MORRI WALKED CALMLY along the aisle between the beds, eyes flicking over his patients, assessing each one, checking that all was well. When nothing stood out as needing his immediate attention, he nodded to Haelle to keep watch and slipped into Nehtl’s office. His office now, he reminded himself as he carefully shut the door and stepped over to the basin to wash his hands.
Only then did he allow the shakes to come. Only then did he let his shoulders slump and the trembling to overtake him. He collapsed into the chair beside the basin and blotted his hands on the towel.
Then he stared at them.
Prickles of heat raced up and down his arms, little dots and dabs of energy that were only a fading memory of how they’d been when he’d touched Derrain’s back.
“Nightriver,” he whispered, the damp patches on his skin shimmering with green light.
He flicked his hands sharply and felt an answering chuckle deep inside his mind. “Yes, my Morri?” his Dragongift rumbled from far away, where he was deep under the mountain, alternately recovering bodies and keeping out of the way of nervous humans.
“What have you done to me?” Morri asked, soft and shaken. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt a prickling sensation when he’d touched someone’s wounds, but this time it had been more. The prickles had burned and that burn had been sucked out of his hands – right into Derrain’s back.
He’d healed that way once before, when Imaino’s chest had been ripped open and the lieutenant lay dying on the steps to the citadel. Nightriver had been with him then, and they’d all been desperate, fighting the last fight to win back their home, willing to risk anything and everything they could to succeed.
“Nothing,” his dragon replied. “I have done nothing.”
“Where is this coming from then?” Morri almost hissed, fear building into anger. “This is magic. It must be yours.”
“Must it?” Nightriver sounded almost bored.
“Yes!” Morri shouted, then winced, remembering to keep his voice down. Haelle and Silveo were used to him talking to his Dragongift even when Nightriver wasn’t around, but the other healers were already suspicious of him. It didn’t help that they were so much older and hadn’t taken kindly to having a skinny boy put in charge. They were even less keen when Nightriver was around, but at least they followed his orders. Mostly.
Morri grimaced. They already whispered about him and his dragon behind his back, best not start even worse rumours because he was caught taking to himself. Again.
Wiping his damp hands on his trousers, he tried to gain some control over his shakes. “It must be yours. You’re the dragon. I don’t have any magic.”
“Don’t you?” Nightriver sounded amused. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Morri managed to keep it down this time. “Perfectly sure. You’re the one who can heal with a touch, not me.”
“No. I cannot,” his dragon corrected. “I can only heal with my waters. You’re the one who can heal with a touch, not me.”
“Stop laughing at me,” Morri growled, not amused to have his own words parroted back at him. “And make it stop.”
“Why?” Nightriver sounded as if he genuinely wanted to know. “You’re a healer. Don’t you want to heal? Imagine all the good you can do.”
Morri squirmed in his seat, his hands starting to prickle again at the thought of healing others like Derrain. He sat on them. “Everyone already thinks I’m strange. I don’t need anything else to mark me out as different.”
“Why?” the dragon asked again, sounding rather perplexed. “You are different, Morri. You are Dragongifted. There is no changing that. Why not be the best you can?
Morri sighed, knowing it was pointless to keep arguing about this. Nightriver would never understand. He wasn’t human and never would be, nor did he want to be. He saw things in his own special way and felt no need to think differently. “Just tone it down. Please.”
His dragon huffed, his amusement carrying perfectly clearly across however many miles below and away he was. “Even though I do not see why you would want me to, I would, my Morri, for you. But I cannot. I told you, I have done nothing to you, changed nothing about you. I cannot heal with a touch. That is you, Morri, only you. If you wish it to stop or to tone down, you must find out how to do it yourself.”
As Nightriver’s voice and presence faded from his mind, Morri sat in his chair and stared at the wall. His hands prickled and warmed in his lap and slowly, ever so slowly, he raised them. They trembled. Morri inhaled a shuddering breath as the lines of his veins began to glow beneath his skin, softly at first, but gaining in strength with every beat of his pounding heart. Green, bright ghostly green, the same colour as Nightriver’s magic.
“Gods,” he whispered, clenching his fists and teeth hard enough to hurt, until the glows and tingles subsided. He could do nothing about the shakes. “Oh, gods, what am I going to do?”
“Embrace your gift.” Elder Goryal stood just inside the door.
Morri jumped, having not heard them enter. He stared at the pale dragon, wondering how much they had seen, how much they had heard and how much they knew.
Goryal’s smile was faint and gave nothing away as they stepped lightly across the room. “Embrace your gift,” they repeated, taking Morri’s hands in theirs and rubbing their thumbs across the backs. Green light followed their touch, sparking and reacting to the rainbow shimmers of the elder’s magic. “You are Dragongifted.”
