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by Robert J. Sawyer
Book Two of The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy
Copyright © 1993 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Paperback: Berkley/Ace, May 1993, ISBN 0-441-24884-5
Trade Paperback: Tor, March 2005, ISBN 0-765-30793-4
British edition: New English Library, March 1995, ISBN 0-340-61803-5
PROLOGUE: The First Sacred Scroll
Five thousand kilodays ago, God laid the eight eggs of creation.
When they hatched, the world was born.
From the first egg came all the water. God let it run in
a vast circular path and it became the Great River.
From the second egg came Land itself, and God set Land
floating down the River.
From the third egg came the air, and God allowed it to
flow everywhere that was not the River and not the Land.
From the fourth egg came the sun, source of light and
From the fifth egg came the stars, planets, and moons, and
God raised them high above.
From the sixth egg came all the flowers and trees and
vegetables and roots and every other thing that is a plant.
From the seventh egg came those lesser beasts that eat the
plants, including the shovelmouths and thunderbeasts and
hornfaces and armorbacks. Also from the seventh egg came the
fish and lizards and shelled creatures of the water.
And from the eighth and final egg came the greater
creatures that dine on flesh, the terrorclaws and blackdeaths and
runningbeasts and fangjaws and more.
But even with all eight eggs hatched, God was not pleased. She
wanted something else, something that would think and pray. So,
after much contemplation, She bit off Her own left arm and let it
fall to Land. The blood flowing from the stump of Her arm made
the soil rich. The fingers of Her hand detached, and each became
one of the five original great and proud hunters: Lubal, Mekt,
Katoon, Hoog, and Belbar, five females of strength and courage
and acumen. And the five hunters pleased God and She watched
them hunt throughout Land.
But the hunters themselves were not pleased, and so they prayed
to God. "You have laid the Eggs of Creation," they said, "but
we, too, wish to lay eggs and have creations of our own."
For the first time, the Land quaked, for God was angered by the
impudence of the Original Five. But then God relented. "Only I
may create on my own," She said, "but I will give you the power
to create jointly." And God sacrificed of Herself again, biting
off Her right arm. It, too, fell to Land, and blood from it made
the soil even richer. Its five fingers became five more
Quintaglios, and these Quintaglios were the same and yet
different, for they were male. They each began a different task:
Varkev was the first explorer; Dargo, the original healer;
Takood, the first scholar; and Jostark, the craftsperson before
all others. And, to keep the rest properly obedient to God, the
fifth finger became Detoon the Righteous, first of all priests.
The ten who had been the fingers of God came together and
produced five clutches of eight eggs. But God said soon all of
Land would be overrun with Quintaglios if all those egglings were
allowed to live. Therefore, She charged Mekt with devouring
seven out of every eight hatchlings, and Mekt was thus the first
But then Lubal declared that this portion of Land was hers; and
Katoon said, and this portion is mine; and Mekt delineated
a territory she called her own; and Hoog likewise claimed
exclusive dominion over a part of Land; and Belbar asserted a
territory, too. And the males, in a similar fashion, divided up
the remaining parts of Land.
God was angry, for this was not what She had intended. But She
had sacrificed Her arms to make five females and five males and
until Her hands regenerated there was nothing that She could do.
One of them was going to die.
Toroca, leader of the Geological Survey of Land, caught sight of
the confrontation purely by accident.
He was working nine-tenths of the way up the cliff face, just
below the Bookmark layer, looking for fossils.
As usual, Toroca wasn't finding anything. He'd dug his pick
countless times into the gray shale just below the chalk stratum,
and each time he'd found nothing but plain rock. It was tiring
work, so he decided to take a break. He braced himself firmly in
a cleft in the rocks, then gulped water from the shovelmouth
bladder he used as a canteen. He half-turned to look out. The
cliff face dropped for more than a hundred vertical paces
directly below him. Still, it bowed out enough that it wasn't a
difficult climb in most places, and in those spots where the
rocks themselves did not afford adequate purchase, his surveyors
had set up webs of climbing ropes.
The cliff ended in a narrow expanse of sandy beach and beyond
that there were choppy gray waves leading out to the horizon.
