Since everything about this book is full of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t encountered the Wingborn series yet, please take this as your friendly warning to avoid it if you haven’t reached the end of World’s End yet.
But if you have and you want more, Aftermath, a novel-length epilogue is out today! (And the special low price offer has been extended for another week.)
This book mostly deals with wrapping up the romantic subplots, so if that stuff isn’t your thing, then you’re probably best off avoiding it, but for everyone else…
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.
If you missed it, you can read the first chapter here, but if you’ve already read it, here’s the second one.
“WHAT HAPPENS TO us now?” Zephyr asked the question that had been playing on many a miryhl mind of late. “Where do we go? What do we do? How do miryhls cope when they’re not Riders anymore?”
Basking in the sunshine of the courtyard between the eyries and the infirmary, Cumulo opened his eyes and looked around, surprised to find his friends and fellow flock mates all watching him, waiting for an answer. He blinked.
“What do Wingborn do when they’re not Riders?” Hurricane asked, a glint in his eye suggesting that he knew Cumulo had been snoozing and caught on the hop.
His words also made several things in Cumulo’s sun-dazzled brain drop into place. “You’re still Riders,” he said, shuffling his wings and pulling himself together. He’d spent the first fifteen years of his life never expecting to be a Rider, purely because Mhysra had been born female, while the rest of his friends had been raised to consider no other future. If anyone could guide them through their cruelly altered futures, it was him. And no matter where they went or what they did, miryhls were always Riders.
“Hardly,” Argon snorted sceptically, having become quite the grim little rain cloud in the months since Jaymes had picked up a dragonet to bond with. “Rift Riders live and train at Aquila. They’re soldiers and protectors. They’re part of the command structure.”
“And we’re not,” Wisp agreed mournfully, every bit as miserable as Argon, but with a hundred times more right to be. Her Rider was dead. She was alone in the world.
Cumulo couldn’t begin to imagine the pain of that. It was bad enough that Mhysra might never be able to sit on his back and fly with him again, but at least she lived. He hadn’t lost his Wingborn. He would never be alone.
“We’re still Riders,” Hurricane said softly, backing Cumulo up. “Changed, wounded, grief-stricken and battered, but we’re still the miryhls we’ve always been, and we were made to protect this world. Do any of you plan to stop?”
Atyrn ruffled her feathers. “Of course not,” she said gruffly, eyeing the group on the lookout for any shirkers. It was easy for her to say, because despite Stirla’s injuries they were still official Riders. Still lieutenants. Still fighting. Still flying.
Lucky for some.
Zephyr sighed. Almost as big as Atyrn, bulky, beautiful and strong, there was nothing about her that suggested she shouldn’t be a Rider anymore. Except her human was hurt and, like Cumulo, she might never get to fly with Derrain again. “That still doesn’t answer my question. What happens to us now? Where do we go? What do we do?”
The answer was obvious. To Cumulo, at least. “We stay with our people,” he said, and tipped an apologetic nod to Wisp. “Or find new ones to stay with.”
“I couldn’t.” The little miryhl shook her head, voice tight. “I… no. It’s not possible.”
“I didn’t mean bond again with someone new,” Cumulo told her, with a gentleness he could never have expressed had he not so nearly lost his Wingborn. It wasn’t the same thing, he knew, but it granted him a glimpse of understanding. “I meant with us. All of us or some of us, whatever you choose. You will always be welcome. You’re one of us.”
She dipped her head, the feathers on her crest rising bashfully, as she whispered, “Thank you.”
Cumulo caught the approving look in Hurricane’s eye and felt rather bashful himself. He shook his wings briskly, embarrassed that so many had witnessed his tender moment. “The rest of you too, of course.” His voice was gruff, so he cleared his throat before adding, “I don’t know what Mhysra’s plans are yet – I’m not certain she knows herself – but if we settle at Wrentheria, there will be room and plenty of welcome for all of you. They’d be lucky to have such fine eagles as any of you. Even if we don’t, we’ll always find room for you, one and all.”
