Authors: Will Wight
Of Sea and Shadow
The Elder Empire - First Sea
To Mom, who taught me to Read.
Copyright © 2014 Hidden Gnome Publishing
All rights reserved.
Cover Art by Patrick Foster and Melanie DeCarvahlo
Right now, you’re reading the first book in the Elder Empire series.
But it’s not the
Of Sea and Shadow
was written in parallel to
Of Shadow and Sea,
which takes place at the same time from a different perspective.
You can begin with either book, and you will find that they tell a complete story. Upon finishing
Of Sea and Shadow,
you will be fully prepared for its sequel:
Of Darkness and Dawn
But I wrote these books together, and their stories intertwine in a way that I think you’ll enjoy. I invite you, when you’re through with this book, to check out
Of Shadow and Sea.
Welcome to the Elder Empire.
Calder Marten stood on the deck of his ship, sailing into the wall of black clouds and rain. He clamped his hat down, holding it tight against the slashing grip of the storm.
“No more need for sails, Andel!” Calder shouted. “We go against the wind!”
Quartermaster Andel Petronus stood next to him, clutching his own hat. “What do you expect me to do about that, sir?”
“Nothing! I simply enjoy shouting!”
Calder gripped the wheel, Reading the Intent bound into the wood. His mind flowed through the bones of the ship, sensing every inch of
as though it were his own body.
He sent a simple, silent order to his Vessel. Behind him, the sails furled.
They looked more like a bat’s wings than ordinary canvas sheets;
’s sails were nothing more than stretches of membranous green skin that seemed to grow from the mast and yard. When they folded, the ship resembled a Nightwyrm bunching its wings to dive.
As the ship began to slow, Calder sent another mental command. After a moment they continued moving, jerking forward a few dozen yards at a stretch, as though an invisible giant tugged them along behind.
“Is my wife secure?”
The Quartermaster shook his head. “I’m afraid she’s dead, sir. A fever took her in the night.”
Calder spared a glance from the upcoming storm wall to catch a look at Andel’s face. Andel Petronus was a Heartlander, dark-skinned, and his white suit and hat stood out against the black wood of the deck.
The man, as usual, wore no expression. He pressed his hat down with one hand and clung to the railing with the other.
“One day you’re actually going to have bad news for me, Andel.”
“Then I’ll try to smile, so you know something’s wrong.” The man in white strode off across the deck, shouting orders. “Raise the thunderlights! Ready the cannons!”
Calder silently persuaded the ship to release its four captives: thunderlights, huge alchemical lanterns with copper spikes that unfolded almost as high as the mast. Thick ropes hauled the devices out of the hold through a hatch on deck, until a glass lantern big enough to hold a man rested on each of the four corners of the ship.
The lines tightened themselves, tying each thunderlight to the deck, but Andel had to release the copper spike by hand. As the first drops of rain began to slap the ship, Andel turned a crank on the lantern, slowly raising a copper limb into the sky.
An Imperial Navigator could sail the Aion Sea with a light crew thanks to the Captain’s control over the ship, but even Calder couldn’t handle everything. The storm was a dark slice of night in front of them now, flashing with lightning and rolling with wind-tossed waves. As the ship slammed down into a valley between two waves, sending spray rolling over the deck, Calder looked to his gunner.
Dalton Foster straddled one of the cannons, a hammer in one hand and an alchemist’s spray-bottle in the other. He was leaning out over the railing, his head practically stuck inside the cannon’s mouth.
“How’s it coming with those cannons, Foster?” Calder shouted.
Foster pulled his head out and turned. His wild hair and beard were soaked through until he looked like a cat that had escaped the bath. He tore one pair of spectacles off, letting them dangle from a cord around his neck, and lifted a second pair to his eyes.
“That depends, Captain! Do you want to
our quarry, or do you want a face full of shrapnel when the cannon explodes?”
“Must I choose, or can I have it all?”
Calder squinted up through the rain, scanning the ceiling of dark clouds and jagged light. The Kameira they hunted wasn’t particularly dangerous on its own, but it only flew during lightning-storms. They’d been tracking this one for weeks, and if it got away this time, he might decide to mutiny against himself. Those thunderlights had cost him a hundred goldmarks apiece.
Andel finally finished setting the lights, their copper poles stabbing into the storm.
Normally they would be risking their mast in a storm like this, but those copper poles were invested to attract lightning. Calder had Read them himself, checking and strengthening their Intent. He only hoped they would work soon, so they didn’t spend any more time in this weather than necessary.
Even as the thought occurred to him, a spear of lightning stabbed one of the copper spikes. There came a blinding flash from the starboard thunderlight, and then the liquid in the glass container ignited, glowing with the bright yellow of a cheery summer noon.
In essence, thunderlights worked the same as quicklamps: they were glass containers of alchemical formula that produced bright, steady light. But unlike quicklamps, which glowed for a few years and had to be replaced, these thunderlights would work as long as they had lightning to recharge them.
They were essential equipment for any Navigator that meant to hunt Stormwings, but Calder was missing something even more critical.
