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the nine-trunked tree.
She had not asked him what his connection was to the camp and its evils. It no
longer seemed important. Her quest consumed her utterly.
As the men set to work hacking and trampling the high grass, Annja decided to
have a look around for herself. Walking off through a stand of trees along
what she suspected was an old road leading northwest, she waved off the
lieutenant's worried question, "Don't you want an escort, Ms. Creed?"
She still wasn't sure whether the mercenaries would prove more help than
hindrance. She knew, ultimately, that what must be done, she must do alone.
And after two days crowded on the boat with the surly, boisterous men, she
wanted little more than to be left alone.
Unless it was a hot bath. But that would have to wait.
Emerging from the trees, she saw a cluster of buildings standing at the edge
of the clearing a couple of hundred yards away. Guessing one was the old
plantation house, and feeling the archaeologist's urge to explore abandoned
human habitation, she struck out for them.
She kept an eye out for any of the numerous types of poisonous snakes that
could be lurking to bite her. She kept her eyes moving all around, in fact.
There were other dangers that never realistically threatened ecotourists 
such as native arrows, anacondas and, of course, golden onzas. Not to mention
the odd green energy beam.
As she walked along a rutted track through more high grass she wondered what
other defenses the Promessans might have in store. Whether or not this was the
actual border of the settlement known as the Quilombo dos Sonhos they were
near to it  she was sure of it.
"I guess we'll find out soon enough," she said aloud.
Small gold-headed blue birds flew up from the grass and away from her as she
walked toward the buildings. As she drew closer she could see that they had
fallen into ruin. The main building's walls, of stone or brick  either of
which had once been expensively hauled all the way up the Amazon by
shallow-draft steamboats  still mostly stood. Smaller outbuildings,
presumably of wood, had mostly slumped into overgrown mounds.
She went into what had been the plantation house. Climbing vines veined the
walls. Their suckers had torn away the whitewash in irregular sheets. Inside
she found the upper floor and ceiling had fallen in. She could see the sky
above, blue with clouds beginning to close. It would likely rain soon.
The floor was a jumble of broken beams and furniture, much covered by vines
and grass and even brush growing through the floorboards. She wondered at the
totality of collapse. Had the house been burned down?
Looking up at a jut of beam from the wall right above the entrance, she saw
rippled char on its end that seemed to confirm it had burned through. That led
her to new speculation  did it burn by accident? Lightning? Arson? Had the
plantation been overtaken by the collapse of Brazil's rubber market, as Manaus
had? Maybe it had been a front for the quilombo and the Promessans, as River
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of Dreams Trading Company was today, and had reached the end of its
usefulness.
The Promessans, she thought, had a brisk way of dealing with things that
outlived their utility. People, as well as artifacts, if the fates of the
anonymous man in Feliz Lusitnia and Mafalda in Belm were any indication.
She backed out and went to the other sizable building. It was a chapel. Its
walls of gray granite and even its arching slate roof were largely intact. The
forest had grown right up against it.
Inside was bare but for broken pews and a layer of jungle litter on the
flagstones. Buttresses mounted up the walls. Green lianas climbed them, as did
chittering monkeys. Little blue ground doves pecked around the hollow altar.
The windows had been broken out.
Annja wandered deeper into the chapel. Dry leaves skittered from her feet.
Small creatures stirred unseen beneath drifted debris.
"Annja Creed," said a voice behind her.
She spun. The sword appeared in her hand.
"You won't need that," Xia said.
Her black hair, bound by what looked like a thin jade band around her temples,
fell around her shoulders. She wore a sleeveless top of shimmering green, and
what might have been a green suede skirt, leaving her firmly muscled stomach
bare. The straps of sandals twined up her bare legs like serpents.
At her side stood Patrizinho, his arms crossed over his muscular bare chest.
He wore loose brown trousers with gold trim and low boots with no visible
seams or fastenings. Figured golden armlets encircled his forearms. His
dreadlocked golden-brown hair was swept back into a brush at the back of his
head by a gold cloth band. Neither bore weapons that Annja could see.
"I think I do," she said. To her surprise her voice did not shake from her
anger, or the force she was exerting to keep it under control.
"Do I even have to point out that if we wanted you dead you'd be dead
already?" Xia said. Her tone was mild, conversational. Annja understood that
sociopaths were often accomplished actors. "Or that we can escape at will?"
"If I'm alive," Annja said, "I presume it's in your selfish interest to keep
me alive."
Patrizinho's face split in a huge grin. It tugged at her heart. He was so
beautiful she wanted to believe in him.
"She almost gets it, doesn't she?" he said to his companion. "I told you,
there is hope for her."
"We shall all know very soon," Xia said.
Annja laughed. It was a harsh sound. The laugh of a stranger. "You think I'm
gullible because of how easily you tricked me before," she said. "I may be a
naive and spoiled North American. I may not be as streetwise as I like to
think I am. I may not even be that smart. But I am capable of learning."
"Good," Xia said, smiling and nodding tightly. "Because time is short. So
learn fast."
"I already know all I need to about you."
"Do you really believe so?" Patrizinho asked. He almost sounded surprised.
"You know nothing," Xia said. "You have been misled, lied to at every turn."
"By you!" Annja couldn't keep the metal out of her voice.
"No," Xia said.
"Even now, if you look deep into your heart you can see the truth," Patrizinho
said. He held out a hand. "Please."
"You risk compromising your destiny," Xia said. "You are betrayed. Now you
risk betraying yourself and all that you stand for."
"How dare you talk of me betraying what I stand for!" she demanded. "What do
you know about my destiny?"
Gripping the sword in both hands, she charged toward them. In blind, weeping
rage she cocked the weapon back over her shoulder to strike. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]