With a vast area of about 1.5 million acres, it was the largest island of the Aragon Empire. The population reached 500,000 with the dozens of the surrounding islands included, and it possessed fertile farmland as well. It was known throughout the empire as the southern center for hundreds of years.
Moreover, the Arangis royal family had ruled over Crete Island prior to the founding of the Aragon Empire.
The Arangis family was recognized with full autonomy upon the founding of the empire, and they were granted the title of duke in return for being absorbed into the empire. They exerted their influence throughout the islands with Crete Island at its center, as well as the Southern Ira Peninsula.
Due to the long history of the Arangis family and their connections, the southern lords were more loyal to Duke Arangis than to the emperor.
The iron ore and gold produced in the Island of Crete worked as the greatest factor in allowing the Arangis Duchy to grasp the entirety of the South. Moreover, they possessed a powerful military force based on their large population and incredible wealth. It was hard to find a match for them throughout the entire empire, not to mention the South.
All in all, the Arangis Duchy had 30,000 regular troops, about 20 battle ships, and a hundred galley ships. Furthermore, the griffon corps of the duchy was not to be underestimated either. They had tamed sea griffons inhabiting the islands, and the group’s power could rival that of the empire’s imperial griffon army.
However, the biggest problem was the ferocious group of orcs that were allied with the Arangis Duchy. The island orcs were known to be the most brutal, cruel, and vicious group of pirates in the inland sea.
20 orc warriors were strong enough to handle hundreds of human infantries, and there were 3,000 such creatures on the islands. Of course, it was difficult to band them together, as they were spread out into about 10 different tribes, but it wasn’t impossible.
And today, the improbable had occurred.
The seven-foot tall, reddish man slowly passed through the encampment of orcs. Hundreds of orcs could be seen in all directions.
As he scattered his spirit, the orcs moved aside and made way for him, even though he was just a human. The orcs stared at the man with glistening eyes. All of them were dressed and armed differently.
An orc dressed to barely cover his private parts, holding a scruffy chain dangling with a few fist-sized iron balls, one with an iron spear and an armor made by stuffing leathers of various animals together, and another holding a humongous wooden rod over his shoulder.
Despite their unique, bizarre appearances, there was one common feature across all the orcs. The tattoos engraved on their faces and upper bodies could be categorized into three different shapes.
Tap, tap, tap.
Upon arriving at the round vacant lot in the middle of the encampment, the giant man sat down on a pedestal shaped like a three-headed dragon. He placed his arms on the armrest.
A heavy, metallic sound resounded from one of the armrests. Oddly enough, one of the man’s arms was a metal prosthetic.
Three orc warriors, each with different symbols on their armors and shoulders, stepped in front of the giant man.
“Toleo. What is going on? Why have you called all of us here?”
One of the orc warriors asked. He looked similar to a shark, with large black teeth haphazardly sticking out of his torn lips. The large man, Toleo Arangis, opened his thick lips.
“The ship with the young dragon is coming.”
The three leaders displayed surprise at the quiet words.
“Great! I was dying of boredom.”
The three orcs revealed their excitement, pounding their chests and stomping their feet.
Among them, an orc with a flaming red tattoo shaped like a palm, tilted his head in confusion as he saw Toleo’s serious expression.
“Keung? What’s wrong, Toleo? The little dragon you’ve been waiting for is finally coming, right?”
“Yeah, that is right. Even now, I want to grind up that snotty little face into pieces. However…”
Toleo grinded his teeth and continued while stroking his chin, not bothering to hide his fiery anger.
“Alan Pendragon. That bastard is not the kind of guy who would devise a reckless plan. Crossing the inland sea with two combat ships and three merchant ships? With hundreds of thousands of gold? He knows full well who the sea belongs to, so why?”
The orc with the red palm tattoo smacked his lips at Toleo’s words. However, one of the other orcs with shiny, yellow eyes slammed the floor with a steel spear held in his hand.
“Krrreeugh! What does that all matter? The little dragon is coming! Orcs go out and beat it up! We kill them all and take everything! It’s simple!”
His words were greeted with cheers.
Fight, fight more, kill everyone, and take the spoils. This was the way of life for all the orcs living on the islands. Orcs were born to slaughter and loot.
“Keuahaha! Are you scared, Toleo? Kekeut! Well, you did get your arm cut off…”
Elated by the cheers of his colleagues, the yellow-eyed orc taunted Toleo.
A dark-red spirit began to emerge from Toleo.
He was a monster born between a human and an orc.
Toleo Arangis was able to dominate the orcs of the islands because he possessed human intelligence and the spirit of the orcs.
“Close your smelly mouth, Tutu. Paku spoke the same nonsense as you, and look where that got him. He had his leg cut off, and Rakan died. And…”
Toleo emitted intense Orc Fear containing killing intent, which caused the three orcs to recoil. He slowly raised his prosthetic arm, then struck down onto the armrest.
Along with a loud roar, the bronze armrest was shattered into pieces.
“You think I’m scared? What do you think, shall we have a go to confirm it?”
Toleo’s eyes shone red with a glimmer of insanity.
All orcs had strong pride, regardless of their tribe. It was a great shame for an orc to avoid a fight, even more so if the opponent was a human.
But the orc named Tutu backed away with weary eyes and shrivelled shoulders.
Among the orcs of the islands, Toleo was known as the Orc Eater. His other nicknames were more prominent in the rest of the empire, but all of the island orcs knew him as Orc Eater.
