A Courtship of Dragons: Part 31

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Esten gets to work.


31
Cooking

 9th Storm Month

TWO DAYS LATER, Estenarven stood in the middle of Highstrike’s biggest kitchen, trying to follow the dracos’ instructions without much success. It was time for Mastekh’s fifth gift and, because he hadn’t thought of something suitably precious yet to give his Puddle, Estenarven had skipped forward to the handmade one.

Being a Boulderforce, he wasn’t particularly gifted when it came to working with his hands. He would never be favoured for delicate tasks and wood tended to snap beneath his fingers with very little effort. So he’d come to the kitchen, because it was a place Mastekh valued so highly, and with a little help from the dracos, he’d managed to sneak a few secret cooking lessons without his Puddle noticing.

Not that he was doing much cooking, since his attempts so far had been woeful and often inedible. But at least he’d ruled out pastries, pies, bread and tarts as options for his gift. The less said about his attempts to filet a fish, the better. However, he was proving pretty effective when it came to venison, so he’d scaled up his plans from a delicate dainty to tempt Mastekh’s appetite, into a full roast meal. The vegetables might not win any prizes for the neatness of their cut, but he hadn’t destroyed them utterly in the skinning and preparation and they were either bubbling nicely in the water or roasting in an oven. It would do. All he needed was a sauce.

While the dracos fussed and teased him over his clumsy efforts, Estenarven smiled and tried not to get too lost in his thoughts. That was what had happened to the bread, when he’d allowed himself to dwell too long on the last two evenings with Mastekh and kneaded the dough all to pieces.

He didn’t beat himself up too much for his distraction, though. Because the last two evenings had been everything to Estenarven. To some they might have seemed tame and perhaps a little dull, and even the dragon Estenarven used to be probably would have laughed if someone else had near-swooned over the memory of just talking, but this was Mastekh and… Estenarven chuckled at himself, knowing he was a hopeless case.

He’d never been one to deny himself pleasure, had in fact indulged in every sybaritic experience that had crossed his path, yet somehow, simply sitting and talking to Mastekh was better and more satisfying than anything else. Not that he’d object to sex, because he really liked sex and knew how best to enjoy himself and his partner, but he wanted to take things slowly with Mastekh, to make sure they were both comfortable. For the first time in his life, Estenarven was nervous about sleeping with someone. Because it mattered. Mastekh mattered, and Estenarven would never forgive himself if he messed it up now.

When Estenarven had discovered his fourth gift was the matching half of Mastekh’s naming shell, he had nearly broken down in tears with sheer relief. Not just at the meaning of such a gift, but because Mastekh still wanted him. Naming shells were too important to be shared lightly and if Estenarven hadn’t already been serious about Mastekh, his feelings would have deepened right then.

It was more than just the shells, though. Mastekh had asked about the figure Estenarven had given him and grown quite possessive when Estenarven had apologised and tried to take it back, vowing to find something more appropriate, more akin to the naming shell. That had led to another appearance of growly Mastekh, which had all but crumbled Estenarven to pieces.

Thinking back on the delicious way Mastekh had ordered him never to talk so disparagingly about the figure again brought a fresh wave of shivers to dance down Estenarven’s spine.

“Stir, stir, stir!” the frantic cry broke through his thoughts and Estenarven dutifully did so, bowing his head and mumbling apologies to Vilree the head chef for almost ruining her foolproof sauce.

Pushing all thoughts of Mastekh and the long, lazy conversations they’d recently had, learning all about each other’s lives, from hatchling through to their change times, and the way Mastekh so easily draped himself across Estenarven’s chest now, perfectly at ease with the contact, Estenarven focused on what his draco teachers were telling him. There would be plenty of time later to daydream, or even better yet, to talk more with Mastekh. But only if he pulled himself together and finished preparing this meal.

Then there would only be two more gifts to go. Something precious and something hard to get. No idea he’d come up with yet came remotely close to what he wanted for Mastekh, so Estenarven knew he’d have to ask for more help. Although who from he wasn’t yet certain.

“Too hot, too hot,” Vilree barked at him, and Estenarven shifted his pot away from the oven top. “Pay attention.”

“Yes, Vilree. Sorry, Vilree,” Estenarven murmured automatically, lifting the spoon to take a sip. Perfect. Well, edible, anyway, which was perfect by his standards. “I think we’re done.”

“Hm.” Vilree sniffed and fetch her own spoon to test the sauce. Wrinkling her scaled nose, she flattened her head crest and sighed. “To anyone else I would say – make it again – but you will not stay for that.”

“Nope,” Estenarven agreed cheerfully, already pouring the sauce into a jug and asking a different draco to drain his vegetables so that he could take everything up to Elder Blazeborn’s suite, ready to be eaten. He had to hurry if he was to get everything ready and still catch Mastekh before he headed for the dining hall. “It’s now or never, Vilree. Thanks for all your help.”

He blew the head chef a kiss and Vilree flapped her dishcloth in his direction. “Pah. No patience. No artistry. Go, get out of my kitchen.”

“Gladly.” Lifting the laden tray that contained all the important parts of the evening, Estenarven bowed grandly to the busy room. “My thanks to you all for your superior patience and artistry. I promise never to bother you again.”

“Ha! We can but hope,” Vilree scoffed, sending snickers through the working dracos. “I feel almost bad that we are letting you serve our good friend Mastekh such things, but tell him we tried our best and good luck to you, Estenarven.”

With more good wishes and teasing comments flowing in his wake, Estenarven left the kitchen and headed for the suite. He just hoped Elder Blazeborn had remembered his promise to make himself scarce for another night, and that Mastekh hadn’t already gone searching for his supper elsewhere.

“Fifth gift,” he murmured as he began climbing the stairs, “here I come.”


More next week!

Take care, my lovelies.

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Dragongift: Chapter 10, Part 3

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

~ Previous Chapter ~

 

A Stirla, Derry and Mouse update. Well, we don’t want to overdose on dragons just yet, do we?



Havia
12th Blizzard

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER debate. Derrain rubbed his aching eyes as he accepted his morning rations from a sympathetic Theryn, doling out supplies from the nearest pack miryhl.

“I thank Maegla five times daily that you were closer to Stirla than me when this lot joined us.”

Derrain scowled and turned away, in no mood for jokes. The voices of the Havian Special Force were rising again, as they did every time they stopped. Unsurprisingly this morning’s complaint was about food. Nobles weren’t overly familiar with trail rations, apparently. Nor were they impressed with hard biscuits and whatever was left over from the night before. And don’t get them started on the lack of wine. The shock and the horror.

“The only cold meal I eat is supper,” one of the more portly members of the Special Force grumbled. “And I haven’t seen a sniff of that for two days.”

Two days, Gods, was that all it had been? It felt like so very many more.

Turning his back on the over-bred bunch, Derrain shuffled between miryhls and munching Riders, aiming for the spot furthest from the lordlings. Sitting down opposite Stirla, he shot him a reproachful look.

The lieutenant raised an eyebrow. “I offered you a chance to chase down Lyrai and the others, but you said you’d rather stay here. Don’t blame me.”

Derrain was too tired to maintain his glare as he bit sullenly into a biscuit. A day and a half of trying to get a bunch of older, socially superior men to listen to him had left him exhausted. Futility in action. “What are our chances of leaving the HSF here to train?”

“Not good.” Stirla grimaced apologetically. “I had some hopes myself, but I don’t think Lorfyn will let us leave him behind. Even if Captain Korfei could be persuaded to keep them.”

As if on cue that particular young lord appeared, all beaming smiles, despite wrinkled clothes and mussed hair. “Good morning, lieutenant. Rider Derrain.”

Stirla rolled his eyes and swallowed his mouthful. “What do you want?”

Since the grumpy question was how the lieutenant always greeted him, Lorfyn was not discouraged. Unfortunately. “On behalf of the HSF,” he smoothed his crumpled imitation-Rider jacket importantly, as if being their spokesman was an honour, “I wish to enquire how long you intend us to camp in this spot?”

Derrain slowed his chewing and shared a look with Stirla. Since it was just past dawn and the other Riders were already making moves to depart the answer should have been obvious.

However, since they were in need of entertainment, Stirla asked, “Why?”

“Hunting!” Lorfyn threw out his hands as if he’d just suggested the most marvellous idea ever conceived by man. “As lovely as the rations have been,” he eyed the biscuit in Stirla’s hand with ill-concealed distaste, “my compatriots and I believe we might be able to do better. I know Riders come from all walks of life, so it is perfectly understandable that you aren’t as skilled in this area as we are. Consider it our gift to you. A proper meal to celebrate the birth of our glorious partnership.”

Swallowing the last of his breakfast, Stirla stood. “Saddle up, Derry. We’re leaving.”

Derrain nodded and gathered his pack, taking his time as he wanted to hear what Lorfyn would say next.

“Oh.” The young lord looked crestfallen. “So soon? Perhaps this afternoon we might rest a little longer? It would be a great pleasure to teach you how to hunt.”

All activity in the camp ceased as students, Riders and miryhls sucked in a collective breath.

Stirla looked at Lorfyn with deceptive mildness. “We’re on a tight schedule, my lord, but if you feel unable to keep up, please, feel free to return to Misthome. I’m sure you’ll be much welcomed.”

“Oh. Ah, of course.” When Stirla went in search of Atyrn, Lorfyn hurried after him. “Perhaps tomorrow? Or – or the next day?” he asked, ever hopeful. “It wouldn’t take long to teach you the basics, I daresay.”

