The Zergon zeppelin Invincible floated in the air over a castle known commonly as Mage Keep. Two of it’s six propellers where being used to maintain position. Shafts of ballista bolts poke out of the gun ports of the airship’s ballista deck. While the Invincible was a ship of war it would not be making war today. Today would be the final test of the ship’s complement of mages and two sorcerers that aspired to become Gryphons.
Becoming a Gryphon was a difficult task. A Gryphon had to be a mage. Not only did a mage need to learn the magic of flight, Aeromancy, he would also need to be a soldier. Gryphons would jump out of airships to land in castles that where under siege. They would capture or destroy enemy airships beyond the field of battle. Anywhere the world could be reached by Gryphons.
Adept Lamar Apraxis fitted a leather mask over his nose and mouth. It would concentrate the air so he would breathe outside of the airship. His long black hair was already tied back into a tight queue. His armor was tightly strapped. It was made of crimson-dyed leather and mail with a few plates of hard steel. The crest of the Royal Guard was branded into the leather breast plate and acid etched into his gauntlets. He was one of the sorcerers that would enter into the ranks of the Gryphons if he survived the battle.
The similarly armored leopard beside Lamar tugged on a mask of it’s own. The leopard was Lamar’s familiar and a sorcerer in his own right. Xarses was a ferocious counter speller. Had they been assualting a castle, he would protect Lamar from sorcerous attack during their controlled fall nearly 5 miles to the castle.
Both sorcerers turned around as Marquis Durmon, Master and Commander of the Invincible, stepped out on to the spell circle painted on the floor of the upper deck lounge. Lamar and Xarses bowed to their social superior. The Marquis nodded his acceptance of their deferment and smiled warmly. “We are prepared to attack. It is getting near dusk. Brother Lamar,” Aires Durmon asked, “Would you offer a prayer for success?”
“Aries,” Lamar said, being extremely familiar, “I was raised in a monastery but I do not claim the title Brother.”
Xarses was less worried about social etiquette around someone he deemed as a friend. He mewed softly–his way of laughing–and spoke, “Perhaps I could since I was raised in a monastery.”
Aries kneel on the floor. He waved his hand to invite the Lamar and Aries to kneel with him. “Let us pray.”
Xarses bowed and spoke softly, “Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah.”
“Selah,” Aires said flatly.
Lamar bowed to Aires and excused himself. Xarses was left with alone with the Marquis.
“I’ve heard it said that cats are the devil’s familiars,” Aires said pointedly.
“Is that so?”
Xarses headed towards the ladder at the far wall. His tail flicked back and forth as he walked. Once down the ladder and onto the ballista deck he joined Lamar and the mages that would be jumping. The Marquis was either quite piqued or quite amused. It was difficult to read the man even if he was a friend.
Lamar had reattached his mask and was preparing his spells for the drop. Each armored mage was doing the same. Xarses joined his sorcerer. Aeromancy was different from most magic in two ways: it was very delicate and it was also not vulnerable to counter-spells. It’s very delicacy did, however, make it vulnerable to interference by other spells if not direct counter-spelling. So an Aeromancer would need to protect his spells against interference and also control them so his fall to the earth was controlled. An uncontrolled fall would be quite painful, if not fatal.
Lamar laid out his sword and shield. When he was in the Royal Guard he would keep several defensive charms on his shield for defense against various attacks. Some of these would be unnecessary for the battles a Gryphon would fight in. However it would not be possible to prepare the charms ahead of time. Charms where a domain of mages and wizards, not sorcerers. Charms and potions took time to build and weave or imbue on an object. A sorcerer would use spells, a much faster and more powerful form of magic but often less effective. Spells were by their nature improvised. It was easier to defeat and counter a spell than a charm. Lamar could try to use charms on his equipment but that would make Aeromancy difficult. Or at least would have before Xarses had discovered a few tricks.
