First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
~ Previous Chapter ~
In which we reunite with some familiar faces.
So far, so tentatively good. I haven’t had a chance to write anything today, which is annoying because I know exactly what I wanted to do, but alas, life and admin got in the way. However, I have plans for getting lots more done tomorrow, which should hopefully carry me those annoying last few words over the 30K mark.
Progress! It is being made!
Have some snippets – no spoilers. (I don’t think…)
Aquila’s War Ch 1
Lyrai hated it. It was all so fake and false. Give him the wild wind and a miryhl’s wings any day of the moon over this nonsense.
Lyrai, Chapter 1
Day 2 – 2361 words
Overall – 4850 words
Aquila’s War Ch 2
“Don’t you dare speak to me of history. I have lived it.”
Lyrai, Chapter 2
Day 3 – 4520 words
Overall – 9370 words
Aquila’s War Ch 3 (½)
“They won’t keep anything they catch. Not in the narrow valley.”
Gedanon, Chapter 3
Day 4 – 2758 words
Overall – 12,128 words
Aquila’s War Ch 3 (½)
Clearly. “There’s a lot of that going around.”
Silveo, Chapter 3
Day 6 – 2880 words
Overall – 15,008 words
Aquila’s War Ch 4
“Cumulo says hello,” she murmured, and he smiled as he kissed her.
Mhysra, Chapter 4
Day 7 – 4252 words
Overall – 19,260 words
Aquila’s War Ch 5
You are needed, the dragon repeated. Your friends need you.
Mouse, Chapter 5
Day 8 – 3146 words
Overall – 22,406 words
Aquila’s War Ch 6
“Are you mocking your lieutenant, student?”
“Why, yes, sir,” she bowed to both Riders with a flourish, “I do believe I am.”
“Excellent.” Stirla gave her an approving nod. “Keep up the good work.”
Corin and Stirla, Chapter 6
Day 9 – 3215 words
Overall – 25,621 words
Aquila’s War Ch 7 + 8 (½)
No, there was nothing better than flying.
Lyrai, Chapter 7
Day 10 – 4243 words
Overall – 29,864 words
29,864 / 90,000 words. 33% done!
I might not be pushing on quite as fast as last year, but I’m pretty happy with it so far. Especially considering how out of practise I am and how much of my free time is being gobbled up by a greedy puppy. All in all, progress is good, and will hopefully pick up as the plot pace increases.
To all my fellow NaNo participants out there, I hope your stories are going well, and here’s to many more words to come!
Merry Saturday, everyone!
~ Previous Chapter ~
Nice and early this morning. Getting in before I go off in search of more standing stones – which I hope won’t be blocked by frisky giant cows this time! (They had calves, there was nothing to hide behind, some were friendly, others were… not. Wasn’t worth the risk.)
Anyway… Onto the important things, with one important question:
Where is Stirla leading them?
“THIS IS NOT what I expected.”
Mhysra looked up from watching the heels of the person in front, having been following blindly while thinking over her farewell to Cumulo that morning. Still sulking, he’d ignored her until she had to leave, then engulfed her under one wing before shoving her away. Silly bird.
Shaking her head, she shifted the heavy pack on her shoulders and trudged along the uneven tunnel. It was wide enough for four people to walk abreast, though they marched in pairs, the way winding up and down and side to side, without any clue as to where it was heading. Lieutenant Stirla liked being secretive.
“Are you listening?”
Mhysra blinked at Corin beside her. “Sorry. Thinking.”
“We could tell,” Silveo said, turning to walk backwards, his heels no longer available for Mhysra to follow. “It looked painful.” He winked. “What did you expect, Corin?”
“To fly,” she said, which considering the remoteness of Aquila made sense.
“Even without the miryhls?” Jaymes asked, walking beside Silveo, his red hair looking purple in the lamp light. The small, rough cut crystals emitted a strong blue glow for almost twenty strides and Mhysra had never seen their like before. They flickered into life when someone approached and pulsed in a slow, steady rhythm until the last person passed, then faded into darkness again. Dragon-made, Lieutenant Fleik said. A gift on the founding of Aquila.
“Gods, can you imagine us leaving on miryhls?” Silveo chuckled. “A quarter would fall off before we got two bells out.” He shook his head, silvery hair glowing blue. “You’d all be fine, no doubt, but I assure you I am not ready to die yet.”
“Maybe you should practise more,” Mhysra teased.
“I will when you start getting top marks in arithmetic,” Silveo challenged, ducking as his head brushed the ceiling.
“That’s asking for a miracle,” Dhori murmured from behind, his grey eyes an eerie violet in the glow.
“So is Silveo flying long distance,” Jaymes quipped, sidestepping his friend’s arm punch.
“Children, please,” Corin scolded, and tripped on a loose stone. “This place is unsafe.”
“We’re in the Riders,” Mhysra said. “Why should we be safe?”
“Yes, acclimatisation with danger is of vital importance.” Silveo shrugged at their raised eyebrows. “It is.”
