Curious Tides

Curious Tides

by Pascale Lacelle

Narrated by Gary Furlong, Shakira Shute, Toni Frutin

Unabridged — 16 hours, 41 minutes

Curious Tides

Curious Tides

by Pascale Lacelle

Narrated by Gary Furlong, Shakira Shute, Toni Frutin

Unabridged — 16 hours, 41 minutes

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Dark magic abounds in this intoxicatingly atmospheric fantasy universe that is meticulously built and refreshingly real. Fans of Chloe Gong and Tracy Deonn will adore this, both for the tremendous sense of place and for the authentic cast of characters.

Two starred reviews!
“A marvel in atmosphere.” -Chloe Gong, #1 New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights

Ninth House meets A Deadly Education in this gorgeous dark academia fantasy “that will capture readers like a rip current” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) following a teen mage who must unravel the truth behind the secret society that may have been involved in her classmates' deaths.

Emory might be a student at the prestigious Aldryn College for Lunar Magics, but her healing abilities have always been mediocre at best-until a treacherous night in the Dovermere sea caves leaves a group of her classmates dead and her as the only survivor. Now Emory is plagued by strange, impossible powers that no healer should possess.

Powers that would ruin her life if the wrong person were to discover them.

To gain control of these new abilities, Emory enlists the help of the school's most reclusive student, Baz-a boy already well-versed in the deadly nature of darker magic, whose sister happened to be one of the drowned students and Emory's best friend. Determined to find the truth behind the drownings and the cult-like secret society she's convinced her classmates were involved in, Emory is faced with even more questions when the supposedly drowned students start washing ashore-alive-only for them each immediately to die horrible, magical deaths.

And Emory is not the only one seeking answers. When her new magic captures the society's attention, she finds herself drawn into their world of privilege and power, all while wondering if the truth she's searching for might lead her right back to Dovermere...to face the fate she was never meant to escape.

Editorial Reviews

OCTOBER 2023 - AudioFile

Gary Furlong and Shakira Shute narrate dual points of view in alternating chapters to great effect in this academic fantasy novel. Toni Frutin adds to the magic with eerily drawn-out readings of the "Song of the Drowned Gods." A college student who is studying lunar magic, Emory, portrayed by Shute, is left to figure out her new magical skills after a horrific night at the Dovermere caves. Baz, voiced by Furlong, is trying to discover what happened to his sister, Romie, on that same deadly night. Furlong and Shute tell the story with conviction, adding to the characters' sorrows, desires, and needs with great pacing and inflection. The tale will leave listeners eager for this duology's conclusion. S.K.G. © AudioFile 2023, Portland, Maine

Publishers Weekly

★ 08/07/2023

Moon phases and tidal alignments dictate the magical abilities with which one is born in debut author Lacelle’s alluring duology opener. The Dovermere Caves are off-limits for students of Aldryn College for Lunar Magics, so when Emory finds a note inviting her roommate and best friend, Romie, to a late-night meeting there, Emory follows out of curiosity and concern. As Romie and seven peers undergo a strange ritual, high tide floods the caverns, drowning four and washing Romie and three others out to sea. Following the event, Emory wakes on the beach with a spiral inked on her wrist and the ability to wield all forms of lunar magic, a mythical talent so heretical it could get her imprisoned. Bereft and terrified, Emory teams with Romie’s brother, Baz, to control her newfound powers and uncover answers about that fateful evening—a quest that reveals her ties to secret societies, grand conspiracies, and ancient gods. By combining elements common to fantastical dark academia novels with innovative worldbuilding, multifaceted plotting, and an intersectionally diverse cast boasting nuanced character arcs, Lacelle crafts a lavishly imagined dual-narrative tale that will capture readers like a rip current. Ages 14–up. Agent: Victoria Marini, Irene Goodman Literary. (Oct.)

Chelsea Abdullah

A beautifully ethereal fantasy that reads like a dream. Filled with beguiling magic and whimsical storytelling, Curious Tides is a reverie I was sad to wake from.

