Authors: Rebecca Moesta,Kevin J. Anderson
Copyright © 2007 by WordFire, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: August 2008
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Also by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson:
Crystal Doors #1
This book is for
JANET BERLINER & BOB FLECK
We’d like to express our special appreciation to John Silbersack and Robert Gottlieb of the Trident Media Group for supporting this project from the beginning.
Jennifer Hunt and Noel De La Rosa for their enthusiasm and insightful editing.
Diane E. Jones, Catherine Sidor, and Louis Moesta of WordFire Inc. for their long hours and invaluable comments; Megie Clarke, Paul and Lacy Pfeifer, Jonathan Cowan, and D. Louise Moesta of Word Fire Inc. for keeping things running smoothly in the office.
Our families for putting up with our eccentric schedules and for introducing so many new people to our books.
Igor Kordey for brillant concept artwork and imaginative designs that helped to shape our ideas of Elantya.
Sarah and Dan Hoyt and Rebecca and Alan Lickiss for local cheerleading.
Kristine Kathryn Rush, Dean Wesley Smith, Debra Ray, Lisa Chrisman, Max and Erwin Bush, Letha Burchard, Janet Berliner and Bob Fleck, Leslie Lauderdale, Kathy Tyree, and Ann Neumann for their decades of long-distance encouragement and keeping us sane in an insane world. Dave and Denise Dorman, Denise Jacobs, Cherie Buchheim, Mary Thomson, Brian and Jan Herbert, Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Mariotte, and Brad and Sue Sinor, for their friendship and support.
AFTER FENDING OFF THE attack of the merlons and their battle kraken on the island, everyone in Elantya pulled together to save the city. Sages performed powerful magic. Ship captains and their crews helped dock workers extinguish burning wrecks and salvage the damaged ships wallowing in the water.
“Sheesh, this looks like the day after Pearl Harbor,” Vic Pierce said.
Students from the Citadel — a magical and scientific training center for young people from diverse worlds — threw themselves into the recovery efforts. Although putting out fires, assessing the damage, and restoring the island city were immense tasks, each challenge gave the students a practical way to apply the new skills they were learning.
Hands wet with warm seawater, Vic tried to wipe soot from his cheeks, though he succeeded more in smearing than cleaning himself. He was tired and sweaty. His strange Elantyan clothes were soaked. “Hard work now, more hard work later,” he said with a groan, then grinned at his cousin Gwen. “On the other hand, it sure beats homework. Back home on Earth, Mrs. Dorman is probably handing out Sentence Structure worksheets right now.” Vic and Gwen — born on the same night to mothers who were sisters and fathers who were identical twins — were in the same grade at Stephen Hawking High, back in California.
Gwen waded out from the shore up to her knees and wrestled with a floating beam blasted from a sunken cargo ship. Tossing her blond hair back, she nodded. “Probably. And Mr. Christensen would be assigning us a term paper on Prince Henry the Navigator.”
The island of Elantya, magically raised up from the ocean floor thousands of years earlier, served as a hub at the center of an arrangement of crystal doors that linked fantastic worlds. The native merlons, however, had long resented the presence of this unnatural island in their world. They considered it a blemish on their perfect ocean.
Recently, merlon aggression had grown extravagant. The aquatic creatures had attacked and sunk several cargo ships, including the Golden Walrus, a vessel used for training students. Vic, Gwen, and their friends had barely survived the ordeal, and Vic suspected there was much more to the merlons’ behavior than simply being unfriendly neighbors.
Vic helped Gwen carry the splintered wooden beam to shore and add it to the growing pile of debris removed from the turquoise harbor waters. “I wish my dad were here,” he couldn’t help saying. Dr. Carlton Pierce had been left behind in California when Vic and Gwen accidentally plunged through a crystal door to this magical world, where the Elantyans were embroiled in a struggle against the fierce undersea merlons.
Vic caught the quick expression of sadness that filled Gwen’s dramatic violet eyes. Her own parents were dead, killed in a car accident, which the cousins now knew had probably not been an accident. Vic and Gwen’s coming to Elantya hadn’t been a complete accident, either. Since their arrival they had encountered too many clues — about their mothers and the potential Vic and Gwen seemed to have inherited from them — to be certain anymore what was coincidence and what was destiny.
Mystery surrounded much of what had happened to the cousins since Vic’s father had warned them of a strange danger. Cap Pierce had been arranging crystals in the solarium of their California home when Vic and Gwen had unintentionally stumbled through a crystal door and found themselves here in Elantya, with no obvious way home.
