SHE WAS DROWNING IN A sea of stars.
Emory knew this was how she would die, smothered by this strange tide.
Selfishly, she hoped the thing brushing against her was Romie; she didn't want to die alone.
In the darkness between stars were memories she wished to forget: a cave like a womb, the students at its heart, the widening of Romie's eyes as the sea rushed in, swift and inevitable.
We are born of the moon and tides, and to them we return.
But Emory wasn't ready to go.
The thought was a flimsy lifeline she reached for, hands seeking purchase in wet sand until they found a clammy, solid weight to grasp.
Emory, Emory, the sea whispered, as if loath to let her go. It relinquished its hold as she hauled herself onto shore. The receding waves unveiled the shape of her anchor in the sand, and Emory jerked back, a scream lodged in her throat.
A body: limbs bent and broken and wrong.
Three other bodies were strewn around it, blue lips parted on silent screams, but all Emory could think as she searched their pallid faces and unseeing eyes was how none of them were Romie.
And if this was death, it was a cruel punishment to keep them apart at the end of all things.
Your fault, the stars above seemed to say. Emory couldn't find it in herself to refute them.
SONG OF THE DROWNED GODS
THE SCHOLAR ON THE SHORES
There is a scholar on these shores who breathes stories. He inhales all manner of them, holds each one in his soul, and when his lungs are too full of words, he exhales at last, daring to breathe his own stories to life. Thus he breathes in words and breathes more out, in and out and in again like the measured rhythm of the sea, until one day he finds a peculiar book that sets even the tides off their fated course.
There is a world at the center of all things where drowned gods reign over a sea of ash, the book begins. Theirs is an involuntary rule, for in this bleak world they have been marooned, forced to become dim echoes of their former glory while they await the heroes who might one day set them free. Can you hear their plea? It is a song that carries on the wind like ash as it flutters across worlds, and perhaps a piece of it lingers here on this very page. Look closer. Strain your ear. The drowned gods are calling; will you answer?
The story it tells captivates the scholar, so much so that he finds himself beneath a colorless sky, alone in the stillness of a great expanse of ash. The book still hangs from his hand, the only tangible thing in this curious world, and before he can make sense of it, he is pulled back to his college by the sea, where the book turns to dust in his hand and the memory of the universe it contained already begins to fade. It would feel to him like a dream but for the taste of ash left in his mouth, the fine coating of it on his clothes and hair, and this unshakable belief that now courses through his veins.
He has always viewed stories as a sailor might view their ship: vessels to carry their readers to other shores, other worlds. Portals on a page.
TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY of a new moon, and on the banks of the Aldersea, the tide was low.
There was a time when these facts meant nothing to Emory Ainsleif, but that was before the night her very life hinged on those details. Now the moon was no longer just a moon, the tide was something to fear, and though Emory was grateful for the sun still shining in the late-summer sky, unease gathered like stones in her stomach.
Aldryn College for Lunar Magics rose up ahead, ivy-clad buildings crowning the steep hill that plunged into the restless sea below. Emory dug her nails into her palm as the taste of salt water filled her mouth, a phantom impression she had yet to shake. Blood swelled from the wound. She closed her eyes, savoring the twinge of pain before the magic in her veins could heal it. It was an ordinary sort of pain. Comforting, almost. Nothing like the aching throb of images that surged in her mind—a blood-slick column of rock, a spiral burned in silver on her wrist, four bodies splayed on the sand—as if coaxed free at the sight of Aldryn.
That particular pain she couldn't heal away, no matter how she tried to ease it. "You're New Moon, then?"
Emory startled. The driver looked at her in the rearview mirror, motioning to her hand, where the sigil of her lunar house glistened darkly on her pale skin. A black circle wreathed in silver narcissus. It glared back at her as if taking offense at the trickle of blood marring its surface. Guiltily, she wiped at it, seeing only death in its delicate ink.
"What's your tidal alignment?"