Saferon and Ritana were flying fast and low through the Groaning Giants. Saferon propelled herself with the elaborate spell she had set up, as she had done thousands of times before, while Ritana beat her wings and glided along. The two held a loose side-by-side formation, just behind a weaving squadron of Nywanese “hawk” soldiers whom rained all manner of energy weapon upon unsuspecting Ma’guul raiders.
Your hawks are rather effective, Saferon thought overtly, as she surveyed the wreckages of numerous vehicles of both sides, though I do wish these sorry saps gave us more of a challenge.
The citizens do not need more of a challenge than the Ma’guul have put them through already! the winged General argued, also in overt thought, All Nywanese souls are capable of defending themselves. Yet not all souls are tailored for the kill like yours and mine.
None of the Ma’guul are, either! argued Saferon, They’re armed and armoured like soldiers, yet they fight like vultures!
The war is not in their nature! Ritana replied, shortly before she broke off to the left and perched on a high tower.
Moments later, Saferon landed next to her and eased out of the spell. Her shoulders and ankles still tingled from the side effects of continuous spellflight.
“The Ma’guul are not warriors,” Ritana said from her mouth as she folded her wings, “they never were, and neither were the Copper Waylanders, the Kulu’jai, or the Skyfolk that amalgamated into Nywan. We were traders. Craftspeople. We were a great many things. Not warriors. But we were all survivors.”
“So what you mean to say is the Ma’guul are out of their element.”
“I am saying they are out of alternatives. They fight us because they would rather surrender their livelihoods than their lives. They fight us because they have no choice.”
“They could join us,” Saferon shook her head.
“They fear Behraan far more than Nywan or Pillars. They fear that if they join us, they too will die.”
“Yet they will die like this, attacking us,” Saferon argued.
“I know,” Ritana took a moment to wipe the caked blood off her face from the numerous kills she had made that morning alone, “it may sound strange to you, Saferon. I thoroughly enjoy killing. Yet I despise war.”
“I rather--” Saferon stopped mid-sentence, her eyes squinting, as if to make something out in the distance on the sands below them.
Saferon did not reply. Her eyes were clearly locked forward, as if searching actively for something and knowing it had to be in a specific direction.
Ritana knew that Saferon was a telepath and could pick up on things she herself could not. And so, she fell silent, looking for what Saferon was looking for.
“I don’t see anything,” Saferon said in a low tone, her hand over her eyes to cover them from the sun, “but I do sense something down there.”
“Whatever—or whoever it is—it’s powerful. And by Bentor, it’s fast.”
“That could be Haren,” Ritana said quietly, “he’s stronger than he lets on. Talks forever though. I hate talkative people.”
Saferon half-laughed, “he’s worse now?”
“That’s not possible,” she grinned slyly, “he would need a comparable adversary, and there are none.”
Saferon laughed the other half.
“However,” Ritana scanned the city, its floor nearly a kilometre below, “I do suggest we move in closer to confirm. Haren is strong. And talkative. But fast, he is not.”
“Damn it,” Saferon sighed, stepping lightly off the building and into the air with an easy hover, “just when I was getting used to the cooler temperatures up here.”
“Losing your taste for the heat of battle?” Ritana crouched and leaped off, circling around and beating her wings into a more wobbly hover of her own.
“And I thought you despised war,” Saferon began strafing along, her legs dragging behind her as if swimming backwards.
“I do,” Ritana grimaced, and then broke a jagged grin, “I said nothing on my disposition of glorious battle. And I still thoroughly enjoy killing!”
With that, the winged woman broke out of hover and built enough speed that she could glide, and then tucked her wings in just enough to give her a shallow dive. Saferon followed closely, unsheathing her sword and shield and descending.
As they calmly swayed past the peaks of the towers dotting the skies, Ritana looked over her shoulder and thought, A bit excessive, wouldn’t you think? I cannot imagine the energy required to haul you with such drag-inducing items as those.
I’d rather burn more energy and stay alive than try to be efficient and not be around to burn the rest.
Ritana simply nodded in understanding, and turned forward again.
Saferon began to catch glimpses of the Hawks flying over scattered platoons of Ma’guul soldiers already exchanging fire with the Nywanese defenders. They would synchronously drop out of the sky and either cut their prey down with a laser rifle mounted to their leg, or land onto them and slice them with whatever sharp weapon they had. Then, once they had their fun, they would form back up, only for a fraction of a moment, before scattering to evade the inevitable return fire. Every time, it was as if they knew just how much time it would take for their enemies to come around. Every time, they made sure every single hawk that swooped down, came back up.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. She wasn’t certain of what it could have been, only that it impelled her to look again.
Just behind and below, she spotted two stragglers. They weren't near the fight in any way, but within the ruins of an old complex of warehouses and garages that must have been built sometime much more recently than the rest of the ancient city.
