Four large landing craft emerged from the rear of the UNS Vengeance and bashed through the waves, headed straight for the docks of the city. Onboard one of the landing craft, First Lieutenant Mills walked between the row of Marines strapped down against the hull and the hulking shape of a MAW MK VI spider tank.

He checked his men condition as he walked down to the front of the landing craft and climbed up the flight of steps that led up to the observation tower, where a goblin swinging his feet happily sat on a tall stool manning the twin linked .50 caliber machine gun. Mills ignored the spray of seawater and instead focused on the other three landing craft that was paralleling the one he was riding on.

Seeing the other three ships pushing across the ocean gave him an oddly satisfying feeling of pride and power. Sail rigged merchant ships of the Isles avoided their approach and even the few coastal patrol ships made way for them. He glanced back to the rear of the open deck of the landing cargo, pass the curled up spider tank.

A dark olive painted container box sat at the very rear on the flat bed of a transport truck. He knew who was inside and in fact almost everyone knew despite the contents were supposed to be top secret. Mills smiled to himself as he wondered how the Council of the Isles will respond if they knew who was coming back.


The Sea Shadow

Another island was left ablaze behind the retreating shadow of Fleet Master Megan's Sea Shadow. It was the third island hit by the Sea Shadow in two days, and now her underworld ship was headed to rendezvous with a hidden resupply ship.

The crew and even Megan were thrilled by their success and evasion of the Cartel's desperate patrols. So far, her forces had targeted the Cartel's flying ships servicing towers within the region which will implement the Cartel's resupply and logistic efforts. While the Cartel's flying ships could restock and repair without the service towers, it would take more time and effort to move supplies onboard compared to having dedicated service towers.

It took the Sea Shadow two turns of the sand glass before the ship arrived at the rendezvous location where two sail rigged ships were hidden in a deep water cove of a tiny island. The Sea Shadow started to dump its ballast tanks, pumping in air into the tanks and the underwater ship slowly rose to the surface.

Once it was floating on the surface, the two waiting ships started lowering long boats filled with supplies and rowed over to the Sea Shadow. The crew worked hurriedly as they knew the longer they remained on the ocean surface, the higher the chance of getting spotted by a Cartel flying ship.

Fresh water, food, ammunition, coal, mana stones, and other essentials were moved onboard in crates and barrels. The loading of the supplies took slightly over a turn of the sand glass which in meantime, Megan was reading the long list of reports that had accumulated over the past few days.

She smiled as she saw what she was waiting for, the news of the United Nation's super ship appeared at the First City of the Fleet and also the reports of a massive Cartel fleet forming up at one of the Eastern Islands. Now, all her chess pieces were in place and now all she has to do is wait for the Cartel to launch a full scale attack on the First City and her hidden fleet will move out to reclaim those islands lost to the Cartel in one fell swoop!

Quickly, she drafted her orders out and handed them over to the two supply ships whose captains further transferred the orders to waiting courier dragons that hopped off into the air to deliver them at the fast speed possible to her hidden fleet.


UNS Vengeance, Bridge

"Unknown Contacts!" The radar operator at his station suddenly yelled out. "Bearing zero five zero! West bound!"

The XO of the Vengeance, standing in on duty at the bridge when Captain Nimo and Fleet Commander Ford was away attending some diplomatic mission at the Isles' First City of the Fleet, quickly stepped over to the sensor station. He leaned over the shoulder of the radar operator and frowned as he peered at the screen showing the blinking blimps appearing at the very edge of their sensors.

"Direct AWACS and a patrol flight over to see if they can ID the contacts!" The XO ordered. "Put all aircraft on standby! Bring the ship to orange alert! And inform the Cap and Commander!"

A circling FB - 1S recon aircraft was redirected from its patrol route within seconds along with four F/A - 2 Vipers that were up in the air on patrol. The Vipers kept back while the FB - 1S recon plane took point high above in the clouds and swept the incoming unknown contacts with beams of its powerful radar.

Soon information started to flow back to the bridge and Combat Information Center of the Vengeance. Confirmation of sightings of nineteen airships on a direct approach to the Isles' First City was relayed to Captain Nimo and Commander Ford via radio.

Both senior officers were grim faced as they were seated down in a conference room of the UN Embassy in the Isles's First City of Fleet listening to the report. The radio operator had the handset on loudspeaker and the room was warded by magic to prevent any magical spying.

"Nineteen Cartel airships," Commander Ford frowned. "Seems like a full invasion force..."

"Intel has pegged the Cartel's total air fleet at forty one ships," Captain Nimo said. "Fourteen had left the New World over a month ago, leaving behind twenty seven ships."

"They must have left eight ships behind to guard their outposts while the rest got deployed..." Commander Ford pointed out. "Megan must have kicked the hornet's nest hard for them to deploy two thirds of their remaining air fleet!"

