(an original sci-fi short story written in homage to Beowulf)
Hazy moonlight streamed through the thin atmosphere of Erendani IV, starkly illuminating the deep ravines and chasms snaking for innumerable kilometers across the rocky landscape. Shimmering motes of dust hung in the air, swirling in lazy whorls and weaving strange and fleeting patterns that melted away into the lonely night. Strange rock formations, reddish and eerie under the pale silver light, jutted out of the ground like the towers and pinnacles of an ancient stone city, long ago abandoned and forever silent. The landscape was lonely and utterly devoid of life, emanating only the changeless tranquility of untold ages.
Abruptly the silence of the night was broken by the deep throaty growl of approaching assault craft. Almost immediately they came into view, racing low over the rocky terrain, first one, then another close behind. They darted and weaved through the shadowy maze of rock outcroppings like agile birds, fast and sleek, nimbly avoiding the collisions that spelled certain, fiery death. At times they plunged into complex rock formations where collision appeared imminent, yet every time they would impossibly burst through, triumphantly unscathed and seeming to scoff at the danger.
Kalid Tsutoda knew better than to think he was cheating death, however. From his vantage point inside the cockpit of the lead craft, light amplification equipment made the night seem as day, and his field of vision extended to the horizon – more than adequate to locate safe passages through fast-approaching rock structures. More importantly, he knew fully the performance characteristics of his 40 ton strifemaker, and they far exceeded the requirements needed to traverse this relatively tame obstacle course. Besides, he was the best pilot in the kingdom, and it would take much more than a bunch of rocks to rattle his nerves. He grinned and punched his throttle a bit higher.
“My lord!” his youthful eirant yelped in protest as Kalid sped ahead. She boosted her own ship’s velocity to match Kalid’s, and keyed on her visual transmission so that her face appeared on Kalid’s instrumentation deck. She had her helmet visor up and had drawn her delicate eyebrows together in mock sternness. “You shouldn’t fly so fast. It is dangerous in this terrain.”
Kalid smirked with amusement inside his bulky flight helmet. “For you, perhaps, fledgeling. For experienced fliers such as I the only worry is where to find a new eirant when our current one has crashed.” This statement brought on a chuckle from his wingmate, and her severe countenance dissolved into the more familiar easygoing smile.
Despite what he had said, Kalid had no doubts about the competence of Adenale Kyra, his eirant. She had been flying for over 8 years and, though perhaps not as proficient as a weirlord, would have no trouble in this present locale. An added benefit was that although her 25 ton aerostriker lacked the fearsome firepower of a strifemaker, it compensated with exceptional maneuverability. It was a machine well suited for those less skilled in piloting, and therefore the ideal craft for eirants.
Kalid guided his strifemaker smoothly past a huge dome-shaped boulder. He scanned the horizon casually while at the same time keeping wary of the nearby hazards of the rocks. Adenale followed close on his tail, similarly keeping an eye out for enemy craft. Neither pair of eyes noticed the surreal calm of the moonlit night, nor sensed the quiet beauty that pervaded the landscape. Both pilots simply saw the craggy territory purely in terms of tactical assessment. Light-amplification technology meant that night simply did not exist for them, and time could not be wasted merely in appreciating the aesthetic character of a piece of land. After all, this land was, and always had been, a battleground.
A muted beep from his instrumentation panel informed Kalid that they were approaching the periphery of their patrol zone. His scanner showed absolutely no sign of any activity anywhere, and also indicated that it was nearing first moonshift. Time to head home.
The pilot snapped his helmet visor up, revealing brown eyes that were deceptively soft and belied his considerable skills as a combat flier. His face of dusky brown skin gave no concessions to age except for the tiny crows feet that lined the corner of each eye. Switching his heads-up display from the visor to the cockpit canopy, he removed the glove from his right hand so he could rub his tired eyes — a dangerous action, perhaps, but only for one less skilled than he.
“Is it time to wing it back to the nest, you think?” Adenale queried, her green eyes bright with anticipation. She too of course had been informed that they had covered their patrol area. “I think I could really use some sleep.”
Kalid replaced his glove. “I’ll second that, fledgeling. Let’s see if we can’t make it back to base in record time.” He keyed his transmitter to command frequency. “Aleucron Base, this is Brown Wolf One.”
There was a short pause, and then a deep baritone voice came on line. “Baron Kalid, this is Aleucron. Go ahead.”
“We’ve completed waypoint circuit and we’re coming home.”
“Read that, Baron. No trouble, I hope?.”
“Absolutely nothing. The insurgents are quiet tonight.”
“Very good, my lord. Hurry back. Aleucron out.”
Kalid banked his craft around in a wide arc and pointed its nose toward home. Adenale followed, though lagging behind a bit. “Still going too fast for you, fledgling?” he asked jokingly.
“No, my lord,” she responded, smiling. “Just admiring the new paint job.” Kalid’s strifemaker had recently had received a fresh coat of paint to brighten up the fading black and gold escutcheon that signified the House of Tsutoda. Also newly painted was its dorsal stabilizer, sporting the fierce snarling head of the mythical aeinderterran wolf that identified the craft as part of Brown Wolf Flight. Kalid glanced over at Adenale’s aerostriker as she slowly pulled alongside. The nosecone of her assault craft similarly displayed a family escutcheon, though of different design and color and without the winged irontail crest that was the symbol of a weirlord. The same wolf head also adorned her stabilizer, freshly painted, and Kalid had to admit that the new design looked far more ferocious than the old one. “Lord Gelspart’s eye for design is admirable,” he acknowledged. “Didn’t know he had such an artistic talent, did you?”
“Never would have guessed it in a hundred cycles,” she joked. Both pilots shared a brief laugh before falling into the familiar easy silence bred by long years of companionship.
Lost in their own thoughts, the two guided their craft easily through the treacherous maze of rocks that extended in every direction as far as the eye could see. Adenale keyed off her transmission and long minutes passed as the unchanging landscape flashed by below.
Finally, the towering spires and massive ramparts of Aleucron Base crept over the horizon far in the distance. The base, though being the easternmost and most isolated outpost of all the ones still loyal to King Stregellion, was still a huge and forbidding structure. To Kalid and Adenale, however, the sight was a welcome one, as it meant rest and rejuvenation after a long flight. Indeed, since Lord Ngasi and marshal Edins, together comprising Dinte Airi Flight, had been shot down, everyone’s patrol schedule had been extended substantially to pick up the slack. It would be at least another day before the long awaited and much needed reinforcements arrived from Reudisill Arvigant, the King’s castle. That meant at least two more patrols, and Kalid wanted to make sure he got in his due share of relaxation before then.
