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~ Previous Chapter ~
I love Hurricane.
“ABOUT THIS KISSING thing that you and Mhysra did.”
Hurricane’s soft rasp almost made Lyrai drop his tack. Rooted to the spot, he wondered if his miryhl could possibly have said what he thought he’d just said. Perhaps if he didn’t respond, Hurricane would shut up.
“I’ve been talking it over with Cumulo…”
Or perhaps not. Lyrai shut his eyes in despair.
“And once he explained to me what kissing actually was, and that it wasn’t a true mating, nor are you about to build a nest somewhere – not that humans lay eggs, according to Cumulo -”
“Because he’s such an expert on human behaviour,” Lyrai muttered, dropping Hurricane’s saddle onto his back with unusual force.
“Well, actually, I believe he is. He is Wingborn, and unlike most of us has spent his entire life surrounded by people, almost part of a human family. He knows far more than the rest of us about what you people get up to and how you think, thanks to his bond with Mhysra. But anyw- oof, did you have to pull so hard? I don’t think the strap will go that tight. I might not be able to breathe during flight.”
His breath during flight wasn’t what Lyrai was worried about. “Sorry,” he muttered, not feeling particularly contrite as he loosened the breastplate.
“Where was I?” Hurricane scratched thoughtfully at the dusty floor. “Oh, kissing. Yes. I must say it sounds far from pleas-unt,” the miryhl grunted as Lyrai yanked his girth extra tight. “Apparently humans enjoy such things. But Jasper said it looked like Fleik was trying to eat his lady’s face the one time he – Are you all right, Lyrai?”
Shoulders shaking, head buried against his miryhl’s neck, Lyrai nodded weakly. He wondered if Fleik knew what his miryhl had been saying about his technique behind his back. He was getting a whole new perspective on miryhl gossip this morning. If it hadn’t concerned him so closely, he’d have been howling with laughter. Instead he was quite embarrassed, hugely mortified and mildly hysterical, in all the wrong ways.
“Well…” Hurricane eyed him doubtfully. “You should know that Cumulo and I approve.”
“Approve of what?” he demanded, yanking the bridle over his miryhl’s head.
“Kissing,” Hurricane said, stretching his beak to make sure the strap around it wasn’t too tight. “Well, you kissing Mhysra. And possibly her kissing you, if it works that way, which I think it does.” He scratched his head, while Lyrai banged his forehead against his fist repeatedly.
“I’ll admit I wasn’t sure at first, but since Cumulo assured me there would be no eggs or nests and therefore no need for grounding, I think it’s a marvellous idea.”
“Gods, help me,” Lyrai muttered.
“Of all the humans I’ve met, she is definitely my favourite. Er… after you.”
Hurricane ruffled his feathers with a happy sigh. “Yes, I think it may turn out quite favourably, even if you do have an egg together some day. I was surprised by how well Cumulo took it, all things considered.”
“Who told Cumulo?” Lyrai asked, feigning nonchalance. “Was it Mhysra?” He may have to kill her if so, kiss or no surprisingly spectacular kiss.
“Oh no.” Hurricane shook his head firmly. “She wouldn’t look Cumulo in the eye at all yesterday. He was terribly concerned, until Wisp passed on the gossip, which she got from Argon, who got it from Latinym, who says he heard it from Blaze, who -”
“I get the message,” Lyrai interrupted before he went through every miryhl in the eyries. Great Gods, did this mean that all the Riders knew too? Including the general? “Maegla,” he whispered, closing his eyes. He’d known kissing his student was a bad idea, but… well, it was too late for that now. And if he were truly honest, he didn’t regret it. It was only a kiss. Or so he’d tell anyone who reproached him. “Who told first?”
Hurricane baited from side to side, humming thoughtfully. “Fleik.”
“Of course.” He sighed. His old friend had always liked to spread the misery around. He liked gossip and there was no better place to swap and trade tales than the eyries. At least Stirla wasn’t here.
“Don’t blame him. He swore Jasper to secrecy.”
Lyrai shot him a flat look. “And see how well that worked out.”
Hurricane shrugged. “We do have ears, Lyrai, and you Riders have never been very good at keeping your voices down. Just because we’re not allowed to talk to humans, doesn’t mean we can’t chat amongst ourselves.”
There was a long silence in which Lyrai tried to pull all of his hair out with his fists.
“I’m not sure you should do that,” his miryhl said worriedly. “It’s only just started growing back after that wretched dragon nearly killed you. Oh, don’t hit your head, Lyrai, please. You’ll hurt yourself.”
“If only,” his Rider growled. “If bloody only.”
Looking desperately around for help, Hurricane blurted, “Shall we go flying now?”
“Gods, yes.” Lyrai stepped away from the wall and jumped into the saddle. “Get me out of this madhouse before I lose all trace of my sanity.”
Without another word Hurricane did as he was asked.
* * *
A COLD WIND blew in through the cave mouth, the voices of the others echoing in the tunnels. Mouse hadn’t wanted to return, fearing the worst, worried his memories would feel too real here in the place where it all went wrong. Standing alone in the spot where Willym had taken him, he waited…
And felt nothing. The cave had been emptied since the attack, the beds and bodies removed, the weather allowed in. Even the bloodstains were gone. It was just another cavern on the mountainside, whose stones held many secrets and revealed none.
“The last of the food’s gone,” Imaino said to Silveo. “Someone’s been back.”
Silveo looked around the empty cave, searching for signs of recent use. “We’ve no way of telling how long ago.” He crouched to run his fingers over the unresponsive floor. “And we have nothing to eat.”
Imaino slapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll find something,” he said cheerfully. “At least we’re not so alone up here as we thought.”
Mouse watched them talk and felt a dull throb of grief as he missed the similar relationship he’d once had with Healer Nehtl. “How do you know it wasn’t taken by pirates?” he asked, his voice dull and flat. He watched the hope fade from his companions’ eyes, but couldn’t bring himself to care. “They were quick enough to take everything else.”
Silveo’s grey eyes were full of pity, making Mouse feel angry.
Imaino’s jaw clenched as his hands formed fists. “We’re not alone up here,” he told Mouse in a low growl. “We are not all that is left. We can’t be.”
The anger twisted in his gut and Mouse felt a travesty of a smile curve his lips. “Let’s hope our friends outnumber our foes.”
Imaino looked away. “It hardly matters with another blizzard on the way. Grab a bow and quiver, Mouse. We’re going hunting.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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