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~ Previous Chapter ~
Of plots and plans.
AFTER THE FIRST full night’s sleep since rebuilding his fortress, Yullik felt as refreshed and renewed as any man who’d melted and reformed himself the day before. The thought amused him as he made his way down to his workroom to check on his blood experiments. His smile swiftly faded as he considered the origins of that blood and remembered the scene he’d come across when he’d entered the kitchen the day before.
Instead of lying in the room where he’d left her, he’d found the Wingborn stretched out on a pallet beside the kitchen fire, her quintet of kaz-naghkt curled up around her like the most loyal of dogs. Five pairs of red eyes had slit open as he stepped inside, sleet pooling around his bare feet. They’d tracked his every move as he’d crossed the kitchen, setting up a growl beneath the range of ordinary human hearing when he shifted too close.
It had taken all his control not to snarl back, but the captain twins were amused enough by his nudity, watching from the door as they took in the new arrangements. So he’d said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow at Riame’s smug smile before he took himself off in search of a bath and fresh clothing. Luckily for him he had rerouted several natural springs towards his bedroom decades ago, because the kitchen had grown rather too crowded for his bathing tastes.
Stepping inside his workroom, he paused for a moment to check that all his safeguards were still in place. Not that he thought any of his traps would deter his unwanted guests from poking around, but at least this way they wouldn’t be able to do so without him knowing about it.
Nothing, all seemed calm. No doubt they’d been busy enough stealing his prisoner to bother tampering with his experiments. Perhaps they hadn’t realised yet what he was up to. Perhaps they didn’t care. It was impossible to tell with those two. He’d always thought Riame was the trickier twin to read, but of late her intentions had been fairly obvious even if the reason for her attachment to the girl was not. Rion was another story. Yullik still didn’t know what the male twin got up to all day, every day. It was unnerving.
But unimportant, Yullik reminded himself, shaking off all distractions as he crossed the room and sat at his workbench. Three bowls of blood sat exactly where he’d left them the day before. The one on the left, first and oldest of his batches, glowed with a soft golden light, the middle one was molten brown with a faint gold sheen and the freshest was a spiral swirl of red and black still refusing to mix.
Yullik stared at the last bowl for a long moment, debating what to do with it now that his easy access to more Wingborn blood had been rudely interrupted. It was one thing to put the girl and her young kaz-naghkt guards to sleep, but Yullik knew better than to even attempt the same trick on Riame. Not only because he knew it wouldn’t work, but because he didn’t want to find out how the woman would retaliate. The twins had grown increasingly unpredictable since their arrival at World’s End. Yullik wondered if the cursed mountains were affecting them.
The thought made him smile. His home was not to everyone’s tastes, but since he viewed himself as another curse upon the Overworld – every bit as disruptive as the Clouds themselves – there was little he had to fear from the mountains. After two centuries of inhabiting them, he had little to fear from their power. He was already as twisted up and cursed as it was possible to get. The mountains could do nothing more to him than what had already been done. They were allies, of a sort, a partnership he trusted and valued far more than any deal he’d struck with the Wrathlen pirates.
Remembering how profitable that alliance had once proved to be, Yullik left the unmixed bowl alone for the moment and turned his attention to the glowing substance. Human, dragon and Wingborn, now there was an alliance to be admired.
Cupping the bowl between his hands, Yullik swirled the mixture and lowered his head towards it. Heat pulsed up to meet him, prickling with power and smelling of iron, stone and copper. A fresher scent lingered beneath, like a spring wind over the mountains. The Wingborn bond. So subtle, so soft. He wondered how much richer it might be if he could add the miryhl’s blood to the bowl.
Frowning, he remembered the taste of miryhl blood in his mouth the day before, and silently regretted the way he’d burned all traces away when he’d been forced to remake himself. He’d been so injured at the time he hadn’t even thought of preserving it. Not that there had been much, just enough to splash his face and coat his lips.
“Where are you now?” he wondered, putting the bowl down and pressing his hands to the bench. Like almost everything else in Restenfell, the bench was made of stone, carved from the mountain in which he sheltered. His power sank easily inside it, a connection that had been formed over centuries of familiarity. He spread his senses through the stone, outwards across the mountain, searching for any hint of the Wingborn. Tricky. Birds were always tricky to track. They so rarely came to ground, even ones as big as miryhls.
Yullik pulsed his power and awareness out in ever increasing circles, tasting a splash of blood here and there. He found traces of where the miryhl had roosted before – a shelter formed between two fallen boulders, the cave up near the peak of the mountain, a rocky ledge inside the forest. The blood trail grew stronger, more certain; he was closing in on his quarry.
Until something else drew his attention. Further, far further away, beyond the boundaries of his own mountain, but tripping alarms that he’d set much further out. The mountains were restless and unhappy, whispering to him, tugging on his attention.
Yullik clenched his claws into his bench, fire flowing in his blood as he breathed in deep and merged his senses entirely within the rock, within the mountain, within the range.
There. Three days north. Miryhls, humans… dragons.
Riders and dragons. They’d come for him. Again. At last.
Reeling his senses back in, Yullik smiled. Yes, they were coming for him again, but it wouldn’t be like last time. He was ready, truly ready, for them now. They wouldn’t take him by surprise, and he had no weaknesses left to exploit.
Only Wingborn for bait and kaz-naghkt for soldiers.
His eyes fell on the glowing bowl sitting quietly between his hands.
Yes, this time he was ready for them. Or he soon would be. Pulling the unmixed bowl in front of him, he sliced open his palm with his claws and allowed his blood to drip down. The black and red blood hissed on contact and, with a quick swirl, Yullik mixed the three together before pushing it aside to settle and mature. Then he picked up his glowing bowl and headed even deeper into the mountain to where his kaz-naghkt bred, rested and grew.
He had a treat for them, and in three more days, they would have a feast.
~ Next Chapter ~
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