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MHYSRA STARED OUT of the porthole, hungry for another glimpse of her Wingborn, but a crash made her turn, wiping the tears from her face. Her guards were arguing. The older one was making fierce gestures, while Talro was shaking his head. The water jug had somehow been knocked to the floor, wooden beakers rolling across the sodden boards.
Then the door opened.
“Aunt Mhylla!” Before the guards could stop her, Mhysra launched herself across the room into her aunt’s arms.
“There now, hush, don’t fuss,” Mhylla murmured in a stern yet comforting voice, though her arms gripped Mhysra just as tightly.
“How did you get in?” Mhysra asked, knowing without asking that the door had been locked. Her mother was good with locks.
Pulling free, Mhylla opened her palm. “With the key, of course. I find that’s always the best way of getting through locked doors.”
Mhysra raised her eyebrow, knowing full well her mother wouldn’t have left the key behind, no matter how distracted she’d been.
Mhylla grinned. “Lunrai never checks her pockets.”
“You stole it?” Mhysra said incredulously. “You picked a countess’ pockets? Aunt Mhylla, stealing from the aristocracy is a serious crime. She could have you hanged!”
Her aunt chuckled. “Dearest girl, I’ve been picking your mother’s pockets since before she could walk. If she hasn’t had me locked up yet, I doubt she ever will. Now, will you stop fretting over stupid things and fetch your bag.”
“But -” Mhysra looked from her aunt to her guards in confusion. The older one looked grumpy and angry, but Talro was grinning.
“I’ve been needing a couple more farmhands for a while,” Mhylla explained, shaking Talro’s hand and nudging the other guard with her elbow. “Talro likes animals, and Memlo thinks a change of scenery might be best about now.”
“I like bullwings,” Talro agreed in heavily accented Imercish. “Memlo’s good with horsats. We will like Wrentheria.”
Mhysra blinked, having assumed her guards didn’t speak anything but Mistrunan. They’d certainly done nothing to make her think otherwise.
“Lady Kilpapan will not be pleased,” Memlo growled, his accent less thick than his brother’s. “We will be lucky to even reach Wrentheria.”
“Gloomy,” Talro chuckled, while Mhylla waved a dismissive hand.
“I’ll deal with my sister. Mhysra, I told you to fetch your bag. Or do you want to go to Aquila with nothing but what you’re wearing?”
Grimacing, Mhysra did as she was told, pulling out the bag she’d packed in Nimbys when she’d contemplated running away. “Where’s Bumble?” she remembered to ask, as she pulled her flying gear from another bag.
“Here,” Mhylla dragged Mhysra out into the stateroom, buckling her coat straps for her along the way. On spotting her mistress, the nakhound pup jumped up from the basket in the corner and bounded across to lick Mhysra’s hands.
“Why is she wearing a harness?” Mhysra asked, pulling on her gloves.
“Because it won’t be safe to fly with her any other way,” Mhylla told her, wedging a flying cap over Mhysra’s curls. “I don’t know how we’re going to get you off this ship, but oh, Mhysra, good luck.” She pulled her into a tight hug. “And remember that no matter what happens you will always have a home with us.”
Mhysra squeezed her aunt until she almost couldn’t breathe. “Thank you,” she whispered, her heart too full to say anything else. She should have known better than to think her aunt had given up on her just because she’d stopped arguing with the countess.
Mhylla nodded, her eyes a little damp. “Let me go first. I’ll distract Lunrai, you look for Cue. Keep Bumble close. This’ll be a near run thing.”
Taking a deep breath, Mhysra nodded, jittery with excitement and trepidation. “Let’s go.”
“Bumble, come.” Snapping her fingers, Mhylla strode across the stateroom and opened the door, barging her sister out of the way in the process. “Oh, Lunrai, how careless of me. I am so terribly sorry.”
Even as her aunt bent over to help the countess up, she was waving frantically behind her back for Mhysra to get out.
Gripping her bag tightly, Mhysra sidled out of the stateroom and found the main deck of the Illuminai mostly empty. The crew was lined up uneasily along the rails, keeping as far as possible away from the two miryhls in the centre. She’d recognise Hurricane anywhere, her eyes widening to find Lieutenant Lyrai had flown all this way for her. Seeing Dhori behind him was almost as astonishing, since he was only a student.
A tug at her hand made her turn. Her mother was fighting against Mhylla, but had managed to grab hold of Mhysra’s bag. “If you do this,” the countess growled, looking almost wild. “You’ll be no daughter of mine.”
Mhysra tugged hard, but her mother’s grip was tenacious. “I never have been.”
“You won’t be a Kilpapan.”
Though not unexpected, the words hurt like knives as she stared into her mother’s furious eyes.
“She’s always been more of a Wrentherin anyway,” Aunt Mhylla said calmly, drawing Mhysra’s tearful gaze. “And she’ll always have a home with us.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She turned, the bag falling forgotten from her hand as she saw Cumulo dive from the sky and swoop along the side of the ship.
“Stop her!” Lady Kilpapan pushed free of Mhylla and lunged for her daughter.
“Mhysra, go!” her aunt shouted, but she didn’t need telling.
Mhysra ran towards the two miryhls on the deck, even as the crew started closing in. “Dhori, bring Bumble,” she shouted as she darted between Hurricane and Latinym.
“What are you doing?” Lieutenant Lyrai shouted, as Hurricane turned and bounded after her.
The presence of the miryhl had the crew stumbling back out of the way, leaving the deck clear all the way to the prow.
“Mhysra!” Cumulo screamed as he drew alongside her at the front of the Illuminai.
“Cue, catch!” Sprinting the last few strides, she gathered herself and dived over the rail.
A cacophony of screams and shouts exploded behind her, only to be snatch away by the roar of the wind as she plummeted through the open air, arms and legs splayed in a desperate bid to slow herself down.
There was nothing between her and the Cloud Sea, only emptiness and oblivion.
He fell with her, a dark shadow with outstretched wings. Diving in front of her, he pushed closer and closer until her hands gripped his feathers, then he swooped.
She hit the saddle with a jarring thud, but it was the most beautiful feeling in the world as she wrapped herself around her Wingborn and he carried her back into the skies.
“Cumulo, oh, Cue,” she sobbed into his neck, shaking all over.
He was trembling too as he raced them both away from the Illuminai, the rest of the Rift Riders dropping into formation around them. “Mhysra, my Mhysra,” he crooned, his voice broken and choked.
“You caught me,” she whispered, rubbing her cheek against the cool silk of his feathers. “Thank Maegla, you caught me. I knew you would. I knew you’d find me. I knew you’d catch me.”
“I will always catch you,” he promised vehemently. “But promise something, Mhysra. You have to promise.”
“Never do that again.”
She laughed, long and hard with a hint of tears, while Cumulo flew home through the sunset, surrounded by the protection of the Rift Riders.
~ Next Chapter ~
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