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Sorry I missed Friday’s update. I’ll try and fit in an extra one next week. For now, it’s snow time.
THE THUNDER OF Storm Month gave way to the sleet of Gale Month, leaving everyone wet, miserable and frustrated. They spent as much time inside the eyries, learning about caring for their miryhls and tack as they did outside on the wing. When sleet turned to snow the month after, the students soon wished they were back in the eyries. But no matter how cold it got on the ground, if the air was clear they would fly.
“It’s t-t-torture,” Caelo complained after one morning spent fluttering around over knee-deep snow. “They’re t-t-trying to k-k-kill us.”
“Or turn us into Riders,” Taryn said, taking the smaller girl’s hands in her own and rubbing some warmth back into them.
Winter thickened around Aquila like a feather-quilt. The lake surface froze and the falls turned into a glittering curtain of dripping icicles, while the water underneath continued to tumble to the frothing clouds below. Rhiddyl grew grumpy and distant, spending less and less time with her friends.
“Everything’s warmer in the Cleansed Lands,” Lieutenant Dhori explained, when a worried Vhen had asked him about it. “She just needs to spend some time in dragon shape, that’s all. She’ll feel better once she gets used to it.”
Except it was so cold at Aquila that even Orla, who was used to northern winters, wasn’t certain she would adjust to it. She’d been away from home for a whole year now and never did she miss the cosy warmth of her parents’ cabin more than on the nights she and her friends huddled together for warmth inside their room. The wide window that had been such a delight in the summer and autumn was now a horrible frost magnet.
The fire in their tiny grate seemed incapable of coping and it wasn’t long before they abandoned their beds in favour of cramming into the tiny washroom, crowded around the brazier Caelo had purloined from somewhere. No one asked where she’d found it in case they felt conscience-bound to return it. Instead they welcomed the heat and wore one less layer when they went to bed at night.
Lieutenant Cayn still prowled for victims, but found less resistance than usual to his jogging jaunts.
“It’s the only time I feel warm each day,” Vhen puffed after a long jaunt around the eastern citadel right before bedtime.
A wave of blizzards restricted everyone to the ground, forcing them to remain inside whether they wanted to or not. The falls froze completely, the lake turned solid and the world beyond the windows became an endless white. It was as if the Cloud Sea had risen up and swallowed them.
“I never thought I’d miss flying in the cold,” Taryn murmured one night, as they huddled with their blankets and their brazier, staring out of their window at the whirling storm.
“I miss the sky,” Zett said softly.
“I miss the sun,” Vhen sighed.
“I m-miss being w-w-warm,” Caelo chattered.
“It feels like forever since we went outside,” Orla said, wrapping an arm around Caelo.
“I hope Rhiddyl’s all right.” Vhen folded his arms on the windowsill and rested his chin on top, huffing out a breath that wasn’t even warm enough to melt the ice on the glass.
“We’ll see her again soon,” Taryn assured him, while Zett squeezed his shoulder.
“And then we’ll all fly,” Orla promised. Feeling somewhat dejected, they dragged their brazier into the washroom and settled down for another cold night’s sleep.
* * *
SUNLIGHT WOKE RHIDDYL. Warmth tickled the end of her nose and she startled awake with a sneeze. For a long moment she couldn’t remember where she was or why. A haze of white covered her vision and she thought she was back at the Storm Wash, watching the great cloud barrier that separated the Cleansed Lands of the dragons from the Cloud Cursed human Overworld. Then she sneezed again and banged her chin on a rock. Not even when she was watching the Barrier Veils had she been reduced to sleeping in a cave.
Well, she had, but it had been a nice cave that she’d adapted over the years. One without rocks lying around that any waking dragon might sneeze and whack herself on.
“Where am I?” she groaned, groggy, cold and annoyed with her throbbing chin.
Light dazzled her eyes and she crept towards it, emerging from her hole in the ground to a world of glistening white.
“Goodness,” she murmured, pulling her wings free of the cave and sitting up, wrapping her tail around her toes. “That’s a sight worth waking up for.”
Snow covered Aquila, a rippling blanket of pristine softness that took away all the sharp edges of the citadel and had turned it into a wonderland. The icy lake had been transformed into a white field, wonderfully smooth beneath the bridges. Curious as to what the rest of the mountain looked like, Rhiddyl stretched out her aches and spread her wings, drifting away from the cave high above the citadel and into the upper valley.
More whiteness, more softness. The great lake was similarly blanketed, but this covering had already been disturbed. A herd of deer picked their delicate way across the open, their feet leaving a trail of pock marks behind them. Catching a whiff of her scent on the wind, they scattered with panic, spraying snow everywhere as they dashed into the trees.
Rhiddyl breathed deeply, relishing the cold bite inside her lungs. She’d seen snow before, of course, but never so much of it. Nor had she ever experienced a blizzard, nor felt the need to hibernate. Life with the Rift Riders was full of new experiences.
She felt better after her sleep, settled inside her scales and more comfortable with the cold. Perhaps it was time to return. Tilting on a wingtip, she turned towards the citadel and swooped low over the lake. Scooping up a handful of snow, she crunched it into a ball and took a bite.
“Pah!” Cold and tasteless. She threw it away.
The ball tumbled down and burst into pieces.
“Hm.” Rhiddyl circled the crash site thoughtfully, then grinned and flapped back to Aquila.
