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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 14
Homeward Bound

Yasha left the Snacks wondering if he’d learned anything valuable at all. All he seemed to be doing was cultivating an ever-multiplying number of questions.

What he did know was that by accident or design almost everyone he’d known on the streets before he went to prison was gone in one way or the other. Djuran had been his Voisera contact and while he wasn’t sorry that rat was dead it left him with no way to get information from the Bloom. Annika, Torbin were dead. Vee was changed so much she might as well be gone for good. Dotcha was obviously compromised. Even the dead in the city were different.

             He’d known when he went down that he’d be risking everything he’d built. That there was a good chance he’d have to start over from scratch when he was released. He’d reasoned at the time that what he’d built was already fundamentally compromised; whether he bolted from the city or was sent down, nothing he’d put in place would survive his absence. Still, he was finding that the difference between knowing something in a purely theoretical sense and living the consequences of his choices was as vast the difference between reading an anatomy text book and being slowly disembowelled. It was the difference between thought and feeling. Possibility and reality. Hope and desolation.

             The only person who seemed mostly untouched was Ludo and Yasha couldn’t help but think that his friend’s luck was important somehow. Everything tied together in some way. It wasn’t coincidence that Matriev’s rise to power was directly proportional to his fall, or that his victims happened to be Yasha’s closest allies. It couldn’t be. It was all too neat. The common denominator was Mladin, of course. But Yasha had the feeling this was bigger than him or Mladin. How much credence could he give Dotcha’s warning about the Vanguard? He wondered. It was obvious she wanted him to believe they were not only real but involved in this mess somehow, but he was sceptical. He couldn’t trust Dotcha. Her outburst had proved that. She was hiding something and she wanted him to know it, but why?

             He stopped abruptly, sensing the presence following him. ‘I thought I told you, I’m not prey.’ He turned to look over his shoulder at the grey, who shied back when he did.

             ‘Please,’ it said and there was something about this one that struck Yasha as familiar. The grey was female in form and a solid purple colour, no hint of phantom red. ‘Make another hole,’ she said. ‘I beg you.’

              ‘You’re the grey from last night,’ he said. ‘The one from the burned out factory. You can’t be hungry again. There was enough magic in that rift to feed you and your friends for a week.’

             ‘And we are grateful,’ the grey said quickly. ‘But there are more of us. Please. We are all so hungry.’

             Frustration bit at him. He didn’t have time for this. The last thing he was equipped for right now was taking on a bunch of needy greys. But, a little voice reminded him, a voice that for once was not Mati, this is what you came here for. The voice was his sense of duty, one he’d successfully managed to stifle for years but which had apparently decided now was as good as any a time to stage a comeback. He hadn’t come to Djisi with the purpose of becoming the city’s best thief, much as he’d like to pretend otherwise. He’d been sent here to do a very specific job. A job only he could do and the greys of the city were part of that job whether he liked it or not. One could even argue, the dead in Djisi were his job.

             ‘Fine,’ he gritted out. ‘I might be able to help you—if you and yours do something for me first.’

The grey was instantly wary. ‘Doing what?’ she asked.

Yasha remembered she’d been wary last night too, worried that he was going to hurt someone with his magic. He’d been impressed with her conscience then, now it grated on his nerves. ‘I don’t work on charity,’ he bit out. ‘This is strictly transactional. I give you shelter and food, you act as my eyes and ears.’

             ‘Oh, watching,’ the grey instantly relaxed. ‘That’s easy. We can do that.’ A touch of wryness entered her tone, ‘Watching is all we can do.’

             ‘We’ll see about that,’ Yasha muttered, mind already turning over the implications of what he was doing.

If he took this grey and her friends on, they’d gain power, become capable of much more than the average spirit. It had happened before. He’d had at least fifty greys owing him allegiance before he’d gone to prison. He’d sent most of them on to the Other Side before he started his stretch. The others, the ones who refused to pass on, well, he supposed they’d have faded by now, their decline sped up by withdrawal from his power. Yasha’s mood darkened another shade as he thought about it.

             ‘Look,’ he said more frustrated with himself than the grey. ‘I need you to find a grey woman called Varnah. She works at the Butterfly Club. Yes, I know,’ he said catching the way the grey shivered in the air as soon as he mentioned the club. &l...

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