Free Fiction, Overworld, Writing

Deleted Scene: Cue vs Cane


This deleted scene features characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

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.

“Never, sir.”

“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!

Free Fiction, Overworld, Writing

Facing the Hurricane: Part 2


This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

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 lieutenants 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!

Free Fiction, Overworld, Writing

Facing the Hurricane: Part 1


This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.

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…

Here’s Part Two!

Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 2, Part 1


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!

~ 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

22nd Sun
“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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Rift Riders: Chapter 1, Part 2


First time reading? Find out more about the Wingborn series!

~ Previous Chapter ~

Time to fly!

Not to mention catch up with a couple of familiar lieutenants. It just doesn’t feel the same without them.

MHYSRA LOCATED CUMULO’S tack and limped to her big miryhl’s side. “Ready to play?”

The giant eagle lowered his head for his bridle and rubbed his beak against her. “It’s about time you shared the fun. Just stay on and I’ll keep us out of trouble.”

Setting the saddle on his back and buckling the chest straps, Mhysra snorted. “That’s likely.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” he sniffed virtuously, shuffling his wings as she buckled his girths. “You might want to strap yourself in too.”

Trying not to put too much weight on her sore ankle, Mhysra stepped onto his lowered wing, and let him boost her into the saddle. Once in place, she settled her bad foot into the stirrup and took her Wingborn’s advice. For the first time in longer than she cared to remember, she pulled the leather straps out from under the saddle, passed them over the tops of her legs and buckled them either side of the pommel. In terms of safety they weren’t foolproof, but they did offer an extra measure of security. The clips that also attached to her flight-belt she left loose; she wasn’t quite that feeble yet.

When they were fixed, she gathered Cumulo’s reins. “I almost dread hearing the answer, but what have you got in mind?”

Chuckling, the miryhl crouched. “To win, of course.” He sprang into the air, heavy wing beats causing the nearest miryhls to duck. Once he had enough height, Cumulo circled upwards, keeping an eye out for any third-years while waiting for Jaymes and Derrain to join them.

It wasn’t long before the three miryhls were gliding watchfully over the lake. The task ahead was simple: get back to the citadel. The only problem was that around fifty third-years were waiting to get in their way. It didn’t make Mhysra feel any better to know that she and her friends were just an appetiser before the second-years tried their own luck later in the day. Few enough first-years made it to this point, and those that did rarely put up a fight. She smiled, knowing Cumulo had other ideas in mind.

Rising from a crag halfway down the lake, seven miryhls circled. More launched along the route and Mhysra had no doubt others were waiting to ambush them. The challenge had begun.

Mhysra leant against her Wingborn’s back. “Ready, Cue?”

A chuckle vibrated up through his spine as he circled one last time. “Let’s show them how real Riders fly.” Pulling in his wings, he dived towards the lake.

A high scream echoed through the valley, answered by another and another, as three groups of miryhls stooped to attack. Cumulo kept his head down, aiming for the glistening water below. Hunched on his back, Mhysra looked over her shoulder, murmuring their opponents’ positions to her partner.

“This is just a game, Cue,” she warned. “We’re not supposed to hurt them.”

“Nor they us,” he replied, and tilted his wings so that they levelled out just above the water.

The third-years howled as they swept down the wind, arrows and bag-bombs at the ready.

“Steady,” Cumulo murmured. “Steady.”

Mhysra shifted on his back, resettling her weight and trying to ignore the throbbing in her ankle. She watched the nearest miryhls fan into an attack formation, the leader drawing back his bow. Her hands clenched in Cumulo’s neck feathers, wondering what he had planned. Two more students sighted them with their arrows and drew back their arms.

Cumulo arched his back and, with a downward thump of his wings, drove straight up into the formation, scattering miryhls everywhere. Arrows twanged harmlessly wide, startled students yelped and by the time they had recovered Cumulo was gone.

Other groups converged as Cumulo soared above the lake, powering into the wind. Mhysra looked behind and counted six miryhls approaching on the left, four on the right. She called their positions to her Wingborn and he tipped his head from side to side, assessing the competition. Two more groups joined in front, providing a united front of nine more miryhls.

Hunched on Cumulo’s back, Mhysra tried to make herself smaller, while her Wingborn laughed. “A challenge!” he screamed, lifting high as a flurry of arrows shot at them. “Hold on!”

Left with no other choice, Mhysra clung as Cumulo raced above the approaching flock and, as they turned to follow, folded his right wing, tucked in his left and dropped. Rolling twice, he avoided the missiles lobbed in their direction, flung open his wings and flew straight at the nearest miryhl.

Mhysra clenched her teeth and shut her eyes as Cumulo rolled again, breaking the defensive line and scattering his opponents. Her Wingborn was enjoying himself hugely, shrieking and swooping on the other miryhls to make them flee. She couldn’t join in, though, as every sharp turn, roll and unexpected move sent a jolt through her twisted ankle and made her feel sick.

Despite that, the roar of the wind in her ears, the chill of the air racing over them and the sheer exuberance of her miryhl did raise her spirits. Cumulo was so magnificent – how could she not be impressed?

Though younger than those he was facing, Cumulo was big, cocky and brash. Being Wingborn meant he matured faster than other miryhls, and most often kept company with birds of the officer class. It was unfair to pit him against student eagles, even when they outnumbered him. Flock politics meant that they had to give way, something of which Cumulo took full advantage.

Whenever one saw him coming, they were only too eager to move, regardless of their Rider’s orders. It was fine to chase him, but quite a different matter when he flew in their faces. Mhysra laughed at the dismay on the third-years’ faces as their miryhls dodged and almost collided in their haste to keep out of Cumulo’s way.

Such was the chaos that Derrain and Jaymes slipped easily by unnoticed. When they were safe Cumulo swept out of the commotion, leaving their opponents squawking like flustered hens. Giving up on them, with jeers and catcalls, the third-year flocks returned to their perches to await easier prey.

Laughing, Cumulo swiftly caught up with the other first-years, and the three young miryhls rose above the lake, riding the draft through the narrow valley opening and on towards the citadel below.

Lifting her face to the sky, Mhysra felt her heart race in time with Cumulo’s, and knew there was no place on the Overworld more perfect than this.

* * * * *

“MAKE WAY FOR Aquila’s most esteemed and honoured flight instructor.” Lieutenant Willym was at his mocking best when Lyrai entered the officers’ mess for dinner that evening.

“Someone skipped their envy drops this morning,” Stirla said airily, shifting along the bench to make room for Lyrai. “Not to mention feels sore because none of his precious favourites made it home today.”

Grinning, Lyrai shook his head and greeted Captain Myran’s senior lieutenants, recently returned from Nimbys and staying in the town barracks. “What brings you up here?”

Imaino rolled his eyes in Willym’s direction. “Can’t say it’s the company.”

“Likewise,” Willym sneered.

“Stubble it, boy,” Fleik grumbled. “You give me indigestion.”

Stirla chuckled as the other lieutenant’s face turned an unpleasant shade of red. “It seems not everyone is afraid of your father. Poor Willym, having to suffer such insubordinate ruffians.”

The dark-eyed lieutenant glowered, but the arrival of the captains deprived him of any comebacks. Instead he moved to the far end of the table and turned his back, like the sulky brat he truly was.

“Well, that told us,” Fleik said cheerfully, standing up to shake hands with Captain Hylan. “Good to see you again, sir. I thought you were patrolling the Wrathlen.”

