First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also keep track of everyone with the Character List.
~ Previous Chapter ~
Something doesn’t feel quite right on the streets of Aquila…
IMAINO’S GROUP REACHED the fourth street out of six without any sign of trouble. While this seemed to ease much of the regular men’s tension, it only made Jaymes’ worse. The quiet seemed to bother Rechar too, as the Rider left Jaymes to bring up the rear alone while he went forward to keep the regulars in line. Imaino’s face was grim and Rider Gudlo’s advanced forays grew shorter and shorter. Even though there was no sign of anything alive in the town, let alone moving to attack them, Jaymes sensed something was amiss. The nakhounds were twitchy too, noses constantly raised to the wind, hackles up, ears pricked.
The return of the rain was almost a relief, the grumbles it produced a momentary respite from worry and strain. With the frequent but unpredictable gusts of wind rattling shutters and slamming doors, the rain didn’t make anything worse. Visibility was poor anyway, thanks to the dark clouds overhead, and the streets were already wet. All the rain did was make a miserable day just that little bit more miserable.
“I don’t like this,” Rechar grumbled, when Imaino called for a brief halt while Gudlo crept around the last corner that would lead them onto their sixth and final street. “S’too quiet.”
“Don’t see why you’re complaining,” Baxe, one of the regulars, said in his slightly whiny voice. “You Riders claim you’re not much for fighting, ‘nless it’s necessary, but seems to me you’re all spoiling for a fight anyway. So the town’s quiet and still, so what? Thank your lucky chickens and gather in what eggs you may, that’s what my mam always said. There’s plenty of troubles enough in the Overworld to go borrowing them what you don’t need. So stop borrowing. We’ll have plenty of fight enough to come, I’ve no doubt.”
“Quiet,” Imaino growled, making Baxe roll his eyes.
“Don’t see why I should. Wind’s howling louder than me. Why, I daresay I could dance a jig right down the middle of the street, with a pipe and drummer alongside me, and you’d still not hear me one row over.”
“Maybe so, but we can all hear you loud as day in this row, so stubble it,” Vettam ordered, shoving the smaller man on the shoulder. “Listen to the lieutenant.”
“Who made you king?” Baxe grumbled, rubbing his arm where he’d been knocked into the wall.
“None but these.” Vettam flexed his bulging arms and thick fists meaningfully. “Stop yapping, before I make you.”
Baxe pulled a face, but thankfully, finally, shut up. Jaymes caught Rechar’s eye and looked away, struggling not to laugh. There was always one. He didn’t envy Vettam one bit trying to keep the regulars in line.
A flash of red caught his eye and Jaymes stiffened, bringing up his bow. The string creaked, pulling against his fingers, the arrow ready to fly.
“What is it?” Rechar hissed in his ear. “What have you seen?”
Jaymes frowned, scanning the whole street from cobbles to rooftops. “Nothing,” he sighed, relaxing again. “I thought… but it’s nothing. Mind tricks, that’s all.”
The Rider grunted and patted him on the shoulder. “Still pays to be alert. Come on, we’re moving.”
Flexing his fingers, Jaymes nodded and inched sideways after the others, still scanning the shadows behind. There was nothing. No flash of red. No flash of anything. All was still. All was silent. He didn’t trust it.
As he slid around the last bend, Bumble growled and he paused. “Rechar, wait.”
Waving for the regulars to keep going, the Rider stopped and raised his eyebrows at Jaymes in silent question.
“Just a feeling,” Jaymes murmured, looking down at where Bumble was bristling. “But…” He jerked his head towards the corner they’d just turned, wanting to take one last glance back.
Rechar nodded and pressed his back to the house alongside Jaymes. “Go on,” he whispered.
Taking a deep breath, bow held low in front of himself, Jaymes sidestepped to the very edge of the corner, Bumble slinking alongside him. Slowly, carefully, he leaned around to take a look as Bumble trotted forward into the shadows.
A strong gust of wind nearly sent him flying, making Bumble growl. Jaymes squinted, staring through streaming eyes at the damp, dusky cobbles they’d recently passed over.
He sighed with relief. His wretched mind was just paying tricks on him. Again.
Rechar tapped him on the shoulder and Jaymes smiled, ready to finally let his tension go. They were on the last street. The town was empty. They could move on.
Another tap on the shoulder, harder this time.
“All right,” Jaymes chuckled. “I’m com-”
A stranger loomed over him, tall, broad and grinning, with a heavy sword in his hand. A second man held Rechar, with a sharp knife against the Rider’s throat, keeping him quiet.
The first pirate held a finger against his grinning lips, while more of them crept out of the houses, closing in on Imaino’s little group as they edged closer and closer to the end of the street – and safety.
