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The Elves of Cintraby Terry Brooks
Logan Tom had climbed out of the lower levels of the compound and was starting up the steps to the walls when he heard the cries. They were sudden and sharp and signaled shock and excitement. He was still inside and could not tell what was happening, but he redoubled his efforts instantly, charging ahead, abandoning stealth, throwing caution to the winds.
If he was too late . . .
If they had already thrown Hawk and Tessa from the walls . . .
If, if, if!
The words burned in his mind like live coals. He couldnt be too late. Not after coming so far and getting so close. He should never have left Hawk in the compound. He should have found a way to take him out when he had the chance. Relying on breaking him free now was a fools game, and anyone with an ounce of common sense would have known it!
He was running hard, his black staff held ready in front of him, his concentration complete. He passed dozens of the compounds inhabitants on the way up, but while a few turned to look, no one tried to stop him. Maybe they could see in his eyes that getting in his way for any reason was a bad idea. If what he was thinking was reflected there, mirrored in eyes that were hard-edged and enraged, they couldnt miss it.
He was up the steps all the way now and outside, the sports field spread away below him. The spectator seats in this section had been ripped out long ago to provide space for makeshift housing, and he found himself in a cluster of small one-level cottages built out of bricks and wood that were cobbled together to form rooms and stacked from one level to the next. They registered in his mind as he tore through them, following the lanes purposely left clear for passage, charging upward toward the top.
But something unexpected was happening. Those gathered on the walls to watch the death sentence on Hawk and Tessa being carried out were rushing back down almost as fast as he was rushing up. He stopped where he was, bracing himself against the swarm, trying to pick out something that made sense from the babble of words being exchanged.
“. . . nothing ever like it before this, a demons work if ever there was one—did you see that light . . .”
“. . . bright as a flare or maybe a . . .”
“. . . wasnt a trace of them on the ground, and then it got dark again and you could see down . . .”
Logan moved into the shelter of a narrow aisle made over into a walkway between huts, waiting for the way to clear. Whatever had happened, it was all over now. But what had happened?
He grabbed a young man who got close enough and pulled him out of the swarm of bodies. He put his face close. “Tell me whats going on. Why is everyone running?”
The young man stared at him a moment, seeing something that might have scared him even more than what he had witnessed on the wall. He tried to speak and couldnt, then yanked his arm free from Logans grip and threw himself back into the surging mass of the crowd.
Logan shifted his approach from the common lanes and began making his way upward between the huts in a less direct fashion. He went as quickly as passage would allow, dodging or knocking obstacles aside. Buckets, brooms, pots, and other cooking implements went flying, and shouts of anger from their owners followed after him. In another time and under different circumstances, he would have drawn more attention. But the majority of the compound population was either coming down off the walls or fighting to get to the front gates, anxious to see whatever was out there.
Not the boy, he prayed. Not the girl.
He reached the upper levels where the housing grew sparse and scattered, a concession to the winds and the chill that made living higher up less desirable. The smells of the population gave way to the odors of fish and seaweed floating off the water, and the darkness deepened as the fires and generator lights were left below. Up here, what few lights there were pointed outward toward the gates and the approach to the walls. He passed out of the tangle of huts and walkways, the bulk of the crowd gone past now, and moved along the high wall toward an opening that led out onto what was once the concession area.
He found more buildings here, the same makeshift huts, these mostly for storage, not living. A scattering of the compounds residents still remained on the wall, looking down over the rim. He chose a young girl standing with her back to him, her attention on whatever lay outside below the walls.
“Where are the boy and girl?” he asked, walking up to her.
She turned and stared at him. She was no more than fourteen or fifteen, her freckled face squinched up as if she had swallowed something unpleasant. “What?”
“The boy and girl?” he repeated. “What happened to them?”
She hesitated. “Didnt you see?”
“I wasnt here. Tell me.”
“Well, wow, what didnt happen! It was so amazing! They threw them— the guards threw them off, together, you know. They flew right out into space like—like scarecrows or sacks of sand. Then a light appeared all at once, a brilliant light. It came right out of nowhere and swallowed them up. When the light disappeared, they were gone, too.”
She glanced over her shoulder and looked down at the rubble-strewn pavement as if to make certain. “Ive never seen anything like it. No one knows what happened.” She turned back. “I heard one man say it was demon magic! Do you think?”
Logan didnt know what he thought. “No,” he said. “Did the light seem to come from one of them—from the boy, maybe?”
She shook her head. Her long, sandy hair rippled in the dim light, and she brushed strands of it from her eyes. “No, it didnt come from anywhere. It just flared up out of thin air and surrounded them. You couldnt see them at all after that. Everyone just went crazy! It was wonderful!”
He took a moment to consider what this meant. The most logical explanation was that Hawks magic—the wild magic of the gypsy morph— had surfaced in an unexpected way. But if the girl was right, if it wasnt Hawks own magic manifesting itself in some unknown way, then it had to have been an intervening magic. Yet where would such magic have come from? Had Hawk and Tessa been saved or tossed from the frying pan into the fire? He knew he wouldnt find the answer here.
“Hey, mister, do I know you?” the girl asked him suddenly.
He shook his head. “No.”
“You look familiar.”
He peered down over the walls to the rubble below. Nothing, not even the feeders, was there now. Whatever had happened, it had disrupted their plans to absorb the combination of magic and life force expended by Hawks death. All those feeders, he thought, gone in the blink of an eye.
The girl was leaning on the railing next to him, studying his face. She must have seen him when hed come to the compound earlier in the day. She would remember soon enough. It was time to go.
