So here's an excerpt from the very first chapter of Imperial Blood. I'm currently on Chapter 7, so things proceed apace despite an exhausting week. Things have been slow on our campaign, so if you have not already, consider heading over there and signing up.
The morning was cold and dark, as if the night refused to relinquish its grasp on the earth. The clouds hung low and heavy and black. Snow blew in whirls and coils across the ice that seemed to glow from beneath, as if there were a light in the black sea. Sibylla dressed in her finery, with a stiff high collar and a corset that bound her up inside. The red and golden gown hung upon her like armor, and she sat for a long time and let the old woman brush and braid her hair. The black ship was coming, and she had no more time left.
When she stepped out from the cabin and onto the cold deck of the hard little ship she heard it. Away in the darkness to the north, something crushed and rove through the ice, and she wondered what kind of ship could do that. She felt the cold on her face, and it was no less than the cold inside her.
She wore her fur mantle around her shoulders and a diadem of jewels on her brow. She was a daughter of the House of Glorian, a lady of the Kingdom of Josanda, and she swore she would not tremble before her fate. The little silver case was heavy in her hands beneath her cloak, still cold. It seemed she could not warm it. She turned it over and over in her fingers, unseen.
The plank led down to the weathered dock, the wood hard as iron from years of cold unending. Garath stood on the shore, awaiting her formally, the blue jaquard bright beside his dark breastplate, the jewels on his sword-hilt gleaming where his white hand gripped it. His six men were drawn up to flank her path when she stepped onto land, their swords drawn and held at the ready. They stared straight ahead, as if she were invisible.
For a desperate moment she wanted to shout, to scream and wave her hands in their faces to make them move, to acknowledge that she still lived and breathed. Instead she walked between them without looking to either side. She knew Garath fell into step behind her, she could hear his footsteps on the frozen earth.
Together they mounted the steps to the gate, stepping carefully on the ice coiled upon the stone like tendrils. She stumbled once and he steadied her, his hand on her arm sure and warm. She almost broke then. Last night, she lay and looked at the vial of poison, moved it to watch the mysterious fluid run back and forth, black like blood in the dark glass.
She almost drank, but in the end, she put it aside and lay awake, not sleeping. Six others had been called to the Imperial City over centuries, she was the seventh. In the end, she did not have it within her to be less than they. Each of them had gone from the sunlit lands into the night. She could not do less, though she might wish to.
At last they stood at the top, and here the wind was fiercer, and it stung her eyes. She looked out over the expanse of ice-covered ocean and wondered again what kind of ship could pass this way. The ice was thick as a man, clear and dark and in pieces as large as a ship themselves.
They heard it coming, something unseen crushing its way to them, and then they saw it. A dark shape came out of the mist, so much larger than Sibylla expected that she was certain her eyes lied. Then it came further into view and she was afraid, because it was many times larger than her own, small craft, larger than any ship she had ever seen.
It looked like a nightmare out of the darkness, all black as if iron in every spar and gunwale. The hull was divided into two, and both prows reared up with serpent shapes and gaping jaws. Black smoke boiled up from the bulk of it, and everything was jagged and sharp and inhuman. She heard Garath take in a breath, and she knew he was afraid as well.
A great chain was affixed to the heavy spars that bound the hulls together, and it trailed down into the water ahead of the ship. Before she could begin to wonder at it, it rose from the black sea and she fell back a step as the thing affixed to the chain reared an eyeless head up above the ice. Its flesh was black and festooned with barnacles and growths, and water cascaded down from jaws large enough to swallow three men whole. Teeth as long as her arm gleamed yellow in the gloom, and a cloud of mist fountained into the air from the nostrils atop its head. Even as she watched, it crashed down on the surface of the ice and shattered it into pieces, submerged again as the vessel's massive hulls shunted aside fragments that would have crushed a lesser ship alone.
Smoke poured from the ship into the sky and she smelled it - a hard, metallic stink like burnt blood. A massive iron gangplank smashed down upon the lip of the gate, shaking the stone beneath them, and there came a terrible gnashing as the ship ground to a stop.
Across the span stood a towering, dark figure. Armored like a knight's fevered imaginings, with a helm that was all horns and jutting points yet no aperture for eyes, the Emperor's herald Charun stood motionless to greet them. Sibylla remembered when he came to call her, the mists of the cold pouring off him as he walked the halls of her father's palace, how the sun seemed to hide, never touching his form.
Now, he held up a single hand, the gauntleted fingers clawed like a devil's. Whether he greeted or commanded, she could not say. It did not matter. Sibylla steeled herself and stepped forward.
Garath caught her arm, gentle, not yielding. "Sibylla -"
She half-turned to him, fearing to show the apparition her back. Before she could think again she pressed the silver case of death into his hands. She met his eye for half of a heartbeat, and it was a moment she would always remember.
"Forget me," she said, and then turned away. The iron gangplank rang beneath her feet as she crossed it, and then she stood, alone, on the other side of the gate. She left summer behind her, and passed into the north. The Herald pointed her way, and the bridge behind her rattled like bones as it lifted. Sibylla did not let herself look back.