Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 2, Part 2


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

~ Previous Chapter ~

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

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

Where is Stirla leading them?

23rd Sun

“THIS IS NOT what I expected.”

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

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

“Are you listening?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe you should practise more,” Mhysra teased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gods save us,” Jaymes groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s because you’re cruel.”

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

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

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

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

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

~ Next Chapter ~

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Wingborn: Chapter 22, Part 1


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Three chapters to go!

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

Twenty Two

24th Winter Rains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked at her. She shut up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If looks could kill…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Cue!” she complained.

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

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

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

“Maegla,” Mhysra whispered, tightening her grip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too late – Cumulo was ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

~ Next Chapter ~

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

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 21, Part 3


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

In which Lyrai learns that being a lieutenant isn’t all fun and games, after all. Oh, Mouse.

(P.S. Last Wednesday update! It’s only twice weekly chapters from now until the end.)


Feeling nervous, Lyrai walked into the dean’s office. The room was filled with the pleasant glow of oil lanterns holding back the night. “You wished to see me, sir.”

The dean waved him in. “I apologise for keeping you waiting, but I believe I have all the facts now. Please, take a seat.”

“Very good, sir.” Lyrai nodded warily and sat down.

Since he’d entered the room, the dean hadn’t looked at him once. Instead Marshall studied the bronze statue on his desk: a miryhl at the moment of takeoff. The metal was glossy from regular handling, but detailed on every feather. It was a beautiful piece and one Lyrai had long coveted. The dean stared at it now as if it could tell him the answers to all the most difficult questions. “What made you join the Riders?”

Lyrai frowned. “I never dreamed of anything else, sir. It’s tradition.”

“Tradition,” Dean Marshall echoed, rubbing his thumb across the miryhl’s beak. “There are many traditions in the Riders. Some better than others.”


The dean looked at him with a weary smile. “Forgive me, Lyrai, I was pondering. Please tell me your version of today’s events.”

Unsure how much to reveal, Lyrai started at the beginning. It was one thing to know a fellow lieutenant was rotten and encouraging his students to go the same way, but another to say it to a commanding officer. Reminding himself that his first duty was to his students, especially their safety, Lyrai stuck to the truth. Even when it didn’t put him or Hurricane in the best light.

“Ah.” The dean nodded when he was done. “Thank you, lieutenant. Your version of events matches that of others, including your captain. I appreciate your honesty.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The dean sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry that one of your students was injured, Lyrai. He will, of course, be given all the best care and attention that we can provide. I will also inform you of any decisions I make regarding the matter, both before and after I put them into practise. Will that suffice for the present?”

It wasn’t much but, from the man’s obvious fatigue, Lyrai suspected the dean had bigger issues on his mind. It would have to do. Patronage was a powerful weapon, even in a place where status should have been left behind. Bovei’s father was wealthy and powerful. Coupled with Willym’s connections it made him almost unassailable, especially against a commoner like Mouse. The dean’s word would have to be enough.

Mustering a smile, he bowed his head. “Thank you, sir.”

“I will do what I can. You know that.”

Which meant there was little that the dean could do. “I know, sir.”

Marshall walked around the desk to grip Lyrai’s shoulder. “You will make an excellent captain. Myran says it, and I agree. Don’t be disheartened, Lyrai. Continue to care for your students as best you can. It will be enough.”

Lyrai could only hope so. Weary and disillusioned, he stumped down the tower, wanting nothing more than to sleep for a half-moon and leave all this ugliness behind. Yet there was one more thing he needed to do before he sought his bed, so he crossed the bridge and headed high into the eastern citadel.

Aquila’s infirmary was fitted with enough space and supplies to deal with a large emergency. It was designed to treat an entire flight in need, so it was disconcerting to find it so empty. Only one bed was occupied, watched over by a healer writing by candlelight near the door.

Lyrai’s boots echoed on the floor and the healer looked up. “Yes?” he demanded, squinting into the dark. He blinked a few times, then smiled. “Lieutenant, I’ve been expecting you.”

Smiling, Lyrai shook the man by the hand, having been patched up by him many times. “Healer Nehtl, it’s good to see you. I hope you’re well.”

“As well as can be for a man who deals in sickness.” The tall healer shrugged and waved towards the patient. “He’s sedated, but awake. I had to use enough to down a bullwing just to keep him still. Don’t be too long.”