Namely, his prey. Normally a Stormwing would show itself on the storm wall, drifting over the tops of the choppy waves, but
was still charging through air thick with slashing rain. All with no sight of the Kameira.
Calder was about to call for more drastic measures, but then a song drifted over the detonations of thunder and the crash of waves against the hull. It sounded something like a pod of whales singing in chorus, somehow keeping harmony with the percussion of the storm.
“Port side, Andel!” Calder shouted as the Stormwing blasted through a wave.
He caught sight of it in flight. The Kameira soared over their ship, a line of pure white lightning with wings of shadow stretching off to the sides. It sang in triumph and exultation as it passed over, its volume piercing even through the storm.
The wheel fought him as he forced the ship to starboard, lining up with the Stormwing as it vanished behind a wave. A bright detonation marked the creature’s passage, sending up a towering spray.
Andel’s white suit was already soaked through, but he didn’t let that affect his dignity as he marched across the deck. “We have a shot, Mister Foster. Load the redshot.”
Foster clung to the cannon like a monkey to a tree branch, furiously working on something that Calder couldn’t make out through the rain. “What do you think I’m trying to do? Hmm? You think I’ve picked just this moment to polish the iron?”
The Quartermaster’s response remained as even as ever. “I don’t care what you’re polishing. I want a red ball in that cannon
The Stormwing passed in front, and by the creature’s own luminescence, Calder caught a better look. It resembled nothing so much as a manta ray the size of their ship, with a bright rippling luminescence rolling up the tip of its tail and all the way through its spine. It glided on the wind, lashing the peak of a wave with its tail. A bright flash of light exploded from the point of contact, sending up another plume of water.
Calder leaned forward, trying to angle his three-cornered hat so that it kept more water out of his eyes. It didn’t help. A second bolt of lightning lit up the thunderlight on the bow, giving them a better glimpse of the Stormwing as it vanished behind another wave.
He shoved the wheel to one side, sliding past the wave in the Kameira’s wake. “Where’s that shot, Foster?”
Foster shouted something that was swallowed up by the thunder, jamming a red ball into the cannon. He fumbled around on the end of the cannon as Calder tried to keep the ship as steady as possible, working as much through Reading and his Intent as through any manipulation of the wheel.
Finally, a flare of light came from the back of the cannon. The gunner yelled in triumph, hauling his weapon around to point at the storm-chopped horizon.
At that moment the Stormwing blasted up from the waves, exposing its belly to the ship, the core of its body rippling with luminescence. It howled a song of triumph.
Calder forced his Intent down into the wood.
But there was nothing the ship could do against the forces of nature.
began to slip down the other side of a wave.
When the cannon fired, its shot tore a strip of skin from the edge of the Kameira’s wing instead of taking the creature in the head.
Redshot, a special ammunition used by Kameira hunters, was designed by the Alchemist’s Guild to prevent the powerful creatures from striking back when injured or dying. Simple tranquilizers had been used since time immemorial, but Stormwings were among those Kameira breeds that managed to escape as soon as they felt the pain of the shot. They would simply dive beneath the waves to flee from the pain.
With that in mind, a round of redshot was actually a hollow ball containing an alchemical paralytic, tranquilizer, and hallucinogen. The compound was designed to work in concert, confusing and subduing the Stormwing before putting it to sleep.
In its confusion, the creature would settle down and float on the surface of the waves to get its bearings. The paralytic meant it couldn’t get far, and as it rested, the tranquilizer would have its time to set in. Calder and his crew would catch the Kameira in their invested steel nets, hauling it back to port to sell fresh.
But if the shot wasn’t a direct hit, the whole plan died a fiery death. Now they had a confused, pain-enraged,
monster striking at them with a tail that caused explosions. And they had to fight it in the middle of a storm.
If they made it back to port, drinks were on Foster.
The Stormwing screamed, lashing its tail at the ship. The deck exploded in a blinding flash of light, sending splinters, torn rope, and one of the spare cannons hurtling into the storm. Calder felt the broken wood like a physical pain, and through the smoking hole he could see a slice of his hold.
He couldn’t help worrying about his wife—she was supposed to be in a different part of the ship, but what if fate was unkind, and she had found herself impaled on a piece of debris? Then again, he was relieved that the Stormwing’s strike hadn’t shattered any of the thunderlights. They had enough to worry about without adding an alchemically fueled fire on top of everything else.
Foster clung to the back of his cannon, trying to swing it around for a clear shot as the Stormwing banked around for another pass, screaming as it thrashed its deadly tail in the air. Andel hurried over to the hole in the deck, kneeling and gazing into the hold as though he could fix it in the middle of the storm.
“Look what it’s doing to my ship!” Andel shouted.
As he watched the Stormwing come back around, Calder realized that he was wasting his time. If they kept at it, they would be flopping around until they got in a lucky shot or the Kameira tore them apart.
He abandoned the wheel, hopping down to stand beside Andel. He unbuttoned his sleeve, rolling it up to the elbow.