Adam crawled out upon the shore of the Ring-wall’s vast island feeling that another three meters of river to cross might have been too much. Now he could imagine no experience in life finer than just to lie on firm ground, without moving, and concentrate upon the enormous job of breathing that there was to be done.
The geryons were still following them, so far as inexorably as death. But they had made the crossing with their usual prudence, and without the help of human hands to cling to island rock. Therefore they had been swept well downstream, and were now visible only as a scattered cluster of small dots in the distance, still in the water. The animals’ crossing of the river was not yet finished; it might well be half an hour before they reached this spot. But their presence downstream killed any idea of escape by simply drifting or floating in that direction.
Merit had recovered enough to sit up. But all was not well with her. “Damn it. I’ve done something to my ankle.”
Adam raised himself on his elbows. “Teleport. Get out of here. Bring back help. Do it for me. I’d do it if I could.”
“I tried, Adam. A moment ago. I tried to teleport to a spot just in front of the geryons. I thought it might scare them off. But I couldn’t jump. Anywhere. Not even ten meters.” Merit gave a little watersoaked smile that quickly faded. “When Vito died, and the others who were burned like him, up in their ships, there was some kind of terrible- backlash. A parapsych reaction. None of the talents are working properly any more.”
Adam grunted. Finding himself able to move again, he got over to where Merit was sitting and started to examine her ankle.
From behind him, a familiar voice said: “I plan to rebuild your minds. Both of you.”
Ray was there, seated crosslegged in the air, two meters above the ground. His eyes looked vacantly out at them from his battered face. Ray’s arms both hung limply at his sides; one of them was elongating and shortening again, over and over, bone and flesh and even the sleeve included. Ray did not appear to notice the varying deformity at all.
“Icrossed the river easily,” said Ray. He spoke in a cheery voice that made the rest of him infinitely more horrible. “I can still teleport. I am the unique leader. The Field-builders won’t be able to hide from me now. What do you suppose they think of that? Watch.”
And he flickered out of sight.
Merit buried her face in her hands.
Adam stood up, and took her by the hand, and tried to get her up on her feet. “Never mind about Ray. Don’t think about Vito. Those animals haven’t given up. We’ve got to keep ahead of them, till we get somewhere they can’t follow.”
Merit managed to stand up. She even found a laugh from somewhere, though the sound of her laugh was far from reassuring. “At least we’ve had a good drink now,” she said, and hobbled to refill their single canteen from the river. Their course now was going to take them uphill, away from water.
Adam asked: “How’s the ankle?”
“I can block that kind of pain. And I think there’s no great damage. I can walk.”
Adam’s beaten body had already stiffened from the short rest, he straightened up fully, with a grunt, and looked up the long rock-strewn slope toward the Ringwall’s overwhelming pile.
“Then let’s start up the hill,” he said. “Who knows, if there’s anyone home, we might even get some help.”
From a rich supply of shoreline driftwood they chose two broken, dead branches to serve as staffs. They started up the slope, saving strength at the start by going slowly. Not that they were capable of much speed anyway. The pursuing geryons were still only distantly in sight.
Ahead of them, Ray sat on a rock, waiting.
Merit cried out to him: “Ray, do you know me? Can you understand me? We need help.”
“I know you, both of you.” Ray nodded wisely. “I understand you better than you understand yourselves.”
“Ray, we need help.”
“Against the Field-builders-yes, of course. And it’s only right, only proper, that you should pray to a superior being for the help you need. Yes. Only right.” Ray’s face still showed some effects of the battering Adam had given him, but Ray no longer appeared dazed. Rather there was a look of profound wisdom in the blue eyes.
Adam glanced back over his shoulder. The geryon pack was completely across the river now, and were coming along the shore at a loping pace. Already they had gained a hundred meters or more. He said: “Ray, what do you want from us? Either do something to help us, or go away.”
Ray looked at him keenly. “Adam, I want.”
“I want you. I want you to come and visit our school when you can. Doc and Regina will be glad.”
Ray still looked wise and confident. He presented the image of a leader that any human might be glad to follow.
In Adam’s memory rose the events he had witnessed during the night on the ocean island. He let the picture rise, and pushed it forward in his thoughts; he could see in Merit’s eyes, turned now to him in desperation, that she was reading it, and he could see that the implications of it hit her hard.
Adam took her by the arm. “Never mind. No time to think about all that how. Come along.”
There was still only one way to go; animals and fate were driving them up to the Ringwall itself.
They walked around Ray, and in the moment of their passage he disappeared again.
The sun rose higher as they climbed. It burned down on them through the high rolling clouds of mist that here went up eternally from the great confluence of rivers. The rocks nearby, the great angled pile of the Ringwall ahead, the methodical animals steadily gaining in their pursuit, all shimmered faintly in the heat. Merit and Adam alternately drank from the canteen, a swallow at a time, and climbed on, not daring now to pause for even a moment’s rest. Not when each backward glance showed the unhurried geryons a few meters closer.
We’ll make it, Adam thought, trying to project encouragement to Merit. With his imagination at least he reached forward, trying to anchor himself on that approaching moment when they would stagger into the shadow of one of the Ringwall’s mighty buttresses. There was no use trying now to look beyond that moment, to see what form safety was going to take.
But they were not going to win the race. There was no moment when the hope of escape vanished; it faded away slowly. The geryons were closing in more rapidly now, still without appearing to exert themselves. One of their commoner tactics was to let prey exhaust itself in flight, thus weakening the final resistance.
Merit stumbled suddenly-Adam had forgotten about her injured ankle-and he caught her by the arm. “Teleport out of here,” he told her. “If you love me, go.”
She shook her head, her body swaying in exhaustion. “I can’t.” She clung to him briefly, then pushed herself away, standing on her own feet. “I won’t.”
He took a last drink from the canteen and handed it to Merit. “Finish it,” he ordered. Then he bent and picked up a small rock and threw it thirty meters downhill at the nearest animal. The stone missed the arrogant, handsome face, and bounced harmlessly off the dark hide of one shoulder. The animal stopped for a moment, then took another hesitant step forward.
Adam screamed at it, a brief volley of obscenities. “We didn’t come all this way to finish in your rotten guts!” Now all of the geryons paused briefly in their patient climbing, to watch and listen to him.
His throwing arm possessed no yesman power now, so it was unlikely that he could damage the animals seriously with rocks. He climbed again, with Merit. He had not thought, looking at this slope from the other side of the river, that the way up would be so long, the Ringwall so remote. The very size of it had fooled him. Now human strength was failing, draining from their trembling legs and sliding feet.
As always, the pack followed. Now suddenly one animal pulled out of it, and ran past Adam and Merit up the slope, grunting and wheezing in its brief effort for speed. It got ahead of them easily, cutting them off from the foot of the Ringwall. Blocking them from the towering mass of shimmering convoluted stone, laced with shadows, whose foot Adam now estimated was only a hundred meters ahead.
“There must be something there,” Merit croaked to him. “There must be some kind of help there, if they trouble to cut us off from it.” She was hardly able to stand, and her hands were bleeding from the sharp rocks that she had gripped and fallen on. It would be of no help to Merit if he were to separate himself from her now.