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Seafire This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof CopyrightNatalie C ParkerBeforeCaledonia stretched along the prow of the Ghostas the ship sliced through black water At night, the ocean offered only a dark reflection of the sky above, and the promise of a cold grave belowHer mother, Rhona, crouched near, a rifle balanced on her knees, eyes surveying the sea road ahead Our way forward is marred Do you see she saidCaledonia studied the eddies in the water, searching for the signs that meant there were rocks ahead, or a sunken ship, unusual swirls, or a sudden chop of waves Rhona was always the first to spot them, but Caledonia was getting betterRocks, Caledonia said, and without waiting for permission, she turned and called to her father where he stood on the bridge Three degrees port The Ghostnosed south to avoid the sharp danger On either side, familiar outlines of small islands rose around the ship These were the waters of the Bone Mouth, a series of islands and rocky protrusions that offered flimsy sanctuary to anyone brave enough to sail them They were treacherous in daylight, and nearly impassable at night, except by Caledonias mother, Rhona Styx, captain of the Ghost Under her command, they sailed as smoothly as if on open blue watersYears ago, Rhona liked to remind her daughter, they wouldnt have needed such stealth When Rhona was a girl, she sailed from the colder northern currents, past the towering Rock Isles, all the way down to the Bone Mouth without anydanger than the occasional storm Then, so gradually few noticed until it was too late, a man named Aric Athair had grown a fleet of ships armed and ard for taking and killing His fleet of Bullet ships stretched in a violent chain across the only way in or out of these expansive waters Anyone on the wrong side of his notorious Net found themselves bent under the pressure of his thumbNow, after years of dodging Aric Athair and his Bullets, and facing dwindling resources, Rhona had decided the time had come for their small band to punch through the Net For months, theyd searched for the best way Theyd studied the Bullet ships from a distance and determined the weakest point was at the tip of the Bone Mouth, where even Arics ships were loath to sail The Ghostcould make it, but first they needed foodfruit, nuts, and meat if they could get itto supplement their stores for the unknown waters beyondTonight, they resupplied But tomorrow night, they ran for the very last timeYou and your brother prep for the shore run Rhonas red hair rolled behind her, battling with the windA small thrill straightened Caledonias spine From the age of six, shed campaigned for the responsibility of shore runs to be hers Only in the last year had her mother finally conceded and assigned her the task But as much as Caledonia cherished the trust her mother placed in her on those occasions, she knew her little brother hated those long dark rides to shore He would spend the entire night terrified of being so far from the safety of their ship Let me take Pisces Caledonia climbed to her feet and followed her mother Were a good team Besides, Donnallys too young for shore runs Hes only twelve turns, you knowRhona laughed her grizzly laugh You know this from all your experience Caledonia pictured Donnallys eyes tight with fear, his mouth pressed into a stoic line as he struggled not to disappoint their mother I do, she answeredCala, the only way your brother will learn is by your side, Rhona said with a sigh, but there was no fight in her wordsMother and daughter skirted the bridge, then took turns sliding down the companionway ladder to the deck below Even in the moonless dark, they knew their way easily around the Ghost The ship had become a refuge for families looking to escape Arics rule As their numbers grew, every inch of the ship was transformed to meet a variety of needsmasts supported sails and laundry lines, the galley was transformed daily from a mess hall to a bunk room, even the deck was host to stacked garden beds and two goat pens Whilethan a dozen men and women were still topside at this hour, most of the crew was asleep in the small cabins below There were lookouts posted forward and stern and up in the nest, but here in the Bone Mouth, the Ghosthad never come across one of Arics Bullet ships at night Bullets were vicious and bold, but most lacked Rhonas seafaring skillCaledonia spied her brother crouched behind one of the four mast blocks studding the centerline of the ship, an overlarge jacket hulking around him like a gray cloud He had their fathers dark hair, their mothers fair complexion, and a nose that curled up at the tip, giving him a look of perpetual surpriseThe lines of a blunted arrowhead tattoo half filled with black ink peeked out from beneath his curls A matching one was drawn on her own temple It was custom on the Ghostfor parents to mark their children with unique sigils in case of capture The mark would give those children the chance to find their family again somedayIll take him next time Guilt nudged at Caledonia Her mother was right The only way to prepare Donnally for the world was to take him into it, but sometimes she feared for her little brother The gentle pinch in her mothers eyes said she did, tooDonnally Rhona called Hoist your eyes, son Donnally started, rocketing awkwardly to his feet before he managed to spot his mother and sister He trudged across the deck at a reluctant pace, dark hair flopping in his eyes He schooled his features when he asked, Shore run But the note of tension in his voice gave him awayYes, but not for you Calas taking Pi, which means I want you and Ares on watch Clear Rhona pointed toward the nestDonnally nodded eagerly Clear, he said, giving Caledonia a grateful smileRhona pulled her daughter into her arms, planting a kiss on her head Get the job doneAnd get back to the ship, Caledonia finishedBy the time they dropped anchor near an island they called the Gem, Caledonia and Pisces were prepped and ready to go They climbed into the bow boat harnessed against the hull of the Ghostand lowered it to the water as theyd done a dozen times beforeWith quick strokes of the oars they covered the distance be tween their ship and the island Recently, Pisces had grown several inches Shed outgrown her little brother, Ares, and shot straight past Caledonia, and her height seemed to make her fearless Piscess shoulders were broad and strong, her skin a warm, pale brown, and she