“I was,” Hylan agreed, slapping Imaino on the back and ruffling Stirla’s hair. “News brought me back early. Don’t suppose any of you know where I can find the dean?”

“Still in Nimbys, as far as we know,” Captain Fredkhen said, as the servants brought in their meal. “We expect him back any day now.”

“Unless he gets snared for the Midsummer festivities,” Captain Myran added, making his lieutenants shudder, while he stopped at the sideboard to gather a fresh bottle of wine. “Cayn would be grateful for the support.”

“Especially since Lieutenant Lenfyr wants to wear a dress,” Fleik mumbled between mouthfuls. “Not sure how he intends to explain that one.”

She won’t have to,” Imaino said, sipping his wine. “I’ve seen it. There are so many Kevian crystals on it that the last place anyone’ll be looking at is her face. Even with her dress coat on top.”

“After all these years as a male Rider, it must seem strange to suddenly come out as a woman,” Stirla mused. “Her disguise must have been a damn good one.”

“Or her friends damn good at keeping secrets,” Imaino agreed, with a wink.

“I suppose that now the proclamation is in place, she won’t be the last.” Stirla grinned and raised his glass towards the captains. “Here’s to a brave new Overworld.”

The captains shared a wearied look. “And I thought I had problems,” Fredkhen muttered.

“You have,” Hylan assured him, looking around the room. “We all have.”

“Mysteriousness never suited you,” Myran said, limping across the room to take the seat beside Lyrai. “Unless you intend to wait for the dean to return, why don’t you join us, eat and share what you can?”

Hylan took the space between Stirla and Imaino and filled his plate. “The Wrathlen stirs.”

They fell silent and even Fleik stopped mid-chew. Beyond the walls the sounds of the main hall filtered in, while in the serving room, someone dropped a platter and was soundly chastised for it. Inside the officers’ mess, all eyes focused on Hylan.

“How much of a stir?” Fredkhen asked, voice strained.

“All out.”

“The anticipated target?” Myran enquired, pouring himself a glass of wine and another for Hylan, which he passed down the table.

The other captain drained half of it in one gulp. “My sources have been silent for a month.”

The lieutenants and captains exchanged uneasy glances.

“What do you intend to do, sir?” Fleik asked.

“Speak to the dean,” Hylan replied. “I’ll need more men to watch, hoping that when they move we’ll be able to delay them or send out warnings.”

“Not much of a plan,” Willym muttered from the far end of the table.

“Then perhaps yours should be one of the flurries sent in support,” Myran said, voice cold.

Fredkhen looked embarrassed, but he’d always been too nice for someone like Willym.

The trainee-lieutenant shrugged. “Can’t be any worse than wasting my time here.”

Lyrai caught Stirla’s eye and they shook their heads. Willym never changed.

“I had hoped to speak to the dean on my arrival, but I would have taken the next step regardless.” Hylan drained his wineglass and looked at the captains. “I need your swiftest Riders. We might not know what the Wrathlen plans or where they intend to strike, but that doesn’t mean we can’t send out warnings. Most of the Greater West will be on the alert, but such a force might try their luck on Imercian or down the Stormsurge. This way we can prevent anyone being taken by surprise.”

Fredkhen nodded grimly, while Myran signalled for his senior lieutenants to see to it.

“In the meantime, we wait,” Hylan sighed, toying with his food. He wasn’t the only one whose appetite had vanished. “Merry Midsummer, everyone.”

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Wingborn: Chapter 23, Part 2


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~ Previous Chapter ~

One more week to go! *dances*

Er… I mean, the battle continues!

“BOWS!” LIEUTENANT HLEN’S shout made Derrain and the watchers jump. “Fetch your bows. Be of use!”

“Aye, sir!” Greig darted down the stairs, plenty of others following. The rest of the crowd remained at the windows, watching with awe as Riders battled kaz-naghkt overhead. There were bodies in the river, on the Lawn, on top of the eyries and in the courtyards. Feathers drifted down like brown snow and black blood hissed wherever it landed.

The sky was clouding over, but there was already a storm in the valley – a seething mass of leathery bodies, feathers and action. Miryhls screamed, kaz-naghkt screeched, metal rang and voices shouted. No single sound was clear in the noisy whole and all of it was just background noise to the thundering pulse in Derrain’s ears. He’d been out there, had nearly been one of the victims lying broken and bloodied on the ground. The kaz-naghkt had almost caught them.

Now Zephyr fought on alone, having left while he was raising the alarm in the bell tower. Like most of the young miryhls whose students weren’t yet trained, Zephyr had joined a flock to hunt down kaz-naghkt. Teaming up with the nakhound packs, they wove in and out of the Rider pairs, helping wherever they could. It was breathtaking to watch the lethal birds in action, but heart-stopping too. Whenever Derrain lost sight of Zephyr he feared the worst.

What would he do if she was killed? They’d only been together for a few months, but she was already such an important part of his life.

“Here.” Something pressed against his hand and he stared mindlessly at the bow.

“Pick your shots and be careful,” Lieutenant Hlen ordered, pacing back and forth behind the row of students, full of unexpected authority. “Don’t loose if you fear to hit one of ours. We’re here to help. Spread out around the tower. When you’re ready!”

Derrain shook himself and strung the longbow he’d been given. It would have been useless on a miryhl, but for shooting through windows over distance it was perfect. He looked for arrows and found Corin beside him.

She had her own short bow, at which she’d grown even more skilled over the long winter. Smiling, she gestured to the quiver on her back and handed him an arrow. “Let’s take ‘em down.”

He smiled back and shoulder-to-shoulder they faced the window. A kaz-naghkt dropped on a Rider pair right in front of them, its hind claws lashing the miryhl’s back, while its hands and teeth gripped the human.

Derrain and Corin drew, loosed and grabbed fresh arrows in one smooth move.

Corin’s arrow punched through the kaz-naghkt’s temple, Derrain’s through its ribcage, forcing it sideways. The Rider it had been mauling had enough strength to stab it through the chest, before he collapsed across his saddle. His miryhl twisted frantically, keening in distress, trying to see what state its bonded was in. The Rider flopped weakly about, in danger of falling, one side of his saddle straps frayed almost to breaking.

“Down!” Lieutenant Hlen shouted. “Get to the healers!”

The miryhl straightened under the order and glided to the Lawn, where helpers were already dealing with the wounded. Derrain watched them land, then turned back to the fight.

Corin shot again, hitting a kaz-naghkt from behind, but the arrow shattered against the lumpy scales. “Won’t try that again,” she growled, loosing a second arrow into the kaz-naghkt’s wing.

A swarm of missiles from other windows repeated the trick, and the creature screamed as its wings were shredded. It dropped in search of safety, only to be caught by a roving pack of nakhounds. The cute dogs Derrain had played with when visiting Bumble were completely different now. Savage, swift and deadly, they swarmed the kaz-naghkt and stripped it to the bone.

Lieutenant Willym raced past their window, harrying a wounded kaz-naghkt. Stirla led a charge to defend two wounded Riders. Captain Myran circled overhead, calling out orders and holding his own. Captain Fredkhen dashed towards the tower, a wall of kaz-naghkt on his tail.

At the last moment his miryhl lifted, leaving the kaz-naghkt exposed to the archers. All but one fell, riddled with arrows, into the roaring river beneath.