Aleucron Base grew quickly larger as the assault craft sped toward it. The gray metal walls and towers bristled with anti-assaultcraft gun emplacements and protruding sensor arrays, breaking the otherwise smooth outline of the ancient castle. Kalid could barely make out at this distance the tiny entrance to hangar bay five, their destination. They should reach it within a minute.
A face popped up on his instrumentation deck. Kalid quickly identified the deeply lined face and drooping gray mustache of Duke Teir. Kalid immediately tensed; if the Duke himself was contacting him in flight it meant something was seriously wrong.
The Duke’s solemn expression and somber voice confirmed his presumption. “Baron Kalid, this is Aleucron. We have trouble.”
“What is it, my lord?” Kalid asked uneasily. He had never seen the Duke look so worried before; the trouble must be grave indeed. He braced for the worst.
“Thorn Gild Flight has a positive on two wings of dissidents, ETA to Aleucron 23 minutes. Mist Crewl Flight is already on intercept course; I’ll need you there as well.”
Kalid sat mute, startled. Two wings was more than the entire complement of Aleucron’s assault craft; as it were, they were down to half strength. His scanner came alive with a 3-D map pinpointing Thorn Gild Flight’s position as the Duke fed the coordinates to his onboard computer. The map indicated that the enemy was approaching from the far northeast, in the direction of the kingdom of Ibraine, a fact ominous in its implications. Thorn Gild’s time to engagement was roughly one minute.
“Can you make it?” the Duke asked, concern evident on his worn face.
Kalid glanced at his fuel gauge, which indicated a more than adequate supply.
“Not to worry, my lord. We’re on our way,” he replied as confidently as he could, and the Duke nodded in relief. Kalid plotted out the waypoint to interception and veered away sharply from the looming form of Aleucron Base, accelerating to flank speed. Adenale maintained position on his wing. Adrenaline coursed through Kalid’s blood in anticipation of the upcoming combat and all traces of his tiredness melted away.
Duke Teir spoke again. “I’ve roused the weirlords from Reudisill Arvigant, but I don’t know how quickly they can respond. You’ll have to at least stall the enemy.”
“Understood, my lord. ”
“If only I had my ship!” the Duke muttered to himself in frustration. He addressed Kalid sternly. “The enemy cannot reach Aleucron, is that understood? Do not bring dishonor upon our names.”
“Understood, Duke. We’ll do our best.”
The Duke gave a curt nod. He seemed about to say something more, but paused instead. “Good luck, warrior. Aleucron out.” His face dissolved from the screen.
Kalid snapped his visor down and switched his heads-up display from his cockpit canopy back to his helmet. He keyed his wingmate. “How do you feel, Adenale?” he asked. “Tired?”
“No, my lord,” she answered in an anxious voice. “Stunned. Two wings? I have never seen that many ships before.”
“Neither have I. It means only one of two things. Either the rogues are getting desperate and deploying all their remaining forces, or they’ve somehow enlisted outside help.” Kalid grimaced. “Let’s hope they haven’t obtained Ibraine’s help; that would be bad news for us.
“Hold on, let me raise our friends.” He keyed on visual transmission to battle frequency; the visored helmets of Earl Gelspart and Viscountess Raalaith appeared onscreen.
“Baron Kalid,” Lord Gelspart acknowledged tersely. “You won’t believe–” he broke off abruptly with a grunt and Kalid saw on his 3-D map that Thorn Gild Flight had intercepted the enemy. Gelspart would have his hands full at the moment. The map showed his own time to engagement to be roughly ten minutes.
Mist Crewl Flight was a few minutes ahead of Brown Wolf. Lady Raalaith and marshal Torens had launched before Thorn Gild had gotten a positive enemy count just in case they were needed, just shortly before the Duke had contacted Brown Wolf. Lady Raalaith spoke somberly. “Lord Kalid, it looks like we’re badly outnumbered. Any miraculous tactics up your sleeve?”
“I wish I had, Lady Raalaith,” Kalid replied with a tight-lipped smile. “I can only suggest that we fight well. After all, is not battle nothing more than the path to glory?”
“You are right, Baron.” She nodded her head in assent. “The song of the weirlord resounds in courtesy, truth, and valor; and honor rings true forever,” she quoted. “May we fight bravely.”
“My honor my life; and my keenest blade valor,” Kalid replied automatically in ritual response. His stomach churned with his nervousness about the upcoming battle, but it was a familiar experience that happened before every engagement, and the verse from the Honorsong comforted him. He checked the map again. Time to engagement for Mist Crewl was now four minutes, and Thorn Gild seemed to be holding up well, at least for the moment.
“Honorstrike!” Lord Gelspart suddenly yelled fiercely, as if confirming Kalid’s thoughts. “One down! But you’d better–” his transmission cut off in midsentence with a burst of interference, and Kalid realized instantly that Gelspart’s craft had been destroyed. The Earl was gone.
The sound of Kalid’s engines seemed suddenly loud to him as the craft unconcernedly droned on toward the battlesite. Kalid felt a pang of regret, but quickly suppressed the feeling. After all, Lord Gelspart had not only shot down an enemy weirlord, but had also died honorably in combat as befitting a true warrior. Kalid felt no shock at the suddenness of Gelspart’s death, being long since used the split-second nature of life and death in the world of combat, though he was a little disappointed at the quickness of the weirlord‘s defeat. Shaking off his pointless thoughts he referenced his 3-D map to assess the situation; a moment later the marker signifying Earl Gelspart’s eirant disappeared from the display. His mouth tightened. “Do you have a positive on the enemy yet?” he queried Lady Raalaith, keeping his eyes locked on the map. For some reason misgiving flooded his mind.
“Not yet. Give me one minute.” Her voice was cool, professional; becoming of a warrior.
Kalid used the time to key Adenale. “How are you doing, girl?”
“Hanging in there, my lord.” Her voice was subdued and quiet.
“Good. Listen up closely. I’ll need you to stick to my wing to cover my saddle. No bouncing, is that clear?”
“Understood, my lord.” She sounded like her nerve had been shaken. He softened his tone in an effort to comfort her. “Don’t worry, fledgeling, we’re going to get through this! Trust yourself and your skills. You will relate this battle to your children someday.”
“I hope so, my lord.”
Kalid searched for words to reassure his wingmate further, sensing her anxiety, but nothing more came to mind. They flew in grim silence through the rocks.
