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"Thunder Lead, this is Seer Two One Two, Contact, thirty klicks," The radio buzzed in the headset of Thunder Lead. "I have an unknown number of flights. Angels Two, South East of your location. Turn to heading one five zero."

"Thunder Lead copy. Heading one five zero. Angels Two," Flight Leader, First Lieutenant Rhinstar of Thunder Squadron replied the surveillance aircraft guiding them in. "Thunder Flight, turn now!"

The twelve Vipers of Thunder Flight turned smoothly together, keeping in formation. They had taken off from the partially constructed airfield at Fort Hensink and were now being vectored in by the reconnaissance aircraft sent to investigate the reported radar contacts.

Thunder Flight was on alert duty when the call came in and the pilots on stand by rushed out from the ready room, buckling up their parachutes and helmets as jeeps ferried them to the waiting aircraft sheltered under squat rectangular armoured hangars.

Ground crew spun up the engines and preflight checks were completed within seconds before the pilots goosed their planes out of the hangars and lined up alongside the runway before the leading aircraft charged off into the air from the airstrip in pairs.

"Hotel Sierra, Thunder Flight," The radio buzzed again. "You are to investigate unknown contacts and determine their identity. Mission to communicate as planned. Only to engage the contacts upon fired upon. How copy?"

"Thunder Lead copy. Eye Dee unknown contacts. Only engage upon fired upon." The flight leader replied back before switching to squadron comms. "You all heard the man! Check your master arm."

The flight of Vipers entered into a cloud layer and just as suddenly, they broke out of the clouds and instantly they spotted the black dots on the horizon. "Hotel Sierra, this is Thunder Lead! We have visual on unknown contacts!"

"Roger! Proceed with caution!"

"Thunder One One and One Two," Flight Leader Rhinstar called out on the comms. "Buzz over the unknowns and check their flags! If its the Protectorate or taking fire, break off!"

"The rest climb to Angels Three and go into a holding pattern!" Flight Leader Rhinstar ordered. "Let's see who the hell are these people!"

He pulled out a message canister which had a letter written in the language of the Iron Kingdom in the Old World from the case next to his leg. He was told to drop the message tube on the airship if they did not turn hostile on their approach and now he pulled his nimble fighter up into the air as two of his subordinates continued their same heading towards the unknown air fleet.

As both sides drew closer, Flight Leader Rhinstar could make out the fleet of airships were arrayed in a messy formation. Details once too far away to be seen turned into a riot of colours and shapes while one group of airships were coloured in black and white stripes and arranged in a neat formation.

The colourful airships did not appear to be uniformly similar with one another, sails of bright colours and shapes jutted out in various angles were spread out all over the place while the black and white ships followed from behind.

The approach of Thunder Flight seemed to be noticed by the airships as their speed slowed and the once dispersed formation contracted as if the colourful airships sought protection amongst themselves. Bat like wings from the black and white ships folded away as they too changed their formation, forming into a three by three square.

Thunder One One and One Two continued on their heading, aiming above the cloud of airships. They buzzed over the airships and pulled up, leaving the airships confused and a flock of leathery wings flapping after the faster aircraft.

"Bandits! Bandits!" The panicked voice of Thunder One One came in shrilly in the comms. "Dragons on my tail!"

"Shit!" Flight Leader Rhinstar craned his head over his cockpit as he spotted the winged serpentine shapes boiling out from the black and white ships. "Hotel Sierra! This is Thunder Lead! We got small dragons launching off the airships! They look smaller than our lightweights! It's the same type of dragons reported by UNS Vengeance!"

"Hotel Sierra, Thunder Flight." The calm voice of the operator from Fort Hensink replied shortly. "Weapons free! Go defensive!"

"Roger! Defending!" Flight Leader Rhinstar replied before switching his comms and ordering. "All Thunders! Engage! Engage! Stay on your wing man!"

The flight of loitering Vipers suddenly broke into action, pairs of Vipers tilting over and barreling down from the sun as the pilots flicked their master arm on, removing the safeties from their onboard weapons. The sun glittered off the cockpits of the diving fighters and flickers of smokey tracers stabbed out, blowing any unfortunate dragon caught in its fiery path out of the sky in a shower of blood and meat.

The sudden engagement last barely ten seconds and the flight of diving Vipers were through the airships. Specks of blood rolled across the Flight Leader Rhinstar's cockpit, the wind tearing the red sticky droplets away. "All Thunders, mark your own targets and watch your wing man!"

He pulled his plane back in a long loop, his wing man following closely behind him. "Zero Two! Follow my tracers!"

"Roger, Boss!" Came his wingman reply as Flight Leader Rhinstar aimed for a particularly brightly coloured airship that was at the edge of the fleet. He squeezed his trigger and his fighter shuddered as smokey tracers spewed out from the integrated 20 mm gatling nose gun and the two 20 mm auto cannon pods mounted under his wings.