Mouse looked so small, his skin bleached by the pale linen, making the freckles on his face look like flecks of ink. At Lyrai’s approach he stirred, opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling.

He rolled his head, disorientated, until he spotted Lyrai. “L’ten’n,” he slurred, and tried to salute. His coordination was off and he whacked himself in the eye. Typical Mouse.

Lyrai perched on the bed, careful not to disturb his legs. “How are you feeling?”

Mouse grinned. “Can’t feel a thing. Not ma nose,” – he tried to touch it, and hit his ear – “nor ma toes.” He smiled blissfully. “Dunno why ‘m here, but s’nice. You come t’stay too?”

Lyrai shook his head. “No, I came to see you. You’ve hurt your leg, Mouse, that’s why you’re here. They gave you something for the pain.”

“Mouse,” he repeated sleepily, unable to follow so many words. “Tha’s me.”

“So it is,” Lyrai agreed, standing up. “Can I look at your leg?”

“Have I got one?”

Taking that as a yes, Lyrai folded back the blanket to reveal Mouse’s right limb, heavily bandaged from the top of his thigh down past his knee. Bloodstained the white linen all over, but the two darkest patches showed where the puncture wounds must be, the biggest one on the inside of Mouse’s thigh. With his leg propped up on a number of pillows, it was clear to see that the wound went straight through the muscle and out the other side.

“Oh, my,” Mouse murmured, struggling to sit up enough to look for himself. “Sum’un was clumsy. D’ya think he’ll lose it?” He stared at his leg as if it belonged to someone else.

Smiling, Lyrai covered him up again. “I think he’ll be all right.”

“Good,” Mouse mumbled, shutting his eyes. Within heartbeats he was snoring.

“Neat and nicely placed. I don’t think we’ll have much trouble with infection.”

Lyrai looked over at Healer Nehtl. “You’ve got Student Mhysra to thank for that. She keeps her miryhl clean.”

The healer stared down at Mouse. “I think he has more than that to thank her for.”

Unable to argue, Lyrai thanked the healer for all he’d done, took one last look at the defenceless lad, so different with all his nervous energy stripped away, and left. He needed rest, though he doubted he’d be able to sleep. Visions of whipped miryhls and falling boys haunted him through the darkness.

~ Next Chapter ~

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

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 21, Part 1


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Four more chapters to go!

And yet another three parter this week – but I think it’s the last one. Poor Mouse.

Four more weeks to go!

Twenty One

31st Gale

It was sleeting. Again. “The joys of Aquila,” Stirla grumbled, tipping his hat further over his face. “How can you bear this every day?”

Blinking water from his eyelashes, Lyrai chuckled; supervising an afternoon flight was the least of his worries. “I like flying.”

“So do I.” Stirla shuddered as ice trickled down his neck. “When it’s sunny.”

Lyrai shook his head. After spending so much time grounded, he’d tackle a blizzard if it was his only chance to fly. “Come on.” He slapped Stirla’s shoulder. “Time to get your feet wet.”

“They’re already wet,” Stirla muttered, trudging over to Atyrn.

“Stop complaining. Once the blizzards truly start you’ll be spending plenty of time inside.” Lyrai secured his hat and shuddered. He was not looking forward to the next few months.

His friend grunted and hauled himself into Atyrn’s saddle, Lyrai mounted Hurricane and they launched into the miryhl-filled skies. It was Sunday, which meant all the first-years flew together, regardless of their flurries, and all Lyrai had to do was watch. Thankfully he was assisted by three lieutenants and four sergeants. It wasn’t unheard of for the captains to join these practise flights, but Lyrai didn’t blame them for keeping out of the sleet.

Circling above the students was like staring into the eye of a storm as the miryhls lapped the field. The more confident flyers rose to the top or darted through the middle, while the nervous stayed close to the ground. The four young lieutenants watched from above, while the sergeants kept order amongst the flock. After a while the sleet lessened, easing visibility, so that the pairs resolved into individuals.

Shaking the water from his eyes, Lyrai shivered and studied his students. Dhori and Latinym were rising from bottom to top and down again, while Mhysra and Cumulo swirled in and out of the main flow behind them. This exercise was too tame for them, but everyone had to practise together. Derrain and Zephyr, Corin and Wisp, Haelle and Thunder, and Mouse and Onyx bobbed behind Cumulo and Latinym like bows on a kite tail, making Lyrai smile.