Suddenly her gaze shifted. “Look at that. See all the lights out on the water? Like a million little fires or something.”
He looked to where she was pointing, but what he saw that she couldnt were the feeders massed along the waterfront, a surging horde of smooth dark bodies writhing and twisting in an effort to get closer to whatever was approaching on the water. He looked beyond to the lights, hundreds of them, couldnt make any sense of it at first, and then heard the drums and went cold.
At almost the same moment a horn blew from somewhere farther down the walls of the compound, high up in a watchtower, a mournful wail that signaled danger in any language. Someone else had spotted the lights and, like Logan, knew what they meant.
He turned away from the girl. “I have to go. Thanks for helping me.”
“Sure. Werent you here . . . ?”
He wheeled back, cutting short the rest of what she was going to say. It was an impulsive act, one born of frustration and despair. He was tired of people dying. “Go find your parents and your brothers and sisters and anyone else you care about and get everyone out of here. Tell anyone you meet. Those lights come from boats carrying an army that will besiege this compound and eventually destroy it.”
She started to speak, but he grabbed her shoulders and held her. “No, just listen to me. I know what I am talking about. I know about this army. I have seen what it can do. Get out of here, right away, even if no one else will go with you. I know you dont want to, but do it. Remember what I said. If you stay, you will die.”
He left her staring after him, her eyes wide, her face rigid with shock and disbelief. He had no further time for her, nothing more he could do for her. She would believe him or not. Probably not. They seldom did, any of them. They thought it was as safe as it could get inside the compounds. They thought it was so much more dangerous out in the open. None of them understood. Not until it was too late. It was why they were being wiped out. It was the reason the human race was being annihilated.
To his surprise, she came after him, grabbed his arm, and pulled him around. “Youre not serious, are you? About what will happen? None of thats true, is it?”
He studied her a moment. “Whats your name?”
“Meike,” she answered uncertainly.
“Well, listen closely to me, Meike. Everything I said is true. There are madmen on those boats. They were human once, men and women like those in this compound. But theyve shed their humanity to serve demons that intend to destroy us all. They kill humans or put them in slave camps. Theyve done it everywhere, all across the country. They will do it here, too. The compound leaders think they can stand against them, think they are safe enough here behind their walls. But other compounds thought the same, and they all fell in the end. This one will fall, too.”
“I dont have any parents or brothers or sisters,” she said. She brushed at her long hair, her eyes filled with fear. “I dont have anyone. I dont know what to do. Where should I go?”
He wished suddenly he hadnt told her. All he had done was scare her half to death. Besides, it was one life. What difference did saving one life make to what was going to happen here? Even if telling her got her out of here, what did it matter? She would end up dying in the countryside instead of in the city, nothing more. He was suddenly furious with himself. That was his problem, trying to save people like her. He was wasting his time when what he needed to do was what he had come to do in the first place—find the gypsy morph.
He gave her a quick glance and shook his head. “Go anywhere away from the city. Go into the country. Look for others who might want to go with you. Theres safety in numbers.”
He turned away abruptly and started down the walkway for the stairs, intent on getting out of there before anyone realized who he was. Once he was identified, things would become considerably more complicated.
“Mister!” she called after him.
He ignored her, moving faster now, hurrying deliberately to get away, reaching the stairs and descending them two at a time. The crowds had dissipated. He could hear them at the gates below, milling about in confusion as the watchtower horn continued to sound its warning. Already, squads of defenders were forming up in the parade grounds at one end of the field, soldiers carrying weapons, buckling on light armor and belts of ammunition. Well trained and organized, they would go out to meet the threat. They would try to stop the invaders at the docks, to prevent them from landing. They would fail, and then retreat through the streets to the compound, where they would feel safe. They would not be safe; they would be doomed. But it had nothing to do with him. The fighting at the docks and in the streets would last through the night. By tomorrow, he would be far away.
He glanced ahead at the clusters of compound inhabitants, choosing his path. He would go back down to the lower levels and out through the underground passageway. Panther would be waiting, and together they would find the other Ghosts and decide where to go to get away from what was about to happen.
But how in the world, he wondered, was he going to find out what had become of Hawk?
He turned down out of the arena and into the building interior and ran right up against a squad of compound defenders coming out.
“Hold it right there,” one said, and he pointed his weapon at Logan.
Panther hunkered down in the rubble at the edge of Pioneer Square, waiting impatiently. An awful lot had happened since Logan Tom had gone into the compound, and most of it was a mystery to him. He had carried out his assignment, going to the front gates and providing the diversion that Logan needed. He had done a good job of it, yelling up at the guards, demanding that Hawk be freed, that he be allowed to talk to him, that they give him food. He had made it look like he was a half-crazed street kid, and he must have succeeded because the guards on the walls laughed at him. After hed shouted at them for what he thought was twice as long as necessary for Logan to sneak past them to where the old transportation shelter would give him access to the compound, he had backed off and returned
to the spot where hed been told to wait, finding a place to hide and settling in.
For a long time, nothing had happened. Then he had seen the flash of light at the gates and heard the cries of those gathered on the walls, but he didnt know what it meant. He thought about moving to a better position, one closer to the gates, in an effort to find out. But he was worried that if Logan Tom returned with Hawk and couldnt find him, he might leave him behind. So he stayed where he was, frustrated and edgy. Night deepened until only a pale gray light remained in the western sky and the lights of the compound began to switch on. More time passed, and he found himself increasingly unsettled.
From the Hardcover edition.
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