Once past the barricades, the street was clear. They ran out of the shadows into a wide plaza with several roads leading off it. A tower block had collapsed nearby, strewing rubble into the plaza and taking out several smaller buildings. The remains of lampposts stood silent and dark in the gloom, some still upright, others bent at strange angles. Kaire slowed to a walk, then stopped, looking around her. “Damn.”

Dax had his hands on his knees, wheezing slightly. “What’s up?” he managed. “Lost?”

She shook her head in frustration. “I came from the other direction before. And I don’t know this area all that well.”

Dax spotted something and shone the torch towards it. “Hey. A signpost.”

“I don’t use road names,” she told him, looking around. “I just need to get orientated…”

Regardless, and grateful for the break, Dax went over to take a look. The signpost was battered and pitted. As he ran the torch beam over the fading letters, he noticed that someone had tied a leather thong onto it. Hanging from it was a collection of beads and feathers, like the ones the Earthborn had worn.

“Kaire,” he called over his shoulder, “what’s this?”

She glanced over, distracted from her study of the streets. “Just a boundary marker for the Earthborn.”

“Huh.” Dax turned back to the signpost, then frowned.

Something was different. But it took him a moment to work out what it was. Where there had been seven signs on the post, there were now five.

Maybe I miscounted.

The beads on the marker clicked gently, as it swung to and fro in the breeze.

I know I didn’t. There were seven.

He felt something; a faint shiver, like a presentiment of danger, and looked around at Kaire. She was standing in the middle of the plaza, no longer looking around. She was looking up at the sky, her eyes narrowed. Dax followed her gaze and saw, with shock, that clouds were boiling up overhead, blotting out the stars.

There was a faint tremor in the ground beneath his feet. And from somewhere close he could hear a strange sound coming closer, like the rustling of hundreds of tiny wings.

“Kaire –“

She turned to him. “Run! Take cover!”

From what? came to his lips, but he had a sudden terror of being around when the thing making that sound arrived. He turned and ran for the pile of rubble scattered across the plaza, as the noise rose to a roar. Two pillars had fallen akimbo, with enough space underneath to hide. He sprinted for it and slid underneath - a second later Kaire dived in behind him and pulled her cloak up to cover her face. From under the pillar, Dax could see one of the walls on the other side of the plaza. He had just enough time to see the brickwork shift from dark terracotta to a smeary slate blue colour before the noise became deafening and an unholy wind blasted through the plaza.

It was like a hurricane blowing past, a wind more powerful than any Dax had ever encountered. Carried along in it was what looked like scraps of metal, tyres, pieces of junk, blown hard enough to punch through anything standing in their way, rushing like a subway train. He felt fragments clip his knuckles with stinging force and tried to curl up tighter in his hole. Kaire drew her cloak up and he grabbed it gratefully, huddling underneath, waiting for the storm to pass.

 

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