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Dragongift: Chapter 2, Part 2

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~ Previous Chapter ~

Sorry this is a wee bit late, I’ve been out enjoying the spring sunshine (not so much the wind, but it wouldn’t be Dartmoor without a brisk breeze).

Anyway… Derry to the rescue!

Continue reading “Dragongift: Chapter 2, Part 2”

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 2, Part 2


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

~ Previous Chapter ~

Nice and early this morning. Getting in before I go off in search of more standing stones – which I hope won’t be blocked by frisky giant cows this time! (They had calves, there was nothing to hide behind, some were friendly, others were… not. Wasn’t worth the risk.)

Anyway… Onto the important things, with one important question:

Where is Stirla leading them?

23rd Sun

“THIS IS NOT what I expected.”

Mhysra looked up from watching the heels of the person in front, having been following blindly while thinking over her farewell to Cumulo that morning. Still sulking, he’d ignored her until she had to leave, then engulfed her under one wing before shoving her away. Silly bird.

Shaking her head, she shifted the heavy pack on her shoulders and trudged along the uneven tunnel. It was wide enough for four people to walk abreast, though they marched in pairs, the way winding up and down and side to side, without any clue as to where it was heading. Lieutenant Stirla liked being secretive.

“Are you listening?”

Mhysra blinked at Corin beside her. “Sorry. Thinking.”

“We could tell,” Silveo said, turning to walk backwards, his heels no longer available for Mhysra to follow. “It looked painful.” He winked. “What did you expect, Corin?”

“To fly,” she said, which considering the remoteness of Aquila made sense.

“Even without the miryhls?” Jaymes asked, walking beside Silveo, his red hair looking purple in the lamp light. The small, rough cut crystals emitted a strong blue glow for almost twenty strides and Mhysra had never seen their like before. They flickered into life when someone approached and pulsed in a slow, steady rhythm until the last person passed, then faded into darkness again. Dragon-made, Lieutenant Fleik said. A gift on the founding of Aquila.

“Gods, can you imagine us leaving on miryhls?” Silveo chuckled. “A quarter would fall off before we got two bells out.” He shook his head, silvery hair glowing blue. “You’d all be fine, no doubt, but I assure you I am not ready to die yet.”

“Maybe you should practise more,” Mhysra teased.

“I will when you start getting top marks in arithmetic,” Silveo challenged, ducking as his head brushed the ceiling.

“That’s asking for a miracle,” Dhori murmured from behind, his grey eyes an eerie violet in the glow.

“So is Silveo flying long distance,” Jaymes quipped, sidestepping his friend’s arm punch.

“Children, please,” Corin scolded, and tripped on a loose stone. “This place is unsafe.”

“We’re in the Riders,” Mhysra said. “Why should we be safe?”

“Yes, acclimatisation with danger is of vital importance.” Silveo shrugged at their raised eyebrows. “It is.”

“Anyway,” Corin said, trying to regain control of the conversation. “I expected us to go somewhere by skyship, not end up in a tunnel.”

“Why not?” Dhori asked. “The mountain is riddled with passages. We go down into the caverns every day to bathe.”

“But still,” Corin protested. “Do we know where this tunnel is leading? And aside from the caverns have any of you ever gone inside the mountain?”

“No.” Mhysra wrinkled her nose, shivering in the steady draft that grew cooler the deeper they went. “But there’s probably a good reason for that.”

“Which we’re about to find out. Hopefully. Soon.” Derrain had been trudging quietly alongside Dhori and was behaving far from his usual self. His dark skin looked waxy and he was clearly sweating.

“Are you all right, Derry?” Mhysra asked.

He took a shuddering breath and dragged up a smile. “Fine.”

“He’ll be all right,” Dhori assured her, and she frowned. Derrain was her best friend; if he needed looking after it was her job. She hadn’t known he was unnerved by small spaces. He was fine in the caverns.

She looked at Derrain again, but he was too busy watching where he was going to meet her eyes. “We’ll be out soon,” she murmured.

He nodded tightly without looking up. Since none of them knew where they were going, there was no possible way she could have known such a thing for sure.

“He’ll be all right,” Dhori repeated firmly. It was strangely comforting.

“Good,” she murmured, facing forwards again. Corin and Silveo were still bickering about why they were walking through the mountain. She rolled her eyes and shared a rueful glance with Jaymes. It was never easy being the quiet friend to talkative people.

Dripping water sounded up ahead, loud enough to be heard over forty-odd pairs of feet, as the tunnel curved down and around to the left. Derrain groaned and Dhori whispered to him. Mhysra couldn’t make out the words, but his voice was soothing, matching the tread of feet, the pulse of the lanterns and the splash of water as the path sloped steeply downwards.

