Rift Riders: Chapter 8, Part 1


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Well, that’s certainly one way to break the boredom.

Sentry Duty

24th Fledgling

AS MHYSRA HAD long suspected, sentry duty was boring. Beyond boring, it went straight through dull and ended somewhere near snoring in terms of excitement. And she’d only been at it for three days. As such she could hardly blame Cumulo for feeling grumpy as she tended to him after their flight.

“My wings hurt.”

“I know,” she murmured, rubbing his chest muscles, which were knotted and hard after half a day of slow flight around the watch area. Though good at gliding, diving and racing, slow flight was not Cumulo’s speciality.

“Even my wingtips ache.”

She hummed sympathetically and continued her massage. Though she didn’t doubt that he was hurting, she knew his discontent had little to do with his body. It was the disappointment. He’d started their flight to Wellingdrop full of excitement, revelling in the fact that his Rider had been given such an important task.

That enthusiasm had been checked on arrival. The eyries were little more than two shacks propped up in a cave. Not the kind of accommodations Cumulo was used to. Being on the lower eastern edge of the mountain, Wellingdrop was exposed and cold, sitting close to the Cloud Sea. There was always a wind and even inside the station it was impossible to escape.

“I’m cold.”

Mhysra sighed and worked out some of her own frustration on her miryhl’s tired body. He didn’t seem to mind. By the time she was done, she was feeling pleasantly warm for the first time since she’d left Aquila and Cumulo was purring.

“Sorry, chickling,” he murmured as she tidied up. “But it’s like being back in Nimbys.”

“I know,” she sighed, leaning against his soft feathers and remembering the decrepit public eyries Cumulo had been forced to use. “At least we have a reason for being here. It’s work, Cue, important work.”

“And boring.”

“And boring,” she agreed, kissing his beak. “Still, it’s good practise for being real Riders.”

“That’s right, cheer me up,” he grumbled as she walked away. “If this is a glimpse of our future, I almost wish I was back in Nimbys.”

She turned and raised her eyebrows. “With the rats?”

Unfortunately at that moment a particularly large rodent scuttled across the floor between them. They watched in silence as it vanished through a hole in the wall. Cumulo looked at her.

“Least you’ll never go hungry,” she offered, and escaped before he could start complaining again. Poor Cumulo, she did feel for him, but things weren’t much better for her and her sympathy wasn’t endless.

Shutting the eyrie door, she grimaced and rubbed her back, thinking wistfully of the bath caverns at the citadel and their steaming hot springs. She’d never appreciated them properly until now, when she was stuck in a place where hot water was a futile dream. Blowing into her hands and rubbing them together, she headed to her room to fetch her sword. Training should keep her warm, even if she had no one to practise with, since Jaymes was on patrol and Dhori was sleeping in preparation for his nightshift.

Besides the three students, there were four Riders in residence – one out with Jaymes, another sleeping while the other two manned the watch post on top of the crag. Normally there would be twice as many stationed here, but large numbers were a luxury Aquila could no longer afford. Which left Mhysra on her own. Still, there were plenty of exercises she could do and her shadow was a worthy opponent these days.

She’d been slashing and hacking long enough for her shadow to be in pieces, and to have worked up a light sweat, when she felt someone watching her.

Pausing to brush the curls from her eyes, she glanced at the figure silhouetted in the doorway. “May I help you, sir?”

The Rider stepped into the room and shook his pale blond head. “I was just thinking how well you’re coming along.” Lieutenant Lyrai smiled tiredly. “I thought you had potential back in Nimbys, but you’re turning out even better than I expected.”

“Practise,” she said, wiping her sweaty face on her sleeve and hoping he’d mistake her blush for the heat of exercise. “It’s not like we’ve had much else to do of late.”

“You do your instructors proud,” he praised, walking further into the room. Lyrai looked around at where Mhysra had pushed the tables and chairs up against the wall to give herself more room and drew his sword. “May I?”

Mhysra stared at him, her own sword lax in her grip. Hers was a standard Rider blade, nothing fancy. The grip was a hand-and-a-half in length, easily transferred from right to left, the blade designed with flight in mind, which made it light enough for even a novice to use. Lyrai’s sword, by contrast, was old. The cross-guard was a pair of miryhl heads whose beaks curved down towards the blade, which was etched with dragon runes. It was longer than a normal flight sword and looked heavier too. Only a skilled swordsman would be capable of wielding it from miryhl-back and still fly.

She looked from his sword to hers, then back again, foreseeing a quick end to this bout.

“It’s all right,” he said, drawing her attention to his smile. “I’ve sparred with students before and haven’t killed any yet. I promise not to hurt you.”

The boredom and frustration of recent days dropped away and she grinned. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”

His eyebrows rose. “Like that, is it?” he said, and swung at her.

Despite him moving at half-speed, Mhysra only just reacted in time. “Unfair!”

“You think a kaz-naghkt will hang around waiting for you to be ready before striking, student?” he taunted, still moving slowly as he drove her back, giving her time to muster her defence.

“If I’ve let them get close enough to hit me without raising my sword, sir, they deserve to get me.” She parried his strikes and settled into a comfortable rhythm. Until he cut under her guard and slapped her hip with the flat of his blade.

She scowled and slashed back, not bothering to go slowly. If he was going to tease she didn’t want to play anymore. A student she might be, but that didn’t mean she’d let him patronise her.

Lyrai leapt back, grinning as he parried her next strike then slipped away, leaving her swinging at empty air as he came up behind and tapped her on the shoulder.

Growling, she ducked and spun, aiming for his legs. Only a quick jump saved him from getting nicked.

“Hardly within the rules of engagement, student,” he reproved, though he was laughing.

She feinted an overhead strike, then thrust towards his ribs. “You think the kaz-naghkt bother to read the rule book, sir?” she mocked as he twisted sideways, their swords ringing when she swung after him.

Her blade screeched down the length of his and he whipped back, then forward again aiming for her throat. Mhysra borrowed his twisting sidestep and swung under his arm, ducking his retaliatory slash.

“Good,” he praised, kicking her hand away as she went for his legs again. “You’re a fast learner.”

Perversely, the praise only made her more annoyed and their swords clashed, screeching down to catch on the cross-guards. A tiny twist of the lieutenant’s wrist and the miryhl heads on his sword caught hold of her blade, making it impossible for her to pull free.

“Now,” Lyrai said cheerfully, their faces a hand’s width apart, both breathing hard, swords locked together. “If we were playing by the rules, I’d step back and let you untangle in peace.”

When he paused, bright eyes watching hers, a smile playing about his lips, Mhysra yanked her sword and cursed when it didn’t move.

He coughed, clearly holding back laughter. “Do you wish to play by the rules?” he asked mildly.

When he tugged lightly, Mhysra relaxed her grip and narrowed her eyes, guessing what would happen next. “No.”

“Good,” he approved, twisting his wrist hard.

As anticipated, Mhysra’s sword flew from her hand – but she was already moving. Rolling forward over her shoulder, she pursued it as Lyrai casually tossed it away. Her hand found the hilt and she continued rolling until she was on her feet again, facing her lieutenant, sword held in the guard position.

He blinked.

For a long moment neither of them moved, then Mhysra raised her eyebrows and tilted her sword, catching the light from the window to make it flash. “Well?”

“Very nice,” he praised, and leapt back into bout with a grin.

Come back on Sunday to see Lyrai’s take on things,
and to catch up with Derry.

Thanks for reading!

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Facing the Hurricane: Part 2


This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.

Part One was Cumulo’s take on things, now it’s Hurricane’s turn to meet the Wingborn.

BREEZE STRUTTED THROUGH the eyries, confident without arrogance. She didn’t need to preen and fuss or puff herself up to show everyone how important she was. All she had to do was walk and the rest moved aside.

Hurricane tilted his head and watched her move. There was nothing exceptional about her feathers or form, but an invisible mantle surrounded her anyway. Maegla, he wanted to be Breeze when he grew up.

Skipping a few paces to catch up, he followed Breeze down the main aisle to a back corner, aware of the whispers rustling in his wake. He kept his head high, though, and tried not to listen too closely to the words. What few he couldn’t help but overhear sounded curious and complimentary rather than cruel, but he shook them off anyway. A swollen head would be just as damaging as a crushed spirit in the long run.

“Here.” Breeze paused before an impressive looking group, containing two of the largest and shiniest miryhls Hurricane had ever seen.

One was a female who was even bigger than himself. She was pure bronze, with black-edged wings and deep brown eyes that assed him carefully before she shuffled her enormous wings against her back.

“Lyrai’s bonded?” she rumbled, her voice deep and soothing.

Swallowing hard, Hurricane nodded, suddenly feeling his youth and inexperience compared to these birds. The other miryhls he’d met so far had been as young and foolish as himself, but these were Rift Riders, real Riders, with years of partnership beneath their wings. Hurricane had never even carried a human on his back before, only dummies filled with sand.

“I’m Atyrn, Lieutenant Stirla’s bonded.” She leant forward and tapped her golden beak against his. “Welcome to Nimbys. We’ll be seeing rather a lot of each other.”

Hurricane crackled his beak and felt the tiny feathers below his eyes rise with embarrassment. Beak taps were nothing, just a casual mark of affection and friendship. But Atyrn was a lieutenants bonded. She’d beak tapped him! He scratched at the floor with his talons and muttered something incomprehensible, suddenly shy in the big female’s presence. She’d been with her lieutenant for years already and now he was her equal.


Breeze huffed softly and Atyrn gave a low chuckle.

“And this is Cumulo,” his fellow lieutenant miryhl said, drawing Hurricane’s attention back up from the floor. “He’s even younger than you but, as you can see, just as overgrown.”

Hurricane stared at the glossy brown miryhl, whose feathers perfectly matched the ripe conkers of autumn, and tilted his head. Though just a fraction smaller than himself, this Cumulo was broader in the chest and much more muscular in the wings. Gold shimmered across those same wings as he shuffled them beneath Hurricane’s assessing gaze.

How could this miryhl be younger than himself? Hurricane wasn’t yet twenty years old and had learnt from others on the Thorncrest that he was considered rather young for a male headed to the Choice.

Cumulo straightened up, raising his head as high as it could go, bringing them eye to eye. “I am Wingborn,” he announced defiantly.

Hurricane blinked. Wingborn? He’d heard the stories and rumours and deemed them nonsense. Such a thing could never exist, and even if it did, it couldn’t be anything like as amazing as the legends made them sound.

He studied Cumulo again, seeing how fit and shiny the young male was, and how he already fit alongside the other miryhls, making Hurricane feel weak and skinny by comparison.

