On Board the Illuminai
IT WASN’T THE most exciting journey Derrain had taken, and he’d flown to a lot of places. Considering many of those had been with some pretty dull and miserable people – including Mhysra after the Riders rescued her from the Countess – it wasn’t quite the worst either. The thought of that flight now made Derrain smile as he lay on his bed in the small room that had been given to him and the younger Riders. The cabin was narrow, with a triple row of bunks on one side of the door and Derrain’s solitary bed on the other. There was barely enough room to stand between them, and only just enough space beneath his bed to fit three travel chests. Some might have found it cramped, but Derrain was used to life on a skyship and the fact that the Riders had been given a cabin at all was a luxury.
At first he’d been dismayed at being kept apart from the crew, many of whom he knew well after years of sailing with them, but as the journey wore on he became grateful for the extra privacy. It was hard to miss the pity in people’s eyes when they watched him stagger aboard, wincing and fighting not to cry out as Stirla and Reglian carried him below decks and laid him on his bunk. He also preferred not to have an audience during his daily visits from Goryal, when the powerful dragon uncovered his back in all its bruised and wretched glory.
As he lay on his front – under Goryal’s orders to rest as much as possible while he could – Derrain listened to the sounds of the skyship around him and realised this wasn’t his world anymore. He still had friends here, and he welcomed them whenever they stopped by for a visit, but they soon wearied him. Their curiosity was all about the wrong things – the war; what it was like to fight kaz-naghkt; how weird the dragons were – and never about the things that mattered – the wonder of miryhls; what Aquila had been like before it fell; how amazing dragons could be. Listening to them jabber on in innocence and ignorance made Derrain feel old and tired. He’d never thought he’d relish having a door to close between him and the rest of the skyship, but everything had changed. He couldn’t imagine returning to this life now, when once it was all he’d wanted.
He slept a great deal, in part because of the strange drinks Goryal kept giving him, but also because there was little else for him to do. Jaymes and Dhori might have been sharing his cabin, but he rarely saw them, except when it was time to sleep. He didn’t know what his fellow students got up to during the day, but it left them very little time to spend with him. He saw Goryal daily, of course, and the two lieutenants liked to check up on him as well. Lyrai rarely said much, but the silent understanding between them didn’t need to be spoken – they were here for Mhysra, her best friend and the man who loved her. Stirla was better company, telling tales and teasing Derrain about all the daring feats he would achieve when he was back to full strength. Yet even the big lieutenant couldn’t quite hide the worry in his eyes, as if he too feared that Derrain would again be the same person he’d been before Aquila fell.
Would any of them? Derrain shook his head and gave a sleepy yawn, shifting one hand from beneath his cheek to stroke the creature lying along his side. Emberbright was a warm, comforting presence, as she often was these days. Life onboard a skyship wasn’t easy for a fire dragon, no matter how small. There was simply no way of hiding her bright red scales and the danger she presented. Neither wooden walls nor an enormous gasbag were ideal surroundings for the dragonet, and Jaymes worried about the dark looks and low mutters she received from the crew whenever he carried her about. So she mostly snuggled up in the cabin with Derrain, with only occasional forays outside to fly with Reglian and Rhiddyl.
No, it wasn’t the most exciting of journeys, Derrain thought, crossing his arms beneath his face and shutting his eyes, but he was too tired to really care. All that mattered was that with each dull passing day, the Illuminai carried them ever further towards the Greater West and the mountains that lay beyond.
HE WOKE SOMETIME later, aware of soft murmuring and the gentle glow of lamplight. Jaymes sat on the bottom bunk opposite, knees drawn up, an open book laid across his legs. Emberbright was draped around him, her chin resting on his knee, getting in the way while her human attempted to darn his socks.
“Not that one again,” the redhead grumbled in a low voice. “You always ask for that one, and the mystery is boring. He’s barely even trying to hide it anymore.”
Derrain smiled. He didn’t need to see the page to know which story they were talking about. He recognised the book Lyrai had brought back from the Dragonlands, full of stories of the human gods, many of whom neither Derrain nor any of his friends had even heard of before. Well, Dhori probably had, but since he made himself scarce whenever the rest of them read it, he didn’t count.
“What about this one?” Jaymes dropped his darning to turn to the back of the book. “We haven’t read most of these yet.”
Emberbright growled in disagreement, using her tail to flick back to the earlier story, which she slapped for emphasis. Derrain chuckled at her determination.
Dragon and Dragongifted glanced over in joint surprise. “Oh, sorry,” Jaymes apologised. “We didn’t mean to wake you.” He narrowed his eyes at his dragonet, who flattened her neck ruff with a meek squeak.
“I was only dozing,” Derrain assured him, yawning. “I sleep too much these days anyway. Want me to read while you work?”
“Would you?” Jaymes perked up. “Maybe Ember will come and bother you instead, letting me get on with fixing these socks.”
Chuckling, Derrain turned over and pushed up against his pillows until he could pull his knees up like Jaymes and prop the book on his legs. It took longer than he would have liked, his body still depressingly weak, but at least it didn’t hurt. Much. “Come ‘ere, Ember,” he encouraged, while Jaymes tossed the book across the narrow gap between their beds.
~ Next Chapter ~