Authors: Kevin Kelleher
© 2000–2014 by Kevin Kelleher
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
First Printing, 2013
Second Edition, 2014
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Published by Ahmnition
Printed in the United States of America
Chronicles of Gilderam, Book One: Sunset
is printed in
Times New Roman
Cover Art by John Avon
Gilderam logo, map and cover design by Laura M
Special thanks to Mike Kelleher, Nick Neglia, Mike Loots,
Sam Hanish, Stephen Kelleher, and Laura M
for Mom and Dad
A Gresadian baron, renown engineer and builder of airships.
Mentrat’s half-elf daughter.
Crew of Gilderam
Captain Breld, Galif, Pawl, Mec, Intha, Ethlezus, Hurn, Cort, Gantas, Jaes, Semith, Weiden, Reeth
An ex-commander in the Gresadian Imperial Army, now the head of a private security organization.
Fulo, Gorahem, Worin, Dathric, Aroda, Shaesh, Ulrath, Dez, Maiath, Thebulin, Cavada
The Marquis of Pwij, a Gresadian dandy.
A Disciple of Votoc and desert dweller.
Imperial Councilors of Gresadia
Miro Thalius, Pru Lamarioth, Tho Adbara, Badi Cahn, Egoth Laedus.
A glossary of terms can be found in the Appendix.
Worin’s eyes struggled to focus on the moon. Against the black of night it was a blinding, brilliant white orb. His old eyes scrunched, and slowly its pits and craters began to take shape.
He shivered in the cold. A sturdy breeze whistled in his ears, that familiar wind sailors knew so well, called the
. But Worin was no sailor, and the unrelenting breeze chilled him to the bone.
He turned the collar of his coat upward to shield his face, but it was little help. His flimsy three-cornered hat provided almost no insulation. Worin could hear the hum of a great engine in the distance, steadily rumbling under the breeze.
The crisp air blew a clump of clouds in front of the moon, and in so doing revealed another bright orb. This one was a variegated marble of green, blue, and tan, with wisps and swirls of white.
Worin breathed its name unconsciously, “Aelmuligo….”
The House of the Gods.
The last time he’d seen it with his own eyes he was a much younger man. Twenty-two years younger. The time before that, he was just a boy, and couldn’t possibly comprehend what it was.
The gods are watching
, they said. But the gods never stayed long; in three days Aelmuligo would reach its nearest point, and afterward begin its long journey back into the distant reaches of the sky. It would shrink and shrink until it disappeared entirely.
Worin wondered at their untouchable world, and what it must be like there. It looked so beautiful from this distance.
What kind of majesty must abound
A lone lamp, creaking gently on an iron ring overhead, illuminated Worin’s immediate surroundings. He stood on
portside weather deck, a railed platform protruding from the side of a canvas wall. The wall itself was just one side of a huge balloon.
An abrupt noise tripped his ears from overhead. It sounded like ripping fabric – like canvas.
Worin perked like a startled animal. The sound had come from above, but beyond the lamp he could see nothing.
But there was not a sound, not a movement. Eventually he convinced himself it had been nothing, and Worin returned to the rail to look back out into the sky again.
He looked down into the void of open air beneath the flying ship. Far below, he could discern the gleaming streak of a wide river, the Vulc Muri. From a height of two
, it was a sleek mirror reflecting the moon and Aelmuligo as it snaked away into the night. The countryside all around it, normally verdant and sprawling, was a faintly rolling darkness now.
Worin heard another tearing sound.
This time it was much closer – and crystal clear.
He wheeled around and pressed his back against the rail. Squinting, he held his hand up to block out the lamp, but it didn’t help. His eyes were burnt from the light of the celestial bodies, and he couldn’t see anything in the darkness above.
“Come here!” he called to Dathric, who was on patrol further down the deck. He heard an indistinct reply, and threw back his coat to uncover the shiny, steel hilt of his cutlass.
Behind him the clouds uncovered the moon again, and it cast a new light across the ship. Now he could see all the way up the side of
, and the arc of its bubble. High above, he could see shadowy blobs of clouds drifting by.
But one of them drifted in the wrong direction.
