Because of the cell phone. No – not just the cell phone. It was everything. He had been suffering hallucinations about this place, brought on by that thing in his head, maybe, but they had turned out to be true all the same. He had dreamed about the Tower and it had turned out to be real. He had seen Athellus suffering on Lailenus Street and he had been able to save him from the Evinthei – he had said some crazy shit after the battle was over, true, but the pressure on his brain was all part of that. And now he had got a message through the phone that had saved his life again, saved both him and Athellus from being crushed under the Librais' defence systems.

I’m here for a reason. And something… something is watching out for me. Something is giving me survival tips.

That led him back to the dream he had just had. Nones like a jungle – well, if there was ever a concrete jungle, Nones was most definitely it. Two familiar guardians at a bridge… he skipped over that. It was a bit too weird. What had really caught his attention was the door. A stone door held between a skull’s jaws, and someone’s scribble.

Here are the secrets…

Dax laughed, suddenly. Two weeks ago, his biggest problem had been getting Rick Halliwell to stop stalling and pony up for the three days Dax had spent doing a setup for his theatre company. Rick was a good guy, but when it came to accounting he suddenly turned into an amnesiac. He’d paid for everything except the labour, and tried to write that off with talk about a personal favour. Dax knew Rick as a friend of a friend; he had done the work partly as a goodwill gesture, but that didn’t mean he spent professional time for free. He’d been leaving Rick phone calls for a while but not really got anywhere, and had been on the verge of simply going back to the theatre and unhooking the setup until he got the balance paid.

That’s what my dad would have suggested, anyway… he of the thousand bright ideas …

Dax sat on the edge of the mattresses, holding his shirt in his hands. Outside the light of another world was showing up the dust in the air, the dust that had been shed, like the blood of the city, when it began going to ruin.

Under that light he allowed himself to think, for the first time in a while, about his family. Back home, across inestimable space and time, his parents thought he was still in London, still forgetting to call them but still basically okay, messing around with his friends, fixing things. They thought everything was normal.

Kaire could have Gated me home days ago. I could have seen them. Walked in the door, waved hello, and -

… and said… what?

All that terrible day, which felt so long ago now, walking back from the doctor's office after seeing that x-ray, he hadn’t even dared think of how to tell them he was sick. His father wouldn’t have wanted to believe it. That was his attitude to most things he didn’t want to hear – pretty much, Dax thought grimly, the way he’d reacted to Dax’s foray into music. He’d been in a band for a while, but he’d never thought he had the drive, or the talent, to make it go anywhere. After a while he’d realised that he enjoyed working with the technicians more than performing, and a genuine knack for it as well. His father had sometimes talked, hopefully, about “when you get back to-“ but less so lately. Dax suspected that either he’d realised Dax wasn’t interested in his opinions, or his mother had quietly spoken to him. The latter, he guessed. She knew the value of a word in the right place.

His mother was the real musical talent in the family, but she didn’t have the fame Dax’s father was more interested in; she played the piano and recorded for children’s shows, theatre productions, things like that. She’d named Dax after Jacques Ibert, the composer, and he'd never liked it. The name had plagued him his whole life until he’d found a short version he could live with. When he’d asked her why the hell she’d picked something like that, she had said, with a simple shrug, that it was because Ibert’s Divertissement made her laugh, so she’d given the composer’s name to her son because he made her happy too. His objections had stammered out after that, and he had settled for just shortening it.

Dax tried to imagine her reaction when he told her, “Mum, I’m ill. Mum, I have a brain tumour and I’m going to die.” But he couldn’t see her face. All he could see was her sitting at her piano, her hands resting on the keys, still, unable to make a single note.

I never saw them enough, never enough. I didn’t realise how valuable it can be, being normal. And now… how can I ever come back to them? Changed, like this?

No. He couldn’t let himself think like that.

He had come to Nones for a reason. He had been drawn here. He refused to believe all this confluence was for nothing. Something wanted him alive, wanted him here. The knowledge was a bright gold thread of hope. Maybe, if he could just walk it like a tightrope – one he could barely see or feel, he thought ironically, and where he couldn’t see what the two ends were tied to – maybe, just maybe, he could go back to normal. His parents, his friends need never know anything had ever been wrong, apart from him vanishing for a little while. They -

“Dax!”

He looked over to the sound of Athellus’ quiet call. Then he pulled his shirt over his head and stepped into his shoes, putting the last of his thoughts aside.

Some of the exterior wall had collapsed into a long slope of rubble, shoring up against some obstruction until there was a low shelf above the street. Athellus had put up some of the bricks into a spy nest, enough for them to hide behind. He was sitting behind it now, craning his head to see.

“Where?” Dax asked as he sat beside him.

“They just stopped again. Give it a minute.”

Dax settled back, and looked to his left. One of the upstairs windows had been blown out with only a few fragments of glass still hanging from the top of the frame. Sitting in the gap, her arms folded, was Kaire. With her white hair and pale clothes she was a sitting target for anyone down below who cared to glance up, but the thought of telling her to get down didn’t cross Dax’s mind. He wouldn’t have dared. With one exception Kaire had not spoken in four days, and her expression – that of grave thoughtfulness – had not changed much either.

More than once Dax had seen Athellus giving her concerned looks, even though they had had some sort of private powwow the morning after leaving the Librais. He wouldn’t have eavesdropped – tensions were running too high - but he hadn’t had the chance, anyway. They had deliberately spoken out in the open, away from Dax, while he watched from a distance. Kaire had talked with her head turned, looking into the middle distance; Athellus had stood with his arms folded, at one point gesturing angrily. Whatever he had heard from her, it had obviously been bothering him ever since.

But not enough to share it. Or give me a warning.

Dax sat watching her. He didn’t enjoy seeing Kaire fighting, or doing any of the weird things she seemed to do as a matter of course. But he liked this silent introspection even less.

Dax thought briefly of his dream again, thought of a particular fact that was starting to bother him more and more. And turned away from it, decisively.

Athellus tapped him on the arm with two fingers, then pointed down into the street. Dax leaned forward to see, glad for the distraction.

 

 

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