Short Story Saturday – Vertigo

http://vmficrecs.tumblr.com/post/101493531235/november-veronica-mars-fic-prompts

It was a steep drop. A long, long way down. Further than she had ever dared to try.

But she had nothing to lose by falling. All she would end up with were a few shattered bones and torn skin, and these didn’t even last. She healed, sooner than she would have liked. She wanted something that would leave its mark, just so she wouldn’t have to feel the constant ache from the ugly, jagged stumps on her back where her wings used to be.

The brackish waters crashed and foamed beneath her, unnecessarily dramatic. She lifted a foot. They were ungainly things, nothing like wings that bore her aloft in an intimate dance with the wind. She hardly ever shifted if she could help it. But now, with her wings ripped off, legs were all she had.

She tipped her head to the sky and raised her arms, ready to leap off the rocky edge of the cliff –

“Suicide, Megonea? How very melodramatic of you.”

She froze. The voice had the power to do that to her every time. She had weathered every element there was, but Finnesias continued to flay her to the bone.

“This is none of your business, Finne,” she called over her shoulder, but her arms fell back to her sides in defeat.

“On the contrary, I have a vested interest in your welfare. A soldier who deserts rank in the name of love might prove our most valuable asset.”

She whirled around and spat. “I am an asset to no one.”

“Oh, come now. Have some faith in yourself.”

He took a step closer. Megonea forced herself to remain where she was. She would retain what was left of her dignity in front of the pompous leader of the Rebellion. To think they used to train together when they were recruits; they could not be more different now. Finne with his lazy smile and cunning in his eyes (though he would rather use the word shrewdness), he never had and never would belong to the Empire Army.

“Why are you here, Finne.”

“Rescuing you from a terrible, terrible decision.”

“You are hardly qualified to save me.”

“Yet, here I am, succeeding in stalling for time.”

She turned back to face the sea. Part of her wanted to hide her ruined wings from his sight, but then she reminded herself that she no longer cared. This fate she had chosen for herself was far kinder than what lay in wait for her in the sky palace.

Suddenly, he was right behind her, his breath dangerously warm against her skin. His fingers brushed the left stump on her back. She flinched, felt the muscles in her neck tighten but also a tingle in her skin where his breath landed.

“Let’s make a deal,” he murmured. “If the Rebellion fails, I’ll jump with you. For now, we’re sticking together. Just like old times, eh?”

Megonea wasn’t sure what Finne meant by old times, because not once in their shared history had they ever stuck together. Before she could recall a time where they weren’t on opposite sides, Finne had given her a hard shove in the back.

He would, Megonea thought. Of course he would. She was a fool to have thought otherwise. With her dead, he had one less Empirion to deal with.

She was footloose, tumbling down with none of the grace she held when she was sparring. Air rushed past her with the ferocity of a Black Kite’s wings and a shriek ripped its way out of her.

It was a much further drop than she anticipated.

Flash Fiction Friday – Azure

Rewrites for Blood Promise DONE! I’m kind of in a limbo state now, querying agents while planning how to tackle Neverland all over again.

So in an attempt to get back into the Neverland groove, this week’s short story is inspired by Peter Pan,

This pretty merman artwork: 

And, okay, this:

Is he rocking that blue hair or what! And on a sidenote, SUPER JUNIOR IS BACK WITH THEIR 7TH ALBUM!!!

*leaves to fangirl*

*gross sobbing*

*supersonic screeching*

*incessant self-fanning*

*spazzing*

*more spazzing*

*swooning*

*more swooning*

*faints*

Ahem.

Okay I’m done.

And now, here is this week’s flash fiction.

 

*

 
 

Azure

 

She had seen the boy with blue hair from somewhere.

At first, she thought she was dreaming. Or a hallucination. It had been a straight week of interrupted sleep and groggy eye-rubbing. People saw worse things when they ran on too little sleep.

But the boy seemed real enough. His features were fine, like they were painted the strong planes of his face with clean brush strokes. Bowed lips, arched brows, a narrow slope of the nose.

Definitely her imagination.

She could reach out and run a finger down, since he was just lying there with his eyes closed (asleep?), is azure hair fanning out from beneath his head. But she curled her fingers into her palm and whispered instead, “Are you really asleep?”

“If I were asleep, what would you have done?” His eyelids slid open and he sat up. Every movement he made was deliberate and fluid.