“I hope we don’t have to climb out of here,” Corin grumbled, and Derrain cursed.

“Careful, students!” Sergeant Loyek called from somewhere up front.

“Watch your step!” Lieutenant Stirla passed on from the middle.

At the back of the group, Sergeant Rees grumbled something that was too far away to be decipherable. Which suited Mhysra just fine. Her brief smile vanished when she put her foot in a puddle. Her yelp was drowned out by a shriek further forward, followed by more shouts and yips to the rear.

“That’s cold!” Corin squeaked on finding a puddle of her own.

“Better watch your step then,” Stirla chuckled, keeping Mouse company a short way ahead. “We did warn you.”

“He didn’t say anything about freezing cold water, though,” Corin grumbled.

Mhysra hummed consolingly, grimacing as her boot squelched with every other step.

Other tunnels branched off their route, but they stayed on the main path, skirting a subterranean lake, before their way began to climb again. It was just as steep and tiring as Corin had feared, and soon no one had any breath left to talk. Except Dhori, who maintained a soothing murmur for Derrain’s benefit. The higher they climbed, the warmer the breeze became and stronger too, until it was almost as fresh in the tunnels as a walk in the citadel. Derrain’s breathing evened out and, as the tunnel flattened, high spirits returned. Corin swapped places with Jaymes so she and Silveo could bicker more comfortably.

“A perfect match,” the redhead chuckled. Since Silveo was about a foot taller than Corin and pale everywhere she was dark, they couldn’t have looked more different. But they were happy in their arguing, making Mhysra smile.

“Just so long as they don’t unite against the rest of us.”

“Gods save us,” Jaymes groaned.

Then there was light up ahead, natural light, shining from a westward sun with the warmth of mid-afternoon. But Mhysra only managed a brief upward glance before her attention was wholly distracted. Even Derrain, rushing past to breathe in great gulps of unconfined air, registered only dimly. Stopping at the mouth of the tunnel, Mhysra stared.

Flanked by two high, steep and uncompromising cliffs, the valley opened out before her, comprised of long, uneven terraces stepping jaggedly down to the edge of the Cloud Sea. Green and grey and white. Bullwings, sheep and doelyns grazed in high paddocks, nestled on narrow ledges around the cliff face, while small huts and hideaways were carved from the rocks. Crops flourished along the terraces and fruit trees bordered some edges.

A farm. Aquila had its own farm. Tucked half a mountain away from the citadel. Secret and perfect. Dhori and Jaymes stood by her shoulders and she grinned at them.

“A farm?” Mouse questioned, while Lieutenant Stirla counted heads to make sure no one had been lost along the way. “They brought us to a farm for Midsummer break?”

“Well, we can’t have you getting out of shape, can we?” Lieutenant Fleik said, his smile wicked.

Mouse and Jaymes groaned, as only farm boys who had thought themselves freed from the chores of childhood could.

“I can’t wait.” Mhysra laughed, loving the chance to work in the green again after so long in cities and citadels.

“That’s because you’re weird,” Corin said, looking around with the horror of a city girl.

Chuckling, Lieutenant Stirla shooed them away from the tunnel and into the warm sunshine. “She’s not the only one, Corin. I’m looking forward to this too.”

“That’s because you’re cruel.”

He grinned, just as wickedly as Fleik had. “But I’m the nice lieutenant, remember?”

“Gods save us,” the students muttered as one.

Stirla laughed, shaking his head pityingly. “Too late for that, my lambs. Far, far too late. You’re in my clutches now. Ah, what fun awaits.” He clapped his hands, making Mouse and Corin jump. “Come on, tents to set up, food to prepare. Wouldn’t want to sleep in the open tonight, would we? It might rain.” Chortling, he strode off, leaving them staring uneasily after him. “Merry Midsummer and welcome to Buteo, everyone!”

“He’s enjoying himself far too much,” Derrain said.

The others nodded, following after Stirla to begin setting up their tents. Knowing their run of recent luck, it would rain if they didn’t. Merry Midsummer, indeed.

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 1, Part 1


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

~ Previous Chapter ~

Back again, and this time I’ve brought along a familiar character or two to help things along.

This is my kind of end of year exam!

Aquila in Summer

21st Sun Month, 787 CE
ALL WAS QUIET as Lady Mhysra Kilpapan, Wingborn and first-year Rift Rider student, crept down the bank. Around her, evergreen trees stood in silence, blocking out all but the strongest light. They marched up the mountainside in haphazard style, over all terrain – steep, shallow, rocky. Nothing stopped them from growing or shedding a pungent carpet of needles.

Mhysra was taking advantage of that carpet now to keep her footfalls quiet as she slithered from tree to tree. The woods might look and sound empty, but she knew better. They were out there. Waiting. Watching. Ready to take her captive.

