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As was true with Inge, school days were over for Malekwa, yet he did not leave the Land We Know until years afterward, and his education did continue, but in a far less academic vein. During that time he was attached to a company of Fallen Angels who roamed the border with the Saiph Republic and kept bad'uns out of Alodra. Along the way they lived off the land and they taught young Malekwa how to hunt his own game. And when his body had changed sufficiently that he could appreciate it, they taught him an en- tirely different kind of hunt. After that he was returned to Earth.

To help the boy survive, Del gave him the weapon called the Golden Gift, a dark blade that transformed anything it touched into dark matter, from the head of an elk to the arrows of other men. Armed this way, such protection as he could offer became the coin to buy his way. One-by-one he assembled stragglers like himself into a group too small and unrelated to be consid- ered a tribe. Despite his youth, Malekwa became chief of the People.

The People possessed almost nothing except their horses, and even those were liable to be taken by the Northern Raiders from time to time. They survived by burning extensive swaths of the riparian forest in the Green River valley to create grazing ground which would attract large game animals. One autumn when the entire gorge of the Green River was shrouded in smoke, hunting parties from among the People stood upon End Dome and marveled. They called the large hill, in their tongue, the Island in the Sky.

North of the hill the Green River drops its load of silt in a cluster of islands anchored by tall grass, which offered the easiest ford across the river between the steep gorge and the Cascade front just to the east of End Dome. Herds of antelope and elk came to the water exactly there and passed through to the other side, and the People would take them for meat.

When Malekwa found the largest bull of the regrouping elk he pointed the Golden Gift at its head. A hissing black line briefly connected his arm to the animal's head, and there was no more head. The dead animal immediately dropped to the ground and his brother elk scattered once more.

The other hunters helped Malekwa field-dress the carcass down to easily-transportable slabs of meat and hide, to be dragged behind their horses on wooden skids. Most of the elk meat was set aside to become smoked jerky for lean times, but the remainder was enough for a great feast.

Below the hill to the west in a large bend of the river was the small pond that Malekwa knew was a portal to Nyduly Wood in Hamar, but he told no one. Sometimes at dawn the People would find large footprints, half again the size of a large man, leading directly into or away from the water, but never circling it. On even more rare occasions they caught a nighttime glimpse of creatures that walked upright like men, but much taller, with hairy faces and long swinging arms. They called these creatures Sasquatch.

Malekwa said the creatures were messengers of the Sun God and not to be feared, and he was actually correct, the Sasquatch were nephilim servants on errands for Bat-El or El Shaddai. They tried not to alarm the People as they went about their errands and returned to the Land We Know, but the People were expert hunters and trackers, and the nephilim could not remain undetected for long. Others among the People said the Sasquatch were evil spirits in animal form, or the shades of ancestors who were not at rest.

Despite baskets of strange fruit from Gorpai frequently left by the Sasquatch, which supplemented the diet of the People, Chief Malekwa could not make them believe the Sasquatch were harmless. It was too easy to blame them for every misfortune. So at Malekwa's direction the People constructed an earth berm, or mound, to enclose the little pond in a perfect circle. There was one opening in the mound that pointed away from the lodge of the People, and after that the large footprints were found to be routed through this opening, leading far away from their hunting grounds.


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Strangers In Paradise