First time reading? Find out more on the Wingborn Series page or start World’s End here.
~ Previous Chapter ~
Oh, look, it’s Cumulo. Remember him?
~ Previous Chapter ~
Sorry this is a wee bit late, I’ve been out enjoying the spring sunshine (not so much the wind, but it wouldn’t be Dartmoor without a brisk breeze).
Anyway… Derry to the rescue!
This deleted scene was taken out of what is now Chapter 12 of Wingborn, where Mhysra and Cumulo are flying over the Cloud Sea. In the book they spot a strange ship approaching Nimbys, which leads to meeting Captain Torven, who is something of a charmer, but originally they meet someone else first.
Hurricane – and not in a friendly way.
I removed this because a friend pointed out (quite rightly) that Cue was unlikely to risk Mhysra in such a way. Plus it didn’t really fit Hurricane either – and would have made things tricky between him and Cue going forward. So I removed it. But I still like the feral approach, which is why I’m sharing it now.
If you’d like to see a more canon version of Cue and Cane’s first meeting, Facing the Hurricane is a short story that deals with just that.
CUMULO TUCKED HIS wings in and dropped several feet, before catching them again – an airborne sigh. “You think too much,” he said, his voice a reassuring vibration against her.
“I was only asking,” she grumbled. “A fair question, after what you said.”
He clucked reproachfully. “I was joking. Since you started training you’ve lost all sense of humour. Not that you had much to begin with.”
She smiled into his feathers, loving the clean smell of him touched with a sweet hint of dust. “Did it ever occur to you that you’re just not funny?”
“Of course not. The fault has always been yours.”
“But even without a true appreciation for my genius, I’d rather have you than anyone. I can’t imagine a better flight partner. You’re my Wingborn. Even though I can’t live without you, I neither wish to, nor can imagine trying. I’m yours as you are mine. If I made disparaging remarks about the Choice it’s because I pity the arriving miryhls. They’ll never have what we do, nor comprehend what they’re missing. You are like flight to me.”
Stunned to hear such words from her proud and often irreverent Wingborn, Mhysra couldn’t speak. Instead she reached forward as far as she could and hugged him tightly. Tears stung her eyes, from the cold and the wind as well as emotion, and she buried her face in his feathers.
“Are you crying?” he rumbled. “You’d better not be crying. Your nose always runs when you cry and it ruins my feathers. I am not a handkerchief.”
Chuckling, she sat up and wiped her face. “I’m not crying.”
“Good. It would damage my reputation should anyone catch you being so unashamedly girlish. There is no room for maudlin sentiment in the Riders.”
“Yes, sir,” she chirped, saluting cheekily.
“Are you mocking me, student?” he growled, in an accurate impersonation of Sergeant Rees.
“Because if you were, student, I would have to take severe action.”
“I would never dare mock you, most gracious and brilliant sir.”
“Good. I should hate, for example, to have to do this!” His wings tucked in tight, clamping her legs against his sides as they plummeted into freefall. Had Mhysra been a little less familiar with her miryhl it would have been terrifying, especially when the world turned on its side and the clouds rushed up to meet them, but after years of flying together she knew him almost as well as she knew herself. Which was why when she felt his wings twitch, she gripped his neck feathers, tightened her thighs and held on.
She still screamed, though, when Cumulo began to spin. Her heart thundered, her lungs ceased to work and her eyes closed. The wind roared in her ears, slapping her face and pulling at her hair as it raced over them, and they tumbled down and around. With a final roll, Cumulo righted himself, swooping across the clouds and scattered rocks below.
Mhysra laughed breathlessly, her face buried against his neck. “You’ll kill me one day.”
He didn’t answer. A new tension tightened through him and he powered upwards with heavy beats of his wings, lifting them higher with each down draft.
Surprised, Mhysra opened her eyes and sat up. “Cumulo, what -?”
“Keep down,” he snapped, dropping sharply and rising again, jolting her firmly against him.
Winded and confused, she obeyed, while scanning the skies for the threat. She’d never known him act in such a way. It was completely out of character, not least because this way of flying usually took too much effort for his more indolent nature. She remembered the kaz-naghkt attack that had occurred just a few months ago, and her heart skipped a beat.
Then she saw it. A miryhl, unencumbered by rider or harness, heading towards Nimbys with easy flaps of its enormous wings. And Cumulo was headed straight for it.
“Stop!” she shouted. “Are you mad? What do you think you’re doing? Cumulo!”
Ignoring her protests, Cumulo shrieked a challenge at the unfamiliar bird, labouring to get higher and achieve superiority in the air.
“Cumulo, leave be!”
“You’re mine,” he growled. “I won’t let him take you.”
“He doesn’t want me,” she snapped, while the newcomer swooped around, circling to gain height. He showed no signs of attacking, but was clearly prepared to defend. Not that Mhysra felt comforted, especially when she took in his size. He was easily as big as Cumulo, and more. Older too, with fully developed flight and fight muscles.
Seeing this strange male in all his unrestrained glory reminded her how young her Wingborn was. By rights he shouldn’t have a Rider yet, and it was only through virtue of their bond that he had developed as quickly as he had. He wasn’t even fully grown.