The dark wings of the kaz-naghkt were everywhere, but so were the miryhls. Above Aquila, the Riders were winning. Black blood stained the citadel and the river was clogged with bodies but, despite their superior numbers and the advantage of surprise, the kaz-naghkt were losing.

More high points around the citadel were soon manned by students with bows. Loose miryhls banded with the nakhound packs to scrap with the enemy, and the Riders were left with little to do, except drive the kaz-naghkt towards the defenders.

Every time Derrain wondered if it was right to feel satisfied at the death of a kaz-naghkt, he remembered the stories he’d heard and the villages he’d seen, ravaged by attacks. He remembered the haunted eyes of the children left behind, the nightmares of survivors, the screams of the mutilated and scarred. He remembered Feather Frost and the many lives lost there. Then he pulled another arrow from Corin’s quiver and raised his bow.

“This is for you,” he whispered, piercing another creature through the neck.

* * * * *

MHYSRA CIRCLED THE battle watchfully. They were winning. She’d known that from the moment Hurricane swooped in to save them, but now she could finally see it. The kaz-naghkt swarm was broken. Miryhls outnumbered them two to one, then three, then four.

The remaining creatures fled and she was willing to let them go. So many were dead; what damage could these final few do? It was an empty question, since she had no arrows left and Cumulo was too tired to fight. They could only watch as the last kaz-naghkt were killed or escaped over the craggy mountainside.

Free miryhls swept along the valley and into the town, eager to ensure the enemy was gone. The mounted ones sagged with tiredness, turning to round up the nakhounds. To improve matters it began spitting with rain. Much as Mhysra needed a bath, she’d prefer it to be warm.

Leaning against Cumulo’s back, she sighed. “Let’s go, Cue.”

He didn’t answer, just circled and glided towards the bridge, aiming for a hatch this time.

Murmuring compliments, she removed his tack and rubbed him down, until he shoved her away. “I need a bath,” he rumbled. “And so do you. I’m going to sit in the rain.”

Understanding how he felt, she left him alone and dumped his harness in the tack room where the attendants promised to clean it. She was so tired.

As she half-tumbled down the stairs, she found Derrain waiting for her. “We’re real Riders now,” he greeted, catching her against him.

Resting her head on his chest, she shuddered. “If you’d been a breath later with the alarm -”

“Don’t,” he interrupted, stroking her damp hair. “It’s over. Don’t think about might have beens and could have happeneds. No ifs, no buts. It’s over.”

Sighing, she rubbed soothing circles on his chest. “You did well, Derry.”

His smile was a shadow of its usual self, but she appreciated the effort. “So did you.”

“And you smell.”

This time his grin was pure Derrain. “So do you.” Stepping back, he looked her over and wrapped an arm around her trembling shoulders. “Come on, little warrior, bath time. Then you can sleep for a moon. Did you do anything exciting while you were out there?”

“I almost shot Lyrai,” she said, reliving the heart-stopping horror of the moment when she’d thought he wouldn’t duck and that her arrow hadn’t gone wide enough.

“And I missed a chance at Willym.” He sighed. “Still, it was our first fight. We’ll practise.”

Hearing the hollow note in his voice, despite his efforts to joke, Mhysra patted his chest again. “Practise is what we’re here for,” she reminded him. “One day we won’t even care what we’re shooting.”

“I hope not,” he murmured. “I don’t ever want to get that comfortable with killing.”

Thinking that she didn’t either, she patted him again and leant against him all the way to the bath caverns. “What would I do without you, Derry?” she asked as they shed their coats and boots in the anteroom.

Not looking at her, he meticulously folded his outer clothes and stored them on the shelf. “Thanks to you and Cumulo, you didn’t have to find out today.” After putting his boots with his things, he turned. “I thank Maegla every day that I became your friend, Mhysra, and on days like today She rewards me for it.” Cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her forehead. “Thank you, little sister, for saving my life. And for preserving yours.”

She stared up at him, surprised to see a sheen of tears in his eyes and to find a shimmer in her own. “I’m not ready to die yet. Nor let you either.”

He dropped his hands and smiled. “Glad to hear it.” Grabbing a towel, he flicked her with it. “Now get washed. Just because you’re my friend, doesn’t mean I have to put up with you when you stink.”

~ Next Chapter ~

All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 23, Part 1


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Two more chapters to go!

And after the way things ended last Sunday… I’m just going to shut up and let you get on.

Although if you need a refresh, the last line was about grabbing hold of Cumulo’s tail and lunging –

Twenty Three

 STRAIGHT INTO HURRICANE, who caught the kaz-naghkt full in the face with his talons.

“Go!” Lieutenant Lyrai shouted, while the kaz-naghkt screamed.

Freed, Cumulo needed no further urging. There was time for one snatched breath before he folded his wings and entered the darkness beneath the bridge. Mhysra huddled against him, wondering if her heart would ever recover. The shadow seemed to go on and on as they dropped closer to the water, their momentum lost after the kaz-naghkt had grabbed them.

Sunlight blinded her on the other side and air surged beneath Cumulo’s wings again as he banked upwards, swinging back towards the citadel. He flapped hard to lift them over the eyries, now swarming with miryhls and kaz-naghkt. A familiar eagle appeared through the chaos, its wings tipped with silver.

Keeping an eye out for attack, Cumulo glided closer and, when Latinym was directly overhead, Dhori dropped a bow and quiver into Mhysra’s hands.

“Luck!” he called, Latinym already racing back to the fight.

“I think we’ve already had more than our fair share today,” Mhysra muttered, securing the quiver to her saddle before testing the balance of the pre-strung bow. It was perfect. She frowned and wondered how Dhori had managed to bring hers to her. Where had he gotten it?

“The gods can spare us a little more,” Cumulo shouted. “Wake up!”

Blinking, she looked up and found they had company. Three kaz-naghkt screeched down the wind, outpacing the miryhls on their tails. If they got too close, a kaz-naghkt would twist and lash out with its tail. Spotting Cumulo, they grinned and stooped to attack.

Mhysra drew an arrow from her quiver with shaking hands. “Steady,” she called, and Cumulo levelled his wings calmly, as if they faced murderous kaz-naghkt every day.

“Maegla aid me,” she whispered, aimed at the kaz-naghkt on the left and released.

The wind snatched at the arrow, driving it away from the pale chest she’d aimed for and striking the thick muscle beneath the kaz-naghkt’s right wing instead.

Shrieking, the creature curled around the wound, swinging its broad left wing across. The kaz-naghkt next to it lashed out as a leather sail clouted it in the face. Black blood sprayed and the wounded creature fell, injured in both wings. While it could have easily recovered from an arrow wound, there was little it could do with its other wing in tatters.

The kaz-naghkt that had done the damage shook its head, too dizzy from the slap to spot a miryhl dropping on it from above.

As they battled, the final kaz-naghkt continued onwards, flexing its claws. Wings spread, holding steady, Cumulo waited for Mhysra to nock another arrow. Her hands were shaking and it was all she could do to draw. She released too early and cursed when the arrow went harmlessly wide.

“Hold on!” Cumulo warned, and she gripped her bow in one hand and grabbed the saddle with the other as her miryhl dropped.

The kaz-naghkt screamed with glee and swooped after them, wings tucked in tight. It screamed again when Cumulo rolled over, grabbing its torso and face with his thick talons. Claws scrabbled, trying to reach the miryhl’s belly, but Cumulo thrust his legs out, completed his roll and dropped his prey. The body tumbled and struck an outcrop; a black smear on grey granite.

