Since I’m still celebrating the (much delayed) release of Storm Rising, I thought now might be a good time to share another excerpt – Chapter 1, Part 2.
If you missed the first part, you can find it here. Along with an insight into what Riders do when they’re bored. Well, what Nera and Teka do anyway. It might also contain an over-sized Boulderforce playmate.
Now it’s time to gauge Khennik’s take on proceedings. Oh, what a surprise, Elder Blazeborn is not amused…
(But I am ;)
STANDING ON THE upper deck of the Skylark in his human form, Elder Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord, gripped the railing and tried not to break it as his idiotic aide, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart, went roaring around the ship for the second time in succession. Somewhere behind Khennik’s shoulder, Captain Hornvel was swearing as he and his navigator attempted to keep the ship steady under the buffeting onslaught of a circling Boulderforce. The only thing currently in Estenarven’s favour – and preventing Khennik from shifting and knocking his foolish aide from the sky – was that he was keeping low enough not to interfere with the gasbag or sails. Mostly he was just rocking the hull with the sheer force of his presence, beating his wings barely enough to keep himself airborne when he turned the tight corners at either end of the ship.
The rail creaked as Khennik clenched his fists, growling low in his throat as Estenarven grumbled past once more. It wasn’t just the impact his aide was having on the ship that was making Khennik angry – Estenarven was playing with Rift Riders again.
How quickly the youngster had forgotten the circumstances under which he’d come into Khennik’s service in the first place, after an ill-judged game of chase with a bunch of humans and miryhls had ended up with one of them knocked out of the saddle and careening heedlessly through the air. The fall hadn’t been great enough to have killed the Rider – probably – but it still would have been disastrous for the newly-arrived human delegation.
Luckily, Khennik had been on hand to catch her. Unluckily, Elder Goryal Clan Starshine had also been present and had decided that the best way to teach Estenarven maturity and restraint was to assign him to Khennik as an aide. As if the one Khennik already had hadn’t been punishment enough.
“Oh no, oh, oh n-no,” a watery voice bubbled beside him. “Has he c-c-caught her yet? I c-can’t l-l-look.”
Khennik tried not to roll his eyes at the young dragon beside him. Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight certainly lived up to all the watery elements of his ancestry and was currently dripping on the deck, hands in front of his eyes, peeping between his webbed fingers.
“I believe young Nera is hiding,” the lightly amused voice of Elder Goryal answered. “Most likely inside the ship.” Despite that being a cheating move, it sounded as though they approved of such a tactic.
“If she’s hoping to tire Esten out that way, she won’t succeed.” The low, rumbling reply belonged to Junior Archivist Reglian kin Thunderwing Clan Skystorm, the nosiest dragon on the ship, who one moment could be as dignified as Khennik and the other elders, the next as wilfully foolish and playful as the young aides. As if to prove such a thing, the Thunderwing climbed over the rail. “I want to take a closer look.”
He dropped out of sight. Khennik leant over the rail to watch Reglian fall, his silk robe flapping around him like wings. Only when he was far below the Skylark, and well out of range of the miryhls, did Reglian unleash the change and give into the call of his first form.
Khennik’s skin prickled as he watched the archivist vanish inside a swirling cloud of black, highlighted with golden sparkles. Reglian emerged roaring, a boom of thunder cracking across the sky as the enormous beast pounded the air with his wings and shot skywards.
“I always think Estenarven is big, and then…”
Khennik tilted his head, acknowledging the woman beside him.
Ambassador Jesken smiled but said nothing more as she joined him by the side rail.
Huffing at having another dragon encroaching on his fun, Estenarven back-winged away from the Skylark and growled in a rumbling draconic dialect. The wind snatched away most of the words, but the general air of “Go away, you’re ruining everything,” was perfectly clear.
Laughing, Reglian ignored the slightly smaller Boulderforce and swept around the ship himself.
Since Wellswen, the Rift Rider captain, seemed more amused than alarmed by the game, Khennik controlled his instinctive urge to follow Reglian into the sky and end the game before anything terrible happened. Resigned to having no control over the farce unfolding before him, and trusting in the miryhl and Rider to be able to take care of themselves, Khennik folded his arms on the rail and looked down the side of the ship. Sunlight poured over his head, weak with winter but still welcome, as he waited with the others to see what would happen next.
