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IT WAS LIKE the Storm Wash, and yet unlike, Mhysra thought as she drifted through the tepid mists. In the north all was cold, but here things were warm. The emptiness and fog remained. Beneath her Cumulo shivered, passing through the barrier with her this time.
“I don’t like this,” he grumbled, flicking droplets from his wings. “It’s uncomfortable.”
Recalling how smug he’d looked when she’d finally stumbled out of the Storm Wash, several days after his own easy journey, Mhysra was unsympathetic. “You have no idea.”
“I think it’s quite warm.”
“You’re not the one flying.”
Well, she couldn’t argue with that.
“I have water in my wings. I don’t like it. It’s dribbling under my feathers.”
She certainly didn’t envy him those sensations; the way her shirt was sticking to her back was growing more unpleasant by the moment. Running her fingers along his neck, she pressed close to his back. “We’ll be through soon,” she promised. “We just have to keep going.”
He huffed, hunching his shoulders and straightening with a hard flap. “Where are the others?”
“You astonish me,” Corin muttered, grimacing as a clammy dragonet slithered beneath her shirt to hide against her skin. “Urgh.”
“I’m very hungry.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she retorted, sluicing excess moisture from poor Wisp’s neck. The miryhl twitched her wings, but said nothing. Still not talking. Not that Corin could blame her flying partner for sulking over the sudden addition of a demanding dragonet to their lives. Corin would have liked to sulk too, but she hadn’t been granted that luxury.
“I’m very hungry now.”
It was hard to ignore something when it could talk straight into your head. “Take a good look around. Does this look like a good place to stop and eat?”
Grumbling dragon-mutters, Skybreeze coiled tighter around Corin’s waist. As unpleasant as the sensation of clammy dragon scales against her damp skin was, she couldn’t blame him for not coming out. The mist might be warm, but it didn’t feel any nicer than the cold northern fogs she was used to. It was like flying through a cloud of sweat.
She smiled. Skybreeze had been poking around in her head too much. His speech was already improving and now he was starting to sound like her.
Her stomach choose that moment to growl, and she felt Skybreeze chuckle. “Hungry?”
The sky trembled with a low rumble.
Skybreeze’s head popped out of her shirt. “Storm hungry too?”
“Hope not,” she murmured, tightening her grip on her reins. “It sounds a little close if it is.”
MISERABLE, DAMP AND warm, Lyrai wiped his hands on his breeches yet again and grimaced at the feel of the slick leather reins. Hurricane flew beneath him in stoic silence, his calm dignity an insult to the thankless conditions. Beside them, Dhori and Latinym were all placid acceptance of the irritations and discomfort the Storm Surge was throwing at them.
Then again, he was Dhori, and the longer Lyrai knew him the less he understood. Such as how he and Hurricane had been alone after the initial fury of the Storm Surge, only for Dhori to drift up beside them with the same silence as the mist. He could have been a phantom. Lyrai eyed him sourly: he wasn’t even damp.
“Growing tired of your disguise?” he couldn’t help but ask, irritated that Dhori didn’t share his suffering.
Glancing over, Dhori raised his eyebrows, expression bland.
Lyrai waved an annoyed hand at his head. “You’re not even attempting to blend in.”
He smiled. “How do you know I’m even here? How do you know this is really me?”
Hurricane and Lyrai looked at him. “It’s you.”
Latinym chuckled and Dhori shook his head, which became instantly beaded with moisture. “Better?”
Strangely, it was. With a sigh of satisfaction, Lyrai settled against Hurricane’s back while Dhori hunched miserably in Latinym’s saddle.
“I hate dragons.”
“WET.” EMBERBRIGHT’S VOICE was a disgruntled mutter inside Jaymes’ mind, and he huddled a little more over Argon’s saddle in an effort to keep her dry. “Not like.”
“Neither do I,” he assured her. “Nor does Argon.” The miryhl snorted at the understatement. Then again he might have just been clearing his nostrils. Argon did a lot of grunting and snorting these days. It was his way of communicating his disfavour at Emberbright’s arrival in their lives.
“Bird wet. Jaymes wet. Emberbright wet. Stupid.”
Argon chuckled and Jaymes shook the water from his eyes, wondering why he alone got the blame for the unexpected Dragongift situation. “At least it’s not cold,” he pointed out glumly.
Coiling her warm body around his waist and ribs, the dragonet hiccupped. “Jaymes cold?”
“No!” he hurriedly assured her, envisioning flames, burning clothes and awkward explanations.
“Oh.” With another disgruntled sigh, the fire dragonet hunched her wings beneath his shirt.
“How far do you think we’ve come?” Jaymes asked, more to break the silence than in anticipation of an answer. Argon had never been chatty, even before he started sulking.
Twitching his wings in a mid-air shrug, the miryhl shook his head, scattering droplets. “No knowing,” he grumbled. “Dragons.”
Dragons indeed, thought Jaymes, still not used to their strange magic and contrary personalities. At least the Storm Surge wasn’t as bad as the Storm Wash. He could put up with lukewarm mists and surly companions as long as he didn’t get struck by lightning again.
Thunder boomed overhead and Jaymes flinched, hoping he hadn’t thought too soon.
