|The Forest of Subject Headings has many Cross References, but none
were so cross as the beast that now sprang upon Conan. The force of its
lunge knocked Conan's knife away, and so they wrestled together in the
underbrush. The beast's long limbs and powerful tail gave it some advantage,
but ultimately it was no match for Conan's superior agility. He pinned
it between the broader and narrower branches of its own tree.
"OW! Let me go!"
"First tell me truly. Have you seen a Hyper-Cat pass this way?"
"No. Not here." The Cross Reference caught its breath and sized up its
captor. "But there have been rumors."
"What rumors," Conan hissed, tightening his grip.
"Let me go and I will tell you."
"Tell me first, and then I will let you go."
"OK, ok." The beast's natural helpfulness was overcoming its bad humor.
"The rumor is that the two fiercest of the Hyper-Cats--Takor and Baylor,
perhaps you have heard of them?--passed through the forest recently. And
do you know what else?"
"What?" Conan relaxed his grip slightly.
"Well," the beast warmed to its tale. "I heard that they had an object
of some sort with them. But that's not all--are you ready? I heard they
claimed to have stolen it from the Temple of Knowledge itself. Can
you imagine? They were quite smug about it, too. Hyper-Cats are like that,
you know. Why I knew one once who..."
"Enough," Conan snapped. "Which way did they go?"
"Why, that way, I believe." The beast crooked its tail in a direction
ninety degrees off the heading they had been following. "Although, of course,
I didn't see them myself, as I've already told you. But the forest has
been just abuzz..."
"Thank you." Conan released the Cross Reference, which immediately sat
down and started smoothing its fur.
Conan retrieved his knife and turned to Meta with a sneer. "So much
for your Prism. I wonder if you can even read it correctly."
She flushed and opened her mouth to reply, but he cut her off. "By the
signs, I believe this path will also offer us the shortest route out of
the forest. I would be clear of it before nightfall, for we have reached
an area from which many warriors of the Temple have never returned."
Meta was looking past him to where the path was swallowed by the darkness
of the forest. "Yes," she said, thoughtfully, "we must go this way."
As they trod along in silence, the path gradually widened and became
less overgrown until it opened onto a small glade. The grass was lush and
the leaves were green in the golden shafts of afternoon light. As they
stepped into the open, a figure emerged from the shadows on the other side
to stand in a ray of sunlight. It was a knight dressed in white armor.
The visor of his white-plumed helmet was down. One hand held a shield upon
which was drawn a red circle with diagonal cross-slash, the other hand
held a drawn sword. A cold wind seemed to sweep through the glade, though
not a leaf stirred, as the figure spoke in a deep, grating voice.
"None shall pass."
© 1992, by Hadley V. Baxendale