Crouching behind some thick bracken, she edged sideways, senses alert. The bank was steep, but nothing that she couldn’t handle as she slipped down it, cursing the pebble avalanche rattling in her wake. Flattening herself against the nearest pine, she waited.

A branch snapped. The entire wood seemed to hold its breath and Mhysra hid behind a stand of ferns. They were over six feet tall but she didn’t dare crawl in amongst them: the slightest movement would give her away.

“See anything?” a voice muttered from the top of the bank.

“No. Could be a deer.”

The first person snorted. “How many deer have you seen up here?”

“I saw two herds last year,” the other retorted, sounding young and sulky, but then he was only a second-year. “These woods are littered with deer tracks. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?”

“Next you’ll be warning me about bears and wolves,” the first student mocked. “Let’s move on. There’s nothing here and I want to bag myself a couple of firsties.”

“Still sore over your capture last year?” his companion chuckled.

“As if you weren’t getting caught right beside me.”

Mhysra stayed in her crouch as the sounds of a tussle reached her, before the second-years continued in a more dignified manner. Even when they were out of hearing, she remained still, waiting for her heart to calm. Under the thunder of her pulse was a tingle of exhilaration. She was still in play, still in the forest, evading her hunters. This wasn’t so hard.

Grinning, she eased around the ferns and continued. She still couldn’t believe she’d almost completed her first year at Aquila, training school and home of the Rift Riders. That was why she was running around the mountainside, dodging other students. Because rather than sit the pupils down for dull examinations, Aquila preferred to assess their progress in more practical ways. Thus the hunt.

With most of the first-years still learning how to fly, not to mention handle their weapons, their role in the hunt was simple: prey. They were taken high into the valley above the citadel, where an enormous lake was surrounded by a thick pine forest, and turned loose. Two bells later the second-years were released to pursue them. The goal for the first-years was to reach the end of the valley without getting caught. The second-years’ task was to capture as many firsties as possible. It was up to each individual whether they worked solo, in pairs or teams.

In order to monitor everyone’s progress, and ensure that there was no foul play, instructors, officers, attendants, servants, tutors and off-duty Riders were scattered through the forest. Even ordinary folk from the town came up to keep watch. It was an annual event.

And the hunt was just the start.

The sun blazed hotly down as Mhysra reached the bottom of the ridge and the canopy overhead thinned. Here the undergrowth was littered with scrub, gorse and the occasional birch sapling. It made hiding easier, but each step was more perilous. With silence now impossible, she pushed on regardless. The end of the valley was in sight and a flock of miryhls waited beyond the finish line. They looked bored and irritated: their day had been nothing but dull so far.

Determined that would soon change, Mhysra sought out her Wingborn amongst the giant eagles and sighed with relief. Cumulo was close, his head raised, looking for her, knowing she would come. A group of Riders laughed and played cards in the shade while they waited for the first-years to arrive and claim their mounts. They also ensured that the birds remained under cover, away from the burning sun, while keeping away the worst of the midges. Swearing under her breath, Mhysra waved the flies away from her face and wished she’d stayed away from the water a little while longer too.

Fast approaching footsteps made her freeze. She darted her head around and threw herself into the gorse bushes, stifling yelps as the prickly branches seized her with glee. It was as good a hiding place as any since surely there weren’t two people on this mountain foolish enough to jump into gorse bushes.

Wriggling down to the ground and welcoming the respite from the midges, Mhysra crawled on her elbows until she could see the miryhl enclosure and watch the commotion.

A student – slender and red-haired – was sprinting as though a pack of pyreflies was after him. It was Jaymes, Mhysra’s regular sparring partner. His russet hair was dark with sweat, his shirt clung to his back and he was panting hard. Mhysra silently urged him on as four second-years broke from the woods, whooping at the chase.

One of them paused long enough to draw his bow, using a blunt arrow marked with paint. They didn’t fly very far, or very well, but Mhysra had already seen two students taken out by them. The second-year loosed, but Jaymes started running in lunges from side to side and avoided it with ease. The other boys fumbled at their packs and pulled out little cloth bundles, lobbing them towards the fleeing figure. Only a stumble saved Jaymes from the first, which burst in a shower of red dye, while the second missed altogether.

The drowsy miryhls looked up as the Riders gathered by the finish line, cheering the students on – some for the hunters, some for the prey. At Jaymes’ approach they unlatched the rope, while the second-years cursed and threw more bombs.

Jaymes lurched on, stumbling, one hand pressed to his side. The end was in sight. Less than six feet from the line a bumble sailed over his shoulder. It struck a Rider, who rolled his eyes good naturedly and caught Jaymes as he tripped into safety.

