IF SOMETHING DIDN’T change soon, Mhysra was certain she was going to lose her mind.
“If Captain Huro’s aim is to drill us until our wings fall off, he is succeeding admirably,” Cumulo groaned, aforementioned wings slumping as Mhysra preened through his feathers and dug her fingertips into the muscles around the main joint. “Oh, gods, there. That’s it. Right there.”
Mhysra’s lips twitched and she added a little more pressure, her miryhl all but collapsing on top of her with relief.
“I don’t think it’s your wings he’s trying to destroy,” Derrain said, from beneath the pile of feathers that was usually known as his own miryhl Zephyr. “I think it’s all of our brains.”
“I never thought I could grow bored of flying,” Corin agreed. “But the good captain is doing a fine job of changing my mind.”
Miryhls and students all grumbled their agreement. After returning to Nimbys with dragons in tow, ready to set out immediately for Aquila and reclaim their home, Mhysra certainly hadn’t expected to still be waiting around a month and a half later.
“I wish we could do something,” she complained, moving from Cumulo’s wings to massage the huge muscles across the front of his chest, which were all tight and knotted from day after day of slow, controlled flying that did nothing but shorten everyone’s temper. If the drills served a purpose beyond keeping the students and youngest Riders busy, Mhysra still wouldn’t have enjoyed it but she would have seen the point. Except there was no point to the drills. It didn’t improve flight craft and it served absolutely no purpose when it came to a real fight – as the Battle of Aquila had shown. The Rift Riders might train as a collective group, but when violence exploded, it was only possible to keep track of a small number of people while also trying to save your own hide.
Which was an interesting thought.
“We should form a battle squad.”
The perplexed silence that followed made Mhysra realise she’d spoken out loud.
“A what?” Corin, as usual, was the one to voice everyone else’s thoughts. “What’s a battle squad?”
Face burning, Mhysra tried to hide against Cumulo’s chest, but her miryhl nudged her away and fixed her with a curious golden gaze. “What’s on your mind, chickling?”
“Um…” She shot a wary glance around, relieved to see that only her closest friends were within hearing distance. “Just an idea. Nothing much. I was thinking out loud.”
“Think some more,” Dhori urged, stroking a hand down his miryhl’s neck. Silver-frosted Latinym stretched under the caress and nuzzled his Rider. “It sounded interesting.”
“More interesting than anything else around here of late,” Corin agreed, ducking under Wisp’s neck so she could see better. The small miryhl rested her head on her Rider’s shoulder, seeming every bit as curious as the rest.
Mhysra shuffled her feet and leant against Cumulo for support. “I was thinking about the drills and how ineffective they are when it comes to fighting.”
“Too slow,” Corin agreed, rolling her eyes – which was understandable since she and Wisp were fast and nippy and not at all suited to parade squares.
“Too cumbersome,” Cumulo grumbled. “He treats us like we’re dumb horsats unable to think for ourselves.”
“And too many,” Mhysra said, nodding at both of the previous points. “That’s my real problem with it all. We’re wasting our time. When the kaz-naghkt attacked Nimbys, how long did it take before we abandoned our drill training?”
“Some of us managed a whole hundred yards,” Dhori answered dryly.
“Unlike others, who didn’t bother with any of it at all.” Corin shot Mhysra and Cumulo a pointed look. “But Wingborn can get away with that sort of thing, the rest of us can’t.”
“Ha!” Cumulo snorted. “Then it must have been another pair I saw racing away up the valley in search of the dragons when they should have been flying down it in formation.”
“Dhori took my place,” Corin protested. “He’s the one who sent me for help.”
“Because he knew where your strengths lay – speed, not sword work,” Mhysra said quickly, before any more bickering could break out. “Like we all do, because we’re friends, know each other well and voluntarily train together even when not told to. We look out for each other, even in the thick of battle. We’re a squad.”
“A battle squad,” Derrain echoed thoughtfully. “Small enough that we can look out for each other even while fighting, but still large enough to team up and cause more damage where necessary.”