Allison Saft

"With chewy, intricate worldbuilding; sparkling characters; and thrilling twists, Curious Tides pulled me under, and I never wanted to resurface from its richly imagined depths. An alluring, immersive debut."

10/1/23 - starred review Booklist

*"Lacelle's writing is absorbing; the plot is detailed and complicated but everything fits together as neatly and tightly as a puzzle box. Emory is a sympathetic hero, full of self-doubt but brave enough to pursue the truth, and she plays off an assortment of well-rounded and distinct characters. Not a word is wasted in this hefty, suspenseful novel as the story, rich with its own mythology, draws the reader in as inexorably as the tide."

Claire Legrand

"A darkly enchanting story that had me turning pages like mad. Gorgeous writing, fascinating characters, and the kind of rich magical lore that dreams are made of. Curious Tides swept me away. I'm obsessed with this world."

Laura Steven

Rich, immersive and astonishingly layered—I want to sink into this darkly magical world and never leave.

Joan He

Curious Tides sucks you in from page one with a fully realized universe that feels lived-in and otherworldly all at once. The story is alive with lore, and it’s impossible not to be transported.

Sarah Underwood

Vividly imagined, beautifully written, and as dark as it is dazzling–Curious Tides will drag you under from the very first page."

Chloe Gong

"A world that pulses and breathes. With intricate magic and a mystery that spirals as deep and dark as it can go, Curious Tides is a marvel in atmosphere."

10/1/23 - STARRED Review Booklist

*In the world of Lacelle's luminous debut, everyone is assigned to a house named for the phase of the moon during which they are born: new, waxing, waning, and full. A fifth, the House of Eclipse, is feared and loathed by the rest of society because they have access to a range of magic. Emory Ainsleif is a potential Healer in her sophomore year at Ardryn College, but last spring she was the only survivor in an accident where she and eight others, including her best friend Romie, were swept out of a cave at high tide. In search of answers about the accident and its aftermath, Emory now turns turns to Romie's brother, Baz, and the two embark on a complex journey. Lacelle's writing is absorbing; the plot is detailed and complicated but everything fits together as neatly and tightly as a puzzle box. Emory is a sympathetic hero, full of self-doubt but brave enough to pursue the truth, and she plays off an assortment of well-rounded and distinct characters. Not a word is wasted in this hefty, suspenseful novel as the story, rich with its own mythology, draws the reader in as inexorably as the tide.

School Library Journal

02/16/2024

Gr 9 Up—At Aldryn College for Lunar Magics, students train to use the magic they are born with. Emory, born under a new moon, is a healer mourning the loss of her best friend Romie, whose brother Baz holds the volatile and dangerous magic of those born under an eclipse. On the night of Romie's death, Emory followed her to a secretive meeting in the off-limits caves below the school and awoke the only survivor of a mysterious ritual. As Emory's powers begin to change in a way that should not be possible and could get her locked away, she seeks Baz's help. Baz agrees to keep Emory's secret and help her to control her power, but fears how far she'll go to solve the mystery of Romie's death. The first book in this planned duology establishes a rich magical world complete with secret societies, ancient myths, and cultural taboos. Baz and Emory are sympathetic leads, but the story drags under the weight of exposition. Numerous secondary characters seem to bleed together, especially because their motives are often boiled down to romantic jealousy or superstitious prejudice. VERDICT A good choice for teen fans of dramatic romantasy, but readers looking for excitement and action will be disappointed.—Amy Diegelman

Kirkus Reviews

2023-08-11
In a world where everyone has a magical ability based on the moon’s phase on their day of birth, magical education is reserved for those with exceptional talent.

Students at Aldryn College for Lunar Magics pursue the advanced study of magic. Emory Ainsleif is a Healer, an ability associated with House New Moon. Last spring, she followed her best friend, Romie Brysden, and seven others into the Dovermere Caves. In the deepest cave, known as the Belly of the Beast, Emory unwittingly took part in a ritual that left a peculiar mark on her wrist and left the other students dead. Back at Aldryn for the new school year, Emory begins to develop magical abilities that go beyond healing—and that she’s unable to control. She turns to Baz, Romie’s brother, for help—Baz was born during an eclipse, giving him unpredictable magic. Reluctant to train Emory but eager to find out what happened to his sister, Baz finally agrees, and together they begin to unravel what happened last spring. This dark fantasy, told in Emory’s and Baz’s alternating third-person perspectives, has a spooky atmosphere and rich worldbuilding. It slowly unfolds to reveal what really happened to Romie, but predictable plot twists and a gratuitous deus ex machina may frustrate readers. The central characters are described as having pale skin.

