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~ Previous Chapter ~
(Also, cliffhanger. Because action!)
The Skies of Nimbys
A desperate cry broke his stunned stillness and Lyrai wrenched his eyes away from the horror of the black cloud. He spun around as a mottled cream and brown bolt descended from the sky, closely followed by a brown blur tipped with silver.
“I couldn’t find you. You weren’t there,” Hurricane rasped over and over, his fine voice broken with panic as he nuzzled his numb Rider. “The bells rung, but you weren’t there.”
“I’m here,” Lyrai murmured, raising a hand to soothe his ruffled miryhl.
“You’ll need these.” Dhori didn’t even dismount as he tossed Lyrai his sword, standard flying coat and leather armour. With a sharp nod, the student and Latinym leapt back into the air to join the flocks of brown miryhls streaking past overhead.
Gods, they were magnificent.
“Hurry,” Hurricane’s sharp voice broke his fixation once again.
“Sorry.” Lyrai began wrestling himself out of his tight scarlet coat.
“Lieutenant, Highness, sir!” a frantic voice called, as Lyrai hauled on his armour, fixing the ties with shaking fingers.
He looked up as he bent to grab his sword belt, surprised to see the captain of the Stratys’ Guard hurrying towards him, a double handful of men at his back. They clutched their weapons uncertainly, staring at the miryhls passing overhead.
Lyrai tightened his belt with a sharp tug and grabbed his coat. “What?”
The captain stared at Lyrai with wide, fearful eyes. “Sir, what do we do?”
Screams erupted as kaz-naghkt dived from the sky, breaking the Rider formations and scattering miryhls. The battle was fierce, but Lyrai ignored it. He had no time; he needed to be up there.
“Aim for their hearts,” he told the Stratys’ Guard as he swung himself into Hurricane’s saddle, strapped himself in and drew his sword. “Twist and then pull. It’s the only way to kill them. Keep everyone inside and away from the windows. Cane, go!”
Leaving the men gaping, Hurricane leapt up and opened his enormous wings. He beat at the air, lifting them over the outer walls, before sweeping down the valley over the town, searching for the right updraft.
What they found were kaz-naghkt.
“GODS, OH GODS, oh gods, oh gods,” Corin chanted under her breath, as Wisp raced alongside Argon and a handful of other unknown miryhls, heading down the valley to the storm cloud gathering over Nimbys.
She’d never done this before. Oh, she’d fought kaz-naghkt, but only in tunnels, underground where space was limited and everyone was desperate. She’d also fought dragons from miryhlback, but they were enormous and it wasn’t a proper fight. More like a game.
This was in deadly earnest, and her hands were already sweating at the prospect of facing kaz-naghkt in the air. Gods, she didn’t think she could do this.
The shout had her turning, trying to locate the familiar voice amongst the steady beat of too many wings. A flash of silver drew her eye and she looked up as Latinym glided into place above them.
“Fetch the dragons and vulardis,” Dhori called down to her.
“I don’t know where they are,” she shouted back, urging Wisp up out of the formation, all thoughts of obeying lieutenants and captains completely forgotten. They were pedantic strangers; Dhori always knew what was needed.
“They’re with Rhiddyl,” Dhori told her. “Find them. Go!”
His urgency spurred Wisp into movement while Corin was still protesting. “But I was told -”
It didn’t matter. Dhori slotted into her space next to Jaymes, and Wisp shot like an arrow back the way they’d come. More than one angry voice commanded her to stop, but Corin hunkered tightly down on her miryhl’s back and hoped Wisp knew what she was doing. They would be in so much trouble once this was over. If they survived.
With that cheerful thought in mind, Corin felt for her bow and slid its safety cuff onto her wrist. The last thing she wanted to do was drop it in flight. Next she felt around for an arrow, then looked back over her shoulder. Miryhls and kaz-naghkt were joined in battle, leaving the skies between her and them empty. Relieved, she faced forwards again.
And yelped as Wisp flipped over to meet a diving kaz-naghkt talons first.
“GET INSIDE! INSIDE!” Mhysra shouted as Cumulo swept down the broad market street, sending gawping people scattering, before he swung up to catch a kaz-naghkt by the face.
The creature shrieked and lashed out, but Mhysra severed its hands before it could rake her miryhl. Cumulo clamped one of its wings with his other foot and tore its head off with his beak.
As her Wingborn shed his burden, Mhysra stabbed another kaz-naghkt through the chest, reclaiming her sword with a twist and a shower of stinging black blood.
