Book I: Siege

It started out as such a nice day for a siege.

Clouds advanced across the blue sky like refugees fleeing an invasion. The blue light of the sun was smothered behind the overcast sky, darkening the landscape in funereal dimness. A thick fog smothered the land from sea to shore. The obsidian spires of a distant citadel rose above the fog, glowing with an inhuman maleficence through the mist. A dim white light cut shown upon the bow of a skiff that knifed silently through the fog-shrouded waters.

Propelled by an unseen engine, a lone sailor stood upon deck like the spectral captain of a ghost ship. The railings peaked a meter above the deck, but the helm of the vessel rested at a comfortable elevation relative to the rest of the ship. Her black hair was cropped into dreadlocks, while her dark skin glistened with perspiration. She wore a blue longcoat of woven material, and her eyes were pools the dark blue of the forsaken depths. The woman's wiry body twisted and torqued with the grace of a lissome dancer as she turned the ship's wheel. An untrained observer would have difficulty discerning her as anything other than the mind of the vessel.

Maris knew she was approaching land for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the way the fluid density changed beneath her feet. She released the wheel momentarily, leaning against it as she readied her arsenal. She loaded fresh stacks of bullets into each barrel of her pepperbox pistols, before ensuring each holdout pistol was ready for action. Satisfied in her concealed arsenal of firearms, she twirled a machete in her other hand. Reassured that each concealed dagger was where she left it, she lowered a breathing mask over her face that gave it a skull-like countenance.

"Shame ya hide yer killer body behind that getup," came a familiar voice from the peanut gallery.

Maris looked to see a silver-suited man with a grin equal parts manic and lecherous. "The Fool, just on time," she said to the man as he fidgeted with the strawberry blond hair beneath his matching top-hat. "I have prior arrangements."

"Ya mean the crashing and clanking from Ghan's castle? The Engineer would have my head if I missed another of your dustups."

"Tani needs my help, and I promised I would give it."

"Your attempts at offering assistance to lure him into an alliance have not yielded success before," came a disembodied voice. Unlike the Fool, this one was cool and clinical. "Perhaps an alternative strategy is in order."

Beside the Fool stood his rational counterpart, a lithe man encased with a suit of emerald green armor that moved with the combined efficiency of a billion microscopic machines. On his hips were a brace of pistols, and across his back was a high-tech assault rifle with an aggressive, angular make.

"Tinker, we've had this discussion before. Helping Tani is both moral and tactical. Tani should not have to face Ghan alone, and he's a useful ally," Maris replied. "Not to mention, his beasts have proved to be unwitting allies on more than one occasion."

"The little lady's onto somethin', kiddo," the Fool pointed accusingly at the Tinker. "How else would she've been able to pick over the ruins?"

"It is statistically probable she would have been able to independently develop everything, although the recovered documentation and artifacts undoubtedly accelerated the time-"

"Silence, both of you," Maris said as she banked hard to starboard. "I've learned much from your input, but I've learned more in quiet solitude."

Maris dropped anchor just offshore as she checked the sensor array within her vessel. A holographic map of the world through the fog laid before her, showing the lush forest that laid between the shoreline and the ravaged hellscape around Ghan's nightmarish stronghold. Calibrating her sights, she fired the deck mortar. She concentrated on the shell as it fired, using her control over gravity and electromagnetic force to give it more kinetic energy than propellant alone would manage. It screamed through the air like a striking eagle, only to land far closer to her mortal enemy than she could have hoped it would. If she had known how lucky she was.

"Adjust your aim by three degrees," the Tinker's disembodied voice said.

Mentally running the calculations, Maris saw the trajectory of the shell was slightly flatter than she expected it would, due to the ship's movements. Cursing to herself, she reloaded the artillery piece for the second salvo. This time, she adjusted the inertial compensation mechanism and buttressed it with her own mastery of gravity. Just before she fired, she saw the Fool standing beside her in the cabin.

"What's this do? Looks important."

Multiple data feeds, streaming in real time, were projected onto holographic displays atop a complicated apparatus of wires and gears. Frightened by the Fool's sudden appearance in her delicate operations room, she leveled a pistol at his jovial head, to receive a response in the Fool's typical jocose manner.

"I wonder what this does?" he said as he flipped a switch.

"You idiot!" Maris exclaimed as the vessel's displays went blank. She fired, only for the Fool to vanish the instant after she heard the gun's report. A spark jumped between two consoles before the aroma of ozone wafted into the air. She struggled to get the backup power on, but there was no response.

"Dead Field. Nasty trick of his," came the Tinker's voice. "But you know how to deal with it."

"It still means I'm shooting blind," Maris complained. "There's only so much power I can draw from my body."

"Then prioritize."

"I am, but mine are different than yours," Maris replied as she mentally estimated the boat's movements since the last shot. She iterated towards an optimal solution in the time it took her to power up the gunnery system once more, and move her finger to the trigger. A shell erupted from its tube, arcing towards a target visible only to her by cold calculation. She wondered how close it would truly hit as she brought the ship towards her landing point.