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~ Previous Chapter ~
We’re still in the same scene as before, but a new perspective has arrived…
~ Previous Chapter ~
Story time! (Also known as a history lesson. I wish Myran had taught me.)
AFTER EVERYONE HAD completed the course, Lyrai made them fly laps while he conferred with Honra. Mhysra and her friends eyed them warily, wondering what they were up to, but the bell sounded before any nasty surprises could be sprung. Dismissing them to the eyries, the lieutenant warned that he’d see them again the next afternoon.
“We have to fly every day?” Mouse groaned, when they reached the eyries for their first lesson in miryhl care, thanks to the eyrie attendants.
“Every day,” Corin agreed with far more enthusiasm, but then she hadn’t fallen off.
“You’ll get used to it,” Mhysra promised. “Once your body adjusts.”
“I’m not sure my body was built for those kind of adjustments,” Derrain grumbled, wincing as he straightened his breeches. “I’m too old for these fun and games.”
“Positively ancient,” Dhori agreed, the oldest amongst them. “But what’s the point of joining the Riders if you don’t fly every day?”
“Precisely,” Mhysra agreed, kissing Cumulo’s beak and taking his harness to the tack room to show the attendants that she did indeed know what she was doing.
It was a sorrowful bunch who winced, limped and groaned their way through the citadel a little while later, when the bell summoned them to another lesson. Guided by an attendant, they headed up the mountain terraces of the western citadel, where all the classrooms, libraries and study rooms were. Three steep staircases later, they dragged themselves across a courtyard flooded with autumn sunlight and in through an open door.
The other half of Myran’s students already occupied the back of the room, while the captain waited at the front. The new arrivals were too desperate for rest to care where they sat. By the time they settled in the sunlit room, Mhysra found herself beside a stranger. She only had time to smile at the red-headed boy before Captain Myran stood up.
“Good morning, students.”
“Good morning, captain,” they chorused, proving that they learned fast.
He limped around his desk to lean against the front, smiling faintly. “Are you enjoying your first day? I trust my lieutenants are treating you well.”
The half that had been in survival studies with Stirla nodded, while the rest groaned.
The captain chuckled. “Those of you feeling the effects of your first flying lesson be comforted that your fellows will feel exactly the same by day’s end.” Half the class perked up, while the other grew alarmed. “But that’s for later. Now you’re with me. After yesterday I hope you all know who I am, but in any case I am Captain Myran Mylanri, from a little known province in the Lowlands. I’ve been a Rift Rider for more years than I care to remember, twelve of those as captain. And to get it out of the way, yes, I have a limp. It was gained on active service, some ten years gone. No, it does not impair my abilities as a Rider.
“And yes,” he added, noticing Mouse squirming in his seat, “it was a gift from the kaz-naghkt. I hope that sates your curiosity, but if not I will allow you time at the end of the lesson to ask questions. For now, we have other things to discuss.” Reaching across his desk, he turned over the sand timer. “While at Aquila I am not only your captain, but your teacher too. I will instruct you on the finer details of history – general and military, alternating the subjects on different days. We begin with military, specifically the Rift Riders.
“Can anyone tell me how the Riders began?”
There was a long pause. They all knew how the Riders began, everyone did, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be the first to speak up.
Dhori smiled. “Maegla made us, sir.”
Captain Myran motioned for him to stand. “Dhoriaen, isn’t it? From Nimbys?”
“I prefer Dhori, sir.”
“My lieutenants have told me about you, Dhori. Please continue.”
Dhori twitched his shoulders and took a deep breath. “The people of the Overworld were dying. The coming of the clouds had changed life beyond all recognition. There was a risk that humans would die out. A deserved punishment some said, but Maegla intervened. She spoke with the dragons and together they created the first miryhl. The dragons made other winged creatures, but the miryhl was the only one in which the Goddess played a role. As such they are precious to Her. With bullwings, pyreflies, horsats and doelyns to act as beasts of burden, Maegla wanted something more for Her miryhls.
“And so She created the Rift Riders. Protectors and guardians of the Overworld. They would ensure that humans did not repeat the foolish mistakes that had created the cloud curse in the first place. Above all they would be Hers. Forerunners of the storm, swearing oaths of allegiance, honour and servitude to Her above all others. They would dedicate their lives to defending the helpless.”
