Melkaz hardly slept a wink and was up before dawn, eager to be on his way. The first things he did was to check to make sure the Shrike had not left during the night. Much to his relief, she was asleep in the Karapoti tree, her head tucked under a wing.
He wandered around the Gnarl, hoping to find someone up and about, but it was quite early and a bit on the chilly side so the Kern were still tucked away in their cozy nooks. Just as he was resigning himself to another long wait, he spotted Methiyal.
“Gosh, you’re up bright and early Methiyal,” said Melkaz with a relieved smile.
“I thought you would be eager to get going Melkaz, and besides I am a bit on the peckish side, would you like to join me for a meal?”
Soon they were tucking into a large pile of leftover darnels, which they washed down with cups of Kernish tea. Melkaz didn’t get a chance to tip his out, so he had to just suffer it. Yet by the time he got to the bottom of his cup, he was starting to enjoy the taste, and feeling pleasantly cheerful.
They finished their breakfast and gathered the few possessions they thought they would need for the journey. Things were starting to warm up, and many of locals had woken and were gathering under the Karapoti tree to say their goodbyes.
This was the very first time a Shrike was to be taken to the world of men, so it was quite an occasion. The Kern were very hopeful that Methiyal and Melkaz might just discover the spot where God had stood when he had framed the worlds, and find whatever it was that God had left behind when He had finished. According to the Book, it would only be found when it needed discovering. Perhaps now was that time.
Mezalhath gave a lengthy speech to mark their departure, wishing them well, and as he often did, managed to get sidetracked and spoke in great detail about the time he had almost found something he hadn’t quite lost. When, at last, he finished his story, he received a standing ovation. After the applause died down, Melkaz and Methiyal climbed the Karapoti tree to join the Shrike, who had fallen asleep during Mezalhath’s speech.
Once they were seated on the Shrike, Methiyal whispered into her ear, and they were off. As she lurched into the air, Melkaz felt a little nervous, sure that any moment he would fall off. Methiyal, however, was relaxed, as he knew something that Melkaz didn’t.
A Shrike has an incredible sense of balance, and no matter how hard you try, it is almost impossible to fall off. If for instance, you find yourself sliding off, the Shrike will instantly compensate by adjusting her flight. If she is ascending steeply and you start slipping backwards, she will ruffle her scales so that your slide is arrested. Methiyal was the only Kern who had ever fallen off a Shrike, but it was completely his fault and is a story that is best told at some other time.
As Melkaz gained confidence, he began to enjoy the amazing scenery below. Beneath them was the forest of Chanzau, which is about 7000 leagues long and 6000 wide. Many tribes lived in the woods. Some like the Kern dwelt in trees, and others like the Drolian live in limestone caves to the west. The Suterion, however, lived deep below the earth in subterranean caverns and kept very much to themselves, mixing with the other tribes only when they felt the need to trade.
Soon they were flying over the tundra of Alcor, below them, a huge sea of Karsing was grazing contentedly on the lush grass. The reflected light from their coats was so intense it forced Melkaz to squint. As they passed over the Karsing, Melkaz noticed a small group of Telferion carrying baskets of various sizes. No doubt, they were taking these to trade with the Kern. The Telferion made the baskets from a reed that grows in the Plagerion swamps. The baskets are very light and incredibly strong. The Kern use them when they are out on foraging trips, and to store food.
Melkaz was excited and slightly disappointed when they arrived at the carved gates that separated the worlds. Methiyal whispered quietly to the Shrike, and they quickly descended, landing a hundred paces or so from the entrance way. She preened herself with her long purple tongue while they had a good stretch.
Once they had ironed out their kinks, they walked r to the gate, peering down into the abyss that separated the worlds.
“Hmmm,” said Methiyal, “This will be the first time a Shrike has visited the world of men. I’m not sure how she will feel about it.”
”The passage is certainly big enough, do you think she will fly into it?”
“I guess there is only one way to find out. Let’s have a quick bite to eat, and then we’ll see how she goes.”
They walked back to the Shrike, who was staring intently across the prairie toward the West. While Methiyal ferreted around in his bag looking for food, Melkaz glanced in the same direction. He was horrified to see a group of a dozen or so sons of men heading in their direction.
He hadn’t noticed them as they flew across the plain of Alcor because of the reflected light of the sea of Karsing, but it was evident that the men had seen them. The last thing Melkaz wanted was for Methiyal to be alerted to his desire to visit the Tear.
