Storm Wings: Chapter 22, Part 1

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A walk through Nimbys.

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Storm Wings: Chapter 21, Part 3

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Oh, there are dragons in this? I’d almost forgotten…

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Storm Wings: Chapter 21, Part 2

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Return to Nimbys.

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Storm Wings: Chapter 21, Part 1

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Welcome to Ihra!

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Storm Wings: Chapter 20, Part 3

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Leaving the Heighlen.
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Storm Wings: Chapter 20, Part 2

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Mouse and Nightriver, just hanging out and having fun. Well, one of them is.



Buteo
14th Winter Rains

ANOTHER DAWN, ANOTHER drenching. Mouse sighed as he scraped yet another shovel full of snow into the drainage trench. He’d thought the work at Buteo was hard, dull and repetitive when Stirla and Fleik had brought him and his friends as students. It seemed like a life time ago, but it was truly less than a year.

Being here brought back memories of those long days slaving away under the bright sun, cultivating food for the citadel and people of Aquila, followed by evenings spent in study, joking with his friends while trying to stay awake. They’d barely paid attention to Stirla’s lectures about kaz-naghkt and how best to kill them. Why should they have listened when none of them expected to encounter such monsters for years?

How long ago that seemed, how pure and beautiful. Mouse’s missing friends sat like a constant ache in his chest, more persistent than any cold or chill. Of which there were plenty running around their makeshift camp, demanding his attention. If scraping snow into trenches was bad, it was nothing compared to the constant round of treatment and fuss, struggling to divide his pathetic supplies between men who wouldn’t look him in the eye. Gods, he was barely trained as a healer, but he was the best they had.

A point that was constantly reinforced when practically all his fellows avoided him as soon as they’d been treated. If they didn’t need him so badly, Mouse doubted he would still be here.

“I thought you wanted to reach Buteo,” a familiar voice rumbled from the terrace above him. “I thought you would be happy here.”

Mouse tilted his head and eyed Nightriver sideways. “I did want to reach Buteo. I have been happy here.”

Lounging in one of his biggest and most intimidating forms, while apparently soaking up the snow and frost from the ground, the dragon lowered his eyelids lazily. A glittering gleam was all that showed he was still awake. “Ah,” he breathed after a long, thoughtful moment, clearing another stretch of ground with an arrogant sweep of his broad tail. Since it dumped the whole lot onto Mouse’s recently cleared patch of terrace, he was not remotely pleased.

He became even less so when the dragon rumbled, “My poor little Mouse. Your friends are scattered far and wide. I thought you had all you needed here, but I was mistaken.”

Not wishing to discuss his missing friends with anyone, least of all this dragon who felt free to rummage around in his memories whenever he felt like it, Mouse put his head down and scraped violently at the ground. He didn’t want to think of the others or where they might be. He could only hope they were out in the world somewhere, far from Aquila, and not buried in the collapsed tunnels with the rest of the kaz-naghkt meat. Even if it meant they’d forgotten him, he’d much rather they all lived. There had been so much death. He had lost too much. Mouse scraped harder to banish his thoughts.

“You will damage the topsoil if you persist in such a way,” Nightriver warned, groaning as he hefted his bulk up and slithered another body length along his terrace, furrowing a trench with his blunt-ended snout. Water cascaded off him, and not all of it was due to the pounding rain. “Less crops will grow if you continue like that.”

“Who cares?” Mouse snapped, throwing his spade down, finally pushed beyond his limits as more snow was dumped onto his cleared ground. “Who bloody cares when there will be no one here to eat it?”

Nightriver lifted his head and looked back over his shoulder, head tilted curiously. “You are here, Mouse, and your friends also. You cannot exist on dried meat and wizened vegetables forever.”

“We cannot exist here at all,” Mouse muttered, weary and defeated. They had been in Buteo a half-moon and the initial euphoria at being back beneath the open sky had quickly faded. Not least because almost everyone avoided him – except when they needed his healing talents – due to the hulking creature currently washing yet more snow onto his terrace.

“Stop that,” he snapped.

Nightriver swished his fat tail in deliberate provocation.

“I said stop!”

“Make me,” the dragon dared lazily, pushing at the snow bank with his hind leg.

