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~ Previous Chapter ~
In which we reunite with some familiar faces.
THE WATER OF the lake was flat calm. It made Silveo shiver just looking at it. The place was cold too, with a chill that rose off the silent surface, filling the cave with a ball of frost at the heart of the mountain.
“Anything?” Lieutenant Imaino dropped his pile of wood, scavenged from the packs of the dead in the tunnels by the light of a dragongift globe.
Shaking his head, Silveo left the lakeshore and knelt to arrange the firewood. “Still as glass and as thick as syrup. I can’t even wash my face in it.”
Imaino shuddered and knelt opposite him, searching his pockets for his flint. “I never liked this place.”
And neither had been given much cause to change their minds, Silveo thought, stuffing kindling between the precious pieces of wood. The lake had always been a dank, miserable place with unnatural habits, surrounded by tunnels that were too narrow, too dark and too long. Now those tunnels were filled with kaz-naghkt and the bones of their fallen friends, and the lake had swallowed Mouse.
“What do you plan to do?” Silveo asked, as Imaino struck sparks into the tinder. It had been days and they were running out of food. They didn’t know where any of the others were or if any were still alive.
Imaino fed the fire with careful focus. His face was gaunt, his beard patchy, his eyes haunted by decisions he’d never wanted to make. “We wait for Mouse.”
“And the others?”
The lieutenant stared at the lake, the fire reflecting off the moisture in his eyes. “I don’t think there are any others now.”
Silveo swallowed hard, unable to argue after the kaz-naghkt, the brutal winter and the tremors in the tunnels. It was a miracle they were still alive. Not everyone could be so lucky. Swallowing his emotions, he nodded and dug into their meagre stores for dinner. “We wait for Mouse.”
“THIS WAS NOT how I envisaged our arrival,” Reglian sighed, watching the skyship sail swiftly out of sight, while the dragons and Riders landed in a sunlit meadow. They’d always planned to stop to regroup and re-orientate after the tumult of the Storm Surge. Now it was doubly important, since they had to decide how best to handle this latest unexpected twist.
The meadow was more of a steep, grassy incline on the flat edge of a mountain. Half of it lay in the shadow of a cliff face, with a straggly wood scattered at the base. The rest was open, filled with late-afternoon light, and smelled strongly of flowers. Mhysra felt better already, sitting in the swaying grass. She wondered if anyone would notice if she lay down and rolled to the bottom.
“Indeed,” Goryal chimed. “I believe it safe to assume that the natives are alarmed.”
“Ever so slightly,” Dhori drawled.
Flinching at the sarcasm, Rhiddyl was currently demonstrating how surprisingly small a dragon could coil herself. “I’m sorry,” she fluted disconsolately from the shadows by the trees. “I knew I shouldn’t have come.”
“Nonsense,” Estenarix boomed, loud even in her human form. Rhiddyl raised her head hopefully. “If not for you, who else would carry the baggage?”
Her crest drooped and she hid her face beneath her tail. “I will return home in the morning.”
Feeling terribly sorry for the young dragon, Mhysra struggled to her feet, threw off the last of her dizziness and rested a hand on Rhiddyl’s foot. “It was an accident,” she told her gently. “It could have happened to any of us. Especially in that fog.”
Rhiddyl trembled, but didn’t raise her head. Mhysra turned an imploring look in Reglian’s direction, knowing the young dragon looked up to the enormous archivist.
He huffed and vanished in a flicker of black and gold sparks. Emerging in his human form, he patted Mhysra on the shoulder, hefted Rhiddyl’s tail aside and planted himself directly in front of the dragon’s stormy eye. “She’s right. It could have been any of us.”
“Partially was,” Estenarix agreed, picking at her teeth with an unnaturally long nail. “Bad as it looked to have you pounce on yon Wingborn, it looked worse having the Riders bolt out of the mists with a host of dragons on their tails.”
“Is that what happened?” Mhysra asked, smiling.
Corin grinned and nodded. “There you were tumbling away with Rhiddyl scooping you up in triumph, then we bolted into view, Reglian roaring behind. When that skyship bumbled out here for a tour of the Storm Surge, I don’t think we were quite what they had in mind.” She chuckled and shook her head. “And they say nothing ever happens in Mistrune.”
“It probably still won’t,” Lyrai said, lying prone amongst the wild flowers and soaking up the sun’s warmth. It had been mere days since his fight with Jarvenerald, but it felt like forever to Mhysra, watching him and Hurricane suffer. Yet all he had to show for it now was some slightly reddened skin, shortened hair and a few extra pain lines on his face. Relaxed as he was now, he looked as healthy and golden as ever. “I doubt the Guildmasters will permit us to approach any towns or settlements. Not with so many dragons in tow.”
Mhysra turned to look at the sixteen strangers who’d joined them in the Storm Surge. All in their natural forms and gathered at the far end of the meadow, there wasn’t a single one she recognised. Ranging in size, between Rhiddyl and Reglian, their colours were mainly blues, golds and reds. Though no expert on the dragon Clans, Mhysra could guess what the brighter colours meant: fire breathers. Lyrai was right – no Guildmaster would let them within eyesight.
“Hmm,” Goryal hummed thoughtfully, and wandered towards the strangers.
“That’s one problem solved,” Estenarix said confidently.
Reglian shrugged. “That lot never intended to accompany us. Their business is with the miryhls at Sanctuary, then the Wrathlen. Beyond that they would not say, though with two Clan Highflight elders, I believe justice is heavy on their minds.”
“Sounds like fun,” Estenarix murmured, and went to join their discussion.
