Melkaz woke with a blinding headache and a terrible thirst. He was disorientated, his last memory was of being thrown from the Shrike as they passed through the Tear. Seeing Methiyal face down, next to the Shrike, he crawled over to him.
He gently turned Methiyal onto his back and cradled him in his arms. The Shrike was making a gentle keening sound, one of her wings hung limply by her side.
Melkaz sat for several minutes, holding Methiyal’s limp body. His headache was so powerful he was incapable of doing much else. Much to his relief, Methiyal began to stir. “How are you Methiyal?” he asked, with genuine concern. “I’ve been better, friend,” he rasped.
Gently laying him back on the ground, Melkaz rummaged through his pack, looking for his water bladder. He was surprised to find it nearly empty. He was sure he’d only taken one or two sips from it. He looked for a leak but couldn’t find one. He tipped a few drops into Methiyal’s mouth and took a tiny swig. Carefully replacing the stopper, he rose to his feet. They were very close to the edge of the Tear, and as he peered down to the world below, he could see it was still night. The film that had sealed the gap was in tatters. Melkaz picked up a piece and rolled it between his fingers. He tried to tear it, but couldn’t, yet when he turned it over it tore effortlessly. He put it in his pocket and went back to Methiyal who was now on his feet. They were still quite dazed, and only Melkaz knew where they were. The landscape was very barren. On the Horizon Melkaz thought he could see something moving, but wasn’t sure.
He spoke to Methiyal who was now gently ministering to the Shrike “It looks as if she has hurt her wing.”
“I’ve never known a Shrike to be injured before, and look, what do you think caused these?” he pointed to several deep gouges to the muscle of her left wing.
Melkaz shrugged. Things were certainly not going the way he’d planned, and his headache was getting worse.
“Will she still be able to fly?” he said, doubtfully, looking at the injured wing.
“Not for a few days, I’m afraid. If only I had brought some salve, she would soon be well. But in our haste to leave I forgot to pack some. Haste is never good!” he snapped.
Methiyal felt shocked. He was a Kern, the Kern are never abrupt. His curt words even surprised Melkaz, it was so out of character.
They stood silently, unsure of what to do. Melkaz picked up the water bladder, shaking it. “I’m not sure if there is any water up here, but we’d better try and find some, this won’t last us long.”
Methiyal agreed. “I think we’d best start looking, the Shrike will be fine, she doesn’t need much water. I’ll tell her that we will be away for a little while.”
A cold white light seemed to emanate from everywhere, giving them no sense of direction. To ensure they didn’t wander aimlessly in circles, they walked toward a hill several leagues away. The ground was covered in a very fine white powder, nothing grew in it. They found a trail of large footprints in the dust, and a continuous drag mark. Whatever was being dragged, had left some ugly looking slime behind.
The unchanging light gave them no sense of time, so they had no idea how long they trekked before they experienced a strange new sensation.
It was exhaustion.
Their headaches were getting worse, and they were experiencing terrible neck pain. Melkaz touched the back of his neck, finding a large lump. As he rubbed it, something moved, giving him a terrible fright.
“Methiyal” he cried, “there’s something wrong with my neck.”
Melkaz crouched in the dust so Methiyal could have a look. Methiyal could see a large angry lump, with something wriggling inside it.He was too concerned for Melkaz to bother touching his own aching neck. Later, when he did, he found a lump.
“There’s something there, ” he said to Melkaz, I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps when we get back home, some Kernish salve will heal it.”
They shared a small meal of dried awats and a tiny sip of water. In their worlds, food and water were plentiful, rationing was a new experience. After their meal, they fell into an exhausted sleep.
Methiyal dreamed he was back at the Kernish Gnarl, seated in the great hall with his friends. Something was wrong, rather than feeling happy and content to be with the people he loved, he instead felt contempt. A large wooden platter was brought into the hall. On it, he could see a seething mass of repulsive looking slugs. The other Kern weren’t bothered by them. In the dream he watched his brethren serve themselves from the platter, devouring the revolting creatures. It pleased the Methiyal of the dream.
When they had finished their hideous meal, Mezalhath rose from his seat to give a speech, but instead of regaling them with good and humorous tales, he shouted foul, unkind words. His audience rose from their seats, defiling the sanctity of the hall with equally ugly words.
Methiyal woke from his nightmare, covered in sweat. His head was pounding with pain, and he felt violently ill.
Melkaz was tossing and turning on the ground beside him. The angry red lump on the back of his neck had burst, exposing his spine. A revolting slug pulsated out of the oozing rupture and promptly buried its head in Melkaz’s spinal cord. Transfixed, he watched the thing exude a thick yellow gel into the wound, instantly healing the rupture. An empty sack and the slugs exposed tail was all that remained visible.
Methiyal seized the evil looking thing, trying to pull it from his friend’s neck. Melkaz screamed, forcing Methiyal to let go. His screams turned to sobs, as he looked up unseeingly at Methyial for a few moments before collapsing into a deep sleep.
Methiyal stood up, bewildered. Melkaz looked to have fallen into a peaceful sleep. Leaving him to rest, he walked over to the water bag and took a tiny sip. Looking up toward the horizon he noticed a dark figure looking at him. He cried out for help, but it either didn’t hear or was ignoring him. Soon it was gone.
Another wave of pain rent his body as the boil on his neck ruptured. Forced to his knees, he cried out in agony as the slug began her evil work. The time of the shade had begun.