“Anyway,” Corin said, trying to regain control of the conversation. “I expected us to go somewhere by skyship, not end up in a tunnel.”
“Why not?” Dhori asked. “The mountain is riddled with passages. We go down into the caverns every day to bathe.”
“But still,” Corin protested. “Do we know where this tunnel is leading? And aside from the caverns have any of you ever gone inside the mountain?”
“No.” Mhysra wrinkled her nose, shivering in the steady draft that grew cooler the deeper they went. “But there’s probably a good reason for that.”
“Which we’re about to find out. Hopefully. Soon.” Derrain had been trudging quietly alongside Dhori and was behaving far from his usual self. His dark skin looked waxy and he was clearly sweating.
“Are you all right, Derry?” Mhysra asked.
He took a shuddering breath and dragged up a smile. “Fine.”
“He’ll be all right,” Dhori assured her, and she frowned. Derrain was her best friend; if he needed looking after it was her job. She hadn’t known he was unnerved by small spaces. He was fine in the caverns.
She looked at Derrain again, but he was too busy watching where he was going to meet her eyes. “We’ll be out soon,” she murmured.
He nodded tightly without looking up. Since none of them knew where they were going, there was no possible way she could have known such a thing for sure.
“He’ll be all right,” Dhori repeated firmly. It was strangely comforting.
“Good,” she murmured, facing forwards again. Corin and Silveo were still bickering about why they were walking through the mountain. She rolled her eyes and shared a rueful glance with Jaymes. It was never easy being the quiet friend to talkative people.
Dripping water sounded up ahead, loud enough to be heard over forty-odd pairs of feet, as the tunnel curved down and around to the left. Derrain groaned and Dhori whispered to him. Mhysra couldn’t make out the words, but his voice was soothing, matching the tread of feet, the pulse of the lanterns and the splash of water as the path sloped steeply downwards.
“I hope we don’t have to climb out of here,” Corin grumbled, and Derrain cursed.
“Careful, students!” Sergeant Loyek called from somewhere up front.
“Watch your step!” Lieutenant Stirla passed on from the middle.
At the back of the group, Sergeant Rees grumbled something that was too far away to be decipherable. Which suited Mhysra just fine. Her brief smile vanished when she put her foot in a puddle. Her yelp was drowned out by a shriek further forward, followed by more shouts and yips to the rear.
“That’s cold!” Corin squeaked on finding a puddle of her own.
“Better watch your step then,” Stirla chuckled, keeping Mouse company a short way ahead. “We did warn you.”
“He didn’t say anything about freezing cold water, though,” Corin grumbled.
Mhysra hummed consolingly, grimacing as her boot squelched with every other step.
Other tunnels branched off their route, but they stayed on the main path, skirting a subterranean lake, before their way began to climb again. It was just as steep and tiring as Corin had feared, and soon no one had any breath left to talk. Except Dhori, who maintained a soothing murmur for Derrain’s benefit. The higher they climbed, the warmer the breeze became and stronger too, until it was almost as fresh in the tunnels as a walk in the citadel. Derrain’s breathing evened out and, as the tunnel flattened, high spirits returned. Corin swapped places with Jaymes so she and Silveo could bicker more comfortably.
“A perfect match,” the redhead chuckled. Since Silveo was about a foot taller than Corin and pale everywhere she was dark, they couldn’t have looked more different. But they were happy in their arguing, making Mhysra smile.
“Just so long as they don’t unite against the rest of us.”
“Gods save us,” Jaymes groaned.
Then there was light up ahead, natural light, shining from a westward sun with the warmth of mid-afternoon. But Mhysra only managed a brief upward glance before her attention was wholly distracted. Even Derrain, rushing past to breathe in great gulps of unconfined air, registered only dimly. Stopping at the mouth of the tunnel, Mhysra stared.
Flanked by two high, steep and uncompromising cliffs, the valley opened out before her, comprised of long, uneven terraces stepping jaggedly down to the edge of the Cloud Sea. Green and grey and white. Bullwings, sheep and doelyns grazed in high paddocks, nestled on narrow ledges around the cliff face, while small huts and hideaways were carved from the rocks. Crops flourished along the terraces and fruit trees bordered some edges.
A farm. Aquila had its own farm. Tucked half a mountain away from the citadel. Secret and perfect. Dhori and Jaymes stood by her shoulders and she grinned at them.
“A farm?” Mouse questioned, while Lieutenant Stirla counted heads to make sure no one had been lost along the way. “They brought us to a farm for Midsummer break?”
“Well, we can’t have you getting out of shape, can we?” Lieutenant Fleik said, his smile wicked.
Mouse and Jaymes groaned, as only farm boys who had thought themselves freed from the chores of childhood could.
“I can’t wait.” Mhysra laughed, loving the chance to work in the green again after so long in cities and citadels.
“That’s because you’re weird,” Corin said, looking around with the horror of a city girl.
