The Battle in the Venoan Gulf

Summary: The city-state of Venoa once connected the world with its trade-routes, until a volcanic eruption buried it overnight. Once its ruins were found, several nations send fleets to seize its treasures. However, they find something unexpected awaiting them.

The Serene Republic of Venoa once connected the world with its trade-routes, until a volcanic eruption buried the city-state beneath a layer of ash. In the century of turmoil that followed, new empires arose from where its outposts and factories once reached. A merchant's expedition finally found the buried city and all its buried secrets, as the volcano stirred once more. The nations of the world sent mighty fleets to the distant, pirate-haunted coast, in hopes of looting its treasures before they were lost forever.

The first fleet to arrive was the Austonian Republic's Navy, headed by the ironclad Zavala. Flame issued out of its iron smokestacks, as the smell of gas combustion issued forth from its engine room. The paddlewheels along its side, adapted from passenger craft that trawled the Saint River, allowed it to pivot regardless of the wind. Behind it was a flotilla of similar craft, all armed with gas-combustion cannons, flamethrowers, and mortars.

They came within sight of the smoldering caldera when their enemy appeared. The galleons of the Quencha Commonwealth did not need to stay within artillery range of the Austonians, for they had another method of attack. Hot air balloons and airships, their sides woven with tapestries of the Sun God Viracocha, lifted off from the decks. Having fought with the Austonians before, they kept above the range of their guns, dropping explosives with each pass. As their fleet relied on volatile materials for propulsion and armament, a lucky bomb placed into a gas leak was enough to blast the flagship to smithereens.

The Austonian battle-line collapsed into a line of burning wreckage and routing ships, and the airship commander signaled back to their motherships with heliographs: Enemy routed. However, such celebration proved to be premature, as a third force entered the Venoan Gulf. The Quencha airships were first to behold them, as they were attacked from above. Their aircraft plummented out of the sky, like the wings of burning angels.

The Tamna Confederacy approached from the south, having traveled from Myeonseung. Their fleet was organized around a flat-decked paddle-wheel craft, with a series of wooden ramps along its body. Their solar steam engines enabled them to travel without the need for combustible fuels. From each ramp, rocket-propelled silk and wood bigeo gliders were launched from each. Their pilots were equipped with firebombs and firework-assisted pistol crossbows, enabling them to strike the sluggish Quencha craft from above. As their gliders' rockets burnt out, they used silk parachutes to land on the deck of their aircraft carrier, which was screened by a flotilla of armored turtle-ships.

Despite the sophistication of their aircraft carrier battle-group, another foe prepared to engage. As the glaciers advanced ever-southwards, the people of the Frostember Alliance dug deep. With knowledge of pneumatics and ice-carving, they excavated warrens beneath the glaciers. Their fleet was comprised of semi-submersible craft, compartmentalized "slinker" ships that moved through unstable ice tunnels leading out to sea. The treated leather used to seal their ophidian craft gave them the appearance of sea-serpents, and spawned a thousand maritime legends. With pneumatic torpedoes, they send the Tamnan Confederacy's escorts to the bottom and crippled their flagship.

Before the flagship Vostok could prepare a landing party, another fleet came upon the Frostember task force. A fleet of large wooden catamarans, each dragging a weighted net behind them, bisected their compartmentalized craft. The Khordai Union was blighted with land crustaceans that other lands called rust monsters, which corroded metal as part of their metabolism. Their alchemists discovered a way to make wood stronger than other lands' best steels, so they adjusted their lifestyles accordingly. They came from a land of snow-capped peaks and towering redwoods, and well-prepared for all other fleets they knew of.

There was one that the Khordai did not know. The Amharan Empire were a primarily inland people of the continent due south of Venoa, isolated from the economic collapse that followed the first eruption. As pirates and desperate survivors buffeted their borders, they turned from economic backwater to conquering dynamo. Having seen the foreign fleets massing, they sought to prevent any from gaining a hold near their homeland.

The Imperial Amharan fleet superficially resembled the triremes and galleys of antiquity, but were armored and armed to modern specifications. Pulled by domesticated sea-beasts, the chariot ships were protected along and under the waterline. They were protected from aerial attack by flame-resistant cloth, and they signaled to each other using sophisticated heliographic mirrors. The orders of their Empress were etched onto wax cylinders, which played in music-box-like apparatuses for all to hear. They closed into the Khordai fleets, using their heavy cannons and the dreaded all-female Ruban Amazon mercenaries as marines.

What shattered the Amharan fleet was no human enemy, but instead an act of nature. A tidal wave crashed their ships against the rocky coast, which only a few of their agile craft were able to avoid. The survivors of all factions descended into a mad skirmish on the beaches and cliffs, as the volcano roared like an angry god. As something rose in the caldera, the frantic soldiers and surviving ships ceased their skirmish.

The roar was louder than any mere mountain. A large, and distinctively reptilian shape, stirred within the crater. Illuminated by the magma beneath it, tremendous wings beat through the billowing smoke. The demonic, scaled creature bellowed once more, and the ground shook around it. The survivors beheld the Great Dragon, the beast thought to be Venoan myth, whose stirrings destroyed the mightiest city the world had yet known. The survivors fled back to their remaining ships, which turned back to their homelands. The message each bore was identical: The treasures of Venoa would belong to whomever slayed the Great Dragon.

The race was on.