* * *
“IT’S STOPPED SNOWING! It’s finally stopped. At last!” Caelo burst into the washroom, thwacking the door against Vhen’s ankle. Not that she noticed; she was too busy capering between sleeping bodies and making a racket for that.
“The snow has stopped! The snow has stopped!”
“Yay?” Taryn groaned, pulling her blanket firmly over her head. She didn’t know how long before dawn it was, but since she hadn’t heard the breakfast bell ring yet, it was obviously too blasted early.
“We can go outside again!” Caelo yanked Taryn’s blanket away, and yelped as she was tackled about the knees, barely missing the brazier with her head on her way to the floor.
“I love sharing a room with girls,” Vhen drawled, as Taryn began beating Caelo about the head with her pillow. “It’s so much more peaceful than those rough and tumble boys.”
Zett snickered and snuck out of the room to dress in private.
“Ow! Ouch! Will you – ooh – stop – oww! – doing that!”
“It – is – Starday,” Taryn growled, punctuating each word with a pillow smack. “I – was – trying – to – sleep.”
“You can sleep tomorrow when the snow returns,” Caelo cajoled, somehow managing to twist out from beneath Taryn’s hold and flip their positions, except with Taryn sprawled on her front. “Wouldn’t you like to go outside?” the redhead asked, resting her elbows between Taryn’s shoulder blades.
“Gods, you’re bony,” Taryn wriggled, trying to escape the twin points of pressure digging into her back. “Orla, help!”
“Come outside,” Caelo whispered in her ear. “Come outside and I’ll let you sleep in tomorrow.”
“We have lessons tomorrow,” Taryn said, managing to wriggle her arms beneath herself. Shoving hard, she knocked Caelo off her back.
The redhead landed with an oof, but Taryn knew she hadn’t hurt her. Nothing seemed to hurt Caelo, not even getting whacked on the head with a staff during training. One of the Sutheralli girls had been knocked clean out when it happened to her. Caelo, however, had fallen in typically dramatic style and immediately jumped up again, shaking her head with a grin.
She did the same now, offering a hand to help Taryn to her feet. “Come on, get dressed, let’s go. Last one down to breakfast doesn’t get any!” She raced out the door, raising protests from the boys getting dressed in the next room.
Rubbing the ache in her shoulders caused by Caelo’s pointy elbows, Taryn looked at Orla, raising her eyebrows.
Her Ihran friend shrugged. “It would be nice to go outside.”
Sighing her agreement, Taryn rolled up her blankets and searched for her warmest clothes to put on.
* * *
RHIDDYL COULDN’T RESIST the temptation offered by Aquila’s pristine lake. Taking care not to damage any of the bridges, she shifted into miryhl shape – so rarely used these days – and skidded across the snow. Her talons punched straight through the surprisingly shallow covering and hit ice.
She yelped, skidding rapidly across the surface, whirling like a weather vane.
“Oops.” She slid straight off the falls and had to shift back into dragon shape to remind herself how to fly.
By the time she made it back to the lake, she was panting and bright pink with embarrassment. At least no one had seen her foolery.
Except for the row of miryhls lined up on the rocks atop the falls.
Rhiddyl flicked her tail, buffeting Cumulo backwards into the snow. He landed with a smack, right on his back, wings spread wide.
“Snow miryhls!” Hurricane yelled, and soon all the miryhls were falling backwards, flinging out their wings and wriggling about to leave imprints of themselves in the snow.
Rhiddyl landed on the falls and watched them, no longer feeling quite so foolish about her skidding incident. “The Overworld is so weird.”
* * *
“RHIDDYL!” BUNDLED UP against the cold in as many layers of clothes as he could pull on, Vhen was the first outside and the first to see the dragon perched on the edge of the falls.
“Vhen!” Laughing, she bounded over the flock of miryhls rolling about in the snow, slid beneath a bridge and changed to human mid-leap. She landed in his arms, knocking the wind out of him, grabbing him hard to stop him from falling backwards. “I missed you!”
He’d missed her too. The others were quick to gather around, collecting their own hugs from the dragon, even Zett who was often guarded about personal contact.
“Where have you been?”
“What have I missed?”
Caelo’s question collided with Rhiddyl’s and they all chuckled, before Rhiddyl threw up her hands. “Oh, who cares? It’s Starday! Let’s have fun.”
She shifted before any more questions could be asked, becoming a slender, sinuous dragon in stormy shades of blue and purple. She uncurled her tail over the frozen lake, sliding miryhls to and fro. Whooping, the cracked birds lay on their backs, snatching at Rhiddyl’s tail with their talons. She nudged Cumulo and sent him whirling into Hurricane, the pair of them swirling around, cackling like crows.
“Snow silly.” Caelo shook her head, and shoved Vhen’s shoulder to get him to move.
He led his friends onto the dragon’s back, taking the prime spot where her shoulders met her neck. Caelo sat behind him, Zett behind her, then Orla, then Taryn. When everyone was aboard, Rhiddyl grinned at them.
“Let’s go!” Shoving against the bank, she slid backwards beneath the bridge and across the lake, scattering miryhls, her claws scraping over the ice beneath the snow.
“Whoa!” Taryn yelped as Rhiddyl’s rear end tipped over the drop. Even Caelo grabbed hold of Vhen with surprising strength.
“Steady!” he called to Rhiddyl. The dragon laughed, spun around on her belly and dived over the edge.
~ Next Chapter ~
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