Excerpt: Sky Knights

“We’re approaching the coordinates.”

Dounia hand-signalled back and concentrated on the landscape below them, a forest dotted with snow and ice. Somewhere down there, below the tree line, was the German front line. Dounia’s ear twitched and she grinned into the mirror spell that Ira had set up, and saw Ira’s return smile reflected back at her from the cockpit behind hers.

“It’s time to cut the engines.”

“I hate this part the most,” Meow said from his position wrapped around Dounia’s shoulders.

“Cutting engines,” Ira said, her voice muffled by the telephone spell that projected her voice into Dounia’s cockpit.

The plane dipped, and Dounia’s stomach plunged as they descended. The engines stilled and quieted, leaving the three of them alone in the air, with only the whirling of the wind to accompany them. Meow’s ears flattened against his skull, and he curled up closer around Dounia’s shoulders. His claws scraped against her skin, even through her leather bomber jacket.

“Cat’s aren’t made for flying,” Meow complained against her ear.

“And yet you always insist on coming.”

“I can’t just let you two get yourselves killed without me, can I?”

“Hey, quit your jabbering, you two,” Ira said. She winked through the lens of her goggles. “Are we in formation?”

Dounia checked Ira’s other mirror spells that had been set up outside the plane to reflect what was behind them and reported back. “In formation. Going in.”

Dounia watched the two planes behind her in the mirror spell and waited. Any moment, the two of them were going to put on a burst of speed and distract the German anti-aircraft gunners so that she and Ira could go in for the bombing run.

“And they’re off,” Ira said. “Bombs primed, coordinates approaching at two hundred fifty meters.”

Dounia smiled. “Get ready, we’re going to have to do this fast.”

“Every single time, you tell me this,” Ira said. “We’re used to it by now, surely.”

“I will never be used to this,” Meow said, digging his claws in tighter.

“Two hundred meters.” Dounia got ready, muscles coiled and ready for action. She flashed another grin at Ira in the mirror spell, feeling the adrenaline thrumming through her veins, skin practically bursting with it. Meow could complain all he liked; this was the best feeling in the world.

“One hundred fifty meters.”

There was no sound of engines, just the wind whistling past––and if Dounia strained her ears, the sound of anticipating snow. Dounia hoped they’d return before the blizzard started. Their formation had been pushing it with the weather like this. But if it meant surprising the German lines, it was a risk the squadron had been willing to take.

“One hundred meters. Seventy-five. Fifty and closing,” Ira said. “Get ready. Bombs away. Go!”

Meow yowled in her ear as Dounia leapt into action, jumping up and out of her seat in the cockpit and edging her way carefully out across the wing of the biplane as Ira mirrored her on the other side. Below her, the tops of the trees flew past in a blur, but Dounia ignored it. She wouldn’t fall, and she was fearless. The wind pulled at her, fighting to drag her off her perch on the wing, but Dounia, air veteran extraordinaire, knew how to keep her feet. As soon as Dounia was in position, she signalled to Ira.

“This is sheer madness,” Meow muttered, tail lashing against the collar of her jacket.

Dounia restarted her propeller, hands steady as she pulled the engine back into action by hand. The propeller roared to life, and she and Ira scrambled back into their seats. Meow shivered against her neck and growled unhappily. Dounia raised her hand and stroked his back, soothing him back into compliance.

Dounia steered the plane back up and around. A few stray bursts of anti-aircraft gun rounds fired off around them, but Dounia escaped them easily. It was a shot in the dark, and Dounia grinned fiercely, the thrill of flight still running through her veins.

“Reform, we’re going in for another run, maybe two.”

The other two planes in their small formation regrouped with them in midair. This time around, Dounia and Ira would be distracting the enemy so that their comrade could bomb them.

“Is everyone still alright?” Dounia asked.

“Looks like,” Ira replied. “Our formation comrades are both still intact, at least.”

Meow growled again, low in his throat, and Dounia caressed the spot between his ears. “Steady, my brother,” she said.

“Why can’t you just blast them with a fireball?” Meow whined, scrunched up around her neck.

“I might catch our wooden plane on fire,” Dounia replied dryly. “And give away our position.”

Just as they fell in line behind their comrade, the first few flakes of snow began to fall. The huge, fat flakes, fluffy and soft, drifted gently down to earth. However, Dounia was certain that the snowfall would soon intensify. Before they knew it, they’d be snared in the midst of a white-out snowstorm. Dounia didn’t want to land their plane in the middle of a blizzard, but they still had two runs to go.

“We’d better make this quick,” Ira said. “We can make it.”

“Are you sure?” Dounia asked.

“We can make it,” Ira repeated, and Dounia didn’t argue. Somehow, Ira always knew.

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