Chapter 8 Grasping at the Straws Modakra stumbled up further into the Riven tree. His partner had long been consumed by the hydraroot. Wait .. stop! He lunged for her, but it was too late. His fingers came together in a blur and his aux fused with him. The branch rumbled and the bark split, the scales like the tectonic plates, and the hydraroot lost its purchase on the branch. The bright pink and purple growth thrashed as it tumbled down, bouncing off innumerable branches and thick side-trunks. Clutched ... clutched in its tentacles was Viktoriya. His vision sharpened at that precise moment, and he could still see her, as if he was holding her face right next to his, tenderly, like a lover. Her eyes were frozen wide in denial. It was clear that she was still coming to grips with being attacked by the hydraroot before the whole thing lost its grip on the branch. Shock was completely spread over her face. Just ... just before she fell through the foliage, just as she disappeared from his sight and he snapped back, her hand started to reach out for him. Sweat beaded on his forehead and dripped down his nose. Further. He did not know why he stumbled higher and higher, but he remembered the words he shared with her. Find the masters of the heartwood, and perhaps he would find out why the Moirguit, the aux-eaters, were able to attack their soul with impunity. He pushed his way through a bunch of leaves. They were, as he remembered, oaks, tall and rounded with many bulbs. The next moment, he was pushed back by a staff on his throat, the splintery end constricting his breathing. "Who are you, from under the Umbrella? Which Clad sponsored your journey up here?"