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from The Gods' Own by Alexis Cunningham

Copyright © 2019–2020 Alexis Cunningham

Chapter 20
The Mad Grenadier's Daughter

Yasha kicked back with his legs, scooting across the floor until he was under the kiosk desk. The shutter was down, sealing the small room. His savior slammed the door shut and shot under the desk with him. Her fingers threaded with his, her grip tight; blunt nails biting into the meat of his hand.

‘You’ll be safe in here,’ she told him, voice low and tense. Her long unbound hair formed a curtain over her face, combined with the dimly lit interior Yasha had trouble making out her features.

‘Do I know you?’ Yasha asked, looking from their clasped hands to her face and back again.

‘No, but I know you,’ the girl pushed her hair from her face with her free hand, turning a little so she could face him. ‘I’m Esfida Progasch,’ she said. ‘And I’m here to save your life.’

Well, that was good to know. An improvement over all the people invested in hunting him down, anyway. ‘Do you have a way out of here?’ he asked her.

 ‘No,’ his saviour admitted, crushing all his burgeoning hopes. ‘We’re going to have to wait them out.’

‘Wait it out?’ Yasha realised he was gaping like an idiot and stopped. ‘You know those things can go through walls, right?’

Esfida shook her head. ‘They don’t know we’re here.’

Yasha tensed. ‘They? You mean Mladin and Enid?’

She shook her head. ‘No, Lstimer. You don’t know him, he came in with Mladin.’

‘Is he…?’

‘A scion? Yes.’ Esfida looked him in the eye and Yasha noticed even in the gloom that her eyes were large and unusually lucent, somehow reflecting what little light there was without any hint of colour to her irises. ‘I’m one too,’ she said.

‘What?’ Yasha tried to pull his hand free. Esfida squeezed down harder.

‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘I can only shield you from Anshion’s power through touch. If you let go the butterflies will find you.’

 ‘Who are you?’ he demanded, angling his body so he could reach for the disruptor in his back pocket with his free hand.

Esfida skewered him with her too bright, too clear gaze. ‘Don’t do it. You’ll kill us both.’

Yasha’s breath caught in his throat, fingers freezing around the disruptor. ‘Why should I believe you?’

‘Haven’t you made the connection yet?’ she asked, sounding genuinely curious. ‘You met my Papa last night at the club.’

This time when his jaw unhinged Yasha didn’t bother to hide it. He just gaped. ‘You’re the mad grenadier’s daughter. Pit damn it. Ludo was right. It really wasn’t a coincidence.’

Esfida smiled. A sly, satisfied little smirk. ‘You don’t remember, but we’ve met before. I read your palm when I gave you the aurite key yesterday. I knew you’d go to the club. I sent Papa to protect you.’  

Yasha stilled. ‘You’re a seer,’ he said.

Whatever she planned to say in response was cut off by a thunderous roar, loud as an avalanche. Yasha tore his hands free reflexively to cover his ears, the noise so loud and so shocking his whole body felt like a struck tuning fork. He felt the vibration in his soul. Beside him Esfida gasped, groping for his hand even as she doubled up in pain.

‘Lstimer,’ she gritted out once the bellowing had stopped. ‘His seraph is Bakareon the bear.’

Yasha sucked in air through his teeth. ‘I can’t stay here. My friend is out there.’

‘Your friend got out,’ Esfida told him, grasping his arm to hold him in place. ‘He got to street level just before the doors were sealed.’

Around them the air suddenly felt charged, as if exposed to an unexpected heat source. Magic crackled around Yasha’s skin and he tasted burned tin at the back of his throat. His chest tightened, stomach swooping low toward his guts as the anima all around was seized by an invisible hand and pulled taut at the roots.

‘What the—‘ Yasha turned to Esfida. ‘What is that?’

Esfida’s eyes were wide. ‘Duck,’ she said grabbing the back of his head. They both threw themselves toward the floor, flattening out.

The suction pull reversed and Yasha felt the release of magic tear through the air as if he was standing in the middle of a wind tunnel, buffeted and blasted by gale force winds. The magic screamed by with a high tea kettle wail. The heat so fiercely intense he was sure he should be burning. There was an almighty crash as a body smashed through the shutter taking out the desk and most of outer wall of the kiosk. The body slammed through the back wall, propelled by a glowing beam of kindled magic that seared the air an intense, brutal gold colour. The beam kept going, skewering the body on the end of it and propelling it through the back office and through another wall into a sterile looking locker room before cutting out.

Drywall dust and splinters of desk raining down around their heads, Yasha grabbed Esfida’s hand and pulled her toward the door. They scrambled out on their hands and knees, keeping low to avoid making targets of themselves.

‘This wasn’t supposed to happen,’ Esfida muttered, suddenly sounding very unsure of herself. ‘I didn’t predict this. We should have been safe. Aenion, what do I do?’ Yasha only half heard her. He co...

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