“Cumulo,” she begged as the two males circled warily, both trying to gain height. “Cumulo, please.”
Ignoring her, Cumulo allowed the other male to go higher, then swept underneath, turning on his back, talons extended in a swipe.
“No!” Almost unseated by the unprecedented move, for the first time ever Mhysra hauled on the reins. Unlike a horsat or pyrefly bridle, the miryhl head collar had no bit and was designed for directional purposes rather than control. But if Cumulo’s attack had been unanticipated, Mhysra’s reaction was even more so. Jerked unexpectedly to the left, he missed his swipe and was forced to roll over or drop completely.
Enraged, he snapped at her over one shoulder, but when he tried to lunge at the other miryhl again, she pulled to the right.
“Stop it, Cumulo!” she yelled, desperate to be heard over his defiant screams. “Stop!”
Shaking his head, he swooped around for another go, but the male was gone. Mhysra spotted him first, flying like the wind away from Nimbys, and she was grateful for it. Such a large male would have been perfectly within his rights to fight back. It was rare for bonded miryhls to fight, taking their rank from their Rider or their own natural dominance, but an unbonded miryhl was still subject to the instincts of its wild cousins, and miryhls were a territorial breed. With the added restrictions of his harness and the weight of a Rider, Cumulo would have been at a disadvantage and could have gotten both himself and Mhysra killed.
“Maegla be thanked for smart birds,” she muttered, praying the other miryhl would keep flying at such a pace, since Cumulo was determined to follow. She considered trying to stop him again, but when she tightened her hands on the reins, he lowered his head and growled, the sound vibrating through his body.
“As you wish,” she grumbled, relaxing her fingers. He was tiring already, since the pace was not what he was used to, and he wouldn’t be able to keep it up much longer. Endurance was something that came with age, experience and regular exercise. At first they closed the distance to the stranger, but gradually as they flew on, Cumulo began to slow and drop back. Growling with frustration, he took long glides between each sequence of wing beats, while the other male continued to power away.
“That’s enough, Cue,” she advised in a low murmur. “You’ve driven him off.”
He shook his head, but was slower than ever and beginning to pant. Mhysra was concerned they wouldn’t make it back to Nimbys, and would have to find a place to rest. It was just typical that the stranger had been flying out over the Cloud Sea, where there wasn’t any civilisation for thousands of miles.
Cumulo sagged beneath her, the fight going out of him, and she gripped him in panic. “Cue?” she called frantically. “Are you well?”
Huffing, he tilted his wings and swooped in a wide circle until they were facing Nimbys again, far in the distance. He barely flapped as they drifted back home, though his heart still raced beneath her. “Sorry,” he muttered, clearly reluctant. “Thought he was feral.”
Mhysra bit her lip to keep from pointing out that of the two miryhls, he was the one who had behaved wildly, harnessed or not. “There are no feral miryhls now, Cue. You know that.”
“He took me by surprise. Couldn’t risk it.”
She growled. “You’re lucky he left. He was bigger than you, you idiot. You could have killed us both!”
Cumulo said nothing, just gave a surly flap of his wings and landed on a small outcrop, barely visible over the Cloud Sea. “But I didn’t.”
Knowing better than to argue, she kicked free of her stirrups and slid from her saddle, making her displeasure known by turning her back to him.
“Don’t be angry with me,” he crooned, lifting her braid and running it through his beak. “Chickling, don’t be cross.” He rubbed his head against her back and, when she started shivering, hooked his beak over her shoulder and drew her under his wing. “Sorry.”
Sighing, she snuggled against him, grateful that his feathers kept out the worst of the chill. The winds were strong down here, tricky and cunning, finding their way through clothes and feathers alike.
“Mhysra,” he purred, sticking his head under his wing. “Don’t be angry with me.”
“I should be furious,” she grumbled, and he huffed with amusement, sensing he’d won. She shoved him away. “Don’t do it again, Cue. I won’t have you fighting. Feral or no. Never provoke another miryhl like that. Especially not when Riders are involved. It’s too dangerous, to the Riders and yourselves. We’ll have more than enough fighting to do without you making things worse.”
“But you’re mine,” he rumbled. “I will fight to keep you.”
“You won’t,” she snapped. “You know I’d never leave you. I’m not some fickle mate, flitting off with a male who has glossier feathers. I’m your Wingborn. We’re tied together for life. No one can break that.”
Still rumbling, he preened her hair and repeated, “You’re mine.”
Defeated, Mhysra resigned herself to his possessiveness. He was still young, and barely approaching maturity. She hoped he grew some wisdom soon, or they would both be in trouble when they reached Aquila. If they reached Aquila. She still didn’t know what her parents would say when they found out what she’d been doing with her time in the city.
Pushing free of both her thoughts and Cumulo, she tucked her freshly preened hair behind her ears and looked around, wondering how far from Nimbys they were, and whether Cumulo was fit enough to take them back. She didn’t even want to consider what they would do should he prove unable.
Thanks for reading!
Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.
