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The Isles

A low mournful wail broke through the early morning hustle and bustle of the harbor. People stopped their work and looked out to the sea in surprise at the sudden strange cry. People started hollering as they saw the proud sails of the Isles' warships sailing in and behind them were four sailless ships that had thin wisps of smoke coming out.

One of the strange ships was huge, larger than their largest warship, which caught everyone's attention. Fishermen stopped their work, housewives paused in their shopping and even laborers forgotten about their loads as they stared at the strange newcomers.

As the strange ships came closer, the people followed along the harbor edge as they all wanted to catch a glimpse of the grey ships. Children ran and hopped barefooted over the wooden piers and slips, trying to catch up with the sailless ships.

The children yelled and waved at the white uniformed crew who waved back while lined up along the side of the grey ships. The largest grey ship's bulwarks were so high up that the people had to crane their heads up in wonder at the crew.

They watched in fascination at the ships coming into the harbor and wondered how do these grey ships move without sails. The crowd suddenly exclaimed as they pointed at the smaller ships as something happened to the three ships.

The boxy things with a pole sticking out rotated as one from the three smaller grey ships to point towards the open sea. Suddenly, the leading ship's box with a pole erupted with a thunderous roar and the ship's rear box followed shortly after.

The loud booms continued next from the second ship as smoke and flames burst out before it ended at the third ship.

The sudden loud booms shocked and frightened the watching crowd and they recoiled back in fear, covering their ears while some of the badly frightened children broke out crying.

-----

UNS Goblin, Bridge

"Tell the gunners to secure their weapons and stand down!" The XO ordered the weapons officer who relayed his orders down.

Ford stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he observed the scenery before him. Colorful dwellings built out of wood and bricks covered his view. The city was built on a small mountain and laid out on terraces, with steps leading up from one terrace to another.

At the peak of the mountain, stood a large ancient sailing ship overgrown with vegetation over a waterfall, creating an illusion that the ship was sailing in the air. Its hull was gilded with gold and its bow spirit pointed to the skies proudly while a figure of a mermaid holding a golden sword pointing upwards served as the figurehead.

Dozens and dozens of slow spinning windmills covered the sides of the mountain city, drawing water up to the peak of the mountain to create the waterfall which runs into the city's aqueducts.

"Their city is so pretty!" Sherene at the side said. It was both their first time here to the Isles and it widened their experience at seeing the island city. "That ship must be their Council of Masters!"

Ford bobbed his head in agreement as he took in the sights. "It clearly is very exotic!"

Hundreds of fishermen and dock workers gawked at their passing as they lined the harbor. Most of them had covered their ears due to the unexpected six gun salute given by his ships and stared wide eyed at his ships as they traveled past the harbor to reach the Isles' VIP docks.

He could see troops from the Isles pushing their way through the crowd to maintain order and a smile can to his lips. Sherene took a glance at Ford and shook her head, "Got what you wanted?"

"Hehe," Ford giggled. "Of course! We will be the talk in town for ages!"

"Well, I hope the Council of Masters won't be too offended by this... gun salute of yours!" Sherene sighed, unable to understand the military culture of the hoomans.

"It's kind of a military tradition..." Ford explained. "Dating way back to a few hundreds of years ago on our world. In the old days, by firing the ship's cannons, it partially disarmed the ship until it could be reloaded which took some time."

"So by needlessly firing a cannon showed respect and trust," Ford said. "And as a matter of courtesy, a warship would fire her guns harmlessly out to sea, to show that she had no hostile intent to the port of call they are entering."

"But of course, the number of guns fired is more," Ford grinned. "We just fire once from each of our cannons as a form of salute and respect."

The shaken Islander harbor guide who boarded the ship to guide the pilot into the bay cleared his throat and proudly announced, "Welcome to the First City of the Fleet!"

-----

Sea of Clouds

A small and slim battered looking airship drifted among the clouds aimlessly. Its crew were currently seated on the top deck and wolfing down a pitiful meal made out of their meager amount of supplies.

Everyone ate in gloomy silence, each lost in their own thoughts except for the Professor who was happily playing with the artifact in the shape of an icosahedron. Clarie Banner finished her glop of overboiled grains and salted meat and set her mug down.

She watched the Profession lost in his fascination with the item in his hand before she turned her attention to the two other students who like her had managed to escape the fate of their class. She like the rest of Class Two Four, they were second year students from the Arcanum of Steamworks and Magic, the largest and most prestigious academy in the Iron Kingdom.

She grew up with her two other elder brothers in the steam city of Ashmere of the Iron Kingdom. Her father who used to be a sky hunter ran a small modest workshop that serviced airships and steam jacks when their mother passed away. Together with her brothers, she learned the trade of steamworks and sky fishing from her father.

When she turned sixteen, she managed to pass the entrance examination that granted her a scholarship in the highly prestigious Arcanum of Steamworks and Magic. There she majored in two courses, Steamworks and Archeology.