Stirla scowled and greeted Atyrn where she had roosted beside Zephyr. “I am perfectly capable of hunting for myself,” he snapped, aggravated beyond patience. “And even if I wasn’t, I fly a miryhl, for Maegla’s sake.”

Lorfyn halted, momentarily taken aback. “Oh, but of course. How foolish of me. How splendid it must be to watch a miryhl hunt! I would dearly love to witness one. Perhaps tomorrow?”

Seeing Stirla’s knuckles turn white on Atyrn’s saddle, Derrain intervened. “Whose land are we currently on, my lord?”

Diverted, Lorfyn frowned. “I am not sure. Wenlen, perhaps? Maybe Klevarel. Perhaps no one. It is difficult to tell once one reaches the wilds. No signposts. Why do you ask?”

“Hunting without permission is considered poaching, Lorfyn.” At last Princess Neryth arrived. Despite being the only one with any measure of control over Lorfyn and his enthusiasms, Derrain never felt too grateful towards her for settling the lord down, since she could end this farce with one command. Until she did she was just as bad as Lorfyn and the rest.

“Oh.” Lorfyn paused, and then his smile sprang back twice as bright as before. “Perhaps I was wrong. You know, East Havian geography never has been my strongpoint and there’s plenty of unclaimed land hereabouts. Besides, who would know? We’re hardly going to hunt over someone’s doorstep, and even if we chose to, Highness, I’m sure you would be more than capable of explaining the circumstances.”

“Nothing ever stops you, does it?” Derrain asked, awed by how this man’s brain worked.

Lorfyn stared at him in astonishment. “I am a Ketthik of Havia,” he said, sounding incredulous that anyone or anything might even try. “To cease is to embrace defeat.”

What a world these nobles lived in. Derrain shook his head, wondering how Lyrai and Mhysra had turned out so normal. Well, when compared to Lorfyn and his friends.

“We are on Jarl Klevarel’s land,” Neryth said, after a long pause. “But even if we were not, I could not countenance a hunt in the middle of winter. For many reasons.” She held up a hand, forestalling Lorfyn’s interruption. “Firstly, there is little game to be found this late in the season. Secondly, what little there is would be better off feeding those who have to live in such thankless places. Thirdly, as Lieutenant Stirla keeps telling you, we have no time for these high flights you and your friends seem to expect. If you cannot accept the pace and living conditions of the Riders, go home. Fourthly, and finally, I will not abuse my name, rank, family position or reputation merely to provide you with amusements. This is not a pleasure trip, Lord Lorfyn. Prepare your horsat, I believe we are leaving. Lieutenant, Rider Derrain.” With a curt nod, the princess stalked back to her miryhls.

Watching her go, Lorfyn opened his mouth, took a breath, then huffed in mute frustration. Finally he turned to Stirla with a rueful smile. “No hunting today then. Perhaps when we reach the Rider base we will have better luck.” He ambled back to his friends.

Derrain glanced at Stirla, eyebrows raised. “The Havian Special Force, eh?”

“They’re special all right.” Stirla shook his head and watched Lorfyn haul himself into his horsat’s saddle, beaming with happiness again. “And quite a force,” he murmured. “Or do I mean farce? Mount up, Derry, and let’s get moving before he suggests we swap mounts for laughs.”

* * *

Aquila

THINGS WERE QUIET  in the caves as Mouse worked, cleaning out the old bedding and replacing it with new. He and a handful of other students had spent days gathering fern, bracken and grass before the first snowfall, ready to be dried out and stored over the winter. It had been dull work, but he was grateful for it now. There were only so many ticks, lice and fleas he could take when he went to bed, and a single blanket on the cold, hard floor grew uncomfortable after a night or two.

Besides it gave him something to do while the others were away. After the success of his first raid, Imaino had taken the students off again, risking the tunnels beneath the citadel to ransack whatever unguarded storerooms they encountered within.

Most of the other Riders and regular townsfolk were either out hunting or manning the watch. Even some of the healers had gone. Which left just Mouse, Lehno, Symal and Nehtl to care for the sick and wounded. Although thanks to the brutal blizzard that passed through just two days back, their numbers had dropped to five. Which meant there was only so much work needed doing and why Mouse was changing the bedding. Tedious but necessary, as Nehtl liked to say. Mending wasn’t always about saving a life. Sometimes it was about comfort and preventing diseases further down the road.

“At least I’ve got you for company,” he murmured, pausing to stroke Bumble’s head before gathering up an armful of clean bedding. Wagging her tail, the nakhound grabbed a branch of bracken, eager to help.

Catching sight of her, he chuckled, sneezing as he dumped his bundle and arranged it into a mattress. “Good girl.” Although the rest of the hounds were out hunting, Bumble preferred to stay with him. He didn’t know why, but he appreciated it. There was something comforting in having a dog by his side at all times, especially when she chose to be there.

Completing the last bed, he looked around the snug chamber, cosy even without twenty sleeping bodies, and grinned at the hound. “Of course your decision has nothing to do with the three feet of snow outside or the blizzards soon to come, does it?”

She wagged her tail again, making them both sneeze at the resultant dust.

“Time to go.” Holding his nose, he limped out of the chamber, not breathing until he was far down the tunnel. Snorting and rubbing her nose on his leg, Bumble was close behind.

Preoccupied by dust, they didn’t realise they had company until after they’d entered the infirmary.

Lehno lay slumped against the wall, his head resting at an unnatural angle, while a bleeding Symal scrabbled at his friend’s chest, begging him to answer. Nehtl knelt before the fireplace, blood running down his face, swaying as two men held him in place. A third man held a sword to his throat. More stood over the oblivious Symal, while another strode purposefully between the beds, dispatching the helpless patients with efficient sweeps of his sword. Those who could fight were already dead, some hanging half out bed like discarded toys.

Mouse felt Bumble growl as she pressed against his leg, but he was too numb to react as the murderer loomed over Natten, a student Mouse had been helping to nurse since before the fall of Aquila. He’d been ill for so long, but over the last month he had shown real improvement. Nehtl had predicted he would be well by New Year.

He died with a gurgle and a slice across his throat.

“Butchers!” Symal screamed, lunging for the chief offender, a snarling Bumble close behind.

The man didn’t even look up from cleaning his blade as his men wrestled the distraught healer to the ground. “Kill him,” he ordered without inflection, kicking Bumble in the chest. When she lunged again, he lashed out with his sword.

The nakhound collapsed with a whimper.

“We have all we need here.”

Mouse dropped to his knees, staring at the blood. It stained the floor, the walls, the beds, Bumble’s pale fur. There was so much of it. Nothing had escaped. He watched red footprints approach from beneath the butcher’s stained soles.

Willym stopped directly in front of him, dark eyes bright, arrogant face flecked with blood. He smiled. “Hello, little Mouse, have you come to play?”


:(

Thank you for reading.

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Dragongift: Chapter 10, Part 2

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~ Previous Chapter ~

Inside the dragon’s lair.


PASSING INTO THE shadow of the cave, Cumulo flexed his wings to their full span. “Brave and true indeed,” he scoffed. “It’s just a cave.”

Mhysra smirked, then yelped as the turbulent air gave her Wingborn a momentary wobble.

After a quick flap and a muttered curse, Cumulo glided harmlessly between the toothy formations. “Just as I said,” he sniffed, fluffing up his feathers and glancing around to check that no one had seen him looking less than perfect. “Nothing to worry about.”

Mhysra bit her lip against replying and patted him on the shoulder.

“Welcome, welcome!” Their host’s voice drifted down the gloomy cavern, beckoning them towards a flickering light. “I have cleared a space for you.”

Still muttering to himself, Cumulo lifted them over a pile of debris to follow Hurricane into a brightly lit chamber. The walls were dotted with crystals and pieces of polished metal, all of which reflected and doubled the light coming from a collection of bowls scattered around the floor. Each bowl cradled a flame, like oversized candles, lending warmth as well as light to the space.

And what a space, Mhysra thought, gazing around as her miryhl drifted safely in to land on the open floor. For the dragon it was cosy, suitable for one but cramped for two; for the humans it was enormous.

Natural cave walls gave way to claw-smoothed enlargements, stretching some sixty or so feet into the air. Rhiddyl was able to sit up without banging her head, but in deference to her guests she had chosen to lie down. Unfortunately for her that didn’t appear nearly as comfortable, since the chamber curved inwards and she had to bend herself round with it, tucking in her wings and tail. Some of the shiny objects on the walls were probably pressing into her side too as she pushed back to make room for her guests.

Mhysra had never imagined a dragon could be so sweet and unsure of herself. Rhiddyl watched them anxiously, picking at the end of her tail in the same way a human might have bitten their lip. The dragon looked at Lyrai the most, instinctively turning to their leader for reassurance and approval. It made her seem almost human, which was an odd thought when looking at a an enormous, scaled creature, with teeth as long as her forearm.

“As you see, it is not luxurious,” Rhiddyl fluted softly, “but it does well enough for me. I have never had visitors before.” Her pearly scales flushed pink in the glittering light. “I never expected to.”

Feeling sorry for her and her obvious discomfort, Mhysra said, “I like your lights.”

Rhiddyl blinked in her direction, tilting her head with birdlike curiosity. “My lights?”

“The bowls,” Corin agreed, coming to Mhysra’s rescue since having the full attention of a dragon was a little overwhelming. “They’re so pretty. How do you keep the fires lit?”

