Mystia: Chapter Two

THE WALK HOME

All it took was the walk home and the sinking feeling in her stomach to convince her.

She was not going to apply.

Alina stepped from the 13th floor of the library out onto the ledge path to the Jagged Step Lane, a length of steps spiraling down to the main paved side walk. She avoided the flight paths, large cloud-formed wind tunnels with walking pathways at the bottom, as at the end of the day they were gummed up with everyone flying and walking home.

Twenty minutes later, her thoughts still spinning, Alina left the paved walkway just outside the city and jumped the last half a dozen feet or so to the bright green grass and dirt path below landing in a squat.

She rose from her landing and shook out her trembling fingers, and taking a deep breath, Alina walked on.

The worries rose with each step. Leaving the library, leaving Avaglade, it was just too much. She would fail. She’d be too slow. Or she wouldn’t be able to understand what the people from down below were saying and…

She walked to the next rocky ledge and jumped out into the air grabbing the support pole for the sky path above and let her momentum spin her around and down until she landed on the small bit of grass knoll then jumped again to the next bit of land as a rolling mist rose from the clouds.

The physical challenge drew her worries out of her, made her deal with them in a very present way.

Then the next worry came… that it would all be just too new, too different. Not even the idea of the large salary was tempting anymore. Alina made her way though trees until she stood at the edge then she dashed across and down the path and up the knoll to her tree grown home.

It was decided. She wouldn’t go to the interviews tomorrow. She was content. She was comfortable. And that was alright.

Slowly, the knot unclenched in her stomach. No change was fine. No change was good. Everything would stay the same. The words hugged her, comforted her. It would all be alright.

She threw out her arms and spun as a lightness took hold of her. She even laughed a little when a cloud sprinkled her with a spot of rain.

And then she arrived home. It was quiet. “Gran’ma?” she called from the wooden door.

Silence echoed in the home.

Mystia: Chapter One

AVAGLADE LIBRARY

Alina pushed her cart of books around the 39 foot high shelf to the next isle. It was a reasonable risk she estimated. The job kept her secluded from dealing with the public face-to-face. No one asked her opinion, no one made her do anything that she didn’t want to do.

Alina hated nothing more than being forced to do what she didn’t want. And she loved risking life and limb the way she wanted; she would not have it any other way.

Then came the day the world fell apart. The day her perfect seclusion became an impossibility, and she wouldn’t realize it until too late.

It all started on a Monday, the most inconspicuous of days. She was at dewey decimal 790.81 when Rory, the city manager, cleared his throat at the bottom of the ladder.

She looked down. “Do you need a book?” It was shameful, but as Alina didn’t follow the politics closely, she didn’t recognize him in that moment. He worked in the building next door and rarely interacted with the daily public she reasoned later.

His mouth dimpled as he smiled in amusement. Her heart fluttered and she put her hand on her chest, blood rushing to her cheeks. Too much coffee, must be.

Rory responded to her question that she’d already forgotten, “No. You are Alina, correct?” he asked.

She nodded. He gave an encouraging smile. “Would you join me below?” Strange men at the bottom of ladders gave her pause. He saw her hesitation. “I’m Rory, the city manager. I just have a proposition for you, if you have a moment.”

Redder in the face now, she nodded mutely and awkwardly made her way down as he waited.

He motioned her to follow which she did, down the isle of the towering bookcases with sconces every few feet or so to light the way. Must be bad news if he couldn’t tell her except in private. Had she done something wrong?

Twisting her fingers she tried to remember anything she might have done to offend a patron or staff member, anyone in the city… Nothing. There was nothing she could have done.

He led her to Lacey’s office, the head clerk. They both sat down.

He steepled his hands and leaned forward, “It has come to my attention that you jumped the bookshelves to save a book from dropping on a patron.” Statement, not a question.

Yet, this couldn’t be the reason she was here. She had been doing such acrobatics since she’d been hired last year. She waited for the real reason.

He broke the silence then, “You have been known for this since you came, in fact last week you saved Demetri from the stacks when he became stuck in the law section and saved him from dropping to his death.”

Really, you may be wondering as a reader by now why Avaglade kept such a dangerous library, but that really isn’t important right now. Alina waited for the point. Climbing shelves was part of the job description.

“And it was your idea for the reorganization for different areas around the library which has increased user rates significantly.” Rory continued, “Really some of this is what we expect of our library pages, but Agnes seems to think there is more to you than the others. So much so, that she has recommended we offer you the assistant position at City Hall.”

The city manager’s chocolate dark curls fell onto his forehead as he set his chin in his hand as he looked at her, considered her, pondered her. “To be honest, I am still considering whether or not to offer you this opportunity.”

She said nothing. She didn’t know what city assistants did nor why they thought she’d be good at the job.

“I explained to Agnes that we have a rubric and test that you must past just like all the other candidates. They all have the degrees and schooling to be here. In fact, they have the degrees to be full-fledged workers in the special development of our city.”

Why he was considering her at all if that was the case?

“We are an unusual city, the only city where heights and flight for daily travel are the norm. We hold the jewels of the earth in our floating rock that keeps us among the stars.”