The magical world is fresh, but the storyline is less satisfying. (content warnings, Sacred Lunar Houses & their tidal alignments) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940178046982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/03/2023
Series: The Drowned Gods Trilogy
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 388,069

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Emory



TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY of a new moon, and on the banks of the Aldersea, the tide was low.

There was a time when these facts meant nothing to Emory Ainsleif, but that was before the night her very life hinged on those details. Now the moon was no longer just a moon, the tide was something to fear, and though Emory was grateful for the sun still shining in the late-summer sky, unease gathered like stones in her stomach.

Aldryn College for Lunar Magics rose up ahead, ivy-clad buildings crowning the steep hill that plunged into the restless sea below. Emory dug her nails into her palm as the taste of salt water filled her mouth, a phantom impression she had yet to shake. Blood swelled from the wound. She closed her eyes, savoring the twinge of pain before the magic in her veins could heal it. It was an ordinary sort of pain. Comforting, almost. Nothing like the aching throb of images that surged in her mind—a blood-slick column of rock, a spiral burned in silver on her wrist, four bodies splayed on the sand—as if coaxed free at the sight of Aldryn.

That particular pain she couldn’t heal away, no matter how she tried to ease it.

“You’re New Moon, then?”

Emory startled. The driver looked at her in the rearview mirror, motioning to her hand, where the sigil of her lunar house glistened darkly on her pale skin. A black circle wreathed in silver narcissus. It glared back at her as if taking offense at the trickle of blood marring its surface. Guiltily, she wiped at it, seeing only death in its delicate ink.

“What’s your tidal alignment?”

“Healing.”

The driver whistled an impressed note. His own hands gripping the wheel were bare. Everyone was born with the capacity for magic, a drop of it in their blood, but only those who proved proficient enough bore their house’s sigil and studied at places like Aldryn.

“I’ve got a second cousin who’s in House New Moon too,” the driver said. “Shadowguide. Works at a morgue in Threnody.” He repressed a visible shudder, grumbling something under his breath about how the dead should be left alone.

Emory could almost hear the pointed comment Romie might have made. People fear what they don’t understand, she would say, nose tilted up in disdain at such small-mindedness. But there’s beauty in death, you know.

Indeed, no one would ever dare frown upon a Healer, whose touch could prove more efficient than any modern medicine, but some magics, like a Shadowguide’s ability to commune with spirits, or a Reaper’s death touch, made most people uneasy—especially those with little to no magic. They don’t understand like we do that death is just as much a part of the sacred cycle as life, Romie would say.

It didn’t make losing her any easier.

“Here we are,” the driver exclaimed as the cab crested the hill. “Aldryn College.”

Everything in Emory seized as the heavy iron gates creaked their welcome, silver-wrought motto splitting down the middle as they opened: Post tenebras lux; iterum atque iterum.

After darkness, light; again and again.

Gravel crunched beneath the cab’s wheels. Emory had the sudden urge to tell the driver to stop, turn back, but the gates closed behind them with a clang of finality. Nerves rattled on the heels of nausea as she took in the familiar stone steps up to the inner courtyard, flanked by towering elms. Here the driver stopped. Emory handed him a few coins, clutched the strap of her bag. No sooner had she stepped out of the cab than she wished she’d stayed in it forever, already missing the anonymity of that liminal space, the feeling of being nowhere and nowhen and no one for as long as she remained between the life she’d left at home this very morning and the one waiting for her at Aldryn. The person she would have to become here.

Her heart thundered in her chest as she climbed those eight steps, one for each of the moon’s phases: a step for the new moon, three for the waxing, one for the full moon, and three for the waning.

She faltered at the top just as she had last year, though her nerves back then had been tinged with excitement, not dread. This is it, college at last, Romie had mused on their first day of freshman year, all starry-eyed as she took in the fabled campus. We get to reinvent ourselves here, be whoever we please. And though Emory had been eager to do just that, she never understood why someone like Romie would want to be anyone but herself, so effortlessly charming and unique in a way Emory had only ever dreamed of being.

For Emory, college was a chance to be known as more than what she’d been all her life: the girl who hailed from nowhere, who always came second-best, who’d been terrified of not getting into Aldryn because her magic was wholly unremarkable compared to her best friend’s.

It offered a clean slate, the first page in a new notebook just waiting to be filled.

She ran a finger along the scar on the inside of her wrist, a silver spiral that started at the base of her thumb and stopped on the tangle of stark blue veins at her pulse point. Her gaze went to the fountain at the center of the lawn, where the Tides of Fate guarded the names of the drowned. It was too late now to erase what had been written in silver and blood, she thought. Too late to even ponder such things, it seemed: the quad was void of its usual hum of activity, and the few stragglers hurrying through the cloisters made Emory realize just how late her train had been as the dean’s voice echoed from the assembly hall where she was giving her usual welcome speech.

Emory swore. As much as she dreaded this part—yearned to run to her dorm instead, shut herself in, and avoid everyone on campus for the rest of term—she had come back for a reason, equipped with a plan. And it all started here.

She tried to ease into the dark wood-paneled room unnoticed, but the heavy door slipped from her grasp and slammed shut behind her. Heads turned her way. Emory’s cheeks burned, and for a split second, she caught herself searching the sea of faces for the one person who might have made this easier. She could almost picture it: Romie waving her over to the seat she would have saved for her. An anchor in the storm as she’d always been, before everything had changed and the girl Emory had known since childhood started slipping away, swept up by something more sinister than the tide that took her.

But Romie was not here. And neither, apparently, was Romie’s brother. Relief and guilt churned in Emory’s stomach at his absence. Before she could dwell on it, she tightened her fingers around her satchel and took the first empty seat she could find. Chin held high, she tried to adopt the devil-may-care attitude Romie might have had in her place, but still she felt the furtive glances thrown her way, heard the murmurs rising.

That’s the girl who came back from the caves.

The student who survived the Beast.

The one the tide did not claim.

Dean Fulton called for silence. “I must insist once more that students stay clear of Dovermere Caves. After the tragic events of last spring, it begs repeating: Dovermere is unsafe, its tides unpredictable, and as such it remains strictly off-limits.”

Her dark eyes flitted toward Emory as she continued. “I urge you to remember those who have fallen. Remember Quince Travers and Serena Velan of House New Moon, and Dania and Lia Azula of House Waxing Moon. Remember Daphné Dioré and Jordyn Briar Burke of House Full Moon, and Harlow Kerr and Romie Brysden of House Waning Moon. Remember their names. Honor them by ensuring no other ever knows the same horrible fate. There is no glory to be found in those caves. Only death.”

Emory’s nails dug into her skin again as students looked her way. Tears stung her eyes, but she refused to break. She’d spent months preparing for this moment, hoped the summer holiday might allow for things to settle—for the shock of tragedy to fade and the students of Aldryn College to forget, as she had tried so desperately to.

Eight of her classmates dead, and Emory the only one left standing.

She thought the images that burned behind her eyes might be visible for all to see. Nine freshmen standing in a circle around a column of rock, their bloody wrists bearing a spiral mark that glowed silver in the dark. The sound of the tide rushing in earlier than it should have, death eager to have its fill. The sea and the stars and her name whispered in her ear.

Bodies on the sand.

Foolish of her, really, to think such a thing might be so easily forgotten.

The dean kept talking, but Emory didn’t hear a word. Only when students stopped staring did she let out a breath, slowly uncurl her fists. Blood bloomed beneath her nails; her palms were a mess, but already the wounds were smoothing over, her healing magic surging with barely a thought from her to answer the pull of the new moon that governed it. She latched onto this small comfort as the pressure in her veins lessened. All summer she’d felt this inexplicable pressure, like an itch she couldn’t scratch that grew to a painful throb unless she drew blood.

