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can t breathe when I think about it. I feel like I m shut in a room with no
door and the ceiling is moving down to crush me and the walls are moving in to
crush me. She shuddered.  Huge and unstoppable and unstopping. It s far
enough off yet, I can still bear the pressure, but it s fast. It s coming
fast. She looked up at the sun.  I think ... I think it comes with the dark.
We got to be off this hunk of garbage by then. I suppose you might survive
even this, Lee, but the rest of us, we won t. Not if we stay here.
Shading her eyes with her hand, Aleytys looked up, chewed on her lower lip.
 Six hours till dark. Around that. She rubbed at her eyes.  And we have to
get off soon as possible so we can get some way inland. Right. You hunt up
Wakille and set him and Linfyar to packing the gyori. Keep the packs light,
we re going to have to move fast and through difficult going. Essentials only,
but I don t need to tell you that. She got to her feet.  I ll hunt me some
eyes and take a look along the coast, see if I can spot a place to land.
* * *
Barrier islands like dunes pushed up by the sea, long and narrow with pale
green saw-edged grasses bent in low arcs, weighed down by the clinging salt
crystals that turned the pale green almost white. Patches of scraggly brush.
And birds. Thousands of birds large and small, hundreds of species existing in
noisy comity. Beyond the islands, beyond a half-kilometer more of sea, winding
fingers of salt water thrust bluely into the dark thick marsh growth. More
birds and a multitude of life in the salt swamp, healthy vigorous life, not so
deadly as Esgard had suggested, but bad enough. The swamp was stinking, humid,
full of death, full of life preying on life, but the aura of disease and decay
and distortion that hung over the blights and the sloughs of the Plain was
pleasantly absent here. As the mottled gray and white seabird swooped low over
the tree tops, she frowned at what she saw. No way they could make any time
going through that mess. She sent the bird winging west along the coast,
hoping to find better footing. For about a half hour the bird flew on
following the coast, then Aleytys caught a glimpse of something a little north
of west and some kilometers inland from the sea dark towers, several of them,
with sharply squared corners.
The tree-swamp turned to grass-marsh with patches of still, scummy water,
teeming with things that slithered in and out of sight in the flicker of the
bird s eye, a web of life as busy and deadly as that among the trees.
In the center of a vast ruined city stood rows of tall buildings, windows in
bands about their spare unadorned sides. For a moment they seemed intact, then
the bird was in among them and the illusion evaporated. They were shells. A
number of the windows gaped empty, birds flying in and out of them, some had
fragments only of their glass, the shards melting like sugar under the wear of
the ages, more than she expected had their glass intact, glaring out over the
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waste about them like blind black glittering eyes. The veneer attached to the
rough base was crumbling and falling away; there were fragments of it cradled
in the leaf clusters of the thick vines that crawled up the sides of the great
structures, other bits falling into the still, black water that filled the
spaces between the towers. Here and there slabs of veneer not quite broken
away flapped in the wind, creaked and crackled until they too were ready to
fall. Down near the water, near the base of those towers, the walls were
smeared with oozing mosses and slime molds, higher up they were pocked with
layered fungi and scabby lichens. Smaller structures, more broken and littered
and overgrown than the towers, rayed out from them in serial clusters that
still held a battered memory of their ancient organization. The city spread
for kilometers in all directions, even on the far side of the river, crossed
and recrossed by elevated roadways that were cracked and littered with the
debris of the ages since they were last used, but many of them seemed far more
intact than the best of the buildings, ready after a little sweeping for
traffic to use them again. Rather like the ancient bridges on the other
continent.
She sent the bird turning and turning over the city, looking for other forms
of life, looking for some remnant however slight of the folk that had once
lived in that city, or some life form large enough to threaten them when they
passed through it, but saw nothing more than shadows that vanished as soon as
the bird turned toward them. Shadows in her imagination perhaps, born of the
lingering horror she felt whenever she thought about what the people of this
world had done to themselves.
The ruins sat like a patch of rot in the bend of a river that flowed south in
broad lazy sweeps, a huge river that looked as if it drained most of the
continent. One of the raised roadways that crossed the city went along the
river, a causeway now, raised on thick pillars that lifted it less than a
double handspan above the flickering needle points of the salt-grass. In
places it was overgrown with weed and lichen and tangles of bramble vines,
littered with bones and shells and dead leaves and mud and rotting carcasses,
shapeless in decay. Aleytys began to breathe a bit easier as the bird flew
south along the river. If it just went all the way to the coast, that causeway
was going to save them.
Then the bird was swooping out over the river s broad mouth, the silted fresh
water creating a wide fan of pale green in the darker green of the ocean. She
sent the bird spiraling higher until she could see the island, a dark spot on
the dingy sea, a speck against the copper sky, lumbering with ponderous
inevitability in a wide curve as the current got set to swoop along the delta
and pass out beyond the countering current from the river mouth. She tried to
estimate the distance the island would have to travel before it got within
reaching distance of the causeway, but only got confused. She turned the bird
loose and snapped back into herself.
The day hurried on. Late in the afternoon the island lodged for the third time
against a sandbar. The wind blew relentlessly out of the south, too loud to
speak over. Great clouds of birds rode the air over them as the island
shuddered to what might be its final halt. The final halt certainly for the
four of them.
Standing on the springy roots at the island s nose, Aleytys watched the water
retreating past her, as if the onrolling tsunami was sucking it up to add to
its substance. It s only a normal low tide, she told herself, but she didn t
believe it. The water was retreating but the shore was still out of sight, too
far away for her to see anything but discolored water.
She stripped off her outer clothing, rolled the boots inside pants and tunic [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]