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~ Previous Chapter ~
Well, this doesn’t seem at all suspicious.
ALL HIS LIFE Cumulo had loved being a miryhl, had never imagined ever wanting to be anything else. Yet as he limped angrily around his cave, he felt a small pang of envy for the nakhounds he used to scorn at Wrentheria and how easily they could tend to any cuts or wounds they got.
His leg hurt where the monster had grabbed him, dragging them both into the forest. Cumulo knew he’d been lucky to get away with as few injuries as he had, thanks to using the overgrown kaz-naghkt as a shield when they plunged through the canopy. Still, he’d lost more than a few feathers in the crash, and had garnered more than his fair share of bruises. His enemy had been all over blood by the time they hit the ground, but other than a few scratches on his face, the only blood Cumulo lost came from his leg.
That wretched creature had dug in with its claws, piercing Cumulo’s thick skin and leaving two long scratches. He knew he was lucky; it could have been much worse. His tendons were undamaged, and he still had full range of movement in his toes. His talons too were unbroken and as sharp as ever. But his leg hurt and putting weight on it made everything worse.
If he were a nakhound he could bend down and lap at it with his tongue, clean away the dirt, soothe the ache. But he wasn’t a hound. The best he could do was bend over and peer at the wound, picking at the edges of his scab with his beak and dabbing any bleeding with his tongue.
It was awkward and unpleasant, and it wasn’t helping. The wound felt hot and he knew that could not be a good sign. It had been two days and the bleeding had long since stopped, but he didn’t like the colour of the scab and kept bending over to sniff and see if it smelled as funny as it looked. Not that he had much of a sense of smell, nor any clue what he was looking for, but the wound made him uneasy.
Everything made him uneasy, which was why he back up here in the high cave, pacing – limping – around, waiting to see if his hooded stranger would show. It had been almost a quarter-moon since he’d made his bargain, but as yet nothing. Only what he’d overheard, and even that he was beginning to doubt. Had he even met the hooded stranger at all? Perhaps all of this was a fever dream and he was really down in the forest somewhere, crazed with starvation or dying from a fight with a bear.
Maybe he hadn’t even left Aquila and was dying back there instead, dreaming all of this, while pyreflies flamed the citadel and kaz-naghkt squabbled over his remains.
What a cheerful thought.
He scowled and sniffed his wound again. Was it making him delirious? These wild flights of imagination were not like him. He didn’t have an imagination. He didn’t worry about things. He left that to his Wingborn.
He left his leg alone and closed his eyes. He needed to find his Wingborn soon or he truly would go mad. He’d thought he’d heard her voice, back when he fought the monstrous kaz-naghkt. It felt like she had been right there with them, somehow inside the creature. But no, there had only been the crash, the forest, the fall and pain. He’d left the creature for dead and dragged himself away to tend to his wounds, finding a stream to wash his leg in before seeking shelter in a soggy dell. Then he’d come here. To watch and wait, to hope and dream.
He needed to find his Wingborn. He had to find her. They’d been separated for too long. He needed to see her again, to know she was all right. To check she was still alive.
He whirled, startled to see the hooded figure standing, not in the gap that led into the fortress, but right in the centre of the cave mouth. Cumulo considered lunging for him, either to grab with his sharp beak or knock him flying into the empty air beyond the cliff. His leg throbbed, warning him that it wasn’t a good idea. He tilted his head in silent invitation and decided to see how this latest meeting played out.
“I know where your Wingborn is. Follow me.”
Now Cumulo lunged, but it was too late, the man had jumped off the ledge. Cursing, Cumulo stumbled on his wounded leg and almost fell over the edge himself. Instead he hopped and limped up to the edge, looking down at where the man descended the sheer drop, limbs spread out like a spider. It was impressive and unnerving all at once, and Cumulo wasn’t certain he knew another human capable of such a feat – not even Dhori.
He tilted his head to watch the man climb down and startled as the stranger stared up at him with glinting gold eyes. “Aren’t you coming? Don’t you want to see your Wingborn again?”
More than anything. Cumulo opened his wings and tipped over the edge, spreading his feathers wide to caress the air. He glided gently down until he was level with the descending human.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, forced to flap to keep level with the man’s slow pace.
The stranger glanced at him, the glint of his eyes the only thing visible within the shadows of his hood. “Because this wait has gone on long enough. It’s time to shift things to the next stage.” Folding his legs beneath him, the stranger flashed his teeth in a smile and let go of the cliff.
Cumulo squawked as the man plummeted, only to stop about ten feet below, bare feet clinging to an almost invisible ledge. Sidling sideways, the hooded man laughed and vanished into a crack in the mountain wall. “Come along, Wingborn, your lady is waiting.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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