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.Damn.That must hurt.When the Hunter was human once more, he quickly drew a fold of his cloak over his head like a hood, but not before Damien caught a glimpse of what the filtered sunlight had done to him.“You know where the horses are?” Tarrant demanded.Scanning the clearing as he approached them.Studying the dead.It was Hesseth who answered him.“No.”He was still for a moment, then he pointed.The finger that poked out from under the cloak was sun-reddened and peeling; it seemed to Damien that its condition worsened even as the motion was completed.“That way.Get them and then keep going, to the end of the island.I’ll meet you there.”Then it seemed from his posture that his eyes fell on something behind them.Damien whirled about, only to find that the girl from their prison was still with them.Too frozen with fear to move, she was cowering behind the inadequate shelter of a tree trunk, her dark eyes wide with terror.Even without Working the fae Damien could sense her slipping under, giving way at last to a barrage of fear too terrible for a mere child to resist.It was Hesseth who moved first, covering the ground between them even as Tarrant began to react.“No!” she cried.She pulled the child to her and wrapped her arms about her.“Not this one! Not like that.”For a moment it seemed that the Hunter would move against her anyway, with or without Hesseth in the way.But at last he turned back to Damien, and in a hoarse voice whispered, “I haven’t the strength to argue now.Take the horses.Meet me where I said.I’ll be there as soon as I’ve finished things.”He turned to go.Damien grabbed his arm through the cloak.“It’s finished.Let them go.They’re just children, Hunter.They won‘t—”“Children?” he snapped.“Is that what you think they are? You fool!” A hand shot free of the protective cloak and closed about the back of his neck; the Hunter’s skin was hot against his own.“Look at your precious children now.Share my vision and See!”The power struck him like a hot iron, driving the breath from his body.For a moment he could see nothing but the hot sun, the blazing sun, whose killing light penetrated the fog and reflected from every surface.Then, element by element, he began to pick out details of the carnage.Bodies of children, wracked by coldfire.Only.Only they weren’t really children.He staggered toward the nearest clump of bodies, aware that Tarrant was moving with him.Heat lanced up through his arches as he walked on the sunlit ground, and it felt like his head was on fire.He knelt down by one of the bodies and stared at it in horror and amazement.What had seemed the body of a child was transformed through Tarrant’s vision into something twisted, something grotesque, a creature whom the years had tortured even while it played at childish games and believed itself to be truly young.The limbs were skeleton-thin, the torso so emaciated that ribs could be counted.Its joints were swollen with thick calcium deposits that must have made each movement a torment, and a yellow discoloration had begun to envelop one arm.He staggered to another body, and another.Not all of them were as old as the first, but all stank of age and neglect.Cuts which had been left undressed had ulcerated, leaving one body a mass of open wounds.Cancer, untreated, had consumed a middle-aged woman.From one gashed leg he could smell the stink of gangrene, and another had broken his foot only to have it heal into a crooked, twisted mass.Numbly he moved from body to body.Sorting through the carnage for understanding, for acceptance.A few of the fallen had been real children, but even those were in bad shape.Whatever Working had maintained the illusion that these poor creatures were children, it had also blinded them to their own infirmity.It had kept them drunk on the vitality of false youth even while age and infection ate away at their true bodies.Little wonder so few of them had survived to old age.Little wonder they had fallen upon their unlucky comrade with such savage glee.Once the concealing illusion had been stripped from her, she was a reminder to them of what they would themselves become.No wonder they feared and hated her.No wonder they killed.Then the vision faded, and the ground was littered once more with the bodies of dead children.He lowered his head and shuddered, overcome by the awful power of what he had learned.“We don’t want them following us,” the Hunter whispered hoarsely.His voice echoed with the pain of his exposure; how much longer could he go on like this? “You get the horses and see if you can find our supplies.I’ll see there’s no pursuit.”“You’re going to kill them,” he whispered.The Hunter said nothing.“Some of them are real children, you know [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]