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~ Previous Chapter ~
Running behind today, so I haven’t had a chance to edit this. Apologies in advance for any typos or extraneous words. Well, any more than usual anyway ;D
Deep breath, everyone…
SILVEO HAD NO idea what he was doing. Kaz-naghkt and miryhls clashed all around him. Swords flashed, aiming for chests and the all-important enemy hearts. Claws and teeth slashed and snapped. Beaks bit, talons gripped. Voices screamed everywhere.
Silveo screamed with them, clutching his saddle with white-knuckled fingers, muttering prayers over and over as Vehro pounced on his prey, his quiet, mild miryhl turning into a vicious killer. Silveo wanted nothing more than to close his eyes until it was over, but he couldn’t. He had to keep watching in order to duck. The kaz-naghkt were everywhere, but so were the miryhls, and in the middle of a fighting flock, no one was paying much attention to where they were flying.
Buffeted by wings and elbows and tails and legs, it was all Silveo could do to stay on, let alone draw his sword and fight back. He tried to keep track of Thunder and Greig, but after the first rush of kaz-naghkt through Hylan’s flock, he’d lost sight of them. He’d lost sight of anyone he knew, and wasn’t even sure he was with Hylan’s flurry at all.
Swerving to miss an errant kaz-naghkt tail, Silveo lay flat on Vehro’s back and tried to make sense of the battle around him. He couldn’t; it was chaos. Gods, he hated fighting. His sword was still in its saddle scabbard and he felt absolutely no inclination to draw it. The weight had always felt wrong in his hand. He wasn’t the most coordinated of people at the best of times, but holding a sword sent him all to pieces. He was not cut out for war.
He was not cut out to be a Rider.
“You picked a fine time to realise that,” he muttered to himself, tightening his grip and groaning as Vehro hit a kaz-naghkt so hard and fast that all three of them rolled over.
Gods, Silveo wasn’t sure he was cut out for flying either. In fact, he was pretty certain he’d made a massive mistake in leaving his little village in North Point. True, there hadn’t been many opportunities for him there beyond becoming a farmer like all his ancestors before him, but despite all the years he’d dreamt of getting away, seeing the world and learning more about everything, right now, in that moment, being a bored farmer in a backwater in the middle of nowhere sounded like absolute bliss.
“Thunder!” Vehro screamed, making a sudden sharp dive that had Silveo closing his eyes and praying not to throw up.
Then they stopped and Silveo jolted so hard he thought his neck might snap.
He opened his eyes – and saw Thunder hit the river.
Her thick black feathers spread over the frothing surface, Greig flopped over on her back. Then she was dragged out of sight beneath the bridge – and out over the falls.
* * *
MOUSE EXPECTED IT to be cold. When Nightriver ran towards the lake, he’d braced himself for a wet, freezing, horribly uncomfortable experience. Instead it had been oddly pleasant. Somehow the dragon had spread his power over his passengers, creating a bubble of air and warmth that protected them as they plunged deep into the lake’s waters, running down the slope of the descending bottom until it fell sharply away beneath them.
Then Nightriver began to swim.
Riding Nightriver had always been an experience – whether it was bounding through the darkness, climbing headfirst down sheer cliffs or travelling through miles upon miles of underground caverns – but this was the strangest journey by far. Sinuous as a snake, Nightriver folded his legs against his body and wriggled through the water, a dancing part of the current that sped swiftly along, not even needing to come up for air.
They flowed over the cascade, as slippery as an eel, sliding down between the sharp boulders, white water roaring around them. As they broke the surface time and again, Mouse looked up, eyes wide at the sight of thousands of miryhls colliding with clouds of kaz-naghkt.
Then Nightriver plunged into the river and took them deep below the surface. It was soon obvious why. Haelle gripped hard around his waist, flinching every time a new body crashed into the waters above them. Blood and bubbles swirled around each newcomer – kaz-naghkt, human, miryhl. So many of them. Each fall pounded against Mouse’s ears like a drum, pulsing against the bubble of Nightriver’s power and sending shivers up Mouse’s spine.
After each fall, the bodies would hang still in the water for a moment, until the current took hold and swept them swiftly away. Slithering along on the bottom of the river, they saw many of the dead and wounded pulled overhead towards the shadow of the bridge and the long, devastating drop that lay on the other side.
Sweet Maegla, Mouse thought, seeing one miryhl trying to thrash its way to the surface, only to be pulled down by its waterlogged wings. What a terrible way to die.
Haelle’s grip about his waist pulled sharp and tight, making him gasp. She screamed, but her words were muffled exactly as if they were in the water.
Nightriver? he thought hard, hoping his dragon would hear
Wondering what exactly had made Haelle react so strongly, Mouse looked up, and cried out himself.
A miryhl. Larger than most and pure black. Her wings were spread on the surface, but she was already sinking. The bridge was near and, as the shadow swallowed her, so did the water, revealing the Rider still attached to her back, limp and floppy.
There were so many bodies in the river, Mouse hadn’t even thought of trying to save any of them. Who do you choose? Where do you start?
Turned out it was an easy decision to make when your friend was amongst them.
Rumbling, Nightriver pushed off from the bottom of the river, slicing up through the shadows like a spear. Even inside the protection of the dragon’s power, Mouse felt the moment they entered the pull of the falls. Water pressed against the edge of their bubble, squeezing it in smaller and smaller, until his feet began to grow cold and slightly damp.
