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of them showed lights. Windows and doors were boarded up or open and dark.
In the center of the clump of houses, rearing from a bare patch of dirt, was a
stone-walled well.
Kane, Grant and Brigid crouched at the edge of the clearing, watching and
listening. They heard a very faint scraping sound, far off somewhere, then
nothing but the wind. There were only shadows moving among the ruined
structures, caused by moonlight filtering through breaks in the scudding
clouds.
Kane eased out into the clearing, walking heel-and-toe in the characteristic
way of a Mag penetrating a potential killzone. Grant and Brigid followed him
in single file, giving him a twelve-yard lead.
Kane approached the nearest house at an oblique angle and looked in through
the open door. A gust of wind set it to banging, and he realized that was the
hammering sound he'd heard. He shone his microlight into the place, seeing
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Axler, James - Outlanders 02 - Destiny Run nothing but empty, dusty dark,
stripped of all signs that it had ever been inhabited. Circling the house, he
noticed the barren remains of a fair-sized vegetable garden in the rear. The
furrows were overgrown with weeds.
Two more houses were similarly deserted, and both of them had cultivated
ground in the back. Some distance away he saw a big, rambling barn, most of it
intact. He strode toward it, gesturing for Brigid and Grant to pick up the
pace.
The doors were missing, and Kane speculated that looters had removed them and
the hinges and carted them off. At the cavernous opening, he paused, waiting
for his companions. The amber light from his flashlight illuminated dimly only
part of the blackness within the barn. Brigid came to his side, adding the
glow from her own microlight to his.
"What are we doing here?" Grant whispered.
"This place looks like it had been a thriving ville. Where did the people and
the animals go? And why?"
"For all you know, this place has been deserted since skydark," hissed Grant.
Brigid shook her head. "No way. This place has been deserted for a long time,
but not that long."
"Maybe when Major-Commissar Zimyanin secured the dacha, he moved all the
people out of here, afraid they'd be mat-trans jumping to hell and gone."
"Doubtful," said Kane quietly. "That was nearly a century ago. This place was
abandoned only in the last couple of years, five at the outside."
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Axler, James - Outlanders 02 - Destiny Run
"So what?" Grant's whisper was harsh, exasperated. "Not everything you stumble
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over is a mystery you have to solve, you know."
Forcing a patient note into his voice, Kane intoned, "First of all, judging by
the tracks we found, somebody hangs around here. And they own a wag or a
horse, or a horse-drawn wag. Second, this barn is the most likely place in the
area to keep them. And lastly, if nothing else, we can spend the night here
out of that bastard cold wind and even light a fire without it being spotted."
Grant considered his companion's words for a silent moment. His simple "Oh"
was contrite.
Kane stepped over the earthen threshold. He immediately smelled mustiness and
the cloying stench of something dead, something a long time dead. The interior
of the barn seemed saturated by the charnel-house reek.
Queasiness reawakened in his stomach, and his mouth filled with sour saliva.
He stopped in midstride, fanning his microlight around. The needle of light
touched gray shapes dangling from the rafters by lengths of hemp. The shapes
were wired-together animal skeletons, and he had trouble identifying them. It
took him a second to realize that horse skulls had been attached to dog
vertebrae, and the jawbones of cows were affixed to the fleshless, horned
heads of goats.
He heard a sudden, shocked intake of breath from Brigid and a mumbled
"Fucking fireblast!" from Grant.
A big, low table, crudely fashioned, occupied the center of the barn. It was
one of the doors, supported on four corners by the bleached thigh bones of
either
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Axler, James - Outlanders 02 - Destiny Run cattle or horses. Kane moved deeper
into the darkness, the beam from his flashlight striking dull reflections from
metal. A large brass bowl served as the centerpiece for the makeshift table.
It was round and very deep, discolored by verdigris.
At the edge of the makeshift table, Kane leaned forward, directing his
penlight into the bowl. Old dark stains thickly coated its curving inner
walls. Piled neatly inside of it were small, delicate bones. Resting atop them
an equally small and delicate skull grinned up at the shadows overhead.
Kane felt his heart pound wildly as he stared, transfixed at the skeletonized
remains of a human infant, who could have been no more than six months old.
He wasn't aware of Brigid coming to his side, clamping a hand over the cry of
horror bursting from her lips. The sound she uttered was as though from a stab
wound.
A scraping noise echoed from somewhere deep in the gloom, too deep for his
small light to pierce. The sound came again, accompanied by the scuff and
scutter of feet. The foul miasma he had scented upon entering the barn seemed
to fill his nostrils.
Two eyes the color of old ice gleamed out of the shadows on the far side of
the table. Something sucked the stale, stinking air. And chuckled.
Chapter 12
Even with their lights, none of them could quickly categorize, identify or
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Axler, James - Outlanders 02 - Destiny Run otherwise recognize the shape
shuffling out of the murk. There was no use to call it any other name than a
thing.
It stood, swaying slightly on the opposite side of the long, low table,
regarding them quietly. It chuckled again, a hollow, neutral sound.
The Sin Eater filled Kane's hand, and its comforting weight helped to make his
eyes and reasoning centers work in tandem again. His unblinking stare took in
the tall, cold-eyed form. The face was heavily rouged, thickly caked with an
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orange powder. Bright red pendulous lips were quirked in a toothless rictus
that might have been a smile. The black outlines of its eyelids revealed a
successful experiment with a burned match. The sweeping eyelashes were so
long, so fluttery, they were obviously artificial. The eyes were a pale,
nearly colorless gray. The whites showed all around the iris and lent a
hypnotic intensity to the hard, thoughtful stare.
Framing the pear-shaped baby face was a fall of long tresses, of different
colors and textures, as if several heads of human hair were woven together to
make a grotesque wig. The creature's garb was a mismatched collection of rags [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]