“Hang on!” Tristan yelled as he brought the airship racing toward the ledge that divided the upper city from the lower part. The sheer rock wall flew past as Tristan slammed a lever forward. “Halfgrim give me everything you can!”
A fireball flew over their heads and exploded against the cliff face, raining debris on the city below. Behind them 6 drakes, including Ferasi, chased after them weaving back and forth on the wind currents.
“Hudmo! Get over here, I need ya!” Halfgrim shouted from the back of the ship. Hudmo fired one more salvo, sending the drakes spiraling in different directions.
“Aye lad! On me way!” slapping the cannon on his back the dwarf hurried toward the engines. The Greystokes, Mish’Ka, and Kothar were below deck manning the cannons while waiting for a drake to come into view. No one bothered with the siege weapons on deck since they were meant for other ships. Brother Thomas stood near Tristan, hanging onto the wheelhouse with Sam’El helping him.
Another explosion tore into the rock face as Tristan navigated the gunboat closer to the second level. Brother Thomas looked back long enough to see the Kraxus, with Calabas’ ship aboard, soaring toward them. Above them cannons and arbalests from several locations began blasting away at the airship. The sheer volume of firepower attested to how well the second level was protected from aerial attacks. Volley after volley screamed across the sky, racing to tear apart the Kraxus.
“Tristan, no! We will never make it!” Brother Thomas’ knuckles were snow white as he held on. Sam’El’s taloned feet bit into the wood decking as Tristan threw the gears back, causing the ship to lurch upwards at an unsafe angle.
“Hang on everyone!” Tristan glanced back only a second. Ferasi and 2 others were almost on top of them. “Halfgrim, now!”
An explosion of flame and smoke erupted from the back of the ship engulfing the closest drake and its rider. Screams agony were drowned out as the airship bucked forward rushing headlong into the fire line. The gunboat began to jolt and shake under numerous impacts and glancing blows. Lord Orin wrapped his arms tightly around a column as Berwyn hugged a bolted cannon chassis. Loose debris, cannon balls, and other material went flying past as the angle got steeper. Mish’Ka and Kothar both had their arms wrapped in cargo netting as they were lifted off the ground.
Sam’El dug deeper into the decking, wood splintering, as he helped both Tristan and the priest from falling away. Both Dwarves had been knocked off their feet and slammed against the engine housing. Their bodies were pinned as the thrust continued to increase.
An arbalest shaft ripped through one rudder fin, ripping it to shreds. The hull was pounded, smashed, and peeled away with each cannon shot. Finally, just as they broke through the firing line, a stray shot clipped a thruster, robbing the ship of its momentum. Tristan struggled to right the ship out of its steep incline as it soared high up over the second level. Smoke billowed from one engine as the ship stuttered and shook coming out of the incline. It listed to port and dropped a few feet every so often before Tristan got it righted again. The barrage rolled like thunder below them as the city defenses kept the Kraxus at bay over the lower level.
“Well lad, you got some fire in ya! I’ll give ya that,” Halfgrim and Hudmo walked up as the others gather on deck looking over the starboard rail at the battle below. Everyone except Thomas and Tristan were bruised and battered. Kothar grumbled under his breath about how his people belonged on the ground, not in the air.
“Sam’El, hold the wheel steady,” Hudmo ordered as he came up, “Tristan lad, join us at the rail.”
Sam’El unhooked his clawed feet, leaving large holes in the wood, and stomped over to the navigation console, taking the wheel from Tristan.
Everyone held tight to the railing as the ship listed and shook from the damage.
“2 cannons are destroyed and you can see the city below in a couple of spots through the hull underneath,” Lord Orin frowned as he pointed at the smoke rising from below them.
“Aye, and we’re about to lose one of the engines too,” Hudmo chipped in.
He got everyone’s attention as he pointed north toward a collection of airship towers. “Ya see that big bird dwarfing the others?”