The Riders slapped him on the back and offered him water, while the second-years begrudgingly congratulated him before trudging back into the woods. No traps were allowed within fifty feet of the enclosure, in order to give the first-years a fighting chance. Mhysra estimated that she was just about within that distance. Still, it would be better to wait for the second-years to leave. No point making life difficult for herself.

With the hunters gone and Jaymes recovering, Mhysra wriggled out of hiding. Sneaking around a copse of silver birches, she debated whether to sprint for it or continue creeping and hope she didn’t alert anyone.

A distant crashing in the forest startled her and she sprang forward.

“Here comes another one,” a Rider chuckled.

“And more,” another agreed. “It’s all go now.”

The crashing behind grew louder and closer, but Mhysra didn’t dare look. The ground ahead was covered in clumps of grass, rocks, tree roots and shrubs. Moving quickly over it and keeping her feet was tricky.

Something whistled over her shoulder and she threw herself to one side as the bundle struck a rock, exploding in a burst of red dye. Rolling over her shoulder, she came easily back to her feet and ran on, checking for signs that she’d been hit. Her clothes were clean, or as clean as they could be after a day crawling through the forest.

“Duck!” a familiar voice yelled, and she bent down as a painted arrow bobbled overhead.

Using a hand to push herself upright again, she shook the sweat from her eyes as the cheering Riders opened the enclosure. She stumbled over a loose pocket of ground and swore. Another bundle flew over her head and yet another landed off to her right.

Each stride sent a jolt up her left calf, but she hobbled on, yelping as a strong hand seized her arm. It threw her across the line and she landed with an undignified thud. Her saviour thumped down beside her, chuckling as a bundle hit Mhysra’s knee and showered them both in red dye.

“Too late,” her rescuer panted, rolling onto his back. “You all right?”

Sitting up, Mhysra flexed her ankle and winced. “Just about,” she said, and smiled. “Thanks for the help, Derry. Appreciate it.”

Derrain fra Canlen, her broad-shouldered, good-natured, best friend grinned. “You were so close. Seemed a shame to let you lose.”

“Don’t get too comfy,” a Rider warned, offering them a drink. “Fun’s not over yet.”

Groaning, they accepted the water and crawled over to join Jaymes. He smiled weakly in welcome. “Did you two work together?”

Emptying the remains of his canteen over his head, Derrain shook himself like a dog. “No chance. I lost sight of her around midmorning. She moved too fast for me. I was with Mouse and Haelle. Haelle tripped an arrow trap around noon, while Mouse ran smack into a second-year just after. His leg was starting to play up, so he wouldn’t have stuck it much longer anyway. I’ve been running since.” He looked at Mhysra and raised his eyebrows. “What happened to Corin and Greig?”

She sipped from her canteen, shaking her head. “Corin got hit by an arrow, tried to keep going and ended up shouting at Lieutenant Stirla. Greig was so busy joining in that he missed a net dropping on him. I only escaped because I fell down a gully.” She pushed up her right sleeve and showed them the graze running the length of her forearm.

They hissed in sympathy and one of the Riders went to find something to clean it with.

“How about you?” she asked Jaymes.

“I was with Silveo,” he said, to no one’s surprise. The two North Point lads were born in the same village and had been inseparable ever since, even if Silveo was intensely studious while Jaymes was more active. The only time they didn’t pair up was when the instructors and teachers separated them. “He grew bored around midmorning and started cataloguing the different species of fern. Last I saw of him he was smearing his shirt with red dye and talking to Captain Fredkhen about gorse.”

They chuckled tiredly, while Rider Theryn arrived to patch up the worst of their scrapes and bruises.

“Has Dhori been through yet?” Mhysra asked him as he washed her graze.

Theryn grinned. “First in and skipped off before the third-years even left the eyries.”

“I don’t know why he even bothers pretending to be one of us,” Derrain grumbled. “I could have sworn he’d done all this before.”

“And then some,” the Rider agreed. “If he wasn’t so young, I’d think him a captain.”

The students thought about it, then Jaymes shrugged. “At least he’s on our side.”

“True,” Theryn chuckled, with a last swipe over Mhysra’s arm. “All done. You can go.”

Though it was tempting to remain beside the lake, Mhysra’s day was only half done. “Come on,” she said to the boys, batting away a cloud of midges. “Time to make the third-years work.”

The amused Riders wished them luck and returned to their card game.

~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 23, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ 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 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 ~

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

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 21, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Bumble time! Not that Mhysra is avoiding things or anything, because she would never do something like that, no no.

THE BLIZZARD ARRIVED before nightfall, piling snow against the walls and covering the mountain in white. Brisk winds made the flakes flurry, sneaking in through the many cracks of the citadel.

Leaving poor Mouse in the infirmary, with some hefty puncture wounds to show for his adventure, Mhysra went in search of Derrain. “I need to visit Bumble. Want to come?”

