the bottle passed though him to smash against the wall. Instantly the grey started to dissolve, his form melting like foam, frothing madly before fading to bright red embers and collapsing into nothing. The grey’s screams lingered on the air, an echo of magic and horror, even after the grey was gone.

‘Progasch!’ Mladin roared out the assailant’s name.

The man spun around. His eyes were wild and his face flushed. He’d watched the grey die with an avid look on his face that reminded Yasha was of Preacher Alianov. He half expected the man to Turn in front of him. His face was transfigured in feral hate.

‘Yaroslav,’ he growled, whipping another homemade phantasma grenade from underneath his coat and pitching it through the air in one smooth movement.

Yasha and Mladin ducked. The bottle hit the closed office door. Close to the floor, Yasha gagged on the smoke staggering to his feet and back toward the office door with a hand clamped to his mouth. Mladin leapt up, seemingly unaffected by the smoke but Yasha noticed that his butterflies were gone.

He and Progasch faced each other, the pair of them knee deep in phantasma and acting like they hadn’t noticed. Yasha couldn’t see Mladin’s face, but his body radiated tension from the wide spread of his legs to the way his right hand hovered close to his hip. Yasha squinted, was he armed?

Armed or not, Mladin made an attempt to talk the man down. ‘You’ll go away for this, Progasch. Assault, arson, forced entry. Any one of those will give you five years. Is that what you want, to spend the next fifteen years in jail?’

‘I want you to pay for what you’ve done,’ Progasch spat. He shoved back the folds of his long coat, revealing a thick belt loaded with more grenades. Who was this man? Yasha wondered. Whoever he was he was clearly insane.

‘Don’t make me shoot you, Progasch,’ Mladin’s voice snapped Yasha’s attention back to him. Smoothly he pulled a handgun from a holster attached to his belt. Yasha didn’t know the make, but one thing was clear from his stance alone, Mladin knew how to use it. ‘Your son came to me, looking for work.’ He told Progasch. ‘I didn’t know how far gone he was or I would never have employed. I don’t want addicts. They soil the merchandise.’

‘Liar!’ Progasch’s voice hit the rafters, ricocheting off the walls. Yasha realised he was crying. ‘You killed him. You killed my Leo. My beautiful boy.’ Progasch swayed on his feet, raising a shaking hand to his wet face.

Mladin kept the gun trained on him, fixed on centre mass. ‘He was an addict,’ he pressed voice level. ‘He was a dead man walking when he came here. That’s why I fired him.’

Progasch fumbled to release a fat bottomed bottle tied to his belt, Yasha could see it was filled with red glowing phantasma. ‘You ruined him. You…’

‘For Seraph’s sake! Don’t do this,’ Mladin hissed a slight tremor running along his arm, the only indication he was ready to the pull the trigger. ‘Progasch, I’m warning you…’

While they’d been talking Yasha had turned back to the office door. Phantasma interacted with anima, neutralising it. Varnah wouldn’t be able to phase through the office walls to get out. Yasha turned to open the office door. Varnah was the other side waiting, afraid but resigned.

‘I can’t leave,&rsq...

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