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~ Previous Chapter ~
THE FIRST ARROW slipped through Corin’s desperate fingers, leaving her breathless and panicking. Then Wisp crashed into the kaz-naghkt and they tumbled over and over, bird, creature and girl screaming with one voice.
“Never! Never! Never!” Wisp shrieked, stabbing at the kaz-naghkt’s eyes, her talons scrabbling at its chest, while it flailed back, teeth trying to close about the eagle’s throat.
What it got was a mouthful of beak before she ripped its jaw off. From there it was an easy twist to grab its neck and remove its head.
Clinging to her mild miryhl’s back, Corin could only watch in horror as black blood spurted over her face, burning her skin with stinging heat.
Wisp dropped her foe with a triumphant scream, swooping around, already looking for the next one. Corin fumbled for an arrow and felt sick.
More kaz-naghkt dropped from the cliffs around them. Ones that must have climbed over the side of the mountain, hoping to attack the Riders from the rear.
Not if Corin had anything to do with it. While Wisp shrieked gleefully, pouncing on the nearest beast, Corin shot her arrows far and wide, piercing wings, eyes, chests and flight muscles. Not one of which was fatal, she knew, but would hopefully slow the kaz-naghkt down while they healed, or temporarily lost the power of flight.
Which was all very well, but she only had so many arrows, and no matter how much Wisp was enjoying herself, there were only so many kaz-naghkt a lone miryhl could kill. They were on their own, and the kaz-naghkt just kept coming.
They were in trouble and still far from the cave where Rhiddyl and the vulardis were staying. As Corin watched, more and more dark wings open out around her, she had to face the inevitable. They were never going to reach the dragons.
Taking a deep breath, she urged Wisp up high, threw back her head and screamed, “Reglian!”
A boom of thunder answered. Gold-washed black wings, bigger, broader and darker than any kaz-naghkt’s, filled the sky and Reglian arrived with an angry snarl.
“Get clear,” he ordered, diving below Wisp and taking a deep, deep breath. There was a pause as Corin and her miryhl soared swiftly upwards.
Then Reglian roared.
THUNDER ROLLED OVER Nimbys, so loud and close the air shook with it. Mhysra watched it coming like a wave, tiny black shapes tumbling before it, some harmlessly, others straight into the mountainside.
She knew that thunder. She’d felt that wave herself. “Reglian,” she breathed with relief.
“About time,” Cumulo growled, rushing to Hurricane’s side.
The marble miryhl was in trouble. Lyrai lay slumped in the saddle and there were scarlet stains across the beautiful cream of Hurricane’s chest.
The kaz-naghkt that had done the damage was just a smudge on the rocks that ringed Nimbys’ harbour, dispatched with chilling efficiency by Dhori mere moments ago. But there were more kaz-naghkt, drawn by the miryhl’s keening. They could smell the blood, sense the weakness. They were hungry.
“Let them starve,” Mhysra growled, forgetting her own injuries as she tightened her grip on her sword and braced for impact.
Lightning speared the drizzly gloom as Cumulo fell upon the circling kaz-naghkt with a rousing shriek. A sword thrust from Mhysra and head shake from Cumulo and they were there, at Hurricane’s side, circling the stricken miryhl.
Lyrai groaned and stirred in his saddle, blood matting his pale head as he sat up and tried to focus, though one of his eyes was covered with red. “Blast,” he growled, spitting out blood. “Bit my tongue.”
“Lyrai!” five voices called at once, and the lieutenant winced, clearly feeling the worse for his recent knock.
“Lyrai,” Hurricane cried again, turning his head to try and see his Rider.
He leant forward, smoothing a hand down the bird’s neck. “Steady, Cane. All’s well,” he said, raising a hand to Mhysra and Dhori as both their miryhls swept around him.
“Take him down,” Dhori ordered, but Lyrai sat up.
“No,” he countered, wiping the blood from his face and gripping his sword. “We can still fight.” Though he sounded convincing, Mhysra wasn’t so sure about the way he was swaying. Nor about the blood running from Hurricane’s shoulder.
As if hearing her thoughts, Lyrai looked down, noticing the amount of red on his miryhl’s feathers. “Cane?”
“A scratch,” his bonded was quick to reply. “Nothing more.”
Lyrai obviously didn’t believe him and bent over, busily searching for the wound. While they were sorting things out between them, Mhysra turned her attention back to the circling kaz-naghkt. Dhori was doing an excellent job keeping them at bay, but there were more of them with every passing wing beat. Cumulo happily dismembered his own fair share, but the two miryhls were heavily outnumbered.
Mhysra slashed out with her sword and glanced back towards the city. Riders and kaz-naghkt were still enmeshed in the fighting. “Where are you, Reglian?”
“DRAGONGIFTED, COME CLAIM your Gift.”
Ears still ringing from Reglian’s thunder, Jaymes shook his head at the voice tickling inside his mind.
Beneath him Argon fought on, oblivious. Which was just as well, since there were kaz-naghkt everywhere. No matter how many he and his miryhl killed, there were always two more to take their place.
Feeling a wash of air across the back of his head, Jaymes twisted, sword at the ready. Only to face soft scales glowing violet with anger.
Jaymes looked up and saw Goryal peering over the joint of Rhiddyl’s wing, Emberbright clasped against the young dragon’s chest.
