Chapter 5 (part 2)

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Chapter 5 (part 2)

Like all homes grown from pine-house seeds, the houses naturally formed holes for doors. Always the seeds grew at least one door at the front of the house, and one at the back. In addition, at odd spots on each side, various openings grew for windows.

Everynne knew that the vanquishers would not be able to follow. Gallen skirted the trees till he reached a steep canyon, then walked to that impenetrable wall and entered a door hole.

They moved through the grove of pine-houses with great effort, grunting and struggling from window to window, often climbing up and down.

Perhaps as a child, Gallen had played here as a game, but windows he had squeezed through as a boy were now too narrow to permit an adult, much less a bear like Orick with his winter fat. Everynne was perspiring heavily. When they were halfway through the grove, Gallen suddenly halted, looking at a narrow window. Obviously, they could not squeeze through it, and Gallen furrowed his brow, deep in thought.

"What's wrong?" Veriasse asked.

"We're stuck here," Gallen said. "I used to fit through that hole nicely, and there is a narrow path ahead that we could follow, but we can't make it through here. There's no way to go forward."

"What will we do?" Maggie asked.

"I'll have to go out and scout another way."

"Do you need help?" Veriasse asked, yet obviously the older man was worn through.

"I'll find a way," Gallen said, and he went out the door. Everynne could hear him scrabbling around outside, climbing up a branch. The pine-house was dusty, full of needles and cones, the leavings of squirrels. A soft afternoon breeze blew through the little valley, stirring the treetops, even though down here on the ground it felt hot, sultry.

For the first few minutes, Everynne was glad of the chance to rest. Veriasse reached into his pack, pulled out a small flask and gave it to her to drink. She was terribly hungry-had gone all day without food-but they had nothing left to eat in the packs.

When Gallen had been gone for nearly an hour, Maggie said, "I think I'd better go look for Gallen. Maybe he's lost us."

She headed outside through a window and scuffled about in the tree, climbing limbs. The sunlight filtering through the open doorway had grown dimmer. Night was coming on, and Everynne could hear pigeons cooing from their roosts. It was very quiet, and Everynne began to feel nervous. They had been sitting for a long time, and the vanquishers could not be far behind. She began to wonder if one of the vanquishers might have already killed the young man, but dared not say it. The bear snuffled, looked out a window.

"Do you think Gallen could be lost?" Everynne asked Veriasse.

Veriasse shook his head. "No. As he's said, he played here as a child. I suspect he knows exactly where we are. I've been impressed by his competence. For a Backward, he seems to have grasped our predicament well, and he's led the vanquishers on a marvelous chase. He'll come back soon."

Veriasse said it with such certainty, that Everynne suddenly felt more at ease. Yet the older man also seemed to need to fill up the silence. "As a warrior, I find him ... intriguing."

"In what way?" Everynne asked.

Veriasse smiled, contemplating. "He carries himself with a deadly grace. If I had seen him on any planet, I would have known he was a killer. He moves with caution, a type of confident wariness that one learns to spot quickly. Yet he is different from warriors on most worlds. Our ancestors relied heavily upon armor until the incendiary guns made it useless. Now, we rely upon our guns and upon tactics downloaded from personal intelligences. We fight battles at long distances and seldom look into the faces of our victims. Even more seldom do we purposely expose ourselves to risk. We have, in effect, become chess masters who've memorized too many classic moves. But this young man relies on quick wits for his survival, and his weapon of choice is the knife. It seems an odd choice."

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