(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Oh, look, Mhysra’s being all mature and meeting her problems head on.
Ha, kidding! Of course she isn’t. Then again, what you rather do: talk to the Kilpapans or go flying? Exactly. It’s test flight time!
Drifting above the mountainside, Lyrai revelled in the freedom of flying at sunrise. The city below still lay in shadow, but the sky was warming quickly. Hurricane glided upwards in lazy circles, tilting his wings in tiny ways to alter their direction and height. After only two days together, Lyrai felt as though he had never been without him. Hurricane was perfect.
“What happens now?” the miryhl asked, passing into the shadow of the mountain.
“Test flights,” Lyrai replied. “And those who haven’t chosen will take another look.”
“Why? What will they see now that they missed yesterday?”
“Nothing,” Lyrai admitted, as they drifted back into the light. “Except they’ll have more room to move today and more experts on hand to help.”
“Such fuss,” Hurricane chuckled. “You humans like making things complicated.”
Resting against the miryhl’s back, Lyrai smiled. “We feel more important that way.”
As the sun climbed over the Cloud Sea, the roofs of Nimbys glinted and Hurricane swooped over the stirring city. It was such a joy to fly again, Lyrai could patrol the same routes every day for a month and not grow bored.
“Company,” Hurricane called, drifting back towards the flying field, where nervous students waited with their families.
One miryhl was already out, swirling upwards and drawing envious stares. Lyrai smiled as Hurricane glided closer, attracting attention of his own. The two miryhls were close in size, but where Hurricane was all marbled shades, the other was brown with a golden sheen.
“Good morning,” Lyrai called as Hurricane began a counter spiral.
“Morning, sir,” Mhysra replied, lying against Cumulo’s back.
Studying the Wingborn pair, Lyrai practised the role he would soon take up at Aquila. He’d never seen such a powerful bond between a Rider and miryhl. No matter what Cumulo did – flap, glide, swoop – she was ready. Lyrai felt a twinge of envy as they wheeled off over the ridge, diving into the shadow. He’d never flown so well.
“Young and foolish, but impressive,” Hurricane murmured. “Wingborn usually are. He needs a strong Rider to keep him sensible. It’s a good match.”
“It ought to be after fifteen years,” Lyrai remarked dryly, watching the pair reappear.
Hurricane chuckled. “In fifteen more years, it will be perfect. As will ours.”
Unable to think that far ahead, Lyrai looked at the busy field below. “We should go back. It isn’t fair to keep all the fun for ourselves.”
Hurricane swooped around in a wide arc without argument. “I am eager to learn what a lieutenant does.” Then he tipped into a sharp dive that left no one in any doubt that they were watching an experienced Rider and miryhl in action.
* * * * *
“SHOW OFF,” CUMULO grumbled, as the marble miryhl skimmed across the field. There was a smattering of applause when Lieutenant Lyrai jumped down. His new mount preened at the attention. “He’s nothing special.”
Smiling, Mhysra rubbed her miryhl’s neck to soothe his ruffled pride. He’d not been happy to find that the big miryhl had beaten him outside, and was even less impressed to find him bonded to the lieutenant. Only the fact that Cumulo was Wingborn – and thus superior in every way – prevented him from acting on his jealousy.
“I have no need for flashy tactics,” he muttered. “A mere glance proves that I am the better miryhl. And my bonded is superior too. I’ll show them.”
“Not today!” Mhysra yelped. “We haven’t time to play primary feathers.”
He tensed, and she feared he would ignore her, but he opted to glide into a descent instead. “As you wish, chickling, though helping a bunch of incompetents stay astride second-rate miryhls doesn’t seem important to me.”
“You’re such a snob,” she said fondly, and they executed a perfect landing that proved her miryhl hadn’t stopped competing yet.
“You make it look so easy!” Mouse bounded over with Derrain, Dhori and Corin in tow. They were all visibly anxious, except the unflappable Dhori. “Is it easy? Cumulo’s big, isn’t he?”
Cumulo puffed proudly, sticking out his chest.
“Not as big as Lieutenant Lyrai’s Hurricane, though. Did you see him? People say he’s the most impressive miryhl they’ve seen in years!”
“Shut the whelp up before I disembowel him,” Cumulo growled, and Mhysra dragged her friend away.
“Nervous, Mouse?” she asked, jumping into the word flow and swimming against the tide.
He shot her a sheepish glance. “A bit.” For a moment there was beautiful quiet. Then: “But I’m used to it. Hethanon says it’s my natural state. He thinks not even a boulder on the head would slow me down. He says I thrive on pressure. I’m not sure. I think I’d like a quiet life, but then I look at the miryhls and change my mind. I can’t wait to fly, even though I know I’ll fall off and end up smashed on rocks, my body ground to mush, forced to spend the rest of my life being fed through a spout -”
The exuberant flood of calamities was cut off as a firm hand was clapped over Mouse’s mouth. “That’ll do,” Derrain said, somewhat weakly.
