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~ Previous Chapter ~
There’s something in the water…
LYRAI HAD NO idea how long he sat with Cumulo before he became aware of the noise. A heavy sloshing, down by the shore, as if something large and sodden had washed up in the shallows. He shifted forwards, pausing when Cumulo stirred and muttered in his sleep. When the big miryhl settled down again, Lyrai continued, crawling carefully on hands and toes as he felt his way back down the slope towards the water.
The sloshing grew louder as he approached. Icy cold met his fingers and he shivered, suddenly aware that his clothes were still damp in the pitch-black cavern.
“Not helpful, Lyrai,” he grumbled, and started tracing his fingertips over the cold surface, shifting left towards the sound.
His hand hit something solid and gripped it, fingers shifting along the bony contours. The surface was smooth and soft, like wet silk, shifting beneath his hand as he slid his grip along the narrow line. When he reached the end, his fingers spread outwards, spearing through the wetness and up along a broader, wider curve. A hint of warmth lurked beneath the cold and a familiar form took shape inside his mind.
“Hurricane?” he whispered, half in fear, half in hope. It was impossible to tell beyond the fact that this miryhl was big. It was too dark to tell whether it had brown feathers or marbled white, gold, black and brown shades. All Lyrai knew was that the miryhl was floating prone on their back, wings outstretched, head tilted to one side.
There was no way of telling who it was, but he knew.
“Hurricane.” Lyrai slid into the water, bracketing his knees behind either side of the miryhl’s head, tilting the great beak upwards. Heart pounding, he ran his hands down the beak to brush against closed eyes. He spread his fingers through the wet, sodden feathers, running his hands down to Hurricane’s chest. There he paused, waiting, head hanging down until his forehead pressed against the sharp, deadly beak.
Somewhere in the darkness water dripped into the pool. Behind him, Cumulo snored softly. In front of him, Hurricane’s heavy body continued to slosh heavily in the pool, weighed down by waterlogged feathers. Inside his own head, Lyrai’s blood rushed in fearful surges.
Beyond all these noises, he strained his senses and waited, waited, waited…
A soft, rasping breath rattled through the miryhl’s chest and a faint, fluttering sensation beat beneath Lyrai’s fingers.
Alive. He was alive.
“Thank Maegla,” he breathed, hugging the unresponsive beak against his chest. “Cumulo!”
The other miryhl woke with a snort. “Huh? What? Where?”
“Cumulo,” Lyrai called again. “I need help.”
Talons scraped against stone and Cumulo yawned loudly, followed by the sound of scratching. “What now?” he asked, sleepily.
“Hurricane’s in the water. We need to get him out.”
“Hurricane!” Despite the darkness, Cumulo must have had better than human senses, because he immediately pressed up against Lyrai’s back, arching his neck over to nibble the other miryhl’s beak. “Hurricane!”
“He’s unconscious,” Lyrai said, before the Wingborn could shriek himself into a fury. “And waterlogged. We need to get him out of the water. Now.”
A cool beak pressed gently against Lyrai’s cheek. “Is he wearing his harness?” Lyrai nodded. “Can you remember which wing he hurt?” Lyrai nodded again. “Then I’ll pull, while you get beneath his bad wing and lift it clear. Let’s see how far that gets us.”
Lyrai scrambled into the pool, grimacing at the frigid temperature, took a deep breath, then burrowed under Hurricane’s wounded wing. Crouching, he allowed the sodden feathers to spread across his back before he stood, dripping, in the waist-deep water.
“Ready?” Cumulo asked.
“R-r-ready,” Lyrai agreed, through chattering teeth.
“On three then. One… two… three!”
Everything jerked towards the shore, moving faster and further than Lyrai expected, sending him splashing to his knees. He dropped Hurricane’s wing, jarring it against the rocks — and the miryhl woke with an agonised scream.
* * *
YULLIK HUNTED. THIS mountain was his. Hewn, hollowed and carved by the power of his mind. It had been ruined once by other forces, but not destroyed. It could never be destroyed while he lived, because this mountain was his, the heart of his power. The mountain was his.
