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Extra post to catch up. After this, only three weekends worth of posts to go.
The end is in sight!
ORLA HAD THOUGHT her flight in the bullwing boats had been terrifying. Turned out she didn’t know what terror was until Rhiddyl plunged over Aquila’s falls with her friends clinging to her back.
Everyone screamed. One moment the world was the right way up, the next they were falling straight towards the Cloud Sea three hundred feet below, with nothing but a slippery dragon and far too many sharp rocks between them and oblivion.
The wind roared in their faces, trying to rip them away from each other. Orla tightened her grip around Zett’s solid waist, clinging as hard as she could. Taryn’s arms were wrapped around Orla, doing exactly the same.
Over the screaming and the roar of the wind, air rushed over Rhiddyl’s slack wings, making her scales hum and chime.
There was no part of her to hold onto, just Zett and a fast-fading hope that they would survive.
Rhiddyl opened her wings and swooped away from the falls, skimming low over the frothing clouds, whooping with joy.
“I’m going to be sick,” Zett groaned, leaning to one side.
Orla shifted with him and felt Taryn begin to slide behind. With nothing to grab onto, there was no way to stop slipping once it began. Rhiddyl’s scales were shiny and perfectly aligned. They were going to fall.
A solid weight thwacked Orla’s side, pushing her and her friends back into place.
“Careful!” Rhiddyl called, her voice like whistles and flutes. Her tail swung back behind her, the feathers on the end fluttering in the wind. “I don’t like losing passengers.”
“Maybe she shouldn’t dive off cliffs with them then,” Taryn grumbled in Orla’s ear.
Still too breathless to speak, Orla nodded, then moaned as Rhiddyl tired of gliding and flapped her wings, swinging them around to face Aquila.
It looked beautiful bathed in the stark light of the winter sun. Grey cliffs fell sheer into the cloud sea, but everything else was draped with white: forest, citadel, lake. In front of it all the frozen falls sparkled.
“Magical,” Zett breathed, and Caelo laughed.
“That’s not magic,” she called over her shoulder. “That’s nature. The most beautiful thing there is.”
“Magic can be pretty spectacular too,” Rhiddyl argued, beating the air with her wings and rippling her back to lift them higher. “Shall I show you some.”
“Yes!” Caelo cried, while Orla’s stomach was still in her mouth. “Show us what you can do, Tempestfury!”
Chuckling, Rhiddyl began to spiral, winding herself up tighter and tighter, her body tight with tension. White, grey and blue became a colourless blur as Rhiddyl spun and spun. Static crackled, making Orla’s bones ache as she gripped onto Zett with renewed strength.
Lightning flashed with a sound like torn cloth, shattering stones and clattering metal all at once. It felt like the world had been ripped in two as they lurched forwards with the force, staring down the shaft of the lightning spear.
Time stopped and Orla saw every detail of the lightning in perfect clarity, as it spooled away like a thrown rope of light, tiny tendrils flying off in all directions. The colour was sharp and indescribable, somehow white, yellow, pink and purple all at the same time, with hints of blue and a brightness that seared into her brain. A shade that was and only ever would be lightning.
The tension snapped, the bolt hit the promontory to the left of the citadel and the world came rushing back to life.
Caelo whooped. “That’s was amazing! Do it again!”
Rhiddyl’s delighted laughter cut off abruptly as a chunk of snow sheered off the cliffs, crashing downwards in a maelstrom of snow, rocks and trees.
“Ah,” the dragon murmured, sounding embarrassed. “I should have expected that.”
“At least you struck away from Aquila,” Vhen said, stroking her neck.
They were all quiet for a moment as Rhiddyl flapped in place, watching the chunk of snow falling into the sea.
“Moving on,” Caelo said, and Rhiddyl took the hint, flying swiftly away from the damage.
They glided back over Aquila, where even more miryhls were playing on the snowy lake. As Rhiddyl’s shadow passed over, she whistled, drawing the attention of a group of young miryhls huddled forlornly to one side. It was hard to see Milk against the snow, but she was the first to take off, eager to join them.
“The big miryhls won’t let us play,” she complained, five miryhls on her tail.
“Come with me,” Rhiddyl said. “I know somewhere much better.”
* * *
THEY SPIRALLED UP and away from the lake, the young miryhls rising in Rhiddyl’s wake. The playing flock below whooped and jeered at them and each other, rolling around like puppies. Zett watched until Rhiddyl’s spiralling made him dizzy, then he hung onto Caelo and waited for their flight to level out again.
When it did, Rhiddyl arched her back in midair and shot into a dive. Squinting through the rushing wind, Zett watched them cross the great stone spurs that separated Aquila from the upper mountain valley, then everything turned to a blur of white.
