Chapter 13 (part 3 of 3)

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Maggie pushed some buttons, and the thrusters roared to life behind his feet. He could feel the heat of the engines, and he feared that his fur would catch fire, but Maggie pressed a throttle and the airbike bucked under their combined weight, then lifted with a kick.

Orick looked back one last time at Grandmother, who stood straight in the darkness and waved good-bye. Maggie applied full acceleration. The airbike whizzed into the night, along the streets of Cyannesse until they reached the winding stair that led down to the beach, then she slowed. Still, the bike seemed to slide down, going faster and faster until they hit the sandy beach, bounced once, and then were off.

They drove straight through the night mists, out over a wide sea. The wind whipped in Orick's face, and lantern fish with their luminous backs lit the water. In some places, it seemed that Maggie and Orick whisked over a road of green light. Tiny silver fish sometimes jumped toward the headlamps of the bike.

After a while, Maggie relaxed, and the machine carried them on until they reached land near dawn. There, Maggie stopped and they ate a short meal, stretched their legs, then rode the airbike up onto a large island, through some rough terrain.

Soon they spotted a gate gleaming gold in the morning. Maggie pulled out the key, thumbed some buttons. Orick was amazed that she could learn how to work such a thing, but ahead of them the gate began glowing white between the arches.

"Where are we going?" Orick asked.

"The planet Bregnel," Maggie shouted. She slowed the airbike until they hit the light wall and were swallowed in the mists.

The airbike skated into profound darkness, into a world where the very air burned Orick's lungs, then lay in them like a clot. The ground was thick with ash, and dead trees raised tortured black branches to claw the sky. Buildings towered above them on every side, like squatting giants, and the buildings too were blackened over every wall.

Maggie coughed, hit the throttle, and the airbike whipped through the night, raising a cloud of ashes as it roared down the empty streets. Here and there on the ground, Orick could see blackened skeletons of small gnome-like humans among the ash, many still wearing their mantles, some holding weapons. It looked as if they had been caught and burned in the midst of a battle. There was no clothing left on the skeletons, no flesh on the ebony bones.

There were no lights in any window, no footprints among the ashes. The world was dead, uninhabited, and by the smell of the air, perhaps uninhabitable.

As bad as the air was, a certain heaviness fell upon Orick as well, as if he weighed more here than he had elsewhere. Upon reflection, he realized that he had felt somehow lighter and stronger upon Cyannesse, but had not noticed it then.

As they hurried forward, Orick saw a corpse on the ground, half covered with ash. Its arms were curled close to its ribs, as if the person had died protecting some great treasure. Orick almost called for Maggie to stop, but as the airbike rushed over the corpse, scattering ashes, Orick looked back. In its hands, the corpse held the bones of an infant.

"What happened here?" Orick bawled, the air burning his lungs.

Maggie shouted back, horror in her voice. "Someone released a Terror on this world."

"Did you know about this?"

"Veriasse told me that the people here were fighting the dronon."

"You mean the dronon killed them?"

Maggie shrugged.

The headlights on the air bike cut a grim alley through the darkness, and Maggie soared over winding roads through a maze of stone buildings. Up ahead, the lights shone over a pair of footprints in the ash.

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