Authors: A. W. Exley
Tags: #Dark fantasy steampunk romance
HEART OF THE KRAKEN
Tales from Darjee Book One
By A. W. Exley
Legend says if you consume the heart of a mermaid, you will know all the secrets of men
Ailin doesn't care if the legend is true or not - she's stuck in a crate on her way to feature as the main course at a lavish banquet. Her heart to be served while still beating for a cruel noble while the rest of her is sliced into sashimi. Unless she can escape.
Across the ocean, Fenton longs for a different release. Sold as a child by men who labelled him a mistake, a failed experiment. Except he has one valuable skill, he can summon the dreaded kraken. Bought by a pirate, he has only known life at sea, wielded as a tool by the captain.
Two lives collide when the pirates capture the vessel holding Ailin. The kraken holds the key to Ailin's freedom but in summoning the beast one last time, Fenton must choose between losing his life or his heart…
Heart of the Kraken – copyright © 2015 A. W. Exley
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be used reproduced without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by Mae I Design
Editing by Laura Kingsley
This book is written in British English
The poems quoted in this book are THE OCEAN (1833) by Nathaniel Hawthorne and THE KRAKEN (1830) by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The Razor's Edge drifted with the ebb and flow of the Sanguine Ocean. The light wind crafted small peaks that slapped against the hull with a regular beat. Seagulls circled and dove into the slow wake, looking for scraps thrown from the galley. Not a single cloud obscured the pure blue sky and the harsh sun beat down without any filter. The crew sought what little shade the sides of the vessel offered. There was never any down time on a pirate ship, life revolved around maintenance and a myriad of tasks, occasionally interupted by the jostle of action. Today several crew sat to one side of the deck to perform quiet, mundane duties. Some men mended nets, a few polished the brass fittings until they shone and the mechanic undertook routine maintenance. While the vessel appeared to be lazing in the sun, she was really a predator scanning the horizon. Like a tiger waiting in the jungle for the rustle of vegetation to give away its prey, the crew waited for any sign of another ship.
So they could creep up unseen and unheard on their target the Razor's Edge ran by sail. Their engine slumbered, even the fires were dampened so as not to emit a tell tail puff of smoke. Steam powered merchant vessels plied the oceans, their holds laden with cargos from other lands and provinces. The trick was to find one to plunder before a Regulator airship dropped from above like a vulture. Regulators were lawmen who patrolled sea and land, but they were often little better than sanctioned pirates, stealing in the name of taxes and fines.
Fenton sat at the peripheral edge of the group of sailors. The others swapped crude jokes but he didn't join in, preferring to let the conversation wash over him. With long fingers, he ran a whetstone over his sword, honing the edge to razor sharp. These quiet moments gave him time to contemplate his life. With each day that passed, he loathed his path in life a fraction more. He preferred the chaos of battle with no time to think, only to react. Kill or be killed and each time he wondered why he bothered to raise his sword.
Dying should be easy but he couldn't do it. Was it ego? A tiny desire for his life to have meaning before he threw it away? Once he slipped from the earth, there was no one to mourn him or comment on his passing. Or could he face eternal sleep if he had something worth dying for?
He had no name other than Fenton and didn't know if it was his Christian name or surname. The day the captain purchased him as a lad, he gave him those two syllables and never any more. He had no memory of his life before, only of the captain checking his teeth, looking behind his ears and muttering,
I'll take him
. Ever since, he lived his life on board and rarely ventured onto land. Fate and his nature separated him from other men and the life on shore that filled their dreams. His dreams were cold and empty, like his soul.
When he trod the earth, his stomach churned with the same nausea that afflicted some men at sea. The fates anchored him to the ocean and the ore-mancers of Darjee chained him to Captain Dragut Reis. His freedom would come with death, there was no other way to break his bond. Except death eluded him even if he had the courage to reach for it. He was too valuable a tool for Captain Reis to ever let misfortune befall him.
He laboured alongside the other men but called none his friends. Their eyes held distrust and fear. Not because he was one of the largest or strongest men of the crew. They feared him because of what he could summon. Circumstance beyond his control made him the captain's pet and the others hated him for it. He raised his sword arm in their service for years and they still whispered about him behind his back. He huffed back a laugh, he would trade his lot for their normal lives in a heartbeat, but none would chose to be shackled to the demon that ruled Fenton's life.
He flicked his gaze up and sheltered his eyes from the harsh sun. High up the in the crow's nest, little Timmy searched as far as his telescopic eye could reach. Back and forth he scanned the ocean, his slight body shadowed by the bright light. Fenton hoped he had an adequate water supply up there. No one wanted to clean up if the poor child succumbed to the heat and fell over the side of his perch. Such an accident would make a damn mess on the freshly swabbed deck.
"Cap'n," Timmy yelled from far above. "Nor east." His arm shot out in the direction of the faint trace he found.