“Hey! You there!” Worin shouted.
He began to draw his sword, but was not fast enough. The blob flew down from the wall like a black bolt of lightning. It was a man – that was all Worin could tell in the split second before a foot landed on his sword arm, pushing the blade back into its sheath, and the other foot found his throat and bent him backward over the rail.
Worin saw Aelmuligo
and the moon one last time. Then he felt his spine snap over the handrail.
Dathric came running into the lamplight just in time to witness the dark figure throwing Worin’s dead body overboard.
Dathric fell silent as the shade turned around to face him. He was a short man in a long, dark coat. His clothes were tight, almost ill fitting, and he wore two swords on his belt. An old, battered tricorn dipped low over his eyes, and his coat collar was buckled over his mouth, concealing his face. A long, braided ponytail of hung over one shoulder.
Fear overtook Dathric, and he turned to flee. In a flash, the killer drew the shorter of his swords and threw it sideways down the deck after him. The spinning blade landed perfectly in his back, between the ribs, and sank deep into his chest.
“Might I offer you the most heartfelt of congratulations,” said Imperial Councilor Miro Thalius, lifting his drink. “This is truly a joyous occasion!”
ballroom, women in bell-shaped gowns paraded arm-in-arm with sophisticated gentlemen and primly dressed military officers. Expensive silks, shiny badges, sculpted hair, polished boots, plastic smiles and waxed mustaches were everywhere. A six-piece orchestra played obliviously in one corner to underscore the static of politely chatting voices and rehearsed laughter, while a league of servants disseminated finger foods and champagne.
Shazahd Ranaloc blushed, turning her milky cheeks rosy in an instant. Her sharp, elvish features blended exquisitely with her human complexion, creating a hybrid eyeful. She had light-gold hair, which was collected into an elegant tangle behind her head. Her large almond eyes were her mother’s – green, enchanting, elvish. But the strong line of her jaw came from her human father, Mentrat. Her ears rose into subtle points, the ultimate evidence of her biracial heritage.
“Thank you, Councilor,” she said, and clinked her glass with his.
“That necklace…” said Nilan Thebthas. Nilan was a count, and a longtime friend of Shazahd’s father. “Is that what I think it is?”
Shazahd nodded. “It’s Divaran heartroot. Taken from the Sanctum of Shadow.” She held it up for him.
From a gossamer mesh around her neck hung a clear slab of resin, in which was suspended a tiny clipping of root. In the gaslight of the ballroom it glowed a luminescent green. Nilan leaned in close.
“If you look carefully, you can watch it pulse in time with the heart of the tree itself.”
“Marvelous…” said Nilan. “Breathtaking. I say, the elves really know how to get engaged, don’t they? Who could say no to that…?”
“Actually, it was I who asked him.”
“Was it?” Councilor Thalius was clearly impressed. “A woman… propose marriage to a man? Ha! Only in Divar, I suppose….”
Shazahd said nothing to be polite.
“Well, I for one am wholly thrilled to be a part of this groundbreaking voyage,” said Nilan, “from New Gresad, the capital of Gresadia, all the way to the edge of Divar… but it’s a shame we won’t be able to be there on your wedding day,” Nilan said. “I’ve always wanted to visit the great forest.”
“Sadly the elves are not very keen on visitors,” said Councilor Thalius. “Least of all humans.”
“Can you really blame them?” said Shazahd. “Gresadia has been trying to exterminate them for centuries.”
“Yes, we have had an… unfortunate history of diplomatic relations,” said the councilor. “But rest assured that those days are behind us.”
“Are they?” asked Nilan. “They say the Empress is pushing the council toward war over the Memdian Marches.”
“She cannot declare war without the
consent of the council. You have my word, Nilan, that I will never condone such a hostile act. The Empress knows this. She can pray for war all she likes, but she won’t be getting one while I’m councilor.”
“May the gods bless you and keep you,” said Nilan.
“And what of your father, Mentrat?” Councilor Thalius asked Shazahd. “Will he be permitted to enter the Inner City?”
“Yes. The elves are prepared to make exception for my father. Despite their… shall we say, unfortunate history of diplomatic relations.”
