Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 3, Part 2


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

~ Previous Chapter ~

Okay, focus. Kilai is still in the Wrathlen, the weather is still foul and there be pirates out there…

Cliffhanger warning! This is also the end of the sample chapters, so heed the warning and don’t swear at me too loudly :) x

BY THE TIME the scouts had returned, the lieutenants had consulted and their plans had been passed along the frontier, it was midday and the rain was lashing down.

“All back to normal after Heirayk’s day,” Cynek grumbled to Kilai as they waited by the cave mouth, their miryhls behind them.

“One day of Midsummer blessings is probably all He can managed here,” Kilai agreed. “This is the Wrathlen. If the gods could change it, you’d think They would have done so before now.”

Cynek grunted, unimpressed by his logic. Most Riders, beyond their devotion to Maegla, didn’t spend much time thinking about gods. Feast days were nice, but beyond that they were just names for ordinary things. Personally, Kilai had always had a healthy respect for all gods – it seemed wisest.

“Kilai, Cynek, Janoi, Poyl, you’re with Hensyn.” Brathyn emerged from the pouring rain, oblivious to the water streaming from his hat and dripping off his bearded chin. “Take it steady. Get as close as possible and avoid notice as much as you can. Stay in close formation and be wary. This weather looks set, but it’ll probably get worse.”

“Storms?” Janoi asked, a Sutheralli former-priest turned Rift Rider who still performed obeisance to Maegla whenever thunder rolled.

Brathyn shrugged, already turning away to deal with the next group. “You’ll have to ride them out. No time for landing and praying. Maegla won’t begrudge you making it up to Her later. To wing.”

Janoi opened his mouth, but Sergeant Hensyn raised his eyebrows in warning. The Sutheralli huffed. “You have no true respect.”

“You should be used to that by now,” Cynek retorted. “How long have you lived amongst us northern barbarians?”

“Long enough for everyone to get used to each other, and for the whole Wrathlen to fly out while we stand here chatting,” Hensyn interrupted before Janoi could reply. “Can we continue this conversation later? It isn’t going to stop raining, no matter how long you put it off. Shift.”

Janoi raised his eyes, muttering under his breath, while Cynek sighed. “It was worth a shot.”

“Aye, and might have worked if you didn’t start a theological debate with him every time it rains,” Kilai remarked, tightening the strings of his hat and checking the buckles on his coat. He was as covered as he was going to get, so mounted up. “Come on, Cirrus. Brace yourself.”

Despite his words, the icy slap of the rain as they emerged from the cave stole his breath. Cirrus emitted a squawk of discomfort, but still managed to take off. The visibility was terrible and he could barely make out the others in the gloom.

“Form up!” Hensyn’s voice drifted out of the rain, but all Kilai saw were shadows where his flurry-mates should have been.

“What can you see, Cirrus?” he called, squinting through the downpour and hoping his miryhl could find their place in the formation. Hensyn was taking point, with Kilai behind to his left and Cynek behind him. There was definitely one miryhl in front, but that was about all he could tell.

“We’re in place,” Cirrus replied. “Janoi to our right. Cynek behind on our left. Sergeant Hensyn in front, with Poyl on the far right wing.”

Sighing, Kilai settled against his miryhl’s back for the flight ahead, relieved that she at least could make out some details in this weather. Relying on her to stay with the others, he hunched his shoulders up to his ears in a futile attempt to keep out as much water as he could. The wind blowing off the Stormwash was bitter, driving at their faces. He didn’t know how the miryhls could stand it.

A screech made him tighten his grip moments before Cirrus banked right and their formation turned. Now the wind struck at an angle, skimming water over and away from them. It was still cold, but not as uncomfortable.

The squall grew worse and soon Kilai was completely blind. Only the flexing and tensing of Cirrus’ muscles warned him when they descended, dropping towards the ferocity of the Cloud Sea fighting against the roiling Stormwash. The miryhls struggled but were too well-trained to complain. Flying low and fast was the only safe way to approach the Wrathlen – in any weather.

The wind roared, filling his ears and drowning out everything but the world’s fury. Gripping tightly as Cirrus was tossed high, dropped and battered from either side, Kilai stared ahead. Thanks to the turbulent air, the visibility was better and he could see the others fighting to hold formation. Ahead of them, looming across the whole horizon, the Wrathlen beckoned.

