Through Fire & Sea ONLY
an Otherselves young adult novel by Nicole Luiken
In the Fire World, seventeen-year-old Leah is the illegitimate daughter of one of the realm’s most powerful lords. She’s hot-blooded – able to communicate with the tempestuous volcano gods. But she has another gift…the ability to Call her twin “Otherselves” on other worlds.
Holly resides in the Water World – our world. When she’s called by Leah from the Fire World, she nearly drowns. Suddenly the world Holly thought she knew is filled with secrets, magic…and deadly peril.
For a malevolent force seeks to destroy the mirror worlds. And as Leah and Holly are swept up in the tides of chaos and danger, they have only one choice to save the mirror worlds – to shatter every rule they’ve ever known…
“The author did an amazing job in her world-building, in crafting such a unique setting and story concept. This story seemed to have it all. It sucked me in so quickly and kept my attention riveted.” -Shannon, The Tale
The Otherselves series is best enjoyed in order.
Otherselves novels by author Nicole Luiken:
Book one: Through Fire & Sea
Book two: Amid Wind & Stone
Title: Through Fire & Sea
Series: Otherselves, #1
Author: Nicole Luiken
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 442 pages
Release Date: May 2015
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
An Excerpt from:
Through Fire & Sea
by Nicole Luiken
Copyright © 2015 by Nicole Luiken. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Two men-at-arms threw Leah, trembling, at Duke Ruben’s feet.
She risked one terrified glance up but gleaned no clues to her crime from the duke’s grim mouth, crooked nose, and scowling black eyebrows. She stared blindly down at the polished floor of his private study.
The castle folk counted themselves lucky in their duke because Grumbling Man, the Volcano Lord of their valley, listened to him—but Duke Ruben also had a reputation as a hard man. Leah’s mother often warned her to avoid him.
Did he know? she wondered, not for the first time. Did he have any idea who Leah was?
The senior man-at-arms cleared his throat, his red sideburns bristling. “The weaver’s daughter, my lord.”
He must know, then. There was no reason to ask for the weaver’s daughter unless he remembered his long-ago liaison and knew the weaver had borne him a child.
Heart fluttering in wild hope, Leah raised her eyes, but the duke ignored her and walked over to his desk. He made an austere figure, dressed all in black, as he pressed his seal to a lump of wax. He handed the paper to the older man. “Make haste and deliver this to Lady Qeturah.”
“Yes, my lord.” Bowing smartly, the man left.
“Send Duchess Yudith to me.” The duke waved a hand, and the second man-at-arms backed out of the room, leaving Leah alone with her father. She looked down again.
Black boots moved into her field of vision, and then Duke Ruben tilted her face up. Leah stared fixedly at the piece of red sky visible through the window. He grunted. “You do resemble me. The question is, does your blood run hot or cold?”
Leah didn’t know how to answer.
For years she’d urged her mother to tell the duke about her, had dreamed of him settling a small dowry on her. But this was not the warm reception she’d imagined. Her knees ached, but she dared not rise without permission.
“Look at me.”
Leah forced herself to break the training of a lifetime and meet the duke’s fierce eyes.
A contemptuous smile quirked his lips. “Tell me, what is the name of our Volcano Lord?”
“The Grumbling Man,” Leah said after a pause. Every child knew that. Their valley was named after the volcano, and Ruben’s full title was the Duke of Grumbling Man.
Crouching down, the duke placed the tip of his ducal seal inside the grate set into the floor over the hypocaust through which heat from the volcano’s underground vents flowed. At a murmured word, flames leaped. He picked up the now-glowing orange seal by the wooden handle.
He brought the metal so close to her face, the heat seared her skin. Leah pulled away, but he stood on a fold of her skirt, trapping her.
“Let’s try again, shall we?” he said pleasantly. “What is the name of the Volcano Lord?”
Her heartbeat tripped faster. “The—the Grumbling Man.” She didn’t understand the question.
