Also known as Storm Rising: Chapter 2. In which Estenarven is grumpy after getting in trouble, again.
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22nd Gale Month
DRIFTING HIGH ABOVE the Skylark the next morning, Estenarven tried not to sulk. Elder Blazeborn wasn’t speaking to him. After delivering a blistering lecture on the foolishness of playing with fragile humans and delicate miryhls, especially around the volatile setting of a skyship, Elder Blazeborn had returned to the Skylark and shut himself in his cabin. Mastekh had done his best to coax their elder out, but the grumpy Blazeborn wasn’t budging.
Which meant Mastekh had dripped all over Estenarven, sniffling about how things had been going so well and now they were right back at the start: Elder Blazeborn was never going to like him and he was just a failure to all dragons everywhere. Because whenever something went wrong it had to be Mastekh’s fault, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. However, when Estenarven had tried to consol his Rainstorm lover, Mastekh had looked at him and sighed.
That was it. No words, no stutter, no sniffles or moans, just a sigh. And the look: sad disappointment.
When Estenarven had woken up to the same expression, he’d fled. No, he wasn’t a coward and he wasn’t running away, but it was probably best for everyone if he just stayed out of sight for a while. Which was why he was currently coasting along at high altitude, keeping an eye on the ship and miryhls below while silently ruminating on his latest disgrace.
It wasn’t that he tried to be annoying. Nor did he ever set out to make trouble, he just sometimes forgot himself and his size. Or the size of others in relation to him. Miryhls and humans were fun, they understood his liking for games. Reglian did too, even though he was even bigger than Estenarven and widely regarded as a (mostly) sensible sort.
But Reglian was also an archivist, which meant he could be serious too. True, most of that came from the Thunderwing’s depthless curiosity and never-ending thirst for knowledge, but he still had the discipline to make notes and keep asking questions long after a topic grew boring. Estenarven was often curious too, he just didn’t have the same patience and concentration that Reglian had, which was why he usually ended up doing something stupid.
Sighing, he flapped his wings and stared at the horizon. A cluster of green mountains was growing out of the west, the same spot that – according to the maps – marked the end of the Tempestfury kinlands and the start of the Skystorm Clanhome. Skystorm dragons had always been on the more traditional side of things, which was why their kin territories surrounded and protected their heartland.
Estenarven’s own Stoneheart Clan was a little more scattered, mostly because his Boulderforce kin couldn’t stand the other three and tried to have as little to do with them as possible. Stoneskins were dull, Earthdrakes never could control their tempers, while the less said about the vain and ambitious Jewelwing kin the better. Having been raised deep inside the Boulderforce kinlands, Estenarven had only visited his Clanhome twice: once to announce his change time had begun and once to prove that he had mastered his power enough to pass the final changeling test and be regarded as an adult.
He’d been looking forward to seeing how the Skystorm homeland compared, but now…
He sighed again. It wasn’t that he was in disgrace, as such, but he had certainly been called a disgrace by Elder Blazeborn. Again. He didn’t do these things deliberately, but somehow, someway, he always managed it.
Startled from his thoughts, Estenarven looked down, surprised to see how low he’d drifted. Though still a fair way above the Skylark, he’d clearly forgotten to flap as he’d reflected on his problems, which had left him coasting along at the topmost edge of the Rift Rider patrol.
Tilting his head, he eyed the man beside him. There wasn’t much to see beyond the bulk of his flight gear, but steady grey-blue eyes studying him crinkled ever so slightly at the corners, hinting at a smile beneath the scarf. Lieutenant Gharrik was Wellswen’s senior lieutenant and someone Estenarven hadn’t had much cause to talk to before. He wondered why the man had come to speak with him now.
“Aren’t you angry with me?” he rumbled, his voice like loose rubble thanks to his dark thoughts.
The lieutenant chuckled. “Nera’s as much to blame for your games as you are. Besides, have you met some of my Riders?”
Estenarven huffed a reluctant laugh at that, drifting directly above the miryhl before he flapped his wings, lessening the downdraft as much as possible. The bird was as steady as her Rider and shifted easily to compensate for the disturbed air. “Humans are different,” he said, because it was a fact that Elder Blazeborn had impressed upon him again and again.
Gharrik shrugged. “Youngsters are youngsters, as far as I’m concerned, and some folk have more spirits than others. As long as everyone remembers that it’s just a game and takes proper caution, I don’t see the harm.”
