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Captain Blake stepped off the rear hatch of the Valkyrie, holding on to his peak cap as the powerful turbo wash from the turboprops threatened to blow his cap off. He reached out his hand to Princess Sherene, helping her off the flight cabin as the whine of the engines slowly died down.

Major Frank waiting at the other side of the landing pad with his other staff officers and saluted when Blake strolled up to him.

"Sir and Mdm! Welcome to Hell's Gate!" Frank grinned, his face youthful face losing the harshness. "I got the whole tour for you."

"Good job with the battle," Blake praised Frank, "You and your men did well holding the Pass and routing the enemy."

Frank kept grinning, "Yea, it was a close job, especially when those dragons landed." He led them to a jeep and personally drove.

The smoke from the battle two days ago still lingered all over the Pass, damages to the structures and defenses slowly became more apparent as they neared the walls and the wailing of wounded dragons echoed down the mountain from their holding pens.

"17 dead and 152 wounded over a week of constant combat, and 42 needed to have parts regrown in the Tank," Frank reported, yelling over the wind as he drove. "Intel estimated a total of seventeen thousand dead on the other side. We also captured close to 400 tons of weapons, armor and food supplies from their abandoned baggage train. Also another five land dragons, almost two hundred war dragons and close to a thousand livestock ranging from bird wyverns and some kind of pig."

"A total of five thousand surrendered and another three thousand captured wounded," Frank continued, handing over a tablet while driving with one hand. They charged up the rocky road and was waved past the checkpoint by the Marine sentries. "We also liberated close to a thousand five hundred slaves."

"We will need supplies for the prisoners, as the supplies we captured will only be enough for two months. Feeding over ten thousand mouths isn't easy," Frank said as he pulled to a stop and parked the jeep at the covered parking lot next to a heavily guarded complex.

Princess Sherene spoke up, "I will see what I can do to supply food for them, but we barely have started growing crops for this season. It will be difficult."

"Yeah, wait till you see the dragons," Frank said, "They eat a lot."

Sherene face turn white, "Dra-dragons? How am I going to feed dragons and over ten thousand more people?"

"How many dragons do we have?" Blake asked, putting his hand on Sherene's shoulder to calm her down.

"We got two of large ones which they called Spitfires and seven medium weights, a breed called Silverwing." Frank pointed to a series of hangar-like structures on the other side. "Currently we are holding them there, under the threat of their masters' life."

"They speak?" Blake was surprised, it was the first thing he knew of such things. "They won't rampage or something?"

Frank winked, "Yup, in Common too, they are surprisingly polite and gentlemen like. They agreed to good behavior and not fight us as long as we save and spare their captains and crew."

"Seems like they are the most sensible ones here," Blake said. "And the remaining Empire forces?"

"We are using the Valkyries to conduct harassing operations on them, forcing them to retreat deeper into the forest, also, the Hundred and First and Marines will be several raiding operations targeting their supplies and ground harassment," Frank added, "If they can capture supplies, we get the Valkyries to pick up supplies for our own use, if not we deny them to the enemy by burning."

"Great job," Blake nodded, walking into an entrance set into the mountainside guarded heavily by Marines.

"Master Sergeant Pike with Lieutenant Tavor of Intelligence is personally running the screening process of the prisoners," Frank continued his report. "We have gotten a 'Truth Stone' from Magister Thorn."

"Truth Stone? What does it do?" Blake frowned, unfamiliar with the object.

"It's a magical artifact that can detect truths or lies," Princess Sherene explained, "The stone changes color depending on the answer given. It's a royal artifact, used to test the loyalty of the royal guards."

"Yeah," Frank nodded, "But Tavor found out that it actually detects intention instead of truth or lies. If you intend to be truthful, it shows up as you telling the truth while if your intentions are evil, like telling a lie, the stone glows red." Frank waved the sentries aside as they passed another checkpoint before entering into the command center.

"So it actually detects good or bad intentions?" Blake clarified, looking around the busy command center.

"Yes, Sir and welcome to the Pit."

-----

She found herself running in the forest, sounds of beating hooves as soldiers riding war dragons chased after her and her people. She screamed as she watched her people dying, soldiers driving spears into their bodies and woke up, finding herself in a strange bright room.

White curtains blocked her surrounding view and she could feel the soft mattress and pillows beneath her but when she tried to move her arms and legs, she found them bound against the bed frame.

She looked at her body, she was wearing some kind of robes, a clear tube with some liquid inside seemed to be stuck to her arm and her body was covered with bandages. The boundings looked like some kind of grey leather but with magical runes carved on them, which she recognized as an anti-magic rune.

She coughed as her dry throat itched and suddenly the white curtains parted and a female wearing strange grey white clothing holding some kind of board looked and smiled at her.

"Finally you're awake," the stranger spoke in Common and picked up a jug of water on the side table which she didn't notice at first. The stranger poured a cup of water and that's when she noticed that her ears were short and rounded.

"W-who are y-you?" She asked, her throat parched and painful. "W-where am I?"

"Here have a sip, slowly," The short-eared stranger gently fed her cool and refreshing water and she felt better after drinking some.

