The massive hangar roof groaned as we asked it to function for the first time in a great many years. It’d already stalled like four times, but after some percussive maintenance from Jitters, it was doing its job.
The grey sky above the hangar revealed itself slowly, first as a thin strip of light above, then a wider rectangle. I watched until it was completely open from my vantage point in the upper lookout, then called down through the very staticky voice communicator to the bridge to let them know. “We’re good to go! Door is open!”
“Good,” Bassi’s voice came through the magical radio system after first having been run through some sort of heavy eurobeat filter. “Take us out please, uh, what was your name?”
A muffled voice came through the receiver, but I couldn’t make out the words. Bassi grunted, then spoke again, “Take us out please, Ozzy.”
Despite the captain’s position having the wheel, Bassi hadn’t wanted to drive the ship. She had no experience with powered vehicles, but a lot with the wind. So, she was up on a chair at the very front of the bridge, near the side windows that could open. That way she could see everything and give commands, while the pilot did the work. Eventually she’d get trained in how to fly the ship, but it was probably best for us to be in the air before that happened. Didn’t want to run into the hangar walls on our way out.
It took a few seconds, but then the ship began to rise. It was slow at first, the capacitors within the bowels of the ship pumping energy into the lift crystals. The crystals were strange, actually. They were actually technically batteries, but with the added bonus that as they gained charge, their lifting power increased.
The capacitors obviously required topping up from time to time, but other than that, the ship could stay in the air for a very very long time. Or at least, that was our running theory. We had no idea if the crystals would lose charge or whatever.
My position at the top of the ship was the first to see outside as the ship cleared the hangar. It was amazing to watch the ground slowly receding away below me. It was a view I hadn’t seen since I’d left Earth. It was also one that I’d sort of missed. There was a magic to flying, to the way that the world slowly miniaturised itself before your very eyes.
We were doing it! We were actually fucking doing it! The airship was flying!
As if on cue, the six magical engines of the ship roared to life, their turbines whirring loudly before the noise quieted. The engines were another one of those things that was so familiar and yet so strange to us.
They were combustion engines, so similar to what we were used to that even I had recognised the parts that made them up. However, there was one major difference. They didn’t use petrol. They used condensed mana in liquid form, created from a condensing machine in the maintenance room of the airship. I wasn’t exactly aware of the details, but any caster could pour their magic into the machine and somehow combine it with water to create a combustible liquid.
With the engines running, we began to move, the city below sliding past. My gaze was happily drinking in our departure from the city, when I saw something, alarm prickling my skin. Near the remains of the bridge, several of the bat things rose, alabasters on their backs.
“We have incoming!” I called into the radio. “Six, no wait, ten bats and riders! From the remains of the chasm bridge!”
“Mages, get to the right hand combat platforms!” Bassi ordered as the ship began to turn to allow us a clear shot.
The builders of the city below us hadn’t used cannons to do their fighting. Due to magic, their great minds hadn’t needed to come up with the long ranged solution that firearms presented. Instead, there were small platforms all across the ship that allowed a mage to cast spells out at the enemy.
Our ship had a grand total of four of these platforms, it wasn’t a warship after all, but they were still stocked with various instruments to help our casters. They had telescopes, air speed indicators, and even a rather ungainly rangefinder.
The next moments showed us how the rot had been delivered onto all the crashed airships. Thin beams of the filthy tainted magic lanced out from the Alabaster riders and streaked across the intervening distance to splash against the side of the ship.
“We’re hit with rot,” I called calmly into the intercom.
A few moments later, Victoria pulsed the ship with a purge, and I watched in real time as the rot was consumed by her magic. The enemy mages evidently hadn’t been expecting that, because they floundered in the air for a moment, uncertain as to how to proceed.
“Hit them!” Bassi called into the intercom, and a barrage of spells answered her call.
The sky between the two starboard mage platforms and the enemy became filled with fire, lightning, and arcane power. The barrage was so intense that little sparks of electricity jumped from one spell to the next, borne by the ionized and agitated air.
The Alabasters themselves weren’t really harmed by the volley, but their bats were another story. Wings and fur combusted under the onslaught, or in one case, were torn completely off. They tumbled at first, trying to maintain their powers of flight, but it was a fruitless endeavor. The Alabasters might be difficult to kill in close combat, but when they hit the ground, it was evident that they were as susceptible to the forces of gravity as the rest of us.
Their bodies made black stains on the ground, and I watched them with a profound sense of satisfaction as they receded into the distance.
Inside one of the lounges, Bassi and I were sprawled out on a couch, me half on top of her while she explained more of what she knew of enchanting to Victoria. It wasn’t much, after all. Singer was the enchanter in the Slate Snakes, not her.
Zoning out, I plucked my lover’s hand out of the air as she gestured with it and laced our fingers together. I felt her chest vibrate with a chuckle of amusement, and I swished my pony tail in her face in response. This felt good, resting and cuddling all day while the ship made good time.
It had been three days since we had gotten ourselves airborne, and during that time we’d noticed a ton of weird shit happening. Not with the ship, that was fine, but with the rest of the world, the wastes, and even the weather.
The further we went, the more destroyed the land became. The huge ravines that had trapped us in the city were not a localised occurrence. Chasms criss-crossed the land in a chaotic pattern of widespread destruction. Even more alarming, some were so deep that some of our lookouts swore they had seen a dull red-orange glow emanating up from within. Like they were staring directly down at the core of the planet or something.
The weather had been terrifying too, some days it was calm, the air almost impossibly still, and then out of nowhere, a violent storm would come careening over the horizon. Once, it had only been Bassi’s masterful command of the wind that had kept us from being torn from the sky and dashed across the grey earth below us.
The strangest thing of all, however? We began to notice that the further we went, the more things seemed more… alive. Especially around the huge cracks in the ground, the older ones specifically. Magma had boiled up out of some of the thinner, deeper ones, and life had regained a foothold among the grey death of the wastes.
It wasn’t much, though. The rot and decay still dominated the vast majority of what we had begun to refer to as the islands. They were basically islands at this point, after all. Islands within a sea of empty air, smashed rock, and deep magma, their borders were edged with the smallest hint of green.
It was no wonder that Joan hadn’t been able to make it to the city. I wondered how we’d have made it to her at all without the ship, too. It was almost like whatever was smashing the planet up had trapped us inside the city specifically to force us to use the airship, to repair it and therefore give us the means to finish our journey.
Running my fingertips over Bassi’s palm, I wondered why it had helped us, if that indeed had been its intention. Was it the god of destruction that we had heard so much about, was it trying to lure us way out past the goddess’ area of influence so it could kill us? I doubted it, considering the power it had casually wielded to save us in the first place.
Honestly, I was so fucking confused, and I really hoped that the Wind Court had answers for us, because otherwise we were screwed. We had two deities at war, both of whom had helped us, as well as a potential third, unknown deity in the form of the statues we had seen. Was everything we’d learned from the people of Anamoor false? A lie, born either out of ignorance or malice?
Gods, we really needed answers. Desperately.