wore her hair in four long braids As they rowed, her eyes were full of excitement, focused on the island and its bounty, while Caledonia kept one eye on the black oceanIts too quiet I dont like it, Caledonia saidPisces pulled in a deep breath and tilted a ready smile toward her friend Its peaceful, like being so far underwater you cant see the surfaceThats called drowning Only you would find that peacefulPisces laughed quietly to avoid unsettling Caledonia furtherTogether they moored their boat in a sheltered cove, securing it in a thicket of tall grass The girls split up to make their work faster, agreeing to meet back at the cove when their sacks were full The path down the shore was narrow, the ocean as dark as the night sky and nearly as flat Caledonia moved along the rocky tree line, stuffing fallen coconuts and bananas and jackfruit into the canvas sacks draped across her shoulders There was enough that she could afford to be picky, though theshe gathered, the longer theyd be able to sail No one knew what to expect when they broke through the Net They might need to sail for days or months, and they needed to be prepared for both People once said that beyond the Net were wide open seas and towns where children werent forced into the service of a tyrant, but it was a worldCaledonia could not quite imagineThe tide was low and the waves sluggish, burbling and hissing as they surged and receded In their wake, the sand glittered with the pearlescent shells of burrowing crabs and the slick backs of beached jellyfish From the dense forest came the looping songs of insects and tree frogs Perhaps she would return with meat after allFootsteps, hurried and heavy, sounded behind herCaledonias heart tripped, her hands stuttered on the strap of her canvas bag, and she instinctively slipped through a fall of vines There had been no other ships in sight for miles These footsteps must belong to Pisces They had toStill, the cadence of the steps refused to conjure the image of Pisces running, long black braids flying behind herEven away from the Ghost, the rules of the ship still applied Number one Never be seen Caledonia stilled her breathing, adjusted her feet, and disentangled herself from the bag full of fruit She would be ready to run She would be ready to fightThe steps grew louder and slower A dark figure appeared tall, muscled, male Instead of racing past as Caledonia hoped he would, the boy stopped a few feet from her hiding place His skin was suntanned and slick with sweat, his vest and pants lined with guns and clips of ammo His bicep was marked by a single scarred line that even in the dark was bright orange, saturated with the Silt in his blood He was a Bullet, a soldier from Aric Athairs armyAric conscripted children, dismantling families in order to build his empire Rogue families like Caledonias had taken to the water rather than see their children stolen and transformed into soldiers But because theyd run, if they were ever captured, none would be spared Not even the children Peoplereadily offered their children up as payment when they knew the only alternative was death for allThis Bullet couldnt be much older than Caledonia, seventeen at the most, but the mark on his bicep meant hed already killed in service to AricShe smelled the salt of his sweat and the sharp pinch of gunpowder and something unrecognizable and sweet Caledonia shiveredThe boy didnt look at her, didnt seem to be aware she crouched so near, her fingers inching her pistol from its holster Instead, he began to do exactly what shed been doing He bent down and collected fruitShed never seen a Bullet this close her parents did their best to keep the Ghostas far from Arics fleet as possible Over the years theyd outrun dozens of Bullet ships and collected as many families from other ships and outlying settlements, all while staying out of sightRule number two Shoot firstHer pistol was in her hand, finger curled around the trigger When the boy turned his back and kneeled to inspect a coconut, Caledonia had the perfect advantage She would only need one bulletShe raised her pistol and stepped quietly out of her hiding placeThe boy froze, dropping the coconut as he raised his hands Whoever you are, you have me, he saidCaledonia didnt respond, her throat tight as she considered pulling the triggerWould it make a difference if I asked you not to shoot the boy asked, face forward and eyes on the ocean If I begged for mercy Killing you would be a mercy, she told the BulletMaybe so, he said, voice at once piteous and resigned At least, if youre going to kill me, let me see your face Caledonias pulse quickened There was no time for this Where there was one Bullet, there were a dozen orShe needed to find Pisces and get back to the boat, and she needed to do it now Shoot, her mothers voice urged, but this was one rule Caledonia had never had to followSensing her hesitation, the boy shifted on his knees, spinning to face her His hands remained steady in the air, but now he watched herAlarmed, Caledonia took an involuntary step back Move again and Ill shoot She raised her aim to his headHe nodded, star pale eyes fixed on the barrel of her pistol He had a long face with a jaw that looked sharp enough to be a weapon on its own Blond hair, thick with sea wind and salt, framed his forehead like a crown One ear stuck out a little farther than the other, but the effect was endearing She counted two guns strapped to each of his thighs, which likely meant there were at least two others she couldnt see For the moment, she was the one in power, but she knew just how quickly that might changeAt least if Im to die, itll be at the hands of someone lovely His eyes charted a slow course across her faceWarmth crept into Caledonias cheeks Wheres your crew Your clip ICan I point When Caledonia nodded, he did, back in the direction hed come from Ships anchored off the northern tip of the island Stopped for foodOne ship Caledonia askedOne ship, he answered We were headed to the Net and moored here for the night Its a bad moon for travelingHe could be lyinghe was probably lyingbut this far from the Holster it could also be the truth One ship on the opposite side of the island was survivable As long as she and Pisces returned to the GhostquicklyBut something had to be done about this Bullet Whats your name she askedThe boy seemed to grow smaller under the weight of that question What does it matter if youre going to kill me It doesnt Caledonias finger found the trigger again, and again it stuck thereA