Storm Wings: Chapter 12, Part 1

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Previous Chapter ~

In which Yullik is rather busy… Unfortunately.

Blood and Belligerence

9th Cold

FATIGUE WEIGHED ON Yullik’s brain like a lump of Worlds End iron, freshly scarred from being savagely hewn from the mountains. It was all he could do to sit upright, balancing his heavy head upon his shoulders. He hadn’t suffered such exhaustion for half a hundred years, when he last bred a new strain into his kaz-naghkt.

The only difference was that that time it had been worth it. Then he’d had bigger, faster, hungrier kaz-naghkt to show for his efforts. This time he had Willym.

Of a sort. As deep and disfiguring as the many cuts to Willym’s once pretty face and torso had been, Yullik had been able to fix them without too much trouble. Especially since he didn’t bother going to the extra effort of removing the scars. The former Rift Rider had relied too much on his beauty to mask his depravities for too long. Learning how to cope without it would be character building. Probably.

Yet as bad as those scratches had looked, each on their own had not been a problem for Yullik. What had really worn him out was the amount of blood Willym had lost. Whatever attacked him on the mountain – and as yet Yullik only had suspicions – had a particularly nasty property in its claws. One he’d tried to breed into his kaz-naghkt without success. This creature’s claws were not only sharp and strong, but coated in a substance that prevented the blood from clotting, meaning the wounds remained open far longer than they should have. Which meant Willym lost far more blood than he could afford.

Since most of the pirates had now fled to Aquila town, in the hope that they would be safe from being eaten there, it left Yullik with a dilemma. Having already wasted so much time and effort on Willym, did he let him die? Or should he replace the lost blood with the only ready supply he had to hand?

Tempting as it was to let the foolish boy go, Yullik knew he couldn’t. The captain twins still had plans for him, and Yullik himself had to admit to a certain curiosity about where that would end. And when one was as old as he, curiosity was hard to come by, so had to be savoured wherever it was found.

So he called his kaz-naghkt to him and set about transferring their blood into the body of the former Rift Rider, using just enough to replace what had been lost. Unfortunately for Willym kaz-naghkt blood is poisonous to humans, which meant Yullik had a very tedious night keeping the idiot alive, while filling his veins with molten agony.

Yullik’s only solace was that as exhausting as it was for him, it hurt Willym far more, and his screams had been shrill and desperate enough to make even the kaz-naghkt cower. Before Yullik was even halfway done he’d had to force the creatures to remain still so that he could take their blood, so terrified were they of the man’s screams.

Truly, there were times when Yullik wished he’d not bothered at all. Or used his own blood. Which would have made it all a very short operation, since it would have killed Willym outright.

Sighing, Yullik closed his memory against those long, agonising hours and studied the body on the bed. He looked dead. Where once Willym’s skin had glowed a dusky gold, rich with the vitality of youth and health, now it was pallid and slightly grey. His scars stuck out in quintets of red welts. His face was marked by the heavy lines of pain. Overnight his weight had dropped to almost skeletal levels, his bones creating stark angles against his tight skin. His hair was sweat-matted, his nails cracked and blackened where he’d tried to claw the burning blood from his own veins. In all it was a very different picture to the one Lord Willym fra Wrellen, son of Jarl Yurrayn, normally presented.

The slight rise and fall of the blanket was the only evidence he still lived, and with that Yullik was satisfied. If only he wasn’t so tired.

Sinking into the cushioned support of his chair, he let his head fall back and his eyes close, the lure of sleep beckoning him closer. An attractive proposition. He knew he should remain awake a little longer to ensure Willym suffered no set-backs, but in truth he didn’t much care.

Sighing, he released a little more of his tension, drifting further away from the cold tower room at the top of Aquila. And felt a familiar touch against his wearied brain.

“The Wingborn.”

He struggled to regain consciousness, already groping with his mind for that same connection, so sweet, so fleeting, so quickly gone.

She was back in the Overworld, and yet even as he reached for her, static, storms and heavy shadows pushed her beyond his reach once more.

Too tired to fight against them, he growled with frustration and was silenced beneath the heavy weight of sleep.

* * * 


“I AM REALLY not comfortable with this.”

“I know, Cumulo,” Mhysra sighed. It would have been almost impossible for her not to have realised this by now, as he’d spent almost every moment since they’d landed the night before complaining about it. Combined with the thankless bleak conditions of this distant outcropping of Lansbrig rocks, with nothing left between them and the Storm Surge just beyond the horizon, hadn’t left Mhysra with much time nor chance for sleeping. “But you know it makes sense.”

Her Wingborn gave a disdainful huff. “I know of no such thing,” he grumbled. “For eighteen years my wings have been perfectly sufficient for your needs. I do not see why that should change now.”

Rubbing her head against the insistent ache building there, Mhysra sighed and tried once more to reason with her brash young miryhl. “This isn’t a personal reflection on your skills and abilities, Cue,” she said with weary patience, having been kept up half the night with his ceaseless fretting. “Why are you taking this so personally?”

He huffed again, shuffling his wings. “I just don’t see why I can’t fly us across. I managed perfectly well when we travelled down from the Heighlen, and when we left Etheria. You certainly had no complaints when I was crossing those four stretches of open Cloud Sea.”

“Cumulo, I have no complaints about you now,” she shot back, tone rising with impatience. “Stop making this all about you. You know full well that we’re pressed for time, and who knows how long it will take us to negotiate our way into Sanctuary – if it’ll even be possible. It would take you more than three days to cross between Lansbrig and Storm Peaks. Nor can we guarantee we’d find places to roost at night, and you know how bad it is for you to sleep in such awful conditions.”

He hummed and hawed, crackling his beak as he considered the wisdom of her words. “Why can’t we take a skyship?”

Since it was a half-reasonable suggestion, she didn’t snap at him, simply sighed again and rubbed her aching forehead. “You know why, Cue. We don’t have time to wait around for one, nor the money to pay for it, even if we could find one that would agree to carry us all. Then there’s the issue of time again. If it would take you three days, it would take a skyship almost double that, thanks to the contrary winds coming off the Storm Surge. As well you know.” Feeling her patience coming to an end, she placed both hands on her miryhl’s beak and forced his gaze to meet hers. “Please, Cumulo, can’t you just accept it? All the others have agreed, why not you?”

Jerking his head free, he fluffed up in affront. “The others may have agreed, but I am Wingborn. I will not be carried by anyone!”

Mhysra was tired, cranky and more than a little nervous about what lay ahead on this fresh journey into the unknown. For once, it would have been nice if her Wingborn could drop his arrogance and just go along with everyone else. Just once. Was it too much to ask?

Eying his rigid stance, his firmly clenched beak and the glint in his golden eyes, every bit as tempestuous as the storm brooding on the horizon, Mhysra knew it was. Cumulo never did anything just because everyone else already was. In fact he often kicked out just on principle. For the most part she was content to rebel alongside him, but right now all she wanted to do was cry. Why was he doing this to her?

Before she could give into her tiredness, a comforting arm rested across her shoulders, pulling her against a familiar chest. She rested her forehead against Lyrai’s neck with a sigh. It was so good to have someone to lean on sometimes. Even if it did remind her how much she missed Derrain.

“Is this how you care for your Wingborn, Cumulo?” Lyrai said over her head, wrapping her securely in both of his arms, even as the cool tone of his voice made her shiver. It was the dreaded Ice Lieutenant voice again.

Not that her brash miryhl cared. He simply snorted. “Much you would know about it.”

Lifting her head, Mhysra turned to frown at him. “Cumulo.”

The little feathers on his crest prickled, but he didn’t back down. “I am taking care of my Wingborn,” he growled, glaring at both Lyrai and Dhori, who had also appeared, arms crossed over his chest in clear disapproval.

“By driving her to tears with your intransigent stubbornness?” Dhori inquired, sounding deceptively mild.

Cumulo narrowed his eyes. “I am her Wingborn. If anyone is to carry her, it will be me.”

“Ah.” Dhori nodded, enlightened, while Mhysra rested her head against Lyrai again, sighing in defeat. They had been over this, again and again. Cumulo wouldn’t listen to her.

“Hurricane is my blood-bonded miryhl,” Lyrai said, stroking soothing fingers through Mhysra’s curls, making her melt just that little bit more. “He does not feel lessened because he’s agreed to be carried by dragons, and to let them take me at the same time. He knows it has nothing to do with him, but is simply a way to save valuable time and energy by making our journey that little bit shorter.”

“He would,” Cumulo grumbled.

Feeling Lyrai stiffen with indignation, Mhysra squeezed his waist, silently begging him not to bite. Cumulo was in one of his most obnoxious moods. Allowing him to argue his way off the main topic did nothing but waste even more time.

“No one would think less of you for agreeing to this, Cumulo,” Dhori said softly. “In fact we would applaud your good sense. I am no fan of dragons, as you are well aware, but even I can acknowledge that while they’re here we would do well to take advantage of their strengths. The stretch between Lansbrig and Storm Peaks is the most contrary and dangerous across the Overworld. Why tire yourself out and risk the life of your Wingborn on a three-day flight into the unknown, when the dragons can take you over in a day?”