Captain Myran smiled as Dhori sat down. “Thank you, Dhori, a most comprehensive answer, and one I hear rarely. Yes?” he asked, as another student raised her hand.
“I heard that the kings of the Overworld created the Rift Riders.”
“Stand up please,” Myran urged the girl. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Lerya sa Nanya, sir, from Scudia, sir.”
“Please continue, Lerya.”
“Well, when the clouds came the humans struggled to survive. When things got desperate they sent to the gods for help. That’s where the miryhls came from, and pyreflies, horsats and so on.” She nodded at Dhori. “But wars were fought for control of these creatures, pitching mountain against mountain, range against range, all vying to own these marvellous beasts. Things became desperate, people were dying and the dragons refused to breed more winged animals, so the kings came together in a grand treaty.
“The Rift Riders were created to oversee the Overworld, owing allegiance to all, but to no single nation. Maegla became the patroness because of Her role in the creation of the miryhls. So I heard.”
“Thank you, Lerya.” Captain Myran motioned for her to sit. “So we have two versions – one concerning Maegla, the other unnamed kings from long ago. Has anyone else heard differently?”
He smiled as hands went up all over the room. As each of them were given a chance to speak, Mhysra’s head began to pound. There seemed to be a different story for each region and three versions from Imercian alone. They varied between the people asking for help – or kings, or war chiefs, or religious leaders – to a lone hero venturing into the Dragonlands to steal the secret of the miryhls from their closely guarded nests.
The debate grew heated, students rushed to defend their version from the encroachments of others. Ancient rivalries and grudges between ranges were stirred up; those from Imercian ganged up against those of Etheria; Lansbrig residents sneered at the Mistrunans; the Sutheralli dismissed everyone. Even Mhysra grew annoyed as her Lowland version was dismissed by some of the Storm Peak students. Voices rose, insults flew and the lesson teetered on the brink of chaos.
Until Captain Myran lifted his hand and said, “Enough.” He didn’t raise his voice, but the room still fell silent anyway. Red-faced students sat down, waiting to be chastised.
Settling back against his desk, Captain Myran smiled wryly. “I believe a point has just been proved. I’d ask if anyone could tell me what, but I fear what I might get.” The students chuckled and his smile warmed. “So you all know how the Rift Riders began. Unfortunately you don’t all believe the same story.
“But that’s all right,” he added, when several students cringed. “The Riders began around seven-hundred years ago, when writing things down was not a priority. There are few accounts from those days and they rarely deal with the formation of anything, let alone the Riders. But that’s our history, trying to piece together what happened from the slightest of evidence. Even those sources we do have contradict each other, depending on where they originate.
“My point is, we don’t know how the Riders started, but we do know why. And that why is as relevant today as it was then. To protect. The Rift Riders are far from perfect and there are parts of our history we would all rather forget, but our purpose has never changed. We guard the Overworld and our people from all the threats we face. In days past the enemy wasn’t always clear, but over this last century things have changed. The Overworld is always changing, but the coming of the kaz-naghkt is a change that united us.
“I won’t ask about the origins of the kaz-naghkt,” he warned, before anyone could start. “That’s an even thornier issue than the origins of the Riders. I just wanted to show you that history isn’t perfect. It’s as accurate as we can make it, but our sources are limited and often suspect in provenance. Yet we can learn much from piecing together what we have, and give ourselves a chance to fill in the large gaps of which we know nothing.
“That is what you will learn from me. So, let’s start with something about which there is no doubt. The founding and building of Aquila. Corin,” he beckoned her from the front row, “please hand out this paper. There are quills and ink inside the desks. You’ll be taking notes every lesson, which I hope you will supplement with further reading in your spare time. Notes are important, since they help record what I tell you and also enable you to complete your study work.” He smiled as grumbles rippled through the room, while Corin scurried about.
Silence resumed as the thirty-seven students settled down, quills inked and poised, waiting for him to begin.