“I have sensor contact,” Lady Raalaith announced shortly. “It looks like two wings all right. They’re scattered to a radius of four leagues. Time to engagement three minutes.”
“Read that, Lady Raalaith,” Kalid acknowledged. He paused. “I’ll see you in the Halls.”
Lady Raalaith chuckled dryly. “May it be so. Mist Crewl One out.” Her image disappeared from the screen.
Kalid keyed on visual transmission to his wingmate, and her bulky helmet appeared onscreen, revealing nothing of what the girl was thinking underneath the hard elenium viewplate. “Time to engagement seven minutes, fledgeling,” he informed her, though of course she would know it already. He took on a more professional tone. “Prepare yourself for combat.”
“Affirm that, my lord. Preparation commencing.” Her voice was still subdued, but steady now; there was not a quiver to betray the fear she must undoubtedly be feeling. Kalid smiled tightly with satisfaction inside his helmet; it seemed he had trained her well. Following his own command, he began the familiar deep breathing exercises that helped to calm his mind. Worry and apprehension had no place in a true warrior; they were only thoughts that distracted, often to fatal results. He struggled to gain control of his emotions, and gradually he felt them beginning to come under his rein.
For long interminable minutes the assault craft sped through the night toward their fate. Kalid continued to relax his mind, striving to enter the state of detachedness that was so valuable to a combat flier. Kilometers upon kilometers of the rocky landscape rolled by, only vaguely noticed by the concentrating weirlord. Markers indicating enemy craft appeared on Kalid’s 3-D display and he took it all in almost absently. The amount of markers made it impossible to tell the exact number of enemies at this distance; it seemed to him to be very close to two wings. He continued to breathe deeply.
Brown Wolf Flight was nearing time to engagement. Mist Crewl must surely be at the threshold of interception by now, and Kalid could visualize in his mind the ferocious battle about to ensue.
Without warning, Lady Raalaith’s visage appeared alongside Adenale’s on his display screen. “Baron Kalid!” she exclaimed, excited and out of breath. Kalid snapped back to full alertness. “Be informed that –” Her head rocked violently within the screen image, startling the watching weirlord. Lady Raalaith’s head was weaving back and forth savagely, and a quick glance at his display informed Kalid that her craft had been crippled and was spinning out of control toward the ground. She screamed then, a long piercing wail that reverberated through his cockpit and set his teeth on edge until she hit the ground. Abruptly the sound cut off and her image flickered and disappeared from the instrumentation deck.
The sound of her dying shriek echoed in his mind in the sudden silence. He bit his lower lip in dismay. Her death, which otherwise might have been honorable, was marred by her cowardly display of fear at the end — her name would be stained forever. “By Honor,” he heard Adenale whisper in shock and distaste.
Kalid set his jaw, resolve hardening. “Eirant,” he called out brusquely and formally. It was imperative that they maintain their composure in the face of the quickly worsening situation. “Power up weapons system and bring guns on line.” He powered up his cannons and cycled the first rounds of ammunition through the loaders.
“Yes, my lord,” Adenale responded somewhat shakily, still dazed by Lady Raalaith’s unseemly death. Firmness crept back into her voice as she struggled to regain her poise. “Weapons on line, my lord.”
Marshal Toren’s helmeted head appeared suddenly onscreen, visor up. The youthful face of Lady Raalaith’s eirant was slack with terror. “My lord!” he cried. “Treachery! Lord Ectur is here; my Lady dead!…they—they— ”
Kalid scowled with anger. “Compose yourself!” he barked. “Our ETA is two minutes. Can you hold?” All the while his mind raced – Lord Gelspart and Lady Raalaith, both superb pilots, shot down so quickly. Lord Ectur…he served Ibraine, not the local rebels. If he was involved in this attack—
Toren’s image dissolved in a shower of static. Kalid cursed inwardly. The situation had deteriorated far too rapidly. He fought to regain a detached sense of calm but could not succeed. In the distance the first enemy ships hovered into view.
The resolution of the 3-D map increased steadily, and a quick peek told Kalid that there were indeed two wings—wait—there was another group as well. Kalid squinted at the map in shock, then quickly stared up through his canopy. At first the sight outside his craft refused to register, his brain too numb with disbelief. There were not two, but three full wings arrayed against him; 24 total craft minus the one that Gelspart had shot down. Twenty-three ships against Brown Wolf Flight, now alone.
Kalid sat frozen, his equilibrium lost, his concentration broken. Fifteen ships was what he had been expecting, what he had been preparing himself for. That number would have been bad enough with both Gelspart and Raalaith still alive—but this! This was insane! He had never heard of such a large single force gathered anywhere in the kingdoms before.
To make matters even worse, these were not the local rabble of insurgents that had recently rebelled against King Streggellion, but the green and blue bedecked professionals of the Kingdom of Ibraine. One of the leading ships sported the Ember Dragon escutcheon of Duke Ectur, renowned throughout the five kingdoms as an unparalleled marksman. The situation had become suddenly and acutely grim; despite his earlier admonishment to the young eirant fear gripped his guts.
“My lord?” Adenale prompted in a strangled voice. Her voice released Kalid from his stupefied state, and he desperately attempted to gather up the scattered fragments of his resolve. “Prepare to engage,” he ordered as firmly as he could, straining to remain calm. His ship’s incoming weapon warning began flashing, and Kalid, startled that he should be attacked at such long range, reacted instinctively with evasive maneuvers. A screaming salvo of long-range missiles flashed by his cockpit, barely missing. Excitement pumped adrenaline through his body and his fear abated somewhat, as it always did once actual combat was begun. Anger lent an edge to his voice. “These Ibrainen curs have abandoned honor and broken the truce! Commence engagement. Punch it!”
He fired his craft’s huge ion plasma jets and his strifemaker roared to attack speed. The aerostriker‘s jets similarly roared to life a moment later as the smaller craft strove to maintain position.
Kalid’s mind raced as he thundered toward the enemy. Missiles! The fact that the Ibrainens possessed this highly sophisticated and by convention outlawed technology indicated the treacherous intent of this invasion. He saw now how they had defeated his comrades so quickly—they had undoubtedly abandoned the time honored tradition of weirlord to weirlord combat and attacked en masse, utilizing the deadly long range weapons that far outranged any cannon. Neither had they declared a challenge before attacking his kingdom, and this was a serious breach of honor that Kalid could never forgive. Duty bound him to be the deliverer of retribution. He curled his lips back savagely and bore in toward the nearest Ibrainen fighter, who turned to meet his pass head-on.
