Flying the Abyz “Spider” fighter proved to be just as interesting an experience as I expected it to be. On the positive side, that meant that the suborbital trip to our destination passed by with blinding speed. On the negative side, the blinding speed came with the danger of actual blindness as several components that regulated the ship’s flight and navigation decided to explode in our faces. I would have been willing to trade a month’s paychecks for a less interesting flight but I knew that wasn’t going to be an option even before we set out.
To her credit, Fari did an amazing job of forging credentials for us on the fly and locating a top of the line ship to serve as our transport. The Abyz Spider fighter was unusual both in terms of its armaments and its ability to transport up to four casters at once. That should have keep our flight nice and simple, but the fate weave was fighting to undo Fari’s work at every turn.
I fight against the aetherial manipulations and can resist the fate weave’s direct attacks, but in a multi-person fighter plane, there were too many things that could be turned against us for me to protect us all with a Void shield. The plane itself, for example, would have been unhappy to have most of it’s enchantments bathed in Void anima. A Void shield might successfully prevent damage to fighter’s systems from the fate weave, but it would also drain all the energy out of the enchantments that let the plane fly in the first place.
Fortunately we had an answer to the fate weave’s machinations.
It’s rare to see a wizard-class Aetherial caster strenuously exerting themselves. They normally work on very long time scales and favor subtlety over force. Against the fate weave and under the time constraints we were fighting against though, Zyla didn’t have the option of being subtle. Instead she grew very still.
When I press my magics to the limit, I often wind up moving faster than the eye can follow and the collateral damage around me accumulates quickly enough to qualify for disaster relief aid. In Zyla’s case though she didn’t move at all. Not physically at least. Her anima was another story. As we flew into the worst of what the fate weave could throw at us, I felt a counter surge of magic tearing around us like a hurricane. When I looked back, Zyla was in the middle of that hurricane and I could see the starkly visible glow of her magic fighting tooth and nail to keep us in the air. She was weaving layer after layer of spells faster than I could follow or comprehend, and she was doing it against a power that dwarfed her own by millions or billions of times in terms of raw magical force.
In a sense, it was odd to see that fight occurring at all too. The fate weave wasn’t usually inclined to crash fighter planes from what I could tell, but under the Queen’s control it was willing to make an exception for us it seemed. It was thanks to the work Zyla did that our wings weren’t ripped off and thanks to her that the distressing nature of our flight wasn’t apparent to those monitoring us from the ground.
Conflicting gusts of wind hit the airframe of the craft but only served to provide lift and cancel out the drag that was slowing us down. Internal components of the ship failed, but most of them weren’t critical and the few vital ones were in areas that Darius (our resident engineer) was able to jury rig repairs for.
That left me to fly the Spider, which was always thrilling to do on a craft I hadn’t received any training on.
Under normal circumstances handling an unfamiliar plane wouldn’t have been that hard. There are some near universal standards on how flight enchantments are laid down, so interfacing with a new craft was mostly a matter of learning its limits and peculiarities. Discovering those limits and peculiarities the hard way when fighting against maelstrom winds did present a few difficulties though.
“We seem to be upside down,” Darius said. “And flying backwards.”
He didn’t sound frightened by that. In fact he didn’t even sound surprised. I’d either broken my poor boy somewhere over the last two years or he’d acclimated to the kind of situations I brought into our lives. Either way, he was a keeper I figured.
Of course “keeping” him requiredkeeping us all alive, so I cursed and poured Physical anima into the Spider’s engines, struggling to bring us around to the proper bearing.
“We are being advised of turbulent air fronts and instructed to climb to thirty thousand feet,” Fari said, relaying the commands from the Abyzal military weather personnel who were part of the control staff for the troop deployment we were using as a cover.
“Probably good they’re calling it turbulent air,” I said. “If they knew we had micro-vortex’s up here, someone might get suspicious.”
I got the fighter pointed in the correct direction and brought it up to full standard throttle to push a path through the mini-tornados the fate weave conjured against us. As luck, or more specifically as Zyla, would have it, I hit a gap layer in the vortex where the winds were calm. That was enough for me to push us through the destructive edge of the storm without being ripped to shreds. The instant we were out I engaged the transonic boosters and dove towards the countryside below us.
“They’re reporting secondary storms forming in the higher altitudes,” Fari said.
“The fate weave’s not terribly clever is it?” I asked.
“I think someone’s working very hard to make that statement a reality,” Darius said and gestured back to Zyla who was sweating in addition to glowing.
“We’re getting close, just hold on a little longer,” I said and started to think about how we were going to fall into the Queen’s clutches.
Evading Queen Metai’s forces was possible in the short term in we stayed hidden. To get the information we needed though, I was pretty sure we had to expose ourselves to her, and that meant I was flying us right into a trap. I suspect that’s why the fate weave wasn’t fighting harder than Zyla could counter. The Queen wanted us captured and I wasn’t exactly working against that goal.
“We’re going to leave our assigned operational zone in fifty seconds,” Fari said. “I can stall them for probably twenty second after that under normal conditions, so presume we have about two seconds with the fate weave interfering.”
