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~ Previous Chapter ~
Dreams. Again. Why can’t this series ever have nice dreams?
MHYSRA WAS DREAMING. She knew that as surely as she knew her own name, but couldn’t wake up. The harder she tried, the more deeply ensnared she became in the silken web of sleep.
So she started running, fleeing through the darkness as the walls closed in around her. The ceiling curved over her head, the ground became rough beneath her feet and her breathing grew laboured. But she had to keep running, had to keep going. She had to find it, something she’d lost. If only she could remember what.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she panted into the darkness, a sense of urgency growing inside her. Time was running out, she had to find it.
Her foot caught on a loose stone and she stumbled, tripping over the uneven ground. The tunnel floor dropped away before her and she fell.
Landing hard on her shoulder, she started to roll, unable to stop herself as she tumbled into the darkness. Then, with a jolt and a curse, she slammed into something solid and sprawled to a stop.
Her grazed and burning hands reached out tentatively – cold met her fingertips. She pressed down and it gave beneath the pressure, releasing a fetid burst of air and a slimy, chilly ooze.
Yelping, she scrambled back, feeling more yielding pops beneath her scrabbling hands, releasing more of the foul odour as it clung to her clothes.
Finally she encountered something solid and turned to crawl back up the slope.
Only to run head first into another cold, slimy obstacle.
Breathing hard, she reached up with her hands and felt rotten material flaking away, before she reached something firm and flat. Her fingers slid over the unmistakable shape of a jaw and she drew back with a yelp.
Stone rattled beneath her feet and she looked back over her shoulder. A low, green glow shone from the walls. Light which grew brighter as the bodies on the tunnel floor stirred from their restless slumber.
Fallen Riders, some crushed in the evacuation stampede, others half-eaten by the kaz-naghkt began crawling towards her, maggots and worms falling from their mouths, gaping wounds and empty eye-sockets.
Too panicked to scream, her breathing reduced to gasping shudders, she turned to run only to collide with the first body again. It grabbed her as they fell.
“Mhys-ra,” it wheezed with the air that was forced from its lungs.
She stared into the rotten but still recognisable face of her brother and screamed.
“Where are you, little Wingborn?” the dead whispered, as she scrabbled to free herself, fighting to get away from the ruin of Kilai. “Where have you been hiding?”
His dead arms were strong, clasping her tightly to his decaying chest, pulling her into his disintegrating body. His sunken lips pressed gently against her cheek.
“I’ve got you now.”
She woke with a rush and a choke, her throat too tight to scream, fighting to free herself from the smothering confines of her bedroll and blanket.
“Mhysra?” a soft voice spoke out of the night, and a shadow moved around the campfire. “Are you all right?”
Still stunned by the horror of her dream, Mhysra could only hug her knees and shake her head. No, she was most definitely not all right.
Dhori crouched in front of her and took her hand. “You’re freezing,” he murmured, chafing her fingers between his gloves. “Bad dream?”
She nodded, wriggling closer to the fire, wishing it had the power to warm the ice that had settled inside of her. The blanket that had seemed so restrictive a moment early wasn’t tight enough now.
Dhori gently stroked the tangle of curls off her forehead. “Can you tell me about it?”
She shook her head. She didn’t think she could ever tell anyone about it. It was too horrible. Her brother, her brave, loyal Kilai was rotting away beneath Aquila, with no grave marker to remember him by. Along with so many others.
For once Dhori seemed lost for words as he stroked Mhysra’s bent head and stared around their shelter, hastily rigged the night before during heavy rain. It was still raining, and though the canvas they’d strung between several scrubby thorn trees kept most of the water off, there was little they could do about the bitter wind that brought plenty of moisture in through the open sides. Poor Rhiddyl, too large to fit beneath the canvas, was sheltering the miryhls on the far side of the camp. Everyone else had to put up with soggy bedrolls and a dying fire.
Lightning flickered in the distance and Dhori shivered as though the bolt had danced down his spine. Mhysra glimpsed a small glow in his gaze as he looked back at her, eyes turning dark with worry. He smiled, but she could see his concern. She felt it too.
Was it coming back? The nightmares? The breathlessness? Would she lose her voice again?
“Why don’t you wake Lyrai?”
They both looked up, surprised to find Reglian watching them. Despite his excessive height in his human shape, the dragon could move in near silence when he wished to. “I will stay with her until you return.”
Gold eyes met grey and a long silence ensued. Mhysra wondered what messages passed between them before she shivered again, remembering other glowing eyes that lit up the dark.
“Where are you, little Wingborn? Where have you been hiding?”
