Unable to sleep, Mirren got out of bed and made the way to her window. Pulling back her thin curtains, she stared out over the sea. Although the children's wing looked out over a different bay to the main part of the citadel, she could hear the sounds of the wedding party echoing over the water. The silvery moonlight and strident music was probably the reason she couldn't sleep.
Pulling on her dressing gown, Mirren couldn't help but think her father would be disappointed in her. He had explained over and over why she and her siblings had to go to bed early even though their cousins didn't. But it was unfair and, she didn't care how scary his story about the Driechtnacht had been, she was eleven – she had received her family bracelet and that meant she was grown-up enough to stay awake for the party.
Even though Kyle was only ten, Mirren reasoned it was better to wake him up than go alone down the long stair to the less-protected parts of the Mirelli family citadel. Cautiously, she pushed open her door, alert for any sound of movement. She jumped when she heard a crashing sound. But it wasn't coming from the children's wing; it was echoing over the water. Pursing her lips in a comic imitation of her mother, Mirren reflected that it was probably that perfectly ridiculous chandelier Uncle Kato had brought from the Emperor.
Still slightly nervous, Mirren tip-toed down the darkened corridor. Here in the more ominous passage, her father's stories seemed a bit more real. Mirren shook herself before carefully turning the doorknob of the twins' room; she didn't want to wake Darren. Though normally the twin with which she spent more time, Darren would definitely be the one who would admonish her to heed father's warning.
The twins had their heavier curtains closed and only a twin sliver of moonlight was shining onto Darren's sleeping face. It didn't seem to be bothering him so hopefully a little noise wouldn't. Unlike Darren, whose wedding clothes were neatly folded at the end of his bed, Kyle was attempting to sleep in his. It had been an uphill struggle for mother to get him into them but it appeared it would be just as difficult to get him out.
Trying not to startle him, Mirren gently pushed her brother's shoulder. He couldn't have been properly asleep because his right eye opened almost immediately. She leant down to whisper, "I want to go see what's happening." He gave her a small nod with his scruffy head and got up as quietly as he could. After stealing a furtive glance at his twin whom Mirren was still watching beady-eyed, Kyle led the way out.
They made their way to back down the corridor to the door leading to the rest of the citadel. Mirren pricked her finger on the family tie that sealed the door, a small bead of blood identifying her as a Mirelli and releasing the magic that sealed the door.
Stealing down the winding stair, Mirren nervously flicked her long hair out of her face. Even though she couldn't see anything, the curls tickling her face were bothering her. She strained her ears to hear anything but without the sea to bring the noise to her, the thick walls effectively sealed them off from sound coming from the main wing.
When they were almost halfway down the stairs, the deafening bang of the defensive doors at the bottom of the stairwell echoed up the stairwell.
Mirren felt Kyle's hand grab her shoulder. She looked round, panicked.
"Quick, up the stairs," she half-whispered.
Almost tripping over her nightgown, Mirren scampered up the stairs. Her father would be so angry to catch her out of bed. Almost out of breath, she ran and ran. She could hear quick footsteps following her up.
She had almost reached the safety of her room when she felt a heavy hand grab her and swing her round. Eyes wide, she relaxed abruptly when she realised it was Uncle Teren. He had grabbed Kyle as well but Teren wasn't one to scold.
His dark eyes, though, were wide and his breathing heavy. He glanced over his shoulder before looking back at the children.
"Uncle Teren, you're hurting my arm." Mirren squirmed in his firm grip.
"Mirren!" Her uncle's voice echoed down the children's wing. Mirren couldn't help glancing behind her. "Mirren!"
"We just wanted to see what was happening. Shonra and Vire got to stay," Mirren said.
Teren pulled his eyebrows together, his expression uncomprehending. He shook his head. "Mirren, you know how to summon the dragon?"
Mirren peered up at him. "Yes," she answered.
"Good, you have to! Right now! I must go back," he looked behind him. "Get the others out but summon the dragon. I must go!"