While Mhysra watched it fall, Cumulo took them back to the fight, far more prepared than she for what they faced. “Stay with me,” he called, sensing her distraction.

Her voice failed when she tried to speak, so she licked her lips and took a deep breath. “Always,” she croaked, checking her quiver with shaking hands to make sure none of her arrows had been lost in their tumble. She checked her safety straps were still nice and tight, selected an arrow and shrugged her bow into her hand, ready for whatever came next.

* * * * *

LYRAI PAUSED TO wipe the sweat from his face as Hurricane circled above the battle. His right arm ached. It had been too long since he’d last fought, but this was what he’d trained for, had gotten so good at and been denied when he was grounded. Now he had Hurricane and was a true Rift Rider again – but it had never been like this with Froth.

Hurricane tensed and Lyrai leant against his back, holding his sword close and ready. They needed no words to know what the other would do next or where each wanted to go. This miryhl had been born for him, Lyrai could feel it in every tilt of Hurricane’s wings as he darted between scraps and fell talons-first on the tangle of kaz-naghkt gathered around Stirla.

While his miryhl battled, Lyrai brandished his sword, catching the first kaz-naghkt by surprise as he swept off its tail. Unbalanced, it struggled to turn and was impaled on Stirla’s sword.

Lyrai swung again and again, defending them on all sides while his miryhl fought. Most of the kaz-naghkt fled, seeking easier prey, while the less fortunate were already in Atyrn or Hurricane’s talons.

Another creature banked overhead and dropped towards Lyrai, claws outstretched. Bracing himself, Lyrai raised his sword and swung, slicing through one arm and catching the kaz-naghkt’s other shoulder. Hurricane stuttered at the impact before Lyrai diverted the kaz-naghkt’s weight downwards. It snarled, battered but by no means dead.

Licking its bloodstained lips, it smiled as fresh skin, bone and muscle writhed and crawled out of the severed stump. Knowing what was to come and what he had to do, Lyrai adjusted his grip on his sword and hauled.

Still attached to the lieutenant through its shoulder, the creature keened. Lyrai pulled again, bringing the writhing creature within reach. It sank its claws into his leg and opened its mouth to bite, but the angle of the sword restricted its head and it couldn’t quite reach.

Jerking his knee up, Lyrai shoved the kaz-naghkt off the blade and exposed its chest. Then he struck. His sword cleaved through the exposed flesh with ease, stopping only when it reached the scaled skin on the other side. The whole weapon juddered as the kaz-naghkt’s heart pulsed. Twisting his wrist, Lyrai braced his foot on the creature’s shoulder and pulled his sword free. The kaz-naghkt screamed and dropped into the river.

One less enemy to worry about.

“Are you wounded?” Stirla shouted as Atyrn circled counter to Hurricane.

Lyrai pressed on the puncture wounds in his thigh and cursed, forced to sheath his sword as he shrugged out of one side of his flying jacket. Using his belt knife, he cut through his shirtsleeve and dragged the material off, before pulling his jacket on again. Slicing the sleeve into strips, he bound his thigh, wadding material over the worst of the wound and tying the binding as tight as he could. It wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t going to retire from the field now. Not when they were still needed.

“Lyrai?” Stirla called.

“Fine!” he shouted, patting Hurricane’s neck when his miryhl glared at him.

Satisfied, Stirla raced back into the fray, aiming for an oversized kaz-naghkt who was causing a bunch of Riders a mountain of problems. Knowing he had the situation well in hand, as Atyrn hit the creature from behind, Lyrai urged Hurricane up high.

They weren’t alone up there – Captain Myran circled the battle, shouting orders and guiding Riders into place. Several archers also surveyed the fight, picking off targets. Hurricane was heading towards the captain when something else caught Lyrai’s eye.

“Maegla blast her,” he cursed, tugging Hurricane in the opposite direction. The miryhl shot him an aggravated look, before spotting what his Rider had seen. He growled and leant into the pull on his reins.

“My thoughts exactly,” Lyrai replied, scowling at Cumulo and the untrained girl upon his back. “This is no time for glory hunting!”

Cumulo continued his focused glide without glancing at them. Mhysra, however, looked over and calmly raised her bow. Then, as steadily as if she were on the practise field, she loosed.

It happened so fast that Lyrai barely ducked the arrow speeding towards him. Only when something screeched did he look behind. A kaz-naghkt clawed at its eye, barely a spear length from Hurricane’s tail.


A dark blur darted under the wounded kaz-naghkt, the Rider on its back ripping open the creature’s chest with a neat sweep of his sword.

The miryhl ducked out of the way of the falling body and Dhori grinned at Mhysra. “Great!” he called. “Aim for the chests. Only a heart blow will kill them.” Then he was gone.

Stunned, Lyrai turned back to Mhysra – she had her hands over her face.

“Gods, gods, gods,” she squeaked. “I almost killed my lieutenant. Gods!”

And he’d thought she looked calm. It was so absurd, Lyrai laughed. “You can use me for target practise anytime,” he called, as Hurricane swept past and dived back into the fray.

~ Next Chapter ~

All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 22, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Warning! This one ends on a stinker of a cliffhanger. This is what happens when I serialise a book that wasn’t intended to be serialised.

Then again, the original was written as a serial and some of those cliffhangers were awful.

Anywho, read at your own risk. It’ll continue on Friday.

(And two weeks from today it’ll be over! Guess I better start thinking about what I’m going to serialise next… probably not book 2, though, sorry.)

“COME ON,” DERRAIN urged, jittering impatiently by the door. “Hurry up.”

“Sorry.” Mhysra tumbled out of her dormitory, tying her curls back. “I needed to change. It’s too muddy to fly in fawn breeches.” She eyed Derrain’s pointedly, but he shrugged.

“I’ll flirt with the laundry maids later and they’ll work their magic for me.”

Mhysra shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.” But she didn’t waste her breath; Derrain was charming and knew it. Unfortunately it was a skill that worked on both sexes, which was how he’d gained Lieutenant Stirla’s permission to fly outside of lessons – as long as an experienced flyer kept him company. So far Dhori and Mhysra had been the only first-years granted that privilege, but most didn’t gain permission until their third year. Trust Derrain to outdo them all.

“I’m also lovely, cuddly and perfect for taking home to mother,” he promised, holding the door for her, but only so he could urge her to hurry.

“Not my mother. She knows you.”

“Please don’t take me home to your mother. Or your aunt,” he added, shuddering. “One Wrentherin in my life is as much as I can handle at once.”

She patted his cheek. “So wise so young.”

The eyries were quiet when they entered. Most would still be making their way back from Maegla’s Hall after the Starday service, though Captain Fredkhen and Lieutenant Hlen were checking their students’ miryhls. Mhysra raised her eyebrows at Derrain, then hurried to fetch Cumulo’s tack and prise him away from his lounging.

“Too early,” Cumulo grumbled, when she pulled his head down and slid his bridle over his beak. “Come back when the sun’s gone.”

“It’s going to rain later,” she warned, amused by how quickly his moods changed. It had only been a half-moon since they’d flown for the first time in months. Mere days ago he had purred happily whenever she approached, no matter what the time of day. “Wouldn’t you rather fly when it’s warm?”

He opened an eye, sighed and pulled his wings in. “You win. Where are we going?”

“Derry’s got permission to fly with us, so we’re going to see the lake.”

“I’ve seen it,” he muttered, while she settled his saddle into place and tightened the girths. “It’s icy.”

