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~ Previous Chapter ~
ALTHOUGH IT WAS frustrating to be relegated to the ranks of the wounded, Mhysra knew Cumulo was right. Much though she wanted to fight, her body simply wasn’t up to it. Nor was her wardrobe, as she had no shoes and was still wearing her tattered sleep shirt, tucked into a spare pair of Lyrai’s breeches. Watching Dhori, Stirla, Lyrai and Jaymes dart through their attackers, swords flashing as they fought, was a privilege and one she would struggle to imitate even at full strength. Just watching them was enough to make her back ache and send fresh jolts of pain through her badly healing pelvis.
That didn’t mean she couldn’t help. She and Derrain became adept at cracking heads and knocking kaz-naghkt off both ceiling and walls with well-placed throws. Since both were carrying back injuries, it hurt every time and perhaps lacked the strength they might otherwise have had, but they were effective for a time.
When the rocks and their strength ran out, they found a use for themselves watching the battle and calling out warnings to their friends. Hurricane was particularly good at this, being both taller and better sighted. It was clear he was every bit as frustrated as Mhysra and Derrain at being left out of the action, but he had a chance to work through it several times when well-placed rocks knocked kaz-naghkt from the ceiling into his range.
It was easy to forget just how deadly a predator a miryhl could be. Before Mhysra had joined the Rift Riders, her life had been full of flying and tending her Wingborn and miryhl chicks, treating them all like feathery, superior horsats. Watching Hurricane savage a kaz-naghkt with snarls of fury was a gruesome and close-up reminder of the truth behind their beauty.
They were beautiful to watch, even as they went about their deadly work. Latinym and Dhori worked in perfect tandem, each a blur with only occasional flashes of silver to distinguish them as they carved their way through the enemy. Big Atyrn was a fierce, powerful defender, always watching Stirla’s back, while little Argon teamed up with sturdy Zephyr to keep Jaymes and Emberbright safe. Then there was Cumulo, ranging widely with her kaz-naghkt babies in tow, a savage army of six that stopped to rescue Lyrai before sweeping onwards.
It shouldn’t have worked. The babies were barely half the size of most adults, and Cumulo was just one eagle, yet somehow their team launched into the crowd of attacking kaz-naghkt and cut a swathe through them all.
Whenever it looked like the way would close behind them, cutting them off, Cumulo would leap into the air, using his great wings to carry him back to safety, the babies either clinging to his back or flapping in his wake. How Mhysra wished she could be with them, but even watching them from afar made her feel so proud of both Cumulo, her lifelong companion, and the kaz-naghkt babies she’d raised from hatching. Not the sort of team she’d ever imagined watching fight, but they were hers and she loved them.
“Reckless, foolish show off,” Hurricane growled behind her, cracking his beak as once again Cumulo and the babies plunged into the thickest knot of kaz-naghkt, disrupting them from attacking Stirla.
The tide of battle swept in behind them, closing the miryhl into a tight ring. Cumulo spun, beak gaping, one foot raised, spraying black blood everywhere as his slashes found their mark time and time again. The babies struck from beneath, clawing ankles and knees, slicing through tendons to make their targets kneel, before finishing the job Cumulo started by ripping into open chests. It was gory work, but they were efficient at it.
They took on one of the enormous new kaz-naghkt, looking like kittens swarming a nakhound. Then something went wrong. Perhaps it was better armoured than the usual kaz-naghkt, or maybe Cumulo’s slash hadn’t been deep enough, but the babies took too long ripping into its chest, allowing the monster to tear one of them from its wound.
Roaring, the giant kaz-naghkt clenched its clawed fist and threw the baby into the seething mass of monsters.
The other four shrieked, Mhysra screaming with them.
She didn’t even know who it was as she stumbled forward, trying to get to her feet. Her body betrayed her, throwing her to her knees, even as Hurricane grabbed her belt and hauled her back.
“It’s too late,” Derrain told her, wrapping an arm around her waist, grimacing as he held her back. “I’m sorry, Mhysra, but it’s too late.”
She couldn’t have reached them anyway, even if she had been healthy and able to fight. The tide of kaz-naghkt swept around Cumulo with renewed fury. The babies went wild, no longer working as a perfect unit. They were just rage.
“No!” she screamed as another baby was grabbed and torn to apart between two snarling creatures. “Cumulo, no!” The brutal efficiency of their attack was broken and now they were the ones in danger of being overcome.
She saw Cumulo grab one baby with his beak and another with his foot before leaping clumsily into the air. The third baby scrambled to follow, climbing the back of one of the enormous kaz-naghkt and jumping. The monster swung, clipping the baby’s wing and sending it spiralling down into the enemy.
Mhysra shook her head, hands pressed to her mouth, unable to believe it had all gone wrong so quickly.
A kaz-naghkt leapt up from the pack, high and straight as if it had been thrown, and seized Cumulo’s leg.
His scream mingled with Mhysra’s as she watched her Wingborn fall, dragged into the slavering hordes below.
No one held her back that time as she stumbled and fell and crawled, blinded by tears, desperate to reach her Wingborn, to save him, to do something. But her body was too weak and the enemy too ferocious. The kaz-naghkt closed in on the fallen miryhl and Mhysra collapsed sobbing to the ground.
~ Next Chapter ~
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