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~ Previous Chapter ~
JAYMES AND EMBERBRIGHT were sitting in the doorway leading into Aquila when the tower fell. One moment they were staring into the deepening night, marvelling over the change in Mouse, and thanking the gods for the way he’d managed to save Imaino before departing on other business, the next they were scrambling back inside as screaming miryhls filled the skies and the tower across the river began to fall.
“What is it? What’s happening?” Gunlo asked, from where he was sitting beside Imaino, keeping a close watch on the lieutenant’s breathing.
Jaymes only shook his head as he ran past both men, heading deeper into the citadel. Because how could he describe what was happening out there? They’d called the first invasion and loss of the citadel the fall of Aquila, but this… this was the kind of fall no one had ever contemplated or dreamed about, not even in their worst nightmares.
Having no idea where he was going or what he could even do, Jaymes nevertheless ran through the lower halls of the citadel, staggering into walls and doors as the ground trembled beneath him. Somewhere overhead the whole mountain seemed to groan before everything fell still.
“Jaymes?” Emberbright said softly inside his head. “I don’t like it.”
He ran a soothing hand over her back and bundled her more securely around his shoulders, even though she was getting too big for such a position now. “I don’t like it either,” he told her grimly. “I don’t like any of it.”
She hummed her agreement, rubbing her cheek against his. “Your friend is that way.” She nudged him towards the left.
Jaymes hugged her a little harder, not realising until that moment that Mouse was exactly who he needed. Mouse and the monstrous dragon who appeared to be some sort of dragongift, if one unlike anything Reglian had ever explained to him and Corin. If anyone knew what to do on this mountain now, it would be that dragon.
He’d barely gone ten paces along the narrow side corridor before Emberbright shrieked so loudly it knocked him to his knees.
He fell forwards, hands barely catching himself in time to prevent his face from smashing into the stone. Emberbright tumbled from his shoulders, writhing and moaning as she hit the floor, keening a long, loud wail that couldn’t be anything but grief.
Even though Jaymes couldn’t feel what Emberbright was feeling, his heart nevertheless clenched inside his chest. “Corin?” he whispered, reaching for his dragonet.
Emberbright curled up into a tight knot and whimpered.
Gods, what was happening out there? He had to know.
Bundling Emberbright awkwardly into his arms, he staggered to his feet, torn between continuing the search for Mouse or turning back in search of Corin and the others.
A shadow moved in front of him, nudging him gently aside, then Mouse was there, leaning down from the shadow’s great back.
“Get on,” Mouse said.
Jaymes reached up without a word, gripping tight to Mouse’s wrist as his friend hauled him onto the dragon’s back.
“Go, Nightriver,” Mouse urged. “Find them.” And the dark dragon flowed through the hallways as swift as the river that ran beyond.
But not fast enough. They emerged beneath the open sky to scene of horror and chaos.
The east tower had fallen, the bridge and eyries had been shattered, the river was flooding across the banks, and miryhls and Rider lay scattered across the wreckage like broken toys.
Then finally, there, right in the heart of it all, Elder Goryal Starshine and the dragons had come down from their lofty perch to tend to the wounded.
Jaymes waited only until Nightriver had swum across the flooded river to the far bank before he slid from the dragon’s back. Then he ran, tripping over debris hidden beneath the swirling waters, and threw himself at Reglian’s broad, human-sized back.
“Where were you?” he shouted, thumping his fist hard against the silk-covered expanse. “We needed you here. Where we’re you?”
Reglian turned to him, his face sorrowful, his golden eyes sad. He didn’t answer, just looked down.
Jaymes’ followed his gaze downwards to the fragile body held in the Thunderwing’s hands. Silver and bright sky blue, long and sinuous. He’d seemed so much bigger in life, had been growing so fast, but lying lifeless in Reglian’s hands, Skybreeze was clearly still nothing more than a baby.
Laid out on the rocks beneath, lifted up above the swelling flood, Corin was similarly still and silent and small.
“No,” Jaymes whispered, falling to his knees, because not Corin. It couldn’t be Corin. Nor Skybreeze. They were dragongifted. They were legends. They were chosen and special and strong, and the only ones on the whole Overworld who understood what Jaymes was going through. Corin was his sister, by fate if not blood. She couldn’t… she couldn’t…
Keening, Emberbright scrambled up Reglian’s body until she could drape herself over Skybreeze, her nest-mate and hatch-sibling. Gone.
“I am sorry,” Reglian said inadequately, laying both dragonets across Jaymes’ lap.
He said nothing. There was nothing to say. While the Thunderwing rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and turned awkwardly away, Jaymes pulled the dragonets close to his chest, bowed his head over Corin’s body and wept.
~ Next Chapter ~
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