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 all dead.
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 of death.
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.
Excerpted from Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks Copyright © 2006 by Terry Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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