(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
In which a skyship, an old friend and a rather interesting newspaper are encountered.
“Have you heard the latest?”
Mhysra rolled away from the window where she’d watched Wrentheria become a speck, a valley, then a mountain, until it was finally shrouded by clouds. Home was out of reach now.
“Not still moping, are you?” Slapping a newspaper on the bed, Derrain, an Illuminai midshipman she’d known since he was a cabin boy, jumped up to join her on the top bunk.
Her mother hadn’t said anything when Mhysra chose to stay with the crew rather than in the state rooms. Derrain wasn’t her only friend amongst the younger crewmembers and right now she needed friendly voices around her.
“Anyone alive in there?” Derrain rapped her forehead with his knuckles.
“Sapskull.” Catching him off-guard with a swipe of her leg, she knocked him off the bed.
A seasoned skysailor, Derrain twisted, landed on his toes and bounded up again. “Nice try.”
Knowing she’d never get rid of him, she picked up the newspaper. “What have I missed?”
Derrain said nothing, waiting while her eyes scanned the worn print. The corners of the four-sheet were dog-eared and the ink was smudged after passing through many eager hands. The paper crackled as she read the headline and tightened her grip.
Eyes wide, she checked the date: thirteen days old. Thirteen days and she hadn’t known. Hadn’t even heard a rumour.
“Gods,” she whispered.
Grinning, Derrain swayed in excitement. “Isn’t it great?”
She motioned for him to be quiet, scanning the words over and over for fear she’d read something wrong. She hadn’t. The words remained the same. For the first time in over a hundred years the Flying Corps were relaxing their rules. Women, banned for some arcane reason no one could remember, were allowed to fly again. To protect the skies and mountains from threats both winged and grounded. It wasn’t just messengers and pyrefliers admitting women again, but the best of them all: the Rift Riders.
“Ai Maegla,” Mhysra breathed. “Tell me this isn’t a joke, Derry.”
“No joke,” he vowed solemnly. “Heirayk knows they haven’t any choice.”
Taking a shuddering breath to still the fever dancing through her veins, Mhysra frowned. “What do you mean?”
Derrain’s expression was grim as he tapped the story below the headline. Fresh losses. Riders, miryhls, messengers, doelyn, bullwings, horsats, pyreflies and -fliers, artillerymen. Every aspect of the Corps was suffering. Not just skirmishes, but attacks on bases, selection schools, farms, stables and eyries. Nothing connected to the defence of the Greater West had been spared, and the results were costly.
“They can’t afford to keep women out. Not after Feather Frost.”
Her excitement turned numb. “Feather Frost was a year ago. They said it was because the winter was so hard. They said -”
“They lied,” Derrain interrupted grimly. His uncle had been a bullwing artilleryman stationed at Feather Frost, Mhysra remembered sadly. “They lied to the press, the world, even the families, because they didn’t want everyone to know what it meant.”
“What does it mean?” she asked, head spinning with the implication that things had grown so bad the Corps were willing to admit women again. They’d been adamantly opposed for so long.
“They’re scared. The losses are coming too fast and they can’t replenish them with a shrinking intake of boys every year.”
“Gods.” She scanned the article again, turning the page and searching for more amongst the gossip, the politics and the pointless. Nothing, just two short articles to change her life.
“Well?” Derrain asked, when she finally folded the paper and met his dancing dark eyes.
Mhysra raised her eyebrows, a move which he mimicked, then smiled. “Try and stop me.”
* * *
“Oh, my,” Mhysra said, entering the hull eyries with her hands in her pockets, purposefully ignoring her miryhl’s dejected stance. “Look at all this space.”
Cumulo huffed and shuffled his wings. “I’m making the most of my luxury. I doubt I’ll see such accommodations again for a long while.”
She patted his beak consolingly. It was her fault he had to put up with things like this. Well, partly her fault. If they weren’t Wingborn he’d still be at Wrentheria, being trained for his future life. At just sixteen, however, he’d have another two years to finish growing first. Or longer, since male miryhls were often allowed to mature until twenty before they were sent to the life-changing Choice, to be paired for life with just one Rider.
Being Wingborn, Cumulo’s development matched hers, making him advanced for his age, but for all the closeness of their bond, she was no compensation for his own kind. It was because he was bonded to her that he suffered these moments of isolation. It would have been different if she was a boy; they’d have been sent to Aquila as soon as they were fit enough to walk and fly. Because she was a girl, though, her miryhl was condemned to live away from his own kind, exiled for things not of his making. Or so they’d always thought.
“Are you looking forward to seeing Nimbys again?” she asked, sitting on the perch opposite his. The eyrie was designed for five miryhls to roost in comfort, or as many as ten at a pinch. With only one occupant, no matter how big and impressive he might be, it looked empty and was being used as a spare storeroom, with feed bins and pieces of tack lying around.
Cumulo shrugged, a mannerism picked up from humans. “The city is beautiful enough, but the public eyries…” He didn’t finish, he didn’t need to; they were filthy, neglected and rarely used. Why should they be anything else when Nimbys was home to the Eastern Flying Corps’ headquarters?
To be so close to the heart of things and yet still be excluded had always chafed them. Their trips to the city had always been just shy of torment; she was trapped, he was lonely. Until now.
“How would you like to change your life, Cue?”
He looked at her with deep gold eyes, crackled his beak and tilted his head. “Something’s happened.” When she answered him with a sly smile, the feathers on his head and cheeks rose eagerly. “Tell me.”
“Fancy becoming a Rift Rider?”
~ Next Chapter ~
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