He stared his fellow youngster in the eye, reading an uncertainty there that matched his own. A Wingborn was surely as much of a curiosity as a marble miryhl, and likely just as big a target for jealousy as a freshly matched lieutenant’s bonded. They were both new to this life, both strangers in an eyrie full of old acquaintances.

Hurricane relaxed. “Well met, Cumulo,” he greeted, wondering if he dared beak tap his newest friend.

Cumulo bristled a little, drawing back at the slightest forward movement on Hurricane’s part.

Ah, no beak tap then. Maybe later.

Finding himself the focus of both Breeze and Atyrn – not to mention many others in the eyrie – Cumulo huffed. “Well met, Hurricane,” he growled begrudgingly, his golden eyes glowering resentfully at the newest member of the eyries.

Not two days ago, Hurricane would have backed away from such potential hostility, taking himself off to find friends elsewhere. Not this time. He was a lieutenant’s bonded now, he belonged in this eyrie.

Besides, despite their short acquaintance, it was obvious that Cumulo was young and prideful: Hurricane’s arrival had tweaked his tail out of alignment. It would be up to him to reassure the younger male that he was still special and important. It would be a lieutenantly thing to do.

Under the amused gazes of Breeze and Atyrn, Hurricane sidled his way through the group of smaller birds until he was beside Cumulo. Settling down close – but not too close – to the other miryhl, he tilted his head towards him and said, “I’ve never met a Wingborn before.”

Cumulo eyed him suspiciously. “Of course not. We’ve never met before.”

Breeze turned away with an unconvincing sneeze, while Atyrn suddenly developed a fascination for her talons.

Hurricane kept his own laugh inside his chest, letting it warm him as he shifted a little closer to his new friend. “Tell me, is it every bit as good as the stories?” he asked, allowing a bit of his natural scepticism into his tone to temper the sense of awe.

Cumulo narrowed his eyes. “It’s better,” he said shortly. “Flying with Mhysra is everything to me. As I’m sure you’ll find out once you finally carry Lyrai on your back.”

A prickle of possessiveness rippled down Hurricane’s spine at the casual use of his bonded’s name. Of course every miryhl in this eyrie knew his Lyrai better than he did. He would still be the only one to fly with him, though.

Watching him carefully, Cumulo crackled his beak smugly, having evidently noticed the effect his words had had. “Sixteen years we’ve been together, my Mhysra and I. Our partnership is perfect.”

Hurricane sighed wistfully, unable to imagine spending so long with any one human. Lyrai already felt like his and they’d barely met. “I can’t wait.”

Cumulo studied him carefully for a long moment. Then he slowly, cautiously, spread his wing enough to nudge against Hurricane’s. “So…” he began gruffly. “Lyrai, eh? How did that happen? The Choice isn’t until tomorrow. Wanted to stand out and be different, did you?”

It was Hurricane’s turn to feel smug, though he knew better than to let it show. He’d make a friend out of this eagle yet. “With a Wingborn in this eyrie? I haven’t a chance.”

Which was evidently the perfect thing to say as Cumulo’s back straightened once more, his golden eyes glinting with pride. “True,” he acknowledged, a faint chuckle in his tone. “But you make an impressive second. I can just imagine what you and Lyrai will look like at sunrise. Him all golden, you all… whatever you are.”

For the first time since leaving home, Hurricane chuckled at a comment upon his looks. Was it possible that Cumulo was a little jealous of his marble feathers? Well, Hurricane was more than a little jealous of Cumulo’s long partnership with his Wingborn and his prior knowledge of Lyrai, so they were even. “I think I’m going to like it here,” he announced.

Cumulo scoffed with amusement. “Wait until you meet the students first,” he advised. “You may wish to change your mind.”

“Never,” Hurricane said, feeling the truth of it down to his bones. This was where he was meant to be, with these miryhls, with these Riders. Here was home.

Atyrn leant forward and beak tapped him again. “Good.”

Hurricane ruffled his feathers with pleasure, even as Cumulo huffed beside him.

Atyrn beak tapped him too. “Behave, Cue,” she ordered.

He sniffed and tilted his head pointedly away from both her and Hurricane, towards where the rest of the group of miryhls had been watching them with amusement. “Where was I?” he announced loudly.

A small, black male ruffled his feathers and piped up eagerly, “Somewhere up a mountainside facing off against a raging wild bullwing bull, who was about to charge you down and eviscerate you and your Wingborn.”

Hurricane jerked his head back and caught Atyrn’s eye. “But -” he began, until Atyrn’s wink silenced him. Maybe things were different in the north and they had wild bullwings here. In South Imercian, though, they were far too valuable to be allowed to escape – and they’d never charge down a miryhl without having been challenged first.

Ignoring any hint of an interruption, Cumulo puffed up his chest importantly. “Thank you, Kerron, I remember now. So there we were, my Wingborn and I, facing down certain death…”

As the young miryhl settled into his grandiose tale of bravery and danger, Hurricane nestled beside him and let his mind drift. It had been rather a long day, almost as exciting as Cumulo’s tale was turning out to be.

Amused, Hurricane fluffed up his feathers, humming with contentment as Atyrn roosted beside him. Two lieutenant miryhls together in the Rift Rider eyrie, right where Hurricane belonged. It certainly wasn’t where he’d expected to end his day when he’d woken up that morning, but he wasn’t about to complain.

Especially not when Cumulo finally finished his tail and huddled alongside him. A Wingborn on one side, a lieutenant miryhl on the other: Hurricane had definitely gone up in the world.

“Welcome to Nimbys,” Cumulo muttered, now that most of the eyrie was asleep and few would hear him.

Hurricane heard, though, and sleepily reached over to tap his beak against the younger miryhl’s. “Good to meet you too, friend.”

Huffing, Cumulo hunched down and rumbled a low growl in his chest. “I barely know you, stranger,” he grumbled.

Hurricane just chuckled and pressed his wing against the Wingborn. He might not have won Cumulo over completely just yet, but they’d get there. Friendship was inevitable. Hurricane would make certain of it.


PERCHED AT THE top of the eyries, Breeze looked down over her sleeping flight and nodded with satisfaction. Lyrai was mounted again and young Cumulo had a real challenger in Hurricane. Their friendship and rivalry would settle them both down, helping them to find their rightful places in the Riders.

All was good.

Closing her eyes, Breeze settled down to sleep, confident that all had gone well for another day. She couldn’t wait to tell her Myran all about it in the morning.

Thanks for reading!

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Facing the Hurricane: Part 1


This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.

Of course, Cumulo takes it all in his calm, laid-back style… ha! Only joking, of course he doesn’t!

28th Fledgling 786 CE

CUMULO WAS RIGHT in the middle of one of his favourite anecdotes about how he’d once faced down and chased off a wild bullwing bull – though it’s possibly that it wasn’t entirely wild, and the face-off might have arisen because Cumulo had spooked the herd, but details, details – when he first noticed the silence.

Not that silence was necessarily a bad thing. Cumulo loved to wow an audience with his stories, and since his arrival in Nimbys he’d managed this feat on more than one occasion. Which was no small thing, considering his audience consisted of real Rift Rider miryhls, of which he was the youngest by a fair margin. Then again, he was Wingborn, so of course he was a natural leader and superior in every possible way. He was also born at Wrentheria, which made him adventurous and competent in all measures.

But it wasn’t just the silence. No, far worse than an eyrie of silent miryhls, Cumulo had lost their attention.

Allowing his voice to trail off mid-sentence, he craned his head around towards the door to see what all the others were staring at.

Two miryhls. The one on the left was familiar: plain brown and of a middling size for a female. Though she wasn’t entirely impressive to look at, Breeze commanded respect, partly through her age and experience, but mostly because she was Captain Myran’s bonded partner. Even Cumulo had to respect a Rider pair that had been in existence longer than he and Mhysra had been alive and who had a reputation for being completely solid, unflappable and honourable, even through injury.

Only it wasn’t Breeze who’d caught everyone’s attention – it the miryhl who stood beside her.

It was hard to make out much about the stranger, since the light was shining behind them, but Cumulo squinted at the glare cast off the new miryhl’s feathers and already felt himself bristling. The bird was bigger than him and strangely pale.

“Everyone!” Breeze raised her voice just enough to be heard in every corner of the eyrie. “Meet Hurricane.”

The new bird stepped forward and Cumulo wasn’t the only one to gasp.

A marble miryhl. Such a rare and strange thing. Cream and brown and black, mottled and patterned in a way that should never have been so beautiful.

Cumulo’s crest feathers rose, trembling ever so slightly. This eyrie already had a Wingborn – it didn’t need a marble miryhl as well. Too many marvels spoilt the awe.

Seemingly oblivious to the shock her companion’s appearance had caused, Breeze tilted her head towards Hurricane and gave an approving nod. “Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded.”

Cumulo’s wings sagged in stunned disbelief and a startled murmur shivered around the eyries.

Crackling her beak with amusement, Breeze looked around at the fuss until her dark-gold eyes finally settled on Cumulo. “I trust you will all make him feel welcome.”

Not in this lifetime. Hustling his wings back into place, Cumulo straightened up and raised his head before anyone noticed his loss of composure.

He was Wingborn, big for his age and with plenty of growing still left to do: he would always be the most impressive eagle in the eyrie. Even one with marble miryhls and officers’ birds in residence.

Not even Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded would change that. Cumulo wouldn’t let him.


“A LITTLE DIFFERENT to what you’re used to, I expect?”

Hurricane stared around at the eyrie with wide eyes and barely managed to nod at Breeze’s amused question. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected while travelling in the hull of the Thorncrest on the way to Nimbys, but it hadn’t been this. All his life, growing up on a small, secluded farm at the far end of South Imercian, Hurricane had been told about Nimbys and the Choice. Raised alongside his clutch mates, he’d learnt from a very early age that his destiny was to become a Rift Rider one day. To be chosen from the flock on the Day of Choice, partnered with one particular human and spend his life defending the Overworld against the scourge of the kaz-naghkt.

Well, he’d already messed that up by refusing to enter the rickety structure that the humans had laughingly called an eyrie. Hurricane wasn’t stupid. He had no wish to die in the middle of the night because a mild wind had blown through the valley and knocked the whole thing down on his head. Not that it really mattered. He already knew he was different, strange and doing everything wrong.

Travelling north on a small, drafty skyship before being transferred onto the Thorncrest, Hurricane had quickly learnt that he was odd-looking, different, strange and not necessarily in a good way. Humans pointed at him and muttered words behind their hands that they didn’t think he could hear. Other young miryhls shuffled away from him, uncertain whether he was sick and contagious or just strange.

