Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he'd never meant to have. The fire had burned low. He crouched in the fragile shell of light and peered into the looming blackness of the Forest. He couldn't see anything. Couldn't hear anything. Had it come back? Was it out there now, watching him with its hot, murderous eyes? He felt hollow and cold. He knew that he badly needed food, and that his arm hurt, and his eyes were scratchy with tiredness, but he couldn't really feel it. All night he'd guarded the wreck of the spruce bough shelter and watched his father bleed. How could this be happening? Only yesterday—yesterday—they'd pitched camp in the blue autumn dusk. Torak had made a joke, and his father was laughing. Then the Forest exploded. Ravens screamed. Pines cracked. And out of the dark beneath the trees surged a deeper darkness: a huge rampaging menace in bear form. Suddenly death was upon them. A frenzy of claws. A welter of sound to make the ears bleed. In a heartbeat, the creature had smashed their shelter to splinters. In a heartbeat, it had ripped a ragged wound in his father's side. Then it was gone, melting into the Forest as silently as mist. But what kind of bear stalks men—then vanishes without making the kill? What kind of bear plays with its prey? And where was it now? Torak couldn't see beyond the firelight, but he knew that the clearing, too, was a wreck of snapped saplings and trampled bracken. He smelled pine-blood and clawed earth. He heard the soft, sad bubbling of the stream thirty paces away. The bear could be anywhere. Beside him, his father moaned. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at his son without recognition. Torak's heart clenched. "Fa, it—it's me," he stammered. "How do you feel?" Pain convulsed his father's lean brown face. His cheeks were tinged with gray, making the clan-tattoos stand out lividly. Sweat matted his long dark hair. His wound was so deep that as Torak clumsily stanched it with beard-moss, he saw his father's guts glistening in the firelight. He had to grit his teeth to keep from retching. He hoped Fa didn't notice—but of course he did. Fa was a hunter. He noticed everything. "Torak . . ." he breathed. His hand reached out, his hot fingers clinging to Torak's as eagerly as a child. Torak swallowed. Sons clutch their fathers' hands, not the other way around. He tried to be practical: to be a man instead of a boy. "I've still got some yarrow leaves," he said, fumbling for his medicine pouch with his free hand. "Maybe that'll stop the—" "Keep it. You're bleeding too." "Doesn't hurt," lied Torak. The bear had thrown him against a birch tree, bruising his ribs and gashing his left forearm. "Torak—leave. Now. Before it comes back." Torak stared at him. He opened his mouth but no sound came. "You must," said his father. "No. No. I can't—" "Torak—I'm dying. I'll be dead by sunrise." Torak gripped the medicine pouch. There was a roaring in his ears. "Fa—" "Give me—what I need for the Death Journey. Then get your things." The Death Journey. No. No. But his father's face was stern. "My bow," he said. "Three arrows. You—keep the rest. Where I'm going—hunting's easy." There was a tear in the knee of Torak's buckskin leggings. He dug his thumbnail into the flesh. It hurt. He forced himself to concentrate on that. "Food," gasped his father. "The dried meat. You—take it all." 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. "Torak! Move!" 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 did—repair yours. And—swap knives." Torak was aghast. "Not your knife! You'll need it!" "You'll need it more. And—it'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. Nothing. 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. The knives." 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 bear—any bear—is the strongest hunter in the Forest. You know that. But this bear—much stronger." 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 is—possessed." His father's face was grim; he didn't seem like Fa anymore. "Some—demon—from the Otherworld—has 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 kill—its power will grow. It will slaughter—everything. The prey. The clans. All will die. The Forest will die . . ." He broke off. "In one moon—it will be too late. The demon—too 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 be—invincible." 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 you—to swear something," said Fa. "Anything." Fa swallowed. "Head north. Many daywalks. Find—the Mountain—of 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." "But—no one's ever found it. No one can." "You can." "How? I don't—" "Your guide—will 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?" Slowly, Fa's gaze left the sky and came to rest on his son's face. He looked as if he was wondering how much more Torak could take. "Ah, you're too young," he said. "I thought I had more time. So much I haven't told you. Don't—don't hate me for that later." Torak looked at him in horror. Then he leaped to his feet. "I can't do this on my own. Shouldn't I try to find—" "No!" said his father with startling force. "All your life I've kept you apart. Even—from our own Wolf Clan. Stay away from men! If they find out—what you can do . . ." "What do you mean? I don't—" "No time," his father cut in. "Now swear. On my knife. Swear that you will find the Mountain, or die trying." Torak bit his lip hard. East through the trees, a gray light was growing. Not yet, he thought in panic. Please not yet. "Swear," hissed his father. Torak knelt and picked up the knife. It was heavy: a man's knife, too big for him. Awkwardly he touched it to