Not just any excerpt though…we’ve got author commentary! Natalie C. Parker is giving insider info and commentary on all things Caledonia in the first riveting (annotated!) chapter of STEEL TIDE! Find the excerpt and her notes below with the tag “NCP:”
NCP: Beware! There be Seafire spoilers ahead! And probably a few bad jokes!
Caledonia dreamed of fire and of drowning.
NCP: I feel I should point out these are pretty *good* dreams for Caledonia.
The sea was glassy and cold. It surrounded her in a way that was almost loving, pushing at her fingers and toes, swirling at the nape of her neck. The current nudged her gently back and forth as though she were a piece of kelp, relaxed, yet not quite adrift. Directly above, the surface blazed. Fire danced along the water as far as Caledonia could see. And somewhere beyond those flames a voice called her name.
She reached up, and her fingers met something soft and dry. “I think she’s coming around.” A hand wrapped around her own. “I’ve got you.”
She blinked and was surprised to find she was not underwater but in a room. Her eyes refused to focus on the broad dark outline of the person holding her hand.
“Try to relax,” he said.
NCP: I hope you’re all going “omg who is HE???” because Caledonia can’t do it for herself. And she definitely did not pass out on her own ship so……?
Her eyelids felt heavy. She let them fall closed, and the fiery ocean folded over her once more. Exhaustion urged her to stay there. Yet a quiet voice inside her insisted she open her eyes again. She’d left something undone. She’d left people unprotected. She’d left before she meant to, and on the other side of those flames were people she loved.
Now she was burning. The room was hot. So hot. Her skin was burning, and she could barely draw a full breath. She tried a second time, and for a second time felt her lungs constrict. So she tried harder and harder still, but it was as if she were trapped, by water and by fire.
“Oh, hell. Someone get Triple!” the boy holding her hand called.
“She’ll kill herself if she keeps this up.” This was a new voice. And not a kind one. “Good riddance.”
“You’re not helping, Pine.” A third voice. This time a girl. “Move over. I’m going to put her under.”
NCP: *bounces* Alright. I know you’re going to be wondering where the crew is (and I’m afraid you’re going to have to wonder for several more chapters) but I am SO EXCITED for you to meet these new characters!
The cool glass of the sea returned. Caledonia drifted. Her lungs heavy and shallow, but she didn’t mind. The sea had her. And she always trusted the sea.
NCP: One of the things I love about writing Caledonia is that she is so bull-headed and so wary of literally everything. Here she is, clearly being taken care of by living, breathing people, and she’s like “You know who I really trust. The sea. That girl never lets me down!”
When she woke next it was dark. The air smelled like damp cloth, and the only light came from a small pile of dying embers cradled in a ceramic bowl. It cast its ruddy glow over the wall nearest Caledonia’s feet. Fabric, not steel. Her eyes struggled to focus, and her mouth felt like it had been filled with tar. A soft pain throbbed in her back.
A breeze pressed against one wall of the tent. The fabric rippled, and just on the other side of that thin layer pine needles whispered. This is not the Mors Navis.
Her mind was suddenly very alert, her memories returning in a flash. Her crew had sailed into these cold northern waters for a chance to save her and Pisces’s brothers. They’d fought Electra and won; they’d found Ares. But not Donnally. And when Lir’s ship appeared on the horizon, she’d left the Mors Navis for the chance to take revenge on the boy who’d killed her family and stolen her brother. She’d faced him on the deck of his own ship, and for a second time Lir had left her to die.
NCP: How to recap book one of a trilogy in 100 words or less!
That explained the pain shooting from her lower back to her stomach, but not the tent in which she now found herself. Not the loose-fitting shirt and pants in which she was dressed.
NCP: If Caledonia was feeling more herself she’d be REAL concerned about who took her clothes off in the first place.
She curled her fingers and toes, carefully testing each one. They burned and protested at first, then movement came more easily. Encouraged by their progress, she drew a breath of air that tasted like smoke and attempted to sit up. Pain—hot, lancing, angry—blossomed from a point in her back. It sliced through her like a spear through water, seeming to cleave her in two. A noise escaped her mouth, and suddenly the tent flap was pulled aside.
NCP…..but she’s not feeling so great at the moment.
There was a disorienting swirl of dust and daylight, then the flap was closed, returning the room to smoky darkness. Only this time, there was someone else inside. Hands landed on her shoulders, holding her firmly against the bed.
“Lie back, would you?” The boy’s voice was gruff and distantly familiar.
Caledonia’s eyes settled on his arms, on the old scar running across one bicep. In this light, everything was washed in a colorless shadow, but she knew what hue she’d find there—a dense, violent orange.
A moment ago, her body had been full of so much pain it threatened to overwhelm her. Now she was alert. Her heartbeat quickened, energy surged through her, and suddenly all that pain was a faded memory.
NCP: Caledonia’s about to do something brave. Ten points to Gryffindor!
She twisted beneath the boy’s hands and leapt to her feet. He stumbled back with a look of keen irritation. He was bigger than she was, and his muscles left no doubt in Caledonia’s mind that he would best her with barely a thought. So she wouldn’t give him time to think.
