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~ Previous Chapter ~
Just hanging out with Kilai on the edge of the law-abiding world. He sure knows how to spend a holiday.
New around here? Rift Riders is the second book in the Wingborn series. It can be read as a standalone, but the first book (Wingborn) is available for free so you can catch up easily if you wish to.
Watching the Wrathlen
24th Sun – Feast of Heirayk
IT WAS THE longest day of the year, the feast of the Sun God, the height of summer, and Kilai Kilpapan was sweating beneath the midday sun, his eyes fixed on a bleak horizon. The Wrathlen was an uninspiring place – flat, black and empty. From a distance it looked like a solid wall of charred rock, but up close it was even worse. Crags, cracks, caves, fissures and faults riddled the surface, creating a subterranean labyrinth filled with all kinds of nasties. It wasn’t surprising that pirates, smugglers, raiders and the general detritus of the Overworld gathered here. It was the perfect hiding place.
Sprawled along the very edge of the Stormwash, it also spent most of the year submerged in clouds and the foulest weather. The inhabitants were welcome to it, in Kilai’s opinion. Except he and the rest of his flight were the ones detailed to watch the place, which meant that they had to put up with it too.
Not today. No, instead of the constant wind blowing in his face, the frowning grey clouds getting ever lower overhead or the thunder snarling menacingly, Heirayk’s day was doing the Sun God proud. Which was unfortunate, because when Kilai had climbed up to his lookout post that morning he’d dressed for storms. No wonder he was roasting.
“I hate this place.”
Lieutenant Brathyn chuckled beside him, using his spyglass to scan the featureless horizon. “Not what you signed up for?”
A four-bell watch behind some scrub bushes on an exposed crag barely topping the surface of the Cloud Sea, staring at the Wrathlen? “Oh, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.”
Brathyn snorted and handed him the glass. “And that’s why I like you. Here, take over, I need a break. Where are those lackwits? That sun’s telling me it’s noon, yet my stomach is all empty. If they’ve eaten my share, I’ll stake ‘em out for pyrefly meat.”
Listening to his lieutenant grumble as he scrambled down to the caves, where the rest of the flight was hidden, Kilai lifted the glass and squinted against the glare of the Cloud Sea. His head pounded from the relentless brightness and his throat was parched. The rocks he lay on hummed with heat, while the scrub bushes above him crackled and shivered, making the most of the rare sunlight.
As he scanned the monotonous view, he wondered how the rest of the Overworld was celebrating. He hoped Mhysra was enjoying herself and that poor Jynese wasn’t being hassled by too many lovesick boys. At least the beautiful kennel worker would approve of what he was doing, even if it did bore him stupid.
“Here you go.” Brathyn returned and took the spyglass back, replacing it with a cold meat roll and a wrinkled apple. “Happy Midsummer. Enjoy your feast.” He poured them both a quarter-cup of wine. “Don’t drink it all at once.”
Snorting, Kilai downed the sour drink in one gulp and picked at his roll. He was too warm for food but knew better than to go without. Reaching for his water bottle, he drained it and felt a little better. “How much longer do you think we’ll be stuck here?”
Mouth full of cold mutton, Brathyn shrugged. “Captain’s gone for advice,” he mumbled. “When he comes back, we’ll know.”
Which didn’t tell Kilai anything new. Things had seemed so exciting a half-moon ago when ships and figures had crawled all over the Wrathlen, mustering forces for who-knew-what kind of expedition. Everyone had braced for action, while Captain Hylan hared back to Aquila to alert the Riders and seek counsel. It looked like war was upon them. Or someone, anyway, depending on which direction the pirates chose to head.
Then it went quiet. In fact, nothing had been seen for a good quarter-moon, and Kilai wasn’t the only one going cross-eyed with boredom. But that was the trouble with the Wrathlen: the quieter it looked, the more dangerous it got. If only because staring at a black and white view for four-bells at a time was enough to make anyone dazed. That would always be the moment when the Wrathlen struck.
“Eat your apple,” Brathyn told him, finishing his own roll. “It’s good for you.”
Eyeing the wrinkled fruit dubiously, Kilai did as he was told, wincing at the sharp taste. “Happy Midsummer,” he muttered, hoping the inhabitants of the Wrathlen were as lucky in their feast as he.
* * * * *
SOMETHING COLD SEIZED his ankle, jolting him from sleep. He raised his head.
“Move out, Kilai,” someone whispered, and the hand left his skin.
Shivering, Kilai sat up and squinted towards the cave mouth. The light out there was pale and watery, hinting at predawn. Inside the cave was a haze of banked fires and smoking torches. He stifled a groan and reached for his boots as the rest of Lieutenant Brathyn’s flurry prepared for action around him.
“What’s happening?” he asked Sergeant Hensyn, Brathyn’s second, who was passing out stale bread rolls soaked in the lukewarm remains of last night’s stew.
“Cynek and Wrest just came off watch saying they’ve seen something. Lieutenant wants us ready. He sent Dhenn to Remfyrd and Lorryth, asking what they’ve seen.”
“What about Lykano?” Kilai asked, naming the fourth of Captain Hylan’s lieutenants and taking a big bite of his roll. The bread crackled against his teeth, where it wasn’t soggy from the stew. He swallowed quickly.
“Gerynth just arrived. Seems they’ve seen something too.”
“Great,” Kilai mumbled, nodded his thanks and went in search of Cirrus.
The miryhls were excited, muttering and whispering to each other, nudging their Riders for news. Cirrus was no different, lowering her head as Kilai approached. He murmured greetings, rubbed her crest feathers and slid her tack into place.
She was a modest-looking miryhl by most people’s standards, but Kilai had always thought her the most beautiful eagle he’d ever seen. She wasn’t the biggest, loudest or fastest, nor were her talons the sharpest, her beak the most powerful or her eyes the keenest. She was a rich brown shade, like most miryhls, with a golden beak and golden eyes, but she had white flecks on her wings and tail that set her apart from most. She was also sweet-natured and patient, and never minded when her Rider got something wrong or there was a pack of nakhounds nipping at her tail feathers.
To Kilai, she was perfect. Even for a boy who had grown up in Wrentheria with a Wingborn sister. Once he’d dreamed of having a miryhl to rival Cumulo, of being the best, fastest and most daring flyer the Riders’ had ever seen, but life and experience had tempered his ambitions. He knew his limits now and was mostly content with them.
Cirrus lowered her head for her bridle and purred in his ear, “What’s happening?”
“Not sure,” he murmured. “This could be it – or it might be another false alarm.”
She huffed, fluffing up her feathers and shivering as he placed the saddle on her back. “Least we’ll get to fly,” she said, preening his hair while he tightened her girths.
Smiling, he scratched under her wing. “I wouldn’t say no to that.”
Cirrus raised her head, staring at the cave mouth, the rest of the miryhls turning to do the same. “Messenger.”
Exchanging a worried look with her, Kilai headed over to where Brathyn and Hensyn were talking. He was halfway across the cave when the messenger jogged inside, his miryhl on his heels. Both were soaking wet. Brathyn’s flurry groaned, knowing the bad weather would be drifting swiftly their way: the chance to fly no longer seemed so appealing.
“Sir,” the soggy Rider puffed and saluted. “From Lieutenant Remfyrd. Wrathlen awake.”
“Take a seat,” Brathyn commanded, shoving the soaked man down beside the fire, where Hensyn offered him something to eat. “Seems we’ve all spotted activity tonight.” He looked around his flurry, awaiting his command, and smiled. “Who’s up for a little pirate hunt?”
~ Next Chapter ~
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