Sarah felt pain, as if saws were slicing into her own flesh. Defenders of the grove hurled rocks down at their attackers. Some rocks struck their marks, but the sawing continued. Fern dropped another net. She misjudged the angle, and the trap fell uselessly to the ground. Sarah lowered her arms. Immediately the rain subsided to a drizzle. Quinn emitted shrill, mournful eagle cries, and Rumpus barked furiously. Sarah looked down, and was dismayed to see Mister Nickel staring back up at her.
She ducked into the treehouse; her father was hunkered down in corner with a terrified Sammy in his arms, and Levvy was frantically searching the hammocks strung from the ceiling. The sound of blades ripping through wood filled Sarah with panic, and she went back outside.
From the treehouse deck, Sarah spotted Hanx and Trig, making quick progress with their saw. As she watched, a dark shape fell from the canopy—Murdock, plummeting in free fall! Sarah sucked in her breath, and prepared for her friend to hit the ground, but he inexplicably slowed and rotated, revealing a climbing rope cinched to his belt. Drawing level with the men’s heads, Murdock placed a heavy-booted kick, and Hanx fell, but Trig lunged, grabbed hold of Murdock’s leg, and dragged him down to the ground, where they wrestled like boys in a schoolyard.
Levvy pushed a heavy jar into Sarah’s hands. SYRUP, said the label. Levvy opened a her jar, leaned over the deck edge, and poured thick, viscous globs of syrup over a pair of attackers sawing below. Sarah did the same. Syrup dribbled on the sawyers, and they abandoned their saw to wipe away the sticky mess. A chorus of shrieks blotted out sawing sounds. Six eagles plunged into the grove, talons first. The eagles snagged clumps of hair, and gouged scalps. The attackers dropped their saws and covered their heads, howling with pain. The eagles dove again and again, and a dozen attackers retreated the way they had come.
“Get back here, you cowards!” Mister Nickel raged.
Fern appeared beside Sarah. “Can you make those grow?” she asked.
Moonlight spilled through a jagged hole in the clouds. Fern was pointing to a thicket of vines. Emboldened by the success of the syrup, the Song of the Talisman echoing in her head, Sarah felt the now-familiar tingling sensation in her palms. She extended her arms toward the creepers and they grew, undulating like green snakes. Vines wound around a pair of sawyers’ ankles, then quickly bound knees, girdled waists, and cinched arms to sides.
Sarah’s concentration was broken by whoops and shouts.
“RAH, RAH, RAHHHH!”
A horde of shabbily-dressed warriors ran into the grove, cheeks and noses streaked with muddy warpaint, brandishing clubs and slingshots. The mysterious horde set upon the attackers ferociously, beating sawyers back from the trees. Attackers abandoned their saws and retreated;only the toughest stayed behind to battle with the grove’s unexpected, ragged rescuers. The pair of sawyers Sarah had bound with vines wriggled free, and ran for their lives.
“Stand and fight!” Mister Nickel bellowed, his face livid.
But one by one the attackers ran away, and soon Mister Nickel stood alone in the clearing, surrounded and defeated. He poked an index finger up toward Sarah.
“Listen up, you brat. This community is in violation of Parleyment Law! In my authority as Parleymentary Aide, I demand you return to Wailsmouth Street immediately and turn yourselves in. Go soon, and you won’t be punished, but placed in Parleyment-approved housing under strict curfew and rations. Those who refuse will find returning to the neighbourhood exceedingly unpleasant.”
Perched on the treehouse deck, Sarah felt an unfamiliar surge of confidence and security. The branches around her seemed like strong, supporting hands, and the golden hexagon around her neck shone. Heart thumping at her own daring, Sarah called down to Mister Nickel.
“We’re not coming back! This grove is our home.”
“You little thief,” snarled Ichamus Nickel.
“Rumpus came to me,” Sarah shouted. “I didn’t steal him!”
Tomin interrupted from a rope bridge across the clearing.
“You have no jurisdiction here Ichamus. Leave now, or we’ll administer our own justice.”
“Pah!” said Mister Nickel.
He spat forcefully toward Tomin, and a rousing chorus of boos came from the rope bridges. Ichamus backed out of the clearing, turned, and ran away.
RAH! HURRAH! Roars of victory resounded in the clearing, and the Followers of the Grove swarmed out of trees and clambered down ladders to meet their unexpected allies. Without hunaja, the grove structures were invisible to the newcomers, who gawked in disbelief at bodies that seemed to come from nowhere and float in the air, defying gravity. Once on the ground, the Followers of the Grove assembled before their mysterious helpers. The only people missing, Sarah noticed, were her father and Sammy. She glanced uneasily up at the treehouse; this attack wasn’t a great beginning at Sassamatta for her family. In the clearing, a tall man with a pointed beard stepped forward.
“My name is Vinnie Vantego,” he said. “We came from downtown Vancouver. Our leader, Grizzella Sticks, told us your settlement needed our help.”
“Thank you! Welcome to Sassamatta Grove!” Quinn spread his arms proudly.
Vinnie and his troops looked around, unimpressed.
“We live in treehouses,” Levvy explained.
“I don’t see anything,” said a young woman with red hair. “They must be way up there.”
Sarah wanted to explain, but was struck by a wave of exhaustion. She buckled at her knees, sank to a mossy stump, and put her head in her hands. Hanx and Trig were seated at the base of the tree nearby, bound tightly, back-to-back. Hanx, the redhead, was unconscious, his head lolling to one side.
