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~ Previous Chapter ~
CHAOS, THAT WAS the only way to describe the uproar that followed. Ordering Cumulo to stay with Hurricane, Mhysra hauled herself off the ground and ran towards the fallen lieutenant as dragons converged on the combat site. Dhori, Jaymes and Corin kept pace alongside her, and she was never more grateful in her life than when Reglian appeared. Even in his human form, he was plenty strong enough to pick Lyrai up with ease.
“Back!” the archivist ordered. “Get back to the cliff.”
With a sky and sea filled with overexcited and irate dragons, Mhysra and her friends were only too happy to obey. Scrambling back to their miryhls, they found Rhiddyl already there, shielding Hurricane from curious eyes.
“Good, good, bring him to me, that’s right.”
Running between the bristling miryhls, Mhysra and Corin cleared a space on the rough beach for Lyrai to be placed. Which was when she noticed a strange woman had joined them. Like Goryal she was slender and fragile looking, even shorter than Corin, with hair of pure silver. As if sensing Mhysra’s scrutiny, the stranger turned, revealing bright eyes and pearly skin.
She smiled, showing teeth of the same glimmering shade. “Did I not tell you all is not decided yet?”
Recognising the voice of her comforter – and possible restrainer – Mhysra scowled. The stranger laughed. “Humans. How I have missed them. You did well to bring them through the barrier, young Rhidystel. I have not had this much fun in an age.” Waving her hand at the other dragons around her, she focused on the two bodies. “See that we are not disturbed.”
“Guard duties,” Reglian rumbled as he stomped past the miryhls, Rhiddyl on his heels. “Have I lived this long just for this. I feel like a hatchling.”
Rhiddyl and the dragonets chuckled as he vanished in a shower of sparks, expanding back to his natural form. “You do not resemble one,” Rhiddyl fluted, looking almost small beside the archivist’s massive bulk.
“Such flattery, Rhidystel. I may swoon.”
With two dragons at their backs, the miryhls abandoned all pretence of protection and huddled against their Riders, peering at the stranger tampering with their friends.
“Should you be doing that?” Jaymes asked anxiously, when the dragon rolled Lyrai onto his back and began prodding his burned skin.
“I don’t think it’ll help,” Corin added.
“Deeds and words, deeds and words,” the woman muttered, touching Lyrai with a silver glowing finger. Starting at his forehead, she stroked down his nose, and soon his entire face was covered in a thick silver glow. “Anger never prospers.”
“Huh,” Corin remarked, determinedly unimpressed. “Do you do resurrections too, or are pretty lights all you can manage?”
Pushing her short hair behind her ears, the stranger looked up, eyes aglow. “You are worried, little one, so I shall forgive your flippancy. When you have lived as long as I, then you may make jokes and criticise. As for resurrections, no. There are none who can restore the dead to the living, not even Ancestor Night. Well, perhaps they might, but they would not choose to. There is always a price to be paid for tampering in such things, and the penalties are always too high.” As she spoke, she stroked Hurricane’s creamy feathers with a silver glowing hand. “Such beauty.”
Tears stung Mhysra’s eyes, grief a heavy weight on her chest. Not even Corin could find something to say as they stared at their fallen comrade. They had lost so many friends of late; one more seemed too much to bear. As for Lyrai, Mhysra knew it would break him.
They all jumped.
“But you said -?” Corin started, before running out of words. Even Cumulo was speechless as the marble miryhl twitched his wings, tried to raise his head and gave up. He groaned again.
“Such beauty deserves a second chance,” the silvery stranger told them, smiling beatifically at their confusion. “I thought it best Ancestor Night caught no glimpse of this treasure. They would have kept him for themself. It is better this way.”
They gaped at her.
Hurricane groaned again. “Hurt.”
“Yes, yes,” crooned the stranger. “I know. I am sorry. It has been so long that I am out of practise at catching. You are bruised, you are stunned, but you are neither broken nor dead. It is a good trade, I think.”
“Lyrai,” croaked the miryhl.
“He lives. He hurts, but he breathes. He won.”
With a sigh, Hurricane shut his eyes again and fell silent.
Leaving all the questions to the others. Even Dhori seemed beyond speech.
Looking up at their faces, the silvery woman laughed and rose to her feet. “Oh dear, Reglian, I seem to have stolen your friends’ tongues. Do instruct me how to get them back again.”
The big black dragon peered down at them and shook his head. “It is better this way, my lady. Once they start asking questions, they will forget to stop.”
“And we have other business to attend to,” she agreed with a nod. “Stand aside if you will, good friends. I must find Goryal. It is time this foolishness was ended.” And with an imperious wave of her tiny hand, they parted to let her walk away.
“My head hurts,” Mhysra announced, as the dragons closed ranks again to protect them from the rest of the Moot. “I’m too confused for this.” Her knees collapsed and she sat on the beach, her friends dropping down around her. It seemed the only thing they could do.
* * *
AT THE BASE of the west tower Imaino and Dean Marshall held a whispered consultation, then led their group away from the bridge. They had come in from the east, Greig told Mouse as he helped him along, but so far they had seen no one. This was thanks to a diversion being staged on the mountainside by the rest of the resistance. They’d still had a few close calls, according to Silveo, who was propping up Mouse’s other side, and it would be too risky to head back through the eastern citadel now. Luck, whether one believed in it or not, could only hold for so long.
“We’ll find a way out. There are tunnels everywhere,” Greig muttered, as Haelle paused ahead, tilting her head to listen. Tugging her ear, she walked on again. “Sometimes I think Aquila’s more tunnel than mountain.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Rider Ieryth murmured behind them. “So long as the one we take is the one the kaz-naghkt don’t, it doesn’t much matter to me.”
As if called, a chilling cry rose from inside the citadel. A high wail that started as a scream but went on too long, ending in a shuddering cackle.
Dean Marshall stopped, his foot on the first stair leading to the classrooms. His hand reached for the blade he no longer carried. “They know.”
Imaino gripped his own sword and turned down the tunnel to Buteo. “Let’s go,” he ordered, sending Haelle, Greig and Ieryth first, with Silveo and Mouse to follow, and the dean, Rider Mallow and himself at the rear.
Another cackle came from the halls above their heads: the sound of a kaz-naghkt on the hunt.
~ Next Chapter ~
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