"Raise the sails." Captain Reis gave the order and crossed to the port side of the ship. While not overly tall, men scurried out of his path. Reis held his place as captain for nearly twenty years through strength of character and liberal use of the whip. Men dropped their tasks to jump to the order. Ropes were hauled in as the heavy canvas was stretched taunt to catch the breeze.
The captain unhooked a telescope from his belt and pushed his hat back on his head, revealing grey streaked temples. Then he scanned the horizon before snapping the glass shut and taking his place at the helm. Men obeyed on instinct, trimming the sail as required as the wind caught them and propelled the ship forward. Like a cheetah waiting in long grass, the Razor's Edge leapt into action and made full speed in a few short yards.
Long minutes passed before the naked eye caught sight of what Timmy spied. The dense smoke plume marred the horizon like a giant arrow, marking the exact spot of the vessel chugging underneath the cloud. Like a child clutching the string of a balloon, the little boat was equally visible and vulnerable. With their prey flushed out, adrenaline surged through the crew as they prepared for the oncoming fight. The captain ordered the ship to tack, to catch the breeze and the ship surged forward. With the wind behind them, they gathered speed and bore down on the other vessel.
Duties of the crew were divided into those who were responsible for the ship and holding their position, the boarding patrol and the sailors who would man the cannons. Boarders snapped free the ropes hanging from the rigging, they would use to swing over the ocean to the other vessel. Then they checked their weapons; swords pulled, double checked that they still had a pointy end and then thrust back into scabbards. Those staying took place at the canons, although none would fire unless commanded. The captain preferred to loot a boat without holes in it.
The boy in the crow's nest turned the end of his telescope. His gaze fixated on the small dot that became a 'steaming ship'. "She's called The Endeavor and won't make much of a meal, only a minnow, Cap'n," the lad called to the captain below. With one hand, he pushed the telescope back into his eye socket so only a brass rim protruded. Sunlight rimmed the edge and spun golden slivers over the rat lines.
The captain bought the boy three years ago on a trip to Duo Uisage, the hydro powered sector where the wizards of metallurgy ruled. In soaring glass towers flooded with light, they practised dark arts on sick and injured children, welding metal to skin and matching cables and fibres with tendons and veins. The boy lost the eye to some injury and the ore-mancers constructed a telescope in the empty socket and sold him as a lookout. The child soon became the butt of jokes due to his clumsiness. He tripped and fell often in those early months, earning himself numerous kicks from the other crew members. They took bets on how long before he fell from the crow's nest and splattered on the deck below. Fenton figured out the boy's brain couldn't reconcile the two different types of vision at the same time. He covered Timmy's telescopic eye and the boy found his balance. He learned to rely on one eye at a time, keeping the other covered.
The crew waited as the captain assessed their prey. They could all see the small ship now, chugging over the water unaware of the pirate vessel at her stern.
"Time to release the kraken, Mr Fenton," the captain said without a glance to the man at his side. His hand went to the complex gauntlet on his arm, containing a multitude of dials and switches. Panels displayed wind speed and air temperature but other nobs had no words or give away markings, their purpose known only to one man. A long finger caressed a brass switch.
Fenton stiffened. Amongst the men, he loathed the beast the most and with good reason. All sailors feared when the demon would rise from the darkness far below and tear apart friend and foe alike. Fenton feared the void the kraken created inside him. He had to touch its dark mind to control the monster's path and relay the captain's instructions. Only Fenton could control the kraken, and the captain controlled Fenton and he hated them both for it.
"Are you sure, Cap'n? It's only a small boat with no visible armaments, we probably only have to rattle our swords at them." He tried to swallow but his throat dried up and struggled over the words of vague disobedience. He wanted to say no, to refuse to unleash the monster on an unsuspecting crew but from his inception, he was trained to do as told. Subservience was underscored in his body through Reis' frequent use of the lash.
Silence dropped over the ship like a stone into water. Sharp and sudden. No one questioned the captain. Reis' head turned and despite the three inch height difference, he managed to look down an aristocratic nose at his taller first mate. "I didn't ask your opinion, Mr Fenton, I gave you an order."
Fenton held the captain's black gaze for a moment while the slimmest drop of bravery tried to work its way free of his gullet. A long suppressed part of him longed to break free. To say no and control his own actions. The kraken could smash the other vessel in half and drag its crew to the bottom of the ocean, and they would be powerless to stop it. The ship had no canon and no man was a match for the loathsome beast.
Courage withered and stuck in his throat and he swallowed several times to flush it back down. "Yes, sir." He nodded and walked away.
Reis waited until Fenton disappeared below deck and turned his gaze back to his prey. A minnow to be sure, but decades of experience taught him not to judge the value of a ship's cargo by the size of her hold. Silks, carpets and furniture took up valuable space but returned far less profit than a chest full of gems. He wouldn't know if this particular ship would line his pockets until he cracked her open.