Things go from bad to worse.
(Which might not make sense if you missed the extra update I put up on Wednesday ;)
RHIDDYL PANICKED. SHE heard the ice crack and took off, feeling the lake shatter beneath the push of her weight. Her flapping wings caused more confusion, whipping snow into the air, making the miryhls shriek and scream. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t hear, she couldn’t think. She didn’t know what to do.
Vhen was screaming at her, yelling at her to go back, to go down, that she’d left them behind.
Rhiddyl looked down. Zett and Caelo were gone.
She’d left them behind.
Broken ice and clear water yawned below her, leaving no trace of where her friends had been.
She’d left them behind.
Rhiddyl gathered her power, summoned her lightning and roared.
* * *
“GET AWAY! GET away! Get away!” Milk shrieked, her talons buried in Orla’s shoulder as she half carried, half dragged her Rider away from the spreading cracks, Strike on her tail. Pinwheel and Taryn were ahead, the girl clinging to her skinny miryhl’s back, in clear danger of falling off at any moment. Sunshine led the charge, gold and glinting as she raced for solid ground.
Orla hit the shore with a thump, landing on her knees, heart pounding, shoulder screaming. She packed the bleeding wound with handfuls of snow, turning to look back across the lake.
Lightning near-blinded her as Rhiddyl roared, spitting magic at the shattered ice.
“Stop her!” Taryn screamed. “She’ll kill them!”
Strike set off immediately, no doubt realising she’d left her Rider behind.
“We need help,” Taryn gasped, turning to her own miryhl. “Fetch it.”
Pinwheel nodded and flew swiftly away, while Sunshine and Milk cowered in the snow.
“Let me see that,” Taryn said, pulling Orla’s hand from her shoulder. Taryn hissed and immediately began unwinding her scarf from around her neck.
“The others,” Orla protested, thinking they should be doing something, should be helping in some way.
“Are beyond our reach,” Taryn said, as further cracks split the lake ice, shattering it into great peaks and troughs. Water flowed up through the nearest patch of snow, melting the whiteness away and leaving deep blue shadows. “We can’t do anything for them, except pray.”
Gulping, Orla closed her eyes against the pain and begged Maegla for Her mercy.
* * *
ICE SURROUNDED ZETT, gripping him in a vice that stole breath, movement and thought. He dropped into darkness, a world of bitter cold and strange noises. Groans and snaps shuddered through the depths like distant thunder. It might almost have been the voice of some ancient beast, stirring from slumber and unhappy about it.
He fell, losing track of the light, wrapped in a cold that embraced him, enfolded him, cradled and comforted him. It was peaceful, even amongst the groans. They sounded deeper now, more rhythmic, almost like singing…
A spark ignited in the darkness and he opened his eyes.
A hand closed over his.
He pulled her in. They wrapped their arms around each other and sunk into the deep.
* * *
“STOP IT! STOP it!” Vhen thumped Rhiddyl’s scales, screaming against the bite of her lightning. It sank into his bones and rattled his teeth, but he had to stop her. “Rhiddyl, stop!”
His fist smacked into the crease where her neck met her shoulder and she shuddered. Teeth bared, the dragon snarled at him, eyes more purple than blue, threads of lightning flickering between her sharp teeth.
“You dare,” she growled.
Throat tight with fear, Vhen flattened his hand against her shoulder, wincing at the snap of lightning against his palm. “Water and lightning don’t mix,” he said, voice little more than a wheeze. “You’ll fry them.”
The dragon breathed in, fast and sharp. She blinked and Rhiddyl stared back, her lightning fading as fast as it had appeared.
“You’re right,” she gasped, flapping higher above the surface of the lake, where the edges of the shattered ice were already starting to refreeze. “What do we do?”
“Can you swim?” he asked, bracing himself.
Her eyes widened. “Not with you!”
“There’s no time,” he told her, because no matter how much he wanted to jump off, the ice wasn’t stable enough. Nor could he jump onto one of the approaching miryhls’ backs. They wore no tack; he’d slide straight off.
There was no time.
He rested his hand against her shoulder and pushed. “Go.”
Rhiddyl snatched him off her back, cradling him against her chest as she arched in the air and dived, smashing through the thin ice into the bitter waters beneath.
* * *
CAELO WAS WARM, the one spot of heat in a frozen world. Zett clung to her, her arms equally tight around him. Her cheek pressed against his. Her lips were moving. He had no idea what she was saying, but he closed his eyes and thought words of his own.
Prayers to the gods. Pleas and bargains to any who could save them.
He should be doing something. Should be trying to save himself. But he was so cold and his clothes were so heavy. His boots were full of water and his coat… His favourite coat… He’d always loved this coat…
A light sparked in the darkness, bright and fierce like the heart of a fire. The low, groaning song grew louder. Zett yearned towards it, reaching —
A hard band closed around his waist and pulled.
The thread of light snapped and Zett choked, drowning in the dark.
* * *
FOCUS, RHIDDYL CHANTED to herself. Focus. Ice cold closed around her, but she refused to give into it. She would not let it tire her. She would not let it break her. She was kin Tempestfury Clan Skystorm. She controlled the elements; they did not control her. Magic sparked and she clung to Vhen, allowing her body to change just enough to make moving through water easier. Her back feet grew webs between the toes, her tail shortened and thickened. A blink and her third eyelid slid across her vision, protecting her eyes from the icy sting of the water. She peered into the depths, blowing out a bubble of breath and catching it in her mouth.
That way. The familiar scents of Zett’s pine soap and Caelo’s natural charcoal drew her to the right. Down, down, down. Another bubble, another course correction. Darkness and cold closed around her, but Rhiddyl hugged Vhen close. She mustn’t forget that she had him. She mustn’t forget that she needed to save them all.
She had left them behind, but she would not lose a single one.
Moans shuddered through the water, the creaks and cracks of breaking ice. A deep groan rose up from the depths, rising and falling like a song. It washed over her, prickling against her scales and Rhiddyl almost turned and fled.
Something was in the water.
Vhen’s hand slapped against her chest, urging her to hurry, and Rhiddyl bared her teeth.
Yes, she was in the water. If this other thing wanted to claim her friends, it would have to defeat her first.
Snapping up a fresh scent bubble, she savoured the taste of pine and charcoal and powered into the dark.
* * *
A LIGHT. A light in the depths. Vhen slapped Rhiddyl’s chest, trying to draw her attention to it. They were swimming away from it, swimming the wrong way. Couldn’t the dragon hear the singing? Didn’t she want to stop and listen?
Another spark, bright and burning, and suddenly they were rising. Vhen stretched out his hand and encountered something solid against the growing numbness in his hand. It was warm.
The light pulsed below, the low singing rising to a frustrated shriek. The last air in Vhen’s lungs escaped in a sigh.
Rhiddyl burst through the surface with a gasp, rolling onto her back to save her burdens from the cracking ice as she smashed back down again. Miryhls shrieked, wheeling overhead. Vhen smiled at their silhouettes against the bright blue sky as Rhiddyl rolled into the water. Ice surrounded Vhen once more and he surrendered to the cold.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!