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~ Previous Chapter ~
IN A MATTER of moments they were back, Corin in the lead, her bow raised and ready, an arrow on the string. “All right,” she murmured, nudging the door open the merest crack with her foot. “Show us your ugly faces.” Arrow first, she peered outside and saw nothing.
“Is it there?” Mhysra whispered, pressing against Corin’s back and looking over her shoulder. “Can you see it?”
“It must have moved,” she muttered, elbowing Mhysra aside to give her room to draw. “We’ll have to go out. Everybody ready?”
Kicking open the door with a defiant yell, Corin raised her bow, ready to loose in an instant.
Mhysra and Jaymes leapt out on either side of her, swords bristling, the two dragonets at their feet, hissing menacingly.
Nothing. There was nothing there.
Mhysra charged with a bloodcurdling roar, sword swinging through the empty air as she attacked her unseen foe. “Don’t just stand there,” she shouted over her shoulder, thrusting her sword forward and twisting hard. “Shoot them!”
“Shoot what?” Corin questioned, looking at Jaymes who could only shake his head. There was nothing to shoot, not even a tree or a bush. The ground was a flat field of emptiness ending in a sharp edge that dropped down to the Cloud Sea. On either side steep rocky peaks rose, but there was nothing hiding up there. Except a couple of vultures and some vulardis.
“There’s nothing there!” Corin shouted, darting forward as her friend got closer to the edge of the cliff. “Mhysra, listen to me. There are no kaz-naghkt.”
She whirled, eyes wide, breathless and aggressive. “They’re everywhere,” she growled, raising her sword again. “Look out!”
Corin could only stare as her best friend ran towards her, sword raised, ready to kill. Except there was nothing in front of her but Corin. And all she had was a bow and arrow to defend herself with. Her fingers flexed, but she couldn’t do it – she couldn’t shoot her friend.
Metal clashed as Jaymes jumped in front of Corin, his sword catching Mhysra’s before it could fall. Corin stumbled back as the pair started to fight. Mhysra was cursing and crying, babbling about the kaz-naghkt and how she had to save them, save Corin, that they were eating her. She had to save them.
Jaymes fought in grim silence, countering every move and trying not to let either of them get hurt. But it was hard when Mhysra thought she was fighting for her life, determined to kill her monstrous opponent. Especially when they had always been evenly matched.
“Fetch the others!” Jaymes shouted, as an overhead blow sent him stumbling back, Mhysra leaping after him with a triumphant yell. “Now!”
“Corin!” Mhysra screamed, as Corin turned and sprinted past the eyries, already wondering where the others might be, how long it would take to find them and bring them back.
And whether Jaymes could last that long.
She didn’t allow herself to listen, she just ran.
EXITING THE OFFICE of yet another falsely regretful merchant, Lyrai stretched his arms over his head and groaned about his aching back. He’d leant over too many map tables today, arguing the reasons why these civilian captains should risk everything to fly through some of the worst skies on the Overworld, in search of a place most people didn’t even believe existed. It was exhausting work. Even Dhori looked strained.
“Seven down,” Honra said, slapping Lyrai consolingly on the shoulder. “Another twenty-odd to go.”
Lyrai shot him a flat stare. “If that was supposed to make me feel better, you failed.”
“Dismally,” Honra agreed, with his never-relenting cheer. “Except I wasn’t trying to cheer you up, I was just stating the truth. Don’t get too downhearted yet, Lyrai. Even Captain Myran has trouble with merchants. They just don’t see why they should risk their livelihoods for next to nothing, in the hope of some misty glory which the Rift Riders will keep all to themselves. When you put it like that, you can hardly blame them, really. Still, we’re not done yet, and if the worst happens we can always bring Mhysra down. Her family name will have them tripping over themselves to help.”
Lyrai grimaced at the prospect of using Mhysra that way, even if it was their only option for finding safe travel to Sanctuary. “What do you think, Dhori? Who should we try next?”
The silver-eyed student was frowning. “Mhysra,” he murmured, staring up the cobbled main street at the craggy cliffs overhanging the town. The eyries were barely visible at the very top. “We left her alone!”
About to argue that Corin and Jaymes were with her, Lyrai found himself looking at empty space. Dhori was sprinting like a horde of flaming pyreflies were after him, straight up the steep road. It took only half a heartbeat for Lyrai to follow. If Dhori was worried about Mhysra, then he wasn’t going to wait around for further news.
“Where are you going?” Honra called, as his companions deserted him.
“Back to the eyries,” Lyrai shouted over his shoulder. “I think there’s trouble.”
Not bothering to check if his fellow lieutenant was following, Lyrai kept his eyes on Dhori and wondered where he got his energy from. Lyrai would never have considered himself unfit, but as the way grew steeper and his breath grew shorter, he found himself slowing up. Not Dhori, he powered up the climb as if it were flat. Determined not to be outdone, Lyrai pushed on.
By the time they reached the top, even Dhori was struggling. Which was when Corin found them.
“Quick,” she demanded, breathless and sobbing. “You have to. Jaymes. She’ll kill him. Hurry. Please.”
Dhori nodded, and bolted down the path to the eyries. Lyrai paused to catch his breath, but Corin wouldn’t let him, dragging at his arm.
“Please, sir, please. She’s gone mad. You have to help.”
Dreading what he would find, he nodded and the pair of them ran in Dhori’s footsteps. As they rounded the corner of the eyries, he stopped in shock.
