A time of revelations is at hand!
THERE WAS A lot of screaming. A common reaction, Rhiddyl had found, when someone was falling to an almost-certain death. Surely all the bridges in Zvenera could not be as fragile as the south-west spoke, else people would be falling to their deaths every other day.
Rhiddyl heard someone shout her name. It wasn’t the frantic screams of the others, or the sheer terror of Guto as he extended his hands uselessly up towards her.
For all he knew, she was falling the same as him, a victim of the cruelties of gravity and shoddy carpentry work.
“Change, Rhiddyl! Change!”
Vhen, cool, calm, collected Vhen, who rarely even smiled with both sides of his mouth, let alone raised his voice, screamed hard enough for his voice to crack.
Rhiddyl felt the wind rush past her, flapping at her coat, pressing against her outspread limbs. Her stomach clenched tight in her middle, her heart pounded in her chest. She was falling.
She was falling!
She called on her wings – and the dragon answered.
Lightning seared her muscles, fire melted her bones. She clenched hard on her power, welcoming the change but withholding the storm that made her who she was. It was no use rescuing Guto if she fried him in the process.
Rhiddyl melted into the crackle of her magic and emerged with her wings spread wide.
Guto stopped screaming.
Silence fell on the bridge above.
Rhiddyl rumbled and dived, reaching out for her falling friend.
She scooped him up in one padded foot and wrapped the other around him for safe-keeping. Hugging him tight to her chest, she looked up.
The wall of the ravine loomed large, black and far too close.
And the screaming began again.
* * *
IT WAS A beautiful day in Nimbys. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the sky was blue. It was a perfect morning, much at odds with Orla’s mood. She had not slept well the night before, scrunched up on her uncle’s hard-edged couch, unable to face Taryn again.
She was still angry. Not least because she felt guilty about snapping at Taryn and for feeling relieved that Henley had broken their friendship. Taryn had been right in what she’d said, even if she had said it in the most infuriating way, and Orla was right to be relieved that she was free from Henley at last, but that didn’t stop the guilt, which made her feel all the angrier still. Her whole night had been spent tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable spot on the impossible couch, while turning the two arguments over in her mind, again and again and again.
It was no wonder she was exhausted.
Such was her preoccupation with her own troubles that it took her a while to realise something strange was going on. Her uncle wasn’t on the training field this morning.
Frowning, Orla looked around, barely noticing the way her fellow students looked away every time she caught their eyes, as if she was contaminated with something terrible. They always did. Shrugging that off as normal, she tried to work out what was different and why. Her uncle wasn’t there, and yet he hadn’t mentioned anything about his absence when she’d left his house that morning.
The lieutenants and sergeants were all in their places as usual, standing in a line, watching the students with unsmiling faces. Orla began to feel uneasy.
“Look!” someone gasped, and Orla looked up with all the others as a great miryhl swept over their heads.
After five months in Nimbys, seeing miryhls every day, Orla would have thought she’d be used to them by now. She wasn’t. She probably never would be. The rush of wind over feathers, the chill of the shadow racing over the ground, still caught at her chest, her heart speeding up with excitement to see those wide wings tilt and soar.
The miryhl swept to the far end of the training field, turned on a wing and rushed back, coming into land with a flourish and a bounce.
Captain Stirla swung down from the saddle, a big man on an even bigger eagle.
A frisson of anticipation rippled through the students, but Orla’s nerves only grew. The captain never trained with them. He’d been spotted watching from the sidelines a time or two, and he’d spoken kindly to Orla a few times as they walked together through the city, but he was a Rift Rider captain. He had far better things to do with his time than spend it with a bunch of hopeful students.
Yet he was here now, looking stern and grim, his scars and eye patch adding a formidable cast to his already intimidating appearance.
“Show the captain some respect!” Sergeant Joras shouted.
The ramshackle students fell instantly silent, straightening into lines as best they could and saluting the way Hethanon had taught them.
“The students, captain,” the sergeant said, saluting Stirla with far more crispness than anyone on Orla’s side of the field could manage.
The captain inclined his head. “My thanks, sergeant. Good morning, students.”
“Good morning, captain!” they chorused with enough enthusiasm to do their trainers proud.
“It may have come to your attention that some members of your group are missing this morning,” Stirla began, tucking his arms behind his back and planting himself right in front of them all. “Since gossip in this place often outruns the truth, I thought it prudent to speak with you before too many accusations and mistakes could arise.” Although Orla couldn’t see exactly who the captain was talking to, she began to feel a sinking sensation in her belly.
Had something happened to her uncle? Was he hurt? Why hadn’t anyone come to fetch her?
“It is with great regret that I must confirm that two of your number have left and will not be coming back.”
Someone gasped along the line. Orla didn’t look; she kept her eyes locked on the captain. Two? Which two? Where was her uncle? Students dropped out of the school all the time – unable to keep up with training, disillusioned by the reality of what the training involved, deciding their time would be better spent elsewhere. It was to be expected. That was why this was called a selection school. No one expected them all to make it, and no one normally bothered to make an announcement about it.
“Students Henley and Ghera have been expelled with immediate effect.” A gasp ran through along the line, Orla included. “They were apprehended yesterday evening, attempting to break into the premises of a well-known Nimbys business. They are fortunate indeed not to have been taken to the watch house and punished further.”
Henley and Ghera? Orla felt sick. Expelled. Immediately. Oh gods, that could have been her. It would have been her if Henley had had his way. Instead it was Ghera. Poor sweet Ghera who tried so hard to make friends and fit in. Oh Maegla, what had she done? “I expect this news comes as a shock to many of you. As such training has been cancelled for today. You are dismissed.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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