“You know what,” said Melkaz, trying not to sound panicked, “I’m not really that hungry. Why don’t we get back on the Shrike and stop when we get to my village and have a good meal and a nice pot of tea?”
The idea of a cup of tea always appealed to Methiyal. “Sounds like a good idea to me my friend.”
While Methiyal tied up his bag, Melkaz looked nervously in the direction of the approaching men. They had started to run and were mere minutes away.
As they mounted the Shrike, Melkaz blocked Methiyal’s view of the rapidly approaching men. Leaning forward Methiyal whispered to the Shrike, and within seconds they were airborne. As they gained altitude, Methiyal guided the shrike around the perimeter of the abyss; talking to her in a gentle, reassuring voice. Fortunately for Melkaz, Methiyal to preoccupied to see the men.
Quietly reassuring the excited Shrike, he guided her skyward for several hundred paces and with a single word, she plunged trustingly towards the earth. Spiralling into the abyss, they flashed past the men who were only several paces from its entrance.
Time ceased as they were engulfed in darkness. Even the light from the Shrike was swallowed up by the void. She cried out in fear, her vision unable to pierce the darkness of the abyss, before bursting out into the bright sunlight of the world of men.
Because of the Shrike’s speed, they shot like a dart up into the air, Melkaz’s stomach felt like it had been left thousands of paces below. Seeing his friend’s pale face, Methiyal took pity on him.
“I think we will land and have a short break,” he said, much to Melkaz’s relief. The Shrike descended in long lazy spirals, easing Melkaz’s nausea. As she swiftly lost altitude, Melkaz saw several men come tumbling through the portal, undoubtedly the ones they had passed on the plain of Alcor.
Methiyal spotted them too. “Looks like we’ve got visitors,” he said excitedly. “We’d best greet them; no doubt they’re friends of yours!”
This was the very last thing that Melkaz wanted, and his brain was working overtime, contriving an excuse to avoid the meeting. “No doubt they are heading back to my village. Let’s meet them there and discuss matters over a cup of tea.”
The idea of a hot cup of tea was all the incentive that Methiyal needed. A quick word to the Shrike quickly had her back into the air.
Melkaz now had an even more pressing problem.If they returned to his village, his plans to visit the Tear would be uncovered and his mission doomed. According to the sun, he had at least four hours before nightfall, and by his reckoning, it would take three hours to reach the Tear in the Sky. For his plan to work, he needed to get there before dark. If they left now he still had time to make his plan work.
“But before we head back to the village, do you think it would be all right if we took a quick flight to where I believe the footprints of God are?”
“Is it much out of our way?” said Methiyal, who was feeling parched.
“No, not at all,” lied Melkaz, “probably only an hour at the very most.”
“Well then, I can see no harm in that, though I am a quite thirsty. Which direction should we fly?”
Pointing at a mountain range to the east, Melkaz said, “Just a few leagues in that direction.”
Methiyal had the Shrike alter her course, and soon they were flying over the lush forests of the land of Nof.
Melkaz’s nausea returned with a vengeance, and the beauty of the woods was lost on him. The trees teemed with a multitude of birds, many of them rising from the forest canopy to investigate the Shrike. Loving the attention, the Shrike showed off, glowing brightly, much to the delight of her followers.
Soon the sky was filled with tens of thousands of birds of every hue and color imaginable. Methiyal was having the time of his life, entranced by both their amazing colors and beautiful calls. This sight was new to him, as the many species of birds and reptiles back in the forests of his home were quite used to Shrikes, and took no great interest in their antics.
Methiyal filled his senses with the wondrous sights and sounds and fixed them in his memory so he could share them with his beloved countrymen once he returned to his world.
By the time they had reached the mountains to the east, the birds had gone, and at least two hours had passed. Methiyal was beginning to wonder how much longer it would take to get there. Peering over his shoulder at Melkaz’s palee face, he decided to leave him be.
The mountains below were stunning. Their snow-capped peaks reflected the golden light of the sun, filling Methiyal’s heart with gladness. As the last of the mountains passed beneath them, a huge expanse of gleaming white sand came into view. It was studded with hundreds of pockets of greenery; where underground springs found their way to the surface, causing palms and other plants to flourish.
After three hours, Methiyal knew they had no chance of returning to Melkaz’s village before dark. Ever the optimist, he was happy to spend the night in one of the many oases below.