“I expect she’ll head north now,” Rhiddyl sighed, venturing to raise her head. “I’m not sure whether to feel relieved or not.”
“Be relieved,” Dhori said firmly. “Life is much easier without family interfering.”
Mhysra stared at him in surprise. Dhori was so silent about his family that she’d almost convinced herself that he’d sprung into the world fully formed. When she opened her mouth, Lyrai shook his head and mouthed, “Later.”
At which point the strange dragons took off, diverting everyone’s attention. They headed north in a sprawling flock, with the chunky form of Estenarix standing out even from a distance.
Goryal walked back to join them. “We shall be much less alarming now, I trust.” They smiled at Rhiddyl, and the young dragon’s scales took on a rosy flush. “Now that we have arrived in the Overworld, what do you intend for us to do next?” they asked, looking at Lyrai and Dhori.
“We wait,” Lyrai replied lazily, still lying in the sun.
“Wait?” Reglian echoed. “For what?”
Dhori smiled and pointed northeast. “Them.”
A line of specks hung just above the horizon, between the clouds and the mountains, and getting closer all the time. As they watched, the specks gradually resolved into three distinct shapes: miryhls, coming at speed.
Goryal scratched their nose, revealing their unease. “And they are?”
“A welcoming committee.” Lyrai rolled to his feet. “Customs and inquisition, all in one.” While the dragons were still frowning, the lieutenant marshalled his students into line, checking uniforms and miryhls. “Not brilliant, but we’ll pass.” He ran a self-conscious hand over the shiny skin on his face and grimaced. “I hope.”
The older dragons shuffled to one side as unobtrusively as possible, while Rhiddyl curled up amongst the trees and the vulardis hid in the shadows until only the Riders remained in the open. The new miryhls swept over the meadow, circled twice around watchfully, then skimmed in to land.
Mhysra’s breath caught as the first miryhl bounced to a stop. Behind her, Cumulo gave a surprised squawk, and the others made similar noises, while Lyrai strode eagerly across the meadow.
“Lyrai!” Beaming with delight, Honra leapt from Flash’s saddle and gripped his former officer’s arm tightly. “Maegla bless, it’s good to see you. I thought you were dead.”
“And I you,” Lyrai laughed giddily, stunned to find his sergeant in such a place. “What brings you here? Did you leave with Captain Myran? There was no sign of you at Etheria.”
“Aye, I came east with the captain, amongst others. Damnable work it was too.” His expression and voice sobered. “Gods, what a nightmare journey that was. So much confusion, so many lost.” Shaking his head as if to dislodge the memories, he looked at Lyrai and smiled. “When the captain sent me to Mistrune to drum up support I thought I was in for a dull time. The last thing I expected to find was you.” He cast his eyes over the rest of the Riders, bedraggled students that they were and his smile turned wry. “Though I should have known. Hysterical reports about dragons chasing Riders, and who should I find? Dhori, Mhysra and Corin. Aye, I might have known.”
They grinned at the man who’d been with them since their first day of Rider training, though there were now two bars on his shoulder as opposed to just one. Honra had been promoted.
“Congratulations, lieutenant,” Corin chirped with a cheeky salute, and he chuckled.
“Thank you, student.” He returned her salute, then turned back to Lyrai, his expression pensive. “Good as it is to see you, how are you here? We thought you and Stirla went west with Hylan. At least, so Captain Myran hoped.”
“We did,” Lyrai admitted, part of him wishing he was still west. “We took the long route, but Stirla and I both made it to Etheria. We were dispatched to Havia on the same errand as you. Unfortunately after Misthome our paths diverged and I went slightly awry.”
“Slightly?” The new lieutenant raised his eyebrows. “I’ve never heard half the world’s distance described as slight before. Especially not with the Storm Wash and Storm Surge betwixt and between. Perhaps those reports of dragons weren’t so far-fetched after all?”
Lyrai smiled ruefully as Reglian and Goryal emerged from the shadows.
“If by far-fetched you mean we have travelled a great distance, then it is indeed true,” Goryal chimed, making Honra and his Riders jump. Their miryhls gave undignified squeaks when the vulardis stirred and Rhiddyl crept out from beneath the trees.
Honra took in the appearance of the two strangers, one almost transparently pale, the other dark as night with golden eyebrows and nails, with a blink. The arrival of five oversized vultures even larger than the miryhls, caused his eyebrows to twitch. At Rhiddyl’s emergence, he opened his mouth but only huffed a wordless puff before turning to Lyrai.
“That must be quite a story.”
Lyrai snorted. “You have no idea.”
Honra’s lips quirked into a half-smile. “You’d best come with me then. I’ve a feeling this might take a while.” Turning to the dragons, he bowed. “Shoreditch is not the best of Rider bases, I’m afraid, but I hope you will still join us for what hospitality we may offer.”
“We would be honoured.” Goryal bowed in return.
With nods to his Riders, Honra sent them off to prepare the way for their unexpected guests, and waited politely for everyone else to prepare. He watched wide-eyed as poor Rhiddyl was once more weighed down with the baggage before loping down the meadow to take off.
When the vulardis beat their enormous wings, he smiled at Lyrai with a shake of his head. “Only you.”
“If it works,” Lyrai muttered, watching his students launch, “I don’t want any complaints.”
“You’ll get none from me,” Honra assured him. “But don’t expect that to last.”
“We’re not so foolish as to count on it,” Hurricane said, and bounded into the air.
Laughing, Lyrai looked back over his shoulder, satisfied that they had shocked his old friend at last.
~ Next Chapter ~
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