He raised his eyebrows, knowing where she’d been. When she shook her head, he gave a dramatic shiver. “Go outside? Have you seen the weather?”

She rolled her eyes. “Why yes, dear Derry, I may have noticed a sprinkling of snow. However, I haven’t seen Bumble for days and if Kilai hears he’ll kill me. Come if you’re coming. If not, well, more cakes for me.”

“You drive a hard bargain,” he grumbled, but traipsed after her through the eastern citadel and down to the kennels. A chorus of yips and barks greeted them as they crossed the frozen courtyard. The keeper in the workroom was Jynese, an Aquilan lass and a close friend of Kilai’s.

Seeing them shivering, she grinned. “Come inside, my lambs, before you grow icicles.”

Derrain hurried straight to the fire. “Heirayk’s sweet mercy on you, Jynese,” he murmured, chattering his teeth for effect.

“Poor boy,” she crooned, rubbing his back. With her full figure, green eyes and warm smile, she was very pretty and very popular. Especially amongst the boys.

“Sit yourselves down,” Jynese invited, winking at Mhysra. “I’ll get you a drink and see what else I can find. The dogs are being fed now, so I’ll fetch your girl in a bit.” She ushered them both into chairs, filled the kettle and searched the cupboards. When she was done, Derrain and Mhysra cradled cups of Mistrunan tea and balanced plates of apple tarts, scones and cheese slices on their knees. That was the other reason why Jynese was so popular, especially with the boys – she fed them.

“You are a prize,” Derrain praised, his mouth full. “You make the best tarts in Aquila.”

“My pa would disagree,” she chuckled, and as the town’s baker he was probably right. “But flattery is always appreciated.” She looked up as the door opened and smiled. “Kilai.”

Mhysra almost spilled her tea. “What are you doing here?”

Her brother raised his eyebrows and ruffled snow from his hair. “Nice to see you too, neglectful sister of mine. Remembered you have a nakhound, have you?”

Putting her cup aside, she wrinkled her nose. “I’ve been busy.”

“So have I,” he retorted, “but I’m still here. And I only just got back.”

Derrain chuckled, gathering the crumbs off his plate with his fingertip. “If I had such enticements I’d come straight here too.” He winked at Jynese.

Rolling her eyes, Jynese prodded Kilai in the chest. “Think of how much free time you had when you were a newbie – if you can remember that far back, old man – and be nice to your sister. I’m going to fetch the pup.” Patting him on the head, she trotted out the door.

While Mhysra and Derrain blinked to see the mighty Kilpapan heir treated so lightly, Kilai smiled sheepishly. “It’s refreshing.”

“Is that what you call it?” Derrain chuckled.

Kilai grimaced. “Do you have to say that in front of my little sister?”

More amused than embarrassed, Mhysra grinned. “I can’t wait to tell Milluqua.”

Groaning, Kilai covered his face with his hands. “Why couldn’t I have brothers?”

“Because you’re gods-blessed,” Mhysra retorted, enjoying the teasing. She saw her brother so rarely, since both of them were so busy and he spent most of his time away from the citadel. Spending time with this relaxed Kilai was a treat.

“What brings you back so soon?” Derrain asked, taking pity on the poor Rider. “I thought you were patrolling the Wrathlen until the end of the month.”

“Blizzards came early,” Kilai explained, easing into a chair. “Gods, we just beat this monster. Straight off the Stormwash and too big to sate itself on pirates. It chased us all the way home.”

Mhysra shivered at the thought. “Did you see much action?”

Kilai shook his head, smiling as Jynese returned with Bumble. The nakhound looked dignified and glossy, striped wings folded against her back. She trotted with her chin on Jynese’s hip, almost fully grown.

Then she saw Mhysra.

Yipping with glee, Bumble bounded across the room, clearing Kilai’s chair with a flap of her wings. Landing on Mhysra’s lap, she washed her face vigorously.

“See what happens when you don’t visit every day,” Kilai said smugly.

Jynese chuckled as she shared Kilai’s chair. “I’ve never met a pup so fixed.”

Shoving the dog away, Mhysra wiped her face with her sleeve. “Wrentherin trait. You should see our pack with my aunt. They adore her. Whether she sees them every day or not.” She glared at Kilai.

He grinned. “Mhylla feeds them. This one’s just stupid.”

“But beautiful,” Jynese protested, while Bumble licked Mhysra’s hands, her plumy tail wagging.

Sighing, Mhysra stroked Bumble’s silky ears. “You didn’t deny that she was stupid.”


They talked about nakhounds for a while, but eventually talk veered back to Kilai and his recent exploits. “It’s the strangest thing, sitting on the edge of the Wrathlen, waiting for something to happen. When nothing does you feel relieved, until you start wondering. Having an imagination out there is a curse.”

