A Courtship of Dragons: Part 15

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance (it could be short, it could be a novella, it could be any size, I have no idea) 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 || Last Part ||

In which Estenarven doesn’t see Mastekh for a few hours – and panics.

(I really don’t envy Khennik having to live with these two through all of this XD)


15
The Second Gift

4th Storm

IT WAS LUNCHTIME and Estenarven hadn’t seen Mastekh since he’d put the Rainstorm to bed the afternoon before. He knew Mastekh was shy and likely more than a little embarrassed about what had happened the day before, but this long absence was beginning to worry him. Estenarven had been so excited at breakfast, sitting in the suite, waiting for Mastekh to return from the kitchens so he could ask about the gift. Did Mastekh like it? Had it made him smile when he saw it?

Was he willing to accept it?

He’d paced the main room of the suite for ages, fighting the urge to knock on Mastekh’s door – or simply barge inside – just to see if the jade pot was still there. Just to see if it had been accepted. If his courtship had been accepted. To see if Mastekh liked it.

But just as his patience finally broke, someone knocked on the outer door and three dracos entered carrying breakfast. Confused, Estenarven had waved the servants towards the appropriate table to lay the food on and knocked on Mastekh’s door.

No answer.

When he looked inside he found it empty, as expected, but the presence of the dracos implied that Mastekh wasn’t coming back. He always joined Estenarven for breakfast. It was a chance to catch up and sort out what chores they would each do for Elder Blazeborn through the day – well, when Estenarven didn’t have a hangover, anyway.

Except, by the time the dracos had finished putting everything in its place, there was still no sign of Mastekh. When the tallest servant poured out a pungent cup of ginger tea, drawing Elder Blazeborn out of his lair, Estenarven had to accept that his fellow aide wasn’t coming. Clearly, Mastekh had already been down to the kitchens that morning and ordered breakfast, but he had no intention of returning to share it with Estenarven.

Which hurt more than he’d expected it to. Rubbing at the ache in his chest, he’d tried to ask the dracos where Mastekh was, but they’d ducked their heads shyly and giggled behind their hands instead of answering. Sipping his cup of tea, Elder Blazeborn had rolled his eyes, thanked the servants and dismissed them.

“Trouble?” the elder had asked, folding elegantly to his knees before the low table and filling a platter with breakfast fruits.

Baffled and hurt, Estenarven had shaken his head. Elder Blazeborn had ordered him to eat, so Estenarven had joined him at the table, yet his usually robust appetite had fled and he’d only been able to pick at some eggs.

Now it was lunchtime and Elder Blazeborn had dismissed him to take his meal in the grand dining hall, telling him to stop sulking and sighing around the suite and find someone else to mope at. Normally Estenarven would have jumped at the chance to spend time with others, but since a single glance on entering the dining room was enough to assure him that Mastekh wasn’t there, Estenarven didn’t feel much like company.

Before he could think of somewhere else to slope off to, since he’d been banned from the suite and he didn’t know where else to look for Mastekh, Estenarven felt a slap on the shoulder and a friendly arm hook through his.

“Hey, Pebble, why the sad face? Tired of all the storms already?” Vish grinned up at him, while Anhardyne tugged him towards a long table filled with familiar Rider faces.

“Come sit, join us,” Anhardyne urged, pushing him into a seat beside Nera.

“Oh, I, er, was just leaving,” he protested weakly.

“Nonsense,” Vish chuckled, slapping him on the shoulder again. “You’ve only just arrived. A dragon like you needs to keep up his strength. Go on, tuck in.”

Wedged in between the female lieutenants on an already crowded table, Estenarven realised he didn’t have much choice but to stay and sighed. Nera shot him a commiserating smile, and he knew he couldn’t be rude enough to get up and walk away now. Anhardyne and Vish might be a pushy pair, but Nera was a friend. So he gave in and slumped in his seat.

“Try the soup,” Nera said, surprising him with a wink.

Estenarven frowned: Nera was not the winking sort. Rubbing a hand over his head, feeling more than a little out of his depth, he accepted a soup bowl from a passing draco and stared down at it in confusion.

There was something in the bowl – but it wasn’t soup.

“Ooh, what do you have there?” Anhardyne asked, leaning against his arm.

“I…” Estenarven put the bowl in front of him and dipped a finger inside, stirring the contents. “I have no idea.”

“Look like beans to me,” Lieutenant Gharrik remarked from across the table.

Estenarven frowned even harder. Beans? Why would a draco give him a bowl of beans? He stirred the small, dark shapes with a claw and drew in a sharp breath.

Pebbles. Mixed in amongst the dark beans were small, oval pebbles. But not just any pebbles, each one was a different stone, a different colour, but all almost the same size and shape, polished to perfection. A collection, painstakingly made and carefully gathered. And hidden in a bowl of beans.

“Blimey, you could crack a tooth on one of those,” Anhardyne chuckled, reaching for a pebble.

Estenarven smacked her hand away without thought. No one was touching anything within this bowl. No one but him.

“Ow. You could have just told me not to touch,” the blonde lieutenant grumbled.

“Don’t touch,” Estenarven growled.

“All right then.” Hands raised, she shifted as far away from him as possible on the crowded bench, while on his other side Nera snickered.

“Boundaries, Hardy,” Vish murmured. “We’ve talked about them. Apparently other people have them, even if we don’t.”

“That’s because other people are boring.”

Ignoring them, Estenarven stirred his precious bowl again, studying the beans more intently this time. Why beans? Raw, untouched ones at that.

“Looks like quite a crop you have there,” Gharrik said, leaning across the table for a better look. “I didn’t know you dragons cared that much for farming.”

Most dragons didn’t, but a rare few, mostly Rainstorms, occasionally showed an interest. “Ah…” It was starting to make sense now.

Pebbles for him: small, sturdy, permanent. Beans for the future, full of potential and possible nourishment. Mastekh hadn’t just given him a meaningful gift in return, he’d given him hope.

Smiling, Estenarven lowered his hand into the bowl and let beans and pebbles run between his fingers, smooth and rough and small and perfect. A wonderful second gift.

Only five more to go.

Feeling his appetite return with a rush of good cheer, Estenarven placed the bowl carefully on his lap, shuffled forwards and started reaching for the nearest bits of food, his mind already racing.

“So what happens next?” Nera asked, passing him a plate piled high with seed rolls. “I take it you accepted his gift, yes?”

Of course the Riders had been in on Mastekh’s plan – well, one of them, at least. That explained Nera’s uncharacteristic wink. Reaching for the mulberry jam, Estenarven slathered it all over his roll and took a big bite, shrugging.

“Are there more gifts?” Vish wanted to know.

“I hope so, because beans? What kind of a gift is a bowl of beans?” Anhardyne shook her head, making Estenarven smile. If anyone had asked him such a thing just that morning, he would have agreed with her. Now, though, he couldn’t think of anything he’d rather receive.

Swallowing his mouthful, he realised he was the centre of a lot of Rider attention and raised his eyebrows. “Dragon courtships are sacred things.”

“Does that mean you don’t want any help?” Anhardyne asked, nudging him with her shoulder. “’Cause we have a few ideas, if you’re interested.”

He turned an enquiring glance her way.

“We’ve already helped Mastekh,” Nera pointed out, drawing his attention in the opposite direction. “It’s only fair to help you too.”

“If you want us to,” Gharrik added, ever fair.

Estenarven reached for the jam and slowly spread more on a fresh roll, considering the offer. It was true Mastekh had enlisted the Riders’ help in making sure Estenarven sat down to lunch and received the special bowl at the right moment. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if he did something similar.

Licking a bit of jam from his thumb, he considered the next gift on the list and smiled. “There might be something you can do for me. But not a word to Mastekh,” he warned.

Anhardyne and Vish both mimed locking their lips with a key, while Gharrik and Nera smiled. “Not a word,” they promised.

“All right,” he agreed, motioning the four lieutenants closer and gaining a few extras Riders who were also in earshot. “The next gift needs to be something meaningful for Mastekh. I already have something in mind, but getting it and giving it to him might be a bit tricky, so here’s what you can do for me…”


More next week.
After I’ve hopefully written it…

Take care, my lovelies!

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Mountain Blossom: Part 3

overworld-short-stories

This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

|| Part One || Part Two ||

In which Milli gains a little company. Warning: contains flirting.


SHE MUST HAVE fallen asleep, because a sharp yap made her jump just as a shadow passed over her face. Her head swam as she sat up too swiftly, telling Bumble to be quiet as the nakhound barked. A cool breeze swept over her and she looked up.

A miryhl.

Big, brown, impressive. There was a band of black around the eagle’s neck and two parallel stripes beneath each eye. Despite her upbringing, Milluqua wasn’t ashamed to admit that all miryhls looked alike to her. With two exceptions.

Her sister’s Wingborn, Cumulo. Big, brash, cocky and beloved.

And this one: Atyrn, bonded miryhl of Lieutenant Stirla.

The man himself dismounted and secured his reins so that they didn’t hang around the miryhl’s neck. He murmured something to his eagle before turning to face Milluqua, eyes bright and mischievous.

“The mountain meadows bloom early in Nimbys, I see.” Planting his hands on the rock beside her, he hauled himself up and took her hand, planting a kiss on the back of her glove.

She felt it down to her bones.

“Dodging your duties, Lieutenant?” she teased, looking at his smiling face and wondering how he could seem so fresh and awake when she knew he’d been up before dawn.

Stretching his long legs out alongside hers, he leant back on his hands and chuckled. “How long have you been sleeping up here, pretty flower, dozing in the sun? Ah, to be born to a life of such privilege.”

Though he meant it in jest, Milluqua had to look away, pulling at her violet skirts to neaten them. “I did not realise how much time had passed,” she admitted quietly, feeling ashamed of her idleness.

“I was finishing my patrol,” he explained, smoothing over the moment, “and as Atyrn skimmed over the ridge, what should I spy in the meadow below but the prettiest mountain blossom I ever did see.”