Smoke rose in dark plumes that the sea breezes dissipated, leaving the sky a clear blue that seemed almost too cheery for the exhausting work they all faced.
As Vic and Gwen started back into the water, a shadow passed overhead. Vic looked up to see a purple rectangle trimmed in gold tassels: the magic carpet ridden by their friend Ali el Sharif, a young prince from the flying city of Irrakesh.
Sharif called down to them, “That battle kraken caused a great deal of damage. At least most of the fires are out now.” He held the clear eggsphere of his nymph djinni Piri over the edge of the carpet, so that she could get a good look, as well. The tiny fairylike creature glowed blue with earnest concentration. Sharif brought the carpet down closer to his friends. He rolled Piri up and down his arms, contact juggling, while the diminutive feminine figure inside the globe twinkled pink with enjoyment. Sharif grinned at his small friend. “Piri and I have a good view from above. I count sixteen sunken war galleys, fishing boats, and cargo ships, including two large vessels near the mouth of the harbor. Those will need to be moved first.”
Sunken ships posed a significant hazard. Many types of sailing ships came through the crystal doors from other worlds. While some had shallow drafts, others had hulls that extended so deeply into the water that they would scrape the wreckage and possibly sink themselves.
Gwen nodded. “In other words, if fishing and cargo ships can’t use the main harbor, Elantya might not get enough food and supplies.”
“I will circle around once more, then report to the sages and help them decide what to do next,” Sharif said.
“Can’t they figure that out for themselves?” Gwen said. “I’m pretty sure they already know about the ships blocking the harbor, and we could use another hand down here.”
“I am sorry, Gwenya, but my observation duties are too important.” After playing with Piri a little more, he tucked her back into the mesh sack that hung around his neck and flew off to circle the harbor again.
Vic groaned. “I guess he’d rather stay above the mess than get his hands or his pantaloons dirty.” Although Sharif avoided referring to the fact that he was a prince, his pride frequently reminded them.
So they did the work themselves.
Out in the water up to her chest, a lean brown-skinned young girl from Afirik was wrestling with a tangle of ship debris much larger than she should have been able to handle. Tiaret turned her amber eyes toward them and motioned with a hand. “I could use your assistance, my friends. Together, the three of us can manage this and I . . . I am reluctant to move out into deeper water. I believe the other end is caught in something.”
Vic scratched his nose. “Sure, how hard could it be?”
“The question is, will it be as easy as you think?” Gwen said. “But naturally we’ll help.” They dove in and swam past Tiaret to scope out the intertwined beam, ropes, and broken boards she was trying to retrieve.
Tiaret had never learned to swim. On the dry savannahs of her world, the rainy season was short, and for most of the year watering holes were little more than shallow ponds. When she left Afirik with her master Kundu, her ship had been attacked by merlons en route. Vic and Sharif had arrived on the flying carpet to save Tiaret as killer sharks closed in. No one else had survived.
Because she was a strong girl and an excellent fighter, Tiaret never liked to admit to any weakness. Although she meant to become proficient when the harbor restoration was finished, for now she still couldn’t swim. Since her arrival in Elantya, however, she had learned to enjoy wading in the surf, so she was becoming more comfortable in the ocean.
While Gwen and Tiaret struggled to pull the floating wood loose, Vic dove under the water, keeping his eyes open to see what had snagged the wreckage. The harbor water was murky with silt, stirred up by the recovery operations. Feeling as well as seeing his way, he found a mammoth scooplike object dragging on the floor of the harbor. Its jagged edge had dredged up sand and mud, then lodged in a cluster of rocks. He felt with his hand, located where the wooden rib was connected, then swam a little deeper. The thing felt like a giant seashell, coated with something slippery.
Lungs aching, he swam back up and gulped a deep breath. “Yup, it’s stuck on something. Hold on, let me get it unhooked.” Puffing his cheeks, Vic blew out his breath before taking another lungful of air. He dove under again, swimming down directly this time. Now that he knew where he was going, he found the snag and began to push aside rocks, disentangling the thing.
The object shifted abruptly, pulling on the snarled ropes attached to the floating wood and jerking Tiaret forward into deeper water. Vic saw his friend’s legs kick and thrash as she realized she could no longer touch the bottom. Her head went under and she began churning with furious movements of her arms, as well. As Vic pushed himself upward, dodging the agitated motions of Tiaret’s legs, he saw Gwen submerge herself and breast-stroke toward the girl. The cousins reached her at the same time, and together pulled their struggling friend back to the surface.