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~ Previous Chapter ~
“I’M GLAD MHYSRA had you growing up,” Lyrai said, surprising Derrain into a blink.
“If not for you, she might never have joined the Riders,” Hurricane agreed. Meaning that neither of them would have met the Wingborn pair.
Derrain shrugged, uncomfortable receiving praise for a decision that had turned out to be right for him too. He stroked Zephyr in a reminder that whatever sacrifices he’d made the rewards had been richer. “She would have found her own way, even without me to give her a push. She and Cumulo were made to be Riders.”
They fell into a pensive silence, broken only by a distant rumble of thunder. It was a measure of how familiar they’d grown with Reglian that none of them reacted – until lightning flickered beyond the windows.
Lyrai scrambled to his feet, Derrain clambering up much more slowly as the ache in his back reminded him of the damage he’d done not too long ago. The lieutenant hauled open the hatch and staggered back as a fierce wind whipped inside, bringing sleeting rain and another flash of lightning.
“That’s not Reglian,” Zephyr muttered, urging Derrain towards the door.
Grimacing in agreement, he ran his hand over his miryhl’s wing and lurched as fast as possible out of the eyries. Lyrai swiftly overtook him, heading for the nearest ladder and the stairways that would take him to the top deck. Shaking off his envy of such easy movement, Derrain gritted his teeth, placed his foot on the bottom rung and began hauling himself up, bit by painful bit, longing for the day when he could move without so much effort.
He was sweating by the time he reached the top of the ladder, and gratefully grasped the hand extended down towards him.
“Come on,” Jaymes urged, Emberbright bounding ahead of them. “We need to see what’s happening.”
Derrain didn’t argue, he followed his friend along the corridors, up the stairs and up again until they reached the ladder that led to the top deck. There Derrain once again set his teeth and closed his eyes, breathing heavily as he pulled himself up again, legs shaking, back aching, determined to reach the deck and find out what was happening.
There had been an excellent reason why Derrain had once spent his Storm Seasons grounded at Wrentheria and it hadn’t been in order to make friends. Few things were more dangerous to a skyship than lightning, and here they were, stuck out in the middle of the Cloud Sea, days from land, with only a thin, fragile gasbag keeping them aloft.
Thunder snarled as Derrain crawled out of the hatch, Jaymes on his heels, and knelt for a moment in a puddle of ice water. Gods, he wished this was only dragons. But as he raised his head to look over the rail, there was no mistaking the rain-lashed view for anything other than a full-blown thunderstorm. Gloom hung heavy around the Illuminai and lightning forked across the sky, hitting the clouds in hisses of steam and power.
Derrain stumble to the rail, looking up at where Reglian and Rhiddyl circled overhead, the black dragon snarling in challenge, the frailer blue one glowing almost white as she deflected strikes away from the ship. A high-pitched whistle rose and fell amongst the thunder; Rhiddyl was singing, trying to keep the storm at bay.
“Maegla,” Derrain breathed, tearing his eyes away to search for his friends.
All hands were on deck, the skysailors scrambling to secure everything as the wind battered the bag and ship, setting them swinging wildly with absolutely no hope of control. Gears and winches groaned as the rarely used lightning rods were hauled into place, sticking out from the deck like overgrown lances, hoping to draw any strikes away from the bag. Except the wind was too strong, setting the rods swaying, further destabilising the ship.
“I can’t hold her!” Captain Herron roared between booms of thunder. “My lady, we have to land!”
The Countess strode across the deck, small and determined and so very fierce. With the memory of young Mhysra fresh in his mind, Derrain could easily see the similarities between mother and daughter, as Countess Kilpapan reached the front of the ship, where Elder Goryal and Dhori stood side by side.
Clawing along the rail, Derrain hauled himself closer to hear her ask, “Well?”
Elder Goryal’s eyes were pure white as they shook their head. “There is nowhere to land. World’s End is a full day’s flight away, Etheria much further.”
The Countess slammed her hand against the rail. “I will not lose her,” she snarled.
Dhori turned to her, his eyes a molten silver glow. “If you press on, she is already lost.”
Rhiddyl’s whistling song rose to a shriek and Reglian roared as lightning punched into them both.
“You must turn back,” Estenarix strode up, solid and steady even as the lurching Illuminai sent the humans to their knees. “You will die if you travel on.”
“No!” The Countess thumped the rail again. “We’ve come too far to turn back now. Mhysra needs us.”
Another shriek and Rhiddyl fell past the rail, wings and tail streaming uselessly upwards, a black hole smoking in her chest.
All the air was sucked from Derrain’s chest, sending him to his hands as knees as Goryal blazed bright white. Rhiddyl hit the deck in her indigo-skinned human form, scorched and unconscious.
“Turn back,” Goryal ordered the Countess, with no trace of anything human on their face. All was smooth, all was bone white and their teeth were sharp. “Turn back.”
Snarling, the Countess stalked across the ship, shouting orders, and the Illuminai groaned as the great skyship began to turn.
Now flying with the wind, the side sails bellied full and the deck lurched again as the ship headed swiftly west.
Digging his nails into the deck, Derrain glared at the dragon, but Goryal was too busy bending over Rhiddyl to either notice or care. Dhori met his anger with his glowing silver gaze and nodded.
“Head below,” he ordered.
Derrain didn’t even think of arguing, simply scrambled to his feet and used the rail to haul himself back to the hatch. Going down was so much easier than climbing up, and he dropped to find Jaymes waiting for him, both their packs in hand.
Derrain accepted his with a nod. “Let’s go.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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