Captain Myran smiled. “The year was two-hundred-and-eighteen of the Cloud Era, and the Overworld was in turmoil. Carrayne of Cirrica, head of the Rift Riders, had been assassinated. The Riders were thrown into confusion and the world watched, waiting to see where the feathers would fall. But as the elections for a new leader grew closer, there was increasing pressure from outsiders for the Riders to choose this candidate, or that, who would favour one kingdom over another.
“Out of this chaos rose a young woman, Jhydera, who claimed the allegiance of no land. She spoke of an independent Rift Riders, with no patron or politics, who protected all and favoured none. But where could such a force live? Where on the Overworld could they exist, without risking favouring one over another?
“And so the search for the Riders home began…”
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
Party time! Bring on the captains!
AFTER CHOOSING MOUSE a placid male named Onyx, Mhysra turned her attention to Corin, finding her a female whose mottled feathers would make an ideal scout. Then others asked for help and the rest of the day vanished. Only Dhori had chosen by himself, and Mhysra had been impressed by the slender silvery Latinym.
It had been a good day, and she’d thoroughly enjoyed herself, but was relieved when she could finally leave. Not that she expected much rest, since her aunt and cousins were staying at Kilpapan House. After a short bath, Mhysra left her room to find things were even worse: her parents were entertaining. Lady Kilpapan had arrived from Wrentheria with the rest of the family and their eagles that morning, and since so many members of the miryhl-breeding community were in the city, she couldn’t resist bringing them all together. Life was business, as she frequently reminded her children.
Milluqua greeted Mhysra at the bottom of the stairs and they shared a grimace. “I’m sorry. I wanted to warn you, but mother roped me into organising.”
“Wonderful,” Mhysra sighed, clicking her fingers to call Bumble down from where she was tugging on the ribbons strewn across the chandelier. The still-growing pup huffed and fluttered down from the ceiling, wings drooping.
“Poor girl,” Milluqua chuckled, scratching the nakhound behind the ears. “We’ve had to shut her in your room most of the day.”
“I thought things in there were a little more haphazard than usual,” Mhysra said, smiling at her sister and the puppy. She’d half-hoped that the dog would transfer her affections to Milluqua, since they spent so much time together. Unfortunately, even though Bumble liked Milluqua, she still preferred Mhysra. Gods alone knew why, since she didn’t even feed the creature. “There’s no accounting for taste.” She patted Bumble and ruffled her wings, avoiding an enthusiastic lick.
“Aunt Mhylla will want to see her,” Milluqua said, entering the ballroom, where a buffet had been laid out to tide people over until supper. “At least you’ll have people to talk to tonight.”
Mhysra hummed in agreement, filling a plate with delicacies and slipping a slice of chicken to Bumble. It would be nice to enjoy one of her parents’ parties for once. Usually they were full of nobles and merchants who thought too highly of themselves to waste time on the hoyden daughter. Unless they were younger sons ordered to court the wild Kilpapan chit, for her connections and impressive dowry. Mhysra hated the false smiles, feigned interest and lack of conversation. She had nothing in common with those people. Thankfully, tonight would be different, and she planned to make the most of it.
“Oh, there’s Derry. I told mother to invite him. Can I leave you with him? There were supposed to be three plates of berry tarts, but I can only see two.” Still muttering, Milluqua smiled at Derrain and hurried off in a swirl of silk.
“You’re a fool,” Mhysra said, handing him a plate. “Brave, but ultimately foolish.”
He chuckled and picked up a chicken leg. “I thought you could use the company, and it would have been rude to refuse. Your mother’s never invited me inside before.”
“Maybe she’s proud of you.” Mhysra shrugged as they worked their way along the table, before taking their plates to sit out of the way. They were soon joined by her cousins, self-consciously balancing plates on their knees. Thanks to Milluqua’s attentive refilling of their wineglasses, though, everyone relaxed as the night progressed.
To Mhysra’s surprise, more than one Rider attended. Even Lieutenant Lyrai made an appearance. Mhysra thought that was brave after the speculations at the Midsummer ball, although now her mother’s egalitarian guest list began to make sense. Captain Myran, Lieutenants Stirla, Fleik and Imaino, Sergeants Honra and Rees also came, the latter not staying long, for which everyone was thankful.
