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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Read Chapter Two of The Failure of the Saeire Insu (the Sixth Novel in the Melody and the Pier to Forever Saga)! | Epic Fantasy & High-Seas Adventure






CAPTAIN TIDERIDER isn’t from Aquanus, as you have figured out by now. He was born in the same city our king was, Dublin, Ireland, though of course centuries later. He was the second-to-last kid in a family with nine of them. His father was a dock supervisor who earned a large settlement after unsafe work conditions cost him his foot. The family moved from Dublin to the south, where they settled in the country.

His true last name isn’t Tiderider; it’s Bodley. Tiderider is the name he gave himself after he came to the Saeire Insu, not long after a terrible wreck at sea that claimed hundreds of Saeire Insu lives, one in which he and I barely survived.

We sank another Imperial yesterday, our tenth since setting out from the Tangent. It was almost midnight. We saved fourteen food slaves, which we believe were all that were left of perhaps a hundred originally. The rest had been fed to the eight demons in the ship’s bowels.

We have known about the food slaves for some time now, and the horrific conditions in which they are kept. We know that we can’t just blast Imperial boats out of the water for the simple reason that innocents are languishing on board. It makes planning that much more difficult. How do you sink an evil navy and rescue the innocents unwillingly part of it?

We have Antarctic Cottonwood. It comprises the wood of our hulls and can be rendered invisible, along with us, in seconds. We trained to land on Imperial ships with Tracluse going crazy trying to find us. We trained to get into the warships’ bowels, find the slaves, and rescue them. Some of us have been trained to kill the demons.

That’s my job. I kill demons. One of my duties is leading a small strike force of thirty men and women. We fly over the Imperial warship, knowing that its captain will release the demons once battlestations are called. Once in the air, we slaughter them. While that’s happening, Saeire Insu free the slaves, cloaking them as they make their way to the topdeck and the lifeboats. We join our comrades on deck at that point and assist them. That’s usually the point the Captain uses our Peacemaker and sinks the vessel. It all depends on how fast we can get the lifeboats into the water, all while dealing with Tracluse insane with frustrated rage.

Sound impossible? It damn near is. We have at last count lost eight of our crew in the performance of these hazardous duties. But somehow in eighty-nine days we’ve sunk ten Imperial warships and freed almost two hundred slaves. And our lost comrades, as painful as their deaths have been to all of us, serve as stark reminders that our casualty count could be much greater. Again—it’s very hazardous duty.

The slaves are almost always starving, dehydrated, and either half naked or fully so. We are prepared for that; still, the sight of them, and their stench, is difficult to bear.

We are heading back to Infinitus to drop the ones we’ve saved off. A medical frigate (“medfrig”) will meet us there to help them set up camp right there on the Pier, and provide them with food, water, and the supplies necessary to secure shelter and take care of their infirm. Some of the supplies come from Earth, but most will have to come from lands we liberate. As time and fortune allow, we’ll eventually ferry those on the Pier to Forever to those lands so that they can restart their lives in a more grounded fashion.

It is all very far from ideal, but it’s the best plan we’ve got, the best we could come up with.

Back to the Captain.

He’s a forty-nine-year-old washout from the British Royal Navy’s officer school. He was too much of a rogue, they (rather prophetically) told him. He had very unconventional ways of doing things that upset his superiors.

He had one more problem. If you were one of those superiors and he didn’t like you, he’d let you know.

“I got under the skin of an admiral once,” he told me, grinning, “and that was it. A week later they washed me out.” His look became thoughtful. “I think I got it from me family. I was the second youngest. To get attention I had to … get creative, let’s call it.”

He went home, and that’s where he planned to stay. For a handful of forgettable years, that’s exactly what he did. He got a real estate license and set up shop.

“I showed richies old castles and the like. It kept me busy enough to keep me from campin’ in the pub and the landlady off my back. But I was temperamentally unsuited, as my superior officers told me about captaining a ship, for the job. As much as I tried sucking up to clients, I really couldn’t. And that’s what selling real estate to richies involves—lots of sucking up.”

He was very close to his family, who offered plenty of advice for what he should do.

“My sister Leianne told me I should take a vacation, so I did. I booked a stay in San Diego, and the rest is history.”

That’s when I met him. I was one of those who rescued him from drowning.

The Captain was—is—an expert swimmer, very strong. But the rip tides along the southern California coast can be deadly, and if you’re not ready for them, you can easily be dragged out to sea. That’s what happened to him.

It was a stormy day in early spring of 1991, as I recall. The surf was very high, the waves cresting at thirty or more feet. Local law enforcement had banned surfing in Imperial Beach and points north, but that didn’t stop surfers from getting out there anyway.

“I was a good surfer,” he told me. “But I didn’t belong out there. I got pulled out after a few hard spills and ended up clingin’ to me surfboard. I thought I was a dead man.”

