43: Constrained
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“What the hell was that?” Leon asked, his voice shaking with confused fear.

The whole area had been torn up and smashed from beneath by whatever monster had killed all our enemies and saved us. Massive cracks had been torn through the city, like a drunken spider had woven a web of destruction over the area.

“Guys,” Jitters whispered, pointing towards the way out of the city. “I don’t… I don’t think we’re getting out of the city that way.”

Oh. Fuck. Just down the road, the whole rest of the city was just… missing. A yawning chasm some fifty meters wide blocked our path. My blood ran cold as I began to comprehend the full power and majesty of the entity that had just intervened in our battle.

“I guess we need to hope that the bridge is still standing,” I laughed nervously. The chasm also ran for as far as I could see in each direction.

That seemed to galvanise Bassi, who had been standing there with a white-faced expression of fear on her face, much like the rest of us.

She turned to everyone and waved back in the direction of the bridge. “Exactly. Let’s get moving. We still have a job to do.”

“Only way is forward, huh?” Beth joked, as we all turned to go back for the bridge.

The further we moved into the city, the less damage the strange monster had done, and when we got back to our tower we found it thankfully intact. I went up first to test it, see if it could still hold the weight of a person. That proved to be mostly true, although more of the stairwell had collapsed, which would require more work from Kory. When everyone arrived at the top, I had already seen how truly fucked we were.

Out in the direction of our quest, the land had moved more than half a mile away. The bridge was nothing but a memory, and behind us… well, the ground looked like an orbital cannon had cracked the crust like an egg.

“We’re… we’re stuck,” Basilisk breathed, doing a slow circle to view every inch of our surroundings. “There’s no way we can go.”

She was right. In every direction, our escape was blocked by riven earth.

“We’re fucked,” Victoria said despondently. “We’re going to be stuck here, stuck in this hellscape.”

Feeling a pang of sympathy, I walked over to her and hesitantly put an arm around her shoulders. I had a solution, but I wanted to see what everyone else came up with first. Victoria stared up at me in surprise, but she didn’t pull away either.

“Girls gotta look after each other,” I murmured, giving her a reassuring smile.

“Thanks,” she whispered gratefully.

“I don’t know what to do,” Bassi said, glancing at me before turning back to where the bridge had been. “There’s literally nowhere for us to escape. We can try building a bridge, but our food will run out long before we can finish it.”

There were nods and shrugs all around the group, at least the ones who were listening. The wounded had been healed by our healers, but they couldn’t bring back the dead. Some had lost friends in the earlier battle, and it showed behind their eyes now.

I waited a few moments longer, then cleared my throat and asked, “Does anyone here have engineering experience, besides Jitters?”

Most shook their heads, but to my surprise, Kory nodded. “Yeah, actually… why? I got a degree in mechanical engineering and was working on my masters when I burned out on it and swapped to game design.”

Perfect,” I said, pulling my arm off Victoria’s shoulder and clapping my hands together once. “I think I have a plan, assuming those big drum-shaped buildings are what I think they are.”

Everyone turned to look as I pointed out across the ruined cityscape. Now that I’d brought them to everyone’s attention, I heard several gasps of understanding. Yup, we were a bunch of fucking nerds.

“What?” Bassi asked hopefully. “What is it? What are those buildings?”

“They even have the big doors on the front!” someone exclaimed, as the earthlings’ excitement grew.

“Airships,” I said, with a growing smile. “Assuming some of them are still mostly intact.”

“Air… ships?” Jitters asked, perking up. “As in, flying ships? Ships of the air?”

“Exactly,” I agreed.

I walked over and took her shoulders in my hands while her adorable face lit up. I could see her realising she might get to work on a flying ship, the notion slowly easing its way through her bones like a good kiss.

Bassi was looking around at all the excited faces, but she clearly didn’t fully comprehend what was happening, so I caught her eye and explained, “Those big buildings are reminiscent of some old tech from earth. Inside them, there’s a chance that we might find ships capable of flight. If Kory and Jitters are able, we might be able to refurbish one and fly away from here.”

“I see,” she murmured, brows furrowing in thought. “I’d heard rumours that such contraptions had existed before the fall, but they are considered nothing more than fanciful myth.”

