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178 km North West West of Orwell's Point, Shard River

A long snaking river sparkled under the sun stretched away from Blue Thunder's view as he rode the warm updrafts of the air currents. He lazily beat his wings and followed the river, heading upwards as he and his crew were watching the river of any Imperial movements.

Blue Thunder snaked his head back and peeked at Rastraz at his rear and winked at Crew Chief Stamford who sighed and shook his head at Blue Thunder's antics. Just a couple of days earlier, he had begged to be reassigned back to Haven and in the end, the CO ordered them to go on a long range reconnaissance mission instead.

Stamford wondered what kind of monster was so terrifying to both the dragons that they immediately agreed to this mission. Normally Blue Thunder and Rastraz will try to push these missions away as they both are getting lazier in their ways.

"Hey?" Rastraz voice came in loud and clear from the short radio frequency radio. "Something is coming up the bend of the river!"

Stamford glanced over the back to Rastraz who did not have a crew on her. She did not allow anyone to ride her, only begrudgingly allowing the techs to hook up a flight harness on her, which held the two way radio and some spare supplies.

He carefully removed his binoculars and peered down the snaking river glittering in the sun, following the river upwards till he spotted several black objects coming around the bend of the river where the canopy of the forest blocked the rest of the river.

"Blue!" Stamford called out, "One o' clock, ground level!"

Blue Thunder tilted his body gently and swooped down, lowering their altitude to easier identify the objects on the river. Behind him, Rastraz followed closely, keeping a short distance behind his tail.

Stamford watched a river barge slowly came into his view of his binoculars and soon, several more followed behind. He started counting once the number when up to thirty and he cursed as more and more ships could be seen coming out of the cover of forest on the river.

"Empire!" Blue Thunder yelled, as his superior eyesight spotted the flags and banners on the river ships. "Many many ships!"

"Don't get too close!" Stamford warned Blue Thunder before yelling at Rastraz, "You too! Break off!"

Rastraz gave an indignant snort and ignored Stamford's orders. She swept her wings backward and dived down like a missile towards the flotilla of ships.

"Break off! BREAK OFF!" Stamford yelled urgently in the two way radio as he saw what Rastraz was trying to do. "Stupid beast!"

The river barges spotting her approach, quickly fan out into a checkered shape formation barely in time as Rastraz suddenly snapped her wings out and flared to a slow hover before the flotilla. She sucked in a breath of air and embers of fires glowed in her air sacs.

Just as she was about to spit her flames out, several ballista bolts whistled through the air at her. She dodged the ballistas bolts in panic, twisting her body awkwardly and she heard Blue Thunder snickering at her in the comms making her angry and embarrassed.

"GET BACK HERE... YOU STUBBORN DRAGON!" Stamford yelled in the radio. "And you! Blue! Stop making it worse!"

Rastraz glared at Blue Thunder circling in the skies with anger and continued to ignore Stamford. She turned her attention back to the ships which were arming and firing ballistas at her.

She stopped her hover and flapped her wings, seeming like swimming in the air and dodging the ballistas and arrows aiming at her gracefully. She opened her mouth and roared out a stream of flames over the leading ships.

She hmphed and turned around to observe her handle work only to see the ships she flamed were barely damaged! Suddenly she heard several horn blows and on the corner of her eye, she saw dozens of dragons appearing from the trees!

"Retreat!" Stamford yelled again. "They have barriers protecting the ships and dragons to provide air cover! You can't defeat them all by your self! Retreat!"

Rastraz hissed in anger and turned tail and fled just as several lightning bolts ran across her belly, making her gasp in shock and pain. The lightning shock locked her joints and wings and she turned rigid for a couple of seconds and dropped like a stone.

"NOOO!" Blue Thunder roared out in fright and anger at seeing Rastraz dropping down and hitting the river surface with a massive splash. "RASSSS!"

"Shit!" Stamford cursed when he saw Rastraz went down. "Call it in!" He quickly ordered his radioman.

"Omega Point! Omega Point, this is Dragon One! We are under hostile contact! We have a dragon down! Repeat! Dragon down!"

-----

Orwell's Point, Marine Command

Joseph stared at the sweating ex slave, Matthew seated in the middle of the stone room turned office. He rapped his fingers against the tabletop copying the way The Captain did and said, "You know what you need to do, yes?"

"Yes! Yes! My Lord!" Matthew quickly replied eagerly. He was taken to a tour of the dungeons and after seeing what was being done to the cultists, he was totally on the side of the Barbarian Lords.

"Now, make sure, your people stop all violence and any stupid plans of trying to overthrow the regime," Joseph recapped the points. "If there is anyone still planning any violence, you are to inform us by the agreed manner."

"Yes! yes!" Matthew nodded. "I will make sure no one has any rebellious thoughts!"

Joseph nodded to the two Marines guard at the door and they took Matthew out. "Not what I really hoped, but I guess that is a start for now at least!"