the wound on his forearm. Then he put it to his shoulder, where the strip of wolf fur, his clan-creature, was sewn to his jerkin. In an unsteady voice he took his oath. "I swear, by my blood on this blade, and by each of my three souls—that I will find the Mountain of the World Spirit. Or die trying." His father breathed out. "Good. Good. Now. Put the Death Marks on me. Hurry. The bear—not far off." Torak felt the salty sting of tears. Angrily he brushed them away. "I haven't got any ochre," he mumbled. "Take—mine." In a blur, Torak found the little antler-tine medicine horn that had been his mother's. In a blur, he yanked out the black oak stopper, and shook some of the red ochre into his palm. Suddenly he stopped. "I can't." "You can. For me." Torak spat into his palm and made a sticky paste of the ochre, the dark-red blood of the earth, then he drew the small circles on his father's skin that would help the souls recognize each other and stay together after death. First, as gently as he could, he removed his father's beaver-hide boots and drew a circle on each heel, to mark the name-soul. Then he drew another circle over the heart, to mark the clan-soul. This wasn't easy, as his father's chest was scarred from an old wound, so Torak managed only a lopsided oval. He hoped that would be good enough. Last, he made the most important mark of all: a circle on the forehead to mark the Nanuak, the world-soul. By the time he'd finished, he was swallowing tears. "Better," murmured his father. But Torak saw with a clutch of terror that the pulse in his throat was fainter. "Fa, I'm not leaving you, I—" "Torak. You swore an oath." Again he closed his eyes. "Now. You—keep the medicine horn. I don't need it anymore. Take your things. Fetch me water from the river. Then—go." I will not cry, Torak told himself as he rolled up his father's sleeping sack and tied it across his back; jammed his axe into his belt; stuffed his medicine pouch into his jerkin. He got to his feet and looked about for the waterskin. It was ripped to shreds. He'd have to bring water in a dock leaf. He was about to go when his father murmured his name. Torak turned. "Yes, Fa?" "Remember. When you're hunting, look behind you. I—always tell you." He forced a smile. "You always—forget. Look behind you. Yes?" Torak nodded. He tried to smile back. Then he blundered through the wet bracken toward the stream. The light was growing, and the air smelled fresh and sweet. Around him the trees were bleeding: oozing golden pine-blood from the slashes the bear had inflicted. Some of the tree-spirits were moaning quietly in the dawn breeze. Torak reached the stream. Glancing quickly around, he snatched a dock leaf and moved forward, his boots sinking into the soft red mud. He froze. Beside his right boot was the track of a bear. A front paw: twice the size of his own head, and so fresh that he could see the points where the long, vicious claws had bitten deep into the mud. Look behind you, Torak. He spun round. Willows. Alder. Fir. Dark yew. Dripping spruce. Dense. Impenetrable. But deep within—no more than ten paces away—a stir of branches. Something was in there. Something huge. Torak forced himself to stay still. Don't run. Don't run. Maybe it doesn't know you're here. A low hiss. Again the branches stirred. He heard the stealthy rustle as the creature moved toward the shelter: toward his father. He waited in rigid silence as it passed. Coward! he shouted inside his head. You let it go without even trying to save Fa! But what could you do? said the small part of his mind that could still think straight. Fa knew this would happen. That's why he sent you for water. He knew it was coming for him. . . . "Torak!" came his father's wild cry. "Run!" Crows burst from the trees. A roar shook the Forest—on and on till Torak's head was splitting. "Fa!" he screamed. "Run!" Again the Forest shook. Again came his father's cry. Then suddenly it broke off. Through the trees, he glimpsed a great dark shadow in the wreck of the shelter. He turned and ran. Two Torak crashed through alder thickets and sank to his knees in bogs. Birch trees whispered of his passing. Silently he begged them not to tell the bear. The wound in his arm burned, and with each breath his bruised ribs ached savagely, but he didn't dare stop. The Forest was full of eyes. He pictured the bear coming after him. He ran on. To the east, the sky was wolf gray. Thunder growled. In the stormy light, the trees were a brilliant green. Rain in the mountains, thought Torak numbly. Watch out for flash floods. He forced himself to think of that—to push away the horror. It didn't work. At last, he had to stop for breath. He collapsed against an oak tree. As he raised his head to stare at the shifting green leaves, the tree murmured secrets to itself, shutting him out. For the first time in his life, he was truly alone. He didn't feel part of the Forest anymore. He felt as if his world-soul had snapped its link to all other living things: tree and bird, hunter and prey, river and rock. Nothing in the whole world knew how he felt. Nothing wanted to know. The pain in his arm wrenched him back from his thoughts. From his medicine pouch he took his last scrap of birch bast and roughly bandaged the wound. Then he pushed himself off the tree trunk and looked around. He'd grown up in this part of the Forest. Every slope, every glade was familiar. In the valley to the west was the Redwater: too shallow for canoes, but good fishing in spring, when the salmon come up from the Sea. To the east, all the way to the edge of the Deep Forest, lay the vast sunlit woods where the prey grow fat in autumn, and