"The army too confident in its victory, will lose the hardest."

"Cape Romani. Also, the end of the Tedanini mountains. We can't hug the coast anymore. The reed ahead forces us to head out to sea. Once we're past the cape, it' just another three days to Einiba, then three more to Hidegold Bay.

"Unfortunately House Norton is waiting for us on the waters just off the cape. It seems they plan to stop us here or sink trying. We should thank Captain Bluden for risking his ship to bring us this intel. If he hadn't charged after the detachment after their last attack, we'd be sailing into their ambush blindly.

"He says the Nortons have deployed sixteen massive ships at least double our biggest Daw, but not as big as our Sabnim-class. They also have a hundred Daws and forty Sams on patrol. The twelve ships that've been harassing us are keeping an eye on our flank, sandwiching us to between them and the reef."

Lord Admiral, Viscount Penelope, tapped the map with his wooden pointer as he explained. His cabin on board the fleet's flagship was packed with the fleet's commodores and rear-admirals. The atmosphere was tense.

Penelope couldn't help but sigh. How many times already had he seen these faces? How many times had these commanders been ferried over by row-boat to his ship to sit in on the latest casualty report? When they first got together to get the announcement about this trip, they almost literally fought one another for a spot on the escort fleet. They only calmed down when they heard they were all going. Now they didn't even have the energy to frown or get angry when they heard how many ships were sunk and how many had died in the latest attack.

Then again, it would have been more surprising if they weren't like this now. They'd suffered four attacks and four pursuits; they'd lost 200 ships as a result. Most were rammers and Saws, but the enemy only had fourteen ships and they couldn't even scratch them. They couldn't even console themselves that their losses were suffered chasing off the enemy. The Nortons only left once they ran out of munitions, not because they were chased off.

Everyone's noses had been red with pride when the two flotillas met up, the two sides betting and having fights over who would get the most kills and the most glory, and laughing at the third and fourth flotillas' incompetence. They were all technically part of the same fleet, but each flotilla was backed by a different guild and crewed mainly by people from that guild, so competition was fierce and there was very little love lost between the four flotillas.

Twinhead Dragon backed the first flotilla, the second and third belonged to Chikdor, and the fourth was shared between the other five, now four, guilds.

While the first three were quite competitive against one another, it was all mostly just spirited banter and competition, but they all looked down on the fourth. It was the bastard child no one liked. Despite that, while it was in the worst shape of the three still standing, it still stood, whilst the third didn't exist anymore, so everyone mocked and insulted it ruthlessly. If the fourth could cause some damage to the Nortons, then the first and second could surely wipe them out completely.

The fourth had warned that the Nortons had very powerful ranged attacks, but because it was the fourth, the first and second didn't take it seriously. And even if what they said was true, the enemy only had a few left, what could they do against hundreds of ships all charging at them at once?

Their tune had changed now, however. These meeting were usually very boisterous, and it was hard to get everyone to settle down so the meeting could start, but now no one spoke. Everyone just sat quietly and waited for their admiral to start. When they first came together back in Chikdor's domain they didn't really do much planning. They just boasted about how many kills they'd get and betted on how quickly they'd take Silowas. Now, they sat quietly and waited to be told the latest bad news.

The first attack had shown them the enemy could be thorny, but they had still been very confident, especially when their response chased the attackers away, even if the losses were quite a bit more than expected. The subsequent attacks, however, shook them completely. They'd sailed for almost a month and had been attacked four times, but had not inflicted a single casualty on their enemy. They hadn't even caused a single gold Forde's damage to the ships' paint. They'd tried to take the initiative by setting a number of traps which they hoped the enemy commander would take in his arrogance and lack of understanding, but he didn't take the bait.

They'd thought they could swarm the Nortons with their rammers, but the enemy quickly identified and exploited the small ships' weakness. In order to maximise their boarding contingent, the ships didn't have any ranged weaponry or archers, so the Norton ships would just sit and wait for them to get close then shower them with volley after volley of small pellets pact like grapes into their cannons' barrels.

A single full broadside from one of those ships could make several rammers just disintegrate. It was like blowing a dandelion, everything was there the one moment, and gone the next. When the third attack came, the rammers refused to sail at all. Even the punishment for insubordination wasn't as bad as the fate of those that sailed against the Nortons' black ships.

