Arskade is quickly becoming my favorite character in the book. (When I was younger, I was more attached to Fors, the protagonist. With this re-read Fors and Arskade pretty much have equal billing.) Arskade is an extremely smart, capable character who is obviously not afraid of Fors mutation. This is primarily interesting because Fors home community is extremely prejudiced toward those with visible mutations, and Fors has mentioned that many communities engaged in infanticide to prevent “mutant” genes from entering the population. It is also interesting because while Arskade is very friendly with Fors, we have seen him act with extreme caution where other people are concerned, particularly the Plains People. In the next few chapters, we will learn why.
Chapter Eight: Where Men Once Flew
The next day Arskade wants to make plans for leaving the city. Fors is something of a pessimist and points out they are still stuck in the building. Arskade however is extremely clever and much more experienced than Fors. His idea is to use Fors rope to swing across to the next building and hopefully avoid the Beast Things who might not anticipate a trick like that, except they do, and the chase is on.
They come across an intact vehicle with a “sealed” engine and presumably a tank of gas. Since Arskade has some knowledge of how to operate the vehicle (there is a tech savvy member of his tribe, though they don’t have the materials to create a vehicle or the fuel to run them) he is able to get the vehicle running. They manage to make a getaway without accidentally killing themselves. (Notice that I don’t say “without crashing the vehicle.”)
Fors and Arskade try to figure out where to go next. Arskade laments the loss of his signal drum, prompting Fors to suggest that Arskade come back to the Eyrie with him. Arskade is extremely dubious about this suggestion. He points out that Fors left his community because of prejudice, and then explains that his tribe’s contacts with the Plains People have extremely hostile despite his tribe’s efforts to make peaceful contact. He states that going back to the Eyrie is only an option if Fors can guarantee that their presence would be welcomed. Arskade then explains historical racism to Fors. (Note: Fors and the Plains People are white though possibly not necessarily “Anglo.”)
Fors realizes that Arskade is probably right, and expresses regret that people are suspicious of strangers. He also points out that the world is pretty big, so there is no real reason to fight over territory. Arskade and Fors talk about the various strong points of their respective cultures, including the Plains People. (Remember that Fors is half Plains.) Arskade’s people are craftsmen and farmers, the Plains People are herders and hunters and Fors people are primarily seekers after knowledge. This leads back to the problem of each group’s expressions of xenophobia and prejudice. (Arskade’s group actually has the least xenophobia of any of the groups, which I found to be interesting.)
As the conversation continues, Fors is inspired by the idea of somehow uniting the tribes into one nation. Arskade thinks this is a great idea! He also feels that their meeting must have somehow been guided by higher powers. (The cynical side says Arskade is doing the guiding here. On the other hand, Arskade has no reason to try “guiding” Fors since the kid is an outcast, not someone who can make decisions.)
They eventually come across an airfield filled with wrecked planes. This is a sad yet also inspirational sight for these two. It’s a sad sight because of the wreckage, but inspirational in the sense that a united nation of tribes would be able to find way to recreate the technology of the old world. Fors expresses the idea that the “Old Ones” had been godlike. Arskade is quick to point out that the reason why the air field is destroyed is because of a war–which actually makes the Old Ones “devil-like.” The general theme here is “war is very bad and if civilization rises again, something like this must never happen again.”
Chapter Nine: Into the Blow Up Land
Fors and Arskade attempt to shake off the Beast Things pursuing them by heading into what turns out to be a wasteland caused by radiation. They are a bit worried about traveling through this damaged area, but have reason to believe that they are more resistant to any still-present radiation than their ancestors would have been.
The Beast Things continue to follow them into the wasteland. It rains, and the three of them are miserable. Then Lura hears something and Fors goes to investigate. (He also reveals to Arskade that his more positive mutation is that he has greatly heightened vision) He spies on the Beast Thing camp and we learn that the Beast Things are capable of language, though the language they speak is not even remotely related to the language Fors and Arskade speaks. (I am not entirely sure how Fors was able to realize that. He is not a linguist.) We also learn that the Beast Things are slowing becoming bolder and more organized, which is not a good thing since Beast Things seem to be fairly hostile and possibly cannibalistic.
Arskade and Fors attempt to throw the Beast Things off their trail.
Chapter Ten: Captured!
Despite the rain, Fors and Arskade get extremely dehydrated out in the Blow Up Land. They have no supplies and Arskade gets sick. They continue traveling, and Fors comes across a very strange mutant plant that is able to move around under its own power. These plants are like teeny vegetative camels and store what water they manage to find. Fors attempts to be witty at the thought of plants that move around, but Arskade is extremely sick and dehydrated and not really in the mood for wittiness. (The alleged wittiness revolves around a land where humans stay rooted in one place while the plants move around. Fors, stop. You are semi-delirious from hunger and thirst and therefore silly.)
After an unknown length of time, they travel to the edge of the Blow Up Land. Unfortunately, the Beast Things catch up to them while they are struggling along and knock them all out. Fors wakes tied hand and foot, Lura is one extremely unhappy kitty, and Arskade is still out of it. The Beast Things turn out to have some experience with the Blow Up Land, and it seems that the water plants make a good emergency source of water. The Beast Things have hunted some kind of lizard, which they roast over the fire.
Here is the thing though. The lizards are not dumb animals. They are very small people. Very small angry people, since the Beast Things have completely wrecked their fields and homes.
Fors watches as the surviving lizard people send out scouts, then create a trap for the Beast Things. Little lizard dude decoys distract the Beast Things while little lizard dude warriors drop poisoned caltrops into the Beast Thing camp. The Beast Things step on the caltrops and eventually die. Fors however is still in trouble, because the lizard dudes are approaching and do not seem willing to consider him a friend.