berries and nuts are plentiful. To the south were the moors where the reindeer eat moss in winter. Fa said that the best thing about this part of the Forest was that so few people came here. Maybe the odd party of Willow Clan from the west by the Sea, or Viper Clan up from the south, but they never stayed long. They simply passed through, hunting freely as everyone did in the Forest, and unaware that Torak and Fa hunted here too. Torak had never questioned that before. It was how he'd always lived: alone with Fa, away from the clans. Now, though, he longed for people. He wanted to shout; to yell for help. But Fa had warned him to stay away from them. Besides, shouting might draw the bear. The bear. Panic rose in his throat. He pushed it down. He took a deep breath and started to run again, more steadily this time, heading north. As he ran, he picked up signs of prey. Elk tracks. Auroch droppings. The sound of a forest horse moving through the bracken. The bear hadn't frightened them away. At least, not yet. Up ahead, the trees opened into a clearing. Torak stumbled into the sun—and into a stench of rottenness. He lurched to a halt. The forest horses lay where the bear had tossed them like broken playthings. No scavenger had dared feed on them. Not even the flies would touch them. They looked like no bear kill Torak had ever seen. When a normal bear feeds, it peels back the hide of its prey and takes the innards and hind parts, then caches the rest for later. Like any other hunter, it wastes nothing. But this bear had ripped no more than a single bite from each carcass. It hadn't killed from hunger. It had killed for fun. At Torak's feet lay a dead foal, its small hooves still crusted with river clay from its final drink. His gorge rose. What kind of bear slaughters an entire herd? What kind of bear kills for pleasure? Of course, this wasn't a bear. It was a demon. It would kill and kill until the Forest was dead. No one can fight this bear, his father had said. Did that mean the Forest was doomed? And why did he, Torak, have to find the Mountain of the World Spirit? The Mountain that no one had ever seen? His father's voice echoed in his mind. Your guide will find you. How? When? Torak left the glade and plunged back into the shadows beneath the trees. Once again he began to run. He ran forever. He ran till he could no longer feel his legs. But at last he reached a long, wooded slope and had to stop: doubled up, chest heaving. Suddenly he was ravenous. He fumbled for his food pouch—and groaned in disgust. It was empty. Too late, he remembered the neat bundles of dried deer meat, forgotten at the shelter. Torak, you fool! Messing things up on your first day alone! Alone. It wasn't possible. How could Fa be gone? Gone forever? Gradually he became aware of a faint mewing sound coming from the other side of the hill. There it was again. Some young animal crying for its mother. His heart leaped. Oh, thank the Spirit! An easy kill. His belly tightened at the thought of fresh meat. He didn't care what it was. He was so hungry he could eat a bat. Torak dropped to the ground and crept through the birch trees to the top of the hill. He looked down into a narrow gully through which ran a small, swift river. He recognized it: the Fastwater. Farther west, he and Fa often camped in summer to gather lime bark for rope making; but this part looked unfamiliar. Then he realized why. Some time before, a flash flood had come roaring down from the mountains. The waters had since subsided, leaving a mess of wet undergrowth and grass-strewn saplings. They'd also destroyed a wolf den on the other side of the gully. There, below a big red boulder shaped like a sleeping auroch, lay two drowned wolves like sodden fur cloaks. Three dead cubs floated in a puddle. The fourth sat beside them, shivering. The wolf cub looked about three moons old. It was thin and wet, and was complaining softly to itself in a low, continuous whimper. Torak flinched. Without warning, the sound had brought a startling vision to his mind. Black fur. Warm darkness. Rich, fatty milk. The Mother licking him clean. The scratch of tiny claws and nudge of small, cold noses; fluffy cubs clambering over him: the newest cub in the litter. The vision was as vivid as a lightning flash. What did it mean? His hand tightened on his father's knife. It doesn't matter what it means, he told himself. Visions won't keep you alive. If you don't eat that cub, you'll be too weak to hunt. And you're allowed to kill your clan-creature to keep from starving. You know that. The cub raised its head and gave a bewildered yowl. Torak listened to it—and understood. In some strange way that he couldn't begin to fathom, he recognized the high, wavering sounds. His mind knew their shapes. He remembered them. This isn't possible, he thought. He listened to the cub's yowls. He felt them drop into his mind. Why won't you play with me? the cub was asking its dead pack. What have I done now? On and on it went. As Torak listened, something awakened in him. His neck muscles tensed. Deep in his throat he felt a response beginning. He fought the urge to put back his head and howl. What was happening? He didn't feel like Torak anymore. Not boy, not son, not member of the Wolf Clan—or not only those things. Some part of him was wolf. A breeze sprang up, chilling his skin. At the same moment, the wolf cub stopped yowling and jerked round to face him. Its eyes were unfocused, but its large ears were pricked, and it was snuffing the air. It had smelled him. Torak looked down at the small anxious cub and hardened his heart. He drew the knife from his belt and started down the slope.