As everyone who lived there knew well, the weather in Nones was often subject to change without warning. The southern ruins suffered especially, due to the immense currents of Gating energy, moving everything from buildings to air pressure. But two days ago it had shifted into cool drizzle and stayed that way, fine rain that seemed to settle in the air rather than fall, soaking everything.

The sentry at the perimeter of the guard post was wearing a dark grey waterproof over his uniform, hunched over like a troll. He could hear the occasional heavier drop pattering on his shoulders, the top of his head, and cursed the luck that had got him drawn for this assignment. There were more than enough people here to defend the place already. And besides, this was just some stupid power generator, not a weapons cache or an aeroponics bay.

He’d not been briefed much beyond his patrol route and what time they got fed, but he had been hearing rumours. One was that some Earthborn in the ruins had nearly got the better of Commander Aeslin and they were here to take a brace of heads back, to help bolster her reputation. The sentry didn’t know Commander Aeslin particularly well, never having served under her, but it sounded plausible. Another rumour said that the Borden traitor was building up an army to cross the river, storm Lyon’s Boulevard and take the Evinthei headquarters by force, but the sentry knew that one was ridiculous. No army could be built up out there, and as for crossing the river - the guns along the banks hadn’t been used in years, but a good crew could get them running in a few days.

Besides, there was a reason they hadn’t been used in years. They weren’t actually needed. The river through Nones had all the protection it would ever need, and only Evinthei were allowed passage. The ancient defences of Nones had grown a little… unpredictable over time, but they were still brutally efficient.

He sighed, nodding to his mate as a walking sentry went by, sending up splashes as he went. Captain Lessinger had insisted that they keep their weapons handy and their infra-red goggles on because of local Earthborn movements, but as far as the hunched sentry was concerned, that just meant two more things to get wet and he had got sick of the goggles fogging up. Once the other sentry was gone, he rummaged discreetly in his pockets for his smokes and lit up, breathing out a plume with a sigh.

The pleasure lasted just a few minutes before a large drop of rain, falling from the top of his hood, put the cigarette out with a hiss. The sentry tossed it down, swearing. This was going to be a damn long week.

 

Flat on his stomach, ignoring the cold wet of the ground underneath him, Athellus peered at the guard post built up around the barracks through his binoculars, without a change in his expression. He watched for a long time, marking people coming and going. He paid close attention to one in particular, wearing a dark blue waterproof with pale blond hair above it, before shuffling backwards and slipping away. Moving silently, he went through the rubble like a ghost until he reached a pair of girders that had fallen together, lodging into a ‘V’ and creating a small hollow, almost a cave, beyond. Inside, Kaire was a lean white shadow, while Dax crouched opposite her. Both of them were as wet as he was: Kaire still barefoot, Dax shivering.

“Well?” Kaire asked impatiently.

Athellus knew his annoyance was written on his face. “Adree must have guessed what we were planning. They’ve got way more personnel than they need. Authorisation for manpower like that doesn’t come easy. Instead of just a few guards we’ve got standing men at every corner and fully-armed patrols doing a circuit around the building.”

“Can we get past them?” Dax wanted to know.

“I can,” replied Kaire. “Give me five mi –“

“No.” Athellus’ voice rang sharply.

“I could wipe them out without breaking a sweat.”

“I said no.”

“They’d kill you if they got the chance,” Kaire pointed out. “Why should you care what I do to them?”

“I don’t know why, but I do. No blood on the ground until absolutely necessary.”

“This is ridiculous. I could clear this whole area if you weren’t being so sentimental about –“

“Oh, shut up, the pair of you,” said Dax, uncharacteristically sharp. “I’m getting sick of this bickering and it’s not helping.” He looked over at Athellus. “Is there anything we can do?”

Athellus sat down with a canteen of water, though he felt like he could have squeezed his sleeves out for a drink. “There’s no point trying to remember my defence courses because they know exactly what I know. Sneaking past them isn’t going to work, there’s just too many. A frontal assault…” He looked over at Kaire, grimly. That would work, but he wasn’t going to unleash that kind of carnage on them. “ – Last resort.”

He finished drinking and put the canteen down. “I recognised one of the men down there. Captain Arawn Lessinger. If he’s down there he’s in charge; he’s pretty good, a little impulsive, but that’s not going to help us. I could maybe work something out… I know how he thinks, but I don’t know enough about where his people are placed.”

“You said there’s a lot of them down there,” Dax wanted to know. “More than usual?”

Athellus looked at him curiously. There was definitely something different about Dax today, an alertness that he hadn’t seen before. “Yeah. So?”

“Well,” said Dax, “they know you, and no offence, Kaire, you stick out a mile off. Me, though, they don’t know me at all. And if they’ve dragged loads of people in, so there’s plenty wandering around, who’s going to notice one more? If I can get hold of a uniform, maybe I can sneak around there and get something we can use.”

Athellus smiled. “Okay, it’s a good idea, but – you were on Lailenus Street too. No doubt Adree’s circulated your description by now. Maybe you don’t stick out as much as Kaire but –“ He reached over and tugged Dax’s white forelock. “That’s going to get you noticed.”

“In this weather everyone’s wearing hoods and waterproofs,” Dax pointed out. “They don’t have any pictures of me - that’s pretty much my only distinguishing feature, right? If I keep my hair covered, who’s going to know?”

“True.” This was starting to sound like a workable plan. “I mean, we’re running out of options here, but… it could work. You’re sure you want to try this?”

Dax shrugged helplessly. “Do we have any other choice?”

 

The sentry was never able to piece things together quite rightly afterwards. He recalled hearing a noise from behind him, away from the perimeter, but without his infra-red goggles he couldn’t make out what it was. Glad of the diversion, he had crept into the rubble a little way to investigate, not very far. He caught sight of something white moving through the rain, something that moved too fast for him to see clearly, and had reached for his weapon. He had followed cautiously, creeping low, aware that if -

And then two hands had expertly closed around his throat from behind, one thumb pressing into his carotid, the other into his windpipe, cutting off both blood and air. He kicked and struggled, but the grip was inexorable. Before the blackness yawned, a quiet, almost friendly voice had spoken in his ear: “Just relax and you’ll live.”

After that… he had got a little confused. He remembered being cold and wet, and once he thought he saw a gigantic pair of green eyes peering at him, luminous through the rain like headlights. But he didn’t wake properly until he heard the sound of gunfire, a long time later.

 

 

 

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