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~ Previous Chapter ~
Is that…? Could it possibly be…?
(And it’s nice to know Reglian’s grown up some in the two hundred odd years since he was winding Estenarven up in the latest Courtship chapter XD)
FOR THE SECOND time that morning, Corin descended a stairway she hoped she wouldn’t have to climb again later. At ten strides across and three feet down, even the steps that led to the chamber floor were enormous. The reason for their size became evident when Reglian shifted into his natural form, his fifty foot length entirely at home in such spacious surroundings. After twenty-one steps, they finally reached the gloom of the chamber floor with no walls in sight. The ceiling was only visible because of the light shafts, and even those failed to illuminate little more than the patches of floor they landed on.
“A moment,” Reglian said, and rumbled deep in his belly, setting the whole cavern trembling with subterranean thunder. Stretching out his neck, he convulsed as though about to be sick. He hummed again, a little higher, and shook a second time. The hum moved to his throat and he coughed. Hum, cough, hum, cough, he sounded like a cat with a harmonious furball. Coughing three times, each sound tolling like a bell, Reglian shuddered all over and shook his head.
Two globes dropped out of his mouth, the surface as smooth and cloudy as any other dragongift light they had seen. Reglian cleared his throat – a low boom of distant thunder – and hummed again. The globes trembled, then pulsed into life with a golden glow the same shade as the dragon’s eyes.
“There,” he rumbled, his voice rough. “Take care of them. It’s been a while since I last made one out of nothing, but they should last a little while.”
“How long is a little while?” Jaymes asked dubiously, looking at the gloom surrounding them as Corin poked the nearest spit-light with her toe.
“Twenty, perhaps thirty years, give or take. I was rather rushed, unfortunately, which is why they will be so short lived.” Amused and a little smug, Reglian ambled off along a wide road.
Apparently having no scruples about the origins of the glow globes, Jaymes scooped up the nearest one and strode after him. Unwilling to be left behind in the gloom, Corin grimaced and resigned herself to picking up the last spit-globe. It was warm, but at least it wasn’t slimy. Well, it wasn’t after she’d rubbed it on her shirt anyway.
With Jaymes snickering ahead of her, she hurried after her companions along the walkway, which the glow globe revealed to be paved with pearly cobbles, not unlike the scales on Rhiddyl’s belly. Unnerved, she hurried to catch up with Jaymes, noticing that her globe pulsed to the sway of Reglian’s tail.
“Where are we?” she asked, as they passed a great pillar carved in the shape of two dragons entwined, one facing the ceiling, the other the floor. “Other than in the Hall of Promise.”
Flexing his wings and resettling them, Reglian hummed thoughtfully. “We are in the centre of the island. At the heart of the Archives, if you like.”
Pausing to study a vein of silver ore that cut across the cobbled path like a long-healed scar, pretty and glittering, Corin once more had to run to catch up. “Do you keep histories down here?”
Reglian swung his head around to wink at her, rumbling with amusement. “In a way.” Which told her nothing and made her all the more curious. And slightly nervous.
“Why are we here?” she asked instead, knowing he was teasing on purpose.
“To make a promise.”
“Where are we going?” Jaymes questioned, while Corin was distracted searching for something sharp to jab the dragon’s underbelly with.
“To the Giftspring.”
“Thanks for clearing that up,” Corin drawled. “If you hadn’t said, I might have got lost.”
Skybreeze chuckled, and she tickled his head with a sigh. She thoroughly understood Dhori’s low opinion of dragons now.
“As long as you are with me, young Corin,” Reglian said, “you will never be lost.”
“How reassuring. From the dragon with the wings, in the cavern of endless space.”
“I thought so,” he agreed mildly. “We turn left here.”
Using a marker Corin couldn’t see, the dragon stepped off the pearl road and within two dragon-strides, stepped onto a red one with a coppery sheen that led towards the shafts of light streaming from the ceiling. Not that Corin was interested in the light, nor the exquisitely carved statues to either side. Because this road gave gently beneath her weight and even through the soles of her boots she could tell it was warm.
“Don’t want to know, don’t want to know,” she muttered, to keep herself from asking.
“Clan place,” Skybreeze answered anyway, a cool wind inside her mind. “Clan history. All around.” He paused, then added wickedly, “Even under feet.”
“Reglian! Please tell me I’m not walking on your ancestors!”
“You are not walking on my ancestors, young Corin.” The big dragon rumbled a deep chuckle. “I am Clan Skystorm. Right now we are walking on Clan Sunlord.”
* * *
DERRAIN WAS MISERABLE. This was not the Rider life he had signed up for, nor come to enjoy over the last few years. This was day after day of the same dreary routine, without even the company of his friends to relieve the tedium. Not that he didn’t have friends amongst these Riders – Derrain had friends everywhere – but it wasn’t the same. Besides most of the Riders were as fed up as him. All thanks to the HSF.