Claire sighed as she did not know what to do, her two surviving male classmates, Berringer and Uwen, were pretty useless in her eyes. If it wasn't for them standing near the skiff when the Protectorate forces came, they probably would have died.

"So... what now?" Berringer suddenly asked as he looked up from his mug. "Can't we return home?"

"We lost them right?" Berringer continued. "Those... murderers are gone right? We can go home now right?"

Clarie gave a sigh before she nodded, "I guess so? But... we are lost..."

"Lost?" Uwen slammed his mug down hard on the decking. "If you haven't piloted the airship into the clouds, we won't be in this mess now!"

Berringer looked embarrassed at Uwen's outburst but he kept quiet at the side. Uwen continued to rage on, "All this is your fault! You are just commoner trash! Who do you think you are? Taking matters into your own hands! Now see where has that landed us into?"

"Enough!" The normally docile Professor suddenly flared up. He poked a boney finger at the chest of Uwen sharply and snapped. "She has saved everyone's lives here from the Clergy! How dare you blame her for anything!"

"What Clergy?" Uwen didn't want to back down at all. "It's just some bandits!"

"Ba- bandits don't kill everyone in sight do they?" Berringer muttered.

Professor Hamlot shook his head at his student. "You all clearly saw what they were wearing... Only the Protectorate's Clergy wear blood red robes..."

"But why?" Berringer asked, his eyes turning red and tears threatened to spill out. "Why would they come and... kill everyone?"

"That," Clarie gestured to the golden object in the Professor's hand. "They must be there for that..."

All eyes turned to look at the golden artifact in the Professor's hand. Berringer sniffled and rubbed his nose before asking, "But... why would they risk... war with the Iron Kingdom?"

"The Protectorate is a highly religious nation," The Professor explained. "To them, there is only one true God, the God of Law and Creation, Ramuh."

"If I deciphered these runes correctly," He raised up the artifact which they had dug out from the ruins. "This should be a token of another God... But which God, I am not sure at all..."

"My guess is they were watching us for some time already..." The Professor frowned. "So when we dug out this artifact belonging to another God... The Clergy took action to try to destroy it..."

"So? Throw it away!" Uwen yelled. "Why are you still keeping such a dangerous item with you?"

The Professor glared at Uwen and said, "Even if we throw this away... the Clergy will still kill us as to them we are tainted and heretics in their eyes..."

"What?" Uwen's eyes widened wildly. "My father is an Iron Noble! We just need to get back to the Kingdom and he will protect us!"

"But we are lost..." Berringer said from the side. He looked over the side of the skiff and saw nothing but an endless sea of clouds. "We might have wandered into the end of the world..."

"Yes, that is highly likely," The Professor nodded before turning to look at his most outstanding student. "Clarie?"

Clarie rubbed her chin as she pondered about their situation. She looked up to try to spot the sun, but the clouds surrounding them blocked off all sight of the sun, making her unable to guess their direction. "We can't see where the sun is, so we have no idea of our direction."

"As for food and water, we could dive down the clouds to the sea and gather water and fish for food," Clarie said. "We can use the furnace and crystal condenser to convert seawater to drinkable water. And there is a net in one of the chests which we can use catch sky fish or fish from the sea..."

"Why don't we just go down to sea level and try to spot land?" Uwen asked. "It's better than staying in the clouds!"

Claire shook her head, "If we stay out of the clouds we will be easily spotted by the Clergy... I don't think they gave up yet..."

Uwen lapsed into silence as he couldn't think of anything to counter Claire's reasoning, instead, he suddenly declared. "Well, we need a leader! I shall be the one in charge then since I am the only one from a noble family!"

Everyone raised an eyebrow at his words, even the Professor who shook his greying head in surrender at his attitude. Berringer shyly said, "I think... Claire will be a better choice to lead us..."

"You shut up!" Uwen growled at Berringer who flinched away. "She is just commoner trash! How can she lead us?"

Claire felt a wave of anger rising inside her. She clenched her fists and teeth hard as she tried to calm her anger. The Professor saw the situation, stood up and said, "Enough, I am your professor and elder, so I have the final say."

"Claire," Professor Hamlot said. "You shall be the leader!"

"What?" Uwen's face turned black with rage. "She is just a commoner!"

"So what?" Professor Hamlot glared at Uwen. "She is the one who can give us the highest chance to survive out here!"

"BU-" Uwen wanted to urge but was cut off by the Professor.

"Do you even know how to maintain this airship? No?" The Professor asked simply. "How about surviving out here? No?"

"Good, as I thought so!" Professor Hamlot nodded in satisfaction. "Listen to her if you want to survive this!"

Uwen kept his frown on his face but he sat down and simmered in his anger. Claire gave a nod of thanks to the Professor who gave her wink. "Alright, I shall do my best to make sure everyone here survives to go home!"

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