World's End: Chapter 1, Part 3

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DERRAIN TRIED NOT to grimace as he walked slowly along the aisle between the beds of the infirmary. It was a gods-given miracle that he could walk at all, he reminded himself as he tried not to limp or wince as the muscles in his back pulled and screamed at him to slow down, to stop, to lie down, to give up.

He wouldn’t give up. When the tower had come crashing down, he’d thrown himself over Corin without a second thought. Even when he’d landed flat on his back and heard that awful crack that would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life, he still wouldn’t do anything differently. Except, perhaps, if he hadn’t been so quick to save Corin from injury, she might still be with them today. If they’d both been hurt in the fall – him a little less, and her just enough to making walking more difficult – perhaps she would never have had the strength to confront Yullik. She would never have tried to fight. Would never have died.

Gods, of all the things that had happened that day, that was the one thing Derrain would change if given the chance. Corin, reckless, loyal and brave. Along with the crack of his spine breaking, his nightmares would forever be filled with the sound of her fighting the monster and losing. Derrain hadn’t seen it, had been unable to move in order to watch or help, but he’d heard it. Every last ring of the blade, every last step, every final gasp of breath.

Shaking with exertion and painful memories, he laid his hands flat on the windowsill and bowed his head. The day beyond the glass was gloriously sunny, with blue skies reflected in the lake pooled across the Lawn below, but Derrain barely spared it a glance. It should be raining. The skies should be grey. There should be storms. Didn’t the weather understand what had been lost?

Taking deep breaths, Derrain wiped the sweat off his brow and focused on staying on his feet. His knees were weak and his back was locked tight, but he would not surrender. Corin hadn’t; she never would. She’d fought when none of the rest of them could, so he would fight on in her memory. To do that, he had to walk.

Even though he wanted to fall to his knees, slump against the wall, rest his forehead on the windowsill and never get up again, Derrain forced his trembling arms straight and pushed himself upright. Then he turned, searching for his bed amongst the wounded, more than ready to return to it.

A small, slender man blocked his way, green eyes bright with compassion, then narrowed in assessment as they ran over Derrain from head to toe and back again.

“Mou – Morri,” he corrected himself. It was tricky remembering that his old friend had changed his name. Not that the man before him was anything like the bouncy, nervy, over-enthusiastic boy Derrain had first met back in Nimbys when they’d all taken their first steps to becoming Riders. Mouse had been a fitting name for that boy. It didn’t suit this man. This quiet, competent, strong man whose patience was almost as great a gift as the one he had for healing. This man was no mouse.

“You’re getting stronger.” Morri smiled, flashing up a hint of the old Mouse, and held out an arm. “But you shouldn’t overdo it. Come on.”

Remembering a time when it had been Mouse who’d needed such support – and refused every last offer of it – Derrain opted for wisdom and gripped the wiry wrist. “Thanks,” he muttered gruffly.

It was less of a walk, more of a shuffle. Once Derrain might have been embarrassed about how long it took him to cross the room and how sweaty he was at the end when Morri helped him back onto the bed. But that was before he’d cracked his back in several places and had to lie helpless and gasping, unable to feel his legs, while tingling sensations came and went in his fingers and hands. In those moments, as he lay there and listened to Corin fight and die, Derrain had thought he would soon follow her – and if he didn’t, he would never walk again. He hadn’t been sure if he would ever move his arms again either. The future had spread before him bleak and painful and empty. He’d never realised how much he’d taken for granted his entire life, not until he lay there paralysed and fighting for every painful breath, while one friend died and another was stolen away.

So no, Derrain wasn’t embarrassed by how slowly he walked, he was grateful that he could walk at all.

“On your front,” Morri told him softly, helping Derrain to ease onto his side and shift into the centre of the bed before turning onto his chest. “Now relax.” Warm hands settled on his back, unlocking the tension and pain inside his knotted muscles. The aches in his spine gradually unravelled and flowed away. Derrain rested his forehead on his folded forearms and sighed.

He didn’t know everything that had happened to Morri over the long winter after the fall of Aquila, but there was no denying that he had changed. A lot. They all had, but Morri was so different as to be another person altogether. He had magic, for one thing.

Most people didn’t seem to have noticed, because Morri was very good with medicines, potions, lotions and massages. Derrain couldn’t help but notice it whenever Morri put his hands on him. He’d been healed by Goryal, and although the dragon’s power was stronger, cooler and brighter, there was no denying the similar sensations that Morri’s touch invoked. Dragon magic. Derrain didn’t have to visit the Cleansed Lands like his friends to recognise it, not when it was the miraculous thing that had put his shattered spine back together and returned his ability to walk.

“There,” Morri murmured, lifting his hands and pulling the blanket over Derrain’s back. “Rest a bit more then have something to eat. You’re doing well, Derry. Really well.”

Derrain eyed his friend over his shoulder and smiled sleepily. “Thanks, Mouse,” he yawned.

Morri smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “You’re welcome,” he said gently, not bothering to correct his slip. They were old friends, after all, and no matter how much the healer changed, some part of him would always be Mouse to Derrain. “Sleep.”

Yawning again, Derrain snuggled his head on his arms and sighed, welcoming the momentary respite from pain, his eyes closing. Sleep was another thing he couldn’t take for granted these days, not when pain and nightmares so often chased him away from it. So Derrain closed his eyes, sank into the warmth of his bed and surrendered. He needed all the rest he could get, so that he could grow stronger, because he wasn’t planning on staying in this bed or this infirmary forever. The west was calling, and when the others went – as he was certain they would – he would go with them.

“For Corin,” he whispered, and dropped into sleep.


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