“So you didn’t see anything?” Derry asked, ruffling Bumble’s wings.

“Nothing worth noting.” Kilai got up to add another log to the fire. “It’s unnerving. If you see something, at least you know they’re there, being their usual vermin selves. But when they hide…” He shook his head. “That place has to be seen to be believe. A solid ridge, extending for miles, but the closer you get, the more crevices you notice, until you’re right above it and see that it’s rotten right through.”

“Like those who live there,” Jynese said, filling the kettle for more tea. “There was a nasty piece of work in town when I was a girl. Picked fights, bullied everyone, had a rough hand with the ladies and never listened to no. He fled to the Wrathlen before the Riders pinned him down – his mother smuggled him out, foolish old besom. Boy could do no wrong in her eyes. When the pirates raided Aquila two years later, she was found with a knife in her chest and a sapphire between her teeth.” She sighed and sat down again. “He’d promised to bring her jewels when he was rich. Some are born for that place. I used to wonder why the Riders didn’t destroy it.”

Kilai smiled sadly, winding a strand of her hair around his finger. “I used to think the same until I saw it myself. We’re too few for a rat’s nest like that.”

Jynese nodded. “I’ve seen it too. That’s when I realised nothing short of a gods-blast could clear the place. Even that wouldn’t get them all.”

“Do you think they’re up to something?” Mhysra asked to break the uneasy silence.

“Possibly, possibly not,” Kilai grumbled. “Lieutenant Brath says they’d normally hit Havia after preparations like this, but King Heryff did enough damage last summer to make even those pirates wince. I don’t think they’ll try him again when they have so many other options.”

“Which is a cheerful thought on a blizzard night,” Derrain said, raising a smile from them all.

“True. Let’s leave raiders and pirates behind, since the snow keeps them out as nicely as a pyrefly pack. Tell me what’s been happening here. What’s all this about Cumulo being a hero?”

Mhysra and Derrain exchanged a look and her friend raised his eyebrows, leaving it for her to tell. “Poor Mouse bumped another student in today’s group flight session and fell off,” Mhysra said, not wanting to get into all the details when she still couldn’t believe it herself. “Cue caught him.”

Kilai frowned. “How did he fall? Wasn’t he strapped on?”

Derrain shook his head. “Mouse wanted to fly without. We all do.”

Kilai’s frown deepened, but before he could say anything else, Jynese nudged his shoulder. “Poor lad, I hope he’s all right. Fetch the tea, won’t you, Kilai?” Sufficiently distracted, he got up while Mhysra told them how Mouse was doing. By the time Kilai returned, his lecture was forgotten and the subject turned to something else.

It was late by the time Mhysra and Derrain left the kennels, and it was a wrench to abandon the warm fire in favour of trudging back through the cold. Snow swirled as they leant shoulder to shoulder, wading through the drifts. It was nice with just the two of them, as it so rarely was these days. Mhysra even liked the snow dancing around the lantern that Jynese had given them.

“Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” Derrain murmured as they forced open the door that led back into the citadel.

“About what?” Mhysra asked, blowing out the lantern and hanging it on a hook.

“What’s going on out there,” Derrain said, rubbing his arms and shoving the door closed.

“Mm,” Mhysra agreed. With the seclusion of the Storm Season being so quickly followed by these blizzards, Aquila had become a small, isolated world. She’d been too busy to notice.

“I’ve spent most of my life flying from one landmass to the next,” Derrain mused, throwing an arm over her shoulders as they walked through the halls, the pair of them huddling together for warmth. “I never thought I’d get used to being stopped for so long. How quickly we forget.”

“We’ve been busy.”

He nodded, watching their feet. “But it’s more than that. There’s just something about Aquila.”

“I feel like I’ve been here forever.”

“Me too,” he agreed, “and I’m not sure that it’s a good thing.”

She frowned. “Why not, since we’re spending three years here?”

Pausing at the stairs, he stared out through an iced window at the blurry darkness. “We’re getting too comfortable.”

“Derry?” she asked, confused as to what had brought on this contemplative mood.

Giving himself a shake, he smiled. “Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking out loud. Poor Mouse, I hope he’s not in too much pain.”

Mhysra winced. “They gave him something to make him sleep. It was strange to see him so quiet.” She stared miserably at the floor. “I feel guilty. So does Cue. Poor Mouse.”

“Don’t be daft!” Derrain scolded, shaking her shoulders. “Cumulo saved his life. If you’re looking for guilt, send it to the brat that hit Onyx.”