Without another word, her uncle let go of her and Kyle and flung his lean body into the race back down the stairs neglecting to close the door behind him. While her eyes were still wide and her lower lip trembling, Mirren managed to follow him just to the door and close it.
"Mirren, what's happening?" Kyle asked.
Mirren looked back down the passage, her eyes slightly unfocused. "Get Darren," she told him woodenly. "Get the others. Meet me in the Window Room."
"It's, it must be, a Driechtnacht." On the last word, she made eye contact with Kyle and saw his eyes widen. He shook his head but obeyed her injunction to call his brother.
She felt like she was walking in molasses as she made her way to the Window Room at the end of the children's wing. Furthest from harm, safest from danger, the narrow room was set right on the island's rocks where you could hear the waves crashing below. The door was open – it always was – and the bright moon shone through the stained-glass dragon, casting a distorted version of it onto the floor's tiles.
Mirren took up her position at the centre of the reflection of the dragon's stomach, staring up at the massive Window. Around the dragon that dominated it were dragon runes she could barely make out. She didn't need to. After hundreds of hours of practice with her father, she knew them all by heart. Swallowing, she forced herself into the breathing exercises he had taught her. Then, she closed her eyes and reached for a tendril of magic. Grabbing it with her mind, she plunged her magic downwards into the island beneath her feet. With a rush that almost made Mirren's shaking knees give way, the island magic climbed through her seeking an outlet. Hastily, Mirren began outlining the runes with her finger. Just as she finished each one's outline, the island magic rushed into them, casting an eerie green light around the room.
Once she had completed the circle of green runes, she Summoned the image of the valley in the island's mountains where the dragons slept. She sought for one in particular – born a hybrid, Newen Mirelli had been a dragon now for hundreds of years – but she sent the magic in all directions and through her sending she could see the valley momentarily lit by the magic's green glow.
The Summoning completed, Mirren could only hope the magic, or the light, had gotten the dragon's attention. With the waves crashing so close by, Mirren couldn't hear if there were any sounds coming from the other part of the citadel.
She heard running steps behind her and swung round, preparing to cast the one shield-spell she knew. But it was only the tousled-haired twins. Kyle dragged James and Wendy in. Once released, James rubbed his still half-sealed eyes and Wendy narrowed hers, scowling at her elder sister. Darren held baby Kimi protectively.
"Get them out onto the ledge," Mirren said to the twins.
Darren pushed the still-scowling Wendy ahead of him. Kyle swept the bewildered James into his arms while Mirren opened the window latch. Once Kyle had deposited James on the rocky ledge, he reached back inside to take Kimi from Darren, giving Darren the freedom of movement he needed to shove Wendy out. That done, Darren looked round for Mirren who briefly met his eyes before giving him a half-nod.
He nodded back. Though keeping close to the window, Mirren stayed in the room. Reverberating through the residue of her earlier Summoning, she could just make out the dragon winging his way to them. She managed a half-smile and turned back to Darren.
"The dragon's coming," she said, her voice coming out in a whisper so hoarse it startled her. Reaching back into the room, he gave her shoulder a quick squeeze, his eyes focused on a point behind her head. She followed his gaze back to the dark passage outside the Window Room. With a tight grip on her magic, she strained for any sound of movement in the children's wing. All she could hear were the waves on the rocks.
The Driechtnacht extracted its fangs from the man's throat, enjoying the sensation as the still-warm blood flowed down the back of its throat. Although it should be satiated after drinking so much, its hunger persisted. There were six younglings left and until they were dead, the hunger would draw it on.
Bringing its claws fully into the human world, it flung the now-limp body aside. This had been the adults' last stand and like all their feeble attempts to stop the Driechtnacht, it had failed.
The only thing left between the Driechtnacht and its prey were these great metallic doors. The magic-laden blood that lined its stomach anchored it too firmly in this world for it to simply shift through the doors like it had slipped through the walls of the castle at the beginning of its attack. Relunctantly, the Driechtnacht brought all of its form into the human world, flexing its claws.
