Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

Gallen wandered the pale green hallways of the city. The air was warm, moist, like the air inside a house-tree. The very city was alive, growing.

Windows in the roof let in some light, while glowing gems overhead provided the rest. As Gallen moved deeper into this living catacomb, he twice came upon open-air bazaars where merchants in colorful swirling robes sought to sell him fabulous merchandise: a pair of living lungs that could attach to his back and let him breathe underwater; the seeds to a flower that could be planted one day, grow six feet overnight, and break into glorious blooms; a hood that would let him talk to a dead man; a tiny plug that he could place in his ear so that he could always listen to music; a cream that not only removed wrinkles and blemishes from skin but also left the wearer pleasantly scented for a number of years.

Gallen recognized that much of it was junk and gadgetry, trifles for a people who had everything. But still vendors hawked their wares, trying to engage his attention in odd ways. At one shop, a beautiful woman appeared out of thin air. She was tanned and strong and wore only the slightest scrap of clothes. She smiled at Gallen and said, "Why don't you come in here and try me on?" Then she walked into a shop. Gallen followed, and she

went to a stack of pants, pulled a pair on and wriggled into them, then disappeared.

Gallen found himself staring at a display of pants, looking about for the woman, but she was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly he realized that she had been created only to lure him into the shop. He left, found that similar devices were at nearly every store. Voices would speak from nowhere, demanding that he buy here and now in order to save. Spirit women would appear, begging him to purchase something from the shop, and always they were so beautiful as to make him dizzy.

A manic glee fell over Gallen, and he wandered the long corridors as if in some intoxicated daze, sampling confections that tasted of ambrosia, yet always declining to buy.

In one square, he found a beast that looked like a huge gray toad sitting in a chair, surrounded by bright containers filled with colorful powders. The toadman wore an immense wig of silver with many ringlets and triangles that cascaded down his shoulders. On his back he wore a number of tubes, and each tube had dozens of tiny appendages rising up from it—some with hairs on them, others with clamps or scalpels. All these appendages rose overhead and by use of various joints managed to converge on a small table in front of the toad. Children had gathered around, and Gallen stopped to look.

The toadman's limbs all pointed to a small object at the center of the table, and Gallen stood breathless, watching. A purple dragonfly sat on a thin reed there, motionless. Dozens of tiny needles, or perhaps hairs, met at the focal point of the device, and Gallen saw that the hairs seemed to be stroking one of the dragonfly's wings. Part of the dragonfly's wing was missing, but the toadman's machines were stroking it, creating a new wing.

Gallen's jaw dropped open, and he walked around so that he could watch over the toadman's shoulders. The old gray fellow was looking at writing that appeared in the air, fiery red letters that blossomed and departed so fast that Gallen couldn't read them. An image of the dragonfly, magnified many times, sat in the air above the toadman's head, and every few moments the toadman would look up at the image whenever a new layer of wing had been placed. He would stare at the image a moment, until new veins and an expanded portion of wing appeared, then glance down. His machines would begin constructing the rest of the dragonfly.

Within five minutes, the toadman finished. "Now, children, which of you would like this dragonfly I have formed?" he asked, and the children clapped and pleaded.

The toadman reached out with one warty gray finger, touched the dragonfly, and it climbed onto his long nail. He held the dragonfly aloft for a moment, then turned to Gallen.

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