The young miryhls shrieked, delighted with what they saw. They zipped past the dragon, wings tucked, angling down to the great lake below.
Rhiddyl spread her own wings, slowing down enough that the humans on her back could sit up and watch as miryhl after miryhl skidded into the thick snow. Wings out, talons spread, Strike was the first to touch down. Snow sprayed up in front of her and she lifted clear for a moment, before landing with a cackling pounce. Milk and Sunshine weren’t far behind, the white eagle landing with a twist that saw her spinning across an icy patch, screaming with delight. Pinwheel was more cautious, hopping and skipping across the ground before landing safely to one side, while Fyra skidded down, raising an impressive wall of snow that covered Sunshine from talon to beak.
Before the golden miryhl could dig herself out, Cereyn landed in typical style. No spray, no skids, no spins, no pounces. He crashed and went rolling, wings out, feet waving, completely out of control.
He collided with Sunshine, throwing the golden miryhl out of her snow cocoon and leaving her torn between screaming at Fyra and ripping at Cereyn.
So very undignified, and so very Cereyn.
Vhen groaned and buried his head against Rhiddyl’s neck, while everyone else yelped as the dragon suddenly tipped upright.
“Break it up!” Rhiddyl ordered, when Sunshine chose the easier option and pounced on the prone Cereyn.
Using great flaps of her enormous wings, Rhiddyl whipped the broken snow into a miniature blizzard, scattering the miryhls with cries of protest. Only Cereyn failed to move, lying in the snow and letting it cover him.
Cracked as an egg.
“We came up here to play,” Rhiddyl reminded her miryhl, as Sunshine flew over to berate the dragon, while Rhiddyl fished Cereyn out of the powder. “So play nice.”
She punctuated her words by planting her feet firmly on the snow.
Ice creaked and the ground shuddered. For a moment no one moved. Or breathed.
A deep groan sounded beneath Rhiddyl’s feet and everything fell still.
High above, close to the shrouded peak of Aquila’s mountain, a patch of snow broke off, forming an avalanche that was too far away to trouble them. They heard a boom several heartbeats later, a distant roar that gradually faded.
The ice beneath them held. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sorry,” Rhiddyl said, ducking her head. “I forgot there was a lake under all this.”
But what a lake! Like most of the new students, Zett had wondered what the upper valley beyond Aquila’s confines looked like, but the only way to reach it was by a long walk or a quick flight. They hadn’t been given enough time to make the walk before winter closed in and none of them were proficient enough fliers to be allowed to fly outside of lessons yet, so it had remained out of bounds. Until Rhiddyl.
It was a sight worth waiting for. The upper valley was huge, with rippling waves of forest tumbling down in a series of ravines from the ridges high above. They hugged the shore of the lake, and ended in a sheer wall of uncompromising grey that stretched two hundred feet high or more. The lake was long and narrow, and no doubt deep. Zett couldn’t wait to see it in the summer.
“Snow fight!” Milk yelled, grabbing a foot full of snow and flapping up to drop it on Strike’s head.
The war began.
“Pinwheel, this way!” Taryn called, dismounting Rhiddyl’s back and sliding to the soft ground with impressive speed. Her miryhl met her on landing and carried her clear of the deep stuff, the pair of them immediately amassing piles of ammunition.
Orla followed and instantly floundered in snow deeper than her waist. Rhiddyl used her tail to pull the Ihran free, depositing her near Taryn, where Milk joined them in gathering snow.
“Them versus us?” Caelo called over her shoulder. “Strike must be avenged.”
Since Zett’s miryhl was currently burying Milk and Orla with wing-sweeps of snow, he was confident Strike had her own vengeance well in talon, but he wanted to join in. Scooting back along Rhiddyl’s spine, he swung his own leg over and slid towards the ground.
He should have gone the other way. Instead of sliding down on his tummy, as Taryn and Orla had sensibly done, Zett slid on his back, able to watch the ground getting closer at worrying speed.
He hit hard and fast, jarring his knees and falling face first into the snow.
“Ha!” Caelo laughed, sliding after him. “Impressive.”
Her boots landed solidly in the mess Zett had made, passing through the snow to the ice beneath.
The sound snapped through the valley with the clarity of a slingshot pebble against glass.
A low creaking rose up from deep beneath Zett’s sprawled form.
More cracks followed, smaller, faster, spreading swiftly.
Rhiddyl sprang into the air, Vhen still on her back, and the lake ice sheered.
The ground tilted and heaved, water sloshing between the widening gaps.
Caelo teetered on the edge of one, eyes wide, arms wheeling. Zett lunged, reaching for her.
The ice snapped. Caelo fell, fingers brushing Zett’s hand. Overbalanced, he followed her. They plunged into the freezing depths.
~ Next Chapter ~
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