An enormous kaz-naghkt dropped out of the sky above them. It didn’t even try to open its wings as it thumped into Mhysra, knocking her half silly.
Cumulo instantly rolled to lessen the impact, but by then the beast had sunk its claws into Mhysra’s thigh.
“No!” her Wingborn shrieked, twisting and bucking frantically to try and get a hold on the beast, or at least throw it off.
Mhysra was almost lost in the process, but as the kaz-naghkt struggled to stay on it did give her a chance to lean back and thrust forward with her sword.
Jagged teeth clicked together as the kaz-naghkt turned to her. With its left hand gripping her thigh, it seized her shoulder with its right.
“Kaaaaaaaz,” it hissed.
“Naghkt!” she finished, twisting her sword with both hands and a scream of effort.
The red eyes widened in disbelief as Cumulo rolled, she pulled back and the kaz-naghkt slithered ignominiously from her Wingborn’s back. Mhysra cried out as its claws were torn from her flesh, slumping in the saddle with a pained wheeze.
“Mhysra? Mhysra?” Cumulo keened, trying to look at her over his shoulder, but they were too close to the ground and he had to either fly or crash.
“I’m fine,” she whispered, lying against his back for a moment. “I’m all right. Just fly, Cue. Stay in the air.”
He growled and straightened in time to plant his feet firmly on the cobbled streets, pushing off again immediately. Thumping his wings, he crashed into the back of another kaz-naghkt, venting his fears on its leathery wings as he shredded his way towards its neck.
“Come on!” he roared, dropping his latest victim and soaring over the bloodied streets.
On his back, Mhysra finished tying a firm knot in her temporary bandage across her left shoulder, using her teeth and right hand. Having already done the same for her thigh, she clenched her sword in her blood-stained right hand and sat up, vowing to always let Dhori provision her saddle bags in future.
“Are you with me, Wingborn?” Cumulo called, sweeping around in search of his next target.
“Always,” she vowed, tucking in tight on his back as he barrelled through another knot of the enemy.
HURRICANE SNATCHED AN updraft that sent them swirling around the spire of the cathedral. Here the kaz-naghkt seemed thickest, as though set on despoiling the Goddess’ domain. Not if Lyrai had anything to do with it.
There were plenty of Riders here too, swords flashing, birds, kaz-naghkt and men screaming as they tussled, tangled and tore. Seeing a familiar shock of red hair, Lyrai urged Hurricane down to where Jaymes and Argon were battling two separate kaz-naghkt and barely managing to keep together.
Silver flashed and one of the kaz-naghkt harrowing Argon was swiftly dispatched. Hurricane shrieked and bundled the other into the honey stones of the cathedral wall. Black spurted as Hurricane used the leverage to gouge through the creature’s chest, spitting its pumping heart out over the streets.
Pulling himself up onto broad edge of the spire, the miryhl paused for a moment to regain his breath, while Lyrai kept a lookout, sword at the ready. The pair of them were caked in gore, the black drying to a hard paste that the light, drizzly rain had no hope of shifting.
Silver flashed again as Dhori and Latinym streaked to the rescue of someone else, while Jaymes’ fiery hair was lost amidst the maelstrom. Lyrai wiped his sleeve over his face and wondered where Mhysra and Corin were. Honra was in the thick of things, fighting close to Captain Myran, guarding his back as the captain called orders to his small band of men.
A high scream rose above the rest of the clamour and a miryhl dived straight through the heart of the fight. Bodies parted before it like a flock of starlings avoiding a peregrine. Another cry, another miryhl missile. Another, then another.
The kaz-naghkt didn’t seem to know how to react to this tactic and for a moment there was utter confusion as the creatures fled every which way. Then, slowly, they came together and launched back into the fight with even more force.
Where had they come from? Lyrai couldn’t help but wonder as Hurricane dropped from the ledge, sweeping around the thickest of the fighting and searching for more prey. There were so many, and they were still coming, he realised as Hurricane swept out towards the Cloud Sea.
There were ships out there. Pirate ships.
“Yullik,” Lyrai growled.
Hurricane levelled out his wings, hovering to better take in the view. Miryhl and Rider stared across what once had been billowing white clouds, but was now a black sea of writhing bodies. There were enough kaz-naghkt here to make Nimbys’ streets flow with blood. What colour it was remained to be seen.
He barely had time to register the distant warning before Hurricane twisted and something heavy cracked against the back of Lyrai’s skull. He fell onto softness and into the dark.
~ Next Chapter ~
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