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~ Previous Chapter ~
She wasn’t skilled, she wasn’t strong, but she was ferocious…
THE WORLD SHOOK. Corin staggered, pressing her hands against the door frame, Skybreeze wrapped around one of her legs. She stared in horror as the ground where Mhysra and Lyrai lay started to crumble.
“No!” Stirla launched forward on his belly, reaching out, calling for Lyrai to take his hand. The blond lieutenant, one arm wrapped around Mhysra’s waist, stretched back, but the distance was widening, widening. Stirla started to slide into the sinking hole, until Dhori threw himself flat and grabbed him by the ankles.
Mhysra kicked with her feet, trying to push herself and Lyrai back, but the stones beneath her were sagging. She was sinking. She was falling. Twisting sharply around, her wide eyes caught Corin’s. Then she was gone.
Lyrai lunged after her, but Stirla grabbed him first, hauling him back, kicking and struggling.
It didn’t matter. The whole tower was sagging sideways.
Lyrai fell into the hole, only the strength of Stirla’s fingers keeping him from dropping into the darkness.
“Maegla, Maegla, Maegla,” someone was sobbing. Corin realised it was her as the tower angled more steeply to the left, then jolted down with a crash.
She screamed and Derrain smashed into her, his broad back shielding her as the roof caved in. Miryhls shrieked and kaz-naghkt screeched as the tower thundered and fell.
Yullik laughed. Standing on the far side of the room, his golden light held his part of the tower together just enough for him to ride it all out safely as the tower dropped onto the eyries, crushing down through the three storeys with groaning, jolting jerks. They rested on the bridge for a moment, then as that crumbled slowly into the river, the remains of the topmost room of the east tower rolled ever so gently down in a wide, sweeping arc.
Corin clung to Derrain as the wall they leant against suddenly became the ceiling. For a moment, the momentum held them in place. Then the tower stopped on the swiftly deserted Lawn and fell apart with a dusty sigh. Corin and Derrain fell with it, right down onto a tumbled pile of stones.
Derrain hit first with a loud crack, leaving him gasping, lying bent unnaturally far back. Corin landed on his chest and rolled clumsily off, hitting the floor with a thump. Battered and bruised, but otherwise whole, she coughed through the dust and scrabbled about for Skybreeze. He was there, licking her cheek and whimpering, his whole body trembling with fear.
Pressing her hand against the pile of rocks upon which Derrain lay gasping, she pushed to her knees. “Derry,” she whispered in horror, not even daring to touch him.
“C-Corin,” he wheezed. “I can’t… I can’t feel… my legs.”
Gods! “Stay there,” she told him fiercely, sounding angry in her bid to overcome her terror. “You stay right there. Don’t move. Goryal will come.” They had to. All the dragons had to. They had to come and help. Wasn’t that why they’d left the Cleansed Lands in the first place?
Derrain’s laugh was more of a sob. “Can’t move,” he whispered, his breath short and pained. “Can’t feel my arms either.”
Biting her lip so hard she tasted blood, Corin rested her head against the stones he lay on until the urge to cry passed, then straightened with a sniff. “Goryal will come,” she promised. They would know what to do. They’d saved Jaymes after Emberbright practically melted his bones. They would save Derrain. “Just stay here.” And don’t die, she added silently.
She pushed to her feet and turned to survey the wreckage, finding evidence of her friends – a dark hand poking out from beneath a pile of stone, the blond glint of Lyrai’s hair, a boot that might have belonged to Dhori. Mhysra lay in what once might have been the centre of the room, but was now a circle of dusty grass. A pile of rocks covered her midriff. She wasn’t moving.
The only other person on their feet was Yullik. He stood unharmed amidst the wreckage of the once-great citadel of Aquila – and laughed.
Corin stared at the man who had caused this. No, not a man, not even a dragon. He was a monster.
She knew how to deal with monsters.
Mhysra had made a good start earlier, but she’d forgotten the last vital trick to killing a monster. You didn’t just stab it in the heart, you had to twist.
Drawing her sword and rotating her wrists in readiness, Corin gripped the hilt in both hands. Limping forward, she stumbled over a pile of rocks and sprang.
But Yullik was ready this time – and he was armed. Corin had never been the most adept of sword fighters, but she was determined. She met his defence with all her strength, screaming from the effort.
“Corin!” Skybreeze shrieked inside her mind, a fierce breeze whistling down from the mountainside and sending both her and Yullik staggering. The debris from the tower made her footing even more treacherous, especially on the rain-slick ground, and she slid to her knees.
“So noble,” Yullik tsked as he used the claws on his feet to steady himself. “So foolish.”
Corin looked up into his golden eyes as he raised the sword Mhysra had so recently plunged into his chest, and knew she couldn’t get out of this. Her friends were all dead – or at least severely wounded and trapped beneath the wreckage – and the dragons weren’t coming. She was alone and her sword arm was weak.
She raised it nevertheless in her own defence, crying out as the impact ran all the way up to her shoulder and made her entire body ache. She fell into the dust, panting, but gathered her legs and hands beneath her. She would not die on her knees.
“Corin!” A streak of silver and blue darted across her vision as Skybreeze tested his wings for the first time. He hit Yullik full in the face, but Corin’s triumph turned into a scream as she realised he’d also hit the sword.
A black-blooded sword that pierced the little dragonet straight through the chest.
“Corin?” his imperious little voice sounded baffled and scared.
“No.” She shook her head, unable to believe it. She hadn’t wanted him, she’d nearly rejected him and had spent all her time since pretending not to like him all that much, but Skybreeze was hers. Her dragongift, her bonded. He was part of her. And she felt the moment he died.
A gaping hole opened up inside of her, a vicious hook that dug right in and ripped out her guts.
Yullik barely had time to shake Skybreeze off his sword before Corin attacked. She wasn’t skilled, she wasn’t strong, but she was ferocious. Those golden eyes actually widened in surprise as she struck him again and again, with absolutely no finesse and far too much energy.
She couldn’t keep it up for long, and Yullik, the monstrous bastard knew it. He smiled as she began to tire, his sharp teeth flashing as her arms grew heavy. The hole from Skybreeze’s death turned inwards, sapping her strength, turning her body into so much useless weight.
Yullik’s smile slowly faded away and he tilted his head. Then, worst of all, a look of pity crossed his face. “Shh,” he soothed. “It hurts. I know it hurts.”
It did hurt, burn him. She’d never asked to be a dragongifted, she’d never quite reconciled herself to the fact that it was for life. She’d even wished it had never happened, but Skybreeze had been hers. He was hers. Now he was gone. Her breath caught in a sob.
Yullik knocked her sword aside with an easy parry, the pommel dropping from her clumsy fingers as she fell defeated to her knees.
“I am sorry,” the monster whispered, following her down, keeping their eyes locked as he cradled her chin between his hands. So tender, so caring. So cruel. “Let me ease your pain.”
“No!” someone was screaming. “Corin. No!”
She stared into those bright golden eyes and felt herself grow light. The hole inside her didn’t matter now. She could feel Skybreeze hovering close, the coolness of his power wrapping around her.
Corin, he called, and she reached for him. Come.
Closing her eyes, she sighed and saw him, her bright, cheeky, annoying little dragongift.
~ Next Chapter ~
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