“No,” the duke said with awful patience. “Not the name all call him by—his secret name.”
“I don’t know!” Her breathing grew ragged as she tugged at her skirt.
“Hold still. Tell me his secret name. By the count of three, or I’ll put out your eye.”
Leah stilled. She’d never heard of a secret name, but if one existed, it was surely dangerous knowledge that a lowly serving maid shouldn’t admit to knowing.
“I don’t know,” Leah said again.
He lifted one sardonic eyebrow. “How unfortunate. Two.”
He stomach pitched. He would blind her. The fact that she was his daughter meant nothing to him.
He rotated the seal. “Three—”
“Isaiah!” Leah blurted her secret name for the volcano, then threw her body sideways, wrenching her skirt free. She rolled onto her hands and knees, tensed to run—
The duke calmly set the seal on the hypocaust grate, triumph in his eyes. The name she’d fancied the Volcano Lord had whispered to her in the darkness of the night must be correct.
Her throat tightened. She had a terrible premonition that the duke wanted something dangerous from her. It might’ve been better to keep denying her knowledge and merely lose an eye.
“Well, daughter, at least you’re not a screamer.”
Leah glared at him. “My name is Leah.”
“Not anymore. From this day forward, your name will be Jehannah.”
Leah blinked. The duke’s legitimate daughter was named Jehannah. She waited for an explanation, but just then Duchess Yudith strode into the room, skirts swinging.
Leah immediately bowed her head, peering up through the screen of her lashes; the duchess didn’t tolerate insolence.
Yudith frowned down her long nose at Leah, then scowled at her husband. “Why is there ashfall on my herb gardens? The bloodleaf cuttings I procured are especially delicate. You must speak to Grumbling Man.”
Despite the duchess’s proprietary words, Leah doubted she tended the garden herself. Certainly, her hemline was spotlessly free of ash. Though it was only a day dress, Leah recognized the blue material used in the sleeves and the bandeau holding back her hair from a batch specially dyed by her mother to match the duchess’s eyes.
“I have more important things to worry about than your plants!” The duke paced past Leah, and she noticed the ash speckling his boots, black broadcloth jacket, and trousers.
“When the next idiot to slice himself with his sword dies of blood poisoning because we don’t have any dried bloodleaf, don’t complain to—”
“Enough.” The duke waved his hand, cutting her off.
Yudith’s thin lips pinched shut.
If the duke noticed her offended look, he didn’t care. “You’re lucky your garden isn’t buried.” His black gaze met his wife’s. “I spent hours last night trying to calm the mountain down while he grumbled about ‘intruders’ and ‘upstarts’ and how he’ll ‘blast him out of the sky.’”
Yudith’s face whitened. Leah stopped breathing. She’d heard the mountain rumble in the middle of the night but had paid it no mind. Despite Grumbling Man’s name, he was a venerable old volcano; his valley had been occupied for eight generations now. It was easy to forget that only the duke’s control over their Volcano Lord kept their valley habitable.
Duke Ruben, like his forefathers before him, tempered the periodic eruptions so the falls of ash enriched the soil after harvest instead of blighting still-growing crops. Leah had heard tales of valleys settled too early then buried under tons of lava and ash. For the duke to be losing control was unthinkable.
“But…why?” Yudith asked.
The duke smiled cruelly, as if enjoying his wife’s discomfort. “Remember the rumors we’ve been hearing? Once again, a dragon rides the skies as has not happened in two centuries.”
“What—” Yudith wet her lips. “What will you do?”
“Whatever I have to,” the duke snarled. “I’ve sent for Qeturah. She has magic that can drive the dragon away. For a price.”
Relief painted Yudith’s face. Leah let out the breath she was holding. The small sound drew the duchess’s attention. “And who is this, that she should be privy to our secrets?”