The deep voice had Mhysra looking up, startled to find that she’d drawn more of a crowd than just her closest friends. In fact, as she peered up through the gloom, she soon realised all the perches above her were filled with miryhls. Including Atyrn, Lieutenant Stirla’s miryhl, directly above her head.
“I like it,” the huge female said, setting off a flurry of whispers amongst the miryhls who hadn’t spent much time with Cumulo or Hurricane and thus were unused to seeing one of their own speak freely to a human they weren’t bonded to. Poor innocents.
“Of course.” Cumulo fluffed up his chest proudly. “My Wingborn is full of excellent ideas.”
“Needs work,” another large female, Captain Myran’s Breeze, spoke up, much to Mhysra’s surprise. It was the first time she’d heard her speak. “It has merit, but we already have the flurries.”
“Twenty five is good for forming friendships and loyalties under a lieutenant,” Latinym spoke up, again surprising Mhysra since he was another miryhl who tended to be quiet and stay in the background, letting his Rider do all the mysterious talking. “But still too large to watch over in battle.”
“How many then?” another miryhl asked, one that Mhysra didn’t know. “If twenty five is too many, how many are too few? Who decides on the squads? Who leads them?”
Conversation broke out overhead, the miryhls arguing amongst themselves, the debate turning quite heated in some corners.
Mhysra stared up at them, wide-eyed with astonishment until Cumulo nudged her with his wing. “Look what you’ve started,” he chuckled. “And I thought I was the revolutionary in this partnership.”
Dhori snorted with amusement. “The ways of the Rift Riders are convoluted, cumbersome and frequently arcane. There are more than enough revolutionary opportunities for everyone.”
“Oh, goodie.” Corin rubbed her hands together. “I’ll start working on my own. What do you think we should change first, Wisp? Mandatory lessons or strength training?”
The little miryhl raised her eyes to the ceiling, as if praying for guidance. “Wingborn, you have created a monster.”
Cumulo chuckled deeply and nuzzled Mhysra affectionately. “That’s my girl.”
Mhysra grimaced, more than a little embarrassed. “It was just an idea. I didn’t even mean to say it out loud.”
“But you did.” Derrain threw an arm over her shoulders and ruffled her hair. “And it was a good one. Something the Riders should have thought up years ago. Most of us already fight like that anyway, breaking into smaller groups, defending our friends and officers. You’re just making it official.”
“I’m not making it anything,” Mhysra protested, holding up her hands.
The four miryhls around her cackled with mirth.
“Keep telling yourself that, chickling,” Cumulo teased. “But you let your idea loose in an overcrowded eyrie of exceedingly bored miryhls. You’ve already made it official.”
Imaging the expression on General Keipen’s – who had already taken a dislike to her and Cumulo – face when he heard about this, Mhysra winced. “I think I feel a severe attack of the influenza coming on.” She coughed unconvincingly and felt her forehead. “I’m probably feverish. I think I need to lie down.”
“You can run, Wingborn, but you can’t hide,” Zephyr chuckled, nudging Derrain’s shoulder. “Take her home, Derry. It’s about time you all got ready for your big fancy dinner party anyway.”
“Dinner!” Mhysra yelped in horror. She’d completely forgotten that Milluqua was hosting one of her meals tonight, inviting not just Mhysra and her student friends, but several officers including Captain Myran, Lieutenant Stirla… and Lyrai. Lyrai, who she barely saw these days and missed with a subtle ache around her heart that never went away. She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d touched, let alone kissed. Her sister has also hinted that she’d invited Princess Neryth and any other royals who wished to turn up. Possibly even Lyrai’s sisters. His family.
“Oh, gods.” She stared down at her grime-covered hands and dusty clothes in horror. She couldn’t meet Lyrai’s family like this. “I need to bathe!”
Pressing a hurried kiss to Cumulo’s beak, she raced from the eyries, much to the amusement of her friends and miryhls.
“Say hello to your lieutenant for me!” Cumulo called, making kissy noises as she burst out of the door and straight into a sharp spring shower. Because being dirty wasn’t enough, she had to be bedraggled as well.
Groaning, she slicked her hair away from her face, shook her fist at the sky and ran all the way home.
~ Next Chapter ~