Skies between Sea of Clouds and the Iron Kingdom

Grace held on to the railing mounted on the bulkhead as the deck underneath her feet shook violent. The hull of the IK Iron Maiden seemed to shake and the hammering clash of the heavy shots reverberated painfully to the crew onboard.

Grace steadied herself and ran down the decks where she could hear the high pitch hiss of escaping steam. As she turned around the corner, she saw a couple of crew members curled up like a shrimp, their exposed skin cooked by the leaking steam from a cracked pipe on the side of the bulkhead.

Dressed in a set of high resilient leathers, she slipped her heavy iron and leather face protection mask of her helmet down with a narrow slit of clear crystal for her to see. She next donned a thick pair of leather gloves hanging from her belt and quickly located the leak on the pressure pipe.

She dug out a metal cuff and a piece of leather treated with a special kind of heat resistance oil. Putting aside the fears of getting scalded and cooked like the two unfortunate crew members on the floor, she looped the metal cuff over the pipes and slipped the piece of leather over the leak.

Using the metal cuff to hold the leather in place of the leak, she took out a long wrench and started to tighten the bolts of the metal cuff to seal the leak. Steam continued to burst out from the sides of the leather patch and Grace could find the temperature in her suit rising.

Once in a while, a tiny bit of steam managed to slip through her protective gear and burning her skin through her clothes. She bit back the pain and used all her strength to continue to tighten the metal cuff, till the frightening hiss of steam died down and tiny droplets of condensed water dipped down.

She let out a sigh of relief and shoved her protective helmet up, her headband wet with her perspiration and her face was red from the heat and stressful moment. She bent down to check the two bodies and found no signs of life and she stumbled her way towards the nearest speaking horn and spoke in a trembling voice to the operator in the signal centre.

"Th- There is... two d- dead crew on the third deck corridor..." Grace spoke into the horn. "Th- the burst pressure pipe is fixed too!"

"You said the third deck?" The operator confirmed before saying, "Head to the second deck! They need help here! Hurry!"

Grace cast a last look at the two bodies before she walked away, slowly at first before her speed turned into a ran as if she was running away from death.


The Commodore of the 149th Squadron tried to keep his small squadron of frigates away from the devastating broadside of the Protectorate heavy cruiser. He ordered the airships to keep to the fore and aft arc of the Protectorate heavy cruiser as there are lesser steam cannons mounted on those areas.

The battle had been raging on for a better part of the sandglass, yet despite the battered look of the Protectorate airship's armour, there was no signs of it giving up any time soon. Yet, his own squadron has already suffered some heavy damages and casualties.

Already he had ordered the ship mage to contact the nearest garrison, and the mage had burned up several mana stones to send an 'Engaged in Battle' magic signal. All he now has to do was either duke it out with the Protectorate airship or wait for reinforcements to bring it down.

Suddenly there was a cry of horror from the bridge spotters and the Commodore looked out of the windows to see what caused the commotion. "Commodore! The... Iron Will..."

Outside the windows, the once sleek hull of the Iron Will was slowly spinning on its axis as its attitude dropped. Thick white vapour poured out from its side as steam and aetherium gases escaped, forming a thick plume of dirty grey clouds in its fall to the ground.

"No!" The bridge crew was horrified at the sight of their sister ship's death fall. The Commodore gritted his teeth and yelled. "Back to your stations! Do not let the sacrifice of our comrades be in vain!"

The sinking of one of the Iron Kingdom's airships seemed to rejuvenize the Protectorate as it ploughed forward, trying to shake its attackers off and present its broadside.

The Commodore growled as his whole ship shook from a hit, "Destroy that heaven cursed ship! For Aedi! For the glory of the Iron Kingdom!"


United Nations, Goblin Coast, Site of New Port Facilities, UNS Goblin

"Thank you all for making time for this conference," Commander Ford greeted the faces on the display screen. "I will try to make this meeting short."

"Now, a quick recap of what has gone on within our borders," Ford started the meeting. "We now face two things, first, food. The news from our agents and merchants beyond our borders is that the situation is grim."

"There is barely anyone working on the fields," Ford said. "Most of the lords have pulled their forces in, meaning there isn't any patrols nor protection for the outlying farms which in turn allows desperate people turned bandits and monsters to freely roam around."

"And most of the males were conscripted into armies," continued Ford. "Leaving behind only the weak, young, elderly and womenfolk to tend to the farms, which barely could produce any yield at such conditions."

"There are of course a few cities and nations like the Isles, that are not affected by the situation," Ford added. "Or they have taken steps to prevent such a situation."

