Starfall Year 833, 1st of July. Night in the Naga Mountains on the Far South.
Stars sparkled dazzlingly over the summits of the northwest. Dry airflow from the east swept away every cloud, and the twin moons unleashed a thin veil of silver radiance over the land.
Something gigantic was moving across the sky swiftly yet steadily with a light humming sound. It was releasing waves of mana and throwing down a lightless shadow by the edge of the mountains.
Aerial Battleship Gale had already negotiated past the Naga valleys that connected the western mountains and the far south, heading slowly towards the distant sea in the south.
Standing by the scaffolding at the tip of the bow, a black-haired man was looking out at the land below.
"Not bad," he said softly. "Never thought that I would come here again."
Since they started their journey from the Imperial Capital eight days ago, they had gone through nine large-scale warp portals at the Southern Fortresses, the Floating Islands of Rooney, Iron Hill City, the Kingdom of Sia, the Kingdom of Zephyr, the edge of Central Black Forest, the West Mountain Trade Federation, the Great Cavity, and lastly the Mountain Fortresses of Naga before finally reaching their destination—the distant South.
More than half of the region was blanketed by lush forests, with an infinite number of elven settlements and nests of unknown life. If it was not thickets or plains and hills, it would be the human Kingdom's domain. Still, both humans and elves as well as other minority races lived in perfect harmony and would often meet to discuss any issues.
Joshua knew, even as he stared at the forests below, that countless pairs of eyes were quietly watching the airship behind the thick foliage. There were those that belonged to raptors, beasts, and naturally, humans and elves.
This was a place where he once fought before too.
In the pre-existence, he slowly gained a reputation by clearing dungeons and missions, as well as earning friends and finally forming a clan. Though he kept complaining what a waste of time that latter had been, everyone knew he meant nothing by it—they could tell that he was glad having partners of such rapport.
Now that he was back, he was a little impatient.
A noise that sounded like electrical discharge came from his back. The large thing that could only be described as an armored puppet nodded lightly as if agreeing.
Joshua turned to look at it.
"You understood?" He laughed and lightly clapped on its shoulder, before turning back to look into the distance once more. "Seems like your intelligence is not as dull as it was at the beginning, Unit 01."
Over three meters tall, Unit 01 was the first Steel Elemental Joshua created through Authority a few days ago.
It had absorbed a vast amount of mana thanks to the innumerable experiments by the mages onboard, while also fusing with a large amount of steel. It had been two meters tall at birth but now stood at 3.3, with a form mimicking Joshua's enchanted armor complete with a helmet that shields the weak point on its head.
This large body was imbued with a mana flow that far outclassed the one it possessed before, moving it from the lower reaches of Silver-tier to upper-intermediate tier, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fighters capable of unleashing aura.
Joshua also obviously noticed that Unit 01's intelligence matured with time.
As something akin to his own kin, the Steel Elemental seemed to understand what the warrior did. It was almost nonresponsive when it was created since it was still essentially a blank paper, holding knowledge it could not put to good use.
Now that a few days passed, even Unit 01's own rather meaningless noise seemed to bear meaning—it now understood human conversations, although Joshua did not fuss too much over Unit 01's changes. It was a good thing that its intelligence and power was growing—and since it was a good thing there was no need to care too much about it.
Inside the ship.
A black-haired youth was walking ahead in one of the many steel passageways within the warship, eventually reaching the flight of stairs that led to the outer deck.
He looked up and saw the conspicuous silhouettes of the warrior and that Steel Elemental. They were enjoying the distant scenery, with Unit 01's body gleaming quietly in red-black light patterns, while Joshua's shadow seemed to fuse with the dark night sky.
"That black coat again… Can't wear any other colors, huh?" Ling mumbled silently, already used to his own master's taste in fashion. He looked around but could not find his own sister or the half-wyrm—they must be resting in the cabins already. After Black had been shrunk, Ying seemed to have rediscovered her passion for taking care of horses and was essentially glued to it for a week.
Shaking his head and throwing away those thoughts, Ling jogged up to the pair. The warrior-who-never-seemed-to-change-out-of-that-black-coat turned, smiled and nodded at him. "What, Ling, coming for the scenery too?" Joshua asked. "Today's moonlight is quite fine."
