Today's Reading

"Long time," RabbitEar replies. "There are only twenty-two of us left, and just four warriors. Rest are dead. Runt can't stand guard and Mink had to sleep. He was stumbling weary. RedBoy just woke to take over for me, but he's only had three hands of sleep."

"How many are wounded?"

"One. Runt." He drops his voice to a whisper to add, "Belly wound. Bad. I thank the Blessed Jemen he's finally unconscious."

RedBoy adds, "Gods, yes. His weeping has kept us all awake for days."

I search the outline of the dead bodies stacked against the wall near the crevice. The source of the smell.

"I'll stand guard," I say and pull a spear from my quiver. "Both of you try to get some rest."

"No. You're as exhausted as we are. RedBoy can stand guard for a time. Come and sleep with me. I want to feel my arms around you. Besides, I heard you promise Jawbone you'd be there soon."

To RedBoy, I say, "Wake me in one hand of time, and I'll take over." "Yes. Gladly, I will."

I shiver and flip up the thick collar of my bear-hide cape. As RabbitEar slips an arm over my shoulders and we start back for our children, RedBoy says, "Wait. Quiller, we talked it about it all day. I think we should surrender. Don't you think we should surrender?"

"I . . . Surrender?" My bleary mind can't seem to understand what he's saying. Crow sniffs the night air pouring through the crevice and utters a low growl, as though she knows something we do not. Her feral eyes have become wide zyme-lit moons.

"It's hopeless. We're beaten."

"What's happened? How long have I been gone? The darkness and cold have numbed my wits."

"Eight days. I couldn't believe it when I saw you step out of that tunnel. I figured you were lost in that maze and would never come out again."

RabbitEar tenderly hugs me. "I knew you'd be back. Wasn't a doubt in my mind." His red hair and beard suddenly flicker yellow, and I know campfires have been lit all over the slope outside that runs down to the sea.

"We have to give up, Quiller," RedBoy says.

"When War Leader Mink wakes, talk to him. It's not my decision."

"No, I—I know, but I thought if you and I agreed, it would carry more weight."

"Talk to Mink. You may feel differently."

RedBoy suddenly lurches forward to stare out the crevice. "What the . . . Come quick!"

RabbitEar and I rush back to stand beside him and peer out through the crevice. Hundreds of enemy torches are being ignited, reflecting from the faces of the warriors who carry them.

"What are they doing?" RedBoy asks.

My thoughts won't congeal, so it takes longer than it should for me to determine their strategy. The warriors are lining out in an arc. "Looks like they're preparing a sweep."

"A sweep? You mean they're going to sweep up the hill? Why? We're already trapped inside. There's no way we can escape!"

RabbitEar says, "Probably just a show of force."

"Maybe," I say. "Or maybe they're protecting elders who walk behind the arc."

"Their council?"


Instead of watching the approaching army, I can't take my eyes from the magnificent vista. As the darkness deepens, the entire ocean shimmers and glitters with zyme. It could be a vast field of crushed emeralds. And high above, Sister Sky has begun her nightly dance, sending fluttering purple curtains and white lances of light across the heavens. The wondrous display becomes ethereal, changing from streamers to great towering arches and snapping ribbons that span the entire sky. The jagged peaks of the Ice Giants reflect the flashes and seem to move, swaying in time to Sister Sky's dance. For days, the only thing that kept me sane was the thought of getting outside into the light and fresh air. Gods, death is climbing the slope toward me, and all I want to do is stare at the stunning beauty of life.

Exhausted, I hang my head and long filthy strands of red hair fall around my freckled face. "Well. What do you want to do?" I whisper to my husband.

RabbitEar takes a new grip on his spear. "I'd better wake Mink."

"What's happening, Quiller?" a man calls from the depths of the cave, and I realize it's Runt. His voice is so hoarse, I almost didn't recognize it.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday, October 17th, we begin the book UPGRADE by Blake Crouch.

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