Having always been the biggest of his brood, Hurricane had been praised and admired all his life. Back home his strange pale feathers had gone unnoticed in a flock of similar-looking birds. Perhaps his markings had been a little bolder than his fellow fledglings, his pale patches a little brighter, but back home that had been a good thing and it had been the brown miryhls that were strange and different and worth staring at.

Not here. Here he was the strangest of the strange, being stared at by an eyrie full of glossy brown, bronze and black birds, and he was the untidy stranger. Again.

It had taken time to win over the friendship and confidence of his fellow young miryhls on board the Thorncrest. They’d eventually found common ground in their nerves over what was to come and their homesickness. He’d made friends with the small and weak ones, those overlooked by others for being different or less than perfect. It was the first time in his life that Hurricane had been deemed less, but he’d adapted quickly enough. His size had made him an object of jealousy amongst some, his mottled feathers a subject of ridicule to others, but he’d risen above it, confident that his good qualities would still shine through when the Choice came.

Then he’d arrived in Nimbys.

He’d never seen a city before, had never imagined so many houses or people could exist all clustered together in such a way. Flying above the streets with the rest of the miryhls, he’d been overwhelmed to be part of such a large flock. Everything was too noisy, the air tasted different, the smaller birds had crowded against him and he’d struggled to find a space to land on the field below.

Where the temporary eyrie was waiting.

The other birds had been so excited and nervous that they’d allowed themselves to be herded straight into the death trap.

Hurricane had refused.

Rift Riders had converged to coax him. Already nervy and overwhelmed, there had been too many people trying to get close to him. He’d panicked and lashed out – so they’d tried to move him by force.

That hadn’t gone well. Nothing about this journey north had gone well.

Which was how he’d ended up half-bound, flat on the floor, snarling and slashing like a wild beast. All his training, all his dreams, everything that he’d ever learnt and known had flown straight out the hatch. All Hurricane had known was panic and fear.

Until he came.


He had gentle hands and a soft voice. He’d been patient and calm. He’d treated Hurricane as an equal, not an animal. He’d set Hurricane free.

It wasn’t how the Choice was supposed to go, but it worked for them. Hurricane could feel it deep down, the sense of rightness settling inside. Lyrai was his.

And he was lieutenant, which really was the gilding on the primary.

Reminded that he’d been chosen already and was now an officer’s miryhl, Hurricane raised his head.

Let them think him funny looking, let them look down their golden beaks at him: it didn’t matter. He was Lieutenant Lyrai’s bonded and he was here to stay.

Breeze chuckled beside him. She was an older eagle and had kind eyes. She didn’t look at him as if he was some odd curiosity. Then again, as a captain’s miryhl, she’d probably seen far worse and stranger things than him in her long life.

“Come,” she urged in her low, quiet voice. “There are some miryhls I wish you to meet.”

I only split this in two because it’s a bit much to read all at once.
But if you do want to read it all at once, then…

Here’s Part Two!

Thanks for reading!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 7, Part 2


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Oh, look, Willym’s making friends again.

“WHAT NEWS FROM the far scouts?”

Maegla’s Hall was surprisingly empty and far too quiet. Over recent days it had become a hub of activity: the steward and his staff constantly rushing in and out with chalkboards and tallies; Derneon meeting with the blacksmiths and foundry staff to confer over weaponry and raw materials; healers pleading their cases for more supplies. It was also where the few remaining Riders had been assigned positions – and Lyrai was left struggling to plug each gap in the sentry schedule with students.

Now it contained a mere handful of men. The priest of Maegla was waving a bowl of smoking cloudbrush, ash pine and starflower leaves, a mixture as potent as it was sacred to the Goddess. As he paced, he chanted beneath his breath, blessing the hall and all who entered.

In the centre of the room, at a large table covered with maps and tiny figures of ships, men and miryhls, Dean Marshall scowled over battle plans with Myran and Fredkhen. Also present, but feeling useless, Stirla and Lyrai watched and listened to everything in case they were called upon. On the opposite side of the table, Hlen fiddled with a miryhl figure, while Willym cradled a goblet of wine and studied the proceedings in uncharacteristic silence.

Captain Fredkhen put his finger on the citadel then indicated the sweeps his scouts had been making for the last half-moon. “We’ve been through here every two bells, with watchers stationed on these ridges.” He tapped three rough outcrops on Aquila’s margins, as well as two other spots on the furthest edges of the mountain. “So far we’ve seen nothing of note, aside from the fresh arrivals a few days back.” He nodded at Myran.

“How swiftly can word be brought back, should something be seen?” Myran asked.

“My men have been working on a series of signals that can be passed from post to post, bringing a warning to Aquila within a bell, if needed.”

Dean Marshall nodded absently, his fingers tracing the patterns Fredkhen had just made. Myran was not so easily satisfied. “How effective are the signals?”

Fredkhen wrinkled his nose and tilted his hand from side to side. “They’re improving.”

“Apart from when Strepfell misread an ‘All clear’ message from Kenwicke as a full scale attack and lit their beacon,” Willym muttered snidely into his goblet.

His captain frowned at him. “That was the first trial and they’ve improved since then. Besides there was no damage done. Tipstone reacted to the message, not the beacon, so the panic didn’t spread.”

The dean looked up from the map. “How swiftly can a message pass by courier?”

“Using our fastest scouts at each stop…” Fredkhen squinted as he calculated. “If they fly two bells apiece, then change, combining horsats and miryhls, I’d say a little below half a day.”

Myran shook his head and tapped the map. “Not quick enough. But with the beacons, is there need for a swift message?”

Dean Marshall rapped his fingers on the table thoughtfully. “In ordinary circumstances, no. All we’d need to know is that an attack is coming, but this alliance between the Wrathlen and the kaz-naghkt makes me uneasy.” Seeing the looks on the others’ faces, he smiled grimly. “For more than the obvious reasons. We know how to deal with pirates, despite it being long since they last attacked us, and we know how to deal with kaz-naghkt. We don’t, however, know how to deal with both at once. Fredkhen, what information are your signallers learning to send?”

“Simple things like attack, friend, foe, and blocks of numbers to give an estimate.”

“How?” Stirla asked, having been shifting about for a good while, clearly curious.

Fredkhen smiled wearily. “It’s quite simple, really. Each station has a lookout post at the front, designed to give an almost full-round view. From there they can see the stations either side of them, if they use a spyglass. So when one has a message to pass on, they let off a smoke flare – treated with some sort of chemical, I don’t know the details. They have three colours – red, yellow and blue – which indicate the nature and urgency of the message. Red, obviously is both the most urgent and most dangerous. They then wait for the neighbouring station, or stations, to acknowledge that they’ve seen the signal. As such, the sentries on duty regularly check their neighbours, even as they scan the horizons for trouble.

“When the signal has been acknowledged, the message is passed via flags – the sentry using one in either hand to spell out the message, while the other sentries watch with their spyglasses. At least, that’s the plan.” He stopped with a sigh and rubbed his grey head. “We’re still struggling over how to make everything clear and simple, not to mention quick. And when it’s dark we can only pass messages by lamplight, using even simpler flashes and pauses. I have no idea how we’ll cope in heavy weather.”

“By doing things the old fashion way.” Dean Marshall ran his hand over the map again, shifting a miryhl figure from the furthest scout post, Eagletip, back to Aquila in hops between the stations. “It’s a good plan, captain, keep working on it, and send back regular reports on how to interpret and send the messages, in case we have a need of them closer to home.”

“And in the meantime?” Willym asked, since the dean and captains were studying the map again. “What will the rest of us do?”

Dean Marshall picked up a miryhl figure and studied it. “We wait, lieutenant.”

“Wait?” Willym echoed, unimpressed. “For what? What good will waiting do?”

Myran looked at him, his expression revealed nothing of what he saw. “Have you ever seen the Wrathlen, lieutenant? Have you ever witnessed what remains following a pirate raid on an isolated village? Have you seen what the kaz-naghkt do?”

Willym curled his lip. “I’m from Scudia, sir, in case you’ve forgotten. Raids are so common there that we have ceased to fear them.”

“Only fools cease to fear what they cannot stop,” Marshall said, putting down the miryhl with a snap. “Fear is a natural response to a clear and present danger.”

“And so in our fear we sit like rabbits, waiting for the hawk to stoop and devour us?”

“It is not fear that makes us wait, Willym.” Fredkhen sounded weary, his voice lilting in a sing-song way that hinted he had argued about this with his lieutenant before. “Prudence holds us back from a fight we know we cannot win in outright combat.”

“How many men do you think we have at Aquila now, lieutenant?” Myran asked, resting his palm over the citadel on the map. “How strong would you assess our defence?”

The brooding lieutenant shrugged and waved a hand across the table. “Why not ask my good friend Lyrai? He knows everything. In fact, he is so efficient one wonders whether we ought simply send him out to organise the enemy into defeat.” He smirked. “I have every confidence in his abilities.”

“Fifty Riders,” Lyrai answered, even though he knew Willym was mocking rather than genuinely asking. “Stirla’s and Hlen’s flurries. The rest have been dispatched to the Wrathlen, under Captain Hylan’s command. We also have fighters amongst the attendants, servants and folk of Aquila, but few are trained in aerial combat – none on miryhls.”

“And a student population of one-hundred-and-forty, now that the third-years have left,” Stirla added, resting his knuckles on the map as he leant on the table. “How many of those would you feel comfortable sending into combat?”

Before Willym could sneer a reply, Captain Fredkhen rested a restraining hand on his lieutenant’s shoulder. “Talk like this helps no one,” he said. “Except, perhaps, our enemies. We all know Aquila is undermanned, but while there’s life in these walls it will not stand undefended. Whether we go to meet them or not, battle will come. Blood will be spilled. Our only choice is the ground over which we fight. I’m not alone in wanting strong walls and local knowledge at my back when the time comes.”

“Rift Riders are defenders,” Dean Marshall said, his voice firm. “We do not provoke, but we are capable of much more than hiding. You must learn patience, lieutenant, if you ever wish to make captain.”

Willym raised an eyebrow, but a squeeze on his shoulder from Fredkhen silenced his tongue. For now.

Satisfied that the argument was done, Dean Marshall looked at the other lieutenants. “Your work is excellent, gentlemen, keep it up.” While Lyrai had been given the task of organising the Rider watch rotations, Stirla had been put in charge of the town’s defences, while Hlen patrolled with the sentries to the north of Aquila. All of them worked without complaint, and without needing any guidance or supervision from a captain. It had surprised no one that Willym had been kept closely under Fredkhen’s eye.

“So that’s it?” Willym asked, as the captains turned back to the map again, the dean’s final words a dismissal to the rest. “We raced back for this? To be told to keep doing what we’re doing?”

