The skies above the seas were rather cloudy.
Moriad stood on the undulating deck and saw the sails appearing on the horizon through his telescope. He felt a rush of excitement at finally having seen Seaking.
It had been two long months of disappointment after disappointment for Moriad and Ironclad. His searches were fruitless. Even more frustrating was that he'd been unable to complete Claude's mission. Seaking had disembarked two Shiksan corps.
It all happened after Ironclad suddenly attacked the Canasian port of Northbay. It was also one of the most prosperous bays and largest coastal storage areas in Eastern Freia. Countless ships from the south docked there. The three Canasian cities near it developed into prosperous trade cities very quickly once it was opened. Nasri and Canas' new naval forces were also docked there.
Since Shiks lost the navy they rented, Nasri and Canas no longer had their own. Fortunately, Shiks paid out a sum to make up for the loss, which they subsequently used for forming new fleets. After three long years, they finally had around 20 warships.
Moriad attacked Northbay right at that time. Before Ironclad, the unprepared sail warships were completely wiped out. Eleven of the new warships burnt and sunk before countless eyes while 16 others were captured by Ironclad. There were also 48 transport ships belonging to Canas and Nasri that were taken by Ironclad as spoils. In broad daylight, Ironclad left Northbay unabated with all their captured ships and warships.
The successful attack caused Ironclad's reputation to soar overnight. Almost everyone knew about the monstrous ships that had cannons that made rumbling sounds as they fired. More importantly, they sailed much faster than sail ships could. From then on, Ironclad was no longer a secret. Wherever they showed up would become no-go zones for Shiks, Nasri and Canas.
However, Moriad regretted his mistake of exposing Ironclad and causing Seaking to not dare enter the eastern waters at all. He should've ambushed Seaking and exterminated the two corps of reinforcements first. Attacking Northbay only served to startle the snake and caused them to change course to let the troops on shore at Port Kalja in Nasri.
Nasri had two large ports to its north and four smaller ports. Seaking usually docked at Port Camiras where the facilities were among the best. The original plan was for the two corps of reinforcements to be sent there. But after seven days of laying in ambush along that route, Moriad got word that Seaking docked at Port Kalja instead. It was a small port that developed from a fishing town located roughly 150 kilometres from Port Camiras.
Moriad hurriedly sailed to Port Kalja, only to realise that Seaking was nowhere to be found. The two Shiksan corps also left the small port town, making Ironclad's trip a waste of time. Soon, Moriad realised that their movements in the eastern waters were being watched. The passing of trading or fishing ships from other nations would always mark wherever Ironclad was a noteworthy spot.
Under such circumstances, Ironclad didn't have a chance to track Seaking down. While the region also had informants in those areas, they weren't able to get into contact with the higher-ranking officials. Most of the information they sent came from rumours and gossip. Ironclad had never had success in finding Seaking through the information they provided.
Thankfully, reports finally came from the informants that Seaking had been transporting some military gear to Nasri. However, the date they would depart was still unclear. To prevent entering the enemy's sights again, Moriad settled on a plan.
He used the sail warships he captured to form a large fleet and put steam engines on their decks, causing them to generate lots of black smoke. He had them sail in broad daylight towards Port Floric. The other 20 plus ironclad warships, on the other hand, switched to using sails and headed to the outer seas at a really slow speed before switching to their steam engines and sailing into Nasrian waters.
One of Nasri's neighbours, the Kingdom of Mambamark, had an island called Saint Lusk. It wasn't that large, having only a large mountain and a small fishing village. It was also covered in oil palm. In local folklore, the island was the physical manifestation of the ancient hero, Lusk, who managed to slay a gigantic sea monster. After his energy was expended, he transformed into the island to protect the fishing folk and sailors in these waters.
Ever since then, the area came to be known as the Saint Lusk Region. Nasri and Mambamark often had disputes about who that region belonged to, but given Nasri's might, Mambamark had no choice but to endure and concede the area to them with the condition of ensuring the safety and fishing rights of the coastal fishermen.