Duke Ruben bared his teeth. “This is my daughter. You will outfit her in a decent gown—”
Yudith’s flat chest heaved. “One of your bastards, you mean. I will not—”
“Oh, yes, you will,” the duke said grimly. “Moreover, you will teach her to behave like a lady.”
Leah didn’t know whether to be alarmed or elated. New clothing, a place in the duke’s family…it was just like her fantasy. But the duke’s hard expression made her stomach fall. He felt no affection for her.
Her knees ached. Leah climbed to her feet. She didn’t know what was going on, but they obviously needed her for something.
“And why, exactly, will I be doing this?” Yudith folded her arms.
“When Qeturah comes, she must look at that dirty scullery maid”—Leah felt a spurt of indignation, for his clothes were just as dirty as hers!—“and see a daughter of the nobility.”
Yudith’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Qeturah’s performed her little dragon-banishing trick in three other duchies,” Duke Ruben said grimly. “In return, she asks for favors. We can spare a few bolts of broadcloth and bushels of grain, but she’s also been collecting noble daughters to be ‘trained’ in her Tower.”
“Jehannah,” Yudith breathed.
The duke and duchess regarded Leah with identical, calculating expressions.
Leah’s fingertips went cold with dread.
“Qeturah will go home with a daughter of mine, just not the daughter she expects,” the duke said, and the couple shared a smile so wolflike, Leah shuddered.
“Qeturah acts as if it’s an honor to foster these girls,” Duke Ruben said, “but I’m not about to give the Bandit Queen a hostage.” He absently picked up a chunk of rock with a large embedded diamond from his desk. “Besides, I have other plans for Jehannah.”
Marriage, Leah assumed. Since Duke Ruben’s only son had died of a fever five years ago, Jehannah’s marriage and eventual children were especially important.
“Well, then.” Yudith eyed Leah critically. “It seems I have my work cut out for me. Come, child.”
Leah dipped her head respectfully. “My name is Leah.”
The duke grabbed her chin. “I told you: from now on your name is Jehannah. As your father, it is my right to name you. Do you understand?”
His grip hurt. Leah refused to cry but gave a small nod to show her understanding.
He released her. “Serve me in this, daughter, and you will be rewarded. Fail me”—he bared his teeth—“and you will live to regret it.”
Leah gave a jerky nod and followed Duchess Yudith out of the room, as eager to leave her father’s presence as she once had been to gain his notice.
“She looks nothing like me,” Jehannah—the real Jehannah—declared. Her voice sounded too loud in the deserted solar room on the top floor of the castle.
Leah had always been fascinated by her half sister, sneaking glances whenever she could. She’d fancied that, with nobody of equal rank to converse with, Jehannah might need a friend. A sister to cheer her up and braid her hair and whisper secrets to.
Instead Jehannah’s snub nose had wrinkled up like a prune at the sight of her new sister. Of course, it had to be something of a shock to suddenly find out one had a half sibling.
Leah well remembered how jealous she’d been when it became obvious that her mother’s apprentice weaver, Gulda, had an eye for color and design that Leah lacked.
Yudith studied the two of them critically. “Of course not, dear. You are beautiful, and she is not.”
Leah’s cheeks flushed, but she’d already earned one slap speaking out of turn, so she held her tongue.
“However,” Yudith continued, “she does look like your father, and that is what will convince Lady Qeturah.”
Yes, Leah had the duke’s dark hair, whereas Jehannah and her mother both had light brown, almost blond, hair. Two narrow braids held back Jehannah’s straight hair, a far cry from Leah’s messy plait.
“Perhaps.” Jehannah sniffed. “But she’s not getting any of my dresses. She’ll never fit them anyway.”
Leah winced at this truth. Jehannah was a delicate wisp of a girl. Not only was Leah three years older, with a more womanly figure, but she spent her days toting water and scrubbing floors. There was nothing dainty about her.
“I’m afraid no dress can make me look fourteen again.” Leah tried a friendly smile.
