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~ Previous Chapter ~
YULLIK OPENED HIS eyes to the dark. There was a moment of emptiness as his wandering mind returned to his fragile body, settling back into the familiar contours and confines. The fingers on his right hand twitched, his left foot tapped, his eyebrows twitched, then his heart beat. He took a deep breath.
His mind snapped into focus and his body was his own once more, senses spreading out, searching, tasting, testing. There was something there, something he had never felt before. At least, not in this particular way. Not in this particular place. He’d not thought to look for it here, but there was too much familiarity for him to mistake it. Every muscle in his body tightened.
The night was quiet, Aquila was still and whatever had moved in the dark was gone.
* * *
MHYSRA’S FINGERS TIGHTENED on Lyrai’s arm as the knock came again. He didn’t think she was aware of doing it, but since it didn’t hurt he wasn’t about to tell her to let go.
A third knock, another squeeze. Lyrai frowned. “It isn’t come from there.” He nodded towards the centre of the library, where the orange-haired dragon had been looking.
“No,” Dhori agreed, pacing up the aisle towards the walls. “It’s from down there.”
“Under the floor?” Mhysra asked dubiously, but the fourth knock came unmistakably from beneath their feet. She crouched down and ran her hands over the smooth stone. “How do we open it?”
“Do we want to?” Lyrai said, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder as she discovered a metal ring embedded in the stone. “What do we know of dragons, after all?”
“Didn’t Reglian tell you to wait in the library for Corin and Jaymes?” Mhysra replied, tapping her fingers against the metal ring. “It could be them.”
The fifth knock sounded right under Lyrai’s boots and he looked at Dhori. “Well?”
Rubbing his jaw, Dhori paced around the flagstone where the knocks were coming from, humming softly. Someone had been spending too much time with the dragons, Lyrai thought with a smile.
“Only one way to know,” Dhori said, dropping his glow globe to seize a second metal ring fixed into the stone. “Take the other one, Lyrai. Mhysra, stand back.”
Giving his globe to Mhysra as she stood and moved back, Lyrai did as he was told, surprised to find that the ring felt warm. It rose smoothly from its groove, clinking a little as he braced himself.
“On three,” Dhori said, shifting his weight. “One, two, three.” They strained against the hefty weight, pulling the flagstone up smoothly and shuffling sideways to drop it.
A familiar russet head popped up. “About time,” Jaymes greeted, grinning. “I thought we’d be lost down here forever. Hey, Corin, guess who I found?” He dropped out of sight.
Crouching on the edge of the hole, Mhysra shone a glow globe into the dark. “I thought we found them,” she said, smiling as Corin appeared. “Been having fun?”
“No,” her friend grumbled. “Take this.” She passed a bundle into Mhysra’s astonished arms.
“But this is -”
“Wait,” Jaymes called, reappearing with a red bundle of his own. “It gets better.” He handed it to Lyrai, who almost dropped it due to its intense heat.
When it uncurled and blinked at him with bright amber eyes, he gave into the sudden urge to sit down. Though it weighed barely anything, the bundle was unmistakably a dragonet, with claws and teeth and scales. And tiny nubs for wings. “Where?” he croaked, the only word he could manage as Dhori hauled Corin and Jaymes out of the hole before the three of them dragged the flagstone back into place.
“A cave along the coast,” Jaymes explained, grinning as the dragonet wriggled out of Lyrai’s slack hold to drape itself about the lad’s neck and waist. It sighed contentedly, smoke spiralling out of its little nostrils. “It runs right under the island, I think. Led us straight here. Amazing. An entire cavern full of rock nests.” He tickled his dragonet’s chin, making it purr.
Astonished, and not just because he’d never heard Jaymes so talkative, Lyrai turned to Corin, whose own dragonet was draped around her in a similar fashion. Unlike Jaymes, she didn’t appear quite as happy about it.
“How?” Mhysra asked, sounding as confused and stunned as Lyrai felt.
“Why?” Corin added wryly. “That’s the one I’d like to know.” Her dragonet rubbed its head against her scratched face with a throaty chuckle.
“Because you were called.” Reglian walked out of the shadows, voice and expression smug. “Because you were close. Because you were born to it. Some people are Wingborn -” He nodded at Mhysra. “- others are Dragongifted. It’s the greatest of the dragongifts.”
Jaymes practically glowed with happiness, while Corin’s shoulders sagged. Both dragonets looked up, their pointed faces trained in Reglian’s direction – and screeched. Reglian wasn’t the only one to wince. Especially when the pitch began to rise in wavering pulses.
Painful as it was, Lyrai didn’t have to speak dragonet to understand. These babies were hungry and they wanted everyone to know it.
“All right!” Reglian boomed. “You have manners to learn.” He glared at the dragonets before pointing at Jaymes and Corin. “And you have much to teach. No child should be so demanding. It isn’t good for them.”
“Or us,” Corin grumbled, wrapping her hand around her dragonet’s muzzle to silence it.
“They’re hungry,” Jaymes protested, as his dragonet rubbed affectionately against his face. “As you would be if you’d never eaten in your life. What do we feed them, Reglian? What else should we know?”
It was the most confident Lyrai had ever heard Jaymes speak, especially to someone he still regarded as a stranger. Responsibility was clearly good for the boy.
Still rubbing his ears, Reglian turned with a sigh. “Come, I have prepared for this. The rest of you should look along there.” He pointed at a row of shelves leading away into the shadowy gloom. “I believe you might find something of interest.”
Corin’s dragonet peeped a loud protest when Reglian’s footsteps slowed, and he shot it a narrow-eyed glare. “Starvation is a necessary training aid, windling.”
The dragonet flattened against its human with a low meep.
“Read on,” Reglian commanded Lyrai, Dhori and Mhysra, and marched off with the others.
Watching them go, Mhysra yawned and Lyrai copied. He rubbed his eyes, relaxed enough to feel sleepy now that their errant friends had returned. “There’s not a book in the Overworld I’d find interesting right now.”
“Nor me,” Mhysra agreed, yawning again. “Unless it was pillow shaped.”
“It’s dawn,” Dhori said, looking at the nearest window. “The books aren’t going anywhere.”
“Good, ‘cause I am,” Mhysra muttered, turning around. “If I knew how to get out.”
Lyrai grabbed her shoulders to stop her spinning and steered her towards the door. “Come on, Wingborn. There probably is a pillow-shaped book in this place, but you’ll find your bed more comfortable.”
“True,” she agreed, letting him guide her without protest. “You going to sleep too, Dhori?”
Lyrai glanced over his shoulder, having thought their most mysterious friend was following.
Dhori leant back against the nearest shelves, watching them with a smile, and shook his head. “Carry on. Maybe I’ll find a book to interest me.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Lyrai remarked, and received a brief grin.
“Some of them without me even being involved,” Dhori quipped.
“Imagine that.” Yawning, Mhysra turned to Lyrai plaintively. “I’m still lost.”
Rolling his eyes, he took her hand and headed into the gloom of the shelves. “Night, Dhori.”
Catching Mhysra as she stumbled with weariness, Lyrai smiled. “I think she already is.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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