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~ Previous Chapter ~
“I HAVE A task for you.”
The captain twins looked up from their bone dice as Yullik stepped down into the cell they had made their own. For once their expressions were different: Rion wary, Riame excited.
Scooping the dice into the cup, Riame held it out to him with an enticing rattle. “Throw you for it.” She winked at Willym over Yullik’s shoulder.
The monster lurking behind him shuddered, but Yullik stepped forward to accept the dice with a smile. “Stakes?”
“What you want,” Riame purred, tracing patterns on the table with a fingertip, “against what we want.”
Yullik raised an eyebrow. “And what do you want?”
Rion reached over to place his hand on his sister’s, stilling her movements. “Nothing.”
Riame pouted. “Not even a quick game?”
Her brother narrowed his eyes at her in silent warning. “What is it you want, Lord Yullik?” he asked, not looking away from his sister. “What is your task?”
Even though neither of them had invited him to, Yullik crossed to the nearest upturned crate and took a seat. “Are your titles real?” he asked. “Or, like so many others in this ragtag fleet, are they just silly affectations?”
Riame grinned across the table at her brother, their gazes still locked in a private battle of wills. “He questions our status, brother.”
“Well, you would insist on hiding our ships, sister.”
Yullik smiled. That was all he needed to know. “Would you care to bring those ships out into the open again?”
The captain twins turned to him, left eyebrows arching in unison. “And go where?” they asked in one voice.
“Why, to Nimbys, of course. Our guest are late.”
And all three of them smiled.
* * *
22nd Winter Rains
LYRAI’S HEAD WAS still reeling when he left the Offices the next morning. Not merely from learning the truth about the kaz-naghkt’s origins, but from the conversations that had followed. He should have known Captain Myran was cast from a more practical mould than General Keipen – Lyrai had served under the man for several years, after all – but since the dragons’ reception thus far had been far from good, few could have blamed him for his anxiety. And that was before Goryal and Reglian revealed the truth of Yullik’s origins.
Thankfully all that was now passed. What Myran truly thought about the presence of dragons in the Overworld was anyone’s guess, but rather than storm and shout he’d aimed straight for the heart of the issue. What offensive capabilities did the dragons have, and how much were they willing to use them to aid the Riders?
Reglian had instantly preened, relaying a breathtaking amount of attacks and weaponry. All of which he claimed lay at the Riders’ service, until such time as he returned home. Goryal was more cautious, but then next to Reglian they seemed so much more fragile. From experience, however, Lyrai didn’t doubt that should the need arise the elder would prove to be the most impressive of all their dragon escorts. Rhiddyl’s lightning capabilities had been touched upon, and even the little dragonets had been discussed.
It was no wonder his mind had yet to settle. Even Honra had looked mildly stunned by the time the pair of them headed towards the lieutenant rooms in search of beds. Who said life in Nimbys would be boring?
Shaking his head and smiling to himself, Lyrai strode into the eyries in search of Hurricane, eager to relay the latest revelations, and stopped. A lady was talking to Corin. Small and draped head to toe in rich black garments, with a thick veil covering her face and hair, Lyrai’s heart sank with recognition. A quick glance around the eyries confirmed the absence of Cumulo – and the identity of the woman.
“Damn,” he muttered under his breath, and went forward, regretting that he hadn’t been here the night before. Poor Mhysra.
Corin spotted him and signalled for help as the black figure turned around.
Lyrai dismissed Corin with a nod – much to her relief – and bent into a low, respectful bow. “My lady, I am so sorry for your loss.”
Lady Milluqua Kilpapan sniffled into her black lace handkerchief and took him offered hand. “Thank you, Highness. I know my family is not alone in our grief, yet somehow it does not make me feel any better.”
When he bent to kissed her hand, the tight squeeze of her fingers stopped him. He looked up, wincing in sympathy at the puffy eyes behind the veil.
“I thank you even more for bringing my sister back to me. I know I have you to thank for it.”
He squeezed her hand in return. “There were times, my lady, when I believe it was she who took care of me.”
Even sleep-deprived, grief-stricken and shrouded by a veil, Lady Milluqua Kilpapan’s smile was enchanting. “However it came about, I’m just grateful that she’s safe. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Highness.”
“Lyrai, please,” he said, releasing her hand. “Or lieutenant if you must, but not Highness. I am a simple Rift Rider here, my lady, nothing more.”
“Then I am Milli,” she said, lifting her veil and wiping at her eyes again, looking around the eyries. “It seems hard to imagine that so many were lost.”
Seeing the number of miryhls crammed into what was usually a more than ample space, Lyrai had to agree. “In terms of the overall Rider force, I suppose the numbers were not so heavy as they felt to us at Aquila. But there were only so many of us there to protect the citadel and the town. It is the loss of our home and history that hits our reputation hardest.”
“Understandably,” she said softly. “When the news reached Nimbys, I think few believed it. Even those who witnessed the ragged return of Captain Myran and his men. It all seemed so impossible.”
Lyrai wished it had been. “We will get it back, and avenge all those who were lost.”
Her smile was bleak as she turned her head away. He didn’t blame her. There were times when he also wondered if Aquila was better off abandoned for somewhere new. Then he remembered all it had once meant and everything it had cost to lose, and a great emptiness opened up inside of him. Aquila was their home. Their dead were supposed to be honoured there, not trampled in the tunnels and left to rot.
“I didn’t get the chance to ask Mhysra last night, but…” Milluqua hesitated, biting her lip as she toyed with her handkerchief. “Lieutenant Stirla. Did he -? Is he -?” She stared at him with huge eyes, begging him to understand the words she couldn’t bear to say.
It was such a relief to be able to smile. “He did. And as far as I am aware, he still is. We were sadly forced to leave him behind in Havia when our paths unexpectedly diverged, but he was well when last I saw him.”
Milluqua smiled sheepishly. “Good. I could not – I was afraid -” She stumbled to a halt, then shrugged, clearly embarrassed. “I am glad.”
Lyrai smiled kindly, wishing Stirla was here to comfort her. They were an unusual pairing, but he had no doubts they would suit each other very well. Though it was unlikely they would ever get the chance. His smile faded as he realised that with Kilai dead it was even more improbable that Stirla, an Etherian farm boy, and Lady Milluqua Kilpapan, a powerful aristocrat’s heir, would ever be permitted to marry.
It led his mind to the aristocrat’s other daughter and he caught Hurricane’s eye through the mass of miryhls. He also spotted Dhori preening Latinym. When the silver-eyed student nodded, Lyrai walked Milluqua towards him.
“Forgive me, Lady Milli, but there are things I must attend to. Have you met Dhori? He’s a friend of your sister and was with us when your brother died.”
“Oh, Dhori. Yes.” Milluqua held out her hand. “We have met, once I think. While Mhysra was training here. How do you do?”
“I am well, my lady, thank you. I am so very sorry for your loss.”
Fresh tears glinted in her eyes and she squeezed his hand gratefully. “You are all so kind. I hardly know what to do with myself. Especially after all you’ve been through. I’m sorry to ask it, but could you -? Is it possible -? I don’t mean to be rude, or cause you pain, but… would you tell me more about my brother?”
Seeing Dhori’s gentle smile Lyrai knew he was leaving her in good hands as he turned away. Finding Corin and Jaymes wrestling with their dragonets in the tack room, he asked a few quick questions before taking Hurricane out into the gloomy morning.
Rain was heavy in the air, but neither of them minded. They had a girl, her Wingborn and a young dragon to find.
~ Next Chapter ~
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