Brisk conversations stopped as I passed by and people scrunched their noses in disgust. I glanced down. Sewer water trailed in my wake; I was drawing far too much attention. Squelching the need for sustenance, I needed a place to check the manuscript and ascertain if anything was salvageable. If that place came with a shower and clean, dry clothes, I’d do months’ worth of penance to the gods. With this many people around, the less conspicuous I appeared, the better. Saving this world had to wait until then.
I ducked inside a store front with leather apparel in the display window. I completely ignored the clerk behind the counter with spiked blue hair and metal piercings in his eyebrows, nose, lip, ears and, frankly, I didn’t want to know where else. His bored eyes hardly noticed the state of my clothing as I perused the store.
I was more utilitarian when it came to clothes. They served a function but little else. I never much saw the point in it. Shirts of every color hung on display with crosses and symbols emblazoned across the chest. Leather pants and jeans in shades ranging from black to brown were stationed on round hanging units.
“Wot cha be wantin’?”
“Yes, I’ll take these.” I held up two pair of black jeans. “Two of those.” I pointed toward some gray shirts. “And that knee-length jacket behind the counter.”
The army green jacket would help me blend in, be less noticeable and be long enough to hide weapons. I snagged a leather backpack off a shelf on my way. It might not hurt to have some dry socks too. On my path to the register, I loaded my arms with extra odds and ends.
The blue haired clerk rang up my purchases. Stars died and were reborn in the process.
“Four hun’red nin’y-’ix ’ounds luv.”
Still had no idea what he said. Didn’t matter, I wasn’t a paying customer anyway.
I stared into his eyes, captured his gaze. “I have already paid for these. I handed you the money. You remember, right?”
He nodded his head in the affirmative and entered the amount paid. The trance of Synaptic Pathways Diversion, or SPD as I called it, had completely pulled his stoned mind under. SPD was something all Cantati were skilled with—it had something to do with our DNA.
“Do you have a lavatory with a shower I can use?” Please, if the gods had any mercy in them, this place would have what I needed. I didn’t have time to search London for a damn bathroom.
I couldn’t stop my smile. He pasted a dopey grin on his face, unaware that I controlled his mind.
“Take me there, now.” I followed him off the sales floor through a door marked “private.” Treading through the storeroom overflowing with boxes of merchandise, he led me to a flight of stairs near the rear of the building. Up the narrow stairs, we entered living quarters, his or the store’s owner’s I presumed, and headed to the tiny sea-foam colored lavatory at the end.
“You will leave and not come back until your day is over. You will forget you saw me. Go.”
He stumbled back the way we’d tread. In case his SPD wore off, I closed and locked the door behind him. Laying my newly acquired clothing and backpack down, I pulled the manuscript from my waistband. It should be soaked, but it looked like it didn’t have a drop on it. I flipped through the dry pages. What manner of protection had the Coven placed upon it?
A single glance in the mirror at my black hair crusted with the gods knew what in it and I wasted little time setting myself right. Clean, dry, and dressed in my new clothes, I let myself out through the store’s rear door, backpack slung over my shoulder. My bag of sewer infested clothes, I tossed into the dumpster. Coming around the side of the building, I merged with other pedestrians. I needed a base of operations and most importantly, weapons. The streets were tinged with familiarity. The layout was identical, but that was where the similarities ended.
I caught men I passed by openly staring at my chest. This new bra had turned my boobs into a homing beacon for lecherous eyes. I yanked my coat over my chest, shielding myself. How the hell could I remain inconspicuous with their eyes trained on me?
Storefronts held Christmas displays. The Densare Council had really tried keeping the old traditions alive; mankind lost so much in the war. Wait a second, wasn’t Christmas three months away? Why did they put decorations out so early?
Passing a newsstand, I grabbed a London Daily News and checked the date typed on the front page. Fear clenched my chest and stopped me cold. The crowd pushed around my still form. Angry responses sputtered out of passersby. Their belligerent hollers dimmed. It couldn’t be December first…but that meant I had only three weeks until the Mutari happens.
I rubbed my eyes, certain my brain read the date incorrectly.
When I glance back down October would be written instead. My brain was still rattled from time travel, that’s all.
I stared a second time. Nope, it didn’t change, December first, plain as day. The paper slipped from my fingers.
We were so screwed.
Visit my website: http://www.maggiemaegallagher.com/