Councilor Thalius smirked. “That is reassuring. If they can find peace with him, then perhaps there is hope for all of humanity.”
“I think Mentrat is a changed man,” said Nilan. “He’s finally emerged from hiding in Zunir, working on this vessel in seclusion for – what has it been? – ten, fifteen years?”
“Eighteen,” said Shazahd softly.
“Eighteen years without so much as a word to the outside world. To think! After all his contributions to aviation.... And now, this, his grand opus!” Nilan gestured to Gilderam all around them. “The fastest ship ever built!”
“If it weren’t for you stepping up to run your father’s company,” said Councilor Thalius, “who knows what would’ve become of it!”
“You’re too generous, Councilor. I only began helping with the company in the past year, when construction began on this ship. Thanks to my father’s patents being ahead of their time, the company practically ran itself while he was away. But time has been catching up. This ship is going to put us back on the map.”
“A miraculous feat of engineering,” said Nilan. “Can her top speed really outrun a battleship?”
“Theoretically. But we haven’t pushed her yet.”
“And where’s the exhaust? It’s against the laws of physics to burn nexane without producing that awful, choking smoke.”
“My father’s design is clean-burning. It’s purely efficient.”
“Just where is your father, Shazahd?” asked Councilor Thalius. “Shouldn’t he be here celebrating?”
“I, for one,” said Nilan, “would like to congratulate him personally before we get dumped off in Potholos.”
“Well… he’s… he’s in his room. He doesn’t like crowds.”
“That poor soul,” said Councilor Thalius. “He used to be so gregarious. I remember back before your mother passed, Shazahd, the two of them would throw the most extravagant soirées. Ever since she…. Well, he’s never been the same, has he?”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Shazahd. “I was only a child then.”
Across the ballroom, four dark-suited men stood grimly silent, watching Shazahd’s conversation with the councilor and Nilan. One of them wore a heavy, bulging satchel. Another, wearing a thick mustache, produced a pocket watch and checked the time.
“We need to get moving,” he said. “Where are they?”
“There,” said the one with the satchel. “They’re coming.”
Wading through the guests came two more men, one rather tall and the other fairly short. Aside from their minor differences, the six of them could’ve been brothers. They were similarly built, had the same dark hair, were dressed uniformly in dark suits, and all shared a moody and reserved countenance.
The tall man said, “All is prepared. They’re in position behind us.” His eyes scanned the crowd of guests as he spoke.
“But where’s that other guy?” asked the short one. “With the ponytail?”
“He won’t be joining us,” said the man with the mustache.
“Good. I don’t trust him.”
“Then why’d we bring him?” asked the man with the satchel as he adjusted the strap over his shoulder. The weight was becoming uncomfortable.
“He’s here for something else.”
“What does it matter? We’ve got a job to do. We’ll see to the engine room, you two clean up the deck, and you two head for the bridge.”
The six broke into pairs and scattered.
Chief Steward Pawl, a squirrelish man in a brown-striped frockcoat, bumped into two of them on his way into the ballroom.
“Oh – ooh! Excuse me!” he said.
“Watch it, little man,” he heard as they exited into the corridor.
Pawl’s eyes raced around the ballroom until they found Shazahd. He took off for her, swimming through the crowd.
“Tell me, Shazahd,” asked Nilan, “just how well armed is this ship? I would guess it’d be quite the prize for any of your competitors. Or – gods forbid – pirates! Think what the Raven Queen would give to plunder
“Come now, Nilan,” said Councilor Thalius. “It’s bad luck to speak of pirates on a maiden voyage.”
“Not at all,” said Shazahd. “We’ve taken great expense to ensure the safety of this voyage. Besides our escort ship,
herself has four long-range deckguns to dissuade any would-be attackers. Plus, our security arrangements onboard have been seen to by Commander Owein Maeriod, a veteran of the Imperial Army. He operates a private security organization out of New Gresad and came highly recommended.”
Councilor Thalius had an odd expression. “Maeriod, you say…?”
“Yes. Owein Maeriod. Do you know him?”
“In a manner of speaking….”