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Chapter 21

By day, the Tessellate Mountains south of Barona had been as unfamiliar as the buildings of a strange city; but by night, they might just as well have been from another planet. Coasting to a stop for probably the hundredth time since crossing the Nordau River, Lisa gazed out across the shadowy landscape before her, trying to find anything that looked familiar while at the same time fighting down the panic that seemed to have lodged permanently in her throat. The stars blazed brilliantly down from a cloudless sky, and Akkad, the larger of the two moons, was still up, but all of the light seemed to hinder more than it helped. The shadows the moon created were sharp and very dark, confusing the shapes of the mountains and sometimes hiding the smaller peaks completely. The handful of snow-covered mountains were easy enough to identify as such, but except for the slopes nearest her at any given time, Lisa found conetree forests, scrubweed, and bare rock to be virtually indistinguishable.

Just ahead and a little to her right were a pair of mountains that might be the ones Camila had pointed out to her that morningyesterday morning, now; it was a good half hour past ten. If they were the right peaks, she remembered, she needed to pass them on the left. If they weren't... well, in that case, she was probably lost already. Swallowing her fear, she picked up speed again.

So intent was she on the landscape ahead that she failed to see the figure angling down toward her from overhead; failed to notice him, in fact, until his soft voice jolted her into a four-meter swerve to the side. "Weylin? That you?" the voice called.

Heart abruptly pounding, Lisa leveled out, rolling in midair to see who it was. "No, it's Lisa Duncan," she told him, trying to pierce the shadows hiding his face. "Who are you?"

"Senior Acolyte Axel Schu," he said. "The Prophet sent me out here to watch for you. Where's Weylin?"

"The police almost caught us," she told him, a wave of relief at having a guide almost covering up her other worries. "I don't know if Weylin got away or not."

For a moment they flew together in silence. "Well..." Axel said at last. "Did you at least get the stuff the Prophet wanted?"

"I don't know," Lisa sighed. "I hope so."

"A little more to the left here," Axel said as they rounded a craggy peak. "I guess you'll find out soon enough," he added, pointing to a glistening cone directly in front of them. "That's our mountain. The Prophet's waiting for you."

"All right," Lisa said, matching his increase in speed. The Prophet's waiting. Somehow, that thought wasn't as comforting as she'd expected it to be.

"Still going due south?" Tirrell said into his car's microphone, fighting the wheel with one hand as he bounced over the dusty farmland road.

"Still south," Tonio's voice confirmed.

"Damn," Tirrell muttered to himself. The road he was on was forcing him ever more eastward, toward the central part of the Barona-Nordau farming area, and there hadn't been a right-hand turnoff for a kilometer or two. "How close are you to the mountains?" he asked.

"A few kilometers, maybenot very far. Weylin's still pretty high; I don't think he's going to land anytime soon."

Tirrell scooped up his map with his mike hand, but it was pure reflex; already he was letting the car coast to a stop. "This isn't going to work, Toniothere's no fast way for me to get back to you by car. You'd better come and get me before he gets into the mountains and we lose him for sure."

"Okay. I think I can see your lights back there. Blink them once... right. I'll be there in a flash."

Pulling off onto the soft dirt at the edge of the road, Tirrell collected his map, flashlight, and jacket and climbed out of the car, leaving the headlights on. Ahead, he could see the barest outline of the Tessellate Mountains as they jutted up to block the stars. A hell of a place to be playing nighttime hide-and-search, he thought uneasily, putting on his jacket and stuffing the map into a pocket. A million places Weylin could instantly lose them if he even so much as suspected he was being followedand a million more places where Jarvis's cabin could be hidden. For a moment he considered sliding back into the car and sending for reinforcements, or at least another few trackers. But he resisted the temptation. Until he knew exactly how Jarvis had suborned Weylin it was better to have one righthand he could trust than fifty he wasn't sure of.

