Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 3, Part 2

rr-ch3-2

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.

Empty.

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.


To find out what happens next
Buy Rift Riders Now!

Smashwords || B&N || iBooks || Kobo
Amazon: US || UK || AUS || CAN || DE

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Writing

Rift Riders: Chapter 3, Part 1

rr-ch3-1

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.


Three
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

Rift Riders: Prologue

rr-ch00

At last, the moderate wait is over.

Rift Riders is Book 2 of the Wingborn series. This is a twice weekly serial updated every Friday and Sunday, and if you missed the first one, you can still read it for free. It’s a high fantasy world with giant, talking eagles, Regency-esque manners, a YA protagonist and lots and lots of clouds.

Book 2 starts about six months after the first one ends, with Mhysra and friends having just completed their first year at Aquila. But before we get to any of that trouble is brewing in the Wrathlen and a new world player is about to step onto the stage…

Appropriate snacks at the ready, people, we’re going in!


Prologue

Kincarg, the Wrathlen
23rd Feather Month, 787 Cloud Era

THE WIND WAS bitter as it whistled across the top of the Wrathlen and crept into the crevices. Down below all was dark, while the sky above frowned with rain clouds. Everywhere was cold, but it was always cold here, even in the middle of summer.

Out of the grey sky, six kaz-naghkt approached, leathery wings beating in time, wiry arms taut with the strain of keeping a fur-lined cocoon aloft. They struggled to hold steady as winds buffeted them from all directions, roiling off the tumultuous Stormwash. But the pouch hanging beneath them remained smooth. Even when the right rear kaz-naghkt dropped its rope and collapsed on the landing crag, the other five took the extra strain and lowered it cautiously onto the rocks before allowing themselves to rest.

Panting, bone ridges flushed with exertion, the lead pair gently unwrapped the pouch, pulling leather strings and peeling back padded layers, each one marked with a series of breathing holes. Fleece blankets came next, followed by another leather cocoon. No matter how tight the knots, or how many growls of frustration the kaz-naghkt emitted, they never once lost patience or used their sharp wing spurs to rip or sever the cords. Even shaking with cold, they treated each layer as something unimaginably precious. At last, the pouch stirred on its own and the kaz-naghkt stepped back, taking up guard positions around it.

Which was just as well, because their arrival had drawn a crowd. Wary and suspicious, the inhabitants of the Wrathlen waited at a cautious distance, weapons ready, to see what the kaz-naghkt had brought. The crowd was entirely human, wrapped up against the chill, though the quality of their garments varied from the plushest furs to the cheapest wool. No one spoke, though many shivered. They stared at the kaz-naghkt and the kaz-naghkt stared back.

The pouch shifted, leather laces hissing as they were pulled from their holes, and the blankets loosened. A hand emerged, encased in fleece gloves, followed by an arm, then a head covered with thick waves of blue-black hair. The man looked up, pale barley eyes taking in his audience as he stretched and emerged from his cocoon, the only creature on the Wrathlen not shivering.

A sly smile curved the corner of his mouth as he stood between his kaz-naghkt guards.

“Take me to your leader,” he announced, eyes narrowing with amusement. “I believe she is expecting me.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!