The first thing he became aware of was the sound of water. There was a large gargoyle beside the front door, with gushing water running from its mouth into a large basin underneath, like a font. The water looked clean, endlessly pouring over the edges into a drain beneath.

Still helping Athellus along, Dax looked down the length of the Chapel. It was lined with pews, like a normal church, but towards the end of the aisle towards the altar, someone had broken up the pews and moved them around, covering them with blankets so they could function as beds. He couldn’t see much beyond the central aisle: light came from globes that were set into the supporting pillars, full of a dim, luminous gas. His eye was drawn up to the roof, which was elegantly arched and painted with scenes of the night sky.

At the end of the cathedral was a large window – the only stained glass window in the place, it seemed, set with fragments of ruby and sapphire glass. It framed the altar, or at least, where the altar should have been. Instead, as they drew closer, Dax saw that there were two statues there instead, life-sized ones of a man and a woman kneeling, holding on to each other. They were cast in iron, and didn’t look like religious statues.

“Here.” Kaire gently unlooped Athellus’ arm from around her shoulders and let him lie back on one of the beds. “Lie still. Dax, open up the backpack while I get some water.”

Shrugging the backpack off, Dax unzipped it and, not knowing where to start, just started taking things out of it. It was an educational chore. Someone’s red jacket had been folded and stuffed in there, but there were all manner of odd things inside, including square packets wrapped in brown paper, a couple of boxes of ammunition, several small snap-close boxes of powders and salves, two large, unmarked aerosol cans, a medical kit, some device that looked like a cross between a GPS and a compass, and, inexplicably, three knobbly pieces of root ginger.

Coming back from the font, Kaire mixed one of the powders with a cup of water and gave it to Athellus. He clearly made an effort to sit up long enough to drink it, then sat quietly while Dax and Kaire set to work. Dax saw quickly that Kaire got impatient when it came to injuries more serious than a few claw marks, and her impatience was making things worse: after a while, she concentrated on cleaning the wounds, while Dax found himself checking for broken ribs.

“Doesn’t seem to be anything broken, but from the looks of it, you’re going to be black and blue tomorrow,” he observed.

Athellus flinched as Dax checked the other side. “They aren’t shy about kicking a man when he’s down.”

The worst part, as far as Dax was concerned, was taking a look at Athellus’ bloodied nose. Athellus said it was broken, but Kaire didn’t agree. “It just looks swollen to me.”

“It feels broken. Plus that guy hit me in the face during the fight.”

It fell to Dax, who had steady hands, to settle the argument. He knew that fixing broken sound equipment and circuit boards was a lot trickier, but he didn’t like the idea of messing with someone’s face. Athellus had another drink and sat still while Dax used his fingertips to feel the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t sure just what he was feeling for, but it didn’t feel as if there was anything wrong. The bone underneath felt sound and straight.

“I think Kaire’s right – it’s just badly swollen.” Dax wiped his hands on a rag. “We should maybe put ice on it, if you’ve got any.”

“A cold cloth is about the best we can manage,” Kaire told him.

“What about you?” Athellus asked her. “Your arm’s still bleeding.”

Kaire rolled back her sleeve and Dax took a look at it. Near the purple markings on her upper arm, there were two deep furrows where she had been scored by gunfire. Close up, Dax could see that Kaire’s blood ran thicker and darker than he would have expected: it smelt strange as well. Ignoring that for now, he wiped the blood off and, under Kaire’s direction, smeared it with one of the salves. She gritted her teeth as he did it.

“Sorry. I’m trying not to hurt you.”

“I have a low pain threshold,” she explained, as he wound a bandage around the wound and tied it off, hoping he was doing it right. “One of the side effects to having great senses – your sense of touch is heightened as well. Everything hurts more.”

“So,” said Athellus, rubbing at his eyes, “what’s the plan? Sleep here tonight and head off in the morning?”

Kaire held two fingers together and poked him in the sternum. Athellus fell back against the blankets. “What, are you going to crawl on your hands and knees? You, partner, are not going anywhere until you’re stronger. A couple of days, at the very least.”

“The mission –“

Kaire gave Athellus a look. Dax was suddenly very grateful he wasn’t the one on the receiving end of it. “It can wait. We’re all tired and hungry – I’ll dig out some ration packs and then we can get some sleep.”

 

After they’d eaten, there was no more conversation – they were all, as Kaire had said, exhausted. Bundled under a pile of blankets, Dax found the ‘beds’ in the Chapel surprisingly comfortable. Though really, he would have happily slept out on a hillside in the pouring rain, if it meant the chance to get some rest. He was deeply weary – not surprising, he had just endured what must have been the longest night of his life. It was very pleasant just to lie down and close his eyes, though the statues at the end of the cathedral were drawing his attention for some reason.

Across the aisle, Kaire and Athellus were sleeping side by side, back-to-back. Maybe it’s a partnership thing. To watch each other’s backs, even when they’re asleep. Real devotion to duty. I’ll have to ask about this mission of theirs…tomorrow…

He snuggled deeper into the blankets. Everything could wait until tomorrow. Gradually, he drifted off to sleep.

 

 

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