Saturday, May 26, 2018

Enjoy the Prologue to The Failure of the Saeire Insu!


Notes: This has been a very challenging novel to write. Practically every phase of it--from plot to point of view, from tone and pace to aligning the dates of the happenings on it to the rest of the story arc--has presented me with one hurdle after another.

I'm currently writing chapter twenty. I think there will be at least ten more chapters before I reach the end. No telling when it'll be released; but if I had to guess, it would be late next year or early 2020. This will be the novel immediately preceding Book Three, which I'm concurrently writing.

I've hesitated posting chapters here because of the challenges. But after reading it through the past few weeks, I think I can begin posting a few chapters. If there are continuing problems, they have been halved from what they were originally. That's good enough for me.

If you find grammar or other issues, do your best to ignore them.

If you haven't read the rest of the series, don't sweat it too much. This is the story about one of the Saeire Insu's greatest warships, one named Failure, and the extraordinary mission it was sent on to save secrets from getting back to Aquanicentra and Imperial High Command, ones that could destroy the Revolution.

Enjoy!

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Prologue
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Imperial Warship Vesghau
Port of Origin: Buremhiber, Emperor’s Saturnius
Current Position: 2.875E by 1.000S, Senecum Ocean
Crew: 1,847 Tracluse, 42 Mephs, 103 food slaves
Bearing: N × NW

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

   “I’m not sure, sir,” the lieutenant answered, wheeling about to salute the short, portly man marching up behind him. “I spied … movement. On the water—two misons ahead just starboard. But it … disappeared. The fog …”

   “Scope,” ordered the captain, who gruffly pushed past him. The lieutenant handed his scope over as the crew hurried to battle stations in the fog-muted light.

   “Could it be, sir? Could it be … the Angels? … of the Coronados, sir?” a second lieutenant asked, who had come up behind the captain with his own scope.

   It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that infernal question, and wasn’t going to listen to it again.

   “Ask again, sailor, and you’re demon food,” grumbled the captain without looking away from the scope.

   “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” said the lieutenant, who sounded more terrified of these blasted “Angels” than the demons he might be thrown to.

   Not proper, that. Tracluse did not succumb to fear. Not so easily, at least. Tracluse wanted nothing more than to die for their emperor in battle.

   So what did it say that nearly two thousand of them were fearful of these “Angels”?

   The topdeck rumbled beneath their feet as cannons were readied. The grand mainsails were being hurriedly hoisted, the crew on the masts glancing nervously out over the water. The broadsword thrust down through a flaming ring pronounced absolute ownership of these seas, as it had now for many years. It clashed ridiculously with the looks on their faces.

   This wasn’t the first time battle stations had been called for what turned out to be nothing. Word had spread: “The Angels of the Coronados” were sinking Imperial warships in both eastern and central Senecum and Verisimilius Oceans. “The Angels of the Coronados” became known because of their calling cards—thin strips of odd parchment that didn’t suffer waterlogging and were printed in letter-perfect Gyssian—which were always found in the scattered debris of sunken Imperial warships.

   One of these “Angels” brought particular terror to the hearts of Imperials: the unholy Angel ship with a name no captain or crew with a shred of honor or dignity would set foot on: Failure.

   The Angels of the Coronados not only bragged about who they were, but also which vessel of theirs was responsible for sinking an Imperial warship. The unsinkable calling card printed with the Failure’s name was seemingly everywhere in north-central Senecum waters, and outnumbered the other Angel ships, the names of which many of the crew repeated breathlessly when the ship sailed over their calling cards—Espriella, Exeter, Salebear’s Savior, Otoro Queril, Ice Warrior, August’s Revenge. More were becoming known every day.

   The Failure had left its calling card so often that legends among the crew had blown it out of all reasonable proportion.

   “It isn’t a vessel,” he heard crew whisper weeks ago. “No one has really even seen an Angel—except for the Failure, which shows itself just before it attacks! That’s what survivors report—the few of them who make it to land! It’s a phantom, a ghost! It can’t be touched!”

   That was enough. He had ten grunts lashed until the flesh on their back hung in grisly strips, demoted ten officers, and, to make his point clear, threw ten more into the food slave holds. Instead of closing the doors, he forced the crew to watch and listen as the Lord Emperor’s demons tore their doomed shipmates to pieces.

   But the talk didn’t stop. The whispers doubled in insidiousness with their halved volume.

   Even his officers whispered.

   “Release the demons!” he bellowed.

   “Yes, sir!”

   Might as well take some precautions. The nightwatch wouldn’t have woken him for just anything, no matter how jittery they were. He had made gruesome examples of those who did. They knew better now—didn’t they?

   “Unshutter the cannons, sir?” asked the second lieutenant.

   He didn’t turn to look at him, but brought the scope back up, taking one more long, slow sweep around. “Where do we stand down there?”

   “Starboard toppers ready. Others within the minute.”

   “Come about thirty port and fire the toppers!”