In time a string quartet played for dancing and the addition of the Riders livened things up considerably. Laughing her way through the spirited supper dance with Lieutenant Stirla, Mhysra couldn’t remember when she’d last had so much fun at her parents’ house. If society affairs were more like this, she could almost reconcile herself to the life her parents demanded.
As Stirla led her off the floor, her hand was snatched up and gallantly kissed. “Lady Mhysra! You look radiant tonight.”
Breathless from the dance, she smiled at the handsome face. “Captain Torven! What a delightful surprise.”
“The generosity of Nimbys is famous, my lady.” He winked. “As are your family.”
Her smile faded as her parents and Milluqua approached, gathering their guests for supper.
Lady Kilpapan returned Torven’s bow with a polite nod. “I had no idea you were acquainted with my daughter, captain.”
“A recent pleasure,” he explained. “We encountered one another flying into Nimbys two days ago. My ship was honoured by the presence of so beautiful a Rift Rider.” He smiled flirtatiously and didn’t see her wince.
Nor did he seem to notice when Lord Kilpapan gripped her arm, preventing her from slipping away.
“Rift Rider?” Lady Kilpapan laughed smoothly. “My daughter is not a Rift Rider.”
Oblivious to the tension, the captain waved a dismissive hand. “Student, Rider, it’s all the same thing. Such a flyer and such a miryhl. The Riders are blessed to have her.”
“A noble sentiment,” Lord Kilpapan ground out between clenched teeth.
“We are lucky to have such a Wingborn,” a new voice agreed, and Mhysra blinked as Captain Myran joined their conversation. The presence of Lyrai and Stirla beside him explained everything, and she shut her eyes, dreading that her father would express his contempt. She’d never spoken to the captain before, but had heard so much about the near-legendary man, so to make his acquaintance under such circumstances mortified her. Staring at the floor, she waited for the storm to break.
“Women have no place in the Rift Riders,” Lord Kilpapan growled.
“In times such as these, my lord, there is a place in the Riders for any brave enough to try,” Myran corrected. “As Wingborn your daughter is a precious gift that should not be wasted.”
Her father’s hand tightened painfully and Mhysra locked her jaw to stifle a yelp.
“Sir,” Stirla murmured, and it was the earl’s turn to hide his pain as she was abruptly freed.
“There is no need for this, my lord,” Lieutenant Lyrai said softly, removing his hand from the earl. “You should be proud to have such a daughter.”
“Proud?” Lord Kilpapan spat, rubbing his wrist. “How can I be proud of -”
“Our youngest has always been wilful,” the countess interrupted with a flat laugh. “So we permit her follies in the hope that she will grow out of them. Is this not so, Mhysra?”
She forced herself to meet her mother’s cold eyes, aware that the entire room was watching them. This was not how she’d wanted to tell her parents, but as her arm throbbed and Milluqua’s hand slipped into hers with a squeeze of support, she realised the truth was already out.
“I know my duty,” she replied, licking her dry lips. “It is only right that I see it done.”
“Duty,” snarled her father, but his wife silenced him with a hand on his arm.
“Indeed,” Lady Kilpapan replied, her words clipped. “I am sure Aquila will welcome you with open arms as you do your duty. No Kilpapan has ever turned aside from what is right.”
“A fine sentiment,” Captain Myran murmured. “You have much to be proud of in your daughter, my lady. Both your daughters.” He nodded at Milluqua.
“Indeed,” the countess repeated, her smile not reaching her eyes. “The pride we take in our daughters is exactly what they deserve. I believe supper is being served.” She turned her husband away and led the guests into the dining room. Most departed slowly, glancing back at the tense group.
“Gods,” Mhysra whispered, shivering in her sister’s embrace. “Oh, Gods, they’ll kill me.”
“My lady.” Captain Torven touched her shoulder hesitantly. “Forgive me, I meant no harm. I thought they would be proud.”
“As they should be,” rumbled Captain Myran. “As any parent should be. There is no higher honour for a family than to have a child serve in the Rift Riders.”
“Our brother is already a Rider,” Milluqua explained, rubbing Mhysra’s back. “My father believes his service is sufficient for the family honour.”
