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Maelstrom: Ocean Academy, #3

Maelstrom: Ocean Academy, #3

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Maelstrom: Ocean Academy, #3

Longueur:
299 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
Dec 23, 2020
ISBN:
9781393766414
Format:
Livre

Description

A devoted companion. A vivacious best friend. And a magical power beyond compare. By all accounts, Coral should be happy, but her father's disappearance still haunts her. Coral uses the knowledge she's gained at the Academy to find him, but will her obsession lead her closer to her father or to her greatest enemy?

A visit to the Royal Palace leads Coral to discover a new magical ability and a new potential ally, both of which could reunite her with Aquatica. Believing these to be the keys to finding her father, Coral devotes her considerable strength to achieving her goal.

Meanwhile, Coral's true enemy discovers her plans and devises a trap to strip her of her magical talisman. Little does Coral know that each step she takes towards her father is also a step towards facing her enemy. Will Coral have the strength to see her father again or will she fall victim to the Master's cunning?

Maelstrom is the third installment in the Ocean Academy series. If you enjoy reading stories filled with underwater magic, animal companions, evil plots, teenage drama, and sacrificing everything for the truth, then you'll love Coral's third year at the Ocean Academy.

Buy your copy of Sarah Elizabeth's innovative addition to the Academy genre now!

Sortie:
Dec 23, 2020
ISBN:
9781393766414
Format:
Livre

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Maelstrom - Sarah Elizabeth

Author

Chapter One

King Magus leaned against the wall, waiting patiently for a rendezvous with one of his agents. The cave he waited in was ancient—carved out of the side of stone cliffs that formed an underwater highway that was no longer in use. He had come to this place long ago and converted the cave into a base of operations in this part of the ocean. He used it to check in on some of his less reputable contacts.

On this particular occasion, he would rather have been back at the palace with his wife, but he had business to take care of—the kind of business that required his immediate attention. He had received several leads during the summer months claiming to have seen Aquatica in this part of the ocean. There hadn’t been sightings of Aquatica in years. So, those rumors had led him here—at the edge of Moray’s Expanse.

According to his spy in this section of the ocean, Aquatica had been asking questions and stirring up trouble. His control over the farther outposts had become tenuous in the last couple of months, and now he thought he understood why. After weeks of planning, King Magus finally ventured out to the Expanse to set up a trap to catch Aquatica. However, the king had been waiting for some time, and as each hour passed his expectation of catching her waned considerably.

His agent was late. Never a good sign.

King Magus waited another hour before heading back to the palace. He had other pressing matters to attend to, what with Coral visiting the Royal Palace in about a month. He and Queen Verona had been orchestrating a plan to get the talisman from her, and he wanted to put the final pieces of his plan in place. However, the amount of chatter his spies had been sending about Aquatica was too much to ignore, so he came to see if the rumors were true. He had to at least make an attempt to catch her before she could interfere with his plans. He hoped to put her in prison right next to her traitorous brother, Osiris.

The King waited another twenty minutes before he finally heard someone approaching the cave. The King covered his face with his black cloak and pressed himself against the edge of the cavern. From his vantage point, he could see everything at the entrance clearly, but no one would be able to see him.

An Octopod sprang into view, followed by his agent—a grisly old Adaro named Kipp. The King recognized Kipp instantly due to the fact that he had no left arm. The Octopod with him bore a resemblance to Aquatica, which pleased the King. Perhaps his skepticism was premature.

The King heard Kipp say, Here we are. Just like I said.

The Octopod peered inside the cavern, trying to glimpse into the darkness. Why did you bring me here?

I am an Adaro of my word. I told you I had something that belonged to your kind. I hid it here because it is precious.

And what exactly is this valuable item? She looked deeper into the cave, hesitant to go all the way inside.

Kipp slowly swam behind her to block her escape. His form wasn’t bulky enough to completely block her in, but he could at least slow her escape, if she chose to dash away. I told you before. I found an artifact that belongs to the Octopods. When I saw you in town, I just knew you were the one I needed to deliver it to. I had to give it to someone I could trust.

The Octopod slowly entered the cavern, caution written all over her face. Why me? And what kind of artifact?

Kipp responded. You are famous around here. Everyone knows who you are and how important you are to the Octopods. He pointed deep into the cave. I hid it back there under a rock. Take a look for yourself.

She looked back at him, hesitation clear in her limbs. Kipp quickly added, I’ll wait out here so you can retrieve it alone.

He backed away from her and positioned himself on one side of the cavern entrance.

King Magus rolled his eyes, already knowing that this was a dead-end. There was no way Aquatica would fall for the lies he just told this Octopod. Aquatica wouldn’t be so trusting, not after her encounter with him all those years ago. The King immediately regretted trusting Kipp to perform this task.

