The two banru exchanged a look. Dax waited, trying not to let the tension burning in him show. He could sense the same undercurrents there had been during the battle on Lailenus Street, when Kaire and Athellus had acted together in perfect unison, not needing to speak and barely needing to glance at each other. This was a closed circuit he wasn’t a part of, and he desperately needed their goodwill.

“Why do you think the Evinthei would help you?” Kaire asked, after a while. “Not to mention the fact that if they find out you’re with us, they’d shoot first and ask questions later –“

“All I want is a chance to ask them,” Dax said, beginning to feel desperate. Stark in his mind, unforgettable, was that image of that woman, Adree Aeslin, firing on one of her own men. But he had to ignore it; if he thought about it too much he wouldn’t be able to do this. “Just a chance…”

“It’ll be a slim chance they’d say yes,” Kaire said, doubtfully.

“But it’s there!” said Dax. “And it’s a better chance than I have at home! There, I’m as good as dead already.”

He sprang to his feet, agitated, trying to find the right words. “I have these dreams, I see and hear these things, I find out this tumour is going to kill me…and then I end up here for real. I even meet the people I’ve been seeing in these hallucinations. Don’t you think…maybe it could be a sign? That maybe I’m here because I can get cured here? I can’t just go home when I could have a real chance…a chance to live…” Dax sat back down again, slowly. “I don’t want to die going blind and deaf from the pain. I want to live and I think these people can help me. I have to try. And if you don’t let me come along, I’ll just follow you anyway. If you open a portal or whatever it is, I won’t go through it. I’ll refuse. That’s just how it is.”

He sat back and shut his eyes for a moment. His chest hurt with the effort of getting it all out at once. But it was done and said now.

Athellus sighed, but his eyes were smiling. “Well, he sounds pretty set on this stupid idea to me. I don’t think there’s any point in arguing with him.”

“Nope,” Kaire replied, reaching for another drink of water.

“Damn right,” said Dax, fiercely.

“But you need to listen to us now,” Athellus went on. “If you’re absolutely set on coming with us, there’s a few things we need to get straight first, and some of them are not pleasant. Though if you're that determined, it won't matter, right? Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Firstly, we are on a mission. That mission comes first, and we have to protect ourselves. If you come along now, you’ll be involved in that mission as well, and we can’t send you home or anywhere else until it’s done. The risks of the Evinthei getting hold of you and finding out – certain things about us, about what we do, would be too great. I can’t sugar coat this, so I just have to say it, Dax. We will take you out ourselves rather than let that happen.”

Dax swallowed. He had no doubt whatsoever that Athellus was serious. “I understand.”

“Secondly, we can’t afford dead weight. If you come along, you fight with us, forage with us, spy out the land with us. We’re going to need the help. I know it’s probably pointless to repeat this, given what you’ve already seen and heard, but I’m going to say it anyway. Nones is a very dangerous place. It has a lot of bad history, history that’s still very much a part of this city, and what I’ve told you is only the tip of the iceberg. So if we give you an order, follow it straight away. We might not have time to sit and explain why. It’s not a matter of power play. It’s simply to keep you alive."

Kaire was watching him. “With all that in mind, do you still want to come with us?”

Dax sat silently for several minutes. But finally he simply held up his hand, palm upwards. Athellus slapped a hand down onto it, and Kaire placed hers on top.

The pact was no less powerful for being unspoken.

 

 

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