Monday, December 13, 2021



The sun returned to the city of Sinasekan with summer fire after the afternoon rain faded away over the sea.  The streets were all but still, the harbor emptied of all ships that could flee before the coming onslaught.  The news had come across the waters, whispered in taverns and brothels by night, passed from slave to servant to laborer to sailor in low-pitched voices.  No one who had ears to hear did not know that the enemy was coming, that the demon queen who commanded a fleet of warships was coming with the evening tide.

Merchants had packed their wares and fled, travelers had climbed aboard anything that would float and set the city in their wake.  Smugglers, traders, explorers, seekers of fortune all knew what was on the way, and none wished to remain in the path of destruction.  Seabirds cried as they flew over the harbor, their shadows racing across the still blue water.  There was a beauty in the stillness, in the poised and expectant quiet.

The Viceroy, lord of this place, was not a fool.  He had gathered all he could to try and stave off the coming attack, though he doubted it would be enough.  The entrance to the harbor was blocked by ships, rafts, and boats his men had seized.  They were lashed and chained together to make a barrier no ship could pass without pausing to chop a path through, and his men were on the sea walls with crossbows and rifles and cannons to stop that from happening.  The streets behind the outer gates were barricaded, and he had to hope he could reinforce the men holding them when it came to that.  He was sure after their attack on the harbor was blocked, they would come to the city by land as they had when they tried to kill him.

The Viceroy, Lord Dasato, looked down from the high window of his rooms to the jewel blue of the harbor.  He had served here for six years, and it had made him wealthy and respected.  He had never intended to return home.  This place was too beautiful, too lush and ripe with pleasures and ease.  Why would he ever go back to the moody, cold forests of Achen?  No, he had planned to die here in this faraway country, and now it seemed he would.

He had sent word for help, knowing it would take months to come, if it came.  Pleading for more aid so soon after the first time and the loss of the treasure fleet would destroy his reputation.  There would be no honorable retirement for him now, only disgrace.  He would be fortunate to attain an ignominious life on a plantation here somewhere, even if he could escape the rebels.  Now it seemed less and less likely that he could.  Perhaps he should have left with his family while there was yet time.  He had rejected that choice as a further disgrace upon his name, casting aside all pretense at courage.  Now he could not be sure if he regretted it.

She was coming, and it was with a sense of fate that he looked east over the sea and saw the white specks of ships gathering on the horizon.  Survivors had already told the tale of Aurich’s fall.  The paladin was gone and could not save them.  She was coming.  Jaya.  That was her name.

They said she was the daughter of a sea-devil.  That she rode a dragon and conjured storms.  The stories said she took the heads of those she slew, and that much he believed.  She had come here once before to kill him, and only the presence of the paladin had stopped her, now there was no such protection.  He watched the ships draw closer in the steep afternoon light, and he took a long breath.  Tonight would come the decision, and whatever deliverance he might hope for.  He called for the signal fires to be lit, to summon every man to arms.  Battle was coming on the night wind.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Sea of Blood


The wind raved like curses through the jagged rocks of the Kasara Strait, whipping the waves into white-crested fury and screaming in between the spires.  This narrow neck of sea between the islands of Manu and Salua was dangerous water, and every sailor knew that was truth.  No ordinary captain or king could have gathered so many ships in this deadly place, only the fear of gods could have done it.

Aurich the Beast stood at the prow of the flagship, his great sword point down in the hard wood of the deck, his mailed hands grasping the guard.  The pitch and sway of the ship did not seem to concern him, nor did the wind or the spray that lashed against the sails.  It was high noon, and yet the sky was overcast and gray as hammered iron, heavy with the promise of rain.  Beneath his helm his face was hidden, giving no sign of what lay beneath.

The captain of the ship made his way forward, squinting into the wind.  The gusts backed around the compass, giving no warning.  To sail in such weather in this place was folly, and he would not be here save that this man – this steel-hearted fanatic from the homelands – was the one who truly commanded.  The captain knew that if he balked he would be headless and cast into the sea before he could finish his breath.  He had seen paladins before, but never one as unflinching and hard as this one.

When he was close he leaned against the rail for balance and pitched his voice to carry.  “There is no sign of them, lord.  Still no sign.”

“They will come,” Aurich said.  “Before nightfall they will come.  The information was bought with screams and with blood, it will be truth.”  From within his helm his voice sounded hollow and sepulchral.  “The demon child will come.  She has no choice.”

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Dragon's Teeth


A storm was sweeping across the sea from the darkened south, casting down rain and billowing wind, and the seaside outpost of Jinan lay beneath a pall of smoke.  Fires burned in the houses and outside in the forest, and warriors gathered there, making magic for their final war.  In the harbor six ships lay at anchor, their sails gathered in against the coming storm, and in the distance, on the edge of the horizon, there lurked the shadows of the ships of their enemies.

For days the enemy fleet had swept in with the dusk and battered the ships and shore with cannonfire, raking their targets, seeking to break up the defenses.  Dhatun, the warrior of the Ekwa, was the one who commanded now Jaya was gone, and though he was fierce and proven, his rule was tenuous.  Already warriors had begun to slip away into the jungles, feeling the gods had abandoned them.  The daily blasting of shell and flame had only made things worse.

The Reaper stood at anchor, more massive than any other ship in the harbor.  She was battered from her ordeal at sea, her hull splintered and her beams cracked.  She could not stand and do battle with the enemy ships, and the five others were low, lean craft made for speed rather than power.  Dhatun knew if they left the harbor they would be hunted down and destroyed.

So he waited, sure that the enemy would not want to risk the close confines of the lagoon.  They would not want to come ashore and fight a battle that would cost them blood.  They would keep him bottled up here until more ships arrived.  The enemy detachment was eight ships, three of them massive war-craft meant for battle.

Now they were coming close again, racing in a line through the heavy breakers as the wind picked up speed.  Lightning flickered under the stormclouds on the horizon, and the thunder was distant, like drums.  The people in Jinan hunkered down behind walls and trees, ready to weather another volley from the enemy.

The first ship swept past the headland and into the mouth of the bay, and its guns began to shout, bursting forth clouds of black smoke and jets of fire.  Cannonballs punched through the ship hulls at anchor, bounced inland and smashed through walls.  Every gun fired, and then the next ship, and the next.  Smoke erupted from the forest as hot shells struck home, splintering trees and setting brushfires.

The captain of the lead ship turned his craft back out to sea.  The storm would come in before nightfall, and by then they would have to anchor around the point and wait out the weather.  The devils might come by night, but in the rain and wind they would not be able to mount a large enough attack to be a threat.  He looked southward, seeking there the sails of the reinforcements he waited for.  Instead he saw a wake moving fast, the westering sun lighting it like a trail made of gold.