Frustration welled up inside Mouse until he thought he might burst. He balled his fists and glared at Nightriver in impotent rage. When the dragon was this big, Mouse was barely as tall as his head was long. He couldn’t make him do anything – except laugh. Rain battered against his head, and he was surprised it wasn’t steaming he was so angry.

But as quickly as the rage swelled, it drained away, leaving Mouse small, cold and weary in the middle of a hillside of terraces half-filled with snow. “Why bother?” he muttered, picking up his shovel again. “There’s no point to any of it.”

A wave of water poured from the terrace above, washing the snow away for once, as Nightriver shrank his form enough so he could turn around. Sighing, he lowered his down until his glowing green eye was level with Mouse’s gaze. Not that Mouse looked at him, and steadfastly refused to do, as he continued scraping up snow and tossing it into the drainage trench.

“What has happened to my Mouse?” the dragon rumbled. “He would not have accepted defeat so easily.”

“Your Mouse, as you call me, was at his most defeated when he first encountered you,” Mouse retorted. “I couldn’t get any lower. Defeat was a beautiful dream.”

“And yet you are low now,” Nightriver pointed out.

Mouse ignored him.

“Your rage was strong enough to shake the foundations of the citadel,” the dragon murmured dreamily. “It was powerful enough to wake me, when not even the invasion of the kaz-naghkt had succeeded. I felt your need and I answered. My little Mouse was strong then.”

“You little Mouse was broken.”

“And so I fixed you.” Nightriver eyed him speculatively. “Must I break you again to reawaken that strength? By making you whole, did I make you pathetic?”

Finally Mouse turned, glaring at the mocking creature. “I am not pathetic.”

“No,” the dragon agreed. “Even pathetic beasts moan and whine for a purpose. You are merely futile.”

Mouse clenched the shovel, unconsciously shifting his grip as if to swing it.

Nightriver gave a throaty laugh of approval. “Better,” he purred. “Much better. Will you fight me, little Mouse? Will you strike me down for telling the truth.”

“It is not the truth,” Mouse growled. “I am neither pathetic nor futile. Unless you’ve been asleep for the last half-moon you will have seen me working every day, and most of the nights too, to keep my thankless companions alive. They come begging to me, morning, noon, twilight and midnight, wanting herbs and potions for their coughs and colds. They bleat like a flock of sheep, wanting me to help them, while all the while discussing me behind my back and saying how changed I am. Mad, dangerous, reckless. How can I be otherwise with a dragon at my back? They’re scared of me, they want rid of me, and yet they need me still.

“I’m not deaf, nor am I stupid,” Mouse snarled, putting his nose right against the dragon’s. “Don’t you dare call me weak if I chose a pointless task over sitting in the barn with the rest, pretending not to hear them whisper. Don’t call me pathetic if I think our chances are slim, and I work in the rain so as not to see the fear in their eyes when they look at me. Don’t mock me if I no longer hold onto my rage and anger, because I am too tired to care anymore.

“The thaw is coming and with it the kaz-naghkt. How long do you think it will take them to find us? How long will it be until they’ve taken every last one of us? And why should I care? I’ve cared too much and look where it got me.”

Yet the anger was back, filling him so tightly he was shaking with it. All the world had dwindled to the beast before him, who had the audacity to laugh.

“There’s my Mouse,” Nightriver purred, nudging Mouse affectionately and knocking him back several paces.

Stumbling, Mouse tripped over the unevenly scraped ground and fell into the banked snow. The sharp cold bit through his wet clothes and he dropped the shovel he’d been swinging with the intention of braining that blasted dragon. He flopped onto his back instead and laughed at the stupidity of it all.

“Are you well?” Contrary to his earlier levity, Nightriver was now all concern, crawling from his terrace to crouch beside Mouse, nuzzling him worriedly. “Why are you laughing? You were angry. Did you hit your head? Are you concussed?”

That only made Mouse laugh more. Gods, he’d been a miserable article these last few days, nursing his grievances so close to his chest, feeling sorry for himself and whining at Nightriver. Maegla, it was his own head that deserved to be beaten with a shovel. Luckily, a well timed snow bank and a bit of goading had done the job just as well.