Now Kipp had put his identity at risk. He’d have to tie up these loose ends and get out of here quickly.

The King waited until the Octopod had slipped completely inside the cavern, which was large enough to hold about five full-sized Oceanids. The woman slipped past him and began searching for a rock at the back of the cavern. The King crept towards the entrance and waved a hand at Kipp. Hydrokinetic energy sprang to life and gripped Kipp by the throat. The King slung Kipp into the cavern, unconcerned with the impact Kipp’s body made with the walls.

The Octopod pivoted just as Kipp’s body slammed into hers. King Magus flicked his wrists again and a thick water wall formed in front of him. With a gesture of his right hand, the wall rushed forward and pinned the two Oceanids to the cavern wall, body parts entangled and pressed unnaturally against one another. The Octopod tried to scream but as she did, every bit of air she could have used to do so was pressed out of her. She had to stop her attempts at screaming to focus on breathing.

The King moved closer to his two victims, amused at the awkward position Kipp was in. His head was down towards the ground and his tail bent towards the side wall. The Octopod’s tentacles were plastered against the side of his face, across his chest, and around his tail.

He met Kipp’s eyes. This is not Aquatica. Any idiot could see that.

Kipp’s eyes went wide as he realized his Master’s endgame. Please, he mouthed. Give me another chance.

The King stared at him, considering his plea. He almost granted it. After all, cretins like Kipp were harder and harder to come by out here in the vast expanse of the ocean—especially ones that didn’t ask questions. But he was tired of Kipp’s failures and ultimately decided to end their relationship. Coral was within his grasp. His need for this elaborate network of spies was coming to a close.

He shook his head at Kipp and held up his other hand. Sorry. Your usefulness has come to an end. Lightning arced from his left hand and into Kipp’s skull. The impact caused instant paralysis, and Kipp began convulsing from the constant barrage of electricity. Before long, the water smelled of cooked fish. The King let the power fade away, and he peered down at the Adaro’s charred flesh. Kipp’s eyes had rolled to the back of his head.

The King looked up to the Octopod. He saw tears flowing from her eyes. Whether from terror or from the pain of the lightning so close to her tentacles, it didn’t matter to him. Her existence was an abomination—one he alone could undo. He felt no sorrow as he turned his lightning on her. She squirmed against the hydrokinetic wall that held her in place, but it was no use. He ended her life as quickly as he had Kipp’s.

King Magus let go of the water wall and turned to go. He couldn’t leave any trace of his presence here. That is why he was so fond of meeting in secluded places like this. He could quickly convert the caverns into tombs. He had lost count of how many bodies he had buried in places just like this.

King Magus exited the cavern, wove his hands in a complex pattern, and created a hydrokinetic hammer the size of a small shark. He swung it several times at the entrance of the cave until it crumbled into itself, sealing the dead inside. He turned and faced the open ocean, again concentrating on his hydrokinetic abilities to summon a way home. After some effort, a disc coalesced in front of him which showed his bedroom on the other side. Once the disc appeared to be stable, he swam into it and let the disc crash closed behind him.

Just like that, he had returned to the safety of his palace. He pulled the dark cloak off his shoulders and floated over to the mirror hanging on the wall of his grand bedroom. Blue and gold cloth clung to the sides of the room, draping the mirror in opulence.

Thoughts raced furiously through his mind, and he longed for clarity and peace. He drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. As he did, the King noticed the deep lines etched in his once youthful face. They revealed his age, and he wondered where all the time had gone. He inhaled slowly again and as he exhaled, he let his tension flow out of him once more.

He stood staring at his reflection when a pair of delicate hands wrapped around his waist from behind and made their way up onto his chest. He instantly recognized the firm embrace his wife, Queen Verona, offered as she pressed up against him. Her bare skin was smooth to the touch. Her presence soothed him and kept him grounded.

What troubles you, my love?

Nothing, my Queen, he replied. You know how my mind works. Sometimes it's difficult to turn off.

My virulent husband. Always plotting and planning. She squeezed him and tugged at his body. I’ve missed you. Why don’t you come to bed? I’m sure I can take your mind off your troubles.

At the invitation, King Magus turned around and hoisted his wife up into his arms. She kissed him softly at first. Sweet temptations for something more. He wanted to give in to her, but the unease in his heart prevented him from doing so.

When he stopped returning her kisses, she pulled away and gave him a quizzical look. It's rare that you can resist my charms.

He looked away from her for the briefest of moments and when he looked back, she seemed worried.

There's only one thing in this ocean that can command your attention more than me. She cupped her hands on his face. You didn’t find her, did you?

The King shook his head slowly.

Do you really believe she is out there? What if all these rumors are just that? Rumors.

The King let his wife down and put a little distance between them. I can’t explain it, really. Somehow I can sense her presence. A constant annoyance that won’t go away.

