Gwen and Vic are still learning magic and science on the island of Elantya when they learn that Vic's father has finally made it through the crystal doors to Elantya. But their excitement is short-lived when they and their friends are kidnapped by their underwater enemies and taken beneath the sea. Imprisoned there, forced to witness battles among sea monsters and face the dark sage Azric, they learn of a scheme that could bring Elantya to ruins. Can they escape in time to save the magical island from destruction?
Kevin J. Anderson has teamed up with his wife Rebecca Moesta to create a magical world quite unlike anything you’ve read. All you have to do is open the door… – Steven Savile
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, and 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 breaststroke toward the girl. The cousins reached her at the same time, and together pulled their struggling friend back to the surface.
Coughing and choking, Tiaret let them tow her back into shallower water, and then she waved them away. "Thank you for your assistance. Now, let us complete our task." She grasped another piece of the tangled wreckage as if nothing important had happened.
Knowing that this abruptness was Tiaret's way of covering her embarrassment, Vic flashed his cousin an eyebrow shrug, dove again, and started back to work on the snagged object. As soon as he nudged it loose, he realized what it was: the scalloped canopy that had sheltered the two merlon generals riding and goading the battle kraken during its terrible attack against Elantya.
Both merlon commanders had been killed when Sage Polup's magical cannon blasted the kraken. Vic resurfaced as the two girls strained together to pull the wreckage free. He dragged the shell canopy into shallow water where they could see it better.
"I bet this'll make a nice monument or addition to a museum," Vic said.
"The Elantyans will indeed build a memorial to this battle," Tiaret answered in her gruff" voice. "However, this chapter in the Great Epic is unfinished. The war continues."
When they brought their prizes to the shore, Vic was proud of the sizable pile collected on the beach. "Look at all this wood—just think of the bonfire we could build. We could roast marshmallows and hot dogs …" His stomach growled. "It's been so long since I had a hot dog."
"Wood must be dry before it can burn, Viccus," Tiaret said.
Vic brushed that aside. "We could find a drying spell."
Gwen gave an exasperated sigh and punched him on the shoulder. "There aren't enough trees on Elantya for us to waste wood by burning it. It's way too useful."
Vic felt sheepish for having forgotten such an important detail. On isolated Elantya, most supplies, including wood, arrived by ship through the crystal doors.
Gwen waded back out into the water and looked down, startled and pleased to see a strange swimming creature. "Look, Vic—an aquit!"
He had always thought of aquits as living mermaid Barbie dolls. Elantyans frequently asked them to carry messages to and from ships across the ocean, just as skrits carried messages and scrolls over land. Stroking with its tiny arms and flapping its fish tail, the creature surfaced and spoke to Gwen and Vic. "Map, please."
"Of course." Gwen bent over to scoop up the little swimmer and cradle it in her hands. The sages had dispatched numerous aquits to scout out the harbor floor, including possible merlon booby traps left in the wake of the recent attack. Carrying the aquit, she sloshed back to shore and headed up the sandy slope. Tiaret and Vic followed.
High up on the beach, their copper-haired friend Lyssandra and several other students had spread out a large chart on which they were making a detailed map of the submerged hazards in the harbor. Lyssandra looked up as they approached. When Vic saw her cobalt-blue eyes, his heart did a little flutter. Lyssandra was ethereal, petite, and very smart. She was the first girl they had met in Elantya, and with her telepathic powers she had helped the cousins understand the language spoken here. Lyssandra's gifts also included frequent prophetic dreams, many of which were alarming or horrific and robbed her of sleep. Recently, she had been haunted again by the strange dream about Vic's and Gwen's xyridium medallion—the one where it spun and danced above sparkling water, splashing like a porpoise in the waves until, at the end, something pulled it to the bottom of the ocean. She'd also had a series of nightmares about blood and drowning. No wonder she didn't want to wade out into the harbor, Vic thought.
Seeing the aquit in Gwen's hands, Lyssandra said, "Good. We need more accurate information. We are compiling a better picture of the undersea wrecks. It is possible that there is no clear path for a ship to get close to the docks."
