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The Old World, Mithril Mountains, The Cartel

"We can no longer support any decision to send more convoys of airships into the New World!" A dwarvan announced from his seat. The stout red faced dwarvan hammered the stone tabletop with a clenched fist and complained. "These expeditions are wasting our resources! None of the previous expeditions had returned! We might as well throw gold away to the lowlanders!"

Mumbles and choruses of agreements broke out around the table as the rest of the assembled Cartel Lords sat. The red faced dwarvan raised his voice louder and continued, "How many airships had we sent in total? Fifty three!"

"Fifty three airships!" The dwarvan roared. "In just two seasons, fifty three airships wasted and thousands of lives gone!"

"We do not know if they truly were lost!" Another dwarvan retorted and earned a sharp glare from the red faced dwarvan. "They... They might be bogged down in the New World..."

"By the Mountains!" The red faced dwarvan roared. "What kind of illusion spell are you under or are you too drunk to even face the simple truth?"

"It has been TWO SEASONS!" The dwarvan roared at the gathered Lords. "Other than the first two convoys that returned with the resources of the New World... No other airships have returned ever since from that... Godforsaken land!"

"Even a newbie miner knows when to stop when the rock walls start to crumble!" He added while glaring at the Lords. "Have greed overtaken your senses, you bunch of wastelings?"

"Rock and stone! Lord Rubystar! That was uncalled for!" A dwarvan with a pair of waxed moustache stood up and banged the tabletop with his fists. The term wastelings was normally used for waste rock and tailings from mines and calling others a wasteling was an insult to their being.

"So what are you gonna do about that, Lord Greenmane?" The red faced dwarvan called Rubystar challenged the other Lord. "If I recall, you made a lot from the outfitting of those expeditions! Am I right to say, if the expeditions were to stop, your main source of income will vanish like the wind?"

Lord Greenmane growled as he glared at Rubystar and replied in an icy tone, "I am thinking of the greater good!"

He turned and addressed the assembly and said, "Did none of you benefit from the resources that came back from the convoys?"

"Did none of our mountains prosper which the magic crystals that filled the holds of the returned airships?" He swept his arms around, gesturing to the assembly. "Did our Cartel defence not grow stronger with the increase of magic crystal to our arsenal?"

Again, the gathered Lords bobbed their heads and mumbled their agreements to the statement. Lord Rubystar's face grew redder as he growled, "Yes! That is true! But by the Mountains! At what cost? Is that cost still worth it? How many airships and people we have lost in these two seasons?"

"You do not know if they are truly lost," Lord Greenmane injected with a smirking tone. "All we know, they could be enjoying their lives in the New World!"

"Rubbish!" Lord Rubystar yelled. "This push for more expeditions into the New World is folly and a waste of Cartel resources and people power!"

"Bless the Mountains!" The hosting Cartel Lord stepped in and said, "We shall take a recess and assembly in two turns of the glass!"

The gathered Lords rosed from their seats with relief as they filed out of the Assembly. Lord Greenmane smiled back at Rubystar as he cast an angry glare in his direction before stomping out of the Assembly. He shook his head at the departure of Rubystar and mumbled under his breath, "Amateur!"

"Congratulations, my Lord," The supporters of Greenmane toadied up to him as he strolled out of the Assembly. "Majority of the Cartel Lords are in favour of sending another expedition into the New World to bring back more magic crystals!"

"Of course!" Greenmane replied confidently as he twirled his waxed moustache. "Who can resist the lure of more magic crystals!"

"Lord Greenmane!" An aide appeared next to Greenmane and saluted. Greenmane nodded and waved his supporters away and followed his aide into a private chamber.

"Report!" He ordered as he sat down on the cushioned seat.

"Silver Mountain and Crimson Mountain are mostly against the expedition," The aide reported. "As for Sky Mountain and Bronze Mountain, majority of the Cartel Lords are in favour of the expedition, while the Mithril Mountain remains neutral."

"So this means, we must get the Cartel Lords of the Mithril Mountains on our side..." Greenmane frowned as he twirled his moustache in thought. "Arrange a meeting with the Mithril Mountain's Cartel Lords at once! We have barely two turns of the glass to win them to my side!"

"At once my Lord!" The aide saluted and was about to leave when he turned back and said. "My Lord there is another issue that might be in need of your attention!"

"What is it?" Greenmane frowned deeper.

"The... Hungry Hands pir-" The aide let out a hasty cough and continued, "The... eh... mercenaries, that are placed in charge of the Lowlands have not sent their seasonal... dues yet... They are late half a season in payment..."

"Those lowlives dare to be late?" Greenmane growled. "By the Mountains! Dispatch a force down, and teach them the errors of their ways!"

"Yes, my Lord!"