sad smile twisted his lips Lir Im called Lir And I expect youll be the last to know itHe was so ready to die, and so young Was he young enough to be saved They said it didnt take long for the children Aric took to succumb to the dreamy pull of Silt Addiction made Bullets both loyal and mean But they also said an encounter with a Bullet al ways, always ended in one of two ways either you died, or he did Shoot, my brave girl, she heard her mothers voice whisperImIm sorry, she said, preparing to fire Her fingers trembled Now his eyes grew wide, his hands stiff and splayed in the air Please, he said, please, show me the mercy the Father never does Take me with you Whatever life you have, its got to be better than the one he forces on us Please, help meThis was precisely why the rule was shoot firstand not shoot as soon as possibleor shoot when you feel ready But shed broken the rule and now this wasnt a Bullet, it was LirLir, who desperately wanted a way out Lir, who hadnt hurt herLir, who might be someones brotherIf it were Donnally on some other beach with some other girls gun to his head, wouldnt Caledonia want that girl to help him Stand up, she said, lowering her aim to his chestLir complied, and his expression softened when Caledonia moved in and pulled six guns and two knives from holsters on his thighs, calves, and back Up close, he smelled evenlike the ammunition he carried, but with a pinch of something too sweet He kept his hands up as she worked, eyes marking every place she touched him Please, he repeated Ill never have a chance like this again Please, help meThe ocean rushed toward them and away, the waves quickening as the tide began to roll in It was the same tide that would carry all the families aboard the Ghostfar away from this terrible life that turned children into warriors, that made Lir plead for his life on an empty beach in the middle of a moonless night She couldhelp him And she wanted to, but it went against everything her mother had taught herShaking her head, she pressed the muzzle of her gun into Lirs chestDesperation surfaced in the tremulous bend of his mouth Whats your name It wasnt a secret, yet she frowned, refusing to give it upHis smile turned mournful How about I call you Bale Blossom, then It seems fitting His eyes raised to trace the frame of her hair The smile on her own lips surprised her It wasnt the first time her hair had been likened to the deep orange of the baleflower, but it was the first time the comparison felt like a complimentCall me whatever you like, she answered I still wont give you my nameYou dont trust me Theres no reason you should, but Im going to show you why you canCaledonias finger tightened on the trigger as he slipped one hand into his vest and produced a push dagger shed missed The handle was small enough to fit inside his grip completely while the black blade protruded between his first and middle fingers He held it out hilt first in the narrow space between themShe snatched it, noting how his body had warmed the metal, and tucked it into her beltHows that for trust, Bale Blossom Caledonia wished desperately for her mothers wisdom Rhona would know what to do in this situation She would know how to do the right thing even if it was a dangerous thingBut Caledonia had only herselfNo one trusts a Bullet, she answered But maybe I can helpAre you going to take me to your crew Lir smiled sadly, seeming to know the answer before Caledonia had given itRule number three Never reveal the shipNo, she said, resolute But Im not going to shoot youLir nodded, the bravery on his face haunted by disappointment Even in the dark of the night she could see his jaw was carved with dirt and old scars His eyes glittered dimly, and his mouth settled into a hard line The flash of hope Caledonia had seen a moment before had been swept away by resignationWhen he spoke next, his voice was hollow You should leave Go back to your ship Get out of here Ill hide or Ill die, but Ill do it under my own sailShe glanced in the direction of the Ghost, wishing it was as simple as taking Lir with herLir followed her gaze, and before her eyes, he became as steady and as cool as the gun in her hand He asked, Do you know what we call this moon There is no moon tonight, Caledonia answeredIts the Nascent Moon, he said after a quiet moment, all trace of that sad resignation gone Its a time of potential and growth A promise for things to comeHe touched her cheek, and Caledonia gasped, her arm lowering She felt his hand slide into her hair, felt a spike of delicious heat follow his grazing fingersIts the moon of beginnings and endings His voice found a malicious edgeToo late, she realized if shed missed one dagger she might have missed anotherHis fingers tightened in her hair A slaked smile surfaced on his lipsAnd the blade sank into her gutLir gripped the back of her head As hot blood spread across her stomach, he held her close Her knees buckled and her gun hit the ground with a thudThank you for your mercy, Bale Blossom, he whispered, lowering her almost gently to the sand Nauseating pain burned through her body And thank you for your shipCaledonia screamed, fighting to stay conscious If they heard her, they might escape She clutched at her wound and felt sand against her face, rough against her lips She knew there was pain, but all she felt was panic She had to get up, find Pisces, warn the ship She screamed againFootsteps This time, she knew them to be Lirs as he raced away, toward the Bullet clip that would soon find her family She fumbled in the sand for her gun and fired three shots It was still deadly dark, but she thought she saw him falterEven if those three bullets had missed their mark, everyone near the island would have heard the shots Her family would have warning They could escape, and as long as they followed the rules, they wouldHer nausea eased into a strange numbness The blade, she realized, was still in her gut A parting gift, and one that might just save her Holding the knife in place to stanch the bleeding, she got slowly to her feet and began to stagger toward her cove and the bow boat, the only thought in her mind to see the Ghostsafely on its wayCala Pisces burst from the trees, her long braids swinging around her like ropes Oh, spirits, Cala Bullets Caledonia barely managed the word before falling again to her knees We have to hurryPisces nodded grimly and ripped a long strip of material from her shirt The blade hurt evencoming out Pisces worked quickly, binding the wound tightly