True, it wasn’t very nice being treated as he was, but gods, he’d faced worse. Besides, if he’d been on the other side of this dragongift nonsense he might be a bit wary too. At least Silveo, Greig and Haelle were still on his side. Even if Silveo did spend most of his days tramping around the mountain in search of gods knew what, while Greig and Haelle worked on getting her mobile again with only one leg. When he thought of her, and how cheerfully she was accepting her loss, Mouse felt pathetically stupid.

“I’m fine,” he told Nightriver. “Just a bit cold and rather damp.”

The dragon nuzzled him some more. “Foolishness,” he grumbled. “Next you will succumb to one of your human sniffles, and then your friends will be stuck. Who will coddle them then?”

Mouse put his arms about the dragon’s neck and chuckled as he was hauled to his feet. “Not you, I’m thinking, for all you could cure the lot of them with a flex of your claws.”

“Hardly,” Nightriver muttered, nudging Mouse until he climbed onto his back, before the dragon soaked up some more snow to make himself bigger again. “My claws make them nervous. I believe they would faint if I were to flex in their presence. Perhaps I should smile more?”

“No,” Mouse said firmly. “Not if you’re trying to stop them from fainting.”

The dragon sighed and began crawling up the terraces again. “Who knew humans were so delicate? Rift Riders especially. I would think you would be a hardier breed.”

“You’d have thought so,” Mouse murmured, hunching closer to Nightriver’s back and shivering as the cold, rain and emotional reaction caught up with him. “But we’ve grown unused to dragons.”

Nightriver shook his head as they crested the final terrace and ambled towards the nearest cottage. “Unfathomable,” he rumbled. “I would think of all things we were the most memorable. You humans should live longer, perhaps then your memories would not prove so faulty.”

“I’ll put in a request to the Stratys,” Mouse agreed sleepily.

Shouldering his way into the cottage Mouse shared with Silveo, Greig and Haelle, Nightriver gently shrugged his burden onto the rug before the fire and sighed. “See that you do,” he ordered softly, before going in search of one of the few humans who weren’t afraid of him.


~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 20, Part 1

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Previous Chapter ~

Sorry for the delay. Here’s Willym and the Creepy twins. As threatened promised. Don’t worry, it’s only a short update.


Twenty
Changes

Aquila
5th Winter Rains

IT WAS RAINING. This stunning realisation woke Willym from his trance and he stumbled in the street, staring at the water running amongst the cobbles. He lifted his hand to catch some of the sleet and raindrops, marvelling that it had finally stopped snowing. Then he saw it.

Blood.

Normally his newly-heightened senses would have alerted him to the tantalising scent long ago, but as he stared at the crimson stains washing from his skin, he found he wasn’t hungry. For almost the first time since he woke in his altered and hideous state, Monster was quiet.

Monster was full. And the blood on his hands was red.

“Sweet gods have mercy on me,” he whispered, looking down at himself in numb dread.

Gore splatter covered him, the red a deep saturation that was almost black. He licked his lips and tasted it in his mouth: rich, sweet, delicate.

A vision flashed through his mind: a woman, young, barely at adulthood. He could still hear her screams when she first saw him, when he caught her. When he feasted.

The revulsion was so hot, so fast and powerful that Willym fell to his knees, doubled over as his stomach heaved and heaved.

So hot, so rich, so red. It splattered in the street and slithered away like the diluted snow.

“What have I done?” he whispered to the fading night. “Gods, what have I done?”

Ripping his filth-caked clothes from his body, he ran into the dark, needing to get as far away from the town as possible. Nor did he want to return to the citadel, where such monstrousness was applauded and encouraged.

Naked and heedless, driven by his demons, Willym scrambled up onto the mountainside to take his chances in the melting snow.

8th Winter Rains

“TEDIOUS AND FOOLISH beyond permission.” Yullik stared at the half-frozen figure curled up in a scrape of a cave. The pale skin of the creature was smeared with blood and filth. Yullik wrinkled his nose at the stench. Hibernating bears – whatever next?

“At least he’s survived.” Showing a lot less concern for the mess, and a lot more interest in the idiot boy, Rion and his twin sister were huddled over Willym’s lifeless form, checking him over with more attention than care.