Part One was Cumulo’s take on things, now it’s Hurricane’s turn to meet the Wingborn.
BREEZE STRUTTED THROUGH the eyries, confident without arrogance. She didn’t need to preen and fuss or puff herself up to show everyone how important she was. All she had to do was walk and the rest moved aside.
Hurricane tilted his head and watched her move. There was nothing exceptional about her feathers or form, but an invisible mantle surrounded her anyway. Maegla, he wanted to be Breeze when he grew up.
Skipping a few paces to catch up, he followed Breeze down the main aisle to a back corner, aware of the whispers rustling in his wake. He kept his head high, though, and tried not to listen too closely to the words. What few he couldn’t help but overhear sounded curious and complimentary rather than cruel, but he shook them off anyway. A swollen head would be just as damaging as a crushed spirit in the long run.
“Here.” Breeze paused before an impressive looking group, containing two of the largest and shiniest miryhls Hurricane had ever seen.
One was a female who was even bigger than himself. She was pure bronze, with black-edged wings and deep brown eyes that assed him carefully before she shuffled her enormous wings against her back.
“Lyrai’s bonded?” she rumbled, her voice deep and soothing.
Swallowing hard, Hurricane nodded, suddenly feeling his youth and inexperience compared to these birds. The other miryhls he’d met so far had been as young and foolish as himself, but these were Rift Riders, real Riders, with years of partnership beneath their wings. Hurricane had never even carried a human on his back before, only dummies filled with sand.
“I’m Atyrn, Lieutenant Stirla’s bonded.” She leant forward and tapped her golden beak against his. “Welcome to Nimbys. We’ll be seeing rather a lot of each other.”
Hurricane crackled his beak and felt the tiny feathers below his eyes rise with embarrassment. Beak taps were nothing, just a casual mark of affection and friendship. But Atyrn was a lieutenant’s bonded. She’d beak tapped him! He scratched at the floor with his talons and muttered something incomprehensible, suddenly shy in the big female’s presence. She’d been with her lieutenant for years already and now he was her equal.
Breeze huffed softly and Atyrn gave a low chuckle.
“And this is Cumulo,” his fellow lieutenant miryhl said, drawing Hurricane’s attention back up from the floor. “He’s even younger than you but, as you can see, just as overgrown.”
Hurricane stared at the glossy brown miryhl, whose feathers perfectly matched the ripe conkers of autumn, and tilted his head. Though just a fraction smaller than himself, this Cumulo was broader in the chest and much more muscular in the wings. Gold shimmered across those same wings as he shuffled them beneath Hurricane’s assessing gaze.
How could this miryhl be younger than himself? Hurricane wasn’t yet twenty years old and had learnt from others on the Thorncrest that he was considered rather young for a male headed to the Choice.
Cumulo straightened up, raising his head as high as it could go, bringing them eye to eye. “I am Wingborn,” he announced defiantly.
Hurricane blinked. Wingborn? He’d heard the stories and rumours and deemed them nonsense. Such a thing could never exist, and even if it did, it couldn’t be anything like as amazing as the legends made them sound.
He studied Cumulo again, seeing how fit and shiny the young male was, and how he already fit alongside the other miryhls, making Hurricane feel weak and skinny by comparison.
He stared his fellow youngster in the eye, reading an uncertainty there that matched his own. A Wingborn was surely as much of a curiosity as a marble miryhl, and likely just as big a target for jealousy as a freshly matched lieutenant’s bonded. They were both new to this life, both strangers in an eyrie full of old acquaintances.
Hurricane relaxed. “Well met, Cumulo,” he greeted, wondering if he dared beak tap his newest friend.
Cumulo bristled a little, drawing back at the slightest forward movement on Hurricane’s part.
Ah, no beak tap then. Maybe later.
Finding himself the focus of both Breeze and Atyrn – not to mention many others in the eyrie – Cumulo huffed. “Well met, Hurricane,” he growled begrudgingly, his golden eyes glowering resentfully at the newest member of the eyries.
Not two days ago, Hurricane would have backed away from such potential hostility, taking himself off to find friends elsewhere. Not this time. He was a lieutenant’s bonded now, he belonged in this eyrie.
Besides, despite their short acquaintance, it was obvious that Cumulo was young and prideful: Hurricane’s arrival had tweaked his tail out of alignment. It would be up to him to reassure the younger male that he was still special and important. It would be a lieutenantly thing to do.
Under the amused gazes of Breeze and Atyrn, Hurricane sidled his way through the group of smaller birds until he was beside Cumulo. Settling down close – but not too close – to the other miryhl, he tilted his head towards him and said, “I’ve never met a Wingborn before.”
Cumulo eyed him suspiciously. “Of course not. We’ve never met before.”
Breeze turned away with an unconvincing sneeze, while Atyrn suddenly developed a fascination for her talons.
Hurricane kept his own laugh inside his chest, letting it warm him as he shifted a little closer to his new friend. “Tell me, is it every bit as good as the stories?” he asked, allowing a bit of his natural scepticism into his tone to temper the sense of awe.