The Queen reached back behind him and clasped her hands together. Why do you worry so much about her? We have the last talisman within our reach. Just take it and be done with it.

The King shook his head again. It is not that simple, and you know it. The girl. She's too well known. It won’t be as simple as making her father disappear. She's made a splash at the Ocean Academy. If I strike now, it would be too suspicious.

The Queen leaned close and puckered her lips, strategically kissing the King’s chest. Amidst her kissing, she asked, And why should that be a bad thing? Perhaps it's time that you brought your plans to light. Prepare the ocean for what is coming. She continued her kissing, which had its intended effect on the King.

He placed his hands on her head to stop her and looked into her eyes. No. Not yet. Not until I have the first Nymph King's power for my own. I can't risk a revolt before I can complete my mission.

The Queen brought her hands up to his face and kissed him on the lips. You and your secret works. I do not know how you have the patience for them. If it were me ruling, I would have wiped them all out the old-fashioned way—at the tip of a trident.

Yes. That is certainly one way to purge the ocean of the unworthy. The problem is, it is not long lasting. We’ve talked about this many times. Had I done that, I would have created more enemies and they would have forever sought to upend any peace I could have achieved. He kissed her passionately. Soon, my Queen, you will see the wisdom in the path I have chosen.

Her lips curled at the corners, exposing a wily grin. Of that, I have no doubt. You have proven a man of your word time and time again. I will help you finish your plans for the Octopods.

Chapter Two

Coral smelled something delicious coming from the kitchen, and the aroma woke her from her sleep. She uncurled her tentacles and stretched as she committed to getting out of bed. She loved the way Nixie’s mom prepared their meals. She always added some exotic element that completely enhanced the flavors. It was much better than the normal and often bland food she grew accustomed to eating at the Ocean Academy.

Coral slipped a seashell brazier on and headed for the door when Nixie appeared in front of her.

Good morning, sunshine, Nixie said with a smile.

How long have you been up? Coral asked.

Maybe five minutes. Mom's three spice seaweed wraps woke me up.

You've only been awake for five minutes and you already look this fabulous? Coral pointed to Nixie’s choppy blue hair, which Nixie had stiffened so it would hold its shape in the water. Coral then gestured down the rest of Nixie’s body, admiring its shimmer. She no doubt took time to scrub her tail to achieve that perfect polish and shine.

Nixie placed one hand on the side of her head and the other on her hip. Puckering her lips and smiling with her eyes, she asked, You like?

I love it! Coral responded. You're so lucky. It would take me hours to pull off something like that.

Oh, stop it. You know you're gorgeous. Nixie broke her pose and waved a hand in the water. Come on. Let's go get some breakfast.

Nixie hooked her arm around Coral’s and they swam down the hallway together towards the kitchen. When they entered, it again reminded Coral how expertly designed it was. Coral’s favorite part were the two stone columns built into the back wall. They immediately drew her attention every time. Coral made her way towards them, smelling the fresh seaweed and kelp that hung along the wall. Nixie’s mother, Ephira, used these fresh ingredients every day to prepare something wonderful to eat. When Coral reached the columns, she slid them open revealing a storage locker where the family kept a stock of fish. She eyed the contents for a moment, pulled out some fresh cod, and then closed the storage locker. Coral turned to go to the table, popping the cod pieces into her mouth, and watched as Nixie fiddled with a net hanging from the ceiling. The net held fresh clams and other shellfish Ephira used when preparing breakfast.

Nixie grabbed a few oysters and handed them to her mom. She then joined Coral in the middle of the kitchen at a square table with a small chest on top. From her seat, Coral watched as Ephira grabbed different spices out of a chest and began rubbing them onto the oysters.

After a few moments, Ephira placed three morsels of tightly wrapped seaweed in tiny pyramids on two plates and slid them over to the girls. Ephira had stuffed the seaweed with a mixture of clam and oyster meat, which she had rubbed in a blend of three spices. The aroma filled Coral’s nostrils and made her mouth water. She grabbed her plate and Nixie slid into the seat beside her.

During breakfast, Ephira beamed with pride at the girls. She wore the biggest smile Coral had ever seen on the woman’s face before. Coral periodically looked up at her and couldn’t help feeling self-conscious. After a while, Coral felt the need to break the tension.

This is really delicious, she said, half chewing one of the seaweed wraps.

Yeah, mom, Nixie added. You've really outdone yourself this time. I don't know how you do it.

Thank you, girls, she said in response. I thought you deserved something special today.

Ever since Coral came to live with Nixie and her mom, Ephira had treated her just like one of her own. It was incredibly generous. Throughout the summer, Ephira had performed minor acts of kindness, like this, to make Coral comfortable. Coral appreciated it and felt a deep sense of gratitude for her. Thank you so much, she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. You really shouldn’t have gone out of your way like that.