An ill-advised attempt to race between some cocky students drew his attention and he was on the verge of intervening when Hurricane tensed.

“Mouse,” was all the warning he got before his miryhl dived.

Gripping handfuls of feathers, Lyrai squinted through the rain and swore. Mouse indeed. Eager to copy his friends, the foolish boy had urged his miryhl too high, too fast and collided with another student: Bovei fra Benlei. A favourite of Willym’s, Bovei did not make allowances for accidents.

Even as Hurricane arrowed down, Bovei raised his flying crop – and how he had one of those when they were banned, Lyrai could only guess – and lashed out. As Bovei was a mean-tempered bully, Lyrai expected him to aim for Mouse. Instead he slashed at Onyx’s face.

No!” Lyrai and Hurricane roared together, and Lyrai urged his miryhl even faster, diving straight through the flock of novice pairs. Miryhls scattered and students yelped, but Hurricane ignored them. Since no one fell off, Lyrai did likewise.

Onyx squealed and dodged the whip heading for his eye, taking the brunt of the strike on his wing. Already unbalanced from the collision, Mouse slipped, hands grasping at the wet saddle but finding no purchase. The leather straps, which should have been holding him in place, were unbuckled: he’d been copying his friends again. Onyx shifted to catch him, but Bovei cracked the whip across the miryhl’s neck. Bruised and wounded, Onyx flinched.

Mhysra!” Mouse plummeted through the cloud of miryhls.

Cumulo dived after him. With more strength than finesse, the Wingborn seized the boy’s leg and flapped frantically to slow their reckless descent.

With Mouse safe, Hurricane didn’t bother to check his own speed. Balling his talons, he punched straight into Bovei. The whip went flying. Lyrai barely had time to shift his weight as his miryhl wheeled about and dropped onto the smaller eagle’s back.

Being bigger, heavier and angrier, Hurricane easily drove Shield down. Lyrai didn’t object, even with a student trapped between – Bovei deserved it for striking a miryhl – and watched with relief as Cumulo carefully lowered his burden before landing.

Mhysra reached Mouse first, turning him over to check his leg, exclaiming at the blood. Stirla carried the boy from the field at a sprint, leaving Hlen to take care of poor Onyx.

“Return to the eyries and tend to your mounts!” Captain Myran ordered, emerging from the sleet with Fredkhen and a squad of Riders. Left with no other choice, the students dispersed.

At last, Hurricane brought Shield down and lifted off him. Before the miryhl could launch again, Hurricane rose to his full height and hissed. Though cocky around the eagles in Bovei’s class, Shield knew when he was outmatched and hunkered down, emitting supplicating peeps.

Not so his Rider. Mussed and gasping, Bovei pushed himself upright and glared at Lyrai. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded shakily. “Don’t you know who I am?”

Before Lyrai could answer or dismount, Willym landed. “How dare you treat a student of mine this way!”

“I could say the same of your student with regards to mine!” Lyrai snapped, while Hurricane faced down Mercata, Willym’s miryhl. They were of a size, but Mercata was a slender, light-eyed female. Like her Rider she had a nasty reputation. “How dare he raise a whip to a miryhl. How dare he fly with a crop at all!”

Willym sneered from his mount’s back. “I saw no such incident. All I saw was a lieutenant attacking a student.”

“There are witnesses,” Lyrai growled, even as Hurricane did the same at Mercata.

The female miryhl hissed and her Rider smirked. “Yes. An entire year saw you attack a student, Lyrai. How distressing.”

“They also saw your student strike mine with a whip,” Lyrai retorted, barely controlling his temper. “You know crops are banned, but I can guess where he got such a thing.”

Willym looked at his student and smiled. “I see no whip.”

Lyrai saw red. “I will find it, you vicious bastard, and when I do, your precious whelp will -”

“I believe this is the item in question,” Captain Myran interrupted, limping between their miryhls with the crop held high. “It may also interest you to know that I saw everything.”

Willym stared at the whip and registered the contempt on Myran’s face. He glanced at Fredkhen, lingering unhappily to one side. Though Fredkhen’s family’s livelihood relied heavily on the favour of Willym’s father, the captain would not lie. Baring his teeth in frustration, Willym turned to the boy.

