Fragile Hope: Part Two

9.8.2022

   Flyers were usually rather simple in their design, the panel in front of Uluantha offering only a few control sigils for things like reinforced magical shielding in case of a sudden storm, or filling the compartment with a bubble of air should the conveyance crash in the ocean.  They had not been designed for use in battle, having been developed during the longest lasting peace ever recorded, so Uluantha had few options to protect herself from her pursuers.

  Before her hand could reach the sigil to activate the extra shielding, a massive tower of water erupted from the ocean just in front of her, perfectly timed to surge into the bottom of her flyer as she passed over it.  Uluantha tried to yell as she was slammed down into her seat, while her visual field filled with the disorienting spray of water.  Just as suddenly, the torrent stopped, dropping the craft into a spinning dive towards the ocean surface.

  Uluantha moved her hands down to grasp a set of elaborately engraved and gilded handles protruding from the central control crystal while speaking a brief incantation.  The handles glowed green as the magic took effect.  Her awareness expanded from her own body to encompass the form of the flyer until its skin became her own.  

  She could feel the complex currents of air and pressure moving around the wings and tail as she shifted them into a new position to stabilize the craft.  This took all of her concentration, leaving her too focused for worries about how close the sharply pointed nose of the flyer had come to the water. Fully immersed in the sensations of flight, she felt the tail just brush the surface as she once again left it behind in a race skyward.  She pulled her hands back to the central crystal to let the enchantment fade, catching sight of those hunting her.

  Urgently, she slapped her palm on the sigil to activate enhanced shielding, and got the incantation off just in time, as bolts of electrical energy slammed into the aircraft from either side.  The flyer shuddered and jumped, but stayed intact: this time.   “How much more of this can we take?”, she asked the craft, not expecting a reply, “Let’s see if we can get a look at what we’re up against.”

  Uluantha continued the steep climb upwards, with the aircraft burning lifespring at an alarming rate, as she searched for her enemies.  She found them circling back for another volley, one shooting into a vertical climb, the other preparing to pursue her in a turn.  She maneuvered her flyer into a loop that would place her nose facing the lower one as their courses converged from opposite directions.  She didn’t like how close this would bring her to them, but it was the best way to get a look at the aircraft and the pilot.

  For a few precious seconds she could see the details of the enemy ship’s silhouette.  Small golden protrusions, like thick gold wire, emerged from sigils at intervals along the body of the craft.  She could make out two at the nose and one on each side of the craft.  The flyer appeared to be a little larger than hers, crewed by two occupants wearing some kind of mask over their faces.  Bigger and heavier, hopefully that means slower and less graceful, Uluantha thought, and she began a turn she hoped they would follow.

  The adversary took the bait; in response, she broke into a roll that rapidly flipped her nose 90 degrees, her tighter turn radius allowing Uluantha to position her flyer on the inside of the downward spiral.  In that moment, Uluantha was so close to her opponent she could make out the patterns of their plumage, as well as the details of the sigil on this side.  A counterspell ward. “Damn!” she exclaimed in frustration, and the moment passed as they continued jockeying for position in a double helix spiral towards the surface.  She could deny them line of sight on her, but she didn’t want to unleash the destruction necessary to break the ward.

  “We can’t win this fight, and I don’t want to be in it anyway,” Uluantha mused at her flyer, “I think it’s time to call for help.”

  The second enemy craft would be on her at any moment, but Uluantha set her ship into a broad vertical arc towards the suns, rolling slowly as she went, and focused on her spell.  She extended her mind into the depths of the ocean below and sang in Wheylanni.  Desperately, she sent the notes of the song ringing through the water, losing all of her positional advantage to the task.

  The flyer that had kept to the high clouds now described an arc that matched hers perfectly.  The one that she’d been trailing had maneuvered inside her arc, where she was caught in their sights for too long.  As she looked at her impending doom, it came swiftly, and obligingly.  The inside flyer unleashed a spell of Dazzling Spray that flared like the sun itself was stabbing at her.  Taking advantage of her disorientation, the adversary at her back discharged a spell of flame that engulfed her in a ball of searing heat.

  Blinded by the display playing out in front of her eyes, in an aircraft plunging towards the ocean, Uluantha reached for the handles that would let her join with her flyer.  Her best chance now was to get safely to the surface and hope that help heard her call.  Luckily, the magical shielding had deflected much of the attack, so while damaged, her flyer was still airworthy.

  “Time to play dead, my friend.”

  Uluantha made the ship spin and stutter as she guided it rapidly down towards the water.  She used a simple spell to make the splash look much bigger and more devastating when she hit the surface with a controlled splash.  She could see the enemy circling above and moving closer, like scavengers trying to determine if she was dead, or just nearly such.

  She extended her mind down into the ocean, sending out a desperate cry of, “Hurry!”  For several agonizing breaths, there was only silence.  

Then, “We are here, your call is answered.  What aid do you require?

  “In the sky above me, two flyers have attacked and driven me to the water, unable to fly again.  Please, honored Wheylanni, will you carry me to the Assembly Complex where I will be safe to leave the water?

  “We will do as you ask, Uluantha, for the bond with your people is strong.

  The massive creatures of the water, the wheylanni moved without hesitation.  One burst up from the surface near Uluantha, swinging their impossibly long body so that the tail moved in an arc above her.  One flyer managed to dodge out of the way, but the other had a set of wings smashed like dried leaves by the force of the swing and spiraled uncontrolled towards the water.  

  A second wheylanni glided towards Uluantha with its giant mouth agape.  Like a vast cavern moving across the water, the mouth surrounded Uluantha’s little ship, and closed around her.  Her flyer could use the lifespring batteries that powered it to float in place on the massive tongue below her, and she relaxed in the eerie blue glow of the otherwise perfect darkness around her.

  “What just happened here?” she said aloud to herself.  Then moving to her mental link with the wheylanni carrying her, “I’m afraid for my people because of division within the Clans.  How are things in the ocean’s depths?”

  “There have been some strange happenings to share,” said the wheylanni in her mind, and Uluantha listened carefully.

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