“You go first,” Saranda touched his shoulder, just gave it a little push. He felt his skin beneath his shirt tingle at her touch. “Go on!” she insisted. Maikel looked out over the bridge. It was a bloody long way to the other side. He looked down. And an even further drop to the valley below.
The light was beginning to fade, the trees – already wearing a thick blanket of mist – were beginning to disappear into the dusk. The bridge was lit by the twinkling light from thousands of Burning Bugs that clung to the sides.
“Is there another way?” of course, he knew the answer.
“If you know the answer why are you wasting my time, with stupid questions?” she said.
He smiled. He still wasn’t sure if he was entirely comfortable with all her abilities but there was a certain thrill about knowing he had to be one hundred percent honest with this woman. It had meant he’d become more honest with himself.
“I’m scared,” Maikel said. “Why don’t you go first?”
“I don’t think so.” She reached out and touched him again. “It will be alright. I know we get across this… it’s just important you lead the way.”
He nodded his head.
“Okay,” he pulled the hood over his head, and started to walk. The bridge was as stable as it looked. That is: not very. It swayed with every step he took and he felt it move again when Saranda joined him. It took them a moment before they got into the swing of it – so to speak – they learned to roll with the motion, if they fought against it they fell against the flimsy feeling guide rope.
They were almost halfway across when Maikel heard it coming. At first he wasn’t certain – the wind was whistling past his hood, and whipped his clothing, creating a noise that was hard to describe. But the second time he heard it he was certain. The sound of thick leather wings beating their way fast, high above them.
“Don’t look, keep going!” Saranda said. She wasn’t shouting, but he could hear her voice clearly, despite his hood, the wind and the pounding of his heart. “Don’t run, either. Concentrate on putting one foot in front of another.”
They’ll burn the bridge, Maikel thought. That’s what I would do. If I wanted to stop us. Take the bridge out, kill the runaways. End of problem.
“They won’t destroy the bridge,” Saranda said. “They need the bridge. They want to intimidate us. They are counting on you making a mistake. They think they’ll scare you into doing something foolish.”
Maikel tried to shut the fear from his mind, and when that failed, tried to dampen it. He kept his eyes straight ahead – he couldn’t look down at his feet, and if he looked up… if he saw them. Well, look what happened the last time.
He could feel wind generated by the massive wings as they came closer. One of them shrieked as it flew by and his nostrils were filled with the creatures stench. It flew along the bridge and for a moment Maikel doubted Saranda: they are going to destroy the bridge.
“Hold on tight!”
Maikel did as Saranda commanded – he usually did – using both hands to grab hold of the rope either side of the bridge, as the great winged serpent skated the length of the bridge and then flapped its wings twice. The shock wave travelled the bridge towards them, rippling the wood. The sound of the clacking of the wood as it bent and beat against itself was deafening, and if Maikel wasn’t holding on for dear life he would have been happy to cover his ears to try to block out the terrible noise. Then as the beast climbed high into the sky it let out a roar and a jet of flame setting the tops of the trees on the far side of the bridge alight.
Where is its companion?
“It’s searching for the others. This one is alone. Keep on going. We have another three minutes before it comes again!”
Still keeping his hands on the rope – it burned the skin on the palms of his hands as he moved them – he ran forward, ignoring the violent swaying of the bridge as best as he could.
He could hear the dragon’s approach, he felt his bowels lurch and he prayed he wouldn’t embarrass himself – or create a slipping hazard for Saranda.
“You’re doing fine.”
He felt her touch – not physical but tangible, nonetheless – a comfortable feeling came over him and he found the strength he had thought had deserted him.
The end of the bridge was in sight now. The solid ground was two hundred paces away.
“Run!” Saranda shouted, and even though he was running already he found the power to increase the pace.
He could hear the wings beating as he threw himself at the ground on the otherside, skidding into the dusty earth, stones grazing his hands and legs, dirt flying into his eyes. He lay still for a moment, blinking the filth from his eyes, spitting it from his mouth. And then he sat up, laughing with relief.
The dragon passed over head, screeching with rage.
Or… perhaps it was victory.
For as Maikel looked around in desperation, at the ground around him, and then at the bridge that still swung back and forth, he could see no sign of Saranda.
He felt a fear overcome him. She said they would be safe. She said they would both make it over the bridge. Maikel let out a wounded cry.
The only woman he’d met he could never manage to deceive had lied to him.
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