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~ Previous Chapter ~
Catching up with Stirla and Lyrai.
“THAT WAS CLOSE, old friend. Don’t do it again.”
Stirla opened his eyes and found Lyrai sitting beside his bed, a candle on the table next to him. Everything was dark and gloomy, with the shutters still closed over the window. It was raining. Stirla could hear it tapping at the boards.
He frowned, trying to remember where he was. His attempt to look around was curtailed as his neck burned and he immediately remembered everything. The Heights, Cumulo on the ground, Willym, the attack. Being bitten. By Willym.
“Mighty gods.” He pressed a hand to his neck, surprised to find only a thin bandage wrapped around his shoulder and throat. “Tell me I dreamt it.” A strange dream, true, but far better than it being real.
Lyrai grimaced and shook his head. “I wish I could.”
“Gods.” Stirla lay against his pillow and stared at the shadowy ceiling. It was one thing to find Willym alive and a traitor, another to find him an actual monster. He’d always been prone to monstrous behaviour and had always hated Stirla, but this was the first time he’d tried to eat him. “Gods.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Snorting in agreement, Lyrai handed him a cup. “Here. Drink. Goryal managed to fix the wound and said there shouldn’t be any infection, but you lost a lot of blood and need to rest while your body makes more.”
Stirla tried to prop himself up on his pillows and found he was humiliatingly weak. Lyrai had to help, which was embarrassing as his best friend and fellow lieutenant was half his width. “Cheers, runt,” he grumbled, accepting the cup.
It took more time that he would have liked to lift it to his mouth and his hand was irritatingly shaky. Lyrai proved how good a friend he was by not offering any further assistance. Thankfully he’d only half filled the cup, so at least Stirla didn’t humiliate himself further by spilling it all over himself.
After a long effort and minimal splashing, Stirla emptied his half-cup and sighed with relief. The water was refreshing, but he was more thankful to get the task done.
“More?” Lyrai offered.
Stirla grunted. He was thirsty but didn’t think he could repeat the exercise so soon – and he wasn’t going to ask for help.
“Maybe later then,” his friend said, showing his wisdom. Over the last year or so, their positions had been mostly reversed, meaning Lyrai knew a thing or two about being a grumpy patient fed up of needing help. He also knew Stirla.
“Maybe,” he agreed, exhausted by even that small effort. He closed his eyes. “Tell me what’s happening.”
“We have the Heights,” Lyrai said, rather unnecessarily as they were inside a sturdy stone building that didn’t resemble any of the far-flung sentry points. “The captain has Fleik and Honra hard at work securing what we can. The doors into the citadel are in ruins from when the kaz-naghkt invaded, but there’s enough debris left over to build a decent wall. We’ll have some defences.”
Lyrai poured himself a cup of water, making Stirla realise how thirsty he was. His friend sighed. “Minimal. Three Riders, including Bheneo. No miryhls, thank Maegla.”
Eyes still closed, Stirla licked his lips and jumped as a cup was placed against them. He glared at his friend over the rim. Lyrai ignored him and left him no option but to drink. Gods, it tasted good. He didn’t say thank you; Lyrai didn’t seem to expect it.
“Injuries are worse,” Lyrai continued, as if the interlude had never happened. “Twenty-four Riders seriously, including you. Pretty much everyone else carries at least a few scratches. The miryhls have ten down and another thirteen in need of attention.”
“Cumulo?” Stirla asked, licking his lips again and glaring as Lyrai reached for the water jug.
Smiling, Lyrai left the jug alone and shook his head. “Cumulo is fine. Mostly. Hurricane is looking after him.”
Stirla titled his head. “I didn’t dream that either?”
“No, you did not. My miryhl is in love with a Wingborn.”
Stirla smirked. “Like miryhl, like Rider.”
Interestingly, Lyrai didn’t deny it. Stirla knew his friend was in love with Mhysra, of course – and thanks to his numerous conversations with Milluqua, knew it was mutual too – but he hadn’t expected his fellow lieutenant to have realised it yet. In the ten years that Stirla had known Lyrai, his friend had never been in love before. Had never even come close. Calf-love and crushes didn’t count, and this was far beyond that.
Too tired to tease, and definitely not strong enough to talk about feelings, Stirla changed the subject. “What else is happening?”