Bovei sat slumped sulkily in his saddle, picking at the reins. He glanced at his lieutenant and flinched. “My father -” he bleated.

“I believe Kern Whittendowns will be most disappointed about this,” Myran said, and the boy cowered. “You will come with me, Student Bovei. Lieutenants return to the eyries. Lyrai, attend Dean Marshall’s office when you are done.”

When nobody moved, the captain raised his eyebrows. “You are dismissed, Riders. Bovei, with me.” He limped away, leaving Lyrai and Willym glaring at each other.

Fredkhen cleared his throat. “Come, Willym. We must tend the miryhls.”

As Mercata turned her head away, Hurricane snorted and launched with no signal from Lyrai. Neither of them wanted to spend a moment longer in that company.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 11, Part 3


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

Argh, exams!

Don’t worry, though, there’s no test waiting at the end. At least, not for you.

LYRAI WAS IN a contemplative mood as the exams approached. Out of nine students he had some doubts about Naelyn, Devane and Mouse, but was mostly proud of his group. Jermyn and Dhori were naturally gifted, while the rest worked hard. It boded well for the future and he carried his good mood away from the morning session into the dining room.

“What are you so happy about?” Stirla grumbled, a pile of paperwork at his elbow. Never one to work when he could be having fun, he ended each moon with a two-foot stack and a bad temper. At least this month he had plenty of study supervision sessions to fill to help him catch up.

“Thinking of the future,” Lyrai replied cheerfully.

“I hate this time of year.”

Considering that the school exams always happened in the second quarter-moon of Fledgling, Lyrai knew he should hate it too. Five afternoons of dull prep sessions, supervising his students and taking questions – most of which he wasn’t allowed to answer. The sixth day was the written exam and the seventh was the physical. Hethanon assessed that and clerks marked the papers, leaving Lyrai and Stirla free.

After another quarter-moon, the results were given out and the real excitement began. That was why Lyrai was so cheerful: the Choice was only twenty-one days away. Soon he’d have wings again.

Stirla gave a surly grunt and reached for the top of his stack. “Knowing my luck my lot’ll ask questions all afternoon, leaving me no time to work. Stupid exams.”

Lyrai shook his head, not bothering to remind Stirla about his free evenings and Stardays. Instead he finished his pastry and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Good luck with the Paperstack of Doom. See you at dinner.”

Stirla grunted again, showing no signs of leaving. Lyrai pitied the students who had the lieutenant as a mentor. Remembering his own study sessions six years ago, he winced. No matter how often he’d been assured the exam was easy, he’d still fretted, certain that he would fail. He hadn’t, of course, and the written paper had been laughably easy, but it was no use telling the students that. It was something they had to discover for themselves.

The real test was to survive seven months in the company of Hethanon and the tedious clerks. If a boy could do that, he’d earned the right to try his luck at Aquila. The girls too. The reward was the chance to partner one of the most wondrous creatures in existence.

Smiling, Lyrai collected his subdued students and led them to a classroom, wondering what he would look for in his new miryhl. Twenty-one days, that was all, then he would be able to fly again. He couldn’t wait.

* * * * *

“GODS, IS IT really over?” Mouse stumbled shakily out of the room.

Walking behind him, Mhysra wished he would shut up. When Lieutenant Stirla had told them to stop writing she’d felt pleased, certain she’d passed. The questions had been as easy as everyone said. Or so she’d assumed, until Lieutenant Lyrai took her paper away and Mouse started moaning.

“Gods, Maegla, Gods. I’ve failed, I know I have. I know it.”

“Enough.” Derrain hooked an arm around Mouse’s neck, muffling him under his arm. “It’s done. You can’t change it. Give it a rest, before you mutter Mhysra into apoplexy.”

She jumped, not realising she’d been so obvious. “I’m not worried.”

“Of course not,” Corin chuckled. “That’s why you’re about to dash back inside and stab Lyrai with your quill until he gives you your paper so you can check if you spelled Aquila with two ls.”

Mhysra stopped, eyes widening. “It has two ls?”

Derrain and Mouse blinked. “I hope not,” Mouse whispered.

Mhysra grinned. “Got ya.”

