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~ Previous Chapter ~
Time to fly!
Not to mention catch up with a couple of familiar lieutenants. It just doesn’t feel the same without them.
MHYSRA LOCATED CUMULO’S tack and limped to her big miryhl’s side. “Ready to play?”
The giant eagle lowered his head for his bridle and rubbed his beak against her. “It’s about time you shared the fun. Just stay on and I’ll keep us out of trouble.”
Setting the saddle on his back and buckling the chest straps, Mhysra snorted. “That’s likely.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” he sniffed virtuously, shuffling his wings as she buckled his girths. “You might want to strap yourself in too.”
Trying not to put too much weight on her sore ankle, Mhysra stepped onto his lowered wing, and let him boost her into the saddle. Once in place, she settled her bad foot into the stirrup and took her Wingborn’s advice. For the first time in longer than she cared to remember, she pulled the leather straps out from under the saddle, passed them over the tops of her legs and buckled them either side of the pommel. In terms of safety they weren’t foolproof, but they did offer an extra measure of security. The clips that also attached to her flight-belt she left loose; she wasn’t quite that feeble yet.
When they were fixed, she gathered Cumulo’s reins. “I almost dread hearing the answer, but what have you got in mind?”
Chuckling, the miryhl crouched. “To win, of course.” He sprang into the air, heavy wing beats causing the nearest miryhls to duck. Once he had enough height, Cumulo circled upwards, keeping an eye out for any third-years while waiting for Jaymes and Derrain to join them.
It wasn’t long before the three miryhls were gliding watchfully over the lake. The task ahead was simple: get back to the citadel. The only problem was that around fifty third-years were waiting to get in their way. It didn’t make Mhysra feel any better to know that she and her friends were just an appetiser before the second-years tried their own luck later in the day. Few enough first-years made it to this point, and those that did rarely put up a fight. She smiled, knowing Cumulo had other ideas in mind.
Rising from a crag halfway down the lake, seven miryhls circled. More launched along the route and Mhysra had no doubt others were waiting to ambush them. The challenge had begun.
Mhysra leant against her Wingborn’s back. “Ready, Cue?”
A chuckle vibrated up through his spine as he circled one last time. “Let’s show them how real Riders fly.” Pulling in his wings, he dived towards the lake.
A high scream echoed through the valley, answered by another and another, as three groups of miryhls stooped to attack. Cumulo kept his head down, aiming for the glistening water below. Hunched on his back, Mhysra looked over her shoulder, murmuring their opponents’ positions to her partner.
“This is just a game, Cue,” she warned. “We’re not supposed to hurt them.”
“Nor they us,” he replied, and tilted his wings so that they levelled out just above the water.
The third-years howled as they swept down the wind, arrows and bag-bombs at the ready.
“Steady,” Cumulo murmured. “Steady.”
Mhysra shifted on his back, resettling her weight and trying to ignore the throbbing in her ankle. She watched the nearest miryhls fan into an attack formation, the leader drawing back his bow. Her hands clenched in Cumulo’s neck feathers, wondering what he had planned. Two more students sighted them with their arrows and drew back their arms.
Cumulo arched his back and, with a downward thump of his wings, drove straight up into the formation, scattering miryhls everywhere. Arrows twanged harmlessly wide, startled students yelped and by the time they had recovered Cumulo was gone.
Other groups converged as Cumulo soared above the lake, powering into the wind. Mhysra looked behind and counted six miryhls approaching on the left, four on the right. She called their positions to her Wingborn and he tipped his head from side to side, assessing the competition. Two more groups joined in front, providing a united front of nine more miryhls.
Hunched on Cumulo’s back, Mhysra tried to make herself smaller, while her Wingborn laughed. “A challenge!” he screamed, lifting high as a flurry of arrows shot at them. “Hold on!”
Left with no other choice, Mhysra clung as Cumulo raced above the approaching flock and, as they turned to follow, folded his right wing, tucked in his left and dropped. Rolling twice, he avoided the missiles lobbed in their direction, flung open his wings and flew straight at the nearest miryhl.
Mhysra clenched her teeth and shut her eyes as Cumulo rolled again, breaking the defensive line and scattering his opponents. Her Wingborn was enjoying himself hugely, shrieking and swooping on the other miryhls to make them flee. She couldn’t join in, though, as every sharp turn, roll and unexpected move sent a jolt through her twisted ankle and made her feel sick.
Despite that, the roar of the wind in her ears, the chill of the air racing over them and the sheer exuberance of her miryhl did raise her spirits. Cumulo was so magnificent – how could she not be impressed?
Though younger than those he was facing, Cumulo was big, cocky and brash. Being Wingborn meant he matured faster than other miryhls, and most often kept company with birds of the officer class. It was unfair to pit him against student eagles, even when they outnumbered him. Flock politics meant that they had to give way, something of which Cumulo took full advantage.
Whenever one saw him coming, they were only too eager to move, regardless of their Rider’s orders. It was fine to chase him, but quite a different matter when he flew in their faces. Mhysra laughed at the dismay on the third-years’ faces as their miryhls dodged and almost collided in their haste to keep out of Cumulo’s way.
