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~ Previous Chapter ~
Time to talk.
“I HAVE NO doubt the miryhls of Sanctuary will welcome your friends without fuss. There at least there is no likelihood of them alarming the locals.” General Keipen was clearly down to the last shreds of his patience as he faced the dragons, dragonets and overly well-travelled Riders outside the base after supper. Mhysra had long wished to meet the youngest general the Overworld had ever seen, but at that moment she’d have gladly passed up the privilege. Keipen was not a happy man, and with men of short tempers it was wisest not to be on the wrong side of it.
To make matters worse, her successful attempts at avoiding Lyrai had been ruined by this summons. As if a stomping general wasn’t bad enough, her eyes kept straying to where the lieutenant was standing, shoulders hunched uncomfortably. It reminded her of how he’d been two days ago and what his last meeting with the angry general had led to.
“It’s how they’ll get there that worries me.”
As Keipen paced past him, Lyrai looked up, straight into Mhysra’s eyes. Heat flashed through her and she glanced hurriedly away. Reglian stood opposite her, shoulders braced against Rhiddyl’s shoulder. His posture was a direct contrast to the general’s: relaxed, comfortable and amused. When he stepped forward to intercept Keipen’s pacing, Mhysra dreaded what he would say.
“I can’t understand what all the fuss is about.”
Mhysra, Corin, Jaymes, Lyrai and even Dhori winced.
The general stopped, nostrils flaring as he attempted to contain the last scraps of his temper. “The fuss, as you call it, is concern for the people of Storm Peaks.”
“They live beside the Storm Surge, General. Do you really expect the sight of a dragon will send them flailing in panic?”
“One dragon, at a distance, no,” the general growled. “But according to you, I have seventeen full grown adults making their way north as we speak, across the entire length of the country. I know humans’ eyesight is poor compared to your noble selves, but do you really expect no one to notice?”
Mhysra bit her lip as Goryal shot Reglian a quelling glance. “Perhaps it will relieve your mind to know that in all likelihood our friends have reached Sanctuary by now.”
Their gently chiming voice was at its most soothing as they approached the general, making subtle shooing motions at Reglian behind their back. Smirking, the archivist rolled his shoulders and returned to leaning against Rhiddyl’s side. The young dragon was anxiously watching the scene unfold, flexing her silver claws in the moist earth, while the two dragonets slept peacefully between her wings.
Keipen raked all three dragons with a sour look. “It would be a great relief, elder, if I didn’t have to worry about what they might do next.”
Goryal acknowledged this with a calm smile. “In that case, General, I believe your course is simple, as my friend Reglian implied. Albeit with a distinct lack of tact,” this was added with a pointed look in the archivist’s direction. Reglian just shrugged. He seemed to delight in riling up the general whenever he could.
Keipen narrowed his eyes and looked at Lyrai, reminding him that he’d brought this plague down upon them all. It was the lieutenant’s turn to shrug, though with a touch of apology. Mhysra bristled on Lyrai’s behalf. If the general hadn’t realised yet that the dragons acted only to please themselves, without the least regard for humans or their wishes, then the man was a fool. Lyrai was as much to blame for the dragons as he was for the sun rising each morning.
For the first time in two days, she met her lieutenant’s eyes without blushing. He accepted her supportive nod with a faint smile.
“What then do you suggest we do?” Keipen demanded of Goryal.
The pale dragon linked their long fingers together, clasping their hands in front of their chest with a beautiful smile. “We must travel to Sanctuary.” They turned to the watching Riders, rainbow eyes aglow. “It will be such a treat. I have always wished to go. Miryhls are so fascinating. And from there it will be easy enough to reach Nimbys,” they added, looking at the general once more. “To meet up with the other Riders.”
When no one responded to this astonishing announcement, their smile faltered. “Is that not what you wanted?” they asked, looking from one Rider to another. “To travel to Nimbys and find your friends?”
“Sanctuary?” Lyrai coughed, the first to find his voice. “We must travel to Sanctuary?”
Goryal’s expression turned quizzical. “A simple enough journey, is it not?”
Mhysra blinked, her head reeling at the prospect.
A strangled laugh broke the confusion, and she was astonished to realise it came from the general. “Why not?” Keipen chortled. “Yes, why not? After all, we’ve got dragons back in the Overworld for the first time in over a hundred years. Let’s make it a double and become the first humans ever granted access to Sanctuary. Why not? If anyone can achieve it, it’ll be Lieutenant Lyrai and his stupendous students. Storm Wash, Storm Surge, Sanctuary. Why not hit three for three?” Wiping his eyes, the general shook his head and left, bursts of periodic snickering drifting behind him as he walked back up the slope towards the base.
Blinking their huge eyes in surprise, Goryal turned to the remaining Riders. “Humans are not permitted to enter Sanctuary?”
“Not normally, no,” Dhori said, rubbing his forehead as if it ached. “But like the good general said, if anyone were to be allowed in it would be us. I suppose this means packing again.”
“Just when I was getting comfortable too,” Corin grumbled, climbing up Rhiddyl’s elbow to pluck her dragonet from the dragon’s back.
“Another day, another destination,” Jaymes agreed. “Well, I did join the Rift Riders because I wanted to travel.” He scooped up his own dragonet and fell into step with Corin as they headed back inside.
Goryal was frowning. “Perhaps I have made an error. I made my suggestion without full possession of the facts. Would it be better if myself and Reglian flew to Sanctuary alone to ascertain the intentions of our fellow dragons?”