"Don't worry for now," The stranger said and gestured to her restrains, "These are for yours and our safety. Please bear for now till we are certain of your intentions."

She tilted her head in confusion, wondering what does the stranger meant, her eyes growing heavy and she yawned before falling back to sleep again.

-----

Sawtooth Mountain Pass, Defense Base, Monster Holding Pens

Captain Blake stood before a hanger like structure. He looked down the side and saw several similar structures and shook his head, thinking of the time and resources spent on making these in such a short time.

The single Marine guard saluted Blake and pushed open a side door, letting Blake enter.

As Blake entered the holding pen, a strong musty smell hit him and as he saw the massive blue red dragon lying on its side, in the center of the pen, eyes closed and snoozing away.

Blake circled the sleeping dragon, marveling at the creature, looking at the beautiful blue red scales as light reflected off them. Wow, this guy must weight like 30 or 40 tons at least.

Several spots on his body had cracked scales with dried blood, most likely caused by gunfire. Its wings were torn and appeared to be repaired up with sticky tape or duct tape.

He wondered which Marine did that, most likely by his original guys. Shaking his head, he returned to admire the dragon.

Suddenly the dragon snorted and opened its golden dinner plate sized eyes and looked at Blake. It raised its massive head and yawned, displaying its impressive array of sword-like teeth, as long as his arms.

The dragon stared unblinkingly at Blake and a long uncomfortable silence stretched out. Finally, Blake cleared his throat, "Hi, my name is Blake."

The dragon cocked its head, "Ba-ke? What manner of creature are you?"

"We are humans, from a place very very far away from here," Blake gave his best salesman smile.

"Hoomans? Interesting," The dragon rested its head against his front claws. "And?"

"Oh, I just want to see a dragon up close," Blake scratched his head in embarrassment, "I mean I never seen a real dragon before, it's mostly in stories or CG, that kind of stuff you know?"

The dragon looked confused but nodded, "Satisfied?"

"Ah, I am sorry," Blake apologized, "I didn't mean to disturb your rest." Blake gestured to the dragon's wounds. Damn, he sounds like some ancient Englishman! Blake thought to himself.

"It's alright, I am your prisoner," The dragon settled down, "I have nothing much to do either."

"I see," Blake pointed to a bench at the side, "do you mind?"

"Go ahead, I am sure you have some questions for me," The dragon sighed, "The other hooman always has questions."

It must be referring to Lieutenant Tavor, Blake thought, "Well, to be frank, I don't know much about your kind and am frankly very curious."

"Same here," The dragon replied, "Oh where are my manners, my name is Blue Thunder." The dragon rosed up and dipped a bow, which Blake unconsciously returned a bow too. Blue Thunder settled back down onto his forearms and asked, "Do you have any news of my captain?"

"Ahh," Blake remembered Frank's report on the health of the dragon crews. "I am sorry, but he did not make it," Blake replied honestly.

"Captain! Why did you inform him that!" Tavor's voice screamed out in Blake's earpiece. Blake flinched, quickly pulling his earpiece out and rubbing his ringing ears, "Damn."

"Thank you for being honest with me, hooman ba-ke." Blue Thunder appeared to sink down lower on his forearms, "I already had the feeling that he didn't make it, you know the bond and all that. At least I know your people tried their best to save him."

Blake felt the urge to go up to the dragon and give it a comforting pat. Blue Thunder eyes drool up and looked like a lost puppy. "I am sorry for your lost."

"It's alright, lives are lost in wars and we are constantly at the frontline," The dragon sighed sadly, "I have seen many of my comrades passed away."

"What are your plans now?" Blake asked, as he walked up to the dragon and gave it a pat at its higher arm. "Any plans?"

"Plans?" Blue Thunder repeated the word, "I am your prisoner, having surrendered, I am submitted to your bidding."

Blake looked surprised, "Even if we want to execute you?" He blurted out.

"Yes... If not who will look after us?" Blue Thunder raised his head up and look at Blake with its large teary eyes and hissed. "We are your slaves now. To the victor goes the spoils."

"I see," Blake raised both hands up in a calming manner, as he looked at the mouth full of teeth directly in front of him, the smell of sulfur from its breath nearly choking him. "But we have no slaves here. Everyone is a free man."

"Free?" Blue Thunder narrowed his eyes in wonder, "There is such thing?"

"Of course! We will offer the prisoners a choice, to either join us or we let them go back," Blake explained. "We need people, and free men and women work better than unwilling slaves."

"That is very interesting," Blue Thunder scratched its chin in a very human, elvish like way, most likely picked up from its crew. "I can do what I want?"

"Eh yes, but of course you have to follow the laws laid down by the government," Blake continued to preach. "If you are willing to work, we, of course, will be willing to accept you. But know one thing, everyone has to work for their meal, there is no free food in this world."

"Oh like a salary?" Blue Thunder looked excitedly at Blake, its huge mouth gaping opening. "I always hear my captain and the crew say they like to spend their salary in the pub or to a whole house or war house?" It scratched its head as it tried to remember the word they used.

"You meant a whore house?" Blake laughed, "No that's not for you, but yes, you get paid and what you want to do with the money is up to you."

"You mean I can buy lots of meat to eat?"

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