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We’re gonna need a bigger rope.
STRIKE CARRIED HER. As the biggest and bossiest miryhl, she was the natural choice and while it wasn’t as comfortable as flying with tack, Taryn was grateful for the broader back and sturdier feathers. Sunshine accepted her demotion with a resentful sniff, but Taryn didn’t think she minded too much. It wasn’t easy taking off from the fragile lake and it took Strike twice as many bounds as everyone else before she and Taryn lifted into the air.
Once airborne, the four miryhls circled slowly around the stricken dragon. Shattered sections of ice surrounded Rhiddyl’s upturned body, freezing into clumps that would only make their task harder. Too solid to swim through, too weak to hold any weight, they were just one more trouble on a very troubled day.
“Take me down.”
Strike nodded and drew in her wings, dropping and flapping to land lightly on the dragon’s belly. Taryn slid from her back and ran up Rhiddyl’s ribs to where her friends lay sprawled and unconscious.
None of them were shivering.
“That can’t be good,” she muttered to Cereyn as the miryhl dropped down beside her.
“Can you lift them onto our backs? We could carry them that way.”
Taryn shook her head. “Even if I had the strength,” – which she doubted, since all three friends were fully dressed in multiple layers and soaked through – “we have nothing to tie them to you with. They’ll slide straight off and we’ll be in an even worse state than we already are.”
“Use rope,” Fyra said.
The others looked around as if the miryhl had spotted something the rest of them had missed, then eyed her with a mixture of bafflement, curiosity and confusion.
“What rope?” Sunshine asked.
“We’ll have to make it.” Unlike her Rider, Caelo’s miryhl was quiet and reserved, but when she spoke others listened. Even now, while Taryn was scratching her head in confusion as to where this mythical rope would materialise from, the other miryhls were nodding. They turned to look at Taryn, heads tilted at identical angles.
“Take off your coat,” Strike said.
Even though it was damp, Taryn didn’t think taking it off was going to make her feel any better. She hugged her arms defensively across her coat. “Why?”
“So we can tear it up to make a rope,” Cereyn said. “Obviously.”
There was nothing obvious about it. Or appealing. Taryn didn’t want to lose her coat. “It won’t be long enough.”
“So we’ll use their coats as well.” Strike nodded impatiently at the unconscious students. “Scarves too. Come on, get moving.”
Taryn rubbed her head, too cold and tired to consider all the ways such a thing could go wrong. She didn’t even know how to make a rope.
“It’s worth a try,” Fyra coaxed.
“And Rhiddyl?” Sunshine asked, finally showing concern for her Rider like a proper miryhl should.
Taryn swallowed. “I sent Pinwheel for help. It should arrive soon.” Please, gods.
“Then maybe we should -” Sunshine started to demur.
“No!” Strike stamped her foot, curling a talon around the hem of Zett’s long coat. “I want them out of the water and on solid ground.”
Taryn wanted to be on solid ground too. “I’ll need you to rip everything up,” she said, shrugging out of her outermost layer. “I don’t have a knife.”
“We do,” Fyra assured her, digging in with her beak and feet, making short work of the back of Caelo’s coat.
“We have plenty,” Cereyn agreed, flexing his talons and taking Taryn’s coat from her trembling hand. “I hope you’re good with knots.”
“Me too,” Taryn whispered, rubbing her arms and pulling off her gloves with her teeth. She was going to need bare hands for this. She only hoped she wouldn’t lose her fingers in the process.
* * *
ORLA WAS TIRED of watching. “Take me to them.”
Milk looked her over, shifting from foot to foot. “You’re hurt.”
“I’ll heal.” She hoped. Taryn had bandaged her arm as well as she could, although blood was already starting to show through the scarf. Besides, unless Rhiddyl recovered soon, Orla was going to have to fly out of here on some miryhl or another. She certainly couldn’t walk. The snow was too deep and they were a long way from the citadel.
“You’ll fall,” Milk said, using a wing to help Orla balance. “You can’t even stand up straight. Your balance is in pieces.”
“I have a scarf we can use. If you don’t mind me wrapping it around you.”
The miryhl clearly wasn’t happy, but Orla watched Milk look around the landscape, reaching the same conclusions Orla already had.
“Show me this scarf.”
Orla hurried as fast as she could, but it was awkward with her right shoulder out of action. Still, she managed to tug her scarf out from beneath her coats. Milk held one end for her while she unwound herself and thankfully didn’t comment when Orla had to sit down at the end.
“It’s just dizziness,” she panted. “It will pass.”
“Right when you pass out and fall off my back into the lake,” the miryhl grumbled, dropping the scarf on Orla’s lap. “Best get on before it’s too late.”
Using Milk’s wing to pull herself up, Orla managed to loop the scarf around the miryhl’s neck and tied a loose knot so she wouldn’t end up strangling her friend. Then Milk crouched in the snow, using her wing as a boost, doing everything she could to help Orla flop aboard.
“Just lie still,” Milk advised. “We’ll go low and slow.”
They drifted carefully over the ice. Not because of the fragility of the ground, but because of the weakness of her Rider. It was pathetic. Orla had tried so hard to be as good as the other Riders, to not let her size or isolated upbringing hold her back, yet here she was, almost too dizzy to fly.
“Not much further,” Milk called encouragingly. “I just have to lift a little higher to get on Rhiddyl. Don’t fall off.”
“I won’t,” Orla promised, hooking her left arm through the scarf. She didn’t shift so much as an inch, Milk was that careful. The miryhl fanned her wings and found the perfect gust of wind that rushed constantly down from the peak over the lake. It lifted them just enough for Milk to drift forward and drop, light as a feather, amongst the flock already gathered on Rhiddyl’s chest.
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