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~ Previous Chapter ~
Ah, what a lovely way to wake up…
The Eagle’s Blade
THE PATTERING OF falling rocks woke her. Mhysra lay for a moment, trying to remember where she was and how she’d got there. The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was sitting beside Lyrai, holding his hand, Cumulo’s warmth pressed up behind her.
Had it been real? Lying frozen in the dark, feeling the stiffness in her spine and the familiar nagging ache in her hips, she feared it had all been a dream. Especially when one of the kaz-naghkt babies crawled over her, humming low in its throat.
More rattling as another stone fell. She looked up, blinking at the silvery light washing against the walls. Moving slowly, she pushed up on her elbow, wincing at the chorus of aches it set off along her back and across her body. Dark shapes were huddled all around her, long forms of humans and the big humps of miryhls.
It hadn’t been a dream.
Smiling, Mhysra turned towards the silvery light and remembered the makeshift fire they’d put together using Dhori’s glow globes. It offered absolutely no warmth, but the light was a comfort. It also revealed the shape of Lyrai sitting slumped over beside it, having fallen asleep on watch. Ever the lieutenant, even when carrying a head wound and exhausted from all their adventures.
Gritting her teeth, she crawled out of her blankets – probably Lyrai’s, since she had no supplies of her own – and shuffled towards him. She reached to stroke his hair, intending to wake him with a kiss, when one of the kaz-naghkt growled.
Mhysra frowned and looked over her shoulder. All five of the babies were perched in a line, heads tilted back, red eyes aglow. Their teeth bared, their bodies tense, wings trembling.
She looked up.
* * *
LYRAI JOLTED AWAKE, stumbling to his feet, fumbling for his sword even before he opened his eyes. His feet hit the circle of glow globes and he almost turned an ankle as he struggled to wake up and fight.
The others were in similar disarray as the Riders struggled to free themselves from their bedrolls, while the miryhls looked frantically around for the enemy.
“Above!” Mhysra’s shout had them all looking up, and Lyrai wasn’t the only one to curse.
There was a hole in the ceiling, one he was certain hadn’t been there the night before. Out of it the kaz-naghkt came crawling, clinging to the ceiling like cockroaches. Red eyes glowing with hunger, they scuttled above the Rider camp, aiming for the walls where they could drop down and fight.
Metal rang as Lyrai and the others drew their swords – those that still had them. Stirla and Mhysra both swore as they gathered rocks into a pile, forced to find alternative ways to defend themselves. It was echoed by Hurricane as the miryhls carefully shifted their wounded comrade to the centre of their camp, careful not to jostle his broken wing too badly. They formed a loose ring around the humans, sharpening their talons on the rocky ground, growling low in their throats.
Mhysra and Cumulo started a whispered argument as the miryhl tried to herd his Wingborn into the centre alongside Hurricane. Zephyr didn’t bother letting Derrain speak, she tripped her Rider, stole his sword and strutted off to give it to Stirla.
Derrain grimaced but didn’t argue as he sat with a wince and started gathering stones. A scowling Mhysra soon joined him, limping barefoot and throwing glares in Cumulo’s direction. The big miryhl ignored her, taking his place in the outer defences and shooing baby kaz-naghkt away with his feet.
Lyrai eyed the five youngsters, uncertain what to expect from them. They were snarling and growling at the approaching kaz-naghkt, same as everyone else, but these were their kin. When the adults attacked, would the babies join them? At least with them taking up position around Cumulo in the outer defences, Lyrai didn’t have to worry about watching his back.
“Riders ready?” Stirla called, as the first kaz-naghkt dropped from the walls and started scuttling in their direction.
“Ready!” humans and miryhls alike replied.
“Fight for your lives!” Roaring, Stirla charged the largest kaz-naghkt. Atyrn leapt after him, and Lyrai lost sight of them as he turned to tackle his own foe.
After that it was chaos. Screams and shrieks echoed around the cavern, bouncing off the walls and colliding with fresh cries to create a confusing cacophony of sound. Lyrai ignored it as best he could, putting all his focus into swinging his sword, deflecting claws and wing spurs. Stabbing, twisting and ripping his enemy’s heart from its chest. Boots slipping on the slick rocks, he struggled to keep his feet as the kaz-naghkt attacked again and again.
Another of the massive monsters loomed ahead of him, topping Lyrai’s own height by half as tall again, with spread wings that could block out the sky. Red eyes blazed at him, sharp teeth snapped and the kaz-naghkt smiled with an almost-human face.
“Kaz,” it breathed, using its tail to brush a smaller kaz-naghkt aside when it tried to come around and attack Lyrai itself.
He’d never seen a kaz-naghkt this big or strong before. The skin looked harder too, with scales covering the whole body, except for a small diamond that followed the downward curve of its rib cage and across its abdomen.
Smiling, the creature raised a hand full of claws and beckoned Lyrai forward. “Fight,” it growled in a guttural tone, and leapt straight at him.
Startled out of his shock, Lyrai stumbled back, trying to raise his sword before his enemy got too close. His boot hit the edge of a kaz-naghkt corpse and he fell, slamming against the floor.
His attacker roared in triumph and pounced, landing astride Lyrai and raising that same clawed fist in the air, ready to plunge it into his chest.
The creature was knocked flat by a blur of feathers.
Shrieking, miryhl and kaz-naghkt fought in a fierce exchange of talons, beak and teeth, blood and feathers flying. Until Cumulo stood triumphant over his decapitated foe, blood-stained beak raised to the ceiling. He screamed – and the other miryhls answered.
The baby kaz-naghkt swarmed over Lyrai’s prone body and up Cumulo’s back to launch one by one from the top of his head into the attacking horde.
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