He sensed, rather than saw, the dark object arcing toward him from the southwest, and acted with the sure movements of past experience. Ducking slightly, he reached through the car window and doused the lights; simultaneously, he flicked on his flashlight and pointed it at himself from arm's length. Instantly, the still night air became a hurricane in his face as he was abruptly teeked upward at high speed. Squeezing his eyes shut, he brought up his free arm for extra protection and waited for the wind to ease a bit. A moment later it did just that, and he opened his eyes to slits just in time to reach out and clasp Tonio's outstretched hand. "Good job," he complimented the righthand, flicking off his light and putting it away. "Can you get us back to Weylin before he gets lost in the mountains?"

Already they were heading back the way Tonio had come. "Just watch me," the preteen called over the wind and doubled his speed.

The techniques of breathing in fast flight, once learned, were never forgotten, and Tirrell had the extra advantage of not really needing to watch where they were going. He spent most of those first few minutes with his head turned to the side, windward eye closed tightly and the other open just a crack, breathing through the side of his mouth. Every few breaths he would take a quick look forward, just to keep some idea of their position. Tonio, of course, had to do that a lot more often.

They had been flying for perhaps ten minutes when Tonio abruptly brought them to almost a complete halt. "There he is!" the preteen said, pointing.

Tirrell swiped at his eyes and scanned the area ahead. Sure enough, a dimly lit speck could just be seen tracing a path above the first real mountains of the range. "Looks like he's slowed down some," Tonio commented. "Probably figures he's safe now and doesn't want to miss any turns."

"Neither do we," Tirrell told him with grim satisfaction. "Stay low and back and let's follow him in."

Tonio nodded and they started moving again. Ignoring the conetree tops brushing at his feet, Tirrell kept his eyes solidly fixed on Weylin. This was one game of hide-and-search he was not going to lose.

The tabernacle was quiet and dark, but the Prophet Omega was indeed waiting for them. "Lisa; I'm pleased to see you again," he said with a warm smile as Axel ushered her into the office she'd talked to the Prophet in before. The Prophet had changed since then from his white robe to a plainer blue one, but he looked no less impressive for all that. "Come sit by me and tell me all of the evening's events. Acolyte Schu, please wait outside."

Slowly, Lisa walked forward and sat down in the indicated chair by the Prophet's desk. Something was nagging at her, but she couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was. "Don't you already know?" she asked him. "I mean, you told me you had the Truth inside you"

"Truth and knowledge are not identical," he told her, his tone that of a preteen lecturing a Seven. "Truth is more like wisdom, the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Else why would I have asked you to seek knowledge of the boy Colin for me? Now, begin."

Haltinglythe memory was still painfulLisa told him everything that had happened from the time she and Weylin entered the city building to the time she escaped from the searching righthands. More from fear of the Prophet's disapproval than anything else, she skipped completely over her trip to the hive and everything that happened there. "So then I came back here to tell you what I could," she concluded. "Are you going to do anything to help Weylin?"

"Acolyte Weylin is in no danger if he followed my instructions," the Prophet said, a slight frown creasing his forehead. "Tell me, did you have trouble finding your way here?"

"Oh, yes," Lisa said, shivering slightly at the memory. "I was afraid I'd get completely lost and have to spend the night out there by myself."

The frown vanished. "That explains the time, then," he said. Before Lisa could ask what he meant, the Prophet picked up a large packet of paper from a corner of his desk and unfolded it into what turned out to be a duplicate of the map on Tirrell's office wall. "Now, Lisa," he said, spreading the paper across the center of the desk, "show me exactly where the circled areas are."

"Well..." Lisa swallowed. "I only found a couple in the right part of the map before thebefore I had to leave." She found the letters and numbers she remembered and pointed out the spots.

"What do you mean, 'the right part'?" he asked. "Did the papers talk about that?"

"Oh! NoI forgot to tell you. There was a picture of Dr. Jarvis by the door downstairs in the city buildingI'm not exactly sure what the pictures were for"

"They're photos of people wanted by the police," the Prophet told her. "Go on."

"Well, I remembered seeing him. He was driving toward Rand one night last June. And he had a little boy with him who he said was his nephew, but I think it must have really been Colin."