Finally, Melkaz signaled to land, pointing to small oasis a few hundred paces to the east. The Shrike eagerly responded to Methiyalinstructions and spiraled downwards, to eventually land beside a spring. Once they had disembarked, she splashed herself with water, scooping it up with her wings, the tiny droplets creating rainbows in the evening sun.
Methiyal was exhilarated; the day’s events had filled him with joy. Melkaz, however, was ill from the trip, and his heart weighed heavily within. Over the short time he had spent with Methiyal, he had grown to like him. He wanted to tell his friend of his mission, but this would prevent him from entering the Tear and fellowship with the owners of the beautiful voices. The only way to get there was to keep the truth from Methiyal, and besides, wasn’t he doing him a great favor by taking him to paradise?
Darkness was now less than an hour away, and Melkaz knew that this would be his only chance to pass through the Tear. While Methiyal was busily brewing a pot of tea, Melkaz went for a walk, looking for a pile of sticks that he had left on his previous visit. He had piled them up on his last night so that he knew exactly where the Tear in the Sky was when he returned. It didn’t take him long to find them as they were near an old gnarled tree, one of only a few in the area.
He quickly returned to Methiyal, who had a hot cup of tea waiting. As Methiyal talked excitedly about the day’s events, Melkaz had one eye on the sun. He knew that once it got dark, the game would probably be up, as, like all Kern, Methiyal was a student of the book of Woade and might recognise the Tear in the Sky if he saw it.
As they finished their cups, Melkaz flicked the dregs of his tea into the fire, turning to Methiyal. “If it’s all right with you, I would like to take one last flight before the day’s end.”
“I would be most happy to oblige, but darkness is almost upon us.”
“That is true, but the darkness may well aid our cause.”
“Well my friend, as you know, the Book of Woade states clearly that, God is light.”
“There is no doubt,” replied Methiyal enthusiastically.
“Does it not also say that God has no beginning and no end?”
“True, yet again.”
“Would it not make sense then, that the glow of his footsteps would remain forever, just as He always will?”
Methiyal had to think about this. Indeed the Book of Woade said nothing on the subject of glowing footsteps, but nevertheless, Melkaz’s logic did seem to have some merit. “Your reasoning is not without substance Melkaz, please tell me more.”
“Well, my friend, after many years of study of the great book, I believe that we are now standing very close to that sacred spot.”
A thrill ran through Methiyal’s body. “Tell me more, your saying excites me.”
The sun was sinking fast, and soon it would be dark. As Melkaz peered up, he could already see the faint glimmer of the Tear. He had to act quickly.
“Let’s just fly Methiyal, our eyes will tell us much more than my words. When we return, we can talk more.”
“Let’s fly,” said Methiyal, alive with enthusiasm. The Shrike was asleep again, so he gave a quiet whistle to wake her. She responded by lumbering over to Methiyal and Melkaz. Soon they were airborne.
“Where should we fly to?” asked Methiyal, as he studied the ground below, for a hint of a glowing footprint. Melkaz, however, was looking skyward; the Tear, which was directly above them, was becoming more obvious as the evening drew on.
“Just keep circling and climbing Methiyal, we need to get much higher, keep your eyes on the ground, as I am sure we will see something soon.”
The Shrike rapidly gained altitude, taking them closer and closer to the Tear. As the sun sank below the horizon, stars began to dot the sky, and the Tear started to spill light. Melkaz felt sure that Methiyal would spot it at any second, but Methiyal’s attention was focused on the ground, not the sky.
Methiyal cried out with excitement, “I see something Melkaz, it’s glowing, just as you said, we’ve found it, we’ve found it, oh Melkaz may God bless you a million times.”
Melkaz looked down to where Methiyal was pointing. Several thousand paces below, something, was glowing brightly. He had no idea what it was, but it certainly wasn’t footprints, as he had made that whole story up. But whatever it was, it kept Methiyal distracted, and that for that Melkaz was thankful.
The Tear was now so close that Melkaz could nearly touch it. The Tear that had seemed so tiny from the ground was, in reality, several hundred paces wide, and sealed by a thick film. Through it, Melkaz could see hundreds of faces looking at him. They were beautiful, innocent, but slightly unreal, almost too perfect.
Melkaz began to feel nervous. Something wasn’t right, but he had no idea what.
Methiyal looked up, seeing the Tear for the very first time. He didn’t know what it was, but it frightened him. His mind froze, and before he could tell the Shrike to turn back, she burst through the film, and a massive updraught sucked the three of them inside the tear.