Nightriver! he called again, wishing there was something, anything he could do to help.
His dragongift growled in response, seizing hold of Thunder and dragging her heavy, resisting body deeper into the flow. Haelle’s nails dug into Mouse’s belly and he felt her teeth against his shoulder as she tried to hold back a scream.
He felt like screaming himself as Nightriver struggled against the falls. Thunder’s great wings spreading wide in the water, acting like sails, dragging them closer and closer to the edge.
Let her go, let her go, let her go, a small part of him screamed deep inside. She’ll kill us all!
Don’t let her go, a larger, sterner part insisted. He wouldn’t let his friends die. Not when he could try to save them. He’d put too much work into Greig to let him die now. Especially not in so awful a way as a tumble over the falls. Thunder deserved better.
Lend me your strength, my Mouse, Nightriver’s voice filled his head.
Take it, Mouse replied, not knowing how it could possibly help, but willing to do whatever it took to save them. Any of them.
Suddenly, as if a plug had been pulled from the bathtub of his energy, Mouse flopped flat against Nightriver’s neck, his muscles all weak and watery. Haelle’s shriek of surprise was sharp enough to pierce the muffled underwater world, sending a bolt of pain through his head as she fell on top of him.
Gasping, Mouse could only tilt his head sideways, vision darkening as Nightriver continued to draw his strength out of him. He didn’t mind. Not when he felt the renewed surge of his dragon’s own power, as Nightriver swum a tight circle around Thunder until he was on her back. Closing her wings, he pushed, shoving her down through the water and forcing them all out of the drag of the falls.
There was still a tug, even at the bottom of the river, but down there Nightriver had enough of his own strength to move them under his own power. The drain on Mouse’s strength stopped, and while energy didn’t exactly flood back into his body again, there was enough that he could breathe once more.
“What just happened?” Haelle whispered, her lips close enough to Mouse’s ear to bypass the muffling effect.
Mouse tried to open his mouth to explain, but even if he had the energy to speak, he had no idea what he would have said. He managed to shrug, then Haelle yelped again as they were both pulled upright on Nightriver’s back.
Grunting with effort, the dragon climbed out of the river, the giant black miryhl held gently in his mouth, two Riders on his back. He hauled out on the narrow back beneath the bridge, which Mouse hadn’t even known existed, and carefully placed Thunder down.
Sobbing, Haelle slithered off the dragon’s back and crawled to her miryhl, wrapping her arms around Thunder’s heaving, sodden neck and pressing kisses to her beak. Then she reached for Greig.
Nightriver sighed. I am sorry, my Mouse.
Haelle began to cry, deep, heart-wrenching sobs that said more than words ever could.
Exhausted, Mouse rested his forehead against his dragon’s shoulder. After everything, all the effort, all the choices, all the difficulties, he still hadn’t been able to save Greig. But, by Maegla, he had tried.
He was a Rider. He died with honour, Mouse told his dragon, wishing he had the strength to slide down and comfort Haelle.
A ripple of warmth flowed into him, starting at his legs and gradually filling his body. Before Mouse could thank his dragon or think about getting down, Nightriver began to move again. Stepping carefully over where Thunder, Haelle and Greig lay sprawled on the bank, the dragon aimed for a narrow staircase splattered with blood and bodies.
We are needed, Nightriver explained, when Mouse started to protest.
The dragon loomed up until he filled the doorway, the green light of his glowing eyes revealing more blood and destruction – and a sight that made Mouse gasp.
“Jaymes?” he whispered, scrambling down from Nightriver’s back.
“Mouse?” Jaymes sounded equally disbelieving, clutching a small dragonet in his arms.
“Gods!” they both laughed incredulously. “I thought you were dead.”
It had been so long, so much had happened, and now in the middle of a battlefield, here they were again.
Questions built up inside his head – where? When? Why? How? – but before any of them could bubble past his lips, the glow of Nightriver’s eyes revealed what lay behind Jaymes.
“No,” Mouse whispered, pushing past his friend and falling to his knees by Imaino’s side. “Gods, no!”
After all these months, after everything he’d done, the way he’d held the survivors together and turned them into the resistance to fight back against the invaders… No. Imaino couldn’t die now. Not here. Not like this. Not after Nehtl. Mouse wouldn’t let him.
He grabbed the lieutenant’s hand and leant over him, feeling for a pulse, surprised to see the lieutenant’s dark eyes open and fixed on him.
Imaino smiled fierce and bloody. “Willym,” he whispered, or at least tried, but it was clear at least one of his lungs had been punctured and he was struggling to breathe.
Mouse gritted his teeth. Of course Willym. Wasn’t it always. “I will deal with him,” he promised, reaching for Nightriver with his mind and feeling his dragon’s cool power washing over and through him. “But first I’m going to save you.”
Green light poured over Imaino’s wounds, lighting the destruction and revealing the full extent of the damage to Mouse’s eyes. It would be difficult, but it could be done. He would make sure of it.
We will make sure of it, Nightriver promised, leaning over his shoulder, the green light of his eyes making everything shine. Let our power flow, my Mouse. Let it become the river. Wash his pain away.
Mouse closed his eyes in a haze of green and let the power flow right through him and into the hands that clasped Imaino’s wrist and pressed against the pulse in his neck. He poured the power of them both into the man beneath him and filled him up until he glow.
Then he healed him.
~ Next Chapter ~
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