NanoWrimo 2021

A very very rough draft of my ‘entry’ for this years challenge can be found in this post. There will be spelling mistakes and all sorts of errors, I’m sure, but if you can overlook all that, you are welcome to come along for the ride! This will be updated daily, so please check back regularly to see how it’s going.

Steam Riders

Chapter 1 – Breakneck Speeds

There was nothing, absolutely nothing as glorious as hurtling at over a hundred lengths per avum, a dozen spiths off the ground and with the thrum of a zepherim engine at your back. It was this feeling alone that got Salarin back in the metaphorical saddle every time, and he didn’t regret it for a moment.
Despite being stuck in the middle of the pack, the race was looking to be a close thing, and if he could keep up the pressure on Rose, the racer just ahead of him, he was confident she would give him an opening to slip past on the next straight.
Almost like a swarm of hornets, they all swung left and right as they moved around the jutting rock columns that lined this section of the course.
“Hard right in a hundred spiths, then straighten out and floor it for another seven hundred.” There was a crackling sound in Salarin’s ear as Pellexia updated him on the next section through the far-speaker.
She was going to need to take a look at his ear piece when this was all over, as the little archanical device kept feeling hot whenever it activated. Still, this was but a minor irritation and all too quickly forgotten when the turn came up.
Salarin hit the air brakes hard, flipping the engines on the side of the little scorpion racer, letting the momentum swing him around the corner. The avarium he was clear, he slammed his hand down on the overdrive, sending a fresh burst of magical power into the central drive and hurtled forwards at speeds liable to kill a man.
Rose had performed a similar maneuver in her lightning, but had taken the corner just a little too wide, giving Salarin the space he needed. She tried to adjust and pull back into a more central space, but he was already neck and neck with her and starting to pull ahead in his smaller racer.
“Two hundred spiths left in the straight, then a soft left, right left curve.”
That was cutting it tight. One of them would have to pull back from this if he couldn’t get clear of Rose.
She was showing no signs of giving him any more ground than he had already taken, and was now flying dangerously close on his right. With only a few avarium left before the next turn, Salarin risked twisting the accelerator a little further, trying to eke out a little more power before he would be forced into breaking or risk crashing into the side of the valley.
Either Rose saw what he was doing, or anticipated how wreckless Salarin was willing to be, but she matched his speed and kept him from taking the needed lead.
Not willing to risk killing himself for third place, Salarin took the momentary defeat and eased up on things just enough to fall back behind Rose and slip into the gentle twisting corners of the valley.
He risked a backwards glance and saw that the others had pulled in behind him too. This section was far too narrow for any fancy flying, so all anyone could do was pull in close and trust that the racer in front of them wasn’t going to suddenly brake.
Tommerat was doing exactly that in his red viper, pulling in closer enough to Salarin that he could probably lean over and slap the back of his engine.
An avarium later and Salarin felt the viper nudge into him, jolting his scorpion forwards, almost repeating the action with Rose and her lightning. Salarin fought with the controls, trying to put just enough into the brakes to keep some distance between them.
This wasn’t the first time Tommerat had tried something dirty in a race, but he was normally far more subtle than to actually ram someone out of the sky. Perhaps a little generously, Salarin assumed it was a genuine error on their part and continued to focus on his position in relation to Rose. They were leaning into the last right turn now, and soon the valley course would open up enough for three racers to speed through.
He could see the leaders as they accelerated out of the turn, separating from the line as they tried to block anyone else from getting by. Rose held the center line, likely planning on using her slightly larger racer to punch through on the straight.
Salarin had a bit of time to plan his move here, there was still another lap to go, but it would be better to get into third now and play it safe later on rather than trying for some mad push at the end.
He pulled the scorpion over to the left, planning ahead for the turn that was coming after the start of the next left in case this play didn’t work out. Tommerat had read his moves and swung to the right at nearly the same moment, pulling a similar maneuver to the one Salarin had tried just moments ago on Rose.
He didn’t have the time to worry about that right now, however, and he focused on getting the edge on the next challenge. One of them was about to pass her, unless Rose pulled off some incredibly fancy flying in the next few avarium. She was good, but she wasn’t that good.
Rose wasn’t going to give up position easily though, and the fan vents of her engines opened up as she squeezed even more power out of the archanical device and pulled further ahead of them both. 
Tommerat used the underside boosters on his viper to keep up with the lightning’s acceleration, leaving Salarin behind them both.
The scorpion was more maneuverable, but Salarin couldn’t afford to push the engines any more right now if he didn’t want to risk them cutting out before the end of the race and falling out of the sky.   