Chuckling, Lieutenant Stirla shooed them away from the tunnel and into the warm sunshine. “She’s not the only one, Corin. I’m looking forward to this too.”
“That’s because you’re cruel.”
He grinned, just as wickedly as Fleik had. “But I’m the nice lieutenant, remember?”
“Gods save us,” the students muttered as one.
Stirla laughed, shaking his head pityingly. “Too late for that, my lambs. Far, far too late. You’re in my clutches now. Ah, what fun awaits.” He clapped his hands, making Mouse and Corin jump. “Come on, tents to set up, food to prepare. Wouldn’t want to sleep in the open tonight, would we? It might rain.” Chortling, he strode off, leaving them staring uneasily after him. “Merry Midsummer and welcome to Buteo, everyone!”
“He’s enjoying himself far too much,” Derrain said.
The others nodded, following after Stirla to begin setting up their tents. Knowing their run of recent luck, it would rain if they didn’t. Merry Midsummer, indeed.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
Happy birthday, Mhysra! Silliness abounds :D
FOR MOST THE Feast of Maegla was a day of private worship, but at Aquila it was the most important festival of the year. The citadel and town celebrated Her glory loudly, and She threw out the worst storm of the season in response. But most of the students were too tipsy to care.
“S’my birthday,” Mhysra said to the ceiling, but no matter how many times she said it, she still didn’t get any presents.
“I love you. Did I ever tell you I love you?” Corin told Mhysra for the fifth time.
“Yes.” As she’d said the same to Haelle, Mouse, Derrain, Lieutenant Stirla and Lieutenant Hlen, Mhysra wasn’t flattered. “You’ve had too much drink.”
“I like it!” Corin protested, as Mhysra took the bottle away. She tried to put it on the table and missed. “You broke it!”
“Didn’t,” Mhysra retorted, juggling it until she got a grip. “See, some left.” Tipping back her head, she drained the last third.
Corin stared at her in shock. “You drank it.”
“You drank it.”
“You drank it!”
“She did.” A veteran of intoxicating spirits, Derrain was still in possession of his wits. “And you’ve both had enough.” He hauled them to their feet. “Time for bed. Lessons tomorrow.”
“S’no point,” Mhysra hiccupped gloomily. “No flying, no fun. S’my birthday, Derry. Will you take me flying?”
“Not when you might get struck by lightning. Aquila frowns on that kind of thing.”
“No fun,” she repeated.
“I don’ wanna go bed,” Corin protested, tripping over a snoring student. “’m drinkin’.”
“I noticed,” Derrain said. “And now you’ve stopped. You’re done with drinking.”
“Nope. Gotta keep goin’. Buildin’ ma courage. Gonna get a kiss.”
Derrain raised his eyebrows, and Mhysra stopped grumbling long enough to swing around. “Wotcha mean? Where you gonna get a kiss?”
Corin giggled. “On ma lips. At first.” She winked. “Maybe somewhere else, if he’s lucky.”
Mhysra swayed as she tried to focus. “S’not what I meant. Who’ll kiss you?”
“S’secret,” Corin whispered. “C’mere, I tell you.”
They all leant closer and Corin bashed foreheads with Derrain as she planted a loud kiss on his lips. She teetered away, crowing, “Tol’ you! Tol’ you! I got a kiss!”
Lunging to catch her before she fell over, Derrain sighed and tucked her under his arm. “You should have asked, Corin. I’d have kissed you gladly.”
“Ser’sly?” she hiccupped. “S’that easy?”
“Depends how nicely you ask.”
She chuckled and cuddled up to his chest. “You’s nice, Derry. I like you.”
“Should ‘ope so,” Mhysra hiccupped. “Hate to think you go ‘round kissing them you don’t.”
“Don’t be jealous, M’sra, I kiss you too if you want.”
Mhysra cackled. “’m all right, thanks.”
Corin wrinkled her nose. “Can I have ‘novva drink, Derry?”
“No. You got your kiss.”
“Offa you, mebbe,” she grumbled. “Need more courage. Wanna ‘novva.”
“I told you to ask.”
“Not from you!” she protested, while Mhysra wandered into a wall.
Derrain reached out and snagged Mhysra’s wrist as she walked into the wall again, asking it why it wasn’t getting out of the way and didn’t it know it was rude to obstructify people in this manner. He reeled her in and smiled at Corin. “You don’t need courage, little one.”
“You’s nice,” Corin repeated, patting his cheek. “But I wanna kiss from Dhori. Where’d he go? D’you know? Oh! A rhyme! Where’d he go, do you know? I don’t know, where he go? Where he go, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know! ’m so clever.” She collapsed against his chest, staring up at him adoringly. “Don’cha think ’m clever, Derry?”
“Brilliant,” he agreed, staggering sharply left as Mhysra avoided another wall, which she was sure had lunged. They had it in for her, all of them. Evil walls. “Come on, girls, upstairs.”
“Stairs,” Mhysra whined. “They’re worse than walls. They trip you up an’ everything.”
