Thousands of miles south of the island of Bliss, day and night last for 72 hours. Here is one of the natural wonders of this world: a whirlpool thirty miles wide and a hundred miles around. This is the Drain. Anything sucked into its frothing, turbulent waters is never seen again.
Wren has spent most of her life on Edgeland, a nearby island where people bring their dead to be blessed and prepared for the afterlife. There the dead are loaded into boats with treasure and sent over the cliff, and into the Drain. Orphaned and alone, Wren dreams of escaping Edgeland, and her chance finally comes when furriers from the Polar north arrive with their dead, and treasure for their dead.
With the help of her friend Alec, Wren plans to loot one of the boats before it enters the Drain. But the boatwith Alec and Wren onboardis sucked into the whirlpool. What they discover beyond the abyss is beyond what anyone could have imagined.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
For eighteen years, Peter Kujawinski was an American diplomat, on assignment in places like Israel, Haiti, France, and at the UN in New York. Most recently, he was the US Consul General in western Canada, which included Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. While working as a diplomat, he started to write for adults and children. He is a contributor to the New York Times, and with coauthor Jake Halpern, Peter wrote Nightfall and the Dormia trilogy (Dormia, World’s End, and Shadow Tree). He lives in Chicago with his family.
Read an Excerpt
Wren walked along the edge of the known world looking for coins to steal. A few coppers would do. A silver piece would be even better. Her escape fund was almost complete, and soon she’d be sailing for the great spice-trading city of Ankora.
Her eyes darted across the rocks, searching for the dull gleam of metal. She had been doing this for so many years that it had become second nature. It was forbidden, of course, but she had a worthy goal. Leaving Edgeland would mean the end of stealing—from the living, and the dead.
A spray of mist dampened Wren’s face as she gazed off into the Drain: a massive, circular waterfall, almost thirty miles in diameter, into which all the water in the ocean drained. This close, it was hard to see anything but the churning water. On rare occasions, you could see the far side of the waterfall.
Today the late-afternoon sky was dark with clouds, and visibility was low. After a few seconds, Wren turned away. She wasn’t there to gape.
She was there to work.
Wren stood on the uppermost level of the Ramparts, an ancient seawall that circled the Drain. There was a road on top with lookouts, and vents at the bottom that allowed water to pass through but kept big ships from being pulled in. Most of the ships that sailed through these waters were headed to Edgeland—a nearby island, which sat just a few miles from the Drain. Wren lived here. It was composed almost entirely of bone houses, which blessed and processed dead bodies.
A burst of chanting grabbed Wren’s attention. Up ahead, a group of religious pilgrims had gathered around a priest. Such scenes were typical on the Ramparts. Suns and Shadows both believed that the Drain was the gateway to the afterlife, and both sent their dead into the Drain. They threw coins into the water, too, hoping the bits of gold and silver would reach their loved ones.
Once in a while, when Wren was feeling lonely, she’d flick a coin into the Drain for her mother, who’d died four years ago in a boating accident. Wren sometimes liked to picture her down there, in a happy place glimmering with mist. But today she had no time to daydream.
She gave the pilgrims a wide berth as she passed by. They were Shadows, wearing their customary silver prayer robes. It was unusual to see them during the daylight hours.
“SINNERS!” their priest yelled. “Turn from evil and em-brace the Shadow, so we can drown the Serpent of Fear.”
The others punched the air with their fists and chanted: “THE SHADOW! THE SHADOW! THE SHADOW!”
They began passing a cloth-swaddled bundle. It was a baby. Eventually, it came to rest in the hands of the priest—a tall, fat man in a shimmering cloak and ornate silver crown.
The priest’s name was Friderik, though his enemies called him “Fat Freddy.” Wren didn’t know him personally, but she’d seen him and his followers. People said he was a “firebrand,” but as far as Wren could tell, Friderik was nothing more than a bully in fancy robes. To provoke the Suns, he gathered his followers during daylight hours and led them in loud prayers.
Fat Freddy was playing a dangerous game. In this part of the world—thousands of miles due south from the Polar North—the Rule of Light was strictly observed: During the seventy-two hours of day, the Suns ruled and could do as they pleased, while the seventy-two hours of night belonged to the Shadows.
Fat Freddy and his Shadows didn’t even glance at Wren as she walked past. She looked like nothing more than a poor Sun girl, her frayed yellow cloak draped over her head and body. They would have been shocked to see that the cloak’s inner lining was silver, which meant she could pass as a Shadow when she wanted. It was illegal to own such a robe—even worse than Fat Freddy’s disobeying the Rule of Light—but for a thief like Wren, a reversible cloak came in handy.
Wren could still see Fat Freddy and his Shadows in the distance when she stopped abruptly, blinking away the mist. A coin glittered near the Rampart’s edge. Usually, Wren found coppers, but this was a dinar from the Eastern Crags—made of gold and inset with a jadeite nugget. It was a once-in-a-lifetime find.
