Through the Whirlpool,
Through the Whirlpool
Book I in the Jewel Fish Chronicles
(an imprint of Poble Sec Books)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First published as an e-book by Escapade Press, an imprint of Poble Sec Books, in 2013.
Copyright © K. Eastkott 2013
Cover design: gira visual communication
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: (.mobi) 978-0-9576551-0-2
For Josh, that ten-year-old who dreamed of becoming a magician
And for Ria
The Sea Caller
100% Efficient! No Emissions!
The Hollow among the Rocks
The Life Code
A Keen-Skur’s Fang
Coming to Council
Trying to See
The Birth of Kreh-otchaw-oh
Twilight Crosser, Book II of The Jewel Fish Chronicles
The Sea Caller
The heat, as she breasted the summit, buffeted her, throwing the old woman back downhill. During the final thousand paces of the climb, the ground had gradually warmed then scorched the soles of her feet through her thin sandals. Now sweat poured from her body and she dreamed of a cool place, some crystal mountain stream where she might sit and soak her tired legs. Such was not to be found on Kaa-meer-geh. The entire island was barren red rock. And her task was not to rest but to prompt, encourage, coerce—at times threaten, or worse. First among the shahiroh, the sea callers, she was there to supervise the rite, there for sea-nomad-becoming.
Braving the heat, she forced herself again toward the crater and stood on its very lip.
The distant shout barely penetrated the deafening grind of the lava’s music, and she ignored it, forcing her sight down into the lava lake, which tossed its bright spears high. Despite the flames, Kaa-meer-geh was at peace, its magma pulsating warm ruby calm encrusted with dark rock scabs.
She bore the heat. Slim, athletic, her body taut skin over toned muscles. Random streaks shone silver in her plaited hair, belying a strength honed with the years. Against the rough basalt, she resembled the ancient trunk of a loman tree, polished and elegant.
In trance she waited, allowing her prescience to roll down into the molten stone and through it to that fluid intermingling of time and space where the universe ground against other dimensions. Future and past possibilities—crackling snakes of time—interwove and sparked off one another. Then the rock flames brought her a single vision: a figure writhing far above, engulfed in flames as it fell toward midnight waves. Though no screams reached her, still she knew who… She fought to hold the sight… And her heart lurched as the victim disappeared beneath the ocean’s surface.
That shout broke the trance, dissolving the ocean into fire. Golden stanzas seemed to shimmer in the heat-drenched air even as the sight dissipated:
The foreign seeker will be lost,
An ocean’s guardian laid low,
Before the one of touch afar
Returns a peace from long ago.
The strange prophecy seemed to echo a time long before when something else had emerged from the magma.
Her concentration had been shattered by that distant cry. She turned to face the horizon. The sea lay dark: a pan of murky oil awaiting a taper. Here and there, long swathes of water gleamed: the kree-eh—primeval life forms that glowed phosphorescent in its depths. A few final stars above were fading like sparks on the breeze. Dawn was near. She searched for whoever was calling her name, but the volcano’s slopes lay in gloom and she could see no movement below.
From her belt, she unslung two objects and laid them on the sand: one a carved mask, its features defying description. Seeming to breathe as if alive, it sighed—a heritage ground out of rocks. It held its mystery to itself. Not yet time for its secrets to emerge.
The woman picked up the other, an arm-long, twisting shell. Fluted fingers flowered from a conical opening. It had a rough exterior of deepest purple but inside shone like sunrise. Another shout from below. She ignored it again. There would be time to address it later. For thirty-two years, this had been her role and none had dared to interrupt; they would not do so now. So it was that pride condemned her to her dearest mistake.
On the horizon, gray dawn softened into lilac, from there to indigo and copper. Celestial depths chameleoned into gold. Though almost full daylight up here, below the beach lay dark. Then a sparkle at the sea’s far reach, and the sun’s fire leaped above the horizon.
She put the shell horn to her lips—hesitated—and blew. A high, sad wail drifted out, gliding away over the island as the sun floated up into the sky, its rays saluting. The trumpet call rolled down the volcano’s slopes as far as the barren shore and outward over the ocean beyond. Moments later, an answering wail—a fading moan from the mainland shadows. Seven horn blasts in total sounded from the mainland. Sea-nomad-becoming had commenced.
Lowering the horn, she peered down into the predawn gloom. A figure was toiling up the slope, close now. It was Lehd, youngest of the sea callers, he whose shouts had meant to distract her.
“We shouldn’t have started,” he panted. “It is… too dangerous. The others have seen it… sent me to tell you… the rift has opened!”
