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~ Previous Chapter ~
Note to all Riders and miryhls: stop chasing Yullik!
MHYSRA LANDED HARD, slamming into one hip and really wishing she hadn’t. “Ow,” she whined, waiting for the pain to end. When the worst had passed, she looked up, frowning at her surroundings. She was in a sprawling cavern with a domed roof, through which shafts of light filtered down in hazy beams. Tree roots formed a lattice across it, with others reaching down into the emptiness in search of the water that pooled in the centre.
Pressing her hands against the muddy ground, she turned to look back at the hole she’d fallen through. Nothing. Only crumbling earth and knitted roots. So much for her accident being down to natural causes then.
“Hello?” she called, half-expecting Yullik to come strolling through the hazy light, smiling at her predicament. “Hello!” Nothing but echoes answered her.
Gritting her teeth, she shifted forwards, the hip she’d landed on protesting with a throb, which the ache in her back and across the rest of her pelvis swiftly answered. Grunting, she moved again, rolling onto her knees and panting as she waited for the latest round of jabs and burning to end. Shuffling forward, she found herself on a long shelf several feet off the main floor of the cavern. She swung her legs around and perched on the edge, flexing her hands in the mud and considering what to do next.
There was no way she could walk across the length of the cavern, even if half of it wasn’t covered with water, so she sat and she waited, because surely Yullik ses-Khennik had dragged her down here for a reason. Undoubtedly it would be one she didn’t like, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. She’d tried to escape, failed, and had been caught again. The last thing she was going to do was make it easier on her captor to reclaim her. If he wanted her back so badly, he could come and get her.
“So there,” she muttered, shuffling backwards on her shelf until she reached the wall. With that to support her, she crossed her arms over her chest and pulled up her knees to wait. At least in here she was sheltered from the rain. Resting her head back, she closed her eyes. Perhaps a quick nap was all she needed. Then maybe she could work out how to escape again.
Perhaps, maybe, perhaps. Yawning, she wriggled to get more comfortable, and settled into sleep.
* * *
“WALKING. AT MY age. How utterly undignified.”
Stirla shared a grin with Lyrai over Atyrn’s grumbles, which were the only thing to break up the monotonous trudge of their feet and distant drips of water.
His poor Atyrn, she did so hate walking. He’d promised after the last time they’d crashed at Aquila and been forced to scramble away on foot, that he’d never make her do it again. Not that either of them had much choice here and now, but still.
“Are we nearly there yet?” Lyrai murmured next to him, making Stirla snicker.
“Laugh all you like, wingless,” Atyrn growled. “We’ll see how fun it is the next time you need to fly and discover you haven’t got the wings for it.”
“You might be counting me in with them,” Hurricane said, his breathing heavy with pain. “I think I did something to my wing.”
“It’s just a strain,” Zephyr consoled the marble miryhl in her soothing voice. “Dhori said so.”
“And Dhori is always right,” Latinym chimed in, surprising Stirla. Although Cumulo and Hurricane’s rebellion had spread through most of the miryhls he knew, not all of them were eager to break the tradition and start talking to all and sundry. He didn’t think Latinym was particularly fond of the old ways, being more of a quiet type, but it was still the first time he’d heard him speak.
“Maybe we should have listened to him about the dragons,” Argon, another of the quiet ones, added with a sniff. “We’d probably be tucked up safe at Aquila if not for them. Then again, Aquila just proved it all true – you can’t trust dragons.”
Stirla glanced at Lyrai in surprise, but his friend shook his head. He’d been told of the miryhl’s initial reaction to the dragonets, of course, but he’d thought it resolved and dealt with long ago. Argon, however, sounded like he was still carrying a saddlebag or two of resentment.
“Wise words, little miryhl. Would that more folk had listened to the likes of you.”
Stirla wheeled about.
“You!” Riders and miryhls exclaimed with the same horror at the cloaked figure standing at their backs. How he’d got there without any of the miryhls noticing, Stirla didn’t even dare to guess, he just reached for his sword as the man pushed back his hood and revealed Yullik ses-Khennik’s smug smiling face.
“Boo,” he chuckled, and ran through a crack in the tunnel that Stirla could have sworn hadn’t been there before.
Shrieking, the miryhls plunged after him, the Riders on their tails.
