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You’re getting this early this week, because I won’t have a chance to post tomorrow. Although maybe leave it until tomorrow to read, or even Sunday, because I don’t want you to throw things at me for this ending.
In other words – the chase is on!
THINGS IN THE eyries had been hectic all morning, the Riders still having to patrol while also preparing stock, supplies, miryhls and gear for the move to Aquila in two more days. Many of the miryhls were fretting with excitement. Though most abhorred the long ship flight to Aquila, they were looking forward to the change of scenery.
Of them all, however, Cumulo seemed the most agitated. In fact, if Lyrai hadn’t known better, he would have thought there was something wrong with the Wingborn. The way he baited from foot to foot on his perch and paced the walkway when it was clear, spoke of something more than excitement and nerves over the upcoming move.
He’d asked Hurricane if there was something wrong – being unable to ask the Wingborn himself – but his miryhl had shaken his head and flicked his wings.
“If there is he won’t say.”
Hoping that it was nothing more than pre-Aquila nerves, Lyrai shrugged and readied Hurricane for their upcoming patrol.
Then Milluqua arrived, an uproar exploded and Cumulo started screaming for Mhysra.
“Cane, stop him!” Lyrai ordered, worried the young miryhl would try to track down his missing Wingborn alone.
Hurricane didn’t argue and, with the help of several other big miryhls, managed to corral Cumulo long enough to calm him. He stopped screaming but continued to bait, chest heaving with emotion.
“Tack me up,” he muttered to no one in particular. “You must tack me up. I can fetch her. I can bring her back. Make me ready. There won’t be time. We have to hurry.”
When no one moved, most too stunned at hearing a miryhl talking so freely without his Rider present, Cumulo cast a golden-eyed glare at the watchers and shouted, “Do it!”
Hurricane caught Lyrai’s eye and nodded, sending him darting for the tackroom. Corin was already there, searching the pegs for Cumulo’s bridle, his saddle already slung over her arm.
“Good girl,” Lyrai praised, reaching past her for the bridle beside Hurricane’s. “Let’s go.”
Seeing them approach with his things, Cumulo held still, but he was trembling, feathers puffed up, shaking with restraint. Lyrai knew the moment he finished with the bridle Cumulo would go, so he ordered Honra to have his flurry mount up and prepared a message for Stirla as soon as he returned from his patrol.
“Derrain’s gone to find where the Illuminai went,” Corin murmured to Lyrai as she fumbled with the straps of Cumulo’s breastplate.
Taking over, Lyrai sent her a grateful smile, reaching down to check the breastplate was threaded through the girth before he checked and tightened those straps.
“They’ll be headed for Wrentheria,” Cumulo muttered, flexing his wings. “Mhylla and the cousins are going home. That’s where she’ll have her. That’s where they’ll be going. Buckle me tight, I can take it.”
Lyrai dared to put a hand on Cumulo’s shivering wing. “Probably,” he told the miryhl, answering his earlier comments before complying with the last. “But Derrain will know for sure. It won’t hurt to wait a little longer.”
“Too long, too long,” Cumulo fretted, baiting from foot to foot again. “She might hurt her.”
Though he doubted it, since it wasn’t in the countess’ best interest to injure her own daughter, Lyrai didn’t argue. The Wingborn was not rational at the moment, and Lyrai had no wish to antagonise him further.
“Wait for Derry, Cue, that’s all I ask.”
At first Lyrai didn’t think Cumulo had heard, then the Wingborn stilled and lowered his head, heaving a heavy sigh. “I’ll wait for Derry.”
“Thank you.” Trusting the miryhl to keep his word, Lyrai rushed to prepare Hurricane. Checking the straps one last time, he shrugged into the flying coat a student was holding for him. It took no time at all to buckle the holding straps into place, then he pulled on his flying hat and checked his goggles were clear. This was going to be a hard, long flight into unknown weather and he wanted to be ready for anything.
“Honra, stay here and take half the flurry out on patrol,” Lyrai said to his sergeant as he pulled on his gloves. “Make sure none of the students try to follow. Corin and Derry are usually a sensible pair, but I can’t trust them with this.”
“And Dhori?” his sergeant asked.
Lyrai looked over his shoulder at where Mhysra’s students friends – minus Derry – were huddled by the door. He wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying, but Dhori was holding Mouse in place with his hands on his shoulders and talking earnestly.
Flexing his fingers to loosen the leather of his gloves, Lyrai sighed. “If it’ll appease the others, let him come. I doubt you could stop him anyway. Tie Mouse up if you have to.”
The corner of Honra’s mouth curled up in a wry smile. “I’ll lock him in the feed room.”