“You’ll be fine,” Mhysra assured them all. “Even if you fall, you shouldn’t be high enough to hurt yourselves.”
Corin’s shoulders drooped. “Rub it in, why don’t you? You show up flying effortlessly, out on your own in the wide blue sky, while we’ll hardly get off the ground. Why did I think I could do this?”
“Because you’re capable, brave and ready for adventure,” Dhori consoled her, putting an arm around her shoulders. Corin’s worries vanished under a grin and Dhori raised an eyebrow. “Don’t get any ideas. I’m just being nice.”
“You’re always nice,” Mhysra said.
“Not to me,” Corin grumbled when he took his arm away. “He never stays still long enough.”
“That’s because Dhori is a very wise man.” Harlan had come along to support his cousin.
“Wisdom, ha!” Corin mocked. “You wouldn’t know wisdom if it bit you on the -”
“Thank you, Corin!” Lieutenant Stirla interrupted, striding over. “I think we all know your feelings about Harlan by now.” He grinned as she blushed. “Play nicely, children, or you won’t get to fly the pretty birdies.”
“He’s not a Rider,” Corin grumbled, shooting Harlan a glare that promised retribution. “He shouldn’t be here.”
“Nor are you,” Harlan taunted. “So maybe you should leave.”
“Thank you, Harlan,” Stirla interrupted again. “Behave or I’ll order you off the field and Mouse will have to cope on his own.”
“I’ll be fine on my own,” the lad in question chirped. “He’ll only laugh when I fall off anyway.”
“Who’s fallen off?” Mherrin asked, ruffling his cousin’s hair and smiling at the others.
“No one. But they haven’t brought the birds out yet.” Mouse’s gloomy prediction cast a cloud over the group and they all fell quiet. Shaking his head, Lieutenant Stirla wandered off.
“What a cheerful bunch.” Mherrin laughed. “If my cousin can fly, anyone can.” He hopped back when Mhysra mock-punched him, grinning as he crashed into Corin. “Oh, sorry.”
For once the flirtatious girl was silent and simply stared, eyes wide and dreamy.
“Leave her alone,” Mhysra scolded, dragging her cousin away. “She has enough crushes, without adding you.”
“Always room for one more,” Corin protested.
He shot her a soulful glance and placed a hand over his heart. “I have no wish to be one of many, fairest of maidens. There is room in my heart for only one.”
“And you call Rift Riders melodramatic. Move, Mherrin, or I’ll fetch Aunt Mhylla.”
Mherrin jumped, but when he realised his mother was across the field he relaxed. “Mam’s too busy to bother with me today. That reminds me, she wants you and Cue.”
Mhysra raised her eyebrows. “And you?”
He smiled smugly and held out his hands. “No mount, cuz, so I must be content with watching the rest of you have all the fun. Alas.”
“Poor baby,” she drawled, while Corin and Mouse giggled. “Derry, please stop him from doing anything stupid.”
“Do I look like a miracle worker? You need a god for that task.”
Scowling at his unhelpfulness, she looked elsewhere. “Dhori, would you watch him, please?”
“I am not a dog,” Mherrin protested.
“No,” Derrain agreed. “A dog can be trained.”
“It would be an honour,” Dhori said calmly, while the pair tussled. “Though it’s been a while since my last miracle. My skills are a little rusty.”
“Practise makes perfect,” Mhysra said, and hurried away before she had to watch her cousin do anything embarrassing.
* * * * *
“CAN I LOOK YET?” Lyrai asked, hiding his face against Hurricane’s neck.
His fellow lieutenant and the two miryhls chuckled. “I never thought I’d say this,” Stirla murmured, “but I don’t begrudge you being appointed as flight instructor anymore.”
Lyrai lifted his head as Mouse misjudged his mounting manoeuvre and tumbled off the far side. Thankfully his miryhl was unruffled by his antics or the crowd’s laughter.
Lyrai groaned. “Kill me now.”
“Look lively, the boy is on and stable… sort of.”
Sighing, Lyrai watched Captain Myran and Mhylla Wrentherin adjust Mouse’s seat, murmuring advice – and a few prayers – before stepping back. “Ai Gods.”
Mouse stiffened as the small miryhl cast a look over his shoulder, opened his wings and jumped from the platform. There was a gasp when Mouse wobbled, but his miryhl shifted to balance him. The watchers sighed with relief as the dark eagle glided across the field, executed a careful turn, rose ten feet in the air and coasted in to land. With his student still onboard.
