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(Dragongift now available from Amazon!)
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Sorry this is a wee bit late, I’ve been out enjoying the spring sunshine (not so much the wind, but it wouldn’t be Dartmoor without a brisk breeze).
Anyway… Derry to the rescue!
This deleted scene was taken out of what is now Chapter 12 of Wingborn, where Mhysra and Cumulo are flying over the Cloud Sea. In the book they spot a strange ship approaching Nimbys, which leads to meeting Captain Torven, who is something of a charmer, but originally they meet someone else first.
Hurricane – and not in a friendly way.
I removed this because a friend pointed out (quite rightly) that Cue was unlikely to risk Mhysra in such a way. Plus it didn’t really fit Hurricane either – and would have made things tricky between him and Cue going forward. So I removed it. But I still like the feral approach, which is why I’m sharing it now.
If you’d like to see a more canon version of Cue and Cane’s first meeting, Facing the Hurricane is a short story that deals with just that.
CUMULO TUCKED HIS wings in and dropped several feet, before catching them again – an airborne sigh. “You think too much,” he said, his voice a reassuring vibration against her.
“I was only asking,” she grumbled. “A fair question, after what you said.”
He clucked reproachfully. “I was joking. Since you started training you’ve lost all sense of humour. Not that you had much to begin with.”
She smiled into his feathers, loving the clean smell of him touched with a sweet hint of dust. “Did it ever occur to you that you’re just not funny?”
“Of course not. The fault has always been yours.”
“But even without a true appreciation for my genius, I’d rather have you than anyone. I can’t imagine a better flight partner. You’re my Wingborn. Even though I can’t live without you, I neither wish to, nor can imagine trying. I’m yours as you are mine. If I made disparaging remarks about the Choice it’s because I pity the arriving miryhls. They’ll never have what we do, nor comprehend what they’re missing. You are like flight to me.”
Stunned to hear such words from her proud and often irreverent Wingborn, Mhysra couldn’t speak. Instead she reached forward as far as she could and hugged him tightly. Tears stung her eyes, from the cold and the wind as well as emotion, and she buried her face in his feathers.
“Are you crying?” he rumbled. “You’d better not be crying. Your nose always runs when you cry and it ruins my feathers. I am not a handkerchief.”
Chuckling, she sat up and wiped her face. “I’m not crying.”
“Good. It would damage my reputation should anyone catch you being so unashamedly girlish. There is no room for maudlin sentiment in the Riders.”
“Yes, sir,” she chirped, saluting cheekily.
“Are you mocking me, student?” he growled, in an accurate impersonation of Sergeant Rees.
“Because if you were, student, I would have to take severe action.”
“I would never dare mock you, most gracious and brilliant sir.”
“Good. I should hate, for example, to have to do this!” His wings tucked in tight, clamping her legs against his sides as they plummeted into freefall. Had Mhysra been a little less familiar with her miryhl it would have been terrifying, especially when the world turned on its side and the clouds rushed up to meet them, but after years of flying together she knew him almost as well as she knew herself. Which was why when she felt his wings twitch, she gripped his neck feathers, tightened her thighs and held on.
She still screamed, though, when Cumulo began to spin. Her heart thundered, her lungs ceased to work and her eyes closed. The wind roared in her ears, slapping her face and pulling at her hair as it raced over them, and they tumbled down and around. With a final roll, Cumulo righted himself, swooping across the clouds and scattered rocks below.
Mhysra laughed breathlessly, her face buried against his neck. “You’ll kill me one day.”
He didn’t answer. A new tension tightened through him and he powered upwards with heavy beats of his wings, lifting them higher with each down draft.
Surprised, Mhysra opened her eyes and sat up. “Cumulo, what -?”
“Keep down,” he snapped, dropping sharply and rising again, jolting her firmly against him.
Winded and confused, she obeyed, while scanning the skies for the threat. She’d never known him act in such a way. It was completely out of character, not least because this way of flying usually took too much effort for his more indolent nature. She remembered the kaz-naghkt attack that had occurred just a few months ago, and her heart skipped a beat.
Then she saw it. A miryhl, unencumbered by rider or harness, heading towards Nimbys with easy flaps of its enormous wings. And Cumulo was headed straight for it.
“Stop!” she shouted. “Are you mad? What do you think you’re doing? Cumulo!”
Ignoring her protests, Cumulo shrieked a challenge at the unfamiliar bird, labouring to get higher and achieve superiority in the air.