before tucking her head beneath Caledonias arm and lifting her friend to her feetTogether, the girls stumbled through the woods, taking the shortest possible path to where their little boat waited Caledonia tried to run With each step her legs felt weaker, her lungsshallow Her gut burned as she moved Thorny plants clawed at their legs and arms, leaving small trails of blood on their skin Thick vines slowed their progress evenBefore the ocean was visible again through the trees, the sound of gunfire ripped through the airNeither girl spoke until theyd returned to the cove The boat theyd used to come ashore was still there, bobbing as the tide came in But now, out where their familys ship lay at anchor, a Bullet ship approached, flared with lightIt was an assault ship with a sharp nose and grooves along the hull where Bullets waited with magnetized bombs The Ghostfought to weigh its anchor and gain speed, but the assault ship was already upon it Bombs soared across the narrowing channel of water A boomrent the air as the missiles exploded against the Ghost, ripping open the ship and knocking the breath from Caledonias lungsFlames spilled from a hole in the side of the hull It was everything the girls had been taught to fear, to avoid, everything their parents had spent a lifetime protecting them from And Caledonia had brought it right to their feetScreams replaced the sound of gunfire Caledonia lurched, pushing past the pain and into the shallow water She surged forward once, determined to swim, but her body faltered and she cried out in defeat Her feet sank into sand, salt burned in her gut, and Pisces gripped her shoulders to pull her back to shore Caledonia, no she criedThe two girls could do nothing but witness No one would be sparedIt lasted less than fifteen minutesThe sun rose higher Screams and gunfire wanedThen the Bullets began their gruesome work of dragging the dead to their ship and hoisting the bodies of the slain on the metal pikes studding their railOne body, placed at the very front of the Bullet ship, wore an overly large coat that puffed in the air like a gray cloud The feet dangled in the wind, and Caledonia choked on the memory of leaving Donnally behind just a few short hours agoCaledonia shivered in the warm night Blood seeped down her body, but the pain in her gut was nothing compared to the pain in her chestHow Pisces whisperedCaledonia slumped to her knees She shook her head, unable to confess the truth to her friend Shed failed her entire family she couldnt fail Pisces, too So she pushed the truth deep down, beneath her grief and her guilt and her angerWhat do we do Pisces asked, her brown face bright with tears Cala, what do we do Caledonia fixed her gaze on the Bullet ship, her ears on the final screams of her family Fire reflected angrily across the black surface of the ocean For all its darkness, it had failed to keep her family a secret But so had she Her heart hardened over the memory of Lir He had taken her mercy and turned it red Now she and Pisces were all that remainedTaking her friends cold hand in her bloody one, she gave the only answer she could find I dont knowChapterFour Years LaterJust before dawn, Caledonia climbed into the aft rigging of her ship The ropes were rough against her calloused palms as she scaled fifty feet of the mizzenmast, confident and sure, her hands and feet flying faster and faster, daring the sun to beat her to the top The sky filled with the hazy blue glow of dawn, and Caledonia pushed harder, relishing the first kiss of sweat against her skinShed scarcely reached her chosen perch when she yelled to the team of girls on deck below, Haul Eager voices repeated the command, and four sets of strong hands took hold of the lines and heaved Along the mast, pulleys squealed and churned Caledonia kept her eyes on the gaff beam moving toward herBreak She shouted as the gaff rose level with her chest From it hung their treasured sun sail hundreds of shiny black scales made to absorb solar energy and feed their enginesThe girls below began to secure the ropes while Caledonia moved to balance atop the beam The morning wind that was so gentle on deck was bracing this far up, and a constant tension whirled in her stomach Leaving one hand to grip the ropes, she stretched to retrieve the peak anchor and pull it down, snapping the cable in placeThe horizon was burning yellow now, and the approach of the sun brought a smile to Caledonias lips Below, she could see Amina perched on the starboard railing, tracking her with shrewd eyes It wasnt necessary for the captain to secure the sail Any one of Aminas Knots could do this just as easily as Caledonia, but this moment was unlike any other aboard the Mors Navis, and Caledonia craved the feeling of the world at her feetTrim to port she calledThe sail angled toward sunrise just as the first gentle rays slid across the surface of the ocean Light climbed the hull to paint the girls in their boldest strokes for just a second before it reached the black plates of the sun sailIt was like fireLight leaped from a hundred scales at once in vibrant yellows, oranges, and pinks a cascade of momentary brilliance washed up ward as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and at the top of it all stood Caledonia Wind tugged at her sleeves and her hair, light washed over her from boot to brow, and she felt as alive as the ship beneath her feet, charged and powerfulIt lasted for only a moment, then that dazzling morning fire was goneSunlight glittered calmly in the sail, creating fuel to power all the systems of the ship once known as the Ghost Repaired and renamed Mors Navis, the large vessel was sharp and elegant, all of it skinned with dark, gray steel except for a few patches of wood and tar Everything on the ship was a mixture of old world tech and whatever natural resources they could find And they made it work The Mors Navisnow carried a crew of fifty three girls, six cats, and one goat Theyd made this ship both a weapon and a homeFour years ago, this had been a fantasy Trapped on a beach with nothing but a gut wound, her best friend, and this very ship in pieces, Caledonia could only dream of the day she had the means to stand up and fight It had come sooner than she could have hoped, the morning Pisces looked at her square in the eyes and said she wanted revenge It came as they bent their minds to the task of recovering their ship It came one girl at a time Caledonia and Pisces had stitched this ship and its crew together from odds and