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The New World, East of the Isles, First Fleet of the Isles

It was dark and hot inside the wheelhouse with the only source of light and ventilation coming from several tiny slits along the armored hull. The air was humid and stank of sweaty bodies as crew members were stripped down to their waist worked the controls of the fat and ungainly steamship.

The interior was also noisy as the boilers and paddlewheel mechanism cranked loud enough to turn the crew half deaf and words had to yell to be heard over the engine noise. The captain of the leading steamship had to peek through a pair of periscope to see their direction and heading and yelled orders to the sweating helmsman.

The steamship was terribly ungainly in the open sea, capable of making even the most hardened sailor seasick. The paddle wheels of the sharp dagger like shape of the steamship constantly spun and pushed the steamship forward together with two of its sister ship following behind with dirty smoke puffing out of its sole funnel, surrounded by several more sailing ships as escort and support.

Already one of the four steamships had broken down before they even came into contact with the enemy and a small force of sailing ships had to remain behind to provide cover for the floundering ship as it made urgent repairs.

Flying overhead of the First Fleet, was a dozen lightweight dragons that spread out over a great area, acting as pickets and scouts. One of the lightweight dragon and its rider suddenly spotted dark dots in the horizon and he leaned forward in his saddle as his dragon dove downwards to gather speed as they rushed over to investigate the sightings.

Word soon came back to the First Fleet in the form of signal flags and flashing lights from the scouting dragon that a fleet of five flying ships had been sighted in the distance. The First Fleet quickly shook itself into a battle formation as they turned their heading towards the Outsider's flying fleet.

The three operational steamships took up the middle in a single file, while the rest of the sailing ships broke up into two squadrons at each flank. The steamships made a beeline straight for the approaching flying ships and both sides readied themselves for the long wait before the ships come into combat range.

As the grains of the sand in the glass slowly tickled down, both fleets came closer to each other and the superior range offered by height advantage of the Cartel's airships fired first. White balls of clouds appeared around the Cartel's airships as their steam cannons erupted. Seconds later, the shrill of projectiles screamed across the skies and kicked up towering sprays of seawater around the leading Isles' steamship.

Cries of dragons answered the echoing cracks of the Cartel's steam cannons and the dragon riders of the Isles dove straight down at the Cartel's flying ships. Flasks of alchemical fire carried in bulging saddlebags were tossed down at the Cartel's flying ships' decks while the Cartel's rapidly steam crossbows spat anti air fire at the dive bombing dragons in an attempt to take them out.

Steam mortars fired bursts of shrapnel into the air like massive shotguns, swatting down several dragons with each blast. Yet despite the losses, a portion of the alchemical fire flasks smashed across the decks of the flying ships and the alchemical formula burst into flames. As the smoke cleared, bubbles of shimmering colors covered the flying ships while tickles of flames flowed off the sides of the magic barrier.

The survivors of the dive attack broke off the attack as they returned to land to lick their wounds, having unsuccessfully dealt any damage to the magic protected flying ships. The retreating dragons riders could only rely on the ships of the First Fleet to deal damage to the flying ships instead. Long black barrels poked out from revealed gun ports and tilted up as high as the cannons could elevate. The steamships of the First Fleet turned to present their broadsides to Cartel's flying ships which were mirroring their manoeuvres.

Having weathered the Cartel's steam cannons, the steamships surprisingly held up against their projectiles. Except for a few warped armor plating and snapped wooden structural beams, the steamships suffered no critical damages to its fighting abilities. Sailors wounded by sprung bolts, spalling, or scalding from ruptured steam pipes were left where they had fallen groaning and screaming in their agony as the healers tried to save as many as possible.

The newly forged cannons roared as the crew vented their fear, angry, and blood lust back at the Cartel's flying ships. Streaks of black lines slowed down into visible black dots as the cast iron cannonballs found against gravity and slammed against a rainbow bubble, creating a visible rippled of colourful hues on the magical shields.

Both sides exchanged fire as the distance closed up until they were just several ship lengths away from each other. Three steamships of the Isles fighting against five Cartel flying ships with both sides forming a battle line. The remaining sail rigged Isles ships had sped forward and attempted to encircle the flying ships, their ballistas lofting off long spears filled more alchemical fire.

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Lord Ironmore shook his head as he looked the view ports of the under bridge sited underneath his flagship, Rammer. The pitiful token of resistant made by the local islanders was laughable as none of their weapons had the power to penetrate their protective barriers.

Yet, he could not fault them for their courage as he watched the slow unwieldy black ships that formed a battle line to challenge his airships. He could only imagine how horrible conditions were onboard those fat tubby ships and if whether those ships could even survive rough weather out in the open sea.

"Switch to armor piercing bolts!" He passed on the order to the gunnery officer who transmitted his ordered into a speaking horn. "Put those poor bastards down!"

