The room in the barracks cellar, containing the power grid, was so bright that Kaire’s sensitive vision suffered, but she couldn’t use the Evinthei safety goggles; as Dax watched, she went inside with her eyes closed.

“Mind yourself,” said Athellus. He was studying one of the Earthborn corpses on the floor.

“Why, what’s she going to do?”

“Shut it down by hand.”

Against the brilliant white of the power grid, Kaire reached out and traced a shape in the air with two fingers, almost lazily, still with her eyes closed. A sheen - not light, a sheen in the air - followed her gesture. Once it was complete it suddenly solidified into a glyph in midair. Dax couldn’t see it clearly against the light but just the shape of it made him shiver. It seemed less like a shape than a living thing Kaire had summoned up from somewhere.

The crackling light of the power grid changed timbre. Fine lines of energy were being drawn up to the glyph from all directions, changing the steady, regular web into a new pattern. Kaire waited as the sheen shivered and grew brighter and brighter, then drew back her arm and shot her hand, palm flat, straight through it. The glyph seemed to clench around her arm and more power gushed up into it. Kaire’s fingers closed into a fist and she yanked her arm back. Dax was expecting an explosion of some sort, or at least for all those nodes to go dead suddenly, but instead the room grew slowly brighter. Kaire vanished in white light, then reappeared as the whole room dimmed gradually. All the energy of the power grid was suddenly gone, leaving the place dark and dead. There was a heavy thud from the nodes, and there was a clunk that Dax associated with a circuit breaker going down, loud enough to feel through the soles of his feet.

Kaire opened her hand. Little sparks and puffs of light tumbled down and winked out on the concrete floor. “One down.”

Athellus was looking at the devastation around them. “Yeah. But we’ve got bigger problems now.” He sighed. “Come on. Let’s grab what we can find and get out of this place.”

* * *

They picked up the few supplies that were left in the barracks - the food and ammunition the Evinthei had brought with them, as well as spare biomarker cells and batteries - repacked their bags, and went on their way, leaving the bodies behind them. It was beginning to get dark.

After an hour they reached a massive skyway that crossed a meandering tributary of the river, resting on ancient supports that had been shored up by Evinthei technology over the years and rising high over the city. The three of them walked in the centre of the road, past wrecked cars that had been towed to one side, looking down on the buildings on either side. Both Dax and Athellus snapped on torches - the lights seemed tiny and wan as they walked down the centre of the massive road.

The view was stunning. More than once Dax found himself falling behind to stare out over the city. It was one thing to listen to Athellus or that thing Gothgorius boast about Nones’ age and scale - it was quite another to stand on the skyway and look out over miles and miles of silent buildings, stretching to the horizon in every direction.

On impulse he looked back - yes, there it was. The Librais Tower was a pale but distinct shape in the distance, with a faint flicker of lightning dancing at the apex.

That incredible visibility had other advantages too. “No way the Earthborn are going to be hiding hereabouts, too exposed,” said Athellus after they had been walking for a while. “And we’ll see anyone else coming a mile off. Nice. Let’s camp up here.”

The rations from the Evinthei made a good dinner; Athellus used two tins of soup and dried meat to make a kind of stew while Dax tended the fire. A delicious smell wafted over their little camp. Somehow the glow of the fire and the torches combined to make a small, homely circle, and Dax settled comfortably for the first time in a long while, feeling safe. “Is cooking one of the skills you get when the People Upstairs give you a tap on the shoulder?”

“Comes from travelling,” Athellus explained, spooning the stew into a spare plastic container and passing it to Kaire. “One of the first things you learn - a man who can cook and handle a gun is welcome almost everywhere.”

Dax turned to Kaire. “How about you?”

She was eating her stew by dipping into it with her fingers, and grinned sidelong at him. “I generally prefer my food raw.”

As Dax wiped up the last of his portion, Athellus started fiddling with the piece of charcoal he kept in his backpack, making random marks on the ground beside him.

“This isn’t good,” he said eventually. “I didn’t think the Evinthei would spare this much manpower to stop us. And now that power grid’s down, the second one is going to be too fortified to hit. We’ll never get in close enough to take it out.”

“Can’t you Gate there?” Dax wanted to know.

“And then what? We’d still have to find the grid and destroy it. Enough time to run into every trap the Evinthei will set.” Athellus sighed. “No. It’s stupid to do just what an enemy expects. I’ll have to think of another way. Let’s - let’s sleep on it. It’s been a rough day for everyone.”

For a while Dax lay awake, looking up at the sky and thinking, mostly about Gothgorius. He had dreamed about both the stone creature and the Librais Tower with uncanny accuracy. What was it the lapidtalos had said? “You’ve got a loud brain”? A diseased one, for sure, but… maybe that was it. You read all kinds of strange stories about people with brain tumours. Had it made him psychic or something, enough to… well, tune in to whatever signals Nones was putting out?

But that seemed bizarre to say the least. He had been brought here for a reason, he still believed that, but he still wasn’t sure why. And it was a circle - he got a brain tumour so he could see visions of a place where he could be cured of the tumour? What sort of sense did that make?

Dax closed his eyes. The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was Arawn Lessinger’s face, watching him past the barrel of a gun.

He slept dreamlessly and very deeply. When he woke, he saw to his surprise that it was still dark. He couldn’t have been asleep more than a few hours, but he felt refreshed and alert, better than he had in a long time.

Feeling thirsty, Dax sat up and reached for his canteen. Athellus was a sleeping shape on the other side of the dying fire. And Kaire… Kaire was sitting on the raised concrete barricade at the edge of the skyway with her feet dangling. She was looking down over the city. He silently rose and crossed the empty road to join her.

“Can’t sleep?” Kaire asked as he sat down.

“I did for a while. Though to be honest, these days I’m almost afraid to.”

“Your dreams frighten you.”

He thought of the last one, of the city-turned-jungle, the bridge with the blindfolded man and the red-haired woman, and the pale creature that had tried to tear him apart. “…Yes.”

Kaire nodded to herself, still looking over the city. “This has become a place of fear. The Evinthei are scared of losing their position, the little world they’ve made for themselves amongst the chaos. The Earthborn are scared of finally being driven out, losing the only home they’ve ever known.” She raised her eyebrows. “I think Athellus is afraid that he will have to kill Adree for the sake of the mission. He might be right to court that fear, though, given everything that's happened.”

“What about you? What are you afraid of?”

She thought about it. “…Losing myself, perhaps. But that isn’t going to happen. I’ve got Athellus to help me there.” She flicked a pebble down over the edge. “So I suppose I’m not really afraid of anything.”

Kaire settled back a bit. “I don’t know why I’m surprised that it has come to this. In a way, Nones has always had a tradition of fear. This is nothing new.” She stopped. “No. You don’t want to hear this, not after all that gossip you were being fed before down in the plaza.”

“You overheard that - ‘Kairendyrian’?”

She laughed, low as if to keep from disturbing Athellus. “That’s an old name. Old and outgrown. Kaire is fine. Easier too.”

Dax smiled. “It’s okay. I know what it’s like to hate your name. But… you were saying something. About the city.”

Kaire drew up her knees and leaned on top of them. “I told you once that Nones is saturated with Gating energy, this whole place, the entire peninsula.”

“Because one of those Guardians died here.”

“Yes, well.” She shrugged a bit to herself. “I wish it was quite as simple as that.”

 

 

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