YULLIK STOOD OVER the Wingborn until her breathing softened with sleep, content that she was dreaming again, carefully watching over her miryhl chicks and nurturing them towards adulthood.
How perfect that of all the people on the Overworld, the Wingborn happened to have such a strong maternal streak. How even more perfect that it wasn’t her own children she longed to raise, but those of another species entirely. She’d be of even more use than he’d first thought.
The skin between his shoulder blades prickled, and not just because his wings were longing to be released again. Yullik held them back, having been working on controlling his form ever since he returned home. He would change when he chose to and only then. Especially not now, when he had uninvited visitors loitering in doorways.
“How is she?” Rion asked, surprising Yullik with his restraint by not stepping inside. Then again, this room was full of Yullik’s power, the sort that even these strange twins seemed wary of. He stepped through the golden haze that surrounded the Wingborn, keeping her sleeping until he decided what to do with her, and forced Rion out into the corridor so that he could shut the door.
Only once it was safely sealed behind him did he look the male twin in the eye. “She sleeps.”
The captain arched an eyebrow. “Is that wise?” he asked.
Having no interest in arguing about the care of his captive, Yullik looked around the corridor in mock astonishment instead. “Where is your sister? I thought you couldn’t bear to be out of sight of each other.” He’d certainly had never seen them be so, until he’d crashed onto the decks of the Disordered Queen some two and a half months ago and discovered that each twin sailed their own skyship. Even then they stayed within constant sight of each other.
“Occasionally we can,” Rion answered with a smirk, falling into step with Yullik as he began striding down the corridor. “It’s good for us. Apparently.”
Yullik felt a flicker of curiosity at who might have said such a thing, but he let it fade away. He didn’t care that much. He found their mysteriousness tedious and had far more important things to fill his mind at the moment. “You should be careful. Restenfell is not a good place to wander about alone.”
“You do,” Rion pointed out, since Yullik had long been alone here. Somehow the kaz-naghkt didn’t count, they never did – until most of them were gone.
Fresh anger at what had been done to his home, ignited beneath Yullik’s skin, putting a golden wash on the world and hiding the worst of the damage. Walls had been shattered, ceilings cracked until they caved in, and death, so much death. Dragons, unknown and much hated, had swept through his home like the most savage of storms, leaving nothing untouched and nothing alive. They had smashed, slaughtered and destroyed it all.
But Yullik was resilient. He had some kaz-naghkt left over from Aquila, enough to start again without resorting to his oldest, crudest methods. He also had far more power than he’d ever had before. What had once taken him decades to excavate and build had barely taken a half-moon to restore to much of its former glory. Restenfell wasn’t quite the grand fortress he’d once dug out beneath the highest peaks of the mountains, but its more modest rooms and halls suited him perfectly well. It wasn’t as if he had tens of thousands of kaz-naghkt to house any longer. He didn’t even have a hundred.
Soon, though. Yes, soon.
“What do you want?” Yullik asked his unwanted guest as they swept down the stairway to the once great hall, which Yullik had only half-excavated, leaving the crumbled right wall in place as a constant reminder of what had been done to his home in his absence. Kaz-naghkt bodies lay under there. His old chambers were buried in the collapsed wing beyond. The last thing he wanted was to get too comfortable about being back here again. There wasn’t time to sit brooding and planning any longer. He didn’t have two centuries to hone his revenge.
Dragons were coming. He would be ready for them.
“Where else would we be?” Riame asked, rising from the pile of rocks upon which she had seated herself as if waiting for her brother to rejoin her.
Yullik looked at the twins who seemed to have attached themselves to him, much against his will, and arched an eyebrow. “Anywhere else. You’re pirates, aren’t you? Surely there’s an innocent village somewhere that you’ve yet to pillage and burn.”
Rion chuckled while his sister tutted in mock-disapproval. “Such assumptions, Yullik. I’m disappointed in you.”
He doubted that. Just as he doubted that these two were really pirates, for all the outward image they liked to project. They had no particular interest in pillage or slaughter, nor in petty thievery. What they liked was excitement, and he had certainly offered them plenty of that over the last year or so.
“Just because you’ve come through all of this unscathed so far, don’t trust your luck to last,” he warned, more in hope that they would leave than because he cared if anything happened to them. He rather hoped it would, if only to wipe the smirks off their faces.
“Luck?” Riame chuckled.
“We never trust to luck,” her brother continued.
“It’s far too flighty and fickle,” they said together.
Yullik rolled his eyes, having no patience for their foolish twin act any longer. “Rather like yourselves then,” he said, turning his back and striding deeper into the shadows of his ruined home. To his relief, only their voices followed.
“You’re full of compliments today,” Rion called.
“Stop it or you’ll quite turn our heads,” Riame agreed. “And then we’d have to fight over who gets to keep you.”
“Which would be sadly messy.” They laughed amongst themselves, smugly pleased with their own wit.
Yullik didn’t laugh. No one would get to keep him – he’d kill them both first. He was his own person and had been since almost as long as he could remember. He belonged to no one – and never would. Ignoring the twins and hoping they would take themselves back to the skyships moored in the cove outside, Yullik headed deep into the mountains to where his kaz-naghkt were sleeping.
It was time to begin the next phase. The Wingborn was almost ready. Now to prepare his kaz-naghkt.
* * *
DERRAIN WOKE WITH a start. He gasped, body tensing in anticipation of the pain that never left him… until now. Blinking, he found himself on his front, cheek mashed against the pillow. He gathered his elbows beneath him and pushed up a little, surprised to feel his back flex as easily as it had always done. Before the fall. Before being shattered.
That was when he realised he wasn’t alone. Turning just enough to look over his shoulder, he found Lieutenants Lyrai and Stirla standing on either side of his bed, with Jaymes, Silveo, Dhori, Haelle and Morri all looking down at him.
“What?” he asked warily, turning slowly onto his side, then to his back where he found sitting up far easier than it should have been.
“The lieutenants have a question for you,” Morri said, his face blank, his voice the neutral tones of a healer.
Looking away from those cool green eyes, Derrain shifted even further up the bed and glanced from one officer to another. “Sirs?” he asked.
Stirla gave him a reassuring smile and nodded at Lyrai. The blond lieutenant’s face was grave. “How is your back, Derry?”
“Better,” he said immediately, beginning to hope that he knew what this was about and unwilling to miss his chance. “And improving all the time.”
Lyrai’s eyes were almost as cool as Morri’s as they looked him over. Derrain resisted the urge to pull the blanket over his bare chest, barely, and glanced at his friends in search of answers. Jaymes had Emberbright cuddled in his arms and gave a slight nod, Silveo was studying his shoes, while Dhori gave a very uncharacteristic wink.
Reassured, Derrain looked at Lyrai again. “What’s all this about, sir?”
“We’re leaving,” Stirla told him.
Derrain’s heart picked up and he kept his eyes on Lyrai. “You’re going after Mhysra.” It wasn’t a question.
The blond lieutenant finally smiled. “Are you with us?”
Derrain found himself looking at Morri standing quietly at the end of the bed. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t saying no either. As he gave the smallest nod of approval, Derrain grinned at his lieutenants.
“When do we leave?”
~ Next Chapter ~