“It might have melted by now,” she coaxed, smiling as Hurricane lifted a marbled wing so that she could walk around her miryhl. “Thank you.”

He winked, stretched out his neck and returned to lazing. Cumulo watched him with a beady-eye. “The things I do for you and your friends. You’d best be keeping notes.”

“Reams,” she promised. “Is all well?”

He shook himself and stretched his wings. “Good enough,” he grunted. “I suppose we have to go now?”

“Yes, please.” Smiling, she stepped onto his lowered wing, laughing as he twitched and boosted her into the saddle. “Derry will join us as soon as he can,” she said. “So let’s enjoy the warmth while it’s with us.”

Muttering, Cumulo shuffled between the basking Atyrn and Hurricane, stepped daintily over an out-flung wing and hopped onto the open hatch ledge. He paused, head high, while sunlight gilded his beak and shimmered over his feathers. Smiling, Mhysra raised her face too, soaking up the delicious heat. Sunlight was always more precious at the start of spring.

Cumulo tensed and she opened her eyes, shifting with him as he launched through the hatch. They exited on the falls side, swirling away from the roaring water to lift over the bridge and rise in broad circles around the towers of the citadel. They glided lazily, passing from light to shadow, over figures sprawled across the Lawn and in the courtyards below. All of Aquila had become sun-worshippers since the thaw had arrived.

Skimming along the river, Cumulo snatched playfully at the waters, then tucked in his wings.

“Cumulo,” she warned, but it was too late. “Cue!” Her shriek echoed off stone, half-drowned by the roaring water as her miryhl dived underneath the bridge and tipped them over the edge of the falls.

This time he dropped as far as the town before opening his wings and sweeping up again. Mhysra lay against him, heart pounding, skin chilled from the shadow of the bridge. She felt him laughing beneath her.

“You’ll be the death of me,” she grumbled.

He chuckled. “Not yet, chickling. Not quite yet.”

As they rose above the bridge again, shedding rainbow drops of spray, Derrain and Zephyr were waiting. “Ready?” her friend called.

In answer she flattened against Cumulo’s back, laughing as he broke their spiral and raced up the valley. A scream behind promised that Zephyr was following, and the two miryhls darted through the shadows of the citadel towards the heart of the mountain. When they reached the cascade, Cumulo thumped the air with his wings and catapulted them towards the broken spurs that separated the lake from the valley. A second hard flap, a third and they were over the rocks and through.

“Oh, Cue,” Mhysra whispered, as she pushed herself upright on his back for a better look.

A u-shaped bowl glistened before her, the semicircle broken by a sharp peak jutting from the cliffs at the far end. Around the edges snow-clumped fir trees lined the icy shores. As Cumulo soared over the valley, his shadow changed from black to blue below. The lake was thawing, dark with cold, but still had a long way to go. She was doubly grateful for the sun on her back as the chill reached them. The thaw had barely touched this place yet.

Derrain and Zephyr caught up, and the two miryhls darted to and fro. The further they explored the more complex the valley became, with hidden ridges and secret inlets. It would be perfect come the summer and Mhysra spotted some ideal picnic spots. She wondered if there were boats for warmer months and vowed to ask Kilai when next she saw him.

The far end of the valley ended in a sheer cliff, glossy black where all else was white. The water at the base had thawed entirely and was glassy, dark and still, reflecting them perfectly as they passed over. Cumulo glided along the stone, searching for a place to land, while Mhysra stared in wonder. She’d never seen such a perfect natural wall. There wasn’t even room for a raven to land, let alone a miryhl. It could have been chopped by a giant axe: not one crack marred the surface.

It became a game for the miryhls to find a fault, swooping back and forth, using the glistening sunlight to study the surface, until they were forced to concede.

“Glacier made, has to be,” Derrain said, after they landed on the crag in the middle of the wall that jutted over the lake, making the dip in the giant U. There was nothing perfect about this slice of rock and it provided ample roosting places for all manner of birds. “Nothing else could carve so smoothly.”

“Mm,” Mhysra agreed, drinking from her water bottle. “You should ask Captain Fredkhen.”

“Maybe,” Derrain agreed, taking the bottle but pausing mid-swing. “Hey, it looks like something found a fault. Maybe we didn’t go high enough.”

Mhysra shielded her eyes and looked up. Something was moving on the wall, close to the top. It didn’t look like a bird, or at least not any species that she could recognise at that distance. Perhaps a giant bat? It was crawling headfirst down the cliff face. A second joined it.

“Cumulo,” she murmured, a chill that had nothing to do with the lake creeping over her.

Her miryhl tilted his head at her words, one gold eye focusing. He tensed and turned to view the creature head on. “Mount up,” he rumbled.

Derrain jumped at hearing her miryhl’s voice, then looked again. Five creatures now crawled down the wall. “Oh.” He paled and fumbled to put the lid back on the water bottle. “I didn’t…” he began, but ran out of words.

Zephyr butted him in the back as Mhysra swung into Cumulo’s saddle. Derrain dropped the bottle and climbed onto his miryhl.

“Straps,” Mhysra said tersely, turning to buckle her own as Derrain fumbled with his.

“Carefully,” Cumulo murmured, edging around the spur with Zephyr until they were out of sight. “Go.”

They leapt into the air, not bothering to circle for height. It was hard work, but both miryhls were in good condition and crossed a quarter of the lake before their presence was noticed.

A harsh scream echoed over the valley, raising the hairs on the back of Mhysra’s neck. Other voices joined the chorus.

“Blast and burn it,” Derrain growled, glancing over both shoulders, until Zephyr snapped at him to stop. “What do we do?”

“Get to Aquila and raise the alarm,” Mhysra told him. “Rouse the eyries.”

A shadow dropped from the ridge in front of them, followed by a second and a third. Leathery wings spread wide, cupping the air as elongated limbs dangled beneath, thick tails swaying in the wind. Almost-human faces grinned at them, lips peeling back to reveal pointed teeth. They threw their heads back and screamed.

“Cue, go!” Mhysra shrieked, fumbling at her waist for the sword she didn’t have. They hadn’t even begun learning to fight on miryhl back yet, and now this.


Two shot upwards while the third coiled its body and launched straight at them. Curved claws opened and for a breathless moment Mhysra stared into red eyes, knowing not even Maegla could save her.

Screaming, Cumulo swung his body up and hit the kaz-naghkt in the chest with his talons. Digging through its belly with one foot, he shredded with the other, using his beak to distract the creature’s teeth. Before it had a chance to use its wing spurs or claws, Cumulo tore off its head and dropped it onto the icy lake below.

The fight lasted a handful of heartbeats, but they dropped perilously low in that time, while Derrain and Zephyr continued on without them. They were almost at the cascade, but two kaz-naghkt were gliding over them. Zephyr was a big miryhl, solid and strong, but she wasn’t fast.

“Keep watch,” Cumulo ordered his Rider, powering in pursuit and skimming the water to clean his talons.

Eager to help, and berating herself for not at least bringing her bow, Mhysra darted glances above, below and over both shoulders. What she saw filled her with horror. “We have company.”

“Where?” he growled, not taking the time to look.

“Everywhere,” she whispered.

“Hold on!” he called, rising to catch the sharp tail-wind that blew down the valley. With that beneath his wings, he glided over the kaz-naghkt pair stalking Derrain and dropped.

Seizing one in his beak and thumping the other with his wing, Cumulo plunged towards the lake, taking both creatures with him. He shook the one in his beak, throwing it into the cliff, before turning on the other.

