[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.“You made the most inspiring speech about the glories the Black Company won during the campaign against Chew.”I laughed.“Come on.”“Really.You were just Croaker.Maybe those amulets are good for something.”Tracker was going over his weaponry.Toadkiller Dog was napping near his feet.I pointed.One-Eye signed, “Didn’t see.”Goblin signed, “He grew up and got claws.”They did not seem concerned.I decided I should not be.After all, the whale lice were the nastiest thing after the mutt.The windwhales remained grounded, for the sun was rising.Their backs assumed the dun color of the earth, complete with sage-colored patches, and we waited for the night.The mantas nested down on the other four whales.None came near us.You get the feeling humans make them uncomfortable.Twenty-FourThe wide worldThey never tell me anything.But I should complain? Secrecy is our armor.Need to know.All that crap.In our outfit it is the iron rule of survival.Our escort was not along just to help us break out of the Plain of Fear.They had their own mission.What I had not been told was that Whisper’s headquarters was to be attacked.Whisper had no warning.Our companion windwhales dropped away slowly as the edge of the Plain approached.Their mantas dropped with them.They caught favorable winds and pulled ahead.We climbed higher, into the pure shivers and gasp for breaths.The mantas struck first.In twos and threes they crossed the town at treelop level, loosing their bolts into Whisper’s quarters.Rock and timbers flew like the dust around slamping hooves.Fires broke out.The monsters of the upper air rolled in behind as soldiers and civilians hit the streets.They unleashed bolls of their own.But the real horror was their tentacles.The windwhales gorged upon men and animals.They ripped houses and fortifications apart.They yanked trees out by their roots.And they pounded away at Whisper with their bolls.The mantas, meantime, rose a thousand feet and plunged again, in their pairs and threes, this time to slrike at Whisper as she responded.Her response, though it did set a broad patch of one windwhale’s flank gruesomely aglow, pinpointed her for the mantas.They slapped her around good, though she did bring one down.We passed over, the flash and fires illuminating our monster’s belly.If anyone in the crucible spotted us, I doubt they guessed we were going on.Goblin and One-Eye detected no interest in anything but survival.It continued as we lost sight of the town.Goblin said they had Whisper on the run, too busy saving her own ass to help her men.“Glad they never pulled any of this crap on us,” I said.“It’s a one-shot,” Goblin countered.“Next time they’ll be ready.”“I’d have thought they’d be now, because of Rust.”“Maybe Whisper has an ego problem.”No maybe about it.I had dealt with her.It was her weak spot.She would have made no preparations because she believed we feared her too much.She was, after all, the most brilliant of the Taken.Our mighty steed ploughed the night, back brushing the stars, body gurgling, chugging, humming.I began to feel optimistic.At dawn we dropped into a canyon in the Windy Country, another big desert.Unlike the Plain, though, it is normal.A big emptiness where the wind blows all the time.We ate and slept.When night fell we resumed our journey.We left the desert south of Lords, turned north over the Forest of Cloud, avoiding settlements.Beyond the Forest of Cloud, though, the windwhale descended.And we were on our own.I wish we could have gone the whole way airborne.But that was as far as Darling and the windwhales were willing to risk.Beyond lay heavily inhabited country.We could not hope to come down and pass the daylight hours unseen.So from there on we would travel the old-fashioned way.The free city of Roses was about fifteen miles away.Roses has been free throughout history, a republican plutocracy.Even the Lady did not see fit to buck tradition.One huge battle took place nearby, during the northern campaigns, but the site was of Rebel choosing, not ours.We lost.For several months Roses lost its independence.Then the Lady’s victory at Charm ended Rebel dominion.All in all, though unaligned, Roses is a friend of the Lady.Crafty bitch.We hiked.Our journey was an all-day affair.Neither I nor Goblin nor One-Eye were in good shape.Too much loafing.Getting too old.“This isn’t smart,” I said as we approached a gate in Roses’ pale red walls, toward sunset.“We’ve all been here before.You two should be well-remembered, what with having robbed half the citizens.”“Robbed?” One-Eye protested.“Who robbed?.”“Both of you clowns.Selling those damned guaranteed-to-work amulets when we were after Raker.”Raker was a one-time Rebel general.He had beaten the crap out of the Limper farther north; then the Company, with a little help from Soulcatcher, had sucked him into a trap in Roses.Both Goblin and One-Eye had preyed on the populace.One-Eye was an old hand at that.Back when we were in the south, beyond the Sea of Torments, he had been involved in every shady scheme he could find.Most of his ill-gotten gains he soon lost at cards.He is the world’s worst cardplayer.You’d think by one-fifty he would learn to count them.The plan was for us to lay up at some sleazy no-questions-asked inn.Tracker and I would go out next day and buy a wagon and team.Then we would head out the way we had come, pick up what gear we had been unable to carry, and circle the city by heading north.That was the plan.Goblin and One-Eye did not stick to it.Rule Number One for a soldier: Stick to the mission.The mission is paramount.For Goblin and One-Eye all rules are made to be broken.When Tracker and I returned, with Toadkiller Dog loafing along behind, it was late afternoon.We parked.Tracker stood by while I went upstairs.No Goblin.No One-Eye.The proprietor told me they had left soon after I had, chattering about finding some women.My fault.I was in charge.I should have foreseen it.It had been a long, long, long time.I paid for another two nights, just in case.Then I turned animals and wagon over to the holster’s boy, had supper with a silent Tracker, and retreated to our room with several quarts of beer.We shared it, Tracker, me, and Toadkiller Dog.“You going looking for them?” Tracker asked.“No.If they haven’t come back in two days or pulled the roof in on us, we’ll go ahead without them.I don’t want to be seen around them.There’ll be people here who remember them.”We got pleasantly buzzed.Toadkiller Dog seemed capable of drinking people under the table.Loved his beer, that dog.Actually got up and moved around when he didn’t have to.Next morning, no Goblin.No One-Eye.But plenty of rumors.We entered the common room late, after the morning crowd and before the noontime rush.The hostler had no other ears to bend [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]