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~ Previous Chapter ~
If you were one of those people wondering what would happen to Corin’s and Jaymes’ miryhls…? Well, now you’ll know.
“I DON’T LIKE IT.”
Mhysra sighed, checking Cumulo’s girth straps one last time. “There are two, Cue, and they’re not its.”
“Them then,” he corrected grumpily. “I don’t like them. They’re not natural.”
Ruffling her fingers through his neck feathers, she smiled. “Unlike Wingborn, who come straight out of nature.”
“That’s different,” he muttered, turning his head for unnecessary preening.
Mhysra suspected that was only because he was involved. “I don’t see why.” She checked his breast band, straightening out a few skewed feathers. “Dragons created miryhls, and miryhls are half the Wingborn bond. Why is a Dragongift bond any different?”
Cumulo flexed his talons and muttered, “Because they’re dragons.”
“Careful, Cue, your prejudice is showing.”
He huffed and shot her an irritated look. “Birds and mammals are warm blooded. We exist in a similar way. We have similar life spans, at least miryhls and humans do. Dragons are lizards. Lizards are cold, scaly, peculiar. And dragons live forever.”
“Not quite.” An amused Reglian wandered amongst the miryhls in his human shape, tall enough to look the embarrassed Cumulo in the eye when he ducked his head. “We Clan dragons live long, true, but the Dragongift are a lesser species. They may outlive their humans, but not always. Nor are dragons lizards. We are closely related but not of the same class. Like birds and reptiles.”
Cumulo’s feathers fluffed up in affront. “There are no lizards amongst my ancestors.”
Mhysra covered her face with her hands, while Reglian chuckled. “You might be surprised. Have you never noticed the similarities between scales and feathers? And a miryhl should know better. Were your ancestors not created from the will of a Goddess and the genius of dragons?”
Cumulo crackled his beak and didn’t answer. He twisted his head to glare at Mhysra instead. “Are we leaving today or not?”
Biting her lip to stifle her giggles, Mhysra almost lost composure when Reglian winked at her. “Indeed, young Cumulo. We shall soon be ready to depart. If you’ve finished, Mhysra, perhaps you might help your friends? Corin and Jaymes would welcome an experienced touch, I think.”
“Huh,” Cumulo huffed when Reglian walked away. “I don’t see why you should meddle in their affairs. Wisp and Argon are quite within their rights to protest. Miryhls carry Rift Riders, not lizards.” Leaving her Wingborn to sulk, Mhysra ducked around the chuckling Hurricane.
Lyrai followed. “Is there anything to be done, do you think?”
She shot him an amused glance and looked across the courtyard at where Argon and Wisp had their backs turned to their Riders. “With Dhori in the vicinity, who knows?”
“Except he doesn’t like dragons,” Lyrai reminded her.
“But I dislike farces more.” The man himself was leaning against the wall beside the tacked up Latinym, watching the disgruntled miryhls with exasperation. “And whatever I may think of dragons, I’d be a fool to look a dragongift in the mouth. Especially such a pair.”
“Oh?” Mhysra looked at the dragonets sitting on Corin and Jaymes’ saddle bags, watching their new partners with interest. “Aren’t they a little small?”
“They’ll grow,” Dhori said, pushing off the wall to walk across the courtyard. “Time to sort this out. Mhysra, you take Wisp, Lyrai have Argon, and I’ll try to talk some sense into that feeble pair.”
“They’re not feeble.” Jaymes turned on Dhori, indignation blazing. “Emberbright is only a few days old and she’s already grown six inches.”
“I wasn’t talking about them,” Dhori said witheringly, as Mhysra and Lyrai hurried towards the miryhls and out of the line of fire. “I meant you.”
“Hey!” Corin woke up to the insult – and the bickering began.
Chuckling, Lyrai patted Mhysra’s shoulder for luck and ducked under Argon’s neck. Wisp was a little more difficult to reach, since she’d wedged her head into the corner, beak almost touching the ground. She looked about as dejected as a miryhl could get.
Mhysra’s heart squeezed with sympathy and she ran a soothing hand along the miryhl’s wing. “Would you like to talk about it?”
The little miryhl shuddered under her hand, and turned aside.
Mhysra sighed, shuffled along the wall and sat under Wisp’s beak, stroking the feathers beneath her eyes. “There,” she crooned. “It’s all right. There’s no need to feel sad.”