Now, the 20 plus ironclad warships managed to sneak to the rear of Saint Lusk. They even cut off many palm trees to cover their ships so that passing ships wouldn't see them. Seaking finally came after ten more days.
"There are 117 sail warships, 92 among which are light-class patrol ships. There are 20 class-two three-masted ships and five class-one five-masted warships. The ships are divided into five flotillas sailing in a cross formation. There are another 200 plus transport ships."
The lookouts on the ships quickly reported what they saw. According to an estimate of the distance, Seaking's escort would take another hour or so to reach the Saint Lusk Region. Given the northeastern winds, Seaking was partly sailing against the wind and couldn't speed up much.
"All hands, get ready to enter your battle stations. When Seaking passes through this region, I want to storm out at them and catch them off guard," Moriad ordered fiercely. As long as he could exterminate Seaking, there was no way for Shiks to get back up. They would no longer be able to count on their fleet to sail across the eastern waters of Freia.
There wasn't much of an element of surprise, however. The thunderous rumbling of the steam engines had long attracted the attention of Seaking. Three light-class patrol ships left their fleet and sailed towards the islands to see what was going on. The smoke coming from the other side of the island might've made those in Seaking think that a fire had broken out on the island. It didn't occur to them that Ironclad was there.
Seaking's commander wasn't a fool and had long been briefed about Ironclad. He was well aware that they were no match for them. The sudden attack of Northbay happened right under their noses, and they weren't able to do anything about it as the new navies of Nasri and Canas were captured or wiped out.
How to deal with ironclad warships had become a common question the navies of the various Freian nations began to consider, Seaking included. However, the ocean was so vast. If they couldn't beat them, they could simply avoid them. Had it not been for the captured ships sailing towards Port Floric with steam engines, Seaking wouldn't have risked themselves to sail in Nasrian waters to escort the transport ships.
But the moment Seaking found out that the black smoke from behind the island came from ironclad warships, they knew that they had fallen for it. They could only fight to the death now. The commander immediately ordered the transport ships to sail along coasts or escape as soon as possible while Seaking's warships were to sail and surround the ironclad warships and use mortars and napalm rounds before using their cannons at close range. There was no point in using cannons against the ironclad warships from far anyway.
There was another way the ironclad warships could be dealt with: having two ships surround its flanks to board and swarm it with sheer numbers. Even if the victory was a pyrrhic one, at least they could capture an ironclad warship to reverse engineer and build their own. With more than a hundred sail warships fighting only 20 ironclad warships, the battle could go either way.
The two fleets spewing flames and metal thus clashed. Initially, Seaking suffered heavy losses, with 13 of their class-three light cruisers being pelted by white phosphorus and being set alight. However, their larger numbers allowed them to continue swarming forwards and separate the five frontmost ironclad warships from the rest of their feet, successfully encircling them. The three burning class-three light cruisers rammed at the ironclad warships in an attempt to take them down alongside themselves.
Four to five ironclad warships from the destroyers from the rear increased their speed as they fired and rammed at the ships that surrounded their comrades in an attempt to rescue them, only to end up surrounded themselves and being pelted by napalm and mortars from all directions. Flashes and black smoke started to appear on the ironclad warships, causing great damage to the sailors on deck.
Seaking wasn't doing much better. There were so many explosions and so much smoke that they couldn't get a clear grasp on the situation any longer. Pained cries for help rang out all over the place, with sailors jumping into the flaming seas with floats from time to time.
After nearly an hour, Seaking's commander got two reports, one good and one bad. The good news was the top of two ironclad warships had fallen under the boarding party's control. But the bad news was the inner cabins of those ships were metal as well. The remaining crew of those ships had retreated into their cabins in defence. There was no way to open the thick metal doors at the moment, so they couldn't properly take over the ships.
The bad news was Seaking had lost three flotillas already. The ones burning were the three flotillas located to their front left. Most of their crew were busy putting the fires out. The smoke was so thick that continued battle was no longer possible. They couldn't chase down the rest of the enemy's warship either.
The remaining enemy warships had learned their lesson and no longer tangled with the burning ships. Instead, they used their speed to cruise about from a distance to bombard the sail ships with their cannons.
