Chapter 1: Flight and Crash, with a Dash of First Contact
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Once the ornithopter lifted off of the ground, kicking up dust and sending stray blades of grass flying in whichever direction, the monstrous, yet beautiful-sounding zero-point engine hummed in delight as it picked up speed, before darting to the south with a cheerful whine at a pace that even the most advanced machines of this new world could barely keep up with.  At least, the crew supposed so.  The twelve wings of the giant, dragonfly-shaped machine beat rapidly as it soon lifted into the sky, zipping and spinning in delight as if it were sentient, before diving down to the water and darting along at a rapid pace, just high enough that the flight left water spraying in its wake.  A loud bang was heard as it leveled out, the whine of the engine becoming quieter as an alarm began to sound before another bang surrounded the craft as it pieced the veil of sound.

"Alright, everyone!"  The operator spoke over the internal radio, smiling as he craned his neck to look back at the panting flight engineer, "Welcome aboard Air Anaxi!  Please, keep all hands and feet inside the ornithopter at all times, be sure to take a gander at the beautiful scenery below, and most important of all... have fun!"  Despite the operator's cheery disposition, the flight engineer soon gave them a scowl from under her helmet as she went back to her work, moving the holographic display of buttons to the back of the craft and turning off the alarm, grabbing at her toolbelt and her harness as she began to get up.

"To be honest, Anaxi, if you stopped treating this thing like it was a fighter model rather than the exploration one, we'd probably survive long enough to find land somewhere," she quipped as she unbuckled from her seat and got up, opening a panel that contained a large number of fuses, and dodging an errant spark that pinged off of the co-operator's helmet while quickly grabbing a pair of thick pliers and trying to remove it, "You do know the difference between the two, right?"

"I mean, yeah, Myrdan!  This guy's slower, it has more wings than a fighter or bomber, a larger fuel tank, less maneuverability, and is overall worse!"  Anaxi piped back as he slowly ascended close to and then above the lower cloud layer, keeping an eye on the horizon for any obstacles to avoid.

"Then quit treating it like a fighter if you think it's worse!  Otherwise, you leave me back here busting my ass trying to fix this thing!"  Myrdan yelled back as she removed the broken fuse and inspected it, chucking it out of a specially-made porthole where it disintegrated on contact with the outside air.  Going over to the replicator, she quickly made a new fuse and stuck it where the broken fuse used to be, the ornithopter shuddered as it accepted the new fuse, the engine picking up its whine back to the original volume as she sat back down into her seat behind the two, although turning it to face the operator.

"Well, what would you know about flying?!  You don't have a single hour in the operator's seat!  All you do is sit back and look at flashing buttons!  I'm surprised that you're even on this thing!"

"I press one, occasionally!  Being a flight engineer is harder than being all "I move the stick and mess with the pedals, watch me do a 360 despite it not being built for that!"  You're not the one removing a fuse from the thing while it's still active!  Diogen can attest!"

And so the argument continued, with Myrdan and Anaxi bickering back and forth as the ornithopter sailed through the sky, occasionally dipping to the left or right to account for any drift in their course to account for the force of the winds at their sides, with the co-operator, Diogen, sighing audibly as he planted his hand across his helmet's visor, mumbling and cursing under his breath as he swapped control over to his side of the machine to ensure that Anaxi's erratic movements caused by his bickering didn't make them crash into the ocean below.

"Well, at least they gave the job to a simple-minded barbarian such as you!  You may be from Persia and still loyal to the Empire, but I'd slit your throat in your sleep if you were not!"

"Oh really?  Well, I could ask the same thing about you!  I imagine you took it in the ass quite often since it's from Thebes!  Tell me, how many Sarkics did you fuck before Gyros?  I imagine it was quite a lot!"


"Both of you, stop!" A computerized feminine voice soon chirped up as both Anaxi and the flight engineer turned to the console in front of them, their argument pausing over the sudden and surprising voice.  With a light mechanical whirr, a hologram seemingly appeared between the co-operator and the operator's chairs of the ornithopter, the shape of which being akin to a female human, albeit with lines of code running down her body, and her mouth replaced by an audio graph, "If you two are done bickering like schoolchildren, I'd like to say that we're being chance by something.  RADAR just picked it up."  The hologram soon faded away, revealing a camera feed pointed directly at the objects, albeit at the minimum zoom seemingly out of spite, revealing small black dots in the sky.  Anaxi frowned under his helmet as he sighed, looking down at the controls and swapping them back to him before going to the camera and zooming in to take a peek at the unknown contact.  A look of puzzlement appeared under his helmet crept up as he rapidly flew over what appeared to be a port city, asking a question that caused both Myrdan and Diogen to pull up the camera in their parts of the machine.

"Are those fucking dragons?"

Meanwhile, some distance behind the ornithopter, the wyverns of the 6th Squadron panted, huffed, and groaned in protest as they attempted to chase the dragonfly-like machine, eventually having enough and pulling themselves back and snapping their bodies upright as they could no longer keep the pace with the ornithopter.