Then, without word or warning, Hensyn shot up, leaving the rest to follow. The surface of the black rocks was barely a wingspan away as they swooped up the face of it, breaking over the top without raising any alarms.


The heavy rain drifted in misty clumps, leaving clear patches in between. To the uninitiated it was an desolate wasteland, riddled with cracks and battered by the elements. There was nothing to see. Hensyn waved for them to keep rising and remain on guard. A glance over his shoulders assured Kilai that both Cynek and Poyl had their bows ready. When he saw the sergeant reach for his, he copied. Although he was an indifferent archer, he still felt more secure with a weapon in his hand.

Soaring into a rain cloud, Kilai and his companions did their best to protect their bow strings from the damp, muttering curses as yet more water crept under clothes and feathers. Then they were through. Above the rain, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.

And the Wrathlen was waiting.

“Dive!” Hensyn yelled, before Kilai even understood what he was seeing.

Cirrus obeyed – all the miryhls did – and they were submerged within heartbeats. Dark shadows whizzed through the moisture around him. Off to his right, someone grunted. More shadows zipped past and something thumped hard against Kilai’s back, punching the breath from his lungs.

When the impact knocked him against Cirrus’ neck, she trilled with concern, but he patted her reassuringly, thanking Maegla for the thickness of his flying leathers. A second arrow lodged in Cirrus’ saddle, but he wrenched it free and tossed it away. He whispered another prayer to Maegla, grateful that his enemies were aiming blind.

Below the thick clouds, Hensyn commanded them to scatter. Kilai twisted to watch as Cirrus bolted across the open wastes of the Wrathlen. Poyl darted right, Cynek went straight down and Hensyn circled around, waiting. By the time another sweep of rain blocked the sergeant from Kilai’s view, Janoi still hadn’t appeared.

“Maegla hold him in Your hands,” he muttered, straightening to keep watch for himself.

After the first explosion of speed, Cirrus steadied. When there were no signs of pursuit, she circled cautiously back. “What now?” she asked, barely loud enough to be heard.

Kilai wasn’t sure. Their instructions had been to get as close as possible and find out what was going on. Brathyn had ordered them not to attract notice, but it was too late for that. He needed to find the others, though what he really wanted to do was go above the rain and take another look. His brief glance hadn’t been nearly enough to take in what he’d thought he saw.

Surely there wasn’t a pirate fleet drifting above the Wrathlen. Surely there weren’t so many ships lined up that they stretched across the horizon, with pyrefly swarms darting between them. Surely there weren’t that many pirates here.

Cirrus twitched, twisting to avoid a shadow dropping out of the clouds in front of them. Even unbalanced, Kilai raised his bow and hit the pyreflyer in the back before the man knew he was there. The pyrefly bucked, lashing its heavy tail and blasting fire. Without a rider to restrain it, it didn’t even notice the miryhl in the spitting steam as it thrust back up to escape the rain. Pyreflies, unsurprisingly, hated water.

Any satisfaction Kilai felt at getting rid of their enemy was short lived when he realised that a pyrefly with a corpse on its back would soon be visible to everyone above.

“Cirrus, go!” he shouted, no longer caring for secrecy. He had to find the others and get away. There was no chance of counting numbers or assessing their enemy now.

A second shadow dropped out of the rain, but Kilai’s arrow glanced off this pyreflyer’s shoulder, drawing his attention. The flyer spurred his mount around and shouted an order.

“Cirrus!” Kilai yelled, gripping tightly as his miryhl lifted into the clouds again, the air boiling beneath them. Steam hissed and spat, making their visibility even worse.

Grunting with effort, Cirrus flew on, straining to reach the end of the Wrathlen and the broader confines of the Cloud Sea. Steam erupted on their left, more directly below, and Kilai cursed: they had company.

Heat billowed from behind and Cirrus shrieked, her tail and rear scalded.

“I’m sorry,” Kilai murmured, even as he urged her on, knowing she was exhausted and hurt.

Cirrus stretched out her neck and strained for more speed, then, with a suddenness that stole Kilai’s breath, they were out of the clouds, away from the Wrathlen and over the sea.

All alone.

Or at least the only miryhl in sight. They had company aplenty in the form of five pyreflies.

