Seraphim – Chapter 5

The following is an excerpt from Seraphim by Matthew Leonard, available as an E-Book from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084Z7Z5Q8

Chapter 5

Those who value taste in excellence sail Cecille!

On the same morning that the papers broke news of the election, Lynne arrived at the harbor with the excitement of a chase lightening her step. Oh, there had been a handful of ruffians in the shadows of the wharf, ready to do her harm for the gold in her pocket, but they had slipped on some unusually slippery planks and received naught from the angel of oceans but a laugh. She was no worse for the wear, and her heart sang with the journey to come.

No matter how she might fear what awaited her on a far shore, the sea would always beckon.

Moored at the largest pier, a vessel fit for a goddess waited. The Cecille Gothic rocked gently in the grey morning mist. Five hundred feet of polished steel, the cruise ship would sail on twin screws capable of sixteen knots day or night. With eight thousand tonnage and capacity for five hundred, the vessel dwarfed every other in the harbor for both power and luxury.

Not a bad little boat.

The Lumians had stolen the design wholesale from Novia’s original sketches, of course.

Lynne spent a few minutes haggling with the travel agency. Dropping a casual mention of her patron House and a hefty sum of gold on the table, she smiled just for the young man behind the counter.

He flushed, coughed, and offered her the noble’s suite.

A lofty position for a nursemaid, she thought, accepting her tickets and letting her fingers brush his hand just long enough to drive a youth to foolishness.

Then she spun away and boarded among the petite nobility, those merchants who depended on the sea for their wealth. A few centuries ago, they travelled in packs, surrounded by soldiers. Now they leaned on the railing and sipped wine, guarded by nothing more than a servant or two with a pistol. They trusted a contraption of metal and steam to traverse the black depths as easily as a walk through the park.

How quickly mortals forgot.

The heavy fog of morning slowly surrendered to the Harvest wind, and the Cecille Gothic gleamed.

Such a well-burnished little ship. The pride of the Cecille fleet.

The rich dawdled at boarding until nearly eighth bell, and the sailors spent more of the early morning hauling luggage than preparing the ship. When general boarding finally opened, the peasantry rushed to load their goods before departure with the tide, and a great deal of luggage was left behind.

Lynne wondered how much of that abandoned luggage would remain when the vessel returned in three months’ time. Already the enterprising travel agents picked through the piles, deciding what would become lost in transit.

“We make for Wave’s Lament!” announced the captain through the horns. “Mind your feet and clutch your goods. This ship stops not for storm nor wind nor weeping maid!”

At ninth bell sharp, the ship slipped its moorings and started its rumbling engines. The smaller cargo vessels so eager for grain cleared the way, and the Cecille Gothic puttered to meet its escort in open waters. Two bristling ships of the line soon fell into formation with the vessel, alert for the signs of piracy.

While the Whistlers boasted no navy, Moros provided a ready harbor for scoundrels. Like so much of diplomacy, it was a dance of obvious lies: pirates came from the east, freshly provisioned, and Moros shrugged at the great mystery of scoundrel resourcefulness.

Moros was a squalid nation of peat bogs and overcast clouds, ever jealous of the jewel to the west. A nation without angel or demon, a nation without Novian industry or high arts…It was a tedious place of no regard, and Lynne did not bother to track its politics.

Let the boys play their cops and robbers.

The journey to Wave’s Lament would take a full fortnight, carefully skirting the edge of the continent. There was safety in the sight of land and only madness in the depths. The currents themselves kept man close to home; beyond the horizon, the waters swirled in mad, ever-shifting patterns. Perhaps the twin screw engines could fight the waters, but no amount of horsepower would evade what lurked in the deep waters…

When the land faded beyond sight, only the truth of the sea remained. Men who braved the horizon, searching for new lands or new riches, never returned.

Some said that the waters simply continued forever.

Was it not better to make use of the home that mankind knew? A singular continent, bounded by impassable currents, and only foolishness beyond. Why risk death to only confirm what everyone already knew?

