The lightning against the Tower was coming faster, almost at the rate of a heartbeat. There was no time for the energy to earth itself between bolts: the pylons of the Librais Tower were crackling continuously with it, making a crown of light between them. The light was bright and sizzling, almost as vivid as daylight.

“Is it supposed to be doing that?”

Both Dax and Athellus were sitting with their backs to the Tower, facing the fire. Dax had tried watching the lightning at first, but as it continued, the strobe effect it caused had brought on his migraine, the pain of it almost crippling. Now he was sitting with a blindfold on, which helped, but he could still catch light flickering beyond it, and knew the ordeal wasn’t over yet.

“I mean, does it usually do that when it gets an operator?”

“Not that I’ve heard of. But it’s been a long time since anyone…” Athellus let out a short laugh. “Okay, since anyone was stupid enough to go near it. Maybe this is some sort of cycling period, or…”

“Maybe it’s broken.”

“Considering what they do when they’re working properly, excuse me for not wanting to contemplate what a broken Zodiac Engine might do.”

There was the sound of water pouring, a plink, and Dax felt a cup pushed into his hands. “Here. Some analgesia, it should help with the headache.”

This man is suspicious of you. He’s already said that he could kill you if it was absolutely necessary. Do you really want to drink that?

Dax paused, then deliberately put it to his lips and drank. The liquid inside was as harsh-tasting as lemon juice and aspirin, but he made himself gulp it down before handing the cup back. “Thanks.”

After a moment Athellus said: “I wish I had an idea of how long this was going to take. I… I  don’t like sitting out in the open. Hanging around in the shadow of the Librais Tower… that’s not clever. Never mind the ‘weather’. I keep feeling like we’re being watched.”

Dax wished he could take the blindfold off to read the other man’s face. “Do me a favour – if you’re going to go scouting around, tell me first. Don’t just leave me sitting here.”

Another laugh from Athellus. “Oh, I’m not anxious to go wandering around. I’m staying right here until Kaire comes back.”

If she comes back.

Dax pressed his fingers against his temples. His headache was easing now, but it was still so bad that his thoughts seemed to echo, hardly his own any more. It wasn’t just the light, either; that sense of wrongness, of discordance, was bothering him too.

If it comes down to it, if we have to go in and rescue her… I don’t think I could do it. Never mind the fact my head is pounding like a battering ram. I don’t know what that message on the phone was all about, but I think that’s all the luck I was going to get.

He held out his hands towards the fire. His fingers were cold. As he rubbed them together in the warmth, he realised they were shaking too.

 

 

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