The heavy whop whop whop of the spinning aerial screw gently pushed the sleek airship through the air, joining the formation of four other similar ships. The airships kept to a flying 'V' formation as they closed towards the edge of the border.
The airships had a shape similar to a Terran swordfish and in place of it's 'tail', where three spiral shaped aerial screws were placed two side by side and one below. The 'nose' of the airship was the bowsprit which was linked to 'fins' or sails on both its side and top.
Their hulls that glittered in the sun was plated with riveted plates of iron where tears of rust could be seen at areas where the paint had peeled off. At their rear dangled a dark blue flag with a simple motif of a clenched iron fist, telling people this was a ship of the Iron Kingdom. The entire ship was enclosed, without any open decks except for several open air walkways linked with hatches.
Dozens of circular viewports covered the majority of its hull, allowing the crew inside to see out. The bridge sat in the front, just below the bowsprit, with large crystal window panels to provide enough view for the helm man and crew to pilot the ship.
Along its curved body, were two rows of rectangular gunports for their steam cannons that were covered up currently. The Vise class air frigates of the Iron Kingdoms carried a total of twenty two five stoner steam cannon. The strength of the steam cannons was measured by the weight of their projectiles fired, which a five stoner steam cannon can fire up to a five stone shot, which equals to a 2.5 kg projectile in Terran measurements.
Nine steam cannons sat on facing each side of the ship, arranged with four on the upper cannon deck and five on the lower deck. The upper deck gun ports allowed the steam cannons to adjust their firing angles upwards to engage ships of higher altitude while the lower deck allowed their steam cannons' angles to be adjusted downwards, allowing ground bombardment.
At the fore and aft of the ship, sat a pair of chase guns each, allowing the airship to attempt to slow down an enemy ship either chasing or being chased when the ship's broadside could not be brought to bear.
"Is this some sort of wild wyvern chase?" Lancaster frowned as he complained to his friend, whose eyes were glued to the looking glass. "Why would a Protectorate ship play pirate out here? Could it be those villagers have reported wrongly and now we are stuck out here in the cold doing nothing useful?"
His friend, Grace, remained silent and did not even bother to reply kept her attention beyond the crystal windows. Both of them had just turned sixteen and were working on their apprenticeship onboard the Iron Maiden, a Vise class frigate, as midshipman which was the lowest of the lowest rank of officers.
Their duties generally involved cleaning the officer decks, serving the flag officers, and standing watch over the bell and wind up clock and performing spotting duties like now. Lancaster sighed at the cold shoulder given by Grace and took up his looking glass and casually looked around the coastline.
Spotting work was generally boring, just looking out at the endless empty blue skies or clouds and seeing nothing. And they had to do the same thing for hours, just staring out into nothingness! Not only that, but the spotting nest was also sited at the front top of the ship's hull, in an open air tower.
They both had to dress thickly due to the cold strong winds and sometimes they even had to put on a leather breathing mask as the air could get very thin the higher the ship was at. Luckily, this time around, the fleet was kept at a relatively low altitude.
He lethargically fiddled around with his looking glass, swiping left and right and he froze and jerked back his looking glass as he unexpectedly caught sight of something. He focused his looking glass and yelled excitedly, "Grace! Grace! Look there! Is that a Protectorate ship?"
Grace frowned at the excited cries and motions of Lancaster and sighed inwardly, wondering why is he still so immature even after gaining adulthood. She followed Lancaster's excited directions and saw what he was excited about.
The sight of the blood red vessel was unmistakable, even if the view from the looking glass was not all that clear due to the distance and clouds. The blood red hull of the Protectorate ship strikingly stood out against the white and blue skies.
Grace felt a tingle of fear down her spine while Lancaster excitedly hopped around in the cramped spotting tower. "Aedi's fire! It really is a Protectorate ship! This is so exciting!"
Grace ignored Lancaster's excitement and she flipped the cover off the speaking horn. She covered the sides of the horn and cleared her throat before she reported the sighting to the officer below.
"Protectorate ship sighted!" She paused as she checked the compass chart glued around the circular railings of the spotting tower. "Compass point... three two zero! Heading on an eastern direction!"
"You sure up there?"
"YES!" Grace yelled back.
Grace covered the speaking horn and Lancaster who was still fantasizing of the coming battle asked. "Do you think we will board and capture the Protectorate ship? How many do you think we can kill?"
Lancaster did not wait for Grace's reply and he continued on, his eyes glowing with excitement. "I can't wait to tell the rest of our class that we encountered a Protectorate ship! We will be heroes!"
The Commodore of the Iron Maiden frowned when a crew member handed a message slip to him. He read the message and his eyed narrowed before he looked up and started issuing orders. "Order the fleet to change course and prepare for battle!"
"The Protectorate ship has been spotted!" The Commodoregrinned in anticipation. "Order the fleet to switch to intercept formation!"
