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again, and touching the side of the tooth with his tongue again, read the
cryptic message a second time.
"Devilkid home. Exact location unknown. Energy consumption indicates
probability of lift less than five percent."
Eye frowned. No probability involving Gerswin could be that low, not
with the resources and ingenuity involved.
He tried to relax the muscles in his face, but failed.
Despite the power squandered in the deployment of three squadrons,
despite the continuing use of energy such deployment required, and despite the
sacrifices and efforts of the overstrained Service as a whole, Gerswin had
gone home. Just as the man had done whatever else he wanted. Gone home and
left a devil's brew behind. Gone home, brushing aside the Service as an
inconvenience.
Although he had left the foundation behind, the administrator was dead
in a strange fire, and the records were blank, except for scraps that
confirmed Eye's worst fears. The bank records, those few that Eye could reach,
only confirmed the confirmation.
The gaunt man touched the golden call button.
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Unlike his predecessor, he would not wait to be called by the Emperor.
He had already waited too long.
Then again, it had been too late before he had taken the reins. Calendra
had known, but neither he nor the Emperor had believed Calendra.
The Earl of Selern touched the call button and began to wait.
XLIX
ONULL CROUCHED AT the base of the largest boulder between her and the demon.
She shivered in the fog that had swept in off the northern sea, the fog that
the doc had said would come because of the black demon that twisted eyes.
She had not seen the demon when it had flown over the huts and into the
hills the day before. Devra had, and now she would not speak of what she had
seen. Devra had seen and refused to come back to tend the southern flock.
That was why Onull was there, crouched into as small a ball as she could
make herself, hoping that the demon would not notice.
Like the other youngsters from Wallim's village who had been in the
forest, gathering, she had smirked behind her hand at Devra's tale, and at the
visions seen by the old women who sat in the square by the well. She had even
volunteered to watch the flock the next day, until Wallim decided who the new
shepherd would be. Watching sheep was far easier than grubbing and gathering
in the muck of the woods.
Then, just moments before, the ground had trembled beneath her feet, and
she had run for the rocks, her mouth agape as the flat cliff had split in two
and revealed a dark cave down to whatever depths the demon had come from.
She shivered again, waiting for the demon to come and take her, afraid
to move, for fear any motion would call her to the attention of the monster.
The fog continued to swirl in from the not-too-distant sea, wrapping
itself around the hillocks and dropping from the higher hills as it flowed
inland.
Onull hoped its grayness, and the tattered gray garment that was her
cloak, would shield her.
Click, click, click, click.
She shuddered at the metallic sounds, drawing herself closer to the
boulder, wanting to look, and afraid to look.
Rurrrrr . . . clunk.
The ground vibrated under her feet, and she glanced upward.
Through the mist, she could see that the gray cliff face was smooth,
totally smooth, as it had been through all her life.
She shuddered.
Who else but demons could make caves appear and disappear in solid rock?
Click.
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She finally peered around the boulder.
At the base of the sheer cliff stood a figure, seemingly in black,
looking out toward the sea, though it could not be seen, Onull knew, except
from the very top of the hill above the cliff', and then only on a clear day.
She darted another look, ready to duck her head behind the stone that
sheltered her should that black-clad figure turn her way.
It looked like a man, a slender man with golden hair, but with demons,
doe said, you could never tell.
The demon man turned toward her, and she flashed behind the stone before
he could see her.
Click . . . click.
Her heart began to pound as the terrible steps moved toward her, and she
wanted to run. But her feet would not move, and she curled into a ball at the
base of the stone that had not sheltered her enough.
Click, click, click. Click, click.
She could hear it coming around the boulder, as if it knew she were
there, searching her out.
Click. Click.
The footsteps paused, and she could feel the burning gaze of the demon
as it penetrated her thin and ragged cloak. But she did not move.
"So much fear. So much. Best not . . ."
Then its voice deepened.
"If you wish to live beyond the instant, promise yourself you will not
speak of this moment and this meeting."
Though the words sounded strange, she understood. She shuddered, but
said nothing. Knowing she would never, could never mention what she had seen,
even if the demon had not bound her.
Click, click. Click. Click.
The awful steps died into the fog, echoing ever more faintly through the
stony hillside, until at last the demon was gone.
Onull scraped herself into a sitting position, shivering, wondering if
she would ever feel warm again, and wrapped her cloak more tightly about her
as she stumbled back to the village.
L
THE MAN WHISTLED as lie walked south along the dusty trail above the river,
pausing at times to stop and to listen, but always resuming his steps toward
the southern mountains.
The patches of lifeless ground were fewer in the higher reaches, as were
the twisted trees and stunted bushes. Occasionally, as he viewed an area where
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louse trees flourished or where the ecological recovery seemed well along, he
nodded.
Before him, the trail veered left abruptly, away from the river. He
stopped. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]