Knowing he was running out of decent arguments, Cumulo glared at the ground and stirred the dirty pebbles with his talons. “It is undignified,” he muttered. “I am a miryhl. I have two perfectly good wings of my own.”

“And we people have a decent set of legs,” Dhori agreed, “but we’ll still use horses to cross wide distances. There’s no shame in getting a little help every now and then. Besides, you let them carry you across from Mistrune.”

Cumulo huffed again. “I didn’t like it.”

“I think you’ll find none of the miryhls did,” Dhori pointed out. “You were all uncomfortable, but you can’t deny that it saved us time.”

“Don’t you want to help us win back Aquila?” Lyrai had to ask.

In the silence that followed, Mhysra turned to face her miryhl, meeting his miserable eyes. “Oh, Cue,” she whispered, and stepped up to put her arms about his neck.

He lowered his beak to rest against her chest. “I can carry you,” he muttered stubbornly.

“I know.” She riffled her fingers through his neck feathers, wishing she could soothe his pride so easily.

“You’re my Wingborn.”

“And you’re mine,” she promised.

“Stupid show-off dragons. I wish we’d never met them.”

Smiling against him, knowing they’d won, she tilted her head and caught Dhori’s wink. She suppressed her chuckles and pulled away, kissing her miryhl on the beak. “Thanks, Cue.”

He stirred more pebbles with a surly grunt. “The things I do for you,” he muttered.

“I know. I’m terribly spoiled and don’t deserve you.”

He harrumphed, and Mhysra seized her chance to escape, pressing a kiss to both Dhori’s and Lyrai’s cheek as she went. “My heroes.”

“I’d save the celebrations, if I were you.” Reglian appeared before her, golden eyes glinting with the reflected flash of distant lightning. “At least until we reach the other side.”

At which point the sky opened and dumped an entire cloud of rain onto their heads.

Thunder grumbled from afar and Dhori laughed. “Well, they’re not called the Storm Peaks for nothing. Maegla will be pleased.”

More on Sunday.

Thanks for reading!

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Storm Wings: Chapter 11, Part 3

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Previous Chapter ~

Mighty Mouse!


“HOW BAD IS it? Don’t pretty it up, just tell me the truth.”

Mouse didn’t even look up from cleaning the newest of Imaino’s cuts. Nor did he waste time with spurious questions about what the lieutenant meant. He knew. They all knew. It was what had been on everyone’s mind the moment Mouse started assessing their healing supplies, carefully collected and stored by Nehtl before the first winter snows. As he then moved on to tending the wounded, the atmosphere had grown steadily more strained with the weight of expectation.

Bringing him a fresh bowl of hot water, Greig caught Mouse’s eye and grimaced. Rolling bandages behind the lieutenant’s back, Haelle and Silveo were equally quiet, awaiting Mouse’s verdict.

Which was the moment he realised he’d gone from useless student weakling to fully-fledged head healer. All their older, better qualified healers were dead and since he’d spent the months since the fall of Aquila under Nehtl’s tutelage, the title and all attendant responsibilities had fallen to him.


“Our numbers are down, as you already know,” Mouse began slowly, ordering his thoughts even as he spoke. “Including the five of us here, there are only sixteen left.” Where once there had been more than forty. “Rechar is our only remaining Rider, not including yourself, sir. We have eight students, with myself and Silveo the only ones with any substantial healer training. All our healers are dead. We still have six regulars, including Ullimn and Jym to look after our five nakhounds, Adyn and Gethyr for tracking and hunting, and I’ve been told both Gedanon and Derneon are still with us, though I’ve not seen either in over a month.”

“They’re still here,” Imaino agreed softly. “I sent them under the mountain with a couple of regulars some time ago, to find a way through to Buteo if possible. I saw Derneon this morning, but he left before you woke. Said he had things to do.”

Mouse could well believe the bulky little Ihran had plans. It didn’t surprise him one bit that both his old combat teachers had survived through the worst Aquila had thrown at them. Ihrans might be short, but they were tough and trained to last. It lifted his heart to know they were both still with them.

“And the wounded, Mouse. What are those numbers? The severity? How many can walk?” Though no one looked at Haelle when the lieutenant spoke, Mouse saw her hunch her shoulders out of the corner of his eye.

“Mostly good,” Mouse said, forcing himself to be cheerful. “Of us students, you know about Greig’s arm and my limp. It seems Naelya has a lurching gait to match mine, while Bhern’s still dizzy from a knock to the head. Rossen’s a bit cut up, but nothing’s fatal and he’s recovering well, and like Silveo, Natten seems to have come through everything with nary a scratch.”

Imaino breathed a sigh of relief to hear the state of his few remaining students. “Then they should all be able to make the walk, as long as we compensate for slower gaits.” And the time it would take to carry Haelle, he didn’t say, but it was implied. “Rechar’s fit, isn’t he?”

“As fit as you, sir,” Mouse agreed, smearing some of Nehtl’s precious herbal paste onto the ragged scratches that ran down the lieutenant’s jaw, neck and across his shoulder. They were long, but shallow; he was lucky the kaz-naghkt hadn’t clawed anything vital.

They were all lucky about that, Mouse reflected, pausing to wash his hands. He didn’t know what they would do without the lieutenant to hold them together and push them on. Which made it all the more important that he didn’t let the wound get infected, no matter how much of their dwindling supplies it took.

“And the regulars? How do they fare?”

“Well.” Mouse was pleased with this report. “Jym’s fully adapted now to having only one arm – Healer Nehtl did a very good job there – and Gethyr may yet keep his eye. I won’t be able to tell until the swelling goes down some more. Adyn is another of the limpers, but I think his is just a twisted knee, while Ullimn only needs to stop giving his food to the dogs and swallow some of it himself for his strength to come back.”

“Good.” Imaino nodded firmly. “That’s very good. You’ve done an excellent job, Mouse. Nehtl would be proud of you.” No one mentioned all the others that hadn’t been saved, both before Mouse returned, and after. Like Alyne, their fiery-headed year mate, who’d picked a fight once too often and finally lost, this time to an unlucky kaz-naghkt clawing that had ruptured something vital in her guts, which she’d owned up to far too late to save herself. If she’d ever stood a chance anyway. It was that loss of tiny hope that Mouse most hated though, that possibility she might have been saved, if only she’d said something.

Or Nehtl himself, who’d died in the dark while Mouse listened, chained up against the far wall, unable to do anything save frighten off the rats in the darkness.

As he cleared away his precious supplies, Mouse kept his head down and tried not to think of things he couldn’t change. Of all the ways he’d failed. He couldn’t allow himself such self-indulgences anymore. He wasn’t a child, he was a healer, the best one they had. There would be time for grief and self-recrimination later, for now he had to keep his remaining friends alive.

So he straightened his shoulders and nodded to his lieutenant. “Thank you, sir. If you’ll let me know when you want to leave, Silveo and I will see what we can come up with for Haelle. It’s probably best we get out of here sooner rather than later, especially now the kaz-naghkt are flying again.”

Imaino looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. “Gods, Mouse, for a moment there I thought we had him back with us again. He did his best work on you.” Before either of them could succumb to the moisture in their eyes, Imaino slapped him on the back. “I’ll let you know, healer. Keep up the good work, all of you.”

As he strode off, Mouse took a moment to scrub any rogue moisture from his face before he turned back to face his friends. “Right then, you lot. Where were we?” Picking up a battered journal from the bottom of their all-important medical kit, Mouse flicked through the well-thumbed pages, running his finger across the painfully familiar scrawl. “Section Two, wasn’t it? Properties of the native Aquilan plants and herbs. Come on, Greig, shock us with your memory.”

“Er… nettles?” Greig hazard a guess. “I know we’ve got plenty of them about. I can still feel their presence from last autumn. I swear I still have bumps in the most unusual places.” He glanced at Haelle, all limpid innocent eyes, leaning closer. “I don’t suppose you’d take a look at them for me, would you? You could rub something on them. Maybe kiss them better?” He puckered up his lips.

Haelle rolled her eyes, blushing bright red as she shoved him away, and that quickly Mouse was back to being a student again, surrounded by his friends. True, none of them were quite as they’d once been, but deep down was what mattered most.

So he let himself smile and even chuckle for the first time in months, letting himself be a seventeen-year-old again. Such chances were few and far between these days, and it would be back to the serious stuff soon enough.

Under his hand, the pages of Nehtl’s journal crinkled, and he silently vowed to do everything possible to be worthy of its creator. Whether here, at Buteo or in the world beyond. He owed that man a greater debt than he could ever repay, but he would keep trying nonetheless.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 11, Part 2

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Previous Chapter ~

Okay, Dreffen, you’re just being weird now.