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The Old World, Waterfall Cove, UN FOB, Fort Anchorage

"The Old Ugly will first need to pass through the Highland regions of the Bronze Mountain before reaching the borders of the Iron Kingdom," Intel Officer Trism tapped on the map as he briefed the senior officers. "The sociology of the Cartel is split into something like this, from the highest, the Mountains, where the Cartel elite and powerful live in megacities inside the mountains."

"Next is the Highlands, where the middle and rich lived," Trism added. "Finally the Lowlands, where the undesirable or Banished live."

"The Mountains typical have the most resources available, followed by the Highlands, where the majority of the Cartel steam and iron industry and farms are clustered at," Trism explained. "And finally the lowlands with the least amount of development and desirable resources."

"The journey to the border will take two weeks of flying," Trism returned to the map. "At the mid point of the journey, the Old Ugly will resupply at this Highland city called Mallodge Hills."

"There, we will gather more intel and restock what is required before continuing to the joint border city of Iron Gate."

"There the Old Ugly will resupply again and make another week journey to reach an Iron Kingdom city called Ashmere," Trism tapped at a spot on the map. "More resupply and another week's journey to the border of the Iron Kingdom... here!"

"This border town called Ironshire is the last stop before we enter into Protectorate territory..." Trism said. "There we will be needing to hire a runner... or a smuggler to be our guide through the mountain border forts and outposts."

"Hopefully, our friend Ait," Trism said, "Still have good connections to the network of runners and smugglers between the border."

"Once we acquired the services of a guide," Trism continued his briefing. "The Old Ugly will make its way across the mountainous border without alerting any sides and enter the Protectorate."

"Now, what we know of the Protectorate is not much," Trism admitted. "Even the locals have not much idea of what they know inside the Protectorate other the areas next to the borders of the Protectorate."

"This means we have no intel inside the Protectorate nor do we know where the Princess is being held..." Trism said. "But... We do have an ace up our hands..."

"The Prisoner..." Blake said.

"Yes, the Protectorate prisoner who holds the rank of an Inquisitor..." Trism nodded. "He is our only link and way to find the Princess now that the tracking talisman has lost its magic..."

"We will be bringing him along," Blake said as he stood up. "The crew will also include our two dwarvan friends, Professor Hamlot and his students, and the black dragon, Sophia."

"A company of Marines will also accompany us to provide security, including a stripped down transport helo and both its flight and ground crew," Blake said to the officers. "The Old Ugly has limited space and carrying weight, so the total number of crew will not be much."

"As for the two Icarus," Blake gestured to the map and draw a curved line along the shore of the continent and said. "They will keep to a low profile along the coastal lines and travel along the lowlands towards the borders of the Protectorate."

"They will remain hidden on standby here," Blake tapped a spot on the map. "Which would be our bug out point if the shit hits the fan..."

"The Old Ugly has two dual 3" guns on each broadside and eight dual 20 mm turrets covering all points of the airship for offence and a magic shield for defence," Blake said. "It also still runs on coal to ease resupplying out there as we would not have any chance of any form of logistics out there."

"As for our cover," Blake looked over to Trism who took over the briefing again.

"As for the Old Ugly and its crew's cover," Trism said. "It would hold a merchant license from the Loose Confederation. The crew's identity would also come from that nation to easier explain our diversity with the races."

"The license and identity papers are all provided by Ait," Trism added. "For their authenticity, it is hard for us to determine as no one has any idea how these official papers should look like. It would be a gamble..."

"A gamble that we can only take..." Blake replied softly at the side.

"The cover story would be that we are merchants seeking to make trade deals with traders inside the Iron Kingdom for iron products," Trism continued. "We will be carrying several chests of jewellery and samples of trade goods along with us, just in case we needed to fool any inspection."

"And a word of warning..." Trism glanced around the table. "No magic must be used when we are out there!"

"Not even a simple light spell must be chanted or used!" Trism warned. "The people here have not used magic for a very very long time, and even the rich and nobles rarely even has the ability to cast magic."

"Only kingdom or national level entities and organizations have access to mana stones or magic crystals here," said Trism. "Word of any use of magic would quickly spread and if the news falls onto the local governments, there might be trouble!"

"We must not expose ourselves to the attention of any of the kingdoms and nations here!" Trism gestured to the map. "Hence all magic is to be banned and onboard the Old Ugly, all mana stones would be kept and their use controlled by the Captain."

"Remember to drill into your men about the use of magic!" Trism warned again. "We do not want unwanted attention upon ourselves until our objective has been completed!"

"Does everyone know what their duties are?" Blake asked the room before he dismissed the meeting. "Good, then the Old Ugly will depart for its mission at 0500 hours tomorrow!"

"Sir," Only Trism remained behind after everyone left the room. "I still think we need more airships for escort! It is too risky to make fly with only one airship and a company of Marines!"

Blake shook his head, "We make do with what we have."

"But Sir," Trism frowned. "We still do not know what is inside the Protectorate nor do we know if Ait is really true to his word..."

Blake let out a sigh as he patted Trism's shoulder and said, "We will find out once we reach that point won't we?"

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