The Landship Alyssa

Recently, my life has been pretty chaotic, and my writing has suffered for it. Some of you may remember that I’ve been working on several things at once (which with my current sparsity of free time, has not helped productivity). But I think I’ve finally settled on a project now. Under the working title of The Landship Alyssa, the story is what I can only describe as a steampunk/sailpunk fantasy. Hopefully the following excerpt speaks for itself:

 

These devils from the south, these steam-driven fire demons from Sissia . . . they were an enemy sent to end the world as he had known it.

In the early days of the war, when the Sissinites had first shown up off the coast of Spennia, Jack had sailed with a combined force of Hojan and Galian vessels and they had fought a great action at Cape Roja in the Median Sea. They had defeated the Sissinites on that occasion, taking them by surprise as they lay at anchor with most of their people ashore, rampaging and looting through the unfortunate coastal towns of Spennia. Jack had been awarded the First Cross for his part in the action.

And when they had taken the Sissinite steamer Crujhonn he had been appalled at what they found on board. It had become clear, personally clear in a way that related tales had never made it clear before, what kind of enemy they faced.

He remembered standing on the iron deck of the enemy vessel, blood running around his boots, over the rivets and oxidised plating, and out of the scuppers to drip like crimson tears into the sea. Hojan and Sissinite bodies had lain around him, smashed and almost homogenised into one gory mass. Smoke from the funnels had wreathed the deck and he’d felt the heat through his boots, pouring from the great furnaces at the vessel’s heart. And when he’d led his men below-decks, into that stinking cavern of rusted metal and oil and filth, the horrors they’d found had been unspeakable: the demon-summing circles; the bloody shrines; the chambers where they had dragged the people of Spennia – women, children and men alike – and played depraved and sickening games with their living bodies . . .

He had never spoken to Suesanne of those things. He doubted that many of the men who’d been there had related the tale to their loved ones. He had tried to block the memory from his mind, and he had been at least partially successful. He had sailed to battle with the Sissinites again, as if they were a normal foe, as if defeat could ever stop their insatiable drive for murder and blood and appeasement of their dark gods. And he had done it with good humour, with the mindless bravery expected from a Hojan fighting captain. But the victories had stopped coming although the battles had always been hard-fought. The enemy had closed them down, brought the war first to the shores of neighbouring Galia and when she was destroyed, to Hoy herself. Suesanne was right. Soon they would come here, into the city. They could not be stopped. And saying it had somehow made it true.

Jack heard the voices of the girls, singing and laughing as Suesanne led them up to bed. Darkness was falling outside, and the moon hung pallid and crescent-thin amongst gossamer films of cloud. He should go and say goodnight to the children. He knew Suesanne was overwrought, unhappy, and stretched to the limits of her own endurance. Somehow, he had missed it coming – perhaps he had wanted not to notice – and despair had crept upon her as if by stealth. But he couldn’t move. He realised that he was drinking the brandy again. Funny how it was still half-full. He looked down at the decanter beside him. That, on the other hand, was almost empty. He wanted to kiss the girls goodnight, but somehow his body wouldn’t respond. It was only a vague and distant desire anyway. Soon they would be gone – he and Suesanne with them – so what, really, did it matter?

The walls of his study began to swim and melt and Jack realised that, for the first time since his childhood, he was crying.

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