Keeping from rolling her eyes, barely, Milluqua turned back to him. “If you say one word about plucking, I shall be forced to hit you.”

The corner of his mouth curled up in a rueful smile. “Bit much, was it?”

The prettiest mountain blossom I ever did see,” she mimicked in a winsome voice, and he winced.

“You wound me, my lady, how you wound. Here I sit, a poor, lack-witted lieutenant, feeble brain scrambled by your beauty and you mock my words. You mock me. How cruel you are.” He rested a hand over his heart and looked woeful. “Especially,” he continued, pulling something from behind his back, “when I was telling the truth.”

He held out a bunch of mountain bells, each delicate, pale lilac flower smaller than his fingertip. Woven between them were sprays of white cloudlets, tiny cluster-blooms also known as morning kisses.

“How vain my lady is,” Stirla teased, as she took them silently, gazing at the sweetest bouquet she’d ever been given. “As if I would be so clumsy as to call you a mountain blossom. Though, since you mentioned it, I wouldn’t say no to a quick pluck -”

She hit him. What else was a girl of good breeding to do?

“Mind the flowers!” he cried, flinching unnecessarily, since he was so big that a swat from her would be like a fly bouncing off a miryhl’s beak. “It took me ages to gather those.”

Thumping him again, just because she could, Milluqua turned back to admiring her gift. They were unharmed, since she’d used her other hand to assault him, and they smelled fresh and sweet, like the high mountains.

“They’re lovely,” she said, for want of anything better. Stirla always had this effect on her brain. She should avoid him really. Except that he was quite handsome, in a roguish way, especially with that scar on his cheek. And he flirted delightfully.

“Mm, I thought so too,” he murmured, peering over her shoulder. Somehow she didn’t think he meant the flowers, though a glance down reassured her that she was still buttoned up and decent.

“You, sir, are a scoundrel.”

“And you, my lady, wouldn’t have me any other way.”

They smiled at each other. She did so love the way he said my lady, with the faintest hint of possessiveness. As if she was his lady in truth.

Reaching out, he balanced a tiny cloudlet on a callused fingertip. “They look like little stars,” he said softly, his breath teasing her cheek. “Delicate, perfumed. All that’s perfect about the night, brought out to dance beneath the sun.”

Knowing she should move away, that she should stop this, that it was improper to be alone together, sitting so close, meeting in secret, Milluqua closed her eyes and held still. One of his arms was behind her back, the other reaching around her to touch the flowers. His leg was close but not quite touching hers. He was so much taller and broader than she – he made her feel small and surrounded, but protected and safe. It made her chest hurt the way he treated her, like she was something precious. A gift. So much more than the daughter of an earl or a hefty dowry. He made her laugh, and when he wasn’t doing that it was because she was breathless.

Like now.

“Where I come from they’re known as cloudlets. Do you call them that in Nimbys?” His hand moved from the flowers to the patch of skin bared between her glove and the sleeve of her gown. He brushed his thumb over her pulse, once, twice.

She swallowed and nodded, her cheek brushing his.

He teased her heated skin with the whisper of his lips as he moved his mouth to her ear. “But they have another name,” he murmured. “Do you know it?”

She nodded as he breathed against her skin.

“Tell me.”

“Morning kisses,” she said, surprised at her languid, dreamy tone. She’d never sounded like that before. Her eyes fluttered open as he touched her chin, turning her face towards his. He studied her intently with his dark eyes, and for once there was no smile on his lips.

It was she who smiled, her eyes falling shut, drunk on the nearness of him. “We call them morning kisses.”

A puff of air ghosted across her mouth as he chuckled. Then her heart stopped beating, waiting for him to move closer…

Closer…

Ah!

A thump in the back shoved her forwards, banging her nose against the solid wall of his chest, while that firm jaw she had so often admired whacked her on the forehead.

“Heirayk’s balls… of fire,” Stirla cursed, one hand clamping her head to his chest, while the other rubbed his jaw. “Damn dog!”

Utterly unconcerned by his anger, Bumble used Milluqua’s back as a convenient step from which to lick Stirla’s face.

Milluqua giggled. It was all so undignified. She was half-turned towards him, her legs tangled in her skirt, cap askew, face crushed against his chest, with a nakhound balancing on her shoulders. While he was still trying to hold the offending pup off.

“Stupid mutt, get off, get off!” Obviously trying not to swear, Stirla shoved the dog away with one arm and finally succeeded in shifting her. Only then did he let Milluqua go.

She stared up at him, biting her lip, knowing she must look a complete fright. Stirla looked dishevelled too, but he was as unfairly gorgeous as ever. She’d never noticed how perfectly thick and long his eyelashes were until he kept his gaze down, refusing the look at her.

“Sorry,” he apologised gruffly, trying to straighten her cap. He poked a few escaped tendrils back underneath, but Milluqua could have told him it was hopeless.

The reason she didn’t was because she was trying not to laugh. He looked so mortified, but really, she found the whole thing ridiculous. And typical. And probably for the best.

She liked him. Too much. He was everything she’d ever wanted. Yet nothing her father would permit her to marry. Not high born enough, not rich enough, not even a captain in the Riders yet. He had no political ambitions and wasn’t even in trade to better his fortune. The thought was enough to strangle her giggles.

“There,” he muttered, tucking the last of her curls away. “It… umm… doesn’t look as it did, but… well… better, anyway.”

For two pins she would have pulled the cap off and redone it herself, but she couldn’t let her hair down in front of him. Unmarried ladies didn’t do such things. Especially not in front of men they had no business encouraging. It was enough to make a woman tearful.

“Here.” He handed her the bunch of flowers, now sadly squashed and broken. She still thought them more beautiful than the most expensive bouquet she’d ever been given.

“Forgive me,” he muttered. “I trust you are not hurt.”

Staring at the flowers, she shook her head and tried to straighten a crumpled mountain bell. “I’m well.”

“Good,” he sighed, paused, then sighed again. “Good.” Running a hand through his hair, he slid off the rock and headed towards Atyrn. “I’d best go. I apologise for any offence caused, Lady Milluqua.”

She raised her head and realised that he was walking away. He was leaving. After everything. He was going. Just like that. He couldn’t go. She wouldn’t let him.

“Wait!” Floundering against her tangled skirts, and cursing herself for choosing this particular garment with its stupid inserts on today of all days. “Stirla, wait!”

The more she struggled, the more entangled she became, especially as she only had one hand, the other refusing to drop her flowers. “Please!”

A warm hand encircled her ankle and she fell still. “Steady,” he soothed. “It’s all right. Let me.”

He stood in front of her, and in this position, with her on the boulder and he carefully straightening her skirts, taking excessive pains not to touch her more than necessary, they were almost the same height. Actually, if she wanted to be accurate, she was slightly taller than him.

How lovely.

He was being so careful with her, not looking up, expression grim, hands trembling. Part of her wanted to weep because this was her fault. She shouldn’t have encouraged him. Neither of them were stupid; they knew nothing could come of this…

She sat up straight and suddenly felt like smiling. “I shouldn’t have encouraged you,” she said, while he tugged her skirts to make sure the last of her entanglement had been removed.

“I came looking for you, my lady. As always, your behaviour was faultless…”

She ignored him. He was a man and he was being silly. “Neither of us are stupid.”

“… It is I who is to blame. I took advantage of your kindness, I…”

“We both know the ways of the world and we know nothing could ever come of this.”

“… shouldn’t have. I apologise. Please, forgive me, Lady Milluqua. You can’t know how much I honour and esteem you. I hope my actions have not ruined our friendship, for I value it more than anything -”

Since he wasn’t listening, she covered his mouth with her hand. When he finally looked at her, surprised, she smiled. “I value it too. Very much.”

And she kissed him to prove it.

Because she was a woman, and though she could be silly too, she also knew a good thing when it stood in front of her. She might not be able to have him for long, and he might not be able to keep her, but here, in this moment, on this rock, which made them both equal for the first time, anything could happen. Anything was possible. And if the daughter of an earl wanted to kiss a farmer’s son turned captain-in-training, well, no one was here to see.

Except for a dignified miryhl and a brainless puppy.

The latter of which joined in the fun by thumping Milluqua in the back again and shoving her off the rock.

Straight into Stirla’s arms. Which was where she wanted to be anyway, so instead of scolding Bumble she saved her breath. She had a better use for it.

Eventually, when she finally let Stirla go, deciding to rest her head against his chest again, she had the delight of feeling his chuckle rumble against her cheek.

“Well, well,” he murmured, nuzzling her loose curls, since her cap had been completely dislodged this time. “My little mountain blossom decided to -”

There was a light slap and a stifled laugh as she put her hand swiftly over his mouth.

“Don’t make me hit you again.”

His lips curled under her palm and, still holding her with one arm, he peeled her fingers away with the other hand. “You need to find a better way of stopping my mouth.”

Hauling herself up higher against his chest, she draped her arms over his broad shoulders and raised her eyebrows. “Do I indeed? I hope you have some suggestions.”

Threading his fingers through her curls, he pulled her closer and smiled against her lips. “Indeed I do. A recent discovery this, but I think you’ll find it effective.”

Unsurprisingly, she did.


Thanks for reading!

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Mountain Blossom: Part 2

overworld-short-stories

This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

|| Part One ||

Milli and Bumble make the most of the fine spring morning.


 

THE DAY WAS beautifully fair, and Milluqua thought there might even have been a hint of summer in the air. From the heights of the noble district, she looked down over Nimbys, with its honey-gold buildings and hidden shadows. Contrasted with the granite grey and bronze of the mountainside, only just sprouting with the first hints of green, Nimbys shone like a jewel. And beyond, the world was all white and blue. The Cloud Sea was luminous today and it hurt her tired eyes to look at it.

Determined only to think of pleasant, wide awake things, Milluqua turned away from the city and headed deeper up the valley. Bumble strained at the lead, eager to go wherever they were going, as long as they went fast. Faster. Or over there. No, here. Here. Wait! Smells! It was a jerky, halting walk as Milluqua passed the dozing mansions of the rich and the noble, until they finally stepped away from the cobbles and onto the dirt path leading to the high meadows.

