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~ Previous Chapter ~
Names are important.
JAYMES STARED AT the purring bundle on his lap, which radiated heat like a furnace. His heart beat oddly as if before this day it had never worked properly. For the first time in months he felt complete, right, at peace. “Thank you,” he whispered to the gift he’d never dreamed of having.
The dragonet trilled softly and tucked its tail more firmly over its nose.
“Sweet, are they not?”
He looked up and smiled at Reglian, accepting the cloth the dragon offered and using it to wipe the blood from his hands. Dragonets liked their meat raw and messy, Jaymes now knew, dabbing at the stains on his shirt. He didn’t know why he bothered, it was ruined anyway.
“I wish they were like this all the time,” Corin grumbled, grimacing as she wiped blood from the pale dragonet sprawled along her legs. “Things would be a lot more peaceful.”
Reglian chuckled and sat on the floor between them, looking perfectly at home despite how many centuries he must have tucked under his scales. “Everything is more peaceful when the children are sleeping. Make the most of what little quiet you can get.”
Stroking the smooth bumps of his dragonet’s scales, Jaymes already missed the voice inside his head, bossing him about and demanding attention.
Judging by Corin’s expression, she didn’t feel the same. “You’re making it worse.”
Reglian’s teeth flashed in a cheeky smile. “I didn’t realise I was supposed to make it better, Dragongifted. There are many throughout history who would have died to be where you are.”
“More fool them,” Corin retorted, relentlessly unimpressed. “I didn’t ask for this.”
“Gifts are worth more when given unlooked for,” Jaymes murmured, running a hand down his dragonet’s foreleg and spreading the bronze claws at the end. The pads beneath were soft and smooth, brand new.
“Well said, young Jaymes,” Reglian rumbled approvingly. “Have you a name for her yet?”
Startled, Jaymes looked up. “I get to name her?”
“Unless she chooses to name herself,” Reglian said, eyes narrowed with amusement. “Since she hasn’t told you yet, it is likely she has no name and is waiting for you to gift her with one.”
“Oh.” Jaymes studied his unexpected gift, taking in the fiery upper scales, paling through orange to white on the underside. Bronze highlights striped her muzzle, accentuating the long, catlike eyes, beading along her spinal ridge and all the way down her tail. Small black horns curved over smoke-coloured ears and white teeth glinted beneath her lips. She was a perfect little ember, waiting to burst into flame.
“Emberbright,” corrected a sleepy murmur in his mind.
“Emberbright,” he agreed, smiling as an amber eye winked at him. “Her name is Emberbright.”
“Corin?” Reglian raised his eyebrows at the girl, who scowled at her dragon.
“He’s Skybreeze. Or so he says.” The dragonet on her legs chortled, wrapping his blue and white tail around her ankle. The more she protested, the happier Skybreeze seemed.
“Excellent.” Reglian clapped his hands and a book appeared between them. “I shall enter your names in the Book of Gifts. I’ll give you a fresh page each,” he added, licking the tip of one golden claw. “Since I’m certain there will be much to add about your adventures.” Chuckling, he wrote in a flowing script, etching their names in a language Jaymes recognised, once he got over his amazement: Reglian needed no ink. Black words formed wherever his claw passed, though he had to lick it occasionally, just as Jaymes would ink a quill. Dragons were astonishing creatures.
“Now,” Reglian said, putting the book aside. “Any questions?”
“Why me?” Corin demanded before Jaymes could get his thoughts in order. “Why us? Why not the others? What makes us so special?”
“Why are Mhysra and Cumulo Wingborn?” Reglian replied. “What makes them special?”
“They were born together,” Jaymes said. “At exactly the same moment.”
“But why them? Why not you?” Reglian looked at Corin.
“Accident of birth. The right place at the right time,” she replied, frowning. “But that doesn’t work for us. Even if we were born at the moment their eggs were laid, it’s not the same thing.”
“No,” Reglian agreed. “It isn’t. Some Dragongift eggs lie unhatched for centuries. It is likely they are considerably older than either of you, if you count their years in the shell.”
Jaymes shared a look with Corin and they both leaned forward to ask, “So?”
At the sight of such eager pupils, Reglian smiled. “When you first breathed, screaming your presence to the world, they awoke inside their shells. Your births made them stir.”
“Why didn’t they hatch then?” Corin questioned, eyeing Skybreeze dubiously.
“You weren’t old enough or close enough to care for them. Dragonets are vulnerable and demanding, as you have seen, but human babies are even more so. You’re not Wingborn, twins in different forms. You are Dragongifted, pledged life partners.”
“Life partners?” they choked, the dragonets looking up, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Reglian frowned and scratched his head. “Your language is incomplete. It makes this difficult to explain. A partner for life, a bond, like that of Rider and miryhl, but deeper. Almost sibling, except without blood. The closest friendship.”
“Oh.” Corin nodded, and Jaymes sighed in relief. As deeply as he cared for his little Ember already, she was a dragon when all was said and done.
“Pledged life partners,” Reglian repeated, watching them expectantly, as were the dragonets.
Jaymes looked into Emberbright’s amber eyes and smiled. “What must I do?”
* * *
TIME TO WAKE, MORRI.
“Mouse. My name is Mouse.” He opened his eyes, ready to argue with the whispered voice, but he wasn’t where he expected. A soft bed where only stone should be, whitewashed walls and frosted windows instead of solid darkness. His face tingled with warmth and he could see clearly out of both eyes for the first time in days. Moving slowly, he sat up, feeling twinges of pain, although they were nothing that he couldn’t handle.
He was healed. Not completely but enough to cope with.
“You are strong.” He snapped his head around, surprised to find there were others in the room when he’d thought himself alone. Dean Marshall sat stiffly in a chair by the fireplace, staring at nothing. The other man, the one who had spoken, Mouse dimly recognised as his saviour.
An enemy, but not a monster.
“It is a gift,” the stranger murmured, smiling as if he could hear Mouse’s thoughts.
“You,” he said, unsure what he was accusing the man of.
The smile broadened. “Me,” he agreed. “Or Yullik. I prefer it to You.”
“My name is Mouse,” he said slowly, a faint memory stirring before slipping away. Frustrated, he looked at Yullik again, only to find the man frowning. “You healed me.”
Yullik blinked, his expression smoothing out. “I did, as best as I could. The rest you’ll have to do yourself.” He frowned again, but at Mouse’s lame leg this time. “There is only so much I can do.”
Mouse looked down and his legs twitched in response. Familiar self-derision washed over him. Useless, weak, failure. And it was all the fault of Willym. All of it, even the leg. He had started it long before he carried it into the dark.
Forgotten pain, fear and grief returned in a surge.
“All right, Mouse, all right,” a soft voice whispered. “That’s over now. It’s in the past. Breathe. There’s a good lad.”
He blinked, surprised to find himself in Yullik’s hold, halfway to the floor. He didn’t even remember falling. He remembered —
“Hush,” Yullik commanded, a hint of hardness entering his soothing tone. “No more. Don’t think. My healing won’t hold if you’re foolish. Don’t waste it.”
Mouse took a deep, shuddering breath. “I won’t. I don’t want to think.”
With Yullik’s help, he shifted back onto the bed and settled against the pillows, worn out. He may have been healed, but he was still so tired.
“Yes, sleep,” Yullik murmured when Mouse yawned. “Your body needs to rest.”
Mouse agreed with a slow nod, his twinges of pain turning to heaviness. He yawned again, knowing he’d forgotten something, something important but before he could remember what he slipped into sleep.
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