• Sunsette

Scene 01: Wild Ride

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

Quiet. Pristine. Austere.

The highest peaks of the Meteora Mountains stand so tall that — despite the tropical jungle canopies they oversee — almost every single one is capped in white snow year-round. Even most airships can't comfortably reach the peaks of the largest. It's as far from the war as you can believably get. Few soldiers would venture here, where air is scarce and food scarcer. Each glaciated apex is a monument to unchanging silen—

"Hold on to your knickers, people! It's gonna be a wild ride!"

The voice belonged to a bolt of color tumbling through the air, high above the frosted peaks. Closer inspection showed the blur of pomegranate red was actually a fair, blond-haired boy. His eyes were shielded with aviator's goggles and he wore a heavy backpack. In addition, he was dressed in a distinctive military uniform — skimpy shorts, thigh high boots, but a giant warm frock coat — tumbling through the frigid air, all the while a small brown rabbit clung onto his shoulder for dear life.

As he descended, he yanked a ripcord from that backpack; rather than a parachute, clockwork wings of brilliant red, white, and gold erupted from behind, carrying him on the wind.

Sergeant-Engineer Nicodemus "Knickers" Rose: Aerial Specialist.

"Stop making that stupid joke, you trollop!"

A few octometers above him, the wind whipped through the black hair of a lithe tanned woman, who was — it must be said — not having the time of her life. Descending feet first, the soles of her jackboots glimmered with the energy of a recent enchantment.

Knickers grinned at her. "What, is it because I'm prettier than you?"

The look on Polly's face could have turned a basilisk into a lovely lawn ornament. She was not fortunate enough to have a frock coat with her more standard colonial uniform, but she did have a rifle on her back. For a moment, she considered taking it out and shooting him, but even if she could make that shot right now, that'd leave her ill-equipped to begin the landing. She opted to utter profanity instead.

Trooper Dorothy "Polly" Farthingale: Covert Assault.

"Cut it out, Sergeant. Ye too, Trooper." A third voice interrupted them.

The other two fell quiet. The voice that cut in was preternaturally loud but controlled; it resonated in a way that didn't make any sense for the wind conditions. Fittingly, it came from a woman who also stood out at any distance; the tautness of every bulging, brown-skinned muscle on her towering frame, the shocking violet hair, the bandage that covered her bad eye. She was dressed like a farmhand out in the Western Marches rather than a stock-standard soldier, but the triple chevrons and crown insignia marked her as a Sergeant-Major. The woman frowned with concentration and — with a heave of air — rotated her body so that she was falling feet first; as she did so, she looked up at the sky above.

"Engage force disks," came her order. A translucent circle of energy began to form under her feet and Polly's, flaring out to catch the wind and slow their fall.

Sergeant-Major Camille Seule: Mission Commander. Witch.

"Wait, only now? ... Whoops. Well, better to be safe than sorry."

Quite a ways up in the air, a pale, portly brunette in uniform sat upright on a slowly descending wooden wagon; it hummed quietly in the crisp, cool air as magical force slowed its fall to something reasonable rather than alarming. Nevertheless, the riveted-down chests behind her seat creaked and shuddered like there was no tomorrow. She chalked it up to the unstable nature of many of the chemicals the wagon was carrying. Her uniform was heavier than the others, with a thick white apron in front and padded leather gloves, not to mention boxy goggles meant more for fumes than wind.

Specialist Mara Bloom: Combat Alchemist.

"Without these noisemakers, we don't have much of anything to pop the rail once we get there, and I can't say I'm looking forward to what they'd do if we hit the ground real hard," she remarked to no one in particular. She was alone up here and that was fine with her. The other four...

Wait. Mara's eyes narrowed as she counted the figures ahead of her. One, Knickers. Two, Polly. Three, the Witch. Weren't they missing someon-

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" The fifth and last screamed past her in a blur.

"...Knew the boy was slow. Didn't think he was that slow."

Trooper Gerald "Gerry" Lonz: Survivalist.

Gerry continued to tumble through the air at a rapid pace, shooting past Camille and then Polly while screaming bloody death. Before long, he was chasing hard behind Knickers; as he started to pass the blonde, Knickers had a second to look closely at his fellow man. Reddish tan skin, nice muscles blending athleticism and grace. Inverted at about 3 pi over 2, call it 21 over 20 relative to the mountain slope. Little bit of a five o'clock shadow that could use some shaving since there was no hiding his babyface, and that silly fur hat — what were they called, ushanka? — weren't exactly the height of style. Still, it'd be a loss to the world to damage that beautiful body. Even if he was chanting,

"I'm g-gonna d-die—!"

The rabbit chittered in Knickers' ear.

"Just a sec, Paddy, doing a little math," he answered. A second later, the boy scooted a few inches to the side and grabbed hold of an arm, adjusting Gerry's trajectory gently-but-urgently so that he was properly feet-first. Instantly, Gerry's force disk flared into existence beneath his feet and he almost comically exploded away from Knickers and the rabbit — or rather, the winged boy soared ahead, before banking into a wide loop-de-loop to take up the rear.

With Gerry rocketing back up into the air, Polly was the first of the disk-users to properly land on the snow, kicking up a massive wake of white as the slender woman surfed down the frigid slopes.