“Cumulo, leave be!”
“You’re mine,” he growled. “I won’t let him take you.”
“He doesn’t want me,” she snapped, while the newcomer swooped around, circling to gain height. He showed no signs of attacking, but was clearly prepared to defend. Not that Mhysra felt comforted, especially when she took in his size. He was easily as big as Cumulo, and more. Older too, with fully developed flight and fight muscles.
Seeing this strange male in all his unrestrained glory reminded her how young her Wingborn was. By rights he shouldn’t have a Rider yet, and it was only through virtue of their bond that he had developed as quickly as he had. He wasn’t even fully grown.
“Cumulo,” she begged as the two males circled warily, both trying to gain height. “Cumulo, please.”
Ignoring her, Cumulo allowed the other male to go higher, then swept underneath, turning on his back, talons extended in a swipe.
“No!” Almost unseated by the unprecedented move, for the first time ever Mhysra hauled on the reins. Unlike a horsat or pyrefly bridle, the miryhl head collar had no bit and was designed for directional purposes rather than control. But if Cumulo’s attack had been unanticipated, Mhysra’s reaction was even more so. Jerked unexpectedly to the left, he missed his swipe and was forced to roll over or drop completely.
Enraged, he snapped at her over one shoulder, but when he tried to lunge at the other miryhl again, she pulled to the right.
“Stop it, Cumulo!” she yelled, desperate to be heard over his defiant screams. “Stop!”
Shaking his head, he swooped around for another go, but the male was gone. Mhysra spotted him first, flying like the wind away from Nimbys, and she was grateful for it. Such a large male would have been perfectly within his rights to fight back. It was rare for bonded miryhls to fight, taking their rank from their Rider or their own natural dominance, but an unbonded miryhl was still subject to the instincts of its wild cousins, and miryhls were a territorial breed. With the added restrictions of his harness and the weight of a Rider, Cumulo would have been at a disadvantage and could have gotten both himself and Mhysra killed.
“Maegla be thanked for smart birds,” she muttered, praying the other miryhl would keep flying at such a pace, since Cumulo was determined to follow. She considered trying to stop him again, but when she tightened her hands on the reins, he lowered his head and growled, the sound vibrating through his body.
“As you wish,” she grumbled, relaxing her fingers. He was tiring already, since the pace was not what he was used to, and he wouldn’t be able to keep it up much longer. Endurance was something that came with age, experience and regular exercise. At first they closed the distance to the stranger, but gradually as they flew on, Cumulo began to slow and drop back. Growling with frustration, he took long glides between each sequence of wing beats, while the other male continued to power away.
“That’s enough, Cue,” she advised in a low murmur. “You’ve driven him off.”
He shook his head, but was slower than ever and beginning to pant. Mhysra was concerned they wouldn’t make it back to Nimbys, and would have to find a place to rest. It was just typical that the stranger had been flying out over the Cloud Sea, where there wasn’t any civilisation for thousands of miles.
Cumulo sagged beneath her, the fight going out of him, and she gripped him in panic. “Cue?” she called frantically. “Are you well?”
Huffing, he tilted his wings and swooped in a wide circle until they were facing Nimbys again, far in the distance. He barely flapped as they drifted back home, though his heart still raced beneath her. “Sorry,” he muttered, clearly reluctant. “Thought he was feral.”
Mhysra bit her lip to keep from pointing out that of the two miryhls, he was the one who had behaved wildly, harnessed or not. “There are no feral miryhls now, Cue. You know that.”
“He took me by surprise. Couldn’t risk it.”
She growled. “You’re lucky he left. He was bigger than you, you idiot. You could have killed us both!”
Cumulo said nothing, just gave a surly flap of his wings and landed on a small outcrop, barely visible over the Cloud Sea. “But I didn’t.”
Knowing better than to argue, she kicked free of her stirrups and slid from her saddle, making her displeasure known by turning her back to him.
“Don’t be angry with me,” he crooned, lifting her braid and running it through his beak. “Chickling, don’t be cross.” He rubbed his head against her back and, when she started shivering, hooked his beak over her shoulder and drew her under his wing. “Sorry.”
Sighing, she snuggled against him, grateful that his feathers kept out the worst of the chill. The winds were strong down here, tricky and cunning, finding their way through clothes and feathers alike.
“Mhysra,” he purred, sticking his head under his wing. “Don’t be angry with me.”