Once she reached the narrow woodland, filled with oak and birches designed to prevent the pastureland beyond from offending the eyes of the nobles, Milluqua untied Bumble’s lead and let her loose. Yipping with glee, the pup galloped off, nose to the ground, searching for squirrels and voles. Despite her pristine appearance, there was nothing more attractive to Bumble than mud. Milluqua had lost count of the times she’d scolded the pup for wallowing in puddles or rolling in fox sprays.

Even with the constant distraction of the pup – rooting through the undergrowth, growling at nettle patches, chasing squirrels up trees, eating doelyn droppings – Milluqua took time to enjoy the beauty of the woods. Buds sprinkled the oak branches, while catkins already draped the birches and showered the air with yellow pollen. Insects buzzed in the undergrowth and birds whistled in the trees. She glimpsed a nuthatch and had the pleasure of seeing it hop down a tree right in front of her.

Perfectly content with her lot, Milluqua called Bumble to heel as they reached the edge of the trees. Surprisingly obedient for so boisterous a pup, the nakhound trotted up, wafting her smell before her.

“Urgh, it’ll be the mews and a bath for you, my girl, before you come anywhere near my room again.”

Please with herself, Bumble huffed, her pink and black tongue bobbing as she panted.

“Glad we understand one another.” Smiling despite herself, Milluqua walked out of the shadowy wood into the bright sunshine. The gentle slope of the pastures rolled out in front of her, dotted here and there with horsats and doelyn, placidly grazing with only the occasional flick of a tail revealing any possible discontent.

Bumble lifted her head and pricked her ears at the nearest horsat, but a murmured “leave” was enough to keep her at Milluqua’s heels. Which was a relief, since it would be undignified to run headlong through the pastures, hollering at the top of her voice. It had happened once or twice, but since Bumble had attempted to nip a bullwing and earned a hoof in the ribs for her trouble, she’d lost her taste for chasing big animals. Squirrels, rabbits and voles were more her kind of thing these days.

As Milluqua and Bumble hiked up the increasing slope, she waved at a young messenger fetching in his horsat, looking exceedingly smart in his uniform.

“Morning, milady.”

She smiled back. “Going far?”

“Off to Tipfirth,” he replied, grinning at the chance to fly over a thousand leagues to the end of Imercian. She hoped his message was worth it.

“Fast winds and clear skies,” she wished him, but the boy had already caught his mount and was returning to the stables, eager to be away. She watched him go, wondering just what the appeal of flying was. Not even in her childhood at Wrentheria, the greatest feather-winged breeders in the Overworld, had she understood why so many people risked so much to become airborne.

“Give me solid ground any day of the moon,” she told Bumble, who, unsurprisingly, wasn’t listening.

A horsat snorted nearby, the source of Bumble’s distraction. It cropped another mouthful of grass, then raised its head, staring at Milluqua and the dog. One of its big, bat-like ears pointed towards them, while the other swivelled warily behind. It twitched, leathery wings half-opening before resettling on its back. It was a sweet looking chestnut, but Milluqua didn’t like the way it watched Bumble, so she patted her thigh for the dog’s attention and hurried along.

At the top of the field, a second pasture flattened out. Not so big as the first, but not so awkward either, even if it was littered with rocks. Here was the bullwing herds spent each night before being taken to work at the docks or in the quarries during the day. Big, muscular and stupid, the females were docile and easily led, but the males could be a handful. Especially the bulls. Pausing at the fence, Milluqua scanned the grassland. Seeing only females and calves grazing, she opened the gate and carried on.

Her ultimate goal was the scrubland above the pastures, where the grass was fit only for sheep and goats. The ground was covered with rough grass punctuated by tenacious thorn trees and gorse clumps, the perfect playground for young rabbits to scamper about. It was Bumble’s favourite place to visit, and though it took some effort to reach, once they arrived Milluqua need do nothing more than sit back and watch while the pup wore herself out.

There was nothing in sight when Milluqua climbed a small slope to her favourite rock, but Bumble yipped and ran off anyway, soon sending rabbits fleeing down the mountainside. A shower of pebbles and dust rattled in the nakhound’s wake, but otherwise the spot was peaceful, undisturbed and beautiful.

Milluqua took off her pelisse, spread it over a nice, flat boulder and lay on her back, staring up at the sky. Wispy cirrus clouds were all there was to be seen and she folded her hands across her midriff as she watched them drift slowly apart, fading into nothingness under the warm sun.


|| Part Three ||

Thanks for reading!

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Mountain Blossom: Part 1

overworld-short-stories

This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

To while away the wait before Book 3, I thought I’d share a tale or two featuring less well known characters in the Overworld. This three part short story takes place during Wingborn, when Mhysra and co are still in Nimbys at the Selection School, preparing for life in the Riders.

It’s a day-in-the-life look at what Milluqua and Bumble get up to while Mhysra’s at school. There’s also a hint of romance, but you’ll have to wait until later for that to turn up.

For now, Lady Milluqua is attempting to mind her own business while a very lively puppy demands attention at foolish o’clock.


Mountain Blossom

23rd Thaw, 785 CE

THERE COULD BE no surer sign of sisterly affection than to sacrifice one’s sleep to promote the interests of a younger sibling. Or so Lady Milluqua Kilpapan believed one fine spring morning as a cold nose burrowed under the covers at the bottom of her bed. It slithered across her toes, making them clench, before a warm, slimy tongue licked her heel.

Bumble!” Milluqua shrieked, dragging her knees up to her chest and pulling her feet out of reach.

This, of course, was the best game ever invented – in Bumble’s opinion – and the dog dived under the blankets to give chase.

After much tussling, growling, yips and yelps – and that was just Milluqua – the pup was finally ejected from the bed, the blankets were straightened and the majority of the pillow feathers were brushed onto the floor. Sprawled across her disrupted bed, Milluqua stared at the ceiling, while the nakhound pup clambered back up to lie by her side.

“The things I do for my sister,” Milluqua grumbled, and tilted her head towards the dog.

A remnant of old hunting breeds from the days before the Cloud Curse fell, nakhounds were long-legged, far-sighted, slender beasts. The kind that once might have hunted deer or wolves, who could lollop through snow or briars without feeling a thing. Intelligent, in their way, and quick to train, they were a credit to centuries of human tampering.

Added to all this was a hint of dragon work, which accounted for the fluffy wings. Nakhounds were the last gift the dragons had given to humans before they hid themselves behind the roiling barriers of the Stormsurge and Stormwash. Just like their long-lost ancestors, nakhounds were designed with one prey in mind: the kaz-naghkt. And, as with all dragongifts, what one saw in a nakhound was not always what one got.

Rolling onto her side, Milluqua tickled Bumble’s silky white belly, tracing the black stripes that covered her lower ribs. She was a pretty thing, from her black-barred wings to the pink spots on her nose. Her face was covered in a black mask that spread to her ears, broken by a finger-width of white that started in the centre of her forehead and gradually widened as it swept back over her head and flowed down her neck. Still only a pup, her wings were more fluff than feathers, but it wouldn’t be long before she could fly.

Thoroughly enjoying the attention, Bumble wriggled onto her back, wagged her fringed tail and waved a white paw. Milluqua rolled her eyes and shook it. “You are shameless.”

Bumble sneezed and rolled to her side.

“Good idea,” Milluqua agreed, and shoved the dog off the bed. In the past she might have made the mistake of trying to go back to sleep. However, after four months of this routine, she’d learned not to bother. The moment she put her head down, Bumble would pounce and lick her nose. If that didn’t achieve the desired result – namely, an eager playmate – she would lie on Milluqua’s chest and rest her cold nose under her chin. And stay there. In fact, once settled, she was impossible to move.

Not keen on being flattened that morning, Milluqua got out of bed in a shower of pillow feathers and headed for her dressing room. Once upon a time, she never rose before midday. A society favourite, Lady Milluqua Kilpapan was on the guest list of every family of note and there was rarely an evening that she spent at home. It was not uncommon for her to dance long into the night and return home early the next morning. Many a summer sunrise had been viewed before she had even been to bed.

Not that much had changed on that side of things, but thanks to Bumble she could no longer sleep the day away. Instead she had to get up and go out.

It wasn’t that Bumble was a demanding or fussy dog – she never minded the destination, for example – she was just a puppy and puppies liked to play. Since Kilpapan House was a grand place, full of precious items precariously placed on tables and stands, Milluqua had quickly learnt that playing was much kinder on the nerves – and the purse – if one did it outside.

Using the bowl of warm water in her dressing room, placed there by the servants the moment Mhysra left for the selection school each morning, Milluqua tried to convince herself she was in fact awake. It was a trick she had been attempting to perfect for months, but as yet hadn’t quite mastered.

Before she even had time to ring the bell, her maid arrived. “Morning, my lady,” Jayli greeted, bobbing a curtsey on her way to the wardrobe. “Where will you be walking today?”

Peering at her reflection, Milluqua prodded the unsightly bags beneath her eyes and covered them with a cool cloth. “I’ve not yet decided. Nowhere too busy. My head still rings from the Hemington’s last night. They had the worst quartet I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.”

Jayli chuckled from the depths of the wardrobe. “I heard that her ladyship always wanted her daughters to play well. Claimed it would save on expenses at balls.”

“Shame none of them can play worth a pin,” Milluqua sighed, taking the cloth from her eyes and wrinkling her nose at the mirror. “And it is a shame, for they’re good girls, though the youngest is still so very young. Eleven, I believe.” She shook her head at the pale fawn walking costume Jayli was holding up. “Poor girls, to be exposed to such experiences and ridicule. Their mother does them no favours. Nothing too pale, Jayli. The sun may be shining, but it’s still spring and you know what Bumble is like.”

