MHYSRA’S HEART POUNDED. Wind whipped her hair into her eyes, but she was holding on too tight to brush it back. Powerful wings surged beneath her, familiar and comforting, but there was no saddle to sit on, no reins or chest harness to grip. Only feathers; slick, beautiful, perilous feathers.
She lay flat against Cumulo’s back, heartbeat to heartbeat, and stole a glance over her shoulder. They were coming.
Shadows flickered on the walls of the canyon, stretching out to grab them, reaching, reaching. She pressed harder against Cumulo’s back, urging him on, urging him faster, begging him not to lose strength or stop.
“They’re coming!” she screamed, voice cracking with terror.
Her pursuers screamed back.
The walls of the canyon narrowed and twisted. They jinked and tilted with them, but her grip was slipping. She couldn’t hold on much longer. She was falling, she was —
“Nisha!” she screamed as silky feather slipped through her sweating fingers.
Her Wingborn dived after her, black eyes fixed on hers as she reached with scarred and bloodied fingers.
She was falling, she —
Hit something hard with her right shoulder and rolled. The black-eyed, white-splashed Cumulo shrieked above her, but had to turn aside or risk crashing himself.
“Yullik!” he screamed, his voice cracked and desperate, but higher and sharper than the rasp she knew. “Yullik!”
Mhysra rolled, tucking in as protectively as she could as sharp rocks bit at her, boulders slammed into her bones and her skin screamed with agony. Her shoulder didn’t feel right and her teeth were too tightly clenched to open. All she could smell was blood and dust and sweat and defeat.
“Yullik!” a high, distant cry, followed by ferocious shrieks.
She hit the ground, breathless and bloody, staring up through the shadows at the painfully bright sky. It was only a strip, brilliant white against the darkness that surrounded her, but she still saw them.
Miryhls fighting. A whole flock converging on one, white-splashed and ferocious.
Yullik! a desperate whisper inside her mind, through a connection that shouldn’t have been possible. Da said, Mama said, Teka said that miryhls didn’t have the capacity for psychic connections. They should know. They were dragon, human, miryhl themselves. They had a combined life experience of over eight hundred years. They should know. It wasn’t possible for mind-speech with a miryhl. It wasn’t normal.
But she wasn’t normal. Half dragon, half human, Wingborn. No one knew what she was capable of. How could they when every other child like her had been killed at birth or very soon after? She was the only survivor. The only one. And she was Wingborn.
Who knew what she could do?
Right then the only thing she could do was lie bleeding and broken in the shadows, staring up at the strip of sky where a flock of Rift Riders took down her Wingborn.
Yullik, the whisper inside her mind was full of heartbreak. I’m sorry…
Her heart hitched as the white-splashed miryhl was hit from the side. Great wings folded and Mhysra’s own chest heaved with the impact. The stunned miryhl began to fall.
The flock was ready for it, waiting for it. They unrolled a net and captured the Wingborn – and turned their attention downwards.
Hide! her Wingborn begged. Hide!
Sobbing, Mhysra did as she was told, dragging her broken fingers over the cold dirt, following the fading heat of her blood and sinking into the rock.
She shouldn’t have been able to do that either, she thought, as the canyon cracked and opened, folding her beneath its stony skin. Her father was Clan Sunlord. Her strength should have been in fire, and it was, but stone called to her too, and when her blood flowed free and unfettered, it readily answered her needs.
Crumbling earth closed in over her head and landslides shook the canyon beyond. Muffled shrieks reached her as the Riders tried and failed to follow her trail.
Thwarted, they turned back. But they already had their prize.
“Nisha,” she whispered, weak and wounded in the darkness.
Yullik, came the reply, deep inside her mind.
Mhysra reached out for her Wingborn, but the connection was stretching, getting thinner with every wing beat that carried her miryhl away. Until everything burst in a shower of golden sparks. The fire roared up from the heart of her, sweeping across her body and burning every part of her away.
GASPING, YULLIK WRENCHED himself free from the Wingborn’s dreams, and felt a trickle of wetness on his face. He reached to wipe it away with a shaking hand, expecting to see blood, expended through power and effort. The liquid was colourless and cool. Tears.
By the blood, he hadn’t cried in centuries. Not since —
No. No. He refused to think about such things, pushing himself up and staggering from the room. Just because the Wingborn had somehow tapped into his memories when he was distracted, didn’t mean he had to think about what had happened next. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.
Instead he pushed through the door and sagged against the hall wall beyond. Tipping his head back, he breathed in deeply, fingers clenched around the precious vial he held in his hand.
Blood. That was what he’d come for, that was what all of this was about. Blood. So precious, so powerful. He could do so many wondrous things with blood. That was why he’d allowed his defences to fall, that was how the Wingborn had reached into him and pulled out one of his worst memories. He’d allowed it, not even realising at first what had happened. She had been him; her Wingborn had been his.
He’d almost stopped it. Wanted to. But the blood was too important, and he’d waited too long already to claim it. He’d let her dream his memories, let her fall and break and watch in paralysed helplessness as the heart of her was stolen away by those who should have cherished it, her, them. He let her inside one of his deepest secrets, but he hadn’t let her know the truth. Not all of it. Not the end. Not the beginning.
“Nisha,” he whispered, rubbing the ancient ache that hollowed out his chest. He felt no comfort, only the hard shape of the vial.
He looked down. Blood, deep red and potent. He smiled.
Comfort was worthless, but a distraction – now that was more precious than all the gold in the world. Gripping the vial firmly in his hand, he crushed him memories back into the darkness where they belonged and strode down the hall.
His workroom was waiting, as were his kaz-naghkt. They’d done a good job so far of breeding fresh soldiers for him, now it was time to strengthen them.
~ Next Chapter ~