Morri snatched his hands back and tucked them under his arms until the prickles went away. “I told Nightriver to stop it. He says it’s not from him.”
“It’s not,” Goryal chuckled, stepping back as Morri stood and started to pace.
“But he’s my Dragongift. It must be his doing. The magic is the same colour as his.”
“He is your dragon,” Goryal agreed, holding out their hand and producing a white glow globe shot through with rainbow sparkles. The prickles under Morri’s skin grew worse, until green shimmers appeared in his vision. “This is your gift.”
Morri looked down, surprised to find that he was holding the dragon’s hand again. The green glow danced with rainbow shimmers, twin streams wrapping around his arm, leaving prickling heat and soothing coolness in their wake.
“You are a healer, Morri,” Goryal told him softly. “A protector of Aquila.”
“Like Nightriver,” Morri whispered, watching the magic twine together but never merge. He looked up into Goryal’s rainbow eyes, understanding washing over him. “He defends, I heal.”
“You are a team,” the dragon agreed, pulling their hand and power away, leaving Morri staring down at his hands and arms, all pulsing with the prickling green glow.
“I’m not a Rift Rider anymore,” he said softly, something that he’d known for some time but hadn’t wanted to admit.
“You belong to Aquila.”
Morri felt that settle deep inside and looked up with a smile. “I belong to Aquila,” he agreed, closing his fists and feeling the magic merge with his skin. “I belong here.”
“You do,” Goryal said firmly. “And don’t let anyone ever tell you different.”
“I won’t,” Morri promised, knowing there would be plenty who would try. Because he was different and strange and not quite human anymore, and there would be those who didn’t like that. Didn’t like him. But he wasn’t Mouse anymore. He wasn’t shy or timid or afraid of his own shadow. He was Morri: Dragongifted, healer and protector of Aquila. He belonged here.
A tap on the door broke his thoughts and he looked up. “Yes?”
“Mou-Morri?” Silveo stumbled over his name, as did every one of his old friends. It made him smile as his silver-haired friend poked his head around the door. “The lieutenants are here to see you.” Even though there were six lieutenants left at Aquila, that title only referred to two. The two he knew and liked best.
“Send them in.” Morri flexed his tingling fingers and rubbed his hands together. He’d been worried about Lyrai’s nagging headaches for the last two moons and had been wishing he could do something more to rid Stirla of the last bit of weakness in his broken leg. Now he could.
“Lieutenants,” he greeted as the two men he’d once idolised ambled into his office. “Come in, please. Sit, sit.” He felt almost as eager as his old self as he urged the men into chairs, knowing Goryal was watching him with an indulgent smile. As well they might. They’d tried so hard to teach him all manner of things over the last two moons, but Morri hadn’t paid as much attention as he might. He was paying attention now, finally, and Goryal was clearly delighted.
“Ah, elder, there you are,” Stirla said, limping to the nearest chair and easing into it with obvious stiffness in his bad leg. “Reglian was looking for you.”
“He’ll find me eventually,” Goryal said calmly, showing no signs of leaving to search for their travelling companion. “It’s not like I venture far from the infirmary most days.”
Wriggling his fingers, Morri looked between the lieutenants, uncertain where to start, then noticed Lyrai rubbing his head. “Is it hurting again?”
Lyrai gave him a weary smile. “It never really stops.”
Which was the perfect opening. Morri stepped forward and placed a tingling hand over where the bump used to be. Both he and Lyrai sighed in unison as the heat was sucked out of his hand and into the lieutenant’s aching skull. The relief was immediate and so wonderful that Morri’s knees nearly buckled.
“Careful.” A firm touch steadied his elbow. “Don’t overdo it.”
Feeling a teeny bit drunk, Morri looked into Goryal’s rainbow eyes and nodded. “Course not.” His words were slurred, but he had enough strength to resist when the dragon tried to pull him away from his patient. “Hey.”
“That’s enough,” Goryal ordered, and for such a skinny, fragile-seeming creature, they had plenty of strength when they chose. Dragons.
The moment Morri’s hand left Lyrai’s head, darkness swam over his eyes and his knees went all watery again. “Oh.” He swayed.
“What is it? What’s happening?” Lieutenant Lyrai jumped to his feet and swung Morri around to take his seat, bending over him, concern in his bright blue eyes. Brighter and clearer than they’d been since the day the tower fell.
“Oh,” Morri said again, his head feeling too heavy for his neck. “You’re better.” Smiling, he slipped sideways and slumped into soothing, wonderful, welcoming darkness.
~ Next Chapter ~