His nickname wasn’t given to him because he consolidated the islands by cutting through numerous orcs. He was literally, an eater of orcs. Tutu had personally witnessed Toleo chewing the heart of an orc he killed.
“Kuruk! So what do you want to do, Toleo? It’s not only us here. 1,000 island orcs have gathered. Are you telling us to just go back after you called us here?”
Toleo clicked his tongue at the simple orc’s question. Orcs were truly an ignorant bunch, only knowing black and white.
“Tsk… I’m saying that we should make a plan instead of blindly rushing into them. We will follow the course of Winter Storm, Red Skull, and Zagielka. We should catch up in four days, probably near the Latuan Strait.”
The three orcs narrowed their eyes.
Even though they were simpletons, they knew what it meant to drive the enemy into the Latuan Strait. There was basically a single stable route from Leus to the southern port city of El Pasa due to the seasonal changes in the current and the wind.
And at this time, one had to pass through the narrow sea lanes of the Latuan Islands in order to reach the South. If you went around the islands, the schedule would be delayed by 10 to 15 days.
The Latuan Islands were composed of dozens of large and small islands, and with the fast currents around the islands, there were quite a few whirlpools in the area as well. Even the wind changed frequently, so it was a difficult area to navigate.
Therefore, only a few merchant ships were heading south at this time.
Naturally, a ship with an experienced captain and veteran sailors could pass through safely, but the story would change when they were being ‘pursued’.
“If the three pirates attack simultaneously at the entrance to the Latuan Strait, the 7th regiment’s combat ships will be occupied. With the whirlpools, it will be difficult to escort the merchant ships.”
“Keruk! Still, the 7th regiment bastards are quite tough… Do you think the weakling scarecrows can handle them?”
“Keku. It’s none of my business whether they can handle the 7th regiment or not. Their job is to separate the 7th regiment from the others. While the 7th regiment is occupied with the pirates, the little dragon’s ship will quickly pass through the strait. That’s when we will go out to greet them.”
“Good! Toleo has a good head!”
Three orcs raised their thumbs and expressed astonishment.
It was certainly a plausible plan.
“But what are you going to do if they have more troops on the merchant ship?”
“It does not matter. We have over a thousand on our side and… I have a hidden card up my sleeve.”
A cruel smile formed on the mouth of Toleo Arangis as he spoke in a quiet voice. As if on cue, a strange cry resonated from the far sides of the sky.
The island orcs turned their heads toward the source of the sound.
They were shocked.
The sky was colored black with a horde of sea griffons, creatures considered the greatest power of the Arangis family.
“The wind has gotten rough, my lord.”
Isla was calmly gazed at the reddening horizon, then turned his head. In the sea, the temperature dropped drastically with sunset and the winds became several times stronger than during the day.
“We can still see the sea birds, so you do not have to worry, Sir Isla.”
Viscount Moraine smiled as he observed the wandering sea birds flying near the merchant ship.
Raven nodded with understanding.
The presence of birds indicated that land was near. It was clear that they were near the designated primary destination, Miles Island.
Sure enough, someone shouted from high on the mast along with the sound of a horn.
“I see Miles! Distance of about 15 nautical miles!”
Shortly after the shouts of the barrelman resounded, the captain came towards Raven with quick steps.
“It will be sunset soon, Your Excellency, so I will speed up a bit.”
“Go for it. Anyways, what is Miles like?”
“It is not a good time for nautical navigation, so there should only be a few ships. It should be relatively safe. But the rats that were watching us are also probably hiding somewhere on the island.”
“Shall we utilize some men?”
Viscount Moraine spoke while gesturing towards the 7th regiment battle ship with his chin.
After a moment of thought, Raven nodded lightly.
“We should have some boats patrolling after we arrive. The rats will continue to be fooled if we pretend to be on guard.”
Viscount Moraine replied with a laugh. Then, he held up a lamp and repeatedly covered and uncovered the light with a dark cloth in a patterned manner.
Soon after, blinking lights responded from the distant 7th regiment ships.
“Right after we anchor, three boats will pretend to circle the island. If they go back and forth a few times with some torches, the rats should be cowering in their holes. Hahaha!”
“Very good. I will leave it to you, commander.”
“As you wish.”
Viscount Moraine laughed boisterously, and Raven replied with a smile of his own. Then he proceeded to walk into the cabin with Isla.
The merchant ship, Irene, was huge.
Its length reached 170 feet and had 60 crew members. The interior had five floors below deck, and the cabin for the captain and the members of the duchy consisted of two stories, located in the stern of the ship. Unbefitting a merchant ship, it was very fancy.
The insides had undergone renovations because a duke and his blood relatives were to board the ship.
“I greet the lord.”
Leon hurriedly bowed his head in a military salute. He was guarding the doors to a cabin that was carved with elaborate woodwork.
“Good work. Take a break.”
“N, not at all. I can keep guarding the ladies…”
Leon replied with an embarrassed expression, but Isla cut him off coldly.
“We will change shifts. If you have nothing else to do, go train.”
No one would be foolish enough to snoop around when his lord and Sir Isla were present anyways. Leon saluted silently, then hurried off into the hallway.
“Let us go in.”
Isla opened the door, and Raven entered the cabin. After spending such a long time, it now felt like his own house.
An immediate warmth covered him.
“Oh…! Your grace.”
An unknown smile crept up on Raven’s face at the warm, soft voice. It was in complete contrast from the atmosphere of the deck where the cold wind constantly ravaged.
Lindsay stood up with a shy smile, her cheeks dyed red in the warm sunset.