If he could have seen her expression... but from where he was standing her figure flickered ghostlike in the volcano’s hot embrace. He knew she was angry with him for interrupting the ritual, but he could not see that shadow sliding across her face as she turned back to the fire, its highest flames now invisible in the sunlight. Her thoughts were her own as she pondered the rift… So it had returned. But where would it lead them this time?
Night receded, lifting him from sleep. In the silence—as still as the polished surface of a moonlit lake—some whisper had nudged him in his dreams. His fingers reached for the leather bag looped on a thong around his throat, caressing a hidden shape. Yet there were only the sounds of every night: the rolling crash of surf on the beach, soothing, repetitive; and a hissing r
He sat up, remembering what must be begun, where he was headed today. He was ready. Stretching limbs and cracking joints, he shook off sleep, threw aside his blanket, relishing the predawn chill. He washed his face. As he ran through his exercises, he heard his father’s feet hit the floor with a slap as he too rolled from his hammock. His mother groaned, imaged a sleepy question, but his father replied in words: “Sea-nomad-becoming.”
Sunrise was close. Finishing his exercises, he closed his eyes for a moment. Sea-nomad-becoming. Today he would shed his former life. Tomorrow he might be a man.
A mind question from his mother…
No. Later he could eat. The rites demanded that he fast until arrival. Zjhuud-geh Island would be teeming with fruit, and he was capable with a snare, handy with a fishing spear and line. Food gathered by his own hand... that would be the easiest part. His mother pushed aside the curtain defining his personal space and placed a full gourd beside his tools. This was the only sustenance he could carry. A potion of herbs steeped in a mother’s knowledge. A life source.
He spent a few moments checking his tools, though they had been polished, sharpened, repaired repeatedly over the last week and were as honed as could be. He was wrapping them, securing them in their woven bag when it came: a faint, high moan floating across the sea, from Kaa-meer-geh Island... the summons. Another call rose in answer. Closer this time, down on the beach. The call of the sea, inviting him, Kreh-ursh, and his friends to embark on sea-nomad-becoming. The long wail died away, then sounded again moments later. And again. He held his breath: seven horn blasts. Seven hopefuls about to set off. Seven... who should have been eight. Kaar-oh, his friend, who had trained with him, would never attempt the nomad-becoming now.
Perhaps it was wrong, but the impulse was too great. Kreh-ursh stooped into a corner and opened a wooden chest. He took out a tiny leather bag, similar to his own yellow one but crimson. Inside, another unique carved shape, which only he had looked at since... it had been his friend’s. He hung this second bag around his neck too. The best he could do. Might Kaar-oh know. Then it was as if, in his imagination, he felt his friend stir, breathe again. He heard his laugh, found himself smiling at the gap-toothed grin... Crazy!
Looking around his small section of the hut, he surveyed it all—hammock, chest, floor mat, spears, fishing tackle, wooden toys from when he was a boy—a pile of things, so important once. Nothing he would take now. He tightened his belt from which the gourd and his knife hung, shouldered the heavy bundle containing his tools, cooking utensils and a few other belongings, slung blanket and sleeping mat across his back, and ducked under the curtain.
In the family space, his parents were waiting for him. His mother smiled tightly as she hugged him, though he sensed her tears. His father’s frown shielded his feelings as he too embraced his son.
“Just follow what you learned at training. Good luck.”
This was it. Kreh-ursh left the hut, heading for the beach. Sea-nomad-becoming had begun.
She was swimming. Deep in the green, beneath the waves, far down where massive blocks of stone piled in weighty majesty to create palaces. She was swimming. Clouds of sparkling color surrounded her like ribbons of fine sea kelp. Yet this stuff seemed aware, sentient. She felt it brush against her as she propelled herself forward and ever downward through the green… through the phosphorescence… almost felt its whispered thoughts. Far off, sea creatures wailed and moaned, distracting her with their guttural syllables that sounded so achingly familiar.
Somehow she knew they were singing for her, but she could not understand their tongue.
This time the voice was human, someone calling from far away. She knew it was just a dream. Yet like no other. Still she swam, wanting to dive deeper, down toward the kelp voices, careening through the green…
She was being pulled from the depths, but the clouds of kelp—lilac, red, green, and silver—were also calling, pulling her backward. She had to leave… but those voices again, were speaking… to her almost. As if she had caught their meaning but could not quite remember. This was important, something about colors that could save her, save someone, but she was being pulled up. A strange boy’s laugh trilled long, taunting her. Everything else began to fade. All gone except for that echoing laugh, mocking her because she could not stay. His disdain held a note of frenzy she distrusted.
