Panic set in and she began hyperventilating, immediately grabbing onto what held her about the waist. Deep laughter rumbled in the chest pressed into her back. “Afraid of heights?” Zuran crooned. “Don’t’ worry. You’re too valuable to drop.”
That did little to reassure her.
She was quickly aware of the occasional buffet of his wings as he kept an easy glide. They rode the wind toward the North, Zuran making corrections to their course with subtle body movements. It was cold, and the wind blew her hair this way and that.
Zuran hrumphed. “Would you mind?” he snarled, batting her dark locks from his face. “Unless you want to fall?”
Erinael nodded in agreement as she hastily gathered it up and tucked it into the back of her tunic. He seemed more than capable of holding her with one arm, but she felt safer with both. If being carried off through the air could be considered ‘safe’.
She soon had to scrunch her eyes closed in order to shut out the world so far below. Looking down from a mountain ledge was much more sturdy. The air wasn’t nearly so thin, either. It gave her a heady feeling and made it harder to breathe.
As she slumped toward unconsciousness, she felt Zuran pat her head.
When she next regained awareness, they were circling the Great Tree. Erinael could tell that the tree was old. Very old. It was even bigger than the dreams had portrayed it to be. Limbs stretched out in all directions, broad, verdant leaves unfurled to catch the sun and wind. Mammoth roots stretched out beneath the hard-packed dirt. The exposed roots were gnarled, and most likely formed the openings to burrows. And to the chamber below.
It was toward one of the largest of these that Zuran was headed for. He folded his wings and seemed to dive downward, Erinael closing her eyes tight as the wind roared past. At the last moment, their speed slowed drastically when Zuran unfurled his wings again and then dropped nimbly to the ground.
Zuran released her from his hold before grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her toward the opening. Erinael tried to resist, but his will won out and they began their descent into the bowels of the tree.
It was dark, all but for the pale pulsing glow of violet runes. They seemed to undulate down the passage as Zuran led her along. “The tree welcomes you!” Zuran cackled.
Down. That was the only sensation she had. Down to the depths. And cold. It crept its way up the passage, twining about her ankles. She could hear drips of water on stone coming around the bend.
The cavern opened up before them. The roots of Igdrasil had dug deep, tearing the stone apart and seeming to hold it at bay so the ice waters could come forth. Violet light from the runes and glyphs lit the space and reflected from the rippling surface of the underground pool. But Marisandra’s eyes still smoldered.
“I brought the girl.” Zuran growled, pushing Erinael toward the dragon-woman. “Don’t send your half-bloods and lesser mortals if they cannot do the job.” And with that, he retreated to his darkened corner of the cavern.
Marisandra hissed a swear at him before turning back to Erinael. “You are more trouble than you are worth.” she spat. “If I didn’t need you for my plans, I would have had you killed long ago. Andraes should have left you to rot in that village.”
Zuran cackled with laughter then. “If that had been the case, you would still be trapped. A sniveling half-blood!”
Marisandra’s face twisted into an even darker mask of anger and hatred. “Shut up!” she screamed at Zuran.
Erinael glanced at both Marisandra and toward Zuran’s corner. They were both obviously quite crazy. Most likely driven insane by time.
“What are you staring at, you little fool?” Marisandra snarled.
“Two broken souls.” Erinael said softly.
In the space of a blink, Marisandra sprang at her, hand circling Erinael’s throat. “I only need for you to be breathing!” the dragon-woman shrieked, applying pressure.
Erinael fought back, fingers going for Marisandra’s eyes. If she could only just manage to wound her…