The branch tore loose just as Pavlos got his right foot settled on an uncertain chunk of partially decomposed granite. For a moment he teetered. The canyon wavering about him in a blur of hazy green thorn bushes and a narrow strip of cloudy sky.

Pavlos threw the cluster of twigs away and grabbed for another hold. But dry leaves came off like chaff in his hands as the ground crumbled beneath him.

The brush that had been so formidable in blocking his earlier descent now broke and parted in front of him like chips flying from an axe. Branches tore and whipped at his arms, which he vainly tried to keep over his face as he fell, running and crashing, down the steep slope.

Somehow, he stayed on his feet, though they skidded on the powdery surface. The shrubbery thickened toward the bottom and the slope flattened, but this slowed him only slightly as the headlong rush sent him splashing across a small rivulet of dirty water to slam, arms outstretched, into the opposite canyon wall.

Fragments of desiccated, ancient rock rained down upon him as he labored to catch his breath in a series of shuddering gasps. The clumps fell in a steady stream -- a miniature landslide onto the back of his head.

Pavlos stood still, taking things in order. He wasn't ready to begin cataloguing the bruises and scrapes he had taken. The thudding of loose gravel on his skull meant no more to his overloaded senses than the chalky, rank odor of dust and sweat which he took in with each ragged breath, or the almost unbearable weight of his backpack.

The landfall subsided at about the same rate as Pavlos's breathing. Dust settled, leaving a fine white patina on his hair and hunched shoulders. He waited a few moments longer, eyes shut tightly against the floating grit, listening to the fading creakings his passage down the scarp had set off. When finally he looked around, Pavlos shuddered.

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