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~ Previous Chapter ~
Ah, Yullik, I’d almost forgotten about you…
“HOW LONG HAD you known there were Riders on the mountain?”
Yullik blinked slowly, clearing his mind and focusing on the whirling snowflakes dancing past his window. Another blizzard. He was sick of the cold. Was it any wonder his mind wandered every chance it got?
As the rest of his senses trickled back into his cold body, he became aware of a presence in his room. Two presences. Company. Realising what had fractured his concentration, he shifted in his chair to prop his chin on his hand and sigh, but did not look around.
“I always knew they were there,” he said. “It amused me to let them play.”
A silence, in which Yullik discovered that there were actually three people in his room. Curious, he let his senses explore this mystery. Two of them were so attuned to each other, so alike in so many ways, that until he concentrated or they moved apart, they could almost have been one person. The other was so human it almost hurt. His presence was crude and loud on all levels. Yullik returned to the others, admiring their subtlety and suppressed power. They were not what they appeared on first glance, nor even fortieth. How had he missed that?
Stretching his cold legs, he rose from his chair and walked over to the fire to stir the banked coals. “Why are you here?”
The question could have been addressed to any of them, but only one flinched. The last time Yullik had seen Willym, he’d left him in a cave full of hungry kaz-naghkt, not caring if they ate him or not. He had certainly been in no mood to hold them back. Yet like the perennially bad Scudian penny, here he was again, showing up where he was least wanted.
The captain twins narrowed their eyes in identical amusement, glancing between Yullik and the former Rift Rider, their movements a perfect mirror for each other.
“We were curious,” Rion said, taking the role of spokesman as usual, while his sister settled uninvited into a chair. “You’ve been so quiet since the unfortunate incident with the dean. There were accusations that you’d gone soft.”
Yullik arched an eyebrow.
Riame laughed huskily. “I dared them to say it to your face. None took up my offer.”
“Alas,” the twins and Yullik murmured together. They all smiled. Willym swallowed and shifted his weight, probably wanting to leave.
It drew Yullik’s attention and he pinned him in place with a look. “Why are you here?” he repeated, spacing the words out slowly, because he had come to the conclusion that the boy was lacking in brain cells.
Clenching his jaw, Willym straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. Arrogant as always. “Why are the kaz-naghkt not out hunting? There are enemies on the mountain. You should deal with them.”
“There are enemies inside the citadel,” Yullik replied, turning away to prod the fire. “Should I deal with them too? It will be an empty place if I did. Besides, I thought you’d already seen to the ones on the mountain. Or was that not why you were torturing that boy?” He eyed Willym over his shoulder.
Willym’s hands clenched, but he didn’t take the bait. “They are a danger to you, my lord.”
“To me?” Yullik gave a short laugh. “Nothing on the face of this mountain is a danger to me. Least of all a disparate bunch of disaffected Riders.” He stared into the glowing fire, aware that Willym was grinding his teeth. Not that he cared. The boy had always been a fool beneath contempt. If he hadn’t realised that before it was down to his own stupidity. Yullik had no energy to bother hiding his true feelings anymore. Willym no longer amused him. Nothing amused him. He had other things on his mind.
Like what lay beneath the mountain. Something stirred in the dark; he could feel it. A thorn in his flesh, an itch inside his brain, a pulse as relentless as his own heartbeat.
“You should do something about them.”
Irritated at having his thoughts interrupted again, Yullik turned from the fire. “Are you still here?” he growled. Embers snapped in the grate.
Though pale, Willym stood firm. Clearly the idiot whelp wanted more.
“I have nothing to fear from them, therefore I need do nothing about them. What is it that you want from me?”
“Surely your kaz-naghkt grow bored,” Rion murmured, wandering around Yullik’s room and poking at the objects on the shelves. “Perhaps they would welcome a hunt?”
Yullik frowned at him. “My kaz-naghkt dislike the cold. They will not go willingly out into the snow. I would have to force them and, if I do that, I will need to feed them. Or are you offering to satisfy their needs?”
A barely perceptible shudder ran through the man by the door, and Yullik smiled. “Perhaps you’re offering to lead them, Lord Willym?”
The former Rift Rider didn’t look so arrogant now. In fact he looked rather sickly.
“Have you a problem with my soldiers, my lord?” Yullik purred.
Twisting a cradle of yarn about her fingers in ever more complicated patterns, Riame chuckled. “You wanted to be a captain, Willym. Why not a captain of the kaz-naghkt?”
“If I could be king, even just for one day,” Rion sung softly, circling back around the room to stand at Willym’s shoulder, crooning in his ear. “There’s no knowing what I might achieve.”
Sensing he was being mocked, Willym glowered at the captain by his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at the one in the chair. Then he looked at Yullik. “I am yours to command, my lord.”
“Are you really?” Yullik questioned softly.
Though his jaw clenched and his eyes shifted, Willym straightened his shoulders with a firm nod. “Your will is my command.”
Yullik smiled. “Excellent.” Perhaps the boy might amuse him again yet, abysmal liar that he was. “Go to the main hall and bring my kaz-naghkt flight leader to me. Tell him I have a hunt for him.”
With a stiff bow, Willym left the room, looking as if he was in no hurry.
Yullik snorted as the door clicked shut. “Yours to command, indeed. He’d rather see me dead first.”
“We’d all rather that,” Riame murmured, adding another twist to her tortured pattern. “You should not be so hard on the boy.”
“And you should not set him up for falls his foolish pride cannot take,” Yullik retorted.
She smiled, even as her brother frowned. “It is good we understand one another, my lord.”
Glancing between the two of them, surprised to see their expressions so different for once, Yullik couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “I think in this you have the advantage of me.”
“That would make a pleasant change,” Rion said, standing behind his sister’s chair and watching her adept fingers move. “We must make the most of it while it lasts.”
Almost hypnotised by the twists and weaves of Riame’s yarn, Yullik settled in the chair opposite her. “Why are you here?” he asked, almost absently. “What’s in any of this for you? Why do you play with Willym as you do? Surely you don’t find the tedious boy amusing.”
“He’s useful,” Riame replied, spreading out her fingers and pulling her hands apart to draw her complicated pattern taut.
“Useful for what?” Yullik asked.
Riame smiled and offered her hands to her brother. Plucking the central thread, Rion pulled, snarling the whole thing into a great, impossible mess. “Chaos, Lord Yullik. Chaos and destruction. It flows so beautifully in his wake.”
“And one day it will catch up with him,” Riame agreed, as he dropped the knot into her lap.
Appreciating their sense of theatre, Yullik smiled. “I look forward to such an event, and can only hope I will be there to witness it.”
The twins narrowed their eyes in amusement. “One can always hope.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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