“I should be furious,” she grumbled, and he huffed with amusement, sensing he’d won. She shoved him away. “Don’t do it again, Cue. I won’t have you fighting. Feral or no. Never provoke another miryhl like that. Especially not when Riders are involved. It’s too dangerous, to the Riders and yourselves. We’ll have more than enough fighting to do without you making things worse.”
“But you’re mine,” he rumbled. “I will fight to keep you.”
“You won’t,” she snapped. “You know I’d never leave you. I’m not some fickle mate, flitting off with a male who has glossier feathers. I’m your Wingborn. We’re tied together for life. No one can break that.”
Still rumbling, he preened her hair and repeated, “You’re mine.”
Defeated, Mhysra resigned herself to his possessiveness. He was still young, and barely approaching maturity. She hoped he grew some wisdom soon, or they would both be in trouble when they reached Aquila. If they reached Aquila. She still didn’t know what her parents would say when they found out what she’d been doing with her time in the city.
Pushing free of both her thoughts and Cumulo, she tucked her freshly preened hair behind her ears and looked around, wondering how far from Nimbys they were, and whether Cumulo was fit enough to take them back. She didn’t even want to consider what they would do should he prove unable.
Thanks for reading!
Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.
Part One was Cumulo’s take on things, now it’s Hurricane’s turn to meet the Wingborn.
BREEZE STRUTTED THROUGH the eyries, confident without arrogance. She didn’t need to preen and fuss or puff herself up to show everyone how important she was. All she had to do was walk and the rest moved aside.
Hurricane tilted his head and watched her move. There was nothing exceptional about her feathers or form, but an invisible mantle surrounded her anyway. Maegla, he wanted to be Breeze when he grew up.
Skipping a few paces to catch up, he followed Breeze down the main aisle to a back corner, aware of the whispers rustling in his wake. He kept his head high, though, and tried not to listen too closely to the words. What few he couldn’t help but overhear sounded curious and complimentary rather than cruel, but he shook them off anyway. A swollen head would be just as damaging as a crushed spirit in the long run.
“Here.” Breeze paused before an impressive looking group, containing two of the largest and shiniest miryhls Hurricane had ever seen.
One was a female who was even bigger than himself. She was pure bronze, with black-edged wings and deep brown eyes that assed him carefully before she shuffled her enormous wings against her back.
“Lyrai’s bonded?” she rumbled, her voice deep and soothing.
Swallowing hard, Hurricane nodded, suddenly feeling his youth and inexperience compared to these birds. The other miryhls he’d met so far had been as young and foolish as himself, but these were Rift Riders, real Riders, with years of partnership beneath their wings. Hurricane had never even carried a human on his back before, only dummies filled with sand.
“I’m Atyrn, Lieutenant Stirla’s bonded.” She leant forward and tapped her golden beak against his. “Welcome to Nimbys. We’ll be seeing rather a lot of each other.”
Hurricane crackled his beak and felt the tiny feathers below his eyes rise with embarrassment. Beak taps were nothing, just a casual mark of affection and friendship. But Atyrn was a lieutenant’s bonded. She’d beak tapped him! He scratched at the floor with his talons and muttered something incomprehensible, suddenly shy in the big female’s presence. She’d been with her lieutenant for years already and now he was her equal.
Breeze huffed softly and Atyrn gave a low chuckle.
“And this is Cumulo,” his fellow lieutenant miryhl said, drawing Hurricane’s attention back up from the floor. “He’s even younger than you but, as you can see, just as overgrown.”
Hurricane stared at the glossy brown miryhl, whose feathers perfectly matched the ripe conkers of autumn, and tilted his head. Though just a fraction smaller than himself, this Cumulo was broader in the chest and much more muscular in the wings. Gold shimmered across those same wings as he shuffled them beneath Hurricane’s assessing gaze.
How could this miryhl be younger than himself? Hurricane wasn’t yet twenty years old and had learnt from others on the Thorncrest that he was considered rather young for a male headed to the Choice.
Cumulo straightened up, raising his head as high as it could go, bringing them eye to eye. “I am Wingborn,” he announced defiantly.
Hurricane blinked. Wingborn? He’d heard the stories and rumours and deemed them nonsense. Such a thing could never exist, and even if it did, it couldn’t be anything like as amazing as the legends made them sound.
He studied Cumulo again, seeing how fit and shiny the young male was, and how he already fit alongside the other miryhls, making Hurricane feel weak and skinny by comparison.
