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~ Previous Chapter ~
Sorry this is late! (Again.) I shall attempt to make it up to you by giving you a glimpse of a dragon library…
(It won’t be late tomorrow. Promise.)
WATER. WATER. WATER. Down. Down. Down. Mouse sank into the blackness, his panic sinking into the fathomless depths as his body grew heavier. He hung suspended, helpless, hopeless, alone.
Not alone. Never alone. There is nothing to fear.
Mouse was too tired for fear, too despairing to care. It was all the same.
Not alone, the voice repeated with gentle insistence. Never alone.
A light in the gloom, an oval of silver big enough for Mouse to curl up in. The black in the middle contracted to a slit, focusing. The great eye blinked.
He saw. It saw him.
Time to wake.
And Mouse did, gasping and terrified, high in the tower above Aquila, where Dean Marshall whispered apologies over his head.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the darkness below another eye opened and water churned as the dragon stirred.
* * *
IT WAS LATE and the world beyond the high windows was utterly dark, yet Mhysra couldn’t sleep. Too much had happened, too much had been revealed, even more had been left unsaid and Corin and Jaymes were still missing. With so many thoughts inside her head, Mhysra couldn’t sit still, let alone lie down and try to sleep. So she walked through the enormous libraries of the Archives, a golden glow globe in her hand courtesy of Reglian.
“I don’t like fire in my Archives,” he’d said, when she asked for a candle. “It is too much of a risk. If only I could keep Clan Sunlord out.” Taking an egg-shaped pebble from his desk drawer, he’d hummed over it for a moment before handing it to her with a wink. “That should keep you out of mischief for a night or two.”
When Mhysra had stared bemusedly at the dull grey pebble, Reglian had smiled. “Give it a shake.”
Remembering her awe as the ordinary stone warmed into radiance, Mhysra shook it again, causing the golden light to flare a little brighter. All around her leather-bound books and boxes of scrolls lined the shelves, the gold-embossed titles glinting invitingly. It was a shame she couldn’t read most of them. Some were marked with symbols, others written in beautifully flowing scripts that were more art than words. All of them utterly incomprehensible to her human eyes.
One script was particularly intriguing as she lifted a giant tome down, sitting on the floor so that she could turn the pages and hold her globe at the same time. She had no idea what language it was written in, but the marks writhed across the page like flames and smoke. There was no telling if it was written in vertical lines or horizontal ones, or if it was even arranged in lines at all. There seemed to be no structure, only beauty. It almost didn’t matter what it said, since it was so gorgeous to look at. The ink added to its charms, glistening red in the centre and fading outwards to orange and gold by the margins.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?”
Mhysra looked up as Lyrai wandered down the aisle, another golden globe in his hand. “I expected Dhori to find me first.”
Sitting opposite her, he traced the fiery patterns with one finger, smiling. “I think for once Dhori is willing to forgo his role of knower of all things.”
“All the better to keep his secrets,” Mhysra agreed, turning a page. “I wonder what it says.”
“You’re reading it wrong.” Lyrai took the book and turned it around. “And you’ve got it upside down.”
She shot him a sceptical look. “You can read it?”
Shaking his hair from his eyes, he chuckled. “No, but there are sample texts in the Stratys’ Library, complete with notes on how to read them. You start here.” He placed his finger in the centre of the page, on a glowing red dot. “Then heading sunwise, you read outwards as the colour fades to gold.” His finger spiralled around the script, showing how the pattern was formed. It was as clever as it was beautiful.
And yet: “Impractical,” she said, tilting her head, mesmerised by the way the words shimmered beneath the passing of Lyrai’s fingertip. “This book’s too big to keep turning it around and you’d get a terrible neck ache trying to figure it out any other way.”
Reaching the end of the text, Lyrai’s finger slipped from the page. “I don’t think Nidrakkan is meant to be practical. Like the fire it symbolises, it can be controlled only so far.”
“Nidrakkan?” Mhysra repeated, liking how the word dipped in the middle, then kicked at the end, like an ember popping in the grate.
“The High Dragon language,” Lyrai explained. “A language for gods and priests, or the dragon equivalent.” Leaning back, he pulled another book off the shelf, this one written in an elegant, flowing script. “This is Nagka, the Clan dragon language. The aristocracy, if you like.”
Mhysra turned to find one of the symbol books. “And this?”
