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~ Previous Chapter ~
Slightly longer than usual update today, but I’m sure you’ll cope ;D
IT WAS DARK when Lyrai entered the eyries; it was always dark, regardless of the time of day. He’d visited the Storm Peaks before so knew what to expect, except that the weather had never been quite this bad. Yes, the Storm Peaks were aptly named, but at this time of year the storms normally came every other day. There was usually space to breathe between one storm and the next.
Not this time. Ever since Mhysra’s incident, it was almost as if the sky was exhibiting its displeasure. Perhaps Maegla had been watching. Perhaps the dragons were venting their own steam. Perhaps it was just coincidence. Whatever it was, Lyrai didn’t feel like he was being too arrogant when he thought it had something to do with them. The weather was angry. The lightning forks were sharp, jagged and fierce, striking off the mountainsides as if lashing out in frustration. The thunder was a heavy, low rumble like a beating drum or an angry pounding fist. The clouds were black and menacing, and the air was a constant blanket of tension.
Lyrai rubbed his aching temples and made his way towards their huddle of miryhls, picking his way between lightning flashes. He didn’t know how much more of this weather he could stand. Thunder snarled like a distempered mountain lion, and it made him think of Dhori and how angry he’d been with the dragons. No one had seen the silver-eyed student since. Lyrai hoped he was all right, alone out there on the mountain, exposed to all this weather.
Then again if anyone was equipped to survive a thunderstorm it was Dhoriaen Aure. Or was it Auriaen? A name spoken by a goddess and a dragon elder. Yet another mystery to add to the enigma that was Dhori.
Lyrai shook his head and put a hand on Hurricane’s mottled wing. Even in the gloom he could make out the creamy patches on his beautiful miryhl’s feathers. Though he didn’t speak, Hurricane shifted to let Lyrai through, nuzzling his Rider gently as he passed. Lyrai smoothed his hand over his beak in silent greeting and knelt down inside the ring of miryhls.
Cumulo nested in the centre, one wing half-mantled like a mother duck sheltering her ducklings. Or in this case a miryhl guarding his Wingborn. Mhysra huddled against Cumulo’s side, his wing over her shoulders, keeping her warm and close. One of her hands was fisted in his chest feathers, the other supported her chin. Her eyes were closed as she leant against her Wingborn, but she looked far from peaceful.
Cumulo eyed Lyrai but said nothing; he didn’t even glare. In this the brash miryhl was just as helpless as the rest of them, and he was saving his anger for those who deserved it: Goryal and Reglian. They were supposed to be the wise ones, the ones this Yullik was wary of, if not scared by. They were supposed to be keeping Mhysra safe – and they had failed.
The great harm Dhori had spoken of was sitting right in front of Lyrai now. Though her friendship with Corin and Jaymes remained strong, Mhysra was not the same. She was silent and withdrawn, with black bruises beneath her eyes from where she dared not sleep. By day she spent her time huddled amongst the miryhls, keeping close to Cumulo. At night she lay curled between Rhiddyl’s protective paws, the only dragon any of them trusted now.
There was the harm right there: to Mhysra’s own sense of self and to their relationship with the older dragons. The trust they’d shared was shattered. Mhysra no longer felt able to trust herself, let alone them. Poor Rhiddyl was caught squarely in the middle, while everyone else could only watch.
Or work, as the case had been for Honra and Lyrai. What the older dragons got up to, Lyrai no longer knew nor cared, though he wished he knew where Dhori was. Still, idle wondering served no purpose, which was why he and Honra had spent the last two days quartering the town, searching for a ship that would take them to Sanctuary.
Without success. They were lucky if the captains would even meet them. Even then most of laughed in their faces. Which was why he was here now, doing something he hadn’t wanted to. Except there was no choice.
Sighing, he shoved aside his own misgivings and touched Mhysra’s knee. “I need your help.”
The eyes that stared at him were every bit as stormy as the skies outside, unevenly lit by flickers of lightning. Thunder grumbled as she blinked at him, then shook her head. “I cannot help you. I cannot even help myself. I have nothing to offer the world.”
Lyrai’s lips quirked and he arched an eyebrow at Cumulo. She’d been spending far too much time with her miryhl. Yes, the might-have-beens were awful to contemplate, and he couldn’t imagine what it felt like to believe so fiercely in something no one else could see, but did she have to be so dramatic about it?