Everyone nodded as they leaned closer to get a better view from their angle. Sam’El was slowly bringing them toward the towers. “That’s the Vindictive Hunter. Ton for ton she can hold her weight against the Kraxus,” he continued, “in fact captain Fulco and the Hunter have been long time rivals of Ferasi and her ilk.”
Hudmo grabbed trim of his coat and stood proudly admiring the view. “Yep, she is a beautiful thing. She was just a privateer ship when Armaias brought her to me and I gave her wings.”
Tristan looked back at Hudmo, the name dawning on him, “When I was child I had heard stories about Fulco and his adventures chasing pirates.”
The others turned toward Tristan. Hudmo in particular, “Aye lad, that’s true. Back in those days he sailed the seas, riddin’ them O’pirates and brigands alike.” He smiled as he remembered those stories, “But when airship technology caught on and he had enough coin, he sailed into Abydos and saught me out.”
“Yes indeed, I gave her wings and a heart that could power the city to boot,” he beamed.
“Anything on that ship to fight drakes?” Berwyn pointed to where they had just come from.
Below, the flight of drakes just stayed below the firing range of the city’s defenses. The drakes fired the occasional fireball but from their angle it had little effect.
“Well they are taken care of for now…”Brother Thomas turned back to Tristan.
Tristan stopped him by laying a hand on his shoulder, turning him back, “What is the Kraxus doing?” He pointed as everyone turned to see what he meant.
The great ship turned its massive hull until the starboard side was parallel to where the drakes were trying to get through.
“Eschua help us…” Mish’Ka whispered. Every last broadside cannon unleashed its ordinance, tearing into the fortifications and homes that hugged the cliff edge. Billowing smoke and roaring fires erupted from the destruction as whole stone sections crumbled and fell away, plummeting several thousand feet below. Everyone stood shocked as a swath of the city, large enough for two Kraxus to fly through was blown apart. The drakes quickly flew through the opening and up through the city; causing more destruction in their wake.
“Everyone back to your stations,” Tristan ordered as the others scrambled across the deck. Hudmo and Halfgrim, do everything you can to keep us up and moving fast.” The both nodded before shuffling back to the engines. Sam’El stepped aside and moved back to guarding Brother Thomas as Tristan took over.
“Here we go,” Tristan took hold of the wheel as he threw the throttle forward. The gunboat lurched forward, albeit shakily, as the drakes finally came after them again.
Brother Thomas looked back once at the drakes before concentrating on their destination once more. The ship rocked and shook unsteadily as if in the middle of a storm. “Tristan with all haste we must reach the Hunter!” He coughed violently as he leaned heavily on his staff. His use of divine power having seriously taken its toll on him was catching up to and overtaking him.
Tristan saw the concern in his eyes and the state he was in as he clutched the scrolls hidden in the folds of his robes. “I know Brother Thomas, I know…”
• • •
The crew looked on in shock and amazement as the gunboat burst through the city defenses. Seeing the beating it had taken they were surprised to see the ship still in the air.
Captain Fulco watched everything through his spyglass as Adalia stood close to him.
“Is it them my love?” Adalia’s fingers snapped on her left hand causing a flame to engulf it before she shook it off. She did this repeatedly as she watched the spectacle, the sight both exciting her and putting her on edge.
“There are two dwarves aboard, one looks like Hudmo, but I can’t be sure from this distance.” He looked down at her hand, smiling he laid a hand on her shoulder that seemed to calm her a bit. “The fun will start soon enough, just be patient,” he winked at her before looking through the spyglass once more.
“Fun?” she scoffed under a smile as her other hand was engulfed in winds that raced in and around her fingers.
“There’s Sam’El, Hudmo’s war machine, he would not be separated from that thing on his life,” He turned to see Bartolio nearby watching the scene play out. “Bartolio, it’s them. Get the crew to their stations, we leave as soon as we have the group.”
Adalia gasped, causing Fulco to snap back around in time to see the Kraxus unleash death on a section of the city’s defenses. Many of his crew cried out in anger or sorrow at the wanton destruction. Abydos was their home and they hated seeing her torn apart.
