The Space Within (The Book of Phoenix #3)

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Authors: Kristie Cook
us. As we came closer, Bex gasped, and her hand flew to her chest.
    “Ohmagosh, we’re here,” she said, picking up speed to reach Hayden. “I feel it.”
    I felt something tugging in my own chest, and it could only be the pull of the Gate. Finally. We’d been traveling for three days, stopping for only a few hours at a time to rest at the tops of trees and under the ledge of a cliff—the only kind of shelter we’d found. My legs ached, my chest burned from trying to breathe normally, and my head throbbed from the weight of the Darkness. I could only imagine how Bex felt, although she hadn’t complained once. Probably because she knew Hayden would make us stop, and we couldn’t afford to do that. Brock’s pace picked up into a near jog, and I pushed myself to move faster, too, and we all caught up to Hayden right below the crest. As soon as we reached the top of the hill, Hayden swore.
    “Get down!” he barked in a whisper, dropping to his knees behind the top of the hill.
    We all dropped, too, and crawled up on our bellies to look over the dune. My breath caught at the sight.
    Off to our right, maybe five or so miles away, stood a city of black, gothic buildings with a multitude of towers and sharp-pointed spires reaching for the sky. Like the cathedrals of old Europe, but if those were places of worship, I didn’t want to know who the congregation praised. A wall of black stone enclosed the entire city, and from our vantage point, I saw no break in the barrier, no gate to pass inside. Not that I really wanted to get inside. The city sat at the edge of a huge body of black water—perhaps a large lake or bay or maybe even a sea because I couldn’t see the other side—that stretched down toward us. Besides that, nothing but gray desert lay between us and the city.
    Below the dune, though, about a quarter-mile away and on the edge of the water, was an encampment of … monsters. Gozzards, giant troll-like men that stood at least twenty feet tall with muscular limbs thicker than a Redwood trunk and skin the color of peas, and smaller beasts that looked like lizards but were the size of lions. People intermingled among them, all dressed in long, black Victorian-style coats, knee-high lace-up boots, and scarves, hats, and goggles on their heads, as though they’d walked off the set of a steampunk Sherlock Holmes movie. And all apparently female. Tents made of a black material were set up around the area, and several fires burned in barrels.
    A black haze hovered in the air, stretching from here to the city. It churned and bubbled and moved not like a cloud on a current, but as though individual particles moved on their own. It was a swarm of Dark souls in spirit form, swooshing to and from the city, some coming down and wrapping the monsters and women in a black mist before gusting upwards to the mass above.
    “If the pull in my gut is right,” Hayden said, “the Gate’s on the other side of them, in the water.”
    “Makes sense,” I whispered.
    “Who—or what—are those things, and what are they doing?” Bex asked.
    “Good question,” Hayden said. “I’ve never seen so many in one place except in battles. With each other.”
    “Battles?” Bex echoed.
    “They’re at war?” Brock asked.
    “We’re always at war,” Hayden murmured. “Those who’ve gone Dark are always fighting for power and greed, throwing each other off the thrones every few months or so, it seems. They’re really just feeding Enyxa’s insatiable lust for chaos and mayhem. The rest of us, who haven’t gone completely Dark, live away on our own in the wilds, staying out of their wars as much as we can.”
    “Where are the men?” I asked.
    “Who knows? Enyxa takes them away.”
    “ What? ” Brock demanded.
    “The only male humans are those of us who haven’t gone completely Dark yet,” Hayden explained. “Enyxa uses these female Dark ones to help us along. More temptation, in more ways than one. If you get up close,

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