IT WAS THE hunger that woke him. For a moment as Mouse drifted slowly towards consciousness, his stomach cramped in remembered revulsion, then his belly growled and he relaxed. This was nothing but good, honest hunger, coming from within his own body. No creepy outside thoughts, feelings or voices were involved.

Stretching in his bedroll, Mouse filled his lungs with a wide yawn, savouring the delicious scent of roasting venison. Gods, a cooked meal had never smelled so good.

“He’s waking.”

The soft voice made him open his eyes, and he turned his head to see Haelle sitting beside him, her long blonde hair lost to a ragged, untidy crop. In the flickering firelight her face was gaunt and bruised, but she smiled when she saw him looking up at her.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Good to have you back.”

“Again.” Greig walked carefully over, balancing three steaming bowls along his wounded arm. A water bottle hung by its strap from his other wrist, and he was quick to dole out his goodies before helping Mouse sit up. “I almost had a heart attack when you collapsed. Until Silveo and the lieutenant told me it’s become a regular thing.”

He peered worriedly at Mouse as if trying to see beneath his skin and ferret out all his ills. Mouse was quick to duck his head and fill his mouth with food, answering his friend’s concern with a shrug.

“Well, whatever happened, you’re back now,” Haelle said into the uncomfortable silence. “And you brought quite the treat with you.” Smiling, she tucked into her own bowl.

“Imaino shot it,” Mouse pointed out.

“And he was with you,” Haelle reminded him, as if his useless presence had made the slightest difference.

Mouse grimaced, about to make a disparaging remark about his pathetic limp, until Greig’s frantically shaking head caught his attention. And then he remembered. Stuffing his mouth before any stupid thoughts could spill out, he leant slightly to one side and looked at Haelle’s long legs.

The left was twisted unnaturally at the knee, the material of her breeches sinking down at the shin in a way that spoke of shattered bones and irreparable damage. The other leg she had curled in front of her, but in the flickering firelight he could see plenty of black bruising on her foot and swelling around the ankle. It was only when he realised she’d stopped eating during his perusal, that he looked up and realised she was also missing two fingers on her left hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said inadequately, meaning it with his whole heart. Sorry she had to suffer, sorry that Nehtl wasn’t here to help her, sorry that in some warped way he was connected to the thing that had collapsed the tunnels. Sorry that he couldn’t make her better again.

She smiled sweetly, as forgiving as always. “I was always too tall anyway.”

It made him want to cry. He glanced away and saw Greig doing the same thing. Mouse rubbed idly at his weak leg as Greig touched his broken arm. Both knew they were lucky, and that neither would have taken it as well as she was.

“But now that you’re back, Mouse, I wouldn’t say no to learning some of those herb remedies you’d been working on before -” It was her turn to break off, looking uncomfortable, sad and embarrassed, the memory of Nehtl hanging like a ghost between them.

Where once Mouse might have snapped angrily, taking out his grief on the nearest target, or withdrawn into his miserable shell, he knew he couldn’t, not this time. Haelle deserved better.

He dragged up a smile and took her wounded hand. “I’d be honoured to teach you everything I know.”

“Shouldn’t take long.”

The three wounded looked up to find Silveo watching them, his face a blank mask, his silvery eyes shining. Then it was his turn to force a smile. “When you’re done eating, Mouse, I could use your help. Yours too, Haelle, if you’re up to it. Our numbers might have dropped considerably, but the injuries still climb.”

Recalled to his duty, and with the memory of Nehtl firmly in his mind, Mouse gave a quick nod and finished the rest of his meal in a greedy rush. Though in recent months his life had been full of breaking, he had not broken, and it was time to start mending again.

For Greig and Haelle’s sake. And to honour Nehtl. The healer may have been taken from them, but Mouse would do his very best to ensure the man was never forgotten.

Starting now. “All right, Silveo, what have you got for me?”

* * *



“Good rising, sir.” After a long and arduous trek around every possible corner of Kaskad’s sprawling, rickety halls, passing from rumour to rumour, Stirla had finally run the general to ground at the westernmost point of the base. As far as possible from the eyries. Here the wooden structure was replaced with stone. Not much stone, perhaps, but enough for a small lookout tower, circular, crumbling and old.

“Have you ever been here before, lieutenant?” General Dreffen asked, running a caressing hand over the weather-bleached ramparts, not seeming to care that the rock turned to dust beneath his palm. “Ever climbed this tower and looked out across the yawning sea?”

Stirla shook his head and fought down his impatience. He’d had far too many opportunities to stare at the empty expanse of the Cloud Sea of late, and he hadn’t come here for nostalgic reminiscences about the good old days, before the kaz-naghkt/dragons/clouds came. He’d come for letters, so that he could leave as soon as possible to complete this Gods-blasted mission he’d been given by this truly awful man. Back when he’d been a student, all sparkly-eyed about meeting the great heroes of legend and recent press reports, he remembered one old timer warning him that truth so very rarely lived up to legend.

Like now. He’d idolised Dreffen before he even reached the selection schools, yet here he stood before a man lost in dreams of distant yore, while Aquila lay in the hands of monsters. The same man who had manipulated him into undertaking a near-impossible feat, all on the hint of a promotion. In truth Stirla didn’t know if he wanted to be made captain purely on this man’s say-so.

Coming from Captain Hylan it would mean something, from Captain Myran it would mean everything, but this man… No, Stirla didn’t want to make captain this way. Yet to say no now, to turn away from this mission, would risk him losing everything that mattered.

He remembered the old Rider’s words: “Great men are not nice people, lad. To do great deeds, you have to forget about the everyday ones. Don’t expect too much, and you wont be disappointed.”

At the time, his bright-eyed younger self had dismissed such dismal notions as sour grapes. Yet standing here at this moment, he could see more than a little truth in the old buzzard’s words. After all, the nicest Rift Rider officer he’d ever encountered was Captain Fredkhen – a kind man, definitely, but sadly not great. Captain Hylan was more of an exception, but while he was excellent at his job and very popular with his men, he would be remembered more for being a man to get things done than for doing great deeds.

Captain Myran was different again, a man capable of greatness, and with rumours of such deeds in his past, but one who kept very quiet about them and himself. Not that anyone would foolishly describe him as nice either. In fact Stirla would be the first to admit that Myran was rather scarce with both his praise and his smiles, but his men respected him, and few captains had more loyal Riders. He might not always be nice, but he was always fair, and over the years Stirla had come to value that trait above all others.

Looking at the man before him, and remembering their previous encounter, Stirla didn’t think anyone would ever describe Dreffen as nice or particularly fair. Especially not in the years since he’d risen from wing-commander to general.

Oblivious to all this inner turmoil, the general patted the crumbling stonework again. “No one knows how old this structure is,” he said, his voice a little dreamy. “There are no records of its origins. Not even the dragons can say. All we know is that it was old before the clouds came. When it was young there were no such things as miryhls. No such men as Rift Riders.” At last he looked at Stirla, blue eyes full of strange emotions. “Can you imagine such a thing, Stirla?”

Unsure what was expected of him, Stirla decided to be the practical one in a conversation for once. “No, sir. It is quite beyond me.”

General Dreffen studied him for a long, uncomfortable moment, and sighed. “Yes,” he agreed, almost sadly. “I suppose it is.” He turned away again, this time to pick up a satchel hidden in the shadows by his feet. “Here, this is what you have come, is it not? Letters, messages, death warrants and fool’s errands.”

Stirla accepted the heavy weight with raised eyebrows. “Are you quite well, sir?”

Dreffen’s mouth quirked into a lop-sided smile. “Not yet, Stirla, but I will be. Mornings are for memories and maudlin meanderings. I’ll be better once the sun rises.”

Stirla blinked, yet again uncertain quite what this conversation was really about. So he stuck to the trite phrase he’d so long ago learned and vowed never to use. “Very good, sir.”

The general laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, lieutenant. It always pays to humour those in power. We’ll curb that wild-streak of yours yet.”

Even as Stirla watched, silently protesting that he’d never had a wild-streak – a wildly inappropriate streak, yes, and a frequent tendency towards ill-place humour, but he’d never been reckless – the general’s expression went distant again.

He turned back towards the view, hands resting on the ancient stones once more. “This tower stood long before the Riders rose and will remain here long after we’ve fallen. History laughs at our struggles, Stirla, never forget that. After every battle, whether we win or lose, the only winner is time. In the end we all turn to dust. Even this tower.” He raised his hand and sprinkled the pale grains to the wind. “History laughs loudest when high prices are at stake. I can almost hear it now.”

As the general fell silent, apparently forgetting he had company, Stirla gathered the messenger bag to his chest and backed slowly away.

“Take care of the princess, lieutenant,” Dreffen called, just as he reached the door. “History has plans for her. All our futures hang in the balance, but some weigh more heavily than others. We must be careful where we let certain players fall. And tell Myran to be ready. Our stage is almost set.”

