Chapter 6 (part 2 of 3)

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He stood over the broken monster's carcass, panting. An odd wailing sounded in the distance, a horn that rose and fell, rose and fell. Maggie turned a full circle, looking for more giant spiders. She wondered if this city, these fields, belonged to the giant spider, or maybe a family of spiders. She was in the magical realm of the sidhe now. Who knew what wonders lay in store?

The wailing continued. Orick growled, sniffed at the spider. He pricked his ears up and said, "Something's coming."

Maggie heard whispering movement among the cornstalks. Gallen took her hand, and they ran. They crossed the road and hid in the brush, watching as ten more enormous spiders came to patrol the perimeter of the field.

The spiders discovered their dead comrade, and one of them dragged the carcass off while the others raced through the field in a frenzy, hunting.

Gallen frowned. The corn might as well have been a hundred miles away. They wouldn't dare try to harvest any more from that field. "Come on," he whispered, pulling Maggie's arm. "Let's get out of here."

Orick crept ahead, using his night vision and keen sense of smell to scout until the spider-infested fields fell behind. The sky began to brighten, turning to a dull silver as it will before dawn.

A spur of the city sprawled across the river just ahead, and the three had to make a choice—forge on into the city, or return to hide in the wilderness.

Orick glanced back at Gallen and Maggie. The sun was rising quickly. Behind him, the colors of the city walls could be seen, vague swirls of green and purple, like a field of alfalfa in bloom. The walls had rounded contours. Tall trees grew in certain clearings, rising above the city. The forest obscured the road ahead.

"I'm going to sneak up on the highway," Gallen said, "just to take a look."

Maggie nodded. Gallen began climbing. As soon as he left, she knew she had to go up there and join him. She hurried to follow. Behind her Orick grumbled, "Damn you for trying to leave me behind!" He rushed after them.

As Maggie climbed onto the highway, it seemed that magic struck. Suddenly, two brilliant lavender suns climbed above the distant mountains, casting a complex network of shadows over the city. As their light touched the highway, it glowed a deep red as if it were made of rubies. The trees at the roadside hissed in the breeze, their long fronds of leaves swaying. Maggie caught the sound of distant music blowing on the wind.

Ahead a shadowed archway led into the city. Several men and women milled about near the arch, seating themselves at tables. The scents of roasting meat and fresh breads wafted from the arch.

"That's an inn," Maggie said. "I know an inn when I see it."

Maggie stood, not quite sure what she saw. Neither Gallen nor Orick dared move forward. Not all of the creatures stirring in that inn were human. A yellow man with enormous spindly limbs leaned his back against one wall near the entrance to the arch. He was bald and naked but for a burgundy loincloth. Maggie suspected that the man would stand over ten feet tall. Other things moving about in the shadowed inn looked like ivory-skinned children with enormous eyes and ears.

Yet there were plenty of normal people inside. Some wore robes in brilliant greens and blues and darkest black, others wore pants and vests of gold with silver headpieces. Yet others were dressed all in silver body armor.

Then the wind shifted and the music swelled with the clear calling of pipes, rumbling drums, and the mellow tones of instruments that Maggie had neither heard before nor imagined. The combination of music and scents and movement of the glittering people in the city called to her, and Maggie knew that if it were the last thing she did, she had to go.

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