Raiders of the Dark Coast: Welcome to Lanfor
How does one kill the unkillable? With magic of great power. What if that magic was stolen by pirates?
Raiders of the Dark Coast picks up where Protectors of Penwick left off. Half of the group stayed in Penwick to protect the city from an undead invasion. The other half headed off to the Dark Coast in search of demon slaying magic.
The storyline picks up as the second group crosses the sea to reach the sovereign nation of Lanfor. The company aboard the airship Cloud Hammer includes Donatello, Elladan, Cyclone, both Pallas and Thea Stealle, and the three sisters, Ves, Ruka, and Maya.
While the mission entails hunting down scrolls of great power, all have their individual reasons for heading to the Dark Coast. Some are looking for adventure, others for allies in the coming invasion, still others to cope with ghosts from the past.
In this first excerpt, we will join the Dark Coast "Raiders" as they first enter Palt, the capital of Lanfor. As you will see, things seem a bit off for the capital of one of the premier nations in the world of Arinthar. Something is obviously "afoot" and the companions may soon become embroiled in it, despite their urgent mission.
We will also get our first glimpse at the "Vortex", an enormous stationary storm that makes travel difficult up and down the coast. Finally, we will meet Cloud, the captain of the Lanfor Skyriders. Cloud becomes an important character as events unfold both in Lanfor and later down the Dark Coast.
Here now is the very first excerpt from Raiders of the Dark Coast, "Welcome to Lanfor":
Morning had broken two days later when a large land mass appeared on the eastern horizon. At the same time, storm clouds emerged to the south. Frequent bolts of lightning flashed amidst those dark clouds, revealing the storm to be massive. Elladan Narmolanya had traveled far and wide across eastern Thac, visiting most of its cities and ports. Nevertheless, in all his one hundred and fifteen years, he had never seen anything like it.
Donnie leaned nonchalantly on the rail beside him. Nearly as old as Elladan himself, the slim elf had alluded to having spent time along this coast. Elladan decided to put his friend’s knowledge to the test. Nudging the elf in the shoulder, Elladan pointed out the strange phenomena. “What in Arinthar is that thing?”
Donnie winked and gave him a sparkling grin. “That, my friend, is what ‘coasters’ refer to as the Vortex.”
As a bard, Elladan was well versed in not just music, but many diverse subjects. Geography and history in particular were two of his favorite areas of study. Yet despite all that, he had never heard or read of this ‘Vortex’.
Elladan stared with keen interest at the tall clouds massed along the southern horizon. “Is it some kind of local phenomena?”
Never one to miss the chance to tell a good story, Donnie stood and launched into a colorful tale. “There’s nothing else quite like it in the rest of the world. Legend has it two identical storms formed after the fall of the Baleful Moon.” Donnie made two fists and held them apart. “Their great winds drew the storms side by side”—he brought his hands within an inch of each other— “and they have been locked in a perpetual dance ever since.” The slim elf finished his narrative by spinning each of his fists around the other.
“That’s some story,” Elladan acknowledged, admiring it almost as much as his friend’s presentation. “Any truth to it?”
Donnie shrugged and went back to leaning against the rail. “Who knows—but the storms are real, I can tell you that.”
“So that’s the infamous vortex,” a male voice sounded behind them.
Elladan glanced over his shoulder to see both Pallas and Thea approaching. The bard immediately spun about and executed a formal bow.
“Good morning, Thea.” Her name rolled off his tongue with a sensation that warmed his insides.
Elladan had been smitten with the young lady ever since they first met. It was not some kind of schoolboy crush though. Elladan had known far too many women to be that naïve. No, aside from her obvious beauty, Thea had a razor sharp wit, and a strong personality to match. She was also extremely knowledgeable. Elladan found all those qualities in one person quite hard to resist.
“Good morning, Elladan,” Thea responded, her serious expression tempered by the glint of mirth in her eyes.
“Elladan,” Pallas echoed his name flatly along with a curt nod.
The eldest of the Stealle siblings, Pallas walked about with a distinct chip on his shoulder. Try as he might, Elladan just couldn’t seem to break the ice with him. Alys Dunamal appeared to be the only one to have broken through his defenses. Somehow, the fiery redhead had managed to melt Pallas’ stone cold heart.
Once their morning greetings were done, Thea peered past them toward the storms on the horizon. “Just how far away is that?”
Donnie placed a hand on his chin as he mulled over her question. “I’d have to say about two hundred to two hundred and fifty miles.”
Elladan let out a low whistle. “If we can see them at this distance, they must be huge!”
Pallas strode past them and planted his hands on the rail, his eyes fixed on the giant storms. “I hear it’s a thousand mile trip just to circumvent the whole thing.”
Elladan followed his gaze with a begrudging smile. “That’s one heck of a detour. It must wreak havoc on shipping.”
Donnie strode up beside Pallas and pointed a finger toward the center of the Vortex. “There’s a tight channel between the two storms. Experienced navigators have been known to ‘thread the needle’ of the Vortex, so to speak.”
