That night, after a meal and evening services, Adree went walking alone.

She left the Evinthei headquarters and crossed the great avenue outside, under the pale and hollow lights hung in the streets. It was quiet; she heard a group of young men in a street close by, laughing and joking, and an old truck, salvaged and rebuilt, rattled past on its way, but aside from that she was alone. Old currents of thought in Nones carried the notion of it being dangerous outside after dark, no matter the protection in modern life.

She walked past the buildings of Lyon’s Boulevard, the skyscrapers that had survived everything thrown at them, from the Scorpieth’s attack to the changing tastes of the city fathers. They housed the industries that kept the Evinthei on their feet and focused on their job. Adree passed their entrances – lit for security – and passed on over the bridge spanning the canal, across to Lyon Park.

Her boots swished through the long grass as she left the path and walked up the hill. The park wasn’t lit, but it was not quite so dark that she couldn’t see her way. At the top was the imprint of what had once been a building, but it had been ruined for hundreds of years, long before even Ormian Amtino’s time, who had been before Jayton Ember. The record of what it had been was still lost; the structure could have been anything from a church to a lighthouse. Adree walked up to it, and settled on one of the ancient walls, cross-legged.

Under the stars – brighter now that the moon was beginning to wane – the Middle District was a packed mass of life, speckled with the yellow lights of habitation. Unlike the graceful buildings of Lyon’s Boulevard, the civilians and citizenry of Nones lived in small houses, took over what had once been warehouses or bunkers, even dwelled on shelters strung between higher places. They grew their food in public areas, bartered their services at the guard towers the Evinthei installed, fixed the big conductors that drew some of the local Gating energy. They were the city’s lifeblood, and the Evinthei existed to protect and aid them.

Adree looked down at the immense sweep of human life. Even the smooth hulk of the Generator Well, just visible to the north-west and speckled with construction scaffolding, couldn’t compare to that. They were proof people could live here, thrive here.

But…

Reluctantly, Adree turned from the calm and peaceful scene, that which her ancestors had so carefully built, and looked to the south. Past the towers of Lyon’s Boulevard, she could see the faint sparkle of the river. But between it and the northern quarter of Nones was a blank, shrouded in rising mist, a place where no building stood, nor ever would. For ten miles in every direction that place was barren, untouched, a wasteland of dying woodlands tangled like knotty fingers. No birds flew over it. No Earthborn claimed it. It was not forbidden to the Evinthei, not in words, because some horrors were passed down in currents deeper than blood. Against it, the Librais Tower was about as frightening as a scarecrow with its straw stuffing coming out. That place, was dead dry, silent, and full of terror.

Within it lies the thing that drove Ormian Amtino out of his mind…

Adree shuddered, but she did not turn away. That barrenness was unnatural beyond her comprehension, but it was more a part of Nones than any human building could ever be. What it held was the very heart and keystone of the city-state. All that the Ancestors and humans had built was scratching in the dirt by comparison. That mark could never be removed.

The litany chanted in her head as she looked at it, the fears that every Evinthei officer felt from time to time: Nones is haunted, Nones is cursed, no human should ever have set foot here and we should leave, all that can come of this place is ruin and death –

With an effort Adree summoned up the words of her ancestor, of that recording in the Archive, Jayton Ember speaking: “We who are born of Nones are born knowing what evil is. We fight against it all our lives. Our battlefield is against superstition and fear as much as it’s against fire and bullets. That is our curse, but it is also our strength.”

Oh my ancestor, destroyed but not defeated, fill my blood with steel and resolve –

“Adree?”

The voice startled her; normally she would have sensed the presence of her father long before he spoke, had she not been so preoccupied. But he was coming toward her now, wrapped in a heavy overcoat, one hand against his chest as it rose and fell.

 

 

 

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