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«02 The Walls of Air», Barbara Hambly

The Reaches of the Dark

Gil Patterson thought her vision of the strange city was all a dream - until the wizard Ingold Inglorion appeared one night in her kitchen, seeking a place to bring the infant Prince of Dare from the ancient horror that was attacking the city of Gae.

Rudy Solis didn't believe in wizards and magic - even when he saw Ingold emerge, with an infant in his arms, beside the place where Rudy had stopped to fix his car.

But when one of the monstrous, evil Dark crossed the Void in Ingold's wake, their only escape was back with the wizard to the embattled world from which he had fled.

It was a world where magic worked within a logic of its own. And it was a world where the loathsome Dark were again ravening, after they had lain almost forgotten in underground lairs for three thousand years. Gae had fallen, and the city of Karst was jammed with refugees. The King was dead, and proud, ambitious Alwir was now Regent for the infant Prince Tir, as brother to the young Queen Minalde - or Aide, as most called her.

Then the Dark struck in massive numbers at Karst. In the fighting, Gil discovered that even a graduate student of history could become a warrior. And Rudy found himself aiding the young Queen to save her child again from the Dark.

At Ingold's urging, those who were left began the long, agonizing march toward the Keep of Renweth through trails choked with snow and buffeted by mountain winds. During that flight, Dissension among the leaders was as much a danger as

the trailing Dark and the White Raiders, who were coming from the plains to loot. Alwir and the fanatic lady Govannin, Bishop of the Church, were engaged in a struggle for power. And both feared Ingold -the Bishop because all wizardry was evil in her Faith.

To Gil and Rudy, unused to the hardships of freezing cold and day-after-day marching, the trip was hard. But Gil found herself accepted as one of the Guards, the elite fighting force of Gae. And Rudy found that Aide returned his love. His joy in this was equalled only by his discovery that he could call up fire - and by Ingold's promise to teach him to be a wizard.

In the end, through the efforts of Ingold, some eight thousand people reached the monstrous, black Keep, built three thousand years before by wizardry as a defence against the previous scourge of the Dark. There, in its vast chaos of deserted aisles and chambers, they could make themselves a refuge for a time, though the perils before them were many and terrible.

Yet somehow Gil and Rudy discovered that they no longer had any desire to return across the Void to their own world.

Chapter 1

The setting was the Shamrock Bar in San Bernardino on a rainy Saturday night. Rain drummed softly on the plate glass window, and the tawdry gleam of lights shone on the wet pavement outside. Two bearded bikers and a sleazy blonde were playing pool in the back. Rudy Solis swigged off his second beer of the evening and watched the room. There was something he had lost, something that had been taken from him, but he no longer remembered what it had been. Only a numb ache was left.

He was out of money and not nearly drunk enough yet.

Behind the bar, Billie May moved back and forth along the shelf of empty glasses and bottles of beer, her reflection trailing her in the flyspecked mirror, showing her black eye make-up and the red lace of her bra at the low neck of her sweater. The mirror revealed all the usual Saturday night crowd, people Rudy had known since high school - since childhood, some of them: Peach McClain, the fattest Hell's Angel in the world, with his old lady; Crazy Red, the karate instructor; Big Bull; and the gang from the steel mill. But it was as if they were strangers. He made a gesture with one hand, and a beer bottle levitated from the shelf before the mirror and drifted across the intervening space to his hand. No one noticed. He poured the beer and drank, hardly tasting it. From the jukebox, the tinny whine of steel guitars backed a syrupy nasal voice hymning adultery. The hurt of the loss within him was unbearable.

He let go of the bottle in midair a foot above the surface of the bar and made it stay there. Still no one noticed, or no one cared, anyway. Rudy stared past it at his own reflection in the mirror - the sharp bone structure and backswept eyebrows in their frame of long, reddish-black hair. His fingers were stained with car paint and grease, and his name was tattooed across a

flaming torch on his wrist. Behind him, the plate glass window had grown suddenly dark, as if all light had died outside.

He turned, chilled with a horror he could not define. No streetlights were visible outside, no sheen of neon, only darkness that seemed to press against the window, soft and living - darkness that stirred with a restless movement, as if creatures impossibly sinuous haunted its livid depths. He tried to cry out, and his voice was only a kind of feeble rattle in his throat. He tried to point, but the people in the bar ignored him, as if he were not there. A bolt of energy or power from outside struck the wall of the bar like a monster fist, caving it in amid an explosion of shattering bricks. Through the torn wall, darkness rolled like a wave.


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