Rhiddyl’s brow ridge lowered thoughtfully as she looked around her cave. “Oils and wicks. They sell scented ones in the markets too, but it is so hard to air this chamber I always worry that I will find one I do not like and be forever after unable to get rid of the offending smell.”

“You don’t need scented one. These are lovely,” Mhysra said, finding her voice again.

“I like how you reflect the light off the walls,” Corin added. “It’s very clever.”

The dragon tilted her head the other way and stroked the wall with silver claws that glittered and shone. “They are pretty.” She huffed with pleasure. “I am glad something in my home finds favour.”

“When you’ve stayed in some of the places we have,” Cumulo piped up from amongst the miryhls, “any cave is more than adequate. Better than a tumbled-down barn with rats or being left out in the rain.”

Rhiddyl huffed again, amused this time. “I am pleased to say I have no rats, and since I patched the holes last springtide the rain remains outside.”

“A palace,” Cumulo approved.

The dragon chuckled, then scratched her muzzle and darted an uncertain glance at Lyrai. “You must forgive me for not having soft things for you all. Dragons find no discomfort in sleeping on stone, although I know many species think otherwise. I hope your miryhls will not mind a night without proper perches.”

The anxiety in her tone stopped Lyrai from staring around the chamber in open wonderment. He smiled. “We have our bedrolls, and I’m sure our miryhls will be well enough if we use our spare blankets to help hold off the chill. Truly, your home is beautiful. You have nothing to apologise for.”

Rhiddyl flushed ruby. “You are all kindness. I had not heard that humans were so courteous. You could rival Clan Highflight with your kindly words.” She lowered her head bashfully and gave it a shake, taking a deep breath as if to steady her nerves. “I thank you, but now on to other matters. Behind you is a spring, the water of which I have always found delightfully refreshing. As to food, I ate yesterday, but I believe humans require sustenance more frequently. I have nothing to offer you, I am sorry to say, but I would be pleased to hunt for you in the morning.” Another worried glance in Lyrai’s direction.

The lieutenant bowed, his hair glinting gold in the light. “Thank you, but we carry some food with us. Enough to last a few days, at least. Please don’t put yourself out on our account. We’ve spent several moons in the wilderness and are quite capable of looking after ourselves.”

“Some more than others,” Cumulo murmured.

“Indeed,” Lyrai eyed the miryhl witheringly, and Mhysra squirmed in embarrassment at her Wingborn’s mouthy tendencies. “But we would be grateful for your advice, should the need for a hunt arise.” The lieutenant turned back to the dragon with a smile.

Rhiddyl watched their interaction with interest, her crest rising and falling on her head. “Very well,” she sighed lightly. “But you must tell me the instant you require anything. I should hate to fail in my hosting duties.”

Mhysra smiled at the dragon’s eagerness to please. “It’s you who is all kindness, I think.”

“And you must tell us if there is something we should be doing. Or not, as the case may be,” Lyrai added. “It’s been a long time since humans last interacted with dragons and I fear the important rules have been forgotten. We would hate to cause offence.”

Rhiddyl’s eyes glowed and she hummed with happiness. “We have an agreement then. I will teach you and you will teach me. Now make yourselves comfortable, new friends, and tell me how you came to be here. I confess, I am most curious.” Resting her chin on her crossed feet, Rhiddyl watched them pull blankets and bedrolls from their packs, waiting for someone to begin.

Once everyone was settled, Lyrai smiled. “I think I’ll let Corin and Jaymes start, since they’re the ones who got us into this mess.”

“Not true,” Corin protested. “Or not completely true. This all starts at Aquila.”

“With pirates,” Mhysra agreed.

“And kaz-naghkt,” added Jaymes.

Dhori smiled, joining in with the dramatics. “And sieges and ships, catapults and cave ins.”

The dragon’s eyes grew wide with excitement as she looked from one face to another, making Mhysra wonder just how old she was and how it compared in human terms.

Her expectant gaze returned to Lyrai, and the lieutenant’s smile turned wry. “It all began around midsummer, when the Wrathlen grew active…”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 30

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Another gift is given…


30
Two Sides…

MASTEKH HELD HIS breath and pressed his back against the wall of his tiny bedroom as Estenarven chuckled in the main room and moved away, hopefully towards his private quarters.

An echo of Jesral’s teasing song looped inside Mastekh’s head, bringing a warm flush to his face. Mastekh and Esten, nesting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

Mastekh could only hope. Even if a tree did make a most impractical nesting site for a dragon. Far too flimsy and exposed.

Shaking his head, Mastekh took in a deep breath and moved towards his door. Estenarven should be safely inside his room by now, hopefully looking at the gift Mastekh had left on his pillow.

He hoped he liked it.

Then again, would he even understand it? Naming shells weren’t spoken of outside the Flowflight Clan. Just because Goryal had recognised them at a glance, didn’t mean Estenarven would have the faintest idea what Mastekh had given him.

Just a flimsy shell.

Sibling Water, what if he didn’t even notice it and lay straight down, shattering it into pieces?

By the Family! Cursing himself for an idiot, Mastekh burst through the door. “Esten!”

Estenarven was already coming towards him, marching across the suite, an intense look on his face.

Mastekh froze, eyes skimming over the Boulderforce. His hands were clenched into fists, his face looked angry.

“You!” Estenarven growled, reaching for him.

Mastekh flinched, but Estenarven grabbed his face between his hands – and kissed him.

While all their other kisses had been passionate but ultimately playful, this one was intense. Estenarven’s hands softened around Mastekh’s jaw, cradling him gently, while his mouth took and took, as if he could devour Mastekh whole and make them one.

Too stunned to do much other than let him, Mastekh’s knees turned all watery and he sagged against the Boulderforce. If he had melted into a slushy puddle at Estenarven’s feet, he wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

But he wasn’t devoured and he didn’t melt. Instead Mastekh ran his hands from Estenarven’s wrists, up his arms until he could hold onto those broad shoulders and kiss him back.

Grabbing a quick breath, Estenarven growled his approval and returned for more, sliding a hand down from Mastekh’s jaw until his broad palm rested over Mastekh’s heart. Then his lips moved, nibbling little kisses up towards Mastekh’s ear and under his jaw and down his neck.

Mastekh’s knees gave way.

Chuckling, Estenarven buried his face at Mastekh’s throat and squeezed him around the waist, lifting his feet off the floor.

Unable to do much other than hold on, Mastekh pressed his cheek to Estenarven’s head and sighed. “You f-found the sh-shell then?”

Lowering him gently, Estenarven pulled back and cupped Mastekh’s face in one broad hand. The other he raised between them, the blank naming shell looking plain and unexceptional on his palm.

“Do you really mean it, Puddle?” he asked softly. “My name with yours, two sides of the same shell?”

Mastekh swallowed hard, thankful that Clan Flowflight’s secrets apparently weren’t so very secret after all. “Yes, I m-mean it. Two s-sides, one sh-shell.”

Estenarven stared at him for a long, unfathomable moment before closing his eyes and pressing their foreheads together. “I never dreamed…”

Mastekh closed his own eyes and cupped Estenarven’s face. “You st-started it.”

Estenarven chuckled, a deeply contented sound. “So I did,” he agreed, kissing Mastekh lightly and pulling away, taking his hand to tug him across the suite to the nearest settee. Once they were sitting alongside each other, he opened his palm to reveal the shell again and shot Mastekh an uncharacteristically shy look. “May I see yours?”

Trembling a little at willingly choosing to show someone his naming shell for the first time, Mastekh reached into his pocket and lined his hand up beside Estenarven’s. The two shells were almost identical, except one was ever so slightly darker and had Mastekh’s name etched inside it.

“Two sides,” Estenarven whispered, running a reverent finger over the marks.

“One sh-shell,” Mastekh completed, turning his hand over to place his shell atop the unmarked one, joining them together as they would once have fit when the sea creature had been alive. He gently wove his fingers with Estenarven’s, the shell caught between their hands, linking them together in much the same way.

“Puddle,” Estenarven gasped in a choked voice, kissing the back of Mastekh’s hand and pressing it against his chest. His dark eyes shone with emotion and Mastekh felt his throat grow tight. The Boulderforce bowed his head to rest it on Mastekh’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

Wrapping his free arm around Estenarven’s waist, Mastekh pulled him in tight and vowed to never let him go. Estenarven had nothing to thank him for; it was Mastekh who was grateful. He’d found his stopping place, his stone to stick to, and not even the strongest tides of the Overworld would make him leave. Not now. Estenarven was stuck with him.


More next Wednesday.

Take care, my lovelies!

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Dragongift: Chapter 10, Part 1

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

~ Previous Chapter ~

A dragon, at last!


Ten
Rhiddyl

AFTER A LIFETIME of viewing dragons in books, Lyrai struggled to adjust his ideas to the reality of being faced with a real one. It wasn’t that the dragon was so different from the paintings, she was just more. In every way.

A horse-like head with forward-facing eyes smoothed down into a long nose and a soft muzzle. The ridge of her eyebrows encircled the top of her head like a crown, rising to three horns that fanned out into a crest. The scales on her face shimmered midnight blue at her nose, rising to silver and pewter between her eyes and turning black by the end of her crest. Her eyes were a shining, stormy grey.

With her head held high to study the Riders, her long neck and body curled into a lazy S. The scales on her back faded from black in the centre to medium blue at the edges, while her underside was a delicate shade of pearl. Her fragile-looking, silver wings folded surprisingly small against her sides and her whole body glittered like stardust.

