ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
Now it was Paltar who felt just as small as the small creatures hiding in the shade. He ducked under the thorny bushes, not caring about the small scratches they might cost him. He had to take a look at Nanna and stay somewhere safe. Deeper and deeper he rushed into the vine labyrinth until he found a place that seemed like a perfect hiding place. Here, the thorns were still young, clinging to each other because the thorns were small and a little flexible. With slow movements he managed to squeeze through, not caring about the blood that ran down his arms and ruined his good shirt. He had to protect Nanna. If he couldn't even do that, what could he do?
"Just a little longer," he told her, his voice trying to sound reassuring. "I'm here, I'm here."
Nanna's heart beat fast under his hands. That was good. That meant she was alive. And that was all that mattered.
"What... was that?" she asked. "I didn't see it."
"A monster," he replied. "Nothing more."
They didn't need to know what that thing was. It had some sort of intelligence, sure. But it was more like a monster than any of the other encounters before it. Paltar shook his head. The last of the thorns let go of his hair and clothes, and finally, they were safe. They were safe. The space was hot and cramped, he could barely see the sky above them, but he didn't care. Nanna had to be safe. She had to be...
With more care than usual, she freed herself from his grasp, even though he unconsciously let go after her first movements.
"That was scary! But luckily, I only lost a few feathers."
Then, she looked at her dress, which was torn in a few places, and let out a high-pitched wail.
Above them, Paltar could hear the griffin cackling.
"I'll make you a new one," he said. "I'll make you a thousand new ones!"
As long as she was safe, he didn't care about the dress. He could mend it later. But Nanna had to be safe.
His stomach rumbled. He let out an involuntary laugh.
"Of course! We should eat."
He reached into his bag before he realized that there was nothing left. He found two half-eaten berries, but that was it.
He wanted to sound optimistic, but he just couldn’t.
"What's wrong with you? Did the heat melt your brain or something?" Nanna snapped.
He looked up. Every now and then a shadow glided over them. The griffin knew where they were. And it probably knew that it would just have to wait for them to come out for food and water sooner or later.
"We need to come up with a plan," he said finally.
"We do," she agreed, though she didn't sound happy about it. "So, what do you suggest?"
He had no idea. Everything about this place was hostile. Not only did he see no place to collect water, but with the thorns growing everywhere, they couldn't move easily, even if they did provide some defense against the griffin.
"You can forget about flying away," Nanna said. "I'm not fast or agile enough to escape that monster."
Besides, Paltar didn't want to endanger her any more. It was bad enough that she had almost been attacked. If the griffin had actually managed to hit her, he would never forgive himself. Nanna was too important.
A world without her... He shook his head violently. He didn't want to imagine it!
"Paltar? It's the heat, isn't it?" She sounded worried.
"Ah. Right. Sorry."
This was too much for him. He had to find a way out of this situation, fast.
"You didn't see an exit, did you?" he confirmed with Nanna.
"No exit," she said.
"So." He took a deep breath. "I think we have to win against that thing."
"I think so, yes."
They obviously couldn't reason with it, unlike the previous two challenges. Instead, Paltar felt more like he was back on the bridge. Having to risk his life just for Reod's amusement... it was sick!
No. They weren't doing this for him. Paltar was doing it for Nanna, so that she could finally be free of her curse. He watched her, clearly thinking about his proposal. There was fear in her eyes, and yet there was a fierce determination in her. He could see it in her every move, her slow waddling and the way she flapped her wings. With a glance, she confirmed the damage to the dress.
"Okay. How do we do this?"
Paltar swallowed. This was the tricky part.
"We'll have to trick it," he said. "Because unless you have some awesome magical offensive power, we have nothing to attack with."
"No powers," she confirmed. "Reod wasn't kind enough to add that."
"Of course," he sighed.
He looked at the sky. Was Reod up there somewhere, hiding, watching? Or had he forgotten about them?
Either way. They just had to get to his castle, and then he would have to lift Nanna's curse. He couldn't break his promise. Or Paltar would...
He shook his head.
"Without weapons, our best chance is using these things," he finally said, pointing at the thorns.
"I've seen the prey of the griffin, stabbed on one of the long thorns," he explained. "We might be able to trick it into impaling itself."
Nanna fluttered up excitedly and caught him in a whirlwind hug.
"You're really quite clever, Paltar!"
"You only noticed that now, huh?" he laughed back.
"What? No! I meant..."
"I know what you meant," he smiled at her.
Then, he got serious.
"It can't know about this, though," he said. "Do you think you can distract it until I find a suitable place to lead it?"
"Sure! Leave it to me!"
Above them, the griffin laughed.
"Where are you? Where are youuuuuuu?" It shrieked in delight.
Nanna and Paltar shared a determined look.
"Are you ready?" he asked her.
Then, they left their thorny hiding place.