The mix of armour piercing and incendiary tracers intersected against the bright yellow, green, orange and red sails and hull of the airship and to Flight Leader Rhinstar's surprise, he noted the puffs of splintering wood and metal, followed by collapsing sails which the airship seemed to be covered in. He expected it to have a magic shield up at least but did not expect the colourful airship to be unprotected.

He put his fighter into a loop and managed to catch sight of his wing man, Zero Two, strafing the same airship with his guns and a volley of rockets, which only scored a single hit. But that hit seemed redundant as the colourful airship's sails were all on fire from the incendiary shells. It struggled to keep pace with the turning fleet before seemingly losing all strength as its attitude dropped and suddenly, it's rear portion bugled out and balls of flames erupted out from busted hull plating.

Spewing thick black oily smoke, the doomed airship fluttered down towards the dark green blue waters of the ocean with a massive splash, before tilting over and sinking underneath the waves. Flight Leader Rhinstar felt a sense of panic as he wondered did he and his wing man just shot down an unarmed civilian ship when the radio started flooding with calls of return fire.

He put the thought of shooting down a civilian ship behind his mind as he commanded his squadron, ordering them to break away and make use of their range advantage against the unknown invaders.

-----

The New World, Loose Confederation and Dragon Lords Fleet

The sun was setting over the waters and its colours painted the sky a crimson purple as if mourning the countless lives and ships lost in the sudden flurry of violence. Onboard the largest dragon ship, a massive black dragon laid prone on the dark sticky pool of blood on the smooth black ironwood deck. It's body heaved up and down and a small army of servants and caretakers were working frantically over the wounds it had suffered from the strange flying attackers.

Blood seeped out from holes larger than fists or even the heads of the servants, covered all over the dragon's body. Its once glossy wings were tattered and wing membranes were torn and ripped. Shattered scales dangled off its wounds and the dragon's chest heaved mightly for a moment before it no longer moved.

"Nooooo!" A wail came from the servants and caretakers as they cried out, seeing the dragon breathed its last. "My Lord!! Nooooooo!"

The servants, caretakers, and soldiers all went down on their knees and kowtowed to the dead dragon while crying. Finally after grieving for their lord, the people of the Dragon Lords wiped their tears and swallowed away their sorrow as they continued to tend to the other wound dragons and drakes.

"Lord Vasuk..." A dragon crept forward from the adjoining chamber and it dipped its head down, paying its respect to its kind. The dragon's scales were black hint with a undertone of purple that was reflected by the glow lamps around the chamber. Several spots of soft scabbed scales covered one side of its body, wounds healed by the healers where its armoured dragon mail did not cover its long serpentine body. "We shall revenge your death... My teacher...!"

"Lady Saphia!" A servant came rushing over. "Your wounds have just healed! You must not anyhow move!"

"Come! We need to remove your armour too!" The servant gestured to another group of bowing servants and maids who tried to move the dragon that was at least three times their height back into the adjoining chamber. "Please... leave the Great Lord alone... We shall grieve when it is time to grieve! Right now, your health is utmost importance!"

The dragon named Saphia could only bow her head again, paying her last respects to the black dragon before allowing herself to be dragged back to her chamber where the servants started to remove the remainer of her armour. Once the heavy armour was removed, the servants started combing every inch of her body carefully, trying to find if she has any more wounds.

"How bad is it?" She suddenly asked the head servant whose shoulders slumped down sadly. "Tell me... Please?"

"Your Highness..." The elderly servant gave a sad smile. "Please... do not worry yourself over these... details... The other Lords will see to the fleet..."

"Please tell me!" She turned her bright teary eyes at the old servant who could not bear to look at her sad eyes. "Please! Lord Vasuk was my teacher!"

"Too... too many..." The old servant sighed sadly. "At least half the Lords and Lesser Dragons were... lost..."

"And the Loose Confederation... they too suffered much... They lost several ships to the deadly magic attacks of those flying things!" The old servant said. "The Lords are looking for a place for shelter and allow us to recover while they plan what to do next."

"I must see the Lords at once!" Saphia pushed her body up and turned towards the sliding doors leading out of her chamber. The servants around her quickly formed an elven wall to prevent her from leaving her chamber. "Get out of my way!"

"Your highness, please stay!" The servants all kneed down and kowtowed. "We deserve a thousand deaths!"

"Why are you all blocking me?" Saphia nearly roared out in frustration as she turned her long neck to the head servant. "Why? Everyone suffered such a unjustified death!"

"My princess..." The old servant patted the side of Saphia's great body. "Please calm your anger. The remaining Lords has decreed that you are to remain in your chambers for now..."

"It is for your safety!" The old servant tried to placate the angry princess. "You nearly caused this old servant of yours a heart attack when you sneaked out with the others when the attackers came!"

"Thankfully you suffered minor injuries!" The old servant let out a relieved sigh. "Or even a thousand deaths will not be enough for this old servant."

Letting out a growl of frustration and helplessness, Saphia could only stamp her hind legs before she settle back down on all fours. She glanced over the other side of the closed sliding doors and let out a mournful cry and closed her eyes in sadness, as the loss of her teacher and the pain of her wounds came crashing down on her.

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neo Koh

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