In spite of her enormous size, Lyrai couldn’t help comparing the dragon’s build to a nakhound. She had the same strong but slender appearance. Yet the slender front foot she raised to scratch her foot was more like a hand than a paw. Lyrai’s preconceived ideas vanished.

She wasn’t like anything he had ever seen. She was a dragon, and thus, entirely herself.

Flattening her crest, the dragon lowered her head for a closer look at them all. “Now here’s something I never thought I’d see this side of petrifaction,” she mused in a musical tone, more whistle than roar. Lyrai had exceeded his capacity for surprise, but he still had enough thought left to liken the dragon’s voice to songbirds in spring.

The midnight blue nose turned in his direction and the dragon’s crest rose. “Thank you.”

Lyrai blinked, perhaps capable of a little more surprise, even if he had lost the ability to speak.

“Once dragons reach a certain age, they become able to pick up the thoughts of others.” Dhori moved to stand between Lyrai and the dragon, his tone disapproving. “Though it’s considered impolite to do so in mixed company.”

The dragon jerked her head back and, to Lyrai’s astonishment, her pearly underside turned pink. “Oh, goodness, I am sorry. I’ve never managed it before. This is my first time in mixed company.” With her head tucked into her chest, she gripped the tip of her tail, looking young and chastened. “It was not on purpose.” She peeked sheepishly at Lyrai, picking fretfully at her tail. “Please accept my most humble apologies. I meant no offence.”

With the vulardis glaring at him like angry parents, Lyrai croaked, “It’s fine. No harm done.” When the vultures nodded approvingly, he relaxed. “Your voice is very beautiful.”

The pink deepened to rose and the dragon turned her head shyly away. “You are all kindness.”

Arms folded across his chest, Dhori tapped an impatient foot and coughed pointedly.

The dragon snapped her head up, the colour fading from her pearly scales. “Oh, of course. Forgive me.” She cleared her throat delicately and straightened her neck. “Greetings, Rift Rider Storm Wings, survivors of the Veil. Such bravery is not without rewards, and thus, I welcome you. I am Rhidystel kin Tempestfury Clan Skystorm,” she announced, and Lyrai almost expected a fanfare, until she lowered her head and winked. “You may call me Rhiddyl.”

“It is an honour to meet you, Rhiddyl,” he said, smiling. “I am Lyrai, and these are my friends: Corin, Mhysra, Jaymes and Dhori.”

“Dhoriaen Aure is known to us,” Rhiddyl replied, looking eagerly at each Rider as Lyrai introduced them. Her crest rose again and she hummed with pleasure. “It is wonderful to meet you. I have never seen real humans before. And what marvellous miryhls!”

“Cumulo, Hurricane, Latinym, Wisp and Argon,” Dhori said, before anyone could ask any curious questions.

“Lovely to meet you,” Rhiddyl said, bobbing her head at the miryhls – who bobbed back. “What an exciting day this is turning out to be. And to think I contemplated hiding when I saw Chee-Gah coming. What a fool I would have felt!” Her laugh was a like a flourish on a flute. Lyrai smiled at the sound. There was a lot about Rhiddyl that made him want to smile, which made Dhori’s disapproval all the more baffling.

The student in question gave an impatient huff and tapped his foot. Rhiddyl hunched her wings and a faint wash of rose touched her underside again. “What, umm, brings you through the Veil?” Avoiding Dhori’s stern eye, Rhiddyl turned back to Lyrai.

“Ah…” It was a good question. One which had taken on a different meaning after they’d survived the Stormwash and unexpectedly arrived in the Dragonlands. With the dragons. Surely they, if anyone, were capable of getting Aquila back. It would be a wasted opportunity and a failure as a lieutenant if he didn’t use this chance to ask for assistance. “We need help.”

“Tell me about it,” Dhori muttered.

Frowning momentarily at Dhori, Rhiddyl tilted her head in confusion. “What kind of aid do you seek?”

“Any you can give us,” Hurricane said, drawing the dragon’s attention.

“The Rift Riders are in trouble?” Rhiddyl asked, her disbelief as clear as the fact that Overworld stories had survived on this side of the Stormwash too. “But how can this be?” She glanced between Lyrai and Dhori. “You are Riders.”

Dhori unfolded his arms and sighed, suddenly weary. “Aquila is lost. The kaz-naghkt have taken over the entire mountain. The Riders are homeless and in dire need of whatever aid you can give.”

The dragon blinked rapidly, making her look young again, especially when she nibbled on a silver talon. “The troubles of the Overworld are no longer the concern of the Clans,” she muttered, seemingly to herself. “Yet they were allowed through the Veil. It must mean something.” She turned to the vulardis. “What think you?”

“They came through,” the largest vulture replied. “The Veils found them worthy.”

“So they did,” Rhiddyl agreed softly.

“Vulardis guard,” another said. “We watch where we are told.” Which sounded like the worst kind of evasion to Lyrai. Rhiddyl twitched her tail, as though annoyed with this lack of an answer.

“Dragons made us, dragons rule us. Beyond our territory our word carries no weight,” a third vulardi explained apologetically.

The dragon’s tail stilled and she sighed. “True. Young as I am, my own carries little more. Still, this came to me and so I shall deal with it. With you.” She turned to the Riders and miryhls with a rueful bob of her head. “Forgive me. This is a new situation for me. I do not mean to be rude.”

“It’s new for us too,” Corin said. “And we’re hard to offend. Trust me, we just came from Misthome.”

A frown appeared on the dragon’s brow. “Have they no manners in Havia?”

“Not as far as Rift Riders are concerned,” Corin said, confusing the poor dragon further.

“We’ll discuss this later.” Surprisingly, it was Dhori who took pity on Rhiddyl. “It’s a long tale, best told under cover.”

“Oh… Oh!” The dragon flushed pink again. “Sorry, after all my waiting I am proving not to be very good at this. You must be tired after your trial and here I am keeping you all out under the sun. My humble apologies. Please, if it will suffice, I shall lead you to my lair. There we can discuss our plans under cover, if not, alas, in much comfort. My home is not built with humans in mind.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Dhori soothed, back in his role of the benevolent knower of all.

“It would be an honour to visit your home,” Lyrai added, when Rhiddyl glanced at him. He couldn’t help feeling pleased that his approval mattered. He liked this dragon, though she was probably more than ten times Lyrai’s age. It was like talking to a young student.

“Then if your miryhls would be so kind, perhaps we should depart? I have kept my good friends from their duties long enough.”

The vulardis chuckled and Lyrai wondered just how often they had anything to do guarding the Stormwash; a more desolate and deserted place he had yet to patrol.

Bidding the vulardis farewell, Rhiddyl shuffled backwards, leaving the Riders plenty of room to check their miryhls, mount up and take off. Once they were all airborne, she crawled to the edge of the cliff. Since the ledge wasn’t large enough for her to directly launch from, she gripped the top with her hind feet and stretched the front half of her body down the mountainside. Once she was at full extension, she uncurled her wings, fluttered them twice and dropped.

Each wing was as long as two full miryhl wingspans and as broad as a skyship sail. Yet with only the slightest adjustment, the dragon swooped away from the mountain and up to join the waiting Riders.

Gliding alongside Hurricane, Rhiddyl’s head was bigger than the whole miryhl, and Lyrai swallowed as he stared into an eye he could curl up in. Teeth the length of his forearm peeked out below those closed jaws and the dragon whistled softly as she flew. It was an incongruously lovely touch to the frightening presence. Lyrai felt Hurricane relax beneath him and was glad someone could.

“We should reach my home shortly after dark,” Rhiddyl fluted, beating her giant wings.

A squawk made Lyrai glance over his shoulder at where Jaymes and Argon had been buffeted by the downdraft. Muttering grumbles, the little miryhl sped up to draw level with Hurricane and Cumulo. If a hint of pink touched the dragon’s scales, Lyrai chose not to mention it, nor did Rhiddyl say anything. However, she did call out a warning before her next flap. Lyrai felt sorry for the youngster and wondered if she was regretting her earlier excitement about meeting real humans.

Relaxing into the flight rhythm, as familiar to him as breathing, he rested against Hurricane’s back as evening drew in. As the sun sank behind the Stormwash and distant stars came out to stare at them, Rhiddyl stretched her wings and soared above the miryhls. Up ahead, a solitary spike rose up from the jagged cliffs.

“My home,” the dragon called. “Head for the cavern. The entrance is on the east side, you can’t miss it. I shall go on ahead and make things ready.” And with that she left, unleashing a breathtaking turn of speed that would made a fast-flapping miryhl look like a wallowing duck.

Alone, the five miryhls drifted into a protective huddle. After all, no matter how friendly Rhiddyl had been, they were still about to enter a dragon’s lair. The cavern entrance loomed before them like a gaping mouth. Complete with stalactite and stalagmite teeth.

Turning to meet the eyes of the others, Lyrai took a deep breath. “Onwards, my friends. Rift Riders brave and true. Maegla will protect us.”

“Brave and true,” Hurricane echoed and, with a final flap, carried them into the dark.


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Dragongift: Chapter 9, Part 3

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Is this a dragon I see before me?


“ALL RIGHT, HANDS up who didn’t think this whole flying into the Stormwash thing through?” Corin asked in a stifled voice, as they watched the dragon approach. Because it had to be a dragon. What else would rule the skies in the Dragonlands?

Swallowing hard at the implications of that thought, Lyrai raised his hand along with the others because, truthfully, he hadn’t imagined ever getting close to the Stormwash, let alone passing through it. The Overworld was full of stories of adventurers lost in the Storm Peaks and Mistrune for days, half-swallowed by the Stormsurge. They’d get battered about a bit, but eventually emerge back where they started. No one got into the Dragonlands.