Grimacing at this hitherto unknown hint of the general’s theatrical nature, Stirla saluted the great man’s back and bid a hasty retreat. The sooner he got away from the strange air at Kaskad, the better for everyone. The last thing the Overworld needed was him turning into a philosopher. It seemed to have more than enough of those already.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 11, Part 1

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 Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also visit the frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Meanwhile, in Kaskad…

Plans and Partnerships


“THIS IS BIRCH.” Stirla disguised his misgivings by reaching out and stroking the ruffled feathers of the sturdy male miryhl. “He was bonded to my late sergeant, Rees.”

At the mention of that name, Birch lowered his head and pressed his beak against Stirla’s chest. He rubbed the poor bird’s cheek, giving what comfort he could.

For once Neryth’s emotions were written plain on her face, her uncertainty forming a frown. “Are you certain he did not escape Aquila?” she asked, turning to include Derrain in the question.

Derrain shook his head, while Stirla sighed. “I suppose it is possible that he went east with Captain Myran and a few others, but with Birch here, it’s unlikely.” Even though Rees had been a frequent thorn in his side, Stirla missed the surly old bugger. As much as he’d resented Rees’ miserable presence during his time as lieutenant, he’d never wished him ill, let alone dead. “And if he’d come west with the rest of us, he should have been here by now.”

Birch keened softly at this reminder of what he had lost.

“Could he not have survived at the citadel?” Neryth wondered.

Stirla shook his head. “I wouldn’t rate his chances. For all his faults, of which he had many, Rees was an honourable man. Grumpy, short-tempered, intolerant at times, always narrow-minded, proud, miserable and humourless, yes, but at heart he always did what he believed was right. What he thought was best for the Riders. A man such as that would not last long under enemy occupation. Especially since he was also impatient. If he was caught, he would have likely proved too troublesome to keep.”

Birch moaned and rubbed against Stirla, wings drooping, a picture of utter misery.

“Sorry,” he whispered to the grieving miryhl. “But you know it would be better for him that way.” Better for any who fell into pirate hands. The chances of the kaz-naghkt keeping prisoners was too slight to even consider.

Neryth was silent for a long moment. She looked at Derrain for guidance and received a slow nod in return. Taking a deep breath, Neryth stepped closer to Birch and rested a hand against his wing. “I am sorry for your loss.”

Birch turned from Stirla and lowered his head in acknowledgement.

Biting her lip, Neryth glanced back at where her own miryhl pair was watching the whole encounter with jealous interest. Pretty though Mimi and Mirro were, they were too delicate for the kind of flying their princess was about to undertake. If it hadn’t been for the flock of horsats conveying the pampered HSF from Havia, constantly slowing the Riders down, they’d never have been able to keep up with the other miryhls on the recent journey. As it was they’d struggled with the distance, even with Neryth swapping frequently between them.

Since time was now too precious to waste, Stirla had convinced Neryth to leave them in Kaskad. At least here they would be well looked after, ready to return with their princess to Havia when her stint with the Riders was finished.

Though all three had agreed with the sense of the plan, none looked happy about it. Nor was Birch helping by drooping sadly all over the princess’ boots.

“Are you certain…?” Neryth asked now, looking from her miryhls to Stirla, to Derrain, to Birch, aiming the question at all of them.

Mimi and Mirro hunched into their feathers and said nothing, while Derrain shrugged.

Stirla sighed. This had been his plan, and it was therefore down to him to see it through. “I haven’t been certain about anything for a long time, Highness. But the one thing I do know is that you’ll never make it across the Heighlens with your two. They’re simply not bred for this level of work.”

“And Birch volunteered,” Atyrn put in, bringing her impressive size and noble bearing into the argument, leaning around her Rider to nudge the dispirited miryhl. “He knows there’s a small chance Rees might have been left somewhere along the evacuation route from Aquila. He may even have gone east with Myran. If he agrees to carry you, Princess, it means he can come with us and look. It’s a small chance, but it’s better than sitting here, getting fat and gathering dust.”

Even though Stirla had been growing used to his miryhl’s frequent outspoken moments, he’d never heard her make quite such a long speech to anyone else before. It left him feeling a little stunned. Judging by the expression on Neryth’s face, she felt the same. Even Birch had raised his head, eyes wide with something other than grief for the first time in months.

“You mustn’t,” the pale brown miryhl murmured. “It’s not right.”

Atyrn shuffled her feathers in a brusque shrug, possibly a little embarrassed herself by her outburst. “Times are changing, Birch. We miryhls must adapt.” That sounded like something Hurricane would come up with. “It’s a silly rule anyway.” Pure Cumulo. Stirla smiled at this evidence of the root of his bonded’s corruption.

Birch blinked. The poor old thing had been partnered with Rees for almost thirty years. Though a quieter, more thoughtful creature than his bonded, something of the sergeant had to have rubbed off on his miryhl over the years. Not least a shared love of rules and traditions.

Looking thoughtful, Neryth touched the pale miryhl again and waited until the bird was looking at her with his deep brown eyes. “Is this arrangement acceptable to you? You do not have to speak to me unless you wish to. I will ask nothing more than enough friendship for us to get through this journey together. I will not make any claim on you beyond that. Whatever you decide must be your own decision. You have served the Riders faithfully and well, and have earned the right to rest, if you wish to do so.”

Stirla stepped back to let the princess and the miryhl take each other’s measure, and could see Atyrn nodding out of the corner of his eye. His big bonded had always approved of Neryth, and a speech like that could only weigh more heavily in her favour.

Still, even though Birch had offered his services in principle, facing the reality of carrying a new charge after so long had to be daunting. He wouldn’t think less of the miryhl if he baulked now. A Rift Rider bond was a precious thing, which only grew stronger over the years. It was good that Neryth had acknowledged that.

For a long moment Birch simply looked the princess over, then he lifted his head to study the two unhappy miryhls huddled nearby. He looked at Stirla a little warily, before finally turning to Atyrn. “For the good of the Riders?” he asked, his voice a soft croak.

The big female inclined her head, her stiff poise implying she would never do anything else, or expect him to either.

Birch sighed with his whole body, then turned to Mimi and Mirro again. “She will be safe on my wings. I will bring her back to you.”

As the two little miryhls gave miserable nods, Stirla relaxed, the knot of tension unravelling in his gut. “Thank Maegla,” he whispered, and Atyrn murmured in agreement. That was one less thing he had to worry about.

Allowing the new pair a moment to get acquainted, Stirla jerked his head at Derrain and led him a few steps away. “Are you packed and ready?”

Derrain nodded. “Everything’s done, save tacking up Zephyr.”

Stirla eyed his own miryhl. “Best get to it then. When you’re done, help Neryth, and if I’m still not back do Atyrn as well. I have an appointment with the general.” He allowed his grimace to say everything else that he didn’t dare voice aloud.

With a sympathetic pat on the back, Derrain gave him a shove towards the eyrie doors. “It won’t get any easier the longer you leave it.”

“That,” Stirla drawled in disgust, “was perilously close to wisdom, student. Don’t make me dump you in a snowdrift. I can only handle one Dhori in this world at once.” And leaving his young friend chuckling, he seized his courage and went in search of General Dreffen.

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Storm Emma

While the east coast and Scotland battled the Beast from the East over the last few days, here in the Devon we got Storm Emma – and yesterday, it snowed.

Bru In Snow 2

All day.

Bru In Snow 3

And then it rained.

Branch 2Branch 1
And the rain froze.

Ice Tree 1Ice Tree 2 

We don’t get much snow around here normally. Maybe a flurry or two a year. Sometimes it settles for a few hours, mostly it doesn’t. Throw in the freezing rain on top and, well, home never feels so good as when it’s cold and you can stay inside and ignore the howl of the wind.

Bru In Snow 1

Here’s hoping all those people stuck out on the roads can get home and warm soon.

And to everyone else… Merry March!

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Storm Wings: Chapter 10, Part 2

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 Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also visit the frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

In some circles, I believe this might be called a comeuppance. And it really couldn’t happen to a more deserving chap.

IMAINO COLLIDED WITH the kaz-naghkt in a flurry of movement, screams, a shower of blood and the satisfying crack of steel breaking through scales. Growling, the lieutenant wrenched his sword into a twist even as the larger creature’s momentum carried him backwards into the snow.

“Greig!” Silveo yelled, even as Mouse lunged to pull the thrashing monster off his officer.

The sorry remains of Imaino’s shirt smoked under the flood of toxic kaz-naghkt blood, but Mouse was more interested in the fresh scores across his lieutenant’s jaw and neck. “Are you hurt? Can you talk?”

Groaning, Silveo and Greig shoved the rest of the kaz-naghkt off Imaino’s body, and Mouse seized his weakly waving hand to haul him into a sitting position.

Once upright, Imaino gasped in great gulps of air and placed a shaking hand over his bloodied neck. “Heavy… bastard,” he wheezed. “Thank… Gods… for snow.”

Helping him climb out of the crater he’d so recently created, Mouse snorted. “While you’re at it thank them for not hitting any trees on your way backwards.”

The lieutenant grimaced and gingerly tested his ribs for damage. “Gratitude.”

