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~ Previous Chapter ~
Do my eyes deceive me, or are Reglian and Goryal finally coughing up important information? It’s a miracle, and darn, Dhori missed it.
Tales and Tasks
As if returning to Nimbys hadn’t been strange enough, the walk through the Offices had been almost surreal for Lyrai. A slice of the past, familiar yet oddly different. There were more Riders about for one thing and everyone wore strained expressions. Upstairs the officer rooms contained more than their usual share of lieutenants and captains. The east was preparing for war.
Captain Myran’s office was empty, though evidence suggested that even he was being forced to share his space. Lyrai wouldn’t normally have spared much interest over some unknown man’s keepsakes and family miniatures, but he was desperate for a distraction.
“Captain Reeve is flying sweeps out towards Nighten,” Myran explained, as Lyrai bent to examine an exquisitely rendered image of a grim-faced man and his cheerful family. “You need not concern yourself that we will be interrupted.”
Which abruptly ended all hopes for a distraction or reprieve. Reglian clicked his golden claws impatiently together and Lyrai acknowledged defeat. If he didn’t start talking soon, the dragon would.
“Well, sir,” he started, barely restraining a sigh, “it began, as I said, back in Misthome…”
Either the tale was getting shorter, or Lyrai was getting rather too much practise at telling it. The words came out smoothly as he turned his mind back over the last three and a half months. From following Corin and Jaymes into the Storm Wash to meeting Rhiddyl, then on to the Cleansed Lands. There was the fight with the three juveniles to remember, making Lyrai wonder where Hurricane had stashed a certain scale, before he moved on to meeting Reglian and Goryal.
From here the dragons joined in, explaining the basic facts of the Dragongifts and Dragongifted before moving on to the Moot and everything that had happened there. If Goryal was a little shamefaced to recall Jarvenerald’s behaviour, they soon perked up at explaining the elders’ decision to relax the Barrier Veils. Lyrai anxiously watched his captain’s face as Myran was congratulated on the unfortunate circumstances of having untold amounts of dragons ready to appear in the skies across the Overworld at any moment.
Myran said nothing. Nor did his expression change. He simply sat in his chair, hands clasped, forefingers tapping thoughtfully against his lips.
Reglian’s deep voice rumbled with amusement as he told the tale of their return through the Storm Surge and the appalled tourist ship. Then the story fell back into the hands of the Riders, with Honra helping Lyrai to cover everything that had happened since, from the disastrous meeting with General Keipen to the fruitless side journey to Sanctuary. Thinking back, Lyrai couldn’t believe how uneventful the last half month had been. It made him nervous.
Although not quite as nervous as Myran’s continued silence once their story was finished.
The captain tapped his lips, eyes half-closed as if he was focusing on something else entirely. “Hm,” he said at last, unlacing his fingers and shifting forward to rest his hands on his desk. “As I suspected. A most interesting tale. I don’t suppose you have any idea how many of your fellow dragons have passed through the barriers?”
Reglian and Goryal both shrugged. “It is difficult to tell,” the elder said in their chiming voice. “The Clans were quite divided over what should be done.”
“If anything,” Reglian rumbled, “most will forget about our unexpected visitors and continue as normal. Dragons have become good at ignoring the world over recent centuries. As far as Clans Highflight, Swiftwing, Flowflight, and the majority of Stoneheart are concerned at least. Though I suspect kin Jewelwing may feel the need to avenge both their youngster and their elder.” He cast a sly, sideways glance at Lyrai. “They were not best pleased with your lieutenant.”
Myran smiled ever so slightly. “It’s the way I train them.”
Reglian chuckled. “So I’ve heard. I’m eager to meet a certain Lieutenant Stirla. He seems a most interesting character.”
“If he is, I am not to blame for it,” Myran was quick to excuse himself, hands up in innocence, but his amusement soon faded. “Forgive my ignorance of dragon Clans and genealogy, but even after your answer I am no wiser as to what to expect from your fellows.”
Goryal gave a breathy sigh, like wind over empty bottles. “I fear you will be displeased,” they murmured. “Much as the general was.” They sent Lyrai an apologetic glance.
Captain Myran spread his hands. “I am not as volatile as Keipen.”
Goryal acknowledged this with a polite nod. “Very well, then. There were two Clans who were heavily in favour of sending aid through the Veils. I believe they feel somewhat to blame for the current plight of the Overworld.”
“As they should,” Reglian interrupted gruffly. “If they had not bungled their duty so badly, Yullik ses Khennik would have been dealt with long ago. Then there would be no kaz-naghkt to plague the Overworld or the Riders.”
At this Captain Myran sat up. “Oh?” he asked, voice full of interest. Lyrai didn’t blame him. Perhaps, after all this time, his mysterious companions were going to offer up a few answers.
The elder frowned at their fellow dragon. “I do not know how well stories have survived of relations between dragons and humans before the creation of the Veils.”
Myran looked at his two lieutenants. Honra shrugged, and Lyrai tilted his head thoughtfully.
“There are stories, of course,” he said, as much to his captain as the to the dragons. “Some more truthful than others, no doubt. A hundred years isn’t long for you, but for humans…” It was Lyrai’s turn to shrug. “Well, things have become a little romanticised over the generations.”