“But your sister is Wingborn.” Myran turned to his lieutenants in confusion, perhaps seeking confirmation.
“My niece is Wingborn, but my sister is foolish,” Mhylla confirmed, emerging from the crowd to take Mhysra from Milluqua and hug her hard. “I’m sorry it came to this, sweet, but it’s better they know.”
“I didn’t want them to find out like this,” Mhysra murmured. “Not so publicly. They’ll never forgive me.”
“So dramatic, cuz?” Mherrin sounded amused. “Is that what they’ve been teaching you? High drama and tragedy? Just the thing for the Riders.”
She snuffled a laugh. “You pyrefliers are all savages. I wasn’t meaning to be dramatic.”
“If they cast you off, love, come to me,” her aunt said, taking her chin firmly in hand and forcing her to meet her eyes. “Wrentheria will always be your home.”
Mhysra bit her lip as her eyes filled with tears of gratitude. “Thank you,” she croaked, and turned to Captain Myran, dipping an awkward curtsey. “And thank you, sir, for defending me. Especially as we’ve never met. I’m more grateful than I can say.”
“And I, sir,” Milluqua agreed, echoed by her aunt and cousins.
Embarrassed, the captain waved a dismissive hand. “You may thank my lieutenants, since they provided me with all the pertinent details. And while we may not have met, Lady Mhysra, I have heard much about you. How could I not, with the stir you’ve caused? A female Wingborn. A miryhl the envy of all my Riders. A daughter of a noble house who has no need to join us in these troubled times, yet chooses to anyway. One who spends the entire Choice helping her friends pick out their miryhls. Oh yes, child, I have heard of you.”
She blushed. “You are too kind, sir.”
He smiled and patted her shoulder. “I’m never kind for the sake of kindness, Lady Mhysra. You’re one of my Riders now. Chin up, student, you’re family.” As a tear trailed down her cheek, he offered his handkerchief and his arm. “I believe supper is being served. Shall we?”
“I’d be honoured.” Smiling, she wiped her face and walked into the dining room with her head held high.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
~ Previous Chapter ~
We’re halfway! And to celebrate, Lyrai’s getting a present. All brace for the Hurricane.
LYRAI WAS IN LOVE. It was quite possibly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Not to mention the most frustrating. The last of the Storm Peak miryhls refused to enter the temporary eyries and, as part of that refusal, would not be caught. A brute of a bird, the eagle was almost as tall as Cumulo but wider across the chest. It looked powerful and fierce, hissing at anyone who came too close.
Riders made loops out of their ropes and tried to restrain it, but the miryhl was too quick. Surprisingly nimble, it skipped out of reach, catching the loop in its beak, before tossing it contemptuously back.
Lyrai smiled at its antics, seduced by the big creature’s grace. It was an unusual colour: deep brown and pale cream mottled in an extraordinary mixture. A marble miryhl. He’d heard of them and always thought they sounded ugly. Standing before such a magnificent specimen now, though, he could see only beauty.
The miryhl’s face was the shade of sun-warmed pine, with dark circles around golden eyes. The crown of its head was the same darkness, continuing in a broad stripe down its neck and across its back, running in bars along its wings. The feathers on the underside of its body and chest were marbled from white to a brown so dark it was almost black. The wings were cream and biscuit between the dark bars, running into brown at the tips. Delicate flecks of caramel, gold and black dotted its feathers, like sparkles and secrets.
Lyrai was infatuated. There was no doubt in his mind which miryhl he would choose come the Choice, but only if the Riders didn’t drive it off first with their ineptitude.
Stirla whistled beside him. “I’ve not been so impressed since I first saw Cumulo.”
Lyrai snorted. “As that was barely a half-year ago, forgive me for not swooning.”
“Ah, but before that,” Stirla said airily, “the last time I was this impressed was by Atyrn. Not that either’s a patch on my girl, of course. Cumulo thinks he’s too smart and this one’s a brute.”
They both studied the brute in question as it ducked a loop, only to be snared by one thrown from behind. The miryhl wheeled sharply, wrenching the rope from the Rider’s hand. The eagle shrieked and snapped at all within reach, stamping on the rope and worrying at it with its beak, but only managed to tighten the knot.