“Looks like one of his prey raked him,” Riame said, pointing to a long, vicious scratch that ran down and over Willym’s ribcage. Another lovely scar to add to the welter of others.

“Understandable,” her brother murmured, sorting through a pile of bones, fur and discarded meat. “She had cubs.”

“Fool, he should have killed her first,” was his sister’s callous reply. Tilting Willym’s blood smeared face towards the pallid light from the mouth of the cave, she frowned and turned to Yullik. “Will he live?”

Accepting that he would have to touch the idiot boy sometime, Yullik sighed and touched two fingers to the sole of Willym’s foot – the only place not encrusted with gore. A pulse of golden light flowed from him into the fool, shooting through his body and cataloguing his numerous ills and woes.

Pulling back, Yullik rubbed the fingers of his left hand together reflexively and shrugged. “He is not so delicate as he once was,” he admitted. “For which he should be grateful. Frostbite should have taken all his fingers and toes by now, if the hypothermia hadn’t already killed him.”

Rion poked a blackened foot experimentally. “Looks pretty frostbitten to me.”

“His blood is black now,” Yullik reminded them. “Not to mention mildly imbued with a regenerating gift. His limbs will feel like shit when he wakes, but he’ll still be able to feel them.”

The twins exchanged a glance, then shrugged as one. “And the hypothermia?” Riame asked.

“Could gain no hold,” Yullik told her. “He’s not entirely warm-blooded anymore. His body can afford to drop his core temperature. He’s lucky he found something to eat, else he would have died. I believe we have Monster to thank for that.”

As though answering to his name, Willym’s eyes opened the merest crack. A glimmer glowed between his dark eyelashes. “Hungry,” he snarled.

“Then you’d best finish your bears,” Yullik said repressively, smiling when Monster’s gaze turned to each of the twins in turn. “You won’t find a better meal here. I believe we are all a little too rich for you.”

The twins smiled and Monster hunched away, whining low in his throat.

“Eat.” Yullik picked up the nearest chunk of bear and threw it at his pitiful creature. “You made this kill. The least you can do is finish it.”

Monster struck with crude desperation, burying his face in the fetid meat and shaking his head to tear off chunks with his teeth.

A revolting display. Yullik stepped away from the flying blood and sighed. “No taste and even less finesse. He makes my kaz-naghkt look cultured.”

The twins joined him, still smiling. “But a fine monster, nonetheless,” Rion murmured.

Yullik eyed him contemptuously. “If you like that sort of thing.”

Riame laughed, a low, satisfied sound. “Oh, we like,” she purred. “We like very much indeed.”


~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings Delayed

Sorry, everyone. I’m extremely tired this week and running on empty, which means I completely forgot to edit up today’s Storm Wings update. I probably could do a quick pass through and throw something up this evening, but I’ve just checked and it’ll be all Willym and the Creepy Twins, and to be honest no one wants an update full of that. (Although if I’m wrong, please, feel free to tell me.)

So, new plan, double update on Sunday, which will have Willym and the Creepy Twins, followed by Mouse and Nightriver, in which one of them thinks he’s much funnier than the other believes. At least, I think that’s what happens…

See you Sunday!

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Storm Wings: Chapter 19, Part 3

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Oh, Stirla…



Restra

THE TOWN HALL fell watchfully silent. Stirla clenched a fist and hoped his uncertainty didn’t show as he stared up at the stage, awaiting his fate. Except Rider Benyet and Baker Jensyn were smiling.

“Hackles down, Elly,” Benyet murmured, most disrespectfully to a woman so much on her dignity. “Stirla’s one of the good ones.”

The town leader looked at the two Aquilan men before eyeing Stirla like he was something the pyrefly had coughed up. A sandy-blonde eyebrow arched. “Oh?” she said. “I was not aware such a thing still existed in the Rift Riders at large.”

Behind Stirla’s shoulder, Neryth sighed. “You should do this in private,” she murmured.

“Not a good idea,” Derrain warned in the opposite ear, the pair of them like the opposing poles of his conscience. “They’ve seen you now. Hiding away will only make things worse.”

“Yes, but,” Neryth countered, ever the princess and authoritarian to Derrain’s ordinary lad, “airing grievances in public, without having any prior knowledge of what they might be will put Stirla on the spot.”

