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~ Previous Chapter ~
In which Dhori finally has enough.
THE THUNDER HAD stopped. Heart still pounding, breath still laboured, Lyrai lowered his coat from his face. All was dark and the air was stuffy. Only the rasping breaths of his companions and the warmth of Hurricane at his back assured Lyrai that he wasn’t alone.
He reached out, fingers meeting rough-edged rock less than an arm’s length from his face. He traced the surface with both hands, pressing against it with all his weight. It didn’t budge.
“Stirla, how bad is it?” he asked in a shaking voice, because his friend was a survival expert. Despite his laidback demeanour and friendly ways, there were few people Lyrai trusted more to help him out of a situation like this.
“Bad,” Stirla replied, his voice thick and a little breathless. “How’s your head?”
It took Lyrai a moment to work out why his friend was asking. Gods, it felt like forever ago that he and Hurricane had fallen through the canopy. Yet it was that injury that had made Hurricane fall behind, leaving all three of them trapped in this tiny pocket, gasping for air.
“We’re running out of air, aren’t we?” he asked softly, and felt Hurricane’s chest hitch behind him.
“Yes.” Stirla was never one to sugar coat unpleasant truths. “Your head, Lyrai?”
“Fine,” he said, touching his forehead where dust had mixed with Dhori’s ointment to form a hard paste. “I’m fine. Hurricane?”
The miryhl shifted at his back and a hard beak pressed against his shoulder. “I think my wing is broken,” his bonded whispered, voice hoarse, body shaking.
Lyrai closed his eyes against the darkness and sagged against Hurricane’s chest.
“Goryal will fix it,” Stirla told them both with forced cheer. “Once we’re out of here, they’ll find us and fix you right up. Don’t worry, Cane. You’ll be good as new in no time.” By the time he finished talking, he was panting and Lyrai wondered if his friend was feeling light-headed too.
“Please tell me this dizziness is down to the knock,” he whispered, his lungs feeling tight, the air seeming thin and dry. He wanted to suck in more, to heave in long, heavy breaths, but forced himself not to. It wouldn’t help.
Stirla didn’t answer, which didn’t help Lyrai’s panic one little bit.
“Lyrai?” Hurricane whispered between pants. “I’m sorry.”
He felt the moment his big bonded went limp, leaving Lyrai alone in the darkness, snatching shallow breaths and wondering when blessed oblivion would claim him too.
They’d been so close. Mhysra had been right there. Yullik had danced right in front of their noses. So close to a rescue, so close to vengeance, so close to everything.
So close… so close… so…
* * *
DERRAIN WALKED THROUGH the halls of Aquila. Moonlight streamed in through the windows, turning the floor into bars of light and shadow. He looked around, but he was alone. His boots were the only sound as he strode faster. He was late.
Running down the hallway, he skidded to a stop outside a door. It looked like every other door he’d already passed, with no special marks to differentiate it from the rest, but Derrain knew this was the right one.
He pushed it open and stepped inside.
“Ah, Student Derry, there you are at last,” Captain Fredkhen greeted him with a smile. “Come in and take a seat.”
Derrain turned and saw Corin waving at him from the back row, having saved a space between her and Greig. He hurried to join them, passing others sitting patiently at their desks. Sergeant Rees glowered at him in passing, but Derrain hunched his shoulders and walked on, catching a wink from Kilai along the way.
“I was starting to think you’d never get here,” Corin whispered as he took his seat.
“Poor Fredkhen was running out of things to stall with,” Greig chuckled on his other side, handing him a quill and some paper, while Corin offered to share her ink.
Finally ready to begin, Derrain looked around the class in search of familiar faces. Dean Marshall sat in the front row, back straight, eyes focused on the board. Captain Hylan lounged beside him, relaxed and grinning as he flicked paper balls across the room, where they kept hitting Rees in the ear. The sergeant’s scowl promised retribution, while Alyne and Lerya giggled together across the aisle from him. Watching all their antics from his seat in the corner, Healer Nehtl rolled his eyes with a fond smile. He caught Derrain’s eye and nodded in welcome.
Derrain smiled back. There was something strange at work here, something he knew he should have noticed, but Fredkhen was talking now, leading them into a geography lesson about Sutherall and the far south, drawing Derrain’s mind away.
Ignoring Corin’s groan, Derrain started taking notes. Fredkhen was fond of surprise tests at the end of class and he didn’t want to get caught out.
* * *
MHYSRA’S HANDS WERE bleeding, her eyes stinging from where sweat had dripped into them. She lay panting on her back, unable to dig any longer. Her hips were screaming, her body was exhausted and she didn’t know if she would ever have the strength to sit up again.
The miryhls had stopped too, talons cracked, feet scratched, heads hanging low as they drooped over their failure. Because no matter how hard they dug, they’d barely moved any debris away from their ledge. Any progress they thought they’d made was almost instantly filled in again by landslips and fresh falls. It was hopeless.
Jaymes was still working, Emberbright alongside him. Lines of red trailed down his hands to his elbows, stark against his pale, freckled skin. His hair stuck up in jagged spikes, darkened with sweat, powdered with dust. His face was grimly determined, but no matter how hard he tried, he got no further than the rest of them. The dragonet by his side was caked in mud, looking more brown than red, without the slightest hint of gold.
“Enough, Jaymes,” Dhori said, from the very rear of their shelter, where he’d watched the rest of them flail and dig and panic. He’d not escaped the dust either, but it sat lightly upon him, with no blood or sweat to cling to. He stood tall and unbowed, fists clenched by his sides, eyes gleaming silver in the glow globes he and Jaymes had brought with them. “Enough.”
Jaymes shook his head in denial, but rolled away anyway, bloody hands held against his chest. Emberbright was quick to join him, peeping with concern, licking at his wounds.
Dhori ignored them, ignored them all as he finally moved, approaching the blockage that had sealed them in, crouching to run his hands over it all. He paused, poised on the balls of his feet, head tipped to one side, eyes closed, as if he was listening.
“This shouldn’t be,” he whispered, so softly that Mhysra barely heard him. Then he pressed his hand against a boulder mixed in with the debris – and pushed. Nothing visibly happened, but every hair on Mhysra’s body seemed to stand up, her skin prickling, the air crackling as it sometimes did before lightning struck.
Dhori bared his teeth and clenched his fingers on the stone.
A sharp, bright snap made them all flinch and Mhysra clutched her nose, feeling as if the inside of it was scorched. The miryhls scratched their beaks in protest, while Emberbright sneezed a small flame.
Dhori stood up, pressed both hands against the boulder and snarled, “Someone’s cheating!”
“Careful,” Latinym murmured from amongst the miryhls. “Remember the rules.”
Startled to hear the quiet miryhl talk, Mhysra struggled into a sitting position, using the wall for support as her back and hips protested.
Dhori punched the boulder and turned to face his miryhl. “Burn the rules. They told me he was part-human, the idiots.”
“Aure,” Latinym spoke calmly and softly – but his Rider was past the point of being soothed.
“No,” he snapped. “No more rules. No more hiding. I’m finished playing games. Brace yourselves.” With that curt warning, Dhori slammed his hands against the boulder again.
And shattered it into dust.
~ Next Chapter ~
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