“That’s not good,” Stirla murmured, wincing at the miryhl’s scream. Catching a second rope, the bird yanked the offending Rider off his feet. Only a quick grab from his friends prevented the man from being dragged within the miryhl’s reach. “You might want to intervene.”
“Fools!” Lyrai snapped as the miryhl tangled its feet in the rope. “They’ll kill it before we even get to the Choice.”
“Which is where you come in,” Stirla said. “Off you go. Pull on your captain boots and prove your mettle, or whatever it is we’re supposed to be learning around here.”
Lyrai eyed him sourly, but didn’t even bother asking why his friend didn’t do something himself. Some things were not worth the bother of putting into words. Besides this was his miryhl – it was up to him to save it.
The eagle lunged again, tripping and splaying its gorgeous wings. The Riders pounced, eager to secure it while it was preoccupied. The miryhl panicked, trying to regain its tangled feet and flapping its wings to keep the intruders at bay. More than one flight feather was damaged as they were flailed against the ground.
Sergeant Rees stamped on the miryhl’s wing to hold it down while he attempted to put a rope around the bird. Rolling to the side, the miryhl slashed out with its feet, knocking Rees over and very nearly slicing him from neck to navel.
“Enough!” Lyrai roared, deciding it had gone too far. “Stand down! I order you to stop!”
Rees struggled to his feet and found himself facing a furious miryhl, while four Riders roped its wings. They tightened their grip as the miryhl struck, barely missing the sergeant.
The eagle screamed, strained and freed a wing, beating it frantically and damaging more precious feathers on the sun-baked ground.
“Stand down!” Lyrai shouted. “I said stand down! All of you!”
By now six Riders clung to the ropes on the miryhl’s left, while another three had managed to loop its neck, but at Lyrai’s bellow they reluctantly let go. Even Rees rolled clear in the face of Lyrai’s rage.
“Back away from the miryhl,” he commanded, keeping his voice low, trying not to distress the bird any further.
“You heard the lieutenant,” said an unexpected but much welcomed voice. Captain Myran had arrived. “Timpkins, throw that rope and I will tie you up personally and present you to this miryhl for breakfast.”
Rider Timpkins dropped the rope as though it burned, and the circle of men shifted back another six paces. Everyone waited, looking between the miryhl and the man behind Lyrai.
A broad hand squeezed his shoulder approvingly. “Proceed, lieutenant.”
Not taking his eyes from the panicked bird, Lyrai lowered his chin in a grateful nod. “Thank you, sir. Forgive me for not saluting.”
Captain Myran chuckled. “Formalities are taken as done, lieutenant. Now soothe that miryhl.”
Lyrai nodded again and took a tentative step forward. The miryhl hissed and Lyrai sank down, resting his weight on his haunches. “All right, my beauty,” he crooned. “Steady now.”
The miryhl cautiously folded its unbound wing, though it kept an alert eye on Lyrai’s creeping progress. When he got too close the eagle growled, flexing its free foot.
“Steady,” Lyrai murmured. “You’re in a tangle and need my help. I won’t hurt you, my fine one.” Keeping his voice soft, he continued praising the miryhl and creeping closer until he was within half a pace of the sharp talons. The eagle scraped the ground but didn’t strike.
“Good, that’s good,” he praised, reaching for the tangled rope. The miryhl flinched, as did Lyrai, and both froze. They sighed in unison when neither struck and Lyrai slid his knife from his boot, careful to let the eagle see what he was doing at all times. “We’ll soon have you free, friend.” Reaching for the ropes, he sliced through a third of the thickly woven width before the miryhl jerked.
“All right,” Lyrai crooned. “Think you can handle it now?”
Watching Lyrai warily, the miryhl stretched out. With a crack of that deadly beak, it snapped the rope.
“Good,” Lyrai whispered, pulling the bindings free and taking care not to touch the miryhl before it was ready. “There.” Tugging the last of the rope away, Lyrai hopped back as the bird rolled to its feet, but when it found its left wing still tied it shrieked in outrage.