Xarses had prepared fourteen charm stones. Similar to a wizard’s wand, these stones would activate on command and cast a spell that had been carefully prepared ahead of time. While they stored the magics they didn’t interfere with Aeromancy. They would be good for only one use. The stones would turn to powder when the magic they contained was released.
The sword and shield on the floor contained traces of their former enhancement. Lamar sprinkled sapphire dust across both of them. A blade of grass was set on the shield and another on the sword. Sapphire and grass were both magically neutral, which was critical to this charm. Sapphire worked as a magical conductor and the blades of grass would absorb all the magic the sapphire collected. Xarses then whispered a word, he had a passion for small charms that Lamar did not. The sapphire glowed and the grass absorbed the glow. In a few seconds the sapphire dust was again dark and the grass was ash. Lamar sheathed the sword on his back and clipped the shield to his belt. They where now void of any traces of magic.
The mages filled down the stairs of the ballasta deck through the middeck where the naphtha-fired boilers powered the propellers of the Invincible. The sound was defeatening as all four boilers roared. The Invincible was manuevering to avoid attack by another airship in mock battle over a mile above Mage Keep. Xarses tripped down several steps as an abrupt turn threw him against the wall.
From the middeck the mages filed into one of the larger cargo holds of the lower deck. Here wooden crates were strapped down tight. Crystal mage lights powered by the boilers provided enough illumination to see the outline of the starboard cargo door. Lamar and Xarses kneeled on the deck to prepare their magics for the drop. Other mages had similar routines. They checked each other’s equipment to make sure nothing was loose. It seemed too short a time before the cargo door opened.
Lamar watched as mage after mage jumped into the clouds blanketing the earth below. The weather was not good for this kind of thing. There was most likely a thunderstorm below. He double checked his mask and leaped out the door. Xarses followed close behind.
Lamar gasped as the cold air hit him. Cold was good it meaned he was alive. The Aeromancer spells took form as a plane of magical force. Lamar tumbled as he wrapped the magics into a thin layer just above his armor. Before he threw up into his mask he corrected his descent. He drove through the sky. Arms stretched out above him, legs below almost as if he was standing. The magics shifted and threatened to break. Xarses bumped into Lamar knocking both out of control into the dark thunderclouds.
Losing control was dangerous. Lamar had no sense of how far he was from the ground. He reformed the layer of magic around his body. Improvising, he added a shielding spell that would block lightning or arrows. The shield spell threw off the Aeromancy. Lamar instead used his protective magic to smooth the airflow around him. Then he concentated on making himself lighter. The magic flowed and twisted. A flash of lightning ablated on the sheild Lamar had cast. He was under control again. Only then did he worry about the ground. He cast a small spell. The ground was getting close. Ever so carefully he spread the magic shield protecting him, widening it. His rate of descent slowed. By itself, this technique was useless he would become a smear on the stone of the castle wall if he didn’t slow down.
Air whistled by as Lamar began his final spell before hitting the ground. He grunted as he slowed rapidly. He briefly remembered one aspiring Gryphon blacking out while doing this and dying as a result. Clouds and rain flashed by. Lamar slowed even faster. The ground was coming up. He dropped through the clouds into pouring rain. One glance at his landing sight showed an open field not far from Mage Keep. The impact was fairly light but he slipped on the wet ground and landed on his back. Xarses landed beside him. The leopard rolled and stood up covered in watery mud.
Lamar sat up and laughed. His back hurt but nothing was broken. Water would clean off the mud. Landing in the field was quite bad aim for what he was trying to do or would have been if there hadn’t been a thunderstorm. The rain fell around him as he stood. Xarses was quite content with himself. The leopard didn’t mind the rain.
“It looks like the measure of are days are a bit longer than they might have been,” Xarses commented.
Lamar smiled. The test only required that he survive his descent. He and Xarses would join the ranks of the Gryphons. Tonight there would be hot tea and warm honeyed bread in the ballrooms of Mage Keep. It would only be some days later he would release that he didn’t activate the spells on his sword and shield, a fatal mistake had there been combat. It would be a lesson well learned in a few days and never forgotten.