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Some characters sleep more softly than others :/
“MOUSE?” LYRAI CROUCHED in front of the slumped healer and shook his shoulder. “Mouse?”
“His name is Morri,” Goryal reminded him gently.
Lyrai stared at the boy in front of him, slumped bonelessly against the chair, a smile on his face. He looked so young, but Goryal was right. This wasn’t Mouse, this was Morri, Aquila’s head healer, for all that he was only nineteen years old. As with all of those who had been here during the siege, Morri had seen and experienced things that had aged him far more than the single year it had been since the citadel fell. He wasn’t Lyrai’s student anymore.
“What happened?” Stirla asked, grimacing as he twisted awkwardly in his seat. “Why’d he pass out?”
“He did too much too soon,” Goryal sighed, patting Lyrai on the shoulder. “He’ll be all right, lieutenant, there’s no need to fuss.”
Frowning, Lyrai straightened from his crouch and rubbed his head. It was an automatic action borne out of two months of constant headaches. Except he didn’t have a headache anymore – and his thoughts were clearer than they’d been for moons.
“Maegla,” he whispered, staring down at Morri with new eyes. Aquila’s healer indeed.
Goryal chimed a soft laugh. “Not this time, lieutenant. I do believe you’ve another goddess entirely to thank for this gift.”
Lyrai frowned at the dragon, relieved to see Stirla doing the same. For the first time in two months he wasn’t being slow and missing the obvious – well, other than the usual dragon habit of being obscure and annoying.
“Read your book,” Goryal told him pointedly, referring to a gift once given to him by another healer on the edge of the Dragonlands. They smiled as Haelle knocked on the door to Morri’s office.
“Pardon the interruption,” the student-turned-healer said quietly, “but it’s time for Morri to do his rounds.”
The two lieutenants and dragon looked at where Morri was collapsed in his chair, chin dipped against his chest, snoring softly.
Goryal smiled. “Allow me,” they offered, sweeping out of the door before Haelle could protest. Leaving Lyrai and Stirla to stare at the boy who had once been their least promising but most enthusiastic student.
“It’s all changed, hasn’t it?” Stirla murmured.
Lyrai glanced from the healer to his best friend, who was rubbing the top of his broken thigh with a pensive expression on his face. He nodded. “Yes. It will never go back to what it was.”
“Nor is it finished yet,” Stirla said, using his hands on the arms of his chair to push to his feet. Hopping slightly to get his weight underneath himself, the big man grimaced as he straightened, but Lyrai knew better than to offer any help. No Rider made a good patient – they all hated being helpless. “Have you spoken to the Countess today?”
Unsurprised to find that his friend knew about the correspondence Lyrai had been secretly carrying out with Lady Kilpapan, he shook his head. “I was about to go check for messages. Care to join me?”
Stirla smiled and slapped him on the back. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s good to have you back, old friend.”
“It’s good to be back,” Lyrai agreed, sending Morri a silent, thankful salute as he shut the door on the sleeping healer and followed his friend from the infirmary. Now that his head was finally clear, he could see all the plans and preparations that needed to be made. Two whole moons had passed since Yullik broke Aquila and left them reeling and shattered in his wake.
No more. The half-dragon’s time was up. Lyrai had a rescue mission to plan.
As the two lieutenants made their way through the mostly untouched western side of the citadel towards the rooms they’d long since claimed for their own, he tilted his head towards the man by his side. “Will you come?”
Stirla grinned. “You don’t even need to ask. We’ve all been waiting for you to say the word.”
“We?” Lyrai asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Aye,” Stirla agreed, pushing open the door to his room and beckoning Lyrai inside. “We.”
Lyrai paused in the doorway. Three young men were already inside, two sitting by the window with a dragonet sprawled across their laps, chatting to the huge storm dragon seated outside. The third man stood in the centre of the room, an unopened letter in his hands.
Seeing Lyrai, Dhori stepped forward – showing no discomfort for the ankle he’d broken not too long ago – and offered him the envelope. “The Countess has news.”
Turning the parchment over in his hands, Lyrai stared at the Kilpapan crest and knew that whatever was written inside, everything was about to change yet again. He held the letter tight and met Stirla’s calm dark eyes.
“We’re with you, Lyrai,” his oldest friend promised.
“Us dragons too,” Rhiddyl promised through the open window.
“And Derrain,” Dhori added. “Even if he can’t be here right now, he’ll not let us leave without him.”
Thinking of the strong student who had risked so much to protect his friends, Lyrai knew he could never leave Derrain behind. Not again. Not when Mhysra needed them. Even if they had to carry him all the way to World’s End.
Meeting the eyes of them all – Rhiddyl and Emberbright included – Lyrai took a deep breath and split the seal. “Let’s see what the Countess has to say today.”
* * *
MHYSRA WAS BACK at Wrentheria, inside the eyries, feeding her miryhl babies. They scratched and shrieked and scrabbled, clambering all over each other in their eagerness to get to the meat she was feeding them from her bucket.
