"The navy is an idea by geniuses designed to be executed by idiots. If you're not an idiot, yet somehow still find yourself in the navy, your only hope is pretending to be one." ~ Lord High Admiral Senbaud

Sylode was a newly minted captain. Thirty years had passed since he started sailing when he was 15, working his way up the chain of command step-by-step he was now finally a captain in Invincible. Who knew how much hardship he had gone through on the seas? He recalled that others called him an idiot for volunteering. But when he was officially included in the fleet's long-term roster, people envied him. He was only 30 when that happened, however the owner of the grocery shop in the street where he lived wedded his then-17-year-old daughter to him without hesitation. Sylode had two cute children.

His first command was an LLDAM vessel. Success was a simple affair. All it took was decades of hard work, following orders obediently, and handing out valuable gifts to curry favor with the right people. He never complained or cursed for having to go out on a mission in the middle of winter when everyone else was resting. He just nodded and made his preparations. Sailing in such cold stormy weather was risky, and he had to pay attention to the smallest details.If his luck were good, he would arrive at his destination without problems despite the weather.

His patrol path took him around the sea of grief in a wide circle before he returned to port. The sea of grief wasn't barren in winter; patrols came across a few ships from time to time. Everyone knew most of them were smugglers. Though Andinaq and the Union were at war, smuggling still persisted. The harder the two sides fought, the more egregious the smuggling got.

The captains didn't bother them, however. As long as they had the right colors, they were of no concern. It was known as 'having the colors'. Merchant captains paid several gold coins to loan a flag from the fleet that showed they had permission to sail in their waters. The flag had to be returned when they returned to port, or within a certain amount of time, whichever came first. It was a red flag with a single blue line from bottom mast to top fly. The end of the flag nearest the mast to which it was fixed was called the mast, and the end of the flag that flapped freely in the wind was called the fly. So a line that ran from bottom mast to top fly, ran from the bottom corner near the mast to the top corner flapping in the wind. As long as a ship flew that flag, they could sail unmolested in waters under Invincible control, and was entitled to their protection.

The best kind of find to make, thus, was not a smuggler that had the colors, but a smuggler without it, any ship without it, for that matter. If such a find was made, everyone would get a nice bonus. Ships captured at sea without the colours could be dealt with however the flotilla wished. Most would sell it and distribute the reward as a bonus among the crews. It didn't matter if it was a smuggler ship or the ship of some noble.

Fire crackled in a brazier in the middle of the captain's cabin. Sylode granted himself this luxury, he had earned it with his years of hard work, after all. A captain was entitled to his luxuries. Sylode wasn't content with his current station, however. He wanted to earn a title and a fief before his retirement. It was much easier to get a fief and a title in the Union that in any of the traditional aristocracies. Here, with enough wealth and the right connections, anyone could buy a title and a bit of land. Elsewhere, one could only serve one's lord loyally and hope they rewarded one with a bit of land and a title.

"Ship! Black ship! They fly the Raging Bear!" shivering voice descended from the black abyss above the ship.

Everyone was excited. Oh, they would make a great haul today! The Union had given permission, nay, ordered them to attack any Norton vessel they came across.

"Hahaa... So the rat came out of its hole at last!"

It seemed this had been good rather than bad luck. This was yet another silver medal for him. He just hoped it wasn't a mouse. They were impossible to capture.

When he stepped into the deck, the voice descended from the abyss again.

"It's not just one ship! I count twelve five hundreds marks away! They're coming straight for us! Alert!"

"Battlestations!" Sylode roared.

Five hundred marks was a kilometer. So they were coming for a fight, huh? At this distance it would be ten minutes before the fighting began, more than enough time to get ready. His gaze lifted to the abyss above him. The weather was perfect for a fight.

WHen he didn't hear any more reports, his frowned.

"Bastard, finish your report!"

"I did! Twelve black ships--"

"Only twelve?"

"Eye, captain! Just twelve! Four hundred marks yonder now!"

What're they thinking? They have 16 black ships, if they're finally moving to confront the fleet, then why bring only 12? Has the black fleet lost their rudder?

The men called House Norton's fleet the black fleet because they refused to acknowledge them. The seas belonged to Invincible, everyone else was just an imposter. As far as they were concerned, they were no different from noble-backed pirates.

Their 16 warships were said to be armed with dwarven cannons. A few patrols had seen one of them spewing flames and sinking a pirate ship. Sylode wasn't worried about it, however, because according to the people that saw it, the black ship could only hit its target from 50 or so meters. Even then their first volleys missed. That was even worse than their own catapults.

House Norton's black ships themselves however did interest the fleet somewhat. They had a weird ship in the middle of their formations with certain unique characteristics. For one, they could sail quite easily in the stormy north. But, when their shipwrights told them one cost at least six times as much as an LLDAW (large long distance armed warship), they lost interest. The fleet made a lot of money every year, but most of it had set recipients. It could not afford such a lavish expense.

