By Terry Brooks
Random House Terry Brooks
All right reserved. ISBN: 0345484088
He is fast asleep in his bed on the night that the demon and the once-men come for his family. They have been watching the compound for days, studying its walls and the routine of the guards who ward them. They have waited patiently for their chance, and now it has arrived. An advance party is over the walls and past the guards. They have opened the gates from the inside to let in the others, and now all are pouring into the compound. In less than five minutes, everything has been lost.
He doesn't realize this when his father shakes him awake, but he knows something is wrong.
"Logan, get up." Urgency and fear are apparent in his father's voice.
Logan blinks against the beam of the flashlight his father holds, one of two they still possess. He sees his brother dressing across the way, pulling on his shirt and pants, moving quickly, anxiously. Tyler isn't griping, isn't saying anything, doesn't even look over at him.
His father bends close, his strong features all planes and angles at the edges of the flashlight's beam. His big hand grips his son's shoulder and squeezes. "It's time for us to leave here, Logan. Put on your clothes and your pack and wait by the trapdoor with Tyler. Your mother and I will be along with Megan."
His sister. He looks around, but doesn't see her. Outside, there isshouting and the sound of gunfire. A battle is being fought. He knows now what has happened, even without seeing it. He has heard it talked about all of his life, the day their enemies would find a way to break through, the day that the walls and gates and guards and defenses would finally give way. It has happened all across the United States. It has happened all over the world. No one is safe anywhere. Maybe no one will ever be safe again.
He rises quickly now and dresses. His brother already has his pack strapped across his back and tosses Logan his. The packs have been sitting in a corner of his bedroom for as far back as he can remember. Each month, they are unpacked, checked, and repacked. His father is a careful man, a planner, a survivor. He has always assumed this day would come, even though he assured his family it would not. Logan was not fooled. His father did not speak of it directly, but in the spaces between the words of reassurance were silent warnings. Logan did not miss them, did not ignore their implications.
"Hurry, slug," Tyler hisses at him, going out the door.
He finishes fastening his boots, throws his pack over his shoulder, and hurries after his brother. The shouts are growing louder now, more frantic. There are screams, as well. He feels curiously removed from all of it, as if it were happening to people with whom he had no connection, even though these are his friends and neighbors. He feels light-headed, and there is a buzzing in his ears. Maybe he has gotten up too fast, has rushed himself the way he does sometimes without allowing his body to adjust to a sudden change.
Maybe it is just the first of many adjustments he is going to have to make in his life.
He knows what is going to happen now. His father has told them all, taking care to use the word if rather than the word when. They are going to have to escape through the tunnels and flee into the surrounding countryside. They are going to have to abandon their home and all their possessions because otherwise they will be caught and killed. The demons and the once-men have made it clear from the beginning that those who choose to shut themselves away in the compounds will not be spared once their defenses are breached. It is punishment for defiance, but it is a warning, too.
If you want to survive, you have to place yourself in our hands.
No one believes this is true, of course. No one can survive outside the compounds. Not as a free man or woman. Not with the plagues and poisons in the air, water, and soil. Not with the slave camps to take you in and swallow you up. Not with the Freaks and the monsters running amok in cities and towns and villages everywhere.
Not with the demons and once-men seeking to exterminate the human race.
Not in this brave new world.
Logan knows this even though he is only eight years old. He knows it because he is dreaming it, reliving it twenty years later. His understanding of its truths transcends time and place; he embraces the knowledge in the form of memories. He knows it the way he already knows how things will end.
He is standing with Tyler in front of the trapdoor when his father reaches them, ushering his mother and sister into place. "Stay together," he tells them, glancing from face to face. "Look out for each other."
He carries a short-barreled Tyson 33 Flechette, a wicked black metal weapon that when fired can tear a hole through a stone wall a foot thick. Logan has seen it fired only once, years ago, when his father was testing it. The sound of its discharge was deafening. There was a burning smell in his nose and a ringing in his ears afterward. The memory stays with him to this day. He is afraid of the weapon. If his father carries it, things are as bad as they can possibly be.
"Jack." His mother speaks his father's name softly, and she turns and takes him in her arms, burying her face in his shoulder. The shouts and screams and firing are right outside their door.
His father lets her hold him for a moment, then eases her away, reaches down, and flings back the trapdoor. "Go!" he snaps, motioning them in.
Tyler doesn't hesitate; carrying the second of the two flashlights, he goes down through the opening. Megan follows him, her green eyes huge and damp with tears.
"Logan," his father calls when he sees his youngest hesitate.
In the next instant the front door blows apart in a fiery explosion that engulfs both his mother and his father and sends him tumbling head-over-heels down the stairway to land in a twisted heap on top of his sister. She screams, and something heavy falls on the dirt floor next to him, barely missing his head. In the waver of Tyler's flashlight he looks down and sees the Tyson Flechette. He stares at it until his brother jerks him to his feet and snatches up the weapon himself.
Their eyes meet and they both know. "Run!" Tyler grunts.
Together the three children hurry down the long dark corridor, following the beam of the flashlight. In the darkness ahead, other flashlight beams and flickering candles appear out of other tunnels that join this one, and the sound of voices grows louder. He knows they all come from homes close to his own. The tunnel was the joint project of many families, spearheaded by his father and a few other men, a bolt-hole in case of the unspeakable. Quickly the tunnels are packed, and people are pushing and shoving. Tyler, fighting to keep Megan in tow with one hand while wielding his flashlight with the other, shouts his name and shoves the Tyson Flechette at him.
Logan takes it without thinking. His hands close over the cool, smooth metal of the barrel and work down to the leather-bound grip. Curiously, the weapon feels right in his hands; it feels like it belongs there. His fear of it dissipates as he cradles it to his chest.
