Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 11

The Pale flew low across the desert plains, the air behind it screaming. Alex was actually quite fascinated with how the engines worked to propel the ship at such incredible speeds: from what he could observe, complimented by past conversations with Ani, Angels such as The Pale sucked in air through a long filter running along the bottom of the fuselage. This filter had two functions: strong purification spells kept grit, hellfire, and other undesirables out of the incoming air, and a complex network of runes also forced the incoming air to drop to below the freezing point of water. The cold (and therefor compressed) air rushed down the fuselage and into the ribcage, where it was redistributed into the engines. The engines themselves held a knot of huge metal bands, interwoven together and cleverly inscribed so that when positioned in one way, they formed a powerful three dimensional fire rune, and when positioned the another way they formed a vortex spell. Devices in the ribcage kept the band of the engines spinning in their torus configuration, allowing the engines to force air in and out at an incredible rate.

The part that Alex had difficulty visualizing was how the reversal jets worked. Somehow the airflow was redirected so that it would come out of four spiky projections that pointing forwards and slightly out from the fuselage. These jets were responsible for not only slowing and stopping Angels, but also greatly enhanced their maneuverability. Alex just couldn't picture a way to send air through them without making the rest of the engine massively more complex.

There were a number of other mechanisms that gave the Angels their incredible speed (such as some clever material usage inside of the wings), but ultimately the speed came down to the quality of the engines and the ability of the pilot. It took a good mechanic's constant attention to keep the toruses in shape, along with the countless other systems, while the pilot had to stay absolutely focused during a flight. If the pilot wavered, it would be all to easy for the Angel to nosedive into the ground, killing everyone onboard instantly.

Alex sighed a bit, remembering the horror of witnessing an Angel crash. The explosion had been tremendous, and there wasn't so much as a hair left after the crater had cooled. Deciding that the subject could only depress him, Alex stood up from where he had been sitting and walked over to the girls' tent.

"Hey, you guys about ready?" asked Alex, leaning against the wall beside the entrance and closing his eyes. "We'll be there any second now."

"Yeah, I've got my stuff ready." Mal replied as she walked out of the tent. "Stheno was ready when she walked in, she's just meditating right now."

"Gotcha. Where's Guy?"

"Right beside you." Replied the metal figure beside Alex.

"Aaah! The hell did you get there?" exclaimed Alex, jumping a bit in surprise.

"I'm a scout. I have to be both fast and quiet, otherwise I'd get eaten." Guy's 'head' rose through the air to look Alex in the eye. "Have you not worked with a scout before?"

"Not direct... can't say I've worked with anyone remotely like you, to be honest." Alex sat down, bringing his eye level much closer to guy's default. "Have you ever worked with a Librarian before."

"Can't say I have. We'll both learn something today." Guy's head nodded once, and then swiveled around 180 degrees. "The ship is slowing rapidly, and losing altitude. I assume we must be arriving."

"Yeah." Alex checked his pockets and made sure that his weapon and waistbook were secure. "Last call for chickening out."

"I don't think anyone here is the type to 'chicken out'." commented Stheno as she walked out of the tent. "What I am interested to see is how well this group can coordinate as a team."

"We'll see." Said Ixion, walking over from the cockpit. "Ani wants me to explain the teams to you, because I'll be the one holding up communications. If you have questions, even on the field, ask me."

Ixion pointed at Guy, Stheno, and Chase, who was waiting beside the hangar door. "You three are taking point. Guy finds the route, Chase makes it doable for the rest of us, and Stheno clears out any large problems. You three run into trouble, given that it's not too bad, fight in a holding position until the second team arrives."

Ixion then pointed at Alex, Mal, and Oak, who was standing beside Chase. "You three are running support. Try and keep within spellcasting distance, because it will be Oak's job to keep the Wards up on our point members once they enter combat. Alex will also be responsible for trying to maintain some Turn magic during combat. Mallory, your job is to watch these two's backs while they're casting, in case of a sneak attack, and also to create diversions for the point team if possible."

Ixion then pointed at himself and indicated the rest of the ship. "Myself and the rest of the crew will stay onboard The Pale and try to keep our escape route clear. If you need her, Ani is going to prep her Hermit so that she can join either of the land groups when needed. If you find an area with a clear shaft to the surface, report it and we will move The Pale to that location for speedier reclamation. When you walk out, be sure to grab two halves of a reclamation key, so that we can get you out without ropes."