Reglian swept around the edge of the ship, rather more slowly than Estenarven managed, and rumbled by beneath them. A flash of lighter colour had Khennik gripping the rail again as the miryhl and Rider reappeared, clinging onto Reglian’s tail.
“Oh dear,” Goryal sighed, as the startled Thunderwing instinctively flicked the irritation away, sending the Rider pair whooshing into open sky.
“Ha!” Estenarven pounced after them, slamming his front feet together.
Khennik wasn’t the only one to wince at the clumsy move.
Luckily for all involved, the nimble miryhl dropped out of the way before it could get crushed and was soon wheeling away to safety.
“Ai Maegla,” Captain Wellswen groaned, a despairing hand clutching her forehead. “Why can’t that blasted girl ever just stay in the saddle?”
Having been watching the miryhl sky dance, squinting to try and work out why it didn’t look right, Khennik whipped his head back towards Estenarven.
No wonder the miryhl had looked strange – it had lost its Rider! The very same one who was now climbing up Estenarven’s shoulder as if he was a common boulder on a mountainside, rather than a living, breathing, moving dragon flying perilously low over the Cloud Sea.
“I r-really can’t w-w-watch now!” Mastekh wailed.
Khennik was tempted to follow his aide’s lead and put his hands over his eyes as the tiny Rider made it to Estenarven’s back, straddled the dragon’s neck and waved her hands triumphantly in the air.
“Just stay there, fool,” Wellswen growled, as the laughing Estenarven flew a swift loop that left the Rider sprawled across the his broad, smooth scales, scrabbling for handholds.
“Oh, dear Gods.” It was the ambassador’s turn to groan as the Boulderforce straightened up and turned his head to speak to the Rider. Spreading his wings, Estenarven steadied his flight – allowing the Rider to stand.
“Please tell me she isn’t going to…” Wellswen trailed off with a weary sigh as the Rider back-flipped across Estenarven’s back. “Of course she is.”
“I always thought she was the quiet one?” Ambassador Jesken muttered, as they all watched the Rider perform a series of balances that ended with her upside down, positioned precariously on one arm.
“She is,” Wellswen agreed, sighing again.
“She’s also a Rider,” Goryal pointed out, laughing and applauding another set of back flips. “I think she’s wonderful.”
“You would,” Khennik muttered, not quite below his breath.
The Starshine elder winked.
The entire skyship, its rail packed with observers – Riders, sailors and dragons alike – gasped as the woman darted onto Estenarven’s wing, jumped, and slid along the leathery skin towards the pointed end.
More than one person yelped as the woman dropped out of sight.
Khennik was over the rail and falling without pausing to think, breathing in deeply to leave enough time to clear the Skylark before unleashing his power. Heat roared through him, the fire in his blood stirring with fury as he re-emerged, frantically scanning the clouds below for any sign of the falling, flailing figure. There wouldn’t be much time to catch her before she reached the Sea. He had to find her. Now.
Snarling, he looked up – and found the Rider back on her miryhl, the two of them laughing as they sky danced with Estenarven and Reglian. They were so happy and carefree, utterly oblivious to the churning fear that their stupid games had roused inside Khennik’s gut.
“Steady.” A cool touch at the nape of his neck and the soothing presence of Goryal’s voice inside his head was all that stopped him from blazing his way up there and knocking all four of them from the sky. “I thought she was lost too, but her miryhl would never let her fall.”
Khennik heaved a heavy snort, scorching the sky ahead with a gout of flame. It was possible that he had overreacted, but he wasn’t willing to feel embarrassed about it. Twisting his head, he eyed Goryal upon his back.
They looked as small, pale and fragile as ever, but there was no denying the sense of power that hung about them, pricking at Khennik’s scales and calling his fire to the surface.
“I think they’ve had enough for today,” he growled.
Goryal smiled. “Indeed,” they agreed, soft voice barely audible over the flight wind. So they continued talking inside Khennik’s head: “I think we all have. Take me up to them.”
Snorting another burst of flame and thoroughly agreeing with the Starshine elder’s thoughts, Khennik opened his wings wide and soared around the Skylark, up to where the playful fools were in desperate need of a reminder about their duties and responsibilities.
Khennik was happy to lecture any and all of them at length about both. Starting now.
Still want more?
Oh, all right, here’s Chapter 2 :)
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