Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny -- to find her missing friend. Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.
Tropes: Conspiracy, Dystopian Governments, Pseudo European Society, Wise Mentor
Word Count: 119688
Setting: Caer City, capital of the League of Caerlande
Languages Available: English
Chapter One: Conception (Anita Rosita, Month of the Worm Moon, Year of our Liberation 122)
A gull cried in the pale dawn sky.
Anita Rosita clasped her hands beneath her navel and gazed out over the sea.
You, she thought to the one who could surely hear her every thought. You make everything right.
To her hands, there was nothing out of the ordinary to feel. Her belly remained no chubbier than usual beneath the folds of her schoolgirl dress. But she knew. Others had insisted upon waiting for bodily signs, she recalled. She had not protested—it was, she admonished herself, prudent of them—but she had known—known from the very first moment—that it had transpired.
That was the word, she thought—transpired. A word a wise person might use—her teacher Mistress Berber, perhaps, or Pastor Avery, or a scholar of the Aurellian Islands, or the priest of a forgotten god in the sacred city of Tenopolis long ago. To transpire meant to breathe, Headmistress Franklin had taught her—and now she breathed for another as well as herself. Surely, she thought, surely that put her beyond shame and terror and even joy. She parted her lips and prayed without voice to any god and all of them—she prayed to meet what next must come in that state of selfless exaltation.
“Damn it.” The burly man at Anita’s side dropped his hand to the hilt of his dagger. “They’ve seen us.”
Then everything in Anita Rosita’s world flew into motion.
Chapter Two: A Leap in the Dark (Mara)
Our school dresses were slate gray, at least there was that. No one walking by on the clifftops was likely to look down and spot us in the gloom. The sun was going down behind the cliffs, and shadows were reaching for the sea. A breaker swept toward us, crested, and fell back with a growl. My friends and I were, I noted with relief, the only people on the beach.
Despite the darkness, I felt exposed, hemmed in between the surf and the cliffsides. The path up the cliffs was at least a quarter of a mile behind us. Ahead, the stony shoreline stretched on for perhaps three more miles. And if we continued to the end of the beach, I thought, and rounded Turnbow Head, we would come to the Caer City docks. That was hardly the place for three seventeen-year-old St. Alexander’s girls to be after dark.
Gretchen led the way, splashing through a tidepool. Ginny hesitated. Then she lifted her skirts to her knees and followed. I took the rear, pausing occasionally to glance at the clifftops, and at our route back to the path.
“Here we are, people.” Gretchen stepped up on a seaworn boulder and faced us. Masses of seaweed clung to the stone beneath her feet. My father had been a sailor, and he once told me that the kind of seaweed grasping at our feet is called knotted wrack. I thought of knots, and of the rack. I was in that kind of mood.
Gretchen looked at me. “Well, Mara, you said you wanted to see the place for yourself. What do you think?”
All of us turned and gazed at the limestone precipice to our west. The cliffs rose to a peak a good two hundred feet above our heads. A lone tree stood at the top of the cliff, its leafless branches sloping back from the sea. The smell of knotted wrack hung in the air.
Ginny shuddered. “I don’t like it.”
“If Annie jumped here, that was the end of her.” Gretchen shook her head. “Holy, heavenly Belthor.”
“If she jumped here, it would have killed her.” I felt a horrible lump in my throat. “But . . . but look at that.” I turned my head to glance at the sea. “The water is a good twenty yards from the cliffside. And the tide was full when we got to the beach. Mistress Franklin said she jumped at dawn. The tide was out then—there’s an almanac in the school library—I checked.”
“So, what are you saying, girl?
“I’m saying there’s no way she would have ended up in the ocean. She would have hit the rocks, and the city watch would have found her body.”
“You say that girl—” Gretchen gazed at me for a moment. “Maybe she lay there for a while and the tide came in?”
“No. I mean, not if Headmistress Franklin told us the truth. The headmistress said the clamdiggers saw her while she was still alive. It was dawn then, and the watch started looking for her right afterward.”
“So . . . what do you think happened?” To my ears, Gretchen’s voice had taken on a needling tone.
“I have no idea.” I felt as if Gretchen had been trying to force me to confess that, and I was cross about having to gratify her. “But I think the headmistress lied to us. I think Pastor Avery lied to us. Everyone is lying to us—"COLLAPSE