Except them. Not that Lyrai had intended to cross the Stormwash. He’d just wanted to find his errant students and stop them from killing themselves. Yet here they were, alive and mostly well, staring into a blinding blue sky and watching a dragon coming closer. It had been approaching for a while now and was still getting bigger, which meant it was going to be huge. He took several prudent steps back and bumped into Hurricane.

“It will be all right,” his miryhl murmured, riffling his beak through Lyrai’s hair.

He didn’t answer, because though it was sweet of Hurricane to comfort him, it simply wasn’t possible. First there had been the gargantuan vulardis, who could swallow him whole – especially as they liked bones – and now a dragon.

Which was still approaching, and still getting bigger.

“Maegla.”

“Don’t blame her,” Dhori said, his hand on Latinym’s wing. “Dragons are not her fault.”

“Dragons are and ever have been entirely their own,” a vulardi said, pinning them both with a target eye. “A lesson well learned.”

Dhori pulled a face at the vulture before realising that Lyrai was watching. “Arrogance is a dragon trait.”

“And you would know this, how?” Corin demanded. “Talked with a lot of them, have you?”

The enigmatic student smiled. “Books are amazing things.” He wandered off before Corin realised his answer was no answer at all.

“Cracked,” she muttered, and Lyrai chuckled.

“Well, he is,” she said defensively.

The lieutenant held up his hands. “You’ll hear no arguments from me.”

She eyed him suspiciously for a moment before nodding. “Good.”

“So, just how big do you think our – hopefully – new friend is?” Jaymes asked, as the vulardis cleared a landing space for the dragon.

“Very,” Cumulo muttered unhelpfully, hustling Mhysra under his wing when she tried to step away from him.

“Cumulo,” she complained.

“Mhysra,” he mocked.

“You’re talking!”

Everyone stopped at Jaymes’ pronouncement, no matter how wide the vulardis spread their wings to push them back. They were all too busy staring at Mhysra. Lyrai chuckled when she tried to duck under her miryhl’s wing, but he was no longer intent on hiding her.

“Why didn’t I notice?” Jaymes mumbled, scratching his hair, which had dried into spiky red clumps.

“Do you have a problem with my voice?” Cumulo rumbled, lowering his head to look Jaymes in the eye.

The boy blanched. “No,” he squeaked. “But I, er, um, meant Mhysra.”

“Oh.” Cumulo pulled his beak out of Jaymes’ face. “Apologies. Mhysra stop being foolish and prove to everyone that you’ve found your tongue.”

Stumbling forward after a nudge in the back, Mhysra shot her Wingborn an aggravated look. “I never lost my tongue. Maybe I just didn’t want to talk to you.” She turned her back on her miryhl and smiled at Jaymes. “Yes, I’m talking. Something about this air makes everything clearer. I can breathe here.”

Lyrai frowned – she’d the same thing back in Misthome – but before he could mention it Corin squeezed her in a hug. “Good. Keep breathing.”

“I plan to,” she assured her friend. “I prefer things that way.”

“Nice, very nice,” the nearest vulardi interrupted, gently scooping the girls up with a wing to push them back. “Friends are nice, but moving is better. Dragons need space to land.”

Cumulo growled when the other bird touched his Wingborn and Wisp didn’t seem too happy about it either. Taking possession of their bondeds, they moving them not only back from the dragon’s landing area, but away from the vulardis as well.

“I resent being herded like a sheep,” Corin muttered as Wisp nudged her along.

Lyrai laughed. “I doubt you’ll have to worry about that happening too often.”

“Hope not,” Jaymes agreed, shading his eyes against the glare of the sun. “Because we probably look quite sheep-like to a dragon.”

“You are guests.” The nearest vulardi was shocked. “Is worst bad manners to eat guests.”

“On first day, at least,” murmured another, winking its target eye.

Gliding out from the dragon’s shadow, a fourth vulardi winged swiftly towards them. It swept over the landing area, before hopping along the rocky ground, wide wings held comically outwards. Only once it had stopped could it fold them and strut over to its fellow guardians.

“She comes,” the vulture announced, looking the Riders over with its strange eyes. “The Cleansed Lands are curious. Be welcome. Duck!”

It took Lyrai a moment to realise what the bird meant, but Dhori shoved him down as the dragon glided over their heads, flying along the cliff edge and sweeping upwards. At the top of the swoop, she turned, covering them again with the shadow of her leathery wings. Taking another turn, she back-winged to set her hind feet on the yellow stones, kicking up a cloud of dust.

When the air cleared, the dragon was sitting on her haunches like a cat, long tail wrapped around and over her feet. The Riders stared at the dragon. The dragon stared at the Riders.

The vulardis chuckled. “Be welcome in the Cleansed Lands.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 29

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Time to chat with Jesral about that gossip.


29
Party

AFTER FAILING TO find anyone he knew particularly well in the dining hall, Estenarven traipsed back up into the guest tower. Creeping past Elder Blazeborn’s suite, in case Mastekh was inside and heard him passing, he climbed the next set of stairs until he reached Elder Cloudflight’s rooms.

“Come to join the party?” Lieutenant Anhardyne asked, standing outside the door with Lieutenant Nera by her side.

Estenarven arched his eyebrows, surprised to find them together. Not that it was unusual, since the women were friends, but the room beyond the door sounded raucous and a little bit wild, which didn’t seem like Nera’s kind of place.

“Where’s Vish?” he asked instead of answering.

Anhardyne heaved a big sigh. “With Gharrik somewhere in the depths of this place, tracking down another party and evicting our rambunctious Riders.”

“Why isn’t he here with you?” he couldn’t help asking, since Nera and Gharrik were a far more sensible pair. He was a little surprised that Anhardyne and Vish weren’t the ones being tracked down themselves. Which rather answered his own question, he realised, seeing Nera’s wry smile.

“Apparently we can’t be trusted together on a task like this,” Anhardyne grumbled, arms folded across her chest. “Captain Wellswen split us up.”

“To save her the trouble of tracking you down later?” Estenarven asked, making Nera chuckle.

“Very funny.” Anhardyne rolled her eyes and knocked on the door. “Enough about us. What are you doing here? Where’s Mastekh?”

It was Estenarven’s turn to fold his arms defensively across his chest. “I think we just had our first fight,” he admitted, torn between sadness and a bit of pride. If they cared enough to fight, it must mean their relationship was progressing – or so he hoped.

Nera gave him a sympathetic pat on the arm. “Nothing too serious, I hope.”

“I hope the opposite,” Anhardyne teased, waggling her eyebrows. “The bigger the row, the better the making up. Are you here to make him jealous?”

“No!” Estenarven protested, while Nera smacked her friend on the arm with a reproving, “Hardy, behave.”

Grinning, Anhardyne opened the door to the suite – since no one was coming to answer it – and threw a wink over her shoulder. “Have fun making up, Boulderboy. Mastekh is in for a real treat.” Wiggling her fingers in a wave, she sauntered into the crowd of entwined Riders and dragons.

Nera stepped across the threshold and stopped, eyes wide as she looked around.

Estenarven took in the scene for himself, chuckling at the lack of inhibitions currently on display. Squeezing the small human’s shoulder reassuringly, he shoved her forwards. “Best of luck separating this lot. I’m off to talk with Jesral.”

Giving him a distracted nod, Nera rolled up her sleeves and waded after Anhardyne, leaving Estenarven to track down his quarry alone. He found Jesral on the far side of the suite, talking quietly with a Tempestfury, their heads bent close together.

“All right, everyone, fun’s over. Time to clear out. Riders, duty calls. Let’s go!” Anhardyne had climbed onto a table and was clapping her hands sharply for attention.

When it didn’t seem to have much effect, Nera jumped up beside her. “Captain’s orders, everyone.”

There was a loud, collective groan of defeat and, amidst much grumbling and complaining, the room began to empty. Estenarven fought against the tide until he loomed over where Jesral and her companion sat. Though both dragons were fully clothed and not even touching, there was something undeniably intimate about the way they looked at each other, oblivious to the world around them.

Relishing a chance for a bit of payback, Estenarven cleared his throat loudly. When that didn’t work, he snapped his fingers. “A word, Jesral.”

The Tempestfury blinked first, drew back and glanced up at Estenarven. With his face set in its most blank and looming Boulderforce expression, the pale-skinned dragon seemed to pale even further.

“Oh,” she squeaked, looking around at the suddenly empty room and deciding to follow the crowd. “Excuse me.”

Within moments, he and Jesral were alone.

Frowning at the ruins of her party, the Lightstorm slumped back on the couch and glared up at him. “You certainly know how to clear a room.”

“I learnt all my best tricks from you, Jess.” Under normal circumstances he might have delivered the words with a smile or a tease before dropping down to sit beside her. But he wasn’t feeling particularly friendly right then, so he remained on his feet, arms folded over his chest.

“Must you loom so?” she protested, rubbing her neck where she was craning back in order to see his face. “Urgh, males.”

When this elicited absolutely no response, she sighed and climbed onto the settee in order to sit on the back. “I take it you tracked down your watery Rainstorm and both survived the experience.”

Estenarven arched an eyebrow.

Jesral fidgeted. “This strong silent treatment doesn’t work on me, you know.” She squirmed again, tapping her claws against each other. “You’re no good at it.” Nevertheless, he said nothing. Eventually she dropped her head back and sighed loudly. “All right! I apologise. There, happy now?”

