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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 13
The worth of an Old Coat

Yasha watched the grey go, seeping back where they came from, before taking a deep cleansing breath and letting his figurative hackles drop. On his arm Mati folded her wings and rearranged her footing, raising one foot and then another in a disgruntled fidget.

             ‘I know,’ Yasha soothed her. ‘But it was the fastest way to avoid a fight, and I don’t have the time to wade through a bunch of greys who don’t know better.’

             Mati’s response was immediately and severe. It was her considered opinion that they should have killed more of them to establish dominance and set a precedent. The dead had grown unruly in his absence. They had devolved into mindless vermin. The rot needed to be rooted out. He was too soft, too tender-hearted, too cautious, more interested in keeping his secrets and preserving his comfort than doing the job he was born to do. If he’d been more aggressive in staking their claim to the city, she chided him, he’d never have gone to prison.

             ‘No one asked for your opinion,’ Yasha muttered and gave the mental command for her to return to his soul. Grudgingly Mati dematerialised, Yasha’s skin tingling as her presence tattooed his arm.

Rolling his shoulders he strode to the tower block entrance. The building looked deserted, the double doors chained with a heavy padlock, but in the Snacks appearances were deceptive. He rattled the door. ‘C’mon,’ he grumbled, ‘I know you know I’m here. Let me in.’

Nothing. Beyond the spider-web cracks in the glass doors he could see a dusty, unlit corridor. The off-white walls smeared with stains and scratches. The linoleum floor ripped and scuffed. At the far end of the corridor warning tape fluttered from a set of ruptured elevator doors. It looked like something very strong had peeled the doors apart with large clawed hands. There were no signs of life.

‘I don’t have time for this.’ Abruptly, Yasha lost what was left of his patience. He slammed his hands against the glass of the doors. Magic flared against his palm trying to repulse him, but he wasn’t in the mood to pretend the wards were strong enough to deter him. Concentrating he called upon the power in his soul, visualising where he wanted to go he gripped the edges of reality between his fingers, feeling the way the anima weft warped around him. Muscles in his arms straining he pulled, ripping a portal open right in front of the door.

He tumbled through but not into the derelict corridor. Instead he found himself in a large living room. Two wildr sprang up from the sofa, the bigger male dropping the television remote in his surprise. The female hissed at him revealing a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. Yasha ignored them, focusing on the trio gathered around the kitchenette. A grey was tethered to the counter island with magical energy ropes. It opened a distended maw and wailed when it saw him. One of the wildr, this one a woman with thick shoulders and heavy sideburns vaulted the counter to land in front of him.

Yasha held out his hands. ‘Sorry to interrupt,’ he said, ‘but I did knock. I’m here to see Dotcha. Is she in?’ He beamed at the gathered wildr, who looked caught between an animalistic urge to defend their territory and very human bafflement that he’d just appeared in the middle of their living room.

One of the men sported a very fetching cobra neck flap. His striated eyes were fixed on something just behind Yasha’s shoulder. Yasha glanced behind him to the glowing tear in the veil. ‘Oh, sorry, let me just…’ Yasha ran the fingers of his right hand over the tear, pinching the sides together as he ran his fingers up the length of the rip, a little like yanking up a zip. ‘There we go. All gone.’ He presented the room with his most winning smile.

 ‘Hello Yasha,’ Dotcha greeted him from a doorway leading deeper into the apartment. She was wearing a fetching yellow dress patterned with white flowers. Her upper torso filled the scoop neck and darted bodice fetchingly. The illusion of human femininity ended however below the hem of the skirt where the trailing length of her serpentine tail wriggled over the floor.

Dotcha pulled herself into the room with the aid of a frame she gripped in her hands and used as a brace as she pulled her lower serpentine body forward, slithering inch by slithering inch. Yasha waited politely for Dotcha to position herself in the centre of the room.

He nodded, a deep, almost bow. ‘Dotcha, it’s good to see you again.’

‘Is it?’ Dotcha looked him up and down. ‘I expected you sooner or later, but this is a surprise.’ She jerked her chin toward the sealed tear. ‘Not like you to go throwing your weight around,’ she eyed him appraisingly. ‘Prison&rsq...

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