Cumulo narrowed his eyes. “It’s better,” he said shortly. “Flying with Mhysra is everything to me. As I’m sure you’ll find out once you finally carry Lyrai on your back.”
A prickle of possessiveness rippled down Hurricane’s spine at the casual use of his bonded’s name. Of course every miryhl in this eyrie knew his Lyrai better than he did. He would still be the only one to fly with him, though.
Watching him carefully, Cumulo crackled his beak smugly, having evidently noticed the effect his words had had. “Sixteen years we’ve been together, my Mhysra and I. Our partnership is perfect.”
Hurricane sighed wistfully, unable to imagine spending so long with any one human. Lyrai already felt like his and they’d barely met. “I can’t wait.”
Cumulo studied him carefully for a long moment. Then he slowly, cautiously, spread his wing enough to nudge against Hurricane’s. “So…” he began gruffly. “Lyrai, eh? How did that happen? The Choice isn’t until tomorrow. Wanted to stand out and be different, did you?”
It was Hurricane’s turn to feel smug, though he knew better than to let it show. He’d make a friend out of this eagle yet. “With a Wingborn in this eyrie? I haven’t a chance.”
Which was evidently the perfect thing to say as Cumulo’s back straightened once more, his golden eyes glinting with pride. “True,” he acknowledged, a faint chuckle in his tone. “But you make an impressive second. I can just imagine what you and Lyrai will look like at sunrise. Him all golden, you all… whatever you are.”
For the first time since leaving home, Hurricane chuckled at a comment upon his looks. Was it possible that Cumulo was a little jealous of his marble feathers? Well, Hurricane was more than a little jealous of Cumulo’s long partnership with his Wingborn and his prior knowledge of Lyrai, so they were even. “I think I’m going to like it here,” he announced.
Cumulo scoffed with amusement. “Wait until you meet the students first,” he advised. “You may wish to change your mind.”
“Never,” Hurricane said, feeling the truth of it down to his bones. This was where he was meant to be, with these miryhls, with these Riders. Here was home.
Atyrn leant forward and beak tapped him again. “Good.”
Hurricane ruffled his feathers with pleasure, even as Cumulo huffed beside him.
Atyrn beak tapped him too. “Behave, Cue,” she ordered.
He sniffed and tilted his head pointedly away from both her and Hurricane, towards where the rest of the group of miryhls had been watching them with amusement. “Where was I?” he announced loudly.
A small, black male ruffled his feathers and piped up eagerly, “Somewhere up a mountainside facing off against a raging wild bullwing bull, who was about to charge you down and eviscerate you and your Wingborn.”
Hurricane jerked his head back and caught Atyrn’s eye. “But -” he began, until Atyrn’s wink silenced him. Maybe things were different in the north and they had wild bullwings here. In South Imercian, though, they were far too valuable to be allowed to escape – and they’d never charge down a miryhl without having been challenged first.
Ignoring any hint of an interruption, Cumulo puffed up his chest importantly. “Thank you, Kerron, I remember now. So there we were, my Wingborn and I, facing down certain death…”
As the young miryhl settled into his grandiose tale of bravery and danger, Hurricane nestled beside him and let his mind drift. It had been rather a long day, almost as exciting as Cumulo’s tale was turning out to be.
Amused, Hurricane fluffed up his feathers, humming with contentment as Atyrn roosted beside him. Two lieutenant miryhls together in the Rift Rider eyrie, right where Hurricane belonged. It certainly wasn’t where he’d expected to end his day when he’d woken up that morning, but he wasn’t about to complain.
Especially not when Cumulo finally finished his tail and huddled alongside him. A Wingborn on one side, a lieutenant miryhl on the other: Hurricane had definitely gone up in the world.
“Welcome to Nimbys,” Cumulo muttered, now that most of the eyrie was asleep and few would hear him.
Hurricane heard, though, and sleepily reached over to tap his beak against the younger miryhl’s. “Good to meet you too, friend.”
Huffing, Cumulo hunched down and rumbled a low growl in his chest. “I barely know you, stranger,” he grumbled.
Hurricane just chuckled and pressed his wing against the Wingborn. He might not have won Cumulo over completely just yet, but they’d get there. Friendship was inevitable. Hurricane would make certain of it.
PERCHED AT THE top of the eyries, Breeze looked down over her sleeping flight and nodded with satisfaction. Lyrai was mounted again and young Cumulo had a real challenger in Hurricane. Their friendship and rivalry would settle them both down, helping them to find their rightful places in the Riders.
All was good.
Closing her eyes, Breeze settled down to sleep, confident that all had gone well for another day. She couldn’t wait to tell her Myran all about it in the morning.
Thanks for reading!
Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.
Of course, Cumulo takes it all in his calm, laid-back style… ha! Only joking, of course he doesn’t!
28th Fledgling 786 CE
CUMULO WAS RIGHT in the middle of one of his favourite anecdotes about how he’d once faced down and chased off a wild bullwing bull – though it’s possibly that it wasn’t entirely wild, and the face-off might have arisen because Cumulo had spooked the herd, but details, details – when he first noticed the silence.