He stared his fellow youngster in the eye, reading an uncertainty there that matched his own. A Wingborn was surely as much of a curiosity as a marble miryhl, and likely just as big a target for jealousy as a freshly matched lieutenant’s bonded. They were both new to this life, both strangers in an eyrie full of old acquaintances.
Hurricane relaxed. “Well met, Cumulo,” he greeted, wondering if he dared beak tap his newest friend.
Cumulo bristled a little, drawing back at the slightest forward movement on Hurricane’s part.
Ah, no beak tap then. Maybe later.
Finding himself the focus of both Breeze and Atyrn – not to mention many others in the eyrie – Cumulo huffed. “Well met, Hurricane,” he growled begrudgingly, his golden eyes glowering resentfully at the newest member of the eyries.
Not two days ago, Hurricane would have backed away from such potential hostility, taking himself off to find friends elsewhere. Not this time. He was a lieutenant’s bonded now, he belonged in this eyrie.
Besides, despite their short acquaintance, it was obvious that Cumulo was young and prideful: Hurricane’s arrival had tweaked his tail out of alignment. It would be up to him to reassure the younger male that he was still special and important. It would be a lieutenantly thing to do.
Under the amused gazes of Breeze and Atyrn, Hurricane sidled his way through the group of smaller birds until he was beside Cumulo. Settling down close – but not too close – to the other miryhl, he tilted his head towards him and said, “I’ve never met a Wingborn before.”
Cumulo eyed him suspiciously. “Of course not. We’ve never met before.”
Breeze turned away with an unconvincing sneeze, while Atyrn suddenly developed a fascination for her talons.
Hurricane kept his own laugh inside his chest, letting it warm him as he shifted a little closer to his new friend. “Tell me, is it every bit as good as the stories?” he asked, allowing a bit of his natural scepticism into his tone to temper the sense of awe.
Cumulo narrowed his eyes. “It’s better,” he said shortly. “Flying with Mhysra is everything to me. As I’m sure you’ll find out once you finally carry Lyrai on your back.”
A prickle of possessiveness rippled down Hurricane’s spine at the casual use of his bonded’s name. Of course every miryhl in this eyrie knew his Lyrai better than he did. He would still be the only one to fly with him, though.
Watching him carefully, Cumulo crackled his beak smugly, having evidently noticed the effect his words had had. “Sixteen years we’ve been together, my Mhysra and I. Our partnership is perfect.”
Hurricane sighed wistfully, unable to imagine spending so long with any one human. Lyrai already felt like his and they’d barely met. “I can’t wait.”
Cumulo studied him carefully for a long moment. Then he slowly, cautiously, spread his wing enough to nudge against Hurricane’s. “So…” he began gruffly. “Lyrai, eh? How did that happen? The Choice isn’t until tomorrow. Wanted to stand out and be different, did you?”
It was Hurricane’s turn to feel smug, though he knew better than to let it show. He’d make a friend out of this eagle yet. “With a Wingborn in this eyrie? I haven’t a chance.”
Which was evidently the perfect thing to say as Cumulo’s back straightened once more, his golden eyes glinting with pride. “True,” he acknowledged, a faint chuckle in his tone. “But you make an impressive second. I can just imagine what you and Lyrai will look like at sunrise. Him all golden, you all… whatever you are.”
For the first time since leaving home, Hurricane chuckled at a comment upon his looks. Was it possible that Cumulo was a little jealous of his marble feathers? Well, Hurricane was more than a little jealous of Cumulo’s long partnership with his Wingborn and his prior knowledge of Lyrai, so they were even. “I think I’m going to like it here,” he announced.
Cumulo scoffed with amusement. “Wait until you meet the students first,” he advised. “You may wish to change your mind.”
“Never,” Hurricane said, feeling the truth of it down to his bones. This was where he was meant to be, with these miryhls, with these Riders. Here was home.
Atyrn leant forward and beak tapped him again. “Good.”
Hurricane ruffled his feathers with pleasure, even as Cumulo huffed beside him.
Atyrn beak tapped him too. “Behave, Cue,” she ordered.
He sniffed and tilted his head pointedly away from both her and Hurricane, towards where the rest of the group of miryhls had been watching them with amusement. “Where was I?” he announced loudly.
A small, black male ruffled his feathers and piped up eagerly, “Somewhere up a mountainside facing off against a raging wild bullwing bull, who was about to charge you down and eviscerate you and your Wingborn.”
