There were several checkpoints on the road to Lyon’s Boulevard from the river. Each was staffed by Evinthei soldiers, chosen from Lailenus or Ai Nors family lines, judging by their colours; patrolling by threes and heavily armed. Athellus watched them from his vantage point in an old water tower.

The syrupy light of the afternoon was clearer here, away from the dust and rubble of Nones proper, and he had a good view of the towers of Lyon’s Boulevard too—silver, or red as cinnabar, glittering in the sun. The name was a misnomer. The Evinthei territory had spread out from one boulevard decades ago. But it was historic, and names were important.

He gazed at those towers, at the largest which housed the Evinthei headquarters and guarded the Archive far beneath. For Dax and Kaire, one of those buildings was a prison. For him, it was…

Home.

Once, because of his ancestors’ actions, the name ‘Borden’ had been engraved on stone within those walls. Because of him, it had been scratched out.

Athellus pulled himself away from the bright, high skyscrapers, and sat back on the floor of the water tower where his equipment was spread out neatly. It smelled musty enough to make him cough, but it was dry and safe here. Once it was dark he could move.

The relentless assault of the Ninth Guardian’s presence on his nervous system had begun to ease once he left the deadlands, though there was still a ringing in his ears. He had done his best to follow the Evinthei’s trail out, though their destination wasn’t exactly a mystery. The Evinthei would take Dax and Kaire back for imprisonment and interrogation, then assess how much of a security threat they were.

Dax might be okay; especially given that he had had prior contact with Adree. Kaire would not be okay, by any means. Adree would deem her too dangerous. If they were foolish—and, Athellus reflected sadly, his people were good at being foolish when it came to protecting themselves—the Evinthei would try to execute her. The result could make the potential misfire of the Generator Well look like a wet firecracker.

Kaire had been pushed right to the edge in the last few weeks. Between the Librais, the injuries from the car bomb that triggered her transformation, and the confusion Dax had caused, she was holding on to sanity by her fingertips. Ember’s mercy only knew what being near the Ninth Guardian had done to her; what memories it had woken.

Travelling with Kaire had been educational for Athellus in a number of ways, but by now he had a little insight into the mind of someone… well, some thing like her; the long-lived, the undying, whatever. Kaire had a long memory and nothing but time; her…her self, her paradigm, was simply larger, casting a longer shadow. Suffering a lot of change in a short period of time wasn’t something she was set up to cope with.

It took years, sometimes, just to get one new idea through her damn fool head. Now several of them had been hammered in at once.

Something really bad is going to happen, Athellus thought, and then shivered, though the night was warm. He reached for his jacket.

His plan to stop that something from happening wasn’t exactly fully-formed. Nor was it smart. Right now, all it had going was its simplicity: somehow get into Lyon’s Boulevard, and get his friends out without an enterprising young fellow putting a bullet in his head. And if they could finally disable the Generator Well facility itself while they were there, then so much the better.

Athellus was aware that he might only fulfil a few of those options. Frankly, he was terrified of those towers as much as he longed for them; every single person in Lyon’s Boulevard would earn endless honours for killing him. On his side, he had two advantages—a rather unconventional knowledge of the Boulevard’s high places and secret routes, from his assassination training, and whatever protection his banru gift could afford. Becoming more himself had fed off that training; Athellus couldn’t make himself invisible, but he could do the second-best thing, so long as he was quick and very careful.

He had a scratch dinner of what rations he had left, washed with a palmful of water, and curled up to sleep. For the first time in a long while, he dreamed.

…Of sound, first, a steady hissing and thrumming like bees, or a strange tribal music, which gradually flattens into the sound of endless rain.

Of a city, half-glimpsed… ruins, perhaps, or just the effect of a curtain of rain.

Of a sea swelling with its burden, of lights flickering on beneath the waves as something is birthed upward…

Athellus woke abruptly, feeling as if he had only been asleep for minutes. The afternoon light had turned into a flat grey dusk. Into it, he heard himself saying: “Merriad and Roscher didn’t send it away. They…”

Huh?

He waited, wiping clumsily at the sudden sweat on his forehead. Into the silence, he asked blearily inside his own head: What was that?

The People Upstairs didn’t answer. But an answer came anyway. Dax and Kaire. Something… something about rain, and a bad memory. And Merriad and Roscher, the banru from the Chapel of Silence who were forever trapped in iron, martyrs and vanquishers of the Scorpieth. They had… or hadn’t… something.

Athellus laid his head back on his backpack—serving as a makeshift pillow as it had for years—and fell straight back into sleep. His last thought was that it would be nice to have the warmth of Kaire at his back again.

