A harpoon hissed out from the launcher and with a sharp shriek, it pierced into the side of the floating chunk of rock that was almost as large as the airship next to it. Several more harpoons hissed out from the steam launchers and attached themselves against the floating rock's surface and the crew put their muscles onto the cranks and reined in the ropes attached to the harpoons.
Once the floating rock was snuggled up tight against the air harvester, the four powerful aerial screws started spinning and the airship attempted to drag the chuck of floating rock behind it. For a moment, the floating rock seemed to resist the efforts of the airship before it ever so slowly shifted away from its original position and obediently followed behind the airship.
Leon put down his binoculars as he turned his attention to the bustling town below him. The balcony of the inn they were staying at had quite a view of the aetherium mining town. A couple of airships that looked like skeletal arms dragged chunks of floating rocks towards the breakers where the floating rocks dragged down to the ground by muscle and steam power before broken down into smaller manageable sizes to have its aetherium ore extracted.
The mining town was called Ethan's Edge and they had stayed in this town for over two days and had learnt much. The people were of mixed races, from Elves as the hoomans called the people, Oerkins or Orks, Beastmen, to the short people called Dwarvans. There were more Beastmen compared to the rest and the Dwarvans seemed to prefer to keep to themselves up on the mountain cities.
The modest town boasted a permanent population of roughly half a thousand, while another thousand or two, were mostly hunters, contract miners, traders, and wanderers who came to the town of Ethan's Edge for opportunities. Smokestacks poked from almost every roof in the town and spewed dirty grey smoke out. The forests around the town had long been cut down and turned into farms or just laid bare with the remains of tree stumps with more logging camps further out.
Ugly mine dotted the sides of the hills where the trees had been cut down together with large mine pits where animal carts and steam powered carts moved resources up and down the well worn roads towards the town. All the resources that came out from the ground including the chopped trees were all feed into the town's hungry furnaces and resource ingots and charcoal were rolled out on the other end.
The town also had an Adventurers' Guild equivalent, called the Hunter's Association which deals solely with materials and parts harvested from monsters. The tiny seed sized mana stone was well received by the Association's appraiser who offered a price that was more than the total of the skins and other monsters parts' value combined.
"Leon, we got the location for the pickup," Yill said as he put away the radio set. "They are sending a dragon in tomorrow after nightfall to take the package from us."
Leon nodded as he gestured to the rolls of maps and scrolls, "Make sure you guys wrap those up properly!"
The maps and other information gathered from the town were packed carefully into a waterproof bag. Leon sneezed as he returned into the room and closed the balcony doors, and blew his nose hard. "The air here smells!"
"Not surprised if they had been constantly burning coal and wood," Kat replied as she carefully cleaned her disassembled rifle. "Seems like they like to burn things around here."
"Different cultures, different ways of living," Yill cut in. "But in the end, everyone is just trying to live."
Kat gave a shrug as she wiped down her weapon while Leon asked, changing the subject. "Where are the kids?"
"They should be walking around the town," Kat said as she reassembled her weapon.
"Call them back," Leon said. "We need to start planning for tomorrow!"
The Old World, Cartel Highlands
"Weeeee!" Blue Thunder let out a gleeful cry as he swerved between the floating chunks of rock in the air. The floating rocks were covered in lichen and vines and were so surreal that even Stamford felt like they were in a dream.
Small colour wyverns clustered around the rocks and used them as nests, burst out and cackled angrily at Blue Thunder as he swooped over the rocks and even at times he half landed half hopped off the rocks, causing them to wobble wildly in the air from his weight. "This is fun!"
"Too fun for my heart!" Dek called out from the rear. "Please stop playing around!"
"Spoil sport!" Blue Thunder humphed and he flew out from the floating maze of rocks and rosed above them. "I shall bring Rastraz and Saphia here to play!"
"Play play play!" Stamford sighed. "All you can think of is play!"
"We are on a mission now," Stamford added. "I only approved you to use the floating rocks as cover and concealment!"
"I know..." Blue Thunder mumbled. "I haven't had any fun since those two taken over my projector!"
"Who asked you to start a harem?" Stamford teased. "Besides, you are the envy of many!"
"I... I assumed it would be like in those mangas and dramas..." Blue Thunder confessed. "Urgh..."
"Hahahaha!" The aircrew laughed at Blue Thunder's distress. "Those are fantasy you know?"
Blue Thunder let out a deep sigh and remained quiet while his crew laughed again. "Anyway, keep your eyes open for any trouble!"
"There shouldn't be any monsters here that could rival me!" Blue Thunder replied grouchily.
"Not monsters," Stamford replied. "More like the locals here! I don't want them being alerted that there is a dragon in their backyard! And dragons are worth damn a lot to them in the Old World!"