Hurricane jerked his head back and caught Atyrn’s eye. “But -” he began, until Atyrn’s wink silenced him. Maybe things were different in the north and they had wild bullwings here. In South Imercian, though, they were far too valuable to be allowed to escape – and they’d never charge down a miryhl without having been challenged first.
Ignoring any hint of an interruption, Cumulo puffed up his chest importantly. “Thank you, Kerron, I remember now. So there we were, my Wingborn and I, facing down certain death…”
As the young miryhl settled into his grandiose tale of bravery and danger, Hurricane nestled beside him and let his mind drift. It had been rather a long day, almost as exciting as Cumulo’s tale was turning out to be.
Amused, Hurricane fluffed up his feathers, humming with contentment as Atyrn roosted beside him. Two lieutenant miryhls together in the Rift Rider eyrie, right where Hurricane belonged. It certainly wasn’t where he’d expected to end his day when he’d woken up that morning, but he wasn’t about to complain.
Especially not when Cumulo finally finished his tail and huddled alongside him. A Wingborn on one side, a lieutenant miryhl on the other: Hurricane had definitely gone up in the world.
“Welcome to Nimbys,” Cumulo muttered, now that most of the eyrie was asleep and few would hear him.
Hurricane heard, though, and sleepily reached over to tap his beak against the younger miryhl’s. “Good to meet you too, friend.”
Huffing, Cumulo hunched down and rumbled a low growl in his chest. “I barely know you, stranger,” he grumbled.
Hurricane just chuckled and pressed his wing against the Wingborn. He might not have won Cumulo over completely just yet, but they’d get there. Friendship was inevitable. Hurricane would make certain of it.
PERCHED AT THE top of the eyries, Breeze looked down over her sleeping flight and nodded with satisfaction. Lyrai was mounted again and young Cumulo had a real challenger in Hurricane. Their friendship and rivalry would settle them both down, helping them to find their rightful places in the Riders.
All was good.
Closing her eyes, Breeze settled down to sleep, confident that all had gone well for another day. She couldn’t wait to tell her Myran all about it in the morning.
Thanks for reading!
Taking place between Chapter 12 and 13 of Wingborn, this is a brief glimpse into eyrie life – and how Cumulo and Hurricane felt on first encountering each other.
Of course, Cumulo takes it all in his calm, laid-back style… ha! Only joking, of course he doesn’t!
28th Fledgling 786 CE
CUMULO WAS RIGHT in the middle of one of his favourite anecdotes about how he’d once faced down and chased off a wild bullwing bull – though it’s possibly that it wasn’t entirely wild, and the face-off might have arisen because Cumulo had spooked the herd, but details, details – when he first noticed the silence.
Not that silence was necessarily a bad thing. Cumulo loved to wow an audience with his stories, and since his arrival in Nimbys he’d managed this feat on more than one occasion. Which was no small thing, considering his audience consisted of real Rift Rider miryhls, of which he was the youngest by a fair margin. Then again, he was Wingborn, so of course he was a natural leader and superior in every possible way. He was also born at Wrentheria, which made him adventurous and competent in all measures.
But it wasn’t just the silence. No, far worse than an eyrie of silent miryhls, Cumulo had lost their attention.
Allowing his voice to trail off mid-sentence, he craned his head around towards the door to see what all the others were staring at.
Two miryhls. The one on the left was familiar: plain brown and of a middling size for a female. Though she wasn’t entirely impressive to look at, Breeze commanded respect, partly through her age and experience, but mostly because she was Captain Myran’s bonded partner. Even Cumulo had to respect a Rider pair that had been in existence longer than he and Mhysra had been alive and who had a reputation for being completely solid, unflappable and honourable, even through injury.
Only it wasn’t Breeze who’d caught everyone’s attention – it the miryhl who stood beside her.
It was hard to make out much about the stranger, since the light was shining behind them, but Cumulo squinted at the glare cast off the new miryhl’s feathers and already felt himself bristling. The bird was bigger than him and strangely pale.
“Everyone!” Breeze raised her voice just enough to be heard in every corner of the eyrie. “Meet Hurricane.”
The new bird stepped forward and Cumulo wasn’t the only one to gasp.
A marble miryhl. Such a rare and strange thing. Cream and brown and black, mottled and patterned in a way that should never have been so beautiful.
Cumulo’s crest feathers rose, trembling ever so slightly. This eyrie already had a Wingborn – it didn’t need a marble miryhl as well. Too many marvels spoilt the awe.