His heads-up display automatically targeted the enemy weirlord, but Kalid fired a sweeping burst that caught the weirlord‘s eirant first. The strifemaker‘s four massive cannons pumped out huge 40mm shells that gouged out chunks of the enemy aerostriker‘s armor before coming in line with the weirlord‘s craft. Craters ripped through the armor plating of the Ibrainen strifemaker and punched across the cockpit area. The fighter exploded without getting off a shot as Kalid shot by the blinding fireball with a whoop. “First blood to the King!” he roared.
He trusted Adenale to be stuck on his wing, and his trust turned out to be well-placed as she nimbly evaded fire from the Ibrainen eirant and answered with a deadly volley of her own that finished off the wounded aerostriker and sent it flaming to the ground.
Pulses of laser fire streaked by Kalid’s craft as nearby Ibrainens targeted his ship. He instantly rolled and dove evasively, coming up with his guns pointed at the belly of an strifemaker caught out of position by his sudden maneuver. His cannons roared again and sheared off the stabilizer of the unfortunate fighter, sending it spinning away out of control. He kept the trigger pressed and raked a nearby aerostriker that hopelessly attempted to bring its weapons to bear, sending armor flying before a lucky round caught the ammo loader of the craft’s main gun and started an explosive chain reaction that blew the ship apart. Cannonfire stuttered from beside him, scoring on yet another green and blue strifemaker that desperately tried to bring its guns on line. Adenale had stayed glued to his wing throughout the whole maneuver. Good girl! he exclaimed fiercely in his mind. He vectored sharply toward the damaged fighter and finished it off with a short volley that pierced the armor plating of the fuel structure, destroying the ship in a dazzling ball of fire.
A quick glance at his tactical display showed Kalid that all nearby craft were bearing down on his craft at once. He grimaced and jinked his strifemaker desperately as volleys of missiles came raining down on his fighter. Though the odds had been bettered somewhat, there were still too many enemy craft to contend with all at once. They would have to find some cover, and quickly. His craft shuddered as it took a brace of heavy laser hits, and he swerved evasively – right into the path of fearsome cannon crossfire. Metal shrieked and groaned as armor plating tore and curled under unimaginable stress loads, and damage indicators flashed to life on his console. Adenale’s aerostriker struggled to stay on his wing, taking less hits as less shots were aimed at her.
Despite Kalid’s short-lived success, the sheer number of the enemy was turning the tide of the battle. He sought to break free from the massive firestorm employing all the piloting skill he possessed, but it seemed as though the sky was teeming with the enemy. Every direction he turned revealed the lethal flashing weapons of an Ibrainen fighter; every moment his craft took more and more damage. Even as he lined up another target his ship shuddered violently under vicious sledgehammer impacts, threatening to disintegrate under the massive onslaught.
In that moment hopelessness seized his heart like an iron claw. He realized that the treacherous Ibrainen dogs would smash through his ship, and Aleucron, virtually defenseless, would fall. The name of Kalid Tsutoda would forever be stained as the weirlord who had succumbed to the enemy and opened the way to defeat, and the names of all who had served at Aleucron would be dishonored as well. He clenched his jaw. Kalid Tsutoda would forever be remembered as a failure!
It isn’t supposed to happen like this! Blinding tears of frustration sprang to his eyes and for a moment he lost sight of his target.
A missile detonated close by his rear stabilizer and the concussion of the blast knocked his craft out of line. Damage indicators now bathed his instrumentation deck with colored lights, and Kalid prayed to the Heroes that his craft would not explode. Fighting back the pangs of despair, he spied a strange and complex stone formation and instantly veered toward it, desperate for cover. Thankfully his strifemaker seemed to be operating normally despite all the damage, and as it plunged into the rocks the deadly rain of fire mercifully ceased.
A pair of enemy weirlords instantly tailed him and Kalid, glancing at his display, saw with relief that Adenale still cleaved to his wing like a shadow. “Nice and easy, fledgling,” he instructed her breathlessly. “Stay close.” The strifemaker roared into the maze of rocks at attack speed, the aerostriker taking up position behind it. The two craft darted through the rocks with incredible agility, weaving and dipping and rolling to avoid impact with the deadly stone. The Ibrainen weirlords maintained pursuit admirably.
“Steady…” Kalid called encouragingly to his wingmate. “Get ready now…” They continued to roar through the lethal maze, all the while with their foes hard on their heels. Kalid banked his craft left around a towering rock pinnacle and without warning tugged his stick to the right, shooting down into a huge snaking crevice that yawned open invitingly. Adenale anticipated the move but nevertheless could not emulate it, knocking her dorsal stabilizer with a dreadful clang on the edge of the rift. Structural supports snapped and a shower of metal components flew from her craft. The damaged aerostriker shuddered and weaved dangerously back and forth, threatening to slam into the sides of the chasm.
One of the weirlords similarly could not react quickly enough to the maneuver and smashed into the ground with a thunderous peal. The other pursued nimbly, cannons blazing.
Adenale somehow impossibly regained control and flung her craft out of the ravine just as the first cannon rounds tore into her ship. Armor plates cracked and disintegrated under the onslaught, and warning lights flashed to life within her cockpit. She gasped as a pressure equalizing unit took damage, exposing her to the tremendous g-forces caused by her frantic evasive action. Desperately, she rolled and banked away.
The enemy weirlord did not deign to pursue her but kept his sights fixed on the fleeing strifemaker. Kalid glanced back over his shoulder and saw Adenale’s craft erratically veer off into the distance. Concern for her gripped him, but he could not worry about her now with the enemy fighter bearing down on him. His strifemaker dodged and weaved as it sped through the narrow canyon, the enemy laying down a barrage of fire from behind.
Unexpectedly the face of Duke Teir appeared on his display panel. “Baron! A wing of assault craft from Reudesill Arvigant are en route!” For a moment, Kalid’s hopes rose wildly. “ETA is 14 minutes. Can you hold?” The hopes evaporated. Fourteen minutes was too much to ask from his single fighter. Cannon rounds punched into his engine housing from behind, as if punctuating his thoughts. He struggled to keep his battered craft out of line.
“Can you hold?” the Duke repeated. Did he have a choice? “I will hold, Duke,” Kalid answered hollowly. His fighter jinked and danced wildly, desperately trying to confuse its pursuer’s aim.
The Duke glowered at him severely. “Honor is the lifeblood of the weirlord. I expect no less from a true warrior.”