“You mean crazy navigators,” Elladan snorted, certain no one in their right mind would make such a journey.
Pallas, on the other hand, disagreed with his assessment. “I could see it—with a fast ship and a good navigator.”
Thea strode up beside her brother and punched him lightly in the arm. “Just don’t go getting any ideas.”
Pallas fixed her with an incredulous stare. “Me? You know me better than that. Plus, what would be the point? After all, we have an airship.”
A few hours later, the land mass before them had spread across the eastern horizon. A long peninsula jutted out from it with a lighthouse standing at the cliffs on its very edge. The four of them gathered at the starboard rail to gaze at the tall structure as they flew past. Judging from the size of the lighthouse, the lantern inside must have been as large as a person.
“That’s Phobas Light,” Cal informed them as they drew within a few hundred yards of the towering structure.
“After the original God of Light,” Thea murmured, her tone one of awe.
Elladan had to admit, it was a rather impressive sight. The four of them continued to admire Phobas Light as the Cloud Hammer crossed from the open seas to the wide bay beyond. Even so, despite the remarkable nature of the structure, it did not adequately prepare them for their first glimpse of the city of Palt.
With the lighthouse receding behind them, the foursome moved up to the foredeck. The silhouette of a jagged skyline towered over the shore at the other end of the bay. At first, Elladan mistook it for a range of mountains, but as they drew closer, he realized those lines were far too smooth to be natural. Dozens of tall shapes marked that skyline, some squared, some rounded, and others rising to a single point.
His jaw dropped as the realization struck him. “That’s a city!”
In Elladan’s travels, he had visited his share of large cities. He’d even been to Lymerdia, the capital of Thac. Yet the cityscape that lay before them dwarfed all those in comparison.
Shading her eyes, Thea let out a stifled gasp. “It must be at least twice the size of Penwick!”
Pallas nudged his sister in the arm. “If you think that’s huge, check out the seaport.”
Dozens of docks jutted out from the base of the city where the shore met the bay. Ships of all sizes and shapes sat moored at those piers. Many others approached from the bay waters below, but appeared to be stopped at a line of vessels displaying the gold and purple of Lanfor.
“I wonder what all that’s about?” Elladan said, pointing at the queue of waiting ships.
Pallas raised an eyebrow as he followed Elladan’s gaze. “It appears to be some sort of blockade.”
Donnie leaned over the rail and squinted at the blockade below. “They look to be boarding and searching each ship.”
“I wonder what they do about airships?” Elladan mused aloud.
“I think your answer is headed this way,” Thea said, motioning toward the city.
A group of dots had appeared in the sky between them and Palt. As Elladan watched, the dots grew in size. Whatever they were, the entire group was headed this way.
Donnie strode over to the back rail and called down to the main deck, “We’ve got company!”
In response to his cry, Cal’s large head rose up over the rail. “Where?” the dragon rumbled.
Donnie pointed in the direction of the city. Cal lifted his head even further, his great eyes narrowing as he peered past the slight elf. “Hmm, they appear to be riders.”
“What are they riding?” Ves asked as she and Ruka ascended the stairs to the foredeck.
Cal narrowed his eyes even more. “I believe they are those long boards the Queen had magically outfitted for flight.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” a young voice gushed. A little girl with long golden-blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and big dimples accompanied Ves and Ruka. Maya was the youngest of the Greymantle sisters, her appearance that of an eight year old human child. She twirled out in front of her sisters, her little pinafore swishing about as she spun in circles.
“Not as much fun as flying on your own power,” a gruff voice said from behind the three sisters. A muscular young man with short brown hair and intense blue eyes appeared at the top stairs. Once a fierce dragon hunter, Cyclone had turned into something more—a powerful ally and slayer of any creature that worshipped the dark.
“I hear that,” Ruka acknowledged, the corner of her mouth lifting upward.
The group gathered at the bow of the foredeck as the longboard riders approached. Elladan counted thirty in all, each balancing in a low crouch across an orange textured wooden board. Affixed to the center of each board sat a brilliantly glowing blue orb. An aura of energy emanated from it, encircling the board in a manner similar to the great ring that propelled the Cloud Hammer through the air.
The riders fanned out as they reached the ship, circling about like bees around a nest. Elladan noted the purple helmets and uniforms with golden shoulder pads, buttons, and stripes—once again the colors of Lanfor.
A flier wearing captain’s stripes drew up to the railing and hovered there. Interestingly, the rider appeared no more than three feet tall with a black shortsword strapped to his back. Beneath his helmet Elladan spied a youthful face that reminded him of Aksel.
“State your name and business,” the captain said with an obvious edge to his voice.
Ves stepped forward and spoke for the group. “I am Vestiralanna Greymantle and these are my friends and family. We wish an audience with the Queen.”
