Join me on a journey through the first chapter of Architects of Illusion, a young adult historical fantasy series inspired by the land and legacy of Biltmore Estate, where Greek mythology meets The Book Thief and Fantastic Beasts!
Look for Part Four, the Conclusion, on Friday, June 29th.
‘Apeiron’ by Daniel Peniston
Sea of Forgotten Souls
April 14, 1912
North Atlantic Ocean
People spilled into the hall in uneasy waves, grasping at the hands of loved ones to keep them afloat in the waist-high water. A dozen different dialects crashed against the corridors in cries of confusion, for few could read the English signs, and fewer still could speak the language. No matter the tongue, they shared a common plea.
Calypso, silent and camouflaged, never took her eyes off of the girl. If any of the mortals were to survive, she would need to remove the threat that hung from the girl’s neck. She sensed the water rising and willed it to wait. But even an oceanid as powerful as Calypso could only hold back the hunger of the sea for so long.
It wasn’t nearly long enough.
A man dressed in white, wearing a tag that declared him, STEWARD JOHN HART, called to the crowd, his face the pallor of terror. He called out and motioned for them to follow. If it wasn’t for this one courageous act, every man, woman, and child in third class would have perished.
Calypso trailed closely behind the girl who was caught in a flood of bodies that swelled up the stairs. Every frantic turn led the third class passengers further into a maze of white-washed walls and wood paneling, overturned chairs and empty tables, through levels of abandoned grandeur as foreboding as it was foreign. The closer they ventured towards the ship’s center, the more they saw the looming threat reach its icy fingers inside to foil their escape.
Their floating palace had become a tomb.
The brave steward led them up, away from the sea’s snapping jaws and into the open arms of the boat deck. His triumph, however, was short-lived when he saw what awaited them.
Calypso’s heart fell. She had kept the sea at bay to give them time to escape, only to be met with defeat in the form of a sole remaining boat. A lifeboat ten sizes too small to save what needed saving.
Parents lifted their sobbing children into the raft, their goodbyes frozen on smoky breaths, as the last of their hope piled into Collapsible D.
Jean and Rosalie pulled Catharina into a fierce embrace before placing her firmly into the last space on the boat. As the raft was lowered, Catharina weeped silently, her cheeks burning with tears that turned to ice. A stick of chalk still gripped in her hands, she wrote on her board with frantic strokes and held it high for her parents to see. Ik hou van je. Ga alsjeblieft niet weg!
I love you. Please don’t go!
The collapsible dropped several feet before the men lowering the ropes regained control, causing Catharina to drop her board over the edge, where it sunk into the deep, and her hope along with it.
The moment Catharina’s collapsible touched the water, the Titanic began to tilt. Mere minutes after her tiny lifeboat reached a safe distance, the massive bronze propellers rose from the salt to face the stars.
Calypso took one last look at Catharina’s parents, locked in each other’s arms, wrapped in fear and anguish and love. A flicker of hope flashed in their eyes. Hope for the part of them that would live on.
At the ship’s edge, Calypso called a wave to carry her back to the screaming sea. All around her, wails of terror spread like a suffocating mist from hundreds of souls who clung to white floating clouds of false hope. Only ten survivors would be pulled from the water’s claws. I had counted. Twice. And still the number haunts me.
I watched, helpless, as the eyes of the metal beast that burned away the night closed their lids. The weight of water squeezed the titan’s neck until it cracked in two and slipped into the black.
And then there was nothing.
Nothing but silence skated on the glassy surface.
But under the silence, under the black, circling, waiting, was something far worse than the frozen sea.
Calypso dove under the black of the sea and spied the Cetus only meters from the cluster of lifeboats. Menkar had found what he was sent to fetch and he meant to have it.
Precious little life had managed to escape the titan’s tomb. Calypso would be damned if any further harm came to the rafts of refugees, their fates unjustly condemned in a war not of their making.
The oceanid charged towards Menkar with unbridled fury.
The talisman’s magic channeled through the salt and drew the Cetus directly to Catharina’s collapsible. The distressed girl never saw the sea serpent open his jaws inches from where she sat, nor did she notice the oceanid firing a flash of blue light that snapped his jaws shut. Catharina was numb from the cold, from loss, from the enormity of what she had witnessed. The thrashing of her own heart rivaled the bumping of her boat from the battle that waged beneath.
Calypso shot another bolt of electricity at Menkar. The ten thousand volts generated by an oceanid is a lethal shock to most living things, but for the cetus, it was just enough to stun him. She had little time before the sinking serpent regained his senses.
Using her power to shape the water, Calypso’s creation broke the surface and sped towards Catharina’s boat.
A nudging at Catharina’s elbow brought her out of a somber fog. She glanced down with ice-laced eyes to meet the curious gaze of a glassy dolphin. The child had never seen one outside of picture books. Her father would tell her stories of swimming with the spirited dolphins in Greece. How she longed to join him on his adventures.
Her gaze traveled over the sea and rested on the empty space where the ship had been, where her father once stood, his arm wrapped around her mother, smiling, laughing, living. She hoped they were with the dolphins.
Catharina reached out a chapped hand to stroke the dolphin’s slippery nose. Slowly, with her fingers hovering over its watery skin, it backed away, just enough to make her lean over, until her necklace dangled over the boat’s edge.
Calypso, hovering close, shot a small spark at the brass chain around Catharina’s neck and severed the link. The talisman tumbled into the deep.
Calypso snatched the necklace and darted in front of the waking Cetus. She watched him shake off the shock. She waited until his black eyes locked on her, until he recognized what she held in her hand, and then, she swam.
She cut a swift path through the sea that would lead the serpent away, far from the fragile lives she hoped to save. She swam until her body ached, until the water warmed with the rising sun, until she knew, beyond a doubt, that Catharina was safe.
When she reached the coast of Cuba, Calypso dove to the seabed, where a crumbling city slept. She navigated through the stone structures, one of many childhood playgrounds, until disappearing into the narrow mouth of a pyramid, leaving the serpent to swallow his defeat.
Calypso swam into the pyramid’s center, towards a particularly potent source of magic. A soft green glow stretched across a circle of towering stone sentries, symbols scrolled across their backs, their meaning lost to a landscape long erased, their power protecting them from the stomach of the sea.
Calypso hovered over the luminous surface. Only those born of the salt and surf could pass through the portals of Poseidon, for a price. The currency for traveling between portals was simply this.
Calypso broke through the surface of the portal and braced herself for the cost.
Memories flooded her mind like specters rising from raven smoke. Fleets of ships, fire licking at their sails, rocks chewing at their hulls, water wrapping its fingers around the feet of sailors, their screams sinking into the sea.
No matter the shores she fled, nor the centuries that had past, she could never escape her own ugly truth.
She was a thief. A predator. A killer.
She wasn’t born to steal mortal lives. It was the weight of grief that shifted her into something savage.
Long ago, on the ancient shores of Ogygia, she had fallen in love with the Greek king of Ithaca. The memory of losing Odysseus haunted her still. Poseidon manipulated her suffering to poison her heart against the humans.
I have seen the destructive power of despair. It hardens the heart until there’s nothing left but cold unfeeling stone.
But I have seen the transformative power of truth undo the damage of despair, and replace it with possibility.
Calypso chased her truth all the way to the Titanic. She would chase it to the ends of the earth if it led to her redemption.
© 2018 Samantha Redstreake Geary