Ahead, there is a convergence of lights, and a wooden stairway leads upward. People are pouring out of the tunnel and up the steps into a night filled with flashes and explosions and the sounds of death and dying. He can feel the heat of an intense fire as he gains the opening. As he breathes in the night air, he can smell the acrid stench of smoke and charred timbers.
He has just paused to look around, not three steps back from Tyler and Megan, when an explosion rips the earth beneath him, flinging him backward into the night. An eerie silence descends over his immediate surroundings. Everything he hears now is distant and strangely muffled. He cannot see at first, cannot even move, lying on the ground clutching the flechette as if it were a lifeline.
He rises with difficulty, dazed and in shock. He sees bodies strewn everywhere on the ground in front of him, all around the tunnel opening, dozens and dozens of crumpled forms. He climbs to his feet and staggers over to where Tyler and Megan lie still and bleeding, their eyes wide and staring. He feels his chest tighten and his strength drain away. They are gone. His whole family is gone. It happened so fast.
Sudden movement catches his eye as a knot of dark forms converges on him from out of the darkness. Once-men, wild-eyed and feral, their faces the faces of animals. Without thinking, without even knowing how he remembers what to do, he snaps off the safety on the Tyson Flechette, whips up the barrel, and fires into their midst. Dozens of them disappear, blown backward into the night. He swings the barrel to the right and fires again. Dozens more fly apart. He is exhilarated, become as maddened as they are, as consumed by bloodlust. He hates them for what they have done. He wants to destroy them all.
Then he sees another figure, an old man standing off to one side, tall and stooped and ghost-gray in a cloak that hangs almost to the ground. His eyes are fixed on Logan, peering out from beneath a slouch-brimmed hat, and in those eyes is a cold approval that terrifies the boy. He does not understand what it is the old man approves of, but he does understand one thing. Without ever having come face-to-face with one before, he knows instinctively that this is a demon.
The demon smiles at him and nods.
A hand jerks him about sharply and whips the flechette out of his hands. Eyes as hard and black as obsidian stare out of a face streaked with grease and sweat. "Good enough, boy, but it's time to leave now. Let's live to fight another day!"
He takes Logan's arm and begins to run with him into the darkness. Others with faces painted in the same way join with him, shepherding the strays they have gathered from the ruins of the compound. A rear guard forms up to protect their retreat, weapons firing into the waves of once-men that seek to reach them.
"Run, boy." The man who holds him shoves him away.
Fighting down the pain he feels in his gut, struggling to hold back his tears, he does. He does not look back.
the midmorning sunlight blinded Logan Tom when he opened his eyes, and he blinked hard to clear away the sleep as he peered out through the windshield of the Lightning S-150 AV. The Indiana countryside, empty of life, spread away to either side of the little copse of elms he had pulled into the night before. The highway he had followed west toward Chicago stretched back the way he had come and ahead the way he must go, cracked and weed-grown and littered with debris. His gaze shifted. Fields fallow and dried out from weeks without rain formed a broken brown patchwork to the south. North, about half a mile off, a farmhouse and barn sat abandoned and derelict in a small grove of oaks turned wintry and leached of life.
On the four horizons, nothing moved. Not even feeders, and feeders were everywhere there were humans to consume.
He reached over for the staff, gripped it tightly for a moment, then ran his hands slowly along its polished black length, feeling the reassuring presence of the runes carved into its surface.
Another day in the world.
He checked the gauges of the AV, a cursory examination of several banks of lights that glimmered a uniform green in the daylight brightness. The red lights were dark, reassuring him that nothing had approached the vehicle during the night. He would not have slept through their audible warnings in any case, but it didn't hurt to make sure. The assault vehicle was his favorite weapon against the things that hunted him, and he relied on her the way you relied on a best friend. Not that he had ever had a best friend. Michael had been his last real friend, but mostly he had been Logan's teacher. It was Michael, a genius with anything mechanical, who had acquired and modified the AV. When he was gone, the Lightning had become Logan's, a small legacy from a man larger than life.
He thought momentarily of his dream, of that last night with his family, with his childhood. Twenty years ago now, but it seemed an eternity.
Don't dwell on it. Don't give power of any kind to the past.
Satisfied that nothing threatened, he glanced at the solar battery readings. Full power. He was good to go. Solar had its advantages in a world in which the climates had been so drastically altered that the sun shone 350 days a year all the way from the equator to Canada. When you crossed the Mississippi, there was nothing but desert until you reached the mountains, then more of the same after that until you got close to the coast. The ozone layer had mostly burned away, the polar ice caps all but vanished. Temperatures had risen everywhere, and the land that had once been Middle America had turned stunted and dry. Old news; it had happened more than thirty years ago. So lots of sunshine was the forecast for today, tomorrow, and the next few centuries.
Rainfall? Six to eight inches a year in the wet spots.
Logan Tom wondered if anyone would ever again see anything that even resembled the old world. He thought it possible his descendants might, one extrapolated from the raw conditions of the present. But the world his parents and grandparents had known was gone forever, as dead as the moral and social fabric that had failed to hold it together. No one had thought it possible. No one had believed it could happen.
No one except the Knights of the Word, who had dreamed the nightmare and tried unsuccessfully to prevent it. Men and women conscripted to the cause, champions of and believers in the need to keep the magic that bound all things in balance.
For there was magic in the world, born out of the time before humankind, out of the world of Faerie, out of an older civilization. Magic that infused and sustained, that reached beyond what could be seen or even understood to tie together in symbiotic fashion all life.
Magic over which both the Word and the Void sought to exercise control.
It was an old struggle, one that dated all the way back to the birth of humanity. It was a struggle for supremacy between shadings of light and dark, between gradations of good and evil. Logan Tom didn't pretend to understand all the nuances.
Excerpted from Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks Excerpted by permission.
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