“Kaire?”

“What?”

“It’s dark as hell down here.”

“I can see okay.”

“Aren’t there any maintenance lights or anything?”

“It’s an abandoned tunnel. Why would it be lit?”

Splash. “And it’s wet too. At least, I hope that’s water -”

From behind him Athellus snapped a torch on, the same Dax had used during his first night, now equipped with fresh batteries. It lit up the inside of the tunnel, which was built of pale, crumbling bricks with narrow pipes running down overhead. A thin stream of water was trickling along the bottom of the tunnel, and there was the sound of dripping from somewhere else.

“Cosy,” remarked Dax.

“This way,” said Kaire, leading on.

There was a smell like ancient leaves and old steam works, combined with a ranker animal smell. Dax spotted that there were claw marks on some of the bricks, as if Earthborn had been tussling down here, but they were dark with age. If this was an Earthborn haunt, there were none haunting at the moment, which was a relief. Dax wasn’t really afraid of Earthborn, now he’d tangled with the Evinthei - and especially now he was walking between Athellus Borden and Kaire - but the thought of fighting in such close, cramped quarters gave him an unwelcome shiver.

 

 

He quickly lost track of time. They kept walking and walking, their progress marked only by a splash as Kaire walked through a deeper puddle – hissing at the cold water; she was still barefoot – or by a change in the network of pipes overhead. That smell like old leaves clung in Dax’s nose, enough to make him sneeze once or twice. Sometimes he saw cracks in the brickwork overhead, as if the buildings at ground level had come crashing down with enough force to shake the tunnel itself. He was glad to get away from those places: it was too easy to imagine a landslide coming down from overhead and trapping them down there.

At length they came to a junction and unanimously voted for a break. Dax loosened the laces on his boots and stuck his foot flat on one of the walls to stretch the muscles in his leg. If nothing else, he decided, all this walking must be good for him.

“Look at this.”

Athellus was shining his torch over one of the tunnels leading away from the junction. The light picked up something scratched right into the brickwork – from the looks of things, with a single enormous claw. It was some kind of eldritch graffiti, a big paragraph scored out in signs Dax didn’t know.

“Earthborn script,” said Kaire, folding her arms. “Well, well. I didn’t know the scum south of the river could actually read and write.”

“Another territory thing, maybe?” Dax wondered.

Kaire shook her head and read, aloud from the wall: “ ‘Everything has a soul, even those who, in their folly, reduce them to mere paradigms. Where one’s paradigm is a highly sophisticated vehicle of empathy, where one being can literally change another with its essential nature, a soul is transcendent of any such concerns...’ ”

“That’s it?” Athellus asked, with a laugh. “I’m not sure what worries me more, Earthborn or Earthborn with a philosophical turn of mind.”

Dax opened his mouth to whole-heartedly agree, but before he could, a noise filled the tunnels, an insistent noise that echoed off the walls and made his heart wrench in his chest. It seemed to be right up close.

Queeeep! Queeeep! Queeeep! Queeeep!

A loud clack cut through it as Athellus snapped the safety off his gun. Dax was discomfited to realise he hadn’t even seen Kaire’s partner draw his weapon. “Anybody see anything?”

The distraction was useful – now the surprise was gone, Dax felt something in his left pocket burring away and realised what it was. It was the cell phone, ringing loudly.

 

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