Dax found it oddly affecting to leave the Chapel of Silence. Though originally it had given him the shivers, it had come to feel like a sanctuary for him too, even though he wasn’t 'banru' like the others. A shave and a long wash in the overflowing font and a change of clothes had done wonders for his mood as well. Kaire had found him some clean things to wear: a pair of jeans that were worn soft and a shirt that wasn’t torn. She’d also handed him a spare knapsack.

“I usually carry our stuff,” Athellus explained, while he was drawing his red jacket on. “Kaire’s our front line of attack, and she fights better without a backpack pulling her off balance. Plus…well, there’s other reasons, but that’s the main one. So, I’d appreciate…”

“It’s okay,” Dax said, pleased to be able to help. He had no intention of being a nuisance on this journey. “I’ll carry half. ”

As they packed the rest of their gear, he spent a long time looking thoughtfully at the statues of Merriad and Roscher. He wasn’t afraid of them any more, but there was something about their sad beauty that still moved him. He almost wished he could take a picture, but it would have been disrespectful. Instead, he settled for giving them a nod, then turned back to what he was doing.

 

With a chunk of rubble from the east façade, Athellus propped open the doors to the antechamber at the back of the Chapel, one that, in a more mundane world, might have been used to keep books or candles. Here, it was stocked with equipment, stocks that had clearly run low over the years. At the back was a large stack of crates that were a job to move, even empty. When Dax hauled away one of the last four at the bottom of the pile, a rag around his hands to protect them from splinters, he saw what looked like a trapdoor underneath.

“Cool!” He crouched down to look at it. It was made of heavy wood and barred with iron. “A secret passage?”

“Yeah.” Athellus wiped sweat off his forehead, pulling another crate out of the way. “Technically, it’s a service tunnel. If the Evinthei know we’re here, they’ll be in the local area looking for us. Besides, they still have serviceable aircraft they can use to drop soldiers in if they need to. This is better than climbing over broken ground, and it should be a decent short cut.”

“Provided we don’t run into any trouble,” Kaire pointed out.

“Like what trouble?” Dax asked. “Like, Earthborn kind of trouble?”

"Well, they do like tunnels.”

When the crates were moved, Dax and Athellus pulled on the heavy metal ring of the trapdoor and pulled it open, revealing a rusty ladder that ran down into the dark. Cool air, smelling faintly musty, wafted up. Kaire stuck her head down the hole, sniffing as if she could scent danger on the air. “Okay. It looks clear.”

She straightened up. “…Just one last thing.”

“What?” Dax asked, as he snapped the ties of the backpack across his stomach. “We forget something?”

Kaire reached around behind her and, like a magic trick, brought out a long strip of black cloth, snapping it taut between her hands. Athellus looked at her sharply. “Where’d you find that?”

“Around and about. Hold still.”

Dax watched while Athellus held out his left arm. Like a lady tying a favour onto a knight’s arm, Kaire flipped the material around the top of Athellus’s bicep and pulled it tight, knotting it up. “There.”

He caught her hand like a comrade. “Thanks.”

“I know,” she said, drawing her hand free. "We should get moving.” Lithe and nimble as a deer, she dropped her legs off the edge of the trapdoor and jumped down.

Dax, who had watched this little pantomime in an uncomprehending haze, just shook his head and started down the ladder. When he was halfway down, he heard Athellus step onto the ladder, then pull the trapdoor closed over them, binding them down in the dark.

 

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