Shattered

She hadn’t told Haaken.

Provided everything went to plan, she wouldn’t have to tell him either.

It had taken longer than she would have liked to convince Risabeth to take her Between. And it had had to have been a matter of convincing her, for demanding that she do it would only have hurt the both of them and inhibited any chance they had of her being able to use the side of her nature that could command others – the side of Risabeth that she had so rarely embraced since her hatching. To give people choice was always preferable. But when there was no choice anyway… Better orders with the best of intentions than letting suffering continue.

« They are ready. » Risabeth’s voice was a whisper; faint candlelight in the dark. No part of her liked what she was about to do, but the alternative was worse. It was a rescue. Yes, a rescue. « Talanoath and the others stand prepared. »

Then let’s get on with this.

Right on time, those in charge of the whole operation began to lead whers and handlers across the site as dusk settled, blanketing the world in enough darkness for the whers to move about without risking their sight. They were a sorry lot, both whers and their handlers, all bearing the marks and cuts and worse of the life that they’d been forced into, the fight all but gone from those who trudged after their lifemates.

The largest first. Then the others. They’ll focus on him and give the rest a better chance.

Bethari didn’t like that any more than the rest, yet to put that one in the path of further danger to try and secure the others made more sense than outright chaos. They needed to focus the renegades’ attention somewhere before drawing the rest away. Tucked in behind one of Risabeth’s forearms, Bethari rested her head against rose-gold hide and closed her eyes.

Do it.

It took only a nudge. With dragons, it was undeniably more difficult, at least in accomplishing anything that didn’t involve a sledgehammer of an order, but with the wher it was just a flicker of suggestion and direction to have him bolt towards the renegades and their weapons, his handler’s startled cry enough that it made Bethari flinch.

Then the others, in the other direction. Images, drive, the compulsion to move inescapable, herding the lot of them out and away, chaos left in their wake. Enough to create a river of confusion that divided renegades from handlers, Risabeth’s grip on the whers faltering for a moment as she broadcast a single command.

« RUN. »

And they did, out of the camp, away from the arena, and at least vaguely in the right direction, away from Risabeth and Bethari and towards the outer ring of riders waiting to pick them up. They were running. They were fine. They were—

An arrow loosed, embedded in the skull of a tall woman; the woman who had cried out at the sudden bolting of her wher. She dropped. Silently.

An agonised roar tore from the throat of her bronze as he took down one of his captors, his grief and fury no logical things to begin with, but amplified by the stress of his recent months…

Amplified by the stress of their recent months…

They was to be no guiding them. Panic and hurt ripped through the minds of the others, sending blues, greens and browns scattering as Risabeth tried in vain to smother their fears and reinforce purpose. There was so little left of some of them that she could get no sense of who they had been; what their names were; which looked to which handler. Blood. Agony. Suffering. Starvation. Hope dimming and dimming…

In vain, Bethari rushed forward several feet, trying to see where the last hint of a green tail had gone, her head swimming with the sound of too many voices sharing only the common thread of outrage and fractured, tormented thoughts.

Neither she nor Risabeth saw the bronze before it barrelled into her, claws raking down her right leg while she instinctively and uselessly flung up her arms to protect the bump of the precious child who’d stayed with her this far after so many losses. The wher caught her ribs, then her shoulder on the way down, one moment there and the next…

« GO! »

Gone.

All of them. Bronze, brown, blue, green. Between. Forever.

Gone Between for good, with a choking keen of regret from Risabeth to follow after.

But she had little time for that, with her rider’s blood on the ground and Bethari fading from consciousness, clinging only to an image of Xanadu. An image for Between. All that training. Everything weyrlings were ever told about having an image ready for moments of crisis and stress and desperation. It wasn’t all for nothing.

Risabeth gathered her up and leapt, her thoughts for running handlers – now former handlers – non-existent.

Home and safety.

…Maybe now they wouldn’t get to tell Haaken.


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