The three skyships rose slowly into the dawn sky, their double rows of wings sculling the air. Tattered pennons fluttered from their superstructures, which were scarred and scorched with the marks of heavy fighting.
Watching from top of the keep, Aman Zaor murmured an invocation to the spirits of the First Men for those brave aeronauts. With only three frigates to defend them from above, the city of Dor Amaris was likely doomed. Dor Amaris had lost too much in the last war - and it was his fault. But what choice did he have? A Jerdun must defend honor, or he is not a Jerdun. And Lemius Ras, that rakhrid-spawn, still has my twin sister. We’ll settle with Lemius Ras and the Sarissans later. First I must defend my city.
The sun rose in crimson, sullen majesty, its swollen orb shimmering in the perpetual dust haze of the Drylands. Today though there was something wrong with it — dark motes danced against its face, like dust on water, motes that steadily grew darker and larger. A distant horn blared, and Aman Zaor glanced at his ships. Signal flags waved from their sterns: Enemy sighted east-southeast, bearing for the city. We will intercept.
“Signal to the aircraft,” Aman Zaor ordered, trying to project a calm he did not feel. “Unlock all fulgurator cannons. Fire when ready, but make every shot count.”
Her dusky face paling, the signal officer dictated the codes to her flag crew. The ancient energy weapons were the most powerful in their arsenal, but so old they grew more and more likely to fail with every shot, and no one in Dor Amaris knew how to repair them. No, no one on all Maruzar knew that secret anymore. It was unheard of to unlock them so early in battle.
The Jerdun raised an ocular to his eyes. The leading wave of the oncoming Swarm could be made out now. At the very forefront, drifting with the air current, were the translucent, gas-filled sacs of the windgrazers. Already a few early ones were sailing overhead. The rest of the Swarm migrated to follow them — and this year, the winds were bringing them to Dor Amaris. Droning behind the windgrazers were thousands upon thousands of gaunt, six-winged shapes, their fighting limbs with their terrible serrated blades folded, quadruple emerald eyes seeking prey. Vaspids. All too soon those horrific eyes were turning downward.
Thunder rolled above, as the three skyships shot coruscating balls of blue-white lightning. They struck the leading elements of the Swarm with a sickening sizzle that could be heard all the way to the palace bastion, and hundreds of the winged things plummeted in cinders.
“That’s it! Good shooting, do it again!” Aman Zaor cried, and the warriors around him cheered.
The skyships loosed another actinic broadside, and then another. There were noticeably fewer lightning balls in the last one, though, and one ship signaled a black omen: Fulgurator Cannon Two has failed. Capacitors of Cannon Two red-lining. We shall close in where we can do the most good. May the First Men guide our swordarms.
“No, damn it! Lieutenant, signal them — abandon ship and get down here! I want every single man to fight as long as he can!”the prince said.
But the skyship captain ignored the Jerdun’s signal flags, and broke formation to head into the dark river of wings that now filled the sky. It salvoed a few lightning balls again, and then, as the winged shapes closed in, its decks spurted jets of orange flame. The flamelancers cleared a hole in the mass of the Swarm, but they didn’t have much fuel. Dor Amaris had never been a rich city. The flames inevitably sputtered out, and the dark mass closed again.
Then the sky flared as the failed energy weapon’s power source burst.
And then there were only two ships in the sky, both under heavy attack. Now some of the Swarm broke off to begin landing on the walls and tower terraces. One flock was headed right for the Jerdun’s keep. Aman Zaor drew his sword. “To me, battle-companions! Fight as you have never fought before! You fight not for your Jerdun, but your children!”
They followed him with a roar.
They fought for what felt like centuries. As often as the archers and swordsmen cleared the roofs and battlements of the insectoids another wave landed, and ever the line of defenders grew thinner. In the odd lulls Aman Zaor dimly thought he saw the last of his skyships covered in black winged shapes as it began to accelerate nose-first toward the sands outside the walls, saw the collapse of his defenders at two bastions, the rivers of predators rampaging through the Lower City. Dor Amaris was dying before his eyes.
Suddenly there was again a multiple thundering in the sky. Aman Zaor looked up. A flotilla of strange skyships was diving down from the north, energy weapons flaring as they sliced vast swathes of sky clear of the invaders. The newcomers were far larger than any Dryland prince’s skyships, blocky and lacking the multiple wings of Maruzarian aerodromons, and their weapons fired not lightning balls but beams of topaz light.
Then the ship’s bellies were vomiting winged forms of their own, which quickly resolved into warriors in wingcloaks. While their comrades from above sent arrows and musket balls raining down upon the aliens, the cloaktroopers dived onto the towers and rooftops of the city, whipping out swords or flamelances as soon as they touched down and engaging the vaspids in well-coordinated teams.
Their helmet crests identified them as Sarissans.
Well, hope y'all enjoyed that ... My mind's been on a sword and planet bend again for the past several months, and I'm thinking of coming up with a new sword and planet setting of my own. What do you think?