“If you wanted thanks, sir, you’re in the wrong profession.” Greig rolled the kaz-naghkt down the slope with a shove of his boot and cleaned Imaino’s sword in the snow. “You should have stayed at home and learned to cook.”

Huffing a painful laugh, Imaino accepted Silveo’s support and took back his sword. “Much you’d know about it, farm boy.”

“You should meet my mother,” Greig retorted, walking at the front with Mouse and the glow globe. “She ruled our whole district with a wooden spoon.”

Silveo and Imaino exchanged a glance. “Westerners.”

“Says the boy from North Point and the man from Mistrune. Could you get any more bumpkin than you?”

Even as they bickered, they continued deeper into the thickest trees, alert every moment for another attack from above. But none came.

In fact… “The screaming’s stopped,” Mouse murmured into a pause between insults.

The others stopped, angling their heads to listen. Nothing but the groan of snow-laden trees and creak of forming ice, deadened by the shifting fog.

“Are they gone?” Silveo asked, his scepticism clear.

“I’m not willing to bank on it,” Imaino replied, easing himself away from his support and flexing his arms. “Any of you?”

They shook their heads and hurried down the dark slope, all the while waiting for an attack that never came.

It was only when they stumbled across the half-eaten remains of Neshal, one of the regular folk left behind by the evacuation, that they realised something worse was going on. What could possibly scare the kaz-naghkt off their food?

And where was it now?

Bending down to cover the remains of his former friend with snow, Mouse gritted his teeth against the rush of bile in his throat.

Sharp agony lanced across his brain and he sank to his knees in a rush of black heat. His gloved hands sank into the snow and throwing up became the least of his worries.

Morri, I hunger.

“My name… is… Mouse,” he whispered, and sank into the cold.


WHATEVER WAS COMING through the trees, Willym thought as he swung his sword in loose circles, idly warming up his wrist, was taking its time about it.

Nor was it human, as he’d first assumed.

The heavy footsteps crunched too far apart for that and the slithering in between sounded like something large was being dragged. He might have hoped for a band of Riders carrying some of their injured comrades between them, but in that case the footsteps would have been quick and staggering, and more plentiful. These were slow, even, deliberate. And headed straight for him.

Willym had a passing acquaintance with fear – he saw it often in others eyes when they looked at him – but he rarely allowed himself to acknowledge such weakness in himself. Earlier, at the mercy of the kaz-naghkt, he may have felt a twinge or two, but he’d buried it beneath cold, hard anger.

Now he smothered it with anticipation. Whatever was coming for him through the trees had frightened off the kaz-naghkt, but it would not see him afraid. He was Lord Willym fra Wrellen, son of Jarl Yurrayn of Scudia, the third most important family in the kingdom. He had the blood of conquerors pumping through his veins. His ancestors had mined World’s End long before the kaz-naghkt claimed those desolate peaks for their own. His house was full of the relics of long past dragon duels. His mother’s coronet was carved from dragon bone and set with blood rubies, gained only from the cooling bodies of dying fire dragons. There was little a Yurrayn of Scudia had to fear.

His boots slipped on the cold ground, and he stared at his feet in confusion as water ran swiftly past them. The very snow beneath him melted as he watched, sinking him into the boggy ground beneath and tilting him off balance.

Darkness struck. Slick, slimy and so very, very hungry. It swept over him, dragging him down into a world of fear and pain and panic.

Lord Willym fra Wrellen, third son of Jarl Yurrayn of Scudia, screamed.


HUNGER. SO MUCH hunger. It gnawed through Yullik’s mind, wrenching his senses from their wide search and dragging it far too close to home. He couldn’t escape it. For once there was something on the mountain in the grips a power even more potent than himself.


It shot a bolt of ecstasy straight through him, enough to arch his body and wrench a moan from his lips. Pain flared. The slice of his own flesh beneath his claws, as his fists curled in upon themselves, was enough to wrench him free. Yullik tore his mind loose, uncaring for the damage he might be causing.

“No!” he screamed into the night, with his voice, his mind, his blood.

Out on the mountainside, twenty-two kaz-naghkt shrieked.

“Don’t let it feed!”

It was one thing to let the thing exist inside his territory, quite another to provide it with meals. Besides, Yullik still had plans for that one.

Feeling the triumph and hunger beginning to shred the edges of his control, Yullik relinquished the majority of his kaz-naghkt and forced his will upon just five. Then, digging his nails so deep inside his palms he felt them grate against bone, he sent them back. Back up the mountain, towards the heart of the darkness. Back to where the snow was melting and a former Rift Rider lieutenant screamed.


“SWEET MAEGLA, MERCIFUL Gods, blessed Lithaen, holy Heirayk…”

The litany of deities flowed into Mouse’s mind like a gentle tide as he shuddered awake – and quickly wished he hadn’t.

“Gods,” he whispered through his burning throat. “What is that?”

It was a scream unlike any he’d ever heard before: shrill, piercing, so very desperate. The last wail of some tormented creature. It shot through him, rousing memories of a time he wished he could forget. Whatever poor soul was making such noises, Mouse could empathise, and wished it swift release. He’d been to that same dark place, and though he had survived, he’d emerged from the horror no longer whole.

Yet at the same time something else was seeping through his mind: triumph, joy, a thrill that made his stomach roil and his body tighten. There was still hunger in him, but it was rapidly being replaced with deepest satisfaction.

I have not eaten in centuries, Morri. This is a moment to savour. The heat, the warmth, the texture of blood and raw, pulsing meat.

Mouse lurched forward and vomited, not caring that he missed his own boots by the narrowest of margins.

Sweet. So very sweet. Will you not savour it with me, Morri?

Something warm and slippery slithered down his throat, and Mouse heaved again.

“Sweet Maegla, what’s wrong with him?” someone whispered above his head, clumsy gloves stroking over his shoulders to pull his scarf more firmly away from his mouth.

“Only the Gods can know what happened to him in Aquila,” someone else muttered. “We still don’t know how Nehtl died.”

The screams cut off with a low wail, and Mouse collapsed against his friends with a sob.

Are you not hungry, Morri?

“My name is Mouse,” he whispered.

“We know,” his friends promised. “We know who you are.”

I only wished to shar – Who dares interrupt my meal?

The roar burst through his mind, sweeping over his senses in an obliterating tide, and Mouse surrendered to unconsciousness with a thankful sigh.


THE FIRST LIGHT of dawn shivered into the world as Yullik stood atop the east tower of Aquila, awaiting the return of his kaz-naghkt. Fifteen sorry creatures had already been sent below, ordered to feed wherever they could find meat. Two were lost, taken down by Riders during the start of the hunt. Five more were missing.

As the sun crept cautiously over the edge of the world, almost too wary of reprisals to shine its light upon him, Yullik waited, eyes fixed on the spurs leading to the valley above Aquila. There, as golden light slid caressingly across his shoulders, three dark forms crawled through the gap in the stones.

Weary, clumsy, wounded and starving, the last three kaz-naghkt took to staggering flight. With their wide leathery-wings at full span, they cupped the contrary wind and allowed it to bear them high. They reached his perch moments before collapse, one of their number bleeding out the last of its precious blood across his feet. But they had returned, and with them they had brought a very sorry mess.

More blood than flesh, unconscious and pale as death, Lord Willym’s once-pretty face wouldn’t be seducing anyone soon, Yullik thought, shoving the useless whelp onto his back with a nudge of his boot. Or ever again, perhaps. He was lucky he hadn’t lost any limbs. Instead his tormentor had simply slashed its way across his body, lapping up the blood that flowed so richly from his wounds.

Such a bright shade. So vivid. Yullik studied the contrast between the crimson and the black of his departed kaz-naghkt.

Three kaz-naghkt had died to bring this one human back to him. Three of his finest creations, two of which were no doubt currently being digested somewhere up on the mountain.

Anger simmered beneath Yullik’s sun-kissed skin, but he did not regret. Better the creature ate two kaz-naghkt than one – albeit worthless – human. There was power in blood, but little for the beast to find in so much so similar to its own. The meat too would be tough, stringy and mostly unsatisfying. Nor were scales particularly digestible. Unlike soft, fleshy humans.

With a heavy sigh for the clothes he was about to ruin, he bent and hefted Willym over his shoulder before turning to his exhausted kaz-naghkt pair. “You did well,” he praised, wishing he could acquiesce to the pleading in those bright eyes.

But he was not done with Lord Willym yet. So instead of feeding them the ready meal, he shook his head and nodded towards the dead kaz-naghkt behind them.

“Clean up this mess. You may feed again afterwards. If you must enter the town to do so, you have my permission.”

They barely waited for his back to turn before they tore into the remains of their former companion. Yullik shrugged it off. They were kaz-naghkt; kaz-naghkt were always hungry.

As he soon would be himself, once he’d finished putting Lord Willym back together. He would have to think long and hard about how to make sure it didn’t turn out to be a monumental waste of time and energy.