“Stairs! I love stairs! ’m good at stairs!” Corin raced off, slipped and slithered down, scraping her hands but miraculously not flattening her face. “Did you see that?” she demanded. “It tripped me!”
“I warned you,” Mhysra said. “I told you they was mean.”
“You was right!”
“Is there any reason why we can’t talk like normal people?” Derrain pleaded, as they berated the stairs.
“You’re at Aquila, lad. There are no normal people here.” Stirla and Lyrai were watching their distinct lack of progress, bright-eyed with amusement. “Need a hand?” Stirla offered.
“Come on, milady. Up.” Lyrai pulled Mhysra to her feet and hauled her over his shoulder.
“Ooooh,” she groaned as he straightened. “Feel dizzy. World’s gone upsides.”
“No, just you,” Lyrai assured her, while Stirla scooped up Corin.
“You know, you’re not as grouchy as I thought you were,” Mhysra murmured to Lyrai’s back. “An’ you have a nice bum.”
It was Derrain’s turn to trip on the stairs, he was laughing so hard.
“Thank you,” Lyrai said gravely, not even flinching when Mhysra patted his backside.
“’m gonna regret this in the mornin’, aren’t I?” she muttered.
As Lyrai carried her up the stairs, she remained quiet, though Corin was trying to bargain a kiss out of Stirla, who promised to drop her if she tried.
Then Mhysra hiccupped. “Ow. Your shoulder’s not as nice as your bum. S’all bony.”
“His bum?” Stirla asked.
“No, the shoulder. It sticks in my -” another hiccup “- belly. Hurts. Uh-oh.”
“What?” Derrain, Lyrai and Stirla asked.
It was quite possible that Lieutenant Lyrai had never moved so fast as when he put Mhysra down, turned her around and boosted her up to an open window.
When she was dangling halfway out of it, she giggled. “S’rainin’.”
“Tell us something we don’t know.”
“Umm… Dhori’s on the roof.”
“What?” Stirla dumped Corin and ran to the next window, while Lyrai gripped hold of Mhysra’s belt before she could fall out.
“Are you done?” Lyrai asked.
“I don’t feel sick now,” she confirmed, then protested as he dragged her inside. “I like it out there. I like rain. Noooo!”
“Blast it, does he want to get killed?” Stirla cursed, leaning right out of the window to see Dhori on the high roof opposite.
“He likes it,” Mhysra grumbled, sliding down the wall next to the sleepy Corin. “He likes rain on his skin an’ thunder in his bones. Makes him feel good.”
“How do you know?” Lyrai asked in surprise.
She shrugged. “If you knew him, you’d know. He’s safe on the roof.” The rain had turned her maudlin. “Don’t make him get down. You didn’t like it when you couldn’t fly.”
Lyrai blinked at the abrupt change of subject. “Do you like it when you can’t?”
“Course not. It’d be the same for Dhori if you made him get down. He needs storms. Don’t make him come inside.”
Smiling, he hauled Mhysra to her feet. “I won’t. Come on.”
This time he scooped her into his arms rather than over his shoulder and she snuggled against his chest. “S’nice,” she murmured. “You smell better than my cousins.”
Stirla chuckled as he picked up Corin again, Derrain having disappeared. “Careful, he’ll think you’re an admirer.”
“I admire all kinds of things.” She yawned. “An’ my cousins smell terrible. Bet you smell better too.”
“He has a nice bum too,” Corin murmured.
“Who?” Stirla asked.
“You,” she replied sleepily. “Do I get a kiss?”
“I tried. L’ten’n Lyrai, can I have a kiss?”
“No fun,” Corin complained.
“I thought you wanted to kiss Dhori,” Mhysra reminded her, on the verge of sleep herself.
“Do. Wouldn’t say no to a l’ten’n, tho’. Keepin’ my options open.”
“Wise child,” Stirla agreed, but neither of the girls were listening. Both were sound asleep.
* * * * *
THE MORNING AFTER the feast, Aquila was bathed in uncharacteristic sunshine. It broke over the mountain edge and speared straight into the girls’ dormitory, where it was greeted with groans. When a maid climbed the stairs to find out why none of them had come down to breakfast, she was forced out under a rain of pillows.
Lessons for the day were cancelled.
Luckily for most, they had only hazy memories of the night before. Still, it was a half-moon before Mhysra felt able to look Lieutenant Lyrai in the eye again, and Corin couldn’t speak to Lieutenant Stirla for the better part of a month. Oddly enough, neither lieutenant complained.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
A letter from Nimbys…
MY DEAREST SISTER,
I miss you already, and it has not yet been a month since you left. I even miss your bumbling pup, but I’m glad to hear you’ve settled in and hope you are well. I wish things weren’t as they are, but I would be lying if I said our parents are reconciled to your choice. Father wanted to petition the Stratys for your return, until mother reminded him that Prince Lyrai is a Rider and the Stratys might deem it an insult. There is apparently little they can do, so for now, you and Cumulo are safe. Relatively speaking.
