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~ Previous Chapter ~
Oh, happy reunions!
HEARING THAT VOICE and turning to watch the familiar lopsided gait approaching had Lyrai’s heart sinking into his boots. “Sir,” he greeted, hoping his dismay wasn’t as obvious as it felt.
The captain looked at each of them in turn, eyebrows twitching at Goryal and Reglian. “You are unexpected, Lieutenant Lyrai.”
He sighed, knowing that tone and hoping his news wouldn’t disappoint his much-admired mentor. “Yes, sir. So we have been told. Often.”
Myran looked at the dragons again, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “I see.”
Gods, Lyrai prayed he didn’t.
“You have stories to tell. Lieutenant Honra, I did not expect to see you back so soon. Where is your flurry?”
“They remain with General Keipen, sir.”
“Ever the sergeant.”
Honra bowed his head, hiding his rueful smile. “Indeed, sir.”
Myran’s lips twitched before he turned to Lyrai again. “You come from the west, lieutenant? Have you news or messages?”
Lyrai grimaced: let the disappointment begin. “I do come from the west, sir. Under Captain Hylan’s command my students and I set out south with Lieutenant Stirla and others to Havia.”
The captain’s eyebrows rose. “We have grown desperate indeed.”
There was no arguing with that.
Myran rubbed his chin thoughtfully, looking at the dragons once more. “There is definitely a story here. Yet I would have been so sure that Stirla would be at the heart of it.” Concern crossed the captain’s face. “I trust you left your fellow lieutenant well?” After all it wouldn’t be inconceivable for any of them to have met an unhappy fate, like so many other Riders of late.
Casting his mind back to those distant days in Misthome, and the far more pleasant task Stirla had of trawling the taverns and inns, Lyrai couldn’t help but smile. “A little heavy of head, no doubt, but otherwise whole.”
“And presumably quite hearty the night before,” Myran agreed dryly. “Perhaps you ought to introduce your companions, lieutenant, before we find somewhere more comfortable to share our stories. Your students I know, as they were once mine.”
Since introductions were the very last thing Lyrai wanted to do out here in the open, he fought back a grimace and inclined his head with a sigh. “Sir, may I present Elder Goryal Clan Starshine and Archivist Reglian kin Thunderwing Clan Skystorm, both of the Cleansed Lands. Goryal, Reglian, this is Captain Myran Mylanri of the Lowlands.”
“A man whose fame precedes him,” Goryal greeted, their voice light and polite as they extended a long fingered hand, tipped with pearly claws.
The captain accepted the hand before he noticed anything strange, and even then he only cast one tiny glance downwards. “The Cleansed Lands?” he enquired politely. “I am not familiar with the place.”
“Beyond the Veils,” Reglian said gruffly, stepping forward to offer his own gold-tipped hand, not wanting to be outdone in the courtesy stakes. “Which I believe you call the Storm Surge and Storm Wash. Our home is more commonly known to your people as the Dragonlands.”
Though Lyrai was fairly certain Myran had guessed as much already, to have it so boldly stated was still something of a shock. Muscles shifted in the captain’s jaw as his teeth clenched, and he forced out a strained smile.
“Quite a story,” he repeated, looking at Lyrai. “I can no longer conceal my impatience to hear it. Come, lieutenants. Your students will tend the miryhls. Sirs,” he added with a polite nod to the dragons, “I beg you will accompany us.”
“With pleasure,” Goryal chimed, falling in beside the captain as he headed for the door.
When Reglian and Honra turned to follow, Lyrai had no choice but to go too. Casting a brief, despairing glance over his shoulder at his students, he took comfort from their sympathetic grimaces and resigned himself to his fate.
“NOW THAT IS a meeting I do not envy,” Corin muttered as the door closed.
Mhysra, Jaymes and Dhori murmured their agreement before they turned to check on the miryhls. They found them huddled in a corner, surrounded by a flock of gaping eagles, already entranced by the stories they were telling.
Unsurprisingly, Cumulo was in the centre, leading the adventures.
“And then, whoosh, this great wind sucked us in, so strong we had no chance of escaping. The clouds rose up like a wall before us and, with a puff, swallowed us straight down.” Cumulo paused to let the appreciative murmurs settle.