“Not in the least,” he replied. “Stop behaving like a wingling, Jesral, and look at me.”

Rolling her eyes, she did as ordered, propping her elbows on her knees and resting her chin in her hands. “Oh, do stop pouting, Esten. No harm was done. I am sorry he overheard us, but truly, you can’t blame me. All I did was repeat what I heard. It is a ridiculous rumour, even more so if it’s true. Mastekh is far too sensitive. Whatever are you thinking?”

Estenarven ground his teeth together, struggling to control his temper. He never lost his temper; he rarely got angry. He’d thought he wasn’t the type. Turned out he just needed something to care about enough in order to get riled up.

“Harm was done, Jessie. That gossip was pure spite. There’s nothing so unusual about the pair of us. Not that it’s anyone else’s business, but why shouldn’t I court him? We’re both dragons and of age. Stonehearts and Flowflights have mixed before. Yes, he is sensitive, but can you blame him after the way most folk treat him?”

“But he’s so watery!” Jesral whined. “If he didn’t make such a fuss over things, he wouldn’t be half as interesting. Even then it’s only a mild interest at best. He’s so dull, Esten, duller even than dishwater. What in the Overworld can you possibly find in him to attract you?”

He narrowed his eyes and studied her from head to toe. “Plenty. Such as goodness and kindness and friendship, good company and compassion.”

She pulled a face. “By the Family, you’ve changed.”

“As have you,” he agreed. “And not for the better.”

“Nor you.” She wrinkled her nose. “You used to be fun.”

“You used to be decent,” he retorted. “Now you’re just spiteful.”

Her laugh was hard and entirely without humour. “Decent? That feels more like an insult than a compliment. Is any dragon truly decent? Any that hope to survive, that is. You understood that once, Esten. You were like me.”

“I was never like you,” he protested, thinking back on his time at Teirenlai before he met Mastekh, before he was assigned to Elder Blazeborn. He had been friends with Jesral and plenty of others then, had run with a fast crowd. They’d enjoyed late nights and gossip and games of teasing and seduction. Yet there had been some goodness in all of them. Jesral had known how to be kind. She would never have laughed at Mastekh then.

Smirking, she stood on the couch, her face level with Estenarven’s as she leant forward and rested her hands on his shoulders. “You’re a dragon,” she told him softly. “You will always be like me. Deep down, underneath it all, you’re a survivor, same as me. We’ll do whatever it takes when times get tough to ensure we make it. Every dragon for themselves, isn’t that how the saying goes? Only the strong survive. Where will your precious little Rainstorm be then?”

“Right beside me,” Estenarven replied, holding her gaze firmly with his own. “Where he belongs. It takes more than one dragon to truly survive. You won’t get far alone.”

The tension between them snapped as Jesral released a peel of laughter, lightning flashing beyond the narrow windows. “How the mighty have fallen,” she chortled, patting him none too gently on the cheek. “It’s to be like that from now on, is it? You have become two. I don’t know whether to admire Mastekh’s ingenuity in snagging you, or pity you for getting caught.”

“Envy us both for the gift we’ve uncovered,” Estenarven said, pulling her hands away from his face and shoulders, suddenly uncomfortable at having her claws so close to his throat. That was a trust he was no longer certain she deserved. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find it yourself one day, Jess.”

Her smile was almost a sneer. “Save me from the smug contentment of newly mated pairs.”

“I’ll do so and gladly, if you’ll return the favour of keeping spiteful gossip to yourself.”

She wrinkled her nose and sat on the back of the settee again with a put-upon sigh. “Very well. Rumours are no fun when they’re true anyway. It takes all the entertainment out of things.”

Suppressing a relieved sigh, Estenarven stepped back. “Thanks, Jessie.”

She tilted her head and stared at him, her expression one of confusion. “Are you truly serious about him, Esten?”

“I gave him his fourth gift today.”

“Oh.” She blinked and stared down at where her bare feet pressed against the cushions. “I never thought you’d… That you were more like… Hm. Well, I wish you luck with the other three. They say they’re the hardest to find.”

“As they should be.” Turning, he sauntered back across the suite. “Maybe one day you’ll find that out for yourself.”

He could practically hear her rolling her eyes. “You said you’d spare me!”

“And I will.” Reaching the door, he turned towards her again. “But think about it, Jessie. I’d hate to lose every last part of that fun, playful dragon I used to know.”

She snorted and leapt off the settee. “I’m not sure you ever truly knew her, Esten. I’m not sure she even truly existed. Now, if you don’t mind, would you stop hogging the doorway? Since someone wrecked my party and drove away my newest friend, I find myself in need of company again. Move aside, do, and let me go in search of it.”

“Try not to corrupt too many Tempestfurys while you’re at it,” Estenarven chuckled, stepping into the empty hallway.

“Ha! They’re the ones corrupting me. You know yourself how sweet and innocent I am.”

“I do indeed. That’s why I’m worried about them.”

Chuckling, she pulled the door shut with a firm click and turned the key in the lock. She touched him on the arm when he turned to leave. “Don’t let him change you too much, eh, Esten?”

“He makes me a better dragon, Jess. I can’t fight against that. I don’t even want to,” he said placidly, no longer angry since she seemed to have accepted that he truly was serious about Mastekh.

She bit her lip, expression pensive. “I didn’t really hurt him, did I?”

“A little,” he replied, looking down at her with a sigh. “But only a little. And you’re right. He is too sensitive.”

“Then maybe this courtship will make him a better dragon too.” She smiled with a hint of that old sweetness she used to have. “You can change each other as you go along.”

“I think we all change each other in life, all the people we meet and know,” he mused, tucking her arm through his and escorting her towards the stairs. “Lovers, friends, enemies and acquaintances. Life is experience and we’re always learning.”

Jesral wrinkled her nose and pulled free. “A philosopher, Esten, you? Family help us, I’m beginning to feel sorry for Mastekh. Much more of this and you’ll be duller than dirt.”

“I’m a Boulderforce, Jessie. I’m made of dirt.”

“Which explains so very much about you and this strange new turn. And on that note, old friend, I’m off.” Waving a dismissive hand, she strode ahead of him. “Go paddle with your Puddle and make silly faces at each other where sensible folk won’t be nauseated by it. I have a party to find and new friends to make. If I hear any good gossip, rest assured I shan’t bother you with it.”

“Good!” he called, as she moved out of sight down the stairs.

Her merry laughter floated up in answer and he sighed, following her down, but only one flight. He had no interest in parties and new friends, not right now, not anymore. He had a far more interesting evening planned. It might have been interrupted for a time, but what was life without a few hiccups?

Smiling, he reached Elder Blazeborn’s suite and opened the door.

Estenarven and Mastekh, nesting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” A giggle drifted along the hallway.

“Good night, Jessie!” he shouted, stepping inside and slamming the door firmly behind him.


More next Wednesday.

Take care, my lovelies!

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Dragongift: Chapter 9, Part 2

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

~ Previous Chapter ~

So… anybody else know what’s going on?

Also: vulardi!


THE BODY BENEATH him groaned and Jaymes mustered enough strength to roll away. “Heirayk’s fiery balls,” he moaned, feeling frazzled and pounded. “I think I was struck by lightning.”

Taking tentative breaths, Mhysra snorted. “Can’t be any worse than getting struck by you.”

He eyed her sideways in disbelief, thought about it for a moment – then stuck out his tongue.

She laughed. Not even her breathless wince could dull the sound.

No!” a voice screamed in the distance, and Mhysra pushed up on her hands with a groan.

“Did you hear that?”

Jaymes nodded, letting her pull him up to standing, his body tingling with residual energy. “Lieutenant?” he called, then winced and rubbed his throat. “Ow.” Gods, it felt like he’d swallowed hot coals.

The gentle patter of rain answered, followed by a cloud of whispering mists.

“Don’t listen to it,” Mhysra advised. “It lies.”

He blinked at her, then at the mists, then back at her again. Much as he liked Mhysra, he still wasn’t entirely used to her sense of humour and couldn’t always tell when she was joking. “The mist lies?”

“It told me I was dead,” she said. “Lies. Unless you’re dead too?” She raised her eyebrows.

Jaymes’ head hurt too much for this. “I don’t think so, though I was just struck by lightning.”

They both paused, seeming to notice for the first time that not all the curling grey tendrils around them were mist. There was a definite scorched scent in the air, particularly around the new, steaming hole in his shirt over the centre of his chest.

He really had been hit by lightning.

“Huh.” Mhysra touched the charred and smoking linen tentatively. “This day only gets stranger. I don’t think we’re dead yet, but I can’t guarantee that if we stay here much longer.”

He chuckled and rubbed his soaked hair. “Where are we anyway?”

“You tell me,” she retorted, “since I got here by following you.”

It all came back then. Flying into the Stormwash – when was that ever a good idea? “That’ll teach you,” he murmured. When she rolled her eyes, he grinned. “The things we do for our friends, eh?”

Mhysra snorted and wedged her shoulder beneath his arm when his legs turned to water and he stumbled. “Speaking of which, what made you and Corin come here in the first place?”

“Something called me. Us. We had to come.”

“What kind of something?” she asked, frowning.

He didn’t know and hated not knowing, so shrugged miserably. “Just a call.”

“Hm.” She didn’t sound convinced, and he didn’t blame her. All he could remember was a voice that tugged on something deep inside, leaving him with no choice but to obey. And it came from the Stormwash.