Lyrai raked a hand through his hair and shared a glance with Mhysra. “No,” they both said.
“But if it is forbidden -”
“No,” they repeated. After raising such a fuss about the unknown dragons, the general was hardly likely to unleash two more on the general public.
The dragon elder’s shoulders drooped in defeat. “I do not understand humans.”
Rhiddyl rumbled her agreement, while Reglian patted them both on the shoulder. “Is that not half the fun of this mad expedition? Come, if we are leaving again in the morning, we should take the chance to explore this astonishing place before we go. Shake off that fragile body, Goryal, and let us fly.”
With a sigh of assent, the elder shrugged off their human form like an old cloak and took to the sky with the effortless grace of a butterfly, made tiny by the hulking forms of Rhiddyl and Reglian, spiralling upwards on either side.
Which left Mhysra and Lyrai alone, staring up as the dragons drifted higher and higher. Mhysra glanced at her lieutenant and found him watching her. She dropped her eyes. Would it be rude if she just walked away?
“I’m so pleased things aren’t awkward between us,” he drawled, making her face heat. When she looked at him, he smiled. “Because I would really hate that.”
She blinked, surprised, then smiled too. “So would I.”
Sighing, he rolled his shoulders as if removing a heavy weight and stared up at the wheeling dragons. “Would it help if I said I was sorry?”
Oddly enough, no, it wouldn’t. No matter how embarrassed she’d felt since the kiss, the last thing she felt was regret. The thought that he might had never crossed her mind. Now it made her feel awful.
His eyes searched her face, reading her expression, and he softened. “Because I’m not, you know.” At her stunned gape, he laughed, sounding a little bemused. “I should be. I’m your lieutenant, you’re my student. I shouldn’t have done it. But I’m glad I did.” He held out his hand.
Relieved beyond measure, she stepped closer and slid her fingers into his. “So am I.”
“You’ve been avoiding me,” he murmured, drawing her closer.
She ducked her head and peeked coyly up at him through her lashes. “Maybe a little.”
“Stop it.” He tugged her into his arms and held her close. “I much prefer you here. Even though I shouldn’t, and the miryhls will gossip about it.”
She chuckled and breathed him in, delighted to be near him again. She’d missed him.
After a moment she pulled back, relaxed enough to tease. “Cue told me about your talk with Hurricane.”
He rested his forehead against hers with a groan. “We have our miryhls approval.”
“It’s always nice to know that Cumulo likes my friends.”
“Friends?” Lyrai pulled back to look at her again, and she waited, heart pounding, wondering what he’d say next or if she’d said something wrong. Then he grinned, linked his fingers through hers and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. “I like being friends with you.”
Unable to speak for the bubbles of happiness popping inside, Mhysra smiled, swayed and lifted her face to his. Her eyes drifted shut as he pulled her closer, his breath brushing her lips.
A shrill whistled pierced the air. “Hey, you two!”
Startled, they jumped apart and found Corin, Jaymes, Dhori, Fleik and Honra laughing at them from the slope leading up to the base.
“When you’ve finished canoodling, we’ve got packing to do, remember?”
Lyrai narrowed his eyes at Fleik. “Canoodling?” he said incredulously. “I do not canoodle.” When Mhysra arched an eyebrow and tugged at where he was still holding her hand, he tightened his grip and shot her a wink. “I’m just spending time with a friend.”
“Ooh, a friend,” Fleik cooed, elbowing Honra. “Did you hear that? I thought you and I were his friends, but he’s never kissed me. How about you, Honra?”
When his fellow lieutenant shook his head, too busy laughing to speak, Lyrai gave a derisive snort. “Why would I want to kiss you? I’ve heard all about your technique from Jasper.”
“Jasper?” the older lieutenant spluttered, as Mhysra and Lyrai reached them. “What’s that little gossip finch being saying? I’ll pluck his tail and paint his primaries pink!”
“Aww, don’t take it too hard, sir. Maybe Lieutenant Lyrai could give you a few pointers,” Corin suggested slyly. “Seems all the miryhls approved of his technique. And you are his friend.”
“Ha!” Fleik grumbled, grabbed Lyrai before he could dodge and planted a smacking kiss on his lips. “There you are, friend. Critique that.” Dancing away from Lyrai’s retaliatory swipe, he collided with Corin.
“I’d be happy to give you a friendly critique, sir,” she offered, batting her eyelashes and patting his cheek. “Just between friends.”
“Gah!” Lyrai yelled, gripping his hair and glaring at Mhysra. “This is all your fault.”
“Me?” she cried, laughing too much for indignation. “You started it.”
“Well, as your friend,” Dhori interrupted, spinning her into his arms for a quick kiss. “I’ll finish it.” Releasing the giddy Mhysra, he pecked Lyrai on the cheek and hooked an arm around both Jaymes’ and Corin’s necks to do the same. “There, all done. Can we go pack now, please?”
“What about me?” Fleik called plaintively as Dhori dragged Corin and Jaymes up the slope. “Aren’t I your friend too?”
“And how come I only got a peck on the cheek?” Corin demanded indignantly. “Does that mean Mhysra’s a better friend than I am? How can she possibly be? She’s always so moody?”
Shaking her head at the ridiculous lot of them, Mhysra smiled at the placid Lieutenant Honra, linked arms with him and walked back to the base in blissful silence.
~ Next Chapter ~
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