Storm Rush, страница 1
By S. R. Mulrune
Copyright © 2015 S. R. Mulrune
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
First eBook Edition: July 2015
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Hank had only himself to blame for the sword hilt pressed against his knee. And for taking a course toward turbulent storm clouds. But his passenger, the beautiful young woman in the open cabin with blonde hair waving in the wind, was to blame for his folly. Sneaking out with a Talon tiltrotor was the only way to impress Aurora.
Everything on the Talon rattled, from equipment cables, to safety harness clips, to the aircraft's own panels. Amber light flooded in through the open cabin doors and the cockpit windshield as the glowing clouds below raced upward toward the craft.
"Nothing to worry about." Hank adjusted the Talon's descent, but was interrupted by the sword when it bounced against his leg and threatened to fall toward his foot pedals. The Home Guard liked to outfit pilots with second-hand weaponry, especially ones with broken belt loops. "I aced the graduation exams for piloting."
"Do I look worried?" Aurora was relaxed in her seat. Only her wind-dancing locks gave the impression she was awake. Her brown Empyrean Home Guard uniform was the same as Hank's, only she declined a helmet for the flight. Her hands rested near her hips, next to the holstered pistol and sheathed sword.
The amber glow intensified as the Talon descended closer to the glowing storm. The winds grew stronger, but the Talon's flight became less shaky under Hank's direction.
Aurora smirked at the frantic pilot just ten feet away in the cockpit. "Which exams?"
Hank's heart fluttered. "All of them." His pulse raced too fast and he lost control of the Talon for a split second. "Have you ever met anyone who did that?"
Aurora stared with her intense auburn eyes and shook her head. "Ever met the Potomac's record-holder for spin decapitations?" She brushed her fingertips against the sheath beside her thigh. Her weapon was new and had a functioning belt loop, which was normal for infantry officers.
"I heard about that. Congratulations!" Hank circled the Talon around to look for a safe spot over the orange storm. He gulped at the thought of bringing up what he wanted to get to. "So your graduation must have been great? Mine was a wonderful ceremony."
"Not in this for the fanfare. Excitement is the best part of the job." Aurora rolled her eyes and shifted her attention to the nearby clouds. "The Academy can keep their medals."
"Excitement, eh?" Hank hid his shaking hands from view. "Practiced any moves for the graduate homecoming dance?" He wiggled his shoulders.
"No one to go with." Aurora patted the sheath and smirked.
"I don't have anyone to go with, either." Hank shifted the Talon's rotors to hover position. He dreaded the idea of a duel in the small space of a Talon cabin, but rubbed the sword hilt that rattled against his knee. He knew Aurora would insist on a sword fight, but hoped she'd give a simple answer. "Any chance you'd be interested in us going together?"
Aurora simpered. "Hank Huelly, are you asking me to the graduate dance?"
Hank's pulse raced and his heart felt like it would explode. "Uh, yeah. Aurora, will you go to the dance with me?"
"Was looking forward to a more exciting day than this." Aurora leaned forward against her seat straps and examined the storm clouds a good hundred yards below the aircraft. "Gonna be this boring the whole ride?"
Hank gulped and put pressure on the yoke to ease the Talon down. "You're going to demand a sword fight, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't dream of going on a date with someone if I've never seen them bleed." Aurora pointed down. "More exciting on the other side of the storm."
"That's Void airspace!" Hank cut his objection short and eased the Talon to the least active part of the swirling vortex below. The clouds not only provided light, but were the border between two realms. Above was the Terminus and safety for the skyship fleet. Below, the Void with its bountiful resources and endless dangers.
"Getting warmer." Aurora chuckled.
The Talon descended through the orange storm and roiling winds overtook the small aircraft. Everything rattled louder than before, so much that the folded autocannons at the edges of the cabin and in the aft gunner section swayed against their locks. The Talon's interior was bathed in amber light for minutes on end.
"Warmer." Aurora smirked when the intense light died down and the storm clouds receded from the top of the craft. The landscape below was a dry grassland littered with jagged, rocky spires. "Hottest down there."
"You want me to land?" Hank kept the Talon under the worst winds of the storm clouds.
"Really want to dance?" Aurora folded her arms and made a show of feigning a nap.
"I'm fine with dueling you. Even in that tiny cabin. Even though I'll lose." Hank examined the terrain below for the few safe landing zones. "But I'm seventeen. And you know the rules about guys setting foot on the Void. I'll trigger a voidform attack in seconds." His pulse chilled at the idea of the shapeshifting monsters.
"Glad it'll be more exciting than if I was with another girl." Aurora unbuckled her safety harness. "Go down. Lure the monsters. Make today fun."
"I'll land, but only for a moment." Hank lowered the Talon through the windy sky above the grassland. "And you'd better say yes to the dance."
"Only saying yes if you can beat me. Or last a minute without losing." Aurora's smirk shifted into a wicked smile.
"You want to duel down there? On the surface of the Void? For a full minute!? Without gunners to handle a voidform attack?" Hank considered pulling the Talon up and calling it quits on the whole idea. "You're insane!"
"Finally admitting why you're interested in me?" Aurora pursed her lips. "Let's have an adventure."
Hank swallowed his fear and took the Talon lower. The tall grass swayed like golden waves in the strong winds, but nothing moved within it, especially not nightmarish shapeshifters. "My pilot training only covered maneuvering around the big, airborne voidforms."
"Afraid of dragons?" Aurora's wicked smile showed her complete delight at the idea of encountering a dragon-like voidform.
"Not really." Hank found a large patch of short grass with no rocky spires and made several passes. "I know they never existed on Earth, so they've always been a falsity to me." He peered at the buffeted grass in the rotor wash for any signs of activity. "Only actual extinct creatures could scare me."
"What do you fear?" Aurora craned her neck to examine the landing site.
"You first." Hank's pulse raced, from terror rather than affection. He was closer to the Void's surface than he ever expected to be in his life. Male pilots were forbidden from landing craft on the realm, to reduce the risk of voidform attack.
"I asked first." Aurora kept her smile but folded her arms.
"Lions." Hank winced at his admission. "My mother had a few books about them. Before Earth was destroyed, lions were something like the top predator. Bigger and uglie
"Keep that fear in check so the Void doesn't use it against you." Aurora stood and held a rail to keep herself from being flung about the cabin. "Don't need lions or wolves or dragons interfering with the fight."
Hank landed the Talon on hard, dry ground. He kept the rotors spinning, and had everything set for an instant takeoff, before he left the pilot's seat. He took off his helmet and scrambled through the crawlspace to the cabin, loose sword in hand.
Aurora was several dozen yards out from the Talon with her short sword drawn. She chopped waist-high stalks of dry grass with delighted spins. "Why isn't that weapon on your hip?"
"Broken belt loop." Hank drew his sword, a gladius like Aurora's, but with rust spots. "They said my reissued sword came from a Champion." He leaped out of the Talon and scrambled after Aurora. "There's a number scratched in the pommel. Forty-five. So maybe it's lucky."
"We're soldiers, not heroes." Aurora bent her knees and went into a fighting stance. "Thrills are why we live."
"My minute's almost up." Hank could only allow a nervous smile. "So I guess you wanted to go to the dance with me."
"Academy sparring rules. Duel doesn't begin until we touch swords." Aurora smirked and yanked her sword away every time Hank tried to tap the tip. "Horrible with a sword. No wonder you became a pilot."
"Why do you want to be down here?" Hank made cautious checks around their location. "The Void's only purpose is to