Kilai grunted as Cirrus fanned out her wings, bringing them to an abrupt stop, before she powered upwards.

Fire raced towards them, but they were already above it. Then, as the pyreflies were joined by three more, moving to encircle the miryhl, Cirrus tucked in her wings and dived.

The pyreflies screamed with delight and descended to the chase, sending out billowing fire-clouds in their excitement.

Whispering prayers and pleas beneath his breath, Kilai tucked himself as close as possible to Cirrus’ neck and did nothing to disrupt her balance. Down on the edge of the Cloud Sea, a miryhl had the advantage, since the turbulent winds filtered through feathers, but caught and tugged on leather-wings. But pyreflies were more flexible and they revelled in the challenge of a chase through rough weather.

Heat singed Kilai’s cheek and he darted a glance back at the three pyreflies following. He looked up, dismayed to see two more keeping pace with broad strokes and more up above them. Ahead there was nothing, just empty, empty sea. He didn’t even know if they were headed in the right direction.

Cirrus panted, her wing beats increasingly laboured, and he pressed closer, wishing he could lend her his strength and take away the tiredness as easily as they shared their fear.

“I’m sorry,” she wheezed, and he held her tighter. “I… can’t.”

“Cirrus,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Three pyreflies dropped into the space before them, wings spread wide to hold their block, heads raised, necks pulled back. A glow gathered in the mouth of the central beast, daring them to come any closer.

“I’m sorry,” Cirrus whispered, her wings stuttering – then sagged.

Their momentum carried them a few more feet and the other pyreflies opened their mouths, breathing deep to fill their throat bellows.

The world slowed as Kilai experienced a moment of weightlessness. The fires ignited and he began to fall. Cirrus twisted, screaming —

And the world burned.

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Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 3, Part 1


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

~ Previous Chapter ~

Just hanging out with Kilai on the edge of the law-abiding world. He sure knows how to spend a holiday.

New around here? Rift Riders is the second book in the Wingborn series. It can be read as a standalone, but the first book (Wingborn) is available for free so you can catch up easily if you wish to.

Watching the Wrathlen

Wrathlen Edge
24th Sun – Feast of Heirayk
IT WAS THE longest day of the year, the feast of the Sun God, the height of summer, and Kilai Kilpapan was sweating beneath the midday sun, his eyes fixed on a bleak horizon. The Wrathlen was an uninspiring place – flat, black and empty. From a distance it looked like a solid wall of charred rock, but up close it was even worse. Crags, cracks, caves, fissures and faults riddled the surface, creating a subterranean labyrinth filled with all kinds of nasties. It wasn’t surprising that pirates, smugglers, raiders and the general detritus of the Overworld gathered here. It was the perfect hiding place.

Sprawled along the very edge of the Stormwash, it also spent most of the year submerged in clouds and the foulest weather. The inhabitants were welcome to it, in Kilai’s opinion. Except he and the rest of his flight were the ones detailed to watch the place, which meant that they had to put up with it too.

Not today. No, instead of the constant wind blowing in his face, the frowning grey clouds getting ever lower overhead or the thunder snarling menacingly, Heirayk’s day was doing the Sun God proud. Which was unfortunate, because when Kilai had climbed up to his lookout post that morning he’d dressed for storms. No wonder he was roasting.

“I hate this place.”

Lieutenant Brathyn chuckled beside him, using his spyglass to scan the featureless horizon. “Not what you signed up for?”

A four-bell watch behind some scrub bushes on an exposed crag barely topping the surface of the Cloud Sea, staring at the Wrathlen? “Oh, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

Brathyn snorted and handed him the glass. “And that’s why I like you. Here, take over, I need a break. Where are those lackwits? That sun’s telling me it’s noon, yet my stomach is all empty. If they’ve eaten my share, I’ll stake ‘em out for pyrefly meat.”

Listening to his lieutenant grumble as he scrambled down to the caves, where the rest of the flight was hidden, Kilai lifted the glass and squinted against the glare of the Cloud Sea. His head pounded from the relentless brightness and his throat was parched. The rocks he lay on hummed with heat, while the scrub bushes above him crackled and shivered, making the most of the rare sunlight.