“Yes, my lord!” Kalid responded automatically and dutifully, but without true conviction. The Duke’s face flicked off. Kalid jerked his craft into a weaving, jerking dance but the tenacious enemy strifemaker remained glued to his tail, guns pounding unceasingly.
“My lord!” It was Adenale. “My pressure system’s out, but my gun system is still operational. I’m all right and I’m coming!”
“No!” Kalid snarled, worry for her making his voice harsher than he’d intended. “There’s a wing on the way from the King’s castle. I want you to withdraw and rendezvous with them. Do it now!” He had no desire to see Adenale killed without having achieved the honor of becoming a weirlord. Her craft was virtually useless now without a pressure equalizing system — she would most likely kill herself with the forces generated by her own maneuvers. The enemy force would not bother to pursue an eirant fleeing toward the direction of the King’s castle, at least not while they had a weirlord to dispatch. There was no sense in both of them dying before help arrived.
There was a pause and all Kalid heard for a moment was his own labored breathing as he yanked his stick back and forth to avoid the murderous stream of fire spraying at him from behind. He waited, knowing the brave girl would be taken aback by his order. Then, “Yes, my lord,” came the acquiescent reply, and Kalid sucked in a ragged breath in relief. Adenale quickly banked away from the battle and headed away. Kalid mentally nodded to himself in affirmation; he had indeed trained her well.
A ferocious stream of cannonshells caught his craft and threatened to tear the punished ship apart. Kalid had no choice but to burst from the cover of the chasm, and in moments he was beset by the blazing guns of fighters that had tailed his strifemaker from above.
At least Adenale had escaped… one concession in this miserable battle. But his own craft was mercilessly pummeled. Vicious pinging rang throughout his cockpit as heavy laser blasts and cannonshells slammed into the floundering fighter, and chunks of shattered armor blasted free in a rain of metal. Warning beepers screamed and a crazy kaleidoscope of brightly lit damage lights exploded to life on his console. A high pitched shriek indicating heat overload threatened imminent engine shutdown. Kalid gritted his teeth and screwed his eyes shut. Time seemed to slow as Kalid saw beneath his eyelids his death come to claim him.
Curiously, what he saw was not the grinning deathhead skull of the reaper but instead a scene from his early childhood. The setting reached out and enveloped him, the smells from the garden, the warm sunlight upon his face, the solid bench upon which he sat. It seemed to the disorientated pilot that he had actually reentered his boyhood and now sat waiting patiently as his father kneeled before him.
“Listen, my son,” Baron Eerlich Tsutoda said to him at last, his gray eyes deep pools of warmth and affection. “The way of the warrior has never been mere fighting and killing. That is the way of the common cutpurse.” He smiled kindly, and his eyes crinkled and the laugh lines deepened on his worn brown face. Young Kalid tilted his head, waiting. “No,” his father continued. “A true warrior never fights until he must, and when he does, he makes sure to bring honor to his name.
“For you see, honor is not found in weapons, or in assaultcraft, or in armies. It is found here”–he placed his hand lightly on his son’s chest–“and nowhere else.” Kalid glanced down at his chest wonderingly and Baron Eerlich’s smile broadened, his eyes misting with undisguised love. He gently lifted up the boy’s chin with a finger so that their gazes met. “When you can stare at the demons of your heart and conquer them from within, you will know that you have arrived at the path to true honor. The Honorsong never forgets the ones who cleave to its precepts. The Honorsong is the song of the heart, the lifebeat of the true warrior. Without it life, true life, does not even exist. Never forget that, my son.” The Baron rose to leave, the last time Kalid would see him alive again. He stared up at his tall broad shouldered father in some perplexity, frowning slightly as he struggled to make sense of what he had been told.
“Never forget that, my son. One day it will serve you well.” His father faded away, as did the garden, and then the entire world.
A vague awareness seemed to grow at the center of Kalid’s being. He lay unmoving, unseeing, and the world lay still without. Time passed and the awareness grew. To Kalid it somehow felt warm, infusing his body with heat and energy. He struggled to make sense of it, what it was, what it was doing to him. Was he dead?
The weirlord strained his ears, trying to listen.
The awareness grew clearer, more distinct, filling his being, energizing his soul. Suddenly it exploded within him, showering him with understanding, crystallizing his purpose.
He snapped his eyes open, and time abruptly reverted to normal speed. He was still alive. Alive! And he would live! He howled with fury and slammed his ship around in a vicious corkscrew to escape the deadly rain of fire exploding around him. At the same time his hand stabbed out to jab the manual override button that silenced the blaring alarms and prevented automatic engine shutdown. Unimaginable g-forces generated from his violent maneuver threatened to overwhelm his whining pressure equalizer system and knock him senseless, but he ferociously fought off the closing ring of blackness and bore back into the thick of the fight, eyes narrowed with rage.
Despite his father’s command he had forgotten the lesson taught to him so very long ago. Staring at the demons of his heart, he had turned away in defeat — he had not even tried before he had given up!
He targeted the nearest enemy machines and pulled the trigger, the cannons roaring to life with a pounding staccato rhythm.
That was no way for a true warrior to comport himself. And Kalid knew he was a true warrior. He would not succumb to such a wretched death so easily!
Not a few of his rounds slammed into their marks as the Ibrainen pilots frantically tried to evade the unexpected counterattack.
It was clear what he had to do now; he had realized his fate. All the moments of his life—his father’s gentle teachings, his long training as a eirant, his harsh years of combat—led him to this particular moment in time and space; he saw that now. He knew his destiny; there was no longer anything to fear.
The remaining Ibrainen fighters scrambled madly in the air, struggling to regain firing angles on their prey-suddenly-turned-attacker. Kalid strove to gain firing angles of his own, while obliviously slipping into the perfect unconscious state. Every detail, every movement, every fired projectile seemed to jump out at him in the most vivid clarity he had ever experienced in his life. He drank it all in greedily, intoxicated with newfound power and awareness. Man and machine seemed to meld as he effortlessly weaved his craft through the murderous enemy crossfire, unscathed and untouchable. He not only saw each craft but knew where it would be in the next moment; he not only saw their weapons bearing on him but knew where they would fire. He guided his craft just enough to dodge the lethal streams of fire, dipping his wing slightly, vectoring his thrust one half a degree.
His return fire was deadly, and the Ibrainens crumbled before his onslaught.