Alina was unimpressed. She grew up here.

He saw her unimpressed state and tilted his head, considering that maybe Agnes had a point for wanting her. “Agnes wants you for this particular assistant position as you will be working with her. That is why I’m considering you. Agnes works with the Elven Folk. In their realms as it were, the dangers are real. Many think that libraries are bound by these walls, but if that were so, we would be living in the Dark Ages like monks.”

She waited.

Her silence was refreshing from all the candidates he’d seen. Her very present silence compelled him to talk. A very good trait for an assistant. “Your tasks would take you beyond these walls and into the libraries of the other creatures of the realms below and above. You would be a vital part of extending the reach of the library and preserving new additions to our ancient library of the clouds. Of course, your tasks extend to whatever we would need of Agnes to do or perform as well.”

She still said nothing.

“Well, are you wanting to apply and accept the challenge of such a job?”

Alina sat before him. The job sounded exciting in a new way, and to be honest, her job wasn’t as exciting as when she first started. It wasn’t like she was at death’s edge every day. Not that the option was a present need in her life or anybody else’s. But still…with all those candidates, it was likely she wouldn’t get the job.

It was decided. For a bit of fun, she would try out for the job.

Her green eyes for the first time rose from the spot on his chest that she kept her eyes at and met his cerulean blue ones. “How do I apply?”

That dimpled grin rose again. Alina pressed her hand to her chest. No more coffee for her.

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Sea Siren: Chapter Four

MAD AS A HATTER

Kalin knew Alice was crazy. But this was bordering along the lines of Kamikaze.

Though the line connection had failed, they had a new shortwave transmitter installed last minute by him that sent small bits of information, just enough that they knew that she had turned off everything in the ship and then began to slowly sink deeper into the sea. That is – that seemed her direction before that signal had been cut as well.

Kalin squatted and stretched on the long deck of the research boat, getting his wetsuit situated. No one took notice of him. Everyone’s focus was on the fact that they had lost contact with Alice.

He pulled on a completely clear helmet made of some type of human material that could withstand the depths below. Little did they know he didn’t need it, but for the sake of staying unnoticed…

Kalin stood hooking on the rest of his gear. He had known by the last bits of info that came through that he’d have to go down for her. She didn’t care to give him the time of day, but now, she wouldn’t have a choice.

A flash out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. There, brewing on the horizon, was one of those rare storms of the centuries.

Just as he jumped off the back of the anchored ship, one of the students called out, “Kalin!”

Clearly not heard, the student turned to a pensive Leland, “See, I told you. There’s a reason his name is Mad Hatter. He really thinks he can bring her back before that storm rolls in.”

Leland grimly turned back to his radio. “Anything that brings her back.” The radio crackled and he began to broadcast their dilemma hoping for anyone that may be able to help.

Kalin drifted down, sensing the ocean farther than any human. He felt her path into the depths so he angled his body and kicked. Already the sea writhed around him in anticipation of the storm. He pulled out a golden rod that extended. He’d had it since he’d been stranded as a young Meridian with the humans. The golden rod grew three prongs at the end before spinning at his feet to propel him faster. He wasn’t afraid of the bends which humans suffered from. The question would be if he’d be able to get Alice back fast enough.

Around him the water shimmered to his eyes. This was home. He understood it and knew that taking Alice deeper may end up being their only solution.

He sighed. If only they had started off on better terms. Maybe she would trust him more.

Ten Minutes or so later…

If he hadn’t had this infernal helmet on, he would have smelled the Kraken before he had been whip lashed by the tentacle. 

The sound reached him milliseconds before his right side was hit by what felt like a bus. He flipped end over end. Somehow he had miraculously kept his grip on his trident (* give it a new name). Darkness edged around sight as he swung the trident around to spin and freeze his rotating momentum. His stomach in his throat as he gained his balance, he narrowed his eyes and focused his hearing, letting his nocturnal side rise. Then he saw it clearly.

Alice in the grip of the Krakatura as his people called it. He whipped his trident up with the triple end pointed at the Krakatura, but as he was about to send it into the guts of the creature. It jerked and writhed in deep pain. Kalin could smell the electric volts from here.

He smiled. Alice, while inexperienced, she sure knew how to make up for it. He could see why Leland put so much faith in her.

Lowering the trident, he swayed watching the Krakatura tumble away and then he saw her sitting there, shell shocked.

By this time the sea above would be too turbulent to take her back. The only option left was to take her down. He only hoped he could use her curiosity against her better judgement. Staying in the shadows, he gestured for her to follow. 

His grin grew when she did.

NEXT: Sea Siren: Chapter Five

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Sea Siren: Chapter Three

Ancient Creatures of the Deep

It didn’t work. 

Alice should have popped to the surface like a cork. She flipped the switch again. Then again and again. Nothing.

Still in the grip of the monstrosity outside, her head numbed by its shrieking, Alice grabbed her controls and yanked. The submarine engine revved and then abruptly jerked to a stop. The screeching stopped.

She was firmly in its grip.

Head pounding, Alice yanked again at the controls. Getting away had just become more important than preserving the submarine and its instruments.