Dazed but watchful, the kaz-naghkt spread its wings, using them like sails to drift back from the enraged miryhl. Cumulo was almost twice its size, but the kaz-naghkt was protected by hard scales down its back and sides, and armed with claws, teeth, wing spurs and a club tail. It would be a close match and the kaz-naghkt knew it. Lips peeled back over ferocious teeth, thin nostrils flared and it gurgled with laughter.

Watching their enemy warily, Cumulo circled, keeping the creature in sight. It didn’t seem to care that Derrain and Zephyr had escaped and even now would be rousing Aquila. All that mattered was the miryhl in front of it.

“Cue,” Mhysra whispered, not wanting to distract him, but he needed to know what was coming. There were at least fifty kaz-naghkt skimming over the lake or rising to strike from above, with more still arriving. She had never questioned her miryhl’s courage, but he was just one eagle and they were outnumbered. “We have no time.”

When the sun hit their back, he flapped his wings hard, shooting up as the kaz-naghkt lunged. Its scream was curtailed with a thud when it hit the jagged spurs above the cascade. Mhysra looked down at its impaled body as Cumulo rose over the rocks and twisted into the wind. Tucking his wings in tight he dove into the next valley, racing down the river towards the citadel.

The bells began to toll.

Figures scurried below, leaving the Lawn, evacuating the courtyards and readying the nakhounds. Miryhls dived out of the eyries, with and without Riders, and Cumulo fled towards them. Shadows rippled over the river and outbuildings, filling the valley with gleeful shrieks.

The kaz-naghkt had come to Aquila.

“Hold on!” Cumulo shouted, gliding swiftly towards the falls.

He jolted and Mhysra yelped as a kaz-naghkt grabbed her miryhl’s tail. She had nothing to throw; no weapons, no rocks, not even her water bottle. Cumulo strained against the restraint as the kaz-naghkt opened its wings, filling the great leathery sails.

They slowed.

The kaz-naghkt grinned, opened its claws and lunged –

~ Next Chapter ~

All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 22, Part 1


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Three chapters to go!

Cheer up, Mouse. Your friends are with you. (Although, if I wasn’t able to fly my miryhl, I’d be pretty grumpy too.)

Twenty Two

24th Winter Rains

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Mhysra warned, watching Mouse lurch to the windowsill.

“If I want to walk again, I have to walk,” Mouse panted, waving away Derrain’s help. White lines were etched at the corners of his mouth, but no one mentioned them.

After almost a month in the infirmary, fighting off infections as well as the damage of the puncture wounds, Mouse had spent the last two moons hobbling around on crutches. The healers still worked with him when the rest of the first-years did their physical training. Thanks to them, Mouse would eventually be able to walk without a stick, but only if he was sensible. And patient. Since this was Mouse, Mhysra didn’t hold out much hope. Especially as he’d decided to forego his crutches entirely this morning.

“Ready to try?” Derrain asked, pushing the others aside.

Mouse stared at the empty floor between himself and Derrain, head bobbing as he calculated the distance: about twelve feet. “Yes. It’ll be easy.”

Hugging his crutches, Corin snorted, but held her peace. The fall had changed Mouse. He was quieter now, more self-contained and grim, and far more determined. His friends had learned to support him in silence, since he didn’t listen to objections. Nor did he want pity or advice. He was going to walk without a limp and that was final.

“All right.” Taking a deep breath, Mouse moved, his friends wincing with each step. After eight feet, he hissed and wobbled. “Blast it,” he growled, grabbing Dhori’s arm. “I hate this.”

“Eight feet is better than none,” Mhysra said soothingly. “And you walked. It’s a start.”

He looked at her. She shut up.

“A limp isn’t so bad. Look at Captain Myran,” Greig pointed out, as one or other of them had done daily since the accident.

“Myran was already a captain when he gained his limp,” Mouse growled. “I’m not even allowed on a miryhl. If things stay this way I’d have been better off breaking my neck.”

An uneasy silence fell and Mhysra hunched her shoulders, her guilt over Mouse’s injuries growing with every bitter day that he struggled to walk again.

“Cheer up,” Derrain ordered, squeezing Mhysra’s arm sympathetically. “It’s your first go without crutches. Don’t give up yet. Even miryhls have to learn to fly.”

“Is da poor ickle cwipple feeling sowwy for himself?” a mocking voice cooed.

Bovei and three of Willym’s favourite students lounged in the corridor behind them. Eyeing Mouse’s bent leg and the crutches Corin held, Bovei smirked. “Poor baby.”

“Got something to say, lordling?” Greig demanded, squaring up the them. Though he might have lacked his uncle’s intimidating height, Derrain didn’t, and the pair of them blocked Mouse from unfriendly eyes.

Bovei looked Greig up and down and raised his eyebrows at Derrain. “Farm boys. So uncouth.” He sniffed exaggeratedly. “Can you smell something? Has someone been sleeping with the pigs again?” His friends tittered.

Mhysra put her elbow on Derrain’s shoulder and leant casually against him. “I didn’t know you shared a dormitory with Fredkhen’s boys, Derry.”

The tips of Bovei’s ears went red, but he rallied. “And who’s been sleeping in yours?” he sneered. “Everyone knows why girls really want to join the Riders. What’s the matter, wouldn’t anyone take you in Nimbys?”

Derrain tensed, but Mhysra laughed, pleased to have deflected Bovei’s poison.

Greig smiled. “Funny you should show such an interest since it’s your bed I’ve been hearing about. But then, one must always strive to please one’s lieutenant. In whatever way he desires.”

One of the boys choked, while Bovei balled his fists. “What are you implying, farm boy?”

“I think you know, lordling,” Greig sneered.

Derrain unfolded his arms slowly, smiling as Bovei watched his big fists flex and bunch. “I think the whole citadel knows.”

If looks could kill…

Going for the final push, Mhysra raised her eyebrows. “Got a problem with that, lordling?”

Too angry for words, but not brave enough to take on Derrain, Bovei spat at their feet and marched off, taking his friends with him.

“He’s not very happy with us,” Corin said sadly.

Greig shrugged. “Willym’ll kiss it better.” The friends grinned.

Except for Mouse. “I can look after myself,” he growled. “I don’t need you protecting me.”

Despite his antagonism, Greig chuckled. “But it was fun. Taking out the rubbish was my main chore back home. I’m good at it.”

“As a cabin boy I chased rats off the ship,” Derrain said, stretching his arms over his head. “It’s good to stay in practise.”

“I don’t need your help,” Mouse snapped.

“Who said we did it for you?” Greig retorted, taking the crutches from Corin and shoving them at him. “Maybe we got fed up of him poisoning our air.”

“I could have dealt with him,” Mouse insisted stubbornly.

Derrain shook his head. “It isn’t fair to keep all the fun for yourself. We deserve some too.”

Clenching his jaw, Mouse manoeuvred his crutches into place. “If it makes you happy.”

Grabbing hold of Corin, Greig waltzed her down the hallway. “Nothing makes me happier than meeting Lord Twit and his twittering lordlings. It adds something to my day.”

“Arsenic?” Mhysra enquired, and Mouse actually cracked a smile. There was hope yet.

Somewhere high overhead a bell began to ring, causing Corin to stop. She yelped as Greig tripped over her and they collided with the wall, collapsing in a graceless heap.

It was Starday, so the bell meant only one thing: time to fly.