“How did your leader hear about us?” Quinn asked.
“Grizzella Sticks was our regional representative to Parleyment,” Vinnie explained. “She was called to the capital to report on Vancouver. She argued with Harpminster Abbott, and he fired her. Now she’s a local hero, and our chosen leader. In Vancouver, we believe in alternative communities.”
“Vancouver is not exactly an alternative community,” said Tomin.
Vinnie snorted. “Haven’t been there for a while, have you?”
“I’ve never been to Vancouver, actually,” said Tomin.
“Well you should come and check it out,” Vinnie said, scratching his beard. “We don’t care about orders and instructions from a far-away capital city. After the earthquakes, Vancouver had broken glass and sewage in the streets, and violent crime. There was nothing to eat, and nowhere safe to live. It was tempting to leave the city, and lots of people did. But some of us,” Vinnie gestured toward his mud-spattered troops, “loved Vancouver too much to give up on it. Together, we’re rebuilding, only we’re not using the old blueprints; we’ve come up with some pretty ingenious clean technology, really cool stuff like terraced gardens built over the rubble of high rises, and a biological water treatment system. We’ve got the monorail working again, but now it runs on solar power. The nearest stop from here is at Burnubbee Mountain. Trains run back and forth between the beach and Burnubbee all day.”
“I heard the monorail tracks collapsed in the earthquake,” said Tomin.
Vinnie chuckled. “Sure, you heard right. The tracks collapsed. And now we’ve fixed them, and re-engineered them. That’s what I’m talking about! Things have changed a lot in Vancouver. We have our own ways of doing things, and now we have nothing to do with Parleyment.”
“Freaks!” A nasal voice shouted.
Fern had lowered her net and its slight captive to the forest floor. His features were screwed up tightly, like a twist of paper, but Sarah thought he looked familiar.
“Hey, aren’t you the guy we tied to a tree at the ravine?”
The little man swore, and struggled to free himself from the net.
“You’re right Sarah, it’s him! You’re the guy from the forest,” Levvy grinned. “Wow, you got rescued, and we caught you again right away. What’s your name?”
“Don’t tell them, Milton!” shouted Trig. Realizing his blunder, he groaned.
“Thanks for blowing my cover,” Milton said nastily.
“Should we release these prisoners?” Levvy asked.
“Not a chance,” said Fern. “I don’t trust them. I’ll tarp this area to keep them dry. They can sleep in their bonds, and spend the night thinking about how they lost the fight they picked with us. We can release them in the morning, if they swear to leave and never return.”
Vinnie cleared his throat. “We can’t get back to Vancouver tonight. Is there, uh, anywhere we can sleep? We didn’t come prepared to camp, because Grizzella told us there would be a village.
“There is a village,” Quinn said stiffly. “You just can’t see it yet. We can string up hammocks in the kitchen, and create a sheltered place for you to sleep.”
Tomin heated a cauldron, and provided cups of thin soup for the weary troops. Huddling together and grumbling, the visitors watched the Followers of the Grove erect a makeshift camp. The next day dawned warm and humid, and the sky a vibrant pink. Sarah descended to the clearing. The ground was scorched where fire bombs had struck and there were raw, gaping wounds on the biggest trees in the grove. Sarah’s hands warmed up, and buzzed with life. She laid her hands on a jagged cut in the most damaged tree. The hexagon talisman shone, and bark grew together; rough edges smoothed and joined. A loud creaking sound came from the tree as it healed, the wet noise of wood gently bending. Soon all that remained of the deep cut was a bumpy bark scar.
Sarah was only vaguely aware of people gathering to watch her work. She moved from tree to tree, healing injuries. When bark covered the last woody gash, Sarah came out of her trance, and turned to discover she had a large audience, with Vinnie in the first row. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head. With a rustling of rain gear, the entire crowd imitated Vinnie, and bent a knee for Sarah.
Only two people remained standing; Sammy and her father. Tony Spellings, looking suspicious and unhappy, glared at his daughter over the sea of bowed heads.
“Gimme a break,” said Milton. “You people are crackpots. Just wait until winter. You’ll come blubbering back to the streets for food and shelter.”
“Visitors from Vancouver, please accept a delicacy from my homeland,” said Quinn, who had arrived in the clearing holding a large wooden bowl full of honeycomb slices. “And then I will introduce you properly to Sassamatta Grove.”
The crowd shuffled toward Quinn.
Gently, Sarah touched a healed tree with her fingertip. It was unbelievable, a miracle! Why did her father disapprove? Sarah wanted to confide in a friend. She went looking for Levvy, and found her on the shore of Sassamatta Lake.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” said Sarah.
“I had another vision,” said Levvy, staring to the west. Her voice sounded like it had in Spex’s shack, when she predicted the attack. A gust of wind blew yellow leaves from branches, and sent them spinning onto the surface of the lake. Sarah waited. Levvy pulled off her orange toque and finger combed her stringy, unkempt hair. When she spoke at last, her voice was thin and distant.
“You and I were climbing to the top of Burnubbee Mountain. We reached the summit, and looked out to sea. There was something really important out there, on the western horizon. But we couldn’t see what it was.”
Levvy turned her gaze to look directly at her friend.
“Sarah, we have to climb the mountain. For real.”