While he climbed to his feet again, she was through the tent flap and running. She found herself in a ring of tents beyond which tall trees stretched toward the sky. The air was fresh and cold, tinged with woodsmoke and pine. And everywhere she looked there were more of them.
Even if she couldn’t see their bandoliers, she could sense it in their walk, their gaze, their sudden focus on her. There were dozens of them. She was in a camp of Bullets.
NCP: Caledonia didn’t really think that one through. Five points from Gryffindor!
She quashed her instinct to head toward the horizon and instead turned toward the woods. The trees would be harder to navigate in her current state, but they would provide cover. The Bullet from inside the tent emerged with a scowl, his eyes finding her immediately. Now that they were in daylight, she could see that his skin was a pale, smoky brown, and stubble darkened the strong line of his jaw. He was not quite as large as she’d thought at first. Still, he was uninjured and unimpressed.
NCP: So….probably a Slytherin, then.
Caledonia broke for the woods, running as hard as her legs allowed. She spotted a narrow trail that slipped between the tall trees and avoided it. Her only hope was to become invisible as quickly as possible.
The woods were a combination of lofted evergreens, waist-high ferns, and tangled undergrowth. Her steps were uncertain and her balance worse. Behind her, the confident stride of her pursuer pounded steadily. She pushed to beat it, to be faster and lighter on her bare feet, but her body was slower than her will. The trees blotted out all sense of direction, and the undergrowth obliterated the ground beneath. Where she was unsteady on this terrain, her pursuer was at home. With each step, the muscles in her back twisted harder, screamed louder, and warmth began to seep toward her waist.
She pushed faster, trusting that the ground that supported this endless sea of ferns might also support her. For a short while, her luck held, then her foot landed in a small rut and she rolled over a twisted ankle. Her pursuer was on her in a second.
She tumbled and he pounced, grabbing her around the shoulders. Caledonia slipped his grip and spun to face him, lashing out with her fist. She caught him squarely across the jaw. The hit took more from her than it did from him, and she landed firmly on her knees. Spent.
“That was never going to work.” The boy’s hands landed heavily on her shoulders, applying enough pressure to hold her in place. “I suggest you return to bed before I have to do it for you.”
NCP: Is it too early for me to confess that I love this character? Like. A lot?
Now that she’d stopped moving, pain surged through her back. Her head spun, her lungs twisted, nausea left her mouth viciously hot, and her ankle throbbed with the fresh injury. It wasn’t going to be long before her legs gave out completely.
“I can carry you,” he said, sweeping his eyes along her body. “Though I’d prefer not to.”
“That makes two of us,” Caledonia sneered, still breathing hard as she climbed slowly to her feet. She had no option but to do as he said and he knew it.
NCP: Caledonia, however, does NOT love this character. lol.
The boy crossed his arms and waited for Caledonia to precede him back to camp. The trip seemed to take so much longer than her haphazard flight through the unfamiliar wood. Each step sent a fresh wave of pain singing through her bones, and exhaustion caused her to tremble constantly. She desperately wanted to stop and rest, but if she stopped, that Bullet would make good on his threat to carry her. She willed her legs to hold her up until they reached the tent again and the cot within.
The Bullet stopped just inside the open tent flap as Caledonia settled against the thin mattress. The move cost her in both pain and dignity. She cried out, shivering as the wound in her back wept fresh blood.
“Stupid ideas. Stupid rewards.” The Bullet’s voice was unconcerned and still surprisingly judgmental.
“It’s never a stupid idea to run from a Bullet.” The words came out rough, pressed through the sieve of her pain.
The Bullet grunted. “Don’t run again.”
It was a command, but he didn’t move forward to bind her, and for the first time she marked how strange it was that she hadn’t been bound to begin with. Either they thought she wasn’t capable of escape on her own or they were confident she wouldn’t want to. Though she’d certainly proved the first to be true, it was the latter that left her unnerved. Where was she?
NCP: I loved the idea of kicking off Steel Tide with Caledonia in the very same position Oran had been at the start of Seafire. Spoiler: Caledonia does not enjoy being a prisoner.
“You’d be dead if it wasn’t for us,” the Bullet offered, still watching her with that mixture of indifference and judgment. “You’d be one more carcass for the birds to finish off. Maybe that’s what you’d prefer? Wouldn’t break my heart.”
He was a dark outline in a bright doorway. It made him difficult to see clearly. Caledonia didn’t want to look at him anyway. She closed her eyes and turned her face away.
“That’s what I thought,” he said gruffly.
And then he left. For several long moments, it was just Caledonia and the stuffy dark air of the tent. She drew careful breaths, counting to four on each until her heartbeat began to slow. She couldn’t move again if her life depended on it. And it might; she wasn’t entirely sure. She focused instead on the things she did know. She was in danger. She was in the custody of Bullets far from her crew. And she was alive.
She let the pain remind her of all she’d done to get here and that this was not the end of Caledonia Styx. Where there was pain, there was promise.
NCP: Possibly the most “Caledonia Styx” thing I’ve ever written.
Tomorrow, she would be stronger.
NCP: Except maybe for this.
Steel Tide is hitting shelves SEPTEMBER 17TH! Get your copy here!