Outskirts of The Colony
A Jeep rumbled up a dirt track and passed by a rustic wooden gate and fence before the driver stopped the vehicle before a simple wooden cabin with several large barns next to it. The passengers and the driver hopped out of the military Jeep and looked around their surroundings in interest.
"Bartley?" Mills yelled out. "Are you in?"
One of the barn's door swung open and a massive 3 meters tall Wind Wolf stuck its head out and sniffed the air, before giving off a couple of greeting barks.
"Has the wolves eaten you yet?" Mills joked as he walked over to the barn and rubbed the soft fluffy fur of the wolf which happily rolled over to let its belly to be scratched. "Oh, you like this don't cha?"
Bartley appeared from inside the barn, dressed in a leather work smock over a locally produced shirt and knee-length work boots. He leaned the rake against the wall and removed his gloves before wiping the sweat off his face and smiled at Mills.
"Hey, big guy!" Mills went up to Bartley and gave him a brotherly hug. "Damn! You smell of dog shit and piss!"
Bartley grinned and shooked hands with Drake, Collins, and James. "How's farm life doing for you?" James asked his former section mate.
"The air is good, work is tiring but honest at least," Bartley smiled. "Come inside, it's cold out here."
Bartley shooed the curious wind wolves back to their pens and closed the barn door before bringing his friends into his cabin.
Mills went to the Jeep and came back with a trunk food of supplies. "I got some locally brewed piss for you!"
The cabin was tidy and simply furnished. There were only a single chair and a sofa and in the end, they just dragged the chair and sofa over to Bartley's bed and they gathered there.
"Cheers!" The gang toasted each other and took a swill from the bottles of local beers. The quality of bottling drinks had improved vastly over the months and the men finished the drinks quickly.
"How are you doing?" Collins asked as he popped open the trunk and shared some meat jerky around. "Civilian life good?"
"In a way, yes," Bartley smiled bitterly. "More freedom."
"Hey, don't sweat it," Drake patted Bartley's back. "You did something good there. You saved those wolves."
"Yea!" Mills chirped in. "Train them well! I want to ride into battle on a wolf! Woo!"
James shook his head, "Don't worry, we are all here for you. Even getting dishonorably discharged from the Corps, none of us think badly of you!"
"Thanks, guys," Bartley nodded in gratitude at his friends.
"Hey, we are brothers!" Mills raised his beer up and yelled. "Tonight we party!"
"We got meat for BBQ and plenty of drinks!"
Kingdom of Bluewood, Imperial Capital
The Emperor sat up on his bed and clutched his chest hard, his fingers digging deep into his flesh. A crescent shape appeared under the skin of his chest and appeared to be alive as it radiated a soft glow through his skin.
Sweat trickled down his naked body as he struggled against the scorching pain in his chest. He raised one hand and gripped the sleeping girl next to him and almost immediately, the pain lessened and he felt a cooling sensation flowing from his hand to his chest.
He looked down and in the dim mage lights, he noticed wrinkles on his body slowly disappearing and his skin regaining the supple glow of youth.
As the pain faded, the crescent shape pushing against his skin slowing retreated back into his body and the glow disappeared. Taking a deep breath, he looked down to his bed where the girl laid, only to find a dried out husk curled up in a fetal position.
The Emperor stood up and walked to a full length polished bronze mirror and admired his body under the dim lights. He rubbed the red patch on his chest where his nails had gorged into his skin drawing blood. As he watched, his skin visibly recovered with a blemish.
He frowned wondering why has it been so active lately. It used to only trigger once a year or less but lately, it has kept demanding more and more from him. He looked at his 20 year old plus face and body and smiled, knowing that no one suspected him to be over sixty years of age.
Not even his own sons can recognize him till the last moment when he whispered to their ears. He remembered the disbelieve in his eldest son when he ran his sword through his body. "Luke, I am your father!"
His eldest son stared in horror and died with confusion in his eyes and he wasn't the only one to die that way. Only his youngest son, did he banished away due to some lingering feelings for his mother and he took his youngest son's identify and reunified the Kingdom under his new identity.
It all had started when he was given a piece of artifact that gave him renewed strength and vitality. He knew his sons were plotting for the throne once he died and knew that they were useless. He was given a new chance in life so why shouldn't he take this chance to unite the whole New World?
His useless sons were only interested in power, women, and wealth and won't amount to anything greater than he ever was! Only him, the great Emperor Dios Bluewood will be able to hold the people's heart and unite the world under one banner!
His youngest son, borne out with a favored concubine was the weakest among his brothers. Weak of will and mind, his magical powers were also below average. Hence, he decided to make use of his youngest child for his plot but in return for his affections to his concubine, he allowed his youngest to live. With that, he faked his death and assumed the identity of his youngest child and played the whole Kingdom into the palm of his hands.