The angel of oceans smirked to herself. Ah, my foolish children. You can barely handle the continent you have. Prove to me that you can master what you own, and we will speak of more.

Closing her eyes, she heard the whispers of the beasts she set to the guard the corners. The small fish, the sonorous whale; the teeming reef, the quiet depths; deadly undertow, gentle beaches…

The waters welcomed her home. The rocking weaves beat in time with her heart. The plodding land fell away, and she heard her own soul.

So too did she perceive Donovan racing ahead, a clever thief on a furtive vessel. The softest command would cause the waves to rise and drag him down…

Let us live as mortals might.

Ah, but Donovan would not drown alone, would he? Even if he made congress with pirates and smugglers, were pirates and smugglers not among her most devoted? Should they be condemned just for his actions?

No, better to stalk with care. Let us see what his heart holds. His corpse won’t be able to tell me all he knows.

Plus, when was the last time she took a cruise?

For the first day, she leaned upon the railing and basked in the spray. The foam should not have risen so high, but the waters found her anyways. An albatross, aged and grey, trailed the ship in her honor, and the sailors whispered of good omens in old birds.

Superstitious as always, she mused.

Even as she remembered herself, like waking from a dream of social functions and propriety. Older, deeper parts of her stirred and stretched for the surface.

Shall I indulge their superstitions? Summon a flock, one for every person aboard, and then command them to cake this entire gleaming ship in droppings?

Magnanimously, she spared them that downpour.

That evening, a sailor invited her to dinner with the captain, and she accepted. Normally, a woman of her secondhand rank would receive little notice on a ship this prestigious. However, noble ears had perceived whispers of elections before the papers hit doorsteps, and several esteemable Lords cancelled their reservations. Thus, Lynne was somehow the highest ranked civilian onboard.

The captain was a real charmer. He offered a noble woman steak, spoke at length about the minutiae of running a vessel, and interrupted dinner several times to receive radio communications.

At the beginning of the main course, he forgot to propose a toast in honor of his most beautiful dinner guest. Quite coincidentally, a rogue wave smashed against the ship like a child’s toy. His wine – and half the plates – spilled everywhere.

Still seated, Lynne remarked, “You pay more attention to the sea than your guest.”

Wiping at his cummerbund, the captain rumbled, “Both are temperamental, but esteemed ladies rarely drown a man.”

She laughed, and the sea instantly smoothed. “Well spoken, good captain.”

“Other than a bump here or there, the weather holds. Clear skies, strong current, and no pirates in sight. I anticipate a pleasant journey.”

“It will be,” Lynne promised.

By heaven and earth, the gentle rocking of her waves felt more real than decades of Lumia. How had she let herself go this long stranded on the shores, away from her very soul?

Ah, but Alisandra had needed a nursemaid in the dark days after her mother passed. Then the child needed an education. Lynne would not let Sebastian of all people handle a young lady’s schooling alone! The poor girl would have learned all three hundred runes for enlightenment and not a word for laughter.

I should have brought Ali.

Lynne of oceans woke to memory. What would Alisandra think to see the Mishkan nursemaid let her hair down?

After Donovan is in hand, then, I will steal her away from the dreariness of her House obligations. We will go sailing together. Perhaps I can show her the wild continents where I permit no man to tread?

That pleasant thought tucked away, Lynne decided to meet every man and woman aboard. Each trusted themselves to her waters for reasons their own, but their stories became part of her ocean. Whether they headed to Wave’s Lament for business, pleasure or intrigue, they crossed her domain, and she would take their measure.

The merchants wanted little to do with a minor noble of a dying House, and they offered only those pleasantries required by the calculus of rank. As a result, they fell overboard with surprising regularity for a few days. None drowned, but they huddled further from the railing afterwards

Disappointed, Lynne ditched the champagne sniffers for second class. A peasant blouse, a working woman’s braid, and a new accent let her mingle on the lower decks without question. Here, the passengers enjoyed music and beer with aggressive abandon.