ends discarded by the worldAs Caledonia began her downward climb, she heard the bow boat drop from its hanging berth and hit the water She saw it a moment later, pushing past the ship with five girls aboard and Red tooth at the helm, the red tips of her blonde braids visible against the bright blue morning That team would scout a few miles ahead of the Mors Navis, looking for trouble or opportunity Caledonia paused, watching as Redtooth raised her hand in salute to another dark shape in the water before speeding awayPisces Some days it seemed the girl had been in the water since the attack on the Ghost Shed risen before the sun that first, terrible day on the beach and walked straight into the ocean to drown her tears When she came up for air, her sobs left jagged stitches in the hushed morning Unable to move much on her own, Caledonia had no choice but to be still as her friends grief washed over her That grief was like a fever, one Caledonia could feel burning in her own blood As Pisces sought solace in the ocean, Caledonia hoisted her eyes to the sky and let her own tears drain into the hard sand So much had changed in four years, but some things were very much the same Pisces was in the water every morning as early as Caledonia was in the rigging Just as Caledonia knew the surface of the ocean and her ship, Pisces knew what lay beneathSunlight glinted off Piscess smooth head and shoulders before she dove once again, vanishing from sight Caledonia recalled the moment Pisces had come to her with a razor in her hand and tears in her eyes I want it gone, shed saidYou want what gone Caledonia asked as she cautiously reached for the razor, already afraid of whatever answer her friend was about to giveMy hair, Pisces said, voice quiet Tears slipped down her cheeks It drags in the water And I need to be fasterCaledonia began to cut, pausing every so often to blink away her own tears as she workedIt had been the first of many sacrifices But every one had made them stronger, brought them closer to the fight they ached forto avenge their mothers and fathers and brothers and all the families aboard the Ghost One day, they would take this fight all the way to Aric Athair himselfHows the view this morning, Captain a voice called as Caledonia reached the deckLace was always among the first to greet her, no matter how early Caledonia roseAs bright as your hair Caledonia faced the small girl, eyes appraising the pile of blonde curls that were as stubbornly cheerful as the girl who wore them Whats the news Caledonia asked, turning her steps toward the bridgeThough on the younger side of her command crew, Lace had stepped into Caledonias trust almost as soon as shed stepped aboard the ship She was calm and competent, with a laugh as grizzly as Rhonas had been Her skin was pale as seafoam and her curls, while not rusted red, were defiant It was strange to associate someone so young with her mother, but Caledonia found something comforting in their similarity of spirit, and shed loved Lace immediately for itLace matched Caledonias pace and began her morning brief of the days activities She covered changes to the duty roster, maintenance issues, health concerns Lace had a knack for reporting dismal situations without sounding dismal, a talent that was exceedingly rare Most of it didnt require Caledonias direct attention, but the last item on Laces list always landed heavy on the captains mindAnd finally, Lace beganAnd finally, Caledonia repeated with a sighVitals Far says were down to beans and salt soup, and she can keep us running on that for five days at the outsideIts been five days for the past three, Lace The soup is starting to look like water Are you sure we can survive for fivedays Laces smile was as sturdy as the deck beneath their feet Weve survived worse than thin soup, CaptainFivedays of meager fare would make for a weaker crew Caledonia felt the pinch in her own stomach amplified fifty two times Beside her, Lace had grown unusually quiet TheresAll around them, the deck buzzed with activity Laundry lines were pulled taut and covered with clothes, the five Mary sisters were oiling the cable cutters and their clips beneath the railing, and Amina and the eleven girls who made up her sharpshooting team of Knots crawled through the rigging to polish the plates of the sun sailLaces smile drooped when she answered, We lost Metalmouth Dammit Caledonia stopped in her tracks, hands settling on her hipsFar thinks she got into some rot Mustve been bad to kill her That was an understatement Goats were hardy in general, but Metalmouth had been named for the fact that she would have eaten the hull of their ship if she could No goat meant no milk Even less sustenance to go around Finding a replacement wouldnt be easyBright bits Lace asked, her smile resurfacing Well have meat for dinnerYoungest first, Caledonia spoke quietly Her mind was already calculating the distance between them and the familiar waters of the Bone Mouth If they changed course now, they could be there before they ran through their supply of beans With any luck, theyd be able to forage on the islands and cast their lines for fish Gather the command crew Were changing courseBefore Lace had a chance to comply, a whistle pierced the air It was followed by a shout from Amina high in the rigging Bow boat on approach That was quick, Lace mused, shielding her eyes to peer over the oceanThe boat cut a straight line across the water, moving with strict urgency It meant it was time to do one of two things run or fight Immediately, the Mary sisters mobilized the deck crew, readying the hooks that would latch the boat and raise it into its hanging berth The maneuver hadnt always been an easy one for such a young crew, but they hooked the boat on their first try and smoothly lifted the vessel from the waterRedtooth was over the railing in an instant Her blue eyes bulged like the muscles in her persistently burned arms as she made for Caledonia Captain, she said, clamping one hand on Caledonias shoulder We found troubleCaledonia could see the future in Redtooths eager expression Trouble was code for a fight Judging by the smile Redtooth couldnt hide, this wasnt just any fight This was a chance to hurt Aric Athair, and that was impossible to walk away fromCan we eat it Caledonia askedRedtooths lips spread in a devilish grin Sure, she answered Were the crew of the Mors Navis We eat Bullets for breakfastChapter The barge made a beautiful target It floated on a glassy blue sea, covered in orange