The kingdoms’ coat of arms
Gazing at the world from the cliff’s edge, Avian felt at peace. It was in stark contrast to the actual state of the world and he almost felt guilty for allowing himself to feel it. The four kingdoms of Drekland had been at war with each other for as long as he could remember and the view set before him was the byproduct of that violence. Within the last two years of the war, new alliances were forged that had forced the fighting into a bitter stalemate. Below him to his left stood the city of Ashburg. It was the closest city to the front lines, and it belonged to the kingdom of Balfore – which was Avian’s kingdom. Not that he owned it. He wasn’t a prince or a king, but he was an officer of the Balforean Flying Corps or BFC for short, and he swore his allegiance to its king and kingdom.
Directly in front of him, way down below, he could see the front lines. For nearly one hundred miles the armies of Balfore and Skaryth had dug long and deep trenches into the earth. What was once was a beautiful and fertile grassland, now looked like a desolate wasteland with Balfore and Hardhelm on one side and Skaryth on the other. In some places, the enemy’s trenches weren’t more than fifty yards away from your own. They were so close you could hear them snoring at night. The war had carved the landscape with veins and craters that were filled with mud and blood and shit and death. The thought was almost enough to rob Avian of this moment, but he shrugged it off and tried to refocus himself. He closed his pale blue eyes and let the wind sweep his short blond hair. Everything looked so small from where Avian stood. All of the world’s problems seem to shrink until the only thing Avian felt was the cool wind on his face and the warmth of the sun. That was one of the reasons why Avian loved flying so much. The sun was beginning to set, shrouding the earth in a blanket of red and gold. The tops of the mountains were reflecting the suns light. It would be dark soon, so Avian headed back to his plane.
It was time to get back from a long day out on patrol and Avian was tired. His plane, a single seater biplane, was perched near the edge of the cliff. The airfield at Ashburg was positioned on the top of a flat mountain ridge just north of the city. It was up high enough to evade any attack from ground forces, but it wasn’t invulnerable. Drakes still posed a threat. Avian and Seraph had been lucky – no attacks yet during their patrol. Seraph was his best friend and just so happened to be his wingman on this particular watch. Seraph was leaning up against his plane, finishing up a cigarette as Avian approached. Unlike Avian’s plane, which was painted primarily green with an aluminum cowling up front, Seraph’s plane was painted boldly. The forward end was painted red, the midsection striped black and white, and the tail end was solid black. It looked as if he rode upon fire with the smoke trailing behind him. In fact, despite being best friends they were quite opposite from each other with nearly everything. Avian was always level headed and calculated and Seraph was always fiery and impulsive, but together in the sky, they were unstoppable.
This airfield usually provided the last few minutes of peace for those pilots assigned the patrol while on watch. The next leg of the flight was over hostile territory and there was always a chance to see some action. He always made this his last stop during a patrol to soak up the last few peaceful moments before going home. Every major city in Balfore had its own airfield with several squadrons attached. Ashburg was a smaller city, but their airfield was positioned on the edge of a cliff overlooking the frontlines making it an ideal spot for pilots to get a good look at what they were about to get into before taking to the sky. He walked up to the plane’s propeller and gave it a good turn to start the engine. The engine put and the plane rattled. No more than a few seconds and the engine roared with life. Seraph gave him a nod – checked the time on his pocket watch, flicked the remainder of his cigarette – and turned the prop, kickstarting the engine.
Before climbing into his seat, Avian removed the sword and sheath from his belt and secured them to the fuselage at his side. Pilots were given short swords and pistols because of the limited room inside the cockpit. The majority of what they wore was standard issue, but the BFC allowed for some individuality. Armor had to be light because too much would weigh down the aircraft and hinder its performance. The only armor Avian wore outside of this gray and olive drab uniform was his leather pauldron and bracers. The way he saw it, the only parts of him that required additional protection were the parts that would protrude out from the cover of his aircraft in flight. His leather flight helmet, gloves, and waist length jacket were all standard issue. Seraph, on the other hand, wore no additional armor, but he did wear a long and heavy jacket that hung down to the bottom of his boots. The collar was made of thick wolfs fur and it had large buttons going down the front of it. The entire jacket was solid black, as black as his aircraft and the long hair on his head.
Avian put on his flight goggles, tightened the scarf around his neck, and with a release of the break he headed towards the grassy field – and with Seraph following close behind they gained speed and lifted off into the sky. The earth shrank below as they headed into the clouds. It was growing colder with the coming of night. Avian hunkered down as low as he could get inside of his open-air cockpit. Nothing protecting him from the elements other than the clothes on his back and the paper-thin fabric covering the biplane’s wooden frame. It was a short flight to their home base at the city of Westfront, but they would first have to fly northeast over the frontlines before turning south and heading home.