Until now the Riders have been mercifully silent, but as one onlooker shouted the obvious the miryhl remembered it wasn’t alone and lunged for the nearest target.
Swallowing hard, Lyrai dropped to his knees, keeping his hands low and his head bowed. A puff of air caressed his cheek as the bird’s beak passed but didn’t make contact. Not daring to move, hardly daring to breathe, Lyrai waited, watching the shadow on the grass as the miryhl loomed over him.
Warm breath separated his hair, then touched his forehead, nose and chin, before a smooth beak rested against his cheek and chest. Lyrai barely had time to look up before he was flat on his back, the wind knocked from him by a hard shove.
Deep brown eyes glinted as the miryhl arched its neck and put them beak-to-nose. “Untie me,” it rasped, and though its voice was hoarse from its screams it was also clearly male.
Lyrai blinked, stunned at being spoken to so causally. He nodded. “Let me up first.”
Huffing, the miryhl moved back a pace, allowing Lyrai to roll to his feet and snatch up his knife. In the end he didn’t need it, the noose slackened beneath his fingers and the eagle was free. The big male swung his head to meet Lyrai’s gaze, nodded in thanks and launched, broad wings opening with a crack.
“Wait!” Lyrai called. Buffeted by the downdraft as the miryhl flew into the gathering dusk, he could only watch with envy as the bird powered away. Lyrai wanted this miryhl; no other would do.
“Congratulations, lieutenant.” Captain Myran watched the glorious eagle swirl around the mountainside. “You handled that admirably. I assume you have no need to wait for the Choice?”
Lyrai barely heard the praise – a rare honour from his captain that at any other time would have filled him with pleasure. “He spoke.”
“I noticed.” Myran sounded amused. “Perhaps when he returns you should take him to the Rider eyries. I don’t think he liked the look of the other one.”
“He spoke to me,” Lyrai repeated, not paying attention. “Without a ceremony or a temporary bond. Or anything.”
“I want him. If he doesn’t come back, I’ll look for him.”
Captain Myran patted him on the shoulder. “He’ll be back.” When Lyrai still didn’t look at him, the captain turned away. “Come on, Stirla, let’s see how the other new arrivals are faring. Your fellow lieutenant’s a little preoccupied.”
Preoccupied was not how Lyrai would have put it, more like ensnared. It was as though by releasing the miryhl from the ropes, he’d entangled himself. For the briefest moment it had felt glorious. When the miryhl loomed over him, capable of killing with one blow, he hadn’t felt afraid. His heart had pounded, but not with panic, and when he spoke Lyrai felt as though Maegla Herself had smiled on him.
Now all he felt was anxious. What would he do if he didn’t come back? There wasn’t another miryhl on the entire Overworld that could compare. It was this one or none.
“You have to come back,” he whispered to the empty field. “You have to.”
So he waited, while everyone else got on with their lives in the warm summer evening. Kneeling like a supplicant before the gods, Lyrai remained on the flying field. The first stars opened their eyes above him and the moon climbed over the Cloud Sea. Oblivious to the passing time and growing numbness in his legs, all Lyrai could do was watch the spot where he’d last seen the miryhl.
A cool wind drifted over the grass, raising goosebumps on his skin, but he ignored it.
Until a soft voice murmured, “Still here?”
Not daring to look over his shoulder, Lyrai swallowed. “Yes.”
“Have you nowhere better to be?”
At the hint of amusement, Lyrai turned. A hiss of pain escaped as the blood flowed back into his legs and he flinched when the miryhl lowered his beak to rub them.
“I was waiting for you,” Lyrai said, when he felt able to speak. “I wasn’t sure you’d return.”
The miryhl straightened and tilted his head. “In some things we have no choice.”
Unsure how to take that, Lyrai attempted to stand instead. He had to do it in stages on his reawakened legs but, with a little help from the eagle, he finally stood on his own.
Rumbling with concern, the miryhl nuzzled him. “You must not wait again. I don’t like it.”
Smiling, Lyrai carefully stroked the feathers on the eagle’s head, relaxing when they rose and the bird purred his enjoyment. “I hope I’ll never need to.”
They fell silent as Lyrai tickled the miryhl’s head, uncertain how to proceed. This was new for him and he was at a loss over what to do.
