Ideas that were real. Being lost in another world. Drowning. Monsters.

And a companion who had gone from being a killing machine to a kind carer to a fierce protector, within the space of a few minutes. It was beyond Dax to make sense of it all just yet.

Fortunately he had plenty to keep him occupied. Kaire set a brisk pace, half running, but surefooted as a deer over the concrete despite her bare feet. She didn’t need the torch – she seemed to have excellent night vision and led the way, glancing back to check on him, her white hair luminous under the stars. He kept up with her, firmly telling his legs that they didn’t feel tired at all.

It was something more of an effort to tell his imagination that there were no more Earthborn lying in wait up ahead, preparing to get their revenge. The beam of the torch might stop him falling flat on his face again, but the light also made the shadows beyond look deeper.

Still, he kept coming back to how Kaire had scythed through the pack. It was an obscure comfort to have her with him: changeable as her mood was, she was clearly competent in this eerie place. That brought up a new question, which he asked while they paused to clear stacks of rusting barbed wire down one turning – what looked like the remnants of an old barricade.

“Listen,” Dax told her as they worked, “not that I’m complaining, but you seem to have things pretty much under control. I can’t really imagine why you would need my help.”

“We’re going to cut through one of the old compounds and surprise them at the end of Lailenus Street,” Kaire replied, tugging at a stubborn strand of wire. “There’s a big security gate there and I need you to open it for me. No combination or anything. You just go in the guard hut and press a few buttons.”

Dax ran his reply over in his head a few times. Finally he just put it as plainly as he could. “If it’s that simple, I don’t understand why you need me to do it.”

Kaire kept yanking at the wire. “You’re definitely not from around here, are you? Well, as you so perceptively pointed out, I - oh, screw it,” she snarled impatiently at the wire, as her right arm shifted into those spines. Up close Dax could see that they looked almost metallic, like steel, and there was a small tuft of steel-bright feathers near the elbow. As he watched, wide-eyed, one slash cut through the rusting wire as if it was spaghetti.

Kaire caught his eye and offered a sheepish smile, as her arm shifted back. “Like I was saying. I’m not human. So I can’t use anything that – well, any human artefacts. Human machines, in other words. Can’t read keypads, elevators just look like empty holes to me. Every time I hold a gun I drop it.”

“Really?” Dax folded his arms, smiling a little at this. “You fight like a kung-fu legend with a cutlery drawer, but you can’t even turn on a TV?"

She shrugged. “I could jump or cut through the gate, but it'll be our escape route and we’re going to have to get Athellus through it too, in a hurry. I don’t think the Evinthei are going to make it easy on us.”

Dax took hold of a new bundle of wire to help. She had cut some crucial strand; it was pulling through more easily. “These Evinthei people. You think they’re the ones that took him?”

Kaire was concentrating on clearing a path now, her mouth set in a line. “I know it. Trust me.”

“So…who are they, anyway?” Dax asked. “I think I saw the name on some old memorial back there.”

She still had that grim expression on her face as she kicked a bundle of wire aside. “The Evinthei are the self appointed ‘ruling body’ of Nones – a kind of clan-militia-corporation. They run the city.”

Dax looked up. One of the buildings above him was so badly degraded it looked like black lace against the night sky. “I don’t think much of the job they’re doing.”

“There’s only so much you can do with a bunch of ruins,” Kaire told him, wryly. “Across the river, it’s a different story. But the Evinthei regularly patrol around here.” Her voice dropped and softened. “They must have jumped Athellus when he went scouting. If I had only gone with him …”

She shook that away. “Forget it. We need to get a move on.”

Dax hauled the last of the wire aside. “Why? What’s the big hurry? Maybe they’re just –“

Kaire turned back to him, looking desperate. “Dax, I know this has all been a shock to you and things are confusing, but I don’t have time to answer endless questions right now, and this is why. The Evinthei consider Athellus to be a traitor. If they get him back to their territory, he’ll be publicly executed. Slowly. And the only way I can track him before that happens is by following this dream or vision or whatever that you had, which is questionable enough to begin with. Okay?”

Dax swallowed, shocked out of his flippancy.

“Can we please go now?” Kaire said, quietly.

Dax shook his head, bewildered. “Of – of course. Lead the way.”

 

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