But that was not what caught her eye. What her eyes detected was a light being reflected into them, flashing her even.
There’s someone down there! Saferon thought, diverging, They’re signalling us! I’m heading down!
Catch up when you can! Ritana nodded and flew on as Saferon turned around.
Moments later, she found herself landing before the two, clearly Nywanese soldiers. Yet something was clearly different about them. One appeared badly injured, gripping a limp arm. The other appeared burned and his armour was scorched in all sorts of ways, yet he appeared otherwise hardened, and clearly strong enough to help the cripple along.
“You with Nywan?” the stronger man asked shakily, his free hand rested on his holstered pistol.
The other, injured man could only pant in exhaustion.
“I’m Captain Sarethael,” Saferon said evenly, quickly stowing her shield and sheathing her sword, “I saw the signals you gave off.”
“Uhhh,” said the weaker man shakily, blood and soot covering his face, “that wouldn’t be Captain Saferon Sarethael, w-would it?”
She recognized that voice for sure, though it felt like decades since she heard it. “That you, Edge?”
“Mostly,” he said weakly, coughing, looking to his limp arm, and then to her, “you look like hell.”
Saferon could only raise a brow and cross her arms.
Ritana landed next to her just moments later, folding her wings and sizing up the two wounded soldiers, then nodding, “Skyreign crewmates. What are you two doing here?”
“He was shot,” said the stronger man, “his arm is badly wounded. He needs help.”
Ritana then whispered something into her armcomm, turning her back to the other three. Moments later, she replied, “help shall come. And then you’ll explain why you’re here, and not with your ship.”
Short minutes later, a small air corvette hurried a landing next to the four of them. Quickly, a door slid open and a stairwell unfolded for the four Nywanese field medics, two male and two female, who poured out to assist the two wounded men. No time was wasted to carefully move them aboard and begin assessing their injuries immediately. Saferon and Ritana stepped aboard just behind the medics.
Without any further need of being an easy target for the Ma’guul, the ship lifted off well before even retracting the stairs or closing the door.
The innards of the medical bay were cramped, doubly so for the winged Ritana. Yet the four medics moved gracefully and precisely, even amidst the bumping and shuddering as the ship met with turbulence.
“I’m fine!” Sam retorted, attempting to wrest his way out of the medics’ control.
“Let ’em help, Sam,” Edge said weakly, laying back on one of the stiff medical beds as the two medics tending to him removed his jacket sleeve with a laser scalpel, “you’ve done enough.”
“I disagree,” Ritana said coldly, “explain yourselves.”
“Where are we going?” Saferon asked rapidly.
“I instructed the pilot to take us further into the city, where it is safe still,” Ritana said, momentarily distracted from the two injured soldiers.
One of the female medics, of brown skin and black hair, stepped forward, “General, Captain, the wounds are clear on them both. One has an entire section on his shoulder bone and surrounding flesh removed. A laser, most likely. Must have been like this for a day—perhaps two. His arm will have to be amputated, and he will receive a military prosthetic.”
“Military?” Edge laughed weakly, “Uh, General, I was the Skyreign’s Engineer. If you have to chop my arm off, at least give me something I can use, kay?”
“You seem to be taking this rather well,” Saferon smirked, looking the man up and down, “I hate to see you like this.”
“Then feel free to look the other way,” he smiled faintly, shaking his head, “you’ll probably hate what the docs are about to do a lot more than I will.”
“Really, you have absolutely no concern, whatsoever, for the arm you’re about to lose?” Saferon argued.
“Nah,” he grinned, looking to his right arm, as the medics tightened several straps around the area to cut circulation to the crippled, gangrene appendage, “you know, my leg got sliced right off this one time back home. Took five hours for the cleric to heal it back on--”
He was interrupted by the sudden sharp pain of a large syringe applied directly to his shoulder joint, followed by full and complete numbness.
“The other?” Ritana asked the dark-skinned medic.
“They survived an explosion, but not entirely. This other one’s left eye is damaged beyond repair. Must have been that way for as much time. We’ll have to remove it before it starts to rot, too. The rest of the damage to their skin won’t be a problem. We can have them both back out there tomorrow.”
“They are Scarabs,” Ritana iterated, “tasked with the protection of the Queen. Treat them the best you may. Any surgery gone awry will be answered for directly as I see fit. Am I clear?”
“You are clear,” she bowed, “Diinshtago.”
“You were half blind this whole time, Sam?” Edge looked over, “I never knew.”
“I--never said. I thought I might be okay in a few days.”
Ritana quietly departed for the cockpit.
“You ever pull a stunt like that again, I’ll put the other eye out,” Edge said as the sedatives began to sink in rapidly.
As Sam underwent the same effects, he looked up to the ceiling, muttering, “You’re welcome.”
Saferon then decided it would be best to leave the medics to work, and made for the cockpit as well.