(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Both posts are slightly longer this week, but not quite long enough to warrant a third post. Also, this chapter splits perfectly in two, so a third post would mean chopping things off mid-scene. It does mean there are a few sort of cliffhangers hanging about, but it’s all in the name of excitement, promise.
Anywho, it’s time for Mhysra’s reckoning… sort of. There’s certainly trouble afoot.
Mhysra was waiting when her mother came to see her the next morning. The sun was already high in the sky, but she’d been up since dawn, unable to stop herself from pacing. What was she going to do? How was she going to get out of this? It was worse than she’d ever imagined. Yes, she’d known her parents would be angry with her, possibly even disown her, but imprisonment? And Mherrin said that Rift Riders were melodramatic.
Despite having paced every inch of her bedroom in her impatience, watched mournfully by a subdued Bumble, Mhysra threw herself into the nearest chair the moment she heard the key snap in the lock. Her mother likely knew how frustrated, angry and anxious Mhysra was feeling, but she was damned if she’d give the countess the satisfaction of seeing it.
So this time it was Mhysra sitting calmly at her desk when her mother entered the room, but Lady Kilpapan did not come alone. The door was opened for her by a bulky skysailor, whose chief qualifications for the work appeared to be his bulging muscles. Behind the countess came a second skysailor, similar enough to be the first’s burlier brother. He carried a breakfast tray, which he took over to Mhysra at the countess’ command.
Though big and intimidating, his bald head covered with tattoos, the sailor smiled at her and murmured something polite-sounding in Mistrunan. His friendliness caught her off-guard and she thanked him, wondering if he was to be her jailor.
At a nod from Lady Kilpapan, the men took up station either side of the door, while she advanced into the room. Noticing the bag Mhysra had filled during the night, in a fit of helpless defiance, the countess smiled. “You’re already packed. Good. We leave this afternoon.”
Glancing at the guards and deciding she didn’t care how much Imercian they understood, Mhysra crossed her arms over her chest. “What makes you think I’m coming with you?”
Lady Kilpapan arched an eyebrow, but ignored her in favour of opening the wardrobe. “You will need to pack a few more bags. These dresses will be useful for when we dine with our favoured clients. Breeches and shirts are well enough for the deck,” the disparaging glance she cast over Mhysra’s current attire suggested otherwise, “but we must also be prepared for elegance, when the situation calls for it.”
Turning to her men, she issued a stream of Mistrunan. The smiling one bowed his head and slipped out of the door. “Talro will bring more bags for you.”
When Mhysra said nothing, knowing it would be futile to argue, her mother frowned. “You should eat. We have a long voyage ahead of us.”
Torn between going on hunger-strike or maintaining her resources in the hope of an escape, Mhysra compromised by pouring a glass of apple juice. “Have you visited the Rider offices yet?” she asked, half-hoping that by doing so her mother would draw attention to her missing daughter and perhaps bring about a rescue. Yet she also feared some ignorant and unfeeling clerk would accept Cumulo without question, not caring what had happened to his troublesome female Rider.
Flicking through the beautiful dresses hanging in Mhysra’s wardrobe, the countess gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Your father has agreed to sort that out once we are gone. The last thing we need is any interference. Those Riders think too highly of themselves these days.” Though her scowl was directed at a silver gown, it was clear she was thinking back to the recent party disaster and the scene with Captain Myran and his men.
Silently fuming as this sliver of hope was crushed, Mhysra took a fierce bite of toast. The butter was unpleasantly salty and she reached for her juice. The cool sharpness sent a shiver through her.
“Yes, your father and I have arranged everything to our satisfaction.” Her mother emerged from the wardrobe with an armful of dresses, which she tossed casually on the bed. Her eyes flickered over her daughter, seeing the half-eaten slice of toast on her plate and the mostly empty glass in her hand. She smiled. “You’ll need more than that. We are heading straight for Wrentheria and I have much to teach you.”
Despair crashed over Mhysra, making her head throb and her heart ache. “Why are you doing this?” she whispered, drinking more juice in an effort to wash away the unpleasant aftertaste of the butter.
“Because I must,” her mother replied, coming over to pour her another glass, forcing it into Mhysra’s suddenly heavy hand. “Drink up. It’s for the good of the family. You’ll understand that one day.”
Obeying the command, Mhysra lifted the glass, but her arm felt so weak. She managed a few more sips before the glass slipped from her hand. “What have you done?” she tried to ask, but her words slurred as an ache in her head made the room go dark.
“What I had to,” the countess said, brushing the hair off Mhysra’s face with a surprisingly gentle hand. “You are my daughter. Did you really expect me to believe you would go quietly?”
The door opened again as Mhysra’s vision blurred and faded. “Ah, Talro,” she heard her mother say. “I have some luggage for you to carry. Memlo, bring the dog.”
The last thing Mhysra remembered was Bumble growling, while a kind voice murmured foreign words in her ear, then she was floating and the darkness swept in to claim her.
* * * * *
DERRAIN KNEW HE should have been packing up his things and saying farewell to his friends in Nimbys before he left for Aquila, but somehow he just couldn’t stay away from the eyries. Though he’d always admired miryhls and enjoyed watching them, he’d never fully understood Mhysra’s fascination with the place. Until now.
