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New Kingdom of Mecca, North Eastern Region

In the past few weeks, Jeanne Von Iris had experienced almost every emotion there was, from anger, to fear, to sadness to joy. Now as she rode her war dragon alongside the Un An soldiers, she saw the devastated villages and towns that had been abandoned or its people killed and taken. Green yellow stalks of ripening grains and fruit orchards were laid untended with overgrown weeds and vermin taking over the farms.

She sighed deeply as she thought of how much blood had stained the land and even with the onset of famine, the people had not given up. They spend much sweat and tears tilling the lands and in the end, their efforts were all for nought.

As she rode her mount with a heavy heart, a commotion came from the head of the column. The men broke their lines and rushed up to the front to see what was going on. Jeanne could only dismount from her war dragon as she did not want to trample anyone and she carefully led the skittish creature forward and joined the men at the edge of the forested path.

Before her eyes, she first spotted the metal wagons of the Un An parked in a row. Next, she noticed was the large swath of forest had been cleared, leaving behind ugly stumps. Then her eyes fell onto the city that had been transformed into monstrosity in her eyes.

The once pretty looking coastal city with white stone walls, red roofs and tall spiral towers with docks that should be filled with trade ships or fishing boats, now looked totally different. The white walls were gone and replaced by ugly grey slabs with pipes jutting out from its sides. The spiral towers were gone and replaced by some kind of tall chimneys that were spewing black smoke out.

The green plains and farms around the city had turned into a muddy paste that had spike barricades surrounding the area that could be seen from afar. A sort of permanent greyish haze seemed to have set over the city and its surroundings.

"What in the Gods...?" Jeanne was shocked. She had come to this city a few times in the past and what she remembered was totally gone. She conjured up a far seeing spell with both her forefinger and thumbs, forming two 'O's and placed her hands one before the other and peer through her forefinger and thumbs.

Seeing through her spell, the view was 'pulled' forward allowing her to better see the city at the distance. Tiny figures of golems stood all around the city grounds and wall and red banners and flags were almost everywhere in her view. As she turned her view to observe the changes, she saw even tinier figures toiling on the mud fields. An extremely massive airship surrounded by four more ships floated just above the sea behind the city.

"Are... are we at the correct place?" She was confused and frightened. Cork who stood next to her was also observing the city with a pair of tubes that she knew was some kind of magical artefact with a far seeing spell on it. "Did we make a wrong turn somewhere?"

"No... That's the city of Hensink alright," Cork confirmed. "Looks like those beetle heads had settled in for the fight..."

-----

New Kingdom of Mecca, Reachfield, United Nations Forward Operating Base

General Joseph stood next to the pinned map on board and pointed to the city of Hensink. "1st Rifles has reached the outskirts of the city. They are reporting what we have seen from the skies."

He gestured to another board filled with aerial images taken by their recon aircraft. "The Protectorate has dug in around Hensink and fortified its position with trench works and guns."

"As for their air fleet, only the large airship and its escorts had remained as they were," Joseph said. "The rest had left heading towards the End Zone two weeks ago. We are expecting them to return in a month or so."

"1st Rifles will dig in around the city to prevent any Protectorate forces from coming out of their city," Joseph explained the tactical plan. "Shipments of anti tank and anti air weaponry are already on the way to the 1st Rifles. Also, 1st Armour and 1st Artillery will be joining them with the next supply convoy support the 1st Rifles."

"A second smaller FOB will be constructed at Turnstead," Joseph added. "This will be the forward supply depot and also a refuel and rearming point for the helicopters and fighters. Once that is up, we can start to establish air superiority over the region."

"Next part of the operation is for our naval fleet and Marines to arrive," Joseph said. "Once they are within striking range, Airforce take down the enemy airships and any defensive positions."

"The Navy and Marines will begin an amphibious assault directly at the city while the Army pushes in from the front," Joseph tapped on the map, using his finger to draw imaginary lines. "That is the plan."

Blake nodded and said, "Good, have the Army dig in first... We will hold our positions for now."

Joseph frowned as he heard the order. "Sir, shouldn't we take the enemy out as fast as possible and before their reinforcements arrive?"

"No, we wait... Especially for those reinforcements to come!" Blake declared, making Joseph confused.

"Why, Sir?" Joseph asked. "We can easily sweep in while their numbers are still low and their position not fully fortified!"

"Let them fortify as much as they want..." Blake gave a dismissive wave. "I want to catch as much enemy troops at once since this is our home ground..."

"You mean you want to deplete their strength in the Old World by wiping out as much of their troops here?" Joseph raised an admiring eyebrow. "That works too... Better we take out as much of their strength here rather than when we go over there to their territory!"

