Sander was mounted up on a big-old warbird with a beak locked completely down and both hood flaps down tight. It was restive, even so, spreading its white and brown speckled wings, flaring its tail, showing bright red flashes. It stamped, showing off the spurs as long as Kyrus's sword, though curved back on themselves. They weren't at war so Sander didn't have the sharpened spur covers laced on, but the natural point shone wickedly just the same.
The cuddly flock, with the zardukar on their backs, bounced in place, heads unhooded, razor beaks gaped wide with excitment at the prospect of another new game, their red eyes bloody and crazed looking entirely at odds with their natures. It was clear that they were human partners rather than chained force labour. Even in the middle of their bouncing and squawking and head-slamming each other, they'd arc their heads back to gaze at their riders and get a quick scratch before going back to being the over-grown half-trained chicks that they were.
Ky's bird had recovered from the horrid trek across from Nadu and was restive itself. “We'll have to do rain training soon,” he said, looking at the distant clouds boiling up from the edge of the continent. “The rains are coming.”
“And the Nadu will have the last of their shelters up today,” Werfas said. “They won't wash away even if the rain comes tonight.”
They were up on the cliff, with the desert stretching in front of them, full of rock waves, spike bushes and crevasses, until the mushroom rocks began, offering a thousand thousand hiding places.
“Siwion,” Sander called. “I would like your wingbrother, and the Siwion of Nadu--” he indicated Archie, grinning behind his own veil on a platform next to him, with one of their stone tablets on his lap. That's where the annoying boy had gotten to. “--and our Amirs, hunt our students each in their own way. I would like you to seek them in code.”
Kyrus nearly wilted in dismay. “Yes, Director,” was all he said. I'm better as a warrior then as a coder! Then he nearly rebelled completely, as Sander directed with his goad, that he should ride over to Archie and work with him. “You should be able to work with your new Nadu friend on bird-back, Bright One,” he said drily. Ky swallowed hard.
“Hey, hey,” Archibald stood up and nearly overset his platform, which was one of the Nadu sledges with a box to raise him up higher. “Kyrus! Great! Wonderful! We'll find 'em won't we?”
“We'll certainly give them a hard exercise,” Ky said, his bird tensing between his legs as he controlled his tongue. I don't like you, boy. “You don't have your pet around to distract you, do you?” The fluffy had made it through the trek surprisingly well, having gone almost dormant.
“Oh, no. This is working!”
Sander had been speaking to Werfas and a half a dozen mounted Milari and his Amirs. He straightened and raised his goad in the air. “Zardukar! You will have an hour's head start. You are to do your best to do this entirely in this world, with no help in code if you please. I want you to do your best to disappear in the face of everything I can send after you. If you are uncaught by nightfall, return and we'll make sure there's something reasonably good for supper! Anyone uncaught will be exempted from camp duty for a full week.”
“The rains are about to hit,” Archie said. “Nobody will have much to do until they ease through!”
“Yes, I'm sure everybody knows that anyway, Arch,” Kyrus snapped. “You don't have to keep saying the obvious!” He refused to see the injured look Archie threw him.
All eyes were on the Director who brought down his goad with a snap. “GO!”