On Monday 1st June return to the Wingborn series for one last hurrah in an extended epilogue tale of love, friendship, hard work and harsh rewards in a changed world for all involved.
**The following post contains spoilers for the entire Wingborn Series. If you’ve read it and you’re happy it’s done, great, you don’t need to read any further. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t click! If you have and you still want more, then this post is for you.**
Yullik ses-Khennik is dead, the kaz-naghkt are defeated and Aquila belongs to the Rift Riders once more. Life is returning to normal.
Except, for those caught up in the recent events, life isn’t normal anymore. Heroic deeds do not always result in glorious rewards and few escaped unscathed.
Heart-worn, wounded and weary, Mhysra, Cumulo and their friends must now find a way to pick themselves up and live on in a world they helped make safe. At times the future may look bleak, but love, friendship and found families have their ways of making everything better again.
For anyone who didn’t want to say goodbye to the Wingborn series just yet, or perhaps wondered what might happen to all those little romances, this one is for you.
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Or read the whole thing now on Patreon.
(In serial form or by downloading the exclusive Patreon early copy.)
THEY WERE THE words nobody wanted to hear.
“I’m sorry, Mhysra, there’s too much damage, and it’s too late to put it right.”
“I’m sorry, Lyrai, the burns are too severe. Your arm will never be the same.”
“I’m sorry, Stirla, I can’t save your eye.”
“I’m sorry, Jaymes, I can’t save your hand.”
“I’m sorry, Derry, your back will never fully heal. You can walk, but you’ll have pain for the rest of your life.”
“I’m sorry, Hurricane, your wing will always be weak. You can fly, but you won’t be able to carry a passenger for long.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
Harsh words and broken dreams, and Morri was the one unlucky enough to deliver them all. He was the head healer; it was his responsibility and he owed it to his friends to tell them himself. He’d worked tirelessly for almost a month, trying to nurse them all back to perfect health, exhausting his magic, his knowledge and himself, but eventually even he had to stop.
If only they’d reached him sooner. If only he’d been on hand to heal them immediately. Elder Goryal had tried their best, but they’d had to stretch their magic thin to cover all the injuries. If only Morri had been with them instead of trapped on the mountain, bound by ancient ties never to leave. Everything would have been different then, but he didn’t bother saying it. They all knew the truth, even before Morri delivered the stark words.
He felt awful and wouldn’t have been surprised if any or all of them had blamed him for failing. He felt like he’d failed, even if Nightriver and Goryal assured him that his worst opponent would always be time and there was little he could do to fight it.
He still felt guilty.
Which was why he was surprised to be invited down to the lake for an impromptu picnic on an unseasonably pleasant day. Aquila was never warm in Gale Month, but the sight of the sun peeking between storm clouds was enough to lift anyone’s spirits, so the group of old students and friends wrapped up warm and sat outside in defiance of the clouds that were building.
It was quite a different view to the one they were used to. Gone were the rushing river and roaring falls, along with the grand bridge and the eyries above. The Lawn upon which they had sunbathed and relaxed in happier times was now under several feet of water, while the practice barn in which they’d all first picked up their Rider swords was open to the sky and flooded with rubble and water.
Keeping a close eye on Mhysra and Derrain, who were being heavily supported by the others, Morri picked his way across the islet that had been created using the leftover rubble from the barn roof. He sat close to the edge, where the dark water lapped against a cracked lintel stone. Something stirred in the deeps. Morri smiled.
“Myran’s worked wonders,” Lyrai said, as the friends settled in a loose circle around the bulging picnic baskets carried by Dhori and Silveo. “I can’t believe it’s only been five months since the tower fell.”
“And only three since he started rebuilding,” Silveo said, digging into his basket and handing around the plates. “The man knows how to get the best out of his workers and no mistake.”
The others murmured their agreement and set to dishing out the various foods. Morri accepted a plate from Haelle with a smile, his attention still on the view. Where once the river had cut a deep channel through the heart of the citadel, now it formed a wide lake across the ruins. The roaring falls had been split into several smaller streams, where the river picked its way amongst the wreckage of the tower and bridge to tumble through the remains of the town.
The old Aquila was gone. One tower remained, overlooking the silvery falls, but the eyries had been moved right back to the natural wall that separated the upper lake valley from Aquila’s smaller, lower one. There were several bridges too, of varying size and strength. They leapt from one side of the lake to the other, some vertiginously high, while others barely skimmed the surface. Morri had his doubts about how long those lower ones would last come the Thaw Month floods, and he wasn’t too keen to try out the very highest. Still, at least there were now several ways to walk from one side of the citadel to the other, which was the most important thing.
His infirmary sprawled along the western side, tucked up against the mountain, not too far from the new eyries. Now he could treat miryhls as well as Riders all in the same space, which seemed to improve everyone’s recovery. It had wide windows that looked out over the water and pleasant leafy trees had been planted to help keep things fresh and green in his sheltered corner of the citadel. His personal rooms were tucked underneath, close to the water, complete with a doorstep over which the lake edge lapped.
