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~ Previous Chapter ~
Yay, we’ve reached Sanctuary! Oh, erm… oh.
Restra, the Heighlen
STIRLA WAS NERVOUS. When he cast his mind back over recent months, there had been many points on his journey when nervousness had been required, but none of them had felt quite like this. Beside him, Derrain wiped his hands on his breeches, clearly feeling the same.
Only Neryth was as cool and calm as she usually was. Then again, this had little to do with her, so there was no reason for her to behave otherwise.
“Gods,” Stirla whispered, running his hands through his hair and absently thinking it needed a cut. “What do I tell them, Derry?”
“The truth?” the student suggested. “Give them a reason to feel needed again.”
While he could see the sense in that, Stirla wasn’t sure it would be enough. These men and women had a right to feel aggrieved. They’d been left here. Dumped the moment the fleeing Riders made landfall, left behind like unwanted baggage. The ordinary folk of Restra had plenty to complain about too. No one had asked their opinion before doubling the population of their little town.
His thoughts were going in circles. So he took a deep breath, checked his ridiculous red jacket was lying straight at the back, then nodded at Derrain to open the door. It was time to face the people.
As the three of them stepped into the town hall, the crowd fell silent. The big barn of a room was packed with faces, all tracking Stirla’s progress as he walked down the central aisle, Derrain and Neryth at his shoulders. Their footsteps were the only sound as they headed for the stage at the front.
The town leader waited, two men seated behind her. Stirla knew them both: Rider Benyet and Baker Jensyn. Strong men and natural leaders, chosen to speak for the survivors.
It seemed to take forever to stride across that space, but finally he was there before them, uncertain whether to walk up the steps or stay where he was, like a petitioner pleading for mercy. He didn’t even know what he was doing here. He hadn’t planned to come back, but when Neryth had spotted the town it had seemed the right thing to do. Someone needed to return to Restra and remind them that they weren’t forgotten.
“You are late, lieutenant,” the town leader said, and Stirla’s heart sank. They weren’t going to make this easy on him.
* * *
AS THE SUN crested over the peaks of Sanctuary, the sky paling to its more regular blue, Lyrai sighed and turned his mind towards breakfast. His stomach was already ahead of him, he thought with a wry smile, listening to it gurgle. Before he turned away, however, he spotted something on the horizon. There, in the midst of the fading gold light, a handful of dark specks wheeled and rose before striking out towards them.
“Company coming,” Dhori murmured unnecessarily.
As the specks grew bigger it was soon possible to make out three dragons accompanied by several smaller shapes. Lyrai grimaced, not relishing the task of hefting the airstones back over to one side of the ship so that Rhiddyl didn’t overbalance them all.
Before he could worry too much, the largest of the lesser specks wheeled away from the others and darted towards the Thorncrest. An arrow of blackness that showed no intention of stopping. Well used to the vulardi ways, Lyrai, Mhysra and Dhori ducked as the bird flew straight at them, sweeping over the rail to land on the main deck behind.
It was only when he turned that Lyrai realised his mistake. “Your Excellency,” he gasped and bowed, not knowing what else to say when the Cyclone appeared without warning.
“It seems we are fated to keep meeting, Lieutenant Prince Lyrai,” the great miryhl said, her voice like distant thunder. “Yet our circumstances keep changing. May they be under happier ones next time.”
“I wish that too, Excellency,” he murmured.
She hummed low, possibly in agreement, before turning her attention to Mhysra. “Wingborn,” she sounded almost approving, “Cumulo has only good things to say of you.”
“And I of him, Excellency,” Mhysra returned, her voice a little squeaky. She coughed. “Mostly.”
The Cyclone chuckled. “You are good for him. I am pleased.” The warmth so briefly kindled in her stormy eyes turned to ice when she looked at Dhori. “You brought them here?”
The silver-eyed student said nothing, merely inclined his head.
“You are not welcome.”