“He’s Kern Whittendowns’ heir,” Mhysra muttered, since the rank of kern was the Greater West’s equivalent to an Imercian earl. One of wealth and privilege, even here at Aquila where all were supposed to be equal. “Not to mention Willym’s favourite. He’s going to get away with it, while Mouse has wounds in his leg deep enough to make him limp. Maybe even permanently.”

Derrain hugged her tightly. “If you ask Mouse whether he minds those wounds, I’ll bet he’ll tell you he can cope. Better lame than dead.”

She sniffled against his chest. “It’s not fair.”

“No,” he agreed, stroking her hair. “But that’s the world for you. Come on, it’s late, and I’d rather not fend off Jermyn swinging sticks at my head when I’m only half-awake.”

She stepped back and nodded. “Good advice.”

“And coming from me, too. Proof that miracles do occasionally happen.”

Mhysra grinned. “Only occasionally? Should Dhori watch out?”

“I’ll try not to make a habit of it.”

~ Next Chapter ~

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Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 20, Part 3


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Happy birthday, Mhysra! Silliness abounds :D

FOR MOST THE Feast of Maegla was a day of private worship, but at Aquila it was the most important festival of the year. The citadel and town celebrated Her glory loudly, and She threw out the worst storm of the season in response. But most of the students were too tipsy to care.

“S’my birthday,” Mhysra said to the ceiling, but no matter how many times she said it, she still didn’t get any presents.

“I love you. Did I ever tell you I love you?” Corin told Mhysra for the fifth time.

“Yes.” As she’d said the same to Haelle, Mouse, Derrain, Lieutenant Stirla and Lieutenant Hlen, Mhysra wasn’t flattered. “You’ve had too much drink.”

“I like it!” Corin protested, as Mhysra took the bottle away. She tried to put it on the table and missed. “You broke it!”

“Didn’t,” Mhysra retorted, juggling it until she got a grip. “See, some left.” Tipping back her head, she drained the last third.

Corin stared at her in shock. “You drank it.”

“I did.”

“You drank it.”

“I did.”

You drank it!

“She did.” A veteran of intoxicating spirits, Derrain was still in possession of his wits. “And you’ve both had enough.” He hauled them to their feet. “Time for bed. Lessons tomorrow.”

“S’no point,” Mhysra hiccupped gloomily. “No flying, no fun. S’my birthday, Derry. Will you take me flying?”

“Not when you might get struck by lightning. Aquila frowns on that kind of thing.”

“No fun,” she repeated.

“I don’ wanna go bed,” Corin protested, tripping over a snoring student. “’m drinkin’.”

“I noticed,” Derrain said. “And now you’ve stopped. You’re done with drinking.”

“Nope. Gotta keep goin’. Buildin’ ma courage. Gonna get a kiss.”

Derrain raised his eyebrows, and Mhysra stopped grumbling long enough to swing around. “Wotcha mean? Where you gonna get a kiss?”

Corin giggled. “On ma lips. At first.” She winked. “Maybe somewhere else, if he’s lucky.”

Mhysra swayed as she tried to focus. “S’not what I meant. Who’ll kiss you?”

“S’secret,” Corin whispered. “C’mere, I tell you.”

They all leant closer and Corin bashed foreheads with Derrain as she planted a loud kiss on his lips. She teetered away, crowing, “Tol’ you! Tol’ you! I got a kiss!”

Lunging to catch her before she fell over, Derrain sighed and tucked her under his arm. “You should have asked, Corin. I’d have kissed you gladly.”

“Ser’sly?” she hiccupped. “S’that easy?”

“Depends how nicely you ask.”

She chuckled and cuddled up to his chest. “You’s nice, Derry. I like you.”

“Should ‘ope so,” Mhysra hiccupped. “Hate to think you go ‘round kissing them you don’t.”

“Don’t be jealous, M’sra, I kiss you too if you want.”

Mhysra cackled. “’m all right, thanks.”

Corin wrinkled her nose. “Can I have ‘novva drink, Derry?”

“No. You got your kiss.”

“Offa you, mebbe,” she grumbled. “Need more courage. Wanna ‘novva.”

“I told you to ask.”

“Not from you!” she protested, while Mhysra wandered into a wall.

Derrain reached out and snagged Mhysra’s wrist as she walked into the wall again, asking it why it wasn’t getting out of the way and didn’t it know it was rude to obstructify people in this manner. He reeled her in and smiled at Corin. “You don’t need courage, little one.”

“You’s nice,” Corin repeated, patting his cheek. “But I wanna kiss from Dhori. Where’d he go? D’you know? Oh! A rhyme! Where’d he go, do you know? I don’t know, where he go? Where he go, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know! ’m so clever.” She collapsed against his chest, staring up at him adoringly. “Don’cha think ’m clever, Derry?”