The Iron Maiden was the flagship of the 149th Squadron and once the orders were given, signal flags were flown out and signal lights started flashing between the ships. One by one the airships of the 149th Squadron responded as they replied back with flags and signals.
The ships slowly split into two groups of three and two airships. The larger group consisting of IK Iron Maiden, IK Iron Fury and IK Iron Spirit, increased their cruising speed as they proceed in a heading that will intersect with the Protectorate airship's path if they kept to their same course and heading.
As for the smaller group, the IK Iron Duke and IK Iron Will procced on a tail chasing course. It will keep the two ships at the rear of the Protectorate airship while the other three ships of the 149th Squadron cut off the path, allowing the 149th Squadron to effectively pincer the Protectorate airship between them.
After half a turn of the mechanical sandglass, the Protectorate airship spotted the Iron Kingdom's airships and started to swing away from their interception course. But it did not matter much to the airships of the 149th Squadron as their speed was far superior to the lumbering Protectorate airship.
"That's a Penal class heavy cruiser!" The bridge crew identified the Protectorate airship as the distance closed between the two sides. "I- It's huge!"
The Protectorate airship was at least seven times heavier than the Iron Kingdom's Vise class frigate and carries five times the crew but on a five versus one match, the Iron Kingdom's airships had a higher chance of victory.
"Why did a damn Protectorate ship appear out of nowhere at this place?" The Commodore of the Iron Maiden cursed as he watched the blood red airship slowly enlarging on the window. "I have never heard of the Protectorate raiding so far away from the borders!"
"Captain! We will be within cannon range in another one and a half turn of the glass!" The weapon master reported. "All steam cannons are primed and ready to be steamed!"
"Good!" The Commodore replied. "Give a ration of Bane's Fire for every sailor! And get the galley to cook up something hot for everyone before dousing the fires before the battle!"
The bridge crew cheered at the generously of the Commodore as he allowed the ship's liquor stores to be issued out. The Commodore ignored their cheers as he turned his attention back to the approaching Protectorate ship, his mind still full of questions of why would such an airship appear here, and if it wasn't for the reports from the local village that their fisherships were attacked by a blood red coloured airship, he would still not believe it was from the Protectorate.
Yet, now the evidence was right before him and the Protectorate airship seemed to decide to stop running as its rudder sails deployed out and it slowly turned, to present its broadside that held four times as many and bigger cannons to his ship.
The Commodore leaned forward from his chair as he issued his orders to the fleet. "Fleet is to form stack formation! All ships to slow down and engage the enemy at the same time!"
Slowly, after his orders were given out, the airships of the 149th Squadron slowed down and the IK Iron Fury raised its altitude and 'stacked' at the top of IK Iron Maiden while IK Iron Spirit dropped its altitude and formed up below the IK Iron Maiden, forming a stack.
The other two ships did the same as they closed from the rear of the Protectorate airship. The Commodore nodded in satisfaction at the speed of the change of the formation, while despite not as fast as the top elite fleets of the Iron Kingdom, it was still done perfectly.
"All ships to time their attacks at the start of the new glass turn!" The Commodore ordered again as he wanted his ships to attack at the same timing to hit the Protectorate airship with the heaviest opening to overwhelm its crew.
Time past rapidly as the grains of sand in the time glass dipped away and suddenly a spotter in the bridge yelled out a warning. "INCOMING!"
The Protectorate ship with its larger steam cannons fired first, white steam could be seen covering the side of their blood red hull as the hot and cold air mixed together. Their eight stoner steam long cannons popped like celebratory wine bottles but over ten thousand times sharper and louder which was heard seconds later.
"Iron Fury reports hit on its upper deck! No penetration!" Damage reports from the fleet started flowing in as the fleet signalled amongst themselves frantically. "Iron Duke and Iron Will report the same! They suffer hits but no penetration! Their crew is shaken but no injuries!"
"How long more to range?" The Commodore bite down hard on his lip as he watched the side of the Protectorate airship disappeared into a fury of white steam clouds.
"A quarter turn of the glass more!" The weapon masters reported back nervously.
"Tell the fleet to keep in formation!" The Commodore barked. "Endure the cannon fire for now!"
"Iron Will reports its starboard armour plate is wrapping and is suffering from pressure leaks!"
"Iron Duke lost its side rudder sails! It's turning speed has dropped!"
"Lord Commodore! Weapons are in range!"
"Finally!" The Commodore stood up and ordered. "Signal the fleet to present broadside cannons!"
The anticipating airships of the 149th Squadron swung out as one and the armour gun ports were raised up, exposing the stubby barrels of the five stoner steam cannons. The cannon crews shoved the loaded steam cannons out and the muzzles of the cannons suddenly poked out from the sides of the airship.
The Commodore smoothly drew his sword out and pointed it directly at the Protectorate airship in his sights and yelled. "All ships... OPEN FIRE!"