My adversary sharpens his gaze on me
Warm, golden pinkish sunlight washed over them. Below the forest stretched out blanketed in ethereal mists. Beautiful, old trees, thickly clad in knobbly bark and velvet mosses tangled with vines rushed past. Sem glimpsed mysterious valleys and hidden glens. On grassy knolls herds of wild horses and deer fled, startled at the flying shadow of the shimerith. Further along they spotted a lone, sword-beaked samata skimming along. The two humans held their breath but it took one look at Pip and changed course off to the north.
Sem tried to take it all in. The vast panorama below. The circle of the earth. The curving horizon. Cold air whipped his face.
He pointed to the enormous pale disk of the moon slipping away around the curve of the sky. Strands of gold hair tickled his cheek and the warmth of the creature carrying them contrasted with the cool air whooshing past. It was a moment in time.
He bent his head close to Sambeth’s ear. Her scent was warm and clean.
“This is incredible!” he exulted.
Her smile answered his. She nodded and pointed.
“Tetrahin is over there.”
He followed the direction of her arm and spotted the stretch of rocky outcrops that marked the hidden fortress. Many, many leagues farther to the south lay Arca. Too far to be seen. He felt the muscles in the girl’s back stiffen. A rush of air whistled as she gasped? The shimerith flung its head up in response.
“What is it?” Sem shouted.
She pointed, her cheek white. Following the direction of her hand he spotted them slipping through the trees; six, seven perhaps eight riders. Pale upturned faces showed that they also had been seen.
“Altor!” she cried, the streaming air ripping the words from her reddened lips.
“And a war band.”
He bent forward to peer through the trees.
They passed overhead too fast for the whistling arrows to reach them. A rippling mass of birds rose up from the forest in a huge disturbance. A concerted roar floated through the air toward them. A golden outline appeared, crashing through the tree tops. It coalesced into solid form and Sambeth couldn’t stop the scream bursting from her mouth.
The Fallen One streaked toward them.
Sem’s hand gripped her shoulder, “What is it?”
“Proximus! Heading this way,” she leaned forward, urging Pip to fly faster, “Hang on tight!”
Pip banked steeply away and thrust mightily upward through the air. The broad wings stretched, tendons cracking. The unaccustomed extra weight on his back slowed his pick up speed. The Fallen One gained on them.
Pip climbed higher, gathering speed but the Fallen One had too much momentum.
“Here he comes,” Sem called, alarm roughening his voice. He was high in the air, unarmed with an implacable enemy bearing down on him.
The Fallen One slammed into the shimerith’s side. Pip faltered, dropping suddenly. The riders clung. Proximus ignored Sem, grabbing at Sambeth. Sem flung up a hand against the fearsome buffeting of his wings. He groaned as his body took the main force of the jarring blows.
Through the tangle of golden feathers, Sem reached forward and snatched the knife from Sambeth’s belt just as Proximus gained his hold and plucked her from the shimerith’s back.
“Pip! Sem!” she cried as the Fallen One dropped away.
Taking a deep breath, Sem leaped. Fortunately for him, Proximus wasn’t watching as a simple evasion would see Sem swirling through the air to plummet into the ground. It never occurred to the Fallen One that a human would act heroically. For two sickening heartbeats, Sem was suspended between the wide sky and the bulk of earth below. He landed on Proximus’ back with a thud. The angry roar of the shimerith boomed behind them. Sem could hear shouting from below.
The wings of the Fallen One snapped out either side of Sem, compensating for the sudden weight. The shimerith, way ahead, circled about and came straight for them. Sem lifted Sambeth’s knife and struck with all his might.
Proximus stiffened and let out an echoing cry of rage and pain. He saw the shimerith coming and Sambeth slid from his arms. Sem heard her scream as she fell through the air. Pip roared again coming toward Proximus head on. Sem saw the smoke billow from his nostrils and leaped off the Fallen One in Sambeth’s direction. A jet of flame streaked toward the startled watcher, licking around the Fallen One and scorching Sem as he fell away. The smell of burnt human hair filled his nostrils. He realised it was his own.
He rolled slowly over and over until he spread his arms, righting himself. Sambeth was below and to one side. Counting on the shimerith’s intelligence, Sem pinned his arms to his sides and manoeuvred toward the falling girl. The air whistled past his ears.
Above, the Fallen One hovered seemingly unscathed.
The shimerith gave one enormous crack of his wings, then tucked them into his sides and arrowed through the air toward Sambeth.
Sem could see the earth rushing up to them. It got closer and closer. He reached Sambeth and grasped her hand as Pip positioned himself to fly under them. In a cleverly executed whoosh he swooped under them with perfect timing. Sem grasped the long fur and pressed Sambeth hard into the shimerith. Pip levelled out. He could feel the riders clinging to him and settled into smooth, even wing beats.
Filled with a deadly rage, Proximus watched them speeding away. He was scorched by the flames and he felt the pain of the deep knife wound in his back. He hung in the air, swiftly weighing up his options, trying to control the ravening desire to fly, fly, fly until he caught his prey and feasted on their flesh. He was too weak. He knew that. He took a shuddering breath and forced back the anger that clouded his thoughts. Finding Noesh was far more critical to his plans than catching that girl for Altor.
A faint smile stirred his icy lips. Perhaps it was true. She could be a daughter of his. Well, he would tell Altor it was up to him to finish this family feud himself.
He, Proximus, must find Noesh and destroy him before Noesh could fulfil the prophecy and end the reign of fallen angels on earth. He folded his wings and flashed back to his waiting son.
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