Above the waves, far, far out, he could see a large wingfinger
circling, its furry, copper-colored wings bright against the
purple sky, a sky that today was free of cloud. The sun was a
tiny white disk about halfway up the bowl of the sky. Three pale
daytime moons were visible.
Toroca's eyes fell back on the beach.
His survey team consisted of eight Quintaglios. Two of them were
visible far below and some distance up the beach. They were
almost too small to identify, although their green skin stood out
well against the beige sands. On the one nearest to him, he
could just make out all four limbs and the tail; on the other
one, he couldn't even make out that much detail.
They were standing awfully close to each other, only five or six
paces between them.
Toroca brought up a hand to shield his eyes. Something funny in
the way they were moving
Bobbing up and down
Toroca's claws jumped out in shock. He brought his hands to the
sides of his muzzle and yelled, "No!"
They couldn't hear him. The wind tore away his words. He began
to scramble down the cliff face. Doing so meant turning his back
to them so that he could see the rocks, find the footholds.
Where were the other members of the survey team? Either off
exploring elsewhere, or else when they'd seen the territorial
challenge display, they'd run away, lest they succumb to the
sight of bobbing torsos, rhythmically moving up and down, up and
down . . .
Toroca's claws were chipping against the rock as he continued his
rapid descent. He came to a little fissure in the rocks and
turned to climb down the web of thick ropes that covered it. He
was about halfway down the cliff now and could see the other two
The closer one was Delplas, a middle-aged female. She was still
too tiny to recognize by her features, but her distinctive blue
and orange sash gave her away. Her torso was tipped right over
now, the tail lifted clear off the ground, her body rising and
falling over and over again, pivoting at the hips.
Got to hurry. They'd be at each other's throats any moment.
Toroca paused in his descent long enough to shout "No!" again,
but either the wind was still preventing them from hearing him,
or else they were too deep in the madness of dagamant to
He'd reached the bottom of the ropes now and turned back to the
rocks, the giant claws on his three-toed feet finding purchase in
cracks between the strata. His tail hung behind him, a heavy
weight. Hurrying, not taking the care he should
Toroca slipped. The cliff face curved out enough that he didn't
fall right off, but he did skid down several paces on his belly,
the rocks badly scraping the lighter-colored skin of his front
and tearing open two of the many pockets that ran the length of
his leather geologist's sash. He clawed frantically for
purchase, but the slide continued, down, down, belly over rocks,
More climbing ropes. He shot out his left hand, the five fingers
seizing the web. His arm felt like it was going to tear from its
socket as he suddenly braked to a halt. He looked briefly at his
belly: it was badly scraped but was only bleeding lightly in a
couple of places. Too bad: it probably would have been a lot
more sanitary to actually have the scrapes flush themselves
Madly, he hurried down the ropes, feet finding homes in the large
squares made between intersections of the braided beige fiber.
He looked again at the two surveyors, just in time to see it
Delplas lunged, her whole body darting forward, her jaws split
wide, showing the serrated white teeth that lined them
The other Quintaglio Toroca was now low enough to see that it
was Spalton, a male surveyor a bit younger than Delplas tried
to avoid the bite, but Delplas had no trouble connecting, her
jaws slamming shut on his shoulder, scooping out bloody red
meat . . .
Toroca turned again and hurried down the remaining height of the
cliff face, the sound of waves pounding against the shore
counterpointing the pounding of his own heart and the roar of the
wind no match for his own labored panting.
Finally, he made it to ground level. He ran toward the fighting
Quintaglios, now locked in a great ball of green extremities,
tails and limbs sticking out every which way. Toroca's own tail
was flying behind him as his feet pounded the sand, sand wet
enough from rain and spray to make running difficult.
The coppery wingfinger he'd seen before, or one just like it, was
now circling high above the two Quintaglios, waiting patiently
for fresh meat to dine on. Toroca thundered on.
It was the word Toroca would have called if he could have found
the breath to do so, but it hadn't come from him. No, there,
nestled in the rocks at the base of the cliff, back to the
fighting Quintaglios, was giant Greeblo, another member of the
survey team. "Don't go any closer!" she shouted. "You'll be
drawn into the frenzy!"
Toroca ignored her and ran on, his chest aching from without and
within as he struggled to continue. Another forty paces to
go . . .