“Odd,” she concluded, before giving a philosophical shrug. “Well, we’re here now. Best stop thinking about how we got here and start considering how to get out.”

An excellent plan. “I’ll let you lead, since nothing good happens when you follow me.”

“Indeed,” she chuckled, and put an arm around his waist to support him as the last tingles faded from his body and left him limp and weak. “Let’s find the others. Maybe between us we can figure a way out of this place.”

*

“YOU SHOULD BE dead.” Lieutenant Lyrai looked down at Corin, white-faced, eyes wide, lips barely moving as he repeated the disbelieving words. “You should be dead.”

Now that he mentioned it, she was feeling a little less than alive. Rather than admit it, she forced her aching body upright. “Excuse me for being grateful that I’m not.”

“Gods, Corin,” he muttered, pulling her into a painfully tight hug. “I saw you fall and there was nothing I could do. I thought you were dead.”

As nice as it was to get so much attention from one of her favourite lieutenants, Corin felt a bit tender, so despite enjoying the bonding moment, when he squeezed her even tighter she yelped.

“Sorry, sorry,” he babbled, holding his hands in the air as if afraid of damaging her again.

“It’s fine,” she muttered, pressing both hands to the small of her back and wincing. “Really.”

“You should be -”

“Dead?” she interrupted, easing her neck from side to side. “I know. You’ve said.”

“Sorry,” he repeated, staring at her as if she were a miracle made flesh. “I saw you fall.”

“I didn’t, thank Maegla. I had my eyes shut.”

He watched in silence as she stretched the rest of her body, wincing with every creak, crack and snap her much abused bones made. The small discomfort was a relief as nothing seemed to be broken. Bad enough that she could remember the long fall, outlasting her voice which had cracked from the screams. She didn’t remember the impact, but even so she could imagine. Being constantly told she should be dead was not helping. So it was nice to finish her check up in peace.

“No damage,” she told him once she was satisfied. “Just bruises and some aches.”

He nodded, a lot calmer now, eyes narrowed rather than wide. The tightening of his lips should have warned her that something was amiss, but by then he was shouting at her. “What in the names of all the Gods were you playing at? What kind of idiot flies into the Stormwash? How dare you risk your lives and your miryhls like that!

And that was just the beginning.

Corin’s head was already spinning from the fall, but the force of the lieutenant’s anger at such short range was enough to make her go cross-eyed. Lyrai’s bellow was nothing compared to Stirla’s, but for such a slender man he could produce quite a volume. After the first five hysterical sentences his voice began to crack, adding husky and higher pitched moments to the never-ending tirade. It shouldn’t have been funny, but she struggled to keep a straight face. That wouldn’t help. So, concealing a yawn, she stopped listening, put her head on her drawn up knees and wondered when she might next get to sleep in a bed. A real one, with a nicely stuffed mattress, instead of a bedroll on a hard floor. She was knackered.

Lyrai roared on, oblivious to his inattentive audience. “… and furthermore, you – mmmph.”

The rather undignified halt was caused by Corin slapping her hand across his mouth.

The lieutenant looked furious, but she frowned at him. “Listen!”

“Lieutenant?” a familiar voice called, from not too far away.

“Over here!” Corin hollered back. “We’re over here!”

*

HAVING BEEN HEADING out of the mists towards a pile of misshapen rocks, Mhysra halted her hobbling run with Jaymes and turned aside. “Corin,” she and Jaymes said together, grinning.

It was at that moment that the rain stopped, the mist lifted and the angry storm drifted quietly away. The ground beneath their feet became smooth and dusty, and the high cliffs that had surrounded them were no longer there. Bright sunlight emerged from the gloom and Mhysra wasn’t the only one squinting as the scattered Riders stumbled towards each other.

“What’s going on?” Lyrai asked, helping Jaymes to remain standing, while Mhysra pulled Corin up into a hug.

“You don’t think the Stormwash lets just anybody in, do you?”

As one the Riders turned and realised that not only had the storm and mists moved away, but they’d been replaced with a far different landscape. And a group of watchers.

“Dhori!” It was part-relief, part-surprise and part-accusation with a hint of anger from all four of them. Because while they might all be bedraggled and bruised with their clothing torn, Dhori looked as fresh as if he’d just washed up and pulled on a clean uniform. Alongside him, smug and gleaming in the sunlight without so much as a feather out of place, stood their errant miryhls.

“You took your time, didn’t you?” a certain brash and cocky eagle chuckled.

Mhysra blinked at Cumulo, who had the audacity to wink. “Typical,” she grumbled, stomping across the cracked ground to poke a finger into his feathery chest. “Just because the Stormwash was kind to you, didn’t mean it was to us. Where were you when I needed you? Were you even worried about…?” Her voice trailed off as the black heap behind Cumulo – which she had thought was a rock – moved.

“Gods,” Corin muttered, but Mhysra could only stare as the rock unfolded, gleaming in the sunlight.

Rising from the glossy black mass was a pale gold neck, fading to white as it straightened. Black wings shuffled against a sloping back and the large head turned, revealing a white face with a dark mask tapering down to a tufty beard beneath a sharply hooked beak. But it was the eye that held her attention: a border of red around a broad circle of white, around a dot of black. Just like an archery target.

The bird was huge, truly enormous. Even the miryhls looked ordinary compared to it, as it shuffled around to reveal a russety-beige chest and superbly tufted legs and feet. Two others emerged from their rock disguises, all with the same startling eyes and thick, warm feathers.

“Welcome,” rasped the one who’d moved first, voice deep and husky, like the scrape of boulders down a mountain. “Welcome children of Aquila, survivors of the Veil.”

“Storm Wings,” intoned another of the great birds, half as big again as the biggest miryhls, yet only the smallest of the three. “We welcome you.”

“Be welcome in the Cleansed Lands.” The last one spoke, the black pupil of its eye dilating and contracting as it studied each newcomer in turn. “Worthy is, as worthy does. We expected two.”

“But five is not so great as to be too many,” the small one murmured.

The three of them tipped their heads to one side, identically thoughtful, then flipped their wings in a shrug. “It will serve,” they said together, and turned their backs.

Stunned, Mhysra and the others could only look hopelessly at Dhori for explanation.

“Vulardis,” he said, as if that explained everything. Apparently their joint bemusement was obvious, because he added, “Border guards, created to watch the Stormwash and Stormsurge. Impressive, no?”

Mhysra thought impressive was too weak a word, but her head was spinning too hard to come up with anything better. “What are – were they?” she corrected herself, frowning as Cumulo chuckled. “You know what I mean. Miryhls were made from eagles, doelyns from deer, bullwings from cattle, horsats from horses and bats, pyreflies from everything under the sun. So what were vulardis?”

“They were vultures.” Dhori took pity on her. “Broad-winged gliders and scavengers. These ones eat bones, which is about all they’re likely to find up here. Perfect guardians for such a remote, out of the way place.”

“And big enough to take on the Stormwash if needs be,” Lyrai murmured, staring at the nearest vulardi. “Astonishing.”

Hurricane wasn’t the only miryhl to give a huffy sniff and twitch his wings. It was Mhysra’s turn to smile: Cumulo wasn’t so smug now.

“Does this mean what I think it means?” Corin asked.

Dhori raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Are we in the Dragonlands?”

Mhysra turned to gape at her, blinked at the implications of the vulardis’ presence and stared at Dhori.

He smiled. “Come and see.” The miryhls moved aside as Dhori walked towards the mountain edge.

“Maegla strike me blind,” Jaymes murmured beside Mhysra as she walked forward, moving without any conscious thought. She was too busy staring. The vulardis had been one thing, but this view was quite another.

There were no clouds.

The rough yellow-red rocks of the mountains dropped down in jagged peaks, then plunged hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet to the undulating world below. Down there, lakes glimmered blue and silver, reflecting the sun-bright sky, and all around lay green. Woods, fields, meadows and open land. It spread into the distance, until it was swallowed by shimmering haze. With not one cloud to be seen, not even up with the sun.

They had passed through the Stormwash to the Dragonlands.

A land without a Curse.

“Sweet Maegla,” Mhysra whispered, as a ribbon of silver rippled down from the sky, heading towards them and causing the vulardis to ruffle their feathers.

“Company coming,” the nearest vulardi rasped. “Storm Wings soon will fly again. Make ready.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Dragongift: Chapter 9, Part 1

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Since this isn’t the Tales of Stirla (alas), I wonder what happened to Mhysra, Lyrai and co after they flew into the Stormwash…


Nine
Storm Wrath

 11th Blizzard

MHYSRA WOKE ALONE. She knew it without opening her eyes. The ground beneath her was hard, damp and cold – unpleasant – and all around was silence. Frowning, she lifted her head and squinted at the glare of white surrounding her, then prodded the hard rock she was lying on. No wonder she ached, she thought, rubbing her fingers over the damp surface. Mist crept and curled around her and she struggled to figure out where she was and what had happened. Had they left Misthome already? Were mists like these usual during a Havian winter? Had the lieutenants completely lost their minds?

Growling in frustration, she gripped her head and squeezed her eyes shut, wracking her brain to remember. “Cumulo.” She remembered being with him. Where were they going? She tapped her clenched fist against her forehead, thinking hard. The last thing she could recall was flying in the gloomy dawn with Lieutenant Lyrai —

“And Dhori!” she told the mists triumphantly. They swayed around her, whispering softly.