It wrenched the doors apart. These doors were made of a thicker metal than the clothing of the non-magic users who had so uselessly flung themselves into the Driechtnacht's path but the doors still yielded to the creature's massive strength.
The Driechtnacht craned its neck to look up the narrow stair. If it was to fly up it, it would need to be smaller. Feeling along its bones with its magic, the Driechtnacht drew its limbs into itself, drastically reducing its size in just a few heartbeats.
As it flew up the staircase, the Driechtnacht began to sense something at the edge of its magical reach. Something large and fast was making its way to the younglings. Baring its fangs, the Driechtnacht flew faster daring anything to make as quick a time as it could.
Once the Driechtnacht reached the top of the stairs, it dropped momentarily to the floor, its red eyes spinning. There was one last door magic-protected door but this proved even easier to get through than the metallic ones. Reluctantly regurgitating a drop of blood from its bloated stomach, the Driechtnacht pierced the web of magic around the door.
Once through the door, the Driechtnacht paused in the passage to prepare for what lay ahead. Dragging a heavy claw through the air, it rent open a vortex to its home. The waiting dread creatures spewed forth. They hadn't been needed in a battle against humans but dragons could penetrate the barrier that held the juvenile Driechtnacht apart from the world.
"My Lord," said the leader of the creatures, its mandibles clicking against one another. Although they had been fashioned with a human-like form, the hard insect-like exoskeleton that protected these creatures made them utterly alien.
"Don't take the children," rasped the Driechtnacht. "Their blood is mine. You deal with the dragons."
The creatures nodded but the Driechtnacht did not trust their bloodlust and so led the way down the corridor. The dragon was very close now and it was not alone.
The Driechtnacht flew to the door and into the room, glimpsing the dragon at the edge of its vision. But its gaze was caught by a small figure standing at the window, her small body shaking. It could smell her delicious magic-filled blood but for a second his hunger ebbed away and the Driechtnacht was lost in the vision of her.
He watched as a hand caught her shoulder and dragged her out of the room. Instantly, its hunger returned with a vengeance and howling its rage, it flung itself across the room. Heavy, reptilian feet drove the Driechtnacht to the floor as glass showered down around it.
Clawing itself out from under the dragon's weight, the Driechtnacht made its way free. Throwing out a great wave of magic, it forced the dragon and glass away from it and out of the gaping hole that had been the Window.
With space now available, the Driechtnacht could now reverse the size discrepancy between itself and its adversary. The Driechtnacht flexed its bat wings, feeling them extend out from the joints. Its claws lengthened and sharpened while its venomous fangs grew and curled. Holding its current form as a vampire bat, its whole body grew until it was larger even than the dragon it faced.
The Driechtnacht felt the dread creatures gather around it as it saw more dragons arrive. Extending its form and its magic still further, the Driechtnacht broke through the room's walls sending heavy bricks raining around them. The Driechtnacht extricated itself from the debris and flung itself at the closest dragon.
The dragon sent a plume of flame at the Driechtnacht but the Driechtnacht hardly felt it, flying through the flames to grab the dragon's lizard-like body in its claws. Pulling a thick web of magic around the dragon, the Driechtnacht forced the dragon's neck back. The Driechtnacht plunged its fangs into the dragon's throat. Although this blood was of little use to the Driechtnacht, it still drank the dragon's body clean of it.
Although not impervious to the magic of the dragons, the Driechtnacht hardly felt the strikes the dragons were aiming at it. As each strike burned its hide, the skin regenerated itself. The Driechtnacht was still not enough a part of this world to be killed in it. These dragons could hamper the Driechtnacht but they could not harm it.
Newen flew as he had never flown before, his wings beating downwards at a furious rate. He could feel the children clinging to him, could hear their screams as the air rushed past them but he flew on and on without once glancing back or sending a thought of comfort. If only he could get to the ship, get behind the barrier, that creature could not follow them.