Estenarven perked up at the easy acceptance, head rising above his slumped shoulders for the first time that day. Then he remembered Elder Blazeborn’s words and sagged mid-flight once more. “I’m still a disgrace to dragonkind.”
The lieutenant snorted, and though the man tried to disguise it, he was clearly trying not to laugh.
“It’s not funny,” Estenarven growled, affronted. “Elder Blazeborn says I’ve brought the reputation of all dragonkind into disrepute. He could send me home. Then I really would be in disgrace.”
“I’m sorry,” Gharrik said, chuckling a little. “But you dragons are so dramatic. All you and Nera did –”
“And Reglian,” Estenarven felt compelled to add, even though the archivist had really had little to do with the whole debacle.
“And Reglian,” the lieutenant tipped his head in acknowledgement. “All you three did was have a little play. If any of you should be in trouble it’s Nera, since she was supposed to be in charge of her flurry at the time, not mucking about playing chase and performing tricks. However, since our captain was busy making bets – with Reglian, no less – about who would win between the pair of you, she can hardly tell Nera off. Was the thing foolhardy? Aye. Did anyone get hurt? No. Nera and Teka always know what they’re doing when they pull tricks, so although the rest of us might have heart failure while watching, a good miryhl never puts their Rider in unnecessary danger.”
Estenarven wanted to believe what the man was saying, except: “That’s fine for you humans, but I’m a dragon. We do things differently.”
Lieutenant Gharrik didn’t even try and hide his laughter this time. He barked it, sharp and amused on the cool morning air. “I would say keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better, lad, but it’s clear it doesn’t. Did you ever stop to wonder just why your elder was so angry with all of you yesterday? Or consider how quickly he reached you after your games had ended?”
Though tempted to flap off in a huff because the man kept laughing at him, Estenarven nevertheless listened to the words and actually thought about them. “He did arrive quickly,” he murmured, drifting away before flapping his wings to keep coasting. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Nudging his miryhl in close once more, Lieutenant Gharrik stretched up to pat Estenarven on the shoulder. “Maybe you should think about it,” he advised. With a final pat and a wave, the Rider pair dived down to rejoin their flurry.
Tapping his front claws against each other – the chipping stone sound soothing to his senses – Estenarven flapped back up to the higher elevations. This time, instead of feeling hard done by and sulking about how mean everyone was being, he thought back over the previous day and everything that had happened, up to and including the moment when Elder Blazeborn had arrived in a flurry of anger and flame.
Then he thought back to the last time the elder had been so angry with him. Which had also been the last time Estenarven had tried to play fetch and tag with miryhls. That day things hadn’t ended so well, after Elder Blazeborn had distracted everyone and Teka had flown into Estenarven’s neck, flinging Nera loose to fall through the air. Thankfully Elder Blazeborn had caught her, moving swiftly to prevent a disaster.
Had that happened yesterday? Was that why the elder had been so quick to arrive? Had he perhaps been worried about another fall? Frightened? Even Estenarven’s heart had quickened when Nera slipped off the edge of his wing – and he’d known Teka was waiting to catch her.
But had Elder Blazeborn known that?
Now that he thought about it, Estenarven couldn’t much blame his elder for getting so angry. Blazeborn dragons – all of Clan Sunlord actually – were fiery by their very nature. Strong emotion made them heated, which naturally manifested as anger more often than not. Estenarven was more prone to turning sullen and stubborn, like the boulders of his kin name. He didn’t get angry often, and the emotion in others often left him baffled, but taking everything into consideration… Well, of course Elder Blazeborn had flared up at him.
Estenarven sighed again, this time with relief. True, his elder was likely still brooding angrily in his cabin, stirring the coals of his resentment because he’d overreacted the day before and was blaming Estenarven for almost embarrassing him. Mastekh was also upset with him, but that was part of the Rainstorm dragon’s nature too. His emotions were a constant flow of swirling currents and choppy anxiety. As long as Estenarven could remember that and make allowances, all would be well.
He wasn’t a disgrace. At least, not an irredeemable one.
A cool prickling sensation rippled up his spine, centring between his shoulder blades on the bony ridge that protected his flight muscles. Power swept over him, like cloud frost and distantly chiming bells, and a light weight pressed against his back.
“Ah,” the soothing voice of Elder Goryal slipped inside his mind. “You are feeling better. Good. We have need of you. We’re about to enter the Skystorm Clanhome.” They pressed a firm hand to Estenarven’s back, leaning forward to point at the world below.