Wisp released a shaky sigh and dropped her beak into Mhysra’s lap. “I’m not supposed to talk to you,” she whispered, her voice surprisingly light for a miryhl. “My Rider might not want me anymore, but I still hold to the rules.”
“After so long with Cumulo?” Mhysra chuckled. “Your will is stronger than mine.”
The miryhl puffed a small laugh and opened an eye. “He is most persuasive,” she agreed.
“He’s a big-headed bully,” Mhysra corrected. “But it’s a silly rule anyway. As if it makes any difference who you talk to. Cumulo’s been talking to my family for years, but he’s still every bit mine.”
Wisp gave an unhappy rumble. “Corin’s not mine. That thing has replaced me.”
Which was the crux of the problem and Mhysra had no idea how to resolve it. She didn’t understand the Dragongift bond herself, so had no idea how to explain it to a heartsick miryhl. She knew other Rider pairs weren’t as close as Cumulo and herself, but they still felt connected to their Riders. After only a year and a half, Corin and Wisp’s bond was a fragile thing, meant to gain strength with every day. Inviting a third into their partnership so early on risked breaking it forever.
Still, there were worse things that could happen. Tucking her hands beneath Wisp’s beak, Mhysra raised her up until she could meet the eagle’s gaze. “Skybreeze is not your replacement.” When the miryhl tried to duck down again, Mhysra held firm. “How could he be? He’s a dragon. His bond with Corin has nothing to do with you.” She paused as a new thought occurred. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t bond with him too.”
Wisp’s dark brown eyes focused on her. “What do you mean?”
“Corin is your Rider, and once her training is complete, you will be bonded. You are her miryhl, the wings that make her a Rift Rider. Skybreeze is her Dragongift. I don’t understand what that means, but the two of them are bound. This tie is important, not just to them, but to all of us. With a dragon on our side, no matter how small he is now, imagine how much stronger the Riders will be.”
Wisp sighed heavily. “But where does that leave me?”
Mhysra gave the eagle’s head a gentle shake. “Right where you were before, silly. You’re still Corin’s wings. Skybreeze is too small to fly himself, let alone carry her, and who’s to say when he does grow he’ll ever be able to carry her – or even want to?”
“Why shouldn’t he?” Wisp raised her head, feathers fluffing out. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing,” Mhysra said hurriedly, flattening against the wall away from that sharp beak. “Nothing at all. But dragons are funny. Perhaps he’ll prefer to fly alone.”
Wisp snorted in disgust. “He would be a fool. There’s no better feeling than being one with your Rider, racing the wind and skimming the storm. He would be blessed to feel such joy.”
“Yet what Mhysra says is right.” Wisp turned to stare at Reglian, giving Mhysra room to move. “We dragons are more comfortable flying alone. We are not used to passengers.”
“Then of what use are you?” the miryhl sniffed, and Mhysra realised Wisp was bit of a snob.
Reglian’s smile was wryly amused. “Oh, we contrive to be of some assistance. Occasionally.”
“Very occasionally,” Dhori added, coming over with a depressed Corin in tow. “You might choose to be now and explain to these confused miryhls that they are not being supplanted in their Riders’ affections. Nor in their requirements. Before lasting damage is done.”
Reglian looked sheepish. “It has been so long, longer still since the last Dragongifted were Riders. And never so young. I did not think.”
“Obviously,” Dhori agreed.
Reglian shot him a peevish glance, then took Corin’s hand and rested it upon Wisp’s beak.
The miryhl flinched, but Reglian fixed her with a beady glare until she settled. “Do not be foolish, either of you. Mhysra was quite right. When fully grown it is unlikely that Skybreeze will carry Corin. I’m not certain he will be able too. Air-dragons have unusual strengths and are lighter than they appear. In Emberbright’s case,” he added, with a nod at Jaymes, “her scales will burn too hot . Therefore the bond between miryhl and Rider remains unbroken. You are still partners in combat and flight. The Dragongift is merely an addition to your friendship. One I hope will reap great rewards.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Dhori muttered, and the dragon grinned.
“As you yourself are living proof of.” Turning back to the now chagrined miryhls and their relieved Riders, Reglian shook his head. “So young,” he grumbled. “So foolish. Quick to anger, quick to cool. May your pride be as flexible. Bah, make your peace now, we have a journey to begin.” Throwing up his hands, he left the courtyard.
Before the silence grew too uncomfortable, Emberbright crept up to Jaymes, allowing him to shyly introduce her to his miryhl. Showing a surprising amount of tact, Skybreeze stayed with the packs as Wisp tucked her beak against Corin’s chest.