His eyes, clear, wide pools the soft fawn colour of a jay’s wing, revealed nothing of his age. They were boy and man, dreams and laughter, wistful and playful, sad and bright all at once. She found herself staring and took a step back.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Old enough.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means growing up is over-rated. We are all as young as we want to be.”

“So how old are you?” she huffed.

“You seem very preoccupied about age.”

“I just want to know how old is old enough.”

“Old for what?”

“Old enough to stop caring.”

He fell very silent. Ran a hand through his rippling, azure hair. She wanted to do the same, wondered if it smelled of the sea.

“There is a place,” he said at length, “where the caring stops for a while.”

He told her about lands too far away for her to imagine, about feisty girls who fought pirates and wore feathers in their hair. He told her about the men with smiles as bright as the knives they carried and voices as smooth as their coats. He told her about the mermaids with their flashy tails and fairies with their glittery wings. He told her about the castaway ship and the secret cave next to the lagoon.

“But those are just stories,” she said when he was through.

“Some stories are real, though. You lived in them once.”

So she did know him from somewhere. She knew him from the tales she had heard and the ones he told, from the ones he had taken her to. She knew him way back when he was just a boy no older than twelve, standing at her bedroom window. He told her he knew a place they could go where they didn’t have to worry about snipped shadows or growing up.

And back then, she had believed him. Back then, she was wrong. But that was the thing about the blue-haired boy. You wanted so badly to believe him, to believe in him.

She believed him then and she believed him now. She was sure she always would.

He smiled. Because he knew. There were children who never grew up, and those were the only ones he trusted.

 
 

Flash Fiction Friday – You Who Stole The Thunder

This story is a result of:

a) consecutive days of violent thunderstorms

b) this song:

c) this writing prompt
  photo Prompt567_zps96aa105e.jpg
  

*

 

You Who Stole the Thunder

 

There aren’t a lot of things worth stealing, you once told me. But the best things to steal are those that people take for granted. There’s something immensely satisfying about stealing something people have come to expect to be there.

And thunder – who would miss it? It was just noise, white noise, the growl and roar of the gods that dissolved in rain. You would capture it with nothing but a glass jar, and no one would be the wiser. It was the perfect crime, and you were so gleeful about it, counting your chickens before they were hatched.

Two days later, the storm came. You ran home sopping wet in your mud-stained sneakers. Your mother chided you for being out in the rain, but you only came over and pounded on my door, wearing that triumphant grin that made me just as foolishly happy about your spoils.

“You do know the thunder thieves will be coming for you now, don’t you?” I told him, as we huddled under the blanket fort we set up. It was getting harder to fit in there, but on a rainy night like this the proximity was something we clung to.

“Let them come,” you said. Your voice wore the unevenness of a boy transitioning to a man. “They’re just bummed they were too slow.”

We sat the jar of thunder between us and shone our torchlight at it. In it, a dense black cloud swirled and swirled, a tempest in a glass prison. No wonder it looked pissed. I would want to be free too.

But I wanted more to see the look on your face, see the corners of your eyes lift, when you heard the storm’s music.

I wanted to experience the world knocked askew because of the absence of thunder, or at least feel a dent in this giant tin heart we lived in.

I wanted to know that people had sat up in their beds, straining their ears for the cry from the skies that wouldn’t come, wondering what was amiss, and know that we were the ones who had shaken their world.

But who knew if thunder would be missed? There were far louder cries that went unheard.

The thunder thieves – no, thugs they were – came around midnight, before we could open the jar. They were an unapologetic bunch, and I could tell you hated the racket they made. Don’t wake my mother, dammit! was probably what you meant to yell at them, but for the need to conceal ourselves.

We pressed closer together under the covers, torchlight off the jar hugged tightly between us. But it was only a matter of time before the thieves found us. Their dark hulking shadows cut brazenly across the room. In seconds, they would corner us. In seconds, they would rob us.

You took my hand, squeezed once, and I knew what you intended to do.

Breathless, we tore out of the blanket fort, out through the emergency exit next to your room, down the narrow flight of stairs and into the restless night. We could barely hear the thieves over the rumble of the skies’ muted fury.

It was still pouring, perhaps even heavier than before, as though the gods were unleashing their outrage at your heist. All the while, you had your arms wrapped protectively – possessively, as if it were rightfully yours – around the jar of thunder.

The air threatened to snap us in two. Winds thrashed and lashed, ready to rip the world apart. The glass jar rattled and flashed. In it, a restless beast demanded to be set free.

I hated to say it, really I did, but I said it anyway. “We need to let it go. We have to.”