“A mighty blow, warrior! I salute thee!” a weirlord cried on the open frequency as his craft took massive damage from Kalid’s cannons. He turned to run and changed his IFF signature to broadcast the submission beacon, a signal that meant that a weirlord was breaking off from combat honorably and returning home.
But Kalid would not have it. “Those who live in dishonor die in dishonor,” he growled, quoting from the Honorsong. He brought his weapons to bear and mercilessly punched craters across the engine housing of the retreating craft, holding down the trigger until the fuselage of the fighter literally disintegrated into pieces. The flaming fragments of the craft went spinning away toward the ground. To his credit the weirlord met his death in honorable silence. But Kalid was far from mollified.
He jinked his craft neatly and searing laser blasts flashed by his cockpit into the night from behind. He had sensed more than seen the attack, and now he banked away and around to make his attacker pay.
And pay he did, with his life and with what little honor he had left. Kalid sent him screaming to his death below and targeted another opponent before the first had hit the ground. He sliced through the enemy ranks like the very spirit of vengeance, destroying his foes yet himself ephemeral and untouched. Almost in a hallucinatory state, he fought and dodged, weaved and fired, danced and killed until suddenly he realized with a start that he was alone in the air.
He snapped up his visor, breathing heavily, eyes wild with excitement and exhilaration. He glanced about wonderingly but could see not a single craft in his proximity. He was victorious!
But a quick look at his 3-D map proved his assessment premature.
The Ibrainens had left two wings to insure his destruction, while one wing had gone on ahead toward Aleucron Base. Kalid had somehow single-handedly crushed the force left to destroy him, but the remaining wing would easily overrun the unguarded castle, its ancient anti-assaultcraft batteries now its sole defense. His eyes narrowed with newly ignited rage.
If Aleucron fell all his work here was for nothing!
His instrumentation deck showed that engine temperature had not quite fallen to normal safe levels, but he couldn’t help that now. He punched his throttle to maximum speed and roared off in pursuit of the enemy wing, determined not to let them reach the castle.
A quick check of his 3-D map showed that his extended skirmish with the two Ibrainen wings had left him far from the site of original interception. Somehow he had ended up closer to the castle, yet angled in such a way to still be far from the enemy wing – it would be a tight race to reach the castle.
But it seemed the Heroes rode with Kalid this day, for his heads-up display indicated that if he kept his speed up he should intercept them just short of the base. Meanwhile he used the time to scan the damage readouts on his ship while expertly and effortlessly guiding his craft through the maze of rock pinnacles that flashed by his cockpit. Multiple screens came up, highlighting components and armor plating that had taken hits or suffered heat damage. He began to cycle through the data, quickly taking in the most pertinent information.
A helmeted face appeared on his console, visor up. Kalid recognized him – Baron Yavin, from Reudesill Arvigant. He must be leading the reinforcement wing.
“Lord Tsutoda,” Yavin hailed him. “We have acquired you on our scanners, ETA to your position is 8 minutes. What is the current situation? Where are the enemy wings?”
“Lord Yavin,” Kalid acknowledged gravely. “Negative on that. Set waypoint to Aleucron Base; we have one wing of hostiles en route, my time to engagement 5 minutes.”
“One wing? Read that, Baron. New coordinates set.” There was a pause. “ETA to Aleucron 9 minutes.” Yavin’s eyes peered into his for a moment. “Baron, your eirant will join my battlegroup. Relay coordinates of other enemy wing—can you hold this one until we intercept?”
“I will hold,” Kalid replied forcefully. And more, he thought to himself. This is my time; this is my moment. “The other wing is no longer a concern. Your duty is to get here as fast as possible.”
“Read that,” Yavin said. “We’ll be there quick as we can. Yavin out.”
Kalid returned his attention to the damage readouts. The strifemaker had truly been mangled. Nearly every component of the craft had taken light hits, and most had taken heavy punishment. Most of the armor was gone, shattered or melted away to uselessness. Kalid couldn’t see how the craft had managed to take so many hits yet still be operating, but he wasn’t about to complain. He had a meeting with destiny to attend and his seemingly indestructible fighter would be a worthy mount.
His ship continued to thunder on toward the interception point while long minutes ticked by. Finally, off in the distance, small specks of light which would be the leading fighters of the Ibrainen wing rose into view, and Kalid’s eyes gleamed with anticipation. He had caught them before they could carry out their treacherous plans and now he would forever put an end to their dishonorable ways. He watched as the whole battlegroup turned to meet his ragged ship head on and mentally he invited them on.
After today these honorless dogs would never live to fly again, Kalid promised himself. He snapped down his visor and roared toward the enemy.
Missiles came arcing toward him as expected, and he neatly dodged through them, again slipping into the perfect detached awareness that allowed him to become one with his ship. His machine was an extension of him, as if controlled by thought, and maneuvering it was effortless. His fighter danced and ducked as the enemy opened up their cannons, a darting insect that could be seen but not touched. His first pass claimed three of the enemy fighters.
His spirits soared in triumph and exhilaration as he banked around for another attack. The face of Lord Ectur appeared suddenly on his display panel, visor up and eyes betraying a mixture of surprise and anger. “Lord Tsutoda, your skill is far more impressive than I had expected,” he said in a cool and impassive voice despite the emotion showing in his eyes. His eyes narrowed. “Perhaps you wish to prove yourself worthy to die by my hand.”
Kalid rankled at the insult. Immediately he targeted the Ember Dragon escutcheon and bore in for the kill. He fired a quick burst, rolling evasively at the return fire and coming up under the other craft’s guns. He then triggered a pinpoint barrage, expecting to see the Ibrainen ship rock under the heavy impacts, but was startled when the enemy strifemaker nimbly danced away untouched. Keeping his head, Kalid spun away and made a sweeping run at the next nearest fighters, his deadly cannonfire more successful in this attack, bringing down two more of the enemy.
Lord Ectur glared at him from his instrumentation deck. “You will pay for your interference today,” he promised icily, eyes flashing fire. “You will join the ranks of those I have defeated, and your name will be stained forever by your cowardly death.”
“You are the one who has abandoned the road of honor!” Kalid retorted hotly. “Today you will feel the bite from the guns of a true warrior. Prepare to meet your fate!” He brought his ship around in a large arc and triggered his cannons at the remaining Ibrainen fighters. He scored on a eirant, cannon rounds ripping through the smaller aerostriker as a volley of cannonshells and missiles screamed toward him in response. His strifemaker shifted and flowed like liquid at his command, roaring through the enemy fire untouched and sweeping back for another run. Again his cannonfire found its mark, and pieces of armor plating blasted free from a desperately dodging strifemaker.
