Into the indigo darkness, Dax wandered through the streets, the iron bar tucked into the crook of his elbow. The soles of his shoes crunched over fragments of shattered concrete underfoot.

It looked as if these buildings had once been apartment buildings or some sort of barracks, with what could have been enormous warehouses in between. Dax peered at the empty doorways of one or two of them, but all he could see in this light were vague, somewhat foreboding shadows and he didn’t want to go any closer, turning his attention instead to the street he was walking down and the stars overhead.

He had never been particularly interested in the night sky, but the strange constellations overhead were somehow the most disorientating thing about this place. The stars were larger, more luminous than they were at home. He found himself trying to make sense of them, looking for any familiar patterns, but it was a waste of time. They were as meaningless as the sea of headlights at evening rush hour – just as diffuse, just as numerous.

It didn’t help that they were sometimes hidden by the silhouetted ruins of the buildings – silhouettes that, tired as he was, seemed to change. It was difficult to tell in the dark, but he could have sworn that one ruin with a large, protruding girder was there one minute, and gone the next time he looked away. It might have just collapsed, he supposed. But he’d have heard something, surely? And everywhere was q -

His foot caught on the protruding edge of a broken paving stone. With a jerk he fell forwards and landed on the concrete, hard. The iron bar fell and rolled away.

Dax pushed himself up on the flat of his hands, muttering and swearing to himself. That’ll teach me to have my head in the air when I should be watching where I’m going. Idiot –

He started getting up, and froze. Two round amber eyes were shining in the darkness up ahead of him, watching.

His heart started hammering. For some reason he felt something, like the echo of a dream brushing by, and thought confusedly of a large beast with a luminous green gaze, of sarcasm and large teeth. But that thought was gone in a moment. Whatever was crouching in the darkness seemed to be small; clawed and taloned, staring up at him with a fearless cat’s glare.

Dax eyed it warily. There seemed to be some intelligence in those golden eyes.

“Hey,” he said to it. “Hello there.”

The eyes blinked. There was a rustle from the shadows as, on scaled feet, the creature came toward him, its head cocked on one side. It was about half Dax’s size, but it was toned and corded with muscle. He saw, with surprise, that it had what looked like streaks of paint or clay painted on its hide, and beads and feathers tied around its legs like decorations. Definitely just not an animal.

“I’m lost,” he went on, encouraged. “Look, I don’t know if you get a word I’m saying, but I could do with some help. My name is Dax, I –“

He stopped, realising that the creature was no longer looking at him. It was looking past his shoulder. Puzzled, he glanced back behind him to where, luminous as the stars overhead, at least half a dozen more eyes had opened.

 

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