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...
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We walked across a bridge enclosed with glass that stretched between the ship and the city of Celestrus. Glass and twisted metal were the only things standing between the sea and us. I looked up and saw a long, sinuous shape curl through the waters above us—some giant, unknown sea creature—and a shiver passed over my skin as I remembered the dark shape that had passed beneath our ship on the journey over.
What other things lurked in the ocean’s depths?
The first guard planted his hand between my shoulder blades and pushed me forward, drawing my thoughts back to the present, back to the rush of warm air from the round opening ahead, the clank of our feet against the metal floor, and Nol telling the guard exactly what he’d like to do to him if he had a sword in hand.
I kept my mouth shut, because I wasn’t stupid.
We stepped through the round doorway, entering a round room with walls and floors of polished metal. The ceiling arched above us, made of rose-colored glass and shot through with metal that I supposed held it aloft. I could see shapes moving above it, churning shadows that stamped and brushed the ceiling and bewildered me until I realized I was seeing people’s feet and garments. The ceiling above must serve as a walkway for an even higher level, I realized. I stared at the strange shadow dance until someone nudged me. The guard.
A bench ran along one wall, and a man sat on it, waiting for us. He stood when we entered.
He must have been old, but his face was astonishingly smooth, almost ageless. His skin was the color of copper. His long hair black hair, streaked with gray at the temples, hung down his back in a mass of braids, and he wore light purple robes that draped off his thin body and engulfed his wrists. He did not look unkind, which was a good sign.
The guards herded me forward.
“What is your name?” he asked me.
“Aemi,” I said.
“Ah, Aemi. Exquisite name. Means sea-born in the old tongue.”
I lifted my gaze, startled. “Yes, it does.”
He smiled, a quick quirk of his lips that transformed his face into something kindly. “And you?” he asked Nol.
turned his head and would not speak. The man looked back at me.
“He’s called Nol,” I said, and I saw a muscle jump in Nol’s jaw when I spoke his name. He gave me a look of pure loathing, and I knew I had betrayed him by giving up his identity to the man when he had clearly wished to make a statement by withholding it.
“Nol, eh? Short for Nolen?”
Just Nol,” he growled.
“I am called Merelus,” he said, seemingly unruffled by the waves of anger radiating from Nol. “I hope we can learn to respect each other, as unfavorable as this situation may be for you.”
Respect each other? His words confused me, but I bit my lips and said nothing.
“Come,” Merelus said to us, and nodded to the guards. “I’ll take you both.”
“Their wristlocks, sir,” the guard said.
“Ah, yes.” Merelus paused and waited as the guard approached us and snapped a thick band of silver over our right wrists.
“This will set off an alarm if you enter any area forbidden to Indentureds,” he informed us gruffly. “And you will be punished.”
I looked around for Myo, but he was gone. I supposed I would never see him again. He’d never bid me goodbye. Why would he? I was just a slave.
The click of the wristlock around my arm made me flinch. Merelus watched my face, and his eyebrows drew together as if he were seeing more than I intended him to. I turned my head away and met Nol’s eyes. They smoldered with fury as he submitted to having the wristlock placed on him.
“Well,” Merelus said when it was done. “That’s over. Let’s go, shall we?” He indicated the door.
My mouth fell open as we stepped through it.
Arching ceilings soared overhead, joining in a web of patterned glass held in place by golden metal beams that swirled and formed fantastic shapes. The floors were gleaming stone set in curling patterns beneath our feet. Doorways and corridors branched off from the main thoroughfare, opening onto other plazas and rooms filled with fountains and statues.
Far ahead of us, six corridors converged on a round plaza with a sculpture of a dolphin in the center. Blinding light poured over the dolphin from a ceiling that glowed with light like a captured sun.
I glanced at Nol. He stared ahead, his mouth pressed in a rigid line. His hands were white and clenched at his sides. He refused to seem impressed.
But I saw no reason to hide my amazement. I gaped at everything.
“You have never been to Celestrus before,” Merelus observed, watching my reaction.
“No.” I remembered Myo’s warnings and said nothing else of my past.
“The Jeweled City,” he said, smiling. “Seat of learning and the arts. The most beautiful place in all of Itlantis. Exquisite, if I may say so.”
I believed it.
Men and women filled the corridors and corresponding plazas that connected them.
Most wore flowing tunics or robes over the one-piece jumpsuits, or simply the jumpsuits. A few were dressed in other garments—trousers, dresses. The blend of fashions bewildered me. The people had varying appearances too—some with skin as brown as polished driftwood, others as pale as sand. Most had long, straight black or brown hair, and large eyes that came in vivid blues, greens, and browns. Nol’s pale hair stood out and drew him a few looks of interest and curiosity.
We crossed a bridge of shining metal and glass and into a round-roofed chamber large enough to fit the Village of the Rocks inside in its entirety. A vast floor stretched before us, and the ceiling was ribbed with metal supports and set with colored glass. Through the glass, I caught glimpses of the ocean, vast and dark and rippling with fish
“The commons,” Merelus said, gesturing to the space before us.
This place was anything but common.
We passed through this glorious space and reached another. They were like a string of bubbles, one after the other. This chamber had dozens of doors set into the walls, and staircases going down into the floor and up toward the roof. I craned my neck to see around us. Balconies spiraled around the domed roof as far as I could see.
Merelus stopped before a door of bronzed metal and touched the handle.
“Welcome home,” he said.
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