First time reading? Find out more on the Wingborn Series page or start World’s End here.
~ Previous Chapter ~
After the storm.
The Cursed Mountains
THERE HAD BEEN moments during the storm when Lyrai had believed he would never see another sunrise. Storm flight was not wise at the best of times, but flying into one in the dark, with lightning in the air and no idea of how far away a safe landing might be, was complete madness. They should never have left the Illuminai. Even with Hurricane’s ferocious determination holding them up, even with a Thunderwing overhead and a Boulderforce below, keeping the worst of the weather at bay and providing a place for the exhausted to rest, it had been a desperate action and Lyrai had expected to pay dearly for.
Yet when he opened his eyes, he found the sun rising exactly as normal, if shrouded behind a thin layer of cloud. Water dripped across the mouth of the cave they had taken shelter in, the remnants of last night’s fury. The ground was sodden, but the air was clear, if cold and a little bitter.
Easing himself out of his bedroll, Lyrai pulled on his boots and crept between his sleeping companions. The flight had been exhausting. The constant battering from the swirling winds, the lash of the rain that not even Reglian’s great wings could protect them from, and the unrelenting fear of lightning strikes had been bad enough, but what Lyrai had worried most over had been how soon they could land – or if they would ever find a place to land at all. The World’s End mountains were renowned for their unfriendliness to travellers. They were sheer, sharp and mostly vertical. There were no gentle meadows perfect for landing on here. No large forest clearings to invite a miryhl down. These mountains were made from cliffs, canyons and perilous ravines. Landing spots were found by chance, if they were found at all.
Thank Maegla for Dhori. No matter how dark the night, how fierce the storm, how tired the miryhls, that man could always be relied upon to find whatever they needed. And he had, leading them to a deep cave that was wide enough for the miryhls to fly into before landing. The dragons had been forced to change mid-landing, folding themselves into their smaller forms to touch down on human feet, but they’d managed well enough.
Exhausted, battered and soaked to the bone, the Riders had pretty much collapsed where they stood, leaving all the details to be sorted out when – and if – morning came.
Well, it was here now, and Lyrai took a quiet moment to step out of the cave and give thanks for their miraculous survival. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Dhori already outside, sitting with his legs dangling over the drop, watching the sunrise. Less expected was the sight of Emberbright curled up alongside him, especially considering Lyrai had just passed Jaymes sleeping soundly inside.
The red and gold dragonet purred as Dhori stroked her, both of them staring east over the Cloud Sea, which seemed remarkably calm after the adventurous night. When Lyrai sat beside them, Emberbright rolled onto her back, exposing her belly for him to rub. Smiling, Lyrai did so.
“She misses Skybreeze,” Dhori said quietly.
Lyrai rubbed his knuckles along the line of the dragonet’s ribs, where red turned to gold. “She’s not the only one.” He’d never had much to do with the blue dragonet, but he’d had a big personality for something so young, while his frequent spats with Corin had always been entertaining. Gods, he missed that girl too.
“We will avenge them,” Dhori promised, his voice low but determined.
Still on her back, Emberbright rumbled a quiet growl and curled her upper lip to reveal her teeth. It was more ridiculous than intimidating, but Lyrai didn’t laugh. He curled his hand around her claws in a silent pledge.
Putting aside those thoughts to be dealt with later, he used his other hand to shield his eyes as he scanned the Cloud Sea. It looked like a misty blanket in the pale sunrise, soft and harmless, totally changed from the night before. He could see nothing out there but shadows. “Any sign of the Illuminai?”
“None.” Dhori shook his head. “That wind was strong enough to have carried them halfway back to Etheria by now. These mountains truly do not welcome visitors.”
Lyrai couldn’t argue with that. “I hope they found a safe way out of the storm.” Because as angry as he’d been last night at the Countess for turning around, he also understood. The Illuminai had a crew of almost fifty, none of whom had volunteered for this mission. They simply did as the Countess said – which shouldn’t include sailing to their deaths. As determined as he was to reach Yullik and rescue Mhysra, Lyrai didn’t want all those lives on his conscience.
“Goryal will look after them,” Dhori said, tickling Emberbright’s wing and making her chuckle. “As annoying as I frequently find them, there is no denying the strength of their power when they choose to use it. They’ll keep the Illuminai safe and stay with it until the danger has passed. Most of which vanished the moment they turned around. These mountains might be cursed and unfriendly, but they tend not to be malicious about it.”
Lyrai eyed his former student sideways. “You seem quite an expert on the topic.”
Dhori’s smile turned wry. “I thought you’d all decided I was a know-it-all. Seems only right to live up to my reputation.”
“Tired of hiding, my friend?”
The mysterious Rider surprised him by flopping onto his back, arms spread wide. “Exhausted.”
Grinning, Lyrai caught Emberbright before she pounced on Dhori’s unprotected belly. “Excellent. Does this mean I can start asking questions about your family?”
Dhori shot him a knowing look and sat up. “I’m not that far gone yet, lieutenant. I said I was exhausted, not stupid.”
A yawning Jaymes stumbled out of the cave and caught Emberbright as she half-leapt, half-flew into his arms. “Aren’t they the same thing?” the young Rider asked, scrubbing a hand through his red hair. “I certainly never feel stupider than when I’m dead tired.”
“So do most people, Jaymes,” Lyrai agreed. “But, as we know, Dhori is not most people.”
“Heh,” Jaymes chuckled, staggering further down the ledge in search of privacy.
“Mind the edge!” Dhori and Lyrai called in unison. The unsteady lad waved an acknowledging hand over his shoulder, while Emberbright romped in front of him.
Lyrai watched until he vanished from sight and started to get up, but a firm hand on his shoulder pushed him back down again.
“Ember will look after him,” Stirla said, joining him in dangling his feet over the cliff edge. “If not, she’ll kick up enough fuss to bring as all running. Gods, it’s good to see the sun again. I thought we were done for. Something mighty must have pissed Maegla off last night.”
Lyrai smirked at Dhori and the man blinked innocently back.
“I can’t answer for the mood of your goddess,” Reglian rumbled, stepping out of the cave and stretching his arms wide, “but that storm was not of her making.”
Lyrai looked at Dhori again, and this time he smiled. “I told you. These mountains do not welcome visitors.”
“Well, that’s going to make this next leg of our journey exciting then, isn’t it?” Stirla drawled.
“Aw, come on, lieutenant,” Derrain said, yawning as he emerged into the watery light. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I think it blew off sometime last night,” Stirla replied.
“Never mind your sense of adventure, where’s breakfast?” Estenarix growled, drawing everyone’s attention upwards to where the Boulderforce was clinging to the cliff wall in full dragon form.
Now that someone had mentioned food, Lyrai’s stomach let it be known that he hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the day before. He thought about the bag he’d accepted as he left and smiled. Of course, it would have food in it – Dhori had packed it.
“Come on, then,” he said, rubbing his hands together and shifting back from the cliff edge as Jaymes and Emberbright rejoined them. “Let’s see what’s in our packs and check on the miryhls. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather not stand still any longer than we have to.”
“Indeed. The less time these unfriendly mountains have to come up with fresh surprises the better,” Stirla agreed. “Although I don’t expect my Atyrn’ll thank me for waking her.”
Murmuring their agreement, the Riders filed back into the cave in search of breakfast and miryhls, leaving the dragons to stay or follow as and when they would.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!