As he scanned the monotonous view, he wondered how the rest of the Overworld was celebrating. He hoped Mhysra was enjoying herself and that poor Jynese wasn’t being hassled by too many lovesick boys. At least the beautiful kennel worker would approve of what he was doing, even if it did bore him stupid.

“Here you go.” Brathyn returned and took the spyglass back, replacing it with a cold meat roll and a wrinkled apple. “Happy Midsummer. Enjoy your feast.” He poured them both a quarter-cup of wine. “Don’t drink it all at once.”

Snorting, Kilai downed the sour drink in one gulp and picked at his roll. He was too warm for food but knew better than to go without. Reaching for his water bottle, he drained it and felt a little better. “How much longer do you think we’ll be stuck here?”

Mouth full of cold mutton, Brathyn shrugged. “Captain’s gone for advice,” he mumbled. “When he comes back, we’ll know.”

Which didn’t tell Kilai anything new. Things had seemed so exciting a half-moon ago when ships and figures had crawled all over the Wrathlen, mustering forces for who-knew-what kind of expedition. Everyone had braced for action, while Captain Hylan hared back to Aquila to alert the Riders and seek counsel. It looked like war was upon them. Or someone, anyway, depending on which direction the pirates chose to head.

Then it went quiet. In fact, nothing had been seen for a good quarter-moon, and Kilai wasn’t the only one going cross-eyed with boredom. But that was the trouble with the Wrathlen: the quieter it looked, the more dangerous it got. If only because staring at a black and white view for four-bells at a time was enough to make anyone dazed. That would always be the moment when the Wrathlen struck.

“Eat your apple,” Brathyn told him, finishing his own roll. “It’s good for you.”

Eyeing the wrinkled fruit dubiously, Kilai did as he was told, wincing at the sharp taste. “Happy Midsummer,” he muttered, hoping the inhabitants of the Wrathlen were as lucky in their feast as he.

* * * * *

25th Sun
SOMETHING COLD SEIZED his ankle, jolting him from sleep. He raised his head.

“Move out, Kilai,” someone whispered, and the hand left his skin.

Shivering, Kilai sat up and squinted towards the cave mouth. The light out there was pale and watery, hinting at predawn. Inside the cave was a haze of banked fires and smoking torches. He stifled a groan and reached for his boots as the rest of Lieutenant Brathyn’s flurry prepared for action around him.

“What’s happening?” he asked Sergeant Hensyn, Brathyn’s second, who was passing out stale bread rolls soaked in the lukewarm remains of last night’s stew.

“Cynek and Wrest just came off watch saying they’ve seen something. Lieutenant wants us ready. He sent Dhenn to Remfyrd and Lorryth, asking what they’ve seen.”

“What about Lykano?” Kilai asked, naming the fourth of Captain Hylan’s lieutenants and taking a big bite of his roll. The bread crackled against his teeth, where it wasn’t soggy from the stew. He swallowed quickly.

“Gerynth just arrived. Seems they’ve seen something too.”

“Great,” Kilai mumbled, nodded his thanks and went in search of Cirrus.

The miryhls were excited, muttering and whispering to each other, nudging their Riders for news. Cirrus was no different, lowering her head as Kilai approached. He murmured greetings, rubbed her crest feathers and slid her tack into place.

She was a modest-looking miryhl by most people’s standards, but Kilai had always thought her the most beautiful eagle he’d ever seen. She wasn’t the biggest, loudest or fastest, nor were her talons the sharpest, her beak the most powerful or her eyes the keenest. She was a rich brown shade, like most miryhls, with a golden beak and golden eyes, but she had white flecks on her wings and tail that set her apart from most. She was also sweet-natured and patient, and never minded when her Rider got something wrong or there was a pack of nakhounds nipping at her tail feathers.

To Kilai, she was perfect. Even for a boy who had grown up in Wrentheria with a Wingborn sister. Once he’d dreamed of having a miryhl to rival Cumulo, of being the best, fastest and most daring flyer the Riders’ had ever seen, but life and experience had tempered his ambitions. He knew his limits now and was mostly content with them.

Cirrus lowered her head for her bridle and purred in his ear, “What’s happening?”

“Not sure,” he murmured. “This could be it – or it might be another false alarm.”

She huffed, fluffing up her feathers and shivering as he placed the saddle on her back. “Least we’ll get to fly,” she said, preening his hair while he tightened her girths.

