First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also keep track of everyone with the Character List.
~ Previous Chapter ~
Lalala, nothing to see over there. No cliffhangers or fights going on. Let’s catch up with Rhiddyl instead, ’cause I know that’s what you’re all dying to know about, right?
Only joking! There’s another cliffhanger at the end. Have fun :D
THEY REACHED THE mountain in the shadowy grey time just before dawn. Rhiddyl smelled it first, not even realising until the flow of air began to shift that she could smell trees and earth and stone. Aquila. The mountain.
It revealed itself slowly, at first just a dark lump, solid against the stars. Then came form and shape and depth, resolving into peaks and ridges and ravines. As the stars began to fade and the sky to lighten, she saw grey forests and steep cliffs. By the time the distant sun peeped over the eastern horizon, Rhiddyl was gliding over valleys, watching tiny beasts flee from the wash of her presence.
Woken by the dawn, Argon left his roost on her back to join her in the sky, swooping and diving over the sharp ridges and ravines that raked the north-west side of the sprawling mountain. Jaymes and Emberbright lay curled up asleep within the cup of Rhiddyl’s front paws, as she tipped her wing and banked around a sharp, jutting spur, revelling in her first glimpse of the legendary mountain.
Below them, a wide valley lay in quiet shadow, but the sky above was getting bluer by the moment. The high edges of the peak glowed with the rising sun.
“Which way?” she called to Argon, as the mountainside softened into a series of meadows and forests and valleys and lakes. It was unexpectedly lush and lovely, even with hints of snow still clinging to the edges. Spring was also present in the shivering birches and aspens, already bedecked with catkins that wafted bright clouds of pollen in the wash of her passing. The Rift Riders might have been driven from their home, but life on the mountain carried on regardless.
“This way,” Argon shouted, diving over a sharp ridgeline and riding the next valley down to the Cloud Sea and out over the whiteness. The shore of the mountain undulated in and out alongside, rising up into a series of high cliffs with scree slopes held together by occasional scrub grazed by intrepid goats. The cliffs grew steeper and steeper until they plunged in a black, sheer drop, right into the Cloud Sea.
Several dragon-lengths later, a rocky spur jutted out once more, the landscape returning to ridges and valleys and a long, silent lake. Rhiddyl enjoyed the changes, banking this way and that to enjoy the way the air currents shifted and swirled over the ever-changing ground.
In the distance an eagle called. A high piercing shriek that Rhiddyl had come to know well.
“Is that a miryhl?” she asked Argon.
Argon didn’t answer, but he did switch from flying on Rhiddyl’s outer right side to the inner left, head shifting constantly as he searched for the source of the scream.
Whether it had been a miryhl or not, they neither saw nor heard any further sign of eagles – large or small – or indeed any birds at all as they soared above a long, narrow valley and over a large, messy rockslide. Rhiddyl tilted her head, studying the base of the slide curiously. Three large lumps lay at the base, almost as if someone had arranged them. However, since Argon was now pumping his wings in earnest, Rhiddyl shook her head and flapped to catch up.
“Nearly there now,” her companion puffed.
She hummed a happy agreement. Even though she was enjoying the flight, she’d been in the air for three days and nights. Dragons were fully capable of sleeping on the wing, but she didn’t like doing it, especially when out of deference for her warm-blooded, fragile companions, she hadn’t been able to glide as high as she would have naturally preferred. In fact, worry for Argon roosting on her back and Jaymes sleeping in her paws had led to her not getting much rest at all. She was exhausted.
Reminding herself that it wasn’t quite time to sleep yet, Rhiddyl shook her head again to wake herself up and banked away from the mountain, allowing the cold wash of the Cloud Sea over her belly to wake her up. It also disturbed Jaymes, who stirred inside her paws with a yawn and a groan.
“Nearly there now,” she said, whistling to be heard over the wind.
That woke Jaymes up and he shifted in her hold to gaze out at the world rushing by beneath them. Rocks, rocks, ridges and rocks – and then green.
“Buteo,” Jaymes whispered.
“Buteo!” Argon shrieked triumphantly.
“Buteo.” Rhiddyl tasted the word on her tongue and smiled, studying the neatly terraced fields, stone-built houses and nice big barn. It looked lovely.
Then people were rushing out of the houses below, staring up and pointing, while miryhls emerged from the barn, feather-ruffled and flustered. There was a lot of shouting.
“Oh dear,” Rhiddyl murmured. “Perhaps I should have sent you two on ahead to prepare the way.”
Patting her on the claw, Jaymes shook his head. “Nothing prepares anyone for their first sight of a dragon,” he said, not particularly reassuringly. “Argon will sort things out. Why don’t you set down over there?” He pointed towards a large area of grass that was probably intended for groups of miryhls to land upon. It would do nicely.
“There.” Rhiddyl lowered her back legs down first and opened her paws so that Jaymes could step out with Emberbright in his arms. Only then could she fully land and relax. By the Family, it felt good to have solid ground beneath her once more.
Exhaustion descended on her bones just as swiftly and she struggled to hold back a yawn as a tall Rider strode swiftly in their direction, Argon hopping and skipping beside him, clearly trying to explain. More humans marched behind them, but they seemed warier, reluctant to get too close to a dragon. The expressions on their faces were far from friendly.
“Oh dear,” she said again, crest drooping. It was going to be Nimbys all over again. “Shall I find somewhere else to sleep?”
“Stay right where you are,” Jaymes ordered, tucking Emberbright back into her paw, the warmth of the little dragonet a soothing balm to her hurt feelings. “I’ll sort this out.”
