Grapeshot is an amazing invention. The guy who figured out that cannons could be loaded with a bunch of smaller balls instead of one big ball was a genius. The air defense cannons were almost always loaded with grape, and sometimes chain.
Another cannon fired into the sky, not Grape but flares. The sky began to glow with an eerie green light, as the flare floated slowly down in its dropchute. I looked up they sky was filled with Wyvern. Alarm drums sounded their rapid staccato. People yelled, Raptor Riders hurried to their mounts.
I turned and ran back to the workshop. Halfway there the cannon repair workshop burst into flame. I glanced up the Wyrvens were dropping bottles of Devils Fire. A thick liquid once ignited burned until smothered or it ran out of fuel. Water just spread the burning goo around.
A cast iron bomb bounced off a rock and rolled toward me the fuse was short and still burning. I dove to the ground trying to avoid getting killed when the fused entered the casing. Any moment now there was going to be a blinding flash and pieces of iron would shred my apron killing me. Did this one have a long fuse? I opened one eye, it was still there, no smoke poured from the bomb. A dud?
I made it to the shop, it wasn’t burning yet. I struggled with the lock since my hands were shaking. A flaming bottle broke in the air nearby. They had a mechanism that shattered the bottle after a pre set time. Expert Wyvern riders could time them to break right over the heads of their enemies. Many a war veteran from our last conflict with Skajistan wore horrible scars in their flesh.
The door opened, I grabbed one of our transport carts we used to move completed weapons. Grabbing up every carbine and rifle that could be fired; I ran toward the “trees”.
The windswept plain we were camped on were devoid of any plant life over a span high. The trees were large poles the height of ten men anchored into the ground with branches spaced out for the mounts to perch on. When I arrived the trees were burning, some of the Greater Raptors were flapping around on fire.
A Wyvern crashed in the mud in front of me its wings shredded by Grapeshot. It hissed and flailed around. Its massive tail smashed my cart knocking the rifles in the mud. I leapt back; it hissed again and lay still.
At first I thought it was dead. I righted the cart and started loading the scattered weapons when I saw it’s tongue flicking in and out. The beast was still alive! Within striking distance of my leg, I somehow managed to keep my wits about me and stood still. Wyvern are attracted to movement.
I slowly reached beneath my jacket and pulled out my pistol. While I was confident it could shred leather armor I wasn’t so sure about a flying lizards skull. I pointed it at the dying beasts eye. I pulled the hammer back and it clicked.
Its eye snapped open, it looked at me. I froze, did it know I was about to kill it? It opened its mouth revealing rows of dagger like teeth. I pulled the trigger.
A group of Riders scrambled toward me, they grabbed the flintlocks and ran to their mounts. Things weren’t going well. The attackers had the altitude, most of the Velderland riders would be killed not far off the ground. Many of the Birds had already been killed or were on fire.
A Raptor dove out of sky, a Wyrven hot on it’s tail, I leapt to the ground to keep from getting killed. The lead Wyrven rider aimed his musket at the Raptor. Its rider was wearing purple. Carolyn!
I picked a carbine up out of the mud, hands shaking, there was no way I could load it fast enough. I bit the top of the paper pouch pouring black grains into the flash pan. Somehow I managed to dump the remaining charge down the barrel, and ram the ball home. I dropped the ramrod to the ground as I brought the carbine to my shoulder. Hammer back, front sight. Too late. A muffled explosion, burst of white smoke, and her mount tumbled to the earth.
I ran toward where her broken bird lay crushing a barracks tent. A bomb burst above me, something hit my back knocking me to the ground. I stumbled to my feet, the pain a mere echo in the back of my mind. I hardly knew this Carolyn, but she had promised to teach me the ways of the ink.
The Wyrven hovered above the collapsed tent. The vicious Skaji rider held a glass firebomb in his hand.
“No!” I yelled as I took a knee. Steadying the rifle I tried to control my ragged breathing, something warm and wet began soaking my shirt. My vision narrowed until there was nothing but the front sight blade and the tattooed rider. His face was contorted in wicked laughter; he was enjoying the chaos and death.
He pulled his arm back about to throw the bomb, his movements slow and deliberate. My front sight found his head. I squeezed the trigger. The horned helmet flew in the air; he slumped out of the saddle disappearing amid the canvas.
His mount spooked and flapped its mighty wings. It tried to escape, in its haste it flew in front of burning air defense cannon. The cannoneer engulfed but standing at his post despite the threat of imminent death pulled the cord.
I dropped the carbine and ran to the tent. “Carolyn!”
Canvas, feathers, sticks and mud. “Where are you?”
The giant bird’s wing shifted slightly, I reached for it lifting it up, its feathers now heavy with death.
The purple robed figure lay beneath it. She blinked as the light of a flare hit her eyes.
“Get up Carolyn, we have to move.”
She closed her eyes, “I think… I’ll lie here.”
“You’ll die here. The Skaji are going to wipe us out.” I said as I grabbed her hand. “This is no hit and run skirmish.”
She didn’t say anything else. I picked her up and tossed her over my shoulder, she didn’t weigh much.
Now you may think I was some selfless hero. Nay I say, I was just doing what I thought would help me become a Magus. I know, I know, why keep reading? Well even one as un-heroic as me ends up doing some amazing things by accident.