flowers turned toward the sunUnder Redtooths guidance, theyd come upon the baleflower carrier only moments before The long, flat deck was a riot of mature flowers ready to be plucked and processed and eventually dehydrated and turned into Silt This ship was on its way to rejoin Arics AgriFleet along with other ships bearing harvested goods He depended on these flowers, on the drug they produced, to force loyalty from his Bullets They hungered for Silt almost as much as they craved Arics approvalHe would definitely notice the barges absenceThe day was clear, the air threaded with the distant, too sweet scent of those poisonous flowers, the seas agreeableCaledonia lowered her binoculars and turned to face the five girls of her command crew Pisces, Amina, Redtooth, Lace, and Little Lovely Hime Pisces was her second in command, while the other four commanded smaller crews of a dozen girls to oversee ship tech, training, navigation, and medical respectively None but Pisces had been with Caledonia since her first raid on Arics drug fleet, but already these faces had found harder edges Little Lovely Hime no longer hid her hands in the pockets of her apron, Amina watched the horizon as much as she used to watch the sky, Lace smiled withdetermination than joy, Redtooths blonde braids were permanently tipped with red clay to signify she was ready for the fight, and Pisces spent so much time training in the water that her shoulders were always covered in fine sea salt They were Caledonias stones some small, some large, each powerful in their own wayFrom where they stood on the command deck, they had a clear view of both the barge ahead and the crew on the deck belowCaledonia met Aminas steady gaze In response, Amina raised her brown hand into the air like a sail, palm cupped Theres a killing wind from the west, and the spirits are hungry, she said They will want blood It does not matter from whomIt certainly did matter from whom, but Caledonia wasnt in the mood to argue with Aminas spirits Instead, she asked, How charged are we Eighty percent Charging slower since our sun sail was gouged last week Aminas voice carried fresh bitterness as she referenced their latest encounter She turned thoughtfully toward the stern of the ship Im working on a solutionLike most salvaged ships, the Mors Navisran on solar powered jets Unlike most ships, they had a system of retractable masts with patchwork cloth sails stowed belowdecks At a moments notice, the crew could erect the masts and convert the ship to wind powerHime, Caledonia said, turning to the small girl She had endlessly dark eyes and skin the cool beige of a seashell Her long black hair was braided to cover her mangled ear, the end of it tied in a simple blue ribbon Her hands were folded quietly in front of her, a long apron blowing lightly over her pants and boots You need to get below I want to fight, Hime said, her hands moving deftlyRedtooth grunted her disapproval Not a smart move, little Princelet She absently rubbed at a small scar on her palmHimes cheeks flushed with anger or irritationCaledonia didnt care which, only that Hime removed herself from the deck and the impending fight Everyone on Arics fleet was fed Silt Even the Scythes, who were primarily responsible for tending the barges And while Hime had been clean for nearly a year, the habit had long clawsAmina laid a gentle hand on Himes shoulder, communicating so much with a simple touchHime raised her dark eyes to the baleflowers on the horizon, and then looked away with a nodOne ship in the open blue, a hundred possible traps waiting where they could not see Bale barges were never alone Thered be at least two Bullet ships scouting wide for attack, ready to rush back and protect the precious cargo at the first signal from the bargeThis battle would cost the Mors Navis, but the only way to bring Arics reign to an end was to weaken his hold over his Bullets That required sacrificeammo, energy, blood Caledonia was no stranger to sacrifice, but she preferred to make sure Arics would be greaterShe spun, facing the crew below her on deck Caledonia required every girl on board to know their strengths and pull their weight Some, like Far, would doharm than good in a fight, but even with a few tucked safely below decks, the fighting force was forty nine girls strong They stood with eyes trained on her Theyd seen the barge and had their guns and knives already in hand, their faces sharp and eager They knew exactly what lay ahead of them Raising her hand, Caledonia cried, The only good BulletIs a dead Bullet her girls shoutedFull speed The jets along the hull of the Mors Navisbegan to force water through their system A plume of churned water rose behind them, and the ship surged forwardTheir speed was met by a flare from the barge, precisely as Caledonia had expected It burst in the air like a great purple flower, then crackled and hissed as it faded to smoke The countdown to Bullet ships beganYouCaledonia pointed a finger at Lovely Himebelowdecks, dont come outHime nodded and, with a final glance for Amina, slipped awayRedtooth removed a small gray tin from a zippered pocket low on her leg and grinned as she dipped her fingers inside She dragged red clay across her mouth, turning her lips into a bloody gash Then, leaping from the bridge to the deck, she began organizing her raiding partiesAmina was already halfway down the deck, shouting at her team of Knots to raise the masts and get into the rigging No sooner were the masts locked in place than a team of girls began to climb, rifles strapped to their backs They found positions among the bound sails and clipped into harnesses, ready to snipe incoming artillery The crew was in their rhythm Tin, the eldest of the five Mary sisters, called out a list of orders to the deck crew until each of the twenty girls had a gun in handI have the bridge, Captain, Lace announced, tossing her sun bleached curls as she turned to assume her position on the bridge She was a bright spot among the crew, a sparkling citrine stone filled with warmth and light Everything about her clung to cheer, from her ever ready smile to the tattered lace she used to wrap her hands for combat She was their Helm Girl, commanding the small bridge crew in Caledonias absence And she was the only person on board Caledonia trusted in that roleYou have the bridge, Lace, Caledonia confirmed, leaving the shelter of her bridge and crossing the narrow command deck to stand at the very tip of her vessel, in full view of the barge She