Bartolio stepped up to the railing overlooking the deck, “You seen da destruction, ye know what be at stake,” he waved his hands at the battle, “To yo stations and be ready fer a fight.” That seemed to bolster the crew as they quickly scrambled to get ready. Bartolio came to stand on the other side of his captain, waiting for orders.
Captain Fulco watched the destruction, waiting for the enemy’s next move.
“Drakes…” Adalia hissed beside him as her hand engulfed in flames flared every time she clenched her fist.
Captain Fulco cursed as he watched the drakes slip through the opening created by the massive airship. They tore through that part of the city, setting several buildings on fire. As he watched the display, he growled as he caught sight of the lead rider. “Ferasi,” he sneered as the flight took to the skies. “Their heading right for the gunboat!”
He turned to Bartolio, “Get below deck and tell Jonathan that his men need to get Serafin’s flyers in the air now!” Bartolio turned to leave, “I want them to provide escort for that gunboat.” Fulco added before Bartolio disappeared down the steps.
“They’re not going to make it in time,” Adalia pointed.
Fulco looked through the spyglass once more. Ferasi’s drakes were almost upon them but the gunboat was doing a good job distracting them with cannon fire. “Adalia, is it too far for you to provide a distraction? To blind them perhaps?”
The elementalist smiled as she realized what he was implying. “It would be my pleasure, and I will add some flare for show, beloved.” Her eyes flashed like miniature lightning bolts for a second. She turned back to face the drakes, raising her left hand into the air.
As she looked into the sky her eyes began to change.
First they fogged over lazily swirling inside the pupils. Then the fog swirled faster and faster like a whirlwind.
Fulco turned away from her as he saw a deep fog engulf the drakes and the sky around them. The gunboat was just on the outskirts, realizing their chance they quickly stopped firing and bolted for the airship. The fog began to swirl in different directions pulling itself into a massive sphere around Ferasi’s Flight.
“And now for the flare…” She whispered as her fog filled eyes flashed with fire. Lines of fire began to appear along the sphere’s surface, first slowly, then racing faster and faster. People cried out on the streets and buildings below as they watched the spectacle above. Fearing they would be consumed, people panicked running and screaming about. But the fiery sphere never got within a hundred feet of the tallest building.
Beside Fulco, Adalia chuckled, “Its more illusion than real my love.” His face turned from alarm to confusion, “I dare not tax my powers yet, not with the Kraxus and Ferasi’s pet, Calabas nearby.”
After a few minutes the sphere began to dissolve and the captain began to see shapes flying frantically around inside. A tingling sensation crawled down Fulco’s spine as he smiled, for he knew what it meant. A humming sound grew louder from below deck as several crew members cheered. A groaning sound from 2 large doors opening was the only announcement before 8 mechanical contraptions launched out of the belly of the Vindictive Hunter.
Silver glinted in the sun as the one-manned machines soared over the Hunter before racing toward the gunboat. Another invention of the dwarf Hudmo, they were a force to be reckoned with on their own, but together they were deadly.
Each flyer carried 2 of Hudmo’s hand cannons with a long tube on top of each wing that fed ammo discs into the chamber. At the center of the flyer underneath was a different cannon, but this one fired nets with razor sharp wires and barbed arrow points. Even if one was fired at a drake and it only partially hit the creature, the sharp edges would still leave horrible lacerations and cuts.
The leader of the group was female by the name of Serafin Linwe. She loved to fly and she had a good reason to hate the forces of Darkness after members of her family were killed. When Hudmo had finished the first flyer, Serafin had been the first to volunteer to test it.
Even though the flight couldn’t communicate verbally in the air, Captain Fulco knew they were trained well. They read each other’s movements and thoughts like an orchestra, they each knew their part well.
“May Eschua protect you,” he put the spyglass away and watched them fly over the city like great mechanical birds.