And this came from men who crewed rammers. They were already the bravest in the fleet. If even they refused to face the enemy, how bad would it be if the rest of the fleet was to sail against the enemy once or twice? Rather than spend their time before each battle sharpening their swords and polishing their armor, the men on board the ships spent their time checking that they had enough rations to spend several days floating at sea, that the straps on either armor would come loose quickly enough so they wouldn't be dragged won and drown, and making sure which direction the coast was. They weren't men preparing for battle, but men preparing to abandon ship!

Once his briefing was finished, Penelope waited for his captains and rear-admirals to give their input, but even several minutes later they had yet to show even the tiniest hint of getting involved.

"Am I shouting at corpses?!" he barked, slamming his pointer into pieces on the desk, "Did someone cut off your balls last night? Or did they take your tongue instead? If you don't get your act together, I'll kill you myself and use your corpse as ammunition when we face Northsea! Are you captains and admirals of Invincible or pirates?"

His rage finally lit the last embers of pride left in the men's hearts. Their faces slowly regained color, and they stood up, hands on their hearts.

"If they want to kill us, we'll drag them down with us! No, we'll send them on their way alone!"

"I'll take the vanguard! I want the first kill!"

"I will sink five ships before I let mine drink water!"

"Let us fight, Admiral! We will not let those bastards sail on our waters any longer! Cannons? What cannons? They are no match for our courage!"

The cheers suddenly stopped, leaving the man who spoke last flailing his arm in the air in the silent room awkwardly. The mention of the enemy's cannon was like a bucket of cold water. It immediately sobered up everyone drunk on their own pride.

The man lowered his arms, coughed once and walked over to Penelope with a warm smile. THe captains wanted to ridicule him for bringing up their bane, but they couldn't. He was Chikdor's young master, Serihanem, and currently the read-admiral in command of Chikdor's fleet.

"Young Master, do you have any basis for your claims?" one captain asked, having finally scrounged up the courage.

"Yes. You will find out soon enough. They attacked us several times now. In total they've sunk 129 Swifts, 86 Saws, 13 Sams, and 15 Daws. See the pattern? They're sinking mostly small ships. Yes, part of it is because we've sent mostly small ships at them, but the bigger ships we did send out lost a much smaller proportion than the small ones, and many returned with damage from the engagements. This means they can take a few hits and still keep going.

"We lost seven Daws in the first attack, two of which sank because they caught fire, not because they were blown apart by cannon fire. We sent out a lot more Daws in the later attacks and they were only sunk after taking a heavy beating.

"Wingsoar, one of my ships, took several hours of beating and is still afloat. I also noticed something when I inspect the damage on some of the ships. One shot pierced through the ship's hull near the supply deck. It shot through the hull and into our stash of flour. It burned's heat scorched some of the flour, but besides that and the hole in the hull it did no damage.

"We tried something out when we sent Wingsoar after them after that last attack. We packed our stores against the hull to absorb more of the shock. As you know, Wingsoar made it out. We counted forty cannonballs when we checked the ship after it returned."

The meeting room erupted into cheers. If Serihanem wasn't lying, they now had an effective way to fight back. If they packed their supplies, especially their sacks of grain and flour against their hulls, they could ignore the fire and just charge right at the enemy ships. They would still suffer heavy casualties and lose many ships, but this gave them a much better chance. Seeing the atmosphere finally becoming rowdy again Penelope smiled and thanked the young master sincerely.

"House Norton won't think of this so they won't expect us to last this long or do what we're going to do. We now have a way to blast them to smithereens!"

Serihanem bowed at everyone's thanks.

"The Nortons are expecting a big fight, what will we do?" asked Penelope.

"Give it to them! Smash them to bits! Victory to Invincible!" roared the rest of the room.

Penelope nodded and tapped on the map with a splinter of his wooden pointer.

"They're planning to stop or sink our whole fleet in this fight. But we won't let that happen. We have three hundred ships, and all four our Sabnims. Chikdor has another 100 ships. We outnumber them and now have a counter for their cannons. We'll send them to the bottom of the sea! Victory is ours!"