He sighed as the footsteps of the guards and Matthew echoed away. "Well, the bigger problem now is the damn Snake, we will just have to fix our internal affairs later."

Earlier, he had met up with the Merchants of the city and offered them a deal, that was for every ex slave hired and paid with an agreed minimum wage, the government will offer tax reduces and also subsidies for the employers.

After taking half the morning away with the meeting with the Merchants, he ordered Matthew to be brought to the dungeons and take a tour, before impressing upon him the importance of his duties, or there will be severe consequences.

"Sir!" The door swung open and one of his aides came in, "Priority message from Dragon One!"

"What is it?" Joseph stood up from his chair.

"They have encountered the Empire fleet coming down from the Shard River and, they lost Dragon Two!" The aide quickly reported.

"What? Rastraz is lost?"

-----

Dead Frontier

"So, we managed to confiscate enough food for everyone to last for this winter, but looking at the number of refugees that are coming pouring in..." Taris sighed, "I think we need another trip to Sin City..."

"Hmmm..." Borse nodded. "Gather all the valuables we have left, and this time bring a larger escort along, don't get caught by slavers again!"

Taris gave a good natured laugh at Borse's reminder, "So what do you think of this, United Nations?"

"Too far away for any use to us," Borse replied. "Hence no point bothering to think about them, when we have so more urgent matters here."

"True..." Taris nodded, "Well, I go gather the men and materials for another trip down."

He left the still under construction village stone Tower that had fallen into ruins after years of neglect and now being restored to be used for the soldiers of the village which now resembled a small city or large town.

"I want five hundred troops!" Taris gave his order to the Last Company commanders, "Fifty wagons and as many volunteers to drive them! Load them up with all the valuables we have taken from the merchants and nobles!"

"We are going... shopping!"

-----

Eastern Shore, Gateway City

Dozens of warships of the Isles laid anchor offshore with their batteries of ballistas and catapults aimed towards the shoreline, supporting the defenses of the seaside city. The city docks and piers were chock full of refugees as the remnants of the Two Nation Alliance sought safe haven with the Isles.

Gateway City was the only city with enough deep water facilities to harbor over a hundred ships and also the closest city to the Isles. It was also the main trade hub for the Two Nation and Isles to conduct trade and at this time, a massive Imperial Army was at its doorstep.

The Isles's Council of Masters had immediately ordered a Fleet to support and help protect the city as they knew if the Empire captured that city, it will open the doors for them to invade the Isles. If they are successful in repelling the Imperial forces, they can use an excuse of protecting their interest and annex the city to their side!

Dijon stood onboard his Flagship, Fury and watched the shoreline with an angry frown on his face. He brought over 27 warships and 8 troop transports, making the journey in less than a 5 day week once news of an Imperial army threatened their own lifeline to the continent. He knew another Fleet, way larger than his was being prepared at home and once they are readied, they will come and reinforce him.

Hundreds of longboats ferried troops off the warships while the transports were forcibly docked in the harbor. The transports had forced their way through the many ships and vessels crowding the docks, ignoring the Harbor Master's protests.

Over two thousand Isles's sailors landed in the first wave while another three thousand more waited for their turn to board the shuttling longboats while another five thousand infantry poured out from the 8 troop transports at the docks.

Gateway City's Mayor and it's Garrison Commander came to the docks only to be greeted by marching troops and were told that they are here to help resist the Imperial Army. Dijon had smiled at the nervous and worried expressions of the Mayor and his staff and slyly assured them that they were just here to help.

The city's Garrison Commander had shared some information regarding the Imperial force, which their scouts estimated to be over 30 thousand strong. The city garrison holds over elven thousand troops and with the remnants of the Two Nation's army, another 7 thousand mixed allied troops were being rallied.

He had brought along five thousand crack infantry in the eight transports and he has another six thousand fighting sailors onboard his warships he could deploy without depleting his Fleet's operations.

The ships laid anchor as close as they could without getting beached by the tides so that they could provide fire from their heavy ballistas to the shores and Dijon has a couple of tricks still hidden up his sleeves against the Imperial Army.

He turned and looked at the two flat longish ships anchored behind the battle line and grinned, knowing that the Imperials will be in for a nasty surprise!

-----

Great Ocean Plains, Site of the Oerkin Battle with Great Evil

Hundreds and hundreds of shambling shapes moaned and wandered about aimlessly under the dark clouds of the night while the Shamans held an emergency council. They stared at the few Oerkin survivors that they found on their way to the confrontation with the Great Evil.

"All dead?" The Elder Shamans hissed behind their cowls in shock at the bobbing heads of the survivors. "How?"

"The Chieftains lead the attack! We stormed at the wounded Great Evil that was set alight by the strange flying creatures that helped us!" The survivors recalled the events to the gathered Shamans.

"But the Great Evil started to regain its strength as it ate our kin!" The survivors growled and angry tears flowed down. "The Chieftains seeing it was useless to fight, ordered everyone to scatter!"

"We could do nothing only to be food for it!"

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