Since Fredkhen was intently shifting ships around empty cloudspace and Dean Marshall was comparing miryhl figures, Myran raised his head and stared at Willym. “Yes.”

“Ridiculous! You panic at every message and prophesise doom because Hylan lost a few men, who were probably sky-mad with boredom after watching the Wrathlen day after day. Yet you find time to drag a captain and lieutenant away from the oh-so-vital far scouts to tell us nothing!”

“Not nothing,” Lyrai snapped, unable to take Willym’s whining any longer. “Hardly nothing when Captain Myran himself has witnessed the slaughter of our men, the wounded the Wrathlen has left us with and the corpses the kaz-naghkt have made. How can it be for nothing to be brought back to be told this?”

“A message would have sufficed,” Willym said coolly. “Even you, if you could be spared from your precious watch schedules and student marshalling.”

“A message can always go astray or be read by the wrong eyes,” Stirla replied, folding his arms across his chest. “The last thing we need is for this to be leaked among the men, students and servants.”

“They probably know already,” Hlen murmured. “Servants know everything.”

“True enough.” Dean Marshall abandoned his miryhls. “About your business, if you please, gentlemen. Lieutenant Willym, if you find leading the far scouts too arduous an assignment, I suggest you spend tonight in contemplation of what it means to be captain, able to give and receive orders. The chain of command flows both ways. If you cannot accept this, perhaps you have chosen the wrong path in life. Good day, lieutenants.” He gave a curt nod, then turned aside, dismissing them from his sight as well as presence.

For a moment Willym looked ready to protest again, no doubt wanting to restart the argument, but Lyrai tugged Stirla and Hlen away, denying him an audience.

“My father will hear of this,” Willym growled, and stormed out of the hall, making the doors crash against the walls outside.

“But will daddy care?” Stirla pondered. “That’s what I always wonder. I know he’s a jarl and all, but what power does he really have here? Now, if he had your father,” he nodded at Lyrai, “I’d be scared witless.”

“You and me both,” Lyrai agreed with a shudder. “Since that would mean we were related. But unless he was the heir, my father wouldn’t care a button for him. Likely it’s the same with Jarl Yarrayn. No doubt he only interferes when it looks like the family name might be tarnished.”

“As for how much power,” Hlen said, and rubbed his fingers together meaningfully.

Stirla grimaced. “Cold hard coin talks more eloquently than all the nobles in the Overworld.”

“Corruption is a sweet little tune,” Hlen agreed.

“Unless you’re on the wrong side of it,” Lyrai muttered. “You’d think with pirates and kaz-naghkt about to arrive any day that they’d be the worst monsters we could possibly face.”

Chuckling, Stirla threw an arm about his friend’s shoulders and shook his head. “Poor little Lyrai, still so naïve? Don’t you know the biggest threat this world has ever faced is our own good selves. On their own the kaz-naghkt are a nasty bunch, capable of doing terrible things. But team them up with the Wrathlen and they’re a force to make even a Rift Rider tremble.”

“How do you think we ended up cursed in the first place?” Hlen grumbled, then waved as he turned down a different corridor to collect his uniform from the laundry women.

“Smart lad,” Stirla said, watching the shy lieutenant walk away. “You’d never know it most of the time, quiet as he is.”

“And in charge of teaching our students arithmetic. I’d say he was either the smartest man in Aquila or the unluckiest.”

“Since Willym’s his flight-mate, I’ll reserve judgement on that,” Stirla chuckled. “Anyway, I don’t know about you, little Lyrai, but I’ve work to do. Those townies are skilled at their jobs, and have enough muscles to put even me to shame, but they can’t fight for crackers. No doubt you’ve got lists to write and people to organise. I’ll let you get back to it.” He clapped him on the shoulder and walked away with a wink.

Left on his own once again, Lyrai shook his head. “Idiot,” he muttered, then headed into the western citadel where he could get more paper and ink to write more of his much maligned lists.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Rift Riders: Chapter 7, Part 1


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Keeping busy, Aquila style.


20th Fledgling

“IT’S STRANGE TO think, but this time last year we were waiting for our exam results.”

Sorting through a vast pile of broken, surplus and abandoned tack in a storeroom in the eastern citadel, Mhysra and her friends all paused at Corin’s comment.

“What’s the date today?” Derrain asked, frowning at a tangle of reins.

Dhori continued polishing an old flying saddle without looking up. “Twentieth of Fledgling.”

Mouse whistled. “Then we’ve had our miryhls for almost a year. Gods, and I never thought I’d even pass the selection exams.”

Returning to her task of dividing bits of leather into reclaimable and scrap piles, Mhysra smiled. “I knew you’d pass. That we all would. It wouldn’t have been worth coming if we weren’t all here.”

Corin wrinkled her nose over her selection of stirrup cups. “Some things might be nicer without certain people.”

“Bovei,” Mouse and Greig both growled.

“Nebet,” Derrain offered, a friend of Bovei’s who was almost as big as Derrain, as good with a sword and far too free with his fists.

“Sanna,” Corin said, grimacing. The tall Mistrune girl was Corin’s nemesis in the flirtation stakes.

“All right,” Mhysra interrupted, before they could get into their stride about all the year mates they would rather be without. Silveo in particular looked like he was putting a lot of thought into his list. “I didn’t mean everyone, I just meant you lot.”

Greig sighed and rested a hand over his heart. “You missed me before you even knew me.”

“It’s more likely than missing you now that she does,” Corin retorted, ducking the flying bar of saddle soap.

Sponges, cloths, soap and stirrup cups went flying across the storeroom – and it was only thanks to a quick snatch from Dhori that Corin didn’t add treatment oil to the mix. Within moments the place looked twice as messy as when they’d begun.

Which was when Lieutenant Lyrai walked in.

“Having fun?” he asked mildly, halting Mouse in the act of strangling Greig with a rein.

As the ones who hadn’t got involved, Haelle, Dhori and Jaymes smiled innocently, while the rest looked sheepish.

“Good morning, students.”

“Morning, sir,” they echoed, shifting back to their places and trying to restore some semblance of order.

A smile twitched at the lieutenant’s lips as he looked around. “You’ve been working hard.”

Mhysra wasn’t the only one to shoot sour glances at Greig and Corin, because until recently they had been working very hard and were over halfway through their self-appointed task. Now that the food and weapon stores had been tallied and organised, and the most urgently needed repairs to the citadel finished, most students had nothing to do. Especially as there were still no lessons.

While some were only too happy to take advantage of this, Mhysra needed to keep busy to stop herself from thinking. The company of her friends told her that she wasn’t the only one. Since there was only so much time they could spend in the sword barn before Gedanon chased them out, they had asked the servants if there was anything else they could do. Which was how they came to be untangling, sorting and polishing old leather.

“That was a compliment,” Lyrai chuckled at their dark expressions. “And though it pains me to break up such industry, I’m afraid I have other tasks for you. If you’re willing.”

At last, Mhysra thought with relief. It had been three days since Captain Myran’s unexpected return, and she’d been waiting for something to happen. Neatening her scraps, she stood up, ready for orders.

The others weren’t far behind and, once all were standing to attention, Lyrai smiled. “You’re a credit to your captain. And to us lieutenants. You act like Riders already, for all you’re not quite second-years.”

Mhysra wasn’t sure about the others, but Lyrai’s praise made her uncomfortable and not for the usual reasons. It wasn’t like their lieutenant to praise lightly, or outside of lessons. For him to do so now worried her. He spoke like he might never see them again.

Thankfully, the sentimental moment passed and he nodded at Corin and Haelle. “I know this won’t sound like fun, but I’d like you two to go to the tanners.”

“Aye, sir,” they agreed, Haelle with considerably more enthusiasm than Corin. Then again, Haelle enjoyed stitching, especially leatherwork, while Corin was so bad at it she was always made to cure raw leather. Something at which she had grown rather good at, after a year of punishment duties. She looked at her hands and grimaced.

Lyrai turned to the boys. “Greig, you’re with the woodcutters. They’re meeting on the Lawn at noon, so you’d best eat now. Mouse and Silveo, you’re for the infirmary. The healers have all manner of tasks needing assistance.” When Mouse scowled, thumping his weak leg sullenly, Lyrai gripped his shoulder. “It’s real work, Mouse. The healers know and trust you.”

“Aye, sir,” he agreed, though he didn’t look convinced.

The lieutenant then pointed at Mhysra, Dhori and Jaymes. “You three are with me. Flying.”

Mhysra couldn’t contain a grin as she caught Jaymes’ eye. Time spent with Cumulo beat stitching, curing, tree-cutting and infirmary duty any day of the moon. Not even Corin’s pout could deflate her mood.

Until Lyrai turned to Derrain. “How much do you remember about your skyship days?”

Derrain raised his eyebrows. “After ten years at it, sir, I’m not likely to forget too soon.”

“Good. Be on the Miryhl Shadow first thing tomorrow. Come with us to the eyries, and Honra will tell you what you need to do before you leave.”

Looking troubled, Derrain nodded. “Aye, sir.”

“Excellent. Since we’ve all got things to do, I’ll bid you good day, students. Jaymes, Dhori, Mhysra, Derry, let’s go.” Leaving them no time to gossip, Lyrai walked out.

Shrugging helplessly at Corin and Mouse, Mhysra hurried to follow, no longer so excited at the prospect of a long flight. Especially when flying chores meant sentry duty.

Derrain fell into step beside her. “You take care,” he said. “Take your bow.”

Mhysra shot him a look. After the kaz-naghkt attack in the winter, she never flew anywhere without it. “I’ll say the same to you.”

His smile was crooked. “Never thought I’d be reluctant to get on a ship. Even without more details, I know this can’t be good.”

She squeezed his arm sympathetically and they walked the rest of the way in silence.

* * * * *

ON THE WAY to the eyries Lyrai didn’t know whether to feel proud of his students or worried. Unlike others their age, many of whom he’d already set fresh tasks, this lot were strangely quiet. There was no excited chattering or boasts about the feats and skills they’d soon perform. Nor did they waste their breath threatening shadows and vowing death to all pirate raiders. Instead they followed grimly, as solemn and obedient as any Rift Rider could wish to be.

They knew what was coming. Unlike the majority of the students, they had been paying attention and had pieced together the evidence. It had been a relief to find them playing in the storeroom, but now they were silent again. He worried for them.

“Ah, Honra.” He smiled at his sergeant as he reached the eyrie antechamber. Honra had a small group of Riders preparing a list of supplies for the trip to come. “I’ve brought Derrain.”

The tall lad saluted. “At your service, sir.”

Honra smiled. “A real sailor at last. You’re just what we need, Derry.”

Lyrai shepherded his remaining students onwards, leaving Honra to his work. Walking to where six miryhls waited, Lyrai nodded to the Riders beside them.

