Dax looked at the semi circle of eyes, now watching him thoughtfully, and then turned back to the decorated creature standing in front of him. It had an air of authority the others lacked. The pack leader.

And that same flickering echo of memory brought something else to mind: Earthborn.

Earthborn – like in that weird poem I dreamed about…

The leader flicked his tongue out, as if testing the air; a sly, hungry gesture. Dax’s attention snapped back to it. The creature had a mouthful of thick, jagged teeth. Risking another glance over his shoulder, Dax saw the rest of the pack slowly closing the circle behind him. He turned to face the leader again, meeting those intelligent eyes. But now he could guess what that intelligence was used for.

Never moving his eyes, he let his right hand slide slowly over the concrete, towards where the iron bar lay.

The leader flicked his tongue again and then said something – he spoke, but not in any human language. The words came out dark and gravely, clearly addressed to the rest of the pack behind Dax. They were followed by some kind of sniggering, hissing laughter, full of contempt. The whole pack joined in, as if this was one big joke.

Holding the beast’s gaze, Dax started grinning, as if he hadn’t heard anything. The leader noticed, and he stopped laughing. Gradually the other Earthborn fell silent.

Dax kept the grin on his face, knowing it was infuriating. Provoking them into doing something hasty might be to his –

There was a scuffle from behind him as one of the Earthborn moved. Without thinking, Dax turned to look – it was only a momentary turn, but enough to break the eye contact. The pack leader let out a howl and leapt at him, at the same moment Dax’s creeping hand closed on cold metal. Instinctively, Dax swung the iron bar up in an arc. He caught a flash of one furious eye and felt hot breath on his face, just before the crunch of impact.

The creature screamed with pain as it tumbled past him, crashing at the feet of the rest of the pack. They backed off as the leader managed to get up. Dax scrambled to his feet, holding the iron bar tightly.

“Yeah, not such easy meat after all!” he shouted. He was tired and scared, and the pressure was turning all that into bright, hard anger. “Come on!”

The leader snarled at him, turning to face him. In the dim starlight, through his hazy vision, Dax saw just how hard he’d hit the creature. The iron bar had smacked the Earthborn on the side of the face, maybe breaking its jaw, and cracking the carapace above it. Bloody saliva drooled from that side. The rest of the pack spread out around their wounded leader, clearly intent on backing it up. There seemed to be so many eyes…

Furious, flanked by two of the Earthborn, the leader began running at Dax again, no longer playing games. This time it was going for Dax’s throat. Weapon or not, furious or not, Dax watched it coming with real terror.

 

High above, balanced on the crumbling roof of one of the buildings, a cloaked figure, almost invisible in the darkness, crouched unseen against the stone, watching the attack below with keen interest.

 

 

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