“I would not have brought anyone,” Dhori told her, surprising Lyrai by how carelessly he spoke to the most holy miryhl on the Overworld. Though perhaps he shouldn’t have been too shocked; this was Dhori, after all. “But the idea of so many dragons loose in the Overworld unwatched and unescorted does not rest easily on my mind.”
The Cyclone snorted, as doubtful of those words as Lyrai was. “I fear your mind shall have to remain uneasy. They are not here.”
Even Dhori looked a little surprised by that, while Lyrai and Mhysra exchanged worried glances. General Keipen was not going to be pleased. How fortunate that they had flown so far away from him.
“Where have they gone?” Dhori asked, sounding weary.
“Some returned home,” the Cyclone said. “Others headed to the World’s End Mountains, to tidy up the mess Yullik ses-Khennik has left there.”
“Not to Aquila?” Lyrai couldn’t help but ask, since providing help in regaining the citadel was the whole reason why the elder dragons had relaxed the Barrier Veils. Or so Lyrai had thought. “If they’re after Yullik, why not go directly to him?”
“Aquila is the business of the Rift Riders,” the Cyclone told him sternly. “If you do not win it back yourselves, how can you be trusted to keep it?”
“Then why are we even here?” he demanded, looking from the miryhl to Dhori and back again, sensing that between them they knew the answers to everything.
Dhori’s smile was wry. “Partly to silence General Keipen,” he admitted, unruffled by Lyrai’s intensifying glare.
“Partly because you could not help yourself,” the Cyclone added, sounding amused.
“Partly because it was on our way,” Dhori added, though in truth it would have been quicker to head east from Lansbrig and travel up through Imercian. “And mostly because it kept the dragons as far away from being spotted as possible.” Which likewise would have been no hardship in the broad wilderness of south and central Imercian.
Lyrai scowled at his supposed student, wondering just what type of game he was playing now.
“A journey of many parts,” the Cyclone murmured thoughtfully. Then gave a sharp nod. “Your business here is concluded. Your companions are returning. I trust that you will not.” The last was aimed mostly at Dhori, but she flicked a hard glance at Lyrai and Mhysra too. “Humans are not welcome in Sanctuary.”
Lyrai blinked, surprised by the hostility in her voice. Whatever happened to miryhls and Riders being partners, looking out for each other? Why was she so defensive?
“You have spread across the entire Overworld,” the miryhl continued, as if hearing his thoughts. “There is nowhere that your influence does not reach. Except here. Sanctuary is a sanctuary. For miryhls and miryhls alone. Let us have this one place of peace.”
Slightly chagrined, Lyrai bowed his head in assent, aware that Mhysra was doing the same.
Beside them Dhori folded his arms across his chest. “It does you no good to isolate yourselves like this.”
“Your views are well documented, Dhoriaen Aure,” the great miryhl said serenely. “Yet as they were never sought in the first place, they bear no weight here. You remain unwelcome.”
“Then I shall take my leave.” Dhori grinned and bowed at last. “Until next time, Cy.”
She narrowed her stormy eyes at him and gave a haughty toss of her head. “Impertinent scamp. You remain as disrespectful as ever.” Despite her disapproving words, there was humour and a touch of affection in her tone.
Dhori winked. “Blame it on my upbringing.”
The miryhl huffed a laugh, shook her feathers and cleared the side rail in a single bound. “Go!” she ordered, sweeping out and away into the dawn. Her wings seemed to stretch forever, shimmering with hints of silver in the sunrise.
A collective murmur of surprise and awe behind them made Lyrai turn. They had gained an audience of several crew members, Captain Torven, Corin, Jaymes and Honra. Each of them looked stunned. The dragonets just grumbled sleepily.
“Was that -?” Corin asked.
“The Cyclone, yes,” Dhori agreed, striding away from the rail and taking control of the situation. “Giving us our flight orders. You heard her, captain.” He nodded at Torven. “We’ve dragons and miryhls to load, then a course to set north-east. Next stop, Nimbys.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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