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~ Previous Chapter ~
Roll up! Roll up! For the extra Wednesday update!
Marvel at Nimbys From Above! Gasp at the Antics of a Bumbling Pup! And shake your head at a certain grumpy lieutenant showing how not to make friends and influence miryhls.
WIND RUSHED UP to meet them, tugging at feathers, hair and clothing. Hunching over to protect the pup, Mhysra forced her skirts as flat as she could and held on for the ride. Closing her eyes against the rush, she buried her face against Cumulo’s shoulder and laughed, waiting for the lift of her stomach as he spread his wings and swept up into the sky.
Atyrn’s sharp cry reached them over the swirling winds and Cumulo screamed his reply, the pup yipping along. Mhysra opened her eyes as they wheeled away from the high mountain and skimmed down towards the city. Rocks, snow and ranks of trees whizzed beneath them, until, suddenly, the mountain seemed to open its arms. Cradled protectively against the valley’s heart, the city of Nimbys sparkled in the late afternoon light.
It wasn’t the biggest city in the Overworld, nor the most populated. It wasn’t the oldest, nor the most holy. It wasn’t the highest, it wasn’t even the warmest, but it was beautiful. Tucked at the top of the Imercian landmass, Nimbys was surrounded on three sides by the indomitable Cloud Sea. The east was protected by other mountains, but none contained a place as wondrous as Nimbys. Home of the Stratys – ruler of all Imercian – it was a place of administration, intrigue, politics and stunning architecture.
Shaped by the contours of its mountain, Nimbys rippled and undulated more gracefully than any other settlement Mhysra had seen. Sparkling towers rose from the haze of buildings and, at the open end of the city, the Cathedral of Maegla dominated as only the Storm Goddess could.
The northern edge of the ravine belonged to the Stratys Palace. Like a collection of snowflakes frozen on the edge of a waterfall, it glinted in untouchable glory. Everything about it spoke of riches, power and perfection.
The city between the two wonders was a mismatch of society and styles. The docklands throbbed with life and business, while skyships bobbed serenely at their mooring posts or were beached forlornly in the dry docks. The miryhls rushed effortlessly above them all, casting shadows across the markets and streets below, before lifting high to crest the ridge on which the palace and Flying Corps HQ stood.
Following Atyrn’s lead they swooped around the HQ and drifted onto the wide field beyond. Off-duty Riders ran out of the eyries and offices, bundled up against the cold, eager to view this newest curiosity.
Eager to be admired, Cumulo landed with a series of bounding hops, head high, chest puffed out, freshly preened feathers gleaming. Mhysra muttered dark things behind his proud head. Such a landing might look impressive, but it was horribly uncomfortable, especially when one was trying not to drop a squirming, brainless pup.
“That’s why it loves you,” Cumulo remarked as Mhysra released the dog. It flapped once before dropping like a stone. “It hasn’t enough intelligence to do otherwise.”
Sliding from his saddle, she jabbed his ribs with her toes on the way down and set about taming her skirt. “You’re such a charmer,” she grumbled, unbuckling his saddle and harness, before pulling them free. When she stepped back, he lowered his head and unhooked his bridle with a talon, tossing it to her with a flick.
“Very clever,” she drawled. He was showing off, trying to prove that Wingborn were so much smarter than ordinary miryhls. The only way he really outdid normal miryhls, in Mhysra’s opinion, was the size of his self-consequence.
“Let the gawping commence,” Lieutenant Stirla chuckled, heading towards the eyries.
As Mhysra approached the watching crowd, Cumulo strutting at her side, she had a sudden attack of nerves. It was one thing to storm the HQ and demand admittance, but this was different. Then she’d had a goal and nobody could stop her. Especially not a stuffy paper-pusher who could no more fly than dance on the Cloud Sea.
Here, however, she was under the eyes of the experts, and while she knew Cumulo was a superior specimen, she also knew she wasn’t. Too tall and scrawny to be girly, too flimsy to be boyish. To strangers she looked weak. Unworthy.
“Buck up,” Cumulo murmured. “You’re my Wingborn. Without you I’m nothing.”
The unexpected compliment straightened her spine and raised her chin. He was right, they belonged here. With these men in their well-worn uniforms, their hands and some of their faces scarred by the lives they lived. These were Rift Riders, real Rift Riders.
How would she ever belong here?
Cumulo nudged her with his wing, making her realised she’d shrunk against him again, like a chick hiding behind its mother. She straightened up and glanced towards Stirla for guidance. He was grinning as the crowd parted to reveal the other lieutenant. The blond one with the cold eyes. He nodded at Stirla and stepped forward to study the new miryhl. Whistling softly, he walked slowly around the newcomers.
Cumulo’s beak crackled in annoyance and Mhysra touched his wing, surprised. After all, he’d shown no such objection when Stirla had done the same.
“Impressive,” the lieutenant announced, his inspection complete. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I see why you were so determined to join us, my lady.”
Uncertain of what was expected, she bobbed a curtsey. “Thank you, sir.”
“Lieutenant Lyrai.” He gave a curt bow. “Grounded until the Choice, my miryhl retired to stud. Wounded.” He looked at Cumulo again, unable to hide his covetous envy. “I know your name, my lady, but what about this fine fellow?”
“Cumulo,” she replied, as her miryhl curled his beak protectively over her shoulder, tugging her against his chest. She tickled his cheek just below his eye in his favourite spot, making him purr. “My Wingborn.”
A ripple ran through the Riders, word spreading to those who hadn’t already heard the news.
Ignoring the talk, Lieutenant Lyrai studied her and her eagle, taking in Cumulo’s protective stance and her affectionate touch. “Welcome to the Riders, Lady Mhysra and Cumulo. We hope you like it here.”
Something nipped her ankle and she glared down at the puppy, wondering if she was to be plagued on all sides. Disapproving lieutenants, stubborn parents, prideful miryhls and stupid puppies – Maegla aid her to a simple life.
Sighing, she nodded to the lieutenant. “Thank you, sir.”
From his faint smile and the occasional mutter from the crowd, not everyone was keen on readmitting women to the Riders.
Mhysra lifted her chin at the challenge. She was Wingborn. She belonged here – and she would prove it.
“Come on, Cue, let’s get you settled.” Hefting his tack, she scooped up the puppy and followed the chuckling Stirla inside. It was going to be a long winter.
~ Next Chapter ~
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