The captain peered around the group, his eyes momentarily resting on Cal. His gaze then returned to Ves, his small shoulders visibly relaxing. “Greymantle? Alright. We have standing orders to bring you to the Queen.”
Ves responded with a polite smile. “Very good.”
The captain hesitated a moment as he swept his eyes around the ship. “Unfortunately, foreign airships aren’t allowed over the city at this time, but we can fly you to the palace.”
Ruka folded her arms across her chest and snorted. “That’s an interesting way to treat your guests.”
The captain met her gaze and shrugged. “Sorry. It’s the Queen’s orders.”
Elladan had to agree with Ruka. Something wasn’t quite right here in Lanfor. In spite of that, he didn’t think it wise to start an argument with thirty armed airborne troops.
Thankfully Ves had more tact than her sister. “There will be no need, Captain. We can fly ourselves without this airship. You may escort us, however, if you wish.”
The captain shrugged again. “Suit yourself.”
Pallas went to instruct the crew to park the ship back at the lighthouse while Ves, Ruka, and Maya shifted into their dragon forms. The rest of the group then climbed atop the dragons, all except for Cyclone who sprouted wings of his own. The hunter had only recently discovered this strange new ability. At first it only happened when he was enraged, but since then he seemed to have mastered the talent.
They all then took off in the direction of Palt flanked on either side by half the longboard riders. The other half escorted the Cloud Hammer back toward Phobas Light. Seated on Ves’ back behind Donnie, Elladan got a better view of the harbor as it passed beneath them. Nearly half of the ships moored at the docks appeared to be warships. It looked as if Lanfor was readying for war. Though it explained their cold reception to foreigners, it still didn’t answer the question of whom they expected to war against.
Once the fliers reached the city proper, Elladan got a better look at Palt. Tall buildings stretched out as far as the eye could see, some rectangular, others domed, and still others with lofty spires. Their style denoted classical architecture with smooth flowing lines and a polished elegance. Interspersed between the buildings grew lush parks and gardens full of flowers, adding a touch of nature and color to the vast metropolis.
As they swung southward, Elladan’s gaze came to rest on a tall mountain. As they drew nearer, his eyes settled on the great palace that stood on its flat summit. Long battlements and wide towers comprised its thick outer wall. Multiple structures rose inside, each as large, or larger than, the keep in Penwick. Yet one structure in particular stood out from the rest.
Donnie seemed to recognize it as well. He peered at Elladan over his shoulder. “Is that what I think it is?”
Elladan pressed his lips together and nodded. “I believe so.”
A tall tower rose behind the building in the very center of the palace grounds. It appeared to be identical to the one they had wrested from the Empress in the City of Tears.
“That is the Amber Tower of the Queen,” Ves confirmed for them.
Elladan looked intently at the tower. It was one of the six the demons sought. Despite the midday sun, he noticed a golden glow at the very top. In contrast, the tower in the marshes had shone with a dark purple.
The dragons and their entourage flew over the tall battlements and landed in a wide area in the center of the palace grounds. The riders disembarked, all save the captain who landed with them. Numerous stone dragon statues encircled the area. As the sisters shifted back to human form, Elladan examined the inscription at the base of the largest statue. It said Welcome in Draconic, the native language of dragons.
The captain removed his helmet to reveal a head of copper-red hair, the pointed tips of his gnomish ears peeking out from beneath those locks. He spoke a single word to his board and it rose by itself to hover behind him. He then motioned for the rest of them to follow. “This way.”
Everyone fell in behind the captain except for Cal who chose to remain outside. Per his previous command, the rider’s board floated along a few feet behind him. Once again, Elladan’s eyes strayed to the black shortsword on the gnome’s back. “That’s a very beautiful sword you have there.”
The captain glanced over his shoulder at the sword, then peered at Elladan. “Ragnarök says thank you.”
The statement caught Elladan by surprise. “Your sword’s sentient?”
The captain shrugged once more. “When it wants to be.”
Not far behind them, Ruka snickered. “Sounds just like Inazuma.”
Ruka also possessed a sentient sword, one that could shoot bolts of lightning at will. Though Elladan had never actually seen the spirit of the sword, they had all heard its voice at one time or another.
The captain led them across the well-manicured lawn up to the main palace. Though not much taller than the keep in Penwick, this building appeared to be twice its size. Made of a similar alabaster stone, it stood four stories in most places, though some sections rose a few stories higher. For all that, no area of the palace stood taller than the Amber Tower.
As they reached the top of the stairs, the large double doors opened before them. Strangely, no one stood behind either door. It was as if they opened of their own volition.
Donnie leaned over and whispered in Elladan’s ear. “That’s not creepy at all.”
Elladan fixed his friend with a sour look. “You just had to say that.”
“This way,” the captain said, ushering them inside.
Elladan exchanged one last irritated glance with Donnie, then followed the captain into the palace.
Hope you enjoyed that. In the coming months, I will introduce new characters from Raiders and post more excerpts. Thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts below.