“WHERE IS SHE? Where is Princess Nataryn? Fetch her at once!”
Taryn looked up from where she’d been preening Sunshine, murmuring compliments to the golden miryhl, surprised to hear her title being called.
“Taryn, Taryn.” Pinwheel bustled up to her, looking rather fine after his morning preen. Thanks to Mhysra’s scurf treatment, his feathers were finally growing back plush and fluffy instead of withered and scrawny, and he no longer flicked white dust everywhere when he scratched. With the additional food he was getting from being a full-time Rider miryhl he was also starting to fill out. He might never be a beauty in most eyes, but Taryn thought he was gorgeous. “There’s a miryhl here for you. She’s b-b-big. Don’t k-keep her waiting.”
Sunshine closed her wing with a sniff. “I suppose you’ll have to finish this later,” she grumbled, although Taryn was learning it was mostly for show. The miryhl was beautiful and over-proud, but she was learning. As they all were.
Calling farewells to the cluster of miryhls who belonged to her friends, some of whom were disappointed not to be getting their own preen, Taryn accepted a cloth from a nearby attendant and wiped her hands clean as she followed her miryhl to the hatch. Her arms were coated in thick brown muck from the elbows down, testament to how she’d spent her morning – that and the three miryhls gleaming in the sun. Poor Cereyn and Fyra would have to wait like Sunshine.
“I’ll be back later,” she promised, although she didn’t know if she’d be able to.
As it was Starday her time was her own to spend however she wished, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have plenty of classwork to catch up with.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” she asked, scrubbing at the muck on her hands as she followed Pinwheel outside.
“Your presence is required at the infirmary.” The most intimidating miryhl Taryn had ever seen looked her over with pale gold eyes. As big as Atyrn, if slightly slimmer in bulk, the miryhl was pure black and all menace. “Be quick. The search has stretched long already.” The enormous eagle turned and flapped off.
Taryn watched her go, eyes wide, until Pinwheel nuzzled her. “She said to hurry.”
“Oh.” Dropping the towel for her miryhl to deal with, Taryn ran across the cobbled courtyard, still knee deep in snow save for where a trail had been beaten down. The stone in the hallway was slippery, despite the mats that had been thrown down to absorb the moisture. Familiar with the hazard, Taryn grabbed the doorframe as she passed and swung right, jogging down the corridor towards the infirmary.
It had become a regular journey over the last quarter-moon, as she divided her time between studying with the rest of the students, tending the miryhls and visiting her sick friends. Orla had been the first to recover, although her punctured shoulder still pained her and left her confined to their room as often as not. Today she had beaten Taryn here and was sitting on the end of Caelo’s bed, in which the redhead was supposed to be lying. Being Caelo, she’d somehow managed to totter across the room and collapse in the chair between Zett and Vhen’s instead.
The three of them had spent two full days asleep and still rested more than they woke over the last five. Still, it was a relief to see them laughing together again.
But not as big as relief as it was to see the figure sleeping in the bed beside the window, sunlight glinting on her white hair, where only a hint of lilac remained.
The dragon startled awake as Taryn darted across the room. Eyes wide, Rhiddyl sneezed and Taryn skidded to a startled halt.
Where previously a slender human-shaped dragon with pale, blue-tinged skin and white feathered hair had been lying, a bright pink chicken now clucked.
“Er…” Taryn took a cautious step closer, wondering what the dragon might change into next.
“Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal! She’s been doing that off and on since we dragged her off the ice.” A tall blonde woman walked stiffly into the room, her broad smile encompassing everyone while her sharp blue eyes assessed for injuries.
“You,” she pointed at Caelo, “back in bed. Not Zett’s!” Healer Haelle had grown to know her charges far too well over the last seven days.
Caelo sighed, while Orla giggled and Zett rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t going to do anything to him,” Caelo grumbled, as Orla helped her back across the room. “He doesn’t even like girls.”
“As if that would bother you,” Healer Haelle sniffed, then smiled at Taryn. “I hear someone’s in great demand in the eyries these days.”
Never quite sure how to take this woman who managed to balance intimidating beauty with terrifying competence, Taryn stammered something foolish and stared at her boots.
The healer patted her on the shoulder and went to pick up Rhiddyl. The chicken clucked crossly.
“Yes, yes, I know,” the woman soothed. “It is all very undignified, but you’ll have your full strength and control back soon. In the meantime, perhaps it would be best to return you to your old quarters, just for another day or two.”
Pink feathers flew as Rhiddyl got in a literal flap, flailing her wings and peeking at the healer’s hands, trying to break free.
“I don’t think she wants to go back to wherever you’ve been hiding her,” Caelo chortled as the pink chicken won her freedom and scuttled over to Taryn, hiding behind her boots.
“So it would seem.” Healer Haelle planted her hands on her hips and sighed, puffing a hank of hair out of her face. “Very well, you can stay. But if you break any windows or walls I -”
Whatever else she wanted to say was drowned out by a lot of indignant squawking.
“Fine.” The healer threw up her hands. “On your scales be it, dragon. Try not to squish your friends, please. I have spent entirely too much time warming them back to life to start fixing bones. Don’t make me set Morri on you.”
Rhiddyl shut up.
Satisfied, Healer Haelle warned them not to tire each other out and walked briskly from the room. Once she was gone, Rhiddyl felt brave enough to come out, clucking big threats and fluffing up her feathers. She scrapped her claws twice on the floor, turned her back to the door and flipped her tail.
Taryn and the others stared at her.
The chicken hiccupped and shifted into a purple-spotted lynx.
“Oh! That’s my favourite,” Caelo cooed from her bed.
Zett shook his head. “I like the chicken.”
Taryn sank onto her haunches and stared at Rhiddyl’s bright blue eyes in the wild cat’s gorgeous face. “I like you,” she said softly.
Lynx-Rhiddyl butted her head affectionately against Taryn’s cheek, purring like a fork pulled over a comb. Taryn ran her fingers over mottled fur comprised of dense layers of delicate feathers as Rhiddyl rubbed against her side and trotted over to jump onto Vhen’s bed.
“No,” the boy protested. “You steal all the covers.”
Twitching her ears, Rhiddyl yawned in his face. Padding to the foot of the bed, she rucked up the blankets with her enormous fluffy paws, turned a tight circle and curled up.
Vhen prodded her with his toe.
She pinned his foot down, claws extending just far enough to prick.
“Fine.” The lad drew his leg back. “The things we do for our friends,” he grumbled, and the reunited misfits laughed.
For now, anyway.
Thanks for reading and making it to the end of another Overworld tale. I hope you enjoyed it.
I’ll be back next week to talk about the next book in the series, future plans, releases and projects, what’s been going on and what might yet lie ahead.
For now, though, thank you for sticking with this long and sometimes exhausting tale.
See you for the next one!