The commander of Seaking was faced with a painful choice. He could either give up on the warships still in battle and retreat to retain most of the transport fleet and the two flotillas, or fight to the bitter end. Even if he won, he would've expended the whole fleet only to capture a few ironclads. It would still be a worthwhile fight even if he lost the whole fleet, however.
The issue was he didn't even have a good grasp on the current state of the battle with all the smoke. Were most of the enemy ships clustered together, with only a few firing at them from a distance? If that was the case, the near 50 ships from the two remaining flotillas had a good chance of obtaining victory.
But before the commander even managed to make his decision, 12 ironclad warships burst out of the curtain of smoke towards them at breakneck speed. Flames could be seen coming from their masts, decks and bridge; a testament to the damage they had suffered. But as they were covered in metal, those were negligible damages. They were still combat capable.
Seaking no longer had the luxury to escape. But upon first contact, they felt something was odd. The 12 ironclad warships didn't charge into their midst, and instead used their speed to make a large turn to maintain a distance of near 800 metres away from Seaking's ship, slowly circling them as they fired with their cannons nonstop.
Sail ship after sail ship was set alight, especially their gigantic masts that looked like burning torches. They were now immobilised targets floating at sea. The officers hurriedly lowered their wooden lifeboats, and the sailors that couldn't get any hugged planks or ring floats and jumped into the sea like their lives depended on it. Quite a few explosions triggered from gunpowder being set alight could already be heard.
They couldn't fight back at all. The moment they were certain they couldn't keep up with the ironclad warships' speed, the class-three light cruisers immediately left the chaotic zone. Soon, the remaining 40 plus warships fell into chaos and confusion. Some were still pursuing from the front while others ignored all orders and tried to escape.
Seaking's commander had no choice but to order a full retreat so that the remaining warships could return to Shiks. Once the flag signal for a fortunate voyage was sent, the other ships weathered the joint attack of four ironclad warships for an hour before finally being sunk. The remaining eight ironclad warships pursued the escaping ships for up to three hours, managing to capture a large number of transport ships. They only ended their pursuit as the skies turned dark.
The naval battle at Saint Lusk was the first large-scale naval battle with ironclad warships in the world of Faslan. It marked a new beginning for the first time in the past millennium for naval battles. Traditional cannon volleys, boarding and napalm were phased out and new naval tactics had started to be developed.
What was without question was old naval traditions were rendered completely obsolete with Ironclad's appearance. The Shiksan Seaking could be considered among the most elite naval forces in Freia, yet they had been beaten horribly by a mere 20 ironclad warships despite having 170 ships of their own. Less than a flotilla managed to escape and return to the kingdom.
Soon, the Freian nations began their frantic foray into ironclad-warship technology. The simpler ones merely coated their sail ships with a sheet of iron or bronze armour, while more complicated designs counted on buying various steam and hot-air engines from the region to be modified for use on ships. The most common tactic was to send informants to infiltrate the region to get the designs for the ships, trains and new weapons themselves.
To Ironclad, the battle at Saint Lusk was hard fought, especially with them losing two-thirds of their deck crew. All of the ships were damaged to some degree. The mortars and napalm the Shiksans used weren't completely useless after all. The two ships that were almost captured were the most badly damaged. All of the new cannons on deck were rendered useless and severe cracks were present on the hulls from the frequent ramming. The ships were nothing more than husks that still managed to sail thanks to their steam engines still being intact.
Moriad also suffered some injuries, having almost been blasted into the air by a mortar. Fortunately, his adjutant pinned him to the ground to save him, allowing him to survive with a broken right arm and a burnt left leg. Either way, the results of the battle were highly favourable. They managed to destroy more than 70 Shiksan warships, forced 21 to surrender and captured near a hundred transport ships with all sorts of resources.
After the battle, Ironclad rescued another four thousand Shiksan sailors and crewmen. With Ironclad having used up most of their coal, Moriad had no choice but to order them to sail to Saint Lusk to fell some palm trees on the island to be made into fuel so they could sail back to Port Floric with their spoils and captives.