Not that silence was necessarily a bad thing. Cumulo loved to wow an audience with his stories, and since his arrival in Nimbys he’d managed this feat on more than one occasion. Which was no small thing, considering his audience consisted of real Rift Rider miryhls, of which he was the youngest by a fair margin. Then again, he was Wingborn, so of course he was a natural leader and superior in every possible way. He was also born at Wrentheria, which made him adventurous and competent in all measures.
But it wasn’t just the silence. No, far worse than an eyrie of silent miryhls, Cumulo had lost their attention.
Allowing his voice to trail off mid-sentence, he craned his head around towards the door to see what all the others were staring at.
Two miryhls. The one on the left was familiar: plain brown and of a middling size for a female. Though she wasn’t entirely impressive to look at, Breeze commanded respect, partly through her age and experience, but mostly because she was Captain Myran’s bonded partner. Even Cumulo had to respect a Rider pair that had been in existence longer than he and Mhysra had been alive and who had a reputation for being completely solid, unflappable and honourable, even through injury.
Only it wasn’t Breeze who’d caught everyone’s attention – it the miryhl who stood beside her.
It was hard to make out much about the stranger, since the light was shining behind them, but Cumulo squinted at the glare cast off the new miryhl’s feathers and already felt himself bristling. The bird was bigger than him and strangely pale.
“Everyone!” Breeze raised her voice just enough to be heard in every corner of the eyrie. “Meet Hurricane.”
The new bird stepped forward and Cumulo wasn’t the only one to gasp.
A marble miryhl. Such a rare and strange thing. Cream and brown and black, mottled and patterned in a way that should never have been so beautiful.
Cumulo’s crest feathers rose, trembling ever so slightly. This eyrie already had a Wingborn – it didn’t need a marble miryhl as well. Too many marvels spoilt the awe.
Seemingly oblivious to the shock her companion’s appearance had caused, Breeze tilted her head towards Hurricane and gave an approving nod. “Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded.”
Cumulo’s wings sagged in stunned disbelief and a startled murmur shivered around the eyries.
Crackling her beak with amusement, Breeze looked around at the fuss until her dark-gold eyes finally settled on Cumulo. “I trust you will all make him feel welcome.”
Not in this lifetime. Hustling his wings back into place, Cumulo straightened up and raised his head before anyone noticed his loss of composure.
He was Wingborn, big for his age and with plenty of growing still left to do: he would always be the most impressive eagle in the eyrie. Even one with marble miryhls and officers’ birds in residence.
Not even Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded would change that. Cumulo wouldn’t let him.
“A LITTLE DIFFERENT to what you’re used to, I expect?”
Hurricane stared around at the eyrie with wide eyes and barely managed to nod at Breeze’s amused question. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected while travelling in the hull of the Thorncrest on the way to Nimbys, but it hadn’t been this. All his life, growing up on a small, secluded farm at the far end of South Imercian, Hurricane had been told about Nimbys and the Choice. Raised alongside his clutch mates, he’d learnt from a very early age that his destiny was to become a Rift Rider one day. To be chosen from the flock on the Day of Choice, partnered with one particular human and spend his life defending the Overworld against the scourge of the kaz-naghkt.
Well, he’d already messed that up by refusing to enter the rickety structure that the humans had laughingly called an eyrie. Hurricane wasn’t stupid. He had no wish to die in the middle of the night because a mild wind had blown through the valley and knocked the whole thing down on his head. Not that it really mattered. He already knew he was different, strange and doing everything wrong.
Travelling north on a small, drafty skyship before being transferred onto the Thorncrest, Hurricane had quickly learnt that he was odd-looking, different, strange and not necessarily in a good way. Humans pointed at him and muttered words behind their hands that they didn’t think he could hear. Other young miryhls shuffled away from him, uncertain whether he was sick and contagious or just strange.
Having always been the biggest of his brood, Hurricane had been praised and admired all his life. Back home his strange pale feathers had gone unnoticed in a flock of similar-looking birds. Perhaps his markings had been a little bolder than his fellow fledglings, his pale patches a little brighter, but back home that had been a good thing and it had been the brown miryhls that were strange and different and worth staring at.
Not here. Here he was the strangest of the strange, being stared at by an eyrie full of glossy brown, bronze and black birds, and he was the untidy stranger. Again.
It had taken time to win over the friendship and confidence of his fellow young miryhls on board the Thorncrest. They’d eventually found common ground in their nerves over what was to come and their homesickness. He’d made friends with the small and weak ones, those overlooked by others for being different or less than perfect. It was the first time in his life that Hurricane had been deemed less, but he’d adapted quickly enough. His size had made him an object of jealousy amongst some, his mottled feathers a subject of ridicule to others, but he’d risen above it, confident that his good qualities would still shine through when the Choice came.
Then he’d arrived in Nimbys.
He’d never seen a city before, had never imagined so many houses or people could exist all clustered together in such a way. Flying above the streets with the rest of the miryhls, he’d been overwhelmed to be part of such a large flock. Everything was too noisy, the air tasted different, the smaller birds had crowded against him and he’d struggled to find a space to land on the field below.
Where the temporary eyrie was waiting.
