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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!


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Rift Riders: Chapter 2, Part 2

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~ 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.


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Wingborn: Chapter 20, Part 2

WB_Ch20.2

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~ Previous Chapter ~

A letter from Nimbys…


MY DEAREST SISTER,
               I miss you already, and it has not yet been a month since you left. I even miss your bumbling pup, but I’m glad to hear you’ve settled in and hope you are well. I wish things weren’t as they are, but I would be lying if I said our parents are reconciled to your choice. Father wanted to petition the Stratys for your return, until mother reminded him that Prince Lyrai is a Rider and the Stratys might deem it an insult. There is apparently little they can do, so for now, you and Cumulo are safe. Relatively speaking.

Thank you for word of Kilai – a more hopeless correspondent I’ve yet to meet. I’m delighted he’s happy in his Rider life, but I’m more pleased that you are. You and Cumulo deserve your happiness.

Speaking of which, I’ve refused three more suitors. Father grows impatient, but two were older than him and the other younger than Kilai! Mother says I have gained a reputation for being Unattainable, so all the young cubs are forming ridiculous passions for me, certain to be the one who tames me. It is so stupid. One of these days I shall say yes, and won’t the fool in question be surprised.

It’s not that I enjoy turning them down – you know how much I hate it – but I’ve yet to be asked by a man who wants me for myself. The Kilpapan name and fortune are so attractive, but we have no need of advantageous alliances. Despite father’s blustering, your decision to enter the Riders has been met with nothing but praise. Everyone thinks you are terribly brave. The Kilpapans are rich and courageous, not to mention favourites of the Stratys.

Show me the man who has no care for these things, who sees me as more than an empty-headed doll, and I will happily marry him.

Alas, I do not think he will ask. Nor would father agree to such a match.

Did I mention how much I miss you, dearest? And your friends. They were so lively. I hope they’re all doing well. And your lieutenants too. How is Lieutenant Lyrai? And Lieutenant Stirla?

I wish I could visit, since you cannot come to me. A break from town would be most welcome. Guests from across the Overworld have descended for the negotiations over Prince Henryn’s marriage and Nimbys feels quite small. Crowds gather wherever the foreign dignitaries are staying and trail their every move. You’d hate it.

March Serfyn, from the King’s Council of North Point, is staying with the Fenhays three houses along. Father deems it unacceptable, though mother often goes out to catch the attention of the press and promote the business. She is quite shameless, but you already know that.

The negotiations might continue for another month! I shall go mad. Write back soon, dearest, and take my mind away from such things. In the meantime, please take care, and send my regards to everyone.

Love to you, Cumulo and Kilai.

Your lonely, spinsterish sister,

Milluqua

Mhysra folded her letter and grinned. She didn’t envy her sister in the slightest; seven months in Nimbys had been more than enough.

“Everything all right?” Corin whispered, filching Mhysra’s history notes. “Is your sister getting married yet?”

“No.” Mhysra tucked the letter under her geography essay and looked busy as Lieutenant Willym walked past. Study sessions were never fun when he was around since he banned talking, smiling or enjoyment in any form. Whispers rustled in his wake, stopping the moment he turned, but the students had become adept at avoiding his notice.

Scribbling about the gently sloping mountains and agricultural yield of the Lowlands, Mhysra kept an eye on the lieutenant. “She’s turned down another three.”

Corin chuckled, squinting at Mhysra’s notes on the reign of King Meryk VI of Scudia and the Jarl uprising of 548 CE. “I’m beginning to think your sister doesn’t want to get married.”

“She does,” Mhysra murmured. “She has someone in mind, but father would never agree.”

“Who?” Corin demanded, nosy as ever. Unfortunately, she forgot to lower her voice.

Willym pounced. “All done, Student Corin? And you, Student Mhysra?”

Since their tutors delighted in giving them more work than anyone could possibly manage, it was obvious that they weren’t. Excuses were pointless, though. They shook their heads.

“No?” Willym drawled. “Then what is so important that you need to shriek about it to the entire hall?” Looming over them, he poked at their papers with his flying crop.

Mhysra bit her lip, worried he would uncover her sister’s letter, since Willym read private correspondence aloud whenever he found it. Not that there was anything to embarrass Mhysra in the letter, but she hated the thought of others making fun of her sister. Thankfully she had hidden it well, and when Willym’s insolent prodding knocked a heap of papers off the table, she slipped it into her pocket.

After he’d disrupted all their things and found nothing but lesson notes, the lieutenant sniffed. “Report to the tanners on Starday. Two bells each. Don’t let me hear another squeak from you.” Slapping his crop against his palm, he stalked off.