stood with hands on hips, eyes trained on her target, red hair blowing behind her like a deadly storm, as her mother had done whenever danger loomed Let them see she was not afraidPisces appeared at Caledonias elbowCable mines, Pisces said as she pulled a charm back and forth on the chain around her neckCaledonia nodded In all likelihood, there was a web of sub merged mines attached to cables and suspended in a perimeter around that barge They would need to be disabled or triggered before the Mors Navissent its raiding parties in to destroy the crop But first they would have to locate themThey were closer to the barge now Through binoculars she could see tiny figures rushing to secure the blossomsCan you do it Caledonia turned to her friend, hopeful the answer was both yes and noI can Pisces dropped the charm Seeming to sense Caledonias momentary indecision, Pisces rested her fingertips against the arrowhead that marked Caledonias templeIn response, Caledonia raised her own fingers to the tattoo on Pis temple Black and starting to blur at the edges, it was a simple circle with two lines slashed vertically through one side For Caledonia and Pisces, the marks had become living shrines to their murdered brothers, a symbol of the family they avenged with every battleThe girls rested this way for just a breath before Pisces left like a gust of wind, flying down to where her submersible gear waited As Pisces suited up, Caledonia imagined her own heart pinched flat as the ocean Caring was what set them apart from the likes of Aric, but at times like this, it was only a distraction Caledonia steered her mind to the fight aheadBullets The cry came from the top of the riggingWhere moments before there had been water and dusty sunlight, now there were three black dots, which would soon grow into ships They approached from the starboard side, coming to the aid of the bargeGet the tow in the water Caledonia shoutedThe tow, shaped like an oversized bullet, was a handheld propulsion device capable of pulling a person underwater Combined with a blue lung that recycled air, that person could stay below for hours That person was always PiscesPisces would submerge and drive toward the skirt of mines, then trigger them from a safe distance using her pulse gun It was the worst job on ship, but Pisces gave no evidence of anything except steeled nerves as she pulled on her mask, secured her flexible body armor, and checked her blue lungKeep your distance, Pi Come back to usHer tow ready in the water, Pisces leapt overboard Then she was goneTwo miles to range Amina cried from her perch, eyes on the approaching Bullet ships They were four miles out, but in two miles, theyd be close enough to open fire and hit the Mors NavisAt this speed, that translated to minutes And the crew needed each oneOn Caledonias command, the Mors Navisslowed, coming to rest a quarter mile from the barge Her crew was busy tightening armor over shoulders and thighs, checking their clips, and watching the enemy ships reveal themselves completely an assault ship, a crusher, and a mag ship The assault ship was fast and would be heavily armed, the crusher designed for devastating impact, but the mag ship was the one that worried Caledonia It would be armed with a system of magnetized harpoons If they landed on the hull of the Mors Navis, theyd be able to hold her immobilized while the other ships attacked at willAn explosion shot up from the water surrounding the barge Pisces had found her first target and punched a small hole in the perimeter of cable mines Now they waited for the second To see how far the mines were spread apart, and to see if Pisces had survived the shockwave On the deck of the barge, Scythes aimed rifles at the water and began to fire at PiscesThese were torturous minutes Caledonia inhaled slowly, scanning her crew Amina hung in the rigging with the rest of her Knots, whispering a prayer to the sky Redtooth crouched with her chosen raiding party in one of two bow boats swinging halfway down the starboard hullA second explosion spiked ten feet from where the first had been Pisces was alive, and shed just given them an entry pointThe barge would be theirsChapter Everything moved at onceRedtooth and her bow boats dropped to the water with a proud smack Their engines roared to life, and the girls raised their plates of armor along the starboard side, locking them into a solid wall for cover from the approaching shipsTake them to the deep Caledonia lunged onto the cabin of the bridge, taking the shiny brass wheel from Lace and kicking the Mors Navisinto high gear She aimed her ships nose directly at the Bullets, and her girls gave a vicious battle cry Their focused rage reminded her that though she might be the force that kept them all together, they were here by choiceThe assault ship fired Two precious missiles streaked across the sky Aminas voice rang out, followed by gunfire The Knots were sharp eyed and shot each missile down midflight They burst harmlessly in the air over the oceanNear the barge, another explosion erupted from the water Red tooth now had plenty of room to maneuver right next to the bale barge and plant the mines that would sink it Caledonias job was to give them as much time as possibleThe approaching Bullet ships sped up Wind sang through the ghost funnels mounted to their decks, creating a discordant, ethereal howl that sent an involuntary shiver down Caledonias spine Soon, the mag ship broke away, sailing over the remaining distance to the Mors Navis, trailed by the heavy prowed crusherThis was to be a halt and hitthe mag ship would move behind the Mors Navis, hook her with magnetic anchors, and hold her there while the crusher came in full tilt to hit her broadside The Mors Naviswas as tough as her crew, but she was shallow in the draft A strong hit from a ship like that could topple her Caledonia revved her jets again and turned her nose toward the mag ship, offering the smallest target possibleCable cutters ready Tins order traveled down the line as girls prepared for the inevitable She and her sisters commanded the deck with seamless efficiency Fire Guns and rifles fired, the air turned gray with smoke, but the mag ship was undeterredWith only feet to spare, the mag ship turned broadside and skated across the water to pace the Mors Navis A small crew of Bullets greeted them with leering, hungry faces and a dozen gun barrels The girls raised a wall of shields, and gunfire sparked against it Before the girls could recover from the onslaught, the