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A shadow darker than the grey clouds slowly emerged through the clouds with lightning crackling all over the shimmering bubble around the shadow. The shimmering bubble flickered and vanished and a huge floating island appeared under the sun. Several oblong airships slowly float off the floating island and formed a protective cordon around the island.

A mass of white clouds slowly grew out from underneath the rock spires of the floating island and created the illusion that the island was floating in the clouds. Crown Prince Yemen stood at an open balcony and took a deep breath while stretching out his arms in delight, "Finally! We are out of that cold dark gloomy place!"

The other Iron Lords and commanders stood respectfully behind the Crown Prince all had pleased looks of relief as they stood under the sun. The Crown Prince spun around and clapped his hands happily, "A party! That is what is needed now! We shall celebrate our success in crossing the Sea Of Clouds! Tonight we shall feast and dance!"

Some of the Iron Lords quickly praised the Crown Prince's marvellous idea while Lord Ableman let out a sigh of disappointment. He hid his disappointment and instead said, "My Prince, there are still many matters we need to tend to, I feel it would be... inappropriate to host a party now... especially without a secure source of supplies."

"No matter!" Crown Prince Yemen waved away the advice of Lord Ableman. "The troops are tired from their journey! This party should boost their morale and spirits!"

"But, my Prince, I would advi-" Lord Ableman continued to speak but a staunch supporter of the Crown Prince, cut him off in mid sentence.

"Lord Ableman! The Prince wants to raise the morale of the troops!" The Iron Lord spoke in a scalding tone. "Did you not always teach the Prince about how important keeping the morale of troops high? Now he is putting to good use of your teaching! Why do you find the Prince's concern to the common soldiers so unacceptable?"

Lord Ableman frowned at the tone and choice of words and he was about to retort the noble when the Crown Prince let out a dramatic sigh. "Enough... Lord Ableman is right... we shall not waste our supplies until we can find a way to replenish them."

The Crown Prince adopted a sad bearing, "I only hope the troops will understand!"

Looks of displeasure were cast upon Lord Ableman by the Crown Prince's supporters who surrounded him and gave words of comfort and other flowery praises. Lord Ableman shook his head in disdain at the nobles when suddenly a soldier came running over.

"My Lords!" The soldier went down on one knee and said, "Lookout reports an air fleet exiting the Sea of Clouds from our left! What are your orders?"

Lord Ableman quickly walked over to the side of the balcony and an aide automatically placed a seeing glass in his hands. He looked over the horizon and said, "Order the rest of the fleet to light their boilers and be ready for battle!"

The Crown Prince came over and jousted Lord Ableman's elbow as he too raised an ornate seeing glass. "Is it the Protectorate?"

"No... it looks like ships from the Tri State..." Lord Ableman replied as he set down his glass and ordered. "Send a courier ship over and hail that fleet!"

"Why don't we just blow them off the skies?" The Crown Prince suggested. "It would be one less contender in this place..."

"And risk a war back home if word of our actions were to be reported?" Lord Ableman shook his head. "Besides... it is better to have one more friend here, than an enemy..."

-----

Duchess Manarva, Grand Admiral of the Tri State Exploration Fleet, frowned when a missive arrived from the small courier vessel flying the colours of the Iron Kingdom which had parked against an aerial boarding scaffold. She could see the infamous flying fortress of the Iron Kingdom against the backdrop of the Sea of Clouds and its escorts from her vantage view in the command bridge.

Her aide, Aulus, expertly sliced the wax seals off and read the contents of the letter. "Hmmm... The Crown Prince of the Iron Kingdom invites whoever is in charge of the Tri State Fleet to a dinner and dance party tonight..."

"Blah blah blah..." Aulus continued reading before he handed the letter over to the Duchess. "In short, they are inviting us over for a party and we can bring our senior officers over to mingle with theirs and they hope to talk about some kind of collaboration or alliance here..."

"The Iron Kingdom's Crown Prince is here?" Duchess Manarva was surprised. "No wonder that misery old thing is willing to dispatch his flying fortress here! Hahaha! So it is to protect that useless son of his! Hahahaha!"

"So... Are we accepting their invitation?" Aulus asked as he took out a sheet of parchment, anticipating the Duchess's reply. "Yes? No?"

"Of course we will attend!" Duchess Manarva gave a wide grin. "Why should we reject a free meal since they are so... generously offering their supplies to feed us? Hahaha!"

"And I want to see how useless that son of the Iron King is!" Duchess Manarva gave an evil laugh. "Write my reply and summon our senior officers! Tonight we dine in style!"

-----

The New World, ???, Third Iron Fleet, Iron Fortress

Lord Ableman had a grimace on his face as he watched ship after ship of the Tri State Fleet approached the Iron Fortress and landed inside its cavernous hangars. He knew that offering the Tri State Fleet an alliance here would help increased their odds in this unknown world against the other Great Nations but at the same time, they have to be on guard against the cunning Thunderbolt Duchess, who was well known for her aerial tactics which he recognized her house crest on the sides of the docking airships.