Sighing with disappointment, Jayli put away the light green muslin with the white silk ribbons and didn’t even bother to offer up the buttercup yellow. Once the maid had spent the entire morning picking out her mistress’ clothes for the day, making her the most beautiful woman in the city. Then, while Milluqua paid the requisite calls, or received her own flood of visitors, Jayli would press gowns and prepare a selection for the evening ahead. Now Milluqua picked out whichever dress was most practical, most comfortable or best at hiding stains and left without a second thought. It was then up to the maid to repair rents and snags, remove mud, dust and sleet, and sigh over the beautiful gowns that had been ignored.

Milluqua saw all of this as her maid pulled out a deep violet walking dress that had long been one of her favourites. Jayli thought it dull, but the insets around the overfull skirt were lined with indigo, which flashed when she walked. It was also perfectly comfortable, not to mention two years out of date, making it perfect for taking Bumble outside. Over the top she pulled her oldest, most serviceable brown pelisse and added a lovely brown cap to hold back her hair. All that remained were her matching violet-dyed doelyn leather gloves and she was ready.

Jayli sighed unhappily as her mistress called for Bumble and attached her lead to her collar.

Shaking her head, Milluqua smiled at her maid. “Just a few months more, Jayli, then all shall be as it once was. My new gowns from Beaulei should arrive today and I should like to wear the silver tonight, if you would be so good.”

Cheered up by the prospect of new clothes to care for, Jayli bobbed a merry curtsey. “Of course, my lady. Enjoy your walk.”

“I shall try,” Milluqua replied wryly, with more hope than expectation, and left.


|| Part Two ||

Thanks for reading!

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 14

courtship-banner

A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance (it could be short, it could be a novella, it could be any size, I have no idea) 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 || Last Part ||

In which Mastekh receives a gift – and panics.


14
Sleeper Awakes

SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT. Mastekh lay in bed, staring muzzily at the murky light coming through his narrow window and tried to work it out. He didn’t remember going to bed. In fact, the last thing he remembered was…

His eyes shot open and he sat upright, clutching the cover to his chest.

Estenarven. He had fallen asleep in Estenarven’s arms. On Estenarven’s chest. True, one of them had been in vast dragon form while the other had been a puny, watery human, but still – he had slept with Estenarven.

Groaning, Mastekh slumped flat on his back and stared at the ceiling. He’d slept with Estenarven and he couldn’t even remember it. Although, he supposed, at least this way he was saved the embarrassment of waking up and having nothing to say.

He snorted derisively at himself. As if he ever had anything to say. Grimacing, he lowered his eyes to the window again, beyond which a storm was once more raging, and smiled at the daisy.

The first courting gift, something pretty and insubstantial, designed to show interest.

Or, perhaps, just a sweet little daisy that Estenarven had found and thought Mastekh might like. It might not have been a courtship gift at all, for all that Mastekh had intended his return gift of rock cakes to be one.

How could one tell? Mastekh could hardly march up to Estenarven and ask. He hadn’t even been able to thank him properly. He’d just made rock cakes.

One gift, however sweet and thoughtful did not a courtship make.

Feeling deflated, Mastekh sat up and wriggled down the bed towards the windowsill. And frowned.

Something was different. He had sensed it when he woke, now he was certain of it. Something had changed inside the room – but what?

He reached out to stroke the delicate petals of his daisy and flinched as a flash of lightning lit the room. A shimmer of green caught his attention and he finally realised what had changed.

The stone bowl that had previously held his daisy was gone.

His hands shook ever so slightly as he reached for what had replaced it. Cool to the touch, smooth and pale green – as revealed by another timely flash of lightning – a small jade pot now took care of his daisy. It was simple, plain, polished but uncarved, and utterly perfect.

The second gift, something solid and permanent, to show long lasting intent.

Mastekh cradled the pretty jade piece and its straggly daisy against his chest, closing his eyes and bowing his head over them. Two gifts. Two courting gifts. Estenarven was serious. He was courting him.

A deep breath shuddered out him, full of relief and gratitude. Estenarven wanted him, he truly did. He thought he was worthy enough to court. By the Family, Mastekh had never expected such a thing, but from Estenarven of all dragons…

“Oh n-n-no.”

Mastekh’s eyes flew open and he clenched his hands around his prize. His second gift.

Now it was his turn.

He jerked his head around the tiny room he’d been given, looking over his meagre belongings, trying to think of something, anything that he could give in return. Something solid, something permanent. Sibling Water, what in the Overworld did a Rainstorm have to give to a Boulderforce?

Panic built up inside Mastekh’s chest, his breath growing shallow and fast. He needed a second gift, he needed it fast. He had a day to respond or Estenarven would think he wasn’t interested.

But he was. By the Family, he truly was.

Yet what to give him? What did anyone give a Stoneheart that was permanent and solid? They already were the epitome of such things – what could Mastekh possibly give him that he didn’t already have?

Think, think, he ordered, putting his precious jade present back on the windowsill in order to ball his hands into fists and thump himself on the head. There had to be something he could come up with, something that would show his own intent, while also being unexpected and a bit of a surprise.

He could always take the easy way out and find a pebble or something boring like that. It would be symbolic, if nothing else, but it wasn’t what Mastekh wanted. Estenarven’s jade pot showed thought and caring. It was green, like Mastekh, slightly translucent like water, and practical enough to support his first gift. It wasn’t an obvious, easy gift. It had meaning above and beyond the usual symbolism. Mastekh could offer up nothing less in return, not if he wanted this courtship to be equal.

So he needed to think.

His first gift had been rock cakes, because Estenarven was always hungry and he had a sweet tooth that most Stonehearts didn’t. It had shown that Mastekh knew him and cared about him and what he liked.

Now he had to find a small, permanent symbol of that.

As he sat there, alternately tapping his fingers against his mouth and thumping himself on the forehead, thinking about rock cakes and more permanent alternatives, Mastekh’s belly let out a loud, ferocious growl. Even though he was completely alone, heat flooded his face as he pressed a hand against the sound. He considered when the last time he’d eaten had been and recalled fetching breakfast for Elder Blazeborn before falling asleep with Estenarven.

Which must have been ages ago, he realised, jumping out of bed with a squeak. Here he was, dreaming, thinking and sleeping the day away when he had duties to perform and an elder to take care of.

Oh, oh, he was making such a mess of everything.

Hurriedly securing the tie of his robe around his waist, he ran his fingers through the fluff of hair on his head and scurried from his room.

The main space of the suite was empty, but a fire roared in the grate and a few crumbs dotted a low table, showing that someone at least had eaten here recently. Mastekh walked cautiously towards the mess, wringing his hands together, searching for scraps.

Nothing. Every last plate – and there were enough of them for a feast – was bare of anything but the tiniest of crumbs and an occasional smear of jam.

His stomach snarled in protest. Mastekh pressed a hand against it and sighed, then he began gathering up the empty plates. Since he had to pay a visit to the kitchens for himself, he might as well save the dracos a journey. And perhaps, while he was down there, he might spot a suitable gift.

Biting his lip, he piled his arms full of metal crockery, careful not to make too much noise as he edged towards the exterior door. A mumble of voices sounded inside Elder Blazeborn’s room, but Mastekh didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Willing his belly to remain quiet a little longer, he allowed his tail to slide free and hold the plates while he turned the handle and slipped out into the corridor beyond.

First food, then a gift, then back to work. Nodding determinedly to himself, Mastekh hurried through the tower’s hallways, his way lit by lightning and glow globes and the occasional smile from storm-addled Tempestfurys fresh in from the storm outside. It was a strange and somewhat crazy place, but Mastekh found himself growing fonder of it day by day.


Come back next week to find out just what Mastekh’s second gift will be…

Take care, my lovelies!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 20, Part 3

rr-ch20-3

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Deep breath, everyone, we’ve finally reached the end.



1st Storm

THE LIGHT WAS weak, pallid, washed-out by rain, but it was real.

“Maegla be praised,” Stirla’s heartfelt whisper was shared by them all, as they dropped their stained glow globes and scrambled up the muddy slope towards the light. Rocks and dirt blocked the way, but they were too close to be denied now. Though wearied by grief, injury and days lost in the heart of the mountain, they still made quick work of clearing the blockage.

They emerged high on the slopes above Buteo, where rain fell upon their gratefully upturned faces. Mhysra managed to crawl a body length from the cave before she collapsed and the others weren’t in much better shape. But it didn’t matter. They were out. They were free.

They’d made it to Buteo.

Miryhls covered the terraces below, a rippling carpet of glossy brown shades. While over the ridge to the north, the gasbags of two skyships were just visible. As was the winding line of people walking along the mountain way between Buteo and the haven, about twenty feet below them. The Miryhl Talon and Harrier had returned. The people of Aquila could leave. They were saved.

“Ho, Riders!” Lyrai called through cupped hands, drawing the attention of those on the track. “We’ve injured here. We need help.”

There was a flurry of activity as several people climbed up to manhandle them onto stretchers for the trip down the mountain. Too weak to stand, too heartsick to care, Mhysra let them do with her as they willed, staring up at the cloudy skies as the rain fell like tears.

An emptiness echoed inside her, where everything had shattered the moment her brother had pushed her away, sacrificing himself. An emptiness she dreaded might never be filled again.

Shadows flickered over her face, dark wings blocking out the sky. Then a scream, high-pitched, joyous, frantic and her stretcher was clumsily dropped as the bearers scattered.

The scream sounded again, far closer this time and a shadow swallowed her.

“Mhysra, Chickling, Wingborn, Mhysra.” The frantic chant was accompanied by nudges from a hard beak as soft feathers brushed her face. “Answer me, Wingborn. Please. I couldn’t find you. I thought you were lost. Mhysra, Mhysra. Please.”

The depths of his panic broke through her numbness and she found the strength to raise her arms. Wrapping them about his neck, she allowed him to pull her up until she slumped against his damp chest, burying herself against his warmth, searching for his heartbeat.

It pounded erratically against her cheek, faster than usual but real. He was real, he was here. He’d survived. She burst into tears.