Derrain chuckled. “I’ve always thought he fights best when backed into a corner.”

“I am still here, you know,” Stirla grumbled, wishing they would both shut up and let him think. He stepped onto the stairs leading up to the stage, determined to take control of this unhappy situation. “Leader Ellysett, Rider Benyet, Baker Jensyn.” He nodded to the three figures before climbing another step and turning to face the crowded hall. “People of Restra, residents old and new, I know many of you, quite rightly, feel abandoned or put upon by the Rift Riders. You feel forgotten and neglected, mistreated and taken for granted. In some ways all that is true. So I stand here now in my garish red coat, with my so-called lieutenant stripes upon my shoulder, and I apologise, unreservedly, for the way you have been treated.

“But I ask, too, for your forbearance. You were never forgotten, just like the dead who lie inside Aquila’s tunnels are not forgotten. Just as those who died in the town and the citadel, in the air and in the destruction of the Miryhl Shadow are not forgotten. They are our heroes, our friends, our brothers, our sisters, our family. Their blood is our blood, and to that end we will not abandon them to the kaz-naghkt and the Wrathlen. To dishonour and defeat.

“This, my friends, is why we left when we did. This, my friends, is why I have returned. For while the Rift Riders have no home, we cannot afford to stand still. We will not rest until Aquila in ours again. And so, friends, I not only beg your forgiveness, I humbly ask for your assistance. Whatever you may feel towards the living, I ask you to help me honour the dead. I am travelling now to Nimbys, having already journeyed across the entire Greater West.

“Gentlemen, ladies, Riders, we are gathering an army. The greatest the Rift Riders have ever seen. Our wings will fill the skies above Aquila and our swords, bows and talons will not rest until the citadel is ours once more. You may have been left here to recover and grieve, while the rest of us forged on far to the west, but I ask you now, will you stay here still? Will you harbour your grudges, nurse your grievances and feed your anger, choosing only to watch while the Overworld takes back what is ours?”

Feeling the eyes of every person fixed upon him, Stirla climbed another step and lifted his head, proud of the insignia upon his bright red coat. Proud of his rank, of who he was, of being a Rift Rider, and willing to show it to the whole world.

“History is in the making,” he told them, his voice soft but confident. “Will you partake or will you just watch? When the scrolls of glory are written down, many, many years from now, will your names be amongst them? Or will your ancestors simply shrug and say it wasn’t your fight?”

He looked around the room, taking in the shining eyes, the clenched fists, the smiles and the frowns. Derrain watched him in silence, while Neryth looked impressed.

Breathing deep, Stirla turned to address the three people on the stage. “I have no time to spare on this journey, but this is not a decision to be made lightly. Think it over, talk about it, decide as individuals or as a town. Whatever happens, before the end, I will make sure this question is put to you again.”

He turned back to the room at large. “You are not forgotten,” he told them. “Whether history will remember you or not is up to you.”

With a final nod, he jumped off the steps and strode back down the central aisle, aware once more of the faces turning to follow him. He glanced neither right nor left, keeping his gaze fixed on the door, wishing it was closer.

Finally he was free, back outside in the gathering dusk, but he didn’t slow or stop. He couldn’t. Energy was coursing through him. He wanted to run, to shout, to start a fight, anything to get rid of this damn tingling.

A hearty slap landed on his shoulder. “Remarkable,” Neryth crowed. “You strode into a hostile room and within a few sentences had them all eating out of your hand. Such a stirring speech! If I wasn’t already clinging to your coat tails I would have pledged my allegiance to you then and there. All Gods, they should make a general out of you.”

Stirla’s mouth twisted and he glanced over his other shoulder, catching Derrain’s grimace.

Yes, he understood. But then he had fought with Stirla in the darkness beneath Aquila. He had heard the screams, seen the blood, felt the horror. He knew what it was like. What it was really like.

“That was glorious,” Neryth continued, more effusive now than Stirla had ever heard her. “Truly magnificent. If you’d asked it of them, I believe they would die for you.”

“Yes,” he replied flatly, knowing full well what he had done. “They will.” He finally stopped and faced the princess, letting her see the disgust on his face. “And I hate myself for it.”

