It took him less than an hour to reach the town. He was nearly all the way across Illinois, come to a place he had never been to before. But the Lady had made it clear that this was where she wanted him to go. She had visited him in his dreams, as she often did, providing him with directions and guidance, giving him what brief relief he found from the constant nightmares of his past. Once, another Knight had told him, they had dreamed of the future that would come to pass if they failed in their efforts to prevent it. Now there was no reason to dream of the future; they were all living it. Instead he dreamed of the darker moments of his past, of failures and missed opportunities, of losses too painful to relive anywhere except in dreams, and of choices made that had scarred him forever.
He hoped that after his business here was finished and it was time to sleep again, the dreams might let him be for at least one night.
Houses began to appear in the distance, dark boxes against the flat landscape. There were no lights, no fires or candles, no signs of life. But there would be life, he knew. There was life everywhere in towns this size. Just not the sort you wanted to encounter.
He eased the AV down the debris-littered highway toward the town, past broken signs and buildings with sagging roofs and collapsed walls. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of movement. Feeders. Where there were feeders, there were other things, too. He scanned the warning gauges on the Lightning and kept driving.
He passed a small green sign off to one side of the road, its lettering faded and worn:
Twenty-five thousand, five hundred and one, he repeated silently. He shook his head. Once, maybe. A hundred years ago. Several lifetimes in the past, when the world was still in one piece.
He drove on toward his destination and tried not to think further of what was lost and forever gone.
Hawk walked point as the Ghosts emerged from their underground lair beneath what had once been Pioneer Square and set out on foot for midtown Seattle. It was an hour before midday, when trade negotiations and exchanges usually took place, but he liked to give himself a little extra time to cushion against the possibility of encounters with Freaks. Usually you didnt see much of them when it was daylight, but you never knew. It didnt pay to take chances. As leader, it was his responsibility to keep the others safe.
The city was quiet, the debris-littered streets empty and still. Storefronts and apartments stood deserted and hollow, their glass windows broken out and doors barred or sagging. The rusted hulks of cars and trucks sat where their owners had abandoned them decades ago, a few still in one piece, but most long since cannibalized and reduced to metal shells. He wondered, looking at them, what the city had been like when vehicles had tires and ran in a steady, even flow of traffic from one street to the next. He wondered, as he always did, what the city must have been like when it was filled with people and life. Nobody lived in the city now outside the walls of the compounds. Not unless you counted the Freaks and the street children, and no one did.
Hawk stopped the others at the cross streets that marked the northern boundary of Pioneer Square and looked to Candle for reassurance. Her clear blue eyes blinked at him, and she nodded. It was safe to continue. She was only ten years old, but she could see things no one else could. More than once, her visions had saved their lives. He didnt know how she did it, but he knew the Ghosts were lucky to have her. He had named her well: she was their light against the dark.
He glanced momentarily at the others, a ragtag bunch dressed in jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers. He had named them all. He had tossed away their old names and supplied them with new ones. Their names reflected their character and temperament. They were starting over in life, he had told them. None of them should have to carry the past into the future. They were the Ghosts, haunting the ruins of the civilization their parents had destroyed. One day, when they ceased to be street kids and outcasts and could live somewhere else, he would name them something better.
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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