Chapter 10 (part 2 of 2)

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Orick looked into Veriasse's deep blue eyes as the old man worked at the fastener, and saw in them an intensity, a deliberate-ness that few men carried. Here was a man, Orick decided, who had become a fanatic, a man who could be driven beyond mortal efforts.

Veriasse managed to fasten the cloak, then led them to the magcar and drove south for an hour through a winding mountain pass. In that time, they had to stop at two inspection stations where green-skinned ogres questioned them. Yet after checking the false identification for Maggie and Everynne, the ogres let them pass.

As the magcar climbed over a last mountain, Orick could taste the scent of sea air even before they saw the water beyond. The city of Guianne gleamed white below them, a collection of exotic domes that rested on a sandy beach like broken eggshells from some giant bird. Above the city, people flew lazily in the air currents, clear wings strapped to their backs flashing like giant dragonflies.

It was only as Veriasse descended toward the city that Orick began to realize how large it must be. He drove for five minutes, and though the buildings loomed larger, they were still very far away.

Just as Orick began to get used to the idea of those enormous buildings, the winged people scattered away from one quadrant of the city, then one round building lifted into the air, defying gravity, and continued climbing straight up into the morning until it vanished behind a layer of clouds.

"By Saint Jermaine's wagging beard, you'll not get me in one of those buildings!" Orick shouted.

"That isn't a building," Maggie said. "It's a starship. All of the domes are starships." Orick looked over at Maggie. She wore a strange expression, one of both profound awe and conquest. He had never seen her so happy, so transformed by wonder. "And I know how they work."

Orick crossed himself to ward off bad luck. He muttered under his breath. "I don't know why I came here. Nothing good can come of it, as I've said all along. You stay right where you belong, Orick. Bears need the woods like birds need sky."

The car skimmed over the highway, then turned onto one of many branching boulevards. When they neared the city, the egg-shaped ships loomed above them. Beneath the ships was a sprawling conglomeration of tunnels and passages that seemed to wind about in meandering patterns like veins in a leaf.

Veriasse pulled up to one huge tunnel-like opening and passed under an arch. The presence of the dronon vanquishers was heavier here than it had been in Toohkansay. A dozen vanquishers manned an outpost at the gate, brandishing oversized incendiary rifles. Veriasse stopped to give his identification.

The vanquishers let the car pass. Veriasse drove down a broad boulevard beneath the covered city, a vast arching tunnel whose ceiling could not have been less than three hundred feet high. Everywhere along the sides of the street were shops with exotic displays. The scent of foods unfamiliar to Orick wafted through the tunnel. Smaller side passages led off to living areas and uncovered parkways. Veriasse drove slowly, for many pedestrians and other vehicles also negotiated the great boulevard. A dozen times, Orick was tempted to ask Veriasse to stop so that he could tryout some pastry or other dish sold by vendors, but the old man kept driving for nearly an hour, heading down at a slight angle.

It was getting darker. Orick glanced up at the huge skylights, saw that they had descended below the ocean. Schools of fish swam in the green waters above them.

Far from the gates of the city, Veriasse halted the car in front of a building whose strange facade attracted Orick. The building displayed no markings to explain its purpose to passersby. Lampposts in front had glow globes attached, but the muted lights gave the place a somber appearance. To heighten the solemn atmosphere, Orick saw that there were no businesses nearby for hundreds of yards. The building was silent. A few people hurried in, some away, but all of them kept their heads low, as if to hide their identities. The building's facade showed in bas-relief an image of a woman standing with arms outstretched. Behind her glittered a field of gold stars. The handiwork was astonishing, beautiful, but something more attracted Orick: the woman herself.

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