“I doubt that very much,” he said, after his amusement had faded. “If memory serves me correctly, you had plenty to offer when I pinned you against the wall.”
She made a squeak of dismay and hid her face against Cumulo’s side, and Lyrai smiled again. Nice to see he hadn’t lost his touch.
“That was different,” she mumbled, muffled by feathers. “We were fighting.”
And what a battle it had been. It was certainly enough to keep him warm at night. At midwinter. In the Ice Peaks. “Fight with me now.”
Both she and Cumulo turned to him with identical glares. Wingborn – twins in different forms.
He chuckled. “I didn’t mean like that. Although you’re welcome to attack me that way any time you like.”
The word attack drained her anger as effectively as a lanced boil. She deflated before his eyes, and he wanted to kick himself.
“I cannot be trusted to fight,” she said, turning her face away.
Cumulo’s glare hardened and Lyrai held up an apologetic hand. “You are a Rift Rider.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I renounce my sword. I cannot be trusted with it.”
“There is more to being a Rider than carrying a sword,” he said, saddened to see her so defeated – but growing a little frustrated with her too. “There is more to fighting than killing.”
She frowned at him. “Don’t play with words, Lyrai. I am not in the mood.”
He could have debated that. From where he was sitting she was in a fine mood, but he didn’t think she’d appreciate him pointing that out. “I’m not playing,” he said firmly. “I’m talking about spirit and determination, Mhysra. Something I once thought you had in spades.”
Quick as a flash she was out from beneath Cumulo’s wing, facing him properly at last. “I almost killed two of my closest friends,” she growled, nose-to-nose with him. “What kind of spirit would do that?”
Unable to resist, he stole a quick kiss. “The very best,” he said, catching her shoulders before she could pull away, her expression turning from angry to confused to disgusted. “You thought they were in danger.” He gave her a little shake. “And you were willing to risk your life for them. How is that not the brightest of spirits?”
“Because I nearly killed them, you idiot!” she shouted, thumping his chest hard.
Lyrai grinned, relieved that she could still fight after all, even if he did end up winded. “But you didn’t. We got to you in time, and if those damned dragons had been doing their job we wouldn’t have been needed. It wasn’t your fault,” he murmured, as she lowered her eyes. Releasing her shoulders, he tipped her face back up to his, running the backs of his fingers along her cheek. “You didn’t cause any of this.”
Her stormy eyes filled with tears. “Why me?” she whispered. “Why did he pick me? I must have done something. You were there under the mountain too. Why me and not you? What’s so special about me?”
Hating to see her so upset, he held her close, tucking her head beneath his chin. “Why you and not me?” he echoed. “He’s a man, isn’t he? Why would he want to haunt me when he can play with you instead?”
It was a twisted compliment at best, but she did stop crying long enough to punch him in the ribs. “Shut up.”
Chuckling, he kissed her head. “I’m serious. And you are special, Mhysra, not just to me and your friends, but to Cumulo. You’re Wingborn.”
“Wingborn,” she murmured, her hands flexing against his lower back. “That’s what he said. He said he was Wingborn too, that we should stick together.”
Not liking the thought that something so rare and precious might bind her to the monster who’d caused so much death and grief, Lyrai held her tighter. “You are not like him,” he told her fervently. “You and Cumulo are so much better. You’re the best a Wingborn pair can be. You’re nothing like him.”
Wriggling free of his hold, she rolled her eyes. “I know that, stupid.”
Well, he had to kiss her then, didn’t he? Cradling her head like she was the most precious thing he’d ever touched, he spread his fingers through the softness of her hair and pressed his lips to hers almost reverently. Until she sighed and sank against him, mouth opening beneath his in welcome. There was no fight this time, just a sensual harmony he’d never felt before.
Until a large beak thumped his shoulder. “Do you mind?” Cumulo rumbled far too close to Lyrai’s ear for comfort. “If you must maul my Wingborn, I would rather not be witness to it.”
Mhysra’s head was buried against Lyrai’s chest again, muffling her giggles this time, and he sighed, all hope of dignity lost.
“One of these days,” he growled, gently pulling Mhysra’s head up, “I will get you alone and all to myself. In a room with a lockable door.”
Still chuckling, she nipped at his bottom lip, running her hands over him and making him shiver. “Promises, promises,” she murmured huskily as she pulled away.