"Control, come in!"  One of the knights shouted into his mana comms, his helmet causing a telltale echo that they were in use, "Our wyverns have been tired!  We can no longer keep up!  The contact is heading in the direction of Ejey!  Scramble anyone you can!"

"Understood! We'll be scrambling the third when they're close enough!  They'll take it out of the sky!"

"Relay the message to the wyvern field at Ejey!  The unknown contact is currently flying at incredible speed towards the city!  Set an intercept course to the nearby fields outside!  Take it out!"  The dispatch officer barked at the nearby relay man.  A face of scaredness quickly appeared on his face, before he nodded and took flight at a run, immediately barging into a nearby tower that relayed orders to Ejey's wyvern garrison.

"Set an intercept course for Ejey's fields! the unknown contact is on its way there!  Shoot it down before it gets away!"

Back in the ornithopter, Anaxi quickly moved the stick to begin a course to the west, the onboard cameras of the machine recording the flight from the beginning to their current point in time.  The machine yawed slowly as it began to move back the way it came, flying over the air as its original lightning-quick pace soon began to slow to a crawl, slower than the speed of even the animal that it was designed after.  As it kept at its slow speed, the AI aboard soon chirped once again, revealing herself to the crew at the center console once again.

"You might want to speed up.  We got contacts coming."  She chirped as she looked out from the cameras aboard the machine, before a look of panic appeared on her mechanical face, "They just launched fire at us!  Move, now!"

"No need to tell me twice!"  Anaxi replied as he pushed the throttle and stick into the instrument panel, the machine diving to the ground and picking up speed, before leveling out just a few hundred feet near the ground, "Myrdan, can you route any power to the engines?!"

"I can, but not much, unless you want to suffocate up here!"  The flight engineer in question replied, practically mashing at the wall of holographic buttons to bring every ounce of power she could to the engines, the ornithopter lurching in response as it once again picked up the pace, the engine whining in both protest and seemingly panic as it began to pick up speed.  Soon, however, Diogen spoke up, panic filling his voice as he pointed directly toward a wyvern that began to come dangerously close to the machine.

"Wyvern, direct front!  Evade!"  He shouted, causing Anaxi to immediately snap his stick away from the beast in question.  The ornithopter responded smartly as it ducked away, the fireball soaring across the underbelly of the machine and leaving a massive scorch mark along the machine's belly.  Once again, it leveled out and continued its mad dash, with Diogen keeping his eyes out for any more wyverns.  Almost as if on cue, another wyvern appeared from below, causing Diogen to once again shout and Anaxi to once again snap his stick away.  Both the wyverns and the ornithopter were caught in this mystical dance in the skies above the city, the wyverns diving and throwing fire at the ornithopter as it bobbed and weaved to and fro away from them, struggling to build up speed to get away from the assault.

"These idiots don't give up!"  Anaxi announced between grunts of exertion as he kept pace with the wyverns, garbled voices coming through the comms systems built into their helmets, causing Myrdan to pause in confusion.  Almost immediately, she began to synthesize a pair of robotic, human-like arms, attaching them to her belt and using them to find the frequency that these attackers used.  Anaxi quickly picked up on her shift in focus by the sound of the voices becoming less garbled, but his shift of attention caused Diogen to immediately shout out once again.

"WYVERN, RIGHT IN FRONT!  DODGE NOW, OR WE'LL BE A SMOKING CRATER!"  Diogen shouted as Anaxi quickly responded by once again snapping the stick away from the beast, however, closer than what was comfortable for the operator in question.  Once again, the fireball sailed across the bottom of the machine, leaving a scorch mark as the metal belly of the machine became hot to the air, leaving behind a trail of steam as it continued its evasive maneuvers.  Luckily, they were far enough that the fireball was able to go along without a care.

However, they were too close to dodge the wyvern itself.

With a metallic screech, the left wings of the machine collided with the wyvern's, the sound of the collision being heard from even the walls of the city of Ejey, metal being wrenched from its forged shape and into bits and pieces of useless scrap metal.  The first, second, third, and fifth wings shattered completely and were severed on impact, sending shrapnel burrowing directly into the wyvern's wing and rider's body, showering his armor with shrapnel and severing the wyvern's wing down to the bone and nearly out the other side.  The fourth and sixth seemingly bounced off harmlessly until they were bent to the shape of the wyvern's now almost-severed wing, the tips smashing through the thin membrane of skin that it used to fly.  What bits of the wings remained in their general shape soon collided with the side and rear of the ornithopter, burrowing deep into the machine's engine, causing it to malfunction and fire off at random.  At the moment of impact, confusion reigned over the knights as they witnessed the collision, before going into full-blown panic at the realization of what had happened.  Almost as soon as the collision had ended, the other knights immediately soared for the falling wyvern, scooping the wounded rider off of his mount and grabbing onto the reigns, carefully bringing the wounded beast down to the ground.