The others stared at her as if they too heard the echo from her dream. Frowning, Dhori nodded at Reglian and melted into the darkness around the edge of their camp.
The dragon-man smiled and sat down in front of Mhysra, oblivious to the sodden ground. “Dreams can be troubling things,” he said conversationally.
Mhysra snorted: didn’t she just know it.
“Sometimes they make no sense,” Reglian continued, almost absently. “Other times they appear all too real.” He eyed her speculatively.
Since the lump in her throat was making it painful to even breathe, Mhysra only shrugged. All dreams, real or unreal, were too much for her to face these days. If she never dreamed again, it would be too soon.
The dragon smiled faintly and pulled a dragongift globe from his pocket. It glowed a soft gold as he took her hand from beneath her blanket and placed the globe on her palm. “Hold it tight, little Wingborn, and you need never fear the dark again.”
Before she could find a way to convey her thanks, figures emerged from the night. Dhori stayed long enough to ensure she was awake and that Reglian hadn’t made things worse before returning to sentry duty. Lyrai, however, wasted no time in sitting beside her, pressing against her from shoulder to knee.
In desperate need of more warmth and comfort, Mhysra tipped sideways and rested her head on his shoulder. She sighed with relief as his arms closed around her, sure and strong.
His warm breath filtered through her tangled curls as he pressed a kiss to her head. “Was it bad?” he murmured.
She nodded and closed her eyes, feeling safe at last.
“Does this happen often?” Reglian asked, while she eased open her blanket enough to wrap an arm around Lyrai’s back.
She felt his chin brushing her hair as he shook his head. “Not since we left Misthome.”
“And before that?”
“They started after the fall of Aquila.”
“Little Wingborn, little Wingborn, where are you?”
Hating the voice, the memories and the dreams that had followed, Mhysra buried her face against Lyrai’s chest, pressing her ear against his shirt, searching for the beat of his heart. She needed it to drown out everything else.
“From what I have heard it was enough to give anyone nightmares.” Reglian’s voice was a soothing counterpoint to Lyrai’s heartbeat, but his words made her grip her lieutenant all the tighter.
“Yes,” Lyrai agreed, running a hand through her curls and making her shiver. “A terrible time. We lost so many. Mhysra’s brother, Kilai, sacrificed himself by causing a cave in to keep us safe.”
“From the kaz-naghkt?”
“You are far away.”
“No. A man.”
“How did you get so far?”
“A renegade Rider?”
“Silly girl, what have you been up to?”
“No.” Lyrai shook his head again. “A stranger. He knew our names, though.”
“His name?” Reglian sounded suddenly urgent.
“Little Wingborn…?” For once the voice sounded uncertain.
“Something strange. Odd. I’d never heard it before. Yerlly… Youllin… something like that.”
“Yullik ses-Khennik,” Reglian hissed.
The voice inside Mhysra’s head let out a hiss of its own. “What have you done?” it demanded, before vanishing like a wisp of smoke.
“Yes.” Mhysra opened her eyes, finding Reglian golden gaze fixed on her. “Yes, it’s him.”
“Here?” the dragon growled, sounding ready to do battle that very moment.
Mhysra was quick to shake her head. The voice was gone, taking the lump in her throat with it. The horror of her dream remained, along with an ache in her chest over Kilai’s loss, but they were both manageable now. She could breathe again.
“He’s been tracking us through her.” Dhori emerged from the darkness.
“What?” Lyrai and Mhysra both stared, incredulous.
“You dreamt of him often after the fall of Aquila, didn’t you?” Dhori asked her, his eyes a bright glow in the darkness. Thunder snarled, still distant but getting closer. “He’d always ask where you were, leaving you had no choice but to answer. But when you woke you couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t only grief that stopped you from talking.”
“That’s what you said,” Lyrai murmured, his arms loosening as he remembered. He tipped up her chin to meet his eyes. “At Misthome when you started talking again. You said you could breathe there.”
“Ah.” Reglian and Dhori both sighed.
“The Storm Wash,” the dragon rumbled. “We are further from the Storm Surge here. We’ve been muting our presence too, keeping ourselves quiet, which allowed him to find her again.”
“He knows,” Mhysra said, almost dreamily. “He knows you’re here now. He knows you’re coming to find him.” She didn’t know where the words came from, but they felt right. Especially when the anger that burned in the corner of her mind rapidly faded along with Yullik’s presence. “He fears you.”
“Not yet,” Reglian corrected, as lightning splintered the darkness above their shelter. “But he will.” Thunder growled its promise. “Soon.”
Beside him, Dhori smiled. “You always were an excellent teacher, Reglian kin Thunderwing.”
The thunder in the sky laughed.
~ Next Chapter ~
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