“Must I sleep there?” the miryhl asked, nodding at the rickety structure built for the Choice.
He chuckled. “No.”
“Good.” The eagle sighed with relief and preened Lyrai’s hair. “It does not look safe.”
“It’s well enough,” Lyrai promised, enjoying the attention. “For a few days.”
The miryhl huffed, unconvinced, and bowed his head. “I am Hurricane.”
“Lyrai. Lieutenant Lyrai Henstrati Henrykran.”
And that was all they needed. Without another word, Lyrai showed his new miryhl to the Rider eyries and wondered whatever happened to ceremony and ritual, and whether they truly meant anything after all. It certainly felt better this way.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!
Welcome along to the start of Wingborn, Book 1 of the Overworld series.
It’s a high fantasy world with giant, talking eagles, Regency-esque manners, a YA protagonist and lots and lots of clouds.
But you won’t see any of that in this short prologue. Instead meet Lyrai, a young Rift Rider Lieutenant experiencing a real taste of the Overworld’s troubles for the first time.
Feather Frost, Etheria, the Greater West
32nd Cold, 784 Cloud Era
There was no blood.
A hint of smoke lingered in the air, more imagined than real, and charcoal crunched beneath Lyrai’s boots as he entered the remains of the base. Mist twisted and crept across the ground, drifting on gentle breezes that were so at odds with the season. A blanket of snow had fallen overnight, but the damage was too great to be hidden.
Feather Frost was dead.
Once it had been the pride of Etheria; a defensive bastion that protected trade and lives right in the shadow of the Worlds End mountains. From a humble military camp to an impressive citadel, it had been home to over five hundred Rift Riders, half of the Greater West’s entire force. Feather Frost was both the heart and the frontline of the war against the kaz-naghkt.
Nothing remained, neither feather nor bone. All was ashes. The ground was snow-locked, the buildings burnt, the reek of death long faded away. There was no blood. How could almost seven hundred men – the barrack staff, attendants, Riders and all their miryhl eagle mounts – simply vanish? No one had escaped. This attack could have been as much as a month old, leaving plenty of time for survivors to have reached safety and sent out word. It was only due to a returning circuit messenger that anyone had discovered the attack at all.
“How could this happen?” Stirla joined Lyrai on the take-off platform, which commanded a complete overview of the destruction.
Unable to speak, Lyrai shook his head. Flying sweeps with their captain out of Kaskad they had been the closest Riders when the news broke. Not that anything in the hysterical messenger’s report had prepared them for this. Nothing could have prepared them for this.
“Lieutenant Stirla, take your flurry down and see if there’s anything to salvage.” Captain Myran emerged from the mists, limping up the slope. “Fleik’s waiting for you. Lieutenant Lyrai, divide your Riders. Send half with Stirla, the rest remain with you. Find shelter and get a fire going. We’re going to need it.”
Both men saluted, and Stirla and his Riders were soon picking their way across the frozen remains. Numb from both cold and shock, Lyrai watched them go, his captain by his side. The wind picked up, scattering snow over their boots.
Freshly graduated from Aquila, the silver stitching still bright on his stripes, Lyrai wasn’t sure that there were any words for this, except: “There’s no blood.”
Myran rested a hand on his youngest lieutenant’s shoulder. “Shelter, Lyrai. Fire and food. There’s plenty in life that we can’t change, so let’s focus on the small things we can. Look to your men, lieutenant.” With a nod of dismissal, he called for his miryhl and Lieutenant Imaino’s flurry.
Left alone, Lyrai watched his fellow Riders searching through the wreckage, while others took to the skies. A fierce wind howled over the ridge, wiping the platform momentarily clean.
Blood. Mostly hidden by the scorched wood and stone beneath but there nonetheless. Hunkering down, Lyrai chipped at the ice with his knife and at last found evidence of struggle and slaughter.
He rested his palm over the stain. “Be at peace in the halls of Typhaestus, brothers. Rest well. We shall avenge you.”
Shivering beneath a fresh gust of wind, he straightened up and called for his Riders. It was time to seek shelter beneath an ever-darkening sky.
Overhead, it began to snow.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!