by Kate Avery Ellison
Publication date: February 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
All her life, clever Aemi has been a slave in the Village of the Rocks, a place where the sea and sky meet. She’s heard the stories about the fabled People of the Sea, a people who possess unimaginable technology who live below the waves in the dark, secret places of the ocean. But she never dreamed those stories were true.
When a ship emerges from the ocean and men burn her village, Aemi is captured, and enslaved below the waves in Itlantis, a world filled with ancient cities of glass and metal, floating gardens, and wondrous devices that seem to work magic. To make matters worse, her village nemesis, the stuck-up mayor’s son Nol, was captured with her, and they are made servants in the same household beneath the sea.
Desperate to be free, Aemi plots her escape, even going so far as to work with Nol. But the sea holds more secrets than she realizes, and escape might not be as simple as leaving…
The sea sang to itself in the music of blue water and salt and gulls’ cries as I sat above it, crouched atop the column-like Looking Rock with a spear clenched in my hand and words of frustration crawling on my tongue. The water below lapped at the edges of the rock, foaming over the pebbled shore that ringed the rock, and the foam hid the fish I was trying to catch.
I bent over the water and stabbed the spear into the foaming waves. When I withdrew it from the pool, a fish wriggled on the end, and I smiled with a quick jerk of my lips. I had always been good with a spear, somewhat inexplicably according to Nealla.
I tossed the fish into my sack and moved to the other side of the Looking Rock, where the tide pools were often filled with exotic things washed in from the sea. It was a secret place, and few knew to look here. I came often whenever I had a moment of freedom from my duties, for if I could catch enough things of value, I could sell them in the marketplace and add coin to the stash I kept hidden away, the stash that would one day buy my freedom.
The first tide pools were disappointingly empty except for a few anemone and starfish clinging to the sides of the rocks, and a yellow fish darting away from my face as I peered down.
I moved on. Three more pools, empty. But luck had not abandoned me. At the final pool I stopped, transfixed by the creature I saw beneath the surface.
It was eerie and beautiful, with fluttering fins along its throat and back and tail, speckled blue scales, and a mouth full of teeth. It wasn’t a fish or a dolphin or a snake, but something that looked like bits of all three. I had never seen such a creature. It was some monster from the depths, but a small one.
I bent over the rock, sliding my belly forward by inches, peering into the deep glassy green of the pool beneath where the creature swam in small circles, imprisoned until high tide. I didn’t want to use a spear on such a magnificent creature. For this, I needed a net.
I stabbed my spear into the edge of the pool, marking the fish-creature as mine. Then I scrambled to the edge of the Looking Rock. The wind swirled around me, wetting me with a mist of sea spray as I brought my arms forward and dove into the sea below.
Bubbles exploded around me as I swam through the green-blue water. Below, fish wove between a jewel-colored spread of coral. A dark line at the edge of my vision signaled where the shallow waters ended and the deep water began.
No one ever went out into deep water.
I reached the larger rocks that rose from the water like the spearheads of giants and hauled myself onto a sea-carved shelf of white stone. My master’s house was before me, a collection of caves and hollows in the rock. It was a nice house, with a strip of pebbled beach facing west. Beyond the beach, a shallow place for bathing and washing was surrounded by thin white stones that protruded from the water like fingers and broke the force of the waves.
A hole in the rock wall led to the interior. Strings of shells formed a curtain barrier, and they tinkled and clicked in the wind. I shoved them aside and stepped into the cool stone passage leading to the house.
I needed one of my master’s nets. Just to borrow, to catch that fish.
The master’s father sat on a mat beside the fire, muttering to himself. Beside him were nets, the small ones used for hand fishing. He was mending them, his wrinkled hands moving swiftly as he worked over a hole.
“Hello, Old One,” I said, speaking carefully and respectfully. “I need to borrow a net.”
He lifted his head and scrutinized me. I was dripping from the sea. My hair stuck to my neck and forehead. Droplets fell from my fingers.
He reached for one of the nets and lifted it toward me, but pulled it back before I could take it.
“Don’t go in the deep places,” he said, and his voice creaked. “The Sea People are in the deep places.”
“Yes, Old One,” I said, leaning forward to reach the net.
The master’s father was crazy, but gentle. Sometimes he liked to ramble about fables from his youth, and sometimes I listened, because none of the others did, and I felt sorry for him.
I didn’t have time for it today.
“I saw one of their ships the other night,” he continued, pulling the net farther away and out of reach again. “Came up from the depths, black as a wet stone, bright with lights. They’re watching us.”
“Don’t worry, Old One,” I said. “We’ll keep you safe.”
He harrumphed as if doubtful and handed me the net. “Stay out of the deep places,” he said again.
I snatched the net and hurried outside once more. The wind fanned my face. I stopped at the edge of the water and shaded my eyes against the glaring sun.
Someone else was on the Looking Rock. I saw a figure moving around the pool. Confound that Old One and his stories! I splashed into the water, my heart pounding as I swam hard, kicking my legs. I reached the rock and hauled myself up, hair dripping, leaving wet footprints as I ran to the tide pools. A young man stood at the edge of the pool, his feet hanging in the water, his arms braced behind him and his face tipped toward the sun. He was lounging, waiting for me, stretched out as if to show off his physical perfections and the gold bracelets on his arms and ankles. That handsome, arrogant face, smirking mouth, and long, dark lashes that contrasted with his pale, wavy hair—I’d know him anywhere.
I looked past him into the water and stopped in horror.
The creature was gone.
My bag of sad little fish lay at the edge of the rock, looking deflated in the sunlight. My spear lay beside it.
Fury built up at the back of my neck and swept through my throat to take hold of my tongue. Anger licked at my bones.
“You stole my catch.”
Nol opened one eye and looked at me. “What are you talking about? Your bag of fish is right there. I didn’t touch it.”
“No. The creature in the pool—it was my catch. I found it first, as was clearly demonstrated by my spear marking the pool. You took it! Where did you put it?” I was furious, devastated.
Nol straightened and blinked at me. His smile was slow and smooth, like butter being spread across bread.
“It wasn’t your fish,” he said. “It wasn’t in your net, so you had no claim.”
“I marked it with my spear—”
“You aren’t a fisherman, thrall-girl. The rules of the village don’t apply to the likes of you. You have no identifying marker that deserves to be honored, and that thing you call a spear is simply a piece of garbage with a point at one end. It could have washed into the pool on its own, for all I know.”
I wanted to strangle him. My anger was hot and fierce, and it made my legs tremble. But he was the mayor’s second son, and he could do as he liked. Instead, I bit my tongue and turned away.
I’d lost this round, but I would not lose to Nol again.
I live in Georgia with my wonderful husband and two spoiled cats. When I'm not writing, I'm usually catching up on my extensive Netflix queue, reading a book, giggling at something funny online, or trying to convince my husband to give me just ONE bite of whatever he's eating.
Learn more about my writing and books at my blog (http://thesouthernscrawl.blogspot.com/), find teasers for upcoming works on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/kateaveryellison), and subscribe to my new releases newsletter to be notified of new novels as soon as they hit stores (https://tinyletter.com/kateaveryellison)!