The tone of the steam cannons changed as they discharged piercing bolts instead of projectiles in the next volley. The bolts were fired with a sharper crack hiss instead of the duller bark of projectiles and Lord Ironmore tried to trace the trajectory of the bolts in the air.

White pillars of water splashes appeared around the leading steamship and shortly after, the side of the steamship burst into a cloud of dirty smoke and a few heartbeats later, the magical barriers of the airship in front of the Rammer flickered with a rainbow shimmer.

"Their weapon knowledge seemed cruder compared to ours," Lord Ironmore mused. "But they are surprisingly accurate!"

"Maybe I should capture a few specimens and let Lord Copperstone take a look?" Lord Ironmore pondered as he stared at the flat ships below him.

"That would call for a boarding party, my Lord," An aide said from the side. "It would be unwise to bring the flagship down to their level..."

"I know," Lord Ironmore replied with a wistful look on his face. "Oh... How I wanted to ram those ships with the Rammer's drill! Hahaha!"

The Rammer like many of the Cartel's airships had a giant power drill for ramming and cloud piercing installed in the prow. It was a new weapon and system that enabled the Cartel to cross the Sea of Clouds by creating a magically induced slipstream that lessened the effects of the deadly storm. It could also double up as a ramming weapon and allow boarding actions.

But as the opponent was using ocean going ships, it made ramming tactics useless for the Cartel's airships as water would cause more trouble than its worth to ram the enemy. Lord Ironmore finally made up his mind and said, "Pass the order to the fleet."

"Target the first and second ship of the battle line," He ordered. "For the last ship of the line... Launch the boarding barges and capture it!"

"And the rest of the sailing ships that is attempting to surround us?" The aide asked. "Do we ignore them?"

"Ignore them for now," Lord Ironmore replied. "They pose no threat to us!"

"Rock and stone!" The aide made a salute before he hurried went off excitedly to relay the orders.

Lord Ironmore grinned at the enthusiasm of the youth before turning his attention back to the battle unfolding before him. In the past few days, already several island settlements have fallen into the control of the Cartel. But lacking sufficient ground troops, they only occupied the islands with richer resources and only raided the rest.

This was the first major action between the two nations and Lord Ironmore did not want to screw anything up as it could affect morale to locals if they lost heavily and allow the Cartel to dictate more favourable terms of surrender. His grin grew wider as he saw the first islander ship of the line suddenly skewering out of formation under a barrage of steam cannon fire.

"Rock and stone! Rock and stone!"

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The under belly of the Cartel airships cranked open one by one and barrel shaped flying barges came buzzing out from the holds. The barrel shaped barges looked like a huge wine barrel with two smaller barrels on the side with aerial screws jutting out. Two umbrella like rotors provided lift from the side barrel while a drill poked out from the nose of the flying barge.

Four boarding barges came out from each airship and all of them charged down towards the last ship of the line. The Islander captain must have suspected something as the steamship suddenly swung inwards, presenting its stern to the fast approaching boarding barges. The long barrels also changed their directions, turning to aim at the flying barrels.

The boarding barges ignored the sudden anti air fire and lined up directly towards the evading steamship. Purple flames suddenly burst out from the rear and threw the boarding barges forward like giant rockets that slammed with a might boom against the metal hull of the steamship.

Some of the boarding barges missed or simply ricocheted off the angled armor of the steamship. But enough had their ramming drills pierced into the hull, some broke off and the boarding barges dropped into the ocean and floated like a barrel in the waves. Those with their ramming drills caught in the hull started spinning and drilled deeper, further securing the barges against the hull like leeches.

Each boarding barge had enough space for eight seated dwarvans, one pilot and one engineer. The seated dwarvans were held down by restraint bars, belts and neck braces. Once the toughly built boarding barge slammed against the hull, the shaken dwarvans spat out thick leather strips that they bit down hard to prevent biting their tongues during impact.

The engineer after he recovered from the impact would activate the drill's gears to the boiler to force their way through the hull. He would then discharge the remaining built up steam out through the drill head to flush away any enemy that attempts to ambush the exiting shock troopers, only then he will pop the head of the drill away, exposing a circular hatch large enough for a Dwarvan shock troop in full armor to climb comfortably through.

One by one the Cartel's shock troop exited the boarding barge, found dead crew scattered before them, killed by either the sudden impact and steam. The teams of shock troopers started to advance forward, their shock lances held out before them.

Fighting was brutal in the tight confines of the steamship for the Islanders but not the Cartel as their size was almost half of the Islanders. The shock lances charged by hand cranking a reel like device that was linked to spell rune, threw arcs of chain lightning out, shocking the resisting crew in twos and threes.

Despite the low numbers of Cartel shock troopers that had successfully boarded the steamship, the Islander crew were unable to fight them off and slowly, resistant crumbled deck after deck.

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