“Chickling, my Chickling,” he crooned, preening her tangled hair and mantling his wings to shelter her from the rain. “I’m here, Wingborn. I’m here. Don’t cry.”

“Cumulo,” she gasped, huddling as close to him as possible. “Oh, Cue, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you.”

“You haven’t,” he murmured, voice a soothing rumble against her cheek. “I’m here, just as I said I would be. It’s you who was late. It was you I thought lost, even after you promised.”

Taking a shuddering breath, she squeezed him tightly. “I’m here now.”

He nudged her back until her could see her face, then rested his beak against her with a sigh. “Stay with me. Don’t ever go where I can’t follow.”

“Never,” she vowed. “Never again.”

As they clung together on the mountainside, the evacuation continued on around them. Aquila might have been lost, but while even one miryhl survived, the Rift Riders would live on.

The fight back against the kaz-naghkt was about to begin.


Yay, we made it!

Thank you to everyone who stuck with it all the way to the end. I know it’s a bit different from Wingborn, but this series was always going to have a lot of fighting in it.

A few important dates and announcements:
1) I will be taking this book down on Wednesday March 15th. If you want to read it again, do it before then or buy the ebook – which will hopefully be available by then.

2) I will begin serialising Dragongift, Wingborn Book 3, on Friday 17th March. There’s a different feel to that book too. More exploration than fighting. Same characters, just a little more of the Overworld than we’ve seen so far.

3) Just because the books are on a break, doesn’t mean the stories are. Next week I’ll post a Milli, Bumble and Stirla short story, and I’ll fill the rest of the gaps with more. If you have any requests, please let me know.

And, finally, a huge thank you to everyone who reads and enjoys these books. It’s lovely to know I’m not alone in loving this wild bunch of flying fools.

See you all again soon!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 20, Part 2

RR Ch20.2.jpg

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Well, Willym, what are you going to do?


LIEUTENANT WILLYM REACHED out with a perfectly steady hand and gripped the sword hilt. He stared at the shining blade for a long moment before turning to face his elders. The one on the left looked stricken, knowing what would come. The one on the right was tense, wary and waiting. The man in the middle, the tallest of the three and probably the oldest, remained relaxed. His shoulders drooped with weariness and his injured arm, but he raised his head to meet the lieutenant’s eyes.

“Do what you feel you must, Willym. The Gods alone pass judgement. None are blameless.”

With a snort of derision, the lieutenant swung his sword, aiming for the man in the middle.

“No, Willym!” the man on the left cried, lunging to intercept the strike. He choked when the blade hit his body, sliding in just below his ribs.

The lieutenant jerked back, surprised, pulling the blade with him.

Blood gushed through the man’s fingers and he dropped to his knees.

“Fredkhen.” The central man caught his saviour as he fell, cradling him close. “Fredkhen, my old friend. I’m sorry.”

The only one present with captain stripes on his shoulder, Fredkhen coughed and pressed both hands to his wound. “Happen… anyway,” he gasped, face contorted against the pain. “Mustn’t kill the dean. End it. Please.”

Yullik watched the scene with all the appreciation of a tragedy play as Dean Marshall pulled a dagger from his boot, kissed the dying man on the forehead and stabbed up into his heart. He felt like applauding when the old man looked at his lieutenant with sorrow and disappointment.

“The Gods alone will judge,” he murmured.

The lieutenant’s hand, which had fallen slack, gripped his sword again and he stepped forward. “Do not preach to me, old man,” he growled, voice full of resentment.

As much fun as Yullik was having watching this little drama unfold, he wasn’t about to let the lieutenant have all the fun.

“Not yet,” he said, teasing the sword from Willym’s bloodied hand. “Not just yet. I think you’ve proven yourself enough for the moment. Settle down, lieutenant, and clean your sword.” He handed the blade back and stood over the fallen captain.

Oh, brave captains of Aquila, their deeds do know no equal,” he mocked, quoting a well known ballad. “Dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dee, dee-dum, protectors of the people.” Yullik wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “Is it any wonder no one remembers that second line. The rhyme in it is awful.”

They ride the wings of evry storm, protectors of the people,” the dean corrected, closing the captain’s eyes and folding his hands across his chest. “When all are weary and filled with fear, their miryhls speed in flight. To drive back night and bring forth light, great eagles bold and bright.

This time Yullik succumbed to the urge and clapped. “Very good,” he praised. “As stirring a rendition as I’ve ever been privileged to hear. You missed your calling, dean. You should have been a balladeer, travelling the world, bringing joy to peasants everywhere. A marvellous life indeed.”

The Dean of Aquila shot him a strange look as he covered the fallen captain’s face with a handkerchief and rose to his feet. “There are no balladeers these days. Their trade died out when the dragons left.”

“Oh.” For a moment Yullik felt the unpleasant sensation of surprise, possibly even a little sadness. He’d often enjoyed a good ballad as a child and had no idea they were gone, a relic of the past. Like the dragons. Recovering, he consigned the balladeer reference to the past with a wave of his hand. “No wonder you ended up here, since your options were so limited. A sad thing when we see where it has brought you.”

The dean straightened his shoulders and raised his chin. A man without fear or shame. Dull stuff. “I’ve lived a good life and achieved many things. I have no regrets. I chose this life and am content with how I have lived it, if not with the way the world has turned.”

Rolling his eyes, Yullik snatched Willym’s sword again. “Kaz-naghkt’s teeth, don’t you drag on? Can’t blame the boy for going for you first. Shame he hit the good captain. It would have been far more rewarding if he’d cut out your tongue.” He pressed the sword point beneath the dean’s chin, using it to raise the man’s head to an awkward angle. “Then again, I would prefer to do it myself. Shall I?”

Unable to speak, the dean could only stare at him with clear eyes, entirely without fear.

Which was no fun at all. Making a sound of disgust, Yullik pulled the sword away. “Keep it, for now. Maybe I’ll find a use for it yet.” Dismissing the sanctimonious dean from his thoughts, he turned to the final Rider in the room. Grey liberally sprinkled his hair and he had a face that even a mountain couldn’t love. It looked like the kaz-naghkt had already chewed on him and spat him out. Yullik wouldn’t have blamed them.

Tense and wary, the Rider watched his every move, anticipating mischief.

Yullik smiled, delighted to find more interesting prey. “No captain marks on your shoulders,” he noted, tapping the man with the flat of the sword. “Nor those of a lieutenant either. Just one paltry stripe, in an inferior shade. What does that make you?”

“Sergeant,” Willym answered. “Rees.”

“Yours?” Yullik enquired over his shoulder.

Willym gave a chilling smile, one that spoke of a knife in the dark. “I have no sergeant.”

“Leastwise not now you don’t,” Yullik agreed, turning back to face Rees.

The Rider scowled, an expression that sat comfortably on his face, so Yullik didn’t bother to take offence. “Lovely. What a nice range of ranks we have here. Well -” he poked Fredkhen’s body with his toe “- we did.” He frowned. “Where are the others? My kaz-naghkt knew to look out for pretty shoulder marks. They knew to save you for me. Where are they?”

Rees wiped the scowl from his face and looked blank, the dean was just as impassive.

“Where?” he demanded, turning to Willym.

The lieutenant shrugged, believing himself safe since he had already shown willing to murder his fellow Riders. “Fredkhen kept me tied to his apron strings. No one told me anything.”

“The viper in the nest,” Yullik grumbled, dismissing the lieutenant as useless. If he kept the boy he would have to teach him subtlety. If he couldn’t hide what he was, he would get nowhere. Studying the others he passed over the dean, knowing nothing would unlock the secrets from those pompous lips. Sergeant Rees, however, bore signs of a man with a grudge. Perhaps Yullik would end this day with two pet Riders in his pocket.

“You,” he ordered, pointing at the grizzled man. “Tell me.”

Rees scanned him from head to toe, finishing with a contemptuous smile. “What’s it worth?”

Far from encouraged by this response – especially when the dean didn’t react – Yullik narrowed his eyes. “Your insolence is tiresome, sergeant. Answer me, and perhaps I won’t put out your eyes.”

Perhaps is less than certain. Are you sure you could get near me?” The man stepped back and drew his sword, every muscle in his body alert and ready.

Yullik snorted and lashed out. His borrowed sword was a flash and a blur, leaving Rees clutching his face. Blood trickled between his fingers, but his eyes remained intact. Yullik had scratched a warning line across the man’s forehead before he even knew he was in danger.

“Yes,” Yullik said calmly. “I’m sure I could.”

Wiping the blood from his forehead to stop it dripping in his eyes, the sergeant growled. “Then take my eyes, you soul-sucking bastard, for I’ve nothing more to say to you.” He lunged, sword first.

And died before his first step, a borrowed sword through his chest.

“Wasteful,” Yullik remarked to no one in particular, lowering his arm and letting Rees’ body slide pitifully to the floor. “There’s loyalty for you.”

The hall was silent as Yullik wiped the blade clean on Rees’ legs, then returned it to Willym’s surprised hand. The lieutenant stared at the body on the floor. It was gratifying to still generate awe, Yullik thought, turning towards his remaining opponent.

The dean closed his eyes at Rees’ death, yet recovered quickly. His face was a little pale, perhaps, but the rest of him was ready, waiting for what he guessed would come.

Ever one to disappoint, Yullik smiled. “I shan’t kill you.” When the dean’s jaw clenched, his smile widened. “Yet. You might prove useful.” Snapping his fingers, he changed to the kaz-naghkt tongue and ordered his creatures to deal with the bodies.

Since they were a literal species, the dean was a lot paler by the time the horde had finished feeding. Paler that was, except for where bits and pieces had splashed his face. Behind Yullik’s back, Willym was making the distinctive sounds of a man having trouble with his stomach, but he’d have to grow used to such things. Just because the kaz-naghkt had no finesse, didn’t mean Yullik accepted that in his servants.

