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~ Previous Chapter ~
In which Corin is ever so slightly sarcastic.
“NOTHING MUCH, HE says. Perfectly simple,” Corin muttered, picking through the basket of goodies left for them on a library table. She’d have preferred to see Reglian at the appointed meeting spot, but food was always welcome, especially after a night of broken sleep. “Toenails.”
“Simple. Easy. Fun.”
Corin scowled at the blue bundle curled up beside her. “Since you’re a dragon, I am not reassured by that.”
Skybreeze chuckled and twitched his tail. He was supposed to be sleeping, but from their short acquaintance Corin already knew her dragonet never missed an opportunity to comment.
Across from her, Jaymes dozed, curled up with Emberbright, their red heads pillowed next to each other. It was all right for him; he was happy about this. In fact he’d eaten barely any breakfast before falling asleep. Corin couldn’t sleep. Her mind was too busy wondering what kind of ceremony a dragon would think was simple, easy or fun.
“How could I possibly sleep?” she grumbled, taking a bite of her egg roll, absolutely famished. “How can he?” She stared at Jaymes, her stomach gurgling in sympathy. “Though it explains why he’s such a skinny runt.”
“No talk. Sleeping.”
She couldn’t help but smile. A lifebond to a dragonet might not be what she wanted, but she had to admit he was amusing. Sometimes.
“Corin fun,” the little voice, a cool breeze inside her mind, murmured. “Sometimes.”
“Funny.” Having finished her roll, Corin peered into the basket again. She’d already eaten a bowl of winter fruits and nuts, two egg rolls, several rashers of bacon and some smoked fish that was surprisingly nice. She was trying to leave the rest for Jaymes, but she was still hungry…
She looked at her flurry-mate and fellow Dragongifted, sleeping so very peacefully opposite her. “He made his choice,” she decided, since it would be a waste to let the bacon get cold.
A pale blue nose appeared over her arm, twitching at the basket. “Smell good.”
“You’ve been fed,” she reminded her little shadow. “And you’re sleeping, remember?”
“Hungry. Weak.” The voice grew faint, the nose resting heavily on the edge of the basket as though Skybreeze barely had the energy to stand. “Please.”
“I am an idiot,” Corin muttered, giving the bacon to her dragonet and reaching for her third egg roll.
At least someone was happy.
“Is Skybreeze eating bacon?” Reglian had finally deigned to turn up.
Corin swallowed and watched her dragonet fastidiously clean his front claws. “He was.”
The dragon in human shape frowned. “He’s a hatchling. He needs fresh, raw meat.”
“Teach them early, that’s my motto.” Corin shrugged, drinking from a bottle of strange golden liquid that was sweet, sharp and refreshing. “Fresh meat isn’t always available. He should learn to eat what I eat.”
Reglian eyed the depleted basket disapprovingly, then turned to wake Jaymes. “It is time,” he told the redhead. “Come. And you, Corin.” Not waiting for further arguments, Reglian walked out. Yawning, Jaymes picked up Emberbright and followed without a single glance at the food.
“Unnatural.” Pocketing the last egg roll, Corin scooped up Skybreeze and left the library.
Reglian led them down long, sun-filled corridors, across cavernous halls and around courtyards, some empty, others overflowing with greenery. They passed a few dragons of varying size and shape, but all were too busy to care what Reglian was up to.
After a long walk, they finally entered a tower of shining black stone, but instead of going up, they turned to descend a narrow spiral stairway. Brushing against the banister rail, Corin raised a cloud of thick dust and sneezed.
“Careful!” Skybreeze yipped when she almost missed a step. “Big fall. Bad.”
Corin sneezed again, but was more watchful of her feet this time. For once she and Skybreeze were in perfect agreement about the potential fall. The creaking stairs wound down, going ever deeper until Corin began to wonder if she’d ever see the sun again.
Three turns later, Reglian paused. “It’s not too late to stop,” he said, pausing before a pair of ebony doors bound and decorated in bronze. His golden clawed hand fit right in. “Should you choose not to go on, turn back now. Once through this door your choice cannot be unmade.”
“Thanks for telling us now, with all these stairs at our back,” Corin grumbled. “No one’s said anything about a choice before. Couldn’t you have mentioned it back when we were first dragged into all of this?”
Reglian smiled, shaking his head with indulgent amusement. “Few are the Dragongifted who turn aside, young Corin. Few would even think to.” He glanced pointedly at Jaymes, who was already so entwined with Emberbright that it was hard to imagine him without her. “By tradition the choice must be offered here, and here alone. The Call is not optional.”
“But the stairs,” she insisted. “You could have at least asked before I came down the stairs.”
“Refusing a dragongift is not supposed to be easy.”
Looking over her shoulder at the steps spiralling high above her head, Corin huffed. “If I go through that door, will I still have to climb them later?”
“That should not be your reason for continuing,” Reglian rumbled, sternly disapproving.
She shrugged. “We all have our priorities in life.”
“Stairs high. Tired.”
“Exactly. Skybreeze and I are in agreement for once.”
The Archivist rubbed his forehead. “You make a good pair.”
Having thought herself already happily paired with Wisp, Corin shot Skybreeze a dubious look. The dragonet peered back, wrinkling his long nose with a chirrup.
“You’re cute,” she had to admit, but that wasn’t a good enough reason to tie herself to this creature for life. How big did these dragonets grow? She couldn’t imagine feeding and housing a creature the size of Rhiddyl on her Riders pay. Even if the Flying Corps decided to help, hanging around with such a monster was going to play havoc with her love life. If she ever got one.
“Please.” Pewter eyes stared imploringly up at her, little paws tucked under his chin, white tipped ears flattened down. Gods, it was like kicking a puppy.
“I won’t be manipulated,” she warned, weakening further as Skybreeze gave a sad whimper.
“Come on, Corin,” Jaymes cajoled. “Aren’t you even a little curious about what he’ll grow into?”
“No,” she lied. “I already know he’ll grow into a full time menace.”
“Suit yourself.” Jaymes turned to Reglian. “I choose to go on.” His dragonet purred smugly.
Skybreeze gave a shuddering whimper. Reglian looked at her, then up the spiral stairs. The really high, really steep, really exhausting spiral stairs.
“All right!” she shouted. “You win. I’ll make the stupid pledge. Like I have any choice.”
Reglian’s lips twitched as he fought to remain solemn. “There is always a choice, young Corin, even if only to give in with good grace.”
“Don’t push it.”
Chuckling, the Archivist placed his hand at the centre of the doors, and flexed his claws. They slotted into holes in the wood and he twisted a bronze sun to the left. The lock clunked and the sun split in half. The doors opened silently inwards.
Beyond them, the chamber revealed was far larger than the tower above and, despite all those spiral stairs, they still hadn’t quite reached the floor. Stepping through the doors, they stood up a broad land that stretched above an enormous staircase, spilling outwards in wide, semi-circular steps. Shafts of light shone down at regular intervals along the chamber’s length, fading into the distance as even the light surrendered to the gloom. The air was rich with a sense of enormous space and great age.
“Wow,” Jaymes breathed in awe.
“Big,” was Skybreeze’s contribution. Corin could only nod.
“Welcome to the Hall of Promise,” Reglian said, striding down the stairs. “Come along.”
The doors slammed behind them and Corin raised her eyebrows at Jaymes.
He grinned. “No turning back now.”
Which was exactly what she was afraid of.
~ Next Chapter ~
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