Chapter 6 (part 1 of 3)

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Chapter 6

When Gallen and Orick took off down the hill toward the vanquishers, Maggie had felt a thrill of fear as she realized they planned to leave her. She buried her face in the dirt, trying to make herself as small as possible, then heard Gallen's shout.

Below her in the woods, she saw the green and blue lights of wights rushing uphill toward her, and she realized she was in the thick of it.

Her fear suddenly turned to anger. She got up, saw Gallen and Orick struggling to get the bag with the key from a vanquisher. She rushed down the hill, screaming, and bowled into Gallen and Orick, pushing them through the gate.

An icy white light took her, and she had a strange sensation of gliding, as if she were a leaf fluttering through the wind.

Maggie fell back and hit the ground rolling, tumbling against Orick's warm fur. Gallen landed on top of her. She was furious, wanted to hit someone. Maggie shouted, "Gallen O'Day, you ..." Then she just sat and stared, her mouth open in wonder.

They sat in a meadow surrounded by a lush forest, thick with undergrowth. It felt like summer. A warm evening breeze rushed across her back, ruffling her hair, and in the distance a tiny oblong lavender moon hung on the horizon behind a swirl of clouds.

There was no sign of a gate from this side. Maggie looked around, just to be sure. All around them, broad-leaved trees whispered and rippled in waves under the wind. Locusts sang in the darkness. Overhead was a sky filled with more stars than Maggie had ever imagined.

Gallen got up, folded his arms and stood staring. "What?" he asked, absently. Orick sniffed the air.

"Gallen, is your head filled with nothing but blubber?" Maggie shouted. "You've done it to us bad! I don't like the looks of this place."

"Fale," Gallen whispered under his breath. "The vanquishers called it Fale."

Suddenly, carried on the wind, there were screeching sounds from above. A flock of white birds hurtled overhead in the twilight, creaking like rusty hinges, some diving into the trees as if to catch insects in the air. The birds passed.

Gallen put his hand to his mouth and shouted, "Everynne? Veriasse?" He stood waiting for an answer. None came.

"I can't smell them," Orick grumbled, standing on his hind legs to sniff at the wind. "Not even the faintest trace of a scent. They didn't come out here."

"What?" Maggie asked. "They had to come out here. They came through not five minutes ago!"

"Maybe," Gallen wondered aloud, "it's not like a gate so much as a hallway. Maybe it branches. Leading to different places. Everynne called it a maze of worlds. Maybe we made a wrong turn."

Maggie looked at the sky full of whirling stars and an odd-shaped moon. The trees smelled strange, and the evening breeze was soft and warm. Nothing like Tihrglas. She couldn't begin to imagine where they might be.

"You mean we got off on the wrong world somehow?" she asked. "Gallen, you reeking bag of fish, I ought to knock you in the head! What did you have to do this for? What were you thinking, going after the key that way? You could have gotten us all killed! I know what you were after—that woman Everynne. You've been hot for her from the moment you first saw her. Why, if someone lopped off your head, it would be no loss. Your gonads would still do all the thinking!"

Gallen shrugged. "The vanquishers had another key. I had to warn Veriasse. Besides, I didn't ask either of you two to come along."

Maggie glared at him. "You left me! Both you and your dumb bear left me. As soon as those ogres began shouting, every wight in the country rushed up the hill toward us. I had to throw in with you! And if I hadn't come to your aid, we'd have all been killed! We could have all stayed home, hidden safe in the woods, but now...!"

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