   It wasn’t an order he’d normally give, but damnit, enough was enough!

   The men shouted with joy, which was at least marginally better than fear. They knew there was nothing to shoot at. They were joyous because they were doing something, no matter how pointless it was.

   Mephastophians boiled out of hatches and flashed as they launched into the sky. As they screeched in ever widening circles above the ship, the Vesghau veered left and the starboard topper cannon line, twenty-six big guns in all, fired. The orange roar tore into the dawn fog and away.

   Soon there was nothing but the demons’ screeches, lonely and empty.

   A Mephastophian screeched horribly above them, and then fell headless onto the deck. Its great mass crushed two crew and blocked the way to the topper line bow. The stump where its head should have been was cleaved clean, as though by a blade.

   “Captain! Captain! What should we do?”

   “Come around thirty starboard and fire! Fire! Are the port guns ready?”

   “Yes, sir!”

   “Fire those too!”

   WHAM!

   A dead demon smashed half on the railing just in front of him. It too was headless. It hung on for a grisly moment, spurting heavy gouts of green blood, then oozed overboard. The splash sounded a moment later.

   The Vesghau’s cannons fired, first starboard, then port, at what looked like nothing but oncoming fog.

   The crew was in full panic. Demons were dying in rapid order, and by what appeared to be nothing at all. Circling high overhead one second, the next their heads or their wings or one of their legs separated from their bodies as though by magic. Some simply started bleeding as though they had just gored themselves by an invisible blade.

   Most splashed harmlessly into the sea. But one, trailing green blood like a gory contrail, slammed into a mainsail, ripping it almost in two as it clawed its last towards the deck, where it crashed and crushed three more Tracluse.

   The Captain bellowed, “Move them away from the ship! Away! Come about forty port and fire again—starboard guns!”

   Only a few of his topdeck officers were listening. Both lieutenants had scurried away, against protocol, and were nowhere to be found.

   Those not panicking were at the railing, swords drawn, screaming at the sea or the sky. It was an absurd display of bravado that enraged him as much as the cowards did.

   “To your posts!” he ordered. “To your posts! Bosun! Bosun! Get the men in line! Move it!

   The bosun had been one of those yelling at nothing, his sword waving about uselessly in the sky.

   The starboard guns roared beneath him.

   “Come about forty and fire again, port! Port!”

   “Forty port, yes sir!”

   Quiet descended all at once on the warship. The men stopped shouting and cursing and waving their weapons. With the cowards (of whom he was taking note as best he could), they gazed fearfully up at the low, gray sky like it was about to fall on them.

   The port cannons fired. The sound bellowed into the mist and was gone.

   Silence.

   The goddamn Mephastophians were dead! All of them! Not a single one remained!

   Most floated in the glassy, dark sea. Their green blood left spreading smears on the patient water.

   Laughter.

   He jerked his head about to locate the offenders. But no one within sight was laughing. The crew, to a man, was deadly serious.

   A voice just starboard—off the ship—in perfect Gyssian:

   “Stand your gunners down, Captain.”

   The men looked just a second away from full panic. Those on the starboard side of the Vesghau hurried away from it, as though it had come alive with stinging wasps.

   “Movement! Movement! Just off starboard!”

   The yelling crewman was gesticulating wildly down at the water just next to the ship.

   His mates rushed up to look with him. He glanced overboard.

   The sea not a stone’s throw away was … dented, as though something huge and invisible was pressing down on it. The dent was long—as long as his ship, and deep, and wide—easily as wide as the Vesghau. Water at the top of the dent ran in a continuous white wave away it.

   An invisible warship!

   An Angel of the Coronados!

   He gazed up to see if he could spy any of the enemy’s features, but couldn’t.

   Crew yelled and hurried to arm themselves with swords and bows and arrows. Others screamed, “FIRE! FIRE! IT’S AN ANGEL! FIRE! IT’S RIGHT ON BLOODY TOP OF US!”

   “Tell your men to stand down, Captain. This is the only warning you’ll get.”

   The starboard toppers fired. The sound was twice as deafening as before. The Vesghau shuddered violently and settled, rocking back and forth.

   Men screaming in agony. His men.

   The cannonshot had struck the Angel and ricocheted back!

   “Stop! STOP!” he bellowed, rushing astern. “STOP! No one fires without my strict order!”

   “I warned ye, Captain” said the oddly accented disembodied voice. “I’m tryin’ to make this easier on ye.”

   Tracluse scrambled about in a blind panic. A healthy number of them were dead. The damage to his topdeck was impressive. Several gangs worked furiously to dowse fires. The injured shrieked and writhed at their feet. Medics rushed to stricken officers.

   He turned from the chaos and rushed to the railing. “Show yourself, coward! Show yourself!

   More laughter.

   The disembodied voice said, “Sure.”

   The crew, even the injured, quietened and gawked to starboard.

   From out of nothing the Angel appeared, wrapped in odd bright white smoke that curled about it and was gone.

