Chapter 4 (part 1)

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Chapter 4 (part 1)

At dawn, the townspeople in Clere dragged the dead monster from the inn and dumped its body into the bay. Father Heany said that no creature damned to be so ugly should be buried on hallowed ground, and the ocean seemed the only place big enough to hide such a fiend.

The town militia guarded the roads but still hadn't seen more monsters. Yet Maggie knew they were coming. All over town, dogs sniffed the air and barked, sending up keening wails that troubled Maggie's soul.

"Can you smell them?" Maggie asked Orick just after dawn.

"Aye," Orick grumbled, standing on his hind legs to catch the scent. "There's an oily stench on the wind, not from anything human."

Everywhere, townspeople were rushing about frantically, spreading rumors. But Maggie Flynn just stood, watching longingly up the north road to An Cochan. Gallen still hadn't returned. He was hours overdue.

"I'm going to An Cochan," Maggie said at last to Orick, her voice quavering. "If Gallen doesn't know what's afoot, he'd better be warned." She glanced up the road again. There was a tightness in her stomach, a certain knowledge that Gallen had already found trouble. He would never willingly keep a client

waiting, and Maggie suspected that his body lay somewhere on the road to An Cochan. If she was lucky, he might still be alive.

"You're as likely to meet one of those monsters on the road as he is," Orick said. "And he's better prepared to defend himself. Just sit tight."

Orick paced in a circle, rose up on his hind legs and tasted the air again.

Cries of dismay rose from the south end of town. Crowds of people began shouting. Maggie and Orick rushed to the crossroads, looked down the lane: between the shading pine trees, up the cobbled streets lined with picket fences, an ungodly array of giants marched three abreast. Some of them, green-skinned ogres, looked like huge men, eight feet tall. At their head was one of the monsters Orick had slain last night, its too-human head down low, sniffing the ground, blinking at the townspeople with orange eyes.

There were thirty or more of the monsters, and in their center, well protected, walked a creature straight from the bowels of hell. It stood seven feet tall and had a chitinous black carapace. It walked on four extraordinarily long legs, and it held two huge arms before it. One club like arm seemed to end only in a vicious claw, while the other revealed a small, spidery hand that held a black rod.

The beast's head was enormous, with three clusters of multifaceted eyes in various sizes-two sets of eyes in front, one in back. A long, whip-like whisker was attached to each side of its lower jaw, beneath teeth that looked like something that might have belonged to a skinned horse. Its main body was only about a foot wide across the front, but its ribs would have measured three feet in height. From its shoulders sprouted two enormous pairs of translucent wings, the color of urine. Its bloated abdomen, which was carried between its front and back pair of legs, nearly dragged the ground.

People shouted and ran for their houses, dogs barked and leapt about insanely. Some women and an old man fainted outright, falling to the ground.

Father Heany in his vestments rushed to the street and confronted the black beast. He swung a crucifix overhead and shouted, "Beelzebub, I command you in the name of all that is holy to turn back! Turn back now, or suffer the wrath of God!"

Beneath the black devil's mouth, dozens of tiny fingers drummed over a patch of tight skin.

The ogre guardians stepped aside, and for one moment the devil faced Father Heany. It pointed the short black staff at the priest. Flames brighter than lightning fanned out, catching Father Heany in the chest. For a moment, Father Heany stood, blazing like a torch, and then the flesh dropped from his bones and his skeleton fell in the middle of the road, amidst a puddle of burning skin. Maggie felt as if her blood froze in her veins.

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