"Yes," Blake nodded, glad that Joseph caught up with his idea. "Since they are offering themselves into our guns, why waste the chance?"

-----

Sea of Clouds

Two distinctive groups of airships were bunched up together in the swirling storm. One group of airships was colourful and gaudy looking, while the other looked ancient and gloomy. The flamboyant decored airships belong to the Loose Confederation which consisted of armed merchantman, mercenaries and warships, all of them different in designs and looks.

Both groups took turns to take the lead and project a massive barrier to protect each other from the weather. The two allied powers worked together to travel through the Sea of Clouds by mutual agreement.

The Loose Confederation was a group of nations and kingdoms that had banded together for protection from the other Great Nations. Most of the citizens of the Loose Confederation were of mixed blood or beast people. Great Nations like the Protectorate actively waged war against any demi or beast people, making many flee from the Protectorate.

As the laws of the Loose Confederation were more about freedom, many adventurers, merchants, nomadic tribes and even criminals make up the majority of the population. With over a dozen small nations and kingdoms combined together, the military might of these small nations were no longer weak. And with the backing of an unlikely and very rich ally, further helped to make the rest of the Great Nations think twice about swallowing the Loose Confederation.

The Loose Confederation mostly conducted trade and provided mercenary services to other nations. A large number of famous adventurers also came from the Loose Confederation that was underemployment by the other nations in clearing dungeons and exploring ruins.

The influence wielded by these adventurers among the common people were very high and were similar to a Terran superstar, making them near untouchable by any Great Nation, allowing the Loose Confederation to make use of this fact to rub in the faces of the other Great Nations.

On the other hand, the grim black and white airships of the Dragon Lords were are total contrast from the Loose Confederation. The airships of the Dragon Lords were crafted from the bones of dragons, and each airship was highly revered as each housed the final remains of an ancient dragon.

The dragon ships used the spine of an ancient dragon as the main keel as their bones were the toughest. The ribs formed the frame of the hull, while the other bones formed the beams of the decks. Ironwood was used to lighten the weight of the airship, with the air bladders of the dragons were used to store aetherium. Black armour plates were bolted onto the hull, and treated wing membranes of dragon wings and bones were used as pusher sails together with propulsion air screws powered by steam boilers.

Larger airships used two or more dragons' bones to be constructed and could even carry two to three dragons onboard. And if there was the need for extra speed, the dragons could carry chains to help pull the dragon ships along. Each dragon ship was uniquely built and had long histories.

Historically similar to the situation of the Loose Confederation, the ancestors of the Dragon Lords were once hunted and chased from their homes by rival nations. The people fled to the northern frozen wastelands of the Old World before finding a massive mountain with natural hot springs that was inhabited by dragons.

The desperate people without any hope swore loyalty to the dragons in exchange for their protection. The dragons which long had retreated to the frozen wasteland due to the encroaching nations and even hunted or enslaved accepted the pledge of loyalty.

With the backing and power of the dragons, the nations that chased the fleeing people were cut down, their bodies forever frozen in the wastelands. The refugees forever grateful to the dragons started to worship the dragons as divine beings.

Using the hot springs providing warmth against the frozen wasteland, the refugees built a great city around the mountain. To support themselves with food, magic and ingenious methods were required, leading to the development of greenhouse like magic barriers that trapped the heat from the hot springs and blocked off the snow and cold.

Over time, the refugees become known as Dragon Lords as they were the only nation that field dragons in their armies. Dragons in the Old World had mostly vanished from overhunting and enslavement. Efforts to breed dragons domestically by the Suugon Dynasty were not very successful, instead, a smaller variant was breed, called drakes which the true dragons looked upon.

The Suugon Dynasty regularly clashed with the Dragon Lords as they highly sought after a pure breed dragon. But with the natural barrier of a frozen wasteland, allowed the Dragon Lords to fend off the advances of the Suugon Dynasty.

Because of the similarity between the two nations, the Dragon Lords allied themselves with the Loose Confederation which they were very happy to do so. Because of the alliance between the two powers, the Dragon Lords were no longer isolated within the frozen wastes, allowing the small but powerful nation to extend its influence into the world with their near infinite riches from the dragons' hoard that had been gathering since hundreds of years.

With the alliance between the two powers, trade goods and news flowed in and out. The Dragon Lords invested heavily on businesses outside their region and in doing so, they were able to have some influence in the merchant world.

Now, with the rumours and spies spreading the word about the riches of the New World, both the Loose Confederation and Dragon Lords could not just sit back and watch the other nations try to conquer the New World. The Loose Confederation wants the resources from the New World to stay competitive with the other Great Nations while the Dragon Lords wishes to ensure what was sealed away reminded sealed away.

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