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~ Previous Chapter ~
The World’s End tourist board has a lot of work to do.
World’s End Mountains
THEY WERE ALL exhausted, Riders, miryhls, dragons. There was not one amongst them – not even Dhori – who had the strength to raise a smile or make a joke. All they could do was slog onwards, ever onwards, heading south on Estenarix’s instructions, in search of a mountain that was a little smaller than the others, a little darker and devoid of life.
Which sounded simple at first, but Lyrai was swiftly learning that little about the World’s End Mountains was simple. Not least the weather. Inhospitable wasn’t strong enough to describe the squalls and storms that dogged their every move. Vicious winds struck without warning, swirling out of ravines and through passes, threatening to throw them into rock walls, to the ground or back out to the Cloud Sea from whence they came.
“I always knew this place was cursed,” Stirla grumbled during one stop when they utterly failed to light a fire, no matter how many tricks he, Dhori and the dragons tried. Even Emberbright failed to ignite any of the sodden wood. “I just didn’t realised how cursed that meant our lives would be.”
The rain got everywhere, under clothes and feathers, even scales. They were a miserable bunch who huddled inside a scrape of a cave their first night, and an even more wretched lot who set off the next morning. Not that Lyrai could tell that it was morning. The clouds were as dark and leaky as ever and the only sign of dawn was the ability to see in shades of brown and grey instead of black and grey.
“The longer we spend here, the more I understand Yullik’s attempt to take Aquila,” Lyrai said, once they stopped for a midmorning break, risking the dark forests in a futile search for temporary shelter. “I’m only surprised he didn’t try sooner.”
Thunder snarled when they retook to the sky, but with Reglian drifting above them as their personal storm cloud, the worst of the weather steered clear. Lightning could occasionally be seen flickering in the distance, but none of it ventured close enough to bother them.
“Some luck at last?” Jaymes questioned at their lunchtime stop, where they gathered around Emberbright to share her warmth.
“Luck?” Dhori snorted sceptically. “This place has no concept of luck.”
“Not even the bad kind?” Derrain asked, grimacing as he turned from side to side to stretch his back. Without Goryal around to provide little healing respites, the big student was starting to struggle. Lyrai shared a look with Stirla, vowing to keep a closer eye on him. His injury had been severe, and his recovery was far from complete.
“I certainly feel like this rain is constantly coating us in bad luck,” Derrain continued.
They all looked up at where the water poured through the dank canopy, weighing down the dark fir branches and making everything seem even more depressing. If Lyrai didn’t know better, he’d almost think they were standing beneath a waterfall.
Reglian stirred from where he and Estenarix had been standing close to the trunk of a giant pine. “Ah, but if you have bad luck, then somewhere along the way you must also encounter good luck.”
They looked around at the shadowy, unfriendly forest and Lyrai wasn’t the only one whose mouth twisted into a wry grimace.
“Wouldn’t that be something,” Stirla muttered.
Estenarix rolled her eyes. “What a bunch of doom merchants you all are. There are enough things dripping around here already without you lot joining in. So we’ve run into some bad weather. What do you expect travelling through the mountains so close to the Storm Season? I thought you were all experts at this? Stop griping about a little wetness. You’re waterproof, aren’t you?”
“No,” one of the miryhls complained, though Lyrai couldn’t tell who since the eagles were clumped together in one giant, soggy mass. “We’re not.”
Estenarix waved a dismissive hand. “Close enough. You’ll neither shrink nor sink. The worst you’ll catch is a chill.”
At which point Emberbright sneezed, shooting flames over Lyrai, Dhori and Derrain.
It probably wasn’t a good sign, Lyrai reflected, that none of them reacted except to sigh at the extra burst of warmth. His clothes were so wet they had little chance of catching fire – all they did was steam.
“Can you get her to do that again?” Derrain asked plaintively, after the cloud had dispersed.
Jaymes and Stirla’s laughter was curtailed by sneezes.
“Hopeless,” Estenarix grumbled, stumping out onto the mountainside on which they’d landed earlier. “Let’s go.”
Chuckling, Reglian followed. “Now, now, Estenarix, remember you promised Goryal. You can’t just leave us here.”
“Can’t I?” the big Boulderforce growled, extending into her full form. “Watch me.”
She leapt into the sky, sending Riders and miryhls scrambling to follow.
* * *
“CUMULO?” MHYSRA CREPT into the cavern, heart pounding, chest tight. “Cue?”
There was a miryhl in the centre, wings flung wide. The light was dim and flickering, so it took a while to work out what she was seeing. He lay on his back, body tilted slightly to one side, white-splashed wings flat on the floor. The left wing shouldn’t have been able to flex that far. It didn’t look right.
“Cue?” she whispered, crawling closer, each shuddering breath filling her senses with the scent of blood. Her knees ached against the cold stone floor, her hands brushing over grit, dirt and feathers.
She looked down, fingers clenching around the glossy length of a primary feather. A miryhl primary feather. Whole and perfect, bloody at the tip. Her fingers flinched away from the sticky end and she looked at her miryhl again, lying sprawled and broken.
He opened his eye, dark and deep, and tilted his head ever so slightly towards her. A gasp shuddered through him.
“Run,” he whispered, in a cracked voice that wasn’t anything like his. “Yullik, run!”
A hand gripped her shoulder, spinning her around. She jabbed out with the sharp tip of the feather, catching her attacker in the eye. But there were more hands to grab her.
There were always more. She should have known, should have expected it, but all her plans, all her plots, all her ideas had unravelled at the sight of her miryhl. Her Wingborn. Bleeding, broken.
“No, no!” Cumulo was screaming, but he didn’t help her, didn’t come to her aid.
As she was thrown onto to hard ground in the middle of the cave floor, crashing into the wreck of her Wingborn, she began to understand.
Blood smeared her face as she landed in a pile of feathers, not one of them connected to her miryhl. She put her hands in a pool of warm liquid and stared into her Wingborn’s dark eyes.
“Yullik,” Cumulo whispered from his cracked beak.
“I’m sorry,” she said, placing shaking hands on the bloodied patches of her beloved miryhl’s face, hands sliding through the blood to the bare skin of his plucked chest. “I’m so sorry.”
Her hands pressed against the fluttering beat of her Wingborn’s heart, and Cumulo sighed, finally at peace.
Then she tightened her fist, turned towards the ones who had done this – and turned the world to gold.
~ Next Chapter ~
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