"And just nice, we are here..." Captain Nimo said. "She must have timed the attack to take place when we are here..."

"Yes," Commander Ford nodded. "She is taking such a risk... If we did not plan to make our way here..."

"The First City would have nothing to stop the Cartel from razing their city down..." Commander Ford said. "What a crazy plan..."

"Do we deploy our forces?" Captain Nimo frowned. "I don't really feel like doing so..."

Commander Ford sighed as he gestured out of the window to the city. "We can't ignore the people here... They have nothing to stop an aerial attack..."

"Damn..." Captain Nimo cursed. "I really want to have Megan's plans fail..."

"At the cost of our morals and duty?" Commander Ford shook his head. "If we do that, it would pull us down to her level..."

"Yes, Sir..." Captain Nimo nodded in agreement and stood up, throwing a salute. "Than I shall order the fleet to mobilize."

Commander Ford waved Nimo off before he gestured to the waiting command staff in the room. "Order the Embassy to go into condition red! We are in a state of war now! And inform the Isles' Council that we have urgent matters to discuss!"


The Isles, First City of the Fleet, Council of Fleet Masters

Commander Ford strolled through the massive ornate double doors that led into the chamber of the Council. There inside, he noticed that the Council chamber gallery was completely empty and of the five seats on the round table at the centre of the chamber, only two were filled.

The head of the table where the First Fleet Master sat was empty, while the chair for Fleet Master Megan and Fleet Master Marshall was empty too. Only Fleet Master Akron and Fleet Master Tediore was present and seated down. Commander Ford came to a stop and stood at the end of the table facing the two smiling Fleet Masters.

"Have a seat," Fleet Master Akron smiled and gestured to Ford to take a seat. "What urgent matters have you summon us for?"

"No thank you, I shall stand, this will not take long!" Commander Ford rejected Akron's offer. "I came to warn you that we have detected a large fleet belonging to the Cartel is on approach here."

The elf's smile faltered slightly before returning with full force. "Are you certain?"

Ford nodded, "Very. At their current speed, they will arrive in five hou-, roughly six turns of the sand glass. Or less."

Akron turned to glance at Tediore whose expression remained the same. Akron let out a deep sigh before he gave a nod, his voice trembling slightly. "I shall call upon the citizens to find shelter... But with six turns of the glass, it is almost impossible for our people to escape this calamity..."

What great acting! Thought Ford as he eyed the resigned expressions of both the elves seated before him. They could win a couple of Oscars for best performance!

"We can only plead for your help in taking as much of our people to safety if possible..." Fleet Master Tediore said in a sorrow tone. "Or protect our civilians' ships from the Outsiders..."

"I am certain our allies will do their best to help our people in this crisis," Akron said as he assured Tediore with a sad smile, their performance nearly making Ford roll his eyes. "Our friends and allies will not abandon us... Right?"

Ford let out a sigh, before he said, "We can try to buy as much time for the people to evacuate from the city."

Akron let out a laugh as he clapped his hands happily. "Thank you, my friend! We shall not forget your kindness!"

Commander Ford left the Council Chambers feeling drained. The shameless of the two Fleet Masters had left him flabbergasted despite having some inking of their plots. Yet, he could not turn a blind eye to the real plague that will befall the common people in the next five hours.

"Back to the Embassy!" He told his waiting aide by the jeep. "It's about time to spring our own surprise!"


The Cartel, New World Exploration Fleet

Grand Lord Hammerfall stood inside the bridge of his flagship, Hammer of Resolute, staring out for the crystal view panels. He could see the rest of the fleet formed up in twos and threes around his flagship. The navigator was calling out coordinates and timing to the helmsman while several crew members armed with long glasses were observing their surroundings.

Hammerfall had gathered two thirds of his air fleet together to strike at the Islanders' capital which information and maps they had carefully acquired over time from the drunken crew of the trade ships and later from the forts, towns and villages of captured islands.

He had been very patient with Islanders but their actions had crossed the line. With the deceitful raids against their outpost, especially with the deaths of his precious people, had enraged him greatly. He decided to end this facade of a war as quickly as possible and show the backward island natives the true strength of the Cartel!

The islanders will soon see the might of his air fleet and will tremble under his feet! He believed that they will choose to surrender after a few bombardments of their steam cannons. They will be taught to respect and obey the Cartel and once the islanders were subdued, the rich resources here will become a lifeline to Mountain Cities of the Cartel back in the Old World!

And no longer will the Cartel be looked down on and bullied by anyone. Not from the Old World and definitely not from the New World. Hammerfall tightened his fists as he barked out orders.

"Inform all Cartel ships! Be ready to fight! The Cartel expects that every brother will do their duty! FOR ROCK AND STONE!"

A note from neo Koh

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