From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Excerpt from Seaborn by Chris Howard

“From the first page of Seaborn, you are immersed. Chris Howards navigates a wild ride through a brilliantly edgy and richly atmospheric alter-world. Here is a fresh, formidable spin on sf/f and Howard is a talent to watch out for. Seaborn will leave you spellbound.” –National Book Awards Finalist Adele Griffin

Seaborn CoverAll Life began in the ocean.
The tides, the salt, the rolling waves are in our souls.
The sea will always have the power to call us home.

There is a world deep under the sea, a kingdom that has endured thousands of years without the modern world knowing it exists. Those who dwell there are Thalassogenêis: SEABORN

Kassandra is the Seaborn king’s granddaughter–the one he wishes he’d killed when he’d had the chance. She comes from the sea, but she has spent her whole life in exile on the surface, learning to control strange and frightening powers she barely understands. But now she’s ready to declare war on the murderous king.

Corina Lairsey is a scuba-diving Californian who has freed herself from a controlling relationship and finds herself in another. Only this time, Aleximor, an ancient Seaborn sorcerer, is literally inside her head and wearing her body. Corina must strive for control of her self, fighting against time as Aleximor trades pieces of her life away in exchange for power over the path between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Aleximor wants revenge for his 400-year imprisonment and his dangerous machinations threaten to destroy both young women and the world of the Seaborn

Chapter One

We are all Thalassogenêis–Seaborn.
All life began in the Ocean.
The tides, the salt, the rolling waves
are in our souls
and the sea will always have
the power to call us home.
Final page of a journal of Michael Augustus Henderson

The water followed her home from the library, water in the air slipping over her skin as if afraid to touch her without permission. The sound of water played in her ears–a child’s laughter splashing, a creek burbling a mile down Atlantic Avenue–and the soft rain skipped in her footprints.

Headlights broke over the hill behind her, and the wet air reacted. The water snapped flat and reflective on every surface until the car passed.

The hiss of automobile tires faded into the whisper of rain and, in the distance, she watched a spray of pinpoint lights, shiny and heavy like mercury on the leaves that folded over the road.

The car was gone and the water spoke to her, words that seeped and dribbled into her head. I will clothe you in mirror, my lady, shield you in ice, become the crown you already wear.

She glanced around and walked faster, huddling under her backpack.

“Leave me alone.”

The rain spat and crackled like angry cellophane, but warned her of another car approaching–miles away, a shiny black sedan pulling out of the North Hampton Police Station. She turned and walked backward along the edge of the road, staring into the dark, her three long brown braids winding around her throat like a noose. She waited a moment for the car to appear, biting her lip uncertainly, and then turned away, her sandals flipping mud behind her.

“The rain’s watching me, Prax.”

Praxinos, a voice inside her, answered with a deep thrum in her jaw. Of course it is, but its motives are rarely complicated. And you are the Wreath-wearer. It will obey, but you must learn to command.

“It’s showing me things. I smell its life. The water’s connected.” It’s in my veins. I am part of it, the water. She pointed to the asphalt’s edge, broken by the woody knuckles of elms and pines. I can smell an underground river there. She looked away because she heard the sap coursing through the trees like blood, sticky snapping insect legs that wanted to crawl to her, capillary roots tugging at the earth as she passed.

Mud oozed between her toes and she stepped into the street, hopping to take off her sandals. The cold rumble of the Piscataqua River six miles away, a hundred brooks and streams in between, all of them coming into her body through her bare feet.

Puddles of rainwater were staring up at her, and she glared back at them.

“Get away from me.”

She looked over her shoulder, moving to the roadside– still no sign of the car. When she turned back, the rain lit up the night for her, a hundred tunnels drawn in wiry mist, tubes of gauzy moiré. They opened in the air, opening for her, beckoning, and she knew they all led to the sea. She smelled the salt and mold, the bitter rotting seawrack, tasted sand and powdery broken shells in her mouth.

“Just let me go.” She held in a sob, wringing her braids over one shoulder.

Follow the paths to the sea. You have so much to learn, my lady.

“I already know things–things I don’t want to know.”

But the rain showed her more: what she was and what she had been, sparks of memory in scrolling frames, fortress walls on the Atlantic’s floor, a woman’s teeth filed to points, a book with a voice, and the ice-filled bones of an army, two hundred and forty-thousand strong, wired together and sent to kill the dangerous girl, the Wreathwearer–the girl with a soul of abyss-dark and noble ghosts, the girl made of inferno and restless gasoline.

“Don’t do this to me.” Her voice changed as it passed her lips. The water in her breath garbled her words, obeying another power inside her.

She tried a commanding tone: “I’ll go when I want to!” The words twisted and softened, warm candy words in her mouth, floating sweet over her tongue.

She stomped through puddles. Her angry scream coiled into a song that summoned the tide–and the Atlantic Ocean roared in answer a mile away.

She tripped in a pothole and the water in the air caught her and kept her from falling–and the rain tipped the leaves and danced on the asphalt in her wake.

Cursing under her breath, she ran recklessly, her head down, past an old lichen-covered wall. The damp between the stones bled to the edges to be near her, condensing in huddling beads.

She looked up and blinked, slowing to a walk, and the rain showed her more. Another set of ghost caves unfolded, spiraling over each other, fading to dim intestinal coils if she looked hard at them, flaring electric bright every time she blinked.

“Let the rain hit me! I don’t care.” She looked away and the superimposed ghost world pivoted with her, paths shifting to accommodate her, the axis.

The clouds heard her call; bruised purple and water heavy, they gathered over coastal New Hampshire. She looked at them through the trees and tossed her sandals away.

“What the fuck do you want from me?” And she spat before the water could muddle her words.

Her shout broke the storm; falling sheets of water hit the earth, and no reply came from the clouds, the rivers, the underground streams, the endless hungry Atlantic Ocean, unable to answer a queen who begged her subjects for direction.

Pôs eipas? Epitribeiês! Is this what you want?”

Barefoot, she stepped into the middle of the road and threw her arms wide; lifting her open mouth, she drank in the storm. Hot bars of lightning burned the air. Thunder swept through her bones, the thud of their crash to the earth under her toes.

Columns of rain broke through the canopy of pine and maple. Her fingers spread wide and then closed into fists, and the storm shattered at her feet like a car’s windshield, beads of rain spiraling into razor-edged water stars that burst in rings of frost-lace and mist.

The crinkle of something alive slid up her body, coating her in armor: tight transparent sleeves, a skin of flexible arctic-blue scales, a collar of ice blades. Her fist tightened reflexively around the grip of a sword, and a crown of woven seaweed glowed cold green through her rain-wet brown hair.

She sang a storm of words, and lightning swaggered through the trees, blasting away bark. A sixty-foot pine split with a gush of sap, smoke, and vaporized needles; splinters rained down with the water.

Headlights shot through the hazy night and she lowered her arms. The sword vanished. The armor disappeared, melting off her body. She stood alone in the street, soaking wet in a T-shirt and shorts, her backpack hanging loose off one shoulder.

She gave the approaching police car an angry squint and turned away, taking rapid steps along the road’s edge, washed in a pulse of blue light. She kept her head down because she didn’t want to see the pale outlines of caves in the air, holding her breath against their salty lure. Before she covered her ears, the rain urged her to run. Leave everything behind. Run, my lady, run where the police cannot follow. I will hide you.

“Don’t talk to me.” She snapped the words into the wet air.

Her steps slowed, her body shaking, weariness dragging at her. Her backpack slipped off her shoulder, fell to the ground with a dull splash. Her books and research papers raced for the pack’s zipper-toothed mouth; a binder spread its wings, scattering its brood, white sheets of neat handwriting, wet-winged butterflies briefly alive, folding sullen and colorless in the rain.

She kept walking.

The black car rolled forward, the passenger side window sliding into the door.

“You need a ride, miss? This rain isn’t letting up and it’s a dark road to be walking alone.”

“A dark road,” she whispered, and something inside her made all the words but one drift away, forgotten. “Alone.” She said it aloud, blinking purposefully, trying to climb out of her head and back into the world. She glanced at the blue stripes on the shiny black fender as if noticing the car for the first time.

“The police are here,” she told the other voices in her head.

A woman answered snobbishly, Tell the police to go. You do not need their help.

She blinked, trying to answer, but ended up repeating the rain’s words: “I have so much to learn.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight?” The officer again–it sounded like the police officer, the patrol car rolling to match her pace.

She bent to look through the open window. Her focus hit him hard, and he choked on his words; his heart stalled, his soul falling through dark water toward her, into the abyss of her eyes.

And the rain whispered, Alone, Lady Kassandra, you must be alone.

Still looking at the police officer, pinning him to his seat, she answered the rain. “Silence!”

Then she plucked the officer’s name right out of his head.

“I have been drinking, Lieutenant Pannone. I’ve been drinking the rain.”

She released him and walked away.

Pannone’s forehead hit the hard plastic of the steering wheel. His heart thumped a wild rhythm and then evened into a steady rapid beat. He sucked air in desperate gulps and flexed his numbing fingers, staring out the windows as if he was lost.

He fell back in his seat, his uniform damp against his skin. Reality snapped into place for him. He closed his eyes tight, then opened them, trying to get the blue arcs and red backlit dials of the dashboard into focus.

A squeak of wiper blades. He looked up through the windshield and remembered the young woman with the backpack walking in his headlights in the middle of Atlantic Avenue.

Pannone wiped sweat from above his lips. He grabbed a tissue off the visor, wadding it damply in one fist. He tugged out three more to wipe his forehead and rolled the car forward to again come alongside her.

“Are you on medication, miss? You supposed to be? Can I call your parents?” She made no sign that she heard him, so he went on. “A shrink? Grandparents?”

She looked over but didn’t meet his eyes. “My grandfather killed my mother. I’m going to kill him. He’s expecting it, so I must plan well.”

She noticed the officer hiding his reaction, and she scowled because it hadn’t been alarm. It was sympathy.

He leaned closer. “What’s your name?”

It was written all over his car, bleeding K’s and S’s, beads of rain lining up, a thousand Kassandras on the windows, weeping letters on black paint.

She turned away and covered her eyes, pressing the palms of her hands against her cheeks, her thumbs digging into the sides of her head. “Do not tell me what to do!”

Thunder boomed far away and the voices in her head went quiet.

The officer let his seatbelt snap away, leaning over the passenger seat, holding the wheel with his knee, showing her his open hands. “I can take you to a hospital. Just let me help. You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

She didn’t hear him, the rain shielding her from the sound of his voice.

She stopped as if she had run up against something solid in the air, her hands falling away from her face. Her world collapsed to the stretch of road the patrol car’s headlights carved out of night, stiflingly small, and she tugged at her shirt, wet and binding around her throat.

Kassandra dropped into a runner’s crouch, bending her knees deep, and launched her body down the edge of the asphalt, an off-the-blocks sprint for the lights’ edge, her three brown braids streaming like wet rope in her wake. She was through the headlight horizon and into the dark, rain like needles against her skin, arms pumping, breathing hard through her teeth.

Pannone kicked the accelerator, topping forty miles an hour to keep up. He braked hard where Mill Road crossed Atlantic Avenue, turning into a slide that took him into the oncoming lane. The young woman collided with a pickup truck at the stop sign.

Pannone swung his door open, flipped on the side-spots and jumped into the street, not bothering with his hat or coat.

The pickup’s driver stared through a rain-blurred sweep of wiper blades, his lips twitching, knuckles bone white on the wheel.

Officer Pannone crouched, examining the fender and the street along the driver’s side, his dark uniform rain-pasted to his skin, water dribbling into his mouth, off his nose and chin. He kneeled to run his flashlight under the truck. He stepped back to take in the scene from a wider view, throwing the beam of light on the street, the wheels, windshield, letting it slide across the truck’s hood.

Right in the center, the rain softened a muddy footprint. There was no other sign of her.

He turned the beam of the flashlight on dark empty Atlantic Avenue. She had vanished.

Pannone switched off the light and headed back to his car.

He slammed the door and dropped it in reverse, accelerating half a mile up Atlantic, looking for her backpack in the flashing blue. He pulled over and spent another hour walking, following depressions in the mud and blurry footprints where she had wandered into the middle of the road.

He gave up.

The rain coming through the trees annoyed him, running off the leaves, whispering his name in his ears, tapping a rhythm that promised to be catchy, but slowed or doubled unexpectedly, and would not allow itself to be caught.

Read chapters two and three, learn more about the author (including Chris’ artist rendering of Nine-cities), and buy Seaborn directly from the publisher or your local bookstore.

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