mag ship slipped into their wake and fired five magoonsThe hull of Caledonias ship was a patchwork of metal and wood stitched together with heavy, waterproof seams of black tar If even one of the mags hit wood, they stood a chance But Caledonia heard the magnetized tethers attach one by one to patches of metal and knew theyd need grit over luck She kept her ships pace, but steered slightly toward the barge to buy a few secondsIt didnt matter As her crew traded fire with that of the mag ship, the five tethers connecting the two ships drew tightThe Mors Navisbegan to slowAmina and the Knots turned their guns on the mag ship and opened fire, desperately trying to clear the way for their own crew to get over the rail of the Mors Navisand cut the magoon cables The Bullets fired relentlessly Shots sparked against their hull and soon found flesh and bone Blood darkened the deck, the air thick with smoke and shouts and cries Caledonia watched the scene unfurling with a sinking heart Clearing the way for the cable cutters to dislodge the magoons would take time they did not haveThe assault ship drove forward now, heading not for the Mors Navis, but for the barge and Redtooth That meant that the crusher fitted with a deadly metal wedge on its nosewould turn on the Mors Navis A direct hit from that ship would sink them for sureThis was a perfect trap, but traps only worked when you thought your opponent couldnt surprise youAmina she cried, and Amina slipped down the ropes to join Caledonia on deck Time to give your new web a tryShots hissed around them as the two girls hurried to collect Aminas latest designthree charges that could create a web of electricity Anyone caught between them would get a deadly shock But it required each charge to land within twenty feet of the othersWork fast, Amina instructed, calmly calibrating the charges and loading the three guns If they detach before we get all three in place, it wont workIn the distance, the assault ship was closing in on the barge Time pushed at Caledonias heart, but she breathed in once to slow it, then lifted the first gun to her shoulder Amina did the same Three, two, oneThe kick of the guns was severe, but both shots hit their intended targets Amina reached immediately for the third gun and fired Caledonia didnt wait to confirm the shot landed before hitting the button on the remote triggerBlue white light arced from charge to charge, spidering out to kiss the copious amounts of metal on each Bullet Their bodies snapped in the air like sails in the wind, their eyes rolling skyward, mouths freezing with jaws clenchedNow Caledonia cried The crusher was closing in, its nose lined up to ram the Mors Navisdead centerFive girls dove over the side of the ship, their feet caught by strong hands as they dangled and stretched to sever the cables of magoons holding the Mors Navisin place One by one the cables snapped Caledonia raced to the helm and drove the jets as high as they might goThe Mors Navisjerked ahead, but she hadnt been fast enough The crusher hit them with a glancing blow, ripping a patch of metal siding from the sternThe ship heaved to one side, sending girls and guns sliding across the deck Caledonia could do nothing but grip the helm and wait From that position, she could see Redtooth and the bow boats racing home Behind them, an explosion split the barge in two, filling the sky with vibrant orange petals that drifted slowly to the ocean Her girls roared in triumph It was a vicious sound, and it filled Caledonia with so much delight she thought she could right this ship herself Aric had lost a hearty crop today And it was Caledonia and her crew who had taken it from himNot far from the sinking barge, she spotted something else bobbing in the water, a dark figure directly in the path of the approaching assault shipPisces, she realized with horror And the Bullet crew had her in their sights Just as the Mors Navisbegan to right itself, a pick hook swung down from the enemy ship and buried itself in Piscess shoulderAs Caledonia watched, Pisces was dragged from the water straight into the hands of the enemyA fast paced, thrilling tale BuzzFeed One of the year s most anticipated new fantasies Entertainment WeeklyIncredibleSyFy Wire Full of nonstop action, adventure, and surprising turns of events, this fast paced, feminist tale is suspenseful and thrilling School Library Connection, starred review An exciting, action packed taleis adventure never loses its pace Publishers Weekly This is sure to appeal to readers looking for strong female characters and fans of Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser andThe Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig School Library JournalA gutsy tale of sisterhood, courage, and unshakeable trust You dont want to miss this book Julie Murphy,New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin In these turbulent times, Seafire gives teens just what they need A reminder that with unity and courage, they can rise up and ultimately change the world Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles and the Tiny Pretty Things series Mastering high seas, high stakes, and high emotions, Natalie Parker gives us a whole host of girls who get the job done and kicks off an adventure to rememberNew York Times bestselling author EK Johnston As smart, ferocious, and uncompromising as its crew, Seafireis the adventure youre looking for I have such a crush on this book Kiersten White, New York Timesbestselling author of And I Darken Absolutely enthralling Seafire is a relentless adventure about friendship and found family, trust and betrayal, and a vow for vengeance as unstoppable as the sea Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time Parker has crafted a thrilling, empowering tale of doing what is right, not what is easy Any reader who s dreamed of the high seas, adventure, and freedom will be clamoring to join the crew of the Mors Navis An emotional and pulse pounding read Tess Sharpe, author of Far From You and Barbed Wire HeartA brilliant story that shows the strength and bravery of girls against the world Natalie C Parker has given me a book I wish Id had when I was younger Zoraida Crdova, award winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series A stunning and powerful book about choosing to fight in the face of vicious odds Seafirewill stay with youlong after you finish reading Brendan Reichs, New York Times bestselling author of Nemesis

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