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~ Previous Chapter ~
Inside the dragon’s lair.
PASSING INTO THE shadow of the cave, Cumulo flexed his wings to their full span. “Brave and true indeed,” he scoffed. “It’s just a cave.”
Mhysra smirked, then yelped as the turbulent air gave her Wingborn a momentary wobble.
After a quick flap and a muttered curse, Cumulo glided harmlessly between the toothy formations. “Just as I said,” he sniffed, fluffing up his feathers and glancing around to check that no one had seen him looking less than perfect. “Nothing to worry about.”
Mhysra bit her lip against replying and patted him on the shoulder.
“Welcome, welcome!” Their host’s voice drifted down the gloomy cavern, beckoning them towards a flickering light. “I have cleared a space for you.”
Still muttering to himself, Cumulo lifted them over a pile of debris to follow Hurricane into a brightly lit chamber. The walls were dotted with crystals and pieces of polished metal, all of which reflected and doubled the light coming from a collection of bowls scattered around the floor. Each bowl cradled a flame, like oversized candles, lending warmth as well as light to the space.
And what a space, Mhysra thought, gazing around as her miryhl drifted safely in to land on the open floor. For the dragon it was cosy, suitable for one but cramped for two; for the humans it was enormous.
Natural cave walls gave way to claw-smoothed enlargements, stretching some sixty or so feet into the air. Rhiddyl was able to sit up without banging her head, but in deference to her guests she had chosen to lie down. Unfortunately for her that didn’t appear nearly as comfortable, since the chamber curved inwards and she had to bend herself round with it, tucking in her wings and tail. Some of the shiny objects on the walls were probably pressing into her side too as she pushed back to make room for her guests.
Mhysra had never imagined a dragon could be so sweet and unsure of herself. Rhiddyl watched them anxiously, picking at the end of her tail in the same way a human might have bitten their lip. The dragon looked at Lyrai the most, instinctively turning to their leader for reassurance and approval. It made her seem almost human, which was an odd thought when looking at a an enormous, scaled creature, with teeth as long as her forearm.
“As you see, it is not luxurious,” Rhiddyl fluted softly, “but it does well enough for me. I have never had visitors before.” Her pearly scales flushed pink in the glittering light. “I never expected to.”
Feeling sorry for her and her obvious discomfort, Mhysra said, “I like your lights.”
Rhiddyl blinked in her direction, tilting her head with birdlike curiosity. “My lights?”
“The bowls,” Corin agreed, coming to Mhysra’s rescue since having the full attention of a dragon was a little overwhelming. “They’re so pretty. How do you keep the fires lit?”
Rhiddyl’s brow ridge lowered thoughtfully as she looked around her cave. “Oils and wicks. They sell scented ones in the markets too, but it is so hard to air this chamber I always worry that I will find one I do not like and be forever after unable to get rid of the offending smell.”
“You don’t need scented one. These are lovely,” Mhysra said, finding her voice again.
“I like how you reflect the light off the walls,” Corin added. “It’s very clever.”
The dragon tilted her head the other way and stroked the wall with silver claws that glittered and shone. “They are pretty.” She huffed with pleasure. “I am glad something in my home finds favour.”
“When you’ve stayed in some of the places we have,” Cumulo piped up from amongst the miryhls, “any cave is more than adequate. Better than a tumbled-down barn with rats or being left out in the rain.”
Rhiddyl huffed again, amused this time. “I am pleased to say I have no rats, and since I patched the holes last springtide the rain remains outside.”
“A palace,” Cumulo approved.
The dragon chuckled, then scratched her muzzle and darted an uncertain glance at Lyrai. “You must forgive me for not having soft things for you all. Dragons find no discomfort in sleeping on stone, although I know many species think otherwise. I hope your miryhls will not mind a night without proper perches.”
The anxiety in her tone stopped Lyrai from staring around the chamber in open wonderment. He smiled. “We have our bedrolls, and I’m sure our miryhls will be well enough if we use our spare blankets to help hold off the chill. Truly, your home is beautiful. You have nothing to apologise for.”
Rhiddyl flushed ruby. “You are all kindness. I had not heard that humans were so courteous. You could rival Clan Highflight with your kindly words.” She lowered her head bashfully and gave it a shake, taking a deep breath as if to steady her nerves. “I thank you, but now on to other matters. Behind you is a spring, the water of which I have always found delightfully refreshing. As to food, I ate yesterday, but I believe humans require sustenance more frequently. I have nothing to offer you, I am sorry to say, but I would be pleased to hunt for you in the morning.” Another worried glance in Lyrai’s direction.
The lieutenant bowed, his hair glinting gold in the light. “Thank you, but we carry some food with us. Enough to last a few days, at least. Please don’t put yourself out on our account. We’ve spent several moons in the wilderness and are quite capable of looking after ourselves.”
“Some more than others,” Cumulo murmured.
“Indeed,” Lyrai eyed the miryhl witheringly, and Mhysra squirmed in embarrassment at her Wingborn’s mouthy tendencies. “But we would be grateful for your advice, should the need for a hunt arise.” The lieutenant turned back to the dragon with a smile.
Rhiddyl watched their interaction with interest, her crest rising and falling on her head. “Very well,” she sighed lightly. “But you must tell me the instant you require anything. I should hate to fail in my hosting duties.”
Mhysra smiled at the dragon’s eagerness to please. “It’s you who is all kindness, I think.”
“And you must tell us if there is something we should be doing. Or not, as the case may be,” Lyrai added. “It’s been a long time since humans last interacted with dragons and I fear the important rules have been forgotten. We would hate to cause offence.”
Rhiddyl’s eyes glowed and she hummed with happiness. “We have an agreement then. I will teach you and you will teach me. Now make yourselves comfortable, new friends, and tell me how you came to be here. I confess, I am most curious.” Resting her chin on her crossed feet, Rhiddyl watched them pull blankets and bedrolls from their packs, waiting for someone to begin.
Once everyone was settled, Lyrai smiled. “I think I’ll let Corin and Jaymes start, since they’re the ones who got us into this mess.”
“Not true,” Corin protested. “Or not completely true. This all starts at Aquila.”
“With pirates,” Mhysra agreed.
“And kaz-naghkt,” added Jaymes.
Dhori smiled, joining in with the dramatics. “And sieges and ships, catapults and cave ins.”
The dragon’s eyes grew wide with excitement as she looked from one face to another, making Mhysra wonder just how old she was and how it compared in human terms.
Her expectant gaze returned to Lyrai, and the lieutenant’s smile turned wry. “It all began around midsummer, when the Wrathlen grew active…”
~ Next Chapter ~
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