Corin and Greig hastily untangled themselves and raced off, but Mhysra waited, while Dhori and Derrain exchanged glances over the glum Mouse’s head. Derrain raised his eyebrows, but Dhori shook his head, jerking it to the right. Derrain shrugged.

“Come on, Mouse,” Dhori said. “I’ll walk with you to the healers.”

Mouse narrowed his eyes. “I don’t need a nursemaid.”

Derrain grinned. “We know you don’t, but maybe Dhori does. He took an embarrassing knock yesterday. It hurts to sit down.”

Mhysra bit her lip as the unflappable Dhori scowled, only to blank his expression when Mouse looked at him. “Really?”

“A little tender,” he mumbled. “Care to keep me company while I see the healers?”

“I can do that,” Mouse agreed with a hint of his old bounce.

Derrain winked at Mhysra. “See, it’s not always about you, Mouse.”

Leaning into his crutches, Mouse raised a hand to make a rude gesture.

Shaking his head, Derrain sighed. “I am so unappreciated.”

“Aye,” Mhysra agreed, patting his arm “You’re a regular martyr to your miracles.”

“I know,” he murmured modestly. “But still I try.”

* * * * *

THE EYRIES BUSTLED with students as Mhysra scooped up her harness, before weaving between the miryhls. Cumulo’s eyes were bright and he dipped his head at her approach.

“Feeling impatient?” she asked, buckling the straps of his bridle.

“I thought the snow would never end,” he grumbled, shivering at the weight of the saddle. “I’ve forgotten how to fly.”

“Hardly,” she snorted, tightening the girths. “You’ve been out every day, just not with me.”

“I’ve forgotten how to fly with you then. I’ll try not to drop you.”


“Hurry up.” He nudged her. “I want to beat the rush.”

Excited at the chance to fly again, Mhysra double checked all the buckles and straps, worried she might have missed something in her haste. “All right?” she asked, making Cumulo look again when he snapped that it was fine. Finally satisfied, she stepped onto his lowered wing and swung astride.

“At last,” he growled, leaping before she had a chance to tuck her legs up or gather the reins.

“Cue!” she complained.

“If you fall off now, you’re being stupid,” he retorted, teetering on the edge of the hatch. “Sort yourself out.”

“Yes, my lord. Sorry, my lord. Will that do, my lord?” she grumbled, tucking her feet into place and lying along his back. “I love you, Cue, even when you’re impatient.”

“You say that now,” he chuckled, and dropped over the edge.

“Maegla,” Mhysra whispered, tightening her grip.

They’d left the eyries on the waterfall side of the bridge countless times before, but this was the first time Cumulo hadn’t bothered to open his wings. Instead he used them to clamp her legs to his sides. The falls roared as they dropped parallel, flashing past the town in heartbeats. Then all was stone, water, clouds and the ferocious rush of the wind.

Cumulo fell, the air rippling over his feathers and nipping at his clenched wings. Water beaded his belly and Mhysra’s face, before being snatched away. A wiser person, Mhysra suspected, would have been terrified as the Cloud Sea drew closer, darkened by the shadows of rocks below. Energy and excitement fizzed through her as she delighted in the icy rush of the wind and the stomach-clenching fear of freefall. She laughed. She was flying with Cumulo. Nothing was better than this.

Cold seized her legs as Cumulo relaxed his wings, spreading them wide to sweep out of the dive and over the turbulent sea. A pale shape dropped past and Cumulo flapped upwards in surprise, talons raised to deal with the threat. The other miryhl opened its wings and shot beneath them, shrieking a challenge.

“Damn mimicking magpie,” Cumulo snarled, racing in pursuit.

Hurricane and Lyrai looked over their shoulders and sped up. The lieutenant was laughing.

Cumulo screamed and flapped harder, rising above Hurricane to where the air was smoother. Mhysra was surprised – and delighted – to see how her miryhl had improved. He’d had another growth spurt over the winter and was now the slightly larger of the two.

Hurricane glanced up, banked left, then right, searching for an updraft to rise on. Cumulo growled, ducked into the turbulence and found a surge of his own. They shot skywards.

Lyrai looked down, grinning as he urged his miryhl on. Hurricane responded, flapping harder. Cumulo stretched out his neck and strained to match.

Rising over the Cloud Sea, he aimed for a tree-covered spur, pulling away from Hurricane as their paths diverged. Mhysra wondered what the others were about, but trusted her Wingborn to counter. At the last moment Hurricane banked and cut back towards them.

Too late – Cumulo was ahead.

Mhysra whooped, laughing as they reached the trees and she felt the immediate change in temperature. Thermals. Warmer air rippled over them as Cumulo’s wings levelled out and he soared, spiralling higher with hardly a change of pace. The rush made her light-headed. Hurricane swooped underneath them then up, settling into a counter spiral.

Exhilarated, Cumulo called to his rival in smug miryhl-speak. Much as Mhysra adored her Wingborn, humility had never been his strongpoint. On this occasion, though, she just laughed.

Hurricane screamed back and Lyrai grinned, raising his arm to indicate that they were returning to Aquila. Mhysra waved her agreement, then relaxed against Cumulo, watching the other pair speed away.

“Still love me?” Cumulo asked when they were alone.

Smiling, she buried her face in his feathers and relished the cold, airy scent of him, tinged with a hint of sweet dust. “More than ever.”

~ Next Chapter ~

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Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 18, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Miryhls and mischief. I love Hylan (just in case anyone was wondering…).

“DID YOU BRING FOOD?” Cumulo muttered, basking by a hatch, surrounded by dozing miryhls.

“Haven’t you had breakfast yet?” Mhysra asked, glancing at her brother who was greeting the miryhl beside hers – his bonded, Cirrus.

“Is that what he’s complaining about?” Kilai chuckled and removed a stray feather from Cirrus’ chest. “The miryhls get fed before we do. They’ll get more at midmorning, noon, mid-afternoon and around dusk. That’s the new ones,” he added, when Cirrus nudged him. “When miryhls first arrive the attendants feed them little and often, in case of delicate constitutions.”

Cumulo snorted and shifted, throwing Mhysra and Kilai into the shade. His stomach rumbled and Mhysra grinned. “Poor boy. Not used to short rations, are you?”

“The Wrentherin birds always feel the pinch when they arrive,” Kilai said, running his hands through Cirrus’ feathers, making her purr with contentment. “Aunt Mhylla overfeeds them.”

Cumulo glared at him, grumbling to Mhysra, “Is he calling me fat? Do I look fat? I’ve been living with the Riders for months, why am I not being fed like one?”

Someone chuckled. Standing on tiptoe, Mhysra peered over Cumulo’s back at Hurricane. He was dozing in the sunshine and eavesdropping. After a moment, he opened an eye and winked at her, before settling again.

“Made a new friend, Cue?” she asked innocently.

Cumulo didn’t reply, though their proximity was answer enough. No dominant male could bear the sight of another unless peace had been established. Mhysra sighed with relief. She hadn’t relished the arguments if Cumulo had decided to be difficult.

“That bird is a brute,” Kilai murmured, and Mhysra raised her eyebrows. “Hurricane. Unusual colours, but the size of him.” He whistled in approval. “Can’t wait to see him and Lyrai in action. The Riders really felt his loss when Froth retired. Good to have him back.”

When Cumulo shot Kilai a sour look, the Rider grinned. “No need for jealousy, Cue. You’re perfect, but I know you. And before you complain you’re wasting away for want of a proper meal, remember that your new friend is going through the same. Even if he is Lieutenant Lyrai’s.”