She eyed the row of windows behind the dean, wary of the breeze they let in. She swore she heard a whisper slithering in, the sea calling to her, looking to wrap around her limbs, desperate to pull her down, down, down toward the Deep—

Emory saw him out of the corner of her eye. He sat a few rows away, a barrier between her and the windows, the sea beyond. Dusty light fell on the side of his face as he peered at her over a shoulder, casting the rest of his features in shadows. His unflinching stare pulled her up to the surface, made everything go quiet. She recognized his boyish good looks, those thick-lashed eyes: they were the first living thing she’d seen after waking next to those broken and bloated bodies.

You’re alive, she remembered him saying, his words nearly drowned out by the swelling tide. You’re all right. And she’d clung to them so desperately, those words. A life raft keeping her afloat.

Keiran Dunhall Thornby was the perfect embodiment of his lunar house, the bright light of a full moon bursting with promise, and his presence alone had chased away all the darkness from that moonless night. He looked at her now with such intensity, as if he needed to see that she was indeed still alive. Everyone around them seemed to disappear, and for a second it felt like they were back on that beach, shivering against the horrors strewn around them.

But then she blinked. He turned away. And just like that, the moment dissolved between them like sea-foam across the sand.

Emory stroked the spiral mark on her wrist, half expecting it to start glowing silver like it had when it first appeared through whatever odd, ancient magic lived in Dovermere. She remembered the way Keiran had grabbed her wrist that night, the curious expression on his face as he’d frowned at the mark that was mirrored on his own wrist—twin spirals a dull silver on their skin. It had haunted her all summer, how impossible it was that he should be marked with the same symbol, because he wasn’t in the caves that night, hadn’t been there for the ritual that marked each student foolish enough to have been. Still, he’d found her on the beach in the middle of the night. As if he’d been waiting for her—for someone—to make it out of those caves alive.

He knew something about what happened in Dovermere, she was certain of it. It was the only reason she’d bothered coming back to Aldryn—the one thing that managed to pull her out of this ocean of grief she’d been drowning in. She would stop at nothing now to get answers.

“... and I wish each of you an enlightening term. Thank you.”

The dean’s parting words pulled Emory from her daze. Students were already out of their chairs, chattering excitedly as they exchanged handshakes and pats on the back and questions about each other’s summers. She felt painfully disconnected from it all.

Gaze fixed on Keiran, she steeled herself for what she needed to do. Her thoughts raced in tandem with her heart as she mentally listed all the questions she wanted to ask him. Just walk up to him, she told herself. It’s as simple as that. None of it felt simple, though. Without Romie here to do all the talking for her, it was up to Emory now to be bold, something her quiet, timid self balked at.

Keiran’s eyes found hers as she approached, and she was glad her steps didn’t falter. She balled her clammy hands into fists at her side, pushed her trepidation down—and stopped short as a group of upperclassmen caught up to Keiran, stealing his attention away from her.

Emory watched, deflated, as a pretty redheaded girl kissed him on the cheek and a few boys clasped his hand enthusiastically, and through it all Keiran smiled a dimpled smile, such ease and charm emanating from him that it was hard to reconcile the image with the half-drenched boy in her mind.

She thought she heard her name spoken in the chaos of voices. Someone waved at her from halfway across the hall. Penelope West, one of the few friends Emory had made outside of Romie last year, and a fellow New Moon student she’d shared most of her classes with. She’d always liked Penelope, but with her too-bubbly nature and chattiness that could go on forever, the thought of facing her—of facing anyone, really—was suddenly unbearable.

Getting answers from Keiran would have to wait.

Before Penelope could reach her, Emory slipped quietly from the assembly hall, yearning for the solace of her room.

The noonday sun beat down on the quad, great curtains of it falling between the columns that lined the cloisters. Emory cut across the lawn toward the underclassmen dormitories. She slowed near the fountain, where the Tides of Fate—Bruma, Anima, Aestas, and Quies—cast long shadows on the ground. The four deities who ruled over the lunar houses stood in the middle of the basin with their backs to each other, forming a circle in the proper order of the cycle they represented: young Bruma of the New Moon, beautiful Anima of the Waxing Moon, motherly Aestas of the Full Moon, and wise old Quies of the Waning Moon. Appropriately, the sunlight touched only Anima and Aestas, casting the other two in shadows.

Each Tide faced a different path to one of four academic halls: there was moody Noviluna Hall, its door painted black like the new moon sky that gave those of Emory’s house their powers of cleansing darkness and divination; vibrant Crescens Hall, which saw to those born on a waxing moon, their magic tied to growth, amplification, and manifestation; stately Pleniluna Hall, which catered to those who bore the power of the full moon, tied to light, protection, purity, and mindfulness; and Decrescens Hall, as dark and mysterious as the waning moon students who dealt in secrets and dreams, memories and death—and who had been Romie’s peers when she was alive.

There was a fifth hall, but no Tide watched over House Eclipse, and no path led to its door, a nondescript, nearly hidden thing.

Emory stopped by the fountain. Her fingers skimmed the surface of the sacred water, said to have been blessed by the Tides themselves. The water came from Dovermere, a network of caves as mythical as the Tides and in part what had attracted Aldryn’s founders to build their college so close to it. Students were expressly forbidden to take water from the fountain, much less use it in their bloodletting practices—a way for those of the four main lunar houses to access their magic whenever their ruling moon phase wasn’t in position, their power otherwise remaining dormant in their blood. Still, touching the water was meant to be grounding.

It wasn’t.

Emory noticed the delicate flowers floating on the surface, two for each lunar house: black narcissus, indigo hollyhocks, white orchids, purple-black poppies. Eight flowers, one for each of the names she knew had been added to the silver plaques at the Tides’ feet, souls consigned to their care so they might watch over them in the Deep.

A name and a flower for each student claimed by the sea.

And suddenly the flowers weren’t flowers at all, but bodies trapped in a cave with the deadly sea all around them. Emory turned from the fountain just as the door to House Eclipse opened.

The student who emerged made her stomach plummet.

Basil Brysden was tall and long-limbed, with a badly buttoned shirt and unruly brown curls that fell to his chin. He hugged a pile of books close to his chest, head bent low as if he were trying to make himself smaller, or perhaps invisible. Baz had long since succeeded at both: he was a ghost, a hermit, a curiosity only whispered about in the darkest corners of the college.

The Timespinner.

Such rare magic, even for one of the Eclipse-born.

Baz turned toward the fountain. Rich brown eyes met hers, and were it not for the thick-framed glasses they hid behind, Emory might have thought it was Romie staring back at her. They had the same pale, freckled skin, the same protruding ears. But Baz lacked his sister’s sense of mischief, that dreamy, faraway look Romie would get that always infuriated her professors. The bright curiosity that had spread like wildfire until it consumed all she was and could have been.

Baz’s eyes held none of Romie’s bold fire, only timid uncertainty as he greeted her with an awkward, “Emory.”

He looked like he might make a run for it to avoid this conversation altogether. She couldn’t blame him.

“You missed the assembly,” Emory said, if only just to say something. To fill the silence and drown out the guilt that threatened to choke her as Romie’s face flashed in her mind—not as it had appeared in life, but as Emory last remembered seeing it: pale and stark in those fateful moments before the sea took her away.

How Baz must resent her, for surviving what his sister had not.

He blinked toward the assembly hall, where laughter sounded as students spilled into the quad. “I guess I did.”

From his expression, Emory couldn’t quite work out if he’d missed it on purpose or forgotten about the assembly entirely. She noted the tightness around his mouth and wondered when the last time he’d laughed was. She remembered how quick he’d been to smile as a boy, in what now felt like another lifetime entirely. When she and Romie and him had attended boarding school together, sneaking out to run barefoot in the wildflower fields behind it, as free and unburdened as the gulls they would chase down to the beach.

Baz adjusted the weight of the books in his arms. “How are you? How’ve you been?”