"There aren't many docks left for them to tie up to," Vic pointed out.
The sounds of construction—shouting men, creaking ropes, clattering pulleys—came from where the largest work group labored to get the main wharf reconstructed.
The aquit's form shifted to mimic Gwen, so that she seemed to be carrying a perfect copy of herself. When she set it down, the small creature picked up tiny pebbles from the beach and walked across the spread-out map. The imitative creature looked down at the drawn lines and bit the edge of its lower lip exactly as Gwen did when she was thinking hard. Vic chuckled at the performance.
The aquit set the small rocks down as markers. "Large ship here. And here." The two pebbles represented vessels Lyssandra had not yet marked on the map.
"Can you tell me what kind of ships they were?" she said.
"War galley. Fishing boat," said the piping voice.
Lyssandra nodded soberly. "Those are also blocking the deep passage to the docks. The sages plan to concentrate on the mouth of the harbor first. Sage Polup and several members of the Pentumvirate are about to try something unusual."
"Let us hope it succeeds," Tiaret said.
"Cool," Vic said. "Maybe they'll, uh, use a disintegrator spell. That would take care of everything."
Gwen gave him one of her oh-grow-up looks.
At the smashed end of one of the docks, Sage Polup stood with all five brightly robed members of Elantya's ruling council, the Pentumvirate. Polup was easily recognizable, for he was an anemonite, a many-frilled jellyfish-like creature, highly intelligent but without much of a body. His people had been enslaved by the merlons because of their scientific and magical genius. When Polup escaped and requested sanctuary in Elantya, some of the island's most brilliant sages and engineers had constructed a head-tank and a clanking walker body powered by steam and spells. Vic thought the contraption looked like a clunky robot from an old science fiction movie.
Vic identified the members of the Pentumvirate by their robe colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white, each color symbolizing one of the "five elements." This classification annoyed Gwen, who contended that there were well over a hundred elements on the periodic table, but Vic was happy to have that much less to memorize. The Virs each unrolled a spell scroll and began to read aloud. The spells were printed in powerful aja ink, which bound magic to the parchment.
"Look. Out in the water," Tiaret said. The three friends ran closer to the teetering wharf on which the sages had gathered.
Where the largest sunken ship blocked the mouth of the harbor, a frothing, churning storm appeared beneath the water. The broken masts and splintered hull of the large fishing vessel gradually rose to the surface.
"That ship isn't exactly floating, is it?" Gwen said. "There's something … swarming around it."
"Looks like maggots," Vic said. "Thousands of little things chewing at the wood."
"Eww." Gwen, who had always wanted to be a marine biologist, quickly assumed an appropriate scientific interest. "Probably sea worms, burrowing parasites. Normally, they're considered a threat to wooden ships, since they can tunnel through the hull planks, like termites."
"They're certainly tunneling now," Vic said. "Looks like they're starving."
Tiaret put her hands on her hips. Droplets of seawater still glistened on her skin. "Sage Polup knows the creatures of the sea. He and the other sages must have called these worms and invited them to have a feast."
As the friends watched the sea worms devour the floating ship hulk, Vic was reminded of how goldfish in ornamental ponds would swarm whenever he tossed a handful of food pellets into the water. Within only a few minutes the wrecked vessel dissolved before their eyes. The broken masts and curved hull planks fell apart into toothpicks. All along the shore, Elantyans cheered, seeing one of the primary obstacles now gone from their harbor.
"Maybe those things'll just eat all of the sunken ships and the floating wreckage and save us a lot of work," Vic said. The water calmed at the mouth of the harbor. The last remaining bits of the sunken fishing vessel drifted out, spreading toward the open sea.
Gwen shook her head. "Number one, that ship was blocking the harbor, so they had to get rid of it quickly. Two, ships and their contents are too valuable to waste like that. Especially wood. And three, I think those little worms have gorged themselves."
"Nevertheless, it is one more thing to celebrate," Tiaret said. "I am already practicing to tell the story."
"And I'm ready for a big celebration banquet," Vic said.
"Provided the merlons don't attack again first," Gwen added.