He watched as the two more powerful racers gained spiths on him, pulling over the start line and breaking into the sharp turn beyond as they started the final lap.
“Rhella is still in first, but the pack is in striking distance. Someone clipped a pillar on the second third so be careful going round there.” Pellexia chimed in with the general update. “You’re clear for nine hundred spiths after the opening turn.”
Despite being in fifth now, Salarin was still in a comfortable position to take back what he had lost, gaining back the ground around the pillars, when the bigger ships would have to slow down or risk smashing themselves against the stones.
The opening corner wasn’t so tight, and Salarin took it with a bit of speed, accelerating even more coming out. The others were still slowly leaving him behind, but that was expected at this point. 
A quick glance back showed there was still some distance between him and the two racers behind.Somewhere behind them Salarin knew there were two more, but none of them were a problem right now.
“Soft right in four hundred, soft climb for five.” The far-speak was getting uncomfortably warm when Pellexia spoke again.
The long straight came to an end and the valley ended as the track came to the ‘mountain’, an incline that would have been difficult for an experienced hiker, but gave little challenge to the racer. The zepherim engine angled down automatically to adjust for the change, keeping the machine twenty spiths from the ground.
Being lighter, the scorpion gained a little ground here, but Salarin still didn’t push the machine at this point, the archanics were still recharging after the last burst of speed. It wouldn’t be much longer though, then he could make his move.
“Level out in a hundred then down four hundred.”
Things balanced out again as they reached the peak of the mountain and Salarin felt the hum of his racer as cogs and pulleys allowed the engines to adjust easily once again to the new angle. Gravity allowed them all to pick up speed as they raced down the side of the mountain.
Given the width of the course at this point, it could have been a good place to try and retake fourth, but the engine gage was still hovering in the yellow, and if it didn’t work here he would be stuck in fifth at best. No, the columns were still his best shot, and he mentally advised himself to be patient.
After the mountain the track turned back around into another flat straight, and he lost a little more ground to Rose and Tommerat. 
The crowd on this stretch, waiting on the grassy fields below were cheering away, though the sound of it was distorted and muffled by the stiff, boiled leather helmet protecting his face and head. The people themselves were a distant blur of colour, notable only by the fact that they were not wearing green and so stood slightly apart from the track.
“Columns coming up, two hundred spiths, after a hard left”
This was it, just a few more avarium and Salarin would hopefully shoot back into a more respectable standing. Of course he would still have to defend that for half a lap, but first things first, he needed to take that position.
The turning came up fast and Salarin leaned into it, twisting the racer in the air to avoid losing too much speed from braking. The gage was just on the cusp of green, and that would have to be good enough.
Pellexia had slightly understated what had happened with the columns. One of them had completely toppled over, creating a narrow arch which the racers would either have to go through one by one, or try and get higher into the air to go over it with a high powered boost. Get the arc wrong on the latter and you’d end up crashing into the top or possibly landing on someone else. It was risky either way.
Salarin pushed the engines to full speed and zipped forwards, rapidly gaining on Tommerat, who was still harrying Rose. She was keeping him out by swinging her lightning wildly across the course, but she would have to stop that soon or go face first into some stones.
Salarin moved in the opposite direction, hoping to take advantage of the fact that they were both focused on each other. With five columns narrowing down to three, he had a bit of room to both maneuver and hide from the others.
Between the stone pillars he got a flash of Tommerat and saw that they were practically neck and neck now. Five became four and he was forced to abandon the game of hide and seek, moving in close enough that there was no way they could miss his sudden appearance.
Rose was about to move over into his lane, when she looked over and saw that he was in the way now, so she moved back to the right and continued to block Tommerat while Salarin put the last of his reserves into the main engine, giving him just enough speed to first pull fully side by side with Rose, then edged ahead.
The fallen column was coming up fast now, and all three of them would have a decision to make. While no one got into this sport for second place, dying in an exhibition race was unlikely to be on anyone’s wish list. Salarin certainly wasn’t prepared to risk everything here, so decided he would put his faith in the engines and try to force the others to line up behind him.
The power bar dropped back into the yellow as he continued to hold the racer at its maximum speed. Rose was stuck where she was from the looks of things, possibly having already gone through her own reserves further back in the race. Whatever the reason, it made things easier for Salarin as she was still keeping Tommerat away. Except, she wasn’t.
Salarin suddenly felt something hit the back of his racer again, almost tipping him out of his seat. He dug into the padded leather with his knees for a little more support, and looked back to see Tommerat right up behind him. 
