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~ Previous Chapter ~
MHYSRA WOKE TO grumbles, curses and shambling movement.
“The things I do for you, sister.” At least Rion didn’t sound so amused now, Mhysra thought groggily, taking a moment to work out what was going on.
She was upright again, arms slung across sturdy shoulders, toes dragging ever so slightly along the cold ground as Riame and her brother carried her between them.
“No worse than I’ve done for you, brother,” Riame said, a little breathlessly. “And this way, we’ll have a bit more control of things. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Rion grumbled beneath his breath for a moment, before asking, “Did you at least find out where she was heading before she passed out?”
“No. Dreams, she said.”
“Again. Yullik has been a busy boy.”
Riame made a sound of agreement, then there was silence as the siblings navigated a set of stairs. They moved in perfect accord, swinging Mhysra’s weight forwards, making sure her feet were high and clear before they stepped down. Swing, step, drop. Swing, set, drop. If the movement didn’t pull so hard on her aching back and pelvis, Mhysra might even have enjoyed it. It was just the sort of game young children loved to play with their parents, until they grew too heavy to lift.
“Needs a few more meals,” Rion remarked, once they were on the flat and shuffling along once more. “I should be sweating more than this.”
“I’m doing my best,” Riame growled. “Although I can’t say I’m sorry not to be smelling your sweat. You smell bad enough as it is. Have you forgotten how to bathe?”
“With my sister hogging the kitchen fire all times of the day, when would I have the chance?”
Mhysra let her attention drift as they descended into sibling bickering. The lack of heat in their words suggested it was a regular occurrence, more out of habit than genuine annoyance. It reminded her of her cousins and Wrentheria, which naturally brought her mind back to, “Cumulo.”
Her bearers paused.
“What was that? Is she dreaming again?” Rion asked, twisting his head to look at her, but Mhysra rolled her head the other way to meet Riame’s worried black eyes.
“Cumulo?” her friend repeated. “That’s your Wingborn, isn’t it?”
Mhysra dipped her head forward in a nod but had no strength to pull it back up again.
Rion grabbed her hair and pulled her upright. “What about your Wingborn?” he asked, absolutely no trace of humour in him now. He was all sharp focus.
“Fighting,” she whispered, chest tight from pain and remembered panic. “Yullik…”
Rion’s eyes widened and he looked over Mhysra’s head at his sister. “Would he?”
Mhysra couldn’t see Riame’s expression, but she heard the dryness of her tone. “Wouldn’t he?”
Rion swore. “It’s too soon. Come on.” He swung Mhysra into his arms, catching her by surprise and making her cry out again as her aching body was forced to bend in a way it didn’t want to anymore. The world darkened as Rion began to run.
She woke laid out beside a warm fire, kaz-naghkt babies huddled around her. Shadows danced on the far wall as Rion and Riame moved around a massive table. The kitchen. They’d brought her into the kitchen.
“We must be careful,” Rion was saying, even as he buckled leather bracers about his wrists.
Riame snorted, pulling a cloak around her shoulders and lifting the fur-lined hood onto her head. “Within reason. This could be our chance.”
“Our chance for what?” Rion asked. “Whose side are we on?”
“We -” Riame paused and wrinkled her nose before shaking her head. “You’re right. Of course. It’s too early.”
Rion smiled. “Your chance will come again, sister. Later.”
“Later,” Riame agreed, with a disappointed sigh.
Walking around the table, Rion threw an arm across his sister’s shoulders and chuckled. “For a moment there I thought you’d forgotten why we’re here.”
Riame glanced towards Mhysra’s pallet beside the fire. “For a moment there, so had I.”
“And this is why we don’t get attached.” Rion tried to ruffle her hair, but she ducked away and twisted his arm behind his back.
“Careful, brother, lest I forget what it is we’re supposed to be attached to.”
The man only laughed, slipping free to pinch her cheek. “There’s the violent viper I know and love so well.”
She shoved him towards the door. “Go, fool. We have a rescue to stage.”
“So we do, sister,” Rion murmured, stepping aside to let her leave first. “So we do.” Lifting his hood, he paused to wink at Mhysra before leading Riame outside into the gloomy day.
