Secrets of the Fire Sea - By Stephen Hunt

You would not cling to his guiding hand if the way was always bright. And you would not care to walk by faith could you always walk by sight.



The Isle of Jago. Hermetica City

Watching the underwater craft carrying the ambassador away from Jago’s shores was as good a way as any to pass the afternoon, if you could ignore the distant thrum of the iron battlements keeping the hordes of prowling monsters out of Hermetica City.

Hannah turned as her friend Chalph joined her near the edge of the tall cliffs. Not so near the edge that she might be scalded by the boiling water lashing up from the Fire Sea, but near enough to glimpse the departing ambassador’s u-boat on the surface. The u-boat was meeting up with the Jagonese tug that had been assigned to escort it beyond the coral line, before it braved the maze of boiling passages of water that veined their way through the bubbling magma of the Fire Sea.

‘They’ve picked a good day for going,’ said Chalph, raising his black-furred arm to point to the u-boat on the surface, guide lines being tossed across to the tug. The sailors were wearing rubber scald suits, coloured yellow for visibility. ‘No steam storms today – and I can’t smell any cold fronts moving in.’

‘That’s a pity,’ said Hannah. She loved the violence of the arctic rain hitting the superheated waters of the Fire Sea and the parched coastlines of Jago. She felt alive when steam storms broke across the island’s shores, geysers erupting from the ocean, hot mists sliding across the basalts plains, lightning painting the landscape and the crack of thunder urging the monsters laying siege outside their battlements into a frenzy. Hannah felt more alive in a storm than she ever did down in the empty echoing streets of their capital’s vaults.

Chalph rubbed at his face with a paw-like hand. Like the rest of the ursine race, he had wonderfully expressive eyes – pupils that could narrow to a pinhead or expand out until the rim of yellow around the edges was driven out and the features of his face vanished in a mask of black. ‘I wonder how long I’ve got left on Jago now that the ambassador has gone?’

A blade of fear stabbed Hannah. That Chalph urs Chalph might depart back to his country across the sea, leaving her as good as friendless on the island. ‘But you’ve been brought up here, the same as me. Your house can’t just make you go back to Pericur.’

‘Oh, they can, alright,’ said Chalph. ‘Why do you think our ambassador is leaving? She supported the claim of the archduchess to the throne of Pericur. The ambassador being recalled back home is her reward. Our conservatives don’t like merchants operating on Jago. They believe Jago is sacred soil, that our trade here is an affront to the scriptures. You wait and see. The trade concession the House of Ush had been granted will be cancelled by the new archduchess, then we’ll all be back on Pericurian soil within the year.’

‘But I’ll still be here,’ said Hannah. ‘We’ll be here. The race of man…’

Chalph moved back as a spray of boiling water carried on the wind and hissed towards his boots. ‘The archduchess won’t need to force your people from the island.’ He clambered over a boulder and pointed to the nearest of the guard towers rising up behind the sloped iron battlements. A large ursine mercenary was just visible inside, the light glinting off the brass of the gas tank on his back.

‘Careful,’ said Hannah. ‘The soldiers might see us, report us for being out on the surface.’

‘They don’t care we’re here,’ replied Chalph. ‘They get paid for keeping the monsters out, not keeping us in. And that’s the nub of it. Your senate relies on our free company fighters to keep the capital safe, not your police militia. The free company may be mercenaries, but they will not dare disobey a direct order from the archduchess to leave Jago, and then who will protect your city?’

Hannah shrugged. ‘The militia hate your mercenaries. They never wanted free company fighters here, that was the senate’s choice. They’d throw a party on the docks and help load your mercenaries into a boat if the free company were ordered off Jago.’

‘And your senate would widen the draft to make up the numbers,’ said Chalph. ‘Do you want to spend the rest of your life in a guard tower, hoping that