He drove west at a steady thirty miles an hour, careful to avoid the deeper
cracks and potholes that had eroded the highway, steering past what looked to be
the burned remains of fence posts used for fires and piles of trash blown in
from the now empty farms. He hadnt seen a single soul since he had left
Cleveland yesterday. There were several compounds there, larger than most and
heavily defended. The demons and the once-men were just now beginning to attack
these, having wiped out almost all of the smaller enclaves. Soon enough they
would eliminate the bigger ones, as well. Would have done so by now, perhaps, if
not for the Knights of the Word.
If not for him.
Were there still others like him? He had no way of knowing. The Lady did not
tell him in his visions of her, and he had not encountered another Knight in two
years. He knew that at one time, others had fought as he did to stop the demon
advance, but they were few and many had died. The last Knight hed encountered
had told him that on the East Coast, where the damage was the worst, they were
Midday came and went. He passed out of Indiana and into Illinois as the sun
eased slowly toward the western horizon until eventually the skies began to turn
a brilliant mix of gold and scarlet. His smile was bitter. One thing about air
pollution: it provided some incredibly beautiful endings to your days. If you
had to live in a poisoned world, you might as well enjoy the scenery.
He stopped the Lightning in the center of the highway and climbed out to
watch the colors expand and deepen, taking the black staff with him. He
stretched, easing the aching and stiffness he had developed in the confines of
the AVs cab. He had grown tall and lean like his father, exuding a rangy kind
of strength. Scars crisscrossed his hands and arms, white slashes against his
darker skin. He had sustained worse damage, but nothing that showed. Most of it
was emotional. He was hardened from his years of service to the Word, by the
pain and suffering he had witnessed and by the sense of aloneness he constantly
felt. His face, like his fathers, was all edges and planes, a warriors face.
But his mothers gentle blue eyes helped to soften the harshness. Compassion
reflected in those eyes, but compassion was a luxury in which he could not often
afford to indulge. The demons and their kind did not allow for it.
He stared off into the distance past a broken line of crooked fence posts to
where the darkness was beginning to creep over the landscape. A failing of the
light had already turned the eastern horizon hazy. As he retied the bandanna
that held back his long dark hair, he watched the shadows from the posts
lengthen like snakes.
Then suddenly the late-afternoon breeze shifted, carrying with it the stench
He followed his nose down the side of the road until carrion birds rose in a
black cloud from the drainage ditch that had concealed them and he could see the
remains of the bodies on which they had been feeding. He peered down at them,
trying to reconstruct what had happened. Several families traveling on foot, he
guessed. Dead several days, at least. Caught out in the open, dispatched, then
dragged here. Hard to tell what might have gotten them.
Something big and quick. Something I dont want to run into just now.
He returned to the Lightning, climbed back aboard, and drove on, following
the fading light. The sky west was clear and still bright, so he left the
headlights off. After a time, the moon came up, a narrow crescent off to the
northeast, low and silvery. Once, the light revealed something moving through
the blasted landscape, crouched low on all fours. Could have been anything. He
glanced down at the AVs readings, but they showed nothing, banks of green eyes
shining up at him.
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