About an hour before dawn the rain started, blowing over the ruins in heavy, chilly gusts. It slicked the rubble, washing away dust and dirt in zigzagging flows down the streets, pouring down from an angry sky. The sound of water gushing from the mouth of the gargoyle by the Chapel’s main doors masked it for a while, but when a harsh gust rattled the broken tiles by the eastern façade, Dax came awake with a start.

Sitting up sent a sizzle of pain through his head over his left eye, and instinctively he reached out to his left hand side for the medication he kept on his bedside table. His hand swung through empty space, grazing the cold flagstone underneath, and he remembered where he was.

Oh yes. I almost drowned. Almost got eaten by monsters. Almost got shot. And I’m in some ‘other place’, some ruined city full of people with guns and people who hate each other…

People talk about ‘living the dream’. But I don’t think it should ever be taken this literally.

Pulling the blanket around him, he sat up. The globes were lit again, giving a touch of warmth to the interior in spite of the whistling wind. In daylight he could see the interior of the Chapel much more clearly. He had thought the walls were blank blocks of stone, but in fact he could make out carvings on them that ran around the interior at eye level, like a fresco.

As he stretched, standing up off the bed built from the pews and hearing his spine crack satisfyingly, Dax saw that one half of the bed opposite was empty. Kaire’s partner Athellus was still asleep, his head tucked into the crook of his arm. On the floor in the middle of the aisle was a packet of those flat bread-like biscuits they had eaten last night, a cup of water, and a note. Dax leaned over and picked it up. It was written in charcoal, the letters carefully blocked out, the hand of someone who didn’t usually have much time for writing:

Up in the bell tower?

Thoughtfully, Dax turned the note over in case there was anything written on the other side. I wonder if that’s got anything to do with what they were talking about last night. Better not to advertise that I heard them.

Sitting down on the end of his bed, he quietly tore open the packet and started munching. It was a meagre breakfast, but better than nothing. Not like anything I’d have at home. I could kill for a huge plate of sausages right now. With scrambled eggs and piles of toast.

Home…

He sighed. He’d spent days in the flat during his sick leave until he thought he would lose his mind, but he missed it now. Four walls and normalcy and his own bed. He’d just go in and kick off his shoes, get a can of Guinness from the fridge, and curl up in front of the TV, watching whatever was on – Tom and Jerry cartoons or a kung-fu movie, it wouldn’t matter. Then I’d phone Cal and…I’d…

The thought trailed off.

“Phone. Phone -”

He had completely forgotten what had happened on Lailenus Street. Casting around, he reached into his pocket for the cell phone and opened it up. The display indicated a missed call, but the details of the call weren’t available.

It fell out of the sky, for crying out loud! How could I be getting calls on this thing?

Thoughtfully, he began paging through the menus. Most of them seemed familiar – a phone book, call listings – but some were utterly bizarre. What were ‘exegesis filter settings’? Or ‘current enthalpy’, measured as a long green bar? Wherever this came from, I’m guessing the technology is a little out of my league. And yet it still didn’t record whoever was trying to call …

Finally he closed the phone and slid it back in his pocket. Maybe he could get something out of it later. Brushing crumbs off, he stood up, wandering down the Chapel, taking a look around.

The frescoes he had seen earlier were stylised, cut cleanly into the walls like the carvings on the interior of an ancient temple. They showed scenes of warriors kneeling down to kings, great coiling monsters devouring stars and giving birth to suns, people harvesting great fields, all the way down the walls to the altar at the end. The light outside was translucent and grey, but it still cast a soft radiance through the stained glass window, onto the statues before it. Dax hadn’t had a chance to look at them clearly before now – he went over for a better look.

They were made of dark iron, a man and a woman kneeling face to face, clinging onto each other. The woman was slight, almost elfin, whereas the man was broad-shouldered with a wide, calm face. Their eyes were squeezed shut. Dax leaned closer, intrigued.

The casting was exquisite. Even the woman’s eyelashes were…

He looked closer. Every eyelash was picked out. Her face was not perfectly smooth - there were distinct pores here and there. Dax even thought he could see individual strands of hair.

How do you cast that sort of detail in iron?

“Sad, aren't they?”

 

 

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