A Rider fell from the sky his leather armor pierced by a musket ball. His mount landed beside him, mourning the loss.
“I need a ride.” I said to the giant bird, he hissed not sure what to make of us.
Carolyn mumbled a few words and the bird came over and crouched down. I could feel it.
“What did you do?”
“Changed… bond…to you.”
“We’re getting out of here.”
I lifted her up on the back of the Raptor, and climbed up into the saddle. It wasn’t meant for two. I pulled a small silk cord from my jacket made for dropchutes and tied it around our waists. She slumped over leaning against my chest.
“Climb! Hard!” I yelled at the bird as I whipped the reigns. I only knew the basics of riding, but I figured the bird would do most of the work. I worried about the weight, I was denied enlistment in the Raptor Riders because I was too big, and they never rode double.
I looked at the saddle, mounted to the sides for easy reach were a carbine in its leather scabbard, an ammo pouch, water bottle, spyglass, and gear bag.
The great bird spread its wings jumped and pounded the air with his massive wings. He was tired, scared, and carrying a heavy load; we would be easy prey in the air battle going on above.
Cannons, muskets, pistols, bombs and rope weapons were dealing death amid the skies. We were only a few man heights off the ground when a pair of Wyvern took interest in us. In level flight the smaller Raptors can out run the flying snakes, but they had the altitude on us. I almost didn’t see them until it was too late.
“Drop! Hard!” I yelled and Windrider landed.
How did you know your birds name?
Stop interrupting; you’re messing with my narrative. Weren’t you paying attention? Carolyn transferred the bond from the dead rider; no it wasn’t Smithson, to me. So I just knew alright?
The two Wyrven overshot our position, Windrider launched himself into the air again, as I pulled the carbine from its scabbard. I glanced down at the weapon, it was loaded at half cock. I slammed the hammer back and pointed it at the snake. My shot went wide passing through wing membrane, the hit might slow him down a bit, but it wouldn’t keep him from flying.
“Climb climb!” I urged my mount. He struggled against the wind. The greater raptors preferred to glide up thermals to conserve energy.
I turned my bird toward the mountains; maybe we could lose our pursuers in the canyons. I looked over my shoulder, illuminated by dropchute flares out in the distance I could see massive balloons floating toward Tent City, more Skaji raiders. They were probably laden with iron and fire bombs.
The mountains seemed so far away, I knew we wouldn’t reach them before being cut down by the Wyrven riders. They were gaining on us. I glanced back; in the light of a flare I saw one of the Skaji raise his weapon.
“Drop!” I yelled and pushed the reigns forward. Windrider tucked in his wings and pitched down. I pulled myself as close to the pommel as I could. The weapon barked, and an angry bee zipped past my ear.
“Demons take you!” I cursed as we dove. My mount pitching and turning wildly. Another shot struck feathers, but missed anything important.
We couldn’t keep ahead of them unless we continued to dive. We were running out of air, soon we would be scraping the dirt and be killed as the vicious snakes tore apart the bird and his riders.
I had always wanted to die an old man in bed surrounded by a throng of grandchildren. Alas this wasn’t to be. I was going to be killed on a rocky windswept hillside devoured by Wyvern’s from Skajistan.
A couple mere man height off the ground and another rifle report filled the air. I cringed, closing my eyes expecting to feel the lead ball rip through my flesh or watch helplessly as the wings of my bird crumpled sending us into a death crash. Two more blasts sounded, I looked back, Raptors were engaging the Wyvern from above!
The lead snake tumbled, while the second hit the ground with two Raptors pinning it with their talons. It reminded me of the crest of Velderland.
The immediate threats eliminated the riders formed up our wing. We landed and the two Raptor riders dismounted.
“Help she’s wounded!” I cried. “Carolyn the Magus, she’s hurt.”
The lead Raptor Rider lit a hand torch, his eyes widened in shock, “It’s you!”
“Yes it’s me. What in the name of all demon kind does that have to do with anything?”
The rider took off his helmet and goggles. It was Second Class Airborne rider Smithson.
“How did you learn to ride like that? Artisans aren’t allowed to fly Raptors.”
“Never mind that she’s wounded and… so am I.” I felt my undershirt with a hand, it was completely soaked with blood.
“Come on Smithson, we need to get out of here.” The second rider said as he removed his headgear. “You must be the smoke pole maker who gave my wingman here a heaping of humility earlier.”
“What?” The angry rider said as he stomped his foot.
“Yes that’s me.”
“Good to met you sir, I’m Rowan Bowen. Let’s take a look at your lady friend then.” Rowan was a bit taller than his diminutive companion but I wouldn’t call him a big man. He had a friendly face that despite the death and flames we had just fought through seemed to be able to laugh and smile. His red hair and wind burnt skin revealed him to be from one of the far western mountain provinces.
Smithson muttered under his breath, just loud enough that I could hear him over with whipping wind. “We should have let the snakes have him.”
I ground my teeth together as I lifted my arm so Rowan could get Carolyn down. I had been hit worse than I thought.
No sooner than they got the Magus down her eyes snapped open. “We need to fly now! We’ve got three wings of snakes headed our way.” With that she passed out again.