“Jaymes,” his dragonet purred when she saw him, slithering confidently from Rhiddyl’s hold, trusting Jaymes to catch her, even though they were several hundred feet up and his hands were full.
Hurriedly pushing his sword into its saddle sheath, Jaymes reached for his dragonet, hissing as her scorching scales met his skin. “Ember?” he asked, worried.
“Angry,” she replied, her whole body shaking with the mental growl. “I will burn them all.”
As Rhiddyl soared away, leaving Argon exposed to the kaz-naghkt once more, Jaymes fervently wished they’d taken the dragonet with them. She was too hot for him to hold, but he didn’t dare put her down for fear she would burn Argon instead.
Holding her one-handed against his shoulder, Jaymes clung to his saddle with the other as Argon fell upon another kaz-naghkt. Behind his back, Emberbright screeched. Unable to cover his ears, Jaymes could only clutch her harder as she shuddered, heat rising off her in steaming waves – and the kaz-naghkt behind them burst into flames.
RHIDDYL WAS ANGRY. She was also shocked and appalled by the ferocity of the fight. There were so many kaz-naghkt, their crude forms an insult to her aesthetic sensibilities. They were hideous to behold, and so violent. Yet seeing the miryhls dispatch them was a horror she could hardly bear to watch. To think that all the time she’d known these wonderful, intelligent birds, they had been such savage killers underneath. They were brutal, but she had to admire their efficiency.
Yet not all were successful. Some Riders were struggling, either because they lacked the skills or experience to handle such monsters, or because their miryhl wasn’t fit enough to cope. For every well balanced, competent Rider pair, Rhiddyl could see at least two more who were struggling. They needed help. Only how to go about this without doing more harm than good?
She knew that whatever she did next could sway the common opinion about dragons one way or the other. It was up to her to make it favourable.
“I will aid your control,” Goryal mind-spoke to her from her back. “Between us we will hit only the enemy.”
Rhiddyl wished she could share Goryal’s confidence. Her lack of control was one of the reasons she’d been sent to patrol the northern borders of the Cleansed Lands, with only vulardis for company. The giant vultures flocked about her now, diving into the fray to pluck out a wildly struggling kaz-naghkt, taking them to a cliff ledge to finish.
Fire bloomed in the mass below her and six charred kaz-naghkt bodies fell away from a lone miryhl. Rhiddyl rumbled with pride. Dragonets grew so fast, especially Dragongifts. Emberbright was a credit to her kin.
“Prepare yourself, Rhiddyl.”
Goryal’s command dragged her attention back to the fight, where things were starting to go ill for the Riders. They were heavily outnumbered and even the skilled miryhls were struggling to hold the enemy back. So many were injured now. More and more were dying.
“As you will,” Rhiddyl thought to her passenger, and half-closed her eyes.
Goryal slid into her mind with no more fuss than a summer breeze through an open window. Yet their power seemed to fill every last space within Rhiddyl. And with that power came confidence. Sparks flickered across Rhiddyl’s scales and she slowly curled in on herself, head, legs and lastly wings. Her scales darkened to black and, as she dropped through the tangled knot of battle, she slowly counted to five.
Then the world exploded.
CUMULO SWEPT WATCHFULLY around the Cathedral of Maegla, where Lyrai and Dhori hurriedly checked Hurricane over, trying to locate the bleeding wound. His path crossed with the riderless Latinym, busily looking for incoming threats.
Mhysra tightened her grip on her sword and tried not to notice that the sky was turning from brown to black with every circling sweep. The kaz-naghkt were too numerous. Captain Myran and his escort flew past, a cohort of kaz-naghkt on their tails. The enemy was gaining, and Mhysra wished she could go to their aid.
A heavy black shadow swept overhead and Mhysra looked up, gasping at the enormity of Reglian’s natural form. It felt like forever since she’d seen him as he really was. Yet he’d never seemed so menacing before. He growled as he caught up with Myran’s group, and the miryhls dived towards the Cloud Sea.
Confused, the chasing kaz-naghkt were too slow to follow and with a harsh snarl the dragon dropped on them. Claws, wings, teeth and tail were a blur, scattering bits of kaz-naghkt into the whiteness. Triumphant, Reglian straightened his wings and faced the flocks of monsters still streaming from the ships.
He hovered and tilted his body upright as he inhaled deeply. Then launched himself forward with the force of his thunderous roar.
Kaz-naghkt blasted away from him, creating a clear road between dragon and ships. With a dark chuckle, Reglian glided towards them, dispatching multitudes of kaz-naghkt along the way.
Someone was enjoying himself.
Relieved that he was on their side, Mhysra turned her attention back to the city and the fight that was raging there. A shimmering form hovered over the thickest of the fighting, and Mhysra wondered what Rhiddyl was up to. As she watched, the shining dragon turned steadily darker and curled inwards to form a formidable black ball. Then she started to fall.
Horrified, Mhysra watched as the dragon dropped into the battle, rolling swiftly towards the streets below.
“Cue, down!” Dhori’s voice seemed to come from far away as the skies above Nimbys exploded into blinding white. Crackling lightning whipped outwards with an angry hiss.
One branch of which headed straight for them.
~ Next Chapter ~
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