Since the kaz-naghkt were meticulous in their own way, there was soon no trace of the bodies, not even a stain on the floor. Just what clung to the dean. He was tempted to have the kaz-naghkt clean the man up, but feared they might go too far. It would be a shame to lose so valuable a toy this early in the game.

He chuckled, satisfied with the way things had gone. “Not such a terrible day after all, my friends. Let’s find a place to keep you, dear dean, before the pirates try to claim you like the wretched thieves they are.”


Hands up anyone who was surprised…
Yeah, me neither.

This way to the Egress ===>

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 13

courtship-banner

A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance (it could be short, it could be a novella, it could be any size, I have no idea) 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 || Last Part ||

Smooth, Esten, real smooth.


13
Smooth Awakening

ESTENARVEN WOKE SLOWLY, a feeling of great peace washing over him as he steadily rose back up towards consciousness. The pain and hammering of his overindulgence had faded and even the sour taste was gone from his mouth. He felt like a dragon again.

Yawning, he stretched, long and languid, revelling in the ability to spread out all his legs, though when he tried to flexed his tail it seemed to be stuck. And now that he thought about it, only one of his wings was moving.

He frowned at the discomfort and rolled onto his belly. His second wing was instantly free but hit a wall and his tail still wasn’t moving. Grumbling and muttering, he opened his eyes.

And blinked.

“Awake at last, are we?”

Elder Blazeborn sat in an armchair directly in front of Estenarven’s nose. If he’d stretched just a little further in his half-awake state he would have knocked him clean over. Hunching back in on himself, Estenarven drew in his neck, wings and tail.

At least he tried to move his tail.

Scowling, he looked over his shoulder and found the stupid appendage had somehow become coiled and wedged inside the little room he’d been given to stay in.

The room that was part of Elder Blazeborn’s larger suite.

The same suite he should have been taking care of today.

Belonging to the dragon he was supposed to work for, not snore in front of.

Wincing, Estenarven abandoned all attempts to free his crumpled tail and cringed before his elder. “Umm…”

Khennik wasn’t paying him the least bit of attention. An enormous book of maps lay open across his lap, the thick pages of which he turned with a delicate pinch of his golden claws before he spread a hand to flatten out the next picture in order to study it more closely.

Somehow that made everything worse. Here was Estenarven, sleeping the day away, while his elder was forced to entertain himself by studying maps. Not that there was anything wrong with maps, Estenarven had a deep fondness for them himself but…

Oh, what did it matter? He’d messed up, that was the important thing.

He flattened himself to the floor apologetically – and realised that there was something under his chin.

“As enjoyable as abject grovelling is,” Elder Blazeborn drawled, not looking up as he turned another page, “it’s probably best not to do it when Mastekh is under your chin. It rather spoils the look of the thing.”

“Mastekh!” Estenarven raised his head so high and fast that he cracked his horns against the ceiling.

Ow, ow, ow, ow. He might have slept off his pounding hangover, but by the Family, the lightning bolt that shot through his brain now was worse.

“Ow.”

The wheeze that echoed his thoughts had him looking down. Mastekh lay sprawled on the stone floor, flat on his back, a hand pressed against his diaphragm. He looked like he’d been crushed beneath a boulder.

Which, Estenarven conceded as he cautiously lowered his throbbing head, he had.

“I was going to ask if you’d both enjoyed your rest, but I can see the answer well enough for myself.” Elder Blazeborn slapped the heavy book closed and eyed the pair of them. One eyebrow arched as Estenarven curled a claw and hauled Mastekh into a sitting position. The Rainstorm wheezed and bent over, still struggling to get some air into his recently flattened lungs.

This was not how Estenarven imagined he would feel the first time he woke up with Mastekh beneath him.

“At least now that you’ve cleared the door I can finally go out and feed myself.”

Estenarven flinched at this further proof of his neglected duties, and really wished he hadn’t as it sent an answering jolt through his brain and his sore horns.

“I’ll bring you something back, shall I?” Elder Blazeborn smiled ever so slightly as he left his book of maps on the chair and sidled around Estenarven’s bulk to slip out of the door. “Play nicely while I’m gone.”

Estenarven huffed at the wall as the handle clicked shut. There wasn’t even an ounce of play left him right now and a quick glance downwards assured him that Mastekh was even less inclined towards such things.

The Rainstorm was on all fours, attempting to get to his feet, but either his legs were still asleep or Estenarven’s carelessness had knocked more out of him than he’d thought, because Mastekh didn’t get very far.

A quick lift of a foot prevented his fellow aide from landing flat on his face, and Estenarven decided to save Mastekh a lot of bother by picking him up and dumping him on Khennik’s vacated chair. The Rainstorm plopped down on top of the book of maps like a sack of vegetables, looking dazed and unaware of quite what was going on.

Worried about him, Estenarven finally hauled his tail free of his bedroom and shrank to a more manageable size. Crouching in front of Mastekh, he cupped his hands around his face and looked into his eyes.

Watery green-blue stared back, along with a rather soppy smile.

Sibling Stone, it was worse than he’d thought. He hadn’t just knocked the breath out of Mastekh, he’d clearly crushed his wits as well. “Can you stand?”

“Mm.” Mastekh moved forward, but seemed to forget to engage any part of his body in supporting himself. Luckily Estenarven was there to catch him. Mastekh sagged into his arms like a scarecrow missing his stick.

Which wasn’t the worst place he could land. In fact, Estenarven rather liked having his arms full of relaxed Rainstorm. Especially when he nuzzled into his neck like that.

“Mm dreaming,” Mastekh murmured, and Estenarven realised his fellow aide hadn’t really woken up yet. Despite being dropped on the floor, crushed by a Boulderforce and having all the air squashed out of him.

Apparently his Puddle was a heavy sleeper. Just one more thing he’d learnt about him that he hadn’t known before.

And the last thing he would ever take advantage of. Which was why he hauled himself to his feet and hefted Mastekh more securely into his arms. The Rainstorm mumbled something against his neck and snuggled closer, making Estenarven smile. One day he might have fun with this, but not today. Instead he carried his limp burden through the door on the far side of the suit and laid him very carefully down on the stone bed within. The covers had all been kicked off when Mastekh had risen that morning, so Estenarven gathered them up and tucked them all around his sleepy Puddle.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he ran a hand through Mastekh’s fluff of green hair. Turning into the caress, Mastekh wriggled until he was curled up around Estenarven, then heaved out a contented sigh. Estenarven knew just how he felt.

It was right to be here. Right to be next to this dragon. He didn’t want to leave.

He peered around Mastekh’s tiny, private quarters, unsurprised to find it as sparse and cheerless as his own cell on the other side of the suite. Except for the stone bowl on the narrow windowsill, positioned just right so that when Mastekh woke up it would be one of the first things he would see. A stone bowl full of water and containing a single straggly daisy.

The first courting gift. One that had been answered with rock cakes.

It was Estenarven’s move now. He thought back to the box he kept tucked beneath his bed. One that had followed him throughout his life, from his last few years as a dragonling, through his wingling century and onto the wandering ways of his change time. He ran mental fingers through its contents, assessing and discarding each item, until… He smiled.

Yes, that would do nicely.

But not yet. Estenarven looked down at the dragon curled on his side against him, his green hair soft as it slid between Estenarven’s blocky fingers.

No, not yet. He wanted to sit a while longer, enjoying this moment to the fullest. Elder Blazeborn would be back soon and Estenarven would pick up all his dropped and neglected duties, but not yet. Not just yet. He wanted to enjoy this peace for a little while longer, make the most of this gift he’d been given. He’d never seen Mastekh so relaxed and wondered when he’d have the chance to relish such a chance again. If he’d have the chance again. So he sat there, stroking Mastekh’s head, making plans and counting breaths.

Until Elder Blazeborn returned and Estenarven had to leave. But before he joined the elder at the low table, where he was spreading out the food a couple of draco servants had carried up for them all, Estenarven slipped into his own small room and pulled out the box from beneath the bed.

Promising the elder he would join him soon, he returned to Mastekh’s bedside, placed his latest gift on the windowsill beside the daisy, allowed himself one last stroke of his dear Puddle’s hair, then left and closed the door behind him. Mastekh had earned his rest, but Estenarven had apologies to issue and some making up to do.

With the dracos dismissed, Elder Blazeborn watched Estenarven cross the room and raised a golden eyebrow. “Well?”

Unsure quite what he was being asked, Estenarven lowered himself to sit cross-legged at the low table on the opposite to his elder and bowed his head. “All is well.”

The corner of Khennik’s mouth twitched. “Good. Now eat, before I devour the whole lot myself. You and Mastekh have been blocking the door since breakfast. I can’t remember the last time I felt so famished.”

The last tension in Estenarven’s shoulders relaxed and he grinned at his elder in relief. “Shouldn’t we save something for Mastekh?” he asked, even as he picked up a whole chicken for himself. Now that his hangover was gone and his head and horns were no longer hurting so badly, Estenarven realised he was starving too – and with so much food in front of him, it would be rude to feel otherwise.

“No,” Khennik replied, piling his own plate high with pastries and pies and the occasional piece of fruit. “If he wants some, he’ll have to claim it for himself.”

And even though he was courting the dragon’s heart, Estenarven shrugged in agreement. After all, love and romance were all very well in their own way, but he hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. At times like this, it was every dragon’s stomach for itself.

Especially at a time like this, when the pastries were divine and Elder Blazeborn had almost eaten the lot. Resisting the urge to growl at the other dragon – barely – Estenarven snatched two of the last three for himself and hunched over his plate to protect it from the long arm of the elder.

Rolling his eyes, Khennik moved on to the last of the tarts and Estenarven forgot all thoughts of Mastekh in a bid to claim his fair share of the feast. He had to keep up his strength, after all, and there was a lot of him to feed. Slapping Khennik’s grabby hands away from the bread basket, Estenarven seized his share of the rolls and swept the jam and butter dish into his temporary protection.

Elder Blazeborn glared at him over the table before picking up the platter of doelyn slices and slowly placing it on the floor beside himself.