Corin grimaced apologetically at Mhysra and they settled back to work in silence. That didn’t mean their conversation was finished. The moment Willym was across the room, Corin nudged a note towards Mhysra. Who?

Biting her lip to restrain a smile, Mhysra scribbled, Lt. Stirla.

Corin masked her gasp under a convincing sneeze. Poor Milli!

I know. Mhysra sighed, putting her geography essay aside and fishing her arithmetic notes out of the mess Willym had made. The sums looked no more appealing now than they had the day before, or at any point during the last quarter-moon, but they were due the next morning.

Lieutenant Hlen was no trouble, though. As long as the students made an effort, he treated them fairly. If they didn’t he looked sad, which was far worse than any humiliation Willym meted out. Dhori shoved a sheet of hints across the table to help her. Grinning, she set to work, while Corin ransacked everyone’s notes for more on King Meryk. By the time the evening bell finally rang, the students were more relieved than usual: the Willym effect.

“What was all that about?” Derrain asked as they left the hall.

“A letter from Milli,” Corin said before Mhysra could reply. “She’s in love with Lieutenant Stirla, but the earl would never agree to the match.”

Mhysra scowled at her. “She isn’t in love with him. They just flirt.”

Derrain chuckled. “That’s what Corin got you two bells in the tanners for? Poor bargain.”

“I don’t mind. They’ll give me stitching.” Due to Corin, Mhysra often had punishment duty. Now that she wasn’t being forced to sew useless samplers and handkerchiefs, she’d found she had quite a skill for it.

“Lucky you,” Corin grumbled. “I always have to cure things.”

“That’s because your attempts at stitching look like a drunk spider fell into an ink pot,” Derrain told her, using Mhysra as a shield against retaliation.

“He’s right,” Dhori said, sidestepping the scuffle. “It’s quite a gift.”

Corin appealed to Mhysra for support, but she shrugged apologetically. “He has a point.”

“And you call yourselves my friends,” Corin sniffed and flounced off.

After she left, Derrain turned to Mhysra and grinned. “So, is Milli really in love with Stirla?”

* * * * *

AS THE STORM season gathered around Aquila, the first-years settled into a regular routine. They flew every day, alternating mornings and afternoons, and the rest of their time was filled with lessons. On Stardays the whole of Aquila flew, the bells calling them out to the eyries without warning. The lieutenants claimed it was good practise to spring a surprise summons, but Corin thought it was torture.

“They watch me, they must do, because the moment I go to the privy the bell rings and I’m stuck with my breeches round my ankles!”

Mhysra wouldn’t have put it past Stirla, especially after the third time Corin almost suffered an undignified accident, but she couldn’t believe it of Lyrai. He was too steady, though a lot less stern and humourless now that he had Hurricane. He was certainly better than Lieutenant Willym. Was ever a man more contemptuous? Willym looked down on everyone, but saved a particular brand of disdain for the girls. He was as bad as her father.

Their lessons ranged from geography to cooking, with arithmetic and even smith-work to keep their brains and bodies busy. They trained with staffs before breakfast, followed by swords, then archery after noon, and were sent on runs through the citadel whenever someone felt the need to give them more exercise. Captain Hylan, whose students were in the upper years, particularly enjoyed making them scurry. As one of Hylan’s Riders, Kilai assured them the captain was the nicest, quietest man they could meet. The exhausted students disagreed.

“He does have a twisted sense of humour, though,” Kilai warned, but Mhysra and her friends had already noticed.

Bad weather became so frequent that even Mouse stopped twitching at the lightning. Only Dhori continued to care, his eyes brightest when thunder was in the air.

“You’re unnatural,” Corin complained during Captain Fredkhen’s geography class. “How can you stand it? My head pounds so much I could scream.”

Dhori rubbed her tense neck. “I never claimed to be normal. Who doesn’t love the raw power of nature?”

“Me,” Haelle croaked, head on the desk, in even worse shape than Corin. “I just want one quiet day. I don’t even mind if it rains.”

“I want to fly,” Mhysra grumbled. The storms had been so thick that she hadn’t so much as sat on Cumulo for six days, and before that they’d had just two flying lessons after a three day wait. Their current lessons were confined to the eyries where everyone was taught how to feed and care for their miryhl, with loud, unimpressed huffs from Cumulo helping to keep things interesting.

“I thought you liked thunderstorms?” Derrain said, copying the map from the blackboard.

“So did I,” Mhysra agreed. “Until I moved into one.”