* * *

When the two of them arrived back into Aeslin’s office—dripping with rainwater, arriving in a strange silver shivering of worlds and time—for a second Dax thought he had gone blind with the Gating. Then he saw faint stars outside the window, and the first sightings of moonlight; from a moon that was whole and not scattered across the sky like a handful of salt. Looking at that moon, shivering, he vowed to never take a normal sky for granted again.

“Here.” Aeslin passed him a thick towel from an office cupboard. “Gating into inclement weather and back can wreak havoc on the system. I’ll send for dry clothes.”

Dax scrubbed at his hair and then wrapped himself in the towel, still shivering. “The shock’s from more than the cold,” he said, half to himself.

“Harsh truths have their own reverberations,” Aeslin answered, taking out a towel for himself. “They have to live in us for a time until they die down.” He smiled, suddenly. “But you’re doing remarkably well. Though that should hardly be surprising.” He glanced at a picture on his desk; Dax couldn’t see it, though he suddenly wanted to. “Adree… ah, there is so much of Adrigal Lawley in her. More than she knows or likes to consider. I think a part of her always knew.”

Dax watched him cautiously. “Knew what?”

“History tends to move in cycles.” Aeslin tossed the towel over one chair. “The same conflicts rising, over the same needs or deeds… resolving in their own ways. In Nones, our past is so full of chaos that it often cannot be resolved in one generation. The death of the Ninth Guardian sent shockwaves down the years. Ormian Amtino was tainted by it; he brought chaos and death of his own with the destruction of the Archive, to be… resolved later.”

Aeslin sat heavily on one of his chairs, as if the effort of Gating had exhausted him. “And there is resolution. Order. As the old chaos returns, there are heroes who rise against it… sometimes falling, but always fighting. As we Evinthei often say: destroyed but not defeated. Who is to say what can come of it… when a hero’s great work is left undone?”

Dax came and knelt beside the arm of his chair. “Sir. Aeslin, please. Just give me a straight answer. What are you trying to tell me?”

The old man smiled his crinkled smile. “I should be the one kneeling,” he said. “Founder of the Entourage, of our very people. Whose blood flows in our veins.”

Shafts of moonlight were falling into the room. Dust motes danced.

“You fix the technology of the Ancestors without a moment’s training,” said Aeslin, his voice somehow making it past the rising roar in Dax’s ears. “You remember this city and its lapidtalii, from your dreams. You face Earthborn; stand against chaos, and for the creative principle. Adree sensed what you are, a little, stronger when she had a sample of your blood. As if what is Lawley in her remembers.”

“No,” said Dax. His fingers were gripping the arm of the chair by now. But Aeslin’s words were calling those memories back. And more. The dreams that had turned out not to be dreams. Some lingering antipathy towards Kaire in his subconscious, which didn’t seem to be his own; Dax, kill her!

Adree’s voice: You don’t know what you are!

The thick, hissing voice of Rimegrim: Indeed, Controller. It intrigued me to obey. It has been a long time for a human, yet here you stand again. Curiosity.

His own speech on Lailenus Street, when they triumphed over Adree’s forces, words that seemed to belong to another victory: Tell them all your tales of failure! Sing the songs that make us heroes! And don’t trouble us until the coming of a generation that’s forgotten your shame!

“When you came into this city,” said Aeslin, “where did you arrive? What was your first sight of Nones?”

Dax remembered, better than he wanted to now. He had woken at a small building on the outskirts of the city, littered with candles, with a stone statue in the middle of it; a warrior with long hair in a ponytail and calm eyes. “The… shrine,” he faltered. “To…”

“The shrine dedicated to Jayton Ember,” said Aeslin, gently. “That was where the currents of the worlds drew you.”

He could see those stone eyes as if he stood before them. A gaze he knew—that he knew, as if he had seen it living. Or in a mirror.

Aeslin placed a strong hand on Dax’s shoulder, as a king might have to a young knight. “I see Adrigal Lawley come again in my daughter,” he said. “And in you—a stranger, a man who should be my enemy—I see the impossible: that Jayton Ember has returned to us.”

Dax shivered again, harder this time. “That’s… that’s very different to…” He felt a fresh wetness on his face and wiped at it, thinking it was rain from his hair. It was worst around his eyes. “This isn’t possible, it…”

“On the contrary,” said Aeslin, “whatever you may believe… it is an explanation that fits the facts. Is it not?”

No! Dax screamed inside his head, raging against the very idea. No, it isn’t! This is ridiculous! Jayton Ember is dead!

Coolly, the part of himself that usually whispered dark thoughts in the middle of the night rose up, and answered right back: And you died. Or as close to it as a man can.

After a while, Dax managed: “I’d like to be alone for a while. This can’t… I need to think.”

“Of course,” nodded Aeslin, rising to his feet. “Whatever you need. After all… sir… you are home.”

 

 

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