“Wye and Dhan, I’ve brought you Jaymes, Dhori and Mhysra.” He touched each on the shoulder as he introduced them, then pointed at the two Riders. “Wyenet fra Wynen of Kevian.” The tall, dark, slender man with a bald head nodded. “And Dhan Dhanri of the Lowlands.” He was a more compact fellow, with nut brown hair, tanned skin and watchful grey eyes. They both smiled at the students, which was all Lyrai could ask for.

“Out of Stirla’s flurry. They’re your watch sergeants, so I’ll let you sort out between yourselves what you want to be called -”

“Majesty will do for me,” Wye assured the students, with a toothy grin. Mhysra and Jaymes looked uncertain as to whether he was joking or not, while Dhori arched an eyebrow.

“An’ I’m Dhan,” the other Rider muttered gruffly. “Ain’t no sir in me.”

Lyrai coughed to hide a chuckle at the nervous glance Jaymes and Mhysra shared. “On you get, students,” he commanded, going to Hurricane and checking his harness.

“Miryhl in!”

The shout came just as Lyrai was about to mount. “Wait here,” he ordered the others, and ducked under the partition to where two miryhls had just arrived. He knew them both.

“Lyrai.” Captain Fredkhen dropped from his saddle and gave his eagle a weary pat. Juniper nuzzled him affectionately before being led away and rubbed down. “Good to see you. I hear the dean has news.”

“Yes, sir,” Lyrai agreed, eyeing the other miryhl as she snapped at two attendants and growled at a third. Her Rider snarled at the men not to be so pathetic. Mercata and Willym, as charming as ever.

Turning to see what had caught Lyrai’s attention, the captain sighed. “Willym, please.”

The lieutenant scowled and snatched up his miryhl’s reins. “I’ll do it, you fools.”

Fredkhen massaged the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “When you’re done, meet me in…” He looked to Lyrai for information.

“Maegla’s Hall,” he supplied, knowing that was where Marshall was most likely to be, since it was impractical to expect so many people to keep trudging up his office in the tower.

“Yes, there,” Fredkhen agreed, and waved Willym away before Mercata could sink her beak into anyone. “Good of you to meet me, Lyrai.”

The captain hadn’t been expected back until that evening, however the man was so clearly exhausted that Lyrai could only nod. “No trouble, sir. If you’d excuse me just one moment, I have some sentries to dispatch.”

“Always busy.” The captain smiled. “Carry on. I can find my way to the dean well enough.”

He looked so tired that Lyrai wasn’t convinced, but he bowed anyway. “I’ll catch up, sir.”

Fredkhen smiled again and headed for the nearest door, while Lyrai dashed back to his group. “Change of plan,” he announced, easing Hurricane’s tack off. “Dhan, you’re in charge. Take them to Wellingdrop and show them around. I’ll try and come tomorrow to sort things out, but if not I’ll send supplies after you and visit soon. All right?”

The students blinked from the backs of their miryhls. As well they might. It would take them until mid-afternoon to reach the station and he hadn’t given them any time to prepare or pack. It was much further out than he would have liked any student to go, especially ones this young, but Aquila’s resources weren’t so abundant that he could afford to waste three able flyers. And with Fredkhen and Willym back, more Riders would be needed to replace them amongst the far scouts.

“There’s food in your saddle bags,” he assured them. “And you’ll be back within a quarter-moon. Just stay on.” He patted Hurricane in dismissal and gave his unwanted harness to a passing attendant.

They stared at him until Dhan cleared his throat meaningfully. “Aye, sir,” they chorused, if a little doubtfully.

“Thank you, students.” He smiled. “I’ll see you soon.” Before they even left the eyries, he was running after Fredkhen, expecting to find the captain slumped in the corridor.

Just past the bridge, he caught sight of the man walking with Stirla in the distance and gave a relieved sigh. That was one less burden he had to deal with.

“Busy as ever, Lyrai?” Willym asked, descending the eyrie stairs. Like his captain, he was visibly tired, but where Fredkhen looked ragged Willym appeared more haughty than ever. “How would we cope without you to organise everything?” His smile showed more teeth than humour.

Which was fine, since Lyrai’s smile was just as false. “I trust all’s well with the far scouts.”

“Dull, dull, dull,” the lieutenant drawled, falling into step as they headed for Maegla’s Hall. “All this fuss over nothing. One has to wonder if Hylan’s age is getting to him.”

Since Willym had been more than a day’s flight away for over half a moon, Lyrai tried not to feel too disgusted. “You should be grateful you’ve not seen any action,” he said neutrally. “I doubt it will remain that way much longer.”

Willym raised a dark brow, but Captain Myran joined them from a side passage before he could reply. “Good morning, lieutenants.”

“Captain,” they greeted, and the rest of the walk passed in much welcomed silence.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Rising Updates

Just a quick announcement to say that Storm Rising the book I feared might never end is in fact FINISHED!

Gif-HTTYD flying.gif

At 90k it’s about fifteen thousand words bigger than planned, but colour me very relieved.

It’s done!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 6, Part 2

RR Ch6.2.jpg

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Myran has news…

“WE ARRIVED LATE on the seventh,” Captain Myran said, sitting in the dean’s study, his tired Riders seated behind him. “Ai Maegla, we were never more needed.”

Lyrai stood by the fire with Stirla, Honra and Rees, each holding a glass of red wine that none of them were drinking. Dean Marshall refilled the glasses of the worn Riders and they drained them instantly. Myran had yet to touch his.

Putting the decanter down, Marshall eased into the chair opposite the captain. “How bad?”

Myran shook his head and stared at his hands. “They’d been fighting for three days straight. All of Hylan’s camps were attacked. Two of his lieutenants are dead. Pyreflies did the most damage – the scent of burnt feathers was everywhere. Half my miryhls refused to approach. They knew death waited.”

“And?” Marshall asked, no doubt wondering what had made the captain return now since he hadn’t turned directly around and come straight back.

“We evacuated what was left, dropping back to outcrops and caves ten miles and more from the Wrathlen,” Myran continued, picking at the loose threads around a slash in his breeches. “A harrowing business, without rest. Pirates day and night, with and without pyreflies. There were only so many wounded we could move at a time, especially as each needed an escort and each escort added more casualties to the list. There are so many of them.”

Dean Marshall grimaced into his wine. “Numbers?”

“Impossible to tell,” Myran replied. “Our scouts never returned. Captured or dead, we could never be sure.” A shudder passed through the captain and his men. “I have never seen the Wrathlen so organised. They work together now. They’ve been trained.”

“Wonderful,” Marshall sighed, looking at his wine with distaste and putting it aside. “I assume your evacuation was in some way successful and that’s why you’ve returned.”

Myran looked up, the lines of his face shadowed with weariness. “In part,” he agreed bleakly. “Out of Hylan’s hundred men, forty were dead when we arrived and twenty-three are missing. The rest all carried injuries. Twenty-nine miryhls were uninjured, another six carried burns. After we evacuated, Hylan had twenty-eight Riders left, including two lieutenants. Over half are too injured to fight.”

“And your own men?” Marshall enquired, expressionless.

Myran stared at the carpet. “Fleik and Imaino still live, injured but capable. Their miryhls remain with them. I’ve lost twenty-one men. Forty-three are injured, two-thirds beyond the ability to fight. Their miryhls fared better, with sixty still active.”

Lyrai felt as though he’d been punched in the stomach. All those wounded, all those dead. So many he had known. How many had been his Riders, fighting without him? How many were dying? How many still fought, while he stood here doing nothing? Beside him, Stirla breathed deep and slow, trying to keep control. Both lieutenants’ fists were clenched.

“And the pirates?” Dean Marshall asked, watching Myran intently.

Myran shrugged, the first time Lyrai had ever seen him make such a careless motion. “Who knows? Who cares? We kill them in droves, but there are always more. They don’t seem to feel pain or recognise defeat.” He shuddered and rubbed his bad leg. “And they have help.”

Marshall stood up and pressed the glass into Myran’s hand. “Drink,” he commanded. And just as Lyrai and Stirla had learned to obey that tone of voice from their commanding officer, so Myran had once been taught by Marshall. He raised the wine and drained it.

Satisfied, the dean refilled it and returned to his chair. “What manner of help?”

Myran stared at his wine for a long moment before raising his eyes. “Kaz-naghkt.”

Lyrai and Stirla exchanged worried glances, Rees turned to kick a log onto the flames, while Honra gave the weary Riders more wine. The dean just stared at Myran, and the captain tipped his head back against his chair to gaze at the ceiling.

“Their intentions?” Marshall finally asked, as an ember popped in the fire.

Myran closed his eyes. “Aquila.”

The dean looked at the returned Riders: two were snoring gently, the third man stared out the window and the fourth raised his glass in salute, grimly confirming his captain’s words.

Marshall swore. “Lieutenants, bring Fredkhen back from the far scouts. Keep the students out of the way. Bring the quartermaster and Weaponsmith Derneon to meet me in Maegla’s Hall. Captain, take your Riders to the infirmary and get yourself seen to. Then join us.” He looked at the men receiving his commands and nodded in dismissal. “We have work to do.”

* * * * *

AFTER RECOVERING from running his messages, Derrain finally tracked Mhysra to the sword barn, where they practised their skills daily. Or had, when they were held to a strict timetable of lessons and training. With a lack of lessons, things for the students had become haphazard and neglected, but the more diligent still did their best to train.

Which was why he wasn’t surprised to find Mhysra there, and even less surprised that she wasn’t alone. Dhori sparred with Derneon, superior height, reach and speed pitted against the short instructor’s brawn, power and decades of experience. Mhysra fought Jaymes, an evenly matched pair, while Greig battled with the taller, faster and more impressive Haelle.

He couldn’t help smiling to see that Mouse, Corin and Silveo were also there, though the three of them were amongst the worst in their year – Corin and Silveo because they were hopelessly uninterested in such things, and Mouse because his injured leg had caused him to miss a lot of training.

While Corin and Silveo half-heartedly tapped swords, bickering more than working, poor Mouse faced Gedanon, the fierce, short-tempered swordmaster. Yet as Derrain watched, the irascible Ihran treated the boy with as much kindness as he had in him and visibly improved his strokes, even giving a terse word of praise.

“Ah, another victim,” Derneon declared cheerfully, telling Dhori to take a break while he observed Mhysra and Jaymes’ progress. “Such dedication warms the heart.”

Derrain smiled, since he, Dhori and Mhysra had already trained once today. But he didn’t need to see the grim expression on Mhysra’s face, or the intent swings of Dhori’s sword as he shadow-sparred, to know that they felt as he did. No amount of training would be enough. Not now. Not after he’d delivered his messages and seen the faces of the lieutenants and the dean when they were warned of unexpected arrivals. Coupled with what Mhysra had recently told him, Derrain knew things were worse than he’d thought. It made him want to test his strength and readiness.

