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Talen paused to grab Marn’s arm as the corporal stumbled, his booted feet sinking into the loose sand of beach, the weighty pack on his back affecting his balance as he stumbled towards the dubious cover offered by the dunes in front of them.

“Come on, quickly, we’re almost to cover,” Talen shouted, the constant noise of the steampaddle landing craft almost drowning out their stilted conversation.

“Th… thanks,” said Marn, panting heavily as the two threw themselves into the cover of an overhanging grassy bank.

Ignoring his colleague momentarily, Talen lifted his periscopic spyglass, cautiously poking one end above the dune they sheltered behind, the prisms positioned to allow him to keep his head below the crest of the dune whilst still showing him what was on the other side.

He adjusted the focus and then swore softly. Grabbing Marn, who lay on his back panting, he bodily flipped him over to get to the heavy radio strapped to his back. Ignoring the smaller man’s protests, he operated the mechanism to power up the radio, the small internal kettle bubbling happily in contrast to his mood, occasionally emitting tiny vents of steam as the dynamos spun and the radio’s display lit up.

Lifting the receiver, he looked skywards to the great floating city and his commanders and spoke urgently into the microphone.

“Blue leader to Pirate base, Blue leader to Pirates, come in please. Over.”

“Receiving. Over.”

“Urgent. Using my signal as a guide, aim three hundred yards past my current position. Immediate Skyfall required. Please acknowledge. Over.”

“Roger that, over and out.”

As Talen finished his transmission, a spluttering Marn realised the implication of the order and his eyes opened wide in terror.

“They’re just over the dunes?” he whispered, dreading the answer.

Talen nodded mutely, and then looked back over his shoulder at the squadron of black planes that dropped from the sky city, rapidly descending on them from above in what the pilots called a skyfall. The planes were released vertically from clamps located around lower section of the outside of the steely city walls, dropping in free fall and only controlled when the planes built up enough speed for their ailerons to work properly: the ‘Ravens of Death’ as they styled themselves, screaming hell from above and delivering death on earth. He marveled at their grace and control, the ethereal white vapour trails contrasting starkly with the black paint and ominous skull and crossbones on their raven wings.

The city had drawn closer since the soldiers had established their beachhead to allow the observers with their powerful telescopes and binoculars to assess the battlegrounds and plan the initial movements, in this instance directing the planes to the target that they could see more clearly than Talen hidden behind his dune below. Several blimps had detached from the city and hung motionless high above the dunes and ice tipped rocks beyond, occasional exploratory tracer fire from Trog bunkers deep in the mountains arcing out toward them but falling short due to their altitude.

He bellowed back over his shoulder at the other troops who were struggling up the dunes from the landing craft that lay beached behind them.

“Incoming. Take cover!”

Hundreds of men hit the sand or tumbled into the sharp grass, ignoring the cuts and discomfort in anticipation of what was about to land close by.

“This is Raven leader.” The radio crackled into life as Marn lay face down in the sand, his hands already covering his ears as the small speaker tinnily shouted to the uncaring sky, “skyfall in progress, take cover. Over.”

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