She tasted salt, sand in her mouth and knew she was back. Cold hugged her like an octopus’s clinging tentacles. Those colors were flooding in, slamming into her eyelids, overwhelming… and still the voice moaned.
She opened her eyes to see Kyle, oversized boogie board under his arm, standing beside her towel.
“Mom’s on her way down. It’s high tide. Come on, there’s surf!”
The waves rolling in were high. She was on the beach, lying on her towel. Kyle was staring at her with as much concern as a kid brother could muster, more wrapped up in his own predicament: missing all those beautiful rollers that were surging into Mauri Cove.
“Chill. If you go in before Mom gets here, we’ll be having barbecued Kyle for dinner, I promise.”
She sat up, trying to organize her thoughts, bring herself back into the present. It had happened again, the strange dream or nightmare, almost as if she were there, so real it seemed. Kyle flopped down beside her.
“I’ll never learn to surf if I have to sit here on the beach all the time! What’s taking her so long?”
“The usual. One of her clients called. Some company wants to gut some old mansion. Mom’s getting an injunction.”
She did not bother to explain “injunction” to her brother’s raised eyebrows. Four years younger than Jade, if she was not sure, Kyle would have no clue. She wanted to go in surfing as well. The thought of the spray crashing as you sped down the waves like some goddess of the ocean—it cured everything. On her own she might risk it, but with Kyle there, she would definitely be dragged through seven separate kinds of hell.
She lay back again. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the buzzing red behind her eyelids... This dream: for a week now these spells had been recurring, calling her down to dive deep into the green among those colored ribbons. Afterwards, she would shiver and feel deathly cold as if she were lying on the ocean floor deep down… like a disabled submarine on the seabed. And that chanting, the laughter… It was as if she were being challenged, or summoned... Those haunting syllables and a boy’s cruel laughter. She had no idea what it meant, but the colors were so beautiful—like every hue wrapped together—a silky matter that floated deliciously in the depths… And then this dizziness…
It had been the first week of their school holidays. Jade had put on her wetsuit in the dark and taken her board out to sample the early morning breakers. The old rule was that neither Jade nor Kyle was allowed in the water alone, but finally this summer their mother, Joan, had said Jade could go surfing as long as she went with one of her friends and they stayed well inside Mauri Cove’s rocky arms.
But Jade had a sunrise ritual that she preferred to complete on her own. She would paddle out to where the waves rolling into the bay heaped themselves into long, arching ridges as they rounded the point. Rank upon rank of those blue-gray hills stretching to the choppy horizon. She would sit on her board and watch the sun come up, turning the water to gold before her. The only thing marring the view east: the three pale, distant towers of the new re
That morning a week ago, Jade’s vigil had been interrupted by the sound of a speedboat. While not so unusual in itself, the direction it came from was strange. Turning to look over her left shoulder, she saw a slick, fiberglass craft come skimming around a bend in the Mauri River, bump across the rapids at the river mouth, and aim for the open sea. As it passed her, sunlight reflected off its windshield and she could not see the vessel’s occupants. Then she forgot all about it, and turned her board shoreward to catch her first wave of the day.
The larger waves were breaking at the north end of the beach, close to where the Mauri River emptied into the bay. It was a tricky place to surf because of the turbulence the river caused, and she needed all her concentration. So she did not notice the speedboat’s return, half an hour later, until it was almost too late. Paddling out, cresting a wave, she found the craft’s shining bow bearing down on top of her.
“Hey! Watch it!”
The driver saw her and swung the wheel hard left. Jade threw herself to her left also, but her board smashed against the vessel’s hull. Something sloshed from a tank on board. Then Jade was underwater, trying to kick back away from the launch’s spinning propeller. Multicolored ribbons of some sort of seaweed filled the water around her, clinging to her body and twining through her hair.
When she broke water, a strange taste filled her mouth, something other than the saltiness of the sea. She also heard a familiar voice:
“It’s Weasel! Hey brat, I’m coming for ya!”
Then she recognized the boat’s occupants: Rena, accompanied by her two cronies. So Jade knew she was in trouble. Some years older than Jade, Rena worked as the security guard up at the new lab. That was where they had first clashed. To Jade and her mates, it had seemed fun at the time to tease her, careering around in the darkness on the half-built site, trying to stay ahead of Rena’s torch beam. That was until the day Jade’s partner in crime, Miguel, had “fallen” from his bike out by Point Mauri and broken his arm. Jade now knew that Rena was bad news. Beside her in the speedboat sat the Head, a thick-shouldered boy of limited intelligence but unswerving loyalty to her, and Screwdriver, the rat-faced youth who was steering.