“Come.” Breaking off from Mouse with an encouraging pat on the shoulder, Gedanon threw a practise sword at Derrain and beckoned.

Allowing him only the briefest warm up, the swordmaster pressed him hard, letting Derrain strike, thrust and swing with his full weight, then forcing him to block until his arms and shoulders ached. Sweat covered his face and back, making his clothes cling to his skin and still Derrain blocked and struck at his much smaller opponent. Yet, despite his stocky build, Gedanon was fast. He was always a step ahead, his sword a blur, unless he wished otherwise.

Too many times beyond count, he could have sliced Derrain into little student pieces, even while hefting a dulled, unwieldy practise blade. He could have danced circles around him, beaten him to his knees or simply cracked every bone in his body. Instead, he let Derrain strike and strike again, goading him with curt mockery, until the former skysailor had worked out every mote of frustration and fear that had brought him back so soon. Then he let him sag to the floor in exhaustion.

When Derrain was done, panting and staring at the exposed beams overhead, Gedanon prodded his ribs. “Up. Do not stop yet. Move until you cool.”

Much as he longed to ignore him, Derrain crawled back to his feet, with boot and sword poking him along. When he was standing, the swordmaster nodded, “Good,” and went to hassle someone else.

It was then that Derrain realised the others had stopped and were staring at him in astonishment. Apart from Mhysra and Dhori, who looked sympathetic.

Tossing her practise blade to Greig, letting him take her place with Jaymes, Mhysra wandered over to provide support while he stretched. “Feeling better?”

Derrain grunted, but used her offered shoulder to balance against as he bent his knee and held his foot behind him. “Define better.”

She smiled and allowed him to stretch in silence. When he was finished with his legs and had moved on to loosening his sore shoulders, she said, “It was Captain Myran.”

He shook out his right arm, then pressed his left straight across his chest. “Ah.”

“Lieutenant Lyrai met him in the eyries. He had to leave the wounded behind.”

“But he only had four with him,” Derrain remembered, frowning as he raised his elbow above his head.

Mhysra looked at him, eyes dark and sad. “Yes.”

“Oh.” He swallowed, not wanting to consider the implications. “We need more practise.”

She snorted, but before she could reply Lieutenant Stirla arrived to call Derneon away. The weaponsmith left without a word, leaving the students to spar under Gedanon’s watchful eye.

Biting her lip, Mhysra stared at the door where Derneon had vanished, until Derrain nudged her shoulder and handed her a practise sword.

“There are many things we can’t change,” he said.

She took the sword with a wry smile and blocked his overhead strike. “So we must be ready for whatever comes our way,” she replied. Dodging and blocking a thrust at her middle, she flicked his sword high and raised her eyebrows. “Do you feel ready?”

He smiled and landed a light slap on her thigh. “No. That’s why I’m here. As are you. If in doubt, my young friend, just keep practising.”

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 6, Part 1


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

In which Mhysra mopes and things start to take shape.

Approaching Shadows

THE CITADEL HUMMED with urgency as Mhysra hurried into the main hall, fighting through the crowd of students, Riders, servants and attendants to join her friends. When the bells rang, Aquila answered.

“What’s going on?” Corin demanded, tugging Mhysra out of the crush.

“No idea,” Mhysra said, wriggling into a space beside Derrain near one of the tables. “I was in the chapel. Have any of you heard anything?”

“Other than the bells?” Mouse grumbled, rubbing his ears. Since no one else knew any more, they were quick to seize seats on the bench as an expectant hush fell over the crowd.

“Good afternoon and thank you all for coming.” Dean Marshall had returned from Nimbys at last. While the dean often brought the citadel together for announcements and ceremonies, he rarely used the bells – and would never do so just to mark his own return.

The students’ sudden departure from Buteo was beginning to make a worrying kind of sense – and not just because of the news of Kilai. Mhysra looked at men standing on the dais – Dean Marshall, Lyrai and Stirla – and realised the notable absences told their own tale. Where were Captain Myran, Lieutenant Fleik and Lieutenant Imaino? Willym was missing too, and she doubted that even he would be arrogant enough to ignore a summons. What could possibly have taken so many officers away from Aquila at such a time?

“Maegla,” she whispered.

“What?” Derrain muttered, but she shook her head, wanting to hear the dean speak, even if it would confirm her fears.

“As you all know the Overworld is under constant threat, and has been for longer than records tell in many different ways. Summer, particularly high summer, is when the Wrathlen is at its most active. This year is no different. The Wrathlen is moving.” The dean held up his hand as the crowd stirred. “We do not know where they intend to strike, but it is a Rider’s duty to serve and protect. Whether through warnings, or by deflecting the aggression altogether, we do not yet know. Our enemies are changing, and our sources do not always provide the information we need.

“As such, I have sent out reinforcements to shore up Captain Hylan’s defence. Tomorrow, I will send more. Those of you chosen for the mission will receive your orders shortly. The rest of you must prepare. All our students will return soon, and as we are low on Riders, even the youngest amongst you must help take their place, on patrol and in chores. We must also prepare for difficulties ahead, be they injured Riders and miryhls or dispatching fresh supplies. From this moment on the citadel is on rations. There will be no wastage. Of anything.”

He looked at the expectant faces and smiled grimly. “I do not know what lies ahead, nor what the Wrathlen intends, but I know this – we are Rift Riders, and Riders endure. Whatever we face we stand tall, fly high and prevail. Fortitude and strength will see us through. Thank you for you time.” Nodding sharply, the dean strode out, the lieutenants on his heels. Leaving the hall in an uproar.

Mhysra placed her elbows on the table and cradled her head, feeling dizzy. Voices bubbled all around her, but it was only when Corin squeezed her hand that she looked up. Surrounded by the worried faces of her friends – though their expressions were equally mixed with excitement – Mhysra swallowed hard. There was no excitement in her, just anxiety and fear churning in her gut. She realised they had no idea what was happening, except Dhori, whose expression was as solemn as her own.

“Are you all right?” Derrain asked, rubbing her cold fingers.

She shook her head. “We’re in trouble now,” she warned. “Big trouble.”

* * * * *

17th Fledgling

“DO YOU WANT to talk about it?”

Standing at the top of the bell tower, staring at the empty Cloud Sea, Mhysra lifted her chin from her crossed arms. Derrain stood beside her, eyebrows raised, and she wondered how he’d gotten so close without her noticing. Maybe she’d spent too much time in the sun today.

“Mhysra?” he asked, looking at her oddly.

A number of people had been doing that lately, curious and concerned, but she hadn’t confided in any of them. Since the dean’s return, when he’d calmly announced that he was emptying Aquila of its defenders and putting the rest of them on rations, Mhysra had felt sick. It was a constant hollow ache in her chest and stomach that wouldn’t go away, like the fear she felt for Kilai, only worse.

While everyone else helped the Rider flurries prepare and gaily waved them off, Mhysra knelt in the chapel and prayed. She didn’t know if her earnest entreaties did any good, but surely Maegla hadn’t ignored her. She’d spent five days on her knees. Three nights too, before the priest discovered her and shooed her away, admonishing her to rest. He hadn’t said she would need it, but the strain on his face had spoken much louder than words.

Then the other students had returned, starting with Lieutenant Hlen and his first-years, then the second-years and Captain Fredkhen, and finally the third-years and the Riders they had been assigned to. All of them had been in high-spirits, seeing nothing wrong with the changes in the citadel during their absence. They’d taken to the rationing with glee, seeing it as practise for when they were true Riders. Mhysra’s friends were the same, though some were starting to complain. After fifteen days of watery soup and stale bread, the novelty was wearing thin.

When Captain Fredkhen and the newly returned Riders were sent out immediately as far scouts, Mhysra had taken to the bell tower. Since lessons were yet to resume, she had to fill her days somehow. Everyone else was busy with chores. Some checked weapons and ammunition supplies and tallied the food, while others helped the servants shore up the citadel’s defences, checking roofs and walls to make sure all was as strong as could be. They exercised their miryhls, growing excited when the older, more able fliers were been placed on sentry duty.

It was no wonder she felt sick. Only the fact that the third-years were growing suspicious offered her comfort, and mutters of unease had recently started amongst the seconds. But the majority of students continued in happy ignorance, thinking summers at Aquila always passed this way. That it was a lark.

Now Derrain had come, asking questions, watching her with concern. Her friends thought she was ill. Corin had even asked about monthlies and cramps, but Mhysra had no words to explain what was wrong. If they were happy in their ignorance, who was she to take that away? Maybe she was overreacting, letting her concern for Kilai taint everything. Perhaps Aquila acted this way every time the Wrathlen stirred.

“You can’t keep silent forever,” Derrain said gently, interrupting her thoughts. “I know you’re not overly talkative, but even for you this is bad. Did you think we wouldn’t notice?”

She blinked, unsure how to answer. “Everyone’s so busy,” she said eventually.

Derrain frowned, drumming his fingers on the wall. “So you didn’t think we’d notice. Lovely. As if we don’t care enough to see when something’s seriously wrong.”

She opened her mouth, about to say that nothing was wrong, only to find that she couldn’t. “Kilai’s missing,” she admitted, defenceless when Derrain looked at her like that. His brown eyes, usually so bright and merry, were dark with hurt.

“What?” Those same eyes widened.

“He’s missing,” she repeated, voice cracking. “He was scouting -” She shook her head, unable to say any more.

Derrain swore and dragged her against his chest, holding tight. “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you tell me? Gods, Mhysra!”

The sudden comfort after keeping it all to herself shattered her control and she burst into tears. Thankfully they passed as swiftly as they started, while Derrain murmured soothing things. “I’m all right,” she muttered, pulling away in embarrassment. Riders didn’t cry. She scrubbed her cheeks with her sleeve and turned to stare at the view with a loud sniff.

“No, you’re not,” Derrain corrected, bumping her shoulder with his. “Understandably. Maegla, poor Kilai. When did you hear?”

“The night we returned from Buteo. Lyrai told me.”

He shook his head. “You’re such an idiot. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t,” she muttered, shrugging. “I felt helpless and didn’t want to admit it. Then Dean Marshall came back and sent all the Riders away, and I realised how serious it was and… Everyone was so excited. I couldn’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

He frowned, not understanding – how could he when she didn’t herself? “You’re an odd duck. Don’t apologise.” Throwing an arm over her shoulders, he cuddled her again. “Now I know why you’ve spent so much time in the chapel. We thought you were being pessimistic, but Kilai… Well, it explains everything.”

