This is part of an ongoing steampunk fantasy story. See the introduction to get at the story from the beginning.
“Wolves are not made. They are born from blood”
– Grey Wolves Handbook
The jaws of the mech serpentine clamped around my wrist, its slim, metallic body wound tightly around my forearm like a man-made snake, four feet long and inlaid with brass. Click. Whir. Whizz. The automota’s clockwork guts slipped and moved beneath its skin, pretending to be a heart and brains and bone. Breaths of steam escaped from slits near its head. The skin was cool to the touch, matching the temperature around me. Here, in the belly of the great Airship Keroshi, the atmosphere was crisp and cool – a taste of home. Outside, I knew, the air was thick and humid. Anwari air; a far-flung savage land.
The airship rocked. Explosions sounded outside. None of the other twenty soldiers in the launch bay flinched, so neither did I. We were Ground Pounders. Paratroopers. The best the Ilsan army offered. The best in the whole world of Anadell.
I went through the equipment check my training demanded: rifle, chute, survival gear, cartabugs, lightning flare, knife, and serpentine. Then, silently, I rehearsed my own secret mantra.
Davies, Angela, Sergeant, I recited to myself. ID number: 1713. Real name: Marissa Cabbot. Age: 19. True identity: secure. Family: my breath caught neutralized. I thought about my sister’s execution after she’d been found using majick. The disgrace brought on by the worst offense in Ilsan law led to Father’s suicide and Mother’s insanity. The Cabbot curse that destroyed one of the great Ilsan families. My secret: secure. My role: unknown by anyone. I alone had refused to be brought down. I became Angela, but just on the outside. Beneath, I was still Cabbot. I am Marissa Cabbot, I finished. I am strong.
The bay door opened on schedule. Enemy fire blazed outside the cabin. Rockets blasted and bullets ricocheted inside, tearing around the bay and punching holes in the walls. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. These rebels were a rag-tag, unorganized group with no big guns.
Whatever the situation may be, all that mattered was accomplishing the mission: capture the rebel-held city of Gavin to prepare for the assault on the Second City.
The paratroopers in the bay stood and filed into line, myself at the end.
Another explosion sent the airship dropping sideways and spinning. Everyone jostled but stayed on their feet.
I spoke to myself, holding my place in line and waiting for the jump light. “I will make something of myself. A name for myself – by myself. No matter what it takes. Because I am strong.” I am Cabbot!
The light signaled a “go,” and the ranks of paratroopers began their jump. I was last, though it wasn’t my first jump. Not my first battle.
The line moved fast. The fire intensified. I got close enough to glimpse outside and chewed my lip.
We’re way off the DZ. Too fast. Too low.
But it was my turn. My heart pounded. Anxiety burned. I had orders.
So I jumped.
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