Pebbles skipping past, the strap of the backpack over one shoulder, Dax managed to drop down the wall onto the street level, still clinging on to the gun. He landed awkwardly, getting to his feet as Kaire came over to him at once.

“You all right?” she asked. “Did they hit you?”

“I’m fine,” he told her. “But you’re bleeding."

Kaire looked down at her arm: there was still a steady trickle of blood running down it, and she grimaced. “Hurts, but it could have been worse. A lot worse.”

Dax grinned, pleased despite everything that had happened. “I did good?”

“You did great,” Kaire replied, smiling broadly.

“Yeah,” came a third voice. Athellus was standing next to the body of the soldier Adree had killed, the rifle leaning against his shoulder. “Whoever you are, you just helped save my neck. So…th…”

His voice trailed off. The gun dropped, clattering, onto the concrete. He fell to his knees beside it, pressing a hand on the street.

Kaire went to him at once, peering at him anxiously. “Athellus?”

“I’m okay,” he managed, his head sinking forwards. Kaire rested him against her shoulder, cradling the back of his head.

Dax crouched next to him. “Is he all right?”

“He’s hurt,” said Kaire, sliding Athellus’ arm over her shoulders. “We just need to get him somewhere safe.”

“There’s somewhere safe around here?” Dax asked, not entirely joking.

“Come on. Give me a hand. They might be regrouping.”

Dax took the other side, and together they managed to get Athellus to his feet. As he stood, he stirred. “Wait – Kaire –“

“What is it?”

“The blade…Adree tossed it away somewhere…”

“You mean that knife she was playing with?” Dax asked.

“Please go and get it,” Athellus asked, his voice barely audible.

Letting Athellus lean on Kaire, Dax cast around, looking for the knife. Finally he spotted the dark scabbard amid the curls of smoke and picked it up. Curious, he slid the blade out and looked at it. It seemed ordinary enough to him, but the flat of the blade had strange swirls and arabesques on it, in a paler metal. Almost as if –

“Dax, we need to go!”

“Right, okay.” He stuck the knife in the side of his jeans and let Athellus lean on his shoulder again. “Where are we going?”

“Back through the compound and down the main avenue,” Kaire told him as they started walking. “We’ll find what we’re looking for down one of the side streets. Somewhere we can hole up for a while, work out our next move.”

“Is it a hospital or something?” Dax wanted to know, looking at Athellus’ pallor and the dark bruises on his face. “He doesn’t look good –“

Kaire shook her head. “Not a hospital. You’ll see when we get there. As for him –“ She looked at Athellus fondly. “He’ll be okay until then. He’ll survive.”

“You sure?”

Her eyes darkened, and when she spoke, her voice was softer. “We’re banru. It’s what we do.”

Slowly, the three of them walked on until, like the Evinthei, they had disappeared in the smoke and the night, leaving only the dead behind them.



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