Smiling, he scratched under her wing. “I wouldn’t say no to that.”

Cirrus raised her head, staring at the cave mouth, the rest of the miryhls turning to do the same. “Messenger.”

Exchanging a worried look with her, Kilai headed over to where Brathyn and Hensyn were talking. He was halfway across the cave when the messenger jogged inside, his miryhl on his heels. Both were soaking wet. Brathyn’s flurry groaned, knowing the bad weather would be drifting swiftly their way: the chance to fly no longer seemed so appealing.

“Sir,” the soggy Rider puffed and saluted. “From Lieutenant Remfyrd. Wrathlen awake.”

“Take a seat,” Brathyn commanded, shoving the soaked man down beside the fire, where Hensyn offered him something to eat. “Seems we’ve all spotted activity tonight.” He looked around his flurry, awaiting his command, and smiled. “Who’s up for a little pirate hunt?”

~ Next Chapter ~

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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Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 18, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Next Chapter ~

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

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 18, Part 1


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Welcome to Aquila! :D


“GOOD EVENING, GENTLEMEN. Please sit down.” Former Flight Commander Marshall was an unassuming man with silver streaks in his dark hair. Having been the dean of Aquila for almost ten years, he’d overseen Lyrai’s training. So when he smiled, Lyrai fought the urge to squirm like a schoolboy, still unused to being called into the man’s office for anything other than a reprimand. “A well-timed journey.”

Thunder snarled as Myran accepted a goblet of wine. “We had fast winds, but only chance brought us in safely. The ships are moored at the caves.”

“Safest place for them, storm or no,” the dean said, waiting for his secretary to pass the wine around before opening the nearest ledger. “How many students, Myran?”

“Thirty-two,” the captain said, nodding at Lyrai to fill in the details.

“Nineteen from Nimbys, sir, eight from Storm Peaks, five from Sutherall. Nine girls, twenty-three boys.”

The dean inked in the numbers. “Thirty-two. A solid number. Made better for the girls’ presence.” He frowned at his ledger. “Added to the twenty-nine from Etheria, ten of which were girls, numbers are holding steady.”

“Any word from North Point?” Fredkhen asked.

“Word, yes,” the dean murmured, twirling his quill. “Thirteen students, including five girls. Hopefully they’ll arrive soon. Weather permitting. The storms are early.”

“More girls,” Rees grumbled into his wine. “What use will they be?”

“They’ve already bolstered the numbers,” Myran pointed out mildly. “If not for the girls this would be a poor year. Fewer are willing to risk their children for the glory of Rider fame.”

Dean Marshall set aside his quill and rubbed his neck. “Original application numbers were up on recent years.”

“How many of those withdrew after the attacks on Kevian and Cirrica?” Captain Roumn asked.

Fredkhen grimaced, which was all the answer they needed. “Two attacks in the Greater West, regardless of the low mortality rate, so close together… One could hardly blame parents for getting jumpy.”

“Because life in the Riders has always been sweetness and light,” Roumn mocked. “What did they think their children were signing up for, the Cloud Circus?”

“Thank you, captain,” Marshall murmured, his soft voice still retaining the power of a commander. “Until you have children do not criticise others about how they care for theirs. It’s one thing to hear of the glory of the Rift Riders, another to be confronted with corpses and casualties. Twenty-nine families of the Greater West have given us a glorious gift, do not scorn those whose generosity failed at the last.”

“We’ll see,” the captain muttered. “Ten girls, remember? Our intake may yet decline.”

“Have you seen any girls in action yet, captain?” Stirla asked, studying his nails.

“I’ve been trapped in this benighted place for the last five years,” Roumn retorted. “I’ve seen plenty of girls, for all that they call themselves boys. It might be refreshing to see how real girls train. Can’t see it’ll do much good, but there we have it. One voice is often lost in a crowd.”

“Wait until you’ve seen them,” Stirla advised. “You might learn something.”

Roumn gave a sceptical snort, echoed by Rees; the two men had always been likeminded. It was why Rees had been reassigned to Myran’s command a few years back.

“A time of changes,” Dean Marshall said.

Roumn shrugged. “I’m glad to be out, if it’s all the same. My penance is paid. Time to take my lambs into the wild, for all the good it’ll do.” He raised his drink in a mocking toast.