Goryal nodded, tapping their cheek with a silvery claw. “Then I shall begin at the beginning. This story is a little over two hundred years old, and even then it was a rare occurrence.” Seeing that they had the full attention of the humans, they gave a sad smile. “Love is a strange and capricious emotion. Curiosity is worse. Of course there have been instances of close relations between humans and dragons for many centuries. Curiosity, as I said. Yet for the most part our differences outweighed any novelty and nothing much came of it. There were some halfling children born, but few survived. Those that did were often taken away and… handled.”
Lyrai wasn’t the only one to grimace. Not because humans and dragons could interbreed, but because those poor children had been forced to pay the price for their parents’ mistakes.
“Curiosity,” Goryal repeated, quick to gloss over the distasteful truth. “Nothing more came of these relationships, for the most part. Kin and Clan alike were quick to spot any signs of deepening feelings and to swiftly separate the culprits. In all cases but one.”
“A young lieutenant, assigned to the human embassy as it travelled through the Dragonlands, happened to catch the eye of Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord, the newly elected elder of his kin and dragon delegate to the human ambassador.” Reglian gave a low rumble and shook his head. “Though new to his duties, he should have known better.”
“We all thought he did,” Goryal continued. “Clan Sunlord are notorious for their dislike of humans, and Khennik appeared no different at first. But somewhere along the way his feelings must have changed. Even now, when I look back, I cannot say when. He was exceedingly good at hiding such things.”
“She was so quiet,” Reglian added, “and their trip caused so much trouble, few of us took any notice of her. She was small and dark, barely noticeable, especially beside her fellow lieutenants.” The big dragon’s eyes went distant with remembrance. He smiled briefly, then shook his head as he resumed his tale. “Khennik showed no overt interest in her, so we thought all was safe. His young dragon aides were good friends with her, but he himself had never approved of humans. There was nothing to grow alarmed over.”
“Tensions were running high amongst the Clans at the time,” Goryal continued. “I will spare you the details, but somewhere in all the fuss the young lieutenant vanished. A search was made, but she could not be found. During all the commotion, no one noticed when Khennik also disappeared. We certainly never suspected that they were together.”
“Or that they would have a son,” Reglian growled. “One they managed to conceal for years. A sickly whelp who would have died at birth, if not for his father’s desperate care.”
Goryal shook their head. “Khennik had some much potential, so much promise. No dragon has ever cared more for his kin. He should have known better.”
“Of all the foolish, irresponsible dragons, I would never have expected it of him,” Reglian rumbled angrily, but the elder quietened him with a touch on the arm.
“It matters little now,” Goryal sighed. “The boy survived and, once past the tricky early years, he thrived. The search continued, with few imagining the terrible truth, but progress was slow. Khennik was ever clever and he used all his powers to hide them.” The elder shook their head once more. “But not even that could save them in the end. Their secret was discovered and they were eventually caught. Such treachery could not be pardoned and they were both dealt with according to the laws of their kind, but the child escaped. Such a dangerous half-blood could not be allowed to roam free, and so his fate fell to Clan Skystorm, who maintain peace and justice amongst our Clans, and to Clan Sunlord, from whom the taint originated.”
“But they failed,” Reglian growled, deeply enough to make the whole room hum. “They did nothing, and spent too long arguing.”
Goryal sighed. “It was difficult,” he admitted. “It is one thing to help a sickly child to die, another to hunt down a healthy, young member of your Clan and kill him in cold blood, like a beast. After all, he was an innocent.”
“Then,” Reglian rumbled. “And see what their cowardice has wrought.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as the Riders struggled to comprehend what they had been told.
Lyrai felt a headache building. “Do you mean to tell me that Yullik is half dragon? But I’ve seen him. He didn’t…” He closed his eyes, able to conjure the man’s image with startling clarity. The half smiles, the bright eyes, the relentless pursuit through the darkness. The amusement, the cruelty, the power. No, in physical terms he hadn’t looked like much, but in everything else… “Gods.”
“And monsters,” Goryal agreed softly.
Captain Myran was frowning. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me. What has this Yullik to do with the fall of Aquila?”
“Clan Sunlord have always been famous for one thing,” Reglian said.
Myran raised his eyebrows. “With so many suns in their name, I presume it has something to do with fire.”
The archivist shook his head. “In raw power, perhaps. But all Clan dragons are about more than their names. Skystorm stand for justice, Swiftwings love to pursue all knowledge, and Sunlords – when they’re not foolishly trying to conquer everyone else’s territory – are inventors. Along with kins Dawnheart and Duskwing Clan Highflight, they once combined their knowledge with the Goddess Maegla to create the miryhls, before going on to create more winged beasts of their own.”
“Pyreflies,” Lyrai murmured.
Goryal wrinkled their nose. “Indeed. Crude beasts. You can thank kin Flametongue for them.”
“And the Highflights that no more fire breathers were created,” Reglian agreed.
“Although I appreciate this brief history of the Clans,” Myran interrupted before they could air any more grievances, “I still fail to grasp what any of this has to do with us.”
“Yullik ses Khennik’s birth name is Yullik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord,” Goryal said.
The captain raised both eyebrows.
But Lyrai’s mind had already made the connection. “He created the kaz-naghkt. That’s why they didn’t attack him, even though he tracked us right through the pack. Gods.”
“The man-dragons,” Reglian rumbled in agreement. “Half-bloods born of lesser dragons, captured female Rift Riders and his own blood. They are not just his creations, they are his kin.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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