THERE WAS NOTHING better than flying for making the troubles and ills of Lyrai’s life seem small. Riding the winds that blew down from the upper mountains and out over the city of Nimbys, Lyrai closed his eyes and revelled in the power of Hurricane’s wings. This was the life he wanted, the life he had chosen, and nothing would take it from him.
The miryhls of his friends and fellow Riders rose above the roar of the wind, reminding him of the family he had found – and would fight to keep. His stomach dropped as Hurricane swooped down, sweeping them in a wide arch around the cathedral and back up over the city streets. He opened his eyes as they passed his father’s palace. From up here it looked small, the whole city looked small, carefully constructed but insignificant in regards to the wider world that unfolded with each beat of Hurricane’s wings. Up here the Overworld was open and vast; theirs for the taking.
A shadow swept over the sun, coming in close overhead and Lyrai laughed as Hurricane jinked right then powered up to snatch at Cumulo’s tail feathers. With a shriek of mock-outrage, the Wingborn tumbled over and around and the two males locked talons as they dropped and spun over and over above the slopes of the mountain.
Whirling and dizzy, Lyrai clung to his miryhl’s saddle, heart in mouth as he watched the ground getting rapidly closer. He trusted Hurricane implicitly, but even so…
Laughter drifted through the air as the miryhls released each other and swept off in different directions.
Head spinning with relief, Lyrai flopped over in the saddle, chest pressed to Hurricane’s back. He could feel his bonded laughing. “Overgrown pigeon,” he grumbled.
Hurricane glanced over his pale shoulder and winked. Then ducked as Cumulo and Mhysra whooshed overhead, still laughing, the pair of reckless, foolish, incredible idiots.
“Get ‘em, Cane!” he shouted, urging his miryhl into the chase, heart lighter than it had been in days. Because up here he was free. Away from the strictures and censorious eyes of the practice fields and the city streets there was no one to tell them what to do, no one to keep watch and report their every move. Up here they could do what they wanted, play however they liked – and wing-barge a younger student miryhl without any consequences more serious than laughter.
“Would you four stop flirting?” Corin called, as she and Wisp zipped by below. “We’ve dragons to find!”
Mhysra looked over at Lyrai, while Cumulo cocked his head at Hurricane. Grinning, Lyrai lay flat against his miryhl’s back as the two males ceased playing and pumped their wings. Wisp might be smaller and considerably faster than either of them, but they were higher and had the element of surprise.
Corin’s shriek of outrage as both miryhls dropped over the top of her, flicking her with their wings, was its own reward. Then Zephyr and Atyrn decided to join in and the game was truly on.
Racing away from Stirla’s huge female, Lyrai looked over his shoulder and laughed as the last hint of Nimbys vanished beyond a spur of the mountain.
No, there was nothing better than flying.
* * *
RHIDDYL SNIFFED THE air, sighed and wriggled out of her cave. The latest cold spring shower had passed as swiftly as it had arrived and now the sun was shining again. Not as strongly as back home, perhaps, but better than showers and shadows. Hauling herself away from the damp stone, she saved energy by climbing to the top of the ridge. There she draped herself over the small patch of scrubby grass, careful not to topple the ancient, ragged hawthorn tree that clung to the edge of the precipice.
Sighing again, she closed her eyes and basked. It was something she’d done a lot over recent days, waiting, endlessly waiting for something to happen. For creatures that lived such short lives, and seemed so busy about them, the lack of haste in humans surprised her. The few she’d travelled with since leaving the Cleansed Lands had spoken quite passionately about retrieving Aquila. Yet they’d been stuck in Nimbys for a moon and a half and were showing no signs of ever leaving.
Didn’t the Riders want their home back? Wouldn’t it be better to have struck fast and hard after the kaz-naghkt attack, when the enemy defences must surely have been weakened by complacency?
It hardly mattered now. Too much time had passed, giving the enemy ample opportunity to return to Aquila and regroup.
Humans were a mystery to her.
Still, she did miss their company. At least that of the ones she knew best. They were friendly, had always treated her well and seemed delighted to see her whenever they turned up. But that sadly wasn’t very often, especially after she’d been politely requested to move further away from the city. Even though they couldn’t see her, apparently the occasional glimpses caught by some on her morning flights was unsettling the populace. Because not all humans were friendly and many saw her as a threat to be driven away, never mind that she’d helped to save them all.
“They are small and they are scared,” she reminded herself of what Goryal had said when she’d told them of the request. The elder had understood her sadness, but urged her to go anyway. She shouldn’t have been surprised. Her own Clan had sent her far away to the borders of the Storm Wash because they’d feared how swiftly and strongly her powers were progressing. She was used to being sent away.