To a commoner, the lower decks of the Cecille Gothic represented unparalleled luxury, and many of them would never be able to afford a trip of this caliber again. After all, even the dingiest cabin cost a gold note. For some of these peasants, they would be the only person in their entire village to ever travel beyond the Isle of Peace. Fools or adventurers, they relished the voyage as a strange and alien thing.

For that, Lynne blessed them: let there be no cruise diarrhea or watery beer for those who honored the beauty and the terror of the ocean.

Others remembered the proper tribute as well. Each dusk, the first mate carried a bottle of red wine to the prow. Careful, huddled, he poured the entire bottle over the edge while whispering an ancient prayer.

“May the Maiden remember our names. May the Tempest forget them. May the seas call us children and cradle us close. May the storms be far away…”

A heresy in Ruhum, perhaps, but sailors far from port obeyed a different set of laws.

Every time he prayed, the hairs on the nape of Lynne’s neck shivered in memory. Her depths stirred as well, roused from a life as a Mishkan servant.

Part of her wondered why she had ever allowed herself to become so small.

Ten days passed in good weather and high spirits. By the eleventh day, the sailors greeted Lynne with jaunty waves, and the peasants invited her to dinner.

Only the lowest decks remained on her self-appointed quests, and the Cecille Gothic gained ground on Donovan’s ship with each passing day.

The meek passengers of the third deck sensed something in Lynne’s bearing – nobility, perhaps, or something deeper – and fled her like mice in the pantry.

How ungrateful! she huffed – old patterns slowly reawakening… Are they not party to my waves? My story?

Easy now, Lynne, whispered the memory of a better woman with a touch as light as a kiss.

When I was a human child, I slept with bilge rats in the dark. Bilge rats like horses! I slept with horse rats and prayed the sea monsters did not come!

The child Lynne had prayed in vain, though, and the monsters had come many times. Sailors in that day knew better than to expect to retire old men.

Sighing, the angel of oceans returned to the poop deck to eavesdrop on conversations. A distant smudge of land to the east would be the apex of the Cape of Quarrel, southwestern most point of land. Tomorrow, they would turn east with the wind towards Wave’s Lament.

The cape itself jutted from the waves in a sheer cliff a thousand meters high. Neither wind nor sea dimmed its edge; centuries after that cataclysmic upheaval, the cliff remained sharp and clean. The remains of the natural landscape littered the coastal waters, shattered, sunken, and slowly eaten by the waves.

For those who could see below the water line, the damage was apocalyptic. There were cities buried in the silt. Nations had been swallowed. Mountains of forged stone broke through temples and mansions; great furrows rent the sea bed, gouged so deep that lava still seeped through the wounds.

Entire islands lay broken and scattered, their names lost.

We were titans then, Lynne thought.

And now I am a ghost released to haunt my quarry.

The Harvest wind offered no help for the Cecille Gothic, far too heavy for sails. Donovan’s little smugglers shot ahead, racing for the safety of shore.

You flee the scene of your crime, little thief. Do you imagine yourself free and away, or do you dream of the woman of blue on the western horizon?

How much of that stolen diary did he understand? Was he a lucky thief off to sell a fancy book in a southern black market…or was he something more?

She closed her eyes and listened.

A faint ochre hum whispered from the east.

“Yes…you stole from Thea too…best sell that jewel for a gold at the first shop you find, human. It will bring you the same fate as those who preceded you.”

The ochre hum pulsed curiously. It was Thea’s creation, but these were Lynne’s seas. Perhaps she could…

“Such a cliff must be a dream,” whispered a young woman nearby, gaping.

Lynne started, a hand instinctively reaching out to call her weapon.

Yet this peasant girl wore a threadbare dress, ran callused fingers compulsively along her belly, and avoided the eyes of other passengers with practiced deference.

The angel of oceans lowered her arm. “I’m sorry,” she purred, sensing new prey. “I don’t think we have spoken yet.”

The young woman jumped. “Oh! Miss Mishkan! I apologize for disturbing your meditation.”

