Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“I said I wanted soy milk, not almond.”
The lady brandishes her mug at me like it’s a talisman of doom and she’s a banespeaker. I sigh. If only it were that simple.
Taking the mug, I tip the perfectly good coffee away, then make one while she cranes her neck to follow my every move.
“Sorry about that, madam.”
She glowers at me and waves her card across the paypoint.
“Vanny! Table thirty!”
Only Bernadino, my manager, calls me that. I look across the room and see I do indeed have a customer, one who clearly has an aversion to sunlight.
“Tanya! You’re Barista Two. Vanny, go serve.”
Providence has provided early release. I don an apron, grab a tray and terminal, then head for my section. It’s a long walk over to the furthest rear corner.
“Good afternoon,” I pause to size up my client, “madam. How can Woodhouse Café satisfy you today?”
When I first saw the name, I thought it a good omen. The gods must have laughed so hard.
I glance up from the terminal to meet violet eyes that sparkle like she’s about to launch balefire. Ancestral ghost – or instinct – prompts me to drop. Blue flames cascade past to splash against the ceiling. Screaming starts behind me. I come up off the floor, snatching the Bowie knife from my ankle sheath.
“Son of Talmir, you ran far.”
She’s on me fast, sure of a quick finish. The knife is through her midriff and protruding from her back before she realises she’s failed.
“Haste will end you, witchkin.”
“My name is Maleanu. Look for me in Argnad.”
“The Nether City will never know my name, witchkin.”
I push her off my blade, draw the sign of the Unrepentant over her body, then duck as something comes in fast and near-silent. I spin into my dodge and come out blade-first, much to the dismay of Maleanu’s guardian. He tries to twist out of the way but only succeeds in turning a stabbing into a gutting.
Dropping to the floor, I end his screams, then rise and make the sign of the Unrepentant over him as well.
“Sir! Please put the knife down, then get on your knees and put your hands on your head.”
I turn to see a young policeman, one shaking palm raised toward me, the other clutching a pepper spray.
“I’m sorry, officer, but I dare not do that.”
“You believe there could be more assailants?”
He glances nervously about. The distraction lets me move in and knock him out.
“My liege, if you wanted a new guise, you had only to ask.”
I look toward the fire exit. There’s a slight figure standing in the open doorway, portal generator in one hand, a smaller replica of my Bowie knife in the other. Her pointed ears quiver and lean toward the right.
“All sorts of attention coming, my liege.”
I shuck the apron and switch scabbard from ankle to belt as I walk across the room. I can see ruby peaks and blue trees beyond the doorway.
“Told you before, there’s no need for formality. So, where now?”
“Any reality with technology seems to harbour a few of their agents. Until the court are ready to return, I think it best we be nomads roaming pre-industrial worlds.”
I smile down at her.
“Time to go, Laurenti.”
She grins: “Very well, Vantris.”
The door swings shut.
Bernadino rushes across and opens the door. Seeing nothing but bins and alleyway, he carefully closes the door and resets the locking bar before fainting.