Dax fought his way back from unconsciousness, struggling as he had struggled in the water. He came back from blood-smelling greyness to clear night air, and the feel of something cold on his face. He reacted at once, and grabbed the hand that was pressing a wet cloth against his cheek. His eyes ran up the arm to the face looking over him, and he was instantly jolted back in a confused version of his dream. Scything spines aimed right at his throat. Earthborn falling in rains of blood -

“Not human –“ he managed, trying to sit up and wincing as pain jabbed at his chest and in his temples. “Get away from me!”

The woman pulled her hand back. “I might not be human,” she said, sounding hurt, “but even I know that’s a poor way to thank someone who just saved your life.”

Dax released her wrist, feeling a stab of guilt. After all, he would have been dead if not for her intervention. “I’m – I’m sorry,” he said, confused. “I –“

She nodded, pouring some more water onto the cloth from a canteen. “Forget it. Keep still.” As she wiped at his face, cleaning off the blood, Dax took a closer look at her.

She was about his age, slender and fine featured, dressed in a tabard-cut top and long trousers – her feet were bare, even on the broken glass and fragments of concrete underfoot. Her cloak was folded on the ground next to her. Dax might have found her pretty, but instead she was striking. Against her pale skin, dark purplish markings stood out on the tops of her arms; more markings fanned out down the sides of her cheeks onto her neck. The hair that was softly cropped and tucked behind her ears was white – not grey, but pure white. And her eyes were the darkest shade of blue-grey Dax had ever seen. They were piercing, luminous, thoughtful.

But he remembered them being full of rage.

“I dreamed about you,” he said, quietly.

She stopped wiping. “What?”

“I dreamed about you,” Dax repeated, the words coming more rapidly. “I dreamed about you, about this place too. I had all these nightmares about ruined cities – about lightning, about crazy stuff, but guess what, it turns out it was all this tumour in my head making me see things, like that guy in the club, then I start hearing things too and now I think I’ve drowned in the river Thames and I have no idea what happened after that, like if this is heaven or hell or what, or whatever happens – I – “

The woman looked at him for a moment. “What’s heaven?”

Dax stared at her, and then suddenly burst out laughing. He had no idea why. He felt like he was on the edge of hysteria, but that laughter felt healthy. It felt right, especially when the strange woman smiled along with him.

 

 

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