While she stood up and took her Wingborn to task, Lyrai sat on his heels for a moment and practised his deep breathing. Finally, once the scolding was done, Mhysra turned and offered him a hand. By then he was able to accept it without any embarrassment.
“You said you needed my help,” she said, as he slung an arm across her shoulders to steer her out of the eyries.
“Mm,” he agreed, still thinking of other things.
“Hey.” She elbowed him in the ribs. “Since you dragged me out of my self-pity, the least you can do is pay attention when I’m talking.”
“You’re the one who distracted me,” he grumbled, rubbing his sore ribs. Had she always been this violent? “I don’t suppose you know any Storm Peak captains, do you? Ones who wouldn’t mind a voyage into the unknown for little recognition and even less pay.”
She surprised him with a grin. “As a matter of fact, I just might.”
* * *
“TALK TO ME.”
Mouse had known it was a bad idea to walk ahead with Imaino, following the slickly glowing lights along the tunnel walls. The rest of their fellow survivors huddled in a protective group behind them, casting unhappy looks over their shoulders. Silveo, Greig, Haelle and Nightriver brought up the very distant rear in deference to their discomfort.
Despite Imaino’s tentative welcome of the dragon, few of the others were ready to accept his presence. Mouse had a feeling that once they reached Buteo things would only get worse. He hoped not, but he wasn’t about to hold his breath either.
Mouse eyed his lieutenant. “About what?”
“This new friend of yours,” Imaino said dryly. “Who, what, where, why and when?”
Mouse couldn’t blame him for the questions, although he doubted he could answer any to his lieutenant’s satisfaction. Instead he gave what little he knew, explaining how he’d first met Nightriver in his fevered dreams, how he’d heard his voice through the rescue from Aquila and their subsequent flight through the tunnels away from the kaz-naghkt. He went on to describe his time in the lake, how he’d been healed and how he’d thought it little more than feverish dreams returning to haunt him. Skipping over the time of hunger and blood, he moved on to when he thought he was losing Haelle and how Nightriver had offered to heal her. He mentioned the lights and how he thought they were Nightriver’s doing, without going in to the more contentious issue of the tremors, rock falls and the damage his dragon friend had done.
To finish he recapped the second healing in the lake and how Nightriver had dug through the tunnels to return them to Imaino and the others. It didn’t take him nearly so long to recount as he’d expected, but then he hadn’t included everything.
In the back of his mind he heard a deep, low chuckle. “There is more truth in silence than words can ever tell.”
Mouse silently told him to shut up and waited for Imaino’s verdict.
The lieutenant blew out an astonished breath and shook his head. “If I hadn’t seen him for myself, emerging from the lake like some monstrous reptile of old, I don’t think I’d have believed a word of what you just said.”
“If I hadn’t lived through it, sir, I wouldn’t believe it either.”
Imaino laughed, and ruffled Mouse’s hair with a broad, calloused hand. “What would we do without you, eh? Healer, helper and now finder of mysteries. Who knows where this story will lead us all next? I have the strangest feeling you’ll be at the heart of it wherever it goes.” He looked at him again, a long considering look, then shook his head. “The gods truly do move in mysterious ways.”
“He has no idea.”
Mouse frowned Nightriver into silence. Then looked up. There was light ahead, and not the pale greenish glow of the walls either. This was bright light, daylight. The sun.
“Blessed Maegla,” his whispered, and started to run.
Imaino shouted behind him, but he didn’t hear what and he certainly didn’t stop. He just ran, not caring for once that he lurched drunkenly from side to side. With a wall to bounce off, he maintained his forward momentum. Until there was no more tunnel. No more rocks, no more darkness, no more dust or debris.
The cold air hit his lungs with a sharp, tangy bite and there was snow on the ground, but it wasn’t the all-covering white blanket he’d left on the other side of the mountain. Here it was a light covering over brown and green fields.
Not that he cared for the ground. He’d had ground under his feet all along, even if it had mostly been bare rock. What mattered here was the sky. He looked up at the deep blue day, lightly dusted with grey clouds, and in one particular gap, too bright to gaze upon, the sun shone down. Heirayk’s smiling face.
Mouse’s vision blurred and his knees buckled. Kneeling on the ground he raised his face to the cleansing warmth of the sun and laughed. Voices gathered in the distance, both before and behind, but Mouse no longer cared. They had reached Buteo.
Buteo at last.
~ Next Chapter ~
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