Which earned her a round of quill tickling, until she protested that Corin said it and Mouse started it. Ever fair, they doled out punishment to the others and by the time they reached the streets they were all in high spirits, even Mouse.

“Went well then?” Harlan asked, as he joined them.

“Easy,” Derrain assured him.

“Could have done it blindfolded,” Corin boasted.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Dhori tempered, smiling. “Perhaps with my hands behind my back.”

“Even you would have passed,” Mhysra assured Harlan, who narrowed his eyes.

“Must have been easy then,” he said, and smiled. “I’ll buy the drinks. You’ll need them.”

“A toast,” Derrain agreed, his happiness revealing how worried he’d been, despite all protests to the contrary. “To the easiest exam in history!”

The others cheered and Harlan smirked. “Well, that too, but I was thinking you need to keep your strength up for tomorrow. Doesn’t Hethanon get his claws into you in the morning?”

Their merriment vanished.

“You’re always the happy one,” Corin told him bitterly.

“So you don’t want a drink?” Harlan chuckled. “All the more for me.”

“Ha!” Derrain snagged his collar before he could escape. “With you buying? Who’d be stupid enough to pass that up?”

“Won’t get another chance this century, that’s for certain,” Mouse agreed.

“Better check your pockets for change,” Dhori advised. Cheered up, they spent the walk into town teasing Harlan and his tight-fisted ways, all thoughts of the next morning temporarily forgotten.

* * * * *

BY THE EIGHTEENTH LAP, Mhysra was struggling, but at least she wasn’t the only one. In fact she was close to the front. Derrain, Dhori and three others were still romping along at a swift pace, but they were all tall and athletic, and at that moment Mhysra hated them. However, there were only two laps left, so she pushed on to complete the first challenge, pleased not to collapse when they were finally allowed to stop.

Which was for the best, really, seeing as Hethanon was as merciless as ever, immediately pairing them off for the exercise routines. Finding herself opposite Haelle, Mhysra smiled and started stretching, turning to her partner when two people were needed rather than one. Then they faced a timed obstacle course. No one was surprised when Dhori won, while Haelle just beat Mhysra.

Then it was weaponry and more competitions to see how far each of them had progressed. Naelyn surprised everyone – herself included – by coming top of the girls in staffs, and placing fourth overall, with Mhysra and Haelle just behind. The top place was fiercely contested between Jermyn and Dhori. Jermyn came out the eventual winner, but only by taking advantage of a perilous pocket of ground that tripped his opponent. Corin came second in archery, beating all the girls and most of the boys too.

It was exhausting but enjoyable, and Mhysra was pleased by how well she’d done. Thanks to Hethanon’s rigorous training, she felt she’d acquitted herself well, as had the rest of her friends. Even those near the bottom, like Mouse and Corin, were competent. For the first time her goal seemed within reach and it was likely that all her friends would make it to Aquila.

“At last,” Corin groaned as the girls entered the officer’s bathhouse, which had been temporarily assigned to the girls over recent months. “I’m finished.” Stretching her arms wide, she belly-flopped into the steaming pool.

Jumping in and letting the heat wash over her, Mhysra sighed. The hardest part was over, now the waiting began. But as she scrubbed away the sweat and laughed with her friends, she was unable to shake off the feeling that everything wasn’t quite perfect yet. Perhaps it wouldn’t be until they reached Aquila. Or until after she’d finally told her parents.

Grimacing, she shook her head and let the warmth soothe her worries away. Their exams were done. Soon they’d be real Rift Rider students. Now that was something worth celebrating.

~ Next Chapter ~

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Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 7, Part 2


(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Previous Chapter ~

New friends! And far too much exercise for a Sunday morning.

“NOT… WHAT… I… expect-ed,” Derrain puffed as they completed their laps. They were among the first to finish, though plenty had claimed to be done earlier. Except the little man with the big voice had the eyes of a hawk. The cheaters probably wished they hadn’t bothered now, Mhysra thought, watching the stragglers stump out two extra laps.

“Evil,” she gasped, bending over to catch her breath. Before this morning she’d thought herself fit. At Wrentheria she regularly ran with the fledgling miryhls, encouraging them to fly, or played chase with her cousins and the nakhounds. This was torture, with every breath stabbing frozen knives inside her chest. Even Derrain was worn out and he was used to scrambling around skyships in the middle of a storm, hauling himself up ropes and other such daring stuff.

