It’s that time again! Here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter of my upcoming book with Michael Anderle, Storm Callers.
I’m really excited about this one. It’s the sequel to Storm Raiders, which you can find here if you haven’t already checked it out. Let’s dive back into the Storm of Magic world. But first, here’s the cover.
A young sailor named Felix clutched the rail of The Passing Fancy as the ship swayed and rocked wildly on the stormy sea. He hoped he wouldn’t vomit again. He’d grown up hearing stories of sailors who couldn’t cut it on the opens seas; newbies who spent their first voyage with their faces a sickly shade of green and their heads hanging over the rails as they tossed up their rations.
In the stories, these unworthy sailors always returned to Holdgate and spent the rest of their lives on dry land, living quiet, shameful lives as butchers or clerks at the dry goods shop.
Felix had sworn that wouldn’t be him. And yet here he was, on his first voyage on a real Holdgate trading ship, throwing up over the side.
He’d been fine for the first three days of the journey, but then this storm had caught them. It had built slowly, and he’d seen the concern growing in Captain Herrik’s eyes as the black clouds had rolled in and the waves swelled to an unbelievable size, tossing their small ship like a child might toss a ball.
Despite Felix’s concern, none of the other sailors seemed to be paying him much mind. They were too busy clutching the rail themselves, holding on for dear life.
That was when Felix realized he might have a whole lot more to fear than just embarrassment over losing his lunch. If these hardened sailors were worried, this was not a normal storm.
Felix closed his eyes and said a silent prayer to the sea.
It had never been his ambition as a boy to earn a place on one of the stormships like his friends all wanted. They had dreamed of working on a ship like Undertow or even Thunderclap, but all Felix wanted was to make his name on a trading ship and make a boatload of money. If he accumulated enough wealth, he could buy status, and maybe his son or daughter would one day win a spot on a stormship.
Of course, all of that assumed he survived his maiden voyage on The Passing Fancy, which was beginning to look less and less likely.
The sailors had been in a foul mood almost since the moment they’d left port. They’d worried that the weather was unnatural for this time of year. They didn’t like change, but things were changing quickly in Holdgate.
Two weeks ago, the magistrate had made a proclamation declaring Tor, Dahlia, and the crew of Thunderclap enemies of Holdgate. He’d said they were Storm Raiders who attacked cities and villages up and down the coast, teaming up with the Barskall to destroy these places after removing all valuables.
The idea seemed ludicrous, but a few days after the proclamation, Thunderclap had attacked Holdgate. Many died in that battle, including six Storm Callers who had reportedly been murdered by Tor himself before he was finally brought down by the Arcadian blacksmith’s daughter, of all people. Only Dahlia, Thunderclap’s Storm Caller, had managed to escape, but without her ship and her crew, she couldn’t be much of a danger.
Still, despite the clear evidence that Tor and his crew had been Storm Raiders, there had been some grumbling among the crew since leaving port. Things had been good for the trading ships over the past decade or so. It was hard to argue that they had not been blessed by the sea. Was it possible that the sea approved of Storm Raiding? And if so, how would it react to the death of Tor, its most favored son?
And now, it seemed the sea was going to claim The Passing Fancy to appease its anger.
The sailors on the deck cried out in fear, and Felix forced himself to open his eyes. Rain pelted down on him, and it wasn’t possible to see very far. But he spotted something up ahead: a massive wave, the likes of which Felix had never seen, was rolling toward them. Its watery form stretched higher than the tallest building in Holdgate. He didn’t know how they’d survive.
Then, just before it got to them, the wave diminished, as if it were being sucked back into the sea. By the time it reached them it was no bigger than the other waves that had been tossing them for hours.
Felix looked to the east, the direction the waves were coming from, and his breath caught in his throat. A shaft of sunlight cut through the storm clouds, illuminating a massive ship.
The ship raced toward them, bringing with it clearing skies and a calmer sea. The men and women aboard The Passing Fancy talked excitedly as the storm died down and the ship grew nearer.
It was a stormship; everyone agreed on that. After all, one of the primary duties of the stormships was to calm to seas for trading ships. As the ship drew closer, the sailors’ excitement grew. This wasn’t just any stormship.
What started as a suspicion quickly grew into certainty. By the time the stormship reached them, the sailors were cheering and chanting its name. The sea hadn’t abandoned The Passing Fancy, and neither had the flagship of the Holdgate fleet.
Felix pushed his way through the crowd of sailors on the main deck to get a look at the great stormship as it drew near. It was strange seeing a man standing at the bow instead of a woman, but the iconic ship was familiar enough that he was able to put that aside. Besides, he recognized the ship’s new Storm Caller.
He thought of the many times as a child he’d watched this ship pull into port in Holdgate. Now he was doing more than watching. He was an active participant.
Thunderclap had saved him. Dustin had saved him.
“If we find the son of a bitch who’s doing this,” Syd said, “I’m going to string him up by his eyebrows.”
“Eyebrows?” Abbey asked. “That’s awfully generous of you. I was going to aim a bit lower.”
Captain Roy let out a soft chuckle. “Eyebrows…or whatever, we’re going to have to find him first.”
“We will,” Syd growled. She ran a hand across her bald head as she spoke.