The other birds had been so excited and nervous that they’d allowed themselves to be herded straight into the death trap.
Hurricane had refused.
Rift Riders had converged to coax him. Already nervy and overwhelmed, there had been too many people trying to get close to him. He’d panicked and lashed out – so they’d tried to move him by force.
That hadn’t gone well. Nothing about this journey north had gone well.
Which was how he’d ended up half-bound, flat on the floor, snarling and slashing like a wild beast. All his training, all his dreams, everything that he’d ever learnt and known had flown straight out the hatch. All Hurricane had known was panic and fear.
Until he came.
He had gentle hands and a soft voice. He’d been patient and calm. He’d treated Hurricane as an equal, not an animal. He’d set Hurricane free.
It wasn’t how the Choice was supposed to go, but it worked for them. Hurricane could feel it deep down, the sense of rightness settling inside. Lyrai was his.
And he was lieutenant, which really was the gilding on the primary.
Reminded that he’d been chosen already and was now an officer’s miryhl, Hurricane raised his head.
Let them think him funny looking, let them look down their golden beaks at him: it didn’t matter. He was Lieutenant Lyrai’s bonded and he was here to stay.
Breeze chuckled beside him. She was an older eagle and had kind eyes. She didn’t look at him as if he was some odd curiosity. Then again, as a captain’s miryhl, she’d probably seen far worse and stranger things than him in her long life.
“Come,” she urged in her low, quiet voice. “There are some miryhls I wish you to meet.”
I only split this in two because it’s a bit much to read all at once.
But if you do want to read it all at once, then…
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
In which Cumulo grumbles. A lot. And Stirla does what Stirla does best – and reminds me why I love him so.
And for those who have never been here before: Rift Riders is the second book in the Wingborn series. It can be read as a standalone, but if you’d like to read the first one, you can – and it’s free! Head this way to find out more and for all the links.
Students at Large
“I DON’T SEE why I don’t get to go,” Cumulo grumbled, his raspy voice a sulky growl.
Smiling, Mhysra ducked out from beneath his wing, where she had been preening him. “We can barely take care of ourselves, Cue. How could we possibly look after all you miryhls as well?”
He huffed, unappeased. “I still don’t see why I can’t come. You’re more capable of taking care of me than of yourself. You’ve had plenty of practise.”
That was true, she thought as she dunked her hands in a water bucket to sluice off the oil and grime before diving under Cumulo’s wing again. United by the shared moment of their births in the mystical Wingborn bond, they were more like twins than military partners. They’d been together for more than seventeen years, seeing each other every day. Their training at Aquila was just the final step in their duty to the world. Unlike the other students, though, no bonding ceremony would be necessary at the end of her three years. Whether or not she had ever set foot in the citadel, Cumulo would still be hers.
Having said that, she was quite looking forward to a half-moon without him.
“It’s not fair,” he grumbled, feathers vibrating to the tone of his voice. Buried beneath his wing, Mhysra felt surrounded by his disgruntlement. “It’s like I’m being punished. Just because the rest are incompetent, doesn’t mean you are.”
Running her fingers through his feathers – from cool skin up the quill shafts to the tips and back again, removing dust and dirt – Mhysra chuckled. “Why, Cue, I do believe that’s almost a compliment.”
He shifted his weight, since he couldn’t shuffle his wings, and crackled his beak. “You’re enjoying this.”
“Grooming you is always a joy,” she agreed, pulling free to clean her hands again. “Especially today.” She grimaced at the brown gunk flaking off in the water. “Have you forgotten how to preen yourself?”
“Why should I bother with you around?” he sniffed. “I’m trying to make you feel useful.”
“Thanks.” She tugged his wing open so she could riffle through his long flight feathers.
“It’s not my fault it gets so dusty up here in the summer. Who would have thought it, after the snows we had last winter?”
Tracing the golden sheen that tipped the bottom edge of his primaries, Mhysra rolled her eyes. “Maybe if you and the others didn’t head up to the north slope so often, where I know for a fact there’s a dust bank you all enjoy, you wouldn’t get so dusty?”
Snatching his wing back, he ruffled his feathers indignantly and muttered about pesky mites and itches.
“You haven’t got any mites. Don’t talk nonsense.” She yanked his wing out again and moved onto his secondary flight feathers, which were a rich brown. When he was clean, his colour reminded her of the conkers she used to collect at Wrentheria in the autumn, where giant horse chestnuts bordered the farm.
Cumulo sniffed. “Of course I haven’t, but one can never be too careful when living with all-comers.” He glared at the other end of the eyries, but the precise recipient of his scorn was lost on Mhysra. Miryhl flock politics was a strange thing.
“Just remember you’re the one who has to clean it all out for a bit, so don’t get too filthy.”
“I can preen myself, you know,” he reminded her, peering over his shoulder as she finished his wing and moved onto his tail.
“That’s something I’d like to see,” she retorted, then spoiled it by grinning. “You’ve got gold on your tail now. Does this mean you’ve finally stopped growing?”
Fanning his tail out, he waggled it up and down to make the gold streaks flash in the sun. “Perhaps. Have you stopped growing yet?” He chuckled at her grimace.
