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~ Previous Chapter ~
And everything had been going so well…
HAVING SNUCK OUT before dawn, safe in the knowledge that her family was still sleeping, Mhysra crept back in as the midnight bells tolled. Though she tried justifying her actions by remembering how excited her friends had been after their test flights and how it was only natural to celebrate with them, she couldn’t deny the truth. She was a coward.
There had been too many people around for her parents to corner her the night before and by the time everyone had left it was too early for confrontations. It had seemed like the easiest option to escape for the day rather than face her parents. Now Mhysra’s head pounded from lack of sleep, she could barely keep her eyes open and her feet dragged with dread. She couldn’t avoid them forever, but a little longer was all she asked. The students were due to leave in three days. If she kept her head down and didn’t cause any trouble she might just make it. Especially while her aunt was staying here.
“Coward,” she cursed herself as she slipped in through the servant’s entrance. “Dirty, rotten coward.” Still, if that was what it took to get to Aquila, cowardly she would be.
The hall was dark as she tiptoed from the kitchen. A single lantern glowed by the front door, where the night footman waited in case of messages. Not wishing to disturb him, Mhysra scurried up the backstairs to her room. Holding her breath, she turned the handle and winced as the catch clunked. When the silence held, though, she sighed with relief and went inside.
“Good evening, Mhysra.”
The door thumped closed as she stumbled back against it, heart jumping. Sitting at the desk, flicking through accounts by candlelight, Lady Kilpapan was waiting for her.
“I wondered if you’d return, but since your nakhound and clothes are still here, I assumed you would.” Lady Kilpapan shut the ledger with a snap and looked up. “We need to talk.”
Since talking was the last thing Mhysra wanted to do, she remained by the door, fingers flexing on the handle, debating whether it was too late to run. She was tired. All she wanted to do was sleep. Couldn’t this wait until morning?
“Sit,” the countess commanded, pointing to the chair she’d positioned beside the desk. It wasn’t the only thing that had been rearranged while Mhysra was out. Slinking guiltily across the room, she was dismayed to see her extra flying gear and school notes displayed on the bed. Her mother had been busy.
“I should have anticipated this,” Lady Kilpapan said, rapping her fingernails on the desk, lips tight with annoyance. “We made a mistake, your father and I. We knew you were wilful, but so was Milluqua when she first arrived. When you settled down, we assumed you were following her pattern. Mhylla assured me you were a good girl, polite and obedient.” She looked up and caught Mhysra’s eye. “Apparently not.”
Mhysra bit her tongue. She was perfectly polite and obedient as long as she was being asked to do something meaningful. Something worthwhile. Something other than prancing around ballrooms and simpering in parlours, pretending to be an empty-headed fool.
“Perhaps it was a mistake to let Mhylla raise you. We expected a well behaved, biddable child, and you expected freedom with no repercussions. No doubt we are as disappointed as each other.” The countess’ lips tightened again and she studied the flickering candles. “Despite these unfortunate circumstances I believe we understand one another at last. You have done as you wished and continued your masquerade even after I explained everything. I underestimated your determination, but I believe we can work past this.”
If she had been talking to anyone but her mother, Mhysra might have felt hopeful. Instead her throat grew tight and her heart heavy. She didn’t want to know what was coming next.
“Since you have publicly embarrassed your father, he has handed you over to me. A little earlier than planned, but perhaps it’s best. Nimbys is clearly not the best place for you. Your father is too busy to oversee your behaviour and Milluqua has aided in your deception.” Mhysra winced, hoping that her sister hadn’t been blamed for any of this. “Since your social debut must wait for the gossip about your misbehaviour to die down, you will come with me. The Illuminai will keep you occupied.”
Mhysra gasped, though her throat was so tight she could barely breathe. Her head throbbed and her eyes burned, but not with tears. “What -”
“Do not,” Lady Kilpapan interrupted sternly, “mention Cumulo. We’ve had this conversation before. I told you what the price of disobedience would be. Your aunt refuses to take him, but since you will be on the same voyage I think that’s wise. Tomorrow I will visit the Rift Rider offices. I am certain they will take him, and gladly, for they need every miryhl they can get.”
Mhysra barely heard – she was too busy trying to breathe. There was no way the Riders would accept Cumulo without her. Once bonded a miryhl rarely took a new Rider. A Wingborn was likely to kill any who tried. Cumulo wouldn’t leave her, he couldn’t.
“Do not misunderstand me, Mhysra,” her mother continued, uncaring of the storm she was creating, “you are not being punished. It may seem that way, but you are misguided and ignorant. You’re no longer a child. The time has come for adulthood. You require more educating than your father and I realised, so the fault for this embarrassment lies partly with us. That is why we are taking these steps. You will forget your foolishness and appreciate the advantages of a respectable life, while Cumulo will be happier with a real Rift Rider. It’s for the best.”
Finally Lady Kilpapan looked at her daughter, eyebrows raised, awaiting an answer. Mhysra stared back, her expression mirroring the countess’ – cold, with the anger shoved down deep. Perhaps they were more alike than she realised.
Thinking of Cumulo, Mhysra couldn’t even fake a smile. “Do you expect my gratitude?”
Lady Kilpapan looked amused. “No. That will come later. All that matters now is that you accept. You are so eager for duty, Mhysra, and this is the one life has dealt you.”
“I am Wingborn,” she stated flatly, despite wanting to scream until the whole city heard. She wanted to storm, rage and throw tantrums until her parents relented and let her make her own choices. But Lady Kilpapan wanted her to do that so she could accuse her of childishness again. Then, as a superior adult, she would feel justified in taking her wayward child in hand.
“An unfortunate happenstance. It was an accident of birth, but one without any real meaning.” The countess waved away the most important bond in Mhysra’s life with a blasé flick of her hand. “You were raised together, so of course you feel close. Understandable but easily put aside, like all childish things. Come, Mhysra, you know how this will end. Save yourself and Cumulo the unnecessary suffering. It is time you both grew up and accepted your places in life. You belong with your family, he belongs with the Rift Riders.”
“My family lives at Wrentheria.”
Lady Kilpapan’s jaw twitched as she clenched her teeth. “Stop this foolishness, Mhysra. You are a Kilpapan. You will remain with us.”
Mhysra met the countess’ eyes, satisfied to see anger sparkling there. “So you say.”
“Indeed.” Lady Kilpapan tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and gathered her things from the desk. “You are tired. We will discuss this in the morning.” As she reached the door, she paused to look at her daughter in the shadows. “It will be better this way.”
The door closed, leaving Mhysra confused by the abrupt conclusion to their conversation. Surely it couldn’t end so easily? Surely her parents wouldn’t be so foolish? They’d dictated to her before and it hadn’t worked. Tomorrow, she’d sneak out at dawn again, and this time she wouldn’t come back.
A scrape sounded at the door, followed by a click.
Mhysra leapt across the room and seized the knob. Too late. She rattled the handle and pounded on the wood, shouting for help, but there was no answer.
The door was locked. She was trapped.
~ Next Chapter ~
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