"But Intel is very certain that those places, barring the Isles, will come into attacks by its neighbours when their food supplies are low," Ford sighed. "And for ourselves, with the intake of over fifteen thousand refugees, we too have just enough for ourselves."

"Sir," The elven image of the Trade Minister called out. "We are facing some problems with the Isles in regards to the import of food from them!"

"Lately they have either increased the price of seafood, sugar and grains," The Trade Minister had a frown on his face as he said, "Or they had completely stopped supply, stating that there is a shortage."

"But when I checked with the merchants that owed me a favour," The Trade Minister continued. "They all said that there was a new order past down from the Council of Masters to restrict the trade with us! And it is not due to any shortages, as their warehouses are said to be brimming with surplus!"

"Sir, my department too, has picked up some rumours in regards to that," Intel Officer Tavor spoke out. "Also recently, they had just elected a new Fleet Master to... replace Dijon... And the new Fleet Master seemed to be on Fleet Master Megan's party."

Ford frowned, "So you are saying, Megan is pulling some strings to fuck around with us?"

Tavor nodded, "Most likely cause of that incident where you offended them..."

Ford sighed and shook his head in disbelief, "That... bi-"

He quickly caught himself and apologized to the gathered committee, "Ahem... pardon my words... Anyway, if they want to play with us in this way..."

Ford turned to the Trade Minister's avatar and said, "Match them in their excuses... Stop all transfer of tech to them... Recall all our people back from the Isles..."

"Say... we are facing a crisis now," Ford mused. "We need all our people to save our princess!"

The Trade Minister nodded as he scribbled down notes. "And we will only send our people back to teach and guide them when they resume trade?"

Ford nodded, "Of course! There is no free lunch in this world!"

"Now, back to our food situation," Ford continued on where he had left off. "The canning factories are already up and running. We currently only have one factory at Far Harbour which is solely used to can seafood and one at Sea Cliff which cans all the monster meat from the dungeon."

"We plan to open one factory in each city," Ford turned his attention to the governors of Falledge and Orwell's Point. "I will need the Governors to prep the land and hire workers. The central government will fork out half the construction bill. The rest of the cost is up to the Governors to handle."

Both Governors nodded as they mentally ran the calculations and other details in their heads. Ford continued on, "Once more canning factories open up, our food stockpile will improve greatly and we won't have so much worry on that part."

"As for our borders, recruitment in both military and civil departments has gone up by seventy percent," Ford said. "All new recruits are being trained and will greatly increase our current strength."

"The Army and Police will help support Customs and Immigration at the borders to prevent any illegals," Ford cast his eye to the Chief of Army and the Police Chief. "We still got someone out there using refugees as drug mules that we have yet to identify."

"Now, for the second issue, we are facing," Ford said. "And that is money..."

"Currently all our budget are being invested in building a supercarrier," Ford had a hint of regret on his expression as he spoke. "Schedule of the supercarrier is slated to be completed in about eight months more."

"It has been over a month and two weeks since the Princess was... taken," Ford sighed. "And the only trail or clue of her whereabouts is only by the tracing talisman placed by Kaga."

"We do not have any idea of if she is alive or dead," Ford frankly stated the facts. "The supercarrier we are building now is funded both by the nation's citizens and the treasury which is starting to look empty..."

"On a national interest point of view," Ford closed his eyes as he steeled himself for the next words. "It is unwise to continue wasting money on building the supercarrier which will crash the entire UN's economy..."

"BUT!" Ford yelled out to cut everyone in the committee off as they started to get rowdy. "On a personal and honour point of view, it is something we need to do to find out if the Princess is still alive and well!"

"I am sure everyone has their own thoughts to this matter," Ford grimaced as he continued on. "This is not an easy matter to speak off, but it must be done!"

"We are already at the initial stage of construction!" Someone yelled. "If we stopped now, won't we be wasting all the efforts and resources put in now?"

"Yes," Ford agreed. "But this is the final line here... Once we cross this line, there is no going back. No regrets, no what if!"

"I am asking now before we cross this line of no return," Ford stared at everyone in his display. "Are you all committed to seeing this to the end? Even at the cost of the entire UN?"

"This is everyone's last chance to voice out their disagreements to the construction of the supercarrier!" Ford took on a serious tone. "If everyone has no disagreements... once we start, I do not want anyone to have any qualms or regrets in the future!"

"Are you all ready to be fully committed to this endeavour?" Ford took a deep breath as he asked again. "Even if the Princess... is no longer... alive... We will still do this to the end and find who took her..."

"Even... if her body... can't be recovered..." Ford bit his lips hard as he forced out the unpleasant words. "We will still push on..."

"And pray that whatever gods those bastards who took her has mercy on their souls... For we will have no mercy on them!"

A note from neo Koh

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