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~ Previous Chapter ~
Plots, plans and unexpected meetings.
On board the Illuminai
TOO SLOW, TOO slow. This journey was taking too long. Lyrai turned in his saddle, looking back over Hurricane’s wings to where the Illuminai drifted and bumbled along above the neatly cultivated fields of western Etheria. The mountains here were broad and gently sloping, folding into wide valleys of lush green and waving crops, sheltered from the worst weather by the higher ground looming like a wall to the north.
They were still in Etheria, they hadn’t even left the Greater West yet, and already Mhysra had been in Yullik ses-Khennik’s hands for over three months. At the rate they were going, it would be New Year before they even found her, let alone rescued her and brought her home.
“This is taking too long,” he grumbled, lying flat against his miryhl’s back again.
Hurricane tilted his head, regarding his Rider with a dark brown eye. “I know,” he rasped tightly, reminding Lyrai that he wasn’t the only one missing his beloved. Cumulo was missing too, and although his and Hurricane’s altered relationship was reasonably new, it was no less important and the worry was still strong.
“We’ll find them,” he promised his bonded, running his fingers through the thick ruff of neck feathers. “We’ll bring them home.”
“Yes,” Hurricane promised, beating his wings to carry them up into the overcast sky. “We will.”
Soon, Lyrai’s heart demanded, and he glanced back over his shoulder at where Reglian, Estenarix and Rhiddyl formed a formidable line across the sky to the rear of the Illuminai. Suddenly thoughtful, he considered all the possible ways a skyship could be made to go faster – especially when one had three strong dragons to assist.
Yes, very soon, he silently promised, facing forwards with a smile as Hurricane lifted over the edge of one valley and dived swiftly into the next. Here all was bustling and busy as folk and beasts worked hard to bring in the harvest before the threatening clouds burst and ruined their crop.
Many raised an arm in greeting before bending back down to reap what they’d sown, working to gain their reward. Lyrai lifted his own hand in return, his mind already leagues away, fitting the final pieces to a plan that would also take hard work and perhaps a risk or two, but would hopefully end in even more fitting rewards.
He glanced over his shoulder again, then tapped Hurricane on the neck. “Take us back, Cane,” he called. “There’s a dragon or two I want to talk to.”
* * *
A COLD WIND blew over World’s End, leaving Cumulo little choice but to hunker down and wait. Flying in these conditions was dangerous enough, but when it started snowing heavily, he knew it was useless to move. That didn’t stop him from pacing back and forth along his sheltered ledge, sharpening his talons on the rocks and cursing the sky. He had little love for human gods – and miryhls didn’t bother with such nonsensical things – but at times like this it was easy to think someone had set their will against him.
“How can I possibly find my Wingborn in this?” he growled, strutting across the cold ground, sweeping snow off the edge with a swish of his tail. Flakes settled on his wings, icy kisses from an uncaring sky. He glared and ruffled them off, unwilling to let them soak in and make him wet. The wind was bitter enough as it was.
Turning his back on the whirling whiteness, he stomped back into the scrape of a cave behind his shelter and paused for a moment. He needed to think. He needed to plan. So far he’d allowed the need to find Mhysra drive him forward with single-minded determination. Everything had been achieved by impulse, decisions made only when needed. He was lucky he wasn’t dead.
But now the weather had closed in, forcing him to stop and think. The good news was that he’d found his Wingborn. He knew she was close; he could feel it in his heart. The bad news was that he couldn’t get to her. He’d flown over and around this mountain more times in these last few days than he cared to think, and he was no closer to getting inside than when he’d first arrived. And even if he did get inside, what then? Miryhls weren’t made for stairs and corridors. Not like humans, not like kaz-naghkt. If those creatures attacked while he was inside, he might not have space enough to even fight. What good would it be to find his Wingborn, only to get them both killed because his wings got stuck on a stairway?