The town had been removed completely. Some of the old families had chosen to relocate to Buteo, fully out of the line of any future conflicts, while others preferred to cultivate the upper reaches of the eastern mountain, living within the protective curtain wall of the Heights. The more useful folk – the bakers, tanners and smiths, amongst others – had moved into the citadel itself, forming their own community amongst the Riders.
“Here, Morri, try this cheese.” Haelle tapped him on the arm, drawing him away from his thoughts and back to his friends. He found it hard to look at any of them and not feel his failures. Harder still not to notice who was missing. No Greig, no Corin, no Nehtl. It reminded him that no matter how injured the rest of them were, they had survived. Which was pretty remarkable, all things considered.
“To us,” he declared, raising his glass. “Saviours of Aquila and the Overworld.”
The others raised their glasses of water, wine and juice, echoing him with smiles.
“And what a sorry bunch we make,” Stirla mused, making the others chuckle.
Morri looked at his apple juice, tilting the golden liquid to shine in the sun. In what world were the heroes rewarded so poorly? They’d saved the citadel and the Overworld, but at the expense of their own dreams and futures.
He looked at each of them in turn, heart aching for what had been lost. Jaymes no longer able to hold the bow he was once so skilled at. Haelle no longer the graceful runner. Derrain no longer the tall, strong warrior. Lyrai no longer able to use his dominant hand, bonded with a miryhl he could no longer ride. Stirla half-blind and cruelly scarred. And the one his heart hurt for more than all the others put together, Mhysra: the Wingborn who could no longer fly. By comparison, his inability to leave the mountains was the most minor of inconveniences.
“It’s not fair.”
Sitting next to him, Haelle smiled, something she was getting better at as her grief slowly eased. “Life never is, dear healer. You of all people should know that.”
The others murmured their agreement.
“You still deserve better,” Silveo said softly, looking sad and guilty, although it was hardly his fault he’d come through their ordeal without any major injuries to show for it. He and Dhori were definitely in the minority. They had a couple of scratches and scars, but were otherwise unscathed.
Morri looked between the pair of them now, seeing a faint similarity in their silver eyes and perhaps the shape of their jaw, and wondered what Silveo’s ancestry looked like. Morri’s friends had told him all about Dhori’s intriguing secrets, and since they both originated in North Point, Morri wondered if a drop of divine blood might have been what had kept his silver-haired friend safe through the years.
Whether it had or not, Morri could only be grateful for it. He’d lost too many friends, and Silveo was one of the best. Seeing him sitting beside Jaymes, his arm stretched behind the redhead’s back, Morri smiled. They deserved happiness. All of them did.
“So what now?” Haelle asked, after the sombre silence had stretched on for too long.
“My mother’s invited me back to Nimbys,” Mhysra said, from where she lay with her head in Lyrai’s lap. Now that neither of them were officially Rift Riders anymore, they were making no effort to hide their relationship. They were never too blatant in their displays of affection, but it was rare for them to be close and not touching. Like now, as Lyrai stroked Mhysra’s dark curly hair. Both looked far more content than Morri would have thought possible, but he was happy for them.
Mhysra sighed. “It’s time to take Kilai home.”
There was a swirl in the dark waters of the lake. Morri glanced over and glimpsed an enormous scaled tail. Nightriver had been hard at work recovering the bodies from beneath the mountain – Kilai Kilpapan was one of many.
“I think I’ll join you,” Stirla announced, much to Morri’s surprise. Even with his reduced eyesight, Dean Myran had offered the lieutenant a place on the teaching staff should he choose not to continue with the Riders. He’d offered places to Lyrai and Mhysra too, but they’d opted to step away from Aquila for a while to consider their futures. Stirla had chosen to stay with the Riders, at least for now. Or so Morri had thought.
Lyrai smiled. “Lady Milluqua will be pleased.”
Ah, that explained it. Romance. Perhaps some of them would get their rewards, after all.
“I’ll come too,” Derrain said quietly. Of them all, he was the one who worried Morri the most. Mhysra had Lyrai to turn to, Jaymes had Silveo, Stirla it appeared also had someone with whom he could find happiness as well as his continued Rider career, but Derrain seemed so alone. All his life he had been big, tall and strong, now his height was often stooped and that same broad back had weakened him. His life as a Rider was over and there would be no returning to the skyships either. Morri worried for him.
Mhysra reached from her prone position to take Derrain’s hand. “Good.”
Derrain smiled at her and Morri’s concern lightened just a little. Derrain wasn’t entirely alone, not when Mhysra was around. Perhaps he didn’t have to worry about him. Perhaps he didn’t have to worry about any of them. They’d been his patients, but they were also his friends and he knew how resilient they were.
“To us,” he said again, raising his glass a second time. “And our bright new futures.” “To us,” they all agreed, and chinked their glasses together in a gleam of winter sun.
Read Chapter Two on Wednesday.