Abbey couldn’t disagree with her friend’s assertion, and she understood the frustration. They were all feeling it, even Captain Roy, though he was a bit better at hiding it than the rest of them.
This was their maiden voyage as the new crew of Thunderclap. With Captain Tor, Dahlia, and the Storm Raiders who had previously manned the vessel all either dead or rotting in the Holdgate prison, there had been no one left to sail Holdgate’s flagship. The magistrate and the council of Storm Captains had agreed that the prize should go to Captain Roy and the crew of The Foggy Day, who’d proven their trustworthiness by taking a stand against Tor. Now it was The Foggy Day that sat unused in port.
Everyone had been delighted at the promotion to the better vessel. Dustin’s dream of Storm Calling on Thunderclap had come true, and a lot sooner than he’d anticipated. Syd and most of the crew were thrilled to be working aboard the larger craft, and Abbey, who’d accepted a position aboard only days before, had been no less excited to learn that her first real voyage would be on the great ship. After spending her first nineteen years primarily in her father’s blacksmith shop, she’d be sailing on the most famous ship in the Holdgate fleet.
The only one who hadn’t been pleased was Captain Roy. He’d accepted the new commission reluctantly and with an uncharacteristic seriousness. When Abbey had asked him why, he’d said, “We’ll be on the best ship in the fleet. That means we’ll be sent to the biggest battles and the most dangerous places. I don’t mind fighting if I have to, but I don’t like watching my people die.”
Now, on the last day of their first voyage, Abbey had to admit that it hadn’t exactly gone smoothly.
Since Thunderclap required roughly twice the crew of The Foggy Day, Captain Roy had needed to bring on nearly fifty new crew members. The other Storm Captains had reluctantly allowed a few experienced sailors to transfer to the famous ship, but the majority of were fresh recruits who had never been on anything more than a pleasure cruise. As first mate, it was Syd’s job to whip this new crew into shape, and the monumental task was making her even crankier than usual.
Training new crew members was always challenging, but training this many at once was like herding mountain goats. Abbey did her best not to cause her friend any undue stress, but she was a new sailor too, and she bumbled as much as the rest of them.
Captain Roy and Dustin were having just as much trouble. This had been planned as a one-week voyage to test the crew on open water. It should have been an easy journey: swing down around the south horn of the Kaldfell Peninsula to ensure the trade routes were clear of storms. This time of year, the seas should have been fairly calm. They expected to encounter one or two storms at the most. What they’d experienced had been quite different.
They’d encountered storm after storm, each on a trade route, and each too vicious and localized to have been natural. There was a Storm Caller working in these waters, causing havoc for Holdgate’s ships.
The obvious theory was that Dahlia calling the storms, trying to exact payback for what had been done to her captain and her shipmates. But the problem with Dahlia—or any other Storm Caller—creating these storms was that in order to call and maintain such disturbances, the Storm Caller would need to be within sight. But Thunderclap had yet to see another stormship, so whoever was doing this was somehow doing it from a distance.
Abbey left the captain and first mate and headed toward the bow of the ship.
Dustin was working night and day to quell the storms, and Abbey could tell it was taking its toll. She wasn’t sure which was wearing on him more: calming the storms, or the mystery of how the storms were being created in the first place.
The current storm was all but gone now, and Dustin had his eyes open, looking at the gently rolling sea and the trade ship on their starboard side. The crew of the trade ship was cheering and waving wildly as Thunderclap sailed past.
“Nice job,” Abbey remarked as she approached Dustin.
Dustin glanced at her, then turned back to the sea. “Thanks. For all the good it will do. Whoever’s creating these storms could be calling another one fifty miles behind us for all we know.”
Abbey nodded toward the trade ship. “Well, they’re grateful. Besides, we’ll figure it out. We’ll find them and give them the whupping they deserve. It’s what we do.” She paused, then continued, “It’s gotta be Dahlia behind this, right?” She almost scoffed as she said the name. Just that thought of that woman—and the fact that they’d failed to capture her—haunted Abbey.
“Probably.” He was quiet for a minute as he gazed out at the sea. “It’s just so frustrating. There’s so much we don’t know about Storm Calling. First, I learn that casting is possible without seawater, and now…whatever this is.”
Abbey heard a familiar voice behind her, interrupting their conversation. “You call that tying a line? Man, if Syd sees that, you’ll be swabbing the deck all night. Let me show you how it’s done.”
Olaf snatched a rope out of another sailor’s hand.
Abbey chuckled and shook her head. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d kicked his ass in her father’s shop. Now he was a sailor aboard Thunderclap, just like her. And to Abbey’s annoyance, he was learning the things Syd taught more quickly than any of the other newbies, which only added to his already impressive cockiness. Syd grudgingly admitted the young man knew his knots better than most sailors with six months’ experience.
The whole thing had made Olaf even more insufferable, but Abbey had to admit his brash confidence always brought a smile to her face. She turned back to Dustin.
“You were the first one to crack storm magic without seawater, and you’ll crack this mystery, too. Give yourself a break.”
Dustin looked at her with a half-smile. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I am,” she said with a grin. “Now get us home. There’s a mug of mead waiting with my name on it.”
“Dustin!” a man called from the crow’s nest. “To the east!”
He sighed as he looked east and saw unnaturally dark skies. “I think we both deserve a drink, but first we have work to do.”
That’s all for now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with another snippet!