Wait. The instruments. She looked to her right. There lay a board of controls used to gather samples. One of them was an underwater torch. The question was would it turn on with only the battery backup power?

Alice leaned over and slowly turned the dial at the right edge of the panel. The switchboard lights blinkered and flickered. Alice turned the dial the rest of the way and the lights settled. She sighed. It worked.

Alice pressed a sweaty hand to her boiling hot forehead and rubbed a knuckle into the aching sinus, closing her eyes. Now if only her idea would work.

Cracking an eye open, Alice focused on recalling the uses for the hundred or so switches. Her fingertip came to a rest about the middle of the board. Found it. Cla-chink!

Alice heard the wheels and cogs turning, grinding and whining from the edge of the dome. Then she listened with a heavy heart as it squealed to a higher pitch and whine before all activity and sound died. 

Red and yellow lights pulsed failure to her bleary eyed gaze. Alice resisted the urge to pound the control board. “It’s a proven fact, Alice, beating the equipment doesn’t work,” she reminded herself.

Just then the creature cried out, vibrating the air around her. Her hands shot to her head again as lightning pain streaked through her head. Muscles tightened in her neck nausea hovering at the back of her throat. Had her mom gone through a similar experience? Her sub had vanished with no clues as to what happened. Would she simply disappear too? 

As the creature’s shriek subsided, color returned to her vision and her eyes were able to focus. What Alice saw was the depth meter increasing. Not Good. “More like Not Alive and soon,” she muttered.

In her mind’s eye, she imagined Zira and the others shaking their heads knowingly. They thought she wasn’t experienced and knowledgeable enough. Then she thought of Dr. Leland. He has risked trusting her. He’d bet on her. She knew he had.  

Over the month before this trip he’d invested in her life in a way only her mother had. All her grades were salvaged due to his persistence in his pestering. She had needed help, and he’d been there. And now she was failing him. Failing him, like her father had failed her.

She was afraid to be just like him.

And she remembered that day. It was her last visit with her father. She had needed him so badly that day, and yet, as he met her gaze there was no emotion, no comfort.

She was alone, and he’d walked away.

The sludgy gray skin of the creature squelched across the window snapping her eyes to it. The creature went silent.

Alice didn’t want to be her dad. Didn’t want to leave people. Didn’t want to fail them. Yet here she was. Her watery eyes gazed dully at the creature’s rubbery body. Then it hit her, and she slapped the dashboard, “Ha!” Then gave a regretful groan as the sound echoed painfully in her head. 

“Just move on,” Alice lurched out of her seat painfully and half jumped to the wall below.

Soon she found what she was looking for, a little hidden panel. Now if she could electrify the hull…

Alice found rubber gloves, cut the correct wires and ripped open the floor giving her direct access to the hull of the ship. She paused. The sub creaked with the sway of the ocean. It was time. Alice rammed the cable down, touching the hull.

The life tearing screeching began, and Alice cried out trying to wrench the cable back as she felt something wasn’t right. But it was no use. 

All at once it was as if their minds were in sync. So many images flashing through her mind. Unrecognizable. She was tasting other worlds, feeling a foreign sea, and talking to alien animals. 

Alice was the creature. 

The creature in a harsh new world and encountering a bright creature with electricity in its veins. Such a strange creature that seemed hollow inside. 

That’s me, Alice thought, right before the submarine was violently thrust away.

The creature moaned and an invisible current pulled at it. Whatever body part was gripping the sub fell from the window. Finally her exterior lights shone to reveal swirling dark water all around the sub. She had been taken to deeper depths, and she saw no end. No bottom.

She’d entered the trench.

She was alone in the glow of light encircling her. Or maybe not. Her gaze caught  movement.

At the edge of her exterior lights, she could see a faint figure off in the distance and holding a glimmering weapon like a staff. It had three points at the top. Kind of like…a trident.

Below him the creature was falling. Like a drunk pot-bellied large man, the sludgy creature rolled away a trail of black ink swirling down with it to the depths below.

The man figure swayed with the ocean, paying no mind to the creature. His focus on her sub.

He watched her for a moment then gestured for her to come before he swam down into the murky black depths. Was what she had just seen a figment of her imagination? Something created from the mental torture she had just endured?

Alice wanted to follow him. Wanted to discover if there was more. More to the sea and more to the mystery around her mom’s interest here. She’d been so secretive about it. Still fear or common sense tried to whisper to her. The man-like figure was swimming in about the same direction, she warned herself, as the creature.

Even now, her hands still trembled, body still felt in sync with the rhythm of the sea, still felt like a fish in the wrong ocean. Would her father have risked it? Would he even care about what mom had been so involved in? But he was a stranger to her now. No doubt he wouldn’t even care that she was at sea. She waved the thought away. 

A strange excitement, child-like in nature, welled within her as she gazed at the man with the softly glowing trident. A type of wonder that she hadn’t known was there, beating quietly below the surface. A wonder that was present in most if they just looked.

Did she follow the man? What was her carefully considered and thought out choice in all of 32 milliseconds?

Alice of course followed the rabbit down the hole.

Next Chapter: Chapter 4

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