You sent a silent plea with your eyes. “This may be the last time I hear thunder.” There it was, laid out bare. A plaintive statement made matter-of-fact in your measured, even voice.

Like always, I responded with stony silence, letting the storm take over our conversation. None of my responses – it’s not ours for the taking, you’re not going to die, you will hear the thunder again – seemed particularly convincing.

Eventually, we settled on flinging the jar as hard as we could across the field. It disappeared into the wall of trees blackened by night.

There was no crash of glass, like the rain had swallowed the jar before it could land. We stood there for a long time, soaked to our bones, waiting, counting – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – the time it took for the thunder to return.

The storm died with a satisfied murmur.

You were right, though. That was the last thunderstorm you and I ran through, the last time you heard thunder and held it in your hands.

I knew you wanted to leave your mark on the world, and you thought robbing the heavens of its voice would be the way to do that.

But I could have told you that the marks you left, though invisible, were indelible. Really I could, but I didn’t.

*

Flash Fiction Friday – Monster Memory

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

– Ray Bradbury

 

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”

– Edgar Allan Poe

 

“The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side.”

– Emma Donoghue

 

See more lovely quotes about short stories at Aerogramme Writers’ Studio!

 

This week’s flash fiction is a result of this song – White Doves, by Cider Sky:

and this prompt:

Prompt 533

*

Monster Memory

 

It takes a monster to kill a monster.

But no matter how many monsters she fought, there was one she could never slay. The one that grew stronger inside her the more kills she racked up. Monsters came in various forms, but there was none quite as scary as the one that looked back at her in the mirror.

You mustn’t grow a conscience, was what they said when she decided to join the Creed. It’s bad for business.

But she couldn’t stop the third party – unwelcome or not – from settling in her gut. It was an occupant that would turn the house inside out and leave muddy footprints all over the floor, but even this beat the emptiness that lived there before.

As she slipped through the desolate night into the target’s house, she wondered if she was right in taking on this assignment.

Stop thinking like that, she chided herself. She had been a shivering, bloody mess reaching, grasping for support when they first found her. And it was the killing – the single-minded focus of ridding the world of evil, evil that she had had to encounter – that nursed her back to health; it was the killing that made her stronger than she had ever been before.

Why then was she shuffling her feet around this mark? Was it the file of sketches she found in his study, the one that called to mind the quiet melody of a piano filling a room, the low, gentle voice next to her ear, a warm, dry hand that smoothed the hair off her face? Whatever it was that raked up these fragmented sensations, it made her inch towards the room at the end of the hallway with an uncertainty that was as bewildering – disorientating – as it was atypical.

Even monsters had memories. What did it say about her that she recalled nothing of her life before she joined the Creed?

She shook her head hard, shoving the thoughts back into the store cupboard of her mind. Memories are dangerous things, they said. They get in the way of the job.

The doorknob was loose. It jiggled in her hand. She froze, not because of her less than perfect entry, but because of the sudden draught. All the windows were closed.

She had seen things, many things, terrible things, as a result of this job. The violence she witnessed was what conditioned her hand, froze her heart, and drew her further and further away from herself. But here in this sparsely furnished room, where moonlight collected into a concentrated pool on a mounted canvas in the corner, what greeted her wasn’t a sight that made her killing a gratuitous act.

There was no mark. No ugliness, no violence, nobody. Only the barren shell of a home abandoned by its occupants, and the pure blank canvas on which the moon made its art.

She stood in the middle of the room like a soldier stranded without an order.  Memories surged in to fill the void, seizing her by waves, driving her to her knees. And there she remained, splayed out. Played out.

When she saw him, a luminous spectre in the moonlight, she got to her feet and whipped out the knife from her shoe in a practised move. But the sight of him turned her to sand. Her knees barely supported her; even her voice came out as a rasp, raw and scraped dry.

“You were dead.” She couldn’t remember his name. She wouldn’t.

Even though everything was starting to come back to her. All the times she had spent in his room, dreaming and laughing and loving, loving, loving him. Until one day, there was no one left to love anymore. Her dreams died along with him that day, and she had never dared to say goodbye or think of him.

But here he stood now, right before her as though he had never left. As though he weren’t just a faint shadow of himself.

His eyes fell on the knife in her white-knuckled hand, then rose to meet hers. “What happened to you, Aderyl?’ His gaze was an unbearable thing, heavier than the ravaged world.

The Creed had warned them of a test not too long ago, a test that many before her had failed because they had let their guard down.