“You’re no fun,” Dhori sighed, staring out of the window at the rain-lashed mountain.

“I never claimed to be,” Corin replied, and groaned as thunder rolled once more.


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Wingborn: Chapter 19, Part 3

WB_Ch19.3

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~ Previous Chapter ~

Story time! (Also known as a history lesson. I wish Myran had taught me.)


AFTER EVERYONE HAD completed the course, Lyrai made them fly laps while he conferred with Honra. Mhysra and her friends eyed them warily, wondering what they were up to, but the bell sounded before any nasty surprises could be sprung. Dismissing them to the eyries, the lieutenant warned that he’d see them again the next afternoon.

“We have to fly every day?” Mouse groaned, when they reached the eyries for their first lesson in miryhl care, thanks to the eyrie attendants.

“Every day,” Corin agreed with far more enthusiasm, but then she hadn’t fallen off.

“You’ll get used to it,” Mhysra promised. “Once your body adjusts.”

“I’m not sure my body was built for those kind of adjustments,” Derrain grumbled, wincing as he straightened his breeches. “I’m too old for these fun and games.”

“Positively ancient,” Dhori agreed, the oldest amongst them. “But what’s the point of joining the Riders if you don’t fly every day?”

“Precisely,” Mhysra agreed, kissing Cumulo’s beak and taking his harness to the tack room to show the attendants that she did indeed know what she was doing.

It was a sorrowful bunch who winced, limped and groaned their way through the citadel a little while later, when the bell summoned them to another lesson. Guided by an attendant, they headed up the mountain terraces of the western citadel, where all the classrooms, libraries and study rooms were. Three steep staircases later, they dragged themselves across a courtyard flooded with autumn sunlight and in through an open door.

The other half of Myran’s students already occupied the back of the room, while the captain waited at the front. The new arrivals were too desperate for rest to care where they sat. By the time they settled in the sunlit room, Mhysra found herself beside a stranger. She only had time to smile at the red-headed boy before Captain Myran stood up.

“Good morning, students.”

“Good morning, captain,” they chorused, proving that they learned fast.

He limped around his desk to lean against the front, smiling faintly. “Are you enjoying your first day? I trust my lieutenants are treating you well.”

The half that had been in survival studies with Stirla nodded, while the rest groaned.

The captain chuckled. “Those of you feeling the effects of your first flying lesson be comforted that your fellows will feel exactly the same by day’s end.” Half the class perked up, while the other grew alarmed. “But that’s for later. Now you’re with me. After yesterday I hope you all know who I am, but in any case I am Captain Myran Mylanri, from a little known province in the Lowlands. I’ve been a Rift Rider for more years than I care to remember, twelve of those as captain. And to get it out of the way, yes, I have a limp. It was gained on active service, some ten years gone. No, it does not impair my abilities as a Rider.

“And yes,” he added, noticing Mouse squirming in his seat, “it was a gift from the kaz-naghkt. I hope that sates your curiosity, but if not I will allow you time at the end of the lesson to ask questions. For now, we have other things to discuss.” Reaching across his desk, he turned over the sand timer. “While at Aquila I am not only your captain, but your teacher too. I will instruct you on the finer details of history – general and military, alternating the subjects on different days. We begin with military, specifically the Rift Riders.

“Can anyone tell me how the Riders began?”

There was a long pause. They all knew how the Riders began, everyone did, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be the first to speak up.

Dhori smiled. “Maegla made us, sir.”

Captain Myran motioned for him to stand. “Dhoriaen, isn’t it? From Nimbys?”

“I prefer Dhori, sir.”

“My lieutenants have told me about you, Dhori. Please continue.”

Dhori twitched his shoulders and took a deep breath. “The people of the Overworld were dying. The coming of the clouds had changed life beyond all recognition. There was a risk that humans would die out. A deserved punishment some said, but Maegla intervened. She spoke with the dragons and together they created the first miryhl. The dragons made other winged creatures, but the miryhl was the only one in which the Goddess played a role. As such they are precious to Her. With bullwings, pyreflies, horsats and doelyns to act as beasts of burden, Maegla wanted something more for Her miryhls.

“And so She created the Rift Riders. Protectors and guardians of the Overworld. They would ensure that humans did not repeat the foolish mistakes that had created the cloud curse in the first place. Above all they would be Hers. Forerunners of the storm, swearing oaths of allegiance, honour and servitude to Her above all others. They would dedicate their lives to defending the helpless.”