When the uprising by his supposed brothers came, they dismissed him as the weakest and fought among themselves while Dios laughed behind the scenes. He had already prepared his strongest army to only obey him and when his sons were weakened, he attacked and in a brief year of suppression, he regained control of the whole Kingdom again. Expect this time, it was under the guise of Varacen Bluewood, the youngest hidden genius of the only surviving Bluewood lineage.
Admiring himself again in the mirror, he pulled the bell and a small army of eunuchs appeared, he gestured to the body on the bed and the eunuchs bowed before removing the body.
"Bring me another girl."
UNS Matador, 78 km offshore from Far Harbor
Commander Ford sat on his command chair and watched the grey skies as waves as tall as a human rosed against the twin hulls of the Matador.
"Commander!" The bridge navigator called out. "Two more hours to Far Harbor approach. Weather is not looking too good."
"Got it," Ford replied and wondered if the Captain and Princess were okay. "Contact Poseidon and get weather updates from them."
"Aye!" The bridge crew radio back to Naval Command and requested for the current weather update.
"First Officer," Ford stood up from his seat. "You have the conn."
"Aye, I have the conn!" The First Officer leaped up and saluted as Ford left the Bridge to tour his ship.
Ford went down to the hanger deck and found the crew in a joyous mood. Six AF - 1N Sea Cobras rested snuggly on their cradles were stuffed tightly to one side while the crew ensured that all the items that were needed to be offloaded or be replaced were checked and secured properly against the stormy seas.
He returned the salutes of the crew and walked to the end of the internal hanger deck to the stern of the ship where the deck had a large square well that opened up to the Sea Operations well deck. Two PT - 1 'Mosquito' boats sat on an unflooded well deck on secured moorings that could hold another two more PT boats.
Ford could see the UNS Floatin Wreck from the half exposed stern of the well decks were the hanger doors were closed up. The well deck could be flooded and the Mosquito boats will be floated out from the stern. The Sea Ops deck also stored amphibious warfare equipment for launching attacks or landings on beaches.
He headed next to the starboard hull which also known as Hull A while the port side hull was known as Hull B. Several enclosed passageways connected the two hulls together which held the ship's crew quarters, storage, mess, entertainment, and gym facilities, and also the engine rooms.
Each Hull had their own independent engine and power rooms. The Engineering Department had to split their manpower between the two hulls to oversee and maintain the engines. As he entered the Hull A engine's room, the temperature rosed to sweltering levels.
"Chief?" He called out to the Matador Chief Engineer, a newly promoted crewman of UNS Singapore.
"Commander? What brings you here?" The Chief asked as he put down his work tools.
"How's everything?" Ford asked as he looked at the confusing array of dials and gauges.
"A few burst pipes here and there," The Chief reported. "Also a few armor plating sprung out from their bolts and leakages here and there."
He rapped his knuckles against the wooden hull and said, "These hulls are not really designed to take such heavyweight despite having balanced over with a twin hull design."
"The weight ratio calculations are fine, but these hulls are just too old," The Chief engineer said. "Well, if we can rebuild these hulls from the ground up, this ship design is actually pretty solid."
"How bad is the leakage?" Ford frowned, wondering why no one has reported this issue to him.
"The leaking isn't too bad, the pumps are able to keep up," The Chief said. "Since we are nearing Far Harbor in a couple of hours, it isn't a very big issue nor will it affect our speed at this point of time."
Ford nodded, "Regardless, I want a damage report on that."
The Chief nodded resignedly. "Got it, Commander. Once we hit the docks, I will also get the docks to see if we can fix the hulls up properly to prevent more of these issues."
"Good," Ford replied. "Keep up the good work, Chief!"
After checking each department, Ford returned to his office and started going through all his reports. "Six goblin raiding groups destroyed over a three week period with 47% aircraft ordnance and 62% aircraft fuel onboard expended. Zero casualties."
Suddenly the alert buzzer rang and the public announcement system blared, "All hands! Action Stations! Repeat, this is not a drill! All hands! Action Stations!"
Ford jerked up from his reading and in reflex, he ran out of his cabin. The crew ditched what they were doing and quickly moved towards their stations as they had trained and drilled.
Appearing at the Bridge, Ford immediately asked as he stepped in. "What happened?"
"Sir! Surface radar is picking up multiple contacts!" The First Officer quickly reported. "We don't know what is it, but they are big!"
"Bearing and heading?" Ford stood over the tactical plot table. "Report back to Poseidon and Thunderchief now!"
"Launch the alert Cobras!" Ford ordered next. "Prep the half of the Sea Cobras for anti-shipping combat and the rest with air to air loadouts."
"Order the Floatin Wreck to take up station between us and the unknowns!" Ford gave the next command. "Deploy the Mosquitos and have them on close by escort duty!"
The bridge crew scrambled rapidly to Ford's orders while Ford frowned, "What came come so near to us without us detecting it?"
"Sir! Surface radar is showing seven contacts! All twice the size or even larger than the Matador!"