"Handy." commented Oak, turning half of a key over in his hand. "Just put the parts together?"

"Yeah, and a powerful attraction force will be enacted. It's line-of-sight though, if you can't see the ship directly they won't do anything." Ixion tapped the side of his head, right beside his eye. "Alright, any other questions?"

There was a pregnant pause, but noone could think of anything to ask at this point. They were all experts in their chosen fields, it was just a matter of seeing if they could work together. "Alright, get ready to disembark. Yaga will open the hangar door when we're in position, and all of your echo amulets are already keyed in." With that, Ixion turned and walked back to the cockpit, leaving the group beside the door.

They stood there awkwardly for a little bit, waiting for the door to open. There was a sudden hiss as the ramp dropped and the air pressure changed, and then Chase jumped out, a rope unrolling behind him. They watched nervously as the man plummeted for several seconds, arms and legs outstretched like a flying squirrel, and then all flinched a little when Chase suddenly grabbed onto a cliff wall with all four of his appendages. There was a grating second while he slowed to a halt, and then he pull back one arm and spiked the rope to the cliffside.

Chase switched his hand augment quickly, and then used the new one to gouge out a wide foothold beneath the rope anchor. He tapped his echo amulet twice, indicating that the other two should follow. Alex frowned to himself... something didn't seem to add up. He realized it the moment Guy rolled past him, to the edge of the ramp: how was Guy going to climb or even slide down a rope?

Alex didn't have to wait long for his question to be answered. Guy's floating hands planted themselves on either side of his spherical body and then the wrists extended until they connected with his head- which was hovering just over the rope. There was a slight flickering as the sides of Guy's spherical shell pushed slightly outwards, and then the center of his body began to rotate slowly, and then faster, sliding him along the rope.

"Clever," commented Mal from beside Alex. "That's a pretty well thought-out design. I wonder what other tricks he has hidden in that shell?"

"I doubt you'll ever know." Stated Stheno. "I still see him do stuff I didn't know he could do. I think he tweaks the design behind everybody's back."

"Huh. So how are you getting down?" Asked Alex. "I'm not sure that your wrists are up to that kind of punishment."

Stheno smiled dipped one finger in one of the tubes on her side. Metal shavings came spiraling out of the tube, wrapping themselves around her hand. "I think I'll get by."

The three remaining in the hangar watched as Stheno and Guy zipped down to the anchor, and then eyeballed the inclined path that Chase had already set up from that point. "Ugh. I dont like having such limited options. Getting back up will be a pain." commented Oak.

"We'll manage. Come on, they're already off the first ledge, we're going to get too far behind." Alex threw a two-foot length of cord around the rope and gripped it tightly. "I'll go first, and scoot over so that you can follow as soon as possible. Don't follow too close or you'll push me off, jerk."

"Yeah yeah, go already," laughed Oak, giving Alex a shove out of the hangar. "Mal and I are right behind you!"

It took the group fifteen minutes to get to the destination, even though Chase managed to find an incredibly direct path to it. The opening was large enough for the whole group to stand in, though it was slightly cramped because there had been a cave-in just a few feet into the tunnel.

"Stheno, could you?" Asked Oak, indicating the rubble with his staff.

"Yeah, no problem. But aren't you supposed to be farther back?" Asked Stheno. "There could be a Print right on the other side of this."

"Last ledge was too far away for spellcasting." Replied Alex. "But if it makes your feel better I can go ahead and put us on a different turn."

<Might be a good idea.> Said Chase. <The trip down here was much too quiet.>

"Ok, give me a minute. Be aware that this is going to keep us from talking directly to each other." Alex initiated the spells as quickly as he could. "If you need us, contact Ixion and he'll get ahold of us."

The forward team nodded and waited patiently. After a short while, Oak, Alex, and Mal stepped into a small rune circle and froze, at least to the forward team's eyes.

To the support team, the forward team seemed to go into blinding motion. Stheno stood in front of the rubble for what seemed like a single second, feeling them out with the wind, and then detonated them suddenly with a series of controlled blasts. The forward team wait for just a moment while the smoke cleared, and then disappeared into the tunnel.

"Alright." Alex said when he felt the unique sensation of the time flow change, as if he was standing in a river and the current changed direction. "I'm going to loosen the difference between the turns, so we don't lose them. Let's go."

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