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Start reading STORMBREAK by Natalie C. Parker

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Are you ready to dive into the finale? In this epic conclusion to the Seafire trilogy, which Booklist called “Mad Max by way of Davy Jones,” Caledonia Styx will risk everything–her heart, her crew, and even her life–to defeat Lir and take back the Bullet Seas once and for all.

Scroll down to start reading Stormbreak!

Stormbreak_Online[1]

Caledonia stood high above the bridge of the Luminous Wake, the sun-bright arrowhead driving her fleet forward. What once had been a single ship, a single brilliant crew, was now eight ships, with hundreds of crew members, all hers. She was still adjusting, but every time they sailed out together like this, they got better at it and so did she.

To either side of the Luminous, the Blade and Piston cut deep tracks into choppy waters. Farther behind, the five remaining ships of Red Fleet held back, ready for the order that would call them into battle. Sledge and Pine were in command of the Blade with a crew of their own. The Piston was under Mino’s command and the entire crew was made up of Hesperus’s people. Their cerulean capelets had been transformed into jackets more suited for seafaring, and they burned brightly against the muted blue of the ocean.

Down on the rounded nose of the Luminous Wake, Amina moved methodically along the rail, stepping around the newly installed catapults to check that everything was secure and in working order. Behind her, Hime carefully positioned carbon-shelled bombs in the cradle of each catapult before strapping them in place. Directly beneath Caledonia’s feet, Nettle stood at the helm, driving them forward with a steady hand. On the main deck, the five Mary sisters moved as a flock, keeping the rest of the crew on their toes.

The sun was halfway up its morning climb, the sky clear and blue. A bit of cloud cover would have benefited their sightlines, but after enduring Cloudbreak’s dreary weather for weeks on end, it was hard to wish blue skies away.

“Heading up!” a voice called from the level below. Pisces appeared a moment later, hauling herself onto the reclaimed ghost funnel that now served as Caledonia’s lookout. The past six moons had given Pisces a resolve of stone and physical strength of the same. Her new confidence was matched only by her right hook.

“Closing in?” Caledonia asked, feet braced wide against the wind.

“Closing in,” Pisces confirmed with a nod of her smooth shaved head. Sweat glistened against the dark tan of her cheeks. “We’ll be on them in another mile.”

Pisces wasn’t the only one to change since the attack on Cloudbreak. Since Lir killed Aric and took command of the Bullet Fleet. Since Caledonia’s brother, Donnally, had looked Caledonia in the eyes and chosen Lir instead. In that time, Caledonia and her command crew had gathered their own fleet and transformed Cloudbreak from a bustling market town into their base of operations, and Sly King Hesperus from a reluctant accomplice into their most trusted ally.

News of Caledonia’s victory at Cloudbreak had spread quickly. Rogue ships looking to join the fight had arrived in a near constant stream, adding ships to her growing fleet and willing hands to its ranks. Even a few Bullets had defected, which presented a very specific set of problems, but Caledonia wasn’t in the business of turning people away. Sledge and Ares had created a system for supporting Bullets as they slowly squeezed the Silt from their veins. It didn’t always go smoothly; no matter how willing a Bullet seemed, or how well they came through their withdrawals, it was difficult to trust them enough to put a weapon back in their hands. For his part, Hesperus had a small, dedicated team working on soiltech, while his sister Kae partnered with Far to keep everyone fed, watered, and organized.

Oran, as always, was Caledonia’s eyes and ears whenever she was away from the city. He was her proxy in spite of Hesperus’s copious, unbridled objections.

Their efforts kept Caledonia free to do what she did best: hunt.

Caledonia narrowed her eyes against the wind and swept her gaze along the horizon. They’d been en route to the Braids to meet with the Hands of the River when her scouts unexpectedly spotted an AgriFleet barge just south of their location. They’d changed their plans, radioed to Cloudbreak for additional support, and held position until Silver Fleet arrived.

“Sledge was right,” Pisces added. “Looks like Fiveson Decker’s fleet is escorting them. Ships are all marked with green.”

Caledonia smiled hungrily. She’d been waiting for an opportunity like this for moons. Aric’s death had ripped through the Bullet Seas like an electric current, igniting small pockets of rebellion from the Colonies to Slipmark. In response, Lir had recalled nearly all his ships to the Holster, which he’d claimed as his seat of power like Aric before him. The infamous city was entrenched in the southern peninsula, protected by a devastating crown of gun towers. But well-fortified as he was, he still had to provide food and Silt for his Bullets, and that meant eventually the AgriFleet barges had to sail. Barges that Caledonia could steal or destroy.

“Silver Fleet is on standby?” Caledonia asked.

“Holding back and awaiting our signal,” Pisces confirmed.

The first blush of orange blossoms appeared against the brilliant blue sky as the towering barge came into view. Caledonia felt an answering spike of adrenaline in her blood. The barge stretched a quarter mile in each direction, its long platform deck covered in baleflowers reaching for the morning sun with their mouths open wide like baby birds.