This is not real, she told herself over and over. She squeezed her eyes shut and told herself that over and over again. This is just a test.

She had given life to the monster in her, and this was where it meant to devour her, in a house bursting full of tears and memories, a house from another life.

“That’s not my name.” Her voice cracked like a whip, renting the tight air in a brazen move. Revenge was her name now. She had liked that, how she was labelled and known by her purpose only.

“That’s who you’ll always be to me,” he said. “Aderyl.”

It wasn’t a goodbye, this unexpected encounter, but she felt it as keenly as the cold air brushing against her skin when he reached for her hand. She gripped her knife tighter, afraid to let go of her weapon, of herself.

It was only after the night claimed him that she allowed her knife to clatter to the ground. Her mind, once wired for the kill, now tripped over itself, and her limbs were clumsy, awkward things, unsuited for wielding weaponry of any kind.

The Creed was right. Memories were dangerous; they were monsters. Memories awakened every nerve and pulse, and left her vulnerable. They became her.

They were her.

The Creed should never have set this test.

 

*

Fiction Friday – The Girl Who Couldn’t Cry

Thanks, Yiruma.

***

The Girl Who Couldn’t Cry

  She shed glitter the way people shed tears, and she shed them for the same reason too. People thought she never cried. Her face was an exquisite slab of polished marble, fair and rouged. But if ever there was a way to fathom what she was feeling, it was by watching for the trail of gold dust she left behind. No one knew it but me and her mother, who used to dust her skin every night when she settled in the cushy, worn ottoman with a book she wanted her mother to read to her. I would lean out the window and listen in. It was better than focusing on the conversation going on at home. The stories were usually about girls with secret identities and abilities – girls who could fly, who turned into swans at night, girls who could speak the language of flowers and stars – and she listened to them with rapt, keen attention, as though she could figure out the answer to her condition in them. I should have told her that there wasn’t an answer to how special she was. But I wasn’t any much older than her then and didn’t know how to put that into words. By the time she got older, she had stopped believing in fairy tales and their happy endings, and there was nothing more I could say.

*

She bled glitter the way people bled pain, and she bled them for the same reason too. I watched her roll up her jeans and kick off her shoes by the river the day after her mother’s funeral. She stretched out her legs on the grass, the exposed parts of her skin glistening as they caught the late afternoon sunlight. All the while, her face was as smooth as porcelain and just as brittle, her eyes dry as baked earth and just as wanting. She didn’t respond when I joined her by the river, just sat watching the stream of water cresting over the ridges in the riverbed. I took her hand, feeling the specks tickling my palm. There was a world of words in that inch of space between us, and I imagined them floating like dust motes, illuminated by the light she gave off. A while later, she leaned her head against my shoulder. “She said she was glad the last thing she saw was my light.” She lifted her head and fixed her wide, heavy gaze on me. “Do you think she believed me when I said I was too?” I drew a hand across her cheek, collecting her tears on my fingertips, if they could fall. “I think she’ll only believe it when she sees it.”

*

She walked in stardust the way no one else did, and it was my aim to make her see it as the wonder that it was. No amount of pricking herself with a needle or watching the sappiest tear-jerkers, letting her heart get broken or trusting in the wrong person could evoke any tears. I would hold her hand and stretch out my legs next to her by the river, watching silently as the water washed away the dust on her feet. The words finally tumbled out one day, hard as bricks, after I noticed a new bruise the colour of midnight on her pallid skin. “Stop it. Just stop punishing yourself, will you? When are you going to see that there is more than one way to hurt? Why do you keep putting yourself through all this pain just to be like everyone else?” Anger was an emotion reserved for normal people – people who could feel pain, who could cry and laugh and feel the burn of emotions. But there were some who couldn’t cry, and some who could not feel rage. She wasn’t the only one surprised at my outburst. She turned and walked away – quickly at first, before slowing to the pace of memories – oblivious to my calls. When I caught up to her, the apology sitting on my lips, she stopped and looked up at me. In her eyes was a telltale glimmer. She blinked, freeing a tear. I caught it with my thumb, then rubbed it away. We didn’t know if this was a fluke – her tears and my anger – or if it would ever happen again. But it was enough for us then, enough for her to feel the release of hurt and enough for me to feel the fire in my chest. She didn’t completely believe it yet that we could feel and cry like everyone else, but maybe she would when she saw it: the light on her skin that shone like tears.