"...Not going to lie. Now that I'm kind of on solid ground again, this is a little fun." Her slender silhouette was dwarfed by that of the massive, violet-haired woman creeping up near her: Camille.

"Least 'til we hit the treeline," Camille remarked soberly. She turned her one good eye towards the rear. "How long we got, Trooper?"

Gerry had caught up now, his hands wrapped around the fur hat he wore to make sure it stayed on his head. "Maybe a mminute at this rate— b-but look!" He jabbed a thumb behind him — triggered by the high velocity impacts and loud voices, the telltale white plumes of a gathering avalanche were mounting in the distance behind them. And it was quickly closing that distance, chasing at Mara's wagon.

Mara's brow was deeply furrowed, but she was doing the best she could not to panic; panic would just make this worse. She pulled a vial of colorless fluid off of her heavily-packed alchemist's apron and tossed it behind her into the avalanche. For a split second the white snow erupted into blue crystalline ice, falling behind in the distance... then it was overwhelmed with more powdery frost.

"Sergeant, can't say I'm taking a shine to your idea of a shortcut!" the alchemist yelled ahead.

Camille glanced back at the woman on the wagon. It was looking like Mara would get consumed by the avalanche before she built up the speed the others did.

"Sergeant Rose!" Camille shouted above. "Give Specialist Bloom a push!"

"Yes, ma'am!" Knickers answered; the flyboy lowered down to the wagon's divider, and then gripped. A bright, powerful flame erupted from a rocket behind his wings, scorching the snow behind and forcing the wagon inches ahead.

"Can't you go any faster?" Mara asked, snapping the wagon's reins to one side to dodge a jutting rock.

"Mass is too high! Paddywhack!"

The rabbit popped out of Knicker's coat and onto his shoulder, looking at the blonde with a quizzical twitch of its nose.

"Jettison cargo!"

Paddywhack raised up on his hind legs and saluted, then jumped off to one of the chests, carefully tugging on the belts and buckles that held one of them closed. All of a sudden, the black leather lid on one popped open, revealing a sheepish-looking brown boy clad in the standard uniform — except his boxy hat lacked any rank insignia. He had loose pigtails that covered his ears like muffs and ended in braids.

"Oh, uh, hi Mister Knickers!" He waved, a shy smile on his freckled face.

Recruit Bobbin Socks: Fifer?

The snowy terrain was racing beneath them and behind them, with increasing speed that said it would soon be ahead of them. But that didn't mean there wasn't time for good questions. Good questions like,

"Bobbin? What are you doing here?"

Mara glanced back behind her. "Stop talking to your rabb— oh. Pits. Stowaway!"

"Well, I had to tell you something!" Bobbin squeaked out, throwing his hands into the air indignantly.

Up at the front, things weren't going much better. The snow was getting thin, and as Camille and Polly burst through a powdery wave and onto brownish-grey stone, the colorless white discs beneath them began to flicker and flare with energy at the edges.

"We're slowing down! Didn't we plan for this?" Polly hissed, glaring at Gerry. He threw his hands up into the air in protest and his voice cracked with fear.

"N-not mmy p-plan! I warned you all!"

"Focus. Ye said somethin' fore 'bout a crag, Recruit?" Camille cut in. Her violet eye glanced at the scene behind them and then back ahead. They were still clipping forward at a good pace, but the force disks had no propulsion beyond gravity, and they floated slower over stone than snow.

"A small avalanche c-could tummble into a gap, but I don't see one! P-plus how would we c-cross?"

"Leave the first t' me. Everyone! Get ready to jump!" The Sergeant drew the rapier buckled to her side; the silver blade sparked with violet energy, as did her good eye.

"Jump?! How in the hell do I jump a wagon?" Mara shouted.

"Alchemy?" Bobbin asked. He had, at least, crawled out of his chest and over to the neighboring one, where he and Paddywhack were tossing everything they had at the gargantuan ice front chasing them. Acid, fire, cardice, all manner of alchemical disruptions that ate away at the very front but did nothing for the mass of it.

"'Alchemy,' the kid says," Mara grumbled. Then her eyes lit up. "...Wait a second. Knickers — do you have any spare guncotton?"

"Good idea, Specialist!" he cheerfully replied, hands white-knuckle gripping the wagon. He nodded at the brown bunny. Paddywhack hopped back to Knick, then reached for a small pouch on his belt; little paws grasped an opaque black box.

Mara's hand swung back behind. "Alright, boys, hand it ov-"

"No time! Bobbin!" Knickers shouted. Right on cue, Bobbin plucked the box from the rabbit's paws and hurled it a few yards straight past Mara, to the outside front of the wagon. Mara's eyes grew large.

Camille brought her sword down in a sweeping arc; the violet lightning danced across the stone ahead of them, before flaring up in the distance — where she noted a line of scrubby green. They were cutting it real close to the tree line.

"Well, damn — so be it." Then in a lower voice, she intoned something unearthly; the pain it brought in her bones was familiar, if agonizingly unpleasant. In response, the violet energy infused the stone earth ahead and ripped it into a yawning, sundered chasm. Behind, an earth-shattering kaboom resounded through the air.

The last thing Camille remembered doing was pushing her knees down to leap.

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