The Saeire Insu were taking advantage of the heavy seas, using them for rigorous training exercises, and we managed to spot him before the American Coast Guard did. I remember how misty it was, and the intermittent rain, and the sea’s constant thundering roar. Our future Captain was waterlogged and fatigued. We decloaked, plucked him out of the roiling water, then immediately recloaked. I gave him a hot drink and a heavy blanket.

“Thanks,” he said as he gawked up from the ship’s deck.

“You are most welcome,” I replied.

He looked at his board, which was propped against the railing, and then took a sip of his drink. “I’ve been in rough seas,” he grunted after swallowing, “but that is the meanest ripper I’ve ever been in. It caught me up like a bloody tornado. Where the hell did you people come from?”

I didn’t know how to answer that, so I asked about his accent, which was the same as the king’s. He smiled and told me where he was from, which made me smile.

He gave himself his new surname not long after. I always thought it ironic, given how I met him, but never asked.

Another Imperial to the depths. This one was ferrying a governor from Hieron-Tamus to Chrienthsos, according to a Tracluse lieutenant. The governor was killed trying to attack us, so we couldn’t question him. We were just a day from the Great Pier, and couldn’t take any more slaves, but the Captain insisted that we make room for them, even if it meant putting them underfoot on the maindeck. There were sixty-three of them, most in relatively decent shape, which told us that they hadn’t been at sea all that long. We sank the boat and let the five hundred or so surviving Tracluse fight for the scraps of burning hullwood left behind.

The Sankyan Wilderness looms large and forebodingly west of here. It moved recently, ushering in a new Aquanian Age, which the Saeire Insu have proclaimed the Age of Melodia. The reference should be obvious.

I think of her, and of Yaeko, often. While on Earth, Carcaryn and I were assigned as their personal guards. We got to know both of them. Beautiful, intelligent, impressive individuals. I received an Arrowsparrow a week or so ago from Carcaryn telling me that Melody’s Daen-Cer-Dain training was going “bettr n expctd.” (It’s difficult putting thoughts on a tiny bit of paper; one is forced to abbreviate heavily.) She signed off with: “Luv>>fave hllcttr.” The double arrows emphasizes the previous word, and also means “to.” “Hllcttr” is short for “Hellcutter,” which is slang for demonkiller, which we Kumiyaay specialize in.

We don’t get many opportunities to use Arrowsparrows for personal messages, so I will have to wait to write her back.

My dear Carcaryn. How I miss her.

Interesting thing that I failed to mention yesterday (day 101). The governor I wrote about was apparently sailing to Chrienthsos to find out what happened to all that gold and silver that we sunk more than two weeks ago!

Speaking of stormy seas, we encountered them. Nothing on the scale of an Edge Storm, gratefully, but still strong, with lashing winds and a constant downpour. This Zephri-designed warship rides the swells with contempt. We moved the liberated slaves below decks. At that point we were still a half-day out from Ae Infinitus.

I worry about them. The Great Pier is a good thirty feet or more above sea level, but a strong storm like this will turn the walkway into a river. Edge Storms commonly submerged the walkway completely. I know it is a concern for all Saeire Insu. Our goal is liberation as well as revolution. The lives of those who have been victims of the Black Coffin’s terrible reign are uppermost to us.

A former slave attended a senior officer meeting. As we and the Captain listened, we learned about the reason for the huge gold and silver chests. The slave, whose name is Cays (pronounced “Kize,” long i), a Hieron-Taman by birth, managed to be in a position where he could overhear senior Tracluse whispering about a mid-level Imperial Dreamcatcher who had developed the means to de-cloak Saeire Insu warships!

We listened without speaking, horrified at the implications.

The Dreamcatcher, according to Cays, wasn’t all that gifted, which was an important factor in keeping him from transmitting the information via soul traces to distant sources who might get it speedily to Imperium Centrum and Prince Trajan or Lord Pios, who have taken over since Necrolius’ disappearance.

The other bit of bad news Cays gave us was this: it was the Dreamcatcher’s belief that dragons could see through our cloak, or could be trained to see through them.

The meeting broke up with the Captain saying what was on all our minds.

“If this story pans out, we’re going to have to find this bloody Dreamcatcher. If he manages to get his findings to Imperium Centrum, the Saeire Insu might as well suck on a snowcone in hell. The few advantages we have sacrificed so much and so long to gain will be lost. We need to inform the king immediately.”

He gazed at me. “I’ll give that job to you.”

I nodded.

Cays spoke up. “I have been a slave for so long now, but I am—I was—a palace guard. I want to help. Please let me. I will serve you well. Give me a chance to exact my vengeance. I will swear an oath to your king.”

We were surprised. In all our rescues, this was the first man or woman who had expressed a desire to fight. It didn’t speak poorly of the others who simply wanted to live, to restart their lives free of oppression and starvation. Far from it. Most of those we liberate are in awful shape. Most are barely alive. More than a few have died in our arms, wracked by starvation and disease.

The Captain nodded, then glanced once more at me. “Give this man a First Watch uniform with an officer’s pin. He’s more than earned it.”

I gazed at Cays. “Welcome aboard the Failure, sailor.”

He looked confused for a moment, then chuckled.