Mhysra was fighting Jaymes. Even from this distance he could see that it was no friendly sparring match. There was real force behind her blows, every move filled with rage. Jaymes was struggling to hold her off, trying not to let either of them get hurt. Except he was losing. Tired and frightened for his friend, he just didn’t have the strength to match his opponent.
“Maegla,” Lyrai whispered, just as Dhori deftly slid his sword between Mhysra and Jaymes.
With a firm jerk of his head, he ordered the younger student to back off while he drew Mhysra’s focus onto himself. Jaymes stumbled away a few paces before collapsing.
The sight broke Lyrai’s inertia and he sprinted across the field to the fallen boy, now covered by two concerned, cheeping dragonets.
“Jaymes.” He dropped to his knees beside the redhead, shoving Emberbright and Skybreeze out of the way to check for injuries. “Are you all right? What happened?”
“Kaz-naghkt,” Jaymes wheezed, breathing in deep, ragged gasps, soothing the distressed Emberbright with one hand, while the other still held his sword. “She saw kaz-naghkt.”
“We ran to fetch our weapons,” Corin took over the explanation, hugging Skybreeze close, “but when we came out there was nothing there.”
“She saw them,” Jaymes muttered.
Corin nodded, looking close to tears. “She can still see them.” Her eyes met Lyrai’s, full of confusion. “She was fighting, but there was nothing there. But she could see them. She ran towards me, sword up. I-I thought she was going to kill me. Jaymes stepped in and they’ve been fighting ever since.”
“Gods.” Lyrai raked a hand through his hair, not knowing what to say. He squeezed Jaymes gratefully on the shoulder and looked at where Dhori was trying to calm Mhysra down.
Except she wasn’t listening to him. Every word he said earned a head shake, a wild sword slash or an angry hiss. “Lies. All lies. I won’t let you kill my friends.”
A touch on his arm made him turn. He’d never seen Corin so frightened before. “You have to help her, sir. You’re the only one she’ll listen to.”
Personally, Lyrai would have put his money on Dhori, but he knew he had to try. He patted Corin’s hand and stood, drawing his sword as he went. “Stand aside, Dhori.”
With the smallest of nods, Dhori knocked Mhysra’s sword wide and stepped back, leaving Lyrai in his place. As if they’d practised such manoeuvres every day, Lyrai raised his sword to meet Mhysra’s ferocious back swing. He almost staggered, unused to such power from her, though they’d sparred many times.
“Mhysra,” he said, deflecting her next pattern of movement, easing himself into her frantic rhythm. “It’s me, Lyrai. Are you listening?”
“Lies,” she growled, aiming for his head, then dropping down to try and sweep his feet out from underneath him.
He’d taught her that move, so couldn’t help grinning even as he jumped to avoid it. Flashy and impressive though it looked, and provided excellent results when it worked, the fact that Lyrai knew her well enough to avoid it meant that by the time she stood up again he had the upper hand. Time to stop defending and launch an attack.
“You’ve done well,” he praised in a soft, soothing tone, even as he forced her backwards. “You’ve defended your friends. No one can doubt your bravery.”
“Don’t patronise me,” she snapped, sidestepping and trying to counter.
He stepped with her, relieved to turn her away from the cliff. Forcing her to sidestep again, he drove her back with renewed purpose, aiming for the eyries behind her.
“I’m not patronising you,” he murmured, even though he was. It was as good a way as any of redirecting her anger. “You’ve fought strongly. You do your teachers proud.”
“Dead,” she growled. “All dead. Thanks to you.”
“I’m not dead,” he replied. “I’m right here.”
“Blood,” she said, almost sobbing, exhaustion catching up with her. “So much blood. How can you stand it? How can you bear it, walking around when they’re all there, rotting in the darkness?” Her next attack lacked strength, her co-ordination failing. “And Kilai, poor brave Kilai, alone in the dark.”
Sensing she was about to break, Lyrai stepped up his attack, managing to slide his sword down the length of hers. The eagle heads on his hilt locked onto her blade. A deft twist of his wrist sent her sword flying, along with his own as he threw them both to one side.
When she lunged to retrieve them, Lyrai slammed her back against the eyries with his body.
“Look at me,” he ordered, pinning her face between his hands. “Look me in the eye, Mhysra. See me. Know me. Who am I?”
Her eyes were wide, frightened and stormy as they flickered between his. “Lyrai,” she whispered, the fight draining out of her. “You’re Lyrai.”
“Thank Maegla,” he breathed, and kissed her.
All the aggression, fury and passion that had moments before fuelled their battled transferred into their kiss. Mhysra’s hands speared through his hair, clenching into tight fist that hurt as much as they pleasured, while his hands dropped to her hips, pulling her hard against him.
Tears poured down her face, washing against his cheeks and trailing into their mouths as she clutched at his back with one hand. Her legs tangled with his as though she was trying to climb him, crawl into him, never to be separated again.
Sensing her desperation, Lyrai tried to gentle her, pulling away to nuzzle her neck. “Shush,” he soothed, running a hand up and down her back. “It’s all right. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
But she just shook her head and pulled his mouth back to hers. “Don’t let me go, Lyrai,” she begged against his lips. “Don’t let go.”
“Never,” he promised, kissing her hard before wrapping her tightly in his arms, tucking her head beneath his chin. “Never.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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