"Nope. 03 just sent me a report on the happenings in the territories." Shaking his head gently, the youth showed him a report filled with minuscule fonts. "I think you should take a look… don't you?" He asked hesitantly.
Taking it from Ling's hand and lightly patting the youth's head in praise, Joshua swept his gaze over the report, and quickly getting the gist of it.
"Brandon and Vale Dani had already come over and took the kids home, huh? And left a reward too… Huh." The warrior blinked, his tone becoming disgruntled.
"So I really was a babysitter? Either way, Ling—tell Miss 03 to return the reward. The couple just has to thank me face-to-face when I return."
There was nothing else of note aside from that. Brandon and Vale Dani seemed to have wiped out a large part of cultists and dangerous magical creatures in Moldova's domains. It was also safe now thanks to Artanis and Roland's help before in wiping out most threats, and with 03's vigilant watch there should be no problem.
Naturally, 03 also whined in the report, asking why they did not bring her along in this mission since she really wanted to see the aerial battleship of this world.
Although there was no reason not too, everyone has already reached the Far South—there was simply no way they could make a tremendous detour to bring her along.
Returning the report to Ling, Joshua could tell that the young man was eager to see the Far South too—it was a land markedly different from the North after all. So, the warrior simply gestured at Unit 01, and the Steel Elemental picked the youth up and let him sit on its shoulder.
Suddenly, the warrior promptly looked behind towards the distant, at the endless darkness.
"It is the Draconic Plague I guess," he muttered. "We've just left Naga's forts, and they're already here."
–Beep! Bop! Beep! Bop!
In minutes, alarm sirens started blaring sharply around the Gale, and a rush of reports, as well as real-time response actions, were thrown around in the bridge.
"Huge magic signatures, dead ahead!"
"Initial observation, a swarm of flying wyrms, number, hundred and twenty-four!"
"Can we slip past them?"
"No. There's another flock to port, and there are a lot more over there."
There was no question that the whole ship was filled with Imperial elites. Even the bridge crew were calm against this unforeseen disaster, handing level-headed assessments of the situation to different levels of command until it finally reached the Captain.
"Total count, two-hundred and twelve berserk wyrms." The middle-aged man whose temples were concealed behind white hair mumbled lowly. "Not many of them, is there."
"Just two-hundred and twelve…"
Meanwhile, Joshua also shook his head after counting the swarm where he stood on the deck—he looked disappointed. "Not even an appetizer."
Returning indoors appeared to have never crossed the warrior's mind. He kept watch of the distance, standing aloft at the very tip of Gale.
"Master!" The sound of a thrilled exclamation rang behind him, along with the sounds of scampering footsteps from a silver-haired girl. "I heard the alarms—are we prepared for battle?"
Behind Ying was a huge black horse. On its chest was a silver pendant, the very shapeshifting pendant that transfigured Black. It still looked rather out of it—it may have gotten used to higher altitudes, but it still could not throw away airsickness entirely.
As one divine armament and one wyrm quickly ran to the warrior, the silver-haired girl crisply hugged Joshua's waist and looked up expectantly. "Are we up?"
Black called out too, its golden gaze flashing.
"Of course not," Joshua said seriously, shaking his head at the hopeful pair. "There's just a handful of them."
"Not really…" Ying said begrudgingly, silently releasing Joshua after being rejected so curtly and slipping her hands over Black's neck. "There's around two hundred."
"Growl-Rawr." Black nodded in agreement.
"Perhaps," Joshua replied calmly, nodding at the unquestionable fact. "If I was still at Gold-tier, even at peak Gold-tier, those two hundred will be worth leaping into action. However, I'm Supreme now, and there isn't even a Gold-tier leader amongst those wyrms."
The warrior shook his head at the fact. "Let's leave the massacre to the battleship. The mages are almost going mad craving for combat data—they would be much more spirited than us. So just wait here and watch, Ying."
Then, Joshua held her up by her waist and put her over Unit 01's shoulder as it leaned over slightly. The Steel Elemental now stood, now with each twin over one shoulder.
