I don’t think I actually ever posted this. Anyway, it’s the prologue to the NaNo novel I’m doing. It occurs approximately 16 years before the events of the novel.
Baron Niro raced through the skies. He was well above the heavy cloud cover—and well out of sight. Few skycraft had clearance to venture so high. And because of the ferio attacks, those that did have clearance would most likely not fly this high anyway.
Niro wiped the sweat from his face. He knew his time was limited. He had to get back to the tower. Who knew what they had planned for him…or his family?
The thought gave him a little jolt. Surely not…But he knew they would. Anything to keep their precious operation safe. He pressed a little harder on the throttle. The engine burned fiercely, blasting him with unrelenting speed towards the black speck he now saw in the distance.
It had been a setup. It was obvious now. Maybe they had even purposely attracted the ferio with some sort of decoy before he arrived. Now his skycraft, a sturdy Hemoth-class, was nearly ripped to shreds, and he was leaking fuel. He would be lucky if it didn’t explode.
Warbaron Niro’s skycraft lurched and dipped in the air like a drunken bird. Niro adjusted and increased speed. If he could keep the fuel he had left moving, he should be able to avert accident. Not that anything that had happened today had been an accident.
The red skies were a blur, and the clouds beneath him melded so they looked almost like solid ground. Niro wiped his face again. He shouldn’t be sweating. Not at this altitude. He had already discarded his heavy fur overcoat.
The tower was closer. He could just make out the thin line down the center of it where the skycraft were kept. Only a few minutes more to the landing bay…
Then he heard the cry, the harsh, triumphant, bloody cry of the ferio. He scanned the skies, looking for the source. Without looking, and by instinct, his left hand primed his weapons, loading a new cartridge into the forward gun. Unlike the skycraft built for war, Niro’s carried only one pilot who both piloted and shot. The Hemoth-class skycrafts were built to fight ferio. They were tough, fast, and small. Their weapons were powerful and quick-firing. And Niro was the best pilot of them all. He was a Warbaron.
He still didn’t see the ferio. He rolled, looking from behind his googles, trying to see where the cry had come from.
Far below him, at the edge of the cloud cover, was a band of the screeching demons. Huge leathery wings folded and flapped, nearly hiding the limping skycraft from sight.
Niro’s heart clenched. The skycraft was a Spirit-class. It was meant for scouting and cloud-gathering only. It would piloted by a novice pilot. He wouldn’t have chance against a marauding band of ferio.
The ferio were built to kill. With heavy, tough bodies and wide, reptilian mouths, they preyed on other flying creatures and creatures that walked the red earth below. Really, they hunted anything they saw moving.
Which, unfortunately, the Spirit-class was not. In good conditions, a Spirit would simply outrun ferio. But as Niro descended slightly, he was that the skycraft was going nowhere fast.
Its engine leaked fuel, and at least one of the engines was out. The skycraft was still heading for the tower, trying to get under protection of the flying city’s heavy guns.
It wouldn’t make it, Warbaron Niro realized. The ferio had already slain one of the pilots. The remaining was trying to keep the creatures away from him by rolling and juking. He was still alive. That proved he was a better pilot than most.
Niro, torn between reaching the tower and the ailing craft below him, knew he had no choice. He was a Baron. Sworn to tower and comrade. He dipped the left side of his craft and went into a dive.
Though ferio were by far the most dangerous of the flying beasts, they were fiercely territorial and could not ignore their instincts. And so when Niro dived into their midst, unloading his steel bullets into their wings and bodies, they took him for a rival hunter.
The pack, crying in anger, took off after the new arrival. Niro looped around them and sent a few more tumbling to earth, the corpses riddling with holes. A fine mist of red splashed across his windshield. Niro smiled like a wolf.
He led the back across the crippled skycraft. Though Spirit-classes carried no weapons, all Barons carried weapons on their person. As he flashed by, Niro saw the pilot in his seat, one hand on the controls, the other taking potshots at the distracted ferio with a sidearm.
Niro made for another loop. Instead of responding gracefully as it should have, the skycraft merely groaned. Niro didn’t try again. He was losing speed and altitude. By rights, be should bail out. But to bail out with a pack of ferio on his tail meant they would eat him alive before his parachute opened.
A ferio claw scraped along the windshield. Niro drew his sidearm and fired. The ferio’s scaled claw exploded and hot blood scalded Niro’s face. He looked at his fuel tank. He had more than enough fuel despite the leak. But the engines… He turned around taking another few shots and the ferio that hounded him ever closer. They knew their prey was wounded.
He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining his newborn son, still pink and soft. Niro breathed out slowly and turned the other skycraft again. The pilot was still trying to get under cover of the tower’s guns. They were close.
Niro loaded a fresh cartridge into his main gun and blew away the few ferio that still harried the Spirit¬-class. He made to catch up. But then, he felt a thrum, a beat out of rhythm of the normal vibrations of the skycraft. He looked for the source of it. He had a few seconds The ferio were giving him a moment’s reprieve by gathering as one to make another assault.
Niro found it behind his seat. A timer, bolted to the floor of his craft, hidden behind his ammunition store. And it was counting down from thirty, beginning activation as it reached its end. Niro felt cold. With time he could disarm it—all Barons had the necessary training—but he had no time. In thirty seconds he had he could fail, or the ferio could attack, or his engine could die.
Slipping back behind the controls, Warbaron Niro raced through the red sky, feeling with dread the tick at the back of his mind, reminding him he only had seconds to work with. The Spirit receded from view as Niro fell back. The ferio began to tail him again, working up the courage to attack. Making sure his sidearm was fully loaded, the Warbaron unbuckled his safety harness. The tick continued to count down.
A roar of a crippled engine gained volume. Niro chanced a glance forward. The other craft was returning! The pilot must have realized that Niro was staying behind to hold off the ferio.
No! Niro shouted mentally. The fool of a rookie pilot stood no chance against a pack of ferio. But then he had to shove the thought aside and return to his work at an accelerated pace. He had to detonate soon—now—if the other pilot was to be beyond the blast radius.
Niro checked that his parachute was securely fastened one last time, cocked his side-arm, and jumped.
The pilot of the Spirit-class, a Lobaron named Aeric, watched in amazement as the other pilot leaped from his craft. The ferio were practically crawling all over it, gnawing at the steel and tearing the craft to pieces. The pilot fell, tumbling through the air.
Aeric didn’t understand. The ferio would finish with the craft and go for meat. Leaving the craft was suicide. But then what remained of the other pilot’s Hemoth-class exploded and then Aeric was fighting for his life. As he tried to regain control of his skycraft, tumbling over and around due to the force of the explosion, Aeric saw a thing he would never forget. It would haunt him until his death, driving him and motivating him like nothing else would.
The Hemoth exploded, blowing the ferio to pieces, shredding them with thousands of metal splinters. The pilot, still falling, had curled into a ball, trying to escape the fire that reached out in every direction. A tendril caught the pilot and latched onto his arm. The man fought the fire, still willing himself to fall faster, to escape the explosion that grew with every second.
Then the orange billowing cloud, flecked with red and black, enveloped the pilot and Aeric saw no more. His skycraft falling to pieces, his head and hand injured, the Lobaron broke his windshield with the butt of his pistol and leapt out, pulling the cord on his parachute in the same movement. He floated to the ground, barely hearing the sound of the rescue craft that buzzed around him, searching the falling wreckage, confirming what the bleary Lobaron already knew.
Warbaron Niro, new father and legend of the Baron ranks, was dead.