"You talked to him? Jarvis, I mean?"

"Yes. I thought he might be having some trouble, driving between cities at night, so I stopped to ask if he was all right."

The Prophet muttered something under his breath and jabbed at the map. "Show me where," he ordered. "The exact spot."

She looked at it in bewilderment. "But... how do I"

"You've flown over that road lots of times, haven't you? Well, each turn and bend shows up here as a curve in the line. Come on; I need to know."

But I wasn't flying along the road that night. Gritting her teeth, she leaned over the map, trying to think. She'd cut off parts of two curves catching up with the car, had stopped it on a smooth stretch, and had watched the car curve a little to the left as it left. "I think it was maybe about here," she said at last, her finger tracing a two-centimeter section of the line.

The Prophet brushed her hand aside and made a circle there with a pen. "Good. Now, let's see how far that is from Barona...." With a small disk-shaped device he carefully traced along the line back into the shape labeled BARONA. Glancing at the device's side, he scribbled a number by the circle. "Lisa," he said, looking up with a smile, "I am even more certain now that it was the Truth that guided you to me."

"You mean I... did all right?" she asked cautiously.

"You did wonderfully," he nodded, still smiling. "You see, I already know the boy Colin is being held within a hundred kilometers of Barona. You saw him at a point nearly eighty kilometers away, which means you have narrowed tremendously the area we must search. That plus these" he touched the two spots she'd first given him"gives me hope that we will soon have Colin freed from his satanic captor; possibly before this day is over. And for allowing the Truth to work through you, your own desire shall surely be granted."

"You'll find Daryl for me." It wasn't until the words were out that Lisa realized she'd made a statement instead of asking a question. In that moment she suddenly understood why Weylin had been able to trust this man so completely. Looking into his eyes, feeling the warmth of his pleasure at her accomplishment, she felt as if she had finally found something she hadn't even known she'd lost. Somehow, it made everything that she'd gone through worthwhile.

The Prophet nodded solemnly. "I give you my word"

Abruptly, he broke off, his eyes shifting toward the door. Soft voices could be heard coming from outside the room; but even as Lisa strained her ears, the door swung open

And Weylin Ellery strode into the room.

"Weylin!" Lisa exclaimed with delight. "I was afraid you'd"

"How'd you get away from Tirrell?" Weylin interrupted her coldly.

"From who? I went out the window"

"Tirrell called from your hivesaid he'd caught you," Weylin bit out. "Wanted me to go back to the city building to identify you."

"And you ran?" the Prophet asked sharply. Lisa glanced back at him, startled by the sudden change in his manner.

"Of course I did," Weylin said, his belligerent tone cooling some under the Prophet's gaze. "I figured she wouldn't know enough to shut up and let me do the talking."

"In other words, Tirrell set up a trap for you and you flew straight into it," the Prophet snapped. "At the very least he knows you've got something to hide over what happened tonightand at the worst he had you followed and now knows exactly where we are!"

Weylin actually cringed. "Nono, I'm sure I wasn't followed. I got out too fast and made sure no one was behind me." His eyes swiveled to Lisa, turning angry again. "But why would Tirrell have done something like that in the first place?"

"Why indeed?" The Prophet looked at Lisa, too, his earlier warmth gone without a trace. His eyes were cold and hard, his unsmiling face looking like that of another person altogether. "So you came here straight from the city building, did you? Who did you talk to, Lisa, that you conveniently forgot to mention? Was it Tirrell? Someone at your hive?"

"I... didn't"

"Don't lie to me!" the Prophet thundered abruptly.

"Just my roommate," she blurted, shrinking back into her chair. "Only herand she promised she wouldn't tell anyone."

"Well, she obviously did tell someone," the Prophet shot back. "What did you tell her?"

"II" Lisa fumbled, her tongue tangled with confusion at the Prophet's abrupt change

And suddenly her mind flashed back to the other picture on the city building wall, the one that had seemed vaguely familiar. "It was you!" she said without thinking. "But the name was Yerik Martel, not the Proph

"Weylin, hold her," the Prophet said quietly.

