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~ Previous Chapter ~
Okay, so I might have forgotten it was Friday. Apologies for the unedited update.
THEY LANDED IN darkness. Derrain heard the others hit the ground so had a brief moment to brace himself. It still hurt, but everything tended to hurt these days. Thanks to Morri at Aquila and Goryal along the journey, he could walk and fly again, but the recent long days and bitterly cold rain had caused a permanent ache to settle in the small of his back and his muscles were stiff and sore. Hitting the ground without much warning didn’t help, but at least he managed to get his feet down and roll forwards to minimise the impact. Even if he did sprawl flat on his back from then on, waiting for the next surprise to spring.
“Everyone here? Everyone all right?” Stirla called, once the grunts, groans and sounds of falling had ended. An unhelpful chorus of grumbling voices answered, before Emberbright opened her mouth to emit a low red glow.
“Thanks, Jaymes,” Stirla said, and Derrain could see the lieutenant squinting in the low light, trying to count Riders and miryhls to see if they’d all made it.
Silver light flickered then grew, spreading across the group until Derrain was forced to squint against the sudden brightness. “Here.” A second glow globe was thrust into his hands, also silver, also almost too bright. Derrain sat up, the better to watch what was going on.
Dhori moved around the group, handing more lights to Jaymes and Stirla, before crouching beside Lyrai. The blond lieutenant had one hand pressed to the side of his head, the other covering his eyes.
“Let me see,” Stirla ordered, pulling his friend’s hands down and making Lyrai swear at him.
“Leave it. Too bright.”
Dhori tilted Lyrai’s head back and scowled at the freely bleeding cut. “Why do you always land on your head?” he asked, with a distinct lack of deference.
“Luck,” Stirla answered for his friend. “At least there’s nothing important in there to damage.”
“Ha,” Lyrai huffed, then hissed as Dhori slapped a glob of ointment over the wound.
“Don’t.” Dhori smacked the lieutenant’s hand away before he could wipe it off again. “Leave it.”
“Stings,” Lyrai grumbled.
“Maybe it’ll teach you to be more careful,” Dhori said, with a distinct lack of sympathy as he stood up and turned to the miryhl’s. “Where’s Hurricane? Let me see that wing.”
Derrain raised his eyebrows and shared a glance with Jaymes at their usually mild-mannered friend’s obvious irritation. Lyrai struggled to get up, clearly wanting to see how his miryhl was faring, but Stirla pushed him back down with ease.
“Hold still,” he ordered, leaning in to sniff Lyrai’s forehead.
“Did you just sniff me?”
“No, I sniffed your ointment. Dhori, what are you using?” The big lieutenant stood up, shoved Lyrai back down again and started pestering Dhori.
Thinking it wise to get out of Dhori’s way, Derrain scooted across the floor towards Jaymes and Lyrai. “Is it me, or does our silvery friend seem a little tense to you?”
Lyrai tilted his head, frowning in the direction of the others, while Jaymes chuckled. “I don’t think Dhori likes surprises,” he said softly.
Not quite softly enough, because the man in question growled, “No, Dhori does not like surprises.” Walking up to the rocky wall of the cave they’d fallen into it, he gave it a firm – and ill-advised – kick. Being Dhori, he didn’t even hurt himself, but the follow up smash of his fist against the rock had little impact. “Nor do I like being trapped.”
The word trapped had Derrain rolling to his feet. He didn’t like being trapped either, especially underground and in confined spaces. Not that this place was particularly confined, he reminded himself, raising his silver glow globe above his head and looking around. There was ample space for all five men and their miryhls, and even if their landing had been far from gentle, none of them had collided.
Feeling his breathing starting to speed up, Derrain pressed his hand against the wall and began to walk. Best to know just how big their prison was before he started to panic.
“Is it Yullik?” Jaymes asked, as Derrain walked behind the redhead and his dragonet.
“Has to be,” Lyrai replied, cradling his head in his hands, careful not to touch the ointment. “Who else would it be?”
“I don’t see any dragons down here,” Stirla pointed out. “What if they’ve been fooling us all along? We’ve been travelling with two storm dragons. Surely it would have been easy for them to turn the Illuminai back.”
“Easier to believe than it being the work of some cursed mountains anyway,” Atyrn said, her voice rough and unhappy.
Derrain glanced back, worried for Zephyr. She stood at the back of the group of miryhls, watching him trace the walls. At his look, she nodded, assuring him all was well. He walked on, fingers trailing over rough stone, while his friends debated the likelihood of betrayal at his back. Derrain didn’t much care how they’d come to be here; he only wanted to get out.
Jaymes was arguing in the dragons’ defence, with occasional inputs from Lyrai, while Atyrn and Stirla took the other side. Of course, like him, Stirla hadn’t visited the Cleansed Lands with the others. They didn’t know the dragons as well. They’d only met them at Nimbys, after all the excitement had died down. They’d only fought with them at Aquila, where the dragons had held back, letting Yullik do his worst. Derrain could see why Stirla was sceptical about their motives.
“One of them attacked you!” the big lieutenant was close to shouting. “Don’t tell me they’re all our best friends. They wanted to kill you, Lyrai!”
“One dragon, one kin,” Lyrai corrected. “I won. The Moot said it was over.”
“Then they opened the borders,” Dhori said quietly. “It is possible that a few enemies slipped out with our allies. Kin Jewelwing are part of Clan Stoneheart, after all. Making holes in mountains is easy for them.”
“I still don’t believe Rhiddyl or Reglian had anything to do with it,” Jaymes said mulishly. “I won’t. They’re our friends.”
An unhappy silence settled behind him as Derrain pushed on into the dark. He raised his glow globe, searching for another wall or blockage – and found nothing. Only darkness.
“Hey, everyone,” he called, turning to look over his shoulder. Four Riders and five miryhls looked back. “I think I’ve found a way out.”
“Or a way deeper,” Dhori said, striding to join him, raising his own globe to peer into the darkness.
“Better than sitting here like lemons,” Stirla said, pausing by Atyrn to loosen her tack and shoulder his pack. “Shall we follow it?”
“It could be a trap,” Lyrai suggested, getting to his feet with Jaymes help and wincing his way over to Hurricane to compare cuts and bruises.
“It’s bound to be a trap,” Dhori said, still staring into the dark.
“But still better than sitting here like lemons,” Atyrn muttered, ruffling her feathers at the rest of the miryhls before strutting after Stirla. “There’s no getting out the way we came in, so we might as well push forward.”
Derrain looked at Dhori, eyebrows raised, waiting for his friend to make the final decision.
Dhori’s lips twisted in a bitter smile and he shrugged. “Why not? If we’re down here for a reason, there’s little point in delaying the inevitable. Let’s go meet our doom.”
Derrain rolled his eyes at Jaymes, making his friend chuckle, before following Dhori and leaving the lieutenants and miryhls to fall in behind, as they walked on into the silver-lit dark.
~ Next Chapter ~
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