“Patience, little ones, patience,” she chuckled, throwing a chunk to the smallest, scrawniest one of the bunch. He wasn’t much to look at yet, but she had a feeling this little black chick would be quite the force when he grew up. He certainly had enough spirit to fight off his much larger sisters in defence of his meal. Wings mantled wide, pale eyes narrowed to slits, he hissed at the bigger chicks, warning them away.
It worked. Turning their backs on him, the females pestered Mhysra instead, allowing the littlest chick to bolt down his beakful before fighting his way back to the front of the group to beg for more.
“Silly babies,” she cooed, throwing another chunk to the quiet female who never used her impressive size to intimidate the others, just waited in watchful silence for Mhysra to notice her, content that she would not be overlooked or forgotten, “as if I would let any of you go hungry. Here now, gently, gently.” She locked eyes with one of the feistiest females and slowly, carefully handed her the meat, waiting for the sharp beak to snap in her direction.
But miryhls were smart, and she’d been working on this chick’s manners for several days. Though the young eagle’s wings trembled with the urge to snatch, she was careful when she took the meat from Mhysra’s fingers.
“Good girl,” she praised. “Such a clever girl.”
“You make a good mother.”
The voice made Mhysra jump and she dropped her bucket – much to the delight of the little male who instantly leapt over the spilled chunks, wings mantled, beak hissing. Knowing that this time the others wouldn’t hold back from a fight, Mhysra gave him a firm nudge with her knee to get him to move. The chick squalled a protest, which turned into a peep of dismay as she hefted the bucket upright again, tipping him off it.
Food firmly back under her control, she scowled at the man who’d come to stand beside her.
“How did you get in here?” she demanded gruffly. “My aunt doesn’t offer tours.”
The man smirked, eyeing her slowly up and down. There was something about his pale eyes – barley with hints of gold – that made shivers run up and down her spine. He was a stranger. She knew she’d never seen him in the eyries before. Yet she knew him… didn’t she?
“You’re a mess,” he chuckled, reaching out and swiping a finger across her cheek.
Every instinct screamed to recoil, to get away from him, to flee. Mhysra held her ground. This was Wrentheria, she was a Wrentherin as much as a Kilpapan. She had nothing to fear here. Even from strangers.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she told him firmly, feeling the rightness of her words echoing inside. “You should leave.”
The stranger smirked, showing her the blood he’d wiped from her cheek before he stuck his finger in his mouth and sucked it clean. “So should you,” he chuckled.
Mhysra wrinkled her nose with distaste. “That’s disgusting.”
He shrugged. “It’s just a little blood. Surely you’re used to it by now. Especially after you’ve seen so much of it.”
More shivers ran up her spine, spreading coldness down her arms and making her fingers shake. “Go away,” she whispered, fear prickling across her skin in ways she didn’t understand. He was just a man. A slight, not overly tall one with strange eyes and a sharp smile.
“Go away?” he mimicked, making his voice wavery and weak. “Is that the best you can do?”
Clenching her fists, Mhysra looked down in surprise. She was still holding the bucket. She’d forgotten all about it, since the chicks had fallen into an uneasy silence behind her.
She raised her head, staring at the hateful man, wishing she knew why he made her so afraid, but wishing even more that he was gone. So she smiled. “No. I can do better. Much better.” She heaved the bucket, throwing the cold, wet contents right into his smug, laughing face —
And woke up gasping as if she was the one drowning in blood.
“Good girl,” a hateful voice purred in her ear, pouring more thick, horrible liquid down her throat. “Such a clever girl. Drink up now. We need you nice and strong for what lies ahead.”
Choking, Mhysra tried not to swallow whatever her captor was trying to give her. It tasted disgusting and the sludgy warmth reminded her too starkly of the blood in her dream. “No,” she protested, but it just made her cough, sending her throat into spasms as she gagged and retched.
Her body jerked and agony fired straight up her spine.
Gods, oh gods, oh gods. It hurt.
A hard hand gripped her throat, pinning her flat on her back. Golden light swelled in the shadowy room and her throat relaxed. Whimpering, she swallowed whether she liked it or not, and the pain was so excruciating that she didn’t even care any longer.
Make it stop. Please, gods, anyone, make it stop.
The foul liquid hit her stomach and spread warmth across her body. Her skin crawled and her mind revolted at the thought of what the drink might have been, but there was no denying that it worked. Heat rippled out from her belly, sinking down into her pelvis and hips and legs, soothing away the pain. It didn’t remove it altogether, but it dulled the sharpest of the aches until she could breathe again.
Yullik removed his hand from her throat and leant over until they were eye to eye. His gleamed gold in the darkness, his teeth flashing white in a smile. “There’s a good girl,” he murmured, brushing his finger against her cheek – and sending her racing back into dreams.
~ Next Chapter ~
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