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~ Previous Chapter ~
I love this dragon.
Slinking on her belly, Rhiddyl crept forward in search of the abyss edge, hoping to look down and see Reglian and Estenarix climbing back up from below. Instead, she barely dodged out of the way in time as a shrieking burning fireball rolled past.
Golden light pulsed and the ball split, the flaming white half shooting down into the darkness like a falling star.
Rhiddyl scrambled back as the golden light settled to reveal the biggest kaz-naghkt she’d ever seen.
No, not a kaz-naghkt. The kaz-naghkt. The first and only man-dragon allowed to live. Yullik ses-Khennik; half dragon, half human and all rage.
He clung to the edge of the abyss with golden claws sunk deep into two spurs of rock, which had in turn wrapped around his wrists, holding onto him, saving him from the drop. Black blood streamed from his shoulders, while the bronze skin of his naked chest was raw and burned.
Panic fluttered at the edge of Rhiddyl’s mind again as she moved slowly backwards, searching for something to hide behind or, better yet, a place to run to.
Yullik looked up. Eyes of molten gold, no pupil, no whites, burned upon her. His bleeding lips pulled back into a smile, revealing sharp and bloodied teeth.
“Found you,” he said, just like the last time.
And just like the last time, Rhiddyl panicked.
Except there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. She screamed inside her cramped lynx mind and reached for her dragon form.
For once, it answered.
Lightning lashed down her spine, prickling through her tense muscles, exploding inside her bones. She stretched and grew, twisted and unfurled, magic flowing through her blood and hardening her scales.
It felt eternal, yet she knew from watching others that her change was near instantaneous. When she shook off the final tingles with a flick of her long tail, she found herself looking down on Yullik ses-Khennik and his burning golden eyes.
Then it was her turn to smile. “Surprise,” she snarled, sweeping her tail around to knock him snarling into the abyss.
Golden light flared and flashed, but out in the empty air there were no convenient rocks to catch him. He fell cursing down into the depths, his flaming golden wings useless to save him.
Rhiddyl craned her neck over the drop and watched him grow smaller and smaller, his light shrinking to a faint flickering point. Then she slumped on the edge, trembling and gasping, unable to believe what she’d just done, not wanting to think about what had happened to the others.
Had she done it? Was it over?
She didn’t want to know. All she wanted was for Goryal’s familiar voice to chime inside her head, telling her she’d done well, that all would be all right. She wouldn’t even mind a scold from Reglian for losing control of her shape and changing without warning – even though she hadn’t and had in fact done it on purpose. She wouldn’t even scowl when Estenarix inevitably laughed at her. She just wanted them there with her.
Instead she was alone, back in darkness again as Yullik’s distant light winked out.
Completely alone – except for the scrabbling of claws on stone.
Hissing, she scrambled back from the edge again, mantling her wings and gathering her power. She wouldn’t be caught by surprise this time. She wouldn’t panic. She was a dragon, a Tempestfury. She wasn’t weak or vulnerable or frightened. She would face whatever came at her and she would defeat it, just as she’d defeated Yullik ses-Khennik. Nodding to reinforce her thoughts, she lifted her tail and waited to tackle her latest foe.
Something heavy hit the top of the abyss, slamming into the rock and digging in with fierce claws.
Rhiddyl swallowed and ordered herself to be strong. She could do this. Whatever it was, even if it was Yullik again, she could take care of it.
Another slam, followed by a low, snarling growl.
Rhiddyl sank down, muscles bunched in readiness.
More scratching, another round of scrabbling and then —
“Your assistance would be greatly appreciated, Rhidystel.” Elder Goryal’s voice chimed inside her mind, followed by a flicker of gold as a glow globe rolled out of Reglian’s massive mouth, along with the human forms of Goryal and Estenarix.
The Black Thunderwing heaved the rest of himself out of the abyss with a wordless snarl, using his wing to bash Rhiddyl aside when she rushed forward to try and help. Reglian was bleeding all over from cuts and slashes, but that hadn’t stopped him from somehow catching the others and climbing out of the darkness.
Ignoring his grumpiness, Rhiddyl darted under another shove of his wing to rub her face along his neck. Snatching Elder Goryal up from the floor with her mouth, she carried them to safety. She didn’t quite dare do the same for Estenarix, who lay scowling up at the ceiling, no doubt struggling to overcome the indignity of being carried around in a Skystorm’s mouth.
Putting Goryal down, Rhiddyl nuzzled the elder until their stood, swaying, on their own feet.
“Thank you,” they murmured, patting Rhiddyl on the cheek. “That’s enough now. I am quite well. Where is Yullik?”
Rhiddyl pulled back and blinked in surprise. “Didn’t you see him on your way up?”
Goryal cast a fond look in Reglian’s direction and shook their head. “I was not in a position to, ah, take in the sights, shall we say? What did I miss?”
“Yullik fell, same as you,” Reglian said, still sounding grumpy, as he stretched each wing and leg in turn, finishing with a slow sweep of his tail from left to right and back again. “I thought you shoved each other over the edge.”
“No,” Goryal said regretfully. “I tried, but something stopped him from following me down.”
“The rock,” Rhiddyl said. “It grabbed him just before he fell.”
“Hm.” Goryal wasn’t the only one to frown at the ground upon which they stood. It seemed so solid and stable now, but they’d been fooled by that before. Rhiddyl wasn’t the only one to take a healthy stride away from the edge.
“So how did he fall?” Estenarix asked, finally sitting up and rubbing the back of her neck.
Finding herself the centre of attention, Rhiddyl fought back a blush. “I, um, pushed him.”
“What?” Goryal and Reglian exclaimed with rather unflattering surprise.
Estenarix chuckled and lay down again. “Good for you, youngling.”
“You pushed Yullik ses-Khennik over the edge?” Reglian spluttered, voice ripe with doubt.
Annoyed by their lack of belief in her, Rhiddyl drew herself up into her haughtiest pose. “I did. You’d all fallen over the edge, one after another, and I could do nothing but watch. So when Yullik sneered at me, I shifted back to this shape and hit him with my tail.”
There was a long silence, broken only by Estenarix’s approving chuckle. Reglian blinked, seemingly dumbfounded that a Tempestfury who was on the scrawny side could ever do anything so brave.
Eventually Goryal reached out and patted her foot. “Well done, Rhidystel. Very well done indeed.”
Warmed by the praise – and choosing to ignore any hint of condescension, Rhiddyl allowed herself a small preen.
Until Reglian said, “Is that it then? Is he dead?”
Goryal shook their head. “I fear not, my friends. I sadly fear not.”
Together they stared at the abyss looming dark and vast before them.
Reglian sighed. “If I’d known that I would have saved myself the trouble and climbed down instead of up.”
“Why don’t you shrink a bit then,” Estenarix suggested, “and I’ll carry you this time?”
The Thunderwing wrinkled his muzzle and shook out his wings. “I’ll climb, thanks.”
“Spoilsport,” Estenarix chuckled, striding up to Rhiddyl and placing a hand on her neck. “Fancy giving me a lift, youngling?”
Having no intention of being carried herself, Rhiddyl was quick to lower her neck. “I would be honoured,” she said, not entirely truthfully as the Boulderforce clambered aboard. Sister Storm, she was heavier than she looked!
Offering a golden-clawed hand to Goryal, Reglian lifted the elder onto his own back and bared his teeth at Rhiddyl in a smile. “After you, tail-swisher.”
Narrowing her eyes, Rhiddyl passed him with a snooty sniff. Then, just as she tipped over the edge, she smacked him across the face with her tail and Estenarix’s booming laugh echoed around the abyss.
~ Next Chapter ~
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