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~ Previous Chapter ~
Shared by buddies in eyries,
I can smile at the old days,
I was obnoxious then…
On board the Illuminai
“HEY, DERRY, HOW are you feeling?”
Derrain looked up from where he’d been preening Zephyr and smiled as Lyrai joined him in the eyries. He rarely saw the lieutenant these days, since Lyrai was all twitchy, restless energy, pacing here and there on the ship or taking Hurricane out for long flights. Derrain knew the feeling, but his body still wasn’t up to that much activity.
“Healing all the time, thank you.”
“Good.” Lyrai nodded, striding over to where Hurricane was watching him beside the closed hatch. The marble miryhl greeted his Rider with a gentle nuzzle. Unlike Lyrai, Hurricane was much better at concealing his impatience at the length of time it was taking to reach World’s End. The miryhl didn’t pace or bate or fret, he simply roosted stoic and quiet, watching everything that moved inside the eyries or the world slipping past when the hatch was open. That patient calm was more unnerving than Lyrai’s pacing, but at least when they were together they smoothed out each other’s edges. Hurricane preened his Rider’s hair, Lyrai stood momentarily still.
“Talk to us,” Hurricane rumbled, surprising Derrain who hadn’t heard the marble miryhl speak since they’d left Aquila. “Tell us about Wrentheria. You spent time there?”
Draping his arms around Zephyr’s neck, Derrain borrowed his miryhl’s strength as he cast his mind back and smiled. “Every Storm Season from the age of nine until I left to join the Riders.” He shook his head with a chuckle, spreading his fingers through Zephyr’s neck feathers and making her purr. “Those Wrentherins are a wild bunch.”
Lyrai didn’t say anything, but he did turn around, sitting with his back against Hurricane’s roosting chest, one leg stretched out in front of him. Man and miryhl stared at Derrain; he knew what they wanted.
“Mhysra was quiet, I hardly noticed her back then, but Cumulo was always hard to miss. Half-grown, only seven years old, with more quills than fine feathers, he followed wherever Mhysra went and she went wherever her cousins did.” Laughing, he pressed his back to the wall and slid down to sit, Zephyr settling beside him to preen his hair. “He would get so frustrated, trying to run with the humans, but Mhysra was all silent determination.
“I’m the same age as Mherrin and it was easy to fall into mischief with him. The older kids, Kilai included, didn’t have time for us, and Mherrin in turn kept trying to run Mhysra off, telling her to go back to the littles in the nursery. But she wouldn’t, and nor would Cumulo. They took to ambushing us wherever we went, spoiling our games when Mherrin wouldn’t let them join in. They were a pair of complete pests, but I was always disappointed if they didn’t show up somewhere during the day, trying to join in, trying to be bigger, braver, older.”
His smile faded at the next memory. “Mherrin always pretended he didn’t like them joining us, but I think secretly he was always waiting for them both to show up. One day heavy rain drove us home early. We hadn’t seen any sign of Mhysra or Cumulo, hadn’t really expected them. The storm was fierce, wild winds battering the whole of the Lowlands in a way they rarely do. Thunder crashed, making it hard to talk, and the lightning was blindingly bright. We didn’t stay out for long, preferring the comforts of the Wrentherin kitchen where the staff didn’t mind two soggy boys underfoot so long as we didn’t steal too many pastries. We didn’t have any plans more exciting than lazing by the fire, snacking on treats, until Milluqua tore into the room, hair wild, mud on her hems. Even then Milli was every inch the proper lady. Seeing her that way told us immediately that something was wrong.
“Mhysra was missing. She and Cue had set out as usual, planning to ambush us somewhere along the way. She always knew our plans – I think Mherrin let them slip to her on purpose, the old fraud – and had set out first thing before the weather closed in. But they hadn’t come back like everyone else.”
Derrain shut his eyes and pressed his head back against the wooden wall, remembering the frantic search that followed. “Milli took charge, organising all the kids, making sure no one told the adults. We were supposed to care for ourselves, you see, keep out of the way of the Countess and not cause trouble. But as night drew down, we knew we were in trouble. Mhysra was nowhere to be found and the weather was showing no signs of relenting.”
“What happened?” Lyrai asked, after Derrain fell silent for too long, lost in his memories.
He smiled. “Mherrin, Kilai and I went back over where we’d planned to play that day and I fell down a hole right into the path of a hissing, slashing Cumulo, all puffed up like a cat, doing his very best to protect his Wingborn.” He shook his head and laughed, though at the time he’d been terrified. “Thank goodness Mhysra was conscious enough to stop him. I crawled through the darkness to where she lay, Cumulo breathing down my neck the entire time. She’d broken her ankle and couldn’t get out of the hole. Cumulo had tumbled down after her while trying to stage a rescue. At least it was dry down there – mostly. The others helped me get them out, but when Mherrin offered to carry Mhysra home, she chose to stay with me.
“‘You won’t lecture,’ she’d whispered. It was the first time she spoke directly to me and that was it, I was done.”
“You do love her then,” Lyrai said softly. “I’ve always wondered.”
Derrain looked down to hide his smile at the disgruntled edge to the lieutenant’s voice. “I do,” he agreed, enjoying it far too much when Lyrai tensed. “But differently to you. She’s my little sister, someone I’d lay my life on the line for, the best of friends and at the heart of some of my best memories. She’s family. Mherrin is fun to mess about with and I always enjoyed our wild days at Wrentheria, but Mhysra means more. She’s the one person I know I can always count on. She trusted me to get her out of that dark hole and carry her home afterwards, even though her brother and cousin were waiting to help. She chose me, trusted me. I’ll never forget that.”
“And it’s never been anything else?” Lyrai asked sceptically. “Even though you only saw each other for one month each year.”
Derrain shrugged. “It was more often than that. The Illuminai often passes Wrentheria, though we never stopped for long outside the Storm Season. But even so, no, she’s always been a sister to me. I can’t see her any other way. I think part of me still sees her as that silent, tireless little girl refusing to be left behind, despite the twigs in her hair, the rip in her trousers and the mud on her face. And always, always at her side was a scrawny, dirty miryhl with a ferocious gleam in his eye.” His smile faded along with his memories and he rubbed at the ache inside his chest. “I hope they’re using all of that and more right now.”
“They’re strong,” Hurricane said, lowering his beak to rub against Lyrai’s shoulder.
“And they know we’re coming,” Lyrai agreed.
Derrain shared a determined nod with his lieutenant, because there had been no other choice. Stirla, Jaymes and Dhori might have their own reasons for coming – friendship, perhaps, but also justice – but only Lyrai truly understood why Derrain was here. Mhysra. They had to bring her home.
~ Next Chapter ~
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