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~ Previous Chapter ~
Just what is so bad about those city eyries anyway?
At first glance there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the city eyries. The front section was a little shabby, perhaps, but it was spotlessly clean and the bedding smelled fresh. Bright-eyed horsat heads bobbed over the top of almost every door, their odd bat-like ears swivelling to follow every sound. This part of the eyries was always busy, with messengers coming and going, and stablehands scurrying to keep the large stalls clean.
Weaving between the frantic activity, Mhysra headed for a familiar horsat head. Scratching Ripple’s muzzle, she peered over the door to check that all was well. The stone walls may have been old, but the stall was big enough for the horsat to lie down in, as well as wide and high enough for the beast to flex its large, leathery, bat wings.
Satisfied, Mhysra snitched an apple from a nearby bucket and waited while the nakhound pup and horsat exchanged a sniff of noses.
“Good boy, Rip,” Mhysra said, once the pup was done and, handing the stallion the apple, she took the path that skirted the second section of the eyries.
Here the walls were blackened and scorched, looking rough and ready where newer sections had been patched in. Not that this was unusual for a pyrefly roost. Nor was the heavily locked door. Angry screeches sounded from inside, making the puppy cringe, but Mhysra walked on unconcerned. Pyreflies were always screaming about something. It was hard to believe they’d started from the same place as the placid, reliable horsats, mixing an equine body with bat ears and wings.
Pyreflies had an added extra, though – dragon blood. Thanks to that the flying horses had talons instead of hooves and the ability to breathe fire. They were also foul-tempered and moderately intelligent – just enough to make them cunning and spiteful. Mhysra was not fond of the creatures, but her cousin Mherrin loved them. To each their own.
Rubbing the pup comfortingly on the head, Mhysra left the pyreflies behind for the third and final section of the eyries. Unlike the busy horsat stables or the locked pyrefly roost, this area was deserted and filthy. There were holes in the roof, the walls were a badly maintained mixture of stone and rotten timber, and there were rat droppings on the floor. Not to mention the mess that had been left behind by roosting pigeons. The far corner was the only dry portion left and it was mostly being used as a store room.
A large perch had also been squeezed into the space, propped up on grain barrels, with hay bales stacked behind to block out the worst of the drafts. It was here that Cumulo sat hunched, forlorn and shivering.
Despite the dowdy surroundings he was still an impressive sight. Almost fully grown, the young miryhl was a conker-coloured giant with hints of gold in his glorious feathers. When stretched to his full height he towered above Mhysra to almost eight feet, and when he opened those magnificent wings they spread for twenty feet or more. In all he was a very fine example of the miryhl breed.
More than that Cumulo was Wingborn, his mystical bond tying him to Mhysra for life. Rift Rider legends were full of daring Wingborn and their epic feats, describing them as one soul divided. One will, one reason, one heart. Miryhl Wingborn were always bigger, bolder, brasher, braver. And he was hers, just as she was his.
The puppy barked, squirming to get down, so Mhysra let it flap its ungainly way to the ground. By the time it was racing off to explore the nearest rat hole, Cumulo was watching her.
“Merry Midwinter, Cue.”
He hunched his wings. “What’s merry about it?” His voice was hoarse, rough-edged from breathing the damp cold air. Back home in Wrentheria the eyries were large and spacious, filled with the comforting warmth of more than thirty miryhls. Here Cumulo was alone for the first time in his life. A pang of guilt shot through her, since he was only here because she had to be. Thankfully, that was all about to change.
“You’re a mess, Cue.” The ground around his perch was littered with scurf and feathers. His golden eyes were dull and the skin around his beak, eyes and talons looked cracked and sore. Aunt Mhylla would have her hide for letting him get into such a state, but if they’d been at Wrentheria he never would have ended up like this. Cumulo was big, brash and vain, but without company he’d given up.
He sniffed at her rudeness. “I saw your cousin. He seemed cheerful.”
“Mherrin always is.” Traditionally miryhls only ever spoke to their bonded Rider, but Cumulo had always been different and Mherrin was family. Mhysra had no doubt they’d enjoyed a nice long chat about her, Wrentheria and the city.
“He brought you a gift, he said.” Cumulo eyed the bundle of fluff chasing feathers across the dirty floor. “I hoped it would be something useful.”
They watched the puppy trip over a grain sack, roll in a tangle of silky white feathers and sprawl in the dirt. Cumulo clucked disapprovingly. “You should call it Bumble.”
Mhysra rolled her eyes. “If you’re going to be like that I won’t share my news. Which would be a shame, since I ran all the way from the Rider offices, icy streets and all.”
Cumulo straightened, feathers rising all along his crest with interest. “Enrolment ended yesterday,” he pointed out cautiously.
“Do you really think they’d turn a Wingborn pair away?” she scoffed, as though their acceptance had never been in doubt. Walking up to the desk that morning had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. When the clerk had laughed at her in front of all those Riders, she’d wanted to sink through the floor.
“And did they?” Cumulo asked breathlessly.
She smiled. “Buck up, Cue, you’ve got a new home.”
He threw back his head and screamed, terrifying pigeons out of the rafters. More than one precariously placed slate teetered through a roof hole and smashed on the floor. Cumulo flapped open his wings with a crack and sent dust, snow and dirt whirling into the walls.
Mhysra winced, covering her ears and face, while the puppy howled. The neighbouring pyreflies set up a ruckus, surges of flame licking around the edges of their high windows.
“Enough, Cumulo! Enough!” she shouted, when he paused for breath.
“Sorry.” He hunched his wings with a sheepish cough. “When do I leave?”
“How about now?”
“Now?” he shrieked with horror. “You expect me to move into the Rift Rider eyries looking like this?” Arching his neck, he examined his plucked chest, then turned to view his dusty back and ragged tail. “I’m not fit to be seen!”
“Then you’d best do something about it, hadn’t you?”
Grumbling, he preened a few primaries and gagged. “Atrocious. Open the doors, fetch my harness and don’t let your stupid puppy eat that, it won’t do it any good. I need a bath.”
“That’s not all you need,” Mhysra muttered, but hurried to comply. If he wanted to be clean, who was she to stop him? As long as he didn’t catch his death from cold. Scooping up the puppy, she unbolted the hatch, hauled on the chains to open the doors and grabbed his tack out of its box. The sooner she settled Cumulo, the sooner she could go back to pestering her parents. Somehow she doubted that the second half of her day would prove quite as successful as the first.
~ Next Chapter ~
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