I reached the landing in time to see them pull the other courier off of his dragon.
They had to cut him free from his saddle. He moaned as they eased him down, and I couldn’t believe he was still conscious. It didn’t seem right. I stared at his torn and bloody uniform and put my hand to my chest to feel the stiff, new material, untouched, whole.
Was that going to be me at the next checkpoint?
Mason cut the man’s pack off and brought it to me. The leather had claw marks on it. Small claw marks. A whole horde of wyrms must have swarmed the courier. But that wasn’t all.
His dragon wasn’t in good shape. It let out a low scream and tried to drag itself after its rider, but its back leg was useless, ripped open by another dragon, and from the look of it one of the big battle breeds, not a lithe messenger.
Were they still out there, someone on a battle dragon with a flock of wyrms, waiting to tear me out of the sky as soon as I got off the landing.
My hands shook as I tried to undo the buckles on the other courier’s blood-stained pack. I had to stop thinking about this. No use thinking. It didn’t matter. All I needed to do was get into the air as quick as possible. I always felt better once I got into the air.
I took the letter, folded up in a slick, black leather wallet, and shoved it into my own pack. One of the boys offered me a dark lantern, but I waved it away. The least glimmer of light would bring the wyrms to me like moths to a candle. The night sky was as black and empty as the inside of a cave, and the gusty wind would make it hard for me to get my bearings, but Rift had flown from here to the next check point a dozen times in all kinds of weather. She’d make it. All I had to do was trust her.
And get into the sky. When I looked out into the darkness, all I saw in front of me was the other courier’s face, dripping blood from a row of gashes, mouth opened in an agonized moan.
No thinking. Get on the dragon and go.
I climbed into Rift’s saddle. Her velvet black scales would be an advantage tonight.
Behind me, I heard the crew start the chant.
“For King! For Country!”
“For the love of flying,” I murmured, then shouted, “Go, Rift, Go!”
Rift’s powerful body launched us into the dark.