Such was the chaos that Derrain and Jaymes slipped easily by unnoticed. When they were safe Cumulo swept out of the commotion, leaving their opponents squawking like flustered hens. Giving up on them, with jeers and catcalls, the third-year flocks returned to their perches to await easier prey.
Laughing, Cumulo swiftly caught up with the other first-years, and the three young miryhls rose above the lake, riding the draft through the narrow valley opening and on towards the citadel below.
Lifting her face to the sky, Mhysra felt her heart race in time with Cumulo’s, and knew there was no place on the Overworld more perfect than this.
* * * * *
“MAKE WAY FOR Aquila’s most esteemed and honoured flight instructor.” Lieutenant Willym was at his mocking best when Lyrai entered the officers’ mess for dinner that evening.
“Someone skipped their envy drops this morning,” Stirla said airily, shifting along the bench to make room for Lyrai. “Not to mention feels sore because none of his precious favourites made it home today.”
Grinning, Lyrai shook his head and greeted Captain Myran’s senior lieutenants, recently returned from Nimbys and staying in the town barracks. “What brings you up here?”
Imaino rolled his eyes in Willym’s direction. “Can’t say it’s the company.”
“Likewise,” Willym sneered.
“Stubble it, boy,” Fleik grumbled. “You give me indigestion.”
Stirla chuckled as the other lieutenant’s face turned an unpleasant shade of red. “It seems not everyone is afraid of your father. Poor Willym, having to suffer such insubordinate ruffians.”
The dark-eyed lieutenant glowered, but the arrival of the captains deprived him of any comebacks. Instead he moved to the far end of the table and turned his back, like the sulky brat he truly was.
“Well, that told us,” Fleik said cheerfully, standing up to shake hands with Captain Hylan. “Good to see you again, sir. I thought you were patrolling the Wrathlen.”
“I was,” Hylan agreed, slapping Imaino on the back and ruffling Stirla’s hair. “News brought me back early. Don’t suppose any of you know where I can find the dean?”
“Still in Nimbys, as far as we know,” Captain Fredkhen said, as the servants brought in their meal. “We expect him back any day now.”
“Unless he gets snared for the Midsummer festivities,” Captain Myran added, making his lieutenants shudder, while he stopped at the sideboard to gather a fresh bottle of wine. “Cayn would be grateful for the support.”
“Especially since Lieutenant Lenfyr wants to wear a dress,” Fleik mumbled between mouthfuls. “Not sure how he intends to explain that one.”
“She won’t have to,” Imaino said, sipping his wine. “I’ve seen it. There are so many Kevian crystals on it that the last place anyone’ll be looking at is her face. Even with her dress coat on top.”
“After all these years as a male Rider, it must seem strange to suddenly come out as a woman,” Stirla mused. “Her disguise must have been a damn good one.”
“Or her friends damn good at keeping secrets,” Imaino agreed, with a wink.
“I suppose that now the proclamation is in place, she won’t be the last.” Stirla grinned and raised his glass towards the captains. “Here’s to a brave new Overworld.”
The captains shared a wearied look. “And I thought I had problems,” Fredkhen muttered.
“You have,” Hylan assured him, looking around the room. “We all have.”
“Mysteriousness never suited you,” Myran said, limping across the room to take the seat beside Lyrai. “Unless you intend to wait for the dean to return, why don’t you join us, eat and share what you can?”
Hylan took the space between Stirla and Imaino and filled his plate. “The Wrathlen stirs.”
They fell silent and even Fleik stopped mid-chew. Beyond the walls the sounds of the main hall filtered in, while in the serving room, someone dropped a platter and was soundly chastised for it. Inside the officers’ mess, all eyes focused on Hylan.
“How much of a stir?” Fredkhen asked, voice strained.
“The anticipated target?” Myran enquired, pouring himself a glass of wine and another for Hylan, which he passed down the table.
The other captain drained half of it in one gulp. “My sources have been silent for a month.”
The lieutenants and captains exchanged uneasy glances.
“What do you intend to do, sir?” Fleik asked.
“Speak to the dean,” Hylan replied. “I’ll need more men to watch, hoping that when they move we’ll be able to delay them or send out warnings.”
“Not much of a plan,” Willym muttered from the far end of the table.
“Then perhaps yours should be one of the flurries sent in support,” Myran said, voice cold.
Fredkhen looked embarrassed, but he’d always been too nice for someone like Willym.
The trainee-lieutenant shrugged. “Can’t be any worse than wasting my time here.”
Lyrai caught Stirla’s eye and they shook their heads. Willym never changed.
“I had hoped to speak to the dean on my arrival, but I would have taken the next step regardless.” Hylan drained his wineglass and looked at the captains. “I need your swiftest Riders. We might not know what the Wrathlen plans or where they intend to strike, but that doesn’t mean we can’t send out warnings. Most of the Greater West will be on the alert, but such a force might try their luck on Imercian or down the Stormsurge. This way we can prevent anyone being taken by surprise.”
Fredkhen nodded grimly, while Myran signalled for his senior lieutenants to see to it.
“In the meantime, we wait,” Hylan sighed, toying with his food. He wasn’t the only one whose appetite had vanished. “Merry Midsummer, everyone.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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