Entering his rooms at the top of the tower, he almost smiled. If the beast had made Willym scream in terror, he had no idea what still awaited him.

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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2018 – The Story So Far

2018 Bruin

I thought it was time for a little catch-up, and since most of the UK is hunkering down under the Beast from the East, today seemed as good a time as any.

Well, since my last catch up post in mid-January I have not done much. Not for want of trying. I started World’s End and was edging close to getting into the swing of things, until my left shoulder went wrong. I didn’t actually do anything to it, but it hurt, a lot, and meant I couldn’t do most of what I needed to. It’s something that tends to flare up whenever I get really fatigued and there isn’t much I can do about it until it goes away. Typing becomes impossible because I can’t get comfortable enough to think, let alone put words in decent sentences. Once I’ve forced myself to do the things that need doing, all I’m really good for is reading. With many cushions.

Three and a good weeks on, it’s finally settled down, so maybe I can get back to writing. Ha! We’ll see…

So February was pretty much a write off. I didn’t get anything written, but I did skim an edit through Wingborn again. This will hopefully be for the first Wingborn Collection (1-3), which is the next thing on my release list. I’ve decided to push Cloud Cursed back again, because I have a feeling I need to finish the Wingborn series before I do any more work on the Dragonlands, and I’d really like to get book 4 written before releasing book 3.

It’s complicated, I know, but it makes sense to me. Sort of. So if you’re waiting for the next Dragonlands book, sorry! But right now it’s the Wingborn books that people seem to want, so I’d like to focus on those for a few more months and maybe even get some print editions in the works.

Away from the writing and imaginary worlds… look at my puppy! Hasn’t he grown? Still only six months, but rapidly transforming into a monster. Keeping him entertained probably hasn’t helped my shoulder and fatigue issues, but he’s worth it.

But enough of me and mine, how be you fine people? Ready for March to march on in? Got any exciting plans in the works? Whatever is ahead, I hope the year is treating you well.

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Storm Wings: Chapter 10, Part 1

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 Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also visit the frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Aaaaaaand ACTION!

(Cliffhanger warning. There’s a lot going on in this chapter, so prepare to be cut off right in the middle of things. Sorry!)




SURROUNDED BY THE early morning darkness, Yullik sat in his chair by the window and smiled. Excitement and bloodlust licked through his veins – the thrill of his kaz-naghkt on a hunt.

Except they’d forgotten something. With a flick of his fingers, he dispatched a small squad back to fetch it.

After all, it would be a shame if their patrol leader missed the action.


SO MANY FACES, so many smiles, so many greetings. Mouse couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in the midst of such happiness, such joy. All of it hectic, all of it tinged with a slight edge of hysteria. There was a rising sense of desperation as he looked into each of the fever-bright faces of friends he’d thought long lost.

Then looked for the missing others, and knew he would never see them again.

“Gods, Mouse, you are so well named.” Greig’s hug was comfortingly firm, for all he could only use one arm. The other was heavily strapped across his body, the wooden splints telling their own tale. “Only you could find a way out of those tunnels. Maegla, when the ground started shaking I thought we were all lost.”

“Is that what happened to your arm?” Silveo asked, taking his own turn in being hugged.

Belatedly, Mouse’s healer instincts kicked in and he grabbed Greig’s shoulder before he could turn away. “Who did this for you?” he wanted to know, tracing his gloved hands over the well-wrapped limb, searching for the break even through the thick layers. “Does it hurt? Can you move it at all? Are your fingers all right?”

Greig’s happy smile dimmed. “Haelle’s been taking care of me.”

“Haelle?” Silveo questioned, looking around for the girl’s distinctive height and blonde hair. “Why isn’t she with you? She’s one of the best hunters we have.”

“Had,” Greig said softly, his words almost lost beneath the continued cheer of the others as they finished packing up the dead deer. “I wasn’t the only one injured in the rock fall. I was lucky to get off with just this.” He shrugged his injured arm and grimaced.

Mouse opened his mouth to ask more, to question how they’d bandaged it, if they’d reset it properly, what herbs they’d been using, the whereabouts of the other healers – and then he remembered. Nehtl was dead. Healers Lehno and Symal had been killed when Mouse and Nehtl had been taken. Another healer had been amongst the wounded so callously dispatched that day. Where the other two were, Mouse no longer wished to know.

So many dead.

Heavy of heart, he rested his hand on Greig’s uninjured arm. “I’ll take a look at you both later.”

Greig shivered. “Treat Haelle first. She puts on a brave face, but, Mouse -” He stopped and looked away. “She was so tall and beautiful. The way she moved through the wood, so silent. Now she’ll never walk again.” He took a shuddering breath and swiped at his face. “Gods, I really hate this place.”

Thumping his weak leg, thankful that he could still walk, even if he couldn’t walk well, Mouse squeezed his friend’s arm again, sharing his grief. “You’re not the only one.”

A cackling shriek splintered the night. It was over the lake, and drawing nearer.

The excited group fell silent and looked up. Dark shapes swept across the moon.

“Time to go.” Lieutenant Imaino shouldered his pack and nodded at the only other adult Rider present. “Lead on, Rechar. Downhill if you can.”


ONCE THE INITIAL rush of the kaz-naghkt leaving to chase other prey wore off, Willym quickly realised the downside to hunting with the monsters without his own set of wings. Yes, he could hear the sounds of a pursuit in progress – and very blood-thirsty and glorious it sounded too – but he couldn’t see it.

The damned vultures were on the other side of the lake, while he was stuck halfway up a mountain, surrounded by snowdrifts and pine trees.

Frustration didn’t even begin to cover it.

Until four kaz-naghkt returned to surround him, a strange contraption of leather and webbing stretched between them. They looked at him with red-glowing eyes, identical grins on their savage faces, and Willym wondered if it might not be best to just walk the distance himself.

When his hand flexed on his sword hilt, the largest beast slowly shook its head.

“Maaaaasster,” it growled.

Willym’s grip relaxed at this sign of respect where it was due. He could even handle being sprayed with specks of rotten meat and engulfed in a cloud of fetid breath for the power such a word offered him.

“Maaassster ssayssss…”

Hm. Then again, perhaps not. He gripped his sword again.

“…you mussst…”

Or at least he tried. Two razor-taloned hands gripped his upper arms, holding him immobile as the biggest kaz-naghkt approached.

“… come.”

“Come,” the others whispered, with the faintest of cackles.

“Come with usss, kaz.”

“Kaz. Kaz. Kaz.”

Every muscle in Willym’s body locked as those vile hands crept over his body. The sharp pricks of their talons was nothing compared to their intentions, or the strength shown in the casual ease with which they held him still. His jaw locked against the screams in his throat as they trussed him up like a game bird, cackling to themselves as they worked, stroking his flesh with oddly careful hands.

“Now fly, kaz,” the leader whispered in his ear, and before Willym could protest the four monsters launched into the night, dangling him like a spider’s prize beneath them.


ALONE IN HIS darkness, Yullik laughed.

Until a slick shadow slithered across his mind and he choked on his own amusement.


THE LOWER THEY ran, the deeper the snow, the thicker the fog. It didn’t take long for Mouse to lose sight of his companions, and all belief in luck or hope.

A shuddering cackle sounded somewhere over his left shoulder and he dived face-first into the snow, expecting to feel the piercing kiss of death’s claws at any moment.

Instead there were screams, but not the pain and panic-filled ones he anticipated. Rather they were thick with frustration, followed by angry snarls as branches thrashed.

Mouse dared to look back, only to find a kaz-naghkt hanging in the sky above him, not two body-lengths away, its enormous wings splayed across two fir trees. Spiked holly leaves and bramble thorns, slick with black gore, winked in the moonlight.

Keening, the kaz-naghkt twisted and thrashed, tearing great rents in its leathery wings. Oblivious to the pain, it only wanted to be free and to feed. With food it could heal easily.

Its blood-red eyes locked on Mouse and it screamed.

“Time to go.”

A firm hand circled his upper arm and dragged him from the snow drift. Lieutenant Imaino looked him over briefly, checking for damage, before ushering him on again, deeper under the trees where the branches were packed tightest. Here both darkness and snow was thick, piled up in drifts against the thick trunks, sheltered by the low-slung, heavy branches. Yet it was those same qualities that made it the best place to hide, even if moving beneath them was nearly impossible. At least here the kaz-naghkt had no chance of swooping down from above.

Silveo and Greig were waiting a little way ahead, two swords between them.

“That was close,” Imaino said, stopping by Silveo to exchange Mouse for his sword. “Let’s not do that again. If you fall behind, Mouse, shout. We’ve come too far to lose you now.”

Behind them something heavy fell to the ground with a crack.

“Greig, you’re on point,” Imaino commanded, taking his place at the rear and pulling the glow globe from Mouse’s unresisting hand. “Don’t dawdle boys, it’s a long way yet till dawn.” He raised the light – and met the glitter of a starving kaz-naghkt’s eyes.

It cackled.

