Mandu could see the muted colours of the canyon walls approaching. The wind roared in his ears and the tears streamed from his eyes as he tried to focus on vague details of the rapidly approaching gorge. He was diving from a great height and the trees were just coming into focus. Sensing the approaching landscape he willed himself out of the dive. His cheeks sagged with the force of pulling into level flight. Then in an instant he was clipping over the last of the dark trees and all that lay before him was the desolation of the canyon below. As he swooped low over a flat topped hillock he caught a glimpse of a converging winged shadow. He glanced over his shoulder just as the raptor screamed its attack. In the instant before the outstretched talons reached him, the dream cycle suddenly ended.
He sat bolt upright in the darkened room. He could still feel the effects of the wind on his face and the terror of seeing the attacking nemesis. How many nights had he awoken with this same dream, only to find himself tangled in his bedding and still labouring from the exertion of the chase? It felt so real and after each dream cycle it was getting harder and harder to shed the feeling of exhilaration and dread.
“I stand before you as a witness to Mandu’s sixteenth birthday and his man-hood passage. I would like to introduce you to him with his full name. Mandeler Freedahson, son of Mandel and Freedah please stand and be recognized by your peers!” The group all shouted, Mandeler, Mandeler, Mand…that was all that he heard for suddenly his world was turned upside down: He could see, as if from a great height a vast landscape dimly lit, yet clearly visible. Wind whistled past his head as he looked below to see a forest passing under them. He looked from side to side taking in his three wing mates. Then in an opening ahead, there were spots of blue light and the silhouettes of the small creatures gathered together. From his throat came a rasping scream as they dived for the kill.
Mandeler was knocked back by the sheer force of the scream. This was no dream, it was real! Huge dark shapes thrashed against the iron weed cables making them sag and pop. Hooked talons and slathering yellow fangs sought out their victims. Their long black necks reached easily into the panicked group. A glistening black head with a fin on top knocked him aside grasping Almar and shaking him like a rag doll. As Mandeler lay terrified on the ground his nostrils were filled with the stench of the creatures. All around him was chaos as several more of the huge flying creatures reached past the cables, snatching at those gathered. The screams of the victims filled the air. The speed of the attack caught everyone off guard and in the dim light of the remaining globes it was as if some great explosion had knocked the group to the ground. As the Raptors withdrew the air thundered, as their powerful wings hoisted their bleating victims into the dark sky.
Gwenelle was a ghastly grey with very shallow breath. Pushing aside their packs, he slid an arm under her waist and hoisted her headfirst over his shoulder. Clasping her thighs firmly he started to mount the rugged wall. Soon his legs burned with the added weight, as he mounted the treacherous path to the summit. Time stood still as he laboured up the steep incline but finally he broke over the edge to be greeted by a cool ocean breeze. Mandeler dropped to his knees, rolling Gwenelle gently onto an open part of the rough ground. He pulled off his heavy tunic, rolling it into a crude pillow, and placed it under her head. Kneeling beside his unconscious partner, he picked up her hand and studied her face. Her once rosy lips were now thin and grey and she was barely breathing.
Excerpt 4: The Raptors
The ground convulsed again, this time so violently that they lost their footing, throwing the travelers against the staggering raptors.
It was Labeena this time: The mountain, look what is happening to the mountain!
About a quarter of the way up the great cone, the side of the peak was starting to bulge. The once pristine white crown seemed to dissolve into a mottled grey. Unbelievably, the tip and side exploded outward, filling the sky with an expanding black cloud. From beneath it the mountain top dissolved, racing towards the ocean in a great avalanche of stone. In a matter of breaths the roar of the detonation hit them with deafening force.
As they staggered on the beach, Labeena insisted: We leave now!
Mandeler pushed Gwenelle onto Rachaner’s shoulders. The big green arched his back, spreading his wings, and he beat down driving them out over the water.
Mandeler caught a quick look over his shoulder as he vaulted onto Labeena. As she thrust forward, following her mate, he saw the ocean convulse as a huge part of the mountain hit the sea. It raised a wave that looked gigantic even at this distance. He leaned even farther forward, willing his flying companion on as fast as she could fly.
He kept looking over his shoulder in disbelief. At one moment it had all been quiet and then the Abyss of Azimov had gaped wide, spewing black billowing smoke into the sky. It was expanding and climbing higher as he watched. It was spreading so fast that day was turning into night.
Mandeler was tingling with the adrenal rush of their departure. Labeena was following Rachaner, at his wing tip, just clearing the waves. It was their fastest and most efficient way to fly. Tears streamed from his face as they raced on in the growing gloom.
He could not resist one more glance over his shoulder. By the Scared Fire! Climb, climb hard before we are crushed by the wave!
He could feel his body crushed against Labeena as she pulled abruptly into a steep climb, pumping harder than he had ever felt. Just before she stalled in flight, the steep wall of water rushed under them so fast that it made it look as if the raptors were flying in reverse.
How could it get worse, Mandeler thought? Then small stones started to fall from the darkening sky.
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