“Indeed,” Marshall murmured, closing his ledger carefully. “You may depart at any time, captain. Sutherall and South Imercian are in desperate need of your relief force. Everyone else, make yourselves at home. Lieutenant Lyrai, Lieutenant Stirla, I trust that you are satisfied with your assignments?”

They both nodded. At first Stirla had been sulky over his practical studies appointment – teaching students to survive in the wild, cooking, hunting and so on – compared to Lyrai’s as flight instructor. Both were equally important, but there was glory in teaching others to fly. Since the test flights, though, Lyrai was the one feeling hard done by. Still there were worse things to teach. Probably.

“Good. Myran, are you happy to resume your history lessons? We have Lieutenant Willym for politics and Fredkhen has agreed to undertake geography. His other junior lieutenant, Hlen, will teach arithmetic, with the usual tutors for the rest. The senior lieutenants will be allocated on arrival.”

Lyrai raised his eyebrows at Stirla and smiled. He doubted their old friend Willym had been happy with political history. He’d always fancied himself a better flyer than he actually was. Hlen was quiet and studious, but Lyrai didn’t envy him his assignment. Not that the dean was really asking their opinion. They were Riders who’d been given a task, and so they would do it.

“For now, gentlemen, have something to eat and reacquaint yourselves with the citadel and the gossip. Oh, and lads,” he added, causing Lyrai and Stirla to pause at the door while the captains continued without them. “Welcome back. It’s good to have you home.”

* * * * *

BY THE TIME Kilai reached the girls’ dormitory, Mhysra was yawning. Climbing up and down two flights of winding stairs had reminded her that she’d not slept properly for several days. The walk across the citadel and up another three levels had only made things worse. When Kilai left, all she wanted to do was pick a bed and fall into it.

A clamour of excited yips ended that idea: it seemed that more than her luggage had been delivered. She eyed Bumble balefully as the pup shimmied up to her, wriggling in a way that said she might like to go outside. Soon. Sooner than soon. Or there would be puddles.

“Corin, save me a bed,” Mhysra grumbled, opening the door and shooing her dog out through it.

After a long trek along empty hallways, she finally found someone to direct her outside. Since it was still raining, she then had to haul Bumble onto the grass and hold her in place to prevent her diving back into the dry. Looking pitiful, the pup went about her business and they dripped back inside. Now thoroughly lost, Mhysra wandered until she found more servants to direct her.

“We’ve got to find an easier way out,” Mhysra told the damp pup as she opened the dormitory door.

“Open the window,” Corin suggested, pointing to a bed in the corner beneath said window where Mhysra’s bags had been dumped.

Stepping on the bed, Mhysra peered out at the storm-thrashed darkness. A flicker of lightning confirmed how high up they were. “She can’t fly yet.”

Corin raised her eyebrows and Mhysra had to smile, albeit wearily. Bumble was flitting around the dormitory ceiling in a haphazard style, dripping over all the beds.

“Nakkies are lazy,” Haelle yawned. “They need an incentive to fly.”

“I know,” Mhysra said, changing into her sleeping things, “but pushing her out of a third-floor window seems a little extreme.”

“She’ll bounce,” Corin promised, collapsing onto her bed. “Nice. Feather pillows and a wool mattress. I could get used to this luxury.”

“I don’t care if it’s stuffed with rocks,” Mhysra groaned, flopping facedown.

“Puh. Her first night in Aquila and all she can think of is sleep,” Corin scoffed. “Some Rider you’re turning out to be.”

“Ask me again in the morning,” Mhysra advised, shoving Bumble away as she tried to lick her face and crawl under the covers with her. “I’ll be thrilled then.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Haelle chuckled, but Mhysra ignored her. Burrowing beneath the blankets, she cuddled her pillow and closed her eyes. When that wasn’t enough, she pulled the blanket over her head and the world went away.

* * * * *

“WHAT DO YOU want to see first?” Kilai grinned at Mhysra and her friends, all of them wearing identical blank expressions. “Oh, come on, breakfast wasn’t that bad.”

“Easy for you to say,” Derrain muttered, and the others grumbled their agreement.

