They arrived upon a large bronzed metal circle plate that covered a hole in the ground. Malaykah and six maidens retrieved sticks to wedge the circle up. Meikko used her mighty tail to nudge the plate away from the hole, which revealed an opening big enough to fit several bodies through. One-by-one, they each staggered down a stairway into a dim-lit tunnel. They walked for several miles until the cobblestone path led directly to a river. The river was waist-deep to the average human. Phëläniciän women and children variously ranged in height, so it was decided that the weakest and smallest would ride on top of Meikko’s back to get through the river.
Lady Rüvym and other ancient royal constituents climbed aboard after the children were settled. Sӧlitha wrestled to carry a small onyx-toned little girl, in order to petition for a spot on the dragon. The tot fiercely protested, obviously in favor of remaining with her mother and older siblings. Malaykah watched from behind as Sӧlitha abruptly shook the child, then slammed her down on the stone ledge of the tunnel. She turned around to meet Malaykah’s gaze, without so much as a gleam of remorse in her eyes.
The little girl stood passively braced up against the ledge with a thumb in her mouth. She watch Meikko trail away then began to wail. Malaykah pitied her for being put in such an undesirable situation. The child had been separated from her family when the river’s currents swept them far ahead within the traveling party. Malaykah steadied herself enough to snatch the child onto her hip. This time the girl did not protest, but instead wearily nestled her head on Malaykah’s breasts.
The passageway narrowed and the footpath steepened. Soon, those who walked found themselves swimming into deep water. The situation became direr when a series of loud explosions were heard from above. The tunnel rocked, causing the water to rise overhead. Malaykah quickly swam to the surface with the child clinging to her for dear life. Most of the riders safely clung to Meikko’s matted fur, and were able to resist falling off. Malaykah gave the toddler to Lady Rüvym for safe keeping so she could survey the area for anyone in need of assistance.
Suddenly, the pace of the current quickened. Malaykah held her breath and dove underwater to swim ahead. She gasped to see they were all headed towards the exit way of the tunnel, which led to a giant waterfall. There was nothing she could do to stop them. She yelled at the top of her lungs to warn them, “HOLD ON!”
The party plummeted out of the tunnel inside the rapids of the waterfall. It was at least a forty-foot plunge. The night sky was filled with more explosions that reminded Malaykah of the many Forth of July celebrations she’d participated in with her family back home. She clutched onto a falling she-wolf, who had long been a part of the king’s harem. Malaykah used her own body to shield the maiden as they crashed into the ocean.
When she awakened, she felt her body moving downstream in icy cold water. Her senses were dulled, but she knew she was being carried by someone and her right arm was stiffly numb. She looked up to see Alëxios’s determined face. He smiled down at her, then continued to stare off into the distance. She noticed the bloody gash just above his eyebrow. He’d obviously given the Tengu hell before joining the evacuation effort. Malaykah rested her head on his well-defined collarbone and watched Byakko and twelve other dragons tow the remaining survivors.
~Ch. 13, Somewhere Beyond the Stars and Sea~