Seemingly oblivious to the shock her companion’s appearance had caused, Breeze tilted her head towards Hurricane and gave an approving nod. “Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded.”
Cumulo’s wings sagged in stunned disbelief and a startled murmur shivered around the eyries.
Crackling her beak with amusement, Breeze looked around at the fuss until her dark-gold eyes finally settled on Cumulo. “I trust you will all make him feel welcome.”
Not in this lifetime. Hustling his wings back into place, Cumulo straightened up and raised his head before anyone noticed his loss of composure.
He was Wingborn, big for his age and with plenty of growing still left to do: he would always be the most impressive eagle in the eyrie. Even one with marble miryhls and officers’ birds in residence.
Not even Lieutenant Lyrai’s new bonded would change that. Cumulo wouldn’t let him.
“A LITTLE DIFFERENT to what you’re used to, I expect?”
Hurricane stared around at the eyrie with wide eyes and barely managed to nod at Breeze’s amused question. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected while travelling in the hull of the Thorncrest on the way to Nimbys, but it hadn’t been this. All his life, growing up on a small, secluded farm at the far end of South Imercian, Hurricane had been told about Nimbys and the Choice. Raised alongside his clutch mates, he’d learnt from a very early age that his destiny was to become a Rift Rider one day. To be chosen from the flock on the Day of Choice, partnered with one particular human and spend his life defending the Overworld against the scourge of the kaz-naghkt.
Well, he’d already messed that up by refusing to enter the rickety structure that the humans had laughingly called an eyrie. Hurricane wasn’t stupid. He had no wish to die in the middle of the night because a mild wind had blown through the valley and knocked the whole thing down on his head. Not that it really mattered. He already knew he was different, strange and doing everything wrong.
Travelling north on a small, drafty skyship before being transferred onto the Thorncrest, Hurricane had quickly learnt that he was odd-looking, different, strange and not necessarily in a good way. Humans pointed at him and muttered words behind their hands that they didn’t think he could hear. Other young miryhls shuffled away from him, uncertain whether he was sick and contagious or just strange.
Having always been the biggest of his brood, Hurricane had been praised and admired all his life. Back home his strange pale feathers had gone unnoticed in a flock of similar-looking birds. Perhaps his markings had been a little bolder than his fellow fledglings, his pale patches a little brighter, but back home that had been a good thing and it had been the brown miryhls that were strange and different and worth staring at.
Not here. Here he was the strangest of the strange, being stared at by an eyrie full of glossy brown, bronze and black birds, and he was the untidy stranger. Again.
It had taken time to win over the friendship and confidence of his fellow young miryhls on board the Thorncrest. They’d eventually found common ground in their nerves over what was to come and their homesickness. He’d made friends with the small and weak ones, those overlooked by others for being different or less than perfect. It was the first time in his life that Hurricane had been deemed less, but he’d adapted quickly enough. His size had made him an object of jealousy amongst some, his mottled feathers a subject of ridicule to others, but he’d risen above it, confident that his good qualities would still shine through when the Choice came.
Then he’d arrived in Nimbys.
He’d never seen a city before, had never imagined so many houses or people could exist all clustered together in such a way. Flying above the streets with the rest of the miryhls, he’d been overwhelmed to be part of such a large flock. Everything was too noisy, the air tasted different, the smaller birds had crowded against him and he’d struggled to find a space to land on the field below.
Where the temporary eyrie was waiting.
The other birds had been so excited and nervous that they’d allowed themselves to be herded straight into the death trap.
Hurricane had refused.
Rift Riders had converged to coax him. Already nervy and overwhelmed, there had been too many people trying to get close to him. He’d panicked and lashed out – so they’d tried to move him by force.
That hadn’t gone well. Nothing about this journey north had gone well.
Which was how he’d ended up half-bound, flat on the floor, snarling and slashing like a wild beast. All his training, all his dreams, everything that he’d ever learnt and known had flown straight out the hatch. All Hurricane had known was panic and fear.
Until he came.
He had gentle hands and a soft voice. He’d been patient and calm. He’d treated Hurricane as an equal, not an animal. He’d set Hurricane free.
It wasn’t how the Choice was supposed to go, but it worked for them. Hurricane could feel it deep down, the sense of rightness settling inside. Lyrai was his.
And he was lieutenant, which really was the gilding on the primary.
Reminded that he’d been chosen already and was now an officer’s miryhl, Hurricane raised his head.