Thank you for word of Kilai – a more hopeless correspondent I’ve yet to meet. I’m delighted he’s happy in his Rider life, but I’m more pleased that you are. You and Cumulo deserve your happiness.
Speaking of which, I’ve refused three more suitors. Father grows impatient, but two were older than him and the other younger than Kilai! Mother says I have gained a reputation for being Unattainable, so all the young cubs are forming ridiculous passions for me, certain to be the one who tames me. It is so stupid. One of these days I shall say yes, and won’t the fool in question be surprised.
It’s not that I enjoy turning them down – you know how much I hate it – but I’ve yet to be asked by a man who wants me for myself. The Kilpapan name and fortune are so attractive, but we have no need of advantageous alliances. Despite father’s blustering, your decision to enter the Riders has been met with nothing but praise. Everyone thinks you are terribly brave. The Kilpapans are rich and courageous, not to mention favourites of the Stratys.
Show me the man who has no care for these things, who sees me as more than an empty-headed doll, and I will happily marry him.
Alas, I do not think he will ask. Nor would father agree to such a match.
Did I mention how much I miss you, dearest? And your friends. They were so lively. I hope they’re all doing well. And your lieutenants too. How is Lieutenant Lyrai? And Lieutenant Stirla?
I wish I could visit, since you cannot come to me. A break from town would be most welcome. Guests from across the Overworld have descended for the negotiations over Prince Henryn’s marriage and Nimbys feels quite small. Crowds gather wherever the foreign dignitaries are staying and trail their every move. You’d hate it.
March Serfyn, from the King’s Council of North Point, is staying with the Fenhays three houses along. Father deems it unacceptable, though mother often goes out to catch the attention of the press and promote the business. She is quite shameless, but you already know that.
The negotiations might continue for another month! I shall go mad. Write back soon, dearest, and take my mind away from such things. In the meantime, please take care, and send my regards to everyone.
Love to you, Cumulo and Kilai.
Your lonely, spinsterish sister,
Mhysra folded her letter and grinned. She didn’t envy her sister in the slightest; seven months in Nimbys had been more than enough.
“Everything all right?” Corin whispered, filching Mhysra’s history notes. “Is your sister getting married yet?”
“No.” Mhysra tucked the letter under her geography essay and looked busy as Lieutenant Willym walked past. Study sessions were never fun when he was around since he banned talking, smiling or enjoyment in any form. Whispers rustled in his wake, stopping the moment he turned, but the students had become adept at avoiding his notice.
Scribbling about the gently sloping mountains and agricultural yield of the Lowlands, Mhysra kept an eye on the lieutenant. “She’s turned down another three.”
Corin chuckled, squinting at Mhysra’s notes on the reign of King Meryk VI of Scudia and the Jarl uprising of 548 CE. “I’m beginning to think your sister doesn’t want to get married.”
“She does,” Mhysra murmured. “She has someone in mind, but father would never agree.”
“Who?” Corin demanded, nosy as ever. Unfortunately, she forgot to lower her voice.
Willym pounced. “All done, Student Corin? And you, Student Mhysra?”
Since their tutors delighted in giving them more work than anyone could possibly manage, it was obvious that they weren’t. Excuses were pointless, though. They shook their heads.
“No?” Willym drawled. “Then what is so important that you need to shriek about it to the entire hall?” Looming over them, he poked at their papers with his flying crop.
Mhysra bit her lip, worried he would uncover her sister’s letter, since Willym read private correspondence aloud whenever he found it. Not that there was anything to embarrass Mhysra in the letter, but she hated the thought of others making fun of her sister. Thankfully she had hidden it well, and when Willym’s insolent prodding knocked a heap of papers off the table, she slipped it into her pocket.
After he’d disrupted all their things and found nothing but lesson notes, the lieutenant sniffed. “Report to the tanners on Starday. Two bells each. Don’t let me hear another squeak from you.” Slapping his crop against his palm, he stalked off.
Corin grimaced apologetically at Mhysra and they settled back to work in silence. That didn’t mean their conversation was finished. The moment Willym was across the room, Corin nudged a note towards Mhysra. Who?
Biting her lip to restrain a smile, Mhysra scribbled, Lt. Stirla.
Corin masked her gasp under a convincing sneeze. Poor Milli!
I know. Mhysra sighed, putting her geography essay aside and fishing her arithmetic notes out of the mess Willym had made. The sums looked no more appealing now than they had the day before, or at any point during the last quarter-moon, but they were due the next morning.
Lieutenant Hlen was no trouble, though. As long as the students made an effort, he treated them fairly. If they didn’t he looked sad, which was far worse than any humiliation Willym meted out. Dhori shoved a sheet of hints across the table to help her. Grinning, she set to work, while Corin ransacked everyone’s notes for more on King Meryk. By the time the evening bell finally rang, the students were more relieved than usual: the Willym effect.
“What was all that about?” Derrain asked as they left the hall.