"If you don't mind getting hunted down and either becoming a slave or having your body parts harvested," Stamford said. "Then by all means show off more!"
"Yes, dad..." Blue Thunder sighed again as he verve off into the cover of the clouds. They had been doing resupply and intel collection runs for over a week all over the region to the scouting parties scattered all over. It was just a matter of time, before some local spotted Blue Thunder and report it up to the authorities and from what the UN knew, dragons and magical monsters were in high demand to the locals for their magical parts and mana stones.
It was a sore point for Saphia as a Dragon Lord, as the other Great Nations were constantly trying to find excuses to 'steal' one of the Dragon Lords. This matter for generations had forced the Dragon Lords to migrate into the frozen lands which held no value to the other great nations for them to finally stop their excuses.
War had broken out several times as the other Great Nations attempted to force the Dragon Lords out and capture them for their own needs. But the frozen lands acted as a deterring factor for ground forces and the Dragon Lords' air forces were more than capable to repent any invading air fleet.
Stamford was afraid of the greed of the locals of the Old World. If they were willing to go into war for a magical beast then Blue Thunder or the other UN dragons would be most likely be targeted. They currently would not use any of their helicopters or cargo planes to resupply the teams out in the field as the engine noise would draw too much attention despite airships being common here.
There was still a need for stealth and the dragons fit the mission role, hence they had no choice to continue to use dragons as resupply birds. It would still be a while before the secondary base on the top of the Waterfall Cove was completed with heavy duty elevators from the bottom to the top.
Once those facilities were up, land convoys could be dispatched and the ground team would have better reach. Hopefully, by then, they would be self sufficient enough to hold the region.
"I see the town and the rendevous point!" Blue Thunder called out, his eyesight twenty times better than anyone else on his back. He tilted his body down and soared towards a clearing in the middle of a forest that was several kilometres away from the town.
Blue Dragon came down swiftly and disappeared into the forest before anyone who was paying attention to the skies even spotted his shadow. The aircrew climbed off his back and stretched themselves before they prepared to dig in until nightfall where they were supposed to link up with a group of adventurers who called themselves, the Adventurers' Inc.
The Old World, Waterfall Cove, UN Expeditionary Force, Forward Operating Base, UNS Vengeance
Blake read the latest communique downloaded from the passing satellite probe and handed it over to Captain Nimo. "Our first resupply from Haven will be arriving within two months or earlier."
Captain Nimo read the message and said, "So the new Icarus class airships are finally ready?"
"Hopefully," Blake replied. He traced his finger on the map and said, "Sailing up to the Protectorate with just a single ship is nearly impossible no matter how powerful the Vengeance is..."
"We will more weapons and troops to face against the Protectorate," Blake said. "And more intel of the region... The more we know, the better we can plan for a rescue mission!"
"Yes, Sir... Still, Intel's proposal of using a small covert team to infiltrate the Protectorate for intel gathering and if possible to extract the Princess and the heir quietly out is a good idea," Captain Nimo gave his advice. "It would cut down on the number of resources and troops we need to put against the Protectorate..."
"I know," Blake replied. "Having more troops will never be a bad thing... I do have to plan for a plan B..."
"Besides, if the nations of the Old World know we are here," Blake's eyes darkened. "I am certain they will not forget the defeat of their forces in the New World... And we might find them come knocking at our doors!"
"We still need to journey up north to the Protectorate borders which will take us roughly, ten days to two weeks by sea," Blake tapped the map. "Or a week or more by air, if the Icarus class airships can perform as stated."
"Along the way, we will be passing by or crossing directly into the Iron Kingdom's territory," Blake's finger drew a circle on the map. "I doubt they will give us diplomatic immunity to cross their lands after we destroyed a majority of their airships in the New World."
"Nor can we expect friendly relations with them, unless we pay a hefty price which I doubt, I will accept or even afford to," Blake said while shaking his head. "Hence there are two options left..."
"We blitz through the Iron Kingdoms and enter the Protectorate borders..." Blake said as he drew a line across the map highlighting the lands of the Iron Kingdom. "And risk having enemies to our front and back..."
"Or we make a detour around the Iron Kingdom's waters," Blake said as he drew another line along the coast. "We avoid the Iron Kingdoms' forces as much as possible and enter the Protectorate's borders."
"But once our presence is spotted, the Iron Kingdom will not sit still..." Captain Nimo pointed out. "They will certainly dispatch their fleets after us..."
Blake nodded, "That is why Intel's idea of putting a small covert team into the Protectorate is not easy..."
"In the end, no matter what action we take," Blake frowned. "The Old World will not forgive us so easily for destroying their troops!"
"Whether with the Protectorate, Iron Kingdoms, or even the Cartel..." Blake balled his fist and said. "There will be war!"
"There is no doubt at all!"