• • •
Ferasi screamed in rage as she turned her drake toward the gunboat as the illusion dissipated. “Adalia!” She yelled as the other drakes slid into position behind her. “Get that ship!” She snapped one of her whips, more in anger than command, the sound clapping like thunder above the buildings. “Get me those scrolls and I want Tristan alive!”
Below people ran through the streets in terror as the occasional fireball was launched down on them. The city guard began mobilizing and evacuating of that part of the city while archers hurried to the rooftops. Large swarms of arrows began to assail the drakes, pushing them higher into the skies.
Ferasi knew they didn’t have much time until the nobles gathered their forces and unleashed them against her. The drakes soared high above the city out of reach of the archers as they gained on the gunboat.
“Captain!” a human rider to her left pointed toward the northeast where the great airship towers loomed. “It’s Serafin and her flyers!”
Captain Ferasi snarled as she watched the 8 machines race across the sky to intercept the gunboat before them. She knew they were faster in a straight flight, but they weren’t as agile as the drakes. She reveled in the idea of another fight with Serafin, “May the best female win, Serafin.” She snapped her whips in challenge and raced on.
When the drakes were within a few hundred yards of the airship its guns began to fire their way. The drakes easily dodged the assault, but it cost them precious time and distance. The flyers closed the distance quickly, their razor sharp crescent-shaped noses leading the way. 6 charged for her flight while the other 2 took up positions around the airship, leading it away.
“No you don’t!” Ferasi snapped her whips and the drakes shot forward meeting the flyers head on. Metal balls filled the sky as the multiple cannons fired. The drakes weaved and dodged as they closed the gap, taking minor hits here and there. The drakes cried out in anger more than pain as flesh and scales were peeled back by the munitions.
Ferasi’s drake began firing away as they came within range of the flyers. The one drake who had been charred by the airship fell to the back of the flight.
Just as the 2 groups were about to clash, the flyers launched their nets. The wire netting glistened in the sun as spinning barbs on the corners propelled them forward. The charred drake was completely enveloped in a net; the wire lacerating flesh and scales. The barbs bit deeply, slicing through muscles and snapping tendons as the serpent plummeted toward the city below. Its thrashing only made the netting tighten more, facilitating its death with great haste.
2 drakes were partially hit by the netting; the contraptions flapping from barbs dug into their bodies as they struggled to follow Ferasi. One flyer slammed into a drake’s abdomen, the crescent blade cutting deep into its body. The drake frantically clawed at the machine before blasting the cockpit and burning the pilot inside. Both machine and drake fell in a tangle of smoke and fire; the pilot’s screams following them down.
Ferasi’s drake scored a few hits on 2 other flyers, their metal scorched or burning. She smiled as she saw the flyers take a wider arc to circle back around. Scarlet noted that the other 2 flyers stayed with the gunship. She sneered when she realized one of them was Serafin’s flyer. There was a cry behind her and she laughed as she turned to see one of the flyers she hit falter and buck before dropping like a stone. A small mushroom cloud of fire and smoke erupted among the buildings where the flyer plowed into one of the streets.
Ferasi lined her drakes up as the flyers completed their turn and rushed to meet them again. The drakes stay in formation as the cannons rattled away, spraying the air with red hot metal. She held her right hand high in the air, waiting to give the signal. A few drakes took several hits, roaring in pain, but they held their position until finally Ferasi gave the command. As one the 4 drakes released their fiery breath, creating a wall of flames racing across the sky. The city lit up in hues of red, orange, and yellow as the powerful attack rushed to meet the flyers.
3 flyers veered away in time but the one Ferasi originally burned and a second flyer caught the full force of the blast. The metal machines screamed and popped under the intense heat until their power crystals erupted. A blue sphere of flame and magic quickly expanded in the air engulfing an ornate clock tower below. The entire building collapsed under the destruction, raining debris down on the streets and filling the air with a chalky brown dust.
The drake riders took advantage of the expansion, turning to chase after the airship. Captain Ferasi pushed her drake to its limits as they gained on the airship and its escorts. The 3 flyers that survived the assault began their pursuit once more, but they were too far behind to intercept them in time.