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~ Previous Chapter ~
Of moping and movement.
On board the Illuminai
THEY DIDN’T LEAVE the next day, or even the day after. Much to Lyrai’s frustration and increasing worry, it took three days for the Illuminai’s crew to restock and prepare the skyship for the next leg of their journey. He wasn’t entirely convinced they couldn’t have wrapped things up sooner, but the Countess was insistent. Since she was also making supply deals with the general, Lyrai wasn’t inclined to believe her. How easily he’d forgotten that they weren’t only travelling west with Mhysra’s mother, but with Countess Kilpapan as well. No matter how concerned the woman was for her daughter, it seemed like a good business opportunity could not be overlooked.
“I will never put business before my child,” he grumbled, standing at the rail of the skyship, watching Kaskad fade from view. It didn’t take long. The sharp cleft of the crumbling mountains that sheltered the base soon rose up. If he didn’t know better, he wouldn’t have thought there was anything of interest around here at all, only fragile slate slopes and the scraggly trees clinging to the precarious earth, waiting for the next landslide to wipe them all away.
“I didn’t know you were getting married,” Stirla said, leaning next to him and chuckling as heat flooded Lyrai’s face. “And here’s me without a hat. Does this mean I’m not invited? Cruel, old friend, too cruel.”
Unwilling to dignify such nonsense with an answer, Lyrai bumped hard against his shoulder instead. A pretty pointless endeavour since Stirla was built like a tree – and not the spindly ones below, but a good solid oak – so Lyrai was the one left wincing.
“Not sure what Mhysra would say to that news either.” Derrain had also joined them, along with Jaymes and Dhori. “Or isn’t she invited either?”
Stirla and the others snickered and Lyrai shot them all a withering glare. “I’m surrounded by comedians.”
“Better than broody hens,” Reglian rumbled, strolling over to join them and making Lyrai realise he’d chosen the worst possible place to mope in private. “One chicken is more than enough for this voyage.”
Rhiddyl – in full dragon form – glided below them at that moment and flipped onto her back to make a rude gesture at the Thunderwing. Chortling with glee, Emberbright leapt out of Jaymes’ arms to flutter down and join the larger dragon, leaving them all leaning over the rail to make sure Rhiddyl caught the dragonet. She did and, fluting with triumph, thrust down with her wings to fling them both into the clear air high above.
“A good day for journeying,” Elder Goryal remarked, appearing as if from nowhere, their chiming voice full of cheer. “A very good sign so close to the Storm Season.”
As if to prove them wrong, a strong gust battered the skyship, making them all crouch to steady themselves as a huge shadow passed over and rocks rumbled down the mountain. Lyrai looked up. A second large dragon had joined Rhiddyl in the sky, though this one’s bulky form was as far from Rhiddyl’s lithe, sinuous shape as seemed possible to get. Dark grey and powerful, the second dragon was surprisingly manoeuvrable considering their size, and easily tweaked the young Tempestfury’s tail. Her shriek of outrage rattled more stones loose from the mountainside. Chuckling, Reglian hopped over the rail to join them.
The Riders watched the three dragons dance, heads tilting to follow the intricate moves and shapes. They winced in unison as the new dragon slammed into the side of the mountain.
Dhori sighed. “I didn’t realise Estenarix was joining us.”
Goryal gave a delicate shrug. “There is never any telling what Estenarix kin Boulderforce will do,” they said, smiling as the bulky dragon bounced off the mountain with no sign of injury and rejoined the tumbling fray. “Not even when she was a hatchling. At least this way we’ll have a guide who knows precisely where we’re going.”
They watched the dragons play for a moment, until Rhiddyl popped out of view and re-emerged as an indigo miryhl with Emberbright perched on her back. The quick change nearly ended in disaster as Estenarix was forced to twist mid-pounce, slamming into Reglian’s head instead. The two huge dragons tumbled in a sloppy mess, clipping Rhiddyl’s wing on the way down and unseating Emberbright.
Jaymes moaned as Rhiddyl folded her wings into a dive. Although Emberbright had recently started learning to fly, she’d never started so high and her little wings could only glide so far before faltering – and usually bursting into flames of frustration. Which, considering her increasing proximity to the Illuminai’s gasbag, would not be a good idea.
Fortunately for them all, Rhiddyl managed to snatch the dragonet out of the air – and was in turn scooped up by Reglian, who carried them both down to the forest, safely out of danger.
Jaymes slumped over the rail with relief and Lyrai felt like joining him.
“Well,” Goryal briskly rubbed their hands together, “that was exciting. Anyone for lunch?”
* * *
MHYSRA SAT UP. On her own. With no assistance and no support. It hurt like blazes and she was having trouble breathing, but somehow she was sitting upright for the first time since the tower fell. And there was no one around to see her.
Apart from the five kaz-naghkt crouched on her blanket, each one now the size of a medium dog. Triumph was at the front, one clawed hand scratching gently at her arm. That was what had woken Mhysra in the first place, ripping her out of a dream of Cumulo hunting in the mountains, and sending her bolt upright in bed.
She wiggled her toes. The blanket moved. She sobbed, making the kaz-naghkt rush towards her, whistling and chirping concerned cries, nuzzling the tears that dripped down her face.
It hurt, ai Maegla, did it hurt, but she could do it. She could move. She bent forward, gasping as the muscles in her back pulled and protested and her hips filled with fire, but it was movement, the kind of movement she thought she’d never make again.
She was healing.
Hands shaking, she stroked each of her kaz-naghkt and whispered prayers of thanks to Maegla and Lithaen and any other god of benevolence, healing or strength that she could think of. Because surely this was a miracle? After so long and so much pain, she was getting better.
But not stronger, she reminded herself, finally easing herself back down onto the pillows with the aid of her babies, her eyes heavy and already closing.
“One step at a time,” she murmured, while red eyes peered down at her in confusion. She smiled, making them chirrup and tap their claws against her teeth. She didn’t mind, she was too busy thinking of steps – and the hope beyond all hope that perhaps, one day, if she was very, very lucky, she might be able to walk again. If she was careful. It she rested. If she was patient.
“One day, one step,” she whispered, brushing kaz-naghkt claws away from her face as she closed her eyes and drifted happily away.
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