If we trod then on the tracks of Ursus, I did not know it–though Marcus sent our own pairs of scouts fore and aft of the column. I was more concerned that when we entered the ravine, we passed out of sunlight into chilling shadow. The cold took my breath away. The Never-born behind me swore. I did not know the word, but I certainly shared the tone.
And then the dagger warmed within my hand. I looked down and saw that it had molded itself to fit my grip. Because I had no sheathe for it, I had been carrying it all this time without truly knowing it. Profusionist metal, for all its potential density, weighs almost nothing unless commanded to. But now the handle, yes, warmed, and there came a vibration along its length. The blade had woken to my consciousness, and adapted its affinity to me. Now, if I remembered my Temple teaching correctly, so long as I was conscious and did not release it, the blade would only work for me. It would be as lifeless in the hands of any other as it once had been in my own. Yet now that it was loyal to me, I could strike into the chest of the nearest Never-born if I so chose, and none of his steel would stop me.
In the late afternoon, we found the first blood. It was little more than a smear and drag among some rocks, but the mastodons shied regardless at the scent. It occurred to me, then, that though smilodons were not large enough to hunt mastodons, Ursus might be. My mastodon tossed her trunks and trumpeted. I quickened to quiet her, but two others soon did the same. But then with an iron will Marcus quieted the herd, and we moved on. As we passed the place of blood, I saw that the drag only went a few paces and ended abruptly. There was no carcass, so that whichever of the Never-born had died there had been picked up in his hunter’s mouth.
We passed two other places where there was blood, and then a mound of snow and rock that no mastodon would near. Marcus cursed and again quieted the herd, and we moved on. As darkness fell, we passed five other such mounds, and I realized that Ursus made a larder. The cold kept all, and there were no other beasts to spoil it. Soon the trail of the Never-born climbed back out of the canyon. They had finally realized they were lost. They crossed a broad snowfield, and in the open there were no more kills. We crossed it as quickly as we dared, knowing that such expanses often cover glaciers, with their great cracks that swallow men and beast alike.