Wren glanced around, looking for the sentries who pa-trolled the Ramparts. As she knew too well, it was a serious crime to steal from the dead. And the sentries were hardened men—who’d be all too happy to lop off a few of her fingers in the name of justice. Thankfully, none were in sight.
The gold dinar rested on a flat stone engraved with the most famous mantra from the holy Common Book:
DROWN THE SERPENT OF FEAR.
Both Suns and Shadows believed that you had to cleanse yourself of fear before entering purgatory—the great waiting room before heaven. This particular mantra was everywhere: etched on flags, painted on the sides of buildings, even tat-tooed on the legs and backs of the devout. Before becoming a thief, Wren had worked at a bone house where bodies were blessed before their voyage to the Drain. She’d been forced to write this mantra over and over on the bottom of funeral rafts. Merely looking at it made her hand cramp.
Only a guardrail separated Wren from the dinar. She glanced around and saw no one. Wren knelt down, as if praying, and pressed the palm of her hand against a rotting wooden slat. Her robe fell back, revealing a scratched-up brown arm. On her wrist was a bracelet, a simple rope loop with a talisman on it—a wooden figurine of a girl that her mother had carved.
Wren pressed harder against the guardrail until the wood began to give. A post cracked, allowing her arm to snake through. She kept reaching, reaching, reaching—until her finger touched the coin. She dragged it toward her. When the dinar was safely in her fist, she let her eyes wander down into the Drain itself, which was obscured in mist. Thank goodness for that. They said if you gazed too deeply into the Drain, you’d lose your mind.
Time to move.
Wren put the dinar in her cloak pocket, along with a few copper coins she’d found, and walked quickly back along the Ramparts. She couldn’t stop smiling. She pictured her-self standing on a beautiful ocean clipper, sails full of wind, bound for the fragrant streets of Ankora. She’d find the man who’d come looking for her years ago when she’d first arrived in Edgeland. Maybe she had a wealthy inheritance waiting for her and a great big extended family, too. All right, so maybe that was too much to hope for. But still, any family at all—even a distant third cousin—would be better than nothing.
Which is what she had now.
On the island of Edgeland, the mix of young beggars and thieves who lived in tunnels beneath the ground were called Graylings, because their skin was often gray with dirt and grime. It was a miserable life. Wren had to cut her hair, almost to the scalp, to keep the lice away. But not for much longer.
Wren kicked at the pebble-strewn ground in front of her.
I wish Alec would come with me. But why would he? Alec was twelve, too, but he had parents, cousins, family of all types and flavors, and a good position at a prestigious bone house. It was a miracle that they were friends.
The bell signaling the ferry’s departure for Edgeland began to clang, interrupting her thoughts. A long, steep set of stairs led to the ferry landing below, where crowds of mourners had begun to line up. They were a mishmash of Suns from every corner of the world—pale-skinned boys in turbans from the Eastern Crags, old men in chain mail from the Highlands, and women from the Jade Archipelago in shimmering green cloaks.
The bell clanged again, followed by a burst of excited shouts and cries. At the bottom of the stairs, a mob of angry Suns surrounded Fat Freddy’s entourage.
“We’re not going anywhere!” shouted a small man with a hawkish nose and a razor-thin beard along his chin. “We do not submit to Suns!” Wren recognized him. His name was Dorman—one of Freddy’s loudest supporters.
“You have no right to be here during daylight!” hollered one of the Suns. He pushed Dorman, knocking him back-ward. Soon, others were shoving, too.
“PROTECT THE BABY!” screamed Dorman. “JOIN RANKS!”
Fat Freddy’s followers formed a tight circle around a small woman who was holding the baby.
“Separate yourselves!” yelled a red-faced sentry, who was standing in the thick of the mob and trying desperately to keep the peace. “Separate yourselves!”
Wren grimaced and made her way down the stairs, looking for a place where she could jump off and slide down the em-bankment to the landing below. The stairs made several sharp turns and, at one of these bends, she came upon three Suns, their gold robes smeared with blotches of red.
Wren stopped short. Those are bloodstains. A big, bull-necked bald man grabbed her robe and pulled her toward him.
“You didn’t see us!” he hissed, so close that she could feel his spittle landing on her cheeks. Then he pushed her roughly away. The other two men paused, as if trying to de-cide whether to attack her.
Wren eyed the red marks the man had left on the shoulder and sleeves of her robe.
“I never saw you,” she whispered, nodding her head.
The men rushed past, revealing the body of a man lying on the ground. It was Fat Freddy. A knife was lodged right below his heart. His watery eyes strained to look at Wren. Fat Freddy was alive, but he wouldn’t be for long.
Wren glanced down at the sleeves of her robe. She began rolling them up frantically, trying to hide the blood.
Seconds later, Dorman appeared at the base of the stairs.
“MASTER!” he shouted. “MY PRIEST!” He looked up at Wren, his face frozen in shock.
More Shadows appeared next to him, looking at Fat Freddy and then at Wren.
Dorman pointed a finger at Wren. “That grayling girl did this!” he yelled. “Murderer!”
Wren turned and sprinted back up the stairs, willing her-self to move faster than she ever had before.