Now that he had a miryhl of his own, he couldn’t keep away. He had no idea what a Rider was supposed to do for their miryhl, but he figured it was never too early to learn. That’s why he left his lodgings at first light and climbed the slope out of the city. Since the new miryhls were still being housed in the temporary building, Derrain checked the main eyries as he passed and was disappointed to find that Mhysra wasn’t already there. Since he was certain he’d see her later, he swallowed his questions and walked on.
In fact he was soon so absorbed in getting to know Zephyr that he barely noticed anyone else at all. Whatever tentative thoughts he might once have formed about his relationship with his future miryhl had been completely swept away by the reality of Zephyr, her calm, quiet voice and gentle manner.
She was beautiful and he thanked all the gods he could name that Mhylla had led him to her, before anyone else had chosen her.
That morning she’d taken him patiently through the composition of her wings, telling him the names of her feathers, muscles and tendons, what they did and why they were important. Now it was his turn to prove he’d been listening.
Running his hand along the top tendon of Zephyr’s outstretched wing, he splayed his fingers through the strong, broad feathers at the end. “These are the primary flight feathers and they -”
A loud squawk interrupted him and he glanced over at the pen on his left.
“Oh, Maegla, I’m sorry!” Corin wailed, hiding her face in her hands, while her miryhl frantically preened beneath her wing.
Sharing an amused glance with Zephyr, Derrain ducked beneath the partition rope and peeled a hand away from Corin’s face. “What happened?”
“I was trying to groom Wisp, but I’ll never get it right!” Corin cried, and threw herself at Derrain’s chest.
Raising his eyebrows, Derrain automatically caught her and cuddled her close, looking at Wisp over Corin’s curls. The miryhl emerged from beneath her wing to roll an eye and ruffled her feathers back into place with a sigh. Clearly no harm had been done.
“I’ll never be good enough for her. Why did I think I could do this? I only wanted to help. Mhysra makes it look so easy,” Corin mumbled against his chest, and finally he understood.
Holding her away from him, Derrain slipped a hand beneath Corin’s chin until she met his eye. “You do know she’s had a lifetime of practise at it, right?”
Corin sniffled, though her eyes were dry and it was clear she was more frustrated than upset. “Preening shouldn’t be difficult.”
Chuckling, Derrain cuddled her again before turning her around and pointing her in Wisp’s direction. “Why don’t you try talking about it next time? Between the two of you I’m sure you’ll sort something out.”
Girl and miryhl eyed each other cautiously, then thoughtfully, before Wisp raised her wings the tiniest fraction.
“I’m sorry!” Corin wailed again, throwing her arms around her eagle’s neck.
Shaking his head at the dramatics, Derrain ducked back under the rope to rejoin Zephyr. She was chuckling.
“What?” he had to ask.
“Every pair is different,” she said, shaking her own head in clear amusement.
“Thank the Gods for that,” he replied, thinking of his Rider friends and the many differences between them. If their miryhls weren’t blessed with personalities to match, the Overworld would be a far duller place.
“Derry? Derry, are you there?” the unexpected call came from the entrance to the eyries. It was a voice he knew well – and the last he expected to hear this morning.
Frowning, Derrain stroked a hand across Zephyr’s wing and strode for the door. “Milli?” he said in disbelief.
“Oh, Derry!” She darted forward and seized his arm, shocking him with her appearance. Lady Milluqua Kilpapan was known throughout Nimbys as a true lady, one who always dressed to perfection and was never seen in the slightest disarray.
Except this morning. Her dress was made of pale green floaty material, but her heavy shawl was dark blue, her hair was only half up and she was wearing a pair of chunky boots, the sort Mhysra wore all the time and Milluqua politely disdained. To top it all off her face was flushed and she was clearly out of breath.
Dread gripped Derrain. “What’s the matter, Milli? Has something happened to Mhysra?”
Holding him tightly with one hand, as if worried he would run away, she pressed her other palm against her chest. It was clear she was struggling to breathe, but she nodded. “Yes. Mhysra. Kidnapped.”
By now they’d attracted a small crowd of students and Derrain wasn’t the only one to cry, “What?”
“Mother,” Milluqua wheezed.
“The countess?” Corin squeaked. “But why?”
“I’m more interested in where,” Derrain growled, and carefully peeled Milluqua’s hand off his arm. Clasping it between his own, he squeezed gently. “Stay here, Milli. Get your breath back, then Corin will take you to our lieutenants, all right?”
“And you?” Milluqua asked, dark eyes wide.
“I’m off to the docks, to see what the gossips have to say. Did they take the Illuminai?”
Milluqua nodded, more of her hair tumbling down. “I think so. It was my mother, Derry. Our own mother took her.”
Having worked beneath the countess’ command for many years, Derrain wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Lady Kilpapan may have been small and dainty looking, but she had a will of steel and never took no for an answer. He patted her hand as reassuringly as he could. “I’ll find out where they went. You,” he looked around at his friends amongst the students, “stay here and form a plan.”
With a chorus of agreement at his back, Derrain set off for the city at a run. He’d barely reached the palace when he heard a scream behind him.
Cumulo knew his Wingborn was gone. Derrain only hoped he could find out where before the big miryhl decided to track her down alone.
~ Next Chapter ~
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