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~ Previous Chapter ~
Welcome to Nimbys, city of the Stratys and home to the Headquarters of the Flying Corps and one of the Rift Rider selection schools. My, how handy, it’s also where Mhysra’s parents live. It’s a small Overworld, after all.
6th Blizzard, 785 CE
The Flying Corps’ Headquarters in Nimbys was an uninspiring sight. It looked like so many other civic buildings in the city – the Records Office, the City Hall, the People’s Infirmary. It was tall, clean, rigid and, unlike the others, surprisingly large as it sprawled across the ridge; a rarity in a city where space was at a premium. Then again this HQ was built several hundred feet above the others, so it could afford to spread out.
As Mhysra topped the rise and got her first proper look at it all, she felt both underwhelmed and intimidated all at the same time. True, the building didn’t look like much, but it represented everything she cared about. Hopes, dreams, disappointments, despair, honour, courage, power… the list went on. Her legs felt heavier with every step, and that had nothing to do with the long, winding walk up from the city.
“I can’t do this,” she muttered, her strides getting shorter and slower. Arriving at a fork in the path, she ducked cowardly off to the left.
If the HQ was uninspiring, the building she faced now was just disappointing. It looked like a giant barn perched on the edge of a cliff. Which was what it was. Except that it wasn’t home to any ordinary form of livestock.
With each step towards the barn, Mhysra felt lighter until she was practically bouncing. Roof hatches were propped open around the highest level, letting in the bright winter sun and letting out high-pitched shrieks, mutters and screams. Everyday sounds from a miryhl eyrie.
Grinning, she headed for the door and almost collided with a man coming out. Liquid sloshed from the bucket in his hand, releasing the unpleasant odour of blood. Mhysra leapt back with a yelp, barely saving her skirt from a soaking. The man’s boots were not so lucky.
He glared at her. “Can’t you read?”
Startled by the harsh tone, Mhysra blinked. She’d only spent eight days in Nimbys, but had already fallen into the habit of being treated like a lady. No one had dared speak so sharply to her since she’d left the Lowlands.
“There.” He jabbed a callused finger at the sign on the wall. “Shift them big eyes there and look close.”
“Rift Rider property. Keep out! Civilian access by appointment only,” she read aloud, feeling her heart sink again. Gods, she hated this city.
“Got an appointment, Have you?” asked the man, smirking.
Nettled, Mhysra drew herself up to her full height, putting them eye to eye. “My brother is a Rift Rider,” she announced, with all the ceremony she normally despised.
The man rubbed his stubbly chin with a hint of uncertainty, assessing the cut of her clothes. Skirts and dresses were not her favourite attire, but she had to admit that in this city they had their advantages.
“What’s his name?” he demanded, not prepared to admit defeat just yet.
The man wrinkled his nose. “Kilai?” he repeated, scratching his head. “Don’t know a Kilai. You sure he’s meant to be meeting you?”
“Hardly.” Mhysra chuckled. “He’s in Aquila.”
Her adversary scowled. “What you doing looking for him here then?” he demanded, since Aquila was half the Overworld away.
“I wasn’t,” Mhysra told him, trying not to laugh. “And I never said I was.”
Any hint of deference vanished as he dropped his bucket and folded his arms across his skinny chest, blocking the door. “Then what you wasting my time for? Civilian access by appointment only.” He jabbed his finger at the relevant words.
Frustrated, Mhysra balled her hands in her skirts. “I don’t want access.” Since she clearly wasn’t going to get it. “I just wanted a look.” She edged a little closer and tried the winsome smile that so often worked for her older sister. “Please?”
The man shuffled his feet, uncomfortable with her increasing proximity. Mhysra debated whether or not to bat her eyelashes. Deciding that might be too much, she sidled forwards again, backing the man ever so slowly through the doors and into the shadows beyond.
A demanding shriek shattered the gloom, making them both jump.
“No!” the man suddenly shouted, startling her into stepping back. “I’m too busy to watch over the likes of you. Think you’re the first to come sniffing ‘round here, wanting a gander? Ever since that fool proclamation I’ve been booting them out ten times a day. Get along with you. This ain’t no place for bored little ladies.” Snatching up his bucket, he stepped into the barn and slammed the door in her face.
“Little?” she gasped in astonishment. “Little! I’m as tall as you are, you scrawny, mannerless git!” Fuming, she spun on the spot and almost tripped over her skirt.
Honestly, it was enough to make a lady growl in public. Behaviour that would be thoroughly frowned upon by her sister, but then Mhysra had never pretended to be a lady. Milluqua was a natural who wore her breeding like a fine set of antique pearls. Mhysra had to work extra hard at it, and mostly didn’t see the point.
So she growled and stomped her foot for good measure. When her soft-soled walking boots failed to make a satisfactory enough sound, she kicked a stone over the edge of the cliff. Then felt stupid when her toes started to throb.
“I hate Nimbys.”
Hiking up her skirt, she strode over to a nearby boulder and sat on it, glaring down at the city. Narrow, winding and cramped, this view of Nimbys would never win any awards, but then the dwellings directly below her belonged to some of the poorest people in Imercian. Unlike the far edge of the ravine, which was dotted with sprawling mansions, one or two even having gardens, the ultimate luxury in such a cramped city. Up the wealthy made the most of the elusive sun, but back here, where the light so rarely reached, the tenements of Nimbys were squeezed in tight and built up high.
Reminded of her privileged position in life and feeling worse than ever, Mhysra turned and shielded her eyes against the glare of the Stratys Palace. White marble, imported from the south at great expense, glowed in the midmorning sun. An architectural wonder, many said, but Mhysra hated it. Just as she hated everything else about this accursed city.
She stared across the ravine to the opposite ridge and sighed. There was another eyrie over there, little more than a barn – smaller, squatter, with holes in the roof and rot in the walls. Cumulo was inside it, hunched and miserable, trying not to complain. How she wished he was with her now. How she wished he could do this instead of her.
But he couldn’t, so she must. She had to do this, for him as much as herself. She had to get him out of that fetid building and into this one. If she could gain official access for herself at the same time, so much the better.
Patting her jacket pocket, Mhysra felt reassured by the crinkle of folded newspaper within and stood up. The city buzzed with talk about the fall of Featherfrost and the attacks on Kevian’s Edge, Heston Point and Shune. The Flying Corps were in trouble, people said, that’s why the big changes. There hadn’t been an opportunity like this for a hundred years. Perhaps there wouldn’t be another for a hundred more. She had to seize this chance or she might as well stay on the ground forever. It was time.
Dusting off her skirt, she straightened her jacket and took a deep breath. According to the newspaper in her pocket, more than a century’s worth of regulation, sexism and prejudice had been overturned. Now it was time to see if any of it was true.
It was time to join the Rift Riders.
Courage mustered, Mhysra marched towards the Flying Corps’ Nimbys Headquarters and pushed open the door. Stepping inside the spacious foyer, she quickly located the front desk, piled high with paperwork. That’s when she noticed that the entrance hall was full of Rift Riders, who all fell silent at her entrance. While she stood hesitating in the doorway, man after man turned to look at her. Then the whispering started.
An audience. How lovely. There would be no turning back now. Running a nervous hand over her hair, Mhysra summoned up the centuries-long breeding of her ancestors and walked across the room like she owned it. Cumulo would expect nothing less.
~ Next Chapter ~
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