A Standalone Adventure. Release Date: December 6, 2022
To the north, the ice
To the south, the enemy
In the middle, her Republic…
Coral Amherst is the middle child of a wealthy family, with fingers throughout the politics and laws of the magical Dalebloods and the Republic they lead. Skill and connections alike have propelled her to the highest ranks of the Republic’s Navy.
Now, duty inexorably drags her into a mission to learn the fate of a long-lost magical city, once home to many of the people the Dalebloods rule. Storms of dark magic drove the Seablood from their ancient city and to the shores of the Republic—and those same storms now assail the Republic itself!
An ancient threat rises beyond the ice of the northern waters and Coral Amherst will need every scrap of courage, honor, and magic she commands if she is to save the Republic!
There was something very, very wrong with the storm to the north.
“Take a look, Jimmy,” Captain Coral Amherst ordered her executive officer, gesturing toward the black clouds gathering on the horizon. The raven-haired officer stood a solid ten centimeters taller than Commander Ardan Rompa, her second-in-command—who, like every executive officer in the Navy of the Republic of the Dales, enjoyed the ancient traditional nickname of “Jimmy.”
Unlike his Captain, Rompa wore a heavy multi-layered greatcoat over his black-and-white uniform. It shrouded his broad-shouldered form into near-anonymity but didn’t hide the binoculars in his hands as he followed her pointing hand.
Coral wore the same sharply cut uniform, but she didn’t need the Navy-issue greatcoat with its whaleskin outer layer to protect against the cold. The magic in her blood shielded her against the subfreezing temperature, just as it allowed her to inspect the storm—still ten kilometers distant, she judged—without the binoculars.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it, Skipper,” Rompa finally said. “First glance, I was thinking blizzard, but…”
She nodded grimly. “You saw the ice.”
It wasn’t a question.
“There’s no ice south of the storm,” her Jimmy noted. “But what we can see of the storm has ice floes everywhere.”
“It’s flash-freezing the ocean,” Coral told him softly. “And it’s heading our way. Fast. We need to divert and find cover.”
Coral had a great deal of faith in the power of her ancestral magic—but only a third of her crew were Dalebloods like her. The rest were Seabloods like her executive officer—and even heaters and greatcoats wouldn’t protect them against a storm that was turning saltwater to ice in seconds.
“Yes, sir,” Rompa confirmed. He eyed her sideways, the usual slight disconcert Seabloods showed at blatant use of Daleblood powers. Many Dalebloods chose not to draw attention to their gifts, allowing the Seabloods who made up roughly sixty percent of the Dales’ people to pretend they didn’t live with magic every day.
Coral didn’t see the damn point.
“Our mission, Skipper?” he asked after a second as they both continued to observe the strange storm.
“There was nothing critical about Songwriter’s patrol,” she reminded him. “We were sweeping the north coast to see if the Stelforma were trying to sneak anything past us. We can lose a few days, even a week, to avoiding a storm—an ordinary storm, let alone whatever the fuck this is.”
Songwriter was a battleship of the line, fifteen thousand tons of steel and corn oil–fired engines driven by a trio of paddlewheels. Even if the Stelforma—the residents of the island archipelago to the south of the Dales that they weren’t quite at war with—had sent something north, nothing with the range to be on the far side of the Dales could stand up to her.
Coral shook her head and glared at the storm.
“Find Rocchi,” she ordered. “Wake him up if you have to. Then meet me in the charts room. None of the three of us know these waters well enough to find safe harbor without a map.
“And I’m not losing a Republic capital ship because I refused to respect the ocean.”
Songwriter was a hundred and thirty meters long, making her one of the largest ships Coral was aware of. Compared to the cruisers of the Dales Navy, she was an immense beast—but she still had only so much space, especially after protecting the corn-oil tanks and the ammunition for her guns.
The armored citadel around and between her two steering wheels wasn’t as well protected as the turrets or the main water line, but the necessity of protecting the paddlewheels created a shielded central core for the ship’s command functions.
Including the charts room, where Coral had just enough time to open the oil feeds and bring up the lights before her two subordinates arrived. From the rumpled state of his uniform, she guessed that Lieutenant Ekene Rocchi had been sleeping when the Jimmy had found him.
The navigator had been the previous night’s officer of the watch, so that was reasonable. She supposed.
