Athellus sighed, then took off his pack and started rummaging through it, dropping a few items on the ground. From a zip pocket he removed a plastic bag filled with several lengths of heavy wire, crocodile clips, and what looked like a

sub-state device

large circuit board with thick neon tubing all over it. He laid it on the ground with immense care. “We were meant to use this on the Generator Well itself if we got the chance. But it will work for this just as well.”

“And once this is done, your mission’s over,” said Dax.

“Yeah.” Athellus looked over at Kaire, who had begun wandering aimlessly, or was walking a perimeter, or both. “Our work’s done here, even if yours isn’t. We save Nones.”

“Where will you go then?”

“That’s up to the People Upstairs.” Athellus grinned, tiredly. “With any luck it’ll be somewhere sunny.”

He pointed at the pylon, at one of the glowing crystalline sheets whose edge was sawtoothed and sharp. “So let’s get on and do it. Pull that out toward you, would you?”

Dax nodded, and reached out and took hold of the sheet. It felt rough and cold as a slice of rose quartz, and vibrated vaguely under his touch. A little pressure was enough to start it toward him, as some unknown, well-oiled mechanism reacted.

And then stopped.

Puzzled, Dax kept pulling, pulled harder—then yanked his hand away as the shard shuddered and its light winked out. One by one, the others began going dark.

“Athellus—”

Electricity crept over the pylon’s metal skeleton, winding up to the tip—then a single arc leapt from it toward the surface of the river. Tiny crackles of lightning scattered over the waves in all directions.

Then it was gone. Just silence, and the parchment smell of hot water.

Athellus got to his feet. “What did you do?”

“Me? Why would I—”

A shudder went through the ground like an earthquake; Dax was flung off balance and would have gone flying, if not for Kaire’s sudden grip on his upper arms from behind. Her face was too close beside his. Her eyes were burning white again, her face intent and feverishly eager.

“It’s not him, ‘Thel,” she said.

“Then—” Athellus turned as the surface of the river began to steam. “Ember’s blood. The river defences. Adree gave the order to…”

The water went from steaming to bubbling before he finished speaking. Foam roiled up to the surface, pouring over and over itself. Then the waves surged, as if some ancient submarine was rising again. But the form that rose wasn’t metal and fibreglass. The water itself poured upwards, filling some invisible column. It poured, rose higher and higher, then flexed. It breathed.

The creature looming over them rose dozens of feet above the water—it was the water. A vast shimmering neck, crackling with lingering bursts of electricity, torrents of water gushing from its gullet; a throat and maw that reformed even as water poured forth. Dax could still see fragments of debris, particles of rust, floating in the monster’s body as it swung its immense head toward them. Unlike Gothgorius, who had the broad forehead and wide eyes of a thinker and watcher, this creature had long, sleek, predatory jaws.

The rush of water pouring off its “body” grew to a roar, then quietened. The monster’s head swayed back and forth before them, silent, waiting. Nostrils opened in its head, billowed steam, and scented the air. Before it lunged for them.

The three of them threw themselves out of the way as teeth like shards of ice smashed down onto the riverbank. The impact was devastating; the creature’s head was blown apart to vapour and droplets.

The decapitated neck reared back, shook itself… then lengthened and sharpened. Water dripped as a new head reformed and yawned wide, letting its teeth grow once more.

Dax swung back around the surviving wall of an old dockmaster’s office and flattened his back against it. The blast of water had soaked him to the skin. “What is it?”

“A hydraderor,” breathed Kaire. She was crouched like a predator, her lips peeled back in a gleeful smile.

“A what?”

“A water golem,” said Athellus. His hair was an otter’s pelt plastered to his head. “An Ancestral security system, it protects Lyon’s Boulevard, it can cut us apart like butter!”

Dax peered around the corner of the wall. He caught sight of the shimmering column out of the corner of his eye, weaving. Searching. No eyes. Of course. It’s blind. But water conducts sound, maybe it can hear us. If we just stay quiet, sneak past… It can’t follow us out of the river, can it?

Despite the danger his eye was being drawn away. Water from the creature’s attack was pouring down the steps of the strange stone dais he had seen earlier, over the name chiselled into the base. There was something he needed to remember. Something about steps, and water, and stone. Something. God, what was it?

“Something’s powering that thing,” said Athellus. “They hooked the pylon up to it. Can’t cook the pylon while it’s—” He broke off as the hydraderor’s head smashed into the concrete again, closer this time. “—while it’s still out there. And if we just blow the pylon to kill it we can’t hit the Generator Well. They played us good.”

 

 

 

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