He needed a plan, a much better one than get inside, find her, get out. In truth, he liked that plan for its beautiful simplicity, but life was rarely simple and if this journey so far had taught him anything it was that nothing ever went to plan. Complications were a way of life and Cumulo knew a whole heap of them were waiting for him to find his way inside.
If only the fortress had windows, blast and burn it all. Then, perhaps, he could at least work out where Mhysra was being held. Right now he knew nothing more than that she was inside. Even that wasn’t confirmed. He felt in his heart that she was close, but he didn’t know. Perhaps it was nothing more than a trick of his mind, his desperation to find her convincing him that she was here when in truth she could be anywhere.
“No,” he growled, pacing back out into the snow and wind again. He wouldn’t think like that, wouldn’t allow himself to think like that. Mhysra was here. She had to be. And he would find her.
There was a lot more snow on the ledge this time, but he swept it off regardless, as much for something to do than because it needed doing. Then he strutted back into his cave to think some more. Thinking didn’t come naturally to him; it wasn’t something he cared to be good at. Mhysra did the fretting and worrying in their partnership, he just added wings, strength and wit. It was up to others to sort out the details, and he would go along with it or not as the mood took him. Except there weren’t any others here. There was only him.
Frustration and anger at his creeping fears sent Cumulo pacing again, back and forth, back and forth, until the bitter wind forced him back into his shelter.
“Good day, master miryhl,” a hooded figure greeted in a low, amused voice. “Tell me, how far would you go to get your Wingborn back?”
Heart pounding with surprise, Cumulo lowered his head and growled. “I’ve crossed half the Overworld. Is that not far enough?”
The stranger laughed. “Not nearly, my dear miryhl, but it’s a healthy start.”
“Who are you?” Cumulo snapped, eyeing the distance between them. Not much, but the stranger stood in a narrow gap in the wall. Cumulo hadn’t even known it was an opening. He couldn’t pounce forward, but would his beak reach his target? Perhaps a slash of the talons would be better? Maybe he could coax them closer?
The hood dipped as the stranger chuckled soft and deep. “A friend?” It was more question than answer. “An enemy? Does it matter? I know where your Wingborn is, master miryhl, and I can take you to her.”
All calculations of attack ceased as Cumulo stood bolt upright, trembling with anticipation.
“For a price.”
Anything, Cumulo almost blurted, his old brash self rising to the fore. But he wasn’t that miryhl anymore, the one who strutted arrogantly about, so very sure of himself and his superiority. He had grown, he had changed. He had learnt patience… sort of.
He tilted his head and fixed the stranger with his fiercest glare. “What do you want?” he asked softly, full of menace.
“A bargain. A favour. My help for yours.” The stranger stepped back, melting into the shadows.
Cumulo pounced, but the gap was narrow and he couldn’t go far. “What kind of help?” he shouted, trying to squeeze a little further, but his wings were too bulky and his chest too broad. He stretched his neck, but all was darkness before him. “What kind of bargain?”
“A fair one.” The whisper was right beside his beak, but rock hid the stranger from Cumulo’s view. All he could do was twist ever so slight, the tip of his beak catching on the stranger’s cloak before they shifted away. “Your Wingborn, your very heart, for his.”
“Whose?” Cumulo snapped, pulling back and pressing forward again, getting precisely nowhere. “Whose heart, blast it! Speak plain, tell me what you want me to do!”
But the shadows stayed silent. The stranger was gone.
Slumping in defeat, Cumulo huddled in his shallow scrape of a cave, surrounded by broken feathers that he’d snapped and rubbed off in his desperate attempt to break through solid stone. His whole body shook with anger and eagerness and anticipation denied. The stranger had dangled hope before him – then snatched it away.
“I’ll do it,” he whispered, breath rasping, chest tight. “I’ll take his heart. I’ll take a thousand hearts – human, dragon, monster, beast. Just give me back my Wingborn.”
The hooded figure crouched in front of him and rested a palm flat against his beak. “Done.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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