Melkaz found it hard to wake as he had greedily drunk more of the water than Methiyal. Though still woozy from the drug, he managed to get to his feet and stagger over to Methiyal, who was gently massaging the skin under the scales of the Shrikes neck. The Shrikes eyes were closed with pleasure, but there were tears in Methiyal’s.
“Is she ready to go?” Asked Melkaz, giving both the Shrike and Methiyal quite a start.
“She is fully recovered, but there is something we need to discuss.”
“Can’t we do that once we get back, I don’t want to stay here a minute longer.”
“That my friend is what we need to talk about.”
”What do you mean?”
Methiyal told him of the conversation he had overheard between Nimbus and Scabion, and what he could remember of their encounter with the slugs. Melkaz shook his head in disbelief. “This place has got inside your head Methiyal, your talk of slugs and putrid flyers is the stuff of dreams.”
“I wish it were so, but it is the sad truth. We cannot return lest we inflict these things on others.”
Melkaz started to panic; he had no idea how to fly a Shrike, so was entirely dependent on Methiyal to get him back.
“It is but dreams; show me one of these creatures you speak of.”
“They fade Melkaz, as does our memory of them, but I can still see the one on your neck, surely you can see mine?”
Melkaz looked at the back of Methiyal’s neck and saw nothing. Placing his hand on his neck, he felt the same.
“Methiyal,” he pleaded, “it is only your imagination; trust me there are no slugs.”
“I’m sorry friend, but it would be wrong of us to endanger everyone, just for our sake.”
Melkaz’s anxiety turned to anger. “LOOK” he shouted, “WE ARE GOING BACK, AND THAT IS THE END OF THE MATTER.” Seizing Methiyal by the armpit he dragged him onto the Shrikes back and screamed at her to “Take us back.”
The Shrike turned her head, placing it inches from Melkaz’s. The look she gave him spoke volumes, making him release his grip on Methiyal.
He tried pleading, but Methiyal had made up his mind. Jumping down from the Shrike, he said sadly “No my friend; we must stay.”
Melkaz screamed at the Shrike again, and when she failed to budge he started to strike her. Seeing him do this gave Methiyal an uncomfortable feeling, it was anger. Despite it, he spoke gently to the Shrike, who obediently grasped Melkaz in her Jaws and placed him back on the ground. Though relieved for the Shrike, the feeling of anger had made Methiyal feel ill.
Melkaz was possessed with an impotent rage, knowing nothing he could say or do would make Methiyal change his mind; the Kern were famous for their singleness of mind. Tears filled his eyes, but they were of frustration, not sadness. He had an overpowering urge to strike the stubborn, deluded, Kern. But he saw the Shrike was eying him suspiciously.
While they stood face to face, Melkaz with eyes filled with fear, Methiyal’s with sad determination, Nimbus advanced upon them. From his hiding place, he had watched his aeons of patient scheming disintegrate. To have all his efforts collapse at the 11th hour, especially after having to crawl on his belly to the hateful Scroyle, was more than he could bare. In a blind, unthinking rage, he struck the two of them with such force that it sent them flying backwards into the gaping Tear. While Nimbus howled at his stupidity, the Shrike took to the air and plunged through Tear in pursuit of her friend.
Nimbus’s blow had knocked Methiyal unconscious but had only mildly injured Melkaz, who was bellowing at the top of his lungs as he tumbled to the world below. It was the middle of the night and unable to see where they were, the Shrike used Melkaz’s screams to guide her. Her concern for Methiyal made her scales glow like the sun, soon filling the night sky with brilliant light. Closing on the screams she spotted their tumbling forms and dived like a stone towards them. Flashing past Melkaz she plummeted to Methiyal, before flaring her massive wings, and gently catching him in her Jaws. Still screaming, Melkaz narrowly missed them as he sped past. The Shrike had little concern for Melkaz, but knowing the mind of Methiyal, she tucked him gently into her Wattle and the sped to Melkaz’s aid. With only moments to spare she caught him in her jaws, yet not quite as gently as she had Methiyal. Gracefully landing, she spat Melkaz onto the ground; his taste had been most unpleasant.
While they fell, Nimbus watched from the edge of the Tear, howling with rage as the entire drama unfolded before his eyes. Seeing the Shrike safely rescue the pair, his howls of rage turned to a huge sigh of relief and with an evil leer, he padded back to his village, his long sinuous tail swishing with pleasure.
It took Melkaz several minutes to regain his composure, but when he did, he brushed himself off and without so much as a word of thanks, for the Shrike, or an ounce of concern for Methiyal he fled into the night, making a beeline for his village.
In his haste to depart, Melkaz had failed to notice some brightly glowing objects less than hundred paced from where they had landed. Shrikes, however, are like magpies when it comes to shiny objects, and she had spotted them well before they had landed. Having relieved herself of the unpleasant taste of Melkaz, she flapped over to the bush and seized them in her beak. Generally, such a find would have been placed in her wattle for safekeeping, where they would remain until she managed to ferry them to her favourite tree back in the land of the Kern. But not wanting to disturb Methiyal, she kept them in her mouth.
The world of men was completely unfamiliar to the Shrike, and all her instincts were drawing her back to the land she knew and loved. Taking to the air, she flew in a direct line to the gate they had come through all those days ago. Passing through the portal had been had scared her, but the desire to get back was greater than her fear. Arriving at the gate, she circled directly above it, and with unerring accuracy, she plunged into the abyss.