Captain Myran smiled as Dhori sat down. “Thank you, Dhori, a most comprehensive answer, and one I hear rarely. Yes?” he asked, as another student raised her hand.

“I heard that the kings of the Overworld created the Rift Riders.”

“Stand up please,” Myran urged the girl. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

“Lerya sa Nanya, sir, from Scudia, sir.”

“Please continue, Lerya.”

“Well, when the clouds came the humans struggled to survive. When things got desperate they sent to the gods for help. That’s where the miryhls came from, and pyreflies, horsats and so on.” She nodded at Dhori. “But wars were fought for control of these creatures, pitching mountain against mountain, range against range, all vying to own these marvellous beasts. Things became desperate, people were dying and the dragons refused to breed more winged animals, so the kings came together in a grand treaty.

“The Rift Riders were created to oversee the Overworld, owing allegiance to all, but to no single nation. Maegla became the patroness because of Her role in the creation of the miryhls. So I heard.”

“Thank you, Lerya.” Captain Myran motioned for her to sit. “So we have two versions – one concerning Maegla, the other unnamed kings from long ago. Has anyone else heard differently?”

He smiled as hands went up all over the room. As each of them were given a chance to speak, Mhysra’s head began to pound. There seemed to be a different story for each region and three versions from Imercian alone. They varied between the people asking for help – or kings, or war chiefs, or religious leaders – to a lone hero venturing into the Dragonlands to steal the secret of the miryhls from their closely guarded nests.

The debate grew heated, students rushed to defend their version from the encroachments of others. Ancient rivalries and grudges between ranges were stirred up; those from Imercian ganged up against those of Etheria; Lansbrig residents sneered at the Mistrunans; the Sutheralli dismissed everyone. Even Mhysra grew annoyed as her Lowland version was dismissed by some of the Storm Peak students. Voices rose, insults flew and the lesson teetered on the brink of chaos.

Until Captain Myran lifted his hand and said, “Enough.” He didn’t raise his voice, but the room still fell silent anyway. Red-faced students sat down, waiting to be chastised.

Settling back against his desk, Captain Myran smiled wryly. “I believe a point has just been proved. I’d ask if anyone could tell me what, but I fear what I might get.” The students chuckled and his smile warmed. “So you all know how the Rift Riders began. Unfortunately you don’t all believe the same story.

“But that’s all right,” he added, when several students cringed. “The Riders began around seven-hundred years ago, when writing things down was not a priority. There are few accounts from those days and they rarely deal with the formation of anything, let alone the Riders. But that’s our history, trying to piece together what happened from the slightest of evidence. Even those sources we do have contradict each other, depending on where they originate.

“My point is, we don’t know how the Riders started, but we do know why. And that why is as relevant today as it was then. To protect. The Rift Riders are far from perfect and there are parts of our history we would all rather forget, but our purpose has never changed. We guard the Overworld and our people from all the threats we face. In days past the enemy wasn’t always clear, but over this last century things have changed. The Overworld is always changing, but the coming of the kaz-naghkt is a change that united us.

“I won’t ask about the origins of the kaz-naghkt,” he warned, before anyone could start. “That’s an even thornier issue than the origins of the Riders. I just wanted to show you that history isn’t perfect. It’s as accurate as we can make it, but our sources are limited and often suspect in provenance. Yet we can learn much from piecing together what we have, and give ourselves a chance to fill in the large gaps of which we know nothing.

“That is what you will learn from me. So, let’s start with something about which there is no doubt. The founding and building of Aquila. Corin,” he beckoned her from the front row, “please hand out this paper. There are quills and ink inside the desks. You’ll be taking notes every lesson, which I hope you will supplement with further reading in your spare time. Notes are important, since they help record what I tell you and also enable you to complete your study work.” He smiled as grumbles rippled through the room, while Corin scurried about.

Silence resumed as the thirty-seven students settled down, quills inked and poised, waiting for him to begin.

Captain Myran smiled. “The year was two-hundred-and-eighteen of the Cloud Era, and the Overworld was in turmoil. Carrayne of Cirrica, head of the Rift Riders, had been assassinated. The Riders were thrown into confusion and the world watched, waiting to see where the feathers would fall. But as the elections for a new leader grew closer, there was increasing pressure from outsiders for the Riders to choose this candidate, or that, who would favour one kingdom over another.

“Out of this chaos rose a young woman, Jhydera, who claimed the allegiance of no land. She spoke of an independent Rift Riders, with no patron or politics, who protected all and favoured none. But where could such a force live? Where on the Overworld could they exist, without risking favouring one over another?

“And so the search for the Riders home began…”


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