“Still alive, though,” Derrain said as he straightened. “I feel ready for anything now.” He stretched his arms and went to fetch their coats from the pile of discarded clothing.

“Unnatural,” Mhysra grumbled, noticing some of the other girls eyeing her friend. She smiled when one walked over and introduced herself.

“I’m Corin.”

Derrain shrugged into his coat and grinned. “I’m Derrain, and she’s Mhysra.”

Mhysra straightened and nodded politely, surprised when the girl dragged her eyes away from Derrain long enough to nod back. Short and stocky, Corin was pretty when she smiled, lighting up her amber eyes. “You both did well back there. I don’t think you got barked at once.”

“All right for some.” A scrawny girl limped over, clutching her ribs. “I never moved so much in me life, and all to get back where we started. Ain’t what I was expecting. Ulla.”

“Corin,” the short girl replied, and pointed at the others. “Derrain. Mhysra. I’ve seen you around the docks.”

The scrawny girl nodded, scratching her tight brown curls. “Aye. Me da’s a gladhand.” Which was docker slang for men who turned their hand to anything to earn a coin. She nodded at Corin. “You’re merchant stock.” She looked at Derrain. “You’re off the ships.” Turning to Mhysra, she narrowed her eyes. “You’re new. Don’t know what you do, but I seen you about.”

“Impressing people again, Ulla Bright-Eyes?” asked a tall boy with a broad grin.

“Harlan,” the girl grumbled. “An’ Mouse.” This was said to the small lad in Harlan’s shadow. Whereas one boy was tall and exuded confidence, the other was small and fidgety. “Thought you said you weren’t gonna bother.”

“I needed to do something over the winter.” Harlan shrugged. He looked too fine for the Riders, with his artfully arranged curls and brightly polished boots.

While they waited for the rest of the new students to finish, they got to know each other a little. Corin and Harlan’s parents both ran moderately successful skyships, Mouse was Harlan’s cousin, fresh from the mid-Imercian country and Ulla had grown up on the docks. Being his usual charming self, Derrain quickly fitted right in. He was just explaining how he knew Mhysra when their instructor clapped his hands.

“Who wants to go home now?”

Harlan looked at his muddied boots and sighed, making the others chuckle. There were a few discontented mutters from the crowd, but no one left. The little man smiled, the expression filling Mhysra with dread.

“Good. I am Hethanon Armsmaster and your mornings belong to me now. With me you run and sweat until you break. Eventually I may let you touch a weapon. Because before you go near a miryhl with a pointy object, you must prove you can use it without maiming yourself. Understood?”

There were a couple of mutters, a few affirmative replies, but mostly subdued silence.

“So much to learn,” Hethanon said pityingly. “When I ask a question, you reply. Understood?”

“Yes,” they replied, mostly together.

“Something is missing, students,” Hethanon continued, voice stern. “When I speak, you answer, and when you do you call me sir. Understood?

“Yes, sir!”

“Better,” Hethanon said. “Now your instructors. Real Rift Riders whose time could be better spent than on you. Do not waste it, do not test their patience and do not forget that they are worthy of your respect.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Sergeants Honra and Rees,” Hethanon introduced, pointing to each. “Lieutenants Stirla and Lyrai. You address them as sir and obey at the first time of asking. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Then pay attention. You are too many, but that will change. For now I will divide you up, and you will not complain! His bark silenced the dissenters before they even began. Mhysra shot Derrain a worried glance; she hoped she was in his group.

“I will point at you and say a name. That is your group. Go stand by them.” Hethanon nodded at the Riders, who spread out. “My group wait in the middle.” He started to point, barking Stirla, Honra, mine, Lyrai or Rees, making more than one student jump. His method was swift and effective, splitting up any groups he spotted and placing any potential troublemakers under his or Sergeant Rees’ command.

“Stirla.” He pointed at Derrain, who sighed with relief.

“Honra.” He pointed at Corin.

“Mine.” Ulla.

“Lyrai.” Mouse.

“Rees.” Harlan.

He divided the group in front of Mhysra, before coming back. “Lyrai.”

