Torak's knee had started to bleed. He kept digging. He tried
not to picture his father on the Death Journey. He tried not to picture
himself alone in the Forest. He was only twelve summers old. He couldn't
survive on his own. He didn't know how.
Blinking furiously, Torak reached for his father's weapons
and laid them by his side. He divided up the arrows, pricking his fingers on
the sharp flint points. Then he shouldered his quiver and bow and scrabbled in
the wreckage for his small black basalt axe. His hazelwood pack had been
smashed in the attack; he'd have to cram everything else into his jerkin, or
tie it to his belt.
He reached for his reindeer-hide sleeping sack.
"Take mine," murmured his father. "You never
didrepair yours. Andswap knives."
Torak was aghast. "Not your knife! You'll need
"You'll need it more. Andit'll be good to have
something of yours on the Death-Journey."
"Fa, please. Don't"
In the Forest, a twig snapped.
Torak spun round.
Just the crackle of the fire and the thud of his heart.
His father licked the sweat from his lips. "It's not
here yet," he said. "Soon. It will come for me soon. . . . Quick.
Clenching his jaw so hard that it hurt, Torak took his own
knife and put it into Fa's hand. Then he untied the buckskin sheath from his
father's belt. Fa's knife was beautiful and deadly, with a blade of banded
blue slate shaped like a willow leaf, and a haft of red deer antler that was
bound with elk sinew for a better grip. As Torak looked down at it, the truth
hit him. He was getting ready for a life without Fa. "I'm not leaving
you!" he cried. "I'll fight it, I"
"No! No one can fight this bear!"
Ravens flew up from the trees.
"Listen to me," hissed his father. "A bearany
bearis the strongest hunter in the Forest. You know that. But this bearmuch
Torak felt the hairs on his arms rise. Looking down into his
father's eyes, he saw the tiny scarlet veins and, at the centers, the
fathomless dark. "What do you mean?" he whispered.
"It ispossessed." His father's face was grim;
he didn't seem like Fa anymore. "Somedemonfrom the Otherworldhas
entered it and made it evil."
An ember spat. The dark trees leaned closer to listen.
"A demon?" said Torak.
His father shut his eyes, mustering his strength. "It
lives only to kill," he said at last. "With each killits power
will grow. It will slaughtereverything. The prey. The clans. All will die.
The Forest will die . . ." He broke off. "In one moonit will be
too late. The demontoo strong."
"One moon? But what"
"Think, Torak! When the red eye is highest in the night
sky, that's when demons are strongest. You know this. That's when the bear
will beinvincible." He fought for breath. In the firelight, Torak saw
the pulse beating in his throat. So faint: as if it might stop at any moment.
"I need youto swear something," said Fa.
Fa swallowed. "Head north. Many daywalks. Findthe
Mountainof the World Spirit."
Torak stared at him. What?
His father's eyes opened, and he gazed into the branches
overhead, as if he saw things there that no one else could. "Find
it," he said again. "It's the only hope."
"Butno one's ever found it. No one can."
"How? I don't"
"Your guidewill find you."
Torak was bewildered. Never before had his father talked like
this. He was a practical man; a hunter. "I don't understand any of
this!" he cried. "What guide? Why must I find the Mountain? Will I
be safe there? Is that it? Safe from the bear?"
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