Ignoring them, she pressed her hands to her temples and pummelled her memory some more. “Cumulo, Lyrai, Dhori,” she murmured. “Flying south.” To where? Where had they been going so early? Had they been infected by some strain of madness? After all, the only thing directly south of Misthome was…

“Maegla,” she whispered, a flood of images playing behind her clenched eyes. Now she remembered. They’d flown into the Stormwash.

The chaos had been enough to stop her heart, ripping her from Cumulo’s back and tossing them both through the air like dolls. The winds had battered her from all directions until she no longer knew whether she was flying or falling. Lightning had struck close enough to burn, while thunder shook her to her bones. She’d been torn apart, scattered wide, then thrown back together all in the space of a heartbeat. Now she was awake and alone, somewhere in the cold, whispering mists.

“Maegla,” she repeated, then cautiously pushed to her feet, patting her body in search of the injuries that simply weren’t there. It was miraculous, unless… “Am I dead?”

*

“HURRICANE! DHORI! MHYSRA!” Lyrai cupped his hands around his mouth, shouting over the pounding rain. Each drop was a whipping sting against his exposed skin, bruising even through his clothes. Shaking his head to clear his eyes, he looked around the rain-drenched emptiness. “Corin! Jaymes!”

Only the rain answered, but he stumbled across the pitted ground anyway. He might have been blown off course, but he was a lieutenant and refused to lose his students. Or his miryhl. “Hurricane!”

Over the hammering of the storm, a distant call reached his ears. Spinning towards it, Lyrai lost his footing on the loose stones. Catching himself with one hand, he took a deep breath and yelled, “Hurricane!

The sound came again, a faint cry, so he stumbled in search of it. Even when the stones slid away and threw him to his knees he kept going. Not even the thundering rain could stop him now. He was a lieutenant, and he refused to remain alone.

Until the ground vanished and night leapt up to embrace him.

*

“JAYMES?” CORIN WHISPERED, turning in the darkness that clung to her like a cloak, searching for the distant, elusive voice she’d heard. Rocks were firm under her hands, but she couldn’t see them. A gentle rain whispered over the rough ground, but it was the only sound apart from her breathing. “Wisp?”

Nothing, only the rain. She was alone.

“Anybody?” she called, raising her voice. “Is there anybody there?”

The darkness rippled, then the wind hit her with enough force to throw her backwards. No rocks rushed up to meet her and she fell screaming into the abyss.

*

THE WIND HOWLED in Jaymes’ face as he struggled to walk. Behind lay empty mists, ahead were rocks and cliffs. There wasn’t much to choose between the two, but forward always seemed more attractive than going back. So he pushed into the face of the wind, defying the storm that tried to hold him down. With every step his legs grew heavier, his body wearier, his clothing wetter, but he would not give in.

“I won’t,” he growled. “You can’t stop me.”

Lightning spat above his head, striking sparks in his hair and dancing shocks across his skin. But not even the heavy snarl of the thunder, pushing him down like a giant hand, could make him stop. Balling his fists, he turned side on to the roaring winds and sidled along the cliff face, until the storm twisted and spun him about, trying to confuse him into losing his bearings.

“I won’t,” he vowed, and the thunder growled. Winds shoved his shoulders, but he held his ground and leant into the gusts. “You can’t stop me!”

Lightning sparked, heat flashed and burning filled his mouth and nose, before the force of the strike lifted him clean off his feet, throwing him away from the cliff into the maw of the storm.

*

LYRAI LANDED WITH a grunt. The ground gave oddly under his weight, grasping and cushioning him, rather than breaking every bone in his body. It still knocked the wind out of him and he lay breathless, waiting for the world to become clear again.

White mist crept into the hollow his landing had made, curling around an ankle and brushing against his face. With it came a soft, gentle rain and he shifted onto his side to catch the drops in his mouth. It was warm and metallic, but welcome. After the downpour, this was sweet and his throat felt parched as if he’d been screaming for days. He might have, he couldn’t remember.

All he remembered was that he wasn’t supposed to be alone – and yet he was. In a hollow canyon, between two steep cliffs. Nothing but him, the mist, the rain and the rocks. The rain fell harder, tapping his face and chest like little drumming fingers. It was starting to hurt, so he gathered his weary strength and rolled onto his knees. Lightning flickered and the rain fell harder. Thunder growled like a grumpy bear, but he welcomed the noise. He didn’t feel so alone that way.

A distant scream brought his head up, and he twisted.

“Mhysra?” he murmured, remembering why he was there, who he’d been looking for. “Corin?”

Where he had gone.

“Gods.”

The storm exploded overhead.

*

“MUST FIND CUE, must find Cue, must find Cue.” Mhysra shuffled through the featureless mists, refusing to think about being dead. There were many stories about what a person could expect once they passed through Typhaestus’ hands, but she’d never paid much attention. She was seventeen years old, by the gods, she wasn’t supposed to think about the afterlife yet. Although as a Rift-Rider-in-training she probably should have listened a time or two.

“Bit bloody late now,” she grumbled, not happy that even her thoughts were babbling. The mist unnerved her, hanging around in a whispering curtain. Surely the whispering wasn’t normal. Then again, she wasn’t sure any of this was normal. She remembering falling from Cumulo and screaming, on and on, but she didn’t remember hitting the ground. Such a fall would have broken something, if not killed her outright…

“I’m not dead,” she said firmly, shaking her head against the insidious thoughts that were as crafty at creeping as the surrounding mists. “I have to find Cue first.”

Although if she really were dead, it was likely Cumulo would have followed her into the hereafter, so he would be close by anyway.

“Stop it!” she snapped, scowling at the mists. “I am not macabre. I do not think morbid thoughts. Stop putting them there. Go whisper at someone else.”

A bolt of lightning ripped open the sky and something heavy knocked her to the ground.

*

THE FALLER NO longer screamed. Lyrai sprinted as fast as the broken ground would allow, blinking furiously every time the brilliant lightning threatened to blind him. He didn’t bother shouting, saving his breath for the run, as the incessant thunder drowned out everything but the pounding rain.

Lightning struck the walls of the canyon, rattling the loose stones and sending them raining down. Ducking between them, he was almost knocked off his feet as the oppressive thunder rolled. Though it felt like hot hands had a hold of his lungs and were squeezing inwards, he didn’t let it slow him. The faller was still going, the scraps of her cloak fluttering around her limp body. He wasn’t going to make it, no matter how fast he ran. He was never going to catch her.

Thunder and lightning shattered the sky – and she hit the ground.

No!

The storm held its breath as Lyrai stumbled, righted himself, stumbled again and fell to his knees. Everything waited as he crawled the last few feet towards his student, despairing at what he would find.

“Corin,” he whispered, recognising her small frame and dark hair as rain tapped gently on her outstretched hand. “Corin.”

Lightning flickered, her fingers twitched and she turned a whole, uninjured face towards him. “Sir? What’s going on?”

Thunder chuckled overhead.


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 28

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Fourth gift feelings.


28
Well…

MASTEKH STARED AT the little wooden figure on his palm. It was obviously old and had clearly been handled often. It was battered and scarred and featureless and strange, yet his fingers curled instantly around it, feeling a powerful need to protect.

He wondered where Estenarven had found it, how long he’d carried it for, how many memories it held. The fourth gift was traditionally something of meaning from the giver, though since there were no hard and fast rules as the order of the gifts it might also be something precious or handmade, like the fifth and sixth gifts.

Yet the strange little figure was clearly too old to have been made by Estenarven, and though Mastekh instinctively wanted to protect it, he didn’t think many would find it precious. Which meant it must be meaningful to Estenarven.

And the wretch had run off before Mastekh could ask any pertinent questions.

Or try and give the thing back, which was far more likely the reason why Estenarven had run away, infuriatingly wonderful dragon that he was.

Mastekh held the little figure up to the nearest glow globe and studied the flecks of long ago paint still clinging in tiny patches. The fourth gift. If he was truly serious about letting Estenarven go, believing he was better off without a soggy Rainstorm dragging him down, then Mastekh would have to give this back. Along with the jade pot and the daisy. He couldn’t do much about the memory of flying through the Rainstorm together, which he was selfishly glad about. Everything else, though, had to go back. The longer he kept them, the longer the courtship went on.

He stared at the figure again, but the thought of returning it, of never finding out what it meant to Estenarven, had his fingers closing into a fist, locking the figurine tight inside his grip.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give it back; he couldn’t halt their courtship. Just as he couldn’t lie to Estenarven and tell him that he didn’t want him, that he had to leave. There was nothing in the world he wanted less.

“You’re h-h-hopeless,” he whispered to himself, thumping his closed fist against his forehead.

Yet he was smiling as he did it. Because Estenarven had come for him – again. He’d heard the same gossip, realised they had become a laughingstock amongst the dragons, but he’d come looking for Mastekh anyway. Because Estenarven didn’t care.

He. Did. Not. Care. Not about gossip or gossipy dragons. He only claimed to care what Mastekh thought.

Which was too heady and wonderful a thing to give up.

He mattered. Mastekh mattered to Estenarven.

His heart felt so full it hurt.

Mastekh stared down at the figure in his hand again and felt his eyes fill with tears.

By the Family, what was he going to do with his stubborn, wonderful, foolish, glorious Boulderforce?

“Love h-him,” he vowed to the strange little figurine before tucking it into his pocket. “That’s all I can d-d-do.”

Which since he already did and had no idea how to stop doing so, should prove simple enough.

Patting the pocket where the figure lay between his naming shells, Mastekh headed back towards the kitchens. Who knew that saving lives and mending hearts would prove such hungry work?


More next week.

Take care, my lovelies!

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