Her heart sank and she trudged towards her line. The lieutenant was expressionless, despite the eight students chattering behind him. She joined Mouse, who was pitifully pleased to see her. A couple of lines over, Derrain made a sad face, though he had nothing to complain about in Stirla. It was just her luck to end up with the man she already knew didn’t like her.

When Hethanon finished, she looked at her line and suppressed a sigh. She was the only girl. Stirla and Honra had two each, Hethanon had three. There were none in Rees’ group.


Mouse smiled shyly. “Bet I’m the last person you wanted to be with, but it’ll be good, you’ll see. But if it does get bad we can always thank Heirayk we’re not stuck with Rees.”

“There’s a bright side,” she said, morosely studying the other boys in their line. Two were highborn, and showed it. Four were friends already, while the remaining two didn’t seem to know anyone. One was even smaller than Mouse. He was shaking and she doubted he would last long. The other was tall and calm, looking around curiously. Catching Mhysra’s eye, he smiled.

“All right, everyone.” Lieutenant Lyrai clapped his hands for their attention. “I’m going to teach you some exercises to build up your strength and keep you warm, then we’ll do more to improve your fitness. The Rift Riders are about more than flying pretty birdies.” He caught Mhysra’s eye, and she could have sworn there was a hint of a smile as he recalled the day she’d forced her way into the Riders. Then his gaze passed on and he was as cold as ever.

“I’m sticking with you,” Mouse whispered as Lieutenant Lyrai began pairing people off, telling them about Rider life – it wasn’t easy, they had to be fit and willing to fight, and so on. Reaching them, he pointed Mhysra to the far side of the line and positioned Mouse next to her.

Mhysra bit back a smile as Mouse groaned: he hadn’t got his wish. Standing opposite her was the lad who’d smiled earlier. Mouse was paired with the timid boy. It was obvious why the lieutenant had done it, since they were of a similar size. And twitchy temperament.

“I’m Dhori,” the lad opposite her said, as tall as she was and just as lightly built.


That was all they had time for, because the lieutenant was talking again, demonstrating stretches, jumps, pattern steps, blocks and holds, some of which required two people, hence the pairings. A quick glance around showed that everyone else was doing similar exercises. She smiled at Dhori and started counting star jumps, followed by tucks. It looked daft, but she wasn’t alone in her folly. Derrain and Ulla had had it right earlier – this wasn’t what she’d expected. Not at all.

* * * * *

THEY TRAINED UNTIL noon, then were shown the bathing chambers beneath the Rider offices. Fresh uniforms waited and, once clean and changed, they ate in the hall. Afterwards they were divided into those who were literate and those who weren’t. Since there were only twelve who couldn’t write, the remaining thirty-two were split again into two groups. This time Mhysra managed to stay with Derrain. They were joined by Harlan, Mouse, Corin and Dhori. Ulla had been one of the first to leave, being able to read a little but not write at all.

Though the students’ mornings might belong to Armsmaster Hethanon, their afternoons lay in the hands of the clerks. They would test their literacy and arithmetic as well as teaching them geography, history and languages. The lieutenants would instruct them about life in the Riders later in the term.

Mhysra tried to take in all the things being said, but she was not the only one smothering yawns after their busy morning.

“Remember we asked for this,” Derrain murmured, as they settled into a classroom.

If she’d had more energy she would have hit him.

“Now we know why there are so few Riders,” Harlan grumbled. His boots were now sadly scuffed. “Gods, I don’t think I can take this.”

“Don’t be soft,” Corin scolded. “This is a great opportunity. I’m not giving up yet, not after a paltry bit of exercise. I might change my mind when they start lecturing us on poetry, but I’m hoping they’ll skip that.”

“They save it for Aquila,” Dhori said, taking the seat next to Mhysra.

“That’s something to look forward to,” Mouse chuckled.

Corin and Mhysra groaned, “Great,” and shared a grin.

Moaning, Harlan put his head on the desk. “Wake me if anything interesting happens.”

It didn’t, and at the end of the day Mhysra waved farewell to her new friends before going to see Cumulo. He hopped down two perches to meet her.

“Well? How did it go?”

Smiling, she tickled his head. “It’ll do.” She’d made some friends and if it stayed like this everything would be fine. “I can cope.”

Tilting his head for a stroke, he sighed with relief. “Good. Tell me the same tomorrow.”

~ Next Chapter ~

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