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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 121, Kondor 40
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Previous chapter: Chapter 120, Slade 40
For the moment, Kondor wasn't absolutely certain they were still on the right track. He had continued along the cliff face because he didn't see any alternate route. He slowed now, looking for some evidence that they had come this way. Lauren had trusted his ability to do this, and had given up her chance to see it through because of that trust. He hoped she was right, that they would meet again in another world--not heaven, of course, but somewhere. He didn't realize how good a friend she had become, despite her annoying nonsense about magic and God, and he didn't want to let her down.
Then he realized that he was looking for the wrong thing. There was little brush here, hard stony ground, and widely-spaced trees. The forest tracking skills which had brought him so far would be of considerably less use here. But these sparrow people were taking their victim to a place of sacrifice, a place that they visited every year, once a year probably, at about this time. They would have marked the trail, so that as the years and perhaps the generations wore on it could still be found. What would work? How would they mark it?
Broken sticks and branches were a common idea, but very temporary and easily confused with naturally occurring ones. Blazing a trail was an excellent technique, but the sparrows didn't appear to have axes or knives or any other tool that could strip bark from standing trees. Besides, the blazes tended to weather and fade into the bark, and sometimes to grow closed again, so it was inadequate for this. Something more permanent was required.
Then he saw a marker. It was a rock, about a foot across, with several smaller rocks beside it. They formed a wavy line, but it was a regular form like an "S", and arranged so that the rocks in the line were progressively smaller, something that wouldn't easily occur by accident. He decided that the large rock was on the side he expected to be going, so it must be the pointer.
A few hundred yards through the brush, and he saw it again: one large rock, and a set of smaller ones forming a wavy line behind it. This was the path.
It continued for several miles. Kondor thought this was an awful lot of trouble to go through for some foolish religious ritual; if they wanted to kill the girl, why didn't they just do it in their village, or back at the cave? What was so special about the place they were going that made it holy ground or whatever? It would just be more practical to have the sacrifice closer to home, without all this travel. Still, he pressed forward, marker to marker.
The brush ended, and he realized that they had arrived. Ahead, maybe half a mile or so but clearly visible, there was a ring of standing rocks with a trail disappearing into their midst. That had to be the temple, or whatever it was. He called it to Slade's attention. But Slade's attention was elsewhere.
"Joe?" he said.
"It's just ahead, Bob. Don't you see it?"
"Yeah, I see it. But I also see trouble."
"Trouble?" And turning around, Kondor saw trouble. Apparently the ritual was guarded, and the guards were waiting for them. Fortunately it was a ritual guard, there for tradition, who did not expect to fight; and they seemed to be chattering about what they should do when someone actually did come invade their holy ground. Unfortunately, they were a well-armed ritual guard, about twenty of them, accompanied by beasts on leashes, nasty-looking toothy reptiles the size of large dogs. Kondor figured he could open fire on them. If every bullet which remained proved fatal, he could kill them all. Single bullets were rarely fatal, even with his skill. Perhaps together he and Slade could beat them; but he was trying to guess their skill. Perhaps the guards would overwhelm them. This decision would make all the difference in the success or failure of the mission.
"It's my turn," Kondor said. "You save the girl. I'll deal with this lot."
Clicking the safety off on his rifle, he started walking toward the enemy.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #69: Novel Conclusion. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: