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Saturday, December 10, 2011

NIGHT SHADE BOOKS HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN: Excerpt from The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

INTRODUCTION by Martha Wells: The Cloud Roads is about themes of isolation and loneliness, where the main character Moon had to pretend to be something else in order to survive. He was afraid to show who and what he really was, but finally found his people and a place to belong. The sequel, The Serpent Sea, is about what happens after that happily-ever-after.

Moon has few memories of his people and in his own head he's more groundling than Raksuran. Unfortunately, Raksuran society is complex and filled with traps for the unwary, and Moon's place in it seems particularly difficult. He has to face the possibility that he's too different, that he's been alone too long, and that he'll never fit in. He survived on his own by instinctive paranoia, distrust, and deception, but he has to give up those hard-learned lessons if he wants to stay with his new family. Plus, the ancestral home the court has traveled to isn't the safe haven they hoped for.

I had a great time writing these books, trying to get back to that sense of wonder I had as a kid, reading about adventures in strange fantasy worlds. I hope you enjoy this excerpt...

EXCERPT — Chapter Seven from The Serpent Sea:

At dawn, Song and Floret left to carry the news to the colony tree, and Moon and the others flew west, following the mentors’ directions.

It took them seven days to reach the edge of the forest, pushing the warriors as hard as they could. Jade and Moon took turns carrying Flower, which let Stone fly ahead to scout their route and find game so they could stay well fed, while Balm and Vine left markers in the treetops so whoever Pearl sent could follow them. It was Jade’s opinion that Pearl was bound to send someone, since she wouldn’t trust them to do this right. Moon just hoped they wouldn’t need the help.

It wasn’t as easy as flying over open country, and they had two days of rain, but food was plentiful and finding shelter in the suspended forest was never difficult. The long flights left them all exhausted but, as Moon had discovered on the other lengthy journeys he had taken with Raksura, it left no one with the energy to argue. When they stopped to eat and rest, Stone talked about his travels, and Chime told stories from the mentors’ histories. Flower must have had stories too, but she was always too tired to talk. Moon knew from experience that being carried wasn’t easy or comfortable, even for Arbora.

They all avoided the subject of what they would do if their quest failed.

Before they had left Emerald Twilight, Flower and one of the other court’s mentors had shown them a mountain-thorn seed. It was a dead one, separated from the husk and used only to show young Raksura what they looked like, but Flower had explained that their seed would be very similar. It was about the size of a melon, a light brown color, with a hard ribbed shell like a nut.

Moon had lifted it, feeling the light weight. He could tell this one was dead; it felt empty on the inside, the rind dried away to nothing. He said, “How long can our seed stay disconnected from the tree before it dies?”

Chime and the other warriors had stared at him in horror. Apparently none of them had thought of that. Always more practical, Jade answered calmly, “I asked Stone that and he said he didn’t know.”

The Emerald Twilight mentor, a withered gray-white Arbora who looked older than the mountain-thorn, took the seed back from Moon and said ruefully, “No one knows. This has never happened before.”

The mentors had also been able to tell Flower the things that might need to be done to the seed to get it to attach to the tree again, once they found it. If they found it. It was all just speculation, since in the annals of seed-lore, this was a unique problem. But Flower had had Chime copy it all down, and sent it back to the court with Song and Floret.

Late afternoon of the seventh day, the forest ended abruptly, giving way to a field of lush green grass dotted with white and gold flowers, and then a vast blue body of water, stretching forever.

Moon landed on the shore and folded his wings. A light breeze came off the water, but he couldn’t smell salt. A short strip of sandy beach dropped away abruptly into the shallows, which were thick with reeds, cattails, and blue and purple lilies, their pads a good couple of paces across. Insects hummed and frogs sang. He stepped down to where the waves lapped the sand and crouched, scooping up a handful of water to make certain. It tasted fresh, so this could be anything from a large lake to a sweetwater sea. He stood and looked up and down the shore. The land curved out in a great arc, and there was no sign of any groundling inhabitants.

The others landed a little further up the bank, and Jade set Flower on her feet. Stone circled twice overheard, then dropped down to light near the others and shift to groundling. Moon joined the group, the grass releasing a sweet fragrance as his claws pressed it down.

Stone stretched, then winced and rubbed his neck. “I’ll scout for the island, the rest of you wait here.”

That was the only option. Flying over water was always problematic. Raksura could only go so far without rest and food, and they couldn’t get real rest without stopping to shift to groundling. And it was one thing to fly out over the shallow Yellow Sea, knowing the direction of the islands and that they lay less than a day’s flight for a warrior. It was another to fly out over an unknown body of water. But Stone had easily three times the range of even a young consort like Moon.

“You mean to start right away?” Jade looked out over the water. “You should rest and leave in the morning.”

Stone gave her a glare that Moon knew well. “I’m not wasting most of a day.”

“You should at least eat,” Moon told him. “It’s a bigger waste if you fall out of the sky and drown.”

This had the effect of transferring the glare to Moon. And Stone must be in a worse mood than it seemed, because he growled, a low rumble of threat.

Everyone twitched in nervous reaction, except for Moon, who was unimpressed, Jade, whose expression turned sardonic, and Flower, who yawned.

Stone was usually acerbic, but he didn’t growl often, especially in his groundling form. He had done a good job of hiding his impatience so far, but it was clear he hadn’t forgotten that it was his doing the court had come back to the colony tree. Moon figured that if someone was going to get slapped unconscious, it might as well be him. He said, “Good, let’s fight. That’ll save time too.”

Stone controlled a hiss, his jaw set. Then he flung his arms in the air. “Fine! Then get off your asses and hunt!”

As Stone stomped away, Chime, Balm, and Vine scattered toward the forest. “Hah,” Flower commented, and started back up the bank, wading through the tall grass.

Jade gave Moon a look, lifting a brow. He turned to stare out over the sea to avoid her gaze. Up to this point, the journey had been fairly straightforward. Now if the map was wrong, if they couldn’t find the island, they would have to turn around and go back to Indigo Cloud. And then figure out where to look for a new colony.

They made a camp on one of the broad lower branches of a small mountain-tree at the edge of the forest, only about a hundred or so paces above the ground. Jade kept watch over Flower and Stone while they napped, and Balm and Vine went hunting. Chime dug in the shallows, looking for roots, and found some sand melons and big white clams, while Moon wandered along the shore and made sure nothing tried to eat him.

Balm and Vine came back shortly with two hoppers out of a herd further back in the forest, one for Stone and one for the rest of them to share. After they had cleaned up in the lake, Balm flew back up to the tree to talk to Jade. Vine stayed on the beach, and Moon took the opportunity to ask him, “Why are you so anxious to help Jade now?”

“Do I look anxious?” Vine said, cleaning his claws in the grass at the water’s edge.

Moon didn’t react to the attempt at a joke, and Vine said, reluctantly, “I’m older than River, I’m bigger than River, and he doesn’t like me. And I’m not thrilled about having to defer to him. And that’s how it’s going to be, until Pearl gets tired of him.” He shrugged his spines. “It’s different for Floret. No male warrior is going to order the female warriors around. They’re too big, and they stick together.”

It had the ring of truth. Moon said, “So you think you’ll do better with Jade?”

Vine correctly interpreted the undertone of that question. “I think I don’t have to put up with River telling me what to do. Jade’s always been close to Balm; she was never interested in male warriors. And now you’re here, I’m guessing no male warrior is going to have much chance with her.”

Vine had that part right. Moon still didn’t entirely trust him, though his motives made sense.

After they ate, Stone said only, “Don’t wait up,” before he shifted and set off across the water.

They watched from the branch, through the screen of leaves, until Stone’s outline dwindled in the distance. Moon let out his breath, frustrated. He couldn’t just sit here and wait.

It was a good day for flying, the bright blue sky clear except for a few high clouds. He turned to Jade. “We could scout along the shoreline, maybe find some sign that groundlings were here.”

It was a relief that Jade didn’t ask why they should bother, or what good it would do if they did find evidence of groundlings, because Moon couldn’t answer either one of those questions. She looked at the warriors inquiringly. “Well? Scout or rest?”

“I’ll scout,” Balm said, sitting forward. She looked anxious for something to do as well.
Chime nodded. Vine said, “I’ll go with Balm.”

“No.” Jade looked down the shoreline. She was in her Arbora form, and her shorter mane of spines trembled as she tasted the air. “I’ll go with Balm. Vine will stay here with Flower.”
Vine gasped at the unfairness. “Why me?”
Jade twitched her tail, but she sounded more amused than angry. “Because I said so.”

It’s a test, Moon thought. Another test. Jade must have also noticed that Vine seemed to be changing his allegiance from Pearl to her. It would be good if he did; Jade could use another male warrior, especially an experienced adult like Vine.

Vine grumbled and made it clear he was being ill-used, but didn’t make any real protest. Jade and Balm set off to the south, and Moon and Chime headed north.


Moon flew along the curve of the shore, maintaining an easy pace so Chime could keep up with him. The fields between the forest and the beach were thick with grass and flowers, empty except for an occasional herd of grasseaters. Big and slow-moving, their backs were protected by a heavy green shell, so that only their little heads and stumpy feet were visible. Not a very good prospect for prey if they had to stay here much longer.

Moon wanted to get a good look at the shoreline, though he wasn’t certain what he was looking for. A groundling town with a harbor would be nice, a place where people who came across the sea to explore the forest might land their boats.

To his surprise, it wasn’t long before he found it, or what was left of it.

First he spotted stone pilings standing in the shallow water, making a rough square shape. He tilted his wings, gliding downward for a closer view. It looked like the remains of a dock or a platform that had been built out from the shore. If there were any remnants left on the land, they were hidden under the grass.

The further they went, the more pilings they found, tracing the outlines of more elaborate structures. Soon they were flying over the scattered foundations of a whole maze of buildings, long docks, and causeways. Moon cupped his wings and dropped down to land on a broken pillar more than three paces across. The stone was chipped and coated with moss. Tiny blue fish darted in the water just below. Chime managed to land on another piling nearby and flailed his wings for balance. “This was a huge city,” Chime called.

Moon turned to look down the shore. He had been so focused on what was below them, he hadn’t noticed what was ahead. “Looks like some of it’s still there.” Some distance down the shoreline, he could just make out structures, round beehive shapes, standing high above the water. They might be a part of the ruined city still standing, or other inhabitants had taken over the old pilings for their own use.
“What?” Chime turned, his spines lifted as he spotted the distant shapes. “Huh. I wonder if they know anything about the groundlings out in the sea.”
“We can ask,” Moon said.


As they drew near the beehive city, they turned away from the shore, into the forest. Flying under the cover of the tree canopy, they landed on a branch at the edge of the open beach.

From here, Moon saw the buildings were made of braided wood, some hundreds of paces tall. They stood on a wooden grid built out over the water, using the old pilings as foundations. A fleet of light woven boats were tied up under the grid, but the inhabitants seemed to be farmers rather than fishers. Vines grew up out of the water, trained to wind up wooden racks along the sides of the walkways, until some of the hives looked as if they were growing out of a miniature forest. He could see the inhabitants, too, paddling their boats, crossing the catwalks between the upper levels of the hives, picking some sort of fruit or pods off the vines. They were Kek, just like the ones who lived under the mountaintree roots.

“This is no help,” Chime said, disappointed. “They couldn’t be the groundlings who came to our tree. The forest Kek would have known what they were.”

He was right. It was vaguely possible that the forest Kek had told them an elaborate lie to cover up the actions of their seashore-dwelling cousins, but this was still far from where the seed was supposed to be. And these Kek looked a little bigger, but were still no match for the bones of the dead thieves. “Maybe they saw something. It’s worth asking.”

It was worth asking, but Moon still felt strange flying into a groundling settlement, even a Kek settlement at the edge of the Raksuran Reaches. He circled over the area nearest the shore first, Chime following his lead, just to see what the reaction would be.

The Kek didn’t seem frightened or angry at the sight of two Raksura in the air. They came out of the vine racks and the hives to look up, point and call to each other.

Bracing himself, Moon circled down toward an open section of platform and cupped his wings to land. The wood creaked as his weight settled on it; it was surprisingly spongy underfoot. Moon folded his wings to make room as Chime dropped down behind him. The Kek gathered around the edge of the platform and crowded the catwalks above. They kept their distance but still didn’t seem afraid.

One Kek came toward them. Like the old leader in the forest, he had stringy white growths on his arms and a squarish head. In Raksuran, he said, hopefully, “Trade?”

Moon wished he had thought of that, but he had no idea what the Kek would want. He countered, “No. Talk?”
A little taken aback, the Kek looked from Moon to Chime. “Talk,yes?”
Chime tugged on one of Moon’s spines and whispered, “Shift.”

I hate this part. Moon was never going to get over feeling vulnerable in front of a large crowd of groundlings who knew what he was, not even the Golden Islanders or the Kek. Chime was still tugging. Moon shook off his grip and shifted to his groundling form. The cool wind off the water pulled at his shirt, and the bright sun, which he had barely felt on his scales, warmed the back of his neck.

Chime followed suit, and the watching Kek murmured to each other in what sounded like approval.

The leader gestured for them to follow and led them further into the city, between the high wooden hives. The heavy greenery grew everywhere, hanging from racks overhead, climbing the hive walls. The place smelled of sweet green plants and moss, combined with the clean acrid scent that came from the Kek themselves.

On the brief walk they mutually managed to establish that the leader was called Khitah, and they were called Moon and Chime. Presumably the Raksura this city normally traded with could speak Kek, because Khitah had as much trouble speaking Raksuran as the forest Kek, and didn’t know any other groundling languages. Listening to him, Moon thought it was more the way the Kek’s mouth and throat were constructed; Khitah seemed to know far more Raksuran words than he could manage to say.

Khitah led them under one of the walkways bridging two of the hives and stopped to gesture up at it. Mounted along the arch of the bridge were several wooden plaques. Carved of warm-toned wood, they depicted views of the beehive city, with Kek paddling boats and harvesting their plants. It was clearly Arbora work.

Moon nodded, trying to look appreciative. Khitah seemed pleased.
Keeping his voice low, Chime said, “We should have brought them a gift.”
Exasperated, Moon asked him, “Did you know we were coming? Because I didn’t.”
“I’m just saying that next time we should—”

Moon turned to Khitah. “We want to ask about other people who live out on the sea. Islands? That way?” He pointed out toward the water, roughly in the direction the mentors thought the seed lay.

“Islands. People,” Khitah agreed, and made an expansive gesture, indicating most of the sea.
“Good. But what about that way?” Moon pointed again.

Khitah considered it, as the breeze stirred the feathery growths on his arms and head. He waggled his stick-like fingers in what seemed to be the Kek equivalent of a shrug.

“Maybe they just don’t know,” Chime said, a little frustrated. “Those round boats couldn’t make it very far out into the water.”

“But they trade.” Moon had forced himself to shift in front of a strange groundling settlement with only Chime for company, and he was unwilling to give up so soon. “They have to see who travels back and forth here.”

Maybe some of those words struck a bell for Khitah, because he turned back to the passage and motioned them to follow again.

They wound their way further into the city, through the green shadows of the plant racks and into the bottom level of one of the hives. Overhead, Kek moved on the reed floors, called to each other in their
soft voices, peered curiously down at the visitors.

They went down a ramp, then came out again to a dock area open to the sea. Partly sheltered from above by woven reed canopies, it had small wooden piers snaking out into the lapping water. Round Kek boats were tied up along most of the piers, except for one. Next to it was a large leafless tree, apparently growing up out of the water.

Not a tree, a boat, Moon realized, moving down the dock to get a closer look. It was round, the gray branches arching up from a thick mossy mat to form a bowl-shape. Something sat in the center, its form obscured by the branches.

Khitah pointed emphatically toward the strange boat. “Water traveler,” he said. “Go long way. Know much.” Moon started to step down onto the pier, but Khitah put a hand on his arm. His grip was light, like being caught by dry brush. He stared hard at Moon and said, “Careful.”

Moon nodded. The warning just confirmed his suspicion. “I will.”
“Why?” Chime squinted to get a better look at the shadowy shape inside the branches. “It’s just a groundling in a boat… isn’t it?”

“No. Stay here with Khitah.” Moon stepped down onto the pier, the reeds creaking under his weight, and moved toward the water traveler.

Drawing closer, he could see root-like tendrils floating in the water, growing out from the underside of the mat. The gray branches looked less like wood and more like gnarled horn. They were connected to the being that sat in the center, growing out of its arms, legs, back, chest. It wasn’t a groundling sitting in a boat; it was a waterling, and it was the boat.

A voice said, “Now what’s this?” It spoke Altanic, low and sibilant. Something about it made the back of Moon’s neck itch. The scent wafting toward him had a rank edge to it, odd for a water being of any kind. It was a predator’s scent. “A curious groundling come to talk to old Nobent?”

“You could say that.” Moon crouched on the pier, so his head was about even with Nobent’s. It gave him a better view of the water traveler’s face. It looked a little like a male groundling, his skin gnarled and gray like the horn structures growing out of his body. There were chips of the stuff above his eyes, down his cheeks, studding the curve of his skull. It wasn’t that the growths or the gray coloring were particularly repellent. Stone was gray and a little gnarled too, though not to this extent. But this creature radiated menace. “I need to know if there are any groundlings living out on the sea, that might travel to this shore.”

Nobent leaned forward. Out of the corner of his eye, Moon saw the outer branches of the boat stir slightly. Nobent smiled, deliberately revealing a toothless mouth. If he was meant to live like this, floating atop the sea, then there might be a second mouth in the bottom of the mossy-covered base that supported his upper limbs. Top one for talking, lower one for eating, Moon thought. It wasn’t the oddest thing he had seen. The branches looked stiff, but he bet they could whip around, seize prey, and snatch it under water. Obviously the Kek didn’t fear the creature, but there was hardly any meat on their light bones. It said, “Old Nobent doesn’t hear well. Come closer.”

Oh please, Moon thought. “Does that really work?”
Nobent hesitated, nonplussed, and something made Moon think that “Old Nobent” wasn’t so old. Nobent’s lips curled in derision. “You’re not scared of old Nobent? Nobent isn’t scary.”

Nobent was, however, annoyingly single-minded. This could go on forever. Moon shifted, flared his spines, snapped his wings out so they were half-unfurled. “I am.”

With a startled snarl, Nobent jerked back. His whole structure rocked and splashed water up onto the pier. Unimpressed, Moon flicked droplets off his claws. He said, mildly, “I’m not hungry yet.”

Nobent crouched, tugged his branches in tightly and made a protective cage around himself. “What do you want?”

“You know what I want. Tell me about groundlings who live out on the sea. Are there islands out there? Cities, traders? Do they come to this shore?”

Nobent eased forward, the fear in his expression turning into crafty greed. “Are you Fell? I’ve heard of Fell. You want the sea-goers? I’ll help.”

Moon controlled the urge to leap forward and rip Nobent’s head off. The fear of Fell had dogged him most of his life. All Fell were shapeshifters, all had black scales, and Fell rulers strongly resembled Raksuran consorts. It didn’t help that once Moon had thought he might be a Fell, for a brief and self-destructive time that he was still paying for, all these turns later. His voice tight, he said, “If I were a Fell, I’d take your help and eat you anyway. Tell me about the sea-goers.”

Nobent settled into his mossy bed and his branches relaxed a little. “The sea-goers don’t come here. They’re afraid of the forest.” With an air of injured dignity, he volunteered, “The Kek trade their rushes and edilvine to me, and I trade it to the sea-goers.”

That wasn’t helpful, though it explained why the Kek didn’t know much about what lay further out to sea. And if the sea-goers were afraid of the forest Reaches, it might be because they knew about the Raksuran colonies. “But other groundlings come to this shore, other traders?”

“Maybe.” Nobent seemed uninterested, and it was the first time in the conversation that Moon felt the waterling was being honest. “Not in a long time. There’s nothing here for them.”
“What about the far side of the sea? Do groundlings live there?”
“Probably.” Nobent leaned forward, eyes widening. “You want the seagoers.”
“Do they live in that direction?” Moon pointed with the tip of his right wing.

“Sometimes. They move around.” Nobent was more interested in his own questions. “What do you want them for? Nobent can help you, whatever you want to do to them.”

Moon couldn’t imagine what form Nobent’s “help” would take, and he didn’t want to. He countered with, “What do you trade for from the sea-goers?”

For some reason, that one made Nobent more cagey than ever. Moon asked more questions about the sea-goers, about what they looked like, why they moved around. Nobent’s answers were so cryptic it quickly became obvious that he had no intention of imparting the information. Moon decided to let it go, at least for now. He had found out what he really needed to know: there were groundlings living out on the sea at the point where the mentors’ map said the seed lay. Nobent couldn’t travel very fast, and now that Moon had his scent, he would be easy to track down again.

He stood, abruptly enough that Nobent sloshed backward again. With a somewhat nervous sneer, Nobent said, “You’re leaving? Too bad.”

“It’s getting late, and I’m hungry.” Moon cocked his head, letting the meaning sink in. He didn’t usually threaten to eat people, but he was having difficulty classifying Nobent as “people.” “I might be back.”

He walked up the pier to rejoin Khitah and Chime. “Good?” Khitah asked.
“Good,” Moon told him. “Thank you.”

They started back into the green shadows and sweet scents of the Kek city, a relief after the miasma that hung over the water traveler. Chime looked back over his shoulder, frowning. “That was odd. What did it tell you?”

“Not much.” Moon was certain Nobent had been lying, or obfuscating, for some reason. But it was some confirmation that they were in the right place, that the map hadn’t led them astray. “We’ll have to see what Stone finds.”


It was dusk by the time they returned to the camp on the tree branch and found that Jade and Balm were already back. They had found ruins along the shore too, but no Kek and no evidence of recent groundling habitation. Vine reported that his afternoon had been uneventful. “Flower slept the whole time,” he said. “I think she needed the rest.”

Flower, fidgeting around as if having trouble finding a comfortable spot on the branch, gave him an irritable glare. “No one cares what you think,” she told him.

Vine said wryly, “I noticed that.”
Chime handed her a pack to lean against. “Are you all right?”
She hissed at him. “I’m fine.”

No one was hungry enough to hunt again yet, so there was nothing to do but wait for Stone. The branch was more than wide enough for them all to sprawl on comfortably, and through the leaves they had a good view of the seashore. During the afternoon, Vine and Flower had built a little hearth: one layer of flat, water-smoothed rocks to insulate the wood, and a second smaller layer that Flower had spelled for heat, so she could warm water for tea.

The air was fragrant in the gathering twilight, scented with the flowers of the field and the leaves of their tree. The nightbirds and treelings and insects sang and hummed, and Moon tried to listen to the others talk and not be rabidly impatient for Stone to appear.

After darkness settled over the shore, Balm took the watch and they tried to sleep. Moon lay with his head pillowed on Jade’s stomach, wide awake. He didn’t realize he was tapping his fingers on his chest until her hand closed over his. She said softly, “It’s not a long flight for Stone.”

“I know.” He made his hand relax. “Still.”
Nearby, Chime said, “Pearl will know by now. I wonder… I mean, what will she do? Besides send someone after us.”
Jade snorted, quietly. “I think we know what she’ll do.”
Just past Chime, Vine groaned.

Moon finally dozed off at some point, only to wake abruptly some time later, when someone said, “He’s back!”

Moon sat up and startled Jade awake. It was still dark but he could tell from the quality of the air that it wasn’t long before dawn. Vine had taken Balm’s place at watch and Moon scrambled forward to his side.

A darker shape hung against the starlit sky: Stone, flying back toward the shore. By the time Stone reached them, everyone was awake. Flower was the only one who had slept heavily. Still bleary with it, she filled their kettle from the waterskin and put it on the hearth to heat.

Stone was just a big dark shadow as he landed on the end of the branch. The wood shivered with his weight, then went still as he shifted to his groundling form. He walked up the branch toward them, and Moon wished they had been able to camp on the ground, or anywhere else where they could have made a real fire. The heating rocks didn’t give off light and he wanted to see Stone’s expression.

Stone stopped a few paces away, and said, flatly, “I couldn’t find it.”
Jade stirred a little, and Moon knew she had just controlled the urge to hiss in disappointment. Chime shook his head, confused. “The seed? But—”

“The island,” Stone corrected. He sat down, moving slowly, and Moon heard his bones creak. “There’s nothing out there. I spent most of the night flying a spiral, looking for land.” He rubbed his eyes. “What I’m afraid of is that these groundlings were on a boat that sank.”

“Or the island moved,” Moon said. Suddenly some of the things Nobent had told him made a lot more sense.

Even in the dark, Moon could tell that Stone was giving him a look that would have sent most of the warriors skittering for cover. But there was more life in his voice when he said, “What?”

Moon told him, “We found a Kek settlement, and talked to a waterling trader. It said there were groundlings called ‘sea-goers’ who lived on the water and moved around.” He told the rest of it, with Chime inserting more details.

“That might explain it,” Jade said. “If we knew how these sea-goers were moving, it would help.”
Vine shrugged. “They could be on boats, or they could have a flying island.”
“If they have a flying island, it must be moving fairly fast,” Chime countered. “Too fast.”

“That’s right.” Flower sounded thoughtful. “It moved out of Stone’s range in only seven days. Flying islands drift slowly with the wind. Unless there was a big storm, and we’ve seen no sign of one, it would still be in the area. It’s more likely to be a boat.”

“Or a fleet of boats,” Moon added.
“Maybe.” Jade scratched her claws on the wood, thinking it over.
“How does the water traveler find them?”
“That’s… I don’t know,” Chime said slowly. “It has to be scent, doesn’t it?”
“Something in the water.” Moon shook his head. “The sea-goers leave a trail, somehow.”

Stone sounded weary. “We’ll figure that out when we get there. You all know how we’re getting there, right?”

“An augury?” Vine asked, turning to Flower. “No, we don’t need an augury,” Moon said before she could reply. He smiled. Old Nobent was going to help them after all. “We’ll follow the water traveler.”


Martha Wells is the author of nine previous novels including The Element of Fire, Wheel of the Infinite, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, and The Death of the Necromancer which was a finalist for the Nebula Award. She has also had short fiction published in Realms of Fantasy, Black Gate Magazine, Lone Star Stories, and the Tsunami Relief anthology, Elemental. For more information, please visit the links below:

Official Martha Wells Website
Order “The Serpent SeaHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “The Cloud Roads

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