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Steam whistles shrilled long and sharply, more than enough to wake the dead inside the Fort which was carved out from the side and peaks of the mountain range. The frightened lookout who saw the dark red dots appearing out of the clouds jerked the lanyard to the steam whistle in panic.
The Fort Commodore was enjoying tea with the other senior officers in the tea room which was built into the side of the mountain, which had floor to ceiling crystal windows allow natural light to flood the room. When warning whistles screamed, they paused in their actions and looked up towards the ceiling in confusion.
The door leading into the tea room suddenly burst open and a panting aide yelled, "My Lords! T- The Pro- Protectorate!"
"What of them?" the Fort Commodore asked impatiently as he stood up. "Speak man! Don't speak in riddles!"
"Th- They are invading!" The aide finally gasped out in terror. "Ships... many many airships! At least forty ships!"
"Forty ships?!" The expressions of the senior officers in the tea room paled when they heard the count. "Are you certain?"
"Yes, my Lords! The lookouts are very certain!" The aided panted.
"S- Send word back to the nearest garrisons and to the Admiralty!" The Fort Commodore yelled as he grabbed his coat and rushed towards the war room of the fort. "What are you all still doing here? Get to your posts!"
The rest of the officers quickly followed behind, donning their coats as they headed off towards their areas of responsibilities. The soldiers manning the fort rushed along the corridors as NCOs yelled orders at them.
The once tranquil fort was suddenly roused up. Steam cannon muzzles were rolled out from their covers one by one and loaded before their fat barrels protruded out from mountainside as teams of gunners frantically readied themselves for war.
A steam elevator clanked its way up to the top of a flattened mountain peak and the crew shoved the scissor gate of the elevator doors open and once the doors were opened, they started to push the two ornithopters that had their wings folded for easier storage out of the elevator.
Once cleared, the techs and crew frantically unfold the wings and bolted them, locking the wings in place. A portable steam boiler the size of a wagon was hooked up to the ornithopters' internal pressure tanks, while its internal boiler was lit. A couple of ground crews carried a large screw and inserted it into the side of the ornithopters and started turning the screw, winding up the clockwork mechanism inside.
The ornithopters had a long narrow rigid body with a sharp nose and tail end with a multi plane tail stabilizer. Four pairs of wings connected to a series of complicated looking gear mechanisms and pipes sat on the spine of the hull. The head area had an open c.o.c.kpit for two pilots and the whole contraption was supported by two large spoke wheels.
Majority of the hull housed an enclosed boiler and pressure tank with enough fuel for the ornithopter to fly and glide for distances over a hundred kilometres or further depending on weather conditions at speeds up to 28 kilometres per hour.
The two pilots laid down almost flat, facing forward in the c.o.c.kpit saddle and strapped themselves in while the aircrew pushed the ornithopters towards the headway and hooked the wheels to a dolly linked to a thick rope. Once pressure onboard the ornithopters had reached critical ma.s.s, the steam techs removed the pipes and quickly retreated to a safe distance.
The clockwork mechanism once winded up fully was locked in place by the two ground crews who removed the key screw. The pilots waved a salute to the ground crews who returned their salutes. The pilots released the lock to the winded up clockwork engine and the wings started to flap, slowly at first before gaining more speed.
The rope hooked to the ornithopter stretched tautly in 'V' shape and a ground crew waving a red flag switched to a green flag and waved it up and down, signalling to the pilots. Almost instantly, the lock to the dolly under the ornithopter was released, and the stretched rope flung the ornithopter forward towards the edge of the mountain peak like a ballista bolt.
The ornithopter shot forward and dropped off the edge of the mountain peak and shortly later, it reappeared as it rode the winds, its four pairs of wings flapping madly in the air. The second ornithopter was also flung off the edge of the mountain and it too reappeared later, the pilot adjusting its direction as it headed off in another way different from the first ornithopter, both bearing news of an invasion.
One by one, airships bearing the Iron Kingdom's insignia floated out from ma.s.sive cavern openings dug out from the side of the mountain fort. Ships of various sizes crawled out in a maddeningly slow pace as they had to avoid collisions with one another and the mountains.
The Fort Commodore paced frantically in the war room while observers lined the upper platforms, using spygla.s.ses and magic to observe the Protectorate ships. The war room was built in one of the tallest mountain peaks. The circular war room had platforms on the upper levels, with slits cut out, allowing observers to see a 360 degree view of their surroundings.
A table with the terrain model of the fort's surroundings had several tiny stands holding red wooden rectangles representing the Protectorate, placed at the approximate locations of the Protectorate's fleet.
"My Lord!" An aide stood at attention next to the Fort Commodore. "The Protectorate fleet still remained fixed on their path! There has been no deviation to their course as of yet!"
"Where are they going?" The Fort Commodore mumbled, his forehead covered in sweat. The Protectorate fleet had over forty vessels, and at least twelve battleships sized airships while he only had twenty two airships with the majority destroyers or small vessels and not even a battleship to match them!
Even adding the fort's super steam cannons, the Protectorate can easily bombard their fixed defences with their mobile fleet or even ignoring the fort after destroying the small defensive air fleet and striking directly into the territory of the Iron Kingdom!
