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~ Previous Chapter ~
I love Rhiddyl.
On board the Illuminai
THIS WAS TAKING too long. Rhiddyl stood at the rear of the Illuminai, staring back at the shadowy mountains sinking slowly into the west. Heavy rain shrouded the details, but Rhiddyl knew they were there, she could feel the storms moving across them, even from this distance. And it was a fair distance. Two days, Goryal claimed, since they’d turned their backs on their friends, right at the edge of World’s End. Two days, yet already the lookouts had sighted the trail of islands that would lead them back to Etheria. It had taken five days to almost reach the mountains; they’d returned in less than two. World’s End really did not welcome visitors.
Rhiddyl gripped the weathered rail and sighed. This was taking too long and it was all her fault. She might be awake and raring to return to the others, but Goryal refused to go anywhere until her body resumed shifting again. Only then, they claimed, would she have truly finished healing.
She wanted to argue – and she had – but Goryal was stubborn when they wanted to be and perfectly capable of ending any disagreements by disappearing. Which they did. Annoyingly. Leaving Rhiddyl with no choice but to pace the eyries or moon about the deck, staring at the shrinking mountains. It wasn’t as if she could leave, was it? Her human body was pathetically frail and sadly lacking in wings. A state which could not be altered until she shifted – by which point storming off in a huff would be pointless, since Goryal would let her go. Alas, there were no miryhls left to carry her and the vulardis had long since returned to the Cleansed Lands, having no interest in war and fighting, only in guarding and watching. The only other flying beasts on the ship were the bullwings and they didn’t like the smell of her, panicking every time she tried to get close. Not that she tried very hard. Desperate she might be, but she had some dignity left. She was a dragon; she would find a way – one that didn’t involve a flying cow.
“Etheria. I had not expected to see it again so soon.”
Rhiddyl glanced at the small human standing beside her. One with an enormous personality. Much like Goryal, for all that this woman didn’t possess a drop of magical blood. All her power was material, but she wielded it with confidence and determination. Countess Kilpapan would have made an excellent dragon.
“Nor I,” Rhiddyl replied, manners dictating she say something since she was the only one to whom the Countess could have been talking.
“I set out from Nimbys to recover the body of my son,” Lady Kilpapan continued as if Rhiddyl hadn’t spoken, “and lost my youngest daughter instead.”
Rhiddyl stared at her frail lilac fingers, studying the silver claws at the tips, biting her lip. Was the Countess blaming Rhiddyl for the loss of Mhysra? In many ways Rhiddyl blamed herself for not intervening sooner, for not doing more to stop Yullik from destroying the citadel, so it was only fair that the humans felt the same. She was a dragon. She should have done something.
Yet here she stood once more on the sidelines while the Rift Riders confronted Yullik without her. Letting humans do the job that dragons should have finished centuries ago. Her claws dug into the rail as frustration bit into her. Goryal had held her back last time, and they were doing it again now, and using her own body as an excuse.
“Find my daughter, dragon,” Countess Kilpapan said, turning to Rhiddyl with a storm in her eyes, consumed with her own inner turmoil and oblivious to Rhiddyl’s own. “Find her and bring her back to me.”
Reaching deep inside herself, Rhiddyl took hold of the power and magic that was the very heart of her and gave a strong, firm yank. “I will, my lady,” she promised, and threw herself over the rail, waiting for her dragon wings to catch her.
Except there was nothing, only the roar of the wind and the increasing thunder of her pulse as she tried to shift. And failed.
“Goryal!” she shrieked, with voice, power and mind.
A crack of magic exploded across her skin, tasting of lightning and a hint of Goryal, and her body expanded with a punch of magic.
“What took you so long?” the cool tones of Goryal slipped inside her mind, even as their light but familiar weight settled on her back.
“You interfering old wyvern!” she snarled, thrusting down hard with her wings, though she had little hope of dislodging them that way. “You were stopping me from shifting!”
Goryal laughed, high and clear. “You needed the extra time to heal.”
She growled in wordless frustration, turned upside down and gave a good hard shake before righting herself.
Goryal barely even twitched. “In truth, I expected you to throw yourself overboard days ago. I applaud your restraint. Your control is improving at an impressive rate.”
“Elder Goryal?” she said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, young Rhidystel?”
And though they laughed, they kept any further comments to themselves as Rhiddyl took them higher above the weather to where the air was always cold and always clear. Then she sped towards World’s End, their friends and the long overdue punishment of Yullik ses-Khennik.
* * *
HE FELT THE moment she stepped out of the door. Yullik’s stride hitched momentarily on the stairs down to the kitchen. He paused and tilted his head thoughtfully.
Then he smiled, jogged down the rest of the stairs and turned in the opposite direction. He had experiments to check on and the Wingborn girl was going nowhere. Not until he was ready.
“Soon,” he promised himself, brushing his hand against the stone walls and letting his senses keep track of all the players he was preparing for his games.
It was finally coming together.
“At last,” he whispered, and slipped into the cave of his kaz-naghkt to delight in their welcoming screams.
* * *
RIAME RETURNED TO the kitchen, humming as she ran through the to-do list of tasks in her head. There was always something to do here. It surprised her how much she was enjoying herself. She’d worked in kitchens before, posing as servants and scullery maids, but usually only as a temporary measure before moving onto the next stage of the current game. Not here. Here she didn’t have to do a thing if she didn’t wish to, and yet, she found a strange sort of pleasure in her routine of daily tasks, feeding the Wingborn and the kaz-naghkt babies, taking care of someone.
She’d never done that before, not even for her brother. It was completely new, and she kept telling herself that it was only the novelty that kept it entertaining.
Shaking her head, confident that she’d be back to her idle, manipulative ways soon enough, Riame pushed into the kitchen – and stopped.
The pallet in front of the fire was empty. The bread she had baked earlier in the day was untouched. The outer door was open, a spreading pool of rainwater suggesting it had been that way for some time.
There were no kaz-naghkt babies scrabbling about, getting underfoot.
There was no Wingborn.
Riame ran to the open door and looked out at the rain-lashed afternoon. Empty. The tiny yard contained nothing but dirt and puddles.
“Brother,” she murmured, tugging on the connection that had always been there and never, ever faded no matter how much distance lay between them. His mind turned instantly towards her in response. “We have a problem.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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