The ornithopter suffered a more severe landing.  Once the impact had occurred, the machine began to plummet to the ground as Anaxi fought with the controls, barely bringing it to a somewhat level flight with only a few scores of feet left before they hit the ground.  Once it was level, he slowly began to ease the machine down, only for the engine to explode with a loud BANG, a great plume of blue fire and green smoke trailing out of it as shrapnel pinged around inside of the ornithopter.  Bits and pieces of engine parts, airframe, and equipment rocketed through the machine, bouncing off of the armor the crew was wearing and into the thin screens of plasma-infused glass at the front, shattering the screens and rendering them inoperable, blinding Anaxi and Diogen as bits of glass once again ran through the body.  After all the explosions and wreckage had stopped, the ornithopter was once again plummeting to the ground as Anaxi fought with the controls, bringing it to level long enough for the belly to be exposed to the ground.

As the machine begins to get closer and closer to the ground, Anaxi snapped the stick upward to try and climb, trying to recuperate and soften the landing a bit, but it was no use.  The ornithopter was on a collision course with the ground, and no matter what was tried, the machine is going to collide.  Feeling the inevitable, Anaxi pinned the stick between his legs and grabbed onto the handles on the side of his chair, with Diogen and Myrdan doing the same.  With a note of finality, the ornithopter slammed hard down into the ground, before the wings that remained suddenly caught the dirt and sent it flying into the air again.  At the height of the arc, the wings snapped off, leaving six final notes in the ground as the ornithopter once again slammed downward, right on its roof.  The metal framing snapped and sheared at the violent impact, with a piece of the metal going right through Myrdan's armor, pinning her arm to her chest plate.  She screamed out in agony as the ornithopter continued its roll, tumbling along like the wheel of a cart before skidding to a stop some distance out of Ejey.

"Everyone alright?"  Diogen asked as he looked around, seeing the impaled arm of Myrdan and immediately getting out of his harness, synthesizing a medical kit, and beginning to slowly cut away at the metal in her arm, "Get the AI out, Anaxi.  We don't want to lose it.

On command, Anaxi pressed a button that was located directly on the center console, causing a hiss as what appeared to look like a shard of glass came out of it.  Grabbing the shard, he stuck it into a port in his gauntlet, before joining Diogen in the back, helping to remove the errant bar of metal and quickly bringing it out of her arm and unbuckling her from her seat.  Once he did, he immediately opened the hatch on the belly of the machine, slowly climbing out and helping Myrdan out as well, before swinging out himself.  Once the three got out, Anaxi quickly reached inside and grabbed a piece of cloth, tying it around Myrdan's wounded arm as a makeshift sling, before the three of them huddled behind the front of the machine, panting as they removed their helmets and breathed the fresh, cool air, calming themselves down.

"That... could've... gone a lot better," Myrdan groaned out, hissing air between her teeth occasionally as the pain receptors in her arm fired off like crazy, "At least we landed."  Reaching into her belt, she held a hammer in her hand as the sound of hoofbeats began to draw close, causing both Diogen and Anaxi to deploy the blades on their wrists before leaping out from behind the ornithopter, only to be met with a legion of cavalrymen, lances leveled at the trio, sneers visible from beneath their helmeted head.

"Surrender, warriors of the Sorcerer Empire!"  The command boomed as he rode up to the trio, sword drawn and a scowl on his face, "You are surrounded and outmanned!  Any attempt at combat will be met with force!"

"Me and my big mouth..."  Myrdan quipped as she was met with a spearpoint right at her face, soon raising her uninjured arm and speaking with a strong, commanding tone, "I am not of the Sorcerer Empire that you think I am aligned to.  I am Myrdan, a flight engineer of the 2nd Ornithopter Brigade of the Mekhanite Empire.  May Mekhane bless this meeting!"

"I am Digoen, Senior Operator of the 2nd Ornithopter Brigade of the Mekhanite Empire."  Diogen soon added on to what Myrdan had spoken, urging Anaxi to do the same.  With a frown, he complied, raising his hands and speaking.

"And I am Anaxi.  An Operator of the 2nd Ornithopter Brigade of the Mekhanite Empire."  A look of acceptance soon crept up his face as he looked down, waiting for the sensation of a spear to go through his head, his armor, or any part of his body.  Looking up, Anaxi saw the commander of the force, a thin, middle-aged man with a long beard and dressed like a nobleman, seemingly contemplating his choices as he looked over him, Diogen, and Myrdan, before smirking and motioning for the knights to bring their weapons down.  Doing so, he rode up before dismounting in front of the trio, patting Anaxi on the shoulder as he motioned for a few men in long robes to come forward, soon beginning work on patching up Myrdan's injured arm.

"And I am Nou, general of the Qua-Toyne Principality and head of the Ejey garrison.  I hope you have sound minds because I have quite a few questions about you three that need answering."  Nou smirked as he brought what appeared to be a horse-drawn carriage forward, something which puzzled the three Mekhanites before opening the door and gesturing inside, "Now hop in!  Since one of you is walking wounded we need to get there quickly!  Chop-chop!"

Despite the questioning looks the other two gave him, Anaxi soon shrugged and began to climb in, helping the wounded Myrdan in as Diogen simply jumped in.  After slamming the door shut, Nou saddled up on his horse and rode to the front of the cavalrymen, leading them to the fortress city on the hill.