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~ Previous Chapter ~
Meanwhile back at Aquila…
SNOW FLURRIED OVER the towers of Aquila, swirling around and through the unbarred window. As heavy and frantic as the fall was, not one flake dared to settle on the man seated directly before the open panes. His black curls were undisturbed by the rough winds, his brown skin shining with a heat that had nothing to do with the weather.
Bright eyes, glowing molten gold, stared unseeing, fixed on a sight far, far from Aquila.
His fingers flexed on the arms of his chair and warm air shimmered around his body, melting any rogue snowflakes that came too close. A low growl rumbled in his chest. Gold eyes flashed and his top lip curled in a vicious snarl.
With a roar of frustration, he leapt to his feet, heat flaring outwards. The snow banked around the window exploded as he threw his chair across the room. It clattered to the floor before it could shatter against the wall. Good, comfortable furniture was hard to find.
As swiftly as his anger had risen, Yullik reined it in. Breathing deeply, he gripped the windowsill until the stone groaned beneath his fingers. Eyes closed, he steadied his erratic heartbeat and cooled the heat shimmering around him.
A few brave flakes settled on his curls and he shivered, blinking in surprise as he became aware of his immediate surroundings.
“I hate the north.”
The snowflakes whirled merrily in front of his nose, taunting him with their exuberant chill.
Snarling, he slammed the window shut and glared at the fireplace. Flames spat into life, burning with a sluggish reluctance that reflected his own weariness.
As the last of his anger drained away, exhaustion crashed onto Yullik’s shoulders and he stumbled to the armchair beside the fire. His hands were shaking, but he ignored them as he tried to find out where he’d gone wrong.
Caught on the long flight between Scudia and Havia, the Rift Riders should have made for easy prey. Their tiredness should have been the final weakness that sealed his kaz-naghkts’ victory. He’d pushed his creatures hard to make the four day flight in just two when he’d discovered where the Riders were, but they’d had strong winds to help and no kaz-naghkt was ever tired when there was a chance to feed.
Those cursed Riders. He’d been so close. Havia had been in sight, but he’d laid a careful trap. It had been perfect. They should all be dead now, except that Wingborn pair. He had plans for the girl and that miryhl. The thought of them stirred old memories and he shivered.
He’d come close, very close, yet his kaz-naghkt had failed. Again. Because they were been the youngest and the weakest, left behind while he took the strong to conquer Aquila. And because fresh Riders had come to the rescue at the most inopportune moment. Those wretched birds got everywhere, like a disease. He’d once had such fond hopes of Havia and Heryff’s excellent prejudice, but even the old Pyrefly had let them in.
Sinking into the cushions and letting the fire’s heat wash over him, Yullik brooded. He’d expended a lot of energy on this plan, but when it finally worked it would be worth it. Any Rift Rider at large in the Overworld was one too many for his tastes, but those surrounding Lady Mhysra Kilpapan were particularly troublesome.
There was the big one with the scarred face. Too many times now he had been around when Yullik lost something important: prisoners, his escort, Kilai, the Wingborn. Even when he wasn’t directly responsible for Yullik’s defeats, his presence alone condemned him. He was bad luck.
There was also the blond Imercian prince. An interesting potential pawn, if he could be taken alive. Then again, he’d defied Yullik to his face and helped that irritating Kilpapan boy ruin his plans in the tunnels beneath Aquila. Perhaps he wouldn’t try too hard to keep him alive. He would eventually destroy the Stratys’ rule either way.
Worst of all was that silver-eyed creature. He called himself a student, but Yullik hadn’t been born yesterday. Nor was he blind. It wasn’t often he met anyone older than himself, and those few he did encounter always made him exceptionally wary. One could never tell what the old ones would do – a fact he had exploited many times himself. Even if he couldn’t kill that one, he would feel happier if he could remove him from the game. However temporarily. While he remained, Yullik had the unsettling notion he would not succeed in catching the Wingborn pair.
Now those two he did want alive, and whole, and in his presence. He had plans for them both, such plans…
A knock on the door wrenched him from his comfortable doze and his scowl made the fire snap. He didn’t need to sleep often, but when he did, he preferred to dream in peace.
“My Lord Yullik?”
When the door opened without permission, he hardly needed to hear that voice to know who it was. The boy might sound humble, but his unearned arrogance was still apparent in his behaviour. Nothing else in Aquila would dare enter his private quarters without his permission. At least, they wouldn’t live to do so twice. Had Yullik had a little more energy, he would have taught the brat some manners. If he cared.
Somehow he couldn’t summon the interest.
“What?” he rumbled irritably, staring into the fire.
He felt the boy hesitate but didn’t bother to toy with his thoughts. They were simply that boring. Willym was superior to the rest of the world, who incidentally were all fools. Tedious. Perhaps once Yullik finished with the Wingborn he would turn his attention to the boy and teach him the real meaning of the word fool. He smiled.
Willym moved into Yullik’s line of sight, but the smile made him pause. Perhaps not such an idiot after all. He might survive yet.
“What do you want?” Yullik growled, feeling the boy’s confusion.
Until this moment, Yullik had always been a powerful, commanding figure. Seeing him exhausted and brooding had likely come as something of a shock. Which was why Yullik would have to teach him better manners.
“The dean,” Willym finally said, his thoughts part wary, part contemptuous.
Yullik followed them curiously as they switched from side to side, a hint of interest stirring as his body began to recover from his recent exertions. “What of him?”
The wariness spiked. “He tried to kill himself.”
“Again?” Yullik couldn’t help being amused. “What with this time?”
“A nail he prised out of the boards across the windows.” The contempt surged forth and, interestingly, Willym seemed unable to decide whether the cowardly dean or Yullik’s languid amusement was his primary target. The poor lad was so terribly confused. And stupid. Willym understood nothing.
“His wrists, I presume?” Yullik asked, sitting up in his chair.
“Yes. The left. I bound it, but it still bleeds. I have two men watching him.”
Clucking his tongue in disapproval for the dean’s shoddy escape attempt, Yullik held out a hand and sucked the life and heat out of the fire. It surged into his veins, filling him with delicious warmth. Willym’s increased heart rate and flash of fear was the sweetest aftertaste. He breathed it in until the boy regained control of himself. Alas, some things Willym had learned far too quickly.
Still, combined with the fire, Yullik felt invigorated enough to deal with foolhardy Riders, and their skewed notions of honour.
He stood and arched an eyebrow at Willym. “Shall we?”
The boy inclined his head, mocking the obedience the rest of Yullik’s servants had learned the hard way. Which was why he rarely bothered with humans. “After you, my lord.”
How fun it would be to break him, Yullik thought, amused by how clever the child thought himself. But such games deserved leisurely exploration and right now he had more important things to attend to.
~ Next Chapter ~
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