“Good man.” He slapped his sergeant on the shoulder, just as Derrain ran into the eyries, sweat-soaked and panting.
“Wrentheria,” he gasped, falling to his knees. “They’re going to Wrentheria.”
Cumulo shrieked and pinned Lyrai beneath his golden glare. “Now, lieutenant?”
“Aye, now,” Lyrai agreed, springing into Hurricane’s saddle. “Riders, to wing!”
* * * * *
THE FLIGHT WAS as long and hard as Lyrai had expected, and there were many times when he feared they might lose sight of Cumulo altogether. He truly was a most impressive miryhl, and the added incentive of regaining his kidnapped Wingborn made him almost too fast to follow. Thankfully, with half his flurry at his back and the mysterious Dhori alongside him, Lyrai’s worries never quite came true. Yes, Cumulo was fast and determined, but even he had to slow down occasionally for a gliding rest as they flew through the morning and deep into the afternoon.
Lyrai had never been so relieved to see a skyship in his life as when the Illuminai finally drifted into view, flying high above the Cloud Sea, sails fully extended, the green and silver gasbags proclaiming its Kilpapan ownership to the Overworld.
He hardly needed Cumulo’s screech of recognition, though it did prepare him for when Hurricane soared in pursuit of the darting Wingborn.
They’d made it, they’d found the Illuminai. Now all they had to do was convince the countess to let her daughter go.
As they drew closer to the ship, Cumulo flared his wings to slow down, finally realising that he couldn’t do this alone. They needed a plan, and Lyrai would probably be the one to execute it. He twisted in his saddle until he found Dhori and Latinym, gliding alongside, several wingspans to the left.
“Any ideas?” Lyrai shouted over to the student.
Dhori grinned. “A few.”
Which was more than Lyrai had. Urging Hurricane to turn, he swept in a broad circle around the twelve Riders from his flurry. Using the Rift Rider code of hand and arm gestures, he soon had his men arranged as he wished, surrounding the ship, then flew back towards Dhori and Cumulo.
“You, circle until I call for you,” he told the Wingborn, not trusting the brash youngster to hold his tongue. Though Lyrai sympathised with his troubles, he also didn’t want him to ruin everything. Not that Lyrai was confident about any of this, in which case it would be best to keep Cumulo in reserve anyway. “I mean it. Stay away from the deck unless I call you.”
He saw the miryhl’s beak moving, no doubt muttering curses down upon his head, but eventually the Wingborn nodded. “Aye, sir.”
“Good. Dhori, you’re with me.”
The student saluted and urged Latinym alongside Hurricane as the two miryhls dived towards the ship, taking care not to get tangled in either the sails or the gasbags.
“Do you have a plan, sir?” Dhori called, as they circled over the top gasbag and down beneath the Illuminai’s hull.
“No,” Lyrai shouted back. “I’m making it up as I go along.”
As Dhori laughed, Hurricane shot up the starboard side of the Illuminai, came level with the deck and twisted. With a flare of his enormous, marbled wings the great miryhl swooped over the guard rail, scattering skysailors as he landed in the middle of the deck.
Amidst the ensuing confusion of men tumbling out of the way, Latinym hopped the rail himself and joined the other miryhl on the Illuminai.
Not that Lyrai was paying attention. His eyes were firmly fixed on the woman standing halfway up the stairs to the wheelhouse. Slender and small though she was, only a fool would think Lunrai, Countess Kilpapan was weak. Her curly black hair had been ruthlessly pinned back, her sharp chin was tilted at a haughty angle and she met Lyrai’s gaze with the imperious confidence of a queen.
“Welcome aboard the Illuminai, lieutenant,” she greeted coolly. “To what do we owe this unexpected honour? Are the Rift Riders performing customs checks these days?” Her words created a ripple of nervous laughter amongst her crew, but Lyrai kept his eyes solely on her.
“Only for contraband, Countess.”
She smiled. “I’ll think you’ll find everything in the hull is bought, paid for and fully verified, lieutenant. Kilpapans have never been afraid of taxes.”
“I believe human trafficking is a new enterprise for your family, and hard to tax too, being illegal in all Overworld states.”
Her smile didn’t falter. “I believe you are mistaken, sir. All the people we have on this ship are either crew or paying passenger.”
“All except one, my lady,” he countered, watching as she descended the rest of the stairs to stand before the door to the staterooms below the wheelhouse. “And that is who we’ve come to collect.”
Lady Kilpapan folded her arms across her chest. “I have no idea what you mean.”
It was Lyrai’s turn to smile. “I mean your daughter, Countess. We’ve come for Lady Mhysra, and we do not intend to leave without her.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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