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~ Previous Chapter ~
“Fly, you fools!”
Oh, no, sorry. I meant “Fly? You fools!”
HAVING BEEN HELPING Stirla and the skysailors roll out the lightning rods, Lyrai couldn’t believe it when the Illuminai lurched and turned around. The sharp slice of betrayal almost doubled him over as he spun towards the wheelhouse. The captain’s face was grim as he tried to hold the ship steady against the ferocious storm, but the presence of the Countess beside him was all the support he needed.
“No,” Lyrai whispered, unable to believe Lady Kilpapan could do this. Not now, not after everything. “No!” He stumbled forward, boots sliding on the sleet-slick deck. They weren’t that far from World’s End now, certainly closer to the mountains than to Etheria. They couldn’t turn back. They had to press on. It was the only way.
“Lyrai!” A firm hand seized his arm, spinning him around. “You’re needed below!”
He stared uncomprehending at the face shouting at him above the shrieking wind and booming thunder. “Let go!” he ordered, trying to jerk free, just as thunder boomed and everything jolted sharply left.
Sailors cried out as they careened wildly across the deck. One man hit the rail, wailing as he tumbled overboard. Lyrai was knocked to his knees, only the grip on his elbow stopping him from landing on his face. Then Stirla was beside him, hauling him up, shoving him towards the guide ropes.
“Get below!” This time Lyrai recognised Dhori as the man let go of his arm, shoving him towards the nearest hatch.
“It’s the miryhls!” Stirla bellowed in his ear when Lyrai again hesitated, wanting to confront the Countess and force this ship back around again.
Stumbling through the hatch, Lyrai fell more than climbed down the ladder, dropping in the corridor below as Stirla, the Dhori, jumped down to join him.
That was when he heard it: shrieks, panic and stamping. The lower decks were awash with fear.
Lightning snapped, the thunderous snarl coming right on top of it. All thoughts of betrayal forgotten, Lyrai ran for the lower deck, jumping down the next ladder without thought or care, stumbling as the ship levelled, then canted to the right. The commotion below only grew worse. What in all the gods’ names was going on?
Reaching the bottom deck, he scrambled past the bullwing pens, the poor beasts absolutely wild. Reaching the eyries, he surged inside, expecting even more panic, chaos and fury. And found only calm.
“Ready?” Hurricane demanded, nudging Lyrai away from the door towards the outer hatch.
Lyrai could only stare at his miryhl. Someone had tacked him up, had tacked up all the miryhls, he swiftly realised. The same someones, he presumed, who were now hauling open the hatch. Jaymes and Derrain had been busy. Stirla stumbled to a halt beside him, Atyrn at his side, urging him into the saddle.
The two lieutenants stared wide-eyed at each other, until Dhori stepped between them, shoving packs into their hands. “Ready?” the silver-eyed man asked.
Lyrai looked at Stirla again, eyebrows raised. It was impossible to ignore the ferocious storm lashing beyond the open hatch. Lightning flickered and danced across the sky. It would be suicide to fly out there, even worse than staying aboard the Illuminai, which at least had dragon protection.
“You’re the one who didn’t want to turn back,” his friend reminded him.
Lyrai stared at Dhori, who still held the pack out towards him. “This is the only way,” said the student turned sergeant turned… who even knew anymore?
Lyrai looked at Jaymes who held his fire dragonet and gave a determined nod, then moved on until he found Derrain, already seated on Zephyr’s back.
The tall student smiled. “For Mhysra.”
Lyrai grabbed his pack and swung into Hurricane’s saddle. “For Mhysra,” he agreed, and launched into the storm.
ELDER GORYAL CLAN Starshine raised their head from where they’d been healing the hole in Rhiddyl’s chest and stared at Estenarix.
The Boulderforce grimaced. “Really?”
Goryal smiled. “You said you would guide us.”
Rolling her eyes, she surged to her feet, solid and sure despite the pitching skyship. “Humans,” she growled, and threw herself over the side.
“See them safe,” Goryal thought towards Reglian, as the Thunderwing returned a fallen sailor to the deck. “I will stay with the Illuminai and join you when I can.”
Reglian didn’t waste any thoughts arguing. “Rhiddyl?” was the only question that came back over their connection.
Goryal looked at the indigo-skinned form sprawled before them and sighed. “Leave her with me. We will join you when we can.”
Wordless agreement washed over the bond before Goryal allowed Reglian to fade from their mind. They looked down at Rhiddyl again. The Tempestfury was sleeping. The wound on her chest looked terrible, but she was a dragon; she would heal.
Thunder snarled overhead and Goryal looked up, gathering power as they bared their teeth at the storm. It had been four hundred years since they’d left their kin and Clan to become Starshine, but that didn’t mean they’d forgotten all their tricks.
Once a Tempestfury, always a Tempestfury.
With a snap like lightning, Goryal left the Illuminai’s deck and took to the sky, formless and immense, spreading their power outwards to enclose the ship. “Strike us now,” they taunted the storm. “If you dare.”
The sky grumbled and huffed, the wind picking up, but nothing else bothered them as they sped ever faster east, back towards Etheria. Somewhere to the west, right at the edge of their awareness, Goryal felt twelve minds – ten small, two large – slip into the heart of the maelstrom but had only luck left to send them.
“Be well,” they whispered to the darkness, then wrapped their focus tighter around the Illuminai and concentrated on making them safe.
STIRLA WAS THE last to leave the Illuminai, but he might have been the first for all he could see. No sooner had Atyrn opened her wings then they were knocked sideways, completely at the mercy of the wind.
“To me! Riders, to me!” a great voice boomed out of the storm and a dark shadow dragged over them, giving Stirla a momentary respite from the rain. Raising his head, he wiped his eyes and looked around. Atyrn fought against the capricious wind, her wings constantly moving, angling this way and that, contracting and straightening. They skimmed the waves of the storm beneath Reglian’s vast bulk and were soon joined by the others.
Lyrai and Hurricane were at the front, wings spread defiantly wide. Jaymes and Derrain came next, their miryhls struggling to stay within Reglian’s shelter. Dhori and Latinym were entirely at ease.
“Sometimes I hate them,” Atyrn grumbled, making Stirla huff with laughter.
A second great shape glided into place below them, not quite as vast as Reglian, but still solidly reassuring against the confusion of the storm. Estenarix had joined them. And not a moment too soon as Jaymes’ Argon lost control and tumbled downwards. A flick of the Boulderforce’s wing had the bird back in the air, but not before Stirla’s heart tried to lurch out of his chest.
He and Atyrn released identically shaky sighs, while Latinym zipped over to the small miryhl as Dhori checked that all was well.
Thunder shook the sky, lightning splitting the darkness to reveal a spike of rock jutting up directly in front of them. Beyond it, jagged black mountains loomed.
“To World’s End!” Reglian roared, answering the thunder with a boom of his own, leading them around the spike and on through the teeth of the storm.
~ Next Chapter ~
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