Mhysra stared at the ceiling, watching the shadows dance for a long moment, then lowered her eyes to the line of kaz-naghkt cuddled up beside her. “That,” she concluded, “was very strange.” And she had no idea what to think about any of it. Particularly Riame.
Which was what Rion wanted, Mhysra suspected, guessing that the man had known she was awake all along.
“Maegla,” she sighed. Her head hurt. As did her back and hips, her knees and cheek, and too many other places on her body to mention. She closed her eyes, hoping against hope that she’d just sent help Cumulo’s way and not more trouble. There had been a bit too much of that going around lately. Surely it had to change soon. Surely, she could trust Riame that far.
As for Rion…
No. She was too tired to think of any of that now. She whispered a prayer of hope and protection for her Wingborn instead, released a deep sigh and surrendered to the pressing need for sleep.
* * *
BLOOD. THE GROUND was saturated with it. Yullik woke with it on his tongue, in his mouth, caking his skin. He opened his eyes and saw spindly pines and a dark grey sky. He blinked, confused. Was he back at Aquila? Out on the mountain with his kaz-naghkt? Had they dropped him again?
He licked his lips and spat violently. No, not kaz-naghkt. That was miryhl blood. He would know it anywhere. Could never forget it. Not when it had covered him after Nisha —
No. He wasn’t going to think about that. Those thoughts were locked up, never to be released. Unlike him. He was free.
The thought tugged loose a few more recent memories and he turned his head. A broad wing splayed out beside him, twisted, broken and torn, not at all what it should have been. He looked up at the sky again, aware now of the pain hovering on the edge of his mind, waiting to strike. The trees were just as battered as his wing, showing where he’d hit and fallen, the Wingborn falling on top of him.
The Wingborn. Yullik licked his lips again, aware now of the difference in the blood. A miryhl, yes, but not his miryhl. This one had attacked him.
Anger hovered alongside the pain, but Yullik ignored them both a little longer, his mind still fixed upon the Wingborn and that moment before he hit the trees.
Cumulo! the echo of the cry sounded inside his head.
The human Wingborn had screamed at him – and her miryhl had heard.
Not possible. Yullik shook his head. It shouldn’t have been possible. Miryhls had no capacity for telepathic communications. That’s what he’d been taught as a youngster, and he’d only ever known of one exception. An exception that was down to him, because he was exceptional.
But the miryhl had heard his human. Her voice had been inside Yullik’s head. His hand had been on the miryhl’s leg. All connected through him. He’d forged the mental connection with the girl over a year ago, strengthened it through dreams, allowed her more access when he took her blood, and now she had seen through his eyes. And through his touch, they’d reached the miryhl.
“Blood and bone,” he groaned, trying to sit up.
Fire lashed him, unleashing the pain. He tried to arch away from it, but his back was broken. Both wings had been shredded. His legs were more rubble than bone. His body, his body… He didn’t want to think about it. Couldn’t. He unleashed his inner fire and allowed it to melt through the agony and the aches, waiting to pour himself back into the memory of what he had been, who he should be.
He didn’t know how long it took, but eventually he knelt panting in the sodden forest mulch, steam rising from his brand-new skin. Only then did he look around for any sign of the Wingborn. The miryhl was gone.
Probably for the best. If he’d still been close when Yullik melted, he likely would have been killed – and that would have been a waste of a long-term plan.
Gritting his teeth, Yullik pushed to his feet and looked at the destruction he’d unleashed. Broken branches, scarred bark, burned undergrowth. Just another day in the forest. He smiled, turning to trudge back to his fort.
And found the twins watching him with knowing smiles.
“Captains,” he greeted, inclining his head with as much dignity as a naked, steaming man in the middle of a ruined clearing could muster.
“Lord Yullik,” they returned, with equal dignity and no small amount of amusement.
He ignored them, walking forward with his head held high, striding between them as if he did this sort of thing all the time. Which for all they knew, he did. When Rion moved as if to take off his cloak, Yullik arched an eyebrow. Riame chuckled and the twins fell into step behind him as he sauntered back to his fortress of stone.
~ Next Chapter ~
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