Estenarven narrowed his eyes. So it was to be like that, was it? He reached for the quail eggs and let battle commence.


Who knew Khennik had a playful side?

Anyway, more next Wednesday.
And you may be pleased to know that I’ve finally worked out something of a plot for this thing. Which means I might finally get an idea of how long it’ll be. I would say this is about halfway, but until I write the next few chapters I won’t know.

Regardless, this is finally getting somewhere. Hurrah!

Take care, my lovelies.

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Rift Riders: Chapter 20, Part 1

rr-ch20-1

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

So we come to it at last, the final chapter of this book. Well, the first of three parts anyway.

Back to the book, where Yullik is not a happy bunny…



Twenty
End Choices

31st Harvest

IT WAS NOT a happy Yullik who exited the tunnels and returned to the citadel. Two days, it had taken him, two infuriatingly slow days to dig himself out and retrace his steps. Of course he could have unleashed his anger and strength and forced a way free in heartbeats, but not if he wanted the mountain to remain standing. There were times when stone was annoyingly fragile.

Climbing the steps to the citadel, he levelled a baleful looked at the grey skies and hissed when it started raining. Heavily. The downpour crashed onto his head, leaving him instantly soaked. The force of the water was so strong that it didn’t wash off the dust that coated him from head to toe. Instead it turned it into mud, sliming it all over his skin.

“Laugh all you like, Goddess, this round is still mine.”

He grumbled his way to the top of the stairs, only to find the door blocked. Blinking water from his eyes, he glared at the twin Wrathlen captains, grateful that his senses were clogged by several layers of dust. He’d had enough surprises recently without discovering the precise origins of these two. Tall, slender, pale but with dark hair and even darker eyes, if the female twin hadn’t had longer hair it would have been impossible to tell them apart. They looked at him with identically tilted heads, blinking twice in time.

When they neither spoke nor moved out of his way, Yullik raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“The admiral wishes to see you,” the male twin said, unsurprisingly since Yullik had never heard the sister talk. Whether because she couldn’t, or because she wanted to further their creepy reputation, he wasn’t sure. Her haughty expression said more than words ever could.

“Indeed.” Yullik stepped forward, fed up of standing in the rain.

The twins didn’t move, until he showed no signs of stopping and was practically nose to nose with the woman. She narrowed her eyes – the first independent expression he’d seen – and stepped aside, allowing him through the door.

“She requests access to the dean and captains,” the brother continued, voice flat and colourless. When Yullik shot him a quizzical look, both twins smiled. “Your kaz-naghkt have them and they permit no one to enter the hall.”

“Ah.” For the first time in two days, Yullik smiled. “Then I must see them first. Tell your admiral to wait outside. I will see she’s admitted when I’m done.”

He walked away without a backward glance, eager to leave the twins behind. His day had been trying enough already, for all that it was barely past dawn. Yet the news that his kaz-naghkt had gathered fresh toys for him cheered him up immensely, and he walked to the hall with a bounce in his step.

* * *

THE DOORS TO the room formerly known as Maegla’s Hall had been torn off their hinges. Not that it mattered, because they’d been replaced by a wall of kaz-naghkt. Admiral Akavia waited outside with a group of pirates at her back, bristling with weaponry. The admiral herself was glaring at the kaz-naghkt, but they stared impassively over her head. Well fed and on watch, the creatures had no interest in humans. At Yullik’s approach, however, they turned their heads, welcoming his return with a low, trilling hum.

Shuddering at the kaz-naghkt’s song, Akavia spotted him and snarled, “There you are!”

Raising a hand to silence the kaz-naghkt, Yullik favoured the admiral with a raised eyebrow.

“Move your creatures,” she demanded. “They are hoarding the prisoners.”

Since Yullik had no intention of putting any of the remaining Riders up for ransom, not being of a mercenary turn of mind, he smiled. “You wish to enter the kaz-naghkt parlour, Akavia? By all means, proceed.” At the wave of his hand, one kaz-naghkt stepped aside.

Licking her lips, Akavia glanced between the kaz-naghkt and him, weighing her options. “You owe us one captain, at least.”

“Beg pardon?” he enquired politely.

“It was my men who secured the citadel,” she stated, staring at his nose. “We hold the cove. We’ve lost almost half our numbers in this siege of yours.”

Yullik smiled, showing his teeth. “Can a citadel that’s already been emptied by my kaz-naghkt really be secured? And didn’t my kaz-naghkt destroy the catapults so that your ships could enter the cove? Don’t talk to me of losses, nor name this siege mine. I don’t recall holding a dagger to you throat to force your presence here.” He closed the last distance between them, his smile broadening when Akavia’s brave defenders dropped back, their weapons lowering uncertainly. “Do not talk to me of what is owed.”

“For the ones your creatures ate then,” she growled.

The kaz-naghkt growled back, but again Yullik raised his hand and silenced them. As if the Admiral of the Wrathlen fleet, a mere human, could be any threat to him. “Perhaps,” he conceded, but only because it amused him to do so. “First I must see what toys my kaz-naghkt have found for me.”

Brushing past her, he walked through the gap the kaz-naghkt had made, chuckling at the curse Akavia spat when the way closed behind him, shutting her out once more.

“We are not finished, Yullik! You cannot ignore our part in this!”

He turned and waited for his kaz-naghkt to move enough for him to see her. “I will not forget, Akavia,” he assured her. “In time our association will come to an end, but not yet.” Walking away again, this time he didn’t bother to listen to her complaints. They were irrelevant.

Entering the hall, he looked at the paintings on the ceiling, where Rift Riders did great and noble things beneath the benevolent eyes of their Goddess. He sneered, appreciating the gaping hole in the roof as well as the slash marks his kaz-naghkt had added, beginning the process of redecoration. Once things were settled, he would destroy this hall so that he would never have to look on that supercilious face again.

The prisoners stood in the centre, unfettered, with their swords still at their belts, dejection in the slump of their shoulders. Their clothes were in tatters, their faces scratched and one of them was bleeding, his arm dangling limp and useless by his side. These were the captains of Aquila? Oh well…

“Gentlemen.” As Yullik walked forwards, their kaz-naghkt guards fell back to take up positions near the wall. At his approach the worn men stirred, but they were too defeated to even reach for their swords. Of the four before him, three were old, grizzled and grey, but the fourth was surprisingly young.

Yullik focused on him, noticing the stripes on his ruined jacket. “How does it feel to be defeated, lieutenant? Is it all you hoped for when dreaming of the glorious Riders?”

The man clenched his jaw and looked up, dark eyes in a dusky face, with a fresh scar marring the length of his left cheek. He’d been handsome once, now he was remarkable. Yullik recognised the fire in the young man’s eyes and welcomed it.

“Ah,” he purred. “Are you angry, Rider? Humiliated? Scared?”

The lieutenant rolled his jaw before clenching his teeth again, nostrils flaring in affront.

Delighted, Yullik stepped closer and rested a hand on the man’s sword hilt. “Do you wish to die here, lieutenant? Will you give your life for these others?”

Stepping back, Yullik slowly drew the Rider’s sword and tilted the blade from side to side, watching it flash in the light. “Well?” he asked, when the lieutenant didn’t speak. “Will you?”

The man swallowed, but stared straight into Yullik’s eyes, his hands balled into fists. “No.”

Yullik flipped the sword, presenting its hilt over his forearm. “Prove it.”

“Willym,” one of the old men murmured, more a plea than an order. Yullik knew he had not been mistaken and waited eagerly for how things would turn out.

“Go on,” he tempted. “Take it.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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Rift Riders: Chapter 19, Part 2

RR Ch19.2.jpg

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Is this really the time for introductions?


“HE’S HERE,” KILAI whispered, rocking back and forth, head in his hands. “He’s found us.”

Disturbed by his behaviour, but knowing there was no time for questions, Lyrai stood up. “Then we’d best get ready to meet him.” Whoever he was. “We may not be able to run anymore, Kilai, but that doesn’t make us done for yet.”

Kilai looked up and rubbed his forehead. “Aye, sir.”

Gripping his shoulder firmly, Lyrai smiled. “Good lad. Wake the girls and draw your sword. I think we’ll need it.” Nodding, Kilai crawled over to his sister.

When Lyrai bent to wake Dhori, he found silver eyes already watching him. “Move everyone into the tunnel,” the student whispered. “It’s too unstable here.”

It was no bother to drag Stirla the few paces, then offer a hand to Corin. Derrain hopped over with Dhori’s assistance as Kilai carried his drowsy sister.

“Stay put,” Lyrai ordered, drawing his sword and turning to block the tunnel entrance. Stirla looked like he wanted to argue, but since he couldn’t stand on his own Lyrai ignored him. Leaving Derrain in a similar state, Dhori took the place on Lyrai’s right.

“Watch her, please,” Kilai whispered to Corin, touching his sister’s cheek before joining the other two at the tunnel mouth, sword in one hand, rubbing his head with the other.

“Now we come to it,” Dhori murmured, as the footsteps echoed in the cavern and a golden glow approached. It dimmed at the corner and winked out. A figure appeared.

With their own glow globes behind them, Lyrai couldn’t make out much in the low light, except that their follower was slightly built and not overly tall. Then he came close enough to reveal his features: golden skin, black hair and pale, pale eyes.

He stopped at the edge of their light and smiled. “Dragongift globes. That explains things.”

On his left side, Kilai hissed and shook his head.

The stranger looked at him, eyelids lowering as his smile grew. “It’s so nice to meet up with old friends again. Do you remember me, Kilai?”

Moaning, the Rider fell to his knees, dropping his sword to grip his head in both hands.

“Apparently he does.” The stranger flicked a dismissive glance over Lyrai before staring at Dhori. “You,” he snarled, recoiling like a wounded creature.

Astonished, Lyrai looked at the student, who raised his eyebrows, expression blank. “You have the advantage of me, stranger.”

