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~ Previous Chapter ~
Is this a dragon I see before me?
“ALL RIGHT, HANDS up who didn’t think this whole flying into the Stormwash thing through?” Corin asked in a stifled voice, as they watched the dragon approach. Because it had to be a dragon. What else would rule the skies in the Dragonlands?
Swallowing hard at the implications of that thought, Lyrai raised his hand along with the others because, truthfully, he hadn’t imagined ever getting close to the Stormwash, let alone passing through it. The Overworld was full of stories of adventurers lost in the Storm Peaks and Mistrune for days, half-swallowed by the Stormsurge. They’d get battered about a bit, but eventually emerge back where they started. No one got into the Dragonlands.
Except them. Not that Lyrai had intended to cross the Stormwash. He’d just wanted to find his errant students and stop them from killing themselves. Yet here they were, alive and mostly well, staring into a blinding blue sky and watching a dragon coming closer. It had been approaching for a while now and was still getting bigger, which meant it was going to be huge. He took several prudent steps back and bumped into Hurricane.
“It will be all right,” his miryhl murmured, riffling his beak through Lyrai’s hair.
He didn’t answer, because though it was sweet of Hurricane to comfort him, it simply wasn’t possible. First there had been the gargantuan vulardis, who could swallow him whole – especially as they liked bones – and now a dragon.
Which was still approaching, and still getting bigger.
“Don’t blame her,” Dhori said, his hand on Latinym’s wing. “Dragons are not her fault.”
“Dragons are and ever have been entirely their own,” a vulardi said, pinning them both with a target eye. “A lesson well learned.”
Dhori pulled a face at the vulture before realising that Lyrai was watching. “Arrogance is a dragon trait.”
“And you would know this, how?” Corin demanded. “Talked with a lot of them, have you?”
The enigmatic student smiled. “Books are amazing things.” He wandered off before Corin realised his answer was no answer at all.
“Cracked,” she muttered, and Lyrai chuckled.
“Well, he is,” she said defensively.
The lieutenant held up his hands. “You’ll hear no arguments from me.”
She eyed him suspiciously for a moment before nodding. “Good.”
“So, just how big do you think our – hopefully – new friend is?” Jaymes asked, as the vulardis cleared a landing space for the dragon.
“Very,” Cumulo muttered unhelpfully, hustling Mhysra under his wing when she tried to step away from him.
“Cumulo,” she complained.
“Mhysra,” he mocked.
Everyone stopped at Jaymes’ pronouncement, no matter how wide the vulardis spread their wings to push them back. They were all too busy staring at Mhysra. Lyrai chuckled when she tried to duck under her miryhl’s wing, but he was no longer intent on hiding her.
“Why didn’t I notice?” Jaymes mumbled, scratching his hair, which had dried into spiky red clumps.
“Do you have a problem with my voice?” Cumulo rumbled, lowering his head to look Jaymes in the eye.
The boy blanched. “No,” he squeaked. “But I, er, um, meant Mhysra.”
“Oh.” Cumulo pulled his beak out of Jaymes’ face. “Apologies. Mhysra stop being foolish and prove to everyone that you’ve found your tongue.”
Stumbling forward after a nudge in the back, Mhysra shot her Wingborn an aggravated look. “I never lost my tongue. Maybe I just didn’t want to talk to you.” She turned her back on her miryhl and smiled at Jaymes. “Yes, I’m talking. Something about this air makes everything clearer. I can breathe here.”
Lyrai frowned – she’d the same thing back in Misthome – but before he could mention it Corin squeezed her in a hug. “Good. Keep breathing.”
“I plan to,” she assured her friend. “I prefer things that way.”
“Nice, very nice,” the nearest vulardi interrupted, gently scooping the girls up with a wing to push them back. “Friends are nice, but moving is better. Dragons need space to land.”
Cumulo growled when the other bird touched his Wingborn and Wisp didn’t seem too happy about it either. Taking possession of their bondeds, they moving them not only back from the dragon’s landing area, but away from the vulardis as well.
“I resent being herded like a sheep,” Corin muttered as Wisp nudged her along.
Lyrai laughed. “I doubt you’ll have to worry about that happening too often.”
“Hope not,” Jaymes agreed, shading his eyes against the glare of the sun. “Because we probably look quite sheep-like to a dragon.”
“You are guests.” The nearest vulardi was shocked. “Is worst bad manners to eat guests.”
“On first day, at least,” murmured another, winking its target eye.
Gliding out from the dragon’s shadow, a fourth vulardi winged swiftly towards them. It swept over the landing area, before hopping along the rocky ground, wide wings held comically outwards. Only once it had stopped could it fold them and strut over to its fellow guardians.
“She comes,” the vulture announced, looking the Riders over with its strange eyes. “The Cleansed Lands are curious. Be welcome. Duck!”
It took Lyrai a moment to realise what the bird meant, but Dhori shoved him down as the dragon glided over their heads, flying along the cliff edge and sweeping upwards. At the top of the swoop, she turned, covering them again with the shadow of her leathery wings. Taking another turn, she back-winged to set her hind feet on the yellow stones, kicking up a cloud of dust.
When the air cleared, the dragon was sitting on her haunches like a cat, long tail wrapped around and over her feet. The Riders stared at the dragon. The dragon stared at the Riders.
The vulardis chuckled. “Be welcome in the Cleansed Lands.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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