“Why do we need the escort?” The navigator asked while she referenced her map.
The pilot’s fingers tightened around the steering yoke as he inquired, “Aside from us being at war?”
“Their aircraft aren’t as advanced as ours, Erik,” she said, leaning into her seat. The young woman pulled her legs onto the edge of the chair, wrapping them up with her arms.
“True,” Erik hedged. “Unfortunately, that’s not the only aspect of warfare. But their sorcery far outstrips ours.”
“What can five witches do for us?”
Erik covered his mouth, stifling a yawn, then snatched the microphone from the console and switched channels. “All of them are masters, which means they’re capable of a lot.”
The navigator pressed her face against the glass and stared into the moonlight sky. She quickly found a witch flying alongside the bomber. The woman straddled her broom, gripping its neck with her hands while the black robes and dark hair fluttered behind her. Without warning, the witch rolled from Ramona’s view. “All five are masters?”
“Yes,” the pilot answered as he activated the microphone. “Quinn, have the witches reported any problems?”
“Why did we receive that many masters for this run?” Ramona asked.
“Despite violating Estrian territory, all’s silent on this end,” Quinn responded.
Erik lowered the handset and stared at the horizon scratching his chin. After some contemplation, he squeezed the mic and ordered, “Quinn, signal them and ask for an update.”
“Sure thing,” Quinn replied.
“What possessed command to assign us, five masters?” Ramona pressed.
After several tense seconds, the pilot dropped the microphone and answered, “We’re ending the war.”
“With one run?”
A wry chuckle escaped Erik’s lips while he grabbed the yoke. But before he could elaborate, the signal operator’s voice filled the chamber. “Sybell signaled that everything looks clear.”
Erik lifted the handset and stroked his chin. “Roger that, Quinn.”
“Keep checking in with her and alert me the moment the situation changes.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“Ramona, what’s the time to target?”
With a scowl, the navigator studied her maps and instruments and answered, “Five minutes out.”
Erik adjusted the channel of the radio and opened a line to the bomber. “Dorian, are you ready to go?”
“I will be,” he replied. “Chief, can you explain what we’ll accomplish with a single bomb?”
The pilot closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “The brain trust discovered a weapon that should devastate the Estrians’ military command on its own. And they amplified it with some runes.”
“How precise do I need to aim this?” Dorian asked.
The pilot’s fingers raked at his collar, answering, “The bomb just needs to get close.”
Ramona’s eyes darted to the pilot while she wrapped her hand around her pencil. She forced the sudden lump down her throat, asking, “How big is this explosion going to be?”
Erik glanced at his navigator and bit his lower lip. He lifted the microphone to his mouth and commanded, “Dorian, you just have to get close to the target.” Before the bomber could answer, the pilot switched back to Quinn’s channel and stowed the handset. His fingers resumed their effort to loosen his collar as he answered Ramona’s question. “That’s the second reason we have five masters. After we deploy the bomb, our escort will open a way.”
The pencil fell from the navigator’s grasp. When the clattering died off, she steadied herself in the chair and cleared her throat. “We have to travel a way to escape the blast?”
“The brain trust isn’t sure,” Erik admitted while he rubbed his eyes.
“How experimental is this bomb?”
He shifted his hand to his shoulder and bemoaned, “The conventional portion has been thoroughly vetted.”
“What about the runes?”
“The mages used the standard ones to increase a bomb’s devastation.”
“Why wasn’t that scrutinized?”
“Sybell says we’ve entered the minefield of defensive wards for the Estrian command,” Quinn interrupted.
Erik pulled the microphone from the controls and asked, “Do we need to climb to avoid the spells?”
“No,” the signal operator answered. “Sybell is insisting that the stealth enchantments are doing what they have to do.”
The pilot lowered the handset and peered at Ramona. “How far out are we?”
She shoved a finger against the map while she pulled out another pencil and referenced her instruments. “Dorian needs to get ready to release the experiment.”
“Quinn, inform Sybell to prepare a way once we deploy the package,” Erik commanded. Immediately he adjusted his radio to Dorian’s channel. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, “Ramona are we in position?”
“Now,” she replied.
“Drop the bomb!”
After a moment’s silence, the bomber’s voice responded, “The bomb’s away.”
Before Dorian finished, spells erupted from the defenses. Cursing Eric turned the plane around and pushed the lever that controlled the craft’s velocity. And switched the radio to Quinn’s channel.
“That volley took out two of our escort,” Quinn’s voice declared. “Can they still open a way?”
“No,” Erick spat as he forced more speed.
“Are we going to escape the blast?” Ramona asked.
Eric ignored the question. His attention flitted among the altimeter, the speed gauge, and the receding horizon. As the ship raced for sanctuary, the incoming spells whipped past the hull. After one bolt of lightning missed the fuselage, another clipped a wing, pitching the plane that direction. With a curse, Erik fought the yoke and corrected their course while he teased even more speed from the bomber.
While Erik wrestled the struggling craft, Quinn’s voice erupted through the cockpit. “The bomb went off.”
Ramona grabbed the microphone and asked, “Are we going to make it?”
“Check back with me later,” Dorian answered. “But I’ve never seen an explosion like that.”
“What’s different about it?” Ramona inquired.
“I think we won the war,” Quinn mumbled.
Ramona glanced at the pilot, asking, “Why’d you say that, Quinn?”
“You wouldn’t ask if you saw it.”
“That was the idea,” Erik said, fighting the yoke. “Ramona, find us a place to land.”