The man narrowed his pale eyes, recovering himself. “Perhaps I was mistaken. Remember me to your mother, won’t you?”

Dhori’s eyebrows rose again and he looked amused. “Indeed. Should I happen to see her, though what good it will do me when I do not even know your name…”

“Call me Yullik,” he announced grandly, and Lyrai expected a portentous drum roll. When Dhori looked blank, he added, “It’s a name she will recognise.”

Since Dhori remained silent, Yullik turned irritably back to Lyrai. “A lieutenant. How unfortunate for you. Are you the one responsible for killing so many of my kaz-naghkt?”

Taking his cue from Dhori’s nonchalance, Lyrai held his hands out in a careless gesture. “Some. I believe we are all equal in our own defence.” He glanced briefly down at Kilai. The Rider seemed to be recovering. His hands were braced on the floor and he was breathing deeply.

Yullik narrowed his eyes again and his right hand lashed out towards Kilai. He was too far away to make contact, but when he tightened his fingers into a fist the Rider screamed.

“Kilai!”

Lyrai’s fingers brushed uselessly over Mhysra’s shoulder as she rushed towards her brother. Kilai fell to the floor and began to writhe, but Mhysra grabbed his hand.

“Look at me, Kilai,” she said, spreading her fingers against his cheek when he tried to pull away. “Focus on me.”

“Mhysra,” he gasped, then choked as his body bowed, crashing back down in a series of convulsions. He gripped his sister’s hand and bared his teeth, holding back his screams.

“Stop it!” Mhysra shouted at the stranger. “Leave him alone!”

Yullik looked at her, opened his hand and Kilai came to rest with a sigh. “What an interesting gathering this is,” he murmured, stepping closer.

Mhysra, her eyes locked with his, gasped and recoiled. She needn’t have worried, because the moment the stranger came within reach, Lyrai and Dhori levelled their swords at him.

“And I had heard such good things about the hospitality of Aquila,” he sighed, taking the flat of Dhori’s sword between finger and thumb and waggling it from side to side. “Alas, the disappointment.”

“If you had come alone and left your friends behind,” Dhori replied, yanking his sword free, “you might have found your reception otherwise.”

Yullik gave a delighted grin. “Do you think so? Perhaps. I can hardly blame you for not receiving the pirates with open arms. So uncouth, you know. If I knew now what I’d known then… well, everything would be exactly as it.” As he spoke, he edged closer to the Kilpapan siblings. Mhysra watched his every move with wide, wary eyes, while Kilai lay unmoving.

Lyrai stepped protectively forward just as Yullik moved within lunging distance of the girl.

“Ah.” Yullik came up short again and reached for Lyrai’s sword. “What a suspicious bunch you are.” His left hand glowed gold as he closed finger and thumb on Lyrai’s blade.

And hissed, leaping back as the sword sparked pale purple.

“Where did you get that?” he demanded, pointing at the smoking blade, shaking out his other hand. “How did you come by it?”

As surprised as the stranger, Lyrai looked at his sword, staring at the runes flickering along the blade in lightning shades before it faded back to plain metal once more. “A gift. From my mother.”

“Your mother?” Yullik questioned, voice rough and angry. He narrowed his eyes and Lyrai winced as pain shot through his mind.

“Enough!” Dhori swiped his sword through the empty air between the lieutenant and the stranger, breaking their eye contact. “Do not meet his eyes, sir. He means to enslave you.”

Yullik chuckled but sounded far from amused. “Interesting indeed,” he murmured, narrowing his eyes at the student.

Ever calm, Dhori stared right back until the stranger blinked and looked away, rubbing his own head for a change. “No matter. I’ve no need of new friends, when I have an old one waiting. And such a useful friend he’s been on this tiresome journey. I admit you had me intrigued when you fought so long against my kaz-naghkt and did not succumb. Still, you didn’t have to walk so far afterwards. Surely you had need of rest.”

His voice became low and soothing, and Lyrai found himself swaying. So tired…

“So tired, so exhausted. Wouldn’t it be nice to lie down for a while? To forget all your cares.”

Lyrai’s knees wobbled and he stumbled, until a firm hand pressed against the back of his leg.

“Careful, sir,” Mhysra warned, waking him up.

With a shake of the head, Lyrai raised his sword to face their cunning foe. “Save your tricks, stranger, they won’t work here.”

“What a little hero you are, lieutenant,” Yullik sneered. “And so mistaken. My tricks, as you call them, may not work on such a paragon as you, but you are not the only person present.”

When Lyrai turned his head, Dhori snapped, “Eyes front!”

Something hard hit his stomach and he lashed out with his sword even as he tumbled backwards, tripping over Kilai’s legs and thumping into Mhysra.

Spitting out a string of foreign words, with a fervency that left Lyrai in no doubt of their meaning, Yullik also stumbled back. He gripped his right arm, where a long gash marred his sleeve, smoking at the edges.

“Sorry, sorry,” Lyrai babbled, climbing off his poor student and helping her to stand. She winced as she moved, no doubt feeling all the bruises she’d collected earlier and resenting the new ones he’d inflicted. “Gods, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s nothing,” she assured him, shaking her arm from his hold. “Really, sir. An accident.”

Hardly, when he was stupid enough to fall for the old look behind you ruse. While Yullik was busy, though, he took the opportunity to do just that. As he feared, Stirla, Derrain and Corin were slumped in a stupor, victims to the stranger’s powerful voice.

Not so Dhori. While Lyrai was pulling himself together and apologising, the student had moved to guard them all, sword always at the ready.

Looking up from the wound in his arm, Yullik snarled at him. Dhori actually bared his teeth in reply before realising he was being observed. He turned it into a insolent smirk.

Yullik glowered. “I tire of these games,” he announced, running a glowing thumb along the cut in his arm. It healed into a white, angry line. “I tire of you.”

He turned his head so swiftly that Lyrai had no chance to evade his eyes. Heavy pressure threatened to crush his mind, but a flash of silver as Dhori swung his sword, severed the connection again and Lyrai was quick to lower his gaze.

Ses-Mhaka,” Yullik spat, and Dhori chuckled.

“A not very painful truth, ses-Nagka.

“I lose patience,” the stranger growled, and raised a glowing hand. “Kilai, wake.”

The body at Lyrai’s feet heaved and Mhysra leapt forward. This time Lyrai was quick enough to catch her with an arm around her waist. She fought him, but Lyrai held firm as her brother rose to his feet.

“Peace, Mhysra,” Lyrai whispered, not wanting to deepen her injuries by grappling with her.

She gave a groan of dismay, the nails of one hand digging into his arm. “Kilai,” she pleaded.

If he heard her, he didn’t turn, just raised his head and looked at Yullik.

The stranger smiled. “Kill them. Kill them all, except the little Wingborn. Bring her to me.”

Mhysra tried to back up, bumping into Lyrai’s chest, and he tightened his hold. “Stay calm.”

Kilai lowered his head, bent and picked up his sword. As he straightened, a glow globe rolled against his hand. He paused.

“Don’t forget the light, Kilai,” Dhori said, edging towards Lyrai, his gaze fixed on Yullik.

The stranger smirked. “Light, dark, it makes no difference.”

Kilai closed his hand over the globe and straightened.

Yullik raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Begin, Kilai Kilpapan. My patience grows thin.”

Kilai turned, raising his sword as he stared at his sister, unsmiling and so very, very sad. “Go,” he whispered, then hurled the globe at the cavern roof above the tunnel.

No!” Mhysra and Yullik screamed as the dragongift light shattered, releasing the magic trapped inside.

The explosion knocked everyone off their feet, throwing Mhysra, Lyrai and Dhori back down the tunnel, while Yullik and Kilai stumbled into the cavern.

Winded, Lyrai groaned as Mhysra scrambled over him, desperate to reach her brother. “Kilai!”

Dhori caught her as the cavern roof collapsed, dragging her away from danger.

“No. No! Let me go! Kilai. Kilai!

*

THOUGH HE HEARD his sister screaming for him, Kilai Kilpapan didn’t turn as the cavern caved in around him. He kept his eyes on the man in front, whose golden gaze blazed with wrath.

“You fool,” Yullik said, as calm as could be. “You have no idea what you’ve done.”

Pain lanced through Kilai’s brain, shaking him from the inside as the world shook on the outside. He forced the words past the pain. “You’ve already taken Cirrus and Jynese from me, I will not let you take my sister too.” Agony seized every muscle and he dropped to the ground, writhing against the tightening knots.

“You are no match for me,” Yullik snarled, stalking closer, the tumbling rocks bouncing off him as though he was made of stronger stuff than mere blood and bone. “You cannot tell me what I will and will not do. I will take her. I will take them all.”

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Kilai closed his eyes. “Never.” A boulder slammed into his legs, making him scream as he was released from whatever hold Yullik had placed on him, only to be locked into something real.

“Poor Kilai,” Yullik whispered, kneeling beside him, stroking where he had bitten through his own lip. “So young, so foolish. You could never understand.”

Fist-sized rocks pummelled into his back, and Kilai sobbed as the boulder grated on his crushed legs.

“Wingborn are drawn to each other. Such rare creatures as we cannot resist the lure of another. Only we know what it’s like. Only we understand.”

Blood filled Kilai’s mouth as rocks shattered his ribs, making it hard to breathe, but he held off the blackness to say, “Not… Wingborn.” The world narrowed and grew fatally black.

In the distance he heard a chuckle as cool lips caressed his ear. “But I am, Kilai, and she knows it. If I do not find her, she will come in search of me.” A shower of golden sparks held back the shadows, forcing him to feel the pain that had already begun to dim. “Shall I heal you so that you might see?”

A response bubbled against his lips, but whatever Kilai might have said was lost in a shower of pain as the cavern wall collapsed, burying him beneath the rubble. The golden light vanished, letting the darkness back in and dragging him down to a place where there was no more pain.

*

YULLIK FELT THE life force slip across the tips of his fingers and screamed his fury into the mountain.


~ Next Chapter ~

Thank you for reading.

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