Caledonia turned to Pisces. “Looks like trouble,” she said, invoking the words their fallen friend Redtooth had said so often. “Trouble” was code for a fight, for an opportunity, for a chance to strike back instead of turn tail and run.

One side of Pisces’s mouth tipped up at the memory of their friend. “There’ll be more on the other side,” she warned.

“I hope so,” Caledonia said, offering her sister a mischievous smile before sliding down the ladder to the command deck. “Drive us in, Nettle!” Caledonia called, striding onto the bridge. “Harwell, alert theBlade and Piston that we’re sailing for gold.”

Harwell’s voice rose softly from his station at the radio. It had taken some convincing for Caledonia to go along with using the thing, but it turned out coordinating with ships was a lot easier if you could just talk to them. The Blades had set up a system that allowed them to communicate on open frequencies without broadcasting their plans to their targets. “Gold” was code for driving in together and hitting the target like a spear.

“Amina’s silencers are ready for a test run, Captain,” Pisces reported from the hatchway. “As long as Nettle can get us close enough to launch them.”

“I’ll get you close enough to spit on that barge if you want,” Nettle said, never shifting her eyes from the searoad ahead. She’d grown an entire foot and every part of her body had stretched thin but for her cheeks, which were as round as the scrolling scars upon them.

“Shouting distance will do,” Pisces responded with a smile.

“Ready for gold, Captain,” Harwell announced.

“Good. Engines to full!”

Caledonia’s eyes landed on the furious orange of the baleflowers ahead. Above, two purple flares unfurled spidery petals, signaling to whoever was near that the barge was under attack. They would have a few precious moments to prepare before Caledonia and her flagships were within range. All she had to do was be faster than the rest of Decker’s fleet.

Pisces leaned in close and whispered, “Lir won’t like us taking down his brothers.”

Anger pooled in Caledonia’s gut, leaving her mind with a cool kind of clarity as the seas rushed by. “If Lir didn’t want us coming after his brothers,” she said, savoring the dark edge of her rage, “he should have left ours alone.”

 

The sea curled away from the steel hull of the Luminous as the three flagships roared ahead. Beyond the barge, Caledonia spotted Decker’s fleet now maneuvering to intercept her, their decks ringed in spikes, each studded with decaying bodies that shuddered in the stiff wind. Once, the sight of five Bullet ships would have sent a shock of panic down her spine. Now it felt like an invitation.

From the main deck, Amina barked orders. “Gunner teams Quick and Gale, I want you starboard; Knots, I want you port! Target inbound ships and fire at will!”

Soon, they were in range and gunfire cracked through the air. In another minute, they would be near enough to launch Amina’s new weapon—bombs filled with modified skintech. Each sphere contained hundreds of little balls like stones that would soften when the bomb exploded, scattering like shrapnel and adhering to whatever surface they struck to deliver a nasty shock on impact.

After seeing the cruel reality of the star blossom bomb at the Battle of Cloudbreak, Caledonia had asked Amina for an alternative. A way to take out Bullets without mass casualties and without destroying ships. The silencer was her solution.

Pisces’s team took position at each of the five catapults bolted against the forward deck. “Activate!” she called, and in response they flipped each switch. “Fire!” The arms snapped forward and five blinking bombs flew from Luminous Wake.

Matching volleys launched from the bows of the Blade and the Piston. Fifteen spheres arced high, moving so much slower than a bullet or missile. For a moment it seemed even the Bullets stopped to watch, curiosity temporarily winning out over caution.

As Caledonia tracked their progress across the sky, she recalled the weight of a star blossom bomb in her hands. The look of dreadful understanding she’d shared with Oran before heaving it onto the deck of theTitan. The cries of agony as those star-shaped blades slashed a hundred Bullets to their deaths in an instant. It had been the single most devastating weapon she’d ever used, and for just a second, she feared these would be no different.

The silencer bombs found their targets, landing on the decks of the two closest Bullet ships. A cry of warning cut off sharply as skintech shrapnel struck chests and arms and heads. There was no spark of electricity, just a sudden hushing of battle as dozens of Bullets jerked on their feet and fell unconscious. Exactly as planned.

Immediately Caledonia’s crew began to reload their catapults to prepare for a second wave. The two ships they’d struck in the first round drifted idly by, while the remaining three rushed ahead. Behind those, the barge spread massive wings in either direction; on its surface figures hurried to carry whatever they could belowdecks.

“Harwell, tell the Blade to stay on that barge and set those baleflowers on fire. I want Piston on the incoming ships.”

“Yes, Captain,” Harwell confirmed before relaying her orders.

A second round of bombs vaulted from the catapults. This time, the Bullets were ready for them. They opened fire at the slow-moving targets, hitting two. But instead of harmlessly bursting in the air, skintech rained down on the Bullets below, delivering their shocks wherever they landed.