“A letter from Milli,” Corin said before Mhysra could reply. “She’s in love with Lieutenant Stirla, but the earl would never agree to the match.”
Mhysra scowled at her. “She isn’t in love with him. They just flirt.”
Derrain chuckled. “That’s what Corin got you two bells in the tanners for? Poor bargain.”
“I don’t mind. They’ll give me stitching.” Due to Corin, Mhysra often had punishment duty. Now that she wasn’t being forced to sew useless samplers and handkerchiefs, she’d found she had quite a skill for it.
“Lucky you,” Corin grumbled. “I always have to cure things.”
“That’s because your attempts at stitching look like a drunk spider fell into an ink pot,” Derrain told her, using Mhysra as a shield against retaliation.
“He’s right,” Dhori said, sidestepping the scuffle. “It’s quite a gift.”
Corin appealed to Mhysra for support, but she shrugged apologetically. “He has a point.”
“And you call yourselves my friends,” Corin sniffed and flounced off.
After she left, Derrain turned to Mhysra and grinned. “So, is Milli really in love with Stirla?”
* * * * *
AS THE STORM season gathered around Aquila, the first-years settled into a regular routine. They flew every day, alternating mornings and afternoons, and the rest of their time was filled with lessons. On Stardays the whole of Aquila flew, the bells calling them out to the eyries without warning. The lieutenants claimed it was good practise to spring a surprise summons, but Corin thought it was torture.
“They watch me, they must do, because the moment I go to the privy the bell rings and I’m stuck with my breeches round my ankles!”
Mhysra wouldn’t have put it past Stirla, especially after the third time Corin almost suffered an undignified accident, but she couldn’t believe it of Lyrai. He was too steady, though a lot less stern and humourless now that he had Hurricane. He was certainly better than Lieutenant Willym. Was ever a man more contemptuous? Willym looked down on everyone, but saved a particular brand of disdain for the girls. He was as bad as her father.
Their lessons ranged from geography to cooking, with arithmetic and even smith-work to keep their brains and bodies busy. They trained with staffs before breakfast, followed by swords, then archery after noon, and were sent on runs through the citadel whenever someone felt the need to give them more exercise. Captain Hylan, whose students were in the upper years, particularly enjoyed making them scurry. As one of Hylan’s Riders, Kilai assured them the captain was the nicest, quietest man they could meet. The exhausted students disagreed.
“He does have a twisted sense of humour, though,” Kilai warned, but Mhysra and her friends had already noticed.
Bad weather became so frequent that even Mouse stopped twitching at the lightning. Only Dhori continued to care, his eyes brightest when thunder was in the air.
“You’re unnatural,” Corin complained during Captain Fredkhen’s geography class. “How can you stand it? My head pounds so much I could scream.”
Dhori rubbed her tense neck. “I never claimed to be normal. Who doesn’t love the raw power of nature?”
“Me,” Haelle croaked, head on the desk, in even worse shape than Corin. “I just want one quiet day. I don’t even mind if it rains.”
“I want to fly,” Mhysra grumbled. The storms had been so thick that she hadn’t so much as sat on Cumulo for six days, and before that they’d had just two flying lessons after a three day wait. Their current lessons were confined to the eyries where everyone was taught how to feed and care for their miryhl, with loud, unimpressed huffs from Cumulo helping to keep things interesting.
“I thought you liked thunderstorms?” Derrain said, copying the map from the blackboard.
“So did I,” Mhysra agreed. “Until I moved into one.”
“You’re no fun,” Dhori sighed, staring out of the window at the rain-lashed mountain.
“I never claimed to be,” Corin replied, and groaned as thunder rolled once more.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
Aquila, at last!
THE RAIN WAS torrential as the two skyships docked by the eastern spur outside Aquila. Wide caves offered enough room for the ships to wait out the storm in safety and comfort. For the students and Riders, though, the journey continued.
Waiting by the cave mouth with Cumulo, Mhysra stared at the rain and for the first time ever wished she didn’t have to fly.
“You were the one desperate to come,” her miryhl grumbled, as she secured her hat.
She grimaced and ignored him, looking back at the transport being set up for the students. Each boat seated fifteen and was carried by four bullwings. With Dhori and Mhysra flying in by miryhl that left two boats of students and two of baggage, along with thirty free miryhls.
“I’m so glad I’ve got you,” she told Cumulo, scrambling into the saddle as the students filled the boats. None of them looked happy. Nor did the Riders who had to herd a flock of miryhls through the rain.
Only one person looked cheerful: Dhori. Seated on Latinym’s back, the student’s eyes were fixed on the hammering rain, his mouth curved in a delighted smile.
“There’s something not right about him,” Cumulo murmured, and Mhysra chuckled. Dhori was strange, in a pleasant way. Usually she liked storms, but not for flying through.
“You said you wanted more adventure, Cue.”
“Must have been moulting.”