His assault craft swerved and dipped its wings as it sped away to evade the streams of fire directed at it, and he saw out of the corner of his eye Lord Ectur bearing down on him with cannons thundering. Unconsciously he knew where the enemy weirlord would be in the next moment and where his fire would be directed; he coolly adjusted course accordingly.
And was astonished when shells tore through his craft, setting new warning alarms screaming and damage lights flashing to life. He rolled away violently in a random direction, mentally jolted and responding like a novice. Lord Ectur pounced on his fleeing craft, scoring again, and Kalid reversed direction barely in time to avoid being shot to pieces. His unconscious awareness dissipated and his rapport with his craft fled; suddenly he was simply a normal man flying a wounded machine.
He sped away from the Ibrainen ships, breathing heavily and desperately trying to compose himself. An alarm klaxon blared incessantly, warning of severe damage to his left cannon system. The loader was destroyed and the heat exchanger badly mauled; he cursed and jettisoned the weapon, knowing that the building heat would cause the ammunition to explode if he didn’t. His ship shuddered violently for a moment, causing him to fear that it would fall apart at last.
The enemy ships followed, tracking him like the ancient mythical wolves, knowing his craft was badly damaged. He checked his 3-D map and realized suddenly that the Arvigant wing was less than three minutes distant.
“How does it feel, Baron?” Lord Ectur gloated. The enemy weirlord had lowered his visor and Kalid found himself staring into the hard elenium viewplate, faceless and inhuman. “Don’t feel too badly. Countless others have fallen to my guns and been honored to do so. You should feel the same – after all, I am the best pilot ever to take to the air.”
Kalid didn’t bother to reply, flying in silence and considering his tactics. There were three enemy ships left: an strifemaker and a aerostriker, both damaged, and Lord Ectur’s ship, untouched. Kalid had only two cannons left, but his ammunition situation was satisfactory. His engines had taken damage, reducing his maximum speed. His fuel supply was dwindling, but still sufficient. He hesitated for a moment more, unsure of his course of action.
The enemy made up his mind for him. They roared to maximum speed and began their attack runs. Lord Ectur, despite his taunts, held back and let the other two fighters lead. Kalid was forced to meet their attack or be cut down from behind.
The two fighters came at him in formation, the strifemaker in front. Kalid exchanged fire with them briefly but broke off, knowing they far outgunned him now. He swerved away as if to run, and the aerostriker pursued eagerly, cannons blazing away at his stern.
That was what he was waiting for. He cut power and rolled away, an instant later punching full throttle again. The aerostriker, caught be surprise, glided ahead of his guns and Kalid triggered his two remaining starboard-mounted cannons, which proved to be still deadly enough. Shells punched across the stern of the unfortunate ship; a couple slammed into the cockpit area. The aerostriker, pilot apparently dead, began to go into a slow nose dive that would end far below on the rocky ground.
But Kalid’s maneuver had cost his craft valuable speed. The enemy strifemaker had come around in a delayed bank, not fooled by his apparent retreat. Now it opened up with full guns. Kalid jinked and rolled his craft desperately, somehow managing to avoid the brunt of the attack, and the Ibrainen strifemaker thundered by at the end of its attack run. Both ships banked away in anticipation of another pass.
Kalid realized that damage must have knocked out his communications array, for his console was dark and Lord Ectur’s countenance gone. No matter. He had no wish to hear any more of the cursed Ibrainen’s boasts. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Ectur circling far above in a lazy arc, apparently waiting for his comrade to finish Kalid off.
The cur wouldn’t get the satisfaction of seeing him die, Kalid vowed fiercely. His HUD showed the ETA of the Arvigant wing to be two minutes, and now the enemy strifemaker was coming at him again. This time Kalid charged in head on at the assault craft, cannons pounding away. He maintained his line as the other fighter answered with a furious barrage, both craft dipping their wings up and down to evade the oncoming streams of fire. His fighter shuddered and sparks blew from his console, but Kalid didn’t care. His aim proved to be more accurate and more than repaid the damage inflicted on his craft. The strifemakers roared straight at each other, both pilots continuing to hammer away and refusing to break off. Kalid held down the trigger until absolutely the last possible moment and then yanked his stick sideways, breaking his ship away. The turbulence from the closely passing craft slammed into his ship, threatening to send it into a tailspin. But his last shells had found their intended mark, punching through the armored plating of the enemy fighter’s fuel structure and causing great gouts of flame to shoot out from the now mortally wounded craft. A moment later the strifemaker erupted into a huge fireball.
Kalid fought with his controls, struggling to bring his ship back under control while at the same time shooting his gaze wildly about in an effort to locate Lord Ectur. Lord Ectur found him first, sending metal death shrieking his way in the form of a volley of missiles. Just in time Kalid regained control of his craft and heaved his stick backward, sending the strifemaker streaking up into the sky and causing the missiles to flash by harmlessly. G-forces pulled his face into a exaggerated grimace and black ringed the edges of his vision as the pressure equalizer strained to pump blood into his brain. Immediately he slammed his stick back down and to the side as he anticipated that Ectur would follow his missile salvo with a burst of cannonfire, which he did, but Kalid’s maneuver allowed him to avoid the gunfire and gave him a split second of respite.
His HUD showed the ETA of the Arvigant wing to be less than two minutes. Kalid jerked his ship up and around as another brace of missiles went screaming by. Lord Ectur, too close to respond to his maneuver, flashed by and Kalid veered his ship in hot pursuit. He brought the fleeing craft within his sights and triggered a quick burst, but his astute foe cut power and broke away untouched in a tight diving arc, banking around sharply to come at Kalid again.
He feinted in one direction and came up on Kalid’s starboard flank with cannons roaring. Cannonshells tore into the housing of his dual starboard cannons with a frightening racket and Kalid responded by swerving sharply to his right. The enemy strifemaker, turning radius too large too pursue, broke off to its left and banked around for another attack run.
Kalid followed suit, bring his nose in line with the approaching fighter. Unexpectedly he dropped his craft with a stomach-heaving lurch, coming back up with a corkscrew spiral that resulted in his guns being pointed at the belly of Lord Ectur’s craft. Anticipating an evasive maneuver, Kalid trigger his burst with a large deflection lead in the direction of the predicted move. He guessed correctly but watched in disbelief as Lord Ectur streaked across the sky, outrunning his aim and spinning up and around unhurt to come roaring down on Kalid once again. Kalid rolled his craft away desperately, knowing that he had lost too much speed and altitude with his maneuver to avoid the oncoming attack. Cannonfire rained down out of the sky, blasting armor plating from his cannon housing again in the instant that his belly was exposed.
