Dax vaguely remembered the tunnel under the Chapel of Silence, so he had some idea of what the sewers of Nones should look like, but what little he could make out in the dark seemed strange. Most of the tunnels had originally been built in grey brick, while the pipework was thick, rusting iron, but there were obvious renovations here and there—pipes torn out and replaced with a newer metal, some cut and reconnected at odd angles, others ripped free entirely. In places, entire swathes of wall had been covered in tiny white writing in an alphabet he didn’t recognise.

And then there were the machines. Dax knew Ancestral technology well enough by now to know the aesthetic when he saw it; several of them had been attached to the pipework in places, doing god knew what. He caught sight of one in an adjoining tunnel connected to two pylons standing in the water. Electricity was crackling between them, as if hoping to stun any fish in the water. Even exhausted as he was, he paused to examine a couple of the machines as he passed, seeing at once that they were well-maintained and cared for. Someone down here, besides him, knew this technology well.

The music. The music. If there was a song, there had to be singers.

Something up ahead caught his eye, something bright in the gloom. Dax hurried forward and saw a set of rungs descending in the dank water below. The railing above had a sharp edge—a burr, maybe, or a broken rivet—and a piece of red cloth was caught on it. Dax pulled it free, rubbing it between his fingers. He knew the colour, and the jacket it had come from.

“Athellus,” he murmured.

There was a shuffle of footsteps from behind him. “Athellus?” Dax said hopefully, turning.

He saw a grey blur marked with darker grey blurs, but nothing else. He didn’t even get a look at the weapon that cracked him across the head and laid him out on the catwalk. His consciousness dripped away into a deep, painful darkness.

 

* * *

“If we find out so much. A day at most.”

“Be optimistic. We—look, he’s coming about.”

“Finally. Dax? Can you hear me?”

Dax came back to himself, realising two things in quick succession: first, he had a monstrous headache—he was becoming a connoisseur of headaches by now—and second, he was warm and quite comfortable. He tried to sit up and saw he was in a small room with one bed. Dry grass or reeds were strewn on the floor, and some sort of glowing device was set in a small alcove in the wall, providing light and, for some reason, making a rhythmical dripping sound. Aside from that, the surroundings looked almost medieval, which was apt. The room had one steel door and no windows; it could be nothing but a cell.

“Alive.” Kaire was sitting on the edge of the bed next to him. She was dressed in a rough greyish shift and what looked like a pair of stained, ancient blue jeans. The scars on her face were violet shadows in the half-light. “Are you thirsty?”

He could only manage a croak, but nodded. She passed him a clay bowl of water and he drank deeply, savouring it. Athellus was across the room crouched on his haunches by the door. He was without his red jacket and, unsurprisingly, both his knife and his gun. He looked pale and—strangely for someone who had gone toe-to-toe with Kaire in all her horrific glory—very nervous.

Dax wiped his mouth and tried a few words. “… are you doing down here?”

“Trying to save you,” said Athellus. He looked around and shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“S’okay. Where—”

“We’re in a hell of a fix. That damned hyrdaderor’s wake washed us right into the river tunnels.” Athellus paused. “We’ve been captured by the Taugen.”

Through the pain it took Dax a moment to remember the name. Taugen. The Earthborn fanatics; the ones who lived underground and waged war on the Evinthei. “Not Evinthei,” he managed, gesturing around the cell at the three of them. “You’re not, any more...”

Athellus shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. To the Taugen, anyone human—” He glanced at Kaire, “—or human-looking, is the enemy. The Taugen worship the Guardians, they think humans are heretics. Like they’re blameless; they kill on sight.”

“But we’re alive,” said Dax.

“Yeah,” said Athellus. “For now. I’m guessing these bastards want something from us besides a ritual dismemberment.”

Kaire drew her knees up to her chest. “They took us when we came out of the water,” she said. “I wanted to fight. I wanted…”

Dax put a hand on her arm. She didn’t react, but didn’t pull away either.

Athellus sighed. “I’m hoping it won’t come to that. If I can get my knife back, I might be able to cut us a path, but none of us are in fighting shape.”

“Wait.” Dax drank from the bowl again to moisten his throat, trying to gather his sudden idea through the pain. “Taugen worship the Guardians. So show them Kaire. She’s their… um… “ All the ways of finishing the sentence faltered under Kaire’s blank blue stare. “She’s sort of a Guardian. Taugen could make her their queen or something.”

“Good plan,” Athellus replied. “Only, if we start saying she’s a Guardian, the Taugen probably won’t believe us, and we’ll be executed for heresy. Which, for the Taugen, warrants a lot worse than a quick swing of the blade. Trust me.”

“Kaire can show.” Dax looked at her. “Prove what you are...”

Kaire was slowly shaking her head. “Not so soon after… After. This time I might not come back.”

“And even if she showed them,” added Athellus, “and if the Taugen believed her, then they’d guess the two of us have dared to lay hands on one of Guardian blood—at one time or another—and we’d be executed for heresy anyway.”

Dax sank back. There was still something in that idea. But his head was hurting too badly for him to think clearly. When someone drew the bolts on the door back and pulled it open, for a moment he thought the clamour was coming from inside his skull.

Athellus rose to his feet and backed away; Kaire looked up. Standing in the doorway were five… people, or creatures that stood like people. They were grey-skinned with intricate dark markings on their bodies, long heads with large expressive eyes, and all heavily armed; weapons strapped to their wrists, or slung over their backs. Dax looked from one to the other. The Taugen were dressed differently, and their markings told them apart, but without those details Dax would have been hard-pushed to see any difference. Their faces were identical; their height and weight, the same.

One of the Taugen, with a spoke in a bark, some language Dax had never heard. He exchanged a look with Athellus, who looked at Kaire. She shrugged. “They want us to go with them.”

“Ask them why,” said Athellus.

Kaire spoke. The Taugen looked surprised—his face was expressive enough for that—and began asking something, but another, dressed in dark blue, chopped this off with a gesture. “They’re not here to answer our questions,” said Kaire as Dark Blue kept speaking. “We’ve already been judged. There’s only one piece of business outstanding before we’re executed. We have to go with them.”

“Do we go?” Dax asked quietly.

Athellus shook his head. “No weapons, and there’s an entire army of Taugen between us and the surface. I vote we go and look for opportunities on the way.”

Kaire nodded; she helped Dax to his feet and onto the cold floor, while Athellus took his other side. Together, they stepped out into the Taugen city.

 

 

 

 

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