Emory swallowed past the lump in her throat, forcing a smile. “Fine.”

Through the nearby cloisters, she spotted Keiran with his group of friends. Their talk of heading down to the beach for the start-of-term bonfires carried on the breeze, and though Keiran’s attention was on them, Emory got the distinct impression he’d been looking at her only a moment before.

“We missed you at the funeral.”

Her attention snapped back to Baz. There was no bitterness in his voice, no reproach. And that made it so much worse because if he knew the truth, if he knew what really happened in those caves, he wouldn’t have wanted her there to begin with.

Emory’s cheeks reddened as she tried to think of an excuse, but the truth of it was, she had none. She’d meant to go, had told him she would when he’d invited her right before they left for the summer. But the thought of facing Romie’s mother, of lying to Baz about what happened, of saying goodbye to her best friend while Emory herself got to live... She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t stand the empathic way Baz looked at her now, couldn’t bear this guilt that clawed at her insides, knowing he must have so many questions, none of which she could answer.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, averting her gaze. “I, uh... I have to get going. But I’ll see you around?”

Baz hugged his books tighter, shoulders drooping in relief or disappointment, she couldn’t tell.

Emory couldn’t get away from him fast enough.

Reaching her old dorm room felt like crossing an ocean. The underclassmen dorms stood on the far side of campus, a plain stone building overrun with ivy where students of all houses were mixed in together, paired off into rooms no matter the sigil inked on their skin. It was only in their third year at Aldryn that they joined the housing facilities specific to their respective lunar houses.

Emory fumbled miserably with the key to her room until the lock gave way at last and she hurried inside, head falling back against the door. She blew a heavy sigh, grateful for the quiet.

Her breath caught painfully as she took in the room.

On one side was her narrow metal-frame bed just as she’d left it, with its dark linens and duvet perfectly tucked in. There was the tall mahogany armoire where her clothes lay forgotten and the small desk crammed in the corner, still covered with neatly stacked books and fountain pens. Everything appeared untouched by the passing of time, as though the past four months never happened, and Emory had never left, and everything was still the same as it once was.

Except it wasn’t, because the other side of the room—Romie’s side of the room—was bare.

The bed was still there, the armoire and the desk, but everything that had made it Romie’s—the mismatched art and obscure books, the messy piles of clothes and rare, prickly plants, the forgotten cups of tea and plates riddled with crumbs... all those things were gone now, taken away like the tide took Romie herself.

There was not a trace of her left, but Emory’s mind conjured her all the same, recalling the last time they’d been here together.

That day, Romie had been hunched over her desk, swathed in a shaft of dwindling sunlight that made her shoulder-length hair shine copper. When Emory came in, she startled, knocking over a teacup.

“Tides, are you trying to give me a heart attack?” Irritation laced her words as she righted the cup. Dusk, the stray cat she’d found on the school grounds their first week at Aldryn and taken in despite the rules against keeping pets in the dorms, jumped off her lap with an indignant meow to perch on the windowsill instead.

Emory dropped her books on her own desk. “Well, it is a new moon. Could be a good way to test my healing skills on a live subject.”

Romie didn’t seem in the mood for jokes. She furiously wiped the tea from the papers stacked haphazardly on her desk, angling her body as if to shield them from Emory.

“What’s so interesting you couldn’t be bothered to meet me for supper? I was stuck listening to Penelope talk about Darkbearer magic for what felt like hours.”

Emory tried to keep her tone light, but it came out sharp-edged. Loaded. She couldn’t help it: Romie had been acting all kinds of strange lately, constantly disregarding their plans, withdrawn and secretive in a way she’d never been before. In truth, Emory had noticed a change in her from the moment they’d arrived at Aldryn. She hadn’t wanted to see it at first, blaming their heavy workload and differing schedules for the rift that had opened between them. They’d known each other since they were ten years old. They’d shared everything. But something had shifted, and Emory was too scared to ask why that was—too scared of losing her one true friend.

“Just research,” Romie said distractedly as she gathered her tea-stained papers and stuffed them in her satchel.

Emory eyed the rumpled state of Romie’s clothes, her unmade bed. “Have you been here sleeping all afternoon?”

“I was practicing. You know, Dreamer stuff.”

Dreamer stuff. It was what she’d been saying for the past few months, brushing off every moment she spent in the sleepscape—the realm of dreams—like it was nothing. Like it wasn’t hollowing her out, depleting her of the bright energy she used to glow with.

“You can’t keep doing this, Ro. Missing class, spending all that time in dreams? It can’t be healthy.”

“I’m fine.”

“The bags under your eyes beg to differ.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Romie shouldered her bag and moved toward the door. Something gripped Emory at the sight of her hand on the knob, as though she knew that if Romie walked out then, the rift between them would become an unbridgeable chasm.

“Ro. I’m serious. Is everything all right with you?”

She watched the tension in her friend’s shoulders ease, and when Romie turned to her, lips upturned in a signature smile, brown eyes molten in the golden hour light, she thought perhaps she might have imagined these past weeks, months—that everything might still be the same between them.

“Everything’s fine, Em.” She stood there for a moment, and though her smile never wavered, a shadow of doubt darkened her face. Emory thought she might come clean then, finally spill the secrets she’d been letting consume her, but Romie merely pulled the door open and said, “I’ll see you later, all right?”

Once the door shut behind her, Emory looked at Romie’s desk, too curious and concerned to let it go. Forgotten beneath a vial of salt water, half stained with tea, was a piece of parchment artfully burnt around the edges. The letters S.O. were stamped in the middle of the note. Emory flipped it over, where an inscription had been written in sprawling silver script: Dovermere Cove, 10 p.m.

She put the note back where she found it, dread making her mouth taste like ash. Students tended to avoid Dovermere Cove because of the dark stain its infamous sea caves cast on it. Tales of all the drownings that took place there over the years were the first thing freshmen were told when starting at Aldryn. There were always a few foolhardy students who went into the caves looking to prove something to their peers, though Emory didn’t think Romie would be reckless enough to do so. Yet when the clock neared ten and Romie still hadn’t come back to their room, panic seized her. She looked at the note again, wondering what S.O. might stand for and if it had anything to do with Romie’s change in behavior.

Unable to shake this sense of foreboding in her bones, Emory pocketed the note and went down to Dovermere Cove just in time to see Romie and seven other students slip into the caves where they would meet their end.

Emory shook the haunting image of that night from her mind. The room suddenly felt too stuffy. Too small. She rushed to the stained-glass window between the beds and threw it open wide, letting the breeze in to kiss her face. She took a deep breath, then another, and the panic that wanted to pull her under slowly receded.

Pressing her forehead against the window frame, she swore softly.

Maybe coming back to Aldryn had been a mistake. All summer, she had been able to pretend that dreadful night at the caves had never happened. She could look out at the Aldersea and not feel the weight of her guilt pressing down on her, because even though home and Aldryn bordered the same sea, they did not share the same shore, nor the same painful memories of darkness and drowning. But now Emory glanced at her friend’s empty side of the room, and all she could see were the things she could have done differently.

If she’d said something to keep Romie from walking out that door. If she hadn’t gone after her. If she hadn’t been inside those caves. If she’d been quick enough, powerful enough, to save everyone, healed them as she’d healed herself...

If she had stayed home, she wouldn’t have to wonder. She could shut everything out and not have to face this suffocating guilt.

But she had tried doing exactly that this summer. Sheltered up in her room, ignoring everything and everyone until the sight of that mark on her wrist and the spiraling nightmares of that night and this feeling of wrongness in her blood drove her out of her stupor at last, and she’d known that she had no choice but to go back. To seek answers as to why those students went into the caves and ensure no one else met the same fate.

It was what Romie would have done had their roles been reversed.

The hint of a voice slithered in through the still-open window, or maybe it was just the breeze. In the courtyard below, Emory glimpsed Keiran near the fountain. The ghost of his gaze on her lingered, the intensity of it raising the hairs on the back of her neck.

You’re alive. You’re all right.

She promptly shut the window, throwing the room into silence once more, and made her way to the armoire.

She had a bonfire to go to.

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