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~ Previous Chapter ~
I never knew before today how much I could hate certain ubiquitous word processors. Today is not going well. This whole weekend/week/month has been pretty awful actually, so I guess it’s just following the general current life-trend.
Oh well, I hope yours is going much better, and if it isn’t have some cute kaz-naghkt to cheer you up (which is a phrase I never imagined typing in my life).
THE DAYS ALL blended into one. Mhysra had lost track of everything. Her life was a never-ending round of feeding the babies, eating, sleeping and pain, pain, pain. Where once it had started to fade into a dull ache, always there but sinking into the background enough to let her tend the babies, now it was back at the forefront, pounding in her head, back and hips, never giving her a moment’s peace. And it was always worse when she woke.
A high whistle drew her attention and she rubbed her forehead as she looked up. Tenacity, the smallest kaz-naghkt, was perched on a shelf, demanding her attention. Over recent days the babies had started developing distinct personalities, and it had been easy to name them. Tenacity might have been the smallest of the five, but she was full of grit, determination and fight.
Mhysra whistled back that she was watching – and Tenacity threw herself off the shelf.
Flying was the other thing the babies had developed over recent days. Well, Mhysra amended as Tenacity spread her little wings and mostly plummeted onto the bed, they tried to.
While the other four siblings whistled derisively, Tenacity popped up out of the blankets and strutted proudly up to Mhysra for a pet.
“Your tail is growing,” Mhysra said, picking up the thickening limb which looked a lot less like a rattail these days. “You’ll have to adjust for the extra weight.”
The baby showed no sign of understanding her words as she clawed her way up to Mhysra’s shoulder, butted her affectionately on the face and leapt towards the floor. Again, it was more of a controlled fall than a glide, but Tenacity seemed happy with it. Especially when she used Victor as a crash mat. Mhysra wasn’t certain why she was so convinced that Tenacity was female – and Victor male – since their kaz-naghkt bodies gave away no clues, but it felt right. The other three had no clear gender yet, but that felt right too. Perhaps they took after their dragon cousins in such things, growing slowly into themselves instead of being assigned gender at birth based on biology? She didn’t know, and there was no one around to teach her, because no one on the Overworld had ever tried to study the kaz-naghkt. At least, not to her knowledge. Yullik could likely teach her everything she wanted to know, but she would never lower herself to asking him for anything. However, since she never saw the master of all her torments, it was a pointless defiance.
These babies would be her teachers, and luckily for her, they were tough enough to withstand all her mistakes.
Head pounding, she watched as Triumph weighed in on Victor’s side, while Ferocity and Glory scrapped with Tenacity in an unusual sign of teamwork. Such alliances were rare and constantly flexible. One day it might be three against two, the next it could be four on one, or two teams and one alone, or five separate fighters. There was never any telling, except that there would be a fight. Several, in fact, every single day. They were a fractious, scrappy, argumentative bunch, but at least they’d stopped screaming. It had taken a lot of practise and reinforcement, but Mhysra had taught them to communicate mostly by whistles instead. The sound was still high pitched and liable to cut through her aching head with each trill, but the pain was less than a scream and usually lasted for a shorter time. Which was as good as things could get for her these days.
Head aching, Mhysra wriggled down from where she’d been sitting propped against her pillows, opting to lie flat instead. She longed to roll onto her side, to rest her head on her hand and watch her babies play, but her body wouldn’t do that. Neither her back nor her hips were willing and she hadn’t the strength to force herself. She could only lie flat and stare at the ceiling, tears leaking from the corner of her eyes, as she waited for the worst of the pain to pass. Moving always hurt, but it seemed to have grown worse in recent days. She hadn’t thought that was possible, but her time in captivity was teaching her all kinds of things that should never have been.
Such as affection for kaz-naghkt.
Turning her head as far as she could, she smiled as she watched Tenacity and Victor team up to overthrow the other three. Until Ferocity, the biggest of the five, bundled their littlest sibling under their wing and Triumph and Glory tackled Victor together. Even as he fell, Victor tugged Ferocity’s tail. Squalling, the big baby fell, releasing Tenacity, who hopped onto the pile of her siblings, shrieking in victory.
Kaz-naghkt. Mhysra shook her head and closed her eyes, yawning as she dropped into sleep.
AND FOUND HERSELF walking through the halls of Aquila. Dark shadows clung to the corners, but bright moonlight slanted in through the open windows. Passing from light to shadow, light to shadow, she studied the floor beneath her feet. White, pristine, perfect. No blood, no scratches, no signs of war.
Her heart felt light as she climbed the stairs towards the library she’d once defended so fiercely with her friends. She wondered where they were. Perhaps they were waiting for her? Perhaps there would be a party.
Smiling, she sped up – and realised she wasn’t alone.
A warm hand pressed against the base of her spine, friendly and familiar. She turned to smile, heart lifting, expecting blue eyes, blond hair and a sun-kissed smile.
All she saw was gold.
The silver-washed hallway melted away, until all was gold and heat and brightness, as if the sun itself had descended to join her. The touch on her back pressed harder, spreading warmth across her back, dipping beneath her skin.
She reached out an unsteady hand towards the beautiful brightness.
More soon, although I’ve given up predicting when.
If you can’t wait that long,
the book is currently up to Chapter 16 on Patreon.
Thanks for reading!