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before the chance was forever denied him.
He leaned out further over the abyss, tightening his grip on the seemingly
unbreakable liana nearby. The liana might have been unbreakable. His grip
wasn't.
Something clutched him around waist and neck and yanked hard. The yell in his
throat turned to anger as he disengaged himself from the gentle grasp of
Ruumahum.
"What the-?"
Ruumahum glanced significantly upward, rumbled softly. "Devil comes."
Bom peered up through a crack in the well wall.
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At first he did not see the dark speck against the sky, but it grew rapidly
larger. When the shape be-
came recognizable, Bom retreated another meter into the forest and loaded the
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snuffler.
The sky-devil had a long streamlined body sus-
pended between broad wings. Four leathery sacks, two to a side, inhaled air
and expelled it out rub-
bery nozzles near the monster's tail. It moved in gaspy jerks as it circled
lower and lower. A long-
snouted reptilian head weaved atop a snakelike neck.
36
Two yellow eyes stared downward, and needlelike teeth flashed in the pale
green sunlight. Ideally equipped for skimming silently across the treetops
hundreds of meters above and picking off careless arboreals, the sky-devil
found itself drawn to some-
thing deep hi the well. Three-meter wings left it little room for maneuvering
within that crude cylindrical gap, but it managed, circling, spiraling lower
and lower in tight circles, examining each section of the green wall as it
dropped.
Bom sat very still on his branch, concealed behind a broad leaf taller than
Losting, wrapped tight in his green cloak. The devil reached his level,
circled, and passed on. Staying close to the branch, Bom edged his way to the
precipice once again. Far below he saw the scaled back and wings winding down
toward the blue object. Eventually it reached bottom, folded its wings, and
stopped. The devil walked clumsily on the blue surface, making its way
awkwardly to the half-dome at the object's apex. It poked at the globe with
its toothed beak, stabbed again. Bom could hear it yell-
ing, a distant, muffled croak.
Another sound drifted up to him. One that pene-
trated above the normal din of comb vines and reso-
nators and chattering chollakees. It was a human scream, and it came from
somewhere near or in the object!
IV
Bom started downward without thinking, plunging recklessly from branch to
branch, shoulder muscles straining at the shock, taking meters at a jump.
Ruumahum followed close behind. They were making enough noise to attract half
the afternoon forest predators, and the furcot told him as much. Wrapped
37
in other thoughts. Born ignored the furcot's warnings. ' |
Once he nearly dropped square onto the back of ;
a Chan-nock, the big tree-climbing reptile's knobby back the perfect imitation
of a tuntangcle vine as it lay stretched between the boles of two air-trees.
Bom's foot hit the armored back. Instantly he was
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-%20Midworld.txt aware he had met flesh and not wood. But he was moving so
fast he was meters below as the Chan-
nock whipped around to crush the interloper. Furious at missing its prey, the
blunt snout swung round for a stab at Ruumahum. Not even pausing in his down-
ward rush, the furcot stuck out a paw in passing and crushed the flat,
arrowhead-shaped skull.
If Bom had stopped to think about what he was do-
ing, he might have fallen and hurt himself seriously.
But he was traveling on instinct alone. Unhindered, his reflexes did not fail
him. Only when Ruumahum put on an extra burst of speed, got in front of him,
and slowed down, did Born become conscious of how fast he had been moving. He
nearly dislocated a shoulder as he slowed to a halt behind the furcot.
Both were panting heavily.
"Why stop now, Ruumahum. We "
The furcot growled softly. "Are here," he mut-
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tered. "Air-devil is near. Listen."
Bom listened. He had been so excited he had nearly shot past the level at
which the blue thing lay. Now he could hear the horrible half-laugh, half-
coughing of the devil and a scratching sound, a sound similar to the one
Reader produced by running his nails over the axe blade during the
invocations.
Then he was right about the composition of the blue thing! He had no time to
bask in his own brilliance.
A moan sounded now, not a scream; but it was no less human.
"There are people there and the sky-devil is after them," Born whispered. "But
what people live on the
Fifth Level? All persons known live on the Third or Second."
"I do not know," Ruumahum answered. "I sense much strangeness here.
Strangeness and newness."
"It needs killing."
38
"Air-devils die slowly, Bom person," advised Ruum-
ahum. "Go carefully."
Bom nodded and they backed deeper into the brush. "The air-devil may not be
able to penetrate here. It is too big and clumsy on the wood. But if it
does..."
He started searching, working around the well cir-
cumference, always staying well back from the open pit where the
nightmare-in-life scratched and clawed at the blue thing. He found what might
serve a certain epiphytic orchid that nestled in the crotch formed by the
great lower limbs of an emergent. The bottom of the plant overreached the
limbs on both sides, the great ball of self-made soil sending long air-roots
downward in all directions. Above, long
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-%20Midworld.txt thick petals of dark chalcedony color curled toward the sky.
A wonderful limelike fragrance issued from the huge flower's depths, its
creamy petals many meters long.
Keeping a careful distance from the gigantic bloom, Bom moved cautiously back
toward the well.
"Softly," Ruumahum urged anxiously. Born looked back at the furcot and made
quieting motions, but he took the advice. There was more open space here where
the light did not penetrate as well. There were fewer places to hide, fewer
webs of vines and lianas to lose a big meat-eater in. Surely there was nowhere
near enough open space for the sky-devil to spread its wings. But it had thick
clawed legs and just maybe could scramble through the open places.
Hence his enlisting of the orchid as a silent ally.
Bom reached the edge of the well bottom. A
cluster of shattered wood and herbaceous growth bordered it. Everything here [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]