“I thought you didn’t want me anymore,” the little miryhl whispered. “I thought you would leave me.”
“Never,” Corin replied, burying her face in her feathers. “Never, never ever.”
Leaving them to their privacy, content that everything would soon be sorted out, Mhysra led Dhori and Lyrai back across the courtyard to where their own miryhls were waiting.
“There’s hope for them yet,” Hurricane murmured, lowering his head to Lyrai for a scratch.
Cumulo snorted. “More fool them. I’m not one to share.” Tucking his beak over Mhysra’s shoulder, he dragged her roughly against his chest. “Especially not with any wrinkly lizard.”
Half-smothered by his feathers, Mhysra struggled free to the sound of Dhori’s laughter.
“I agree, Cue. I don’t share with wrinkly lizards either.” He stroked Latinym’s silvery wing.
Reglian re-emerged, shaking his head. “Fools,” he muttered, before vanishing in an explosion of black and gold. His true form filled the courtyard, ensuring he had everyone’s attention. “Let us leave before one of you annoys me. I have no wish to explain your deaths to the Moot. Come along.” Leaping upwards with surprising grace, his first wing beat was a boom of thunder, knocking them all to the ground.
Picking themselves up, they watched Reglian circled the air above them like a low black cloud. Then Lyrai looked at the others and grinned. “With an invitation like that, how can we possibly refuse?”
* * *
WHITE FLAKES DRIFTED past the window on a background of pewter grey sky. Mouse stared, watching the snow plummet and swirl. There wasn’t much wind today, but it was cold. He felt numbed by it, inside and out. Now the pain had gone, all that remained was shame. And failure.
“No surrender,” he whispered. And he hadn’t, at least not to Willym. Yet here he was in a cosy room, propped up on fresh pillows, half-buried beneath a mound of blankets. Healed. His body was stiff with new scars and still weak from the torment but was otherwise whole.
Unlike Nehtl. He didn’t even know where his mentor’s body was.
There had been no verbal surrender, no collusion or cooperation, no betrayal of secrets, yet somehow Mouse didn’t feel right. He might not have given in to Willym, but this comfort had to mean something. Had he said something in his fever? Had he turned traitor in his delirium?
A sound drew his attention back to the room, reminding him that he was not alone. Dean Marshall sat huddled beside the fire, a goblet clasped in a tight knuckled grip. The wine bottle before him was half empty, his eyes glazed from the drinking. There had been no surrender here either, and yet…
The fire snapped in the grate and Dean Marshall looked up. He glanced at the dancing snowflakes, then at the door. Finally, he turned to Mouse. “Are you well?” he asked softly.
Though his eyes were heavy, Mouse forced a nod. “Much better than I was.”
“He healed you.” The dean sounded perplexed, looking at the inside of his wrist, fingers tracing over a silvery scar. Mouse had seen him make that gesture often since he’d woken; he didn’t like to think what it meant. “He healed me too.”
“They are not all monsters,” Mouse said, echoing a memory.
Dean Marshall’s smile was cold. “And to heal is not always a kindness. Can you walk?”
The swift change in his tone snapped Mouse awake. The dean was tense with purpose, eyes not as wine-glazed as they’d appeared before. He looked like his old self.
“If I must,” Mouse said cautiously.
Refilling the goblet, Marshall crossed the room. “You must,” he ordered, handing Mouse the wine, his smile the wrong side of pleasant. “But not yet, Mouse. Not yet. Soon.”
The door handle rattled and the dean turned away, staring fixedly out of the window with blank eyes. “Have you seen this snow? Whirling, always twirling. I’ve never seen it so bad in all my years at Aquila. So thick and heavy, as though trying to hide us. Cover up the horror.”
Mouse swallowed the fire-warmed wine nervously. “A harsh winter,” he said, when the silence stretched too long. “And cold.”
“Yes,” Marshall murmured, rubbing his chest as if it ached the same way Mouse’s did. “Yes. Cold. Frozen, bleak and empty.” He touched the window, then turned abruptly away. “Tomorrow. We’ll get you walking tomorrow. Best to be ready.”
“Ready for what?” Mouse asked, putting aside the wine, worried he’d end up like the dean.
Marshall took the rejected goblet, drained it and stared at the door. “Anything,” he whispered. “Absolutely anything.”
~ Next Chapter ~
And thanks, as always, for reading.