Gradually Athellus’ hearing returned, though it was difficult to tell with his arms wrapped around his head. After a moment he risked looking upwards, waving a stray feather away from his face. The air stank of iodine and iron. Wherever she was, she was probably still bleeding.

The cries of pain from behind the Evinthei lines brought him swinging around with a start. Angry shouts now, too. Athellus slowly backed off, remembering other times facing hostile Evinthei soldiers.

Adree’s out there. Hurt, dying maybe.

Yes, and she had set a roadside bomb intended to kill Kaire. He was still woozy after the crash, but he remembered her shouting something about wanting them alive. There was only one reason why she would give the order to take Athellus alive—at least, only one reason her father and the rest of the Evinthei would accept, even if Adree had other plans—and he had no interest in a public execution.

They only had a few minutes. And there was Dax to deal with.

* * *

Robbes grasped the belt of Casseter’s corpse and heaved. Adree struggled to help him, gasping as the weight shifted. Casseter’s face hung over hers; through his eyelids she caught a glimpse of liquid, dead pupils, and then they were the eyes of Ryss, the Taugen oracle, gazing out of the seashell of her mind. All Evinthei works are just palace of leaves.

“Commander Aeslin! Are you all right?”

She tried to breathe but Ryss was still staring at her. Closing her eyes only made it worse.

“Robbes—” Her voice was a squeak.

“I’m here, Commander, just hold on.” With a grunt of effort he finally pulled Casseter’s body aside.

Freed, Adree gulped down clean, soft air, feeling like a crushed plastic bottle. “… Report.”

“The… anomaly has gone, I don’t know how or where. Sixty percent casualties at a guess. Commander, are you okay?”

“Are the two men there? West and Athellus Borden?”

“Yes. Borden did something to drive the anomaly away, but he’s alive.”

Light blew through her mind. Ryss’ black eyes were blotted out. “Then get me on my feet. And find my goddamn rifle!”

* * *

Despite being plastered down with water, Dax’s hair was still standing on end as Athellus raced up to him, shoving the Saius Blade back in its scabbard. “I’ll never know how you did that.“

Athellus went straight past him to the Green Warrior and wrenched the door open. “Learn fast. You’re going after her.”

“Me? How?”

“Follow the water. That’s where she’ll have gone.”

Dax felt himself going paler but kept his spine straight. “I—okay but wouldn’t it make more sense for you to go? She just—”

“I’ve got to keep us both alive.” Athellus vanished under the steering column for a second, then popped up again as the Warrior’s engine roared to life, his gun in hand. “Ad—The Evinthei are up to something, and if they’re taking pot shots at Kaire, I won’t be able to keep her off them again.”

Dax opened his mouth, then threw out all the words he wanted to say, settling for a nod. The fear and guilt were still there, but had been replaced by something more complex, and honest. It wasn’t about honour, not quite. It had more to do with that moment when he had stood on the edge of the bridge and leapt for the embrace of the icy water.

At least take his knife with you. If she really has turned, and you’re backed into a corner, you’ll stand some chance against her.

“You’ll be okay until I can find you?” Athellus asked, looking over his shoulder as he checked the magazine.

Dax blinked. “I—”

Something went tingk! off the Warrior’s chassis; an inch to the left and it would have buried itself in the massive tyre. Dax flinched as if electrified. Athellus looked up sharply, almost eagerly.

“Adree,” he breathed.

Then he seemed to remember Dax was there, shoving him away and pulling the door closed. “Run, I’ll draw them off. It’s me they want.”

“She tried to kill you!”

“She’s trying to blow out the tyres.” Athellus slammed the Warrior into gear and glanced over his shoulder as he threw the wheel over. Another shot scored the Warrior’s paintwork: tingk! “But I don’t think she’ll hit me. Not with you right there.” Suddenly Athellus’ voice was tight and cold. “I heard you after the blast. You made friends with the Evinthei, didn’t you? And Kaire paid for it.”

Stay calm. He might be armed, but he doesn’t want to kill you.

Dax stared at him. “Adree promised I wouldn’t have to die. You just walked out of the jaws of hell, but I’m still standing between them, remember?”

Athellus smiled, bitterly. “Time was I’d have put two rounds in your head. But Kaire needs you and Ember’s blood, I don’t want to kill another innocent man. Get going and help her. If we live through this, I’ll deal with you later.”

The Warrior pulled away in a rush of spray; Dax heard him gunning the engine as he drove straight for the Evinthei, gunfire from the driver’s window in their direction… then, at the last possible second, swung away down a side street. Dax heard a crash as the Warrior broke through a wall or through rubble; shouts followed him. Dax turned and, with the settling spray making him invisible, fled in the direction of the water’s flow.

 

 

 

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