For an instant Lisa sat in stunned silence, the order echoing through her mind as she wondered if she had heard him right. An instant after that she launched herself at the doorbut she was barely halfway there when Weylin's teekay plucked her out of the air and slammed her down onto the floor. Fighting blindly against the invisible force, Lisa struggled back into the air, jerking sideways in an attempt to break his hold. But the trick that had worked among Barona's shadowy buildings was ineffective in such close quarters, and his grip on her remained firm. Spurred by panic, she abandoned her attempts to fly and instead scooped up all the books and papers she could from Omega's desk, hurling them at Weylin. But the righthand dodged them without shifting his gaze... and a moment later Lisa was spun around and shoved into one of the room's far corners.

"What's going on?" a new voiceAxel'ssnapped from behind her.

"Help Weylin hold her," Omega ordered. "I think she's a police spy."

"No" Lisa managed to croak before her jaw was abruptly teeked shut.

"Grack!" Axel muttered viciously. "What do we do with her?"

"We first of all don't panic," Omega said coldly. "Hold her arms, legs, and head really still; I'm going to check for hidden mikes."

Lisa tried to protest, but her mouth was still being held closed. Footsteps approached; and then Omega's hands were moving firmly over her body, kneading the material of her clothing and feeling the skin beneath it. She squeezed her eyes shut, every muscle painfully tense... and finally it was over. "She's clean," Omega told the others, relief evident in his tone. "Maybe she wasn't working with Tirrell, after all."

"We going to let her go, then?" Weylin asked.

"Of course not," Axel put in impatiently. "You think she wouldn't go straight to the police now?"

"But we can't keep her here"

"Peace," Omega interrupted, his voice under control again. "Axel, how many of your people are here tonight?"

"Fifteen or twenty, I think."

"Go and get four of them. No, waittell Weylin their names and where they're sleeping and let him bring them."

"All right." Axel rattled off some names and instructions that were incomprehensible to Lisa. "And don't wake up anyone else," he added.

"Right," Weylin said. The teekay grip on Lisa eased some, and there was the sound of a door opening and closing.

"What are we going to do with her?" Axel asked.

"Leave her here, of course," Omega said. From the sounds behind her Lisa guessed he was picking up the books and papers she'd thrown at Weylin earlier. "You don't think we're going to take her with us to look for Jarvis, do you? She'll be suitably restrained, of course."

"You know where Jarvis is?"

"Close enough to make it worth trying. Anyway, we have no choiceWeylin's blown his cover and the police'll undoubtedly be making a push now to find him first. We'll leave here at first lightthat should only be a couple of hours away now."

"Why not leave as soon as she's taken care of?" Axel suggested. "That area's a good two-hour flight away, and we can fly it just as easily in the dark."

"So you were listening at the door," Omega said coolly. "That's not a very polite thing to do, you know." There was a short, brittle silence before Omega continued. "We leave at first light because I want all of the regular kids out of here before we leave, and we never send them back to their hives in the dark. That's a lesson you should learn: breaking familiar patterns draws attention, and that kind of attention is always unwelcome. And we want the regular kids out first to make sure none of them accidentally stumbles across Lisa on their way out. I don't want to find this place swarming with police when we get back."

"Oh," Axel mumbled. "I hadn't thought of that."

"That's lesson number two for the day: leave the thinking to me. You haven't had enough practice at it."

Taking a careful breath, Lisa gingerly tested the teekay grip holding her face to the wall. If Axel's attention wavered even a little, she might be able to turn her head far enough to teek off the light. If she could then get out the doorknocking it flat if necessaryand out of the tabernacle, it should be dark enough outside for her to get away....

She was still probing for an opening when Weylin returned with the other preteens.