Although that didn’t make it any less hurtful, she thought, rubbing her nose against the coarse bark of the hawthorn. The little tree trembled but otherwise stayed firm. As it clearly had for hundreds of years, all alone in this inhospitable spot. Which was something she could learn from, Rhiddyl acknowledged, crossing her front feet and resting her chin upon them. No matter how the wind howled, the rain lashed or the snow piled up, this little tree had weathered it all, putting forth flowers in spring and berries in autumn. It looked to be a lonely life, though, and Rhiddyl was tired of being alone.
A shadow passed over the sun, momentarily matching her mood, but she didn’t even bother to look up. The vulardis rarely strayed too far, the giant vultures having been likewise sent into exile for scaring the population. Despite being similar to miryhls, in that they closely resembled their original bird of inspiration – golden eagles for miryhls, bearded vultures for vulardis – they were larger and more intimidating, especially their strange, red target eyes. Miryhls had also been designed by dragons (and Maegla) to work with humans, whereas vulardis were designed to wander alone, guarding the barrier veils and surviving how best they could on whatever scraps of prey they could find. Rhiddyl thought them beautiful, but she could understand why the humans might not. Even the smallest vulardi stood twice as tall as most people, and vultures didn’t have the best of reputations.
Nor did they make the best of companions, being bred for independence and a life of long wandering. Even when they did come together to breed or form small temporary flocks, they weren’t the most talkative of creatures. So even though there were five of them sharing the area around Rhiddyl’s cave, she still felt isolated and alone.
Another shadow passed over the sun, lasting longer this time. Rhiddyl sighed and closed her eyes, no longer caring if it was another spring shower closing in. A little soaking wouldn’t kill her. She was kin Tempestfury Clan Skystorm. She was born for bad weather.
Breathing in for another sigh, her eyes snapped open – just in time to roll away from a Thunderwing pounce.
“Sloppy,” Reglian boomed, bouncing back into the sky with a powerful thrust of his wings. “I almost had you.”
Rolling over, Rhiddyl swept around, lifting her tail over the hawthorn and scowling up at the vast black dragon banking wide overhead. “I was thinking!”
“You were brooding,” he corrected, flicking her cheek with his tail. “You’re getting lazy out here amongst the humans, young Rhiddyl. I was practically on your back before you caught my scent. Wake up! War is coming.”
“Huh,” she huffed, ducking away from another pass of his tail and slithering off the ridge to join him in the sky. “So everyone keeps saying, but it’s taking a mighty long time to get here. Why is there so much waiting around?”
“A good army is an organised army,” Reglian rumbled, diving after her as she swept into a ravine over a tumbling carpet of forest. “Humans aren’t like dragons – they don’t carry their weapons and armour embedded in their skin. They needed food and shelter, not to mention supplies for their miryhls. They can’t simply hop into the saddle and set off for Aquila tomorrow. It’s too far and there are too many of them, but if they want a chance to win back their home then they need the numbers. Having the will to fight is only the start of the journey.”
She knew all of that already but still thought the Riders were taking too long. “When do we leave, Reglian?” she asked, fighting to hold back a whine, feeling like the greenest wingling longing to escape the nursery.
“Bored of the city already?” he chuckled, his amusement echoing like thunder around the ravine walls.
She snorted. “I haven’t even seen the city.” Because unlike Reglian and Elder Goryal, she had yet to grow old enough to change her shape. Her body might have ceased growing, but her powers were still increasing, so it might be several decades yet before her change time started and she could assume shapes other than her native dragon one. It would then take another century or so before she settled securely on her secondary form, the one that would compliment her dragon shape for the rest of her life.
Sister Storm, she couldn’t wait.
Not that she didn’t love being a dragon and being able to fly on the grace of her own wings but, by the Family, she wished she could join the others when they stepped inside the human buildings. She was so curious about what it was like inside. She also longed to walk the streets of Nimbys without anyone knowing what she was, to get away from the looks of fear and suspicion and stand within Maegla’s Cathedral to see how humans honoured their gods.
Alongside her, Reglian rumbled sympathetically. “Not long now, little spark. We’ll soon be on the skyroad again. That is unless you’ve become lazy in areas other than your defence,” he teased, slapping her flank with his tail as he powered up into the clear sky, high above the trees.
“Come catch me, Rhidystel. Let’s see how fast a Tempestfury really flies!”
Growling eagerly at the challenge, she flared her wings and lifted out of the ravine. Swooping out over the Cloud Sea, she banked in a wide turn, set her sights on her mentor, and raced after him.
~ Next Chapter ~