The angel of oceans slid smoothly down the rail. “Do not think to flee so easily. It is one of my duties to meet everyone aboard. Might I have your name?”

“Belle of Osh, good Lady,” murmured the peasant with a dutiful curtsy.

Not a village that Lynne knew, but she rarely visited the dreary communities in the shadow of Ruhum’s dormant mountains. “You may call me Lynne. Now, what is this about the cape?”

Belle flushed. “Please don’t mind my rambling. I bought a guide to the heathen lands, but I didn’t expect…”

“That the stories were real?”

She nodded shyly. “Aure forgive my impudence.”

“Aure never denied others existed.” Though he was far more interested in his forge than our wars.

“Of course not, ma’am. But I gaze upon this cliff and I wonder how anything – even a great witch – could cause the upheaval of the very land.”

“A witch?!” Lynne squawked. “Is that the doctrine now?!”

At this rate, the Aurens will declare the arrangement of birds on migration witchcraft within a decade! And birdwatchers will be the newest heretics!

Be patient, the better woman in her head whispered. Her only education was likely the catechisms.

Now the peasant squirmed. Quickly, she pulled a pamphlet from her dress and read aloud. “He of the Great Mountain, the Grindstone, the Bedrock, the Lord of Towering Peaks…”

“And the Stormmother,” the angel of oceans finished sourly.

“They warred to remake the world in their own image. Caring naught for the fate of man, they shattered instead of built. They brought ruin and woe to their children. At the Cape of Quarrel, they rent the land and exhausted their powers.”

“And that is how the legend goes in this day.” Lynne slumped forward on the railing and stared at the cape. Clouds bunched on the horizon and began to build.

The demon known most commonly as the Lord of Peaks had smelled of dusky plains, high mountain rain, and cinnamon, but his heart had been as callous as his beloved gemstones in the end.

In the beginning, though…

“The world must have been terrifying,” Belle said. “Before Aure.”

“We managed.”

They sailed over the rubble of his greatest feat. Though mortals no longer remembered his name, the Lord of Peaks had raised his Plateau high above the ocean’s reach in a single terrific blow.

It is my waters that are life. My fury that banished the deep monsters! I have given them sail and net. I have raised them from nothing! You will never steal them from me with your promises of dust!

His voice had been hard as flint in return.

You would keep them soft and meek. Such men can accomplish nothing! They must be torn from your clutches and forged anew!

Neither had spent the effort to quell the tsunami that rose with that new land. They had been content to let the quakes roll forth into distant lands. No longer did they concern themselves with the promises of eld.

The final nail in a coffin; the final crack in a covenant.

When the quakes stilled and the famines ended, so few mortals remained. Shattered, broken, they had slipped into barbarism and amnesia.

Let us war as mortals might¸ counseled a patient man.

Lest the final flood claim the world.

Lynne Mishkan was a maid. Maids did not summon storms that could scour flesh from bone or call waves that drowned fleets.

But that other woman, that memory, lingering…

Barely restrained by a handful of years playing at mortality and the shadow of a better woman.

Belle toyed with her dress, plucking the threads thin. “The Tempest…does she still grant boons to the sick?”

“Not the Tempest. The Maiden.”

“What is the difference?”

“Night and day. Calamity and peace. Storm-fury and gentle rains walking the self-same path,” Lynne whispered, the words heavy on her tongue. “You wish for the Maiden. No one wishes for the Tempest.”

Least of all herself.

“The Tempest is the breaker of masts. The merciless grasp of the deep, black oceans. The Valkyrie of thunder who rides the storm.”

“The Valkyrie…” Belle whispered the odd, ancient word in quiet awe.

“To give all the sea’s bounty to man, and to demand that debt in blood and terror. Love and rage, inseparable.”

But in that fury, such power.

Lynne shied from her thoughts. From the heady memories.

Love, rage, and such terrible sins. Let them pass into myth. I must not pass my burden to Alisandra.