Cumulo perked up and looked at Hurricane. The marble miryhl didn’t even twitch, just kept on basking serene as a cat. When everyone stopped staring at him, he winked at Mhysra again, making her grin. She liked Hurricane; he would be good for Cumulo.

While waiting for the others to finish checking their miryhls, Mhysra perched on the edge of the hatch and rested against Cumulo. Lounging in the sun with her miryhl at her back, it was easy to forget that it was autumn and Aquila would soon be buried in storms.

“Pretty thing,” Kilai said, stroking the nakhound by his feet. Bumble wagged her tail, raised a wing and flopped over to present her belly for a tickle. Chuckling, Kilai complied, looking up at Mhysra from beneath his curls. “One of mine. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

“Don’t blame me,” she protested, knowing how possessive her brother could be. “She picked me when she was barely a moon old. I never encouraged her. I even left her behind, but Aunt Mhylla sent her after me, claiming she was pining. So I left her with Milli every day, but the stupid pup still wanted me. I don’t have time for a nakhound.”

Shaking Bumble’s waving paw, Kilai raised his eyebrows. “What a speech. Feeling guilty?”

“No!” She opened her mouth to defend herself, then noticed that Kilai was laughing. “Brothers,” she grumbled. “I haven’t missed you at all.”

Chuckling, he ran his hands over Bumble, spreading her wings, pulling the silky plumes on her legs, ears and tail. “She’s a beauty. Shame to lose her, but Mhylla knows what she’s doing. And if I can’t give a pup to my own sister, who can I?”

“You’re not taking her away?” Mhysra asked, surprised; Kilai was never so understanding.

His smile was crooked and rueful. “Let me have a litter or two from her and I’ll be content. I’ve never seen such perfect markings on the wings, though her body colours are a bit messy.”

“Messy?” she flared up, defensive of her pup for the first time.

Kilai gave a low growl. “I’m trying to be gracious. Take her and be happy.”

Cumulo nudged her and she took the hint. For all that she complained about Bumble, it was nice to know she could keep her. Something had tightened unpleasantly in her chest at the thought that Kilai might take her back. She glanced at the pup on her feet, surprised to realise that she did want her after all. Until Kilai said it, though, she’d never been able to believe she was hers.

Smiling, she looked around in search of a new subject before he reconsidered his generosity. Derrain waved and she waved back. “They’re done.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Kilai gave Bumble another pat and straightened up. “Best check they haven’t plucked any of their birds bald before we continue the tour. I’ll show you where to leave your pup later. The kennel workers will look after her while you’re busy. Come on.”

* * * * *

THE NEXT MORNING Lyrai took Hurricane out for a brief flight, to familiarise him with their new home, and met up with Stirla embarking on a similar mission. Together they checked their flurries’ miryhls, noting areas of concern before going to find their Riders. By the time they were finished it was midday.

“I could eat a horsat,” Stirla grumbled, patting his stomach as they entered the officers’ mess. “I’d forgotten how hungry real work makes me.”

“Well, look who finally showed up. We almost sent out a search party.” Captain Roumn was his usual charming self. “What’s the matter, lads, new roles got you confused?”

“It’s our first time,” Stirla said meekly, sitting beside Captain Myran. Officers generally ate breakfast wherever they could, but the rest of their meals were served in the mess. “We’re just humble Riders, sir. Can’t keep too many thoughts in our heads at once, it’ll weigh us down.”

“I doubt a thought or two would make much difference to you,” Lieutenant Willym remarked from the opposite side of the table.

“Well, we can’t all be skinny runts,” Stirla agreed mildly, and smiled at the stocky, dark-skinned man beside Willym. “Good to see you, Hlen. Sorry you got the arithmetic job.”

Hlen smiled shyly, only truly comfortable on miryhl-back or with a book in his hands. “B-better than survival. Uphill b-battle you’ve got, from what I’ve seen.”

“If I get too desperate I need only look at my friend here and thank the gods for their infinitely small mercies.” Stirla slapped Lyrai on the back, causing him to choke on his soup.

“You wouldn’t be laughing if he’d just sprayed you,” Captain Hylan told the cackling Roumn, while handing Lyrai some water. He was a big man like Stirla, making Lyrai feel small, wedged as he was between them. But where Stirla was gregarious, the captain was quiet. “Picking up where I left off, Lyrai? All the luck of the gods, lad.”

“You’ll need it.” One of Hylan’s lieutenants shuddered. “Give me history anytime.”

“As if you ever taught a lesson in your life, Brath,” one of Roumn’s lieutenants laughed. “You could fill a library with the things you don’t know.”

“Whereas Nimbys wouldn’t be big enough to hold your lack,” Captain Myran rebuked softly. “Even the best read amongst us could use a little more knowledge, Lieutenant Yordice.”

When Myran spoke everyone else shut up. Though Roumn was older and equally marked by Rider life, there was an air of dignity around Myran, even before a man noticed his limp or heard the story behind it. If family connections had netted Fredkhen for Willym, the mere threat of Lyrai’s had gifted him Myran.

The meal continued in silence until Myran cleared his throat. “How fare your new Riders, Hylan? Roumn doesn’t seem confident about his.”

For once the big man’s smile was smug. “Mine are fine. They’ve been trained as hard as could be without breaking. I’m fairly certain they can fly over a flock of sheep without baulking.”

Everyone looked at Roumn, some knowingly, the rest curious. The cynical captain’s cheeks turned red. “It was only once and it was foggy. Gods blast you for bringing it up again, Hylan.”

Hylan grinned. “Turn and turn about, old friend. All’s fair inside Aquila’s walls. No harm done.”

Fredkhen raised an eyebrow. “That’s not what I heard. Five innocent sheep paid dearly.”

“No, that was Roumn when the farmer demanded compensation,” Myran corrected.

“But still, no harm done,” Hylan repeated.

Fredkhen chuckled. “Except to Roumn’s pocket.”

“It’s good for him.” Hylan grinned again. “And we got mutton for dinner. Very fine it was too.”

“Enough!” Roumn growled. “Yordice, Thylek, round up the others. We leave tomorrow.”

“But it’s Half-Year!” his lieutenants protested, only to be silenced by their captain’s glare.

“We are leaving,” he repeated, and they hung their heads in defeat.

“Don’t be like that, Roumn,” Fredkhen coaxed, as the two men left.

Hylan nodded, sipping from his glass. “Yes, old man, no need to be such a baad sport.”

With a look as scorching as pyrefly breath, Captain Roumn stalked out. The rest hooted with laughter. Stirla was so entertained he reached across Lyrai to shake Hylan’s hand. Even Myran chuckled into his glass. Only Willym was unimpressed, regarding them like mud splatters on his best breeches.

They ignored him and the meal continued amidst splutters, snorts and chuckles as they baaed at random intervals.

A knock on the door was followed by a student wearing a green messenger cap. “Beg pardon, sirs, but Dean Marshall says the North Point ship’s docked. Officers’ meeting next bell.” He vanished.

“Fun’s over, lads,” Fredkhen announced, draining his wine. “Real work starts tomorrow.”

“Best of luck,” Captain Hylan murmured solemnly to Stirla and Lyrai, clapping them both on the shoulder. Then he smiled, an amused glint in his dark eyes. “You’re going to need it.”

~ Next Chapter ~

All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!