“Skipper,” he saluted crisply, his skin only slightly paler than the black of his uniform in the flickering light of the oil lamps built into Songwriter’s walls. “The Jimmy filled me in. We need a sheltered harbor?”
“Preferably within about twelve hours’ sailing, Lieutenant,” she told him. “I’m willing to bring Songwriter up to full power to get out of the way of that storm, but I have my suspicions about our ability to outrun it.”
Rocchi was already opening the cabinets on the wall with the key hung around his neck. There were only four copies of that key—three were in the room right now, and the last was in an emergency safe in Coral’s office.
Even from the light table, Coral couldn’t make out the labels Rocchi was flipping through. The dim light in the room was no impediment to her or the navigator, though she knew that Rompa would have issues without the table’s covered oil lamps.
The Daleblood navigator pulled a particular chart out with a satisfied noise and crossed to the table. Unrolling it, he passed one end to Coral—who immediately passed it over to Rompa and stepped around to review the map.
Even with the tubes built to pull the smoke out from the lamps under the table and in the wall, there was still a faint smell of burning from them. But the table still highlighted the maps clearly—a necessity, as the chart room was completely enclosed by the citadel’s armor.
“The big chart isn’t much use for this,” Rocchi noted. “I know, without even looking, that we’re over three hundred klicks from anywhere with an actual port.
“I’d like to hope that this storm isn’t going far enough south to hit anywhere like that,” Coral told him. Ten hours at Songwriter’s top speed would get them three hundred kilometers—at the cost of fuel that would normally give them a range of six hundred kilometers at their usual twenty-kilometer-an-hour cruising speed.
Three hundred klicks straight south might get them away from the storm. It wasn’t like the storm was chasing them. It just felt…wrong.
“There’s something to that storm,” Rompa murmured, echoing her thoughts. “A malignance I don’t normally feel with weather.”
“There’s dark magic to that thing,” she replied. “I feel it too. I’m not convinced it won’t chase us.”
While the two senior officers were voicing their misgivings, Rocchi was focusing on his work, and he stabbed a finger down, his skin a sharp contrast against the light table.
“Here. Keller’s Fjord,” he told them. “Charts say it’s deep enough and long enough to pull Songwriter into the shelter of the bay. We may still get iced in.”
“We will get iced in,” Coral replied. “But we can get the ship out of ice once the storm has passed. I’m not sure I want to discover how this ship will handle being hit by chunks of ice delivered by state-nine wind and wave.”
“State nine?” the navigator asked, blanching and glancing at Rompa for confirmation.
“I have to do math for that,” the XO said bluntly. “But I’m guessing yeah. I didn’t take angles and metrics, but I’d guess there were at least fifteen-meter-tall waves in that mess.”
Coral, who didn’t need to take angles and metrics to judge the height at that distance, smiled thinly.
“I saw ice floes twenty meters across being carried by waves as tall as they were long,” she told her officers. “We are not letting that catch Songwriter. Keller’s Fjord it is—pass the course to the helm as soon as you can, Lieutenant.”
“Is there anything there?” Rompa asked, peering at the map. “A sheltered harbor, even this far north…”
“Keller’s Landing,” Rocchi told him. “One of the Seablood Landings. Too distant for much active Republic control. I’d have to check the catalog to see what we know.”
The Seablood Landings were the scattered sites where the lost sheep of the Great Fleet had reached shore and settled. Most of the Great Fleet had made it to the Dales and joined with the Dalebloods there, but at least a hundred ships had ended up landing in effectively random locales across the northern end of the continent.
The Republic had, so far as they knew, found them all—but Keller’s Landing was a thousand kilometers by land, twelve hundred by sea, from any major Republic city or port. They couldn’t truly govern that distant a settlement, even if the Republic proclaimed ownership of all of the Landings.
“The catalog” was the listing of all territories and settlements claimed by the Republic of the Dales. It wouldn’t have a lot of information on a village of a few thousand souls this far out, but it would have some.
And no one aboard Songwriter likely knew more, so it would have to do.
“Check the catalog once you’ve passed the course to the helm,” Coral ordered. “Full power is authorized. We’re two hundred–plus klicks west from Keller’s Fjord, and that storm is coming south fast.
“Let’s not get caught.”