Maybe I can capture one. If I can take it back to be checked out, and maybe even ask to be given one as my next command, I will be a lot closer to getting a title. We will win. We have twelve daws and 24 saws (moderate swift armed warship).

Sylode didn't drop his guard though. He thought the enemy commander had probably lost his rudder, he couldn't be careless. It wasn't that the black ships didn't have any chance of victory at all. If all twelve carried a hundred corsairs, they could still overwhelm his men.

Each patrol had at least twelve LLDAWs and 24 MSAWs. Half of the LLDAWs were fitted for close combat, the other half for ranged combat.

They may be trying to board us, Sylode smirked coldly, We've seen all sorts of situations. Do you think that'll work on us?

"Blow the horn! Have the saws split off and hold the flanks! Have six daws move forward and screen the centre. Avoid close combat for now! We'll move in to board when the enemy's crippled!"

The horn echoed across the black water soon after in a long series of blasts. When it was done it repeated. When it finished, Sylode ship, the Seahorse, a ranged LLDAW, led the charge. He stood on the deck like a mast and watched the crew prepare the stone slingers and ballistae.

When the twelve black ships were only 150 marks away, they suddenly turned broadside, exposing the port sides of their vessels.

What's going on?! Are they trying to flee? We're too close for that to work, aren't we? Even if they turned around and fled as fast as they could, the turn would cost them time and burn speed. They could not get away. Even the greenest captain knew this. If they wanted to flee, the best would be to charge through the enemy formation so they were the ones that had to turn around and bleed their speed.

He was still trying to figure out what they were thinking when dozens of windows suddenly appeared on the ships' sides. Moments later white smoke burst out of the windows.

Their cannons! But they can't hit us from that far, can they?!

The mast in front of his suddenly exploded into splinters. A moment later a cascade of bangs blasted into his ears as the sounds of the enemy's cannons finally caught up. The rest of the mast fell slowly, like a tree being felled in the forest, and crashed into the water. The rest of his ship's sails were shredded and their tatters danced in the wind.

The shockwave nearly toppled Sylode as he shielded his eyes and was showered with splinters. The ship immediately started slowing down and turning due to the mast dragging in the water on one side like a giant oar. His helmsmen was not as lucky as he and rolled on the ground grabbing his eyes, hundred of small cuts all over his face and several splinters stuck in his skin.

Just as the ship got back on course, the enemy's ships spewed white smoke again. The ship shook and splinters exploded everywhere again. An instant later the bangs echoed across the deck again. When his hearing recovered, he heard men wailing like dying dogs. He opened his eyes and saw his ship shattered. The deck was in tatters, the railings had dozens of holes in them, chunks of wood lay splattered across the deck and thousands of splinters covered it like snow. Here and there he could see splashes of red and the odd limb. A few men were rolling in the mess, some clutching stumps where once there were arms, others hold their intestines in their hands, and yet other clasping pieces of wood embedded in various places in their body. Two fist sized metal balls rolled across the deck, covered in blood, linked by a chain.

Seahorse wasn't the only one struck, either. Wails echoed from all six of the ships in the lead. The two further to port were on fire, their lamps toppled by the shocks and explosions, spilling their oil onto wood and rope, which quickly caught fire. The Octopus, the ship directly to starboard of the Seahorse had also lost its middle mast. It's however, had collapse backward onto the helm, crushing the captain, his helmsman, and the wheel. The ship was completely immobilised and out of control now.

The ships on the very flanks and to the rear were untouched and continued the charge. The 24 MSAWs sped through the floundering LLDAWs and moved in to screen them. The six remaining LLDAWs moved forward after them, charging straight for the enemy.

For several hours following that, he watched his flotilla get ripped apart. The enemy would sail away until they'd opened up enough distance, turn, fire a broadside, and sail away again. The scene was burned into his mind and haunted his nightmares.

The enemy's cannons roared across the sea further and further away. His men had no choice but to watch their comrades get torn to shreds and their ships explode in splinters with every volley. When they could no longer see the enemy, they just winced with every volley. The enemy didn't just hit the sails and decks of the other ships, they tore into the body of the ship. Most sunk, the worst kind of death sentence out here in the cold waters. And none of them could do anything.

The black silhouettes soon re-appeared on the horizon, like giant black demons. They sailed past the six crippled ships and chased down the running MSAMs. For several hours more roars sounded. Everything went quiet eventually. No one on the ship cried in pain or moaned either, they'd all died, and everyone else just stared at the horizon where the ships had vanished.

The black silhouettes eventually appeared again and came for them. This was it. Their end. Sylode knew he'd never see his wife or daughter again.

"Quick, hoist the white!" he suddenly yelled.

"What?!" his quartermaster yelled.

"Quick! Hoist the white! I'm saving your lives! If you don't want to be fish food, hoist the damned white!"