The Family Progasch
‘Papa, it’s me, open up.’ Esfida hammered on her blue front door. Yasha stood on the path, looking up and down the street. There was a lot of activity. Residents returning home early from work in a flurry of panic, the distant wail of sirens and the drone of megaphone announcements carried on the breeze. A city wide lock down had been announced. Everyone had to lock themselves in their homes until six tomorrow morning.
Looking over the roofs of the houses and tower blocks, Yasha could just make out the skeletal shadow of the nearest pylon, a corona of greenish light limning the structure in eldritch energy. Every pylon in the city was active, sending out pulses of anima to disrupt any magic that wasn’t grounded in the form of wards. He’d only seen the pylons activate once before in his time in the city, during one of the city forum sanctioned wildr hunts. It hadn’t been pleasant then and it wasn’t now.
The anima vibrated at a frequency that rang in his ears, like tinnitus. Briefly, he worried for the greys he’d convinced to cover his and Esfida’s escape. He’d burned the last of his available magic giving them enough power to survive the disruptor blast but he didn’t know if it would protect them from the suppression field long enough to get to the Eyrie.
Thinking about the Krackzy Street greys led his thoughts to Vee. He had to hope she was safe. Either back at the Eyrie or at the club, Mladin’s wards enough to protect her from the pylons. He also worried about Ludo. He’d escaped the station but that didn’t mean he was safe. Yasha needed to call him. He had this nagging suspicion, some formless intuition that Ludo was in danger. There were a lot of thing about the ambush that didn’t make sense and that made him paranoid. He wouldn’t feel better until he knew Ludo was safe. He tapped his foot, fighting the irrational instinct to take off running in the direction of Ludo’s flat.
He’d never make it. Checkpoints and road blocks were springing up around the city like mushrooms in a mouldy outhouse. It was a small miracle they’d made it back here. Wet, torn and bedraggled they should have been stopped and questioned at the first roadblock, but no one had stopped them, in fact no one had noticed them at all.
Apparently, Esfida could make herself and anyone she touched invisible. A nifty trick, to be sure and a very difficult bit of magic to pull off. She’d held his hand the entire journey, magic oozing off her skin so thickly it numbed his forearm. Her eyes had glowed silver like a newly minted quable coin.
Yasha eyed Esfida appreciatively, her hair was tangled, she’d lost one of the epaulettes from her uniform jacket and her tights were laddered, but what he saw when he looked at her was power, leashed to skill. A particularly attractive combination. What was most interesting was that she’d managed to maintain a powerful glamour under a suppression field. Something very few practitioners could do.
At full energy, if he hadn’t drained his battery donating soul to various greys, Yasha could work magic under a suppression field. It was a gift of his Pit lord heritage. He derived his power from his life energy, not the anima, making him less dependent upon it. Esfida was not a Pit queen, but someone had obviously trained her to work her soul and Yasha wondered who? Her father? One thing was for sure, it wasn’t her seraph. All the scions he’d encountered had been weakened to the point of helplessness when cut off from the anima. That Esfida wasn’t just another mortal puppet pleased him. He found himself wanting to trust her and immediately distrusted the impulse.
The front door opened and the man he’d once thought of as the mad grenadier burst out. He swept Esfida off her feet, half furious embrace half hard shake. ‘I told you not to go,’ he said, each word punctuate by shivery grip on her skinny shoulders. ‘You could’ve been killed. I could’ve lost you.’
Esfida hugged her father but pulled back quickly. ‘I did it Papa,’ she said excitement in her voice. ‘I saved him.’ She turned to look at Yasha, drawing her father’s attention down on him too.
Papa Progasch fury kicked up a notch. ‘Are you mad?’ he barked, loud as a drill sergeant. ‘Why’d you bring him here?’
‘Hey,’ Yasha spoke up. ‘I’m the innocent party here.’
Papa Progasch looked like he had some choice words in response but Esfida jumped bodily in front of him, pressing her hands to his chest. ‘Papa, c’mon, let us in, before anyone sees us.’
The entrance hallway was narrow, dominated by a tall staircase and crowded with a telephone table, a heavy gilded mirror and a vase of silk flowers next to the front parlour to the left and a coat and umbrella by the door. Papa Progasch rounded on Yasha immediately. ‘What did you do to my daughter?’
‘Do? I didn’t do anything to her,’ Yasha snapped back. ‘I already told you, I had nothing to do with this. You and your daughter know more than I do, so how about you drop the intimidation and explain to me what you know.’ He and Progasch were nose to nose, Progasch’s hands clenched into tight fists, his chest rising and falling fast. Yasha was too tired to muster up much righteous anger of his own but he tried all the same.
‘Stop it, both of you.’ Esfida shoved her arms between their bodies and pushed. Yasha stepped back against the door. ‘Papa,’ Esfida said warningly and Papa Progasch’s shoulders slumped, the tension running from his muscles as his hands unclenched. ‘Good.’ Satisfied Esfida turned to Yasha. ‘The showers upstairs. I have clean clothes you can borrow. We’ll eat and then I’ll explain everything.’
‘I need to use your phone. I have to call Ludo.’
‘Alright,’ Esfida said, ‘but can’t it wait until after—‘
‘I need to know he’s safe.’
Esfida bit her lip. ‘Fine. I’ll go wash up first. Papa, there’s leftover dumpling stew in the fridge. It should only take fifteen minutes to heat up.’
Yasha watched with interest as Papa Progasch headed to the kitchen at the back of the house. ‘I guess I know who’s in charge around here.’
Esfida glared at him. ‘The phone is there.’ She pointed to the obviously visible telephone sitting on the table. ‘I suggest you make your call quick. We have a lot to discuss and not much time to do it.’
‘Really?’ Yasha asked, a world of scepticism in his tone. He didn’t much like her taking charge of him.
‘Yes.’ Esfida shot back challengingly. ‘Like you said, I know more than you do. So, if you want to catch up, you won’t waste time on silly posturing.’
Yasha grinned, despite himself. He held up his hands. ‘Alright. Alright. Whatever you say.’
It took three tries to connect to the operator; the switchboard was jammed with frantic citizens trying to phone home, or book hotel rooms before the lock down took effect, but when the operator put him through to Ludo’s number no one picked up. ‘I’m sorry sir,’ the harassed telephonist told him when he asked her to try again, ‘I can’t connect your call at this time.’
The buzz of empty air hummed in his ear, the noise almost drowned out by the thumping of his heart. Yasha stared sightlessly into the mirror, something like panic crawling up his throat. Why wouldn’t Ludo pick up? He had to be home. He wasn’t foolish enough to risk being caught in a lock down. What possible reason would stop him from answering his damn phone?