“A bloody miracle,” Stirla muttered, joining the applause as Mouse tumbled down and threw his arms around his miryhl’s neck. “Damn, I owe Derry a silver talon. I didn’t think he’d last the field.”
Lyrai shook his head as others in the crowd exchanged money. He should probably scold his friend for not setting a better example, but couldn’t be bothered. Instead he studied the little eagle standing patiently while Mouse rushed around him.
“That’s a good miryhl.”
“A saint,” Stirla agreed, scowling at a jubilant Derrain. “What’s he so about cheerful, isn’t he up next?”
“But richer by a talon,” Lyrai pointed out. “Plenty for a lad to be happy about.” He grinned at Stirla’s growl as they waited for the next miryhl to reach the platform.
The three days of the Choice were the biggest in a young Rider’s life. However, for the rest of the world, watching a group of youngsters fumble with their reins, fall off or barely hang on as their miryhls took an easy lap of the field was tedious. The only interest came from amusing falls or if a miryhl decided to make a bid for freedom. That was why Hurricane was there, ready to take off in an instant. If Lyrai failed to act, Stirla, Honra and Mhysra were also standing by. Some might call it overkill, but with students and young miryhls taking their first flights together there was no knowing what might happen.
As Derrain walked up the platform, he said something softly that made both Myran and Mhylla smile.
“More miracles.” Stirla raised his eyebrows. “This next year will certainly be interesting.”
Lyrai agreed, watching Derrain and his new miryhl perform their flight. Nothing showy, just a trip back and forth without any mishaps. If there was a wobble in Derrain’s legs when he dismounted, most were too busy applauding to notice. Lyrai was impressed and relieved. He could easily work with Derrain – a solid base, without overconfidence. He’d be happy with more such students, but he wasn’t optimistic.
“Halfway,” Stirla pointed out, while Dhori flew like a natural. He didn’t perform any tricks, but it was obvious that he could have completed plenty with ease. “He’s done that before.”
“Mm,” Lyrai agreed thoughtfully. “A lad of many talents.” It was already clear who was going to be this year’s star, even before they reached Aquila.
“Here comes Corin. This should be good.”
“Unkind,” Lyrai said, smiling as the diminutive girl accepted a boost into the saddle and shivered with fright.
“I don’t like heights,” she yelped, sending a ripple of amusement through the crowd.
“You live on a mountain, student,” Captain Myran pointed out.
“A mountain is solid.” The miryhl shifted and she grabbed the front of her saddle with a squeak. “It’s not very stable up here, is it?”
“Come on, Corin! I thought you weren’t afraid of anything,” someone shouted. It sounded like former-student Harlan, if Lyrai wasn’t mistaken.
“Anything, no,” she grumbled. “I’m afraid of specific things. Like falling and death.”
“You’ll be fine,” Mhylla told her brusquely, prising her hands free and wrapping them around the reins. “If you survived the selection school, you can manage one flight no higher off the ground than your own head.”
Corin pulled a face and glanced at Mhysra. “You know I said you were the luckiest person I knew?” she called. “I take it back.”
“Wisp,” Mhylla said to the miryhl. “Take her away before I damage her.”
The miryhl chuckled and leapt. Corin’s scream swiftly turned to excited whoops as her miryhl displayed an impressive turn of speed.
“That’s enough, Corin,” Mhylla shouted, as girl and miryhl took a third turn around the field.
“I love flying!”
“A useful trait, student,” Captain Myran called, “which you will have plenty of time to practise. But not now.”
For a moment it looked like they would refuse. Lyrai and the other Riders straightened, preparing to fetch her.
“Flying is a privilege, student, which can be revoked at any moment. With or without cause.” Captain Myran’s tone dropped, which anyone familiar with him knew meant no good.
It also worked on those he had only just met because, with a sigh, miryhl and student returned to the ground. The watchers settled back with disappointment.
“I thought that was going to be interesting for a moment,” Stirla grumbled.
“Like you said, halfway through,” Lyrai reminded him.
“And I signed up for this. Why did I want to become a captain again?”
“Bigger pay, shiny stripes, social prestige?” Lyrai asked.
Stirla wrinkled his nose. “Maybe.”
“And girls. Girls are impressed by titles like captain.”
“That’ll be it.” Stirla turned to watch a Storm Peak student take his turn. “Nannying. All that training and it’s come to this.” They winced as the miryhl turned a sharp corner, but his rider didn’t. “At least the lad’s well padded,” Stirla murmured, taking Atyrn to check that the boy was all right.
“All hail the glory of the Rift Riders,” Lyrai sighed, and resigned himself to the tedium.
~Next Chapter ~
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