Her magic clung to her like a disease she could not shake off. It rippled under her skin, icy and relentless. She knew it for what it was now – not a remnant of life she had forgotten, nor a swallowed star whose fire she could tap on, but a curse carried forth from the world she had pried herself free from.
In the years Amber had left part of herself behind, her magic had lain dormant inside her, gnawing at her mind, revealing a shadow of itself only in her dreams. Now that the sea had called her back, reclaimed her as its errant daughter, there was no way to deny anymore. She was a part of it as much as it was a part of her, a single tide that crested and dipped, albeit on new shores.
Her toes slipped an inch into the water, curling at the icy bite. On reflex, she took a step back, refraining from the familiar, urgent desire to give herself in. But there was no one here to stop her now. Hood was gone, and all she had left was Eylar’s words to fall back on.
It is not a life you want to return to, Amberlynn, he had told her. But it was the only one she could turn to now.
The water was a stormy shade of indigo; she had never realised how similar it was to the eyes she saw in her nightmares. With a sigh, waves swelled forward. She fought back a shudder at the touch of their cold, slippery fingers, then slid in completely.
The sea crashed around her, stealing the warmth from her skin. But within her, her magic surged and swelled like a kindled fire; the star went supernova, and she could feel a part of herself dying and reborn again, now in the skin she was always meant to be in, now rightly in her element. She gave in, at last, to the cold comfort of the sea, letting it wrap its silken arms around her.
But her nightmare only began when she opened her eyes.
The crimson blooms were thick and relentless, exploding all around her like a poppy field in spring. She couldn’t see beyond the blood clouding her vision, although the taste hung tart in her mouth. The screams, however, rang loud and brash as a rusty bell.
It’s not real, she thought, and it was a mantra she turned over and over in her head –
– Until the fog of blood parted just enough for her to see a man diving in front of a woman before a spear, could strike her in the heart. It stabbed the man in the ribs instead, and he folded into a tight ball. The woman screamed, as did Amber.
“Daddy!” she cried, but the word only emerged as a muffled cry and air bubbles that rushed to the surface. She didn’t question how she recognised the couple as her parents, or why she was sure her mother was the next to go, just charged through the water to reach their side.
Up close, she saw the dull gleam of their tails – her father’s a dark metallic grey and her mother’s emerald green – as they swished through the water further from her. She screamed for them again, but they couldn’t seem to hear her.
Then almost as quickly as it came, the onslaught ended. Amber found herself alone again, back in still waters now back to its bruised blue-black shade. Inside, she was still spinning, her heart careening in her chest. It hadn’t been a dream, she realised. It was reality. Her reality. Her parents hadn’t died in a boating accident, despite what Hood had told her.
And she hadn’t just left her family behind. Only sea children who belonged to the royal court had tails that shone bright as jewels, the silver of her father’s and the emerald of her mother’s. She had fled while the court was destroyed; she had deserted her people too.
Was that why Eylar had lied to her, told her she belonged to a humble village underwater instead? Should she even trust him anymore, now that she knew he was one of the winged people?
She had to go back – back to the city, back to the ruined kingdom she had abandoned.
Her body aflame with renewed purpose, she tore through the skin of the water, taking in her first breath in fifteen minutes.