Every day the same. He would have expected the lordlings to have settled down by now, or at least have grown wearied by the long days in the saddle, but no. They were as disruptive and argumentative as ever, with Lorfyn always in the centre of the outrage. His latest campaign was befriending the Riders while trying to ride any unguarded miryhls. The eagles thought he was ridiculous – well, it was either that or become so insulted by his presence that they savaged him.
Tempting as it was to let them, for the safety and well being of all involved, they tried to keep the lordlings and miryhls apart as much as possible. As the Rider in charge of dealing with the HSF, that task mostly fell to Derrain. Murder was becoming an attractive prospect. Or falling on his sword. There wasn’t much difference between the two choices for Derrain these days.
So he escaped to the eyries whenever chance or fortune allowed. Because despite everything and everyone, he still had Zephyr and she never asked impossible tasks of him. Nor drove him near-demented with foolish schemes.
“Evening, Derry. How are you holding up?” Stirla returned to visit Atyrn after a quick inspection of the camp and inhabitants. He was followed by his newly acquired shadow, Princess Neryth. Derrain wasn’t certain what had happened at Sherpoint, but ever since their stay the princess had been trailing after the lieutenant, hanging on his every word as if he was the fount of all wisdom. It was unnerving.
“Evening, Highness, sir,” Derry murmured respectfully as he checked Zephyr over. They had done a lot of flying lately and though she looked more glossy, fit and beautiful than ever, Mhysra had taught him never to be complacent. Nor was Zephyr likely to protest against any extra attention.
Grinning at his formal tone, Stirla stepped around Atyrn’s tail to ruffle his hair. “Going a bit thin on top, aren’t you, student?”
Derrain shot the princess an assessing look, never quite sure how to act around this austere royal. Since she wasn’t looking at him, he pulled a wry grimace. “Can’t think why.”
Stirla laughed and ruffled his hair again. “You need to get yourself a protocol bodyguard, like mine.” He jerked a thumb at the princess, who smiled faintly. “My hair pulling moments have decreased dramatically since we started training together.”
“If you can call it training,” Neryth muttered, checking over her small miryhls, which she flew on alternate days since neither were up to Rider standard or fitness. “I spend most of my time in the mud, slush, snow and dirt.”
“I should pit you against Derry sometime, Highness. That’ll buck you confidence right up.”
“Thanks,” Derrain drawled, in no hurry to fight the princess. Not because Neryth was so much better, or because she was female, but because she was a noble. The way she fought was hemmed with rules and flourishes that had nothing to do with survival. Staying alive was the only way Derrain knew how to fight. Now that he trained daily with the Riders, he was worried he might inadvertently hurt her through a mistake or sheer force – and no lowly midshipmate wanted royal blood on his hands, even if it was just a splash.
Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, because Neryth gave a real smile. “Perhaps, when I’m more familiar with the Riders’ way of fighting. There are only so many blows my pride can take.”
“Derry’d go easy on you,” Stirla assured her, slapping him on the shoulder. “He’s reasonably civilised – for a student.”
Worried he was about to become Neryth’s full-time sparring partner, Derry grimaced. “Blame the HSF for that. Since Zephyr and I became their unofficial mascots, their behaviour has been rubbing off on me.”
“Heirayk’s fiery balls!” Stirla exclaimed in mock alarm. “We can’t have that. I’ll have to rescue you right away. Who’s your least favourite in this ramshackle squad?”
Unsure whether he was being serious or not, Derry stuck with humour. “Sir, I wouldn’t even wish this lot on Willym and his cronies.”
“Liar,” Stirla chuckled. “If Bovei and the lackeys were here you’d throw off your responsibilities gladly.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Derry deadpanned. “Not even Lorfyn deserves that.”
Neryth raised her eyebrows when Stirla laughed loudly in appreciation – perhaps a little too loudly. Looking at his lieutenant more closely, Derry noticed his strain lines around his eyes and the dark shadows underneath. Clearly he was worried, most likely about Captain Hylan’s reaction when they finally returned to Kaskad with the HSF and a princess in tow. It wouldn’t be too much longer now, since every day carried them closer.
“You’re far kinder than I, Derry. Luckily for you Rhyk and Theryn have clearly had too much time on their hands lately.” Even now the irrepressible duo were singing raucous tavern songs and teaching the filthiest verses to the obliviously innocent Lorfyn. “Time to put them to work.”
Before Derrain could revel in his unexpected fortune, Stirla’s wicked grin turned in his direction. “Which will leave you free to join the princess and I at weapon’s drill tomorrow.” At Derrain’s obvious dismay, the unfeeling lieutenant cheerfully slapped his shoulder again. “See you at dawn.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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