Let Alisandra follow in her father’s footsteps. Let her be a child of quietude, given all the long centuries to learn her aspect and her soul. Let her never scar the world and receive terrified libations at dusk…

“Miss Lynne?” Belle prodded. “Are you alright?”

The angel of oceans shook her head. “Fine, my dear. Distant memories, that is all.”

“Is that a storm?” the peasant worried, pointing to the horizon.

True enough, a boiling wall of black clouds approached swiftly from the east. Lightning flared like spiderwebs within, and the sea beneath boiled.

Lynne frowned.

Harvest wind always blew from the west.

“Please return to your quarters!” a sailor shouted, ringing a handbell for emphasis. “Please return to your quarters!”

“Miss Lynne?”

“Go below,” Lynne commanded, and something of the brooding sky echoed in her voice.

The peasant woman scurried to obey. Likewise, the handful of other passengers still above deck abandoned their games and fled. Sailors ran the length of the ship, stowing the chairs and securing lines. The first mate shouted terse orders and poured an additional flask of wine overboard in prayer.

Anticipation before the storm.

Like the gasp before the lightning strike.

The angel of oceans weaved between the racing sailors. They glanced at her, caught sight of the thunderclouds in her eyes, and left her be.

Have I sinned once more?

Sea foam crested to the deck, and the vessel rocked on churning waves.

They were in waters thirty thousand feet deep, atop the abyss opened by that ancient war. The ocean bed beneath did not know the sun’s kiss, and ships that sank in these waters fell into an eternity of darkness. Their masts became nests for the blind white crabs that scuttled between the molten geysers.

Driven by inscrutable instinct, whales came here to die.

A graveyard in open seas.

Lynne brushed past the first mate, wrapped a hand around the forestay rigging, and hopped onto the slippery metal railing above the drop into the heaving sea.

“Are you mad, woman?!” the first mate howled.

The leading curtain of rain smashed into the ship like a shower of iron.

“Take your men below decks,” she commanded, and her voice carried through the howling. Or perhaps the howling became her voice.

Black rain and heaving storm. The echo of her last mortal day.

“You’ll be swept overboard!” he shouted.

“The black waters have baptized me already, mortal,” she remembered.

Drowned her in the depths where monsters dwelt.

The first mate watched as a cloak of black, billowing rain congealed around her shoulders.

As Lynne remembered who she was.

Cerulean lightning erupted between the droplets of her cloak, and the greater lightning of the storm matched its movements like paired dancers.

“Hells and dark waters,” whispered the first mate, collapsing to his knees.

All sailors knew that mantle.

“Flee below decks or embrace the waters,” Lynne said. “I care not which.”

How could she care when the storm raged without and within?

The clouds billowed higher, a hurricane in Harvest, hiding the hungry presence within. Waves within the storm bucked and heaved higher and higher – hundred-foot mountains of water as cold as death – and the eye of the storm sank into a depression a mile deep.

At the center of that whirlpool waited gnashing teeth, rending claws, and a thousand-fold eyes.

As I awaken, so too do ancient things.

“I see you.”

A thousand-fold eyes shifted and focused on the mad woman at the prow of a cruise liner.

“I name you. Gamchicoth, fallen shadow, devourer, that lurks in terror beneath the wave.”

Her words echoed in every clap of thunder.

“And here I thought I had killed you.”

Many mouths screeched, bone on metal on bone, and the storm dragged the Cecille Gothic inwards.

She did not fight the current. The fire rose in her throat, deep and powerful. How dare this filthy monster pollute her waters? How dare it contest her dominion?!

Releasing the rigging, she stepped lightly to the tip of the prow. There, balanced on the railing, she stretched forth her right hand.

“I breathe the currents and exhale the rains. I shelter coves and shatter mountains.”

Her lance solidified from ocean spray, a javelin of blackened ice as cold as the depths and half as merciful.

Oh, how she remembered now.

“Let cry the skies, and may thunder crack the heavens. By beating hail and torrent, you will reveal yourself before me!”

A cresting wave threw the Cecille Gothic down its face so fast that a propeller peeled away.