   It was an impressive warship. The hull was dark brown save for an orange stripe running its length. The mainmasts were of odd, even alien, design; the great white sheets bright even in the fog. The forward one displayed a great bird of prey surrounded by blue stars outlined in yellow. He could see no obvious weaponry anywhere.

   He glared up at the single man in a gray longcoat, hands stuffed in its pockets, standing at the port railing. The man inclined his head. “Captain.”

   The crew gawked.

   He growled, “I presume you are an ‘Angel’?”

   The man bowed. “That we are. We are the ship and crew known as the Failure.”

   “A pathetic name,” growled the captain over the crew’s fearful gasps, “for a cowardly mercenary scow and its gutless lyeachi.”

   The captain of the Failure smirked. “You are upset because we can be invisible. I suppose that’s understandable. But as you know and I know, Captain, war is not about fairness, now is it? It’s about taking advantage of the enemy’s weaknesses. So we are. You should know plenty about taking advantage, Captain. It’s what your lyeachi emperor and your mindless Tracluse have been doing for seven Aquanian-years now.”

   “It is our world to take advantage of!” roared the captain, outraged.

   The crew roared in furious agreement. The crew of the Failure, dressed in uniforms the captain had never seen before, while armed, did not look in any particular form of readiness to fight, as though the Vesghau wasn’t any kind of threat. Their nonchalantness angered him even more. He gazed back at the Failure’s captain, who waited.

   He didn’t appear to be any kind of fearsome figure. Indeed, he looked like a common criminal, with day-old scruff and the sideways grin of a con man. He wasn’t particularly large; in fact, he appeared quite average in size, and not muscular or imposing. The only thing plainly remarkable from here was his eyes. They held something in them well beyond the simple desire to captain a warship.

   The crew of the Vesghau quietened.

   “You are outclassed,” said the Failure’s captain, whose Gyssian was so perfect that the Vesghau’s captain wondered if he’d been born there. “In the interest of compassion, I will extend one chance to peacefully surrender. If you surrender peacefully, some of you will be given the chance to survive. If you don’t …”

   FIRE ON THAT SHIP!” bellowed the captain of the Vesghau, his temper gone.

   He knew that his cannon crews would be ready.

   The entire starboard-side cannon complement boomed just as the Angel ship vanished in a haze of odd white smoke.

   The reaction, as before, was instantaneous—and catastrophic. The Vesghau shook violently as though it had been fired back on.

   The top deck was suddenly ablaze. Dead Tracluse were strewn everywhere. The second lieutenant—a second lieutenant; the first was a mutilated pile of meat at his feet—screamed, “We’re taking on water! The starboard side is crushed! We can’t get down there!”

   He glanced up from the smoke and confusion to watch the Angel ship reappear directly ahead, just as close as before. He watched as the captain, not smiling or smirking, hands still stuffed in his longcoat, nod once.

   A single cannon just beneath its bow blazed orange-white.

   The Imperial warship exploded.

   The enemy was abruptly on deck, as though they’d always been there. Surviving Tracluse came at them, but the Angels seemed to move swifter than swift, their silver blades true and soon glinting red with Tracluse blood.

   He watched as the infernal Angel captain flashed and flew out of the sparkling smoke as a white and black bird he’d never seen before. It flashed in front of him. Without acknowledging his existence, and looking over his shoulder, he demanded:

   “Can we get to the slaves?”

   A voice just behind: “We’re bringing them up now, sir!”

   The Angel captain nodded, and then gazed at him. “You should have heeded my warning, Captain.”

   The captain of the Vesghau grabbed the hilt of his sword. It did not faze the Angel captain, who appeared unarmed.

   “Tracluse are so predictable. Go ahead, Captain. Draw your sword.”

   The Vesghau was sinking. Tracluse were jumping from its fiery remains into the Senecum Ocean. The lifeboats had been lowered and were filled with … slaves? Slaves! Angel crew were rowing them back towards the enemy warship! Slaves!

   He tightened his grip on his sword, but did not draw it. The Angel captain watched.

   “How many did we save?” he asked, not breaking his stare.

   Another voice just behind: “We got fifty-six out, sir. We couldn’t save the rest.”

   The Angel captain brought his focus to him.

   “Pity,” he said. “You caught me on a compassionate day, but didn’t take advantage. Had you surrendered, Captain, we would have rescued the food slaves from your holds and then given the lifeboats back to you after we sank your vessel. In that way, at least, you and some of your crew would have a chance at survival. As it stands, the Devil with ye, sir, and the Devil with your bollocks emperor.”

    He turned to go.

   The captain of the Vesghau growled, “I will have your name, sir, so that I may curse you for all eternity in the afterlife!”

   The Angel captain turned about and chuckled darkly.

   “Tracluse do not believe in an afterlife. My name? My name is Josias Bodley Tiderider. Good day, sir.”

   With that, the captain of the Failure flashed and flew off the flaming topdeck of the sinking Vesghau.


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