It was hard to tell, given how little time he’d had to look at the other rider, and the helmet covered most of his face, but something seemed off. It almost looked like Tommerat was fighting with his controls, but if that was the case all he needed to do was decrease his speed and back off.
Another less than friendly hit sent a jolt through Salarin’s body, but he was somewhat prepared for it this time and held on. They were only a dozen spiths away from the narrowing of the course now, and Rose, unable to move through him or Tommerat had fallen back behind them both.
The scorpion was just about to go into the artificial tunnel when Tommerat’s racer came down on them, hard. The heavier viper nearly pulled the scorpion vertically with the extra weight suddenly added, and that effectively saved Salarin’s life, for now at least.
The internal balance sensors mistook this sudden change of facing as a new incline, and quickly swung around, giving him enough power to start climbing up the insanely steep side of the column, instead of smashing face first into the hard and unforgiving rock.
Salarin could now smell smoke, though that was the least of his problems. There was no combustible fuel here, unlike some of the archnical airships, so there was no risk of explosion. No, now he had to worry about the fact that there was no way the scorpion would be able to continue up at this angle. 
He could already feel it slowing down, the engines struggling to keep the forward momentum going. Then, gravity won and he began to fall. 
First the tip of the racer angled backwards, the auto balancer trying to adjust to the new direction but failing, effectively putting Salarin between the vehicle and the ground. Not somewhere he particularly wanted to be.
In the few avarium he had left to react, he switched the engines to manual and flipped them over so that he was effectively driving upside down. Then, while clinging on for dear life with everything he had, he tried to thread himself through the narrow gap between the columns. He had to get somewhere with a bit more space before he could try and get the right way up again, assuming his arms and legs didn’t give out on him in the meanwhile and he fell to the ground.
Whichever higher power was looking out for him today saw his racer through the passage and safely out the other side, giving him the room he needed to angle the engines and flip the scorpion back around with a little spin. Now back in control, Salarin breathed in deeply, calming himself as much as physically possible under the circumstances and refocusing on the race, slowing down to take a moment to check over things.
Rose was once again ahead, having bypassed the incident with him and Tommerat. But that was a minor detail at this time. Engines and the other core systems were still showing as functional, with none of the warning lights blaring their all too familiar red warnings at him.
Even the fire warning was a surprising shade of lightless grey, making Salarin’s mind wonder where the smell of smoke had come from before.
The two racers who were behind him shot passed while Salarin finished up the safety checks, giving him the sudden motivation to get back into it. A swift twist of the accelerator and he was hot on their tails, though with half a lap left he didn’t think there would be another chance to get into third. At least he would finish the race.
“What in the hells happened out there?” Pellexia asked, her tone a whole octave higher than usual.
“Tommerat pulled some stupid stunt and almost knocked me into a rock column. Seem to have survived it.” Salarin replied.
“Well, take it easy. The leads are already finishing so just get yourself over that line.”
“How encouraging,” he quipped back.
She wasn’t wrong though, and with another race in just a turn the last thing the team needed was a trashed racer to fix up.
Keeping the speed just over seventy percent, Salarin cleared the last of the straights, moving through the narrow valley, only just behind the two who had passed him, watching with slight amusement as they continued to fight over fourth. From out of nowhere, the trailing rider’s main engine sparked violently, bright enough for Salarin to see before the sparks became a full on power leak and the racer auto-ejected the faulty part.
The secondaries kept them afloat, letting them get clear while ground crews of engineers dived in to isolate and remove the brightly glowing object before something really bad happened.
Salarin went wide as he came up to, and then passed the trailing racer as they dropped out of the race. The scorpion’s engines gave a little complaint as they angled for the mountain once again, the usually low roar of power gaining the whining hum akin to some predatory insects.
A glance down showed the engine gage dipping into orange, more than enough to get him up and over the last leg. On the downward trek he could see the other racers and their riders pulled over and grounded, each being tended to by their own ground crews.
Less than an avi later he too crossed the finish line, where Pellexia, Mallic and Fey were waiting for him. The scorpion gave a little shudder as the main engine powered down and the landing feet extended.
Salarin unclipped his helmet and plucked the far-speaker out of his ear, tossing it towards Pellexia who scrambled to catch it.
“Hey! Careful with that!” she cried out.
“It’s broken already, thing nearly set fire to my ear,” Salarin said bluntly.
“What did you do to our poor baby!” Fey scolded Salarin as she looked over the scorpion, spotting the impact dents on the rear plates.
“You can ask Tommerat that! Idiot tried to knock me out of the air.” Salarin explained as he swung his legs over the seat and jumped down.

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