Startled once again, Estenarven looked down. The green mountains that had been growing steadily on the western horizon all day were now right in front of him. Even as he realised just how far they had travelled while his wits had been wandering, tiny shapes jumped over the Skylark’s rail. The three figures dropped rapidly towards the Cloud Sea, limbs spread, robes flapping.
They transformed in a blaze of shimmering colours. A small, bulky dragon emerged first, scales shimmering deep blue in the sunlight, and soared with a delightful laugh. Once above the Skylark, she folded her dark wings and rolled through the air, revealing long flashes of white streaking her sides. Jesral kin Lightstorm Clan Skystorm was happy to be airborne once more.
Directly behind her came Kalaha kin Windheart Clan Swiftwing. She was long and slender, rippling through the air as though fully part of it. Her scales were mottled blue and grey and white, with narrow wings patterned like falcon feathers. Unlike Jesral, she dipped downwards after her change, darting towards the surface of the Cloud Sea and riding the vicious currents with ease.
The last dragon was grey and blue and green, with broad wings and a long tail that fluttered in the breeze. The very sight of him made Estenarven’s heart skip and he dropped without thinking, eager to be reunited with Mastekh once more.
With a light laugh and a gentle pat, Goryal left in a prickle of power. Alone and free, Estenarven tucked into a steep dive, banking at the very last moment to swirl around Mastekh, rather than plough straight into him.
“Th-th-there you are!” Mastekh greeted, his voice bubbling and frothing with various tones that told Estenarven so much more than mere words. Mastekh had worried about him, he had missed him and Estenarven was forgiven.
Humming a low greeting of his own, Estenarven circled around Mastekh a second time, letting his tail trail behind to rub over his fellow aide and lover. Though he was often tactile with his Puddle in his human shape, Estenarven wasn’t a dragon well known for public displays of affection. After his talk with Lieutenant Gharrik, though, he felt the need to reassure his beloved, so he twined his tail briefly with Mastekh’s.
The shade of the Rainstorm dragon’s scales deepened, bringing a green flush to his pale belly. Waiting for Estenarven to pass over once more, Mastekh reached up and gently rubbed his head against Estenarven’s.
“Oh, build a nest, you two!”
The shout startled Mastekh into withdrawing, leaving Estenarven flying upside down and alone. Righting himself, he used his tail to thump Jesral’s ribs. Even though her words had been full of amusement, she’d embarrassed Mastekh and now the poor Rainstorm was practically green all over.
“Don’t be jealous, Jessie,” Estenarven reproved lightly.
Grunting from the none-too-gentle buffet of his substantial tail, Jesral dipped under Estenarven and brushed an apologetic wing over Mastekh’s. “Sorry, Puddle. I was teasing him not you.”
Still a deep shade of green, Mastekh ducked his head and mumbled something about joining Kalaha before sinking out of sight.
“Thanks,” Estenarven growled.
Jesral had enough sense to dip her head as she drifted alongside him. “He shouldn’t be so sensitive,” she muttered, defiance and a touch of apology warring in her tone.
“He is who he is,” Estenarven replied, allowing her to hear the affection and warning in his words. “He has no need to change.” Clan Flowflight dragons were prone to being more sensitive than others, possibly because of their watery natures, possibly because out of all the Clans the Cloud Curse had affected them the most, covering their ancient heartlands and leaving many of their kin lost.
By the same measure, Jesral and the other Skystorm dragons tended to act first and think later, rolling over their fellows like a storm in full force. That didn’t mean they couldn’t learn to have a little consideration for others, though.
Jesral sniffed, likely trying to decide whether to apologise or take offence. They reached the mountains before she could decide – and then there was no room for words.
Estenarven had never seen so much green in all his life, as he and Jesral soared over the first rounded peak. Beyond it, more peaks rose and fell, some steep and grey, some enormous and snow-capped, but between them all, kept safe from the Cloud Sea by a wall of impenetrable stone, was a wide plateau, stretching as far as Estenarven’s eye could see. Green, so much green, it rolled and undulated and spread in grasslands as well as more familiar forests. Dotted here and there across the open land, enormous lakes broke the verdant view with shimmering expanses of blue.
It was magnificent – and unexpected.
Laughing, Jesral skipped over the top of the first peak and dived down the other side. “Welcome to my Clanhome!”
Forgetting all about humans, Rift Riders, skyships, his elder and even Mastekh, Estenarven shed his responsibilities, powered over the mountain and dived gleefully into the valleys below.
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