The vulture’s claws scrape my arms like fire and find purchase on the grit of stone. There is a moment where all is quiet, and only the lush fall of wings breaks the silence. Their talons are made to dig deep, and they do. Small chunks of rock splinter off my shoulders like glass and if I could bleed I would be. The missing pieces burn like raw nerves. At least I know they can’t take stone Underground.
Salem glows a little in the fog down below. The Vulture’s wingspan can’t quite drown him out. His brightness is good, they’ll have trouble pulling him down with the energy he’s got. It buys me time. Salem flails, all fists and elbows, as if his suggestions of arms will make a dent in a Vulture. They won’t. His visage flickers like it’s not getting a signal, and I know it’s the pull of the Underground already stealing the tiny bits of his soul.
I look back to the church. Derik watches, and I know this is my test. Salem hangs in the balance. My skin still burns where his own brushed it.
This Vulture that holds me has made a mistake. They never grab us, mostly because we’re heavy but also because we bite. There’s something like venom in us, but we have to be strategic about it. My eyes pan below me, and the Vulture wheels for a crop of trees just as Salem reaches the church. He’ll be safe in there, but much less on the other side. Even if he sprints to the Gate, he’s an easy target if I don’t get out of the sky to cover him.