An excerpt from
the second volume of the Pathfinder series
by Orson Scott Card
to be published by Simon Pulse October 30, 2012
Rigg saw the stream before any of the others.
Loaf was an experienced soldier; Olivenko not so experienced, but not untrained, either; and
Umbo had grown up in the village of Fall Ford, which was almost like living in the woods.
But only Rigg had tramped the high forests above the Upsheer Cliffs, trapping animals for their
fur while the man he called Father taught him more than Rigg ever thought he would need to
know. Rigg practically smelled water like an animal. Even before they crested the low grassy
rise he knew that there would be a stream in the next crease between hills. He even knew it
would be only a rill, with no trees; the ground here was too stony.
Rigg broke into a jog.
"Stop," said the Expendable they were calling Vadesh.
Rigg slowed. "Why? That's water, and I'm thirsty."
"We're thirsty," said Umbo.
"You cannot drink there," said the Expendable.
"Cannot? There's some kind of danger?" asked Rigg.
"Or a law," suggested Olivenko.
"You said you were leading us to water," said Loaf, "and there it is."
"That's not the water I'm taking you to," said Vadesh.
Only now did Rigg realize what he wasn't seeing. It was his inborn gift that all the paths of the
past were visible to him. Humans and animals all left traces behind them, paths in time. If they
ever traveled through a particular place, Rigg could tell where they had gone. It was not
something he saw with his eyes -- his eyes could be closed or covered, or there could be walls
or solid rock between him and a path, and he would still know where it was, and could figure out
what kind of creature made it, and how long ago.
There had been no human traffic at this stream in ten thousand years. More tellingly, few
animals had come there, and no large ones.
"It's poisonous," said Rigg.
"Is that a guess?" asked his sister, Param, "or do you know somehow?"
"Even animals don't come here to drink," said Rigg. "And no human for a long time."
"How long?" asked Vadesh.
"Don't you know?" asked Rigg.
"I'm curious about what you know," said Vadesh. "I have not known a human who can do what
you can do."
"Nearly as long as since the beginning of human settlement on this world." Rigg had a very
clear idea of what paths that old were like, since he had just crossed through the Wall between
his home wallfold and this one, by clinging to an animal that, in the original stream of time, had
died in the holocaust of humans' first coming to the planet Garden.
"That is off by only a little less than a thousand years," said Vadesh.
"I said 'nearly,'" answered Rigg.
"A thousand years this way or that," said Param. "Close enough."
Rigg still didn't know Param well enough to tell if her sarcasm was friendly teasing or open
scorn. "What kind of poison?" he asked Vadesh.
"A parasite," said Vadesh. "It can live out its entire lifecycle in the stream feeding off the bodies
of its siblings, ancestors, and descendants, until one of them eats it. But if a larger animal comes
to drink, it attaches to the face and immediately sends tendrils into the brain."
"It eats brains?" asked Umbo, intrigued.
"No," said Vadesh. "It infiltrates them. It echoes the neural network. It takes over and controls
the host's behavior."
"Why in the world would our ancestors bring along such a creature when they came from
Earth?" asked Umbo.
"They didn't," said Olivenko.
"How do you know that?" asked Loaf. His tone showed he was still skeptical of Olivenko, who
was only a member of the City Guard in Aressa Sessamo, rather than a real soldier.
"Because if they had, it would exist in every wallfold," said Olivenko, "and it doesn't exist in
Olivenko thinks the way Father taught me, thought Rigg. Don't assume: Think it through.
Vadesh was nodding. "A very tough little creature, the facemask."
"What the humans of this wallfold named it. For reasons that would have become tragically
obvious if you had bent over to drink from the stream."
Something didn't ring true about this. "How can a creature that evolved on Garden successfully
take over the brains of creatures from Earth?" asked Rigg.
"I didn't say it was successful," said Vadesh. "And you are now as close as is safe. To avoid
picking up facemasks from the wet ground beside the stream -- they can attach to any skin and
migrate up your body -- you should follow in my footsteps exactly."