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And we’re off!
NO MATTER WHERE she went in the world, Mhysra knew there was nothing better than a clear sky and warm thermals under Cumulo’s wings. The wind swirled eagerly about them, tugging at feathers, clothes and hair, enticing them to play. All was light and warmth and freedom as Cumulo caressed the air and kept them aloft. Circling lazily over the plateau, they drank in the sun and watched the final preparations below.
First came the miryhls: Wisp and Argon, still a little huffy over their dragonet passengers; Latinym’s wingtips flashing silver in the sun; pale Hurricane lifting Lieutenant Lyrai up last. Then came the vulardis: three with passengers and two with luggage. Finally, it was Rhiddyl’s turn.
“Come on, young’un, open those wings!” called Estenarix, with the boom of an avalanche.
“You were born to Clan Skystorm,” Reglian shouted, his own voice like thunder. “The sky gives you strength. Cease this foolish weakness and be a dragon!”
Flapping her wings faster than Mhysra would have believed possible for any creature that size, Rhiddyl lifted her head and strained. Dust, pebbles and chunks of grass whirled into the air, scattering the birds with squawks of protest. Momentarily blinded, Mhysra gripped her reins and saddle as Cumulo coughed his way out of the debris. They emerged in time to see Rhiddyl slither off the plateau and glide over the empty plains. Wobbling with the unfamiliar weight, she dropped ever lower as the vulardis rushed to assist her.
“We have to help,” Mhysra called to her Wingborn. “They’re making it worse.”
Chuckling, Cumulo swung around in another circle, eyes fixed on the drama unfolding below. “Rhiddyl can take care of herself.”
“Cue!” she insisted, but even as her miryhl stooped, Rhiddyl lashed out at the nearest of her tormenters and thrust down hard with her wings. The luggage in her carry net crashed and tumbled about, but Rhiddyl was too angry to care.
“Leave me be!” she roared, back arching as she pumped her wings again, buffeting the nearest vulardi aside. Flickers of lightning rippled across her storm-dark sides and her eyes glowed molten silver.
Then she was flying. With a triumphant trumpet she swept around and gathered the miryhls in the sails of her wings. “To the Storm Surge!”
As eager as the dragon to reach the Overworld, the miryhls shrieked and raced alongside, leaving the vulardis and their disapproving riders to catch up.
A CONSTANT STORM that stretched from north to south, covering half the world, from the Ice Peaks to the Wrathlen, the Storm Surge was an awe-inspiring sight. Like its east-west counterpart, the Storm Surge was never still, but while the Storm Wash lapped against the southern tips of Worlds End, Havia and the Wrathlen, rising and falling like a gentle tide, the Storm Surge thrust in and out with the seasons. There were times when the folk of Storm Peaks and Mistrune feared to be swallowed altogether. Rumour spoke of dark years when just such things had happened and the ill-luck it brought.
The winter season was a gentler time for the Storm Surge, taking a rest after the furious autumn. Inside the Cleansed Lands all was mild and calm, defying the usual winds and snow of the season, and the Storm Surge had been lulled by these temperate days. For now it lay at its lowest ebb, spitting out bad-tempered winds and squally sleet rather than tempests and thunder. The northern Overworld might have been in the grips of blizzards and ice, but life near the equator was rather different.
The sight of a sheer wall of cloud stretching across the horizon beyond where mortal eyes could see, and rising ever higher the closer they approached, was enough to tie Lyrai’s stomach in knots. He vividly remembered his time in the Storm Wash. A strange, almost dreamlike trip that had filled him with fear and confusion, turning everything upside down before deigning to spit him out. And they said the Storm Wash was the gentler of the two. He was not looking forward to this.
“You are quiet, lieutenant,” Rhiddyl rumbled, her head level with Hurricane. “Do you fear trouble ahead?”
The low hum of the dragon’s voice revealed her own anxiety, and Lyrai force a reassuring smile. “I have no fears about returning home,” he said, though he was a little concerned about how the dragons and vulardis would be received. “It’s the Storm Surge I’m worried about.”
“But you are Storm Wings!” Rhiddyl fluted, astonishment making her voice high. “You have passed the barrier before. What can there be left for you to fear?”
“I’m not afraid,” Lyrai replied defensively, aware that everyone within hearing – and an astonished dragon’s voice carried a long way – was now staring at him. “I’m not.” The feel of Hurricane chuckling beneath him made him realise he sounded like a schoolboy. “I’m merely concerned. The Storm Wash was not easy to pass, and they say the Storm Surge is worse. I’m just preparing myself.”
A shadow fell over him, and Lyrai looked up into the curious target gaze of the smallest vulardi. “There is nothing to fear, lieutenant. Nor be concerned about either,” Elder Goryal called, before Lyrai could protest his fearlessness again. “The Barrier Veils are to be relaxed for one lunar turn. We will pass unhindered and unafraid. As Storm Wings, you and your friends will always be free to travel through the barriers, should you so wish, whatever their state. It is a rare privilege.”
Recalling the terror he’d felt watching Corin fall, unable to save her, Lyrai shook his head. It certainly hadn’t felt special at the time, and he was in no hurry to repeat the experience. “Once more should be enough for me, I think.”
Flying off to his right, Jaymes nodded his agreement.
“Humans,” Goryal sighed, rather sadly. “You’ve grown so cautious. Perhaps we dragons have left you alone too long.”
“That sounds ominous,” Hurricane muttered, and Lyrai could only agree. He’d quite enjoy a cautious life, should he ever be blessed enough to have one.
“You must not mind Elder Goryal’s sense of humour. They are considered odd, even amongst dragons,” Rhiddyl informed them in a gentle hum. Then the eye they were flying next to widened and the dragon’s head twisted around. “Company!”
Before Lyrai knew what was happening, Rhiddyl had gathered the miryhls protectively in front of her, with the five vulardis forming a barrier around them. One vulardi had lost its rider – a small figure in flapping black silk plummeted through the empty sky – but before anyone could think of a rescue, he exploded in a burst of black and gold.
Growling deep enough to shake the snow from the nearby mountains, Reglian dipped low and rose on outstretched wings. “Continue,” he boomed, passing over their heads in a wash of sound and wind. “I will see what they want.” Then he was gone, like a storm cloud racing over the sea.
“Clan Skystorm,” grumbled Estenarix, from the vulardi beside Hurricane. “So dramatic.”
Elder Goryal’s chiming laugh drifted on the breeze. “Let us continue.”
With Rhiddyl beating her big wings behind and vulardis closed in on every side, the miryhls were left with little choice. Looming ever larger, the Storm Surge swallowed up the last of the sky and the powerful undertow tugged them closer. With his hair loose about his face, Lyrai was soon half blind as Hurricane struggled to hold steady.
“Let go!” roared the storm above them. “Let it take you. We have only friends here.” The black shadow of Reglian thundered overhead, vanishing into the clouds.
With one last breath, Lyrai tightened his hold on Hurricane and surrendered to the Surge.
~ Next Chapter ~
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