He took a deep breath to steel himself, and quickly headed off towards the reception area for the arriving guests, hoping that the Crown Prince would not create a scene and make a fool out of himself and shame the royal family.

Arriving at the reception area just in time, he saw the Duchess's own private air yacht making a perfect landing right at the edge of the strip of the red carpet in a spray of hissing steam as the pilot cooled the aetherium and the skis of the yacht touched the deck gently.

The side hatch swung out and a ramp was extended down. Two rows of Tri State soldiers wearing morion style helmet and silver cuirass with a white puffy sleeved uniform that ended in flared black pants with silver stripes at the side, stuffed in silver sabatons. They carried a two meter long gun pike hooked up to a steam tank at their backs and also a sheathed sword on their belts.

On the other side, forming an honour guard for the arriving guests, stood several neat ranks of Iron Kingdom soldiers. They wore a black chest plate over a dark blue uniform and carried long steam guns similar to the Tri State soldiers. As the Tri State soldiers formed up, both sides stared at each other fiercely, trying to intimidate each other.

At this time, a woman in her mid forties dressed in a white long military style coat and adorned with a simple silver medal in the form of a seven pointed star over her left chest appeared at the hatch. Her brown hair with streaks of grey was cropped short above her shoulders and she held a long silver cane in one hair.

With a military bearing, she strolled down the ramp, ignoring the sparks of rivalry between the soldiers and walked over to Lord Ableman confidentially. She smiled and gave a gentlemanly bow, "You must be Lord Ableman?"

"I am truly honoured that the Duchess know of this humble person," Lord Ableman returned her bow and offered his hand to her. "I welcome you on board the Iron Fortress as an honoured guest!"

The Duchess had a smile on her face as she took Lord Ableman's offered hand who press the back of her palm to his lips. "This Iron Fortress of your King is truly a marvel!"

"It pales in comparison to the wonders of your Nation's magical barriers," Lord Ableman replied smoothly before gesturing towards the gathered nobles. "Let me introduce you to the other Iron Lords..."

"Welcome! Welcome!" A loud greeting suddenly came from behind and the Crown Prince dressed in a dazzling white and gold uniform covered with medals and jewellery appeared with an entourage at tow. "Duchess Manarva! How pleasure it is to see you! Welcome to my Iron Fortress!"

Duchess Manarva could not help curling the sides of her lips in mirth as she cast an eye at Lord Ableman and whispered, "When did that misery king give his favourite toy to his son? Hehe!"

Lord Ableman coughed to cover his embarrassment and he quickly stepped back, allowing the Crown Prince to escort the Duchess to the ballroom while he greeted the rest of the Duchess's people.

Inside the ballroom, which was large enough to comfortably hold the two of the Duchess's private yacht, was filled with music and laughter. Nobles and Officers from the Tri State mingled with their counterparts, and unlike the Iron Kingdom, the TriState has a large proportion of females serving in their fleets, leading to many of the male dominated Iron Kingdom air navy to ask the female Tri State Officers for a dance.

The Duchess sat next to the Crown Prince at a raised balcony that overlooked the entire ballroom. Their tables were filled with many different dishes and the chefs won praise from the Duchess for being able to turn normal rations into such exquisite meals. The Crown Prince laughed happily at the praise and even offered to send some of his chefs over but the Duchess politely rejected.

Lord Ableman sighed inwardly as he spotted the look of mirth in the Duchess's eyes, knowing that she landed a barb on the Crown Prince, yet he did not get it. Finally, the slightly tipsy Crown Prince said, "Duchess Manarva, I would like to propose an alliance between us! Me and you... We can do many great things here!"

"And what kind of great things is the Prince proposing?" Duchess Manarva asked in an innocent tone that did not befit her age. "What kind of alliance?"

"Here... lies many many resources!" The Crown Prince replied clumsily. "We share the resource between us!"

Lord Ableman quickly cleared his throat and stood before his Prince and the Duchess. "What my Prince is offering, is an equal alliance between our nations here."

"As you know, getting through the Sea of Clouds is a dangerous and expensive affair," Lord Ableman said while the Crown Prince nodded in a drunk manner. "Supplies, manpower, ships... all will take time to cross the Sea of Clouds... To be frank, all of us do not even know if we can ever get resupplied out here!"

The Duchess tilted her head in silent agreement while the Crown Prince kept nodding away. Lord Ableman continued, "That is why an alliance between us, would benefit us all!"

"And how would you propose we go able this alliance?" Duchess Manarva asked with a small smile.

"We shall offer the Iron Fortress as a base of operations," Lord Ableman said. "Repairs, storage, rest and recovery for the troops and crew."

"And?" The smile on the Duchess's face did not fade away. "What do you require from my side of the bargain?"

"All loot and resources taken..." Lord Ableman listed out the requirements. "We will take two thirds of it all!"

"Half!" The Duchess's kept smiling while shaking her head and gestured around her. "My ships and my men would be the ones braving all the dangers while you sit here enjoying all this... luxury..."

"We will add part of our fleet under your command," Lord Ableman had long anticipated her response and counter offered."We take three parts, you take two parts."

"Deal!"

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