“Dracoform, which can be written and used by all dragon kind – Clan, kin, lesser, big, small, clever or dim, with varying levels of success. I believe there are also local variants.”
Laying the three books out next to each other, Mhysra glanced between their very different pages and shook her head. “How do you know this? We weren’t taught anything like this at Nimbys or Aquila and certainly not at Wrentheria.”
Turning another page of the Nidrakkan book – from left to right – Lyrai traced the spiral of words, smiling. “Blame it on a childhood interest in all things dragon. Even the greatest dragonlore scholars will answer a boy’s questions, should he also happen to be the son of the Stratys.”
“You abused your privileges wisely, Highness,” she teased. “And sometimes the greatest gift a scholar can have is someone to listen to them, even if it is only an enthusiastic young boy, son of the Stratys or not.”
He chuckled and closed the book. “You’re remarkably wise, at times, Lady Mhysra.”
Rolling her eyes, she put the dracoform book away. “You can’t spend as much time as I do with Dhori without picking up a thing or two.”
“You make me sound like a disease.”
Surprised they both looked up, neither having heard Dhori approach. His smile was cautious as he tossed his glow globe between his hands. This one didn’t hum with Reglian’s golden light, but crackled with a silver more reminiscent of Rhiddyl’s power. Miniature lightning bolts shivered inside the clear glass, throwing wavering shadows over Dhori’s face.
Mhysra wanted to ask him about what had happened with the All Seer Stone, but the way he shifted his feet told her that he was ready to bolt. Dhori had always been highly protective of his past, so just because she’d learned a fascinating snippet about him, didn’t mean she was going to get any more. How frustrating.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” Lyrai asked with studied nonchalance. Curiosity was thick in the air, but Dhori’s tension relaxed a little at the innocuous question.
“I wondered if Jaymes and Corin were back yet.”
“Reglian told me soon,” Lyrai said, closing the Nagka book and standing up to replace it on the shelf. “He told me I might as well wait in the library. Everything turns up here in the end.”
“Huh,” Mhysra grumbled as Dhori pulled her to her feet. “He wouldn’t tell me anything. Just told me to be patient and to try not to set his books on fire.”
Lyrai grinned, playing one-handed catch with his glow globe. “That’s because you’ve been here two bells longer than I have.”
“Hm.” Despite her disgruntled expression, Mhysra was surprised. It hadn’t felt that long.
Then again she’d been completely fascinated by everything around her. Even though the library was tall and spacious enough to contain several full-sized dragons, the shelves at the farthest reaches of the room were spaced for humans. The shelves and books there could only be used by those in human form, and its rows were barely wide enough for three men to walk abreast. The height, however, reached right to the top of the room, far above Mhysra’s head, with rolling ladders spaced at regular intervals.
It wasn’t just books and boxes of scrolls either. Every so often the shelves were realigned around glass cabinets, gilt-framed paintings and small domes. Inside the cabinets the artefacts ranged from ancient pottery and tiny bronze jewellery, to exquisite diamond sculptures and golden masks. There were also objects of magical origin under the domes, like an eternal flame burning inside an emerald locket or a rainbow captured in a solid dewdrop. Her favourite was a firebird feather elegantly curled inside a glass dome, its colours shifting with every new angle she observed it from, the edges shimmering like a living flame.
So many wonders, and she’d only seen a tiny part of what this library and land had to offer.
“Been enjoying yourself?” Dhori asked, as they walked towards the end of the row.
Mhysra sighed. “I have no words to describe this place.”
He smiled. “That’s dragons for you. Show offs, the lot of them.”
“Such compliments, Dhoriaen Aure,” purred an unfamiliar voice, all heat and smoke. A small woman appeared from the shadows between the aisles, her skin as pale as milk, her hair and eyes a vivid shade of orange. “You put us to the blush.”
“Not in the library, I hope,” Dhori countered, not the least embarrassed to be caught out yet again with his disparaging comments. “You’ll burn the books.”
The woman’s laugh was as smoky as her voice. “I do so like you, Aure, whether you like us or not.” She paused to stare towards the centre of the library, head tilting to one side. “Someone knocks,” she announced.
Frowning, Mhysra and the others peered into the dark, trying to see what the dragon had, but when they turned to ask what she meant, she was gone. Only the scent of smoke remained.
“Flametongue,” Dhori huffed derisively, while Mhysra and Lyrai shared a bemused glance. “All show, no substance.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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