“Careful, careful!” Dhori shouted from where he was trapped at the back. “Don’t follow him blind. It’s a trap!”
Of course it’s a trap, Stirla thought, elbowing his way ruthlessly past Argon and ducking under Zephyr’s wing where she was struggling to make it through the narrow opening. Hurricane squeezed through ahead of him, growling with pain and frustration, but Stirla passed him too, sprinting after where Atyrn and Latinym were bounding after the hooded figure.
“Run, little miryhls, run, run, run! Catch me if you can.” Yullik whipped around a corner, just as Stirla drew level with Atyrn. Pressing a hand against her wing, he shoved himself in front and followed the silver flash of Latinym’s tail around the bend – straight into a sprawling cavern with a low domed roof held together by tree roots.
Shafts of light sliced through the darkness, shining on the water pooled across the floor. There was no sign of Yullik.
“Where now?” Atyrn panted, crowding against Stirla’s back, head turning frantically left and right as she shoved her way into the cavern. “Where did he go?”
Stirla shifted aside to let his miryhl and the others pour through the gap, looking at where Latinym was slowly getting his breath back. “Did you see him?” he asked the silver-tipped miryhl.
Latinym shook his head and turned, waiting for Dhori to arrive, bringing up the rear.
Silver eyes flashing, Dhori pushed his way to the front of the crowd, sword clenched in his hand. “Yullik ses-Khennik!” he shouted. “Come out and face us!”
“Dhori?” a faint cry drifted across the cavern, but it was as far from Yullik’s voice as Stirla could imagine.
“Mhysra?” Lyrai and Derrain shouted together, leaping down to the cavern floor.
They landed with a snap. A great crack opened up between them, snaking swiftly across the cavern and back to the wall through which they’d recently come. Stirla turned, watching the line spread upwards in jagged bursts until it reached the ceiling.
It started to crumble.
“Run!” Dhori shouted, snapping Stirla out of his stupor. “Go! Now!”
Atyrn slammed heavily against his shoulder, knocking him forwards as Riders and miryhls sprinted across the cavern floor. As Atyrn bounded twice and took to her wings, gliding low and swift across the space, leading the other miryhls ahead of the humans, Stirla glanced over his shoulder.
The ceiling was coming down. He turned to run faster, aware of the ground crumbling swiftly beneath his feet.
“Hurricane!” Lyrai’s desperate cry had Stirla wheeling about to where his friend had stopped, turning back to join his marble miryhl. With his wounded pale wing dragging in the dirt, Hurricane couldn’t glide like the others, he could only run on legs that weren’t meant for such things.
Except the roof was falling and the floor collapsing. They couldn’t stop.
“Leave me!” the great miryhl cried, bounding as swiftly as he could in an awkward, lopsided way. “Lyrai, go!”
“No.” Lyrai jumped across a wide crack, skidding on his side to reach his miryhl.
Torn, Stirla looked at where the others were still running, the gap between him and them growing ever wider. He looked back at Lyrai and Hurricane, struggling on together.
Growling, he sprinted to join them, jumping the crack and slipping as he hit the other side. He hit the edge with his hips and scrambled up, using the breaking ground to his advantage as he dug in with his fingers.
Then Lyrai was there, gripping his wrist and hauling upwards, Hurricane bracing his back. Panting, Stirla regained his feet and slapped Lyrai on the shoulder in thanks.
“Come on,” he said, heading sideways instead of forwards, to where the edge of the cavern formed shallow pockets and side caves. “Quick.”
The world shook as they scrabbled diagonally, hunched over against the falling debris. Hurricane spread his good wing over both of them, partly out of protection, partly so they could help him up when he fell. Which was often. All of them did, banging knees and scraping hands as the floor shattered and cracked, forming vicious peaks in places, dropping completely away in others.
All was dust and shaking and roaring, confusion and panic, but Stirla kept on running until he hit a wall. He bounced back, stumbling to the ground, and cursed as Lyrai reached out, dragging him back to the shallow scrape they’d struck. It was barely big enough for Hurricane to fit in, but the two Riders hunched down by the miryhl’s feet and pulled their coats over their faces as the cavern fell to pieces, sealing them tight inside their hole.
~ Next Chapter ~
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