Flash…

He was back at the junction where he’d spoken with Kaire. The same gaping crater with water pouring into it. The same chill.

But the sky was very different. Lightning flashed and flickered across a glorious spectacle. Thigh-deep in water, Dax stared up longingly at a burning galaxy so close he could almost reach out and touch it. Each star’s points were razor-sharp, the core of the galaxy one solid heart of light. The constant flickers of lightning did nothing to dim its glory.

“Quite the sight.” A strangely indistinct figure was crouched by the edge of the crater, trailing a hand through the water. Dax recognised it at once: the figure he had seen in his other dream, about the jungle and the bridge and the two figures that guarded it. The one who had set him free. But this time he could tell the figure was male. His form was still wavering, his face shifting back and forth, but his presence was comforting and familiar.

Dax joined him at the crater’s edge, looking down at his own rippling reflection. This time the only whiteness in that dark water was the galaxy’s reflection, and the odd flicker of lightning. “Something bad happened to me…”

“And how,” said the shadowy man. He reached out and touched Dax’s forehead with his thumb. “But as they say, the enemy is ourselves. In your case, that’s less of an analogy.”

Dax drew away, staring up at that huge galaxy. Billions of worlds. “Sorry. I’m not going to let this tumour kill me.”

“Why not?”

Dax turned back to him. “What do you mean, ‘why not’? I’m only twenty-six.”

“People older and younger die every day.”

“But I… I don’t want to. I’ve learned how much bigger the world is. How much bigger all the worlds are. I don’t want to die…”

“You will anyway,” said the figure. “Everyone does. Everyone’s death is waiting for them somewhere. You know that.”

A small smile blossomed on the figure’s shifting features. “But that’s not what you believe in your heart. You believe that, somehow, you’re going to be the first human being who’ll live forever. Your mind can’t conceive of a world without you in it.” His voice softened. “No one can.”

Dax shivered as a colder wind began to blow, whipping up the water. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been dry and warm. Lightning flashed again.

“Besides, more’s dying than just you,” the figure told him. “You saw the beast don its armour again. Gather its weapons to destroy.” He folded his arms. “It has to be stopped first, whatever the cost. Otherwise the losses will be unfathomable.”

Overhead, the night sky began to grow imperceptibly darker. Dax watched in stunned horror as, one by one, the stars went out. The galaxy overhead dimmed in tiny red flares until it was the colour of blood. He opened his mouth to beg the figure to stop, to bring back that light, but no words came out. Instead, a stream of filthy-tasting water poured forth, rust particles catching between his teeth, to splash into the cool water they stood in.

Something stirred in the dark depths of the crater, as the reddish light of the galaxy incarnadined everything. With a dreamer’s certainty Dax knew that, whatever came out of that crater, to look on it meant death. Water still gushing from his mouth, he tried to scream or turn away, but he was frozen in place as the surface of the crater sank, then rushed upward in a liquid pillar high enough to eclipse the sky.

* * *

His stomach surged and he vomited again, choking. It hurt even to cough; his ribs were bruised and his lungs burned from holding his breath. He had been underwater a long time, buffeted and bounced to… somewhere.

Dax managed to raise his head. It was dark, but he could tell he was in a tunnel, floating in shoulder-high water. For a bleary moment he thought this was one of the tunnels in the London Underground, flooded by Rimegrim, but there were pipes, catwalks, the sound of flowing water. The current had carried him into a sewer, or something like it.

He only remembered the last few minutes as a hellish ride, that implacable current, darkness, air billowing out of his mouth. He shivered at the memory and mentally shoved it away; this drowning had been even more of a horror. The only reason he hadn’t died was a collapsed catwalk section that dipped into the water, clustered with debris, bits of wood, plastic and other rubbish. His arm had tangled in it as he was carried past, keeping him buoyed up. He was battered and his strength was gone. But he was alive.

Dax coughed again, spitting to try and clear his mouth, then slowly began pulling himself up onto the catwalk’s frame. He didn’t care if it would support him or not; after what he’d endured, being immersed in water was bringing him to the edge of panic. And what if Rimegrim could somehow follow him this far?

With the fibres of his muscles screaming, Dax managed to haul himself up onto the catwalk proper. He stretched out flat on his stomach on the cold metal, spent. Water trickled from his clothes and dripped into the flow beneath. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been warm and dry.

Knowing he should stay awake, not caring, Dax drifted back into sleep.

* * *

He woke with a start, but not from any dreams. Shivering and terribly thirsty, he had the sudden, full-body-aware knowledge that he was being watched. With an effort, he sat up, searching the darkness of the tunnel in both directions. No one was there.

Though someone was there. Close by. He knew it.

Dax hauled himself to his feet and realised, for the first time, that his backpack was gone. A victim of the flood, most likely. That meant no light, no water, and no whatever else useful that Athellus might have stashed in there. He was alone in a dark tunnel, with no idea which way to go to find Kaire and ‘Thel.

“Pull yourself together,” he said aloud, his voice cracking from the river water. “The phone saved you from Rimegrim, the rest is up to you.” He started walking along the catwalk, one hand on the railing to guide and steady himself. He had to go somewhere, and the catwalk had collapsed in the other direction. “Five steps to safety and to death. You’ve had all the death you need for one day.”

The muscles in his legs were cold, and complained, but the exercise began to warm him up, bringing him back to life. The further he walked, the more he listened as his ears took over for his eyes. He could hear water, of course, his own footsteps, and creaking from the pipes, but the were sounds he didn’t recognise. Electrical sounds, like a machine malfunctioning and sending arcs into the water, making him think of his dream and the constant lightning. Huge gears churning and grinding in the walls. Music…

Music?

He paused at a junction, listening. He hadn’t been mistaken. Somewhere close by, he could catch the strains of beautiful choral music. It was very faint, echoing from a tunnel to his left.

It had to be some hallucination from thirst, or a side effect of his tumour, but still, he stood entranced. It was more tenor than any choir he had ever heard, each voice weaving a strand in a complex harmony. The singers were speaking no language he could understand, but the song’s sad, glorious triumph spoke to the heart of him. There was loss, but it was the loss that sweetens whatever remains. Pride. Honour. Life.

When it abruptly faded his hand tightened on the catwalk’s railing for a moment. Then he turned left and began down that branch. If he had imagined it—he was lost anyway, so it didn’t matter which direction he went. But if there were people here, someone must be able to help him.

He felt his way along the catwalk, hoping for just one more note from that choir to guide him. But that sense of being watched deepened almost immediately. Someone was ahead, or off to his right on the opposite side of the tunnel. Or they were following him, matching their footsteps to his.

Hopefully, you’re desperate enough to take them. If you’re lucky, they might have water.

 

 

 

previous | archive | next