Let them think him funny looking, let them look down their golden beaks at him: it didn’t matter. He was Lieutenant Lyrai’s bonded and he was here to stay.
Breeze chuckled beside him. She was an older eagle and had kind eyes. She didn’t look at him as if he was some odd curiosity. Then again, as a captain’s miryhl, she’d probably seen far worse and stranger things than him in her long life.
“Come,” she urged in her low, quiet voice. “There are some miryhls I wish you to meet.”
I only split this in two because it’s a bit much to read all at once.
But if you do want to read it all at once, then…
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
Two more chapters to go!
And after the way things ended last Sunday… I’m just going to shut up and let you get on.
Although if you need a refresh, the last line was about grabbing hold of Cumulo’s tail and lunging –
STRAIGHT INTO HURRICANE, who caught the kaz-naghkt full in the face with his talons.
“Go!” Lieutenant Lyrai shouted, while the kaz-naghkt screamed.
Freed, Cumulo needed no further urging. There was time for one snatched breath before he folded his wings and entered the darkness beneath the bridge. Mhysra huddled against him, wondering if her heart would ever recover. The shadow seemed to go on and on as they dropped closer to the water, their momentum lost after the kaz-naghkt had grabbed them.
Sunlight blinded her on the other side and air surged beneath Cumulo’s wings again as he banked upwards, swinging back towards the citadel. He flapped hard to lift them over the eyries, now swarming with miryhls and kaz-naghkt. A familiar eagle appeared through the chaos, its wings tipped with silver.
Keeping an eye out for attack, Cumulo glided closer and, when Latinym was directly overhead, Dhori dropped a bow and quiver into Mhysra’s hands.
“Luck!” he called, Latinym already racing back to the fight.
“I think we’ve already had more than our fair share today,” Mhysra muttered, securing the quiver to her saddle before testing the balance of the pre-strung bow. It was perfect. She frowned and wondered how Dhori had managed to bring hers to her. Where had he gotten it?
“The gods can spare us a little more,” Cumulo shouted. “Wake up!”
Blinking, she looked up and found they had company. Three kaz-naghkt screeched down the wind, outpacing the miryhls on their tails. If they got too close, a kaz-naghkt would twist and lash out with its tail. Spotting Cumulo, they grinned and stooped to attack.
Mhysra drew an arrow from her quiver with shaking hands. “Steady,” she called, and Cumulo levelled his wings calmly, as if they faced murderous kaz-naghkt every day.
“Maegla aid me,” she whispered, aimed at the kaz-naghkt on the left and released.
The wind snatched at the arrow, driving it away from the pale chest she’d aimed for and striking the thick muscle beneath the kaz-naghkt’s right wing instead.
Shrieking, the creature curled around the wound, swinging its broad left wing across. The kaz-naghkt next to it lashed out as a leather sail clouted it in the face. Black blood sprayed and the wounded creature fell, injured in both wings. While it could have easily recovered from an arrow wound, there was little it could do with its other wing in tatters.
The kaz-naghkt that had done the damage shook its head, too dizzy from the slap to spot a miryhl dropping on it from above.
As they battled, the final kaz-naghkt continued onwards, flexing its claws. Wings spread, holding steady, Cumulo waited for Mhysra to nock another arrow. Her hands were shaking and it was all she could do to draw. She released too early and cursed when the arrow went harmlessly wide.
“Hold on!” Cumulo warned, and she gripped her bow in one hand and grabbed the saddle with the other as her miryhl dropped.
The kaz-naghkt screamed with glee and swooped after them, wings tucked in tight. It screamed again when Cumulo rolled over, grabbing its torso and face with his thick talons. Claws scrabbled, trying to reach the miryhl’s belly, but Cumulo thrust his legs out, completed his roll and dropped his prey. The body tumbled and struck an outcrop; a black smear on grey granite.
While Mhysra watched it fall, Cumulo took them back to the fight, far more prepared than she for what they faced. “Stay with me,” he called, sensing her distraction.
Her voice failed when she tried to speak, so she licked her lips and took a deep breath. “Always,” she croaked, checking her quiver with shaking hands to make sure none of her arrows had been lost in their tumble. She checked her safety straps were still nice and tight, selected an arrow and shrugged her bow into her hand, ready for whatever came next.
* * * * *
LYRAI PAUSED TO wipe the sweat from his face as Hurricane circled above the battle. His right arm ached. It had been too long since he’d last fought, but this was what he’d trained for, had gotten so good at and been denied when he was grounded. Now he had Hurricane and was a true Rift Rider again – but it had never been like this with Froth.