“Brilliant,” he agreed, staggering sharply left as Mhysra avoided another wall, which she was sure had lunged. They had it in for her, all of them. Evil walls. “Come on, girls, upstairs.”

“Stairs,” Mhysra whined. “They’re worse than walls. They trip you up an’ everything.”

“Stairs! I love stairs! ’m good at stairs!” Corin raced off, slipped and slithered down, scraping her hands but miraculously not flattening her face. “Did you see that?” she demanded. “It tripped me!”

“I warned you,” Mhysra said. “I told you they was mean.”

“You was right!”

“Is there any reason why we can’t talk like normal people?” Derrain pleaded, as they berated the stairs.

“You’re at Aquila, lad. There are no normal people here.” Stirla and Lyrai were watching their distinct lack of progress, bright-eyed with amusement. “Need a hand?” Stirla offered.


“Come on, milady. Up.” Lyrai pulled Mhysra to her feet and hauled her over his shoulder.

“Ooooh,” she groaned as he straightened. “Feel dizzy. World’s gone upsides.”

“No, just you,” Lyrai assured her, while Stirla scooped up Corin.

“You know, you’re not as grouchy as I thought you were,” Mhysra murmured to Lyrai’s back. “An’ you have a nice bum.”

It was Derrain’s turn to trip on the stairs, he was laughing so hard.

“Thank you,” Lyrai said gravely, not even flinching when Mhysra patted his backside.

“’m gonna regret this in the mornin’, aren’t I?” she muttered.



As Lyrai carried her up the stairs, she remained quiet, though Corin was trying to bargain a kiss out of Stirla, who promised to drop her if she tried.

Then Mhysra hiccupped. “Ow. Your shoulder’s not as nice as your bum. S’all bony.”

“His bum?” Stirla asked.

“No, the shoulder. It sticks in my -” another hiccup “- belly. Hurts. Uh-oh.”

“What?” Derrain, Lyrai and Stirla asked.

“Feel sick.”

It was quite possible that Lieutenant Lyrai had never moved so fast as when he put Mhysra down, turned her around and boosted her up to an open window.

When she was dangling halfway out of it, she giggled. “S’rainin’.”

“Tell us something we don’t know.”

“Umm… Dhori’s on the roof.”

“What?” Stirla dumped Corin and ran to the next window, while Lyrai gripped hold of Mhysra’s belt before she could fall out.

“Are you done?” Lyrai asked.

“I don’t feel sick now,” she confirmed, then protested as he dragged her inside. “I like it out there. I like rain. Noooo!”

“Blast it, does he want to get killed?” Stirla cursed, leaning right out of the window to see Dhori on the high roof opposite.

“He likes it,” Mhysra grumbled, sliding down the wall next to the sleepy Corin. “He likes rain on his skin an’ thunder in his bones. Makes him feel good.”

“How do you know?” Lyrai asked in surprise.

She shrugged. “If you knew him, you’d know. He’s safe on the roof.” The rain had turned her maudlin. “Don’t make him get down. You didn’t like it when you couldn’t fly.”

Lyrai blinked at the abrupt change of subject. “Do you like it when you can’t?”

“Course not. It’d be the same for Dhori if you made him get down. He needs storms. Don’t make him come inside.”

Smiling, he hauled Mhysra to her feet. “I won’t. Come on.”

This time he scooped her into his arms rather than over his shoulder and she snuggled against his chest. “S’nice,” she murmured. “You smell better than my cousins.”

Stirla chuckled as he picked up Corin again, Derrain having disappeared. “Careful, he’ll think you’re an admirer.”

“I admire all kinds of things.” She yawned. “An’ my cousins smell terrible. Bet you smell better too.”

“He has a nice bum too,” Corin murmured.

“Who?” Stirla asked.

“You,” she replied sleepily. “Do I get a kiss?”


“I tried. L’ten’n Lyrai, can I have a kiss?”


“No fun,” Corin complained.

“I thought you wanted to kiss Dhori,” Mhysra reminded her, on the verge of sleep herself.

“Do. Wouldn’t say no to a l’ten’n, tho’. Keepin’ my options open.”

“Wise child,” Stirla agreed, but neither of the girls were listening. Both were sound asleep.

* * * * *

THE MORNING AFTER the feast, Aquila was bathed in uncharacteristic sunshine. It broke over the mountain edge and speared straight into the girls’ dormitory, where it was greeted with groans. When a maid climbed the stairs to find out why none of them had come down to breakfast, she was forced out under a rain of pillows.

Lessons for the day were cancelled.

Luckily for most, they had only hazy memories of the night before. Still, it was a half-moon before Mhysra felt able to look Lieutenant Lyrai in the eye again, and Corin couldn’t speak to Lieutenant Stirla for the better part of a month. Oddly enough, neither lieutenant complained.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Thanks for reading!