The evening had been quiet up to this point. Most of the airspace between the various checkpoints existed safely within the realm of Balfore where drakes dared not enter, but there was one area left to patrol which was undoubtedly the most dangerous. The airspace between Ashburg and Westfront ran along the frontlines and bordered the kingdom of Skaryth. This area was the frontline for a reason. It was the area where the armies of Balfore and Hardhelm met the army of Skaryth years ago and have maintained their lines ever since. The conflict never stopped, but all sides remained content with buckling down into their trenches – maintaining the endless stalemate. Every once in a while, some commander would be compelled to glory and would send their troops over the line to attain some kind of victory, but it always ended in disaster for whichever side advanced. Both sides were too well defended. The only campaign which never ceased to make forward progress was that of aerial superiority. The squadrons of Balfore were constantly engaging the drakes of Skaryth and where once the drakes ruled the skies the pilots and planes of Balfore began to outfly them. It wasn’t long ago when the idea of manned flight seemed to be an impossibility. The years of experience made all the difference and now it was time for humans to claim dominance of the skies. Avian and Seraph were halfway between the two frontline checkpoints when they spotted three drakes in the distance flying towards their line. Avian and Seraph shot each other a look and Avian made the signal to climb. He advanced the throttle and started gaining altitude.
They both racked back their machine guns and prepared for a diving attack. The drakes were drawing closer and as soon as they came within range the pilots dove at them firing their weapons. The bullets rained down and they managed to hit the leading drake as it spun lifelessly down to earth. The other two broke off and circled around to attack. Avian and Seraph did the same. Avian went right and Seraph went left. They both made a sharp three hundred and sixty degree turn to face the enemy once more. This time the drakes were prepared and sprayed fire at the pilots. They only barely managed to maneuver out of the way in time. Avian was able to circle above one of the drakes while it was chasing Seraph and while catching it unawares, he blasted it with machine gun fire and the drake went down. There was still one more left and Avian was looking around for it, but he couldn’t see it. For a moment he thought that maybe it had turned tail and headed home, but that thought was cut short as the drake burst out from a cloud just below him with its jaws wide open. It flew close enough to be able to snap the plane’s fuselage right in half, but Avian was too quick. The pulled back on the controls and quickly banked to the right and the drake just missed him. What he didn’t see was Seraph coming from the same direction as his maneuver and thinking quickly Seraph began to roll his aircraft while firing on the last drake.
Their planes barely avoided colliding as Seraph’s fire brought down the third drake. Adrenaline was coursing through Avian’s veins and he had to consciously focus himself into a sense of calm. Seraph rejoined him, flying at his side. He had a huge grin on his face. Pretty proud of himself. Avian shook his head in disagreement but showed that he was relieved. They did a few more circles in the area just to make sure that was the last of them and once they were satisfied, they flew into Westfront’s airfield to refuel and make a report with the watch captain. Avian’s plane landed just as the last few rays of sun set beneath the horizon. He drove his plane towards the rows of aircraft that were parked near the hangars and maintenance buildings. He caught sight of one of his squadron mechanics as he approached to signal him into a spot. He was given the signal to stop and Avian cutoff the engine.
“Drakesbane! Drakesbane!” shouted those on watch.
It was always a welcomed sight to see a pilot return from patrol, but especially Avian. He was only the second ace pilot around to have shot down more than a dozen drakes. A symbol was added to the fuselage for every drake brought down. Avian had shot down seventeen confirmed drakes, an achievement most knights didn’t live long enough to earn. Hence his title and the name of his aircraft, Drakesbane. His watch captain waited for him and Seraph as their planes settled to a stop. With a few sputters the engine shut off. Avian removed his flight goggles and leather helmet.
“Anything tonight Avian?” Asked the watch captain.
“We shot down three drakes who were approaching our lines but noticed no enemy troop movement. Nothing unusual, Captain.”
The squadron mechanics buzzed about the aircraft taking note of its condition, as well as refueling it to be ready in a moment’s notice. The plane was equipped with two forward facing machine guns mounted in front of the cockpit. The stress put on the aircraft was light during the patrol making the mechanic’s job of getting Drakesbane battle worthy again easier.
“Alright. Just make sure you brief Sall and Rodger on anything notable before they take off on their patrol. I don’t want any surprises tonight. Got it?”
“I got it, captain. No surprises.”
“Good. Now go get some rest. Things are quiet now, but they won’t be quiet for long. Take advantage of this time Avian.”
“Oh! And for god sakes…” said the captain as he flicked Avian a coin, “…get yourself something to drink!”
