She was drowning. Struggling to breathe. The water was ice. Blackness. There was no way of telling which way was up or down. She tumbled in a whirlwind of limbs.
The dragon was near; she felt it. She reached out; it was the only thing she knew how to do.
Suddenly her body was grabbed and hauled from the water. She could breathe but she and the Dragon both knew there were others down there. Acting as one, they took a moment to breathe then plummeted back into the icy depths. Her Dragon could feel the presence of life, and through him, Breanna could also. Like a beacon in the dark she could see Leasha’s tumbling spirit, Mim beside her, fading.
In an instant the Dragon dove deeper, catching them on his back, Breanna reached out pulling the pair toward her and all four surfaced, choking and spluttering, as the Dragon ferried them to the edge of the rushing river. The darkness of the caves was heavy, and the sound of the crashing water overwhelmed her senses.
“Are you alright?” she shouted.
“All right?” Mim’s voice, strong as ever, replied aghast, “I’ve been captured, knocked about, forced to flee my captors, ridden on a blasted dragon, been in a cave-in, and nearly flaming drowned…” she coughed and light from her staff flickered into life, her face was bright, she grinned at Breanna, “Yes, Poppet, I’m alright.”
“That was incredible,” Leasha added as they scrambled to their feet at the water’s edge.
Breanna laughed and Leasha grabbed her pulling her into an embrace, the Iskia drawn by the light of Mim staff crowded around, all of them asking a hundred questions.
Breanna laughed, “It’s all right,” she said, speaking to all of them, “ShortThorn sent me, he’ll be waiting for us. But first, we must get out of here.” Her announcement started a great chattering amongst the Iskia.
How far is out? How did you rescue us? How did the chains break?
“Now, look what you’ve done,” Mim said looking at them, “they think you’re talking’ to ‘em.”
Breanna stared at her confused and for the first time, a strange realisation dawned upon her. Suddenly she knew why neither Mim nor Leasha had spoken to the Iskia before, why they hadn’t communicated with one another. It was an odd realisation. The idea seemed so strange to her that even now it seemed unreal, it couldn’t be true; “You can’t understand them? Can you?” she asked but already knew the answer.
Leasha and Mim exchanged a glance then looked back to Breanna.
“There’s nothing to understand, Bree,” Leasha said, “ they’re birds, it’s like asking if you can understand a fox.”
She stared at them both, from Leasha to Mim, “But they are talking, as plainly as you are.”
“Well now,” Mim looked from Breanna to the Iskia, then laughed, “there were rumours you know,”
“That the Iskia and the dragons bore some ancient connection we couldn’t see, but” she shook her head,” I never heard tell of a Dragon Mage could talk to birds.” She blinked, “And this too?” she said waving her staff about, “You used it to lead yourself back to me?”
Breanna glanced guiltily to Leasha. It was to Leasha, not to Mim that the staff had led her. It was Leasha that she had wanted to be with. Somehow, Mim’s staff had sensed the connection, that magical thread that bound the two souls together. She was certain it was that thread that the staff had found, the thread of her heart. “Yes,” Breanna said, nodding fiercely with her lips pursed, “led me straight to you.”
Mim held it out to her, “You couldn’t use it to find a way out of here?”
Breanna took it. Hoping.
As soon as Mim let go, the mage light went out, she felt the ruffle of feathers that told her of the Iskia’s discomfort but she felt nothing from the staff. She tried to focus, tried to tell it to lead them out. “It’s no good,” she said finally.
Mim took the staff back, and the light came blinking back into life. “I thought as much,” she said, there was a sigh on her words and the disappointment in her voice cut into Breanna. “Well, we may as well follow the river, water always knows a way out even when the rest of us don’t.”
But Breanna wasn’t certain Mim believed those words herself.