(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Are you read to set sail? Nimbys is behind us now, and ahead…
The Thorncrest, 14th Harvest
The ship creaked and groaned as Mhysra stared at the slats of the bed above. She should have been sleeping, but the boisterous sounds coming from the common room next door prevented that. Instead she lay in bed, brooding. Cumulo would tell her to stop, but he was below with the other miryhls, enjoying himself, still half-delirious over the chase and catch of the Illuminai a half-moon ago.
She was alone – Bumble’s sprawled form across her feet didn’t count – wondering whether she’d done the right thing. Yes, her escape from her mother had been both necessary and exciting, and made her a minor hero amongst her peers, but the thought of what her parents might do next made her nervous. The Kilpapan family was rich and influential. Her father was favoured by the Stratys. If he chose, he could make her life extremely awkward. Would the Riders protect her against the displeasure of the Stratys? She was just one set of wings.
What about the rest of her family? Would Milluqua be punished? Would Aunt Mhylla still care for her? And Kilai, her mostly-forgotten brother, was the one she would likely face first. Would he be at Aquila? Would he take their parents’ side and avoid her? Was she really no longer a Kilpapan? Must she called herself Mhysra Wrentherin from now on? There were no answers and not knowing made her feel ill.
“What’s so fascinating up there?” The bunk dipped as Derrain slid in beside her. “No,” he murmured. “I can’t see it. Care to share?”
“I’m sleeping.” She elbowed him in the ribs, not that it made the slightest difference.
“With your eyes open and everything. Can you teach me that trick?” he teased, then pulled a face. “You can’t brood the whole voyage away. It’s a waste.”
“As if we’ve never sailed before,” she muttered, rolling on her side towards him and pulling her legs up to kick him off the bunk. He tumbled to the floor with an inelegant thud.
“Heirayk rose on your best side this morning.”
“Go away, Derry, I’m not in the mood,” she grumbled, shifting onto her back again.
“No, you’re in a mood,” he retorted, tugging her arm. “Come on. You’re missing the fun.”
Since they’d been sailing for eleven days, mostly over empty clouds, Mhysra doubted she was missing anything. “We’re heading north-west,” she complained. “It’s cold.”
“It’s autumn. Don’t be a wimp. Come up on deck. You know you want to.”
She didn’t. It was cold. Autumn was rushing to meet them and the crackling pressure in the air meant a storm. She had no wish to be outside when the rain started. He yanked her half off the bunk, much to Bumble’s disgruntlement.
Mhysra growled, “Get off me.”
“Not until you come up on deck.”
“I’ve been on deck. I’ve seen it. The ship’s nice, but the view’s just clouds. Clouds, clouds, clouds!” Her voice took on a hysterical edge. “I don’t want to see any more clouds!”
For a moment Derrain looked taken aback, then he grabbed her other arm and hauled her into a sitting position. “Because moping about over things you can’t change is so much better.”
She scowled, but didn’t protest when he dragged her to her feet. Maybe she didn’t fancy the bitter wind on deck, but it did beat worrying about the mess she’d left behind. “You win.”
“I always win,” he agreed, as Mhysra tugged on her boots and snatched up her coat.
“Coming, pup?” she called, as Derrain dragged her to the door.
Bumble opened an eye, groaned and settled back to sleep under a fluffy wing.
“I don’t know who I hate more – you or the dog,” Mhysra grumbled.
“You can’t hate me, I’m adorable,” Derrain protested, jogging up the first flight of steps and hauling her along.
“You’re right, what was I thinking? Of course I hate you more. It’s hardly Bumble’s fault she’s not stupid enough to do your bidding.”
“Such a merry temperament, love. Can’t think why you didn’t stay in Nimbys and get married. How the suitors would fight over you.”
Mhysra’s scowl wobbled as she bit back a smile. “Fight to escape marrying me, you mean.”
“Would I ever be so uncouth?” Derrain replied, attempting to look wounded.
“Idiot.” She rolled her eyes and scurried up the last ladder. At the top, a brisk wind slapped her face and she yelped, trying to duck back below.