"I would also like to witness what this battleship of mine is capable of."
A translucent screen surfaced in front of Joshua. It was the mages who were operating the ship communicating with them, asking the count politely to return below deck.
There was no way a warrior like him would. So, he simply told them to go all out, and that he would be enjoying the fireworks out on deck.
Seemingly understanding Joshua's intentions and attitude, the crew did not ask anything else and simply went into battle stations.
Far away, the berserk wyrms had sensed that something was up in the air but did not smell like one of their own. Without much thought, they darted towards the direction of the battleship at full speed.
The berserk plague having consumed all their rationality, the wyrm's eyes had the greenish purple glimmer of Chaos. They were fearless and would have charged forward unaffected even against real wyrms.
The airship was fast—and so were the mad wyrms. With two on a collision course, they closed in on each other in minutes. Soon, the flocks of wyrm wings flapping could be seen by the horizon, their swiftly moving shadows making it look as if they were using some innate magical gift to accelerate.
At that moment, the aerial battleship was ready too. With a louder hum, the two mystical cores started whirling even faster, the tremendous mana force within transferred through each external tubing to where they need to be.
"Mana Condensing Cannon warmed-up."
"Alchemical Cannons in perfect condition, ready to fire."
In the command deck, the Captain heard each report given in perfect order. Nodding solemnly, he commanded, "Charge all weapons."
His command was clear, and every ear that heard it complied immediately. With the slight shift in mana and the clicking sounds of gears turning, four large crystal ports that resembled large mirrors surfaced over the transformable bow armor of the craft.
As if four cold eyes, each was aimed with cold precision ahead, aiming for the wyrms who were dashing from the front and from the port.
"Calculating rate of fire, analyzing wind directions."
"Examining the highest energy value amongst the wyrms."
Under a determined command, the Mana Condensing Cannon started to compress a blinding red light so intense that even Joshua had to glance sideways. Then, a fireball formed at the concave crystal port. The wyrms in the distance were not even aware of it—the frenzied beast had lost their intelligent instincts and kept flying towards the battleship without a single change in direction.
On the bridge, the Captain showed the hint of a smile.
"Fire!" He bellowed, and four thick light-red pillars of light immediately ejected out of the crystal ports, blowing through the storm of wings.
In an instant, tens of wyrms were vaporized by the attack, while the others right beside the area of damage had their wings incinerated, wailing as they plummeted to the ground. Even if their wings were lost without reason they did not suffer the worst fate—that undesirable award went to the wyrms on the flanks.
The pillar of light, which had an action-time of less than two minutes was in cooldown and charging. However, the remaining energy detonated the other elements in the air, filling the edge of the Naga Mountains with four gigantic explosions.
The blast sent puffs of steam that could melt metal as well as brutal shockwaves across all directions.
Naturally, it even struck the airship itself, but it was weaker and only sent ripples over the magical shield shrouding the craft.
Joshua watched the scene unfold without a change in his expression. He had seen it many times in his pre-existence, but this time, it somehow felt different.
Nonetheless, he smiled and nodded. "As expected of my battleship."
The four shots from the Mana Condensing Cannon were equivalent to four large-scale damage spells unleashed by Gold-tier mages. While the damage alone did not compare to Vale Dani's Power of the Glorious Light, she was still a combat mage after all. In other words, she should not be used as a comparing standard since it was reasonable that she was stronger than regular mages.
After this attack, the flock that had numbered over two hundred were left with just little more than a handful of weak and injured wyrms. Still, they kept coming without a hint of giving up.
The four Mana-Condensing Cannons were slowly recalled. Taking their place were forty Alchemical Cannons, but Joshua had already lost interest. He turned towards the sky again, away from the remnants.
Once again, the translucent screen appeared before him, asking if they should first resupply at the Kingdom of the Far South or make directly for the Sacred Mountain. Someone had to make the call since there were no more warp points and most of the region was conquered by the wyrms.
To the warrior, there was no other answer.
"Keep flying," he said, his eyes steadily looking far ahead. "Towards the Sacred Mountain. That's where our battle awaits."