Keovel Point, Etheria
RHIDDYL STOOD AT the very edge of Etheria and stared out over the frothing Cloud Sea. Dawn was the merest hint on the eastern horizon behind her; all ahead was shadow and silver-edged shapes. This was it, the last piece of the Greater West upon which she would rest her claws. A trail of islands stretched away into the twilight before her, but they were small, wooded and uninhabited. None were sized for a dragon like her and few held any appeal for humans, barely rising above the sea as they did.
Mainland Etheria ended in a narrow promontory beneath her feet, with nothing worth noting between here and the dark smudge lingering on the horizon. The World’s End Mountains. It was the only piece of the Overworld that crossed the barriers, existing in both dragon and human lands – and cursed in both. In the Cleansed Lands, the mountain range marked the end of the Clanlands, with only wilderness beyond, home to fire drakes, wyverns, wyrms and exiles with no hope of redemption. The deserts of Clan Sunlord stretched right to their feet, but beyond them lay only emptiness. In the Overworld, nothing lay beyond World’s End but clouds endless enough that not even a dragon could fly to the other side.
But it wasn’t what lay beyond that cursed the mountains, it was the rocks themselves. Rhiddyl couldn’t recall ever hearing any tales to explain why the range was so unfortunate, she just knew that it was. It felt cursed. A place of ill-fortune and worse luck. Of dark portents and shattered fates. Nothing good ever came from those mountains and the wise stayed far away from them.
Which perfectly explained why Yullik ses-Khennik had made them his home.
“They’re just mountains,” a deep voice growled beside her, making Rhiddyl glance down. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
Estenarix looked like a chunk of granite in the dawn chill, her human-shaped body swathed in leathers today instead of her usual unkempt furs. Streaks of small black feathers ran across her head like rows of glossy braids, but her eyes were resolutely fixed upon the western horizon, her face set with determination.
“You’re kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart,” Reglian rumbled with amusement, coming to join them on the promontory. “Are mountains ever just mountains to you?”
Estenarix eyed both him and Rhiddyl, then shook her head, making her feather rows ripple. “Skystorms,” she grumbled. “You act as though every shower of rain is magically different. But sometimes rain is just rain, thunder is only thunder and lightning just a pretty show. Even to a Boulderforce, sometimes mountains are just mountains.”
“Better than cursed,” Rhiddyl fluted, trying to stir up some cheer and enthusiasm for the journey ahead. Hearing Estenarix trying to convince them all that World’s End was just another set of mountains wasn’t helping. Even if the place wasn’t cursed, creepy and dangerous, those were still the highest peaks in the world. Surely that alone should have made them a little bit special. It was also teeming with minerals and other goodies, which again, should have elevated it above the ordinary. The more Estenarix claimed it to be nothing more than a normal mountain range, the less Rhiddyl was inclined to believe her. Which made her even more anxious about going there.
“Don’t forget you’re in the Overworld.” Lieutenant Lyrai strolled over to join them. “We’re used to curses here.”
Again, not a helpful comment, but rather undeniable as Rhiddyl looked out towards the distant mountains and the miles and miles of the Cloud Sea stretched out between. Cursed clouds, cursed mountains, it wouldn’t surprise her to know that the sky was cursed too. Perhaps their journey was as well?
“I like you, Rider,” Estenarix laughed, slapping Lyrai hard enough on the back to send him stumbling over the edge – if Rhiddyl hadn’t raised her foot to catch him before he fell. “You always look on the bright side.”
At that moment the rising sun crested over Rhiddyl’s shoulder, throwing bright light over the sprawling sea and picking out highlights among the islands. A flock of birds rose from one forest, spiralling up into the sky like specks of dust.
“Time,” Elder Goryal called, their voice clear and chiming on the still air.
“Time,” Reglian grumbled, stalking away with a chuckling Estenarix on his heels.
“It will be well,” Lyrai promised, pressing a comforting hand against Rhiddyl’s shoulder before he left to find Hurricane.
Rhiddyl wrinkled her nose and waited for Reglian and Estenarix to assume their first – and quite frankly, excessive – forms. Reglian was the longer of the two, but Estenarix was pure bulk. Perched between them, Rhiddyl felt small and rather weedy, wondering how the Boulderforce ever got off the ground.
“Ready when you are, Goryal,” Estenarix called, her voice like a crumbling avalanche.
“Ready when you are,” Goryal echoed, appearing in front of the three dragons in their human shape, handing each of them a rope that was thicker than the Starshine’s waist.
Reglian eyed the rope with distaste and accepted it up with a sigh. “See what you have reduced me to with your infernal schemes?”
Goryal laughed, high, chiming and exceedingly merry, before vanishing in a puff of rainbow sparkles.
“Show off,” the three dragons grumbled, but nevertheless held onto their ropes as they shuffled to the edge of the cliff.
“Try to stay in dragon form,” Reglian told Rhiddyl as a parting shot, before he dropped over the edge, rope unspooling behind him as he waited to open his wings.
“Ignore him, young Rhidystel. We’re strong enough to take the strain. Just keep flying.” Winking, Estenarix dropped after him, with a little less grace and a lot more power as she slammed her wings against the air and shot upwards.
Reglian’s rope twanged taut beside her, making timbers groan as the Illuminai started to move. Rhiddyl glanced back as Estenarix’s rope snapped up. The skyship lurched forwards, surprising all on board with the jolt.
“Well, Rhidystel?” Goryal’s voice chimed inside her mind and Rhiddyl launched with a sigh.
“The things we do for our friends,” she said, taking up the strain between the two bigger dragons.
“All our friends, or just the pretty blond lieutenants who asks so politely?” Estenarix teased, making Reglian boom with laughter.
Rhiddyl blushed, cursing her belly scales for their tell-tale pink colour, and desperately holding onto her form for fear of the pink chicken making an appearance. She did like Lieutenant Lyrai, it was true, but it wasn’t like that. And he hadn’t asked only her to help speed up the Illuminai against the strong westerly winds, he’d asked all of them and they’d all said yes. So, it wasn’t like that, at all. It wasn’t.
Desperate for a distraction, she yelled, “Race you to World’s End!” and shot ahead, leaving the others cursing as their lines fell slack and the Illuminai surged up towards their tails. Relishing in her turn to laugh, Rhiddyl put her face into the heart of the wind and powered on.
~ Next Chapter ~