He stared into the princess’s eyes, watching the excitement fade into confusion and disappointment. As Neryth started to frown, working through the implications, Stirla shrugged off her hand and walked on. He needed to get back to Atyrn; he needed his miryhl’s calm competence. He needed the skies and the bitterly cold air. He needed to get away from so many living, breathing souls who one day might end bloodily on his conscience.

“Gather our things,” he muttered to the silent Derrain. “It’s time to go.”


~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 19, Part 2

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Yay, we’ve reached Sanctuary! Oh, erm… oh.



Restra, the Heighlen

STIRLA WAS NERVOUS. When he cast his mind back over recent months, there had been many points on his journey when nervousness had been required, but none of them had felt quite like this. Beside him, Derrain wiped his hands on his breeches, clearly feeling the same.

Only Neryth was as cool and calm as she usually was. Then again, this had little to do with her, so there was no reason for her to behave otherwise.

“Gods,” Stirla whispered, running his hands through his hair and absently thinking it needed a cut. “What do I tell them, Derry?”

“The truth?” the student suggested. “Give them a reason to feel needed again.”

While he could see the sense in that, Stirla wasn’t sure it would be enough. These men and women had a right to feel aggrieved. They’d been left here. Dumped the moment the fleeing Riders made landfall, left behind like unwanted baggage. The ordinary folk of Restra had plenty to complain about too. No one had asked their opinion before doubling the population of their little town.

His thoughts were going in circles. So he took a deep breath, checked his ridiculous red jacket was lying straight at the back, then nodded at Derrain to open the door. It was time to face the people.

As the three of them stepped into the town hall, the crowd fell silent. The big barn of a room was packed with faces, all tracking Stirla’s progress as he walked down the central aisle, Derrain and Neryth at his shoulders. Their footsteps were the only sound as they headed for the stage at the front.

The town leader waited, two men seated behind her. Stirla knew them both: Rider Benyet and Baker Jensyn. Strong men and natural leaders, chosen to speak for the survivors.

It seemed to take forever to stride across that space, but finally he was there before them, uncertain whether to walk up the steps or stay where he was, like a petitioner pleading for mercy. He didn’t even know what he was doing here. He hadn’t planned to come back, but when Neryth had spotted the town it had seemed the right thing to do. Someone needed to return to Restra and remind them that they weren’t forgotten.

“You are late, lieutenant,” the town leader said, and Stirla’s heart sank. They weren’t going to make this easy on him.

* * *

Sanctuary

AS THE SUN crested over the peaks of Sanctuary, the sky paling to its more regular blue, Lyrai sighed and turned his mind towards breakfast. His stomach was already ahead of him, he thought with a wry smile, listening to it gurgle. Before he turned away, however, he spotted something on the horizon. There, in the midst of the fading gold light, a handful of dark specks wheeled and rose before striking out towards them.

“Company coming,” Dhori murmured unnecessarily.

As the specks grew bigger it was soon possible to make out three dragons accompanied by several smaller shapes. Lyrai grimaced, not relishing the task of hefting the airstones back over to one side of the ship so that Rhiddyl didn’t overbalance them all.

Before he could worry too much, the largest of the lesser specks wheeled away from the others and darted towards the Thorncrest. An arrow of blackness that showed no intention of stopping. Well used to the vulardi ways, Lyrai, Mhysra and Dhori ducked as the bird flew straight at them, sweeping over the rail to land on the main deck behind.

It was only when he turned that Lyrai realised his mistake. “Your Excellency,” he gasped and bowed, not knowing what else to say when the Cyclone appeared without warning.

“It seems we are fated to keep meeting, Lieutenant Prince Lyrai,” the great miryhl said, her voice like distant thunder. “Yet our circumstances keep changing. May they be under happier ones next time.”

“I wish that too, Excellency,” he murmured.

She hummed low, possibly in agreement, before turning her attention to Mhysra. “Wingborn,” she sounded almost approving, “Cumulo has only good things to say of you.”

“And I of him, Excellency,” Mhysra returned, her voice a little squeaky. She coughed. “Mostly.”