***

Flash Fiction Friday – Makeshift

Today, I discovered that the amazing dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling (from America’s Got Talent) has a new album out. ‘Tis a good day.

This track in particular, Roundtable Rival, stood out as I was wrote today’s flash fiction:

Yup. THAT is Lindsey Stirling.

So with that, as well as this writing prompt,

here is this week’s short story.

 

 

*

 


Makeshift

 

 

It was there in the dusky, dusty chamber of the abandoned building that they made camp. Settling by the missing clock face, where the only shaft of light managed to edge in past the rusted hands, they got to work.

Mietha’s soldiers were trained for speed and accuracy, be it in battle or menial tasks like forging weapons. The best of them had had years of training in the sky children’s primitive technology. This time, they had one more thing on their side: Earth magic. It was not quite as advanced as that of the sea children, but here on this island in the human world, they were able to acquire what they needed from the black market.

Now, they set up their equipment: glass bowls and tin canisters, sandalwood for accelerated kindling, and rows and rows of bones meant for more meticulous arrangement later.

Their exiled general had been stranded at the island for long enough. In times like this, ranks were a secondary consideration, hierarchy demolished. And if anyone thought it was madness to trust in the two girls who would help conceal them from the rest of the human world, none of them voiced their dissent.

There in the quiet isolation of the abandoned building, with its crumbling walls and splintered roof shutters that let in the faint moonlight, the renegade rebels worked at twice their regular speed, creating more bodies for their disguise, their deception … never realising how close they came to being discovered by the white-tailed kite circling in the sky.

 

*

 

The Raptor, second in command to the missing prince of the renegade army, was having no luck with the bloodstone. After shifting into her human form and settling into a decrepit red-bricked building for more privacy, she had spent the better part of the hour trying to exhume the magic within the stone.

But the stone had a will of its own, and it was not relinquishing its secrets, no matter how she strained over it.

The Raptor — or Kivyn, as she was more commonly known among her kite family — flung the bloodstone across the room. It made a resonant clatter in the drafty, hollow quarters.

Curse these humans and their crude magic! How barbaric, how elementary — and not to mention messy — to use blood for magic.

It struck her as ironic that a Raptor, notorious for her ability to shred her enemies with her claws and blind them with her beak, would find something barbaric.

Time was running out for her. The monarchy was disintegrating back home, and the soldiers were rebelling. If she couldn’t find the crown prince, then the very least she could do was restore some order.

But prince or not, she couldn’t leave this world without Eylar. She didn’t know what he was to her, but she knew he was the only person she had ever trusted and cared for. And she would be damned if she let this world steal him away.

 

*

 

The rebel renegades froze at the sound of the clatter, the blood slowing in their veins. They were so close — it would be a terrible shame if they were forced to abandon their near-complete work now.

With renewed intensity, they completed the ritual. The sisters would be here soon, but first the soldiers had to get used to their new flesh, and learn to shift in and out with relative ease. It was tricky to grasp the intricacies of shifting — the best of them took weeks — but now they were to master their new bodies in the space of hours.

This rescue mission was doomed from the start, but they had to take whatever chance they had to steal their general back from the forgotten coast of Bastiron before the new emperor could recruit her — recruit being a far kinder term than what he would actually do.

This slaughter campaign was not for them, nor was annihilating the sea kingdom. What they would fight for, however, was the restoration of the old civilisation, the one that was now buried under this avalanche of hate and jealousy and fear.

 

*

 

When the rebel soldiers each stripped off their worn, battered bodies and stepped into their new flesh, so too did the Raptor shift into her creature self before taking off into the night in search of the blood she needed.

So opposing in their causes, but so similar in their execution. Chance was a concept often scorned by the renegades. But here they were, stepping into a makeshift life and taking all the chances they could to save their mangled home.

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Dream Kingdom

I don’t know if this should be considered flash fiction, since it’s longer than 1,000 words. Maybe it should be “what the hell am I writing” fiction, except it’s not an official genre yet.

Anyway, done with this. Back to Blood Promise. Have a good weekend! :0)

 

*

 

 

Dream Kingdom

 

No one else saw the palace in the reflection. Which didn’t surprise me as much as it should have.  I was used to being privy to the secrets of the world – I paid attention to it, and in return it let me see its hidden beauty, listen to its favourite songs, and dream its magical dreams.

When I first told Josie about the palace I saw on that rainy day, I hadn’t even expected her to believe me. But she only said, “Show me,” with that dire look in her eyes that meant I had better not let her down.