AS A CLAN Skystorm dragon, as well as kin Tempestfury, there was little about the weather that Rhiddyl feared. In fact, with ancestral connections to kin Boulderforce as well as Clan Highflight and the fiery kin Firestorm, there was little in the world Rhiddyl had to fear.
But then – “Hello?” – she’d never lost all of her companions in the middle of a flight before. “Can anyone hear me?”
Nor had she ever attempted to cross either of the Barrier Veils. That did worry her. Estenarix might point out as many times as she liked how small and fragile humans were, but Rhiddyl wasn’t so foolish. She’d seen over half of kin Seadrake wiped out by a tiny creature too small to be seen even with dragon sight, which ate out the lining of their guts and lungs. Size was no accurate judge when it came to danger. The five fragile humans she travelled with had brought two changeling dragons to ground without drawing a single weapon. Lyrai had gone on to beat one of those same dragons again in single combat, with only a sword and no miryhl to help.
“Fear is good,” she reminded herself, angling her wings in the formless mists and shivering as drops dribbled down her scales. “Fear keeps one awake.”
It wasn’t helping. As a dragon reprimanded more than once for growing up too fast, unable to control her burgeoning powers, Rhiddyl knew all about living alone. She spent most of her time helping the vulardis patrol the northwest section of the Storm Wash. It was how she’d first encountered these Rift Riders. She was used to being alone, but to lose all of her companions without warning… It wasn’t natural. Used to reading the ways and whims of the skies, Rhiddyl preferred natural things. She didn’t like surprises.
Thunder snarled out of the drizzle, sending ripples through the mist, and Rhiddyl thumped her wings in defiance. She was a Tempestfury dragon in the Storm Surge; there was nothing to worry about. This place was in her blood. She was strong and young, and the barriers had been relaxed. Everything would be fine.
Thunder boomed again and Rhiddyl lifted her head. She knew that voice. “Reglian?”
“INTOLERABLE,” THE SKY rumbled, and Mhysra looked up, startled that a storm could speak.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Cumulo muttered, soggy and deeply unhappy about it.
“If this is how the elders open the borders, I shall have to have words with them when I return.”
It was quite articulate for a thunderclap, Mhysra thought, amused.
The growl shivered through the mist, resonating deep inside Mhysra’s bones and she huddled closer to Cumulo. Just because she recognised that disgruntled voice, didn’t make the humming comfortable.
“I must admit,” a high voice chimed in reply, “this was not how I expected the journey to go.”
Reglian’s reply was a wordless growl, sending another rumble rolling through the Storm Surge. Looking up, Mhysra could make out his heavy shadow hanging in the mists above her head.
“Nor did I expect to misplace all of our companions so swiftly.” Goryal sounded perplexed. The two dragons didn’t know how good they had it. Compared to the Storm Wash, Mhysra was finding this journey positively pleasant. “I trust we will recover them on the other side.”
Another rumble answered before a distant cry of, “Reglian!” drifted through the gloom.
“Rhiddyl!” Reglian boomed. “Well, that answers some of your fears at least, Goryal.”
“Hmm,” the elder agreed. “Though perhaps it would be better for you to find your vulardi and resume a less alarming form. I believe these mists are starting to clear.”
Cumulo double-flapped as he took a good look around. “I think they’re right.”
A frisson of excitement buzzed through Mhysra at the prospect of returning to the Overworld, and she sat up in her saddle, eager to see ahead.
Which must have been how she missed the shadow moving in swiftly from the right.
“Look out!” someone shouted.
Which was when the wall slammed into them.
RHIDDYL FELT SOMETHING brush against her side and looked quizzically down. A miryhl and Rider tumbled away through the mists.
“Oh!” she squeaked. “Oh, no.”
A chorus of voices cried out, adding to Cumulo and Mhysra’s audible distress. Recovering from the initial shock, Rhiddyl sped after them.
“What’s going on?” Reglian boomed. “Wretched mist, I want to see!”
“It is clearing,” came Goryal’s chiming, concerned tones.
“Not fast enough,” growled the other dragon, taking a deep breath.
“No!” Rhiddyl shouted – but too late.
Reglian’s roar punched the mists with the force of a gale, shredding it to the winds and revealing the tumbling Cumulo just beyond Rhiddyl’s reach.
“Ha!” she cried triumphantly, thumping her wings to pounce. The bedraggled miryhl dropped into her outstretched claws, with Mhysra miraculously still attached. “Got you!”
Breathing heavily, from panic as much as exertion, Rhiddyl back-winged into a hover and studied her catch. Which was when she noticed the silence: it seemed a little too deep. Discomfort prickling along her scales, she looked up.
A skyship drifted slowly past, its rail crammed with humans staring intently at the unconscious Rift Rider and miryhl grasped between her claws.
“Ah,” her usually melodious voice rose to a most inharmonious squeak. “This is not what it looks like.”
The folk on the skyship recoiled from her attempt to smile. At which point Mhysra’s friends came bolting out of the mists, hotly pursued by a host of dragons.
This, Rhiddyl thought as Mhysra began to stir, will take a lot of explaining.
Then the screaming began.
~ Next Chapter ~
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