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No fooling around. We left fourteen hours later. With everything arranged for
us. Dragged out of bed soon after midnight, I quickly found myself topside,
beside the coral, watching a small windwhale descend. A menhir yammered behind
me, instructing me in the care and stroking of the windwhale ego. I ignored
him. This had come on too swiftly. I was being shoved into the saddle before
I'd made up my mind to go. I was living behind events.
I had my weapons, my amulets, money, food. Everything I should need. Likewise
Goblin and One-Eye, who had provided themselves with a supplementary arsenal
of thaumatur-gic gewgaws. The plan was to purchase a wagon and team after the
windwhale dropped us behind enemy lines. All the junk they were bringing, I
grumbled, we might need two.
Tracker traveled light, though. Food, an array of weapons selected from what
we had on hand, and his mutt.
The windwhale rose. Night enveloped us. I felt lost. I hadn't gotten so much
as a good-bye hug.
The windwhale went up where the air was chill and thin. To the east, the
south, and northwest I spied the glimmer of change storms. They were becoming
more common.
I guess I was getting blase about windwhale-riding. Shivering, huddling into
myself, ignoring Tracker, who was a positive chatterbox yammering about
trivia, I fell asleep. I wakened to a shaking hand and Tracker's face inches
from mine.
"Wake up, Croaker," he kept saying. "Wake up. One-Eye says we got trouble."
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I rose, expecting to find Taken circling us.
We were surrounded, but by four windwhales and a score of mantas. "Where did
they come from?"
"Showed up while you were sleeping."
"What's the trouble?"
Tracker pointed, off what I guess you would call our starboard bow.
Change storm. Shaping.
"Just popped out of nowhere," Goblin said, joining us. too nervous to remember
he was mad at me. "Looks like a bad one, too, the rate it's growing."
The change storm was no more than four hundred yards in diameter now, but the
pastel-Iightninged fury in its heart said it would grow swiftly and terribly.
Its touch would be more than normally dramatic. Varicolored light painted
faces and windwhales bizarrely. Our convoy shifted course. The windwhales are
not as much affected as humans, but they prefer to dodge trouble where
possible. It was clear, though, that fringes of the monster would brush us.
Even as I recognized and thought about it, the storm's size increased. Six
hundred yards in diameter. Eight hundred. Roiling, boiling color within what
looked like black smoke. Serpents of silent lightning snapped and snarled
soundlessly around one another.
The bottom of the change storm touched ground.
All those lightnings found their voices. And the storm expanded even more
rapidly, hurling in another direction that growth which should have gone
earthward. It was terrible with energy, this one.
Change storms seldom came nearer than eight miles to the Hole. They are
impressive enough from that distance, when you catch only a whiff that
crackles in your hair and makes your nerves go frazzled. In olden times, when
we still served the Lady, I talked to veterans of Whisper's campaigns who told
me of suffering through the storms. I never wholly credited their tales.
I did so as the boundary of the storm gained on us.
One of the manias was caught. You could see through it, its bones white
against sudden darkness. Then it changed.
Everything changed. Rocks and trees became protean. Small things that followed
and pestered us shifted form....
There is a hypothesis which states that the strange species of the Plain have
appeared as a result of change storms. It has been proposed, too, that the
change storms are responsible for the Plain itself. That each gnaws a bit more
off our normal world.
The whales gave up trying to outrun the storm and plunged earthward, below the
curve of expanding storm, getting down where the fall would be shorter if they
changed into something unable to fly. Standard procedure for anyone caught in
a change storm. Stay low and don't move.
Whisper's veterans spoke of lizards growing to elephant size, of spiders
becoming monstrous, of poisonous serpents sprouting wings, of intelligent
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creatures going mad and trying to murder everything about them.
I was scared.
Not too scared to observe, though. After the manta showed us its bones it
resumed its normal form, but grew. As did a second when the boundary overtook
it. Did that mean a common tendency toward growth on a storm's outward pulse?
The storm caught our windwhale, which was the slowest getting down. Young it
was, but conscientious about its burden. The crackle in my hair peaked. I
thought my nerves would betray me completely. A glance at Tracker convinced me
we were going to have a major case of panic.
Goblin or One-Eye, one, decided to be a hero and stay the storm. Might as well
have ordered the sea to turn. The crash and roar of a major sorcery vanished
in the rage of the storm.
There was an instant of utter stillness when the boundary reached me. Then a
roar out of hell. The winds inside were ferocious. I thought of nothing but
getting down and hanging on. Around me gear was flying about, changing shape [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]