The Cyclone chuckled. “You are good for him. I am pleased.” The warmth so briefly kindled in her stormy eyes turned to ice when she looked at Dhori. “You brought them here?”

The silver-eyed student said nothing, merely inclined his head.

“You are not welcome.”

“I would not have brought anyone,” Dhori told her, surprising Lyrai by how carelessly he spoke to the most holy miryhl on the Overworld. Though perhaps he shouldn’t have been too shocked; this was Dhori, after all. “But the idea of so many dragons loose in the Overworld unwatched and unescorted does not rest easily on my mind.”

The Cyclone snorted, as doubtful of those words as Lyrai was. “I fear your mind shall have to remain uneasy. They are not here.”

Even Dhori looked a little surprised by that, while Lyrai and Mhysra exchanged worried glances. General Keipen was not going to be pleased. How fortunate that they had flown so far away from him.

“Where have they gone?” Dhori asked, sounding weary.

“Some returned home,” the Cyclone said. “Others headed to the World’s End Mountains, to tidy up the mess Yullik ses-Khennik has left there.”

“Not to Aquila?” Lyrai couldn’t help but ask, since providing help in regaining the citadel was the whole reason why the elder dragons had relaxed the Barrier Veils. Or so Lyrai had thought. “If they’re after Yullik, why not go directly to him?”

“Aquila is the business of the Rift Riders,” the Cyclone told him sternly. “If you do not win it back yourselves, how can you be trusted to keep it?”

“Then why are we even here?” he demanded, looking from the miryhl to Dhori and back again, sensing that between them they knew the answers to everything.

Dhori’s smile was wry. “Partly to silence General Keipen,” he admitted, unruffled by Lyrai’s intensifying glare.

“Partly because you could not help yourself,” the Cyclone added, sounding amused.

“Partly because it was on our way,” Dhori added, though in truth it would have been quicker to head east from Lansbrig and travel up through Imercian. “And mostly because it kept the dragons as far away from being spotted as possible.” Which likewise would have been no hardship in the broad wilderness of south and central Imercian.

Lyrai scowled at his supposed student, wondering just what type of game he was playing now.

“A journey of many parts,” the Cyclone murmured thoughtfully. Then gave a sharp nod. “Your business here is concluded. Your companions are returning. I trust that you will not.” The last was aimed mostly at Dhori, but she flicked a hard glance at Lyrai and Mhysra too. “Humans are not welcome in Sanctuary.”

Lyrai blinked, surprised by the hostility in her voice. Whatever happened to miryhls and Riders being partners, looking out for each other? Why was she so defensive?

“You have spread across the entire Overworld,” the miryhl continued, as if hearing his thoughts. “There is nowhere that your influence does not reach. Except here. Sanctuary is a sanctuary. For miryhls and miryhls alone. Let us have this one place of peace.”

Slightly chagrined, Lyrai bowed his head in assent, aware that Mhysra was doing the same.

Beside them Dhori folded his arms across his chest. “It does you no good to isolate yourselves like this.”

“Your views are well documented, Dhoriaen Aure,” the great miryhl said serenely. “Yet as they were never sought in the first place, they bear no weight here. You remain unwelcome.”

“Then I shall take my leave.” Dhori grinned and bowed at last. “Until next time, Cy.”

She narrowed her stormy eyes at him and gave a haughty toss of her head. “Impertinent scamp. You remain as disrespectful as ever.” Despite her disapproving words, there was humour and a touch of affection in her tone.

Dhori winked. “Blame it on my upbringing.”

The miryhl huffed a laugh, shook her feathers and cleared the side rail in a single bound. “Go!” she ordered, sweeping out and away into the dawn. Her wings seemed to stretch forever, shimmering with hints of silver in the sunrise.

A collective murmur of surprise and awe behind them made Lyrai turn. They had gained an audience of several crew members, Captain Torven, Corin, Jaymes and Honra. Each of them looked stunned. The dragonets just grumbled sleepily.

“Was that -?” Corin asked.

“The Cyclone, yes,” Dhori agreed, striding away from the rail and taking control of the situation. “Giving us our flight orders. You heard her, captain.” He nodded at Torven. “We’ve dragons and miryhls to load, then a course to set north-east. Next stop, Nimbys.”


~ Next Chapter ~

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