“Captain Huro has the lookout posts secured and a messenger relay set up between us and the rest of the fleet. General Keipen has taken them west and is closing in on the cove. Contact has been made with Captain Hylan and the Greater West contingent and things are moving swiftly. Word is the main assault will be launched any day now.”
And they would miss it. Stirla ground his teeth. It pulled on the wound in his neck, but he didn’t care. “What are Myran’s orders?”
“Stay here. Secure the Heights.”
Sit. Stay. Like lapdogs.
“It’s not fair.”
His friend sighed but didn’t argue, because it wasn’t fair. They were the ones who’d defended Aquila during that bitter summer. They were the ones who had fought and bled and ultimately lost as they were driven from their home by a force too great to face. They were the ones who had struggled so hard to draw this force together. They were the ones sent out on a near suicidal mission to secure a spot that wasn’t even that vital. And now they would be forced to defend it, while others claimed the honour and glory of the frontal assault. How could that possibly be fair?
“Where’s Goryal?” Stirla clenched his fists and sat up, ready to march out of bed and track the dragon down himself if he had to.
Lyrai watched him, arms folded across his chest. “Where are you going?”
“To find Goryal. They can clear me, then we can go. You, me and the students. We’ll join the fight. Fleik and Honra can stay and guard the Heights. Or, better yet, Huro can get his lazy arse down here and put his men to work for a change. We deserve this victory, Lyrai, we’ve earned it.”
“True enough,” a light voice chimed from the doorway. The gloomy room brightened as Elder Goryal walked in with a white glow globe in their hand. “You, and many of the other Riders here, have certainly earned your chance to win Aquila back.”
Relieved he didn’t have to hunt the dragon down, Stirla sank into his pillows with a sigh. He didn’t want to admit it, but the simple act of sitting up had exhausted him. He was lucky he hadn’t tried to get out of bed, because Lyrai wouldn’t have had a hope of lifting him back into it alone. “Can you finish fixing me up so we can go?” Thunder rumbled in the distance and rain drummed on the shutters.
Goryal smiled. “I cannot finish fixing you up, lieutenant,” their voice jingled with amusement like little silver bells. “Only you can do that. I can close the holes in your skin, but I cannot put your blood back where it belongs. You must be patient and wait for your body to make some more.”
Which was what Lyrai had already told him, but Stirla wasn’t interested in facts. He wanted to go. Now. “You’re a dragon, you can do anything.”
The elder laughed, high and clear, and shook their head. “Flattered though I am at your faith in my abilities, sadly I cannot do absolutely anything. Many things, yes, any and everything, no.”
“But the fight will be won without us!” Stirla thumped the bed in frustration.
“A fight, yes,” Goryal agreed, their voice gentle and soothing. “A few battles perhaps, but not the war, lieutenant. Aquila’s war will not be won in the cove before the bridge and towers. And even if it were, you are already too late.”
Thunder snarled again, faint and far off, barely audible over the wind rattling the shutters.
Lyrai sat up, head tilted as if listening. “Reglian?”
“Indeed.” The elder linked their hands loosely across their waist. “Reglian is already hard at work. Your few remaining pirate enemies will not resist for long.”
Stirla thumped the bed again. “We’re missing it.”
Lyrai sat back again and rested his feet on the bed by Stirla’s hip. “We’re not missing much. Pirates are cowards. One roar out of Reglian’s mouth and they’ll flee like the vermin they are. Not much of a fight, my friend.”
It was still a victory. “We deserved the chance to be there.” Cowardly those pirates might be, but they’d still been part of the force that had overwhelmed Aquila last summer. They’d taken prisoners at the Wrathlen, destroyed the Miryhl Shadow and caused more pain and grief than could ever be counted in tears. The kaz-naghkt might have ultimately ended the siege and taken Aquila, but the pirates had started it.
“You will get your chance,” Goryal promised. “The pirates might be defeated, but the citadel is far from won yet.”
“Yullik,” Lyrai said.
“Yullik,” Goryal agreed. “And the traitor lieutenant. Not to mention a nest of kaz-naghkt.”
Stirla’s fist uncurled on the bedding. “It’s not over yet.”
Elder Goryal’s rainbow eyes flashed white as they shook their head. “Oh no, lieutenant, this war it is far from over yet.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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