Now intruders had come, breaking in where they were not welcome, making the halls ring with their crude power. Taunting him. Threatening him. Challenging him. He accepted that challenge, gladly. His whole life had been preparation for this moment. And it would happen in his mountain, in his power, where his strength was most potent.
It should have pleased him; it should have had him laughing with the perfect coincidence of it. Instead he stalked through his halls and snarled.
Because they were hiding.
Intruders had entered his mountain, challenging him to come out a fight, and now they were hiding away like cowards. It should not have been possible. He knew everything that moved on this mountain, felt every heart that beat both on and under the surface.
He didn’t even know how many attackers he was facing. He’d felt four dragons before, but there might have been more, or they might have split up. He couldn’t tell. Nor could he feel where those interfering twins had concealed themselves. They were all hiding from him. Here, in the heart of his power.
It was impossible. It wouldn’t be borne. No one hid from him in this mountain – and he would show them why.
Baring his teeth in a snarl, Yullik allowed his claws to come out, his body to shift and lengthen and his senses to sharpen. They may think they could hide from his magic, but he’d like to see them hide from his dragon.
Flexing his wings against his back, he paused and scented the air. He smiled. Then he laughed, but softly, very softly to himself, before he pressed forward, a host of kaz-naghkt at his back, hunting into the darkness.
* * *
A LOUD SCREAM rent the quiet, agonised and sharp, horrifyingly familiar. Other voices shouted, trying to reason with it. Mhysra recognised them both.
Not waiting for the others, she shoved past Jaymes and Emberbright and stumbled into the darkness. Dhori shouted, and everything lit up in a bright burst, the follow up thunder shuddering through the rocks and into her bones. It was a brief illumination, but enough.
She veered right, sliding down a slick slope, skinning her legs and hands as another flash lit up the scene.
Two miryhls fought by the water. One, brown with golden highlights, stood tall, pressing down on the other with a foot across the chest. That one was a mix of white, brown, black and gold, lying on his back in the water, thrashing and screaming.
Another flash and she saw a figure sprawled beneath an unmoving pale wing. One that was bloodied and jagged and lying all wrong.
A steady silver glow replaced the flashes, making Mhysra realise she had no control over her slide. “Cumulo, stop!” she shouted, colliding with both miryhls, sliding under Cumulo’s chest to hit Hurricane’s shoulder.
The marble miryhl shrieked and lashed at her. Cumulo darted swiftly downwards with his beak, catching Hurricane’s with his own, diverting his attack into a fierce, loud, fencing match.
“Lyrai!” Stirla shouted, hauling his friend out from under Hurricane’s wing, pulling him clear of both the water and the battle.
“Peace!” Dhori finally arrived, slamming a glowing hand against Hurricane’s chest. A crackle filled the air and everything fell still.
Hurricane collapsed, limp and sodden, half-clear of the water. Cumulo drooped panting over the top of him. Equally exhausted, Mhysra rested her head against her Wingborn’s chest, her body loudly reminding her of just what a mistake her recent movements had been.
Behind her, she heard the others catching up and Stirla pestering Lyrai to see if his friend was well, while also finding out what had been going on. In front of her, she saw Dhori checking Hurricane over, the tightness of his mouth indicating that it wasn’t good. A light prickle of claws tugged at her sleeve, but she closed her eyes and turned her face into Cumulo’s wet feathers, breathing in the scent of dust and high air, the scent of him, the scent of home.
Wingborn, her Wingborn.
“Chickling,” he whispered, his beak smoothing over her hair, as if reassuring himself that she was real. “Chickling.”
She wanted to respond, wanted to say his name, but her back and hips hurt too much. She could only curl her hand around the sturdiness of his leg, relishing the rasp of his hard skin against her palm and fingertips.
“Chickling,” he said again, more firmly this time. “Why are these little monsters stroking me?”
~ Next Chapter ~
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