The passengers screamed, the sailors prayed, and Lynne laughed.

At the bottom of the trough, the writhing Gamchicoth lurked. It slithered around itself, tentacles coiled around scales, and revealed mouths like great white sharks and beaks like the deep, monstrous squids.

It spoke from all those mouths in a slimy hiss. “Sinful angel, you will nourish me a thousand years.”

She snorted scornfully. How dare this little ball of pus and slime speak to the mistress of waves! “Is that what you think? You’ve eaten too many fools, little devourer.”

The fury rose, the sky darkened, and she grasped her spear.

Leaping, she abandoned the ocean liner. Her feet hit the rushing waves of the spiral downwards, and she skid across the whitecaps like a sheet of glass. Lance thrust forward, she careened towards the lashing mouths with a wild cry.

Behind her, the passengers clung to the bolted furniture as they and their ship teetered at the mouth of the abyss.

Remember who you can be, counseled a ghost of her past, and Lynne glanced behind her.

Caught sight of the ship at the edge.

Smoothed the crest of the waves with a thought, setting the Cecille Gothic on a circuit around the edge of the abyss.

This did nothing to stop the passengers in their dreadful wailing.

It is only a monster! How little faith they have!

Then she spun to face her prey and let the storm ride.

Howling, the Gamchicoth snapped forth a slimy tentacle. Thick as a car and festooned in ivory teeth, the tentacle stretched like rubber as it grasped for mortal flesh.

Lynne pirouetted en pointe¸ icy water tickling at her toe, and hurled her spear with practiced ease. It soared forth, cleaving the tentacle and the waters both. The wave – and several dozen waves behind it – collapsed into foam, leaving a momentary patch of peace in the chaos.

She landed on a heel and raced forth. “In the age before this, monsters were smart enough to flee my shadow!”

How all things fell into focus when her rage woke. Little, wiggling monsters would never find solace in her waters, and it was an unforgiveable insult that they even tried.

They would know their place.

“You should keep hold of your weapon!” retorted the monster, roaring.

A dozen more tendrils sprouted from its dark mass and lashed forward.

She spun and danced at madcap speed between the flailing tentacles. A beak erupted from the vile flesh, gaping wide. She shot forward, called another spear from the waves, and jammed the point into that oozing tongue on the way through the open beak.

I should not toy with my food, she thought in mock contrition.

And what of a story to fade into myth and legend? whispered a quieter corner of her mind.

Who am I to deny a meal so eager to leap into my maw?! roared the inner Tempest in response.

It grasped for her in hunger and greed, and she slipped between its tendrils with a mocking laugh.

“Do you understand yet?” she sang. “Do you know how this must end, or have you forgotten who you face?!”

“Five hundred years have I feasted on the fears of the deep!” roared the Gamchicoth. “With every dream desiring only your tender flesh!”

“You can no more grasp me than an ant devour a whale,” she mocked. “You are a bundle of squirming eels before the sun!”

We remember this.

She spun and danced and took her time dismembering the tendrils.

We remember who we are.

She was a goddess.

Yet that pesky specter interrupted. Is this a better world? Do you no longer care for those who cower above?

The angel of oceans flinched.

In her moment of doubt, her aspect faltered, and the Gamchicoth slapped her with a tentacle.

She skipped and tumbled across the waves, salt on her tongue and hair tangled across her brow. The monster’s current seized her the moment she slowed, dragging her towards the teeming mass of mouths in darkness.

But this was not the first time she inhaled black water.

The waves belonged to her. They were part of her, woven from her first memories to her dying day.

Still the waters. Bind the monster, encouraged the better woman. You have a power greater than rage if only you would hear.

A beneficent pretext, but the specter forgot one important fact.

That slimy little excuse for an octopus dared to touch a goddess.

The mortals would forget their little pains – if not in this life then in the next. Such was their fleeting nature. Terror passed, and the Maiden would kiss the pain away like always.

Here, now, the Gamchicoth must once more learn the fury of the storm.