Which seemed the perfect time to interrupt. Easing between spellbound birds, Mhysra planted herself in front of her Wingborn and raised her eyebrows. “Having fun, Cue?”
At the appearance of the humans, most of the babbling died down. Maegla, Mhysra had forgotten how well-trained miryhls behaved. It had been quite a while since the only miryhl voice she’d had to listen to was Cumulo’s.
He eyed her down the lethal length of his beak and sniffed. “Yes, actually.”
She grinned. “Well, don’t let me spoil it for you then. I only came to check that all was well. You’re not too cold from your recent trek?”
He fluffed up his feathers, affronted that she should make such implications before an audience. “Certainly not. Hurricane and I are fine.”
Lyrai’s miryhl nodded, an amused twinkle in his eye. “We left Rhiddyl and the vulardis searching for shelter up on the peak. They seemed content with the weather.”
“Dragons,” the six newly-returned miryhls muttered as one.
Much to the horror of the resident miryhls. Such behaviour was practically revolutionary. Talking to Riders who were not your own – whatever next?
Smiling at the building outrage that she had no doubt her rebellious Wingborn and his marbled friend would soon turn to good account, Mhysra patted Cumulo on the beak. “Go easy on them,” she advised. “Not every feather is ready to be corrupted.”
Ignoring his muttered grumbles, she kissed him on the beak. “Enjoy your storytelling, Cue.”
He gave her an affectionate nudge and waited for her and the others to ease their way free of the feathered crush before launching back into his tale of the Storm Wash. Mhysra looked at her friends and rolled her eyes.
“He’s going to make himself out to be the hero, you know,” Corin chuckled.
Dhori shook his head. “Not unless he makes the other miryhls out to be heroes too. They’re not nearly so in awe of him as they used to be.”
“Serving him with his own sauce,” Mhysra approved, and the four friends grinned.
“How likely do you think it is that Cue’s story will match the one our poor lieutenant is currently spinning for the captain’s ears?” Jaymes asked, reaching round to stroke his backpack and the dragonet stirring within. She would be getting hungry soon.
“Not likely,” Dhori agreed. “Though who’ll be telling the most lies, I’m not quite sure.”
“Poor Lyrai,” Mhysra sighed.
“Rather him than us,” Corin said, making the others chuckle.
“He has to earn those stripes sometime,” Mhysra acknowledged with mock gravity.
“Not that we lowly students are going to get off lightly,” Dhori warned, ignoring their sceptical snorts over him being either lowly or a student. “After all, I presume we’re all staying at the barracks? Which means we’ll soon have to answer plenty of questions of our own.”
Which sobered them up nicely. “Thanks for that,” Corin grumbled. “Just when I was starting to feel happy to be home.”
Dhori grinned and swept her a courtly bow. “I live to please.”
“And kaz-naghkt knit scarves for orphans,” Corin muttered grumpily.
“Cheer up, Corin,” Mhysra urged, throwing an arm around her shoulder. “At least you still have Skybreeze.”
Hearing his name, the dragonet started cheeping, resuming his ever-lasting quest for food.
Corin scowled. “And thanks again.”
Laughing, they tumbled out of the eyries into the gathering dusk and almost tripped over a woman just about to enter. She was well swathed in furs, but the pretty oval of her face was all too familiar.
“Mhysra,” she whispered, dropping her feather-lined muff in the slush.
Mhysra swallowed hard and submitted to her sister’s fierce hug. “Milluqua,” she croaked.
“Maegla be praised, your alive. They sent word of new arrivals, but – Oh, Mhysra, you’re alive!” Laughing, Milluqua hugged her again. “Gods, I was starting to think the worst. Oh, dearest, please, tell me. Have you news of Kilai? Have you seen him? Is he well?”
Milluqua pulled back, her face so bright and happy and filled with hope. Her hands gripped Mhysra tightly and she practically bounced with eagerness to hear good news.
Mhysra’s heart broke for her. She couldn’t speak.
“Oh.” Mhysra didn’t know what expression was on her face, but she could read the echo as the unspoken truth dawned on Milluqua. “Oh, no. Not Kilai. It can’t be true. Not him.”
Unable to speak for her own grief, Mhysra could only hold onto her sister as Milluqua wept.
~ Next Chapter ~
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