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Quality time with miryhls.
IT WASN’T THE worst thing on the Overworld to be an outcast from one’s peers. Zett was used to it and he quite liked it. He had more space at mealtimes, since no one wanted to sit too near the misfits, and even in lessons extra space miraculously cleared around him and his friends, as if they were somehow contagious.
The routine was familiar, except for the unexpected addition of those new friends. It had been a long time since Zett last had any friends willing to stand by him when trouble came calling. He still wasn’t certain how to react to them all, especially Vhen, who instead of fighting Zett’s battles for him had started a different fight altogether until they were both kicked out of the dormitory. Zett wasn’t entirely convinced it had been the greatest plan, but he couldn’t deny the consequences had worked out in his favour.
No one teased him for dressing like a girl in the Misfits’ dorm, probably because two-thirds of them were girls. If a dragon could be counted as a girl, that is. Thinking about it too much made Zett’s head hurt, so he didn’t bother. Instead he settled in with his new friends, accepted Caelo’s non-apology for scaring him witless and embarked on his new life at Aquila.
It started very much like their old lives at Kaskad, with lessons, lessons and more lessons, only the teachers changed. First lesson was Lieutenant Dhori and Rift Rider history, followed by geography with Captain Jyuto. Then Lieutenant Honra attempted to teach them some literature, after which it was time for lunch.
“Boring,” Caelo declared, sliding her tray into a gap in the middle of a crowded table. Two heartbeats later it was deserted, leaving plenty of room for the others. The redhead gurgled. “Let’s hope our afternoon is as successful.”
It started off well enough, when a Rider led Captain Stirla’s students into the eyries, where a woman waited with a familiar looking miryhl pair. One was gold-tinted brown, the other a mix of marbled shades. Both were huge. Zett stared, remembering the last time he’d seen them, carrying Caelo in a net, and swallowed.
The woman smiled. “Good afternoon, students. My name is Mhysra Kilpapan and I will be instructing you in the arts of miryhl care.”
“Mhysra Kilpapan?” someone whispered behind Zett. “The Wingborn?”
Zett’s eyes widened. As a Havian, he might not have learnt the same Rift Rider legends as most, but even he knew about Wingborn. The magical bond formed when a human child and a miryhl chick was born and hatched at the same moment, less than a mile apart. Twins in different forms. One soul, two bodies. He’d thought they were only stories. As he stared at the woman in front of him, the golden-brown eagle at her back bent his head and nuzzled her curls, eyeing the students with amusement.
“The Wingborn,” the miryhl confirmed, making several of the students gasp. It wasn’t so very long ago that miryhls had saved their voices for only their Riders to hear. The tradition was old and very well entrenched in the stories, so it still surprised some people to hear an eagle speak.
“Heroes too,” the marble miryhl added. “They’re part of the Six.”
“As are you,” Mhysra remarked, and waved the eagle’s remarks aside as if it wasn’t important. She smiled at the students instead. “If you’re looking for legends and stories, you’ll have to ask Lieutenant Dhori, because we don’t have time for them here. If you want to know what it’s really like to be a Wingborn, I can teach you that. It’s work. Looking after your miryhl as best you can, treating them like a friend, a sibling. Family. My bond with Cumulo” – She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the golden-brown eagle – “wasn’t formed because of an accident of birth. It grew over a lifetime in each other’s company, and it’s still getting stronger. No one on the Overworld knows me better than Cue, but only because we’ve had decades to get to know each other.
“You will also have that time. Use it wisely, and remember your miryhl is so much more than a set of wings. Treat them well and your bond will grow. Now, find your miryhls.”
An excited buzz rippled out through the eyries as Zett turned in search of Strike. He hadn’t seen her for two days, but it took no time at all to pick out her dark form with its unique splash of white amongst the other eagles. They were a sea of browns, blacks and marbles, entirely irrelevant to him. Only Strike mattered.
“That didn’t take long,” his miryhl murmured, nuzzling him after he walked straight to her. Now that she’d thrown off her cold, she was much more affectionate than Zett had expected. It probably helped that he constantly showered her with compliments.
“You are distinctive,” he said, running his fingers through her white feathers. “All others pale into insignificance beside you.”
“Charmer,” she chuckled, preening his hair.
“To you, maybe.” The eagle beside her sniffed. “I believe the rest of us have been insulted.”
Zett blinked at possibly the most beautiful miryhl he’d ever seen – Strike excluded, of course. Golden and delicate, she posed in a shaft of sunlight, utterly gorgeous and fully aware of it.
“A few insults here and there can only do you good,” Rhiddyl said, surprising Zett by walking up to lay a hand on the miryhl’s wing.
“You are a barbarian who has no concept of beauty.” The golden miryhl twitched her wing away.
“Whereas you are a brat,” Rhiddyl replied amiably, “with nothing but beauty to recommend you.”
The golden miryhl tilted her head, looking adorably confused. “What else is there?”
Rhiddyl met Zett’s amused eyes and rolled her own.
Mhysra clapped her hands, drawing everyone’s attention. “Has everyone found their miryhls?” she asked, looking around the sunlit eyries. “Excellent. We’ll begin with the basics. Before you learn how to preen your miryhls, first you must learn what each feather is for and why it is so important to maintain them in the finest condition. Miryhls, if you please, present your left wing.”
All around the eyries wings unfurled in a fan of feathers.
“Now, students, if you look here.” She pointed at where Cumulo was holding his wing behind her. “These are the primary feathers, the longest and most manoeuvrable feathers in the wing. They affect flight, propulsion, speed, everything that matters when you’re in the air and far from the ground. If your miryhl damages these, you will not fly. Take utmost care when handling them. They are strong and flexible.” She demonstrated this by pulling on the edge of one and bending the tip before releasing. It sprang instantly back into place. “But far too important to toy with.
“Now these are the secondaries.” She moved her hand down to the next fan of feathers. “These are the power feathers. They lift you up, hold you steady and keep you and your miryhl strong in the air. If your miryhl damages some of these, you may still fly, but not far or well. Take utmost care when handling them.”
Zett smoothed his hand over the feathers in question, not quite daring to touch the magnificent structures. As Tutor Mhysra moved onto the next set of feathers, which were also to be handled with utmost care, Zett detected a distinct theme forming. Strike flexed her wing, brushing against his touch and winked.
He rested his hand on her wing, feeling the strength and power beneath the softness and smiled. He would take care, but Strike wouldn’t break. They were a team. She would tell him if he went wrong. “Now preen,” Mhysra commanded, and Zett immediately ran his fingers between gloriously silky feathers. He was going to enjoy this.
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