When she was gone, Dax replaced the covers on the switches that he had removed, waited to be sure the glyphs were lit up, and flipped a couple of them experimentally. At first nothing happened, though he thought he heard a sound from down in the tunnel, but after another few tries, there was a grinding noise and the door began lowering, slowly as a trap from an Indiana Jones movie.

Dax smiled happily to himself, satisfied at a job well done. At least it had been more interesting than doing that setup for Rick Halliwell, even if there was no chance of getting paid this time either.

Then again, how did the Evinthei get paid? Did they…

…Who?

A wave of dizziness rushed up, gone almost as fast as it came. He put a hand against the wall to steady himself. The control panel in front of him swam in and out of his vision, briefly.

Rick Halliwell? Indiana Jones? Who are they?

The dizziness returned and was broken, shattered as the migraine lashed down through him like lightning and Dax fell to his knees, clutching at his head, tearing the hat off as if he could claw out the agony with his fingers. It had never been this bad, never. It was like being lobotomised with a red-hot poker. He wanted to scream - his chest hitched but there was no air in his lungs. And the noise would have torn him apart. Just the sound the door made as it slid down against the rock was unbearable, grating through his sinuses and down his nerves. Forget his cell phone, forget his stupid dreams - forget everything else. The only truth was that he had come to this place to die, and it was going to happen here in this dank and sunless place, he was going to die alone with the smell of the tunnel clinging to his clothes.

He had no idea how long he knelt there before the pain began to subside. As far as he was concerned it could have been hours. It was only when the pain in his knees from resting on the stone became more noticeable than his headache, that he realised the migraine was releasing its grip. Dax tried to get up but all his limbs were shaky. He settled for sprawling on his side, panting with relief. There was… something on the side of his face running down from his left eye, a discharge thicker than tears. He didn’t dare touch it, in case his fingertips came back red, and wiped it on his shoulder instead.

After a while he managed to sit up, and then used the rough wall to clamber to his feet. Sweat was making the uniform stick to him all over. His hand brushed something cool and glassy, and he looked down at the control panel he had helped to fix. He recoiled, as if he had brushed up against a snake - the sidelong glance he threw at it was marked with genuine fear. The toolkit was on the floor beside him, and he knew, almost dispassionately, that if he wanted to, he could strip that panel out of the wall, rewire or repair it, and put it back together. Easy. Fixing this piece of technology, which was so ancient and alien to him, would be about as difficult as rewiring a plug.

What’s happening to me?

Dax looked down at his hands. So sure and steady only a minute ago, when he was squeezing the liquid copper onto the wall, they were trembling as if he was suffering a seizure. He tucked them under his arms, shivering now despite the sweat, terrified. He wanted Kaire and Athellus here, wanted to talk to them right now. They were the only two who would understand. No, not just understand - they’d explain. There would be some explanation for this.

Yes. Yes. They’d know. They could do something. They could help.

He took a couple of steps, experimentally, and discovered that he was all right to walk. Leaving his hat on the ground behind him, long forgotten, he walked step by step to the door to the rest of the cellars. It was only when he opened the door that he heard the noise coming from overhead.

Gunfire. And people screaming.

“Vale?”

* * *

They had come out of the rubble in slinking shadows, using the rain as cover. They had come silently, using scent to find their way. One by one, or in groups, they led the Evinthei scouting parties out into the rubble, further and further from their mates, and then blitzed them, attacking from the rear, destroying their radios first before they could call for help. They did not stop to eat - they struck, leaving the soldiers unconscious or dying, and then moved on, waiting for the next wave, lying in wait.

They had the advantage. They knew the terrain. And the Evinthei had never expected the Earthborn to attack like this before, which was fair enough because they never had. Earthborn were animals who only killed to eat, usually picking out lone sentries, snipers, or stragglers. They knew to fear Evinthei guns, always fleeing at the first few shots. And there were never more than a dozen of them at a time. All of which had been true, up to now.

Three of Lessinger’s squads, spread out through the nearby streets, were hit simultaneously. Two were wiped out in the space of ten minutes of brutal fighting. The third, nearby, caught a brief scatter of shots in the distance and went on alert just as Earthborn attacked from both sides. They managed to get a call back to the guard post before they were overwhelmed. But even as the sentries at the guard post scrambled, running out into the bad visibility, the true force of the Earthborn rose out of the rubble and swarmed over them. And there weren’t a dozen, or fifty. There were more than two hundred, and they didn’t attack like a pack. They attacked like an army.

* * *

When Dax tried to open the door at the top of the cellar steps, it jammed halfway. He put his shoulder against it and pushed hard - it moved, with a scraping noise, enough for him to fit his head through. There was a dead Earthborn propped against the bottom of the door, teeth bared, with a bullet hole in its ribs. He drew in a ragged breath, then shoved the door again and pushed the body back enough to get out. There were two more creatures in the corridor ahead of him, leading to the barracks entrance. The front door had been broken apart as if kicked or beaten down.

As he watched, an Evinthei soldier staggered out of the bunkroom, clutching his side.

“What’s going on?” Dax asked.

“They’re hitting us from everywhere,” the soldier gasped, then ran towards the front door of the barracks, limping.

Dax stared at the dead Earthborn, slowly realising that if there was some sort of attack, his foray into the cellars, however bizarre it might have been - and terrifying in retrospect - had probably saved his life by keeping him below ground. He swallowed his revulsion, and his fear, and crouched beside the dead creature. It had been out in the rain, but the paint on its back had not been entirely washed away. Like the other Earthborn, the design was strange swirling lines and dots, the design he had seen before.

Something’s stirring the Earthborn up, Athellus had said. Was this the fruits of that, somehow?

He took the gun from its holster and gripped it tightly. He had no idea how to use it, but it was better than being empty-handed. Still, he had no intention of wading into the fight. The thought that this was a heaven-sent chance to escape never crossed his mind. All he could think of was finding Vale and Sartel. They had been kind to him. He had to know they were all right.

 

 

 

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