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~ Previous Chapter ~
WHISPERS BROKE HIS concentration, a constant drip-drip-drip that wore away at his thoughts and finally interrupted his work. Yullik frowned at the bowl he’d been working on, seeing the swirl of red and black, and wondered anew what he was doing wrong. The process was normally much smoother than this. He added the blood together, it mixed, he put it back and everything carried on. It had taken a good half-century to master the technique, but these days he was so practiced at it he barely gave it a thought, just slipped into the trance and all merged just as he wished.
Not this blood. For some reason he couldn’t get it to mix as he wanted it to, and he couldn’t concentrate on why because of those insidious, invidious whispers.
He’s up to something.
Blood? Why blood?
No matter. We have him where we want him.
Easy. So easy.
All in place.
We are ready.
Yullik gritted his teeth and stared at the blood, but even though the red was seeping into the black in thin tendrils, the two refused to fully merge. Perhaps if he —
…needs the blood?
He growled and almost threw the bowl in frustration. Then he remembered the blood, the precious blood. He put it carefully on the table and stood slowly, so very slowly. Control, thought and restraint. His workroom was a sacred place. He would not spoil it with tantrums and frustrations. He let his power flow outwards, reaching into the ruins of his former fortress and all that remained of the east wing.
He squeezed his fist, claws stabbing into his flesh. Stone crunched, the mountain shifted and a ceiling collapsed in a cloud of dust.
I thought you said he was in the depths?
Did he hear us?
Can he hear us?
Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?
Yullik clenched his other hand. The mountain trembled, the whispers stopped.
He looked down at the blood welling between his fingers. Sighing, he raised them above the table, considered the bowl he had been working on for almost two days, then opened his hand above it. A thick droplet welled, trailed down his finger and hung on the tip of a claw.
Yullik flicked it off. It hit the red blood with a hiss that quickly spread, gobbling up both red and black and turning it molten bronze, like the glossy underscales on his father’s belly. Gold shimmered on the surface and Yullik smiled.
* * *
MHYSRA STUMBLED. SHE didn’t know where she was or when, all she knew was that she had to keep moving forward. Her feet were bleeding, the cuts opening afresh with every step, and her right arm was cradled against her chest. She wanted to cry. It hurt, everything hurt, but not so much as the ache in her chest.
The words whispered inside her heart, coming atop one another, melding together, as she heard one name in one ear, one in the other. It was like a second heartbeat inside her chest, pushing her on, driving her forwards when her body was crying at her to stop.
She didn’t dare stop. She would never get up again. She would give up.
She couldn’t give up. She had to find him-her. She-he was waiting for her. But even as she made her way up through the darkness, up through the tunnels beneath the canyon’s skin, she wondered how. How would she find her Wingborn? How would she reach him-her? She was wounded. Worse, she was grounded. Riders had taken her-him away, and she couldn’t fly to find them. She was useless, broken and useless.
She should stop now, fall on her begging knees and die. Her body wanted to die. Her head wanted to stop. But her heart, her foolish heart, pushed her on.
NishaCumulo. Cumisha. Nishumulo. CumuloNisha.
It hurt, it hurt so much, but finally she crawled into the open air, back out beneath a burning sun, and raised her streaming eyes to the broad and merciless sky. Nothing, not even a cloud, nothing to guide her, no clue to help her. She was alone. Abandoned. Broken. Useless.
How would she ever find him-her?
Where would she even begin?
I should just die. Lie down right here and die. That’s what they all want. That’s what they all expect.
It took a moment before she realised it wasn’t her heart that spoke. A shadow fell over her and she cringed. She hated herself, but she couldn’t help it, hunching down against the shelter of the ground, palms spread wide, ready to sink back into the canyon.
She looked back over her shoulder at the shape blocking out the sun. A miryhl. Her heart leapt, then plunged, then leapt again.
Not CumuloNisha. Not an enemy. She knew this miryhl. She loved this miryhl.
“Teka,” she whispered, lifting her hands from the safety of the stone and throwing her arms around the neck of the first feathered wings to ever carry her.
“Pinion,” the gruff miryhl crooned, nestling down to bring Mhysra close against her steady heart. “You must not give up. You cannot give in. So much has been lost already, but hope can yet be saved.”
“Teka,” Mhysra whispered, barely listening, not understanding as she breathed in the familiar scent of home and her mother. Her mother’s miryhl had come back. Her mother’s miryhl was here. She hadn’t lost everything. Teka was still here.
“Pinion,” the miryhl said again, nuzzling her hair and pushing her gently back. “Listen to me. You must not give up.”
She stared at the miryhl she’d known her whole life and fresh tears welled in her eyes. “They have Nisha,” she whispered, the name Cumulo echoing in her ears. “I don’t know how to save her.” Him.
“I do,” Teka promised, using her beak to push Mhysra back to her feet. “We’ll do it together. Hop on and hold on, Pin. Your mother would never forgive me if I dropped you now.”
Hope rising, Mhysra wiped her hands across her face and clambered onto Teka’s back. No saddle supported her, but she knew how to grip, her hands small but strong, scarred on every finger.
“Hold on!” the miryhl called again, opening her wings and tipping down into the canyon.
“Hold on,” Mhysra whispered in reply. Hold on, Cue, we’re coming. She buried her face against Teka’s feathers, breathed in her familiar scent and held on.
~ Next Chapter ~
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