“So that’s settled,” Atyrn declared. “Riders stay together, even when they’re not official Riders anymore.” She gave a firm nod.
Zephyr crackled her beak, still looking pensive, and Cumulo nudged Hurricane with his wing. The big marble miryhl cast him a sideways glance, so Cumulo nodded towards Zephyr as discreetly as he could. Hurricane waggled his beak; Cumulo glared at him.
Just because he’d been sweet to Wisp, didn’t mean he was going to be nice all the time. Hurricane was the nice one; Cumulo was the cocky one. Their entire world might have been turned upside down and inside out, but some things would never change.
“Go talk to her,” he growled at his supposed-beloved.
“But you’ve been doing so well.” Hurricane chuckled. “I don’t want to steal your sunlight.”
Cumulo tossed his head, unwilling to deal with such silliness any longer. However, deep down, he was relieved that Hurricane was in such good spirits. Cumulo might not have been able to fly with Mhysra any longer, but at least he could still fly under his own power, as fast and as far as he always had. Hurricane couldn’t. He could barely glide ten feet without jumping off something high first. In time his wing-strength should improve, but it was unlikely he would ever carry Lyrai again.
But if Hurricane could make jokes – even at Cumulo’s expense – then perhaps his deeper wounds were healing. Cumulo dearly hoped so. Hurricane deserved the chance to laugh. He’d earned it. They all had.
While his marbled beloved sidled around their group to talk to Zephyr in hushed tones, Cumulo looked at the rest of the miryhls gathered in the sunshine. Outwardly, they looked a glossy, healthy bunch, with no cares to trouble them. Inwardly, all were hurting in their own sorrowed ways. Even Latinym, who of course had come through everything unscathed since his Rider was a god, yet he and Dhori had regrets too.
So much had been lost in the recent war, so much else had been taken by Yullik ses-Khennik’s final defeat. Wisp’s Rider was lost, Cumulo’s and Zephyr’s were wounded beyond the ability to fly, Hurricane had been invalided out of the corps, along with the Riders of both Argon and Thunder, while Vehro’s had resigned to join the healers. Atyrn and Stirla were the healthiest pair of the bunch – not counting Latinym and Dhori, because they never counted – but even they would need time to adjust to Stirla’s one-eyed state.
It was all a big, horrible, miserable mess, but they’d made it through somehow. They’d faced down every challenge that the monstrous Yullik had thrown at them, and they would face down everything that followed.
No, in the strictest sense most of them weren’t Riders anymore, but Cumulo dared anyone to tell him or his friends that to their faces.
Once a Rider, always a Rider.
“You are all welcome to stay here,” Thunder said softly, her intimidating demeanour a flimsy act to hide the gentle heart within.
“And you’re all welcome to come with us,” Cumulo added, as Hurricane returned, brushing his healthy wing against Cumulo’s side. They wouldn’t all leave, of course. They couldn’t, Cumulo understood that. Thunder and Vehro would stay with Haelle and Silveo, who had new lives in the infirmary now, while Atyrn and Stirla would go where they were told to, and Latinym wherever Dhori chose to. But the others – Argon, Wisp and Zephyr – had the whole Overworld open to them.
Seeing the misery of indecision on their faces, Cumulo obeyed the nudge of Hurricane’s wing and drew himself up tall again. “Whatever you decide,” he began, a little gruff and awkward, but trying to sound completely sincere, “and wherever you go, you will always be part of my flock.”
“And mine,” Hurricane added.
“Mine too,” Atyrn agreed.
Thunder and Vehro nodded together. “And ours.”
“Mine also,” Zephyr murmured, and Latinym nodded with a murmur of agreement.
Which left only the two smallest eagles. Argon stared at Wisp for a long moment, then tilted his head, nuzzling the littlest miryhl’s cheek before nodding at the rest of them. “Ours too.”
Cumulo’s heart felt full to bursting and he couldn’t resist adding, “The finest flock in the Overworld.”
The others chuckled, groaned and rolled their eyes, while Hurricane stretched his neck to nibble at the corner of Cumulo’s beak. “Never change, Wingborn. Don’t you ever change.”