Yet, so far, the Protectorate fleet seemed to not moving into engagement range, as they kept on a constant course. The Fort Commodore rubbed his chin restlessly, "Could it be a ruse? Or some kind of fleet exercise?"
"I- I am not sure, my Lord!" His aide replied nervously. "If they are trying to scare us... I am sure they succeed, my Lord..."
"Once the fleet has formed up," The Fort Commodore said. "I want them to tail them at a safe distance! Do not at any point offer combat with them! I want to know what the d.a.m.n crazy fanatics are up to!"
"Yes, my Lord!"
Edge of the Sea of Clouds
Flickers of purple lightning and rumbles of thunder could be seen and heard from the dense clouds that covered the entire horizon and sky. Rain felling over the sea under the clouds and the waters churned constantly, and visibility was so poor that one could not even see beyond a few meters.
The Protectorate fleet formed up before the Sea of Clouds and seemed to take a collective breath before they moved forward as one and merged into the dark and forbidding clouds, disappearing from view in just a matter of seconds.
The trailing Iron Kingdom fleet observed the Protectorate fleet disappearing in the Sea of Clouds from distance. The crews...o...b..ard the airships made protective signs of their G.o.ds and shook their heads in the craziness of the fanatics willingness and fearless will to die.
After waiting for several hours to see if the Protectorate fleet will show up again, the Iron Kingdom fleet slowly turned around and headed back to base with their reports.
The New World, United Nations, Fortress Singapore, XO Quarters
Ford stood up from his seat and stretched his body, feeling his muscles crying in protest. He sat back down and was about to return to his reports when a knock came from his door. "Come in."
"Sir," Chief Matt entered and placed a stack of reports on his desk. "Something happened down at the dragonite mines."
"What happened?" Ford asked as he looked up. "Is it serious?"
"I am not so sure about how serious it is at this point of time yet..." Chief Matt replied in an uncertain voice. "But... we lost access to the dungeon... permanently."
"I see..." Ford did not seem surprised. "How about the mines?"
"There are a few collapsed shafts but its easily fixable with time," Chief Matt replied. "No one trapped or hurt only for the team that went down the Dungeon."
"Sir... you don't seem surprised at the news?" Chief Matt enquired.
"To be frank," Ford said. "I know about the Dungeon."
He tapped a few keys in his computer and continued, "6 KIAs and 15 WIA from the Army. 3 KIAs and 7 WIAs from the Adventurers' Inc."
"Sir, did you order them to remove the Dungeon's Core?" Chief Matt's eyes narrowed. "I remembered Magister Thorn's once said if the Dungeon's Core is removed... the Dungeon will collapse and disappear..."
"Yes, I did it..." Ford admitted.
"But why?" Chief Matt gave a frown. "It is our only stable source of mana stones and nitroshrooms! And also a source of food and materials!"
"Now... you have a b.l.o.o.d.y sinkhole over the cliffs!" Chief Matt groaned. "And the loss of a good source of materials! Why?"
Ford stood up and tapped the wall display, before bringing up the blueprints of the supercarrier. He gestured to the screen and said, "How do you propose we power this ship? By dragonite? Oil? Solar? Magic?"
Chief Matt's frown deepened as he replied, "Aren't we proposing to use hydrogen?"
"How safe is hydrogen fuel?" Ford asked. "How confidant you and your team are at getting a zero accident rate from using hydrogen fuel?"
Chief Matt's mouth opened and closed before he shook his head and sighed, "With our current manufacturing capabilities, technology and quality control... It's hard to guarantee zero accidents because of its low ignition energy and high combustion energy of hydrogen, and because it tends to leak easily from tanks..."
"If a hydrogen tank explodes on board the supercarrier..." Ford continued, "And in the rough seas..."
"We will be screwed..." Chief Matt sighed again. "But still... what does this get to do with the Dungeon's core..."
"Wait..." Chief Matt's eyes widened greatly. "You... you meant to use the Dungeon's Core as a power source?"
Ford gave a nod, and he tapped on the display showing the blueprint again. "If that idea works... It will be like a nuclear reactor."
"We won't need to have so many boilers for the supercarrier," Ford said. "And fuel will no longer be an issue nor worry!"
"But we have no idea how such a thing works!" Chief Matt replied in shock. "Its... too dangerous!"
"I think we are past the time of being cautious..." Ford reminded Chief Matt. "Powering this behemoth will use at least eighty percent of all our reserves of fuel. It is better to sacrifice the few resources put out from the Dungeon... And besides... if... if the Dungeon Core works... it is also a chance we have to return home..."
"Home?" Chief Matt shook his head. "Well... There is some sense to this madness... If it works..."
"Don't worry," Ford added. "They also retrieved an unexpected bonus too from the Dungeon before it collapsed..."
"We got the heart of a fire elemental..." Ford said. "According to Magister Thorn and any mages, it's fire can literally burn for hundreds of years, making it useful to power boilers."
"That's Plan B if the Dungeon Core can't be utilized..."