Karen thought they’d been circling for maybe half an hour when Rai appeared, flying towards them. There were two air nymphs clinging to his back, one of whom she recognised as Salia’s friend Coromel. Valeria must have sent her home to her family.
“Can you land near the ground entrance?” Rai called as he came within earshot. “No matter what we do, it will cause a panic if you land in the eyrie proper. We’ll have to climb the stairs.”
Of course! Lyrrekka banked and spiralled down towards the entrance. I haven’t been here for a while but I still remember where it is.
“I was here recently.” Karen couldn’t suppress a shudder as the doorway came into view.
What’s wrong? Lyrrekka asked.
“Last time I was here your former boss nearly killed me.” Karen shuddered again at the memory of Gerian’s metal shredding her back. “If he hadn’t been more preoccupied with going after Salia… if Alaryia hadn’t made me the antidote…” She trailed off and shuddered again.
Beneath her, she felt Lyrrekka give an rumble. Gerian used his essence venom on you? The thought was tightly controlled but Karen could feel the rage behind it.
“Yes,” she replied. “They had to rush me to Caerdu.”
Had you gone through maturity at the time? Still the same tight control.
“No, that was a few days later,” Karen replied. “Why-” She broke off and winced as Lyrrekka blistered the air around them with draconic curses. “Uh. You’re hurting my ears.”
Sorry, Lyrrekka returned to mental speech. He shouldn’t have done that.
It’s a breach of combat etiquette among our kind to use venom on a child, Ystelyan explained. I’d expect it of Shalriya or Mitakrian, but for all his flaws Gerian’s never broken it before. I wonder if he assumed you’d matured.
“No, he called me a child twice. Once just before he threw the pile of shards that poisoned me,” Karen replied.
Why? Why would he cross that line? Lyrrekka asked. It’s not like it’s a fuzzy one.
Not at our level, Ystelyan agreed. One of the kedri fighting a child who was stronger than them would probably not be punished. But Gerian’s not one to be bothered by her strength. He’s arrogant enough that even if she were red it wouldn’t bother him. He landed not far from the door and let his passengers dismount before resuming his human form. “Did he say anything else?”
“Hmm… not really,” Karen said as she slid down from Lyrrekka’s back. “He said he wished he’d found me earlier because I might have been useful and that it was too late now. He did comment on my strength.”
“I’m sorry,” Lyrrekka said as she resumed her human form and turned to where Rai was landing. “Coromel!” She held out her hands to the sylph.
“It’s not your fault,” Karen said as Coromel came running over.
An older nymph followed more cautiously but smiled nervously when she finally reached them.
“A-are you Lyrrekka?”
“I am,” Lyrrekka said.
“I-I’m Leste, Coromel’s bearer mother. I wanted to thank you for saving her life,” she said. “Alize would have come as well but- well-”
“My donator mother is too scared,” Coromel said wryly. “I told her you weren’t scary but I don’t think she believed me. I mean she is grateful but-”
“But I’m still a dragon? You were pretty scared of me at first, dear.” Lyrrekka smiled at Coromel then nodded to her mother. “It was my pleasure. I’m just sorry she was in so much danger to begin with.” She ruffled Coromel’s hair. “But you should go back inside. It might get dangerous here.”
“We will.” Rai shrunk down to his resting form and landed on Karen’s shoulder. “But you need me to open the door first because we’re locked down at the moment. Our neighbours are being troublesome because we’ve remained loyal to the queen.”
“Yes,” Karen said. “I suppose they would be. We’d better get inside, then.”
They walked over to the solid wall of rock where the doorway should be. Even the edges were invisible from the outside, but Rai obviously knew where he was going. He flew to an ordinary looking outcrop and tapped it with his beak. The cliff behind it shimmered and flowed away to reveal to doorway and the stairs behind it.
“I’ll close it behind you then fly back to the eyrie with Leste and Corom-” He broke off as they all sensed something watching them. A faint sense of draconic hunger scratched at Karen’s skin before it vanished. She shot a look at Ystelyan and Lyrrekka and saw both of them had stiffened.
“Okay, who the hell told Mitakrian what we were doing.” Lyrrekka pushed Coromel and her mother towards the door. “You’d best go back up the stairs and send a warning to your people to get to cover. He must be here to stop us and he’s the kind who would happily hold your entire people hostage to do it.”