I did, though. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Even when I pointed hard at the image in the water – it’s just right there, can’t you see it? – and even when she scrunched up her face and glared at it like it was offending her by not appearing, all she saw was a smooth blank puddle and on it, the light scattered by a recent storm.

She didn’t see the glimmer and gloss of the high glass windows as the sun slid across the sky, the iridescent lights the palace walls gave off, the weird clouds of mist that danced around the palace and entangled themselves with the spires, or the great birds that roosted atop the clock tower, which housed not a clock but a constantly shifting map of the stars. I knew they shifted because I had observed them long enough, days and weeks and months of staring at reflective surface – a mirror, a puddle of water, a window.

Josie always said I was good at building castles in the sky.

But this was no daydream. If only I could convince Josie so! But people find it hard to believe the things they can’t see. And they find it hard to accept the things they don’t believe in.

 

*

 

When I finally managed to enter the palace, it was only in a dream. By then, it was obvious this palace wanted to stay hidden, so I was almost unsurprised to see it in my dream.

It was hard to look at the palace directly at first. Not only was it too big for the scope of my vision, every inch of the palace was covered in precious stones – dazzling diamonds, lush emeralds and sapphires and rubies fat and red as crystallised blood – that broke the sunlight into iridescent shards.

There were the giant birds going about their slow, lazy circles in the air. Guards, I soon realised. They were not ordinary birds: their wings could span as wide as building heights and shrink to an arm’s length, and in their eyes was a canniness that was more human than bird, more thinker than soldier.

The palace was rich not because of the jewels and stones its walls were encrusted with, or the gilded marble floors that gave off its own music when you tread across the high-vaulted halls. It was rich with the scent of some exotic bloom I had never before encountered, the mellifluous voices that broke into song the moment I pushed open the doors to the hall, and the splash of pastel-coloured lights everywhere.

The palace was alive, and it had a mind of its own. It had ideas on where to take you, sliding around freely as though in mid-air, so that you tumbled down hallways and bustled through doors. Deeper and deeper you went into its heart.

And then what? More birds?

As it turned out, it was a queen.

There in the heart of the labyrinth she sat, on a burnished dais. Her crown was spiked with crystals against the scarlet and ebony headpiece that fanned out behind her head. Her robe, a crimson river that flowed from her shoulder down the steps, was matted with dust. She looked like a mannequin in a store – an exquisite display in a glass case – but there was something strangely, keenly, alive about her, as though she was silently observing you the way the palace was.

I kept waiting for her to open her eyes or acknowledge me, but no amount of throat clearing or greeting could rouse her. It was like she was trapped, waiting, in that dormant state.

“She won’t wake,” came a voice, no louder than a whisper in my ear, making me cry out in surprise. My voice bounced off the high walls.

In spite of myself, I said, “Not ever?”

“Not until the sea children cease their petty games and release us from this spell. Whoever heard of a palace cast adrift from its kingdom?”

I had no idea where this was leading to, or where it even started, but I tried to offer the best suggestion I could think of. “So talk to them. Can the sea children be made to see reason?”

“You won’t be able find them even with reason on your side. They’ve disappeared. They’ve all disappeared. And now the queen is in limbo, as is the fate of all her people.”

“I don’t understand.” By now, I was half yearning to leave this dream.

But the palace was not letting me out of its thrall until it had made its point. “You have to find the sea children. Save us, save our queen.”

“But I don’t know how to.”

The desperation in the air came in waves. First as a shrieking wind that ripped through the hall, then as a tectonic disturbance.

As I cried my apologies, the ground juddered beneath my feet. My arms flailed for balance, but I only tumbled to the ground, then rolled across it and slammed against the wall as the palace continued to rock in fury.

“Find the sea children,” it implored. “Save us.”

The light outside had dimmed to a sickly shade of yellow, and a frosty draft swirled around the hall. Gone were the music, the kaleidoscope of colours, and the warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. I saw this cold marble and glass palace for what it truly was: encrusted in jewels but bereft and barren.

“Find the sea children. Save our queen.”

 

*

 

When I opened my eyes again, there was only Josie’s face hovering above mine. Her breath, shallow and hot, fanned my face.

“Melly!” she cried, gripping me by the shoulders. She gave me a violent shake that jolted me wide awake.

“We have to find the sea children,” was all I said as I struggled to catch my breath. “We have to save the queen!”

Josie’s grip went slack. “How did you know about the sea children?”

 

*

 

(To be continued??)