Swallowing, Jaymes slowly nodded, promising silence while his mind raced. He couldn’t shout, not with Rechar in danger. He couldn’t fight – his bow was useless at such close quarters and his sword was sheathed at his belt. He could call Bumble, but one hound against however many pirates wasn’t fair. Rhiddyl and the miryhls were far away and Emberbright was sleeping.
But the pirates were closing in on Imaino. Jaymes had to do something, warn them somehow.
The lead pirate smiled and reached out, ready to grab Jaymes and likely to put him in the same position as Rechar. Not yet. Not without a fight. He stepped back, met Rechar’s eyes and saw the determination in them. The Rider wasn’t done yet. Jaymes had to act.
Slumping his shoulders as if in defeat, he dropped the arrow that he’d been carrying all through the town. Then slowly, slowly, he raised his arms in surrender.
The tall pirate’s eyes narrowed with amusement and he reached for Jaymes again.
Whistling for Bumble, Jaymes spun around the corner to the lower street, grabbed the special arrow from his quiver and shot it straight into the sky.
“Rhiddyl!” he shouted, as white light burst over the streets of the town and a snarling nakhound raced past him.
Thunder boomed and rainbow shimmers showered down, as Jaymes was tackled into the hard, wet cobbles, his bow wrenched from his hand and snapped in two.
He turned his head in time to see Bumble bring down the pirate holding Rechar, the pair of them scrambling up and away as others closed in to attack.
Yet even as the first pirate hauled Jaymes to his feet, hands clasping his wrists like manacles, he smiled through his bloodied lips at the sound of fighting in the street above. Nakhounds snarled, men shouted, metal rang. The pirates’ ambush had been ruined.
Snarling, his captor backhanded Jaymes across the street and drew his sword.
Dizzy from hitting his head, Jaymes leant against the wall of a house and watched as the pirate swayed towards him, naked steel shining bright as lightning cracked overhead.
“Rhiddyl,” he whispered, a burst of red flashing in the corner of his eye as he fell to his knees.
The pirate snarled and swung his sword – and the world turned to flame.
RHIDDYL HAD BEEN restless all day, tracking the progress of the Riders through the streets, with only a surly flock of miryhls for company. By the Family, those eagles could complain. First it was their feet, aching after so much walking, then it was their talons, blunted by such abuse, then it was the rain, and the mud, and the wind, and their stomachs. What a pampered bunch of featherheads. All she wanted was for them to shut up for ten breaths. To focus on the task in hand. To stop whining. Weren’t they worried about their Riders?
Of the fifteen miryhls who had opted to come on this strange expedition, only Argon seemed truly concerned about the men in the streets. Perhaps it was because he was the only one whose bonded was down there, but didn’t the rest of the miryhls feel even the slightest hint of affection or loyalty towards the people they’d recently carried around the mountain?
Rhiddyl was beginning to despair that any of them would prove the slightest use in Imaino’s plans, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a burst of white light exploded over the streets.
Surely not? Rhiddyl sat up, wings flaring in surprise as thunder boomed over the town. The rainbow sparkles of Goryal’ magic showered down in the echo of Reglian’s distinctive voice. It was unmistakable and had to be the flare the elder had given to Jaymes to act as a signal that all was ready.
But it couldn’t be. The Riders hadn’t reached the falls yet, she was certain of it. She could see Imaino still in the streets, with the regulars strung out in a line behind him. Although, she didn’t remember there being quite so many of them before…
“Oh!” She flapped her wings and bounded for the edge of the ridge. “Oh, no!”
Argon was already airborne, having worked it out much faster than she had. “Miryhls, to wing!” he shouted, already arrowing down the wind towards the suddenly crowded street.
The rest of the miryhls broke off their complaining, streaming off the edge of the ridge and down towards the town in the space beneath Rhiddyl’s wide-spread wings. There would be no diving for her. Instead she glided away from the mountain side, allowing the miryhls time to get clear, then she thrust down with her wings and rose up alongside the citadel. Darkness filled all the windows, but she was certain someone was watching.
She hoped so.
Taking a deep breath, she curled her body inwards, feeling the power grow until it crackled over her scales, then launched forwards, mouth agape.
Lightning spat over the skies of Aquila, slashing through the gloom.
Chuckling happily to herself, Rhiddyl flapped her wings and climbed higher and higher, drawing all eyes to her and far away from the fight that was happening below.
Look at me! Look at me! She wanted to cry, but instead spat another spear of lightning, directly onto the top of the east tower. Sparks flew as it hit the sturdy stone, catching on the wooden door at the top. An old brazier fell over and started to smoke.
Flames began to lick at the scattered coals, all the way to the wooden door, and pretty soon the tower was on fire.
Rhiddyl looped through the sky, hoping the Riders wouldn’t mind a few scorch marks, and spat another bolt at the west tower. Soon both towers were alight and the kaz-naghkt inside were screaming.
Humming happily to herself, Rhiddyl sky-danced over the flaming citadel and congratulated herself on a distraction well done.
Until the town caught fire.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!