Tossing the globe to Mouse, Imaino raised his sword and hit the monster mid-lunge.


THE WORLD WAS a whirling, white blanket beneath him as Willym was hauled across the freezing lake. The unbroken snow beneath seemed to drain all the warmth from his bones as the kaz-naghkt swooped over the dark forests and the scurrying prey beneath.

Screams, cackles and the sounds of battle filled the trees, and his four bearers banked in a broad circle around the action before dipping down to release him.

A moment of weightlessness stopped his heart, then the snow slapped the last breath from his lungs. Dark Jarquais, he never wanted to do that again.

The four kaz-naghkt landed beside him in wary crouches. The largest crawled across to him, tongue flicking over its stained teeth. “Kaz?”

“Naghkt,” he snarled back, fighting his way out of the harness restraints.

The four monsters reared back into identical statues. Their bright eyes fixed on nothing, nostrils slits gaping wide with deep, savouring breaths, their heads tilted as if to capture some distant sound.

All Willym could hear was the sound of hunting, and the frustration of thwarted predators. A triumphant shriek ululated into the night. But while other kaz-naghkt rushed to be in on the successful kill, his four remained silent and still.

So very still. They might almost have been frozen.

Struggling to his feet, Willym approached the nearest, and prodded a finger into the rigid muscles of its overdeveloped chest.

Red-eyes snapped to him with a guttural growl, “Naghkt.”

“Naghkt,” snarled the others.

Then with a burst of movement, they launched back into the night, leaving Willym stranded, frozen and alone once more.

Except he wasn’t complaining this time.

Heavy footsteps in the snow made him turn, unsheathing his sword with a grim smile on his lips. Not all the fun tonight was going to be had at kaz-naghkt claws. Gripping his blade, he found some firmer ground beneath his boots and waited for his victim to come to closer.


NAGHKT.” YULLIK’S EYES opened unseeing in the tower room, his fingers turning to claws upon the arms of his chair. Wood splintered and groaned beneath his grip, but he heard nothing. He saw nothing. He sensed nothing. Except what was happening on the mountain.

Naghkt.” The word came from deep in his throat. The familiar sensations from deep within his memories.

It shouldn’t have been here. It wasn’t possible.

Yet it was.


And, as he poured all his power into recalling his kaz-naghkt, his ever-widening senses knew that he was not alone.

“What have they done?”

~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 9, Part 3

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Previous Chapter ~

In which Lyrai and Cumulo… talk.

7th Cold

THE OTHERS WERE still at breakfast when Lyrai slipped into the eyries. It was still dark as he crept around and beneath the slumbering miryhls, heading for the tack room to make one last check that everything was well before their long flight.

He wasn’t even halfway before a dark shape shifted to block his path.

Frowning, Lyrai looked up, then up again until he finally encountered an unmistakable pair of glinting golden eyes. “Cumulo,” he greeted with a sigh. A part of him had been expecting this.

The miryhl inclined his head. “I wondered if I might have a word… Lyrai.”

The hesitation before his name and the omission of his rank felt nicely ominous, and Lyrai almost applauded the eagle’s sense of theatre. He was a Wrentherin, after all, and they were a family well known for their dramatic inclinations.

“Of course.”

Cumulo studied him for a long moment, then jerked his head towards the far end of the eyries, which was suspiciously clear of eavesdropping miryhls. “This way.”

Knowing a set-up when it was sprung upon him, Lyrai followed the strutting bird and looked around for his own bonded. Hurricane was on the other side of the eyries, nonchalantly preening his wings. That had to be a good sign… didn’t it?

Cumulo stopped once he reached the corner, and subtly shifted until Lyrai found himself boxed in. Even though he doubted Cumulo would go so far as to harm him, Lyrai couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy about how this talk was progressing.

“Rumours tells me you have been making… advances towards my Wingborn.”

More dramatic pauses, Lyrai thought, no longer quite so amused. “I believe the advancing was fairly mutual.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes. I believe so.”

Cumulo narrowed his golden eyes. “And yet after the first incident my Wingborn refused to look me in the eye. A little odd if the advancing was, as you claim, mutual.”

Gods, Lyrai was beginning to understand how Stirla must have felt that time he’d mistakenly flirted with a woman several years younger than she looked. Not to mention that newly married lady in Scudia, or those twin sisters back in Etheria, one of which was married, both of whom had been involved. Vividly. Lyrai could only hope threats of matrimony and/or dismemberment weren’t in his future. It was only a kiss – well, it was quite a kiss, but still – and then there’d been yesterday and the whole friends conversation. And if he was being honest he wouldn’t say no to further advancing, on either side.

He frowned, losing the thread of his thoughts, and blinked at Cumulo. “I think it was her first kiss. She was a little embarrassed. As was I.”

Cumulo’s feathers fluffed up in affront. “Embarrassed were you?” he demanded, thrusting his beak right into Lyrai’s face. “Is that just another word for ashamed?”

“No!” Lyrai jerked his head back so fast he whacked into the wall. Thankfully it was too rickety to give him a concussion, but it still smarted. “I mean, I probably should be, since I’m her lieutenant and she’s my student, and I am several years older than her. But I am not ashamed of what we did.”

Mollified, Cumulo settled his feathers and moved back. “Good.”

“Though it was a little embarrassing to be interrupted like that. I don’t think either one of us was quite ready for it. I mean, we’d only just discovered our mutual attraction -”

Cumulo snorted and Lyrai shut up. Okay, so perhaps he’d known that Mhysra had had a crush on him for a while. And maybe he’d been looking at her differently over the last half-year or so. Then again, after the fall of Aquila most things had taken on a distinctly different tone.

“I’m neither embarrassed nor ashamed about any of it,” he said instead, feeling the need to clarify everything before this arrogant fledgling got irritable again. “And neither is Mhysra.”

Cumulo eyed him. “Are you certain?”

“Yes. We talked about it last night. She’ll be able to look you in the eye now.”

A thoughtful pause. “Good. I do not like it when my Wingborn is upset.”

“Naturally not,” Lyrai agreed. No miryhl did.

“Then I am glad we are in agreement,” Cumulo said, a trifle smugly.

“Er…” Had he just missed something?

“From this moment onwards, I shall hold you personally responsible for my Wingborn’s happiness. Should so much as one curl droop on her head, I will be coming you,” Cumulo moved his beak into Lyrai’s face again, his pleasant tone lowering to a rumbling growl, “to explain why.”

“Ah.” He swallowed hard, wondering how he’d signed up for this with a kiss. Who knew a few moments of shared pleasure could be so perilous? At least without any clothes being removed, anyway. “A good lieutenant always takes care of his Riders.”

Cumulo didn’t move. If anything his growl deepened. “But you are more than just a lieutenant to her now. Are you not?”

“Yes,” he agreed, unable to deny that something special had sparked between them, and had been growing for some while. Perhaps as far back as their dance at the Midsummer Ball in Nimbys over a year and a half ago. She’d made him laugh…

“Good.” Cumulo moved back, ruffling his feathers in satisfaction as he flicked Lyrai’s cheek with a wingtip. “I always liked you, Lieutenant Lyrai.” His eyes narrowed. “I do hope my opinion won’t ever be proved wrong.”

“I thought you were never wrong,” Lyrai quipped before he could stop himself.

“See that I’m not. I would hate to spoil my perfect record.” With a regal nod, the miryhl shuffled aside, leaving Lyrai free to leave.

Which was just as well, since the door was already opening to admit the rest of their companions. Mhysra and Corin were laughing together as they looked around for their miryhls.

“Oh, before you go, lieutenant,” Cumulo purred, pressing a primary feather against Lyrai’s chest as he stepped forward. “That first kiss of Mhysra’s?”

Lyrai eyed him warily.

“It wasn’t yours.” With a smug chuckle, the miryhl hopped up onto a perch and bound across the eyries in answer to his Wingborn’s call.

Lyrai could only watch him go, seeing the smile on Mhysra’s face as she greeted her beloved miryhl. And despite himself, he scowled. Just who had Mhysra been kissing before him? Derrain, perhaps? He didn’t think it would be Dhori. Maybe she had a boy back home in the Lowlands, eagerly awaiting her return, pining for her smiles. Maybe even in Nimbys. There had been that cousin of Mouse’s. What was his name, Haward? Harlo? Har-


He jerked back into the present as Hurricane waved a wing in front of his face. “What?”

“I thought you wanted to leave this morning,” his miryhl told him, with all the patience of a bird who’d been calling his bonded for quite a while.

Lyrai felt his face heat up and muttered something incomprehensible before scurrying off to the tack room. What a way to start the morning. The day had to get better after this.

As he reached for Hurricane’s bridle peg, he caught a glimpse of Mhysra dashing past. A  scowl settled on his face, but he forced his mind back to the task in hand and scooped up Hurricane’s flight harness instead. What did it matter who Mhysra had been kissing before him? Surely who she was kissing now was all that mattered. It wasn’t as if she was the first girl he’d ever kissed, after all.

