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~ Previous Chapter ~
“I give my dragons very good advice, but I rarely seldom follow it.”
– From the Collected Wisdom of Goryal, Elder of Starshine
“WELL, RHIDYSTEL,” ELDER Goryal said, appearing out of thin air in a shimmer of rainbow sparkles, their human form seeming even more frail and pale than usual, “how are you finding your first solo mission amongst humans?”
Cold and tired from the mud and all her unfamiliar exercise, Rhiddyl lay down on the mossy forest floor and sighed. “It is not what I expected,” she grumbled. After the fun of the flight from the Cleansed Lands, followed by the loneliness of her time in Nimbys, Rhiddyl had been ready for a fresh adventure, but cold flights in the north, followed by dark suspicion in Buteo, topped off with an undignified trek through a forest was not the kind she had in mind. Where was the heroism? Where was the excitement? Where, for Sister Storm’s sake, were the nearest bathing facilities?
“It never is,” Reglian said, not without some sympathy, even if he did seem more amused than Rhiddyl felt was warranted. But it was all right for him; he was old enough to shift forms and sail about with the humans on their skyships. Which left him in the perfect position to sneak up on the enemy and blast their defensive fleet to splinters. Rhiddyl sighed again; some dragons had all the fun.
“I have little doubt things will liven up soon,” Elder Goryal promised surprisingly briskly. “But before they do, I thought it best to remind you once again why we are here.”
“To help the Riders,” Rhiddyl said, sitting up a little taller. That was the sole reason she’d been allowed to leave the Cleansed Lands in the first place. Along with the fact that she genuinely wanted to help her friends regain their home. Aquila was part of the Rift Rider legend – it wasn’t right that the two had become separated. If she could help in anyway to right that wrong, she would gladly do so.
“Ah,” Goryal surprised her by sighing. “Yes. Quite. It is good that we caught you.”
Rhiddyl frowned, glancing from elder to archivist. “We are not here to help the Riders?”
“Assist,” Reglian corrected. “Provide aid. Help in small ways here and there, perhaps, but we are not here to fight their battles for them.”
Rhiddyl’s frown deepened. “But you used your roar, both here and at Nimbys. If not for us, Nimbys would have been overrun. How is that not fighting their battles for them?”
“Nimbys was a special case,” Goryal said, their voice full of soothing chimes. “I understand that this is confusing, Rhiddyl, which is why I am glad we have this opportunity to speak before things progress any further. By all means help your Rider friends in moving from place to place and even removing obstacles in the way -”
“Like a pirate fleet,” Reglian rumbled, as if his recent roar was as simple as moving a rock off the path and had nothing to do with him enjoying himself hugely and probably getting carried away. Again.
Goryal sent him a small frown. “Like a pirate fleet,” they agreed, with a faint hint of disapproval. “But only a little like it. You must understand, Rhiddyl, that this war, Aquila’s war, is between the Riders and their enemies. We may be their friends, but we are not true allies. We must not get in their way. Dragons have no place in the Overworld now. We must not interfere too much.”
Well, that was rich, coming from Goryal! If even half the stories about them were true, the elder lived to interfere in other people’s lives. What was the point of this entire expedition if they weren’t allowed to intervene or help when things got sticky? “I don’t understand,” she said, her voice low and quiet and somehow not full of the wailing confusion singing inside her head. “Why are we even here?”
Reglian and Goryal shared a long, meaningful look that was practically a conversation in itself. Elder Goryal’s shoulders drooped and they looked smaller and frailer than ever.
Which was a massive lie. Rhiddyl sniffed and refused to be taken in by it.
“Yullik ses-Khennik is our responsibility,” Reglian answered, after it became clear the elder wasn’t going to say anything. “Humans have no laws for such things, but dragons do, and while we passed judgement, we failed to issue the full punishment. Instead we hesitated at the last and left him free to flee to the Overworld and build up grudges and hatred over two centuries. Negligence, kindness, weakness, incompetence, call it what you will, but we dragons failed. And in failing we allowed the kaz-naghkt to be unleashed upon the Overworld.”
Rhiddyl already knew all of that and shook her head impatiently. “Yes, yes, all of this is our fault, so why can’t we rectify it?”
“Because Aquila belongs to the Riders,” Goryal said. “It is their home and theirs alone. Dragons have no place here, and we shouldn’t try to find one. Yullik may be our problem to deal with, but not yet. First, the Riders must regain Aquila by themselves. Only then can they maintain their independence and honour.”
Flexing her claws in the mud, Rhiddyl thought about it and wrinkled her nose. “I still think we could help them. Just a little.”
“Just a little,” Goryal agreed, with a smile. “But not a lot.”
Rhiddyl pretended to let her shoulders sag. “So no pirate fleets for me then?” she asked mournfully.
The sound of dainty silver bells echoed through the woods as Goryal laughed.
Reglian made the ground rumble with a grumpy growl. “Impudent kit.”
Rhiddyl chuckled and lowered down until she was at eye level with the elder. “Just to be sure, I can open doors, but I must not kill the enemy?”
“Precisely.” Goryal rested a hand on her muzzle, a buzz of power tingling through the contact. “You have always been clever beyond your decades.”
Warmth rushed through her as she flushed with embarrassed pleasure, finally grateful for the mud smears that hid her revealing colour change from view. “You are all kindness, elder.”
“Ha,” Reglian snorted. “Not so clever after all, if you believe that.”
Goryal sent the archivist a flat look. Reglian smirked.
“Speaking of Yullik ses-Khennik,” the elder said. “What of him?”
“He’s in the tower,” Reglian rumbled, his anger genuine this time. “He watched the pirates’ destruction and did nothing.”
“Mm.” Goryal tapped a finger against their lips. “Allies but not friends, a curious opposite. They are of no more use to him. What then?”
Reglian shuffled his feet in an uncharacteristically hesitant manner, muttering, “I roared at him.”
Rhiddyl blinked. “You roared at him?” she repeated, far louder and rather incredulously. Because Reglian was almost six centuries old. He was hardly a frustrated wingling just coming into his powers, losing control in the giddy rush.
“I lost my temper,” the archivist snapped. “I wanted him to come out and face me.”
“Instead you almost brought down the citadel,” Goryal said, obviously amused and fully aware of what had happened. They were just enjoying making Reglian admit to it. “I’m not sure our Rider friends would have approved of that.”
Reglian narrowed his golden eyes. “You’re a fine one to talk. You blew up the gates.”
“Opened them,” Goryal corrected with surprising sharpness. “I merely opened them. There was an obstruction. The Riders couldn’t get in and the kaz-naghkt were coming. I simply speeded up the process.”
Rhiddyl raised her eyebrows as the two older dragons glared at each other, presenting clear evidence that no matter what rules they had laid down for her, both were more than happy to break them. To interfere. When it suited them. Somehow, she doubted she would be granted such leniency.
For the first time in her life, she shook her head and found herself echoing Dhorian Aure’s frequent complaint, “Dragons.”
A SHIMMER OF rainbow sparkles announced the departure of Elder Goryal, and Reglian swiftly melted back into the shadows of the trees, leaving Rhiddyl standing mud-smeared and alone, shaking her head with obvious amusement. Jaymes turned to the lieutenant by his side and found Imaino rubbing his chin, deep in thought.
“Sir?” he enquired.
“Opening doors, eh?” The lieutenant smiled, slapped him on the shoulder and strode off towards Rhiddyl, Bumble trotting at his heels, just as a fresh shower of rain started splashing between the layers of unfurling leaves.
~ Next Chapter ~
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