“Keep moving,” Derrain urged, shoving her up again. “You’re not the only person on this ship, you know.”
“I’ll kill you for this,” Mhysra growled, tugging her coat collar tighter around her neck. She could smell rain. Why was she cursed with such persistent friends, ones who dragged her outside in all weathers regardless of her wishes? Ones with charming smiles and easy manners that meant she was the only person to see them for what they really were. Mhysra wanted to chop him into tiny bits and feed him to the pyreflies as a bitter gust tore her coat open.
“Glorious weather, don’t you think?” Dhori called, as Derrain shifted to stand in front of Mhysra, protecting her from the worst of the wind while she fixed her buttons and buckles. She smiled weakly. Dhori looked in his element, balancing on the side rail with neither coat nor hat. His eyes were bright as he jumped down, fidgety with suppressed energy. “A storm’s coming.”
“I know,” Mhysra grumbled, shoving her hands in her pockets and shaking the hair from her eyes. “You don’t have to look so happy about it.”
“It’s Maegla’s blessing,” Dhori replied, his smile serene.
Derrain snorted. “Clearly you’ve never sailed through a thunder storm.”
“He soon will,” Mhysra said, gripping her coat as another gust tormented her.
Dhori laughed, lifting his face to the wind. “If only. Did you come to see the view?”
“What, of clouds, clouds and more clouds?” Mhysra muttered, glowering at Derrain. “I hope that’s not what you dragged me out here for.”
The lads smiled and Dhori grabbed her hand. “Come look.”
“I’m too tired,” she protested as he towed her towards the prow.
Derrain nudged her shoulder. “The sooner you look, the sooner you can go in. Promise.”
“Fine.” She decided to humour him, using her free hand to hold her hair off her face. Rain splattered against her cheeks as they wove between the bustling crew. “It’s cold.”
“Hush,” Dhori chided. Icy hands covered her eyes and she yelped, but Dhori shushed her again. “You’ll spoil the surprise.”
“Your hands are freezing!”
“Sorry,” Derrain said, sounding far too cheerful. “But you’ll thank me later.”
“I doubt it.” She drew breath to start another round of complaints and Derrain removed his hands. Her breath caught in a gasp as she stared at the view half-hidden by misty rain.
“Sweet Maegla,” she whispered.
“Her greatest blessing,” Dhori agreed. “A good sign, don’t you think?”
Ahead rose a solitary mountain, its peak hidden by thick clouds, but it was more than a bleak, granite face. The first thing she noticed was the waterfall, cascading hundreds of feet down through the clouds below. Then she saw the white towers connected by a bridge, arching high over the surging river. The citadel, with its twin towns clinging to the cliffs below, crisscrossed with aqueducts.
The epitome of all her dreams: Aquila.
“Maegla welcomes Her Riders home,” Dhori whispered in her ear, and she blinked hard.
“I never knew… It’s so beautiful.”
“It’s rainy and bleak,” Sergeant Rees said sourly. “Only a female could think it beautiful.”
“Or a Rider,” Lieutenant Stirla disagreed. “We’re a romantic bunch, us Riders. I’ll admit this weather doesn’t do it any favours, but on a sunny day even you must agree it’s pretty, Rees.”
Tearing her eyes from the view she smiled at Stirla. “I look forward to seeing it in the sun.”
The lieutenant squeezed her shoulder with a broad hand. “Time to tack up. Mhysra, Dhori, you can fly yourselves in. Derrain, since you’ve experience of skyships, could you help my Riders set up the bullwing boats? It’s going to be interesting in this weather.”
“Aye, lieutenant,” the students chorused, saluting.
“Rees, you’re for the Miryhl Shadow. Tell Lyrai and Captain Myran what we’re about.”
As the sergeant stumped off, Stirla eyed the three students still transfixed by the view. “It won’t vanish if you turn your backs on it,” he assured them, amused. “The quicker you do, the faster we’ll get there. Scat!”
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!