The strain of holding the weight of two men in her claws was unbearable. Ell tried to control their fall even as they tumbled through air that whistled past her. She felt a ripping pain burn through her chest. Despite the agony, she opened her wings a little more, the soft skin at the edges flapping wildly. Still they fell, plummeting toward the mountainside.
She clenched harder with her claws just as she felt herself lose hold of one of the men. Glancing down, Ell locked eyes with the larger man as he silently fell away beneath them. She screeched in frustration at the loss, unable to stop it, and thrust her wings wide, chest and shoulder muscles screaming.
She would not lose Terris.
With the weight lessened, their plunging fall transformed into a steep, downward glide. Air rushed over her wings and back, and pushed at her chest. It dragged at Terris, trying to pull him from her grasp. The effort to hold him, as well as trying to control their descent, was almost too much. Burning stretched across her chest, back and shoulders. It felt like her muscles were shredding apart. She hadn’t a hope of flying with him in the thin, mountain air. All she could do was hold on and pray that she wouldn’t crush him when they crashed into the rocky mountainside.
The ground rushed upward at them, jagged stones looming large, their rough, grey surfaces blanketed in orange and green lichens. She tilted her wings slightly, desperation and instinct combining to allow her to maneuver between the enormous rocks. Then she threw herself to the side so she wouldn’t land on top of Terris.
There was a jarring impact, and they were tumbling in a great mass of arms, legs, wings and tail.
Rolling to a stop, Ell lay, stunned, half-way down the mountainside, wings spread awkwardly. She was aware of the wind, now a gentle breeze flowing softly over her, carrying the blossom scent of white flower from fields in the distance. Then she felt Terris at her feet still wrapped in her talons. He moved. The jangling sensation of muddled, but living energies surrounded him. Blessed One, he is alive. The relief she felt was so great that her head spun with dizziness and she had to lie still to let the sensation pass.
“I’m dead, ain’t I?” said Terris.
Ell, lifted her head, long neck aching with the effort, and looked him in the eyes.
“I ain’t?” Hope lit his face. “Ell, you saved me! Thank the One!” Terris fumbled a bit trying to get up and help Ell up at the same time.
“Could you let go a me a bit?”
Ell tried. She pulled her legs back, dragging Terris, scraping over the pebbled surface of the ground towards her.
“Ooof, hold up there, Ell.”
Her toes ached terribly, strained with muscle cramps. Mortified, she realized that she could not release her talons to let go of Terris.
“Ya cain’t let go a me can ya’? I seen that happen ‘atimes to the hunter fliers. I’ll jess help you a bit.”
Ell sucked in a breath, inadvertently holding it against the pain, as he gently, then more firmly, pried at her toes. She forced herself to breathe deeply while she endured the indignity and discomfort of the process.
Once separated, she and Terris climbed rather shakily to their feet. Ell shook out her legs and talons carefully, relieved to be able to release the cramping. She studied Terris as she did so. He busied himself brushing dirt and twigs out of his hair. He was a bit bloodied with scrapes on his face and hands. Yet remarkably, he was unharmed.
Ell closed her eyes. Thank you One!
Sharp, painful twinges in her chest and shoulders warned her not to attempt using her wings. She eased them into a folded position on her back, then looked about for the other man, the one she had dropped.
She spied him, a sprawling heap on the mountainside below. She could see the path of broken shrubs and disturbed pebbles darkening the ground where he had tumbled down, finally landing up against a striated boulder. He wouldn’t be hunting them again. Ell’s heart clenched at the needless loss of life. Then her keen eyesight focused in on his face. His eyes were open. There was no fear there, no anger. His lips were tipped upward in a boyish, almost innocent smile.
She heard Terris take a shuddering breath and turned her attention back to see him shaking all over. He wrapped his arms about himself as if cold. He was staring at the body of the one who had hunted them. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he was suddenly sitting on the hard, stony ground.
He’ll be alright, Ell thought, warmth filling her heart, for this small, courageous, man. The One had blessed them both with survival. She looked up and took a deep breath of the fresh, mountain air. Lace-like clouds decorated the sky as they drifted overhead. It felt so good to be alive. The aching throughout her shoulders and back, reminded her of just how alive she was, and served to emphasize the depth of her gratitude. She was filled with an expanding sense of joy and took in a great gulp of air. She needed more than anything right now, to bellow out her thanks to the One.
Ell opened her jaws to voice her gratitude, but before she had a chance to make a sound, a deafening roar thundered down at them from above. Rage, not her own, surrounded her; the intensity of the emotion stabbing, red-hot. A shadow moved over her, eclipsing the warmth of the sun. She whirled around and saw a Guardian, huge and black, arrowing down at them in a stooping dive.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30
Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34