She took a shuddering breath and pulled away before she started crying again. “I hate not knowing. He might have turned up already, but it might still be days before we get any news.”

He didn’t say anything, just patted her shoulder. She didn’t believe her own words either, but the alternatives didn’t bear thinking about. That Kilai was dead was probably the most pleasant option for him, yet it made her heart hurt. The thought of him being held prisoner made her shut her eyes to murmur another fervent prayer to Maegla to keep him safe.

Derrain whispered something similar and she almost cried again. She didn’t deserve her friends.

Sniffling, she rested her chin on her arms and stared at the relentless white clouds, thinking of nothing but emptiness. Derrain kept her company, his silent support just what she needed.

“Look,” he murmured after a long moment, shading his eyes with his hand. “Miryhls.”

Mhysra jolted out of her trance and followed his gaze, squinting at the distant spots. “Four… no, five.” Counting again to make sure, she hurried to the hatch where the lookouts were taking a break away from the sun. “Miryhls!” she shouted down.

Stuffing the last of their bread into their mouths, the Riders scrambled up the ladder and turned their spyglasses to where Derrain was pointing. “Alert the dean and lieutenants,” one ordered, watching the horizon. “And the eyries.”

“I’ll tell the dean,” Derrain said, as he and Mhysra sprinted down the tower stairs. “You tell the eyries.”

“What about the lieutenants?”

“The dean can tell me where they are.”

Nodding, Mhysra saved her breath for the run, separating from her friend as he passed over the bridge, while she climbed up. The eyries were subdued when she entered; no matter how the students viewed the recent changes, the miryhls weren’t fooled. Neither were the attendants, who traded grim looks as she passed on her message. They thanked and dismissed her, already turning away.

Biting her lip, she hesitated, wanting to see which miryhls returned. She compromised by finding Cumulo.

“What’s happening?” he demanded, eying her breathlessness with concern. “Is there a message?” He was the only one to whom she’d confided Kilai’s disappearance.

“Not yet,” she said, resting a hand against his trembling wing, sharing his restlessness. “But five miryhls are coming. Derry and I saw them from the tower.”

Cumulo stared at the nearest hatch as if the eagles would come through at any moment. “Who?”

“Don’t know. They were just specks when we left to alert everyone.”

Cumulo crackled his beak thoughtfully, then raised a wing. “I heard them dismiss you,” he said, in answer to her quizzical look. “Unless you want to get thrown out, best lie low.”

Flashing a grateful grin, Mhysra ducked into the warmth of his feathers, the ultra-soft down beneath his wings tickling her cheek and the bare patch of skin crinkling under her fingers. She could feel his heart beating against her palm, speeding up with the prospect of news.

“Miryhl in!”

The call from the lower level made Cumulo twitch, forcing Mhysra closer to his side. She gasped in a mouthful of feather dust and struggled to contain her coughs. Cumulo relaxed and growled for her to keep quiet. Rolling her eyes, Mhysra held her nose to silence a sneeze and hoped the attendants wouldn’t take long to tend the new arrivals.

* * * * *

LYRAI WAS HEADING across the bridge to the eyries, to check on the far scouts, when Derrain almost knocked him over.

“Sorry, sir,” the student panted, managing a passable salute while he caught his breath.

Looking the puffing student over, Lyrai didn’t bother to scold. Derrain wasn’t one to dash about without reason. “Where are you off to at such speed?”

“Dean, sir.” Derrain pressed a hand to his ribs. “Miryhls. Coming. Five.”

Lyrai barely concealed a wince: unexpected arrivals were never good. “On your way, student.” He dismissed Derrain with a nod. “Tell the dean I’ll attend him shortly.”

“Aye, lieutenant.” Derrain saluted again and jogged on towards the tower.

Bracing himself, Lyrai climbed up to the eyries, wondering what surprises awaited. As he reached the lower level the first person he saw was his own captain. “Sir!”

Captain Myran turned, looking flight weary and windblown. “Lyrai,” he rasped, gulping from a water flask. The four Riders behind him were a mix of Imaino and Fleik’s men and were all as worn as the captain, with fresh scars and torn uniforms. Their miryhls drooped where they’d landed, proving how hard the flight had been.

Casting a glance at the attendants coaxing the miryhls towards the treatment rooms, Lyrai deemed it safe to ask, “Why have you returned, sir? Are my flurry well?”

Captain Myran rested a scarred hand on his shoulder, dark eyes weary with more than just lack of sleep. “It’s as we feared, Lyrai. Worse.”

“My Riders?” he repeated, voice low and hoarse.

Myran shook his head. “I had to leave the worst wounded behind,” he murmured, and Lyrai looked at the four Riders again. “Has the dean returned?”

Still staring at the four men, Lyrai wondered how many had been lost, how many were wounded and how bad those injuries might yet prove to be. Something unpleasant settled in his gut as he tried not to think about it.

“Lyrai.” The captain jolted his shoulder. “Is the dean back?”

“What?” He blinked, startled from his thoughts. “Oh. Yes, sir, he’s here.”

“Then let’s not keep him waiting,” the captain rumbled, and limped swiftly away.

* * * * *

CUMULO WAS TREMBLING as he relaxed his wing and Mhysra ducked out. Her skin was overheated, but inside she felt cold. “The captain’s back.”

“Yes,” Cumulo agreed, voice rasping. “He’s early.”

“Yes.” She leant against his chest, clenching her fists in his feathers. “There are no defenders left now.”

Bowing his head, he breathed softly on her hair and said nothing. There was nothing to say.

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Rift Riders: Chapter 5, Part 3

RR Ch5.3.jpg

First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Meanwhile, back at Aquila…


“This is exciting, isn’t it?” Mouse chattered as they climbed up from the underground lake, the tunnel wrapped close and dark around the students. “Don’t you think it’s exciting?”

“No,” Derrain whispered, eyes closed, gripping Mhysra’s hand. He was handling his fear better than last time, but Mhysra wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to feel her fingers again.

“Well, I do,” Mouse continued. He’d been talking non-stop since they’d left Buteo and was holding onto Dhori as tightly as Derrain held Mhysra. “Makes me feel like a proper Rider.”

“By walking underground in the dark?” Corin drawled. “Yes, I see how it would.”

“I follow you, Mouse,” Silveo said soothingly. “Because we had to drop whatever we were doing and move out without any explanation. That’s true Rider life.”

“Being constantly confused and annoyed at being left out?” Corin quipped.

“Something like that,” Jaymes agreed, and Mhysra could hear his amusement. Within moments Silveo and Corin started bickering, spurred on by Mouse’s eager input. As the tunnel grew steeper, however, they fell silent. By the time they reached the top, everyone was breathless and all was black. Aquila lay in darkness, save for two lanterns burning at the top of the citadel steps. They were home.

“Thank Maegla,” Derrain whispered as they emerged into the night, stars twinkling overhead and a fresh wind waiting to greet them. “I couldn’t breathe.”

“Ah, to sleep in a real bed again,” Corin sighed happily, linking her arm through Derrain’s as they walked up the stairs.

“And proper food,” Mouse chirped, hobbling behind them.

“That boy makes me feel old,” Jaymes grumbled, shaking his head as he followed.

Released from helping her friend, Mhysra stayed behind and flexed her sore hand, staring at the citadel, a dark shadow on the night. The looming mountain beyond was outlined in stars, the moon lurking behind a cloud. She shivered.

“Are you all right?” Dhori asked, interrupting her reverie. “You’ve been quiet ever since Lyrai showed up.”

“I’m fine.” She forced herself to smile, not wanting to admit that he had a point. Or that he’d hit upon the reason why she didn’t want to climb the stairs. Lieutenant Lyrai stood at the top, making a note of the students as they passed, watching and waiting.

“Need a hand?” Dhori asked, offering his arm. Since it would be rude to refuse, she smiled and they climbed in silence, for which she was grateful.

“May I have a word, student?” Lyrai asked, and looked at Dhori. “Alone.”

Dhori hesitated. “Do you want me to stay?” he asked Mhysra.

Her fingers tightened on his arm before she let him go. “No. Thank you. I – I’ll be along soon. Go see if Derry and Mouse are all right.” She forced herself to smile and, though he looked a little dubious, her friend nodded before leaving.

She and the lieutenant were the last of the expedition left outside the citadel now and Mhysra waited with growing dread to hear what he had to say. It could be nothing good or he wouldn’t have been so secretive. At least the shadows hid his eyes and the pity lurking there.

Lyrai shifted his weight and cleared his throat, but the longer he delayed, the worse she felt. Pressing a hand against her churning belly, Mhysra stared into the night, where stars twinkled above the Cloud Sea.

“Please, sir,” she murmured, when he still didn’t speak. “Tell me.”

“Forgive me,” he said, voice hoarse. “I do not know how to say this.”

“Just say it,” she prompted, though her throat was tight. She knew Cumulo was safe, but had something happened to her family? Was Kilai injured? Killed? She shut her eyes against the dreaded thoughts. “Please.”

“Your brother,” he croaked, pausing for breath. “Maegla, I’m so sorry, Mhysra… Kilai is missing.”

His pauses had caused a roaring in her ears as she feared the worst. Dead. Lost. Broken. The word missing was almost an anticlimax. “Missing?” she echoed, and shook her head, confused. “Missing where?”

“The Wrathlen. I’m sorry, Mhysra, but we fear he’s been captured. Along with over twenty of Captain Hylan’s men.”

“Maegla,” she whispered, then sat down hard.

“I’m sorry,” Lyrai repeated, patting her shoulder awkwardly. “Are you -? Is there anything I can do? Anyone I can fetch for you?”

She shook her head, too numb to speak. Her eyes burned but felt too dry for tears, as she stared at the bright stars shining to the south. The same that were looking down on the Wrathlen. As the Gods would be. “Maegla protect him,” she whispered, blinking as the stars began to blur. “Keep him safe. Watch over him, over them all, and bring them back safe.”

This time when Lyrai touched her shoulder, she accepted his hand to help her up, wiped away her tears and his awkward attempts to comfort her and headed for her room. There was nothing she could do for Kilai now, not when she was so tired. But when the sun rose the next morning, she skipped breakfast and headed to the chapel on the mountainside.

There she lit a candle on the altar, knelt in the open archway and prayed, and prayed, and prayed to the Goddess of the Storm to keep her brother safe.

She was still there, lost in her pleas and devotions, when the bells began to ring.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Rift Riders: Chapter 5, Part 2


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep things straight.