Hurricane tensed and Lyrai leant against his back, holding his sword close and ready. They needed no words to know what the other would do next or where each wanted to go. This miryhl had been born for him, Lyrai could feel it in every tilt of Hurricane’s wings as he darted between scraps and fell talons-first on the tangle of kaz-naghkt gathered around Stirla.
While his miryhl battled, Lyrai brandished his sword, catching the first kaz-naghkt by surprise as he swept off its tail. Unbalanced, it struggled to turn and was impaled on Stirla’s sword.
Lyrai swung again and again, defending them on all sides while his miryhl fought. Most of the kaz-naghkt fled, seeking easier prey, while the less fortunate were already in Atyrn or Hurricane’s talons.
Another creature banked overhead and dropped towards Lyrai, claws outstretched. Bracing himself, Lyrai raised his sword and swung, slicing through one arm and catching the kaz-naghkt’s other shoulder. Hurricane stuttered at the impact before Lyrai diverted the kaz-naghkt’s weight downwards. It snarled, battered but by no means dead.
Licking its bloodstained lips, it smiled as fresh skin, bone and muscle writhed and crawled out of the severed stump. Knowing what was to come and what he had to do, Lyrai adjusted his grip on his sword and hauled.
Still attached to the lieutenant through its shoulder, the creature keened. Lyrai pulled again, bringing the writhing creature within reach. It sank its claws into his leg and opened its mouth to bite, but the angle of the sword restricted its head and it couldn’t quite reach.
Jerking his knee up, Lyrai shoved the kaz-naghkt off the blade and exposed its chest. Then he struck. His sword cleaved through the exposed flesh with ease, stopping only when it reached the scaled skin on the other side. The whole weapon juddered as the kaz-naghkt’s heart pulsed. Twisting his wrist, Lyrai braced his foot on the creature’s shoulder and pulled his sword free. The kaz-naghkt screamed and dropped into the river.
One less enemy to worry about.
“Are you wounded?” Stirla shouted as Atyrn circled counter to Hurricane.
Lyrai pressed on the puncture wounds in his thigh and cursed, forced to sheath his sword as he shrugged out of one side of his flying jacket. Using his belt knife, he cut through his shirtsleeve and dragged the material off, before pulling his jacket on again. Slicing the sleeve into strips, he bound his thigh, wadding material over the worst of the wound and tying the binding as tight as he could. It wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t going to retire from the field now. Not when they were still needed.
“Lyrai?” Stirla called.
“Fine!” he shouted, patting Hurricane’s neck when his miryhl glared at him.
Satisfied, Stirla raced back into the fray, aiming for an oversized kaz-naghkt who was causing a bunch of Riders a mountain of problems. Knowing he had the situation well in hand, as Atyrn hit the creature from behind, Lyrai urged Hurricane up high.
They weren’t alone up there – Captain Myran circled the battle, shouting orders and guiding Riders into place. Several archers also surveyed the fight, picking off targets. Hurricane was heading towards the captain when something else caught Lyrai’s eye.
“Maegla blast her,” he cursed, tugging Hurricane in the opposite direction. The miryhl shot him an aggravated look, before spotting what his Rider had seen. He growled and leant into the pull on his reins.
“My thoughts exactly,” Lyrai replied, scowling at Cumulo and the untrained girl upon his back. “This is no time for glory hunting!”
Cumulo continued his focused glide without glancing at them. Mhysra, however, looked over and calmly raised her bow. Then, as steadily as if she were on the practise field, she loosed.
It happened so fast that Lyrai barely ducked the arrow speeding towards him. Only when something screeched did he look behind. A kaz-naghkt clawed at its eye, barely a spear length from Hurricane’s tail.
A dark blur darted under the wounded kaz-naghkt, the Rider on its back ripping open the creature’s chest with a neat sweep of his sword.
The miryhl ducked out of the way of the falling body and Dhori grinned at Mhysra. “Great!” he called. “Aim for the chests. Only a heart blow will kill them.” Then he was gone.
Stunned, Lyrai turned back to Mhysra – she had her hands over her face.
“Gods, gods, gods,” she squeaked. “I almost killed my lieutenant. Gods!”
And he’d thought she looked calm. It was so absurd, Lyrai laughed. “You can use me for target practise anytime,” he called, as Hurricane swept past and dived back into the fray.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
~ 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.)
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!