“It’s been a whole month since I needed new shirts.”
“You’re almost as tall as Lieutenant Lyrai now, did you notice?”
“Not quite,” she muttered, not wanting to admit that she had indeed noticed. She noticed quite a lot about Lieutenant Lyrai these days. It was embarrassing, especially when his smile made her flush with heat. He didn’t even have to be looking at her – when he did it just made everything worse. She hadn’t been able to meet his eye since spring. The man must think her daft.
“Shame he isn’t going along with you,” Cumulo said, watching her slyly. “Will you miss him?”
“No,” she replied quickly. And it was the truth. A whole half-moon without going all hot and unnecessary over a smile sounded like heaven. Lieutenant Stirla was a far safer officer to be around. He was funny and she never daydreamed about his wicked dark eyes. Not that she daydreamed about Lieutenant Lyrai, his eyes or otherwise. At least, never on purpose.
Cumulo chuckled, and she realised she’d gone red. “Enough,” she snapped, returning to preening his tail. “You might have all day to stand around and tease, but I don’t. I have to go to the armoury and pick up my sword today.”
Her miryhl stopped teasing and gave a disgruntled huff. “That’s it, rub it in, reminding me again that you’re about to abandon me.”
“I’m not abandoning you,” she replied absently, having said it a lot of late and refusing to feel guilty. As if he would miss her anyway; Cumulo had a nice life in the eyries. Except for when she was preening him, any time spent with her was usually an interruption. He only minded now because he thought he was missing out.
As he launched into his familiar list of sulky accusations, Mhysra ignored him. He was just getting into full flow when she rinsed her hands one last time, grabbed his beak and pulled it down for a kiss.
He didn’t stop talking once.
“I’ll see you in the morning. Try not to fret too much, it just makes you scurfy.”
“Scurfy!” he screeched. “I do not have scurf!”
“You’d better not after all my work,” she agreed, picking up her grooming kit and heading for the tack room. “Behave yourself!”
“I would say the same to you, except you won’t spare me a thought while you’re gone, so I don’t care. It’s not fair. Why can’t I go…?” His low rumbling complaints followed her as she walked away, exchanging nods with dozing miryhls and smiling at any Riders she met. At the tack room she emptied her bucket down the drain, chatted with the attendants and charmed a promise out of one to clean Cumulo’s harness while she was gone.
By the time she trotted down to the bridge, it was mid-afternoon and the sun was blazing over the citadel. Inside the stone halls it was beautifully cool, thanks to the breeze sweeping down from the valley above. Outside on the east bank, students and Riders lounged on the Lawn, but Mhysra headed through the deserted west side. Next stop the armoury, where Derneon would be waiting with her sword and instructions for its care over the next half-moon. With her packing all finished, ready to leave in the morning, all that remained was to find out where they were going…
* * * * *
“YOU’RE ACTUALLY LOOKING forward to this, aren’t you?” Resting his shoulder against the doorway, Lyrai watched Stirla pack.
His friend looked up, eyes bright with anticipation, excitement and mischief. “I remember how it felt the first time we were let out of this place.”
Lyrai grimaced. “Fleik tortured us.”
Muttering to himself as he checked he had everything, Stirla gave a distracted nod. “As was his right. He’d only been made lieutenant the year before. It was his first chance.”
“I’m starting to feel sorry for our students.”
“Don’t.” Stirla added an extra shirt to the bag and stared thoughtfully at a pile of socks. “Four of us against thirty-seven of them. We deserve a little fun.” He rejected the socks.
“Just as long as you keep an eye on Rees,” Lyrai warned, stepping into the room and snatching two pairs of socks to stuff into his friend’s bag. “What if it rains?”
About to protest, Stirla nodded and added a third pair. “Good point. I hate wet feet.”
“You always pack too light,” Lyrai remarked, as Stirla buckled the small flight bag.
“Better than too heavy.”
“Not when it means you haven’t any spare clothes and have to fly for days in wet, filthy stuff, while your feet rub raw in your boots.”
“What a bundle of cheer you are,” Stirla muttered, weighing his bag thoughtfully in one hand. “It’s only a half-moon.” Satisfied, he tossed it on the bed and turned to his supply list.
“A whole half-moon and all you’re taking is three pairs of socks, one pair of breeches, two shirts and your shaving kit?”
“I’ll be wearing another set of clothes,” Stirla pointed out, chewing the end of his quill. “Do you think I can get away with making the students carry my camping gear and food?”
“You’re only taking one set of drawers?” Lyrai asked, unable to help himself.
“I can wash them.”
“And what’ll you wear in the meantime?”
“I’ll manage. Besides it’ll keep Corin amused.”
“Only if you decide to wash both pairs of breeches at the same time.”
Stirla’s grin was disturbingly wicked. “There’s a thought.”
“They are your students!”
His friend chuckled and scribbled on his list. “You’re such an easy mark. I’ll pack a couple more then, mother, if it’ll settle your feathers. But I’m definitely not carrying my own kit now.”
“Drawers are so heavy,” Lyrai drawled. “And you’re such a delicate flower.”