Rhiddyl huffed, not entirely confident that he could. However, she was too tired to care anymore. Humans would be humans, but whether they wanted her around or not, she wasn’t going anywhere until after she’d had a nice long sleep. Three days and nights on the wing might not be much to a dragon of Reglian or Elder Goryal’s standing, but Rhiddyl hadn’t even reached her change time yet. She was tired.
Humming softly, she pulled Emberbright in close, curled up and wrapped her tail around them both. Settling her wings on top, she closed her eyes and drifted straight into sleep.
WATCHING RHIDDYL CURL up, content that Emberbright would be safe with her, Jaymes took a deep breath and turned to face the welcoming committee.
“Jaymes!” Lieutenant Imaino marched at the head of the group, Argon running alongside him in a highly undignified manner as the miryhl tried to make the tall Rider listen to what he was saying.
“Sir!” Jaymes managed a fairly credible salute, despite his lack of practise. “It’s good to see you.” Because if Imaino was here, as the lieutenant who had been in charge of evacuating the infirmaries, there was a chance others Jaymes knew would be with him. He allowed himself a brief glance at the gathered crowd, but didn’t immediately recognise any faces. He tried not to feel too disappointed. After all, he had recently split away from his own group of survivors and had taken a thoroughly different route to reach Aquila again. Just because one Rider he knew was here, didn’t mean all the survivors would be.
“It’s good to see you too.” Smiling, the lieutenant slapped him on the shoulder before looking pointedly behind him at the sleeping dragon. “Had a few adventures while you were away, did you?”
Someone in the crowd grumbled something about yet another bloody dragon, just when they’d got rid of the last too. And this one was bigger, to top it all. Which was interesting.
Jaymes’ answering smile was wry as a grumpy Argon shuffled up beside him. “The odd one or two,” he said. “You?”
The lieutenant chuckled, ignoring the discontented mutters at his back. “Oh, you know, here and there. And pretty odd they were too.”
Unable to argue with that, and slightly curious to hear more as grumbles about extra dragons grew louder from the crowd, Jaymes reached for his pack on Argon’s back and slung it over his shoulder. “Perhaps we’ll get a chance to swap stories later. After I deliver my messages.”
Imaino straightened up, instantly all Rift Rider business. “Messages?”
Turning to Argon again, Jaymes opened the dispatch pouch on his miryhl’s saddle and handed over the top letter to the lieutenant. “Orders from Nimbys, General Keipen and Wing Marshal Phirro, sir. We’re finally coming to reclaim our home.”
* * *
LYRAI COULDN’T BELIEVE his eyes. Willym. Willym here. Scarred and monstrous, but the bastard had survived. Of course he had. If anyone could come through the invasion and conquest of Aquila by pirates and kaz-naghkt, it would be him. The perennial Scudian bad penny, Willym had always known just what to do or who to sidle up to in order to survive. Traitor. Turncoat. Coward.
When he revealed his bloody claws, Lyrai couldn’t even find it in himself to be surprised. Willym would always do whatever it took to survive, and if it gained him an advantage and more power, so much the better. He raised his sword, ready to put an end to the monster once and for all, but Willym called the kaz-naghkt and it was soon Lyrai who was fighting for his life, while the traitor danced away, laughing and crowing as mayhem ensued.
Hurricane was right alongside him, fierce and furious. Before Lyrai could jump into the saddle and take to the safety of the skies, his miryhl screamed for Cumulo, reminding him that they were not alone on the ground.
Cursing, Lyrai spun and found himself surrounded by shrieking enemies. Barely ten paces away, yet too far for him to reach, Mhysra was similarly besieged, with Cumulo lying unusually quiet beside her. Gods. With Cumulo down, the Wingborn pair would be overwhelmed in an instant.
“Hurricane, go!” he ordered, knowing it was foolish but desperate to protect the others. He swept a circle with his sword, making the kaz-naghkt back warily away, their eyes fixed on the bright length of his sword.
“No!” Hurricane lunged and ripped through a kaz-naghkt chest, sending black blood spraying as he pulled out the creature’s heart. “I won’t leave you.”
“Cue’s down. Mhysra needs you.”
“You need me!”
Growling with frustration, Lyrai lunged at Hurricane’s chest, throwing his right arm around his miryhl’s neck, the left slashing out with his sword. “Go!”
Cracking open his wings, Hurricane bounded across the space, once, twice, thrice. Lyrai had to use both hands to hold on, locking his right fingers around his left wrist. Even then, he knew it wouldn’t last. Hurricane’s neck was too wide, his feathers too slick and Lyrai’s position too precarious.
“Cane!” he cried, landing with a thump on his heels and stumbling backwards as his miryhl came down astride Cumulo’s prone body, great wings mantled, beak agape.
Tripping over Mhysra’s kneeling form, Lyrai could only stare in astonishment as his placid, laid-back miryhl lowered his head and snarled like a wolf.
“Mine,” Hurricane growled, as kaz-naghkt circled around them, licking their lips.
“Kaz,” the red-eyed creatures breathed, desperate and hungry.
Lyrai gripped his sword and felt Mhysra do the same beside him.
Hurricane lowered his head and scratched his talons along the ground. “Mine,” he vowed, lashing out at the nearest kaz-naghkt.
The circling creatures screamed and piled in to attack.
Swords up, backs pressed together, Lyrai and Mhysra slashed and spun and stabbed and twisted, protecting Hurricane’s back as the kaz-naghkt swarmed over them.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!