It wasn’t enough to stop them, but it was enough to distract all three Bullet ships, giving Sledge and Pine the opening they needed. The Blade soared ahead and its crew launched a series of fire-bringer bombs at the barge. Where they landed a solid wall of fire stretched ten feet high before reaching outward to consume the waiting sea of baleflowers.

Ripping her eyes from the sight, Caledonia tracked the Bullet vessels. Two had gone east, one west. But it was the lead ship she was concerned with. An Assault Ship with five blades of grass painted on the hull: Decker.

“Harwell, send Piston west,” she said. “Nettle, take us east.”

In answer, Nettle issued her commands to the bridge crew. “Starboard thrusters to full; reverse port thrusters, on my mark. Mark!”

The ship spun east, then shot forward as Nettle reversed her orders at exactly the right moment. They’d run drill after drill in preparation, but nothing quite matched the energy of battle. Nothing came close to that feeling of a crew pulling together and acting as one.

“Gunners ready!” Amina’s voice was a clarion from the main deck. “Team Gale, I want you on the bow. Target the lead ship and don’t let up! Go!”

The Luminous Wake assumed a collision course with Decker’s vessel. Gunfire shattered against their nose, but still they pushed forward, moving closer and closer until—“Port spin!” Caledonia cried.

The ship lurched and spun. In a single movement Nettle pulled their nose back, letting the hull bite deep into the ocean and revealing their broadside to Decker. It was a dangerous move, but it put their starboard launcher in position.

“Fire, fire, fire!” Amina’s voice shouted from the main deck.

The pop of their hull puncher echoed in Caledonia’s chest, followed by the deep grunt of metal piercing metal. They’d landed a direct hit to the vulnerable belly of Decker’s ship.

“Give them some space!” Caledonia called.

The Luminous withdrew aggressively, wrenching the deadly harpoon free of Decker’s hull and leaving a gaping hole behind. Instantly, Decker’s ship listed to one side, making a deep gulping sound as it began taking on water. The wound was low on the hull, perfectly placed to sink a ship. Decker had just been removed from the fight.

“Come around, Nettle.” Caledonia eyed Decker’s clip, now scrambling to stay afloat by whatever means necessary. Just beyond, the second Bullet ship charged. “I want us nose-to-nose with that second ship!”

As Nettle complied with her orders, Caledonia turned briefly westward where Mino and her crew had already dispatched their Bullet ship and the Blade continued to fire on the barge. Energy surged through her: They were going to win this fight. They’d taken down a Fiveson and now they were going to take down his entire fleet.

Almost as soon as she’d had the thought, a shout came from on high, “Tails! Five tails closing in fast!”

Caledonia spied them a second later: five new ships shooting out from behind the barge. Not counting the four ships they’d already disabled, that made six to her three. Good.

“Pull back!” Caledonia called. “Harwell, alert Silver Fleet and the rest of Red that we’re preparing for blue hawk!”

The crew of the Blade launched a third set of fire-bringer bombs toward the barge. On the broad deck, Scythes ran for cover or leapt overboard to avoid the explosion of fire.

The bombs landed, sending flames scrawling across the barge. Then the Blade spun away to begin its retreat.

“Pi! Send another round to our friends out there!” Caledonia cried. “Harwell! It’s time to retreat to blue hawk!”

Amina and her gunners immediately moved to Pisces and her team as they prepped the next set of silencers, and Harwell sent his message across the radio.

“Nettle, get ready to take us out of here!” Caledonia marked the pursuing Bullet ships as five silencers flew from the bow of the Luminous Wake. Three landed in the water, slipping quietly beneath the waves, but the other two struck the lead ship. Bullets dropped in droves, providing the distraction Caledonia needed.

“Now, Nettle!”

The Luminous Wake spun its nose away from the barge, swinging in behind the already retreating profiles of the Blade and Piston. Without missing a beat, the five Bullet ships still able to sail pursued, drawing together like an arrow chasing a target. One thing she had learned about Bullets was that they couldn’t resist a chase. Every Bullet needed a target, and she was glad to give them one.

Caledonia watched them chew through the waves, thinking they had her on the run, while the plane of Decker’s barge burned. This was her favorite moment of any battle. When the plan she’d drafted in her mind came together in perfect, bold strokes of fire against water.

They ran, and the Bullets chased. Right into the midst of Silver Fleet and the additional five Red Fleet ships holding back for this very purpose. The Bullets were surrounded before they’d even spotted the trap.

For a moment, the battle seemed to pause as the Bullet clips realized their mistake. Then they moved again. Three chose to fight and were quickly subdued, while a fourth fled, and the fifth surrendered immediately.

Caledonia surveyed the scene with grim satisfaction. The battle was theirs, and if his ship was still afloat, so was Fiveson Decker.

 

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