They took her outside the tabernacle and up the side of the mountain towering above. At Omega's direction Axel flew into the gaping hole that was the temple site; and a few minutes later he led the group to a small, cavelike hollow the workers had left in one of the sides. Omega pronounced it satisfactory... and as Lisa stood motionless within the space, pinned by two of the preteens with a flashlight, the others maneuvered a huge slab of rock into place over the opening. The light momentarily showed a five-centimeter gap between the stone and the roof of her prison. Then it was turned off. The murmur of voices faded into silence, and she was alone.

Drawing a shuddering breath, Lisa clenched her hands into painfully tight fists. "I'm not going to cry," she said aloud, mainly to relieve the silence hissing in her ears. Carefullythe rock surrounding her was jagged enough to cutshe felt every centimeter of the cave. She found nothing useful. With the full force of her teekay on it, the slab blocking the entrance would not budge so much as a millimeter, though she tried again and again. Once, she thought she had the answer when she discovered a layer of small stones directly beneath the huge rock. But after a solid half hour of teeking out as many as she could touch, the slab merely settled a few millimeters and, if anything, ended up leaning even more securely over the opening.

Finally, with a weary sigh, she gave up. Sitting down carefully, she closed her eyes, only then realizing how utterly fatigued nineteen hours without sleep had left her. And I trusted him, she thought bitterly, wishing she'd listened to Sheelah's doubts. He used me, got me in trouble with the police, and might even

She swallowed. She'd never thought much about death before; certainly never really considered the possibility of dying before she became an adult. Now, it suddenly seemed likely that she would never even see sunlight again. The urge to scream for help bubbled up into her throat, and it was all she could do to choke it back down. Not yet, she told herself firmly. Omega wouldn't have put you anywhere someone could hear you. Save your strength; someone's got to come by sooner or later. One of the kids who's been working here, maybe even the police. She smiled painfully at the thought of how hard she'd been trying to escape from the police a bare four hours earlier.

But one way or another, no one was likely to find her for at least several hours. Stretching out as much as she could in the cramped space, she pillowed her head on her left arm. If anyone came by while she was sleeping, she would just be out of luck.... Groaning with the exertion, she sat up again and, maneuvering cautiously in the dark, wriggled out of her pants and underwear. The pants went back on; the panties she dangled outside her prison, anchoring one end securely to the top of the rock slab. It wasn't much of a signal, she knew, but it was better than nothing. And with fatigue dragging at her like a downdraft, it was the best she could do.

Stretching out again, she was asleep within half a minute.

"Sorry, Stan," Tonio said tiredly, drifting onto the bare rock outcrop where the detective was standing. "I can't find any trace of him anywhere."

"Damn," Tirrell muttered, gazing out at the dimly lit mountains, rising like frozen ocean waves around them. To have come so close...

"I can try again, if you want," the preteen offered. "Unless Jarvis is growing trees on his roof the cabin's got to be visible from some angle."

Tirrell shook his head. "Not worth it, especially now that the moon's gone. But we know he went down somewhere in this valley, and unless he spotted us they're not likely to move before dawn. Which is" he consulted his watch"all of two hours or so away now. Let's sit tight and get a little sleep, and we can pick up the search in the morning."

"Well... okay." Tonio paused. "Maybe I should go and get some help, though. I could probably get to Plat City and back before it gets light. Unless you're still worried about Jarvis getting tipped off."

"Actually, at this point I'd love to have some help," Tirrell admitted. "Unfortunatelyno offenseI'm not at all sure you could find this place again if you left now. Maybe when it's light we can risk that, but not now. Besides which, if you feel like I do, you need sleep more than flying time right now."

"There's that," Tonio sighed. "Okay. Shouldn't one of us watch in case they try to leave or something?"

"Probably," Tirrell conceded. "No rest for the righteous, for a change."

"Come again?"

"Skip it. Move back a ways into that thicket of trees where you won't be spotted and get some sleep. I'll wake you in an hour or so."

Tonio nodded and moved off, and after a moment the sound of rustling leaves was replaced by silence. Moving with the stiffness of overabused muscles, Tirrell carefully seated himself on the ground. Pulling his knees to his chest, he wrapped his arms around them and settled down to watch.

Chapter 20 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 22