Stirla flexed his biceps meditatively and stuffed the extra drawers into his bag. “Wouldn’t want to strain anything. Anyway, it’ll be good for them.”
“Perks of being an officer,” Lyrai agreed. “Will Rees and Loyek be so similarly blessed?”
“It’s up to Fleik whether he goes easy on Loyek or not. As for Rees…” He scratched his chin as he considered his sergeant, then shrugged. “It’ll be best if someone else carries his stuff. He’ll only make everyone’s life a misery if he has to put some effort in.”
“He does that anyway.” Lyrai picked up the supply list and chuckled. “I am so glad I’m not going with you. A half-moon without Rees sounds like Heirayk’s own heaven.”
“As opposed to the half-moon you’ll be spending with Willym,” Stirla said, grinning. “I’d rather carry my own kit.”
Lyrai looked longingly at the bag on the bed. “Think I could fit in your pack? I mean it’s not like you haven’t got any space.”
“Only if I can get the students to carry it.” Stirla eyed him up and down and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Aye, I reckon Mouse could manage a runt like you.”
“Now I remember why I’m not all that bothered about being stuck with Willym.”
They shared a grin, before thoughts of Willym and Rees sobered Lyrai. “You will keep an eye on Rees around the students, especially the girls and the little lads, won’t you?”
“As my sergeant, he’s supposed to be watching me,” Stirla pointed out, since he and Lyrai were captains-in-training. “Though the thought of Rees watching me gives me the shivers.”
Lyrai grimaced. “You know what I mean.”
Recognising that his playful ploy wasn’t working, Stirla chucked his quill on his desk with a sigh. “Unfortunately I do. I’ll keep an eye on the old goat and make sure he doesn’t make anyone too miserable. Aside from me, that is, since it’s his job. Why couldn’t I have someone like Honra instead?”
Having got the assurance he needed, Lyrai smiled. “Because you’re too soft, and your flurry would walk all over you.”
“Whereas you’re too stiff,” Stirla retorted. “And your flurry could use you to board up windows and bridge small rivers.”
“But I ended up with Honra,” Lyrai said smugly, knowing how blessed he was with his easy-going sergeant.
“And now you get Willym too, you lucky thing.” Stirla’s deep chuckle was almost as smug as Lyrai’s had been, but then it was his turn to grow grave. “I hope you’ll be watching him closely too. And that little retinue he’s built up. Some potential unpleasantries in that bunch.”
“Aye,” Lyrai agreed, sighing. Only last month he’d been forced to discipline three of Willym’s students for abusing their miryhls in flight lessons. Two more had been grounded for a half-moon for dangerous conduct during exercise. Since then they’d all been relatively quiet, but he knew better than to believe them cowed. Sooner or later they’d revert to their previous behaviour and he still wasn’t sure what he would be able to do about it. For all that Aquila prided itself on its egalitarian ideals, high birth and strong, wealthy connections still held weight when it came to discipline and punishment – no matter how well earned they often were.
“Don’t look so sombre,” Stirla chided him. “It’s only Willym. If the worst happens, challenge him to a flight duel and beat the little worm hollow. You might not be much to look at, but Hurricane is. The pair of you can fly rings around him. Even Froth could manage that.”
Lyrai smiled. “Willym is quite a good flyer.”
“Not as good as you, though,” Stirla said. “Which means double the pleasure when you beat him in the simplest of tasks. Again. His face when you arrived with Hurricane!” He gave a low whistle of appreciation. “Surely that was worth all those grounded months.”
Willym was more Stirla’s enemy than Lyrai’s – his father’s status protected Lyrai from the worst of Willym’s antagonism, since it might still come in handy one day – but Lyrai couldn’t deny that it had been a joy to witness Willym’s fury when he’d realised who Hurricane belonged to. “Not quite, but it was worth them to catch his first sight of Cumulo and Mhysra together.”
Stirla chuckled gleefully. “True. I’m surprised she’s still here. I’d have expected the old rat to have launched a campaign to get her gone.”
A couple of subtle conversations with Derrain and some mysterious comments dropped by Dhori had informed Lyrai that her friends were looking out for her. “She’s more stubborn than she looks.”
“She’d have to be to have put up with Cumulo for so long,” Stirla agreed, ushering him from the room. “Now, I don’t know about you, but since I’m being relegated to nursemaid in the morning, I could do with a trip to town for a draft or two. Maybe a bottle. You coming?”
Since all Lyrai’s students were having an early night in preparation for their trip the next day and he wasn’t on sentry duty, he nodded. “I suppose someone should hang around to walk you home afterwards.” Besides it was Midsummer.
“Ha! Says Lieutenant Lightweight.”
“Whatever you say, Captain Under the Table in Two Glasses.”
Stirla punched his shoulder. “I’m not a captain yet.”
Thumping him back, Lyrai snorted. “My mistake, Lieutenant One and a Half.”
“Funny. So funny.”
“I know. How you’ll miss me.”
“I think I’ll cope.” Chuckling, Stirla hooked him in a headlock and ruffled his hair until he squirmed free. “Somehow.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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