Let the Tempest free.

Her internal resistance faded under the burning fury. She did not need to suffer this doubt; she did not need to fear this battle.

She remembered.

In fury, clarity.

In clarity, power.

Waters within, waters without.

None will stand before the tide.

Lynne surged forward like a bullet, calling her lance to bear. Leaving chunks of Gamchicoth in her wake, she erupted into the spray above the abyss, readied her lance midair, and cast herself down in a bolt of lightning.

She struck true through flesh and shadow, piercing the vile beast to the heart, and carried it straight to the seabed.

Love and rage, but mostly rage.

She drove the Gamchicoth into the molten vents. The seabed broke beneath her blow, and the monster screamed one last time.

I will…re…turn…

Lynne twisted the spear, grinding the fading shadow, and laughed at its fading gasps.

Then the rules of this world did what they always did: they reacted. The force of her downward blow met the relatively inflexible barrier of the mantle and reflected upwards, carrying a column of superheated, churning water and silt for the surface.

The ship! shouted the shadow in her ear, piercing the fog of rage.

The goddess of waters kicked hard, racing higher than the column, and burst from the sagging waves. She soared in a leisurely arc over the chaos and landed lightly at the prow of the Cecille Gothic, trailing a heavy cloak of mist.

Then the seas began to hiss, rising in a mile-wide bubble that would shred the cruise liner. A pocket of heavy silt slammed into the hull with the force of a naval mine. Its impact blew holes through the bottom decks, scattering shrapnel and blasting steam into the compartments.

Six sailors died in that instant, and the roaring waters surged to fill the void.

The Tempest clicked her heel. “Stop.”

The waters stopped.

“Out.”

They reversed course, now tinged with blood.

Little mortals called home over nothing more than a handful of metal. They were such fragile creatures. Later, she might mourn.

Later, when the rage no longer filled her with clarity.

The column carried the Cecille Gothic higher on its swell, brushing against the heavy clouds. The passengers wept, prayed, and braced for their end.

“I will not arrive home ankle deep in mud,” the Tempest commanded the ship.

Despite the rudder having been shorn away, the vessel turned to the east and rode the swell. They soared blind through the low clouds at incredible speeds, bits of the hull peeling away like a skinned onion, but the prow never wavered.

They soared for Wave’s Lament, the great city where the Dragon met the sea, at speeds that would make Novia twitch in envy.

Once more, the Tempest returned home.

As usual, accompanied by a screaming herd of mortals and a wave of wreckage.

She swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat. The clarity of fury dimmed and drained, and the thrill of impossible feats faded into a sour taste.

In place of clarity, shame.

As always, the Tempest abandoned her to deal with the aftermath.

Shivering in cold rain, wrapped in regret, and left to nurse the hangover.

“So much for sobriety,” she growled under her breath.

How little it takes to fall from that wagon…

The Cecille Gothic slowed, riding a large but no longer impossible swell, and its groaning hull became audible as the rains faded.

Someone dropped to the deck behind Lynne.

She spun to regard the captain, flanked by his first mate and their surviving sailors.

“Great Tempest, you bless us with your mercy,” the captain prayed, quaking like a newborn calf. “I swear to cast away my name and holdings so that I might enter your service! I ask you only to spare my crew!”

Oh. This again.

“Your tribute is not necessary,” she replied, hopping to the deck.

“It is, Azure Goddess! My life belongs to you.”

The Tempest in her responded instantly. “I know.”

The sailors whimpered, pressing their heads to splintered wood.

Lynne winced. Was this what she sought on the sea? Men to grovel at her feet once more?

Was this the lesson Alice Mishkan wished her to learn?

“And holding your life, I find no reason to require it,” she continued, softer. “Look now. My city is on the horizon, and we will arrive momentarily. Prepare yourselves.”

“As the Goddess wills it.”

“I will retire until we arrive.”

“As the Goddess wills it.”

She brushed past the terrified mortals and headed for the aft hold – now somewhat draftier – to nurse her hangover.

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