Spalton had the advantage now, having slammed Delplas onto the
ground. He was coming in to bite down on the back of her neck, a
sure way to make the kill
Territoriality. Toroca cursed it as he closed the
remaining distance. The madness of territoriality. Delplas and
Spalton had worked together for kilodays now, and yet, somehow,
one of them had moved too close, encroaching on the other's
territory, and instincts ancient and savage had come into play.
The bobbing; the showing of teeth; perhaps for the male, Spalton,
the inflation of the dewlap sack on the neck into a ruby-red
ball; and then
The veneer of civilization gone, melted away under the fires of
instinct. Claws would have popped from their sheaths, vision
clouded over, rational thought drowned out by the rage boiling up
They wouldn't last much longer. Delplas had rolled onto her
belly, just in time to avoid Spalton's scooping bite, and she'd
smashed him in the side of the head, right over his earhole, with
a vicious swipe of her tail. Spalton now had tumbled onto his
side, muzzle hitting the wet sand hard. Delplas pushed up with
her arms, regaining her feet, and once again her jaws opened
wide, wider still, the sharp white teeth slick with crimson, her
dexterous neck bending down, muscles bulging, readying for the
"No!" shouted Toroca, finally reaching them, the sands
beneath them already a slurry of quartz grains and blood.
Delplas looked up. She seemed momentarily confused, startled for
an instant out of the madness of dagamant, but then she
turned back to the prone Spalton, her jaws gaping
Toroca reached out, grabbed her shoulder. "Stop it!" The
touch shocked her he could see her inner lids flutter across
her obsidian black eyes. He yanked her aside, and brought his
other arm up to her other shoulder, shaking her violently. "Stop
Her jaws were still split wide, her whole muzzle a killing maw
filled with white daggers. She faced Toroca and turned her head
sideways, ready now to bite down on his muzzle or neck, tearing
"No!" shouted Toroca.
Behind them, Spalton was getting up. His left arm hung loosely
from his shoulder, half-severed by one of Delplas's great bites.
He opened his jaws, ready to take out Delplas from behind, but
then he staggered from side to side, and his jaw went slack, half
closing, his eyelids likewise shutting partway, and he fell onto
his side in a heap behind Delplas.
Delplas, oblivious to all this, snapped her jaws shut, but Toroca
did the unthinkable in a territorial battle. He stepped
backward, dancing out of her way. Her massive head
failing to connect, she lost balance and tipped way, way forward.
Toroca moved in from the side. He interlocked the fingers of his
hands to form a massive club, like the tail knob of an armorback,
and pounded down on her shoulders. She lost her footing and
slammed down onto the sand. Overhead, the wingfinger let out a
shriek, but the only sound Delplas made was a soft oomph.
Toroca leapt onto her back, pinning her. He was taking a big
chance that Spalton wouldn't recover enough to attack him from
behind, but he couldn't let them fight like this.
Delplas tried to push up off the beach, but she was near
exhaustion. Toroca continued to hold her down.
He couldn't release her, not until he was sure the madness had
passed. At last she spoke, her voice hoarse. "How . . ."
Come on, Delplas, Toroca thought. Give me a coherent
sentence. Let it be over.
"How," she began again, and a moment later, the rest of it came,
"did you do that?" He got off her. She tried to rise, but was
too tired or too injured to do so. Her inner eyelids were
fluttering in astonishment, but as Toroca moved away from her, he
saw her claws slip back into their sheaths.
"How did you do that?" she said again.
He moved over to Spalton, still lying on his side, the vessels in
his arm having mostly sealed, but some blood still seeping out.
His breathing was shallow but even, the respiration of
unconsciousness, not the frantic gulping of air that comes with
the territorial madness of dagamant.
"How?" said Delplas again, still too weak to get up. "How did
you avoid getting drawn into the territorial battle? How could
you touch me without your claws coming out?"
Toroca bent over to minister to Spalton's wounds. He'd kept it a
secret this long; he had no intention of offering an explanation
An excerpt from Fossil Hunter by Robert J. Sawyer.
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Essay: Writing The Quintaglio Ascension
Robert J. Sawyer's awards and honors
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Short stories by Robert J. Sawyer
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