So far ahead it could only be seen by dragon-sight, he could just make out the satellite island behind which the ship was anchored. He strained every sinew of his wings, knowing his dragon-friends could only buy him so much time. Through his connection to the world around him, he knew no dread creatures were following yet.
When he reached the critical point just short of the satellite island, Newen felt the magic barrier snap around him. They were safe. But they did still need to find the ship – Newen was very tired.
Once he'd caught sight of it, he caught a downwind and sailed down. Although a large ship, it was still too small for him to land on so he splashed into the water hoping the children would be able to cling on.
"Wendy!" he heard from behind him. Knowing any movement he made would make the search for the youngling futile, he held his great body as still as possible. He felt one of the children slip down onto his side and perch precariously on his wing.
"Be careful, Darren," a girl called down. Then, he felt the wet form of a small child being hauled back onto his wing.
"I've got her."
Through the water, Newen could sense a small boat had been set down. Slowly, it was making its way toward them.
"There's the dragon," he heard someone call from the boat. "Bring the boat around." He felt hard wood press into his left wing.
Once the children were all off him, he lay for a second, wallowing in the water. He felt the boat come round to him and could just make out a scar-faced man in the corner of his vision.
"Newen Mirelli," the man said, his voice sounding not quite certain.
Yes, the dragon thought, I am Newen Mirelli. He felt inside himself to where centuries of magic lay stored up – all he needed to return to human form. Reluctantly, Newen pulled the magic tight around him and felt his dragon body become insubstantial.
The next moment he was struggling in the water, gulping in mouthful after mouthful of salty water. Strong arms caught his and he was dragged into the boat. Someone flung a thick blanket around his naked body and he grabbed onto it gratefully.
"Mirren," he said, his voice gravelly and thick.
A girl appeared in front of him, shivering.
"Mirren, can you show me your bracelet," he said.
Her eyes widened and she brought her arm up. A bracelet set about with dark stones adorned it. Newen heard a small gasp escape her. Ordinarily, every stone would be filled with green light. Each light symbolised the life force of an adult in the family. Frantically, Mirren pulled the bracelet round so she could inspect each stone but only one was filled with light – hers.
"Were all your cousins on the bracelet?"
"Yes," she half-whispered, "Only Darren and them are still too small...too small..." Her voice faded away and her arm dropped. She looked back at Newen, her eyes blinking frantically but when they failed to stem the tide forming in her eyes, she brought her hands up to shield her face.
Hesitantly, Newen placed a hand on her shoulder and she flinched. Afraid he'd hurt her, he hastily pulled his arm back.
"Sorry. Don't know my own strength yet," he mumbled but she didn't respond. Moving to sit next to her, he gingerly placed his arm around her and this time she didn't flinch. Rather, he felt her snuggle into his blanketed side, her small face still hidden in her hands. He couldn't be sure whether the tremors he could feel running through her were shivers or sobs.
The sailors helped the children onto the ship and then carried them away to the cabin. Awkwardly, Newen climbed the ladder to the boat, struggling to hold the blanket so as to keep his dignity intact. Once on deck, he looked around for the nearest sailor.
"Where's the Captain?" he asked the man.
"Here," came a voice from behind him. Newen turned to see the scar-faced young man standing there.
"Set course for Westula," Newen said.
"My orders are to take any," the captain paused, "any survivors to Somorgo."
Newen grunted disapprovingly, shaking his much lighter human head a bit too vigorously. The last thing these children needed was the Imperial Capital. "Well, your orders just changed didn't they?" The young man still looked uncertain. "Listen, man, do you serve the Mirellis or the Emperor?" Though he was still not used to his human vision, Newen fixed the man with as intimidating a glare as he could muster."Change bearings to Westula!" the Captain bellowed to his crew.
Author's Note: This is my most dramatic re-write of this chapter so far. After having got great concrit on the chapters posted so far, I have decided to try and improve the style of these earlier chapters and rework some of the POV shifting. Thank-you so much to the people who have given me input. I always appreciate it.
If you're reading this for the first time, please let me know what you think!