“What’s their best response in that case?” I asked.
“There are three other Spiders on patrol routes that will let them intercept us,” Fari said.
“Can any of them reach us before we get to the outskirts of Demon’s Isolation?” I asked.
“Not unless our engines fail,” Fari said.
“Darius?” I asked.
“I’m on it,” he said. “Prepping for total engine failure in thirty two seconds.”
“Is there a teleport lock on the city yet?” I asked.
“Nothing active,” she said. “We’re twenty seconds from breaching our patrol zone and the first ring of alarms around Isolation. If we’re going to stealth in, we’ll need to do so starting in ten seconds.”
“I think we want Plan R here,” I said. We had several different general plans worked out for situations like this. Plan R was a favorite of mine though and, while I was biased in favor of using it more than we perhaps should, it seemed like the right approach given the situation.
“Bringing weapon’s systems online,” Darius said.
“I’ve blocked the weapons arming report from being sent back to command and control, but the moment we fire they’ll know what’s up,” Fari said.
“Good,” I said. “Let’s get their attention then shall we?”
Plan R is for “Rockets” and after reading about military ships for far too long as a kid, I still got a kick whenever I got to fire them off at unliving targets.
“All automated alarm posts within striking range are on your display,” Fari said.
“Locked and firing,” I said.
From the underside of the Spider, eight missile pods dropped down and unleashed a battery of conjured projectiles. The magic missiles roared ahead of us like slender dragons, each hungry to destroy one of the “hidden” alarm sites that ringed the nearest edge of the forgotten city of Demon’s Isolation.
The magically generated munitions packed an explosive punch as part of their payload but they also had a solid, physical aspect to them as well which was aided by the transonic speed we were moving at. That made the resulting explosions when they impacted a wonder to behold. The whole ridge ahead of us lit up with a wall of flames that announced the start of hostilities to everyone within several hundred miles.
A moment later we plowed through the fire and I fired another salvo at the next ring of alarms.
The Queen’s forces didn’t want a fight. They wanted a slaughter. They had vastly overwhelming force to throw against us and the capability to pin us in place while they brought that force to bear. The key therefor wasn’t to try to fight the Queen’s forces. The key was to make them delay themselves long enough that we could accomplish our objective.
Agent Riverstone was, according to Fari’s research, one of the highest level operatives in the Queen’s employ. She also had the most experience dealing with me. That meant she was the most likely candidate for being in overall charge of the operation against us. The Queen might call the strategy but a smart leader, like she was, left the tactical decisions to the people whose expertise lay in those areas.
I knew Bo wouldn’t underestimate us, but she also struck me as the sort to go for the smart plays if given the choice. When she saw two rings of alarms go up in smoke, the smart money would be on my team having convinced Ebele’s to launch an all-out assault on the lost city. That was the simplest explanation for the destruction we caused. The idea that we modified a fighter craft in flight to have a hyper-advanced targeting system and overcharged missile payloads would sound ludicrous to anyone familiar with the enchantments that the Abyzal airship bore.
Even if they thought to question the captured crew of the Horizon Breaker about our capabilities, Bo’s team would probablybe led astray since Darius, Fari and I don’t take those kinds of risks in most cases. Agent Riverstone would be much more likely to learn that I usually tried to talk people into siding with us and only went for truly risky plans when it was my own neck on the line and no one elses.
Despite all that though, Bo was a smart lady and might guess that the attack was overblown and that I was bluffing. Even so though, she’d still be in a position where she’d be better off forming an enormous force that could deal with several dozen strong casters rather than proceeding with a moderately sized squad that was capable of handling Darius, Fari and I. It was the safer course of action and the one most likely to guarantee an immediate win.
That sounded great for Bo and terrible for us and if I was very luck that’s what she would think too.
“The communications web has lit up like a stellar nova,” Fari said. “They know we’re here.”
“I’m getting us onto the group immediately then,” I said. “Tell me when they get the teleport lock comes into effect.”
The moment they froze us out of teleporting away was the moment that they had their troops in place. I wanted that to take as long as possible, since that was our window of opportunity in the city, but I also needed them to be as hasty as they could so that we’d have the best chance of surviving the coming disaster.
My landing wasn’t the best I’d ever managed. The Spider fighter wound up cracked in half and there was a large crater where our munitions pods detached and wiped out a few deserted city blocks. The plane’s safety systems did deploy however, so we all walked away only slightly more banged up than when we started the flight.
That particular miracle was mostly Zyla’s doing, though I did manage to provide personal shields for us that held out until the ship’s crash systems could engage. Unfortunately those safety systems only worked while we were still inside the Spider.
As we crawled from the wreckage of the fighter, I felt my breath being crushed from my lungs. Abyz was drowning in Aetherial magic. Except here.
All around us I felt an alien Void anima spell. It was an emptiness that echoed on a planetary scale. The fate weave couldn’t touch us here, it protected and controlled the living, and it had no place where we were, down among the dead.