Breakfast had been a noisy, chaotic nightmare. Despite having been woken at dawn by the deafening clatter of bells ringing right above their dormitory, Mhysra and the other girls had still been excited about their first day at Aquila. Until they followed their guide into the mess that was the dining hall.

Riders were everywhere, along with students, servants, attendants and all manner of folk that Mhysra couldn’t put a name to. It was chaos. No one sat on the benches, preferring to use the tables or to stand. A debate rapidly turned into an argument in one corner, needing outside intervention to prevent it becoming a brawl. Elsewhere a game of handball was played with bread rolls, while a pack of nakhounds rampaged at will.

Having heard so much about the vaunted discipline of the Riders, the reality was a little shocking. Haelle hadn’t been the only one to decide she wasn’t hungry, while the rest grabbed what they could and ran. The escaping girls had tripped over the retreating boys and decided there was safety in numbers. Which was when Kilai had found them.

“Breakfast is always hectic,” he explained, laughing at their dismay. “Students have high spirits, Riders coming in are light-headed from lack of sleep and the ones going out eat fast. You’ll get used to it. Come on, let’s visit the eyries and see how your miryhls are doing.”

Happy to get away from the chaos, the friends trailed after Kilai. As they walked, he pointed frequently, saying things like, “armoury, practise halls and bath caverns,” or, “kitchens, gardens, servant quarters. Never go there unless an officer asks. Anyone else is tweaking your tail.” Taking a narrow passage, he led them down a steep staircase and out into the glorious morning.

“This is the Lawn,” he explained, stopping to let them look around. “In summer it’s packed, but a little rain, as you see, is enough to drive any Rider away. Mud is not a good look and Riders are so vain.” He patted his black-clad hip and winked at Haelle, who blushed.

The Lawn was a strip of grass along the east bank of the river, wedged between the fast-flowing waters and the citadel. The wider field on the far side lay empty too, used for flying and weapons-practise if the targets were anything to go by. Curving around all, the citadel towered up and back along tiered terraces. The base of the valley was dominated by the river, cascading between two spurs of rock. A broader valley was visible beyond and Mhysra itched to go exploring. Tethered to her wrist, Bumble strained to do the same.

“That’s the lake,” Kilai explained, seeing what held his sister’s attention. “Wait until after the storm season to visit. You don’t want to be caught out by the rain, and at this time of year it either already is or is just about to.” He held out his hand as a gentle mist drizzled down.

Mhysra looked up, confused, since the sun was shining. The peak was shrouded in cloud and their little shower had drifted away from the main mass. She sighed and tugged Bumble to heel.

“Come on,” Kilai urged, walking across the Lawn.

Here were yet more wonders, and Mhysra wasn’t the only one staring at the sprawling giant of the citadel. Towers backed against the mountain, while cloisters and porticos kept watch along the terraces. Weather-bleached stone glowed in the autumn light and the clean, simple lines soothed her. There was nothing fussy about Aquila, nothing complicated or elaborate. It was the home of the Rift Riders, defenders of the Overworld, and it was beautiful. But it was the bridge over the falls that stopped the students short.

Realising he was alone, Kilai turned and smiled. “Quite something, isn’t it?”

What had merely been a port in the storm for Mhysra the night before was entirely different by daylight. The white curve of the bridge leapt from bank to bank, arching over the thundering falls. No longer blinded by rain, she counted three levels beneath the roof and blinked. Most of the bottom row was open to the elements and supported by pillars, leaving a clear view straight through. As she watched, a group of Riders walked across it.

The second level was a blank wall, where Mhysra guessed she had landed yesterday. Above it the third row was marked with more hatches, all of which were closed on this side. A peaked roof covered with slate tiles, glistening after the rain, perfected the image.

“The eyries,” Kilai said needlessly. “For students and two flurries. The rest are in the town, since it’d be impractical to cram them all up here. It’s impressive enough for what it is.”

He set off again, awestruck students pattering along behind, and at last Mhysra felt a frisson of excitement. This was what she had come for. This glory, this magnificence, this beauty. Here was the real Aquila. Not even the steep stairs up to the East Tower were enough to dim her spirits. This was Aquila and she was going to visit the eyries. Laughing with glee, she pounced on her brother and hugged him hard.

Kilai chuckled. “It gets to us all in the end.” Opening the door, he led them back inside.

~ Next Chapter ~

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