Avian walked to the hanger where he found Seraph excitedly telling the story of their latest drake encounter to a few of the newer pilots that were stationed there. The kingdom was training so many new pilots that many of them had never seen combat before. In fact, the rookies outnumbered the experienced pilots twelve to one. Pilots that had confirmed kills were kind of famous, and none less than Avian and Seraph. They were known throughout the realm for being the best there was. The only pilot more famous than them was Avian’s own father and commodore of the BFC, commander Roark. He was one of the people who invented flight. He’d been flying since day one and knew the aircraft almost better than anyone, save for his own son. Avian looked up to his father and was proud of everything they had accomplished. Just a decade ago no one would have thought it possible for humans to fly, and now they were becoming more powerful than the beasts that once dominated the skies and ruled these lands. It brought hope to Avian, and to all of the kingdom. The tyranny of Magnus and the dragon would not last for much longer. Their time was at an end, and it was this thought that motivated Avian to become the best pilot in the realm.
“Sorry to interrupt.” Said Avian as he walked towards his friend with a smile, “But it’s time we brief the next watch so that we can get out of here and grab a drink.”
“Aww man, the story was just getting good!” Seraph joked with a laugh, and without another word to new guys he was talking to, they left. Rodger and Sall were pre-flighting their planes when they approached.
“Hey guys.” Said Seraph.
“Hey! How was the patrol? Any drakes?” Asked Sall. She and Rodger were both in flight school with Avian and Seraph and they were good pilots. Compared to other elements of the military the flying community was very small, so everyone either knew each other or knew of each other.
“Yeah, but only three,” Seraph responded. “I doubt any will show up on your watch. It should be a calm night.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” Said Sall. “So, which one of you shot them down?” She asked raising an eyebrow. Rodger shot her a look. He wasn’t as entertained by Avian and Seraph’s competition as she was. She thought better of it, for her partner’s sake, and quickly changed the subject.
“So, you’re robbing me of my watch partner, eh?” Sall said to Avian, before Seraph’s mouth could follow his finger-point in response to the original question.
“Only for tomorrow. I promise you can have him back afterward.” Avian responded jokingly and relieved that he didn’t have to get into it with Seraph quiet yet.
“Wait, what?” Seraph looked puzzled. “I’m flying with Rodger tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, I told you that already.” Said Avian. He was a bit annoyed because he’d spent a good amount of time trying to figure out what to get his sister for her birthday. “It’s Eira’s birthday tomorrow, so I got approval from the watch captain to get my watch switched. That way I can make it to the party.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Seraph, “That’s right. Well, Rodger, it looks like it’s you and me tomorrow. Are you going to be alright patrolling for two nights in a row?”
“Oh yeah.” Responded Rodger. “No problem at all. I’ll just finish up with tonight and sleep all day tomorrow. Nothing we haven’t done before.”
Everyone laughed. It was true. If it wasn’t because of work then it was because of a night on the town, but they all knew how to function off of very little sleep. They finished with their briefing and said their goodbyes for the night.
“Alright Sall, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Said Avian.
“Sounds good! We’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
With that, Avian and Seraph got cleaned up and headed out for some drinks. The airfield and army barracks were positioned outside of the city on the eastern side. This area was commonly referred to as “The Mess”. This is because the people going out there were probably going to join the fight and get in some sort of a mess, as it were. The airfield wasn’t far from some good places to get food and drinks. Because of the military population outside of the city, many businesses opened up outside of the city walls – some getting better business than if they opened up shop inside the walls. It was a bit riskier out here, but nothing had attacked the city in about two years. Which is around the same time that Avian and Seraph had joined the fight. They headed for their favorite pub, “Tailspin” it was called, and they always had great food and drinks. Tailspin never had too many military patrons, so they were able to relax a lot more without big brother looking over their shoulder.
“You should’ve switched watches with Sall and come over for dinner tomorrow. I’m sure Eira wouldn’t have minded you coming along. Celeste will be there, so you know it’ll be a good time.” Said Avian.
“No, it’s alright. You know I love your family, but your dad is a little intimidating and I know he’s never liked me much.” Said Seraph staring into his drink.
“Well, you do get into a lot of trouble. And you manage to get me into a lot of trouble as well.” Responded Avian.
“That’s what I mean, He’s so by the book, and I’m so not by the book.”
They both laughed and took a drink of their beers. Seraph lit up a cigarette and leaned back on the counter at the bar. He took a drag and blew out the smoke. Avian always loved the smell of it, but he nearly gagged anytime he had tried it.
“You want one?” Seraph offered jokingly as Avian made a face of disgust.
“No thanks,” he said with a smirk. The bartender came out with their food and they got to eating. A nice warm meal was just what Avian wanted after the patrol today. Which reminded him to give Seraph a hard time about almost killing him with that last maneuver.
“By the way,” he said in all seriousness, “Thanks for not running into me.”
Seraph just laughed and took another drink.
“Avian and the Dragon”
Artwork credit goes to my friend, Micah Brown.
“Thrall” The enemy stronghold
Artwork credit goes to my friend, Micah Brown.
“Ashburg” one of Balfore’s frontline cities
Artwork credit goes to my friend, Micah Brown.