~ Previous Chapter ~

Oh, Kilai…

Knife Tip, the Wrathlen

WATER. WHAT KILAI would not give for a mouthful of water. The hunger left him weak, the stomach cramps made him writhe, but it was the thirst that was killing him. His mouth was drier than dust, his tongue felt too large and his head was pounding, pounding, pounding. It hurt to open his eyes, so he kept them shut, with his arms curled about his head. The fire in his wounds was a bleak counterpoint to the relentless thirst.

He felt weak, drained, feeble and useless. Even the scratches across his ribs failed to raise any interest. The first day he woke he’d used the scraps of his shirt to bandage them, stopping the blood that had flowed after he tore the cloth from the scabs. His breeches were plastered to his legs too, but he left them untouched. If he had wounds there he couldn’t feel them. They didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was alive… and wished he was dead.

The thumping wasn’t just in his head as he lay miserably in his tiny cell. It came from above, with the heat. The roar of bellows, shouts in a language he was only vaguely familiar with, the clank and thunder of hammers on metal, all informed him that he was below a forge. And he wasn’t alone in the cells, though none shared his. Groans, curses and prayers drifted around him, barely audible over the daily din.

At night it was a different story. At least for the first few days.

Then the captives had been full of plans, talk of revenge, escape and victory. But now, how ever many days later, with no food or water and pitiful amounts of rest, they were all beaten and dying.

The floor was wooden, sanded and sealed like the hull of all skyships. Yet it creaked and moaned with motion, tiny cracks and crevices letting insidious chills in from outside. Once it had made him shiver, but as he descended into a delirium of fever and thirst, he was grateful for the tiny respites.

A prisoner. He was a prisoner. On a skyship. A pirate skyship, no doubt drifting above the Wrathlen. And he was here, when the last thing he remembered was Cirrus falling.

Cirrus. It was the only word, the only thought, the only name that could divert Kilai’s attention from the torment of his thirst. Yet like everything else in this gods-forsaken place, it was a question, a desire and a need he had no answer for. He remembered falling, then nothing until he woke. Was it three days ago? Four? Five? Had he been unconscious or insensible for longer than a day? His fevers came and went, leaving him none the wiser and all the weaker.

Cirrus. His parched lips formed the word, but his throat was too raw to force the word out. It hurt to breathe. But he thought of her constantly and worried. Was she dead? Should he hope she was, since the alternative was that she was being held too. She would never have left him by choice, not when he’d been taken. The wounds on his arms and sides testified to the sharp claws that had carried him here, but they gave no clues to his miryhl’s fate. Only the emptiness inside hinted at what might have become of her.

Poor Cirrus. He longed to see her, yet at the same time he hoped she wasn’t being held. Even if that meant she was dead. Better dead than imprisoned. No miryhl was meant to be kept permanently inside, permanently grounded. And no Rider was meant to be neglected like this. Why take prisoners only to let them die in the hold? It made no sense. Before he could form any reasons for it all, the fever swept back in and burned his thoughts away.

* * * * *

“WHERE ARE THEY?” Admiral Akavia’s strident tone was punctuated by a crack as she backhanded the prisoner across the face.

The man stared at her through blackened eyes, his lip already swollen from previous blows. Blood bubbled from his mouth and he spat a tooth onto her boot. She kicked him in the chest. When he hit the deck, his head thumped at an unnatural angle and he didn’t move. Akavia growled at her crew about clean up and waste disposal. The ill-fated Rider was dragged away, the bloody smear he left behind efficiently swabbed off, even before the pyreflies started shrieking at their feast.

Standing to one side, beneath the shade of his kaz-naghkt guards’ wings, Yullik watched the show. Despite new Rider prisoners being constantly brought in, as easy to catch as butterflies fresh from the chrysalis, this was the third prisoner the captain had interrogated and disposed of in as many days. Yet she had learned nothing. Perhaps Akavia’s methods weren’t the most effective.

Question, followed by a blow, followed by another blow if the question wasn’t answered. A show of disrespect earned a kick, an insult another blow, a lie a slash from her belt knife. She wasn’t the most patient woman in the world and she had the temper of a pyrefly. Ruthless too. Was it any wonder she was the admiral of the Wrathlen fleet?

She sat atop the rotting carcasses of her enemies, ruling her disparate crews with whip, tongue and knife. She was as widely feared as she was admired. Yullik found her amusing.

“They are useless,” she complained, cleaning her knife after its latest outing, when she’d carved her initials on the prisoner’s chest. “They know nothing. It is a waste of time. Send your guards to scout.” She glared at the kaz-naghkt pair standing over him, their leathery wings fully extended to protect him from the sun. More than six-and-a-half foot tall when fully upright, their presence overpowered the admiral, who was far from a small woman. Their talons were sharper than any knife she might tuck in her belt and they had more in one hand than she could ever hold. Their teeth protruded below their short upper lips and their wing spurs glinted, always armed, always ready.

Yet Akavia was not frightened. He had to respect the woman for that. The rest of the Wrathlen cowered and cringed around his kaz-naghkt. They watched them constantly, always wary, fingering their weapons. The kaz-naghkt ignored them, because he ordered them to, but he knew his guards were hungry. He could hear their stomachs growling every time a prisoner was dragged away and pools of salvia steamed upon the deck.

He would feed them later. For now Yullik wanted them to stand imperiously behind him, protecting him from the sun, even as their wings crisped and burned from the exposure.

When he said nothing to Akavia’s complaints, she scowled but didn’t dare glower at him. His kaz-naghkt might not disturb her – but he did. Which was a relief. He would hate to be losing his touch. And to think, he didn’t even carry weapons anymore. He’d been practising his smile and his charm, just for her. He knew how to make a woman feel appreciated.

“We should send scouts to find them,” Akavia repeated, uncomfortable with the silence.


She frowned and darted a glance at his eyes, just for a heartbeat before she looked away. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips and she glowered at the kaz-naghkt again. “We are missing our chance. There will be but few watching. We should destroy them before more arrive. The prisoners are useless. They never talk.”

“Let them come,” Yullik ordered, because she was starting to whine. The trouble with the Wrathlen was that, despite their numbers, depravities and ferocity, they were used to losing. They did the same thing every year, going out and causing enough damage to ensure their reputation continued, but they were always beaten in the end. Whipped like the curs they were and sent scuttling back to their rocks, tails between their legs. Living on the edge of the world, clinging to their pitiful lives because they were worth nothing more.

Yullik was not used to losing and did not intend to learn how. Which meant it was time to teach the Wrathlen how to win. “Fetch another one.”

Akavia’s eyebrows rose as she stared at his shoulder. “What is the point? They have nothing to tell. You have seen this.” She wrinkled her nose, glanced around to ensure her crew weren’t eavesdropping – they were too busy avoiding the kaz-naghkt – and leant in close. “I only do it to entertain the crew and feed the pyreflies. It is the only value these prisoners have.”

“Bring one up,” he commanded as if she hadn’t spoken.

Pursing her lips to stifle her displeasure, she snapped her fingers at a crewman. “Fetch another,” she ordered, and the man hurried off. “Though why, I do not know. Waste of meat, since the ‘flies have eaten.”

He said nothing, just stood in his shade and waited. Until the new Rider was dragged onto the deck, skin sunken and tight with dehydration, eyes glazed with fever, body punctured by the marks of pyrefly talons. Yullik stepped forward.

When Akavia raised her hand to begin the interrogation in her usual way, he seized her wrist. “This one is mine.”

She stepped aside without a word and the Rider looked up from his position on his knees.

Yullik hunkered down in front of him, lifted his chin with his forefinger and smiled. “Good day, friend,” he murmured, extending the fingers of his right hand across the man’s throat until his skin began to tingle. “Would you like something to drink?”

The fever-glow faded from the man’s eyes and his cracked lips parted, the splits healing with a twitch of Yullik’s finger. The Rider licked his lips and swallowed hard. “Water,” he begged.

Yullik didn’t even have to look away as a flask was dangled beside him. He uncorked it and put it to the man’s lips, who guzzled gratefully. When the Rider was done his skin had lost the tight look and the worst of his cuts were gone. His bruises had faded, his lacerations had scabs and his eyes were clear.

“Look at me, friend,” Yullik commanded, and the man obeyed, helpless to resist.

Locking gazes with those innocent brown eyes, he smiled and cupped the Rider’s chin with both hands. “What is your name?”

“Cynek,” was the whispered reply, as though dragged from down deep against the speaker’s will. Yullik felt the Rider fighting his gaze, but the man was too weak, too tired, too defeated.

Cynek,” Yullik echoed, savouring the cadences of his name. Owning it. “Speak to me, Cynek, tell me what I want to know.”

“No…” It was a minor rebellion, a desperate plea. “Rumma.”

“Ah.” Yullik smiled again, his eyes probing the Rider’s gaze, digging into his mind and searching for clues to the man before him. “Yes. Rumma. Talk to me, Cynek, and I will reunite you with your miryhl. Is that what you want?”

“Rumma,” Cynek repeated, almost dreamily, and Yullik took that as assent.

“Then it will be so. By the time you have told me all you know, he will be waiting for you. Now, Cynek, where are the others?”

In the end it was as easy as spinning wool into thread – simple, in the right hands. He drew the answers from his subject, one by one, with no resistance as long as he kept moving forward, kept pushing and left the Rider no time to think. With his mind focused on Rumma, Cynek stood no chance. Even in his prime the man was no match for Yullik, though his task was made easier since the man was injured, starved and half-crazed with thirst. He did so like it when things were made easier for him. Some people relished a challenge: Yullik preferred to win.

And so, when he was done and Cynek had told all he could, Yullik let him go and smiled. “You have been helpful, friend. Most helpful indeed.”

No longer held by Yullik’s hands or probing gaze, awareness crept back into Cynek’s eyes. With it came the realisation of what he had done, what he had revealed, the depth of his betrayal. He looked terrified, disgusted and defeated all at once.

How delightful.

“What have I done?” Cynek whispered, closing his eyes and shuddering. “Oh, Rumma, what have I done?”

Bending until his lips rested against the Rider’s ear, Yullik whispered, “Your duty, soldier. Now have your reward.”

At his nod, the taller of his kaz-naghkt guards plunged its talons into Cynek’s chest, slowly clenching its fist before ripping free. Blood spurted as the kaz-naghkt pair howled with glee, catching the body before it touched the deck and tearing it to frenzied shreds.

Yullik turned away, satisfied that the man was dead. His reward had been given. All the prisoners’ miryhls had been killed rather than captured, so Cynek would be with his precious Rumma again soon.

Tomorrow Yullik would lead the Wrathlen fleet to sweep up the rest of the Rider remains and lie in wait for the reinforcements he knew would follow.

Then he would call in the rest of his kaz-naghkt and set a course for the true prize in this campaign: Aquila.

~ Next Chapter ~

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