Aemi lives in a village carved from stones and surrounded by sea. She wins spear-throwing competitions in disguise and earns slaps from her spoiled mistress by talking back. She hates being a slave. She survives by remembering her mother's tales of home, a paradise called Perilous.
Aemi intends to find it.
But then, black ships rise from the sea in the night. Aemi is captured and taken to Itlantis, an underwater world of cities and gardens encased in glass, dazzling technology. and a centuries-long war.
She is determined to escape, even if it means conspiring with fellow prisoner Nol, who fills her with equal parts anger and desire. Even if it means impersonating her mistress. Even if it means fleeing into the territory of the Dron, the bloodthirsty barbarians of the deep.
But when Aemi witnesses firsthand an attack by the Dron, she realizes not all is as it seems below the sea.
And Perilous might be closer than she thinks.
In this excerpt, Aemi can’t resist entering a contest against her least favorite person in the village—even though she is forbidden to as a female and a slave.
“Haven’t they called your name yet?” I asked.
Kit shook his head.
“I’m going to lose,” he said, swiveling his head to look from me to the target set at the opposite end of the rock. “You know what happens to the one who finishes last.”
I did know. While the winner had the honor of lighting the pyre, the loser was punished with six lashes across his back and no food from the feast. It was a cruel tradition, started by the spear master and meant to motivate the boys.
I looked at my best friend with a sinking feeling. I’d seen him throw.
“You throw better than any of them,” Kit said. “You would win if you were allowed to compete.”
“Remind me why women can’t enter this competition?” I muttered.
“She couldn’t win even if skinny girl thralls were allowed to compete,” a voice said behind us, the tone mocking.
I turned my head and saw Tagatha leaning against the stone arch that led to the Village of the Rocks deep within the tunneled caves of the island.
“Nol will win,” she said with a haughty smile. “He’s the best with a spear.”
Tagatha sauntered past us to join the rest of the crowd, her sea green tunic fluttering in the wind and her anklets of sea shells jingling, and I choked on the injustice of it all.
The spear master called Kit’s name. My friend froze and looked at me in a panic.
“My father,” he whispered. “He’s going to be furious. I should have practiced more. I should have tried harder. I should have—”
“Stop,” I said. “Give me your shirt and mask.”
Kit stared at me. “What?”
“Kitran, son of Karth,” the spear master bellowed again.
“Your shirt and mask,” I repeated, and he pulled his shirt off and thrust both it and the mask at me. Kit always did whatever I said without question, a strange dynamic for a wealthy boy to have with a thrall, but it was the way things were between us.
I yanked the fabric over my head and pulled up the hood of the tunic so it covered my eyes, then settled the mask over my face. I could walk like Kit. I’d done it a thousand times when we were children playing at mimicry. He had a distinctive way of dragging one foot every few steps.
After grabbing the spear from Kit’s hand, I started toward the line of boys.
The broad stone ground of the Training Rock was warm and smooth beneath my bare feet. A salt-scented wind teased the tendrils of hair escaping from beneath my hood. I straightened my spine and lifted my chin as if I belonged as I approached the group of boys and young men, who stood in a haphazard line before the target of wood.
I took my place at the end of the line.
The smell of salt filled the air. Gulls screamed overhead as the first boy drew back his arm and threw his spear. It glanced off the target and clattered on the rock. His face creased with disgust, and he turned away. The second boy threw, and the tip of his spear embedded itself in the corner of the target.
I was better at throwing than any of these boys. I’d always been good at it, better than anyone else my age when I was small enough to swim in the shallows with the free children and sleep in my mother’s arms at night. My mother had beamed with pride to see me throw, and so I continued to hone my skill even after she was gone. Sometimes I went out to the edge of the rocks that formed a ring around the sea like a circle of stone arms, and I caught fish to put on the fire so Nealla and I could eat more than the meager food we were provided for our meals. I was better than all of them, but being a girl banned me from participating in the competition.
At the front of the line stood Nol, the oldest in the competition and the favorite of the crowd. He cast a glance my way, but didn’t look long. I exhaled as he turned his head away.
One by one, the boys threw their spears. They were still learning, and few were good yet. The aim of a fisherman was impeccable, once he’d mastered the art, but these were just boys.
I swallowed as the boy beside me took his turn, and then it was mine. I stepped forward and hefted my spear. The weight was familiar in my hand. I inhaled, squinted at the target, and threw.
The spear buried itself at the edge of the middle circle. A few of the boys cried out in appreciation. Sweat broke out across my back.
I hadn’t meant to throw quite so well.
Nol turned his head again to look at me. He wasn’t stupid, even if he was infuriating. He’d seen Kit throw before.
I held my breath, and he looked away.
Those who had struck the target gathered their spears and tried again. There were only a few of us, and the number rapidly dwindled. I threw poorly, but my spear seemed to swerve to meet the target against my will, and the rest of the boys threw with the skill of drunken monkeys. Finally, only Nol and I were left.
My heart drummed in my chest. I didn’t dare look at Nol or the crowd.
“You’ve improved, Kit,” Nol said as he passed me to retrieve his spear.
It was clear by the way he strode toward the target that he thought victory was assured for him. He barely spared me a glance as he drew back his arm to throw.
The crowd waited, breathless.
Nol threw first. His spear struck the inner circle of the target, and he straightened, pleased. I could tell by his posture that he thought he’d won. The necklace of shell he always wore tinkled faintly as he turned to me. He yanked off his mask, and his expression was triumphant.
I drew my arm back and took aim. I heard the rush of the sea behind me, the cry of gulls above me, and the hiss of my breath over my teeth as I threw. Sea and gulls and breath combined to make music. I shut my eyes and threw.
My spear hit the mark and quivered.
It had struck closer to the center.
The boys roared in approval and swarmed around me. Nol’s jaw tightened, and he shot a glance toward the crowd. I saw his father, the mayor, frowning.
I stepped forward to receive my prize. As I passed Nol, suspicion crossed his face. He snatched off my mask, dislodging my hood in the process.
My long hair tumbled down around my shoulders. Wind fanned my face.
I was exposed.
The crowd gasped. Nol let go of me as if he’d been burned.
“It’s Tagatha’s thrall!” someone shouted.
“You deceptive little brat,” the spear master snarled. “Where’s Kitran?”
The spear master grabbed for me. His fingers slipped through my hair, giving one painful tug, then the strands ripped from my scalp and I ran faster. I reached the edge of the cliff, dropped Kit’s spear, and jumped.
The rock was hard beneath my feet as I leaped, and then salty air rushed around me, the gulls’ screams filled my ears, and I was falling, falling, falling through air and wind and sunlight.
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About the Author
I'm the author of the Frost Chronicles, an Amazon bestselling series and source material for the adventure app game Frost by Delight Games, as well as numerous other fantasy and science fiction novels. I love putting a dash of mystery in everything I write, an ode to a childhood spent reading Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, and Sherlock Holmes. I can’t resist adding a good twist in the story wherever I can.
I wish I could live in a place where it’s always October, but until that’s possible, I make my home in humid Atlanta with my husband, children, and two spoiled cats.