I shook my head. “Given the level of tech around here, I’m pretty hopeful.”

“Let’s get going, then?” she said after a few moments more of thought. She also motioned for me to come closer, and when I did so, I was suddenly pulled into a fierce kiss. “Good thinking, my love,” she whispered against my lips.

The part of the city we were heading towards was much lower class than the place where the tower was, but also strangely more intact. I guess the rich hadn’t gotten the memo about making their buildings earthquake resistant.

I paid careful attention to the actual quality of the materials around us, too. Something that had me worrying was if the decay that the god of destruction was spreading might also corrode metals and the like. If that were the case, any airship we found would just disintegrate the moment we tried to lift off.

Below our feet, the flat paving stones were still pretty well preserved, and the steel was a little brown, but not terribly so. Then there was the wood, which looked dry as hell, but otherwise fine. It was as though anything that had already been dead or processed before the fall had survived the rot that was spreading across the land. Perhaps it had even burned itself out and left nothing behind, not even microbial life to decompose anything.

Entering the warehouse district itself caused some more anxiety. The place appeared to have been ground zero for a massive riot or battle of some kind, and everything had been trashed. Doors were smashed in, windows were broken, and the sun-bleached bones of long dead people littered the streets.

“Far out,” Beth said quietly as we passed an area where it appeared as though… well, some monsters had gone and had themselves a barbecue.

I had to agree with her. It was a grim scene, made all the more disturbing by how much it left to the imagination. I could see circular bite marks on some of the bones.

Past those grisly scenes, the airship docks were at least a little more intact. Some conflict had happened here too, but… it appeared as though people had been fleeing it, rather than fighting within its confines.

Then, we saw the first crashed airship. It had fallen and crushed another while it was still inside its hangar, and apparently the whole tangle had exploded. Dramatically.

The scene wasn’t an isolated one either. All over the place, airships had apparently just fallen out of the sky as they tried to escape, crushing whatever they had landed on.

I was most interested in the designs, though. I was sure we’d find one that hadn’t been shot down eventually. They had the same big vaguely whale-shaped bodies that we were familiar with. Rigid bodies made from metal girders, then wrapped in fabric. Weirdly, though, they were way smaller than what you’d expect, and unlike earth ones, their gondolas were only a small part of their overall deck space. If I had to guess, the outside structure was more for aerodynamics than to hold a bunch of gas or bags of gas.

The first hangar we checked was empty of an airship, but we made note of its storeroom full of spare parts. The second had an airship, but it had crashed into the walls of its hangar as it’d tried to escape. Apparently whoever was behind the wheel had been panicking.

The third, fourth, and fifth hangars were empty, but the sixth one… that held an airship still sitting happily within its mooring arms. It was clearly a private ship too, the hangar having been off the main thoroughfare and locked up tight. It stood to reason, I guess, that some rich guy’s private yacht had been the one to still be there. His ancestors were probably back in Anamoor, having escaped via a method that was less dangerous.

“I think this is the one,” I said as we milled around outside the ship, staring up at it.

Bassi gave a nod and moved over to rest her head on my shoulder with a weary sigh. “I bloody well hope so.”

My poor girl was tired. Me though? I was invigorated. The ship was gorgeous. Sleeker than the others we’d seen, its gondola was made of a beautiful dark wood, finished with aluminium along all the structural areas. The rigid body of the thing was still mostly intact too, save for a few areas where the thread that held the canvas to the frame had snapped.

Even from down here, I could also see that the interior was all luxurious and plush and shit. I was actually sort of intrigued by the idea of seeing how these old rich folk had lived. Might even give us some insight into what made the ruling elite of Anamoor tick.

“Kory and I are going to check to make sure it’s all structurally sound before we let everyone on. From there we’ll start to investigate how it works and why so many others apparently dropped out of the sky,” Jitters said, taking charge with barely restrained glee. “Oh, and we’re going to need some of you big strong boys to carry things for us. Any volunteers?”

I bit back a laugh as she got to work like some sort of seasoned foreman, ordering people around and getting everyone set up. For all she’d been through, that girl was still as tough as ever.

Sleeppppyy bun.