Athansor reared and placed his hooves deep into the chests of the attackers. The sound was of underbrush breaking. As sword struck sword it became clear to Peter Lake that he was going to die. They fired into Athansor’s face, and their bullets smashed into his bones and tattered his ears like flags above a fortress. Lead pierced his muscles, and lodged in his gut. Peter Lake, too, was cut and bleeding everywhere. He felt cold. Then Pearly commanded his fighters to fall back. Peter Lake was left with the dead scattered all around him. He and Athansor were shaking from their wounds. They moved about meaninglessly. Then Peter Lake saw that Pearly had a second and yet a third wave ready to do battle. This could not be borne.
He looked at the river below. It was very far, too far. But it was a lovely blue, and a much better way to die, if he had to, than upon the bloodstained boards of the Great Bridge. There was nothing to lose. They would jump.
The wind whistled through nets and cable. Peter Lake gave one last glance to the city, and turned south to the marshes. As the second wave started to close, Athansor began the tiger pacing, but this time it was north-south, across the narrow walkway of the bridge. They thought he was crazed. Trying for the kill, they fired their pistols. But he ignored them. When he was ready, he leaned back on his haunches. Pearly’s men stopped, for they had never seen such a sight. Athansor arched on visible waves of power. He compressed himself into something almost round. Then, with a roar, he unfolded in a long white silken movement, and flew into the air, parting a thick steel cable that had been in his way, and clearing the nets with ease.
Momentarily suspended over the bay, Peter Lake expected to fall, and would have been satisfied with what he expected. But there was no fall. Athansor rose, and sped outward, stretching his wounded forelegs before him as the air whistled past. The horse and rider were headed for the white wall. Peter Lake looked back and saw that the city was small and silent, and seemed no larger than a beetle. As they broke into the cloud wall the world became a storm of rushing white mist that screamed and shrieked like a choir of shrill and tormented voices.