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.She should have died, but she had not.She had dug deep down inside herself to find reservoirs of strength she hadn’t known she possessed, and she survived.She caught sight of the feeders now, their shadowy forms flitting past open doors and windows, racing toward the compound’s besieged gates.Her mood darkened further.They were always there, always watching and waiting.She had learned to live with it, but not to like it.Even knowing their purpose, she still didn’t understand what feeders were or what had created them.Were they made of something substantive? They fed on the darker emotions of human beings, but there was no reason for shadows to require food.There were so many of them it seemed impossible they could avoid detection, yet no human could see them save those few like herself.She particularly hated the way they swarmed about her when she engaged in battle against the demons and once-men.She could feel them in the way she could feel a spider crawling on her skin.Even though they were only shadows.How could something that was only a shadow—little more than a darkness on the air— make you feel that it was alive?Her attention shifted to the battle.Thousands of feeders swarmed at the base of the compound walls, climbing over the bodies of the dead and wounded, feeding on their pain and misery.They were everywhere, black shapes twisting and writhing as they fought to get at the living.There were so many that in places it was impossible for her to see anything else.Beneath their dark mass, humans and once-men fought for survival.And the once-men were winning.Their army was vast and purposeful, their assault inexorable.Makeshift siege towers had been rolled forward, long scaling ladders had been thrown up, and battering rams were hammering at the reinforced iron gates.It was an all-out assault, one that was meant to break through, one that in the end would succeed.In other times and places, this army had possessed artillery and had used it against the compounds it had besieged.But the mechanized weapons had slowly failed or fallen apart as conditions worsened and war materiel was used up or destroyed.Everything was rudimentary now, sliding back toward the medieval.But that didn’t mean the army was any less successful.Ask those who had fought against it in the other compounds, if you could find any still alive.It didn’t make any difference what kinds of war machines were used; the once-men held the advantage.They were not shut away inside compound walls.They were not afraid of dying.They were not even sane.Their madness and their bloodlust drove them.And they had that old man to lead them.She paused in the lee of an alleyway, not two blocks distant now from where the battle raged, close enough that she could make out the rage in the faces of the combatants and see the blood that soaked their clothing.She looked down momentarily at the rune-carved staff she carried in her hands, its burnished surface as black and depthless as a night pool.She could help those men and women who defended the compound.She commanded power enough to scatter the once-men like dried leaves, but she must not give in to the temptation to do so.She had not come here for that and could not afford to allow herself to become distracted.Besides, any summoning of the staff’s magic would alert the demons, and the demons were already hunting for her.Especially that old man.Robert had warned her of him last year, just before the end, when he had gone to make a final stand with the defenders of the New Mexico and Arizona compounds.The old man had brought this same army to their walls and laid siege, hemming them in, closing off any escape.Robert had done what he could, but a single Knight of the Word was not enough—not then and not now.She had known Robert for five years, had fought beside him in Denver and might have fallen in love if the times had been different and falling in love had been a reasonable thing to do.Robert was tough physically and mentally, a better fighter than she was.But it hadn’t been enough to save him.In his final messages, the ones sent by carrier pigeon, he had described the old man so that she could not mistake him when he reached Los Angeles, as Robert knew by then he would.Tall and stooped, wrapped in a long gray cloak and wearing a wide-brimmed hat he was the personification of evil.The eyes were what you remembered, Robert wrote.Hard as steel, so cold you could feel them burn your skin, but empty of everything human when they looked at you.There were rumors about him even before Robert’s letters.A demon whose special skills lay in tracking down Knights of the Word, he had been hunting and killing them for years.She did not know how many the old man had dispatched besides Robert, but it was more than a handful.Eventually he would come hunting for her.But she would not be so easily trapped, she thought, and her hands tightened anew on her staff [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]