Shaking his head at his own stupidity, he tacked up Hurricane and tried not to brood on kisses too much. After all, they had a long way to go before they reached Sanctuary – and who knew what fresh dramas they might face there?

~ Next Chapter ~

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Storm Wings: Chapter 9, Part 2

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Previous Chapter ~



THE WOODS WERE pitch dark and the snow deep, far deeper than the last time Mouse found himself out on the mountain. It was strange. The cold bit into his bones, reawakening his half-healed hurts and stiffening old injuries, making his limp worse than ever, and yet his heart was almost light.

He was outside. For the first time in what felt like forever, he was under the night sky, staring up at the burning bright stars. There were no walls here, no caves, no tunnels, no heavy stone ceilings, nothing between him and the sky, no boundaries at his sides. Nothing but uneven, frost-packed snow beneath his boots and glistening, blizzard-buried trees all around.

This was freedom – and it was bloody freezing.

“Anything?” Silveo hissed up one particular tree, reaching out to catch their sole dragongift globe as Imaino dropped it, then swung down through the last few branches to land in the heavy snow.

The lieutenant shivered and shoved his soaked gloves beneath his armpits with a shrug. “Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s difficult to tell in these conditions.”

Despite the host of difficulties surrounding them, Mouse was pretty certain Imaino wasn’t talking about the cold, the snow, the icicles hanging off every branch or even the fact that it was the middle of the night. More likely he was referring to the fact they were still in the first quarter of the month, which meant the moon was just reaching half full, throwing weak shadows across the night. This was further hampered by the freezing fog drifting through the trees.

With the world an uncertain, shifting curtain of silvery smoke there was no way they could tell if there was anyone else mad enough to be tramping about on this mountainside, perhaps even risking a fire. They couldn’t even tell if anything out there was moving.

As they trudged on through the forests that surrounded the lake above Aquila, Mouse looked back and down the valley at the fog casting everything into a world of silver and midnight. It was beautiful, in a deadly way.

The sudden twang of a bowstring whipped his attention forwards again, just in time to see Silveo and Imaino scamper off through the snow.

Cursing his inadequacies, Mouse scrambled after them as best he could, thankful that up here at least the fog wasn’t thick enough to cover the ground. Reduced to tracking, he soon deduced that some sort of deer had been hit by Imaino, and they were giving chase in the hopes of bringing it down.

The prospect of fresh meat got Mouse moving faster than anything else, and he slithered down a bloodied slope into a glade just as the others finished off their kill. The poor wretch must have tripped and fallen in the darkness, breaking its neck on landing. Spilled blood steamed in the darkness, but where once Mouse might have been squeamish about such things, he was quick to help with the butchering. They didn’t have much time before the blood and noise of the chase attracted other predators. Though the bears would still be hibernating, wolves and lynx still hunted these high slopes, not to mention far more dangerous things.

While Silveo packed the prime cuts into skinned-off sections of the deer’s hide, and buried the blood trail in the snow, Imaino and Mouse got on with the messy chore. They were barely a quarter of the way through when howls shivered through the night.

Hunting howls, far closer than was comfortable.

In an instant they switched from butchering to gathering, packing what they could easily carry into their two packs, cleaning their knives on the snow and covering most of the kill. All finished, they scrambled to the steep sides of the dell and began the difficult task of climbing out with Mouse in tow.

More howls, getting closer.

Imaino hauled Mouse onto a frost-rimmed shelf and stopped, steel singing softly as he unsheathed his sword. “That’s no wolf.”


THE NIGHT WAS frigid as a corpse as Willym skulked through the darkness, hating everything he could think of. This damned mission, this pox-riddled mountain, that weak-willed, imperious bastard sulking high in the warmth of Aquila’s towers. Aquila itself. The creatures that now inhabited it, both human and other. He was the first to admit that things had gone wrong in the Riders, not just the readmission of females to the ranks, but the wealth of commoners diluting its purity in increasing numbers each year. Why, look what it had done to Prince Lyrai. He was positively liberal, with his peasant friends and his ridiculous ideals.

Willym spat in the snow, the moisture freezing before it even reached the ground. Foul place. Yet he was stuck here for the foreseeable future, unable to get out while Mercata was still missing. Not that he considered for one moment that his miryhl had left him. She wouldn’t. She was his. She’d be back, probably after the worst of the winter had passed, and then he’d finally leave this scum-filled dump behind. It hadn’t been his choice to stay, but damned Fredkhen and his bloody sergeant had had him tied so firmly to their apron strings that he hadn’t stood a chance during the evacuation.

In Willym’s world it was every lord for himself, but he’d no sooner got rid of his cloying sergeant than the kaz-naghkt were upon them. From then on Willym had known what choice to make – which ever one assured his continued survival.

He had never been one for scruples, so joining the pirates and Yullik hadn’t troubled him. As long as he lived, that was all that counted. Besides it was worth it to see that sanctimonious prig Marshall finally get his due. Not to mention those blissful few days he got to spend in Healer Nehtl’s delightful company. Death was so sweet, almost as lovely as torment. He could still recall the exact tenor of little Mouse’s screams.

A shiver passed through him, which had nothing to do with the cold, and Willym allowed himself a private moment in which he simply remembered and revelled. Ah, the power of life and death. Such a heady intoxicant; the sweat, the fear, the pleading and begging. Better than sex. Then again, after being stuck in Aquila for over a year, the kind of sex he’d been having hadn’t been worth noting. Dominating one’s partner palled when they already worshipped you. Boys. He much preferred unwilling men, one’s who tried to fight against their desire, when Willym knew they thought him beautiful. Like Lyrai. Oh the plans he’d once had for that blond little prince.

Sullenly, he lashed at the frozen undergrowth with his flying crop and wondered yet again why that useless Yullik had sent him out here. Perhaps he saw him as a threat. The thought almost made Willym smile, until he felt the tug of his still tender scar, given to him but that self-same bastard sitting brooding in Aquila’s towers.

Yullik. How he hated him. He knew the feeling was more than mutual, and had been more than happy to spy on the yellow-eyed freak. If only he could get an idea of just what Yullik was, or what he wanted. There was magic there, and so much power, yet Yullik didn’t have the wit to use it. He’d taken Mouse away, the dim-witted bastard, and healed him. And this from the man who claimed to have created the kaz-naghkt. Unthinkable.

Although he couldn’t deny the man did control those monstrosities. Willym would give anything to know how he manage that.

Instead he was stuck in this frozen wasteland, with those same monsters as flitting shadows in the trees above him. Every so often they would cackle and whisper amongst themselves. It was not a comforting sound. Nor was standing directly beneath them a comforting place to be.

Just what kind of orders had Yullik given then, anyway?

“Kaz,” they whispered, scuttling up and down the icy trunks.

“Kaz,” more of them agreed, leaping between trees and slithering down to Willym’s level.

Red eyes glowed, teeth glistened in the weak moonlight. Deadly claws rasped at ice and bark to his left, while wings of shadow flexed in the darkness on the right.

“Kaz,” came the whisper in Willym’s ear, and he realised he’d stopped and was completely surrounded by the starving beasts.

They looked at him with hunger in their burning eyes. The kaz-naghkt were always hungry.


Across the valley a predatory howl rent the night.

A rustle of branches and Willym was alone.

His heart pounded, his knees felt weak and yet he smiled, even as the blood thundered in his ears. “The hunt is on.”


THE HOWLS TURNED to bays and the sound of running filled the trees, getting closer and closer.

Silveo reached the top of the slope and turned to offer Mouse his hand. Imaino shifted to boost him from beneath, but then the lieutenant paused, holding Mouse back. “Silveo, up a tree,” he commanded, pushing Mouse down into a dell and the shelter of tree roots, handing him the glow globe while flexing his other hand around his sword hilt.

Confused but obedient, Mouse shrank against the cold earth and tried to keep out of the lieutenant’s way.

The howls and bays died to menacing growls as dark shadows appeared over the far edge of the dell. Teeth glinted in the low light, pale highlights catching on the hunting beasts’ coats.

“Steady,” Imaino whispered over the rush of their own heavy breaths. “We have to make sure. Riders do not jump to fatal conclusions.”

At the word Riders the first beast raised its head, then the next, then the next. A questioning yip echoed in the dell and, as one, the creatures crept closer to the edge.

There was a flurry of yelps as one stepped on a pocket of unstable ground and tumbled over in a flurry of silky white and black feathers.

“Bumble!” the three Riders cried, and the nakhound pup bounded across the dell towards them in an ecstasy of welcoming whines and licks.

Flattened to the earth by the exuberant pup, Mouse could only laugh as Imaino put his sword away and slithered back down to the deer carcase, wading through a sea of happy nakhounds. Then came human voices, familiar greetings and relieved exclamations over the freshly caught food. There was still life on Aquila’s mountain, and plenty of it was friendly.

Mouse let Bumble lick away his tears and buried his face in the layers of her thick, beautifully soft coat, unable to believe he’d found some luck at last.

~ Next Chapter ~

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