“Riders, move out!” Lieutenant Stirla ordered, and four Riders took off with six free miryhls. Next, Stirla escorted the first boat with Rees in support, then more miryhls, followed by Lieutenant Lyrai and Honra with the second boat. Dhori and Mhysra were with the third batch of miryhls, while Captain Myran oversaw the supplies and remaining miryhls.
She hunched against Cumulo’s back and they dived into the rain. Both winced at the slap of wind and water, but they’d flown through enough bad weather to settle quickly. Dusk was sweeping in as the storm poured down the side of the mountain. Flashes flickered in the gloom, illuminating the white citadel and lighting their way home.
Latinym swept alongside. “Maegla welcomes us!” Dhori whooped as thunder boomed.
“Cracked as an egg,” Cumulo grumbled, flapping hard as the cold waterfall disturbed the air.
With the storm getting ever closer, the miryhls didn’t spare the time to circle upwards and took the harder route flying straight to the top of the falls. As they got closer to the enormous structure spanning the river, Mhysra realised the bridge was riddled with holes. The bullwing boats went over the top, but the miryhls darted through the hatches into the dry, if not the warmth. It was an antechamber to the eyries, where miryhls could be handled without disturbing the rest of the flock.
“Brr,” Cumulo shivered, landing and fluffing out his feathers. “Call this a welcome?”
Mhysra hopped off and Dhori did the same, quickly untacking their miryhls and gathering drying cloths. Rumpling her big miryhl, Mhysra praised his bravery while the storm snarled ever closer. Attendants appeared to take care of the new miryhls and the air was full of greetings between Riders.
“New miryhls, follow me!” a booming voice commanded, even louder than Stirla’s.
Mhysra peered around Cumulo’s wing in time to see a tall Rider climb a ladder into the eyries above. “Better go,” she urged her miryhl. “It’ll be warm in there.”
Cumulo rubbed his beak against her, then flapped after the Rider. Hurricane swooped in just ahead of him and Mhysra winced, hoping Cumulo wouldn’t cause trouble. The rest of the new miryhls jostled after them.
“We’ll have trouble with those two,” someone chuckled, and she turned to the man dressed in an everyday Rider uniform of brown and black. His voice seemed vaguely familiar, his accent crisp with a hint of the Lowlands. Then a flash of lightning lit the room and the Rider’s face.
“Kilai!” she shrieked, jumping into her brother’s arms.
Laughing, he lifted her off the ground. “Welcome to Aquila, brat.”
“Kilai,” she murmured as he put her down, unable to tell him how much she’d worried, fearing he wouldn’t want to know her. “Oh, I’ve missed you.”
“Aye, brat, me too,” he said carelessly, ruffling her hair and picking up Cumulo’s tack. “Come on. I’ll show you where to store this so it’ll get cleaned, then we’ll settle you in.”
Wiping her face and hoping people would think it was just the rain, she shouldered her pack and called for Dhori. Then she looked at her brother again and smiled. “Let’s go.”
* * * * *
THE CITADEL LOOKED just the same as Lyrai followed his captain from the eyries. He stopped when they crossed the bridge, unable to help himself. It was tradition for returning Riders to pause by the great window to look at the view. Straight ahead the mountain ridges fell back, leaving nothing but clouds and sky. Even shrouded by a storm the scene was breathtaking. Lightning snaked across the darkening day and the horizon was a distant line of crimson-tinged gold. Thunder shuddered through the citadel as the sun surrendered to the night.
Smiling, Lyrai bent over the sill and, heedless of the rain, stared at the surging Aquatai Falls. This was the glory of Aquila: a sheet of roaring water tumbling into the cloudy abyss. Buildings clung to the cliffs on either side as though they had grown from the rocks. Lightning flashed, reflecting off the aqueducts that rippled along each street. On the right were the homes of the tradesmen and women who worked for the citadel and to the left were the barracks.
Aquila: home of the Rift Riders. Lyrai adored it.
Turning from the window, he ran a hand over the smooth stone and followed the others. Unlike the new students, off to eat before being shown to their rooms, he had an appointment. Life for students would begin in the morning, but for the Riders work carried on.
“Pleased to be home?” Stirla murmured.
“I’ll let you know,” Lyrai replied, saving his breath for the East Tower. For a man with a limp, Myran moved fast and his lieutenants struggled to keep up, pausing at the top to catch their breath. Lightning flickered, followed by snarling thunder that shook the torches in their brackets. Casting an experienced eye over his officers, the captain smiled and opened the door.
Two men waited inside. “Good timing, Myran?” Captain Roumn greeted; a grizzled older Rider who looked as if the kaz-naghkt had gnawed on him. He eyed Stirla and Lyrai with a smirk. “Think you’re ready to play the teaching game, lads?”
As the lieutenants traded uncertain glances, the other captain came over. “They’ve just outraced a storm, Roumn, give them a chance to dry out before frightening them off.” The shortest man present, Captain Fredkhen was also the friendliest. “How many with you?”
