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~ Previous Chapter ~
‘Ware, cliffhangers below!
SHE WAS GOING to die here. Mhysra lay flat in the mud, one knee half-drawn up beneath her, the opposite arm wedged under her shoulder, her face turned to one side to help her keep breathing. She was stupid, stupid, so very stupid. It was one thing to walk out of the kitchen – and that had been difficult enough – it was something else to set off into the forest, across unknown terrain, with no provisions, no supplies, no means of flight, no plans, no nothing. She didn’t even have trousers on, let alone shoes.
She’d seen a window of freedom and thrown herself through it, with all the grace of a rock through a skyship porthole. And she was falling just as fast, straight towards her doom, for all that she was already flat on the ground.
A groan echoed through the trees as her frustration escaped yet again. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to shout, to run, to go mad amongst these monotonous dark trunks, with their draped foliage weighed down by ice and rain and snow, and all too eager to dump the whole lot on her head whenever she passed.
Gods, she hated this place, these mountains, her current predicament. More than anything she hated Yullik ses-Khennik, not just for Aquila and all the deaths or for bringing her here, but for shoving his memories inside her head and almost, almost, making her feel sorry for him.
Not anymore. She didn’t care what horrors he’d survived in his past, or what heartaches he hid behind his cruelties. She hated him for existing. For giving her hope and snatching it away.
Maegla, her body ached. Her strength was all but gone, but her determination was undimmed.
“I will not die here,” she growled, clenching her fingers in the mud and shifting enough to get her other hand beneath her. She pushed onto her hands and knees again, feeling fresh pain zip through her back and pelvis. Too bad. She had to move on. She had to keep going. She had to…
Her right hand slid out from beneath her, shooting to the left. Her whole body twisted, and she landed on her shoulder and hip, breath hissing out between clenched teeth as she fought not to scream at the fresh wave of pain washing through her. Rocks and roots dug into her bruised flesh and her cheek throbbed where she hadn’t even realised she’d hit it.
Panting, she rolled onto her back and stared up through the patchy canopy. The sky was a grey glare broken into pieces, spitting rain down and making her blink. Spots drifted across her vision as her pain dropped from sharp jabs to low pulses. She blinked. The spots drifted to a new patch of sky, with much larger shadows at their backs.
Not dizziness… miryhls!
She drew in a breath to shout, but too quickly, and ended up choking. Curling forward, she pushed herself upright, getting a foot beneath her as she scrambled to her feet.
“Here! I’m down here!” she shouted, raising her arms as the last shadow drifted overhead. “I’m he-!”
The ground collapsed beneath her and she slammed downwards, catching a tree root across her midriff before sliding off and dropping into the dark.
* * *
DEEP IN THE heart of his fortress, Yullik closed one fist and smiled.
* * *
LYRAI FLEW IN a daze of cold and exhaustion, his body slumped in the saddle, barely awake. When Hurricane suddenly dropped and banked in a turn, he almost fell off.
Which woke him up sharply.
“Cane! What is it?”
His miryhl shook his head, eyes scanning the forest below. “I heard something. It sounded like…” His voice trailed off as Hurricane skimmed even lower over the forest.
“We heard it too.” Dhori joined them, leaning forward over Latinym’s neck. “It sounded like Mhysra.”
Now Lyrai leant forward, eyes intent on the shadows below. It was so dark down there it was almost impossible to tell where the foliage ended and the grass began. Growling, Hurricane banked around again, dropping lower still until the tops of the trees brushed his Lyrai’s boots.
“Careful!” Dhori shouted, just as the ground gave a deep rumble and a massive tree fell right towards them.
Tired and distracted as they all were, Hurricane was slow to react. A broad branch clipped his wing, sending him and his Rider spinning.
Their friends cried their names as they crashed into a different tree, soggy greenery slapping them in the face, sharp branches jabbing into their flesh. Only a quick flinch saved Lyrai from catching a twig in the eye. It scratched his face, making him hiss as Hurricane fumbled for a foothold, wings wide and clumsy, spread out across the canopy.
They stopped, hanging breathlessly across a dense thicket of branches between two giant conifers. The forest swayed around them, pops, crackles and thuds echoing up from where the debris they’d knocked loose continued to fall to the floor below.
“Lyrai! Hurricane!” their friends shouted above their heads, but both Lyrai and his miryhl were too busy holding their breaths to answer.
After a long moment, Lyrai released his with a relieved sigh. They were still, they were safe.
“Close call there, my friend,” he murmured, leaning forward to pat Hurricane on the neck.
“No!” Hurricane shrieked as his wings slid loose – and they plummeted straight through the canopy.
~ Next Chapter ~
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