Nonsense, Ephira said. You couldn’t have just any old breakfast. Not today.

Nixie furrowed her brow and stared at her mother. She put down her seaweed wrap and placed an elbow on the tabletop. What's going on? she asked inquisitively.

Nothing, her mom said with raised eyebrows. Can’t I give you girls a nice breakfast once in a while?

Coral didn’t think it was possible, but the smile on Ephira’s face grew even wider. She even thought she detected a hint of whimsy in Ephira’s voice. She and Nixie shared a look, doubt about her mom’s true intentions began to creep in.

Nixie tried again. Give it up, mom. I can read you like a book. She rose from her seat, squaring her shoulders to face her mom. Something’s up. You might as well just tell us now.

Nixie’s mom threw up her hands playfully and said, OK. You caught me. She turned around and grabbed something from a nook in the kitchen wall. She placed it on the table and, with trembling hands, slid it across the table towards Coral.

It was an envelope about the size of Coral's outstretched hand. It had ornate lettering etched in gold along the front—lettering that spelled out the name C-O-R-A-L.

What's this? Coral asked.

It's a letter, silly, Nixie’s mom said. And it's addressed to you.

Coral examined the letter intently. I’ve never received a letter before. I've only ever gotten bubblegrams. She held it up towards Ephira. What do I do with it?

You open it, Nixie said, poking Coral in the side. Turn it around to see who it's from.

Coral did as instructed and flipped the letter over. Pressed against the back of the letter was a blue and gold wax ring stamped with the symbol of a trident pointed downwards. The spokes of the trident flared just enough to give it the perception of the letter M. At the base of the trident, a crown wrapped around the entire thing.

Nixie gasped. Is that the Royal symbol?

Ephira squealed. You better believe it!

Coral stared at the insignia once more and realized that the M of the trident probably stood for King Magus and the crown alluded to the Royal Court.

A letter from the Royals, she whispered aloud. This must be my invitation to visit.

Well, open it up and see! cried Nixie. Don't just leave us on bated breath.

Coral carefully pried open the letter, breaking the royal seal on the back. She unfolded the letter and read aloud.

Coral of the Octopods,

You are hereby cordially invited to spend an afternoon with royalty. Your host, King Magus, anticipates your arrival at 3:00 PM on the afternoon of the Annual Plankton Migration Festival. Your chaperone for the day will be Lord Tremaine and Lady Oneida. They will greet you at the gates. They will take you on a tour of the Palace, which will end in a dinner banquet with The Royal Court, including his and her majesties.

Coral’s heart sang. She was one step closer to her goal of finding her father. All of her hard work was paying off. This invitation was just the first step to solidify her future position on the Court.

Nixie threw her arms around Coral, hugging her tight. This is amazing! I can't believe it finally came.

Coral smiled at her friend and couldn't help giggling.

You are one lucky lady, that's for sure, Nixie’s mom said. Most Oceanids never get to see the Royal Palace, let alone get to dine with the King and Queen.

It’s not luck, Nixie said. Coral deserves it. She's worked so hard and been through so much. Nixie looked Coral in the eyes. Honestly, it couldn't happen to a better person.

Thank you both, Coral said. I’m beyond excited.

What are you going to wear? asked Nixie.

Coral looked down at her simple clamshell bra and blushed. I have no idea. I’ve never been around royalty before. I don’t know the first thing about it. What do you think I should wear?

Ephira swam next to Coral and placed an arm around her. You leave that to me, child. She outstretched her arm, inviting Nixie to snuggle up to her, which Nixie did. Why don't the three of us go shopping this afternoon. I'll make sure we find you a dress so stunning that no one at the palace will ever forget your name.

Coral couldn’t think of anything more perfect. She grinned broadly. If you insist, she said, grabbing Nixie’s hand in hers. The two girls squealed in delight, Ephira pleased with their glee.

Chapter Three

Later that day, Ephira took the girls down to the Glimmerfalls Promenade to find Coral the perfect outfit for her visit to the Palace. Coral had heard about the Promenade, but seeing it for the first time convinced her that every description she had heard was completely inadequate. It was no wonder only the upper classes shopped here. The designers had draped every inch of the open architecture in some form of opulence.

Ephira led them through the wide corridor of shops. Each one was arrayed inside of a giant clamshell. They spaced the clamshells out so that plenty of patrons could admire each artisan’s work without feeling crowded. This was a departure from what Coral was used to. Where she grew up on the lower west side, shop owners crammed their wares onto the backs of giant sea turtles or other large crustaceans. The shop owners constantly shifted their position in the market to plant themselves in the path of any oncoming Oceanids. It gave the markets at home more of a frenzied feeling—merchants peddling their wares as opposed to this serene display of quality craftsmanship.

Each clamshell displayed an array of fine dresses, like pearls in the center

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