“Thirty-two,” Myran said. “Nineteen from Nimbys, eight from Storm Peaks, five from Sutherall. You came from Etheria?”
“For my sins.” Fredkhen nodded. “Brought twenty-nine. Gods, I thought we’d never make the Choice. We had over a hundred applicants, thirty of them girls.”
As the captains moved off to discuss student numbers, Myran dismissed his followers with a wave. They were happy to be excused and Lyrai led the rush to the fireplace.
“Ah, Aquila,” Stirla sighed, ruffling the water from his hair, while Rees and Honra held their hands towards the flames. “Not here a day and the olds are already boring me to death.”
Watching the captains, Lyrai smiled grimly. “If Fredkhen’s here you know what that means?”
Stirla straightened up and grimaced. “Willym. I’d forgotten and was happy in my ignorance. How did the nicest captain in the Riders end up with him?”
“Patronage,” Rees grunted, lifting his coattails to warm his backside.
“Fredkhen’s family work for Willym’s father, Jarl Yurrayn,” Honra elaborated.
“Figures,” Stirla grumbled. “Does this mean we’re stuck with that pyrefly scat for the next three years?”
They contemplated the thought in miserable silence. “Gods,” Lyrai sighed. “And I thought the students would be the worst of it.”
Before they could get too depressed, the inner door opened and a fresh-faced secretary peeped out. “Dean Marshall will see you now.”
“So nice to be home,” Stirla grumbled, following the captains into the dean’s study.
* * * * *
“I AM NEVER sitting in another boat as long as I live, so help me gods,” Corin vowed, dripping into the dining hall. The stone walls were shadowed in the lamplight, leaving an impression of immense space barely softened by grand tapestries and banners. Five tables marched down the hall’s length, one of which was covered with baskets of food. Simple fare, but warm and close to the fire. The students descended like a plague of half-drowned rats.
“As good a reason as any for joining the Riders,” Derrain agreed, sitting beside Mhysra and reaching for the pie basket. “Fly in all right?”
“Better than you apparently,” Mhysra replied, helping Corin climb over the bench. Her friend was groaning enough to put an eighty-year-old to shame. “What happened?”
“Cold.” Corin’s teeth chattered as she reached for a roll. “Cramped. Idiots.”
“The rain was freezing,” Haelle explained across the table. “And we were packed as tight as a rain cloak’s weave.”
Mouse, however, was jubilant. “Our boat almost tipped over! We nearly went in the river!”
“Since that flows out over the falls, I was not so happy at the prospect as you,” Derrain said. “Remind me never to sit near him again.”
The students bickered as they devoured fruit, pies and cold meats, while warming up beside the enormous fireplace. As they gnawed on the food, many of them studied the gloomy room. It seemed impossible that they were at Aquila. They might easily have been back in at the Rider offices for lunch. Aside from the abundance of stone and atmosphere of grandeur.
“Hey-ho, Derry-o, you made it!” Warm hands gripped Mhysra’s shoulders and she leant back against her brother as he greeted her friends, old and new. His chest rumbled against her head when he laughed at Derrain’s description of the boat ride, comparing their arrival to his own four years ago.
“You never said your brother would be here,” Corin whispered. “Wrentherin, Kilpapan, Wingborn, and now a Rider-in-training with a personal guide to Aquila.” She glanced up at Kilai. “You have the best looking relations.”
“You think every man’s good-looking, and I can’t say I’ve noticed,” Mhysra said, bumping her head against Kilai’s chest. When her brother looked down, she waved at the girl beside her. “Kilai, meet Corin.”
Her brother smiled. “Welcome to Aquila, Corin. Another pretty face to brighten these bleak halls. I hope you like it here.”
Derrain looked up. “That’s a point. How many girls got through?”
Kilai squeezed onto the bench between his sister and Derrain. “Ten so far, to go with your -” He did a quick count. “Eight. Oww, nine.” He scowled, rubbing where Mhysra had elbowed him for leaving her out. “The North Point lot haven’t arrived yet.”
“Nineteen girls,” Corin said thoughtfully. “That’s not so bad. I expected less.”
“We all did,” Kilai agreed, catching his sister’s arm before she could jab him. “Not like that, hoyden, we’re just surprised. They’re preparing a second dormitory. They expected about fifteen.”
Across the table, a Storm Peaks lad snorted. “Rumour says they expected none.”
Kilai’s smile was crooked. “Then they were wrong. I knew at least one would make it.” He ruffled Mhysra’s hair and stood up. “Now it’s up to you girls to prove just how wrong they were. In the meantime I’ll show you to your rooms. As soon as the North Point lot arrive, the captains’ll divide you into your training flurries, then they set you to work. So get to know the others, explore and make the most of this freedom. It’s the last you’ll see for a while.”
With that cheery advice, he headed for the door, leaving the new students to scurry after him, stuffing fruit and pies into handkerchiefs and pockets.
Looping his arms around Corin and Mhysra’s shoulders, Derrain gave them both an excited squeeze. “So it begins.”
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!