Kalid realized with astonishment that Lord Ectur was actually aiming for his weapon and succeeding with astounding success. Frantically he swerved back and forth, attempting to shake the pursuing fighter, and finally went into a nosedive that sent him thundering into a maze of rocks. Thankfully Lord Ectur broke off, perhaps disliking close-in ground fighting, and banked away again.
Kalid emerged from his cover and ran for a moment, checking his damage readout. For a moment, his now dying craft began shuddering again, the massive abuse it had suffered finally proving to be too much. “No,” Kalid pleaded with his crippled ship. “Hold for me just a little longer!” As if gallantly striving to obey his command, the strifemaker arduously regrouped itself and ceased shaking, engines coughing with the effort.
His starboard cannons were still operational, though the loader had been damaged and would cycle a smaller volume of ammunition through the guns. He saw that the ETA of the Arvigant wing was now one minute. That gave him too little time! Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lord Ectur streaking in again.
This time Kalid vectored across the nose of the approaching fighter, exposing his ravaged right side momentarily and praying that the Ibrainen would swallow the bait. Surprisingly he did, bearing down at a low angle of attack and once again aiming for the cannon assembly. Kalid wasn’t about to lose his chance. Immediately he shot upward into the sky, angling toward and over the attacking fighter. Instantly his foe vectored angle to pursue and Kalid reversed direction just as quickly, sweeping around and momentarily bringing his cannons on the belly of the enemy strifemaker. Lord Ectur spun away, anticipating a burst of fire, but Kalid didn’t shoot, instead thundering down in a low arc that would cut off the Ibrainen’s escape. Immediately Lord Ectur dove and rolled away to avoid the trap.
A fatal mistake. Kalid was learning his foe.
Instantly he dove at a leading pursuit angle to the fleeing craft, ignoring the feints the enemy threw and bearing in with a determined burst of acceleration that caused his engines to whine in complaint but put him neatly on the tail of the Ibrainen. His strifemaker was again shaking badly now but he didn’t notice. Excited with anticipation, he squeezed the trigger, eager to see his heavy cannonshells tear the enemy craft to pieces.
But impossibly Lord Ectur again evaded the deadly onslaught, maneuvering his ship with unimaginable cunning and agility. He cut power and broke away at an angle at which Kalid could not pursue. Kalid screamed in frustration and helplessly stared after his opponent in disbelief.
Quickly he veered his floundering ship around, knowing that the Arvigant wing would arrive at any moment. He would have to hurry. He completed his turn, only to find Ectur coming at him yet again. Kalid feinted to his right and then violently broke his ship away out of line in the opposite direction. But once again Lord Ectur uncannily foresaw his move and raked his starboard side as he roared by. His dead-on shots finally proved to be too much for the protective housing of the cannon assembly, and the weapon shattered with a deafening crack that rocked Kalid’s ship.
Black despair flooded Kalid’s mind. Even as he veered his trembling ship away instinctively, he knew that his death was come; his craft was weaponless now and helpless as a newborn baby. He could not believe his vision had been false. How could his destiny have lied to him thus?
His story would be ended here, now rendered a brief and indifferent existence, quickly forgotten as the sands of time buried the details of his life.
He could imagine Lord Ectur laughing in triumphant glee as he banked around for another, final, attack run. Kalid felt nauseated and sharp bile rose in his throat as he silently watched the still untouched green and blue strifemaker fast approaching. The cannons had not started firing yet; perhaps the weirlord was waiting until he was at point blank range. Kalid instinctively poised to run but knew he was virtually helpless no matter what he did.
Suddenly it seemed he could see his father’s face in front of him. The familiar gray eyes bored into his, seeming to try to tell him something, and with a start Kalid realized what he must now do. He almost laughed out loud in its simplicity, amazed that he had not seen it. In the far distance out of the corner of his eye he could see the friendly ships of the Arvigant wing rise into view. More immediately the Ember Dragon roared down on him, and the cannons finally opened up, spitting fire and death.
Kalid accelerated away, engines coughing and sputtering, knowing his foe would pursue. Instantly he changed course and bore straight back into the Ibrainen fighter, throttling up to full speed. For once the enemy weirlord was caught by surprise and seemed frozen in his course. Today I fulfill my destiny, Kalid thought fiercely in the brief moment when the ships seemed to hang in the air. Words his father had taught to him long ago echoed in his mind and he knew that in the next moment he would taste true life. His lips curled back in a savage, triumphant grin.
The two ships slammed into each other.
* * * * *
Adenale could barely control her craft; tears blinded her sight and her hands trembled with emotion as grief and happiness battled in her mind. The eight ships of the Reudisill Arvigant wing flew in formation beside her, every pilot silent.
The wing had arrived just in time to see the massive fireball from the collision of the two strifemakers. But before that the pilots had observed on their 3-D display the tremendous battle that Kalid had fought at the doorstep of the Aleucron castle. And they realized now that he had destroyed two other wings as well; across the vast expanse of the sky there was not a ship in the air save their own. Never before had any of them imagined that such awesome prowess could be displayed in the air as had been done that day by Baron Tsutoda. Out of the original enemy armada of three wings not a single one had been left intact. The pilots were in awe.
Finally Lord Yavin, leader of the wing, spoke up. “Lord Tsutoda has single-handedly destroyed the Ibrainen fleet. Never before have I seen such valor and skill shown in the face of such overwhelming odds. He not only defeated the enemy with the courage of a true warrior, he died as a warrior should, in the moment of his greatest glory. He will be forever remembered for this deed of greatness.
“Wing, touch down at Aleucron Base. Lady Wolfrun, raise the Duke and relay the good news. Let’s move out.” He keyed off.
Adenale followed as the battlegroup turned smoothly in a large arc and headed toward Aleucron Base. Though she was still wracked with emotion, happiness had now gained the upper edge. She smiled softly. She was tremendously proud and honored to have served such a mighty warrior. Though she would miss Lord Kalid Tsutoda terribly, she knew that he would now live forever in her heart, and on the lips of all men everywhere.
Kalid the Courageous walked the road of honor.
He escaped the maw of defeat by his might;
his enemies scattered before his skill.
His eyes were like lasers, his prowess unequaled,
Kalid the Kingdom Saver.
The Honorsong flowed through his heart
and valor was his keenest edge.
— from the Honorsong of Heroes
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