Red splotched Jehannah’s fair complexion. “A small bosom is the mark of a true lady.”
Leah bit her tongue to keep from laughing.
“She’s right about the dresses,” Yudith said, frowning. “We’ll have to make over some of mine. And the new bolt of blue silk will have to be cut for her.”
“Not the blue silk!” Jehannah shrieked. “You promised it would be made into an Ember Day dress for me.”
Silk had to be imported from another duchy. Leah’s mother spoke of its fine threads with reverence. Leah had always longed to wear silk.
Still…Jehannah seemed so upset. Guests from other duchies visited on Ember Day. Was there a boy Jehannah hoped to impress?
“Let her have the silk,” Leah said. “My mother has some pretty green linen, newly dyed—”
Instead of thanking her, Yudith spoke sharply. “You will not speak to your mother. As far as she and the rest of the castle are concerned, you ran off with some boy.”
“I wouldn’t run off without saying good-bye,” Leah protested. “What will she think?”
“It doesn’t matter what the weaver thinks.” From the duchess’s stone-cold expression, she still bore Leah’s mother ill will.
Leah bit her tongue, but she vowed to find some way to talk to her mother before she left the castle.
Leah’s stomach cramped with tension. Despite the abundance of rich food in front of her, she could barely eat.
After two days of constant harping about noble manners and bearing, Duchess Yudith had finally judged Leah fit to sup with the duke.
Determined not to fail the test, she kept her back straight and used the obsidian-bladed knife to cut the veal on her plate into small bites. Nobles had meat every day, not just on special feasts, and ate off individual plates instead of dipping their bread in the common pot. Before Leah could convey the tender morsel to her mouth, Yudith asked her another question: “Which duchy lost their heir last year?”
Leah set down her fork. “Smoking Cone. The son, Talibar, was killed by an arrow while raiding sheep from their neighbor, Poison Cloud,” she recited.
Yudith had insisted she learn the names of all the duchies and the members of their ruling families. Now that was as complicated as any pattern her mother had ever woven on her loom. This daughter marrying here, this younger son being fostered there, a whole interconnecting tapestry.
“Not Talibar, Talibard.” Yudith addressed the duke. “As you can see, she still has a lot to learn.”
The duke took a swallow of wine, having already demolished his veal. “She’ll do well enough. I thought the idiot’s name was Talidar.”
Was he being kind? Leah smiled hopefully, but her father’s expression remained grim. For two days, no ash had fallen, but the dragon had been spotted at the border outpost.
“We’re out of time,” he continued. “Qeturah will reach our valley tomorrow.” Standing, the duke threw down his napkin. “I have another lesson in mind for tonight. Come, Jehannah.”
Jehannah started to stand, then subsided, biting her lip. Yudith and Jehannah avoided calling Leah any name at all, but the duke always called her Jehannah. As if his younger daughter wasn’t even sitting there.
Leah lowered her head to conceal her resentment as she followed the duke to his study.
Instead of taking a seat behind the heavy oak table, he crouched in front of the hypocaust grate. She remembered the red-hot glow of his seal and shuddered.
“While you are staying at Qeturah’s Tower, you will send messages to me through the hypocaust. Any time she leaves the Tower, or returns, you will notify me. The same with any visitors she receives, or any time the dragon is sighted in her valley.”
Leah listened with dismay. “You want me to spy for you?”
He studied her with hooded eyes. “Yes. I don’t trust Qeturah. If you find proof she’s playing us false, you’ll be rewarded.”
“With a dowry?” Leah dared ask. “Just a small one,” she added quickly.
“Serve me well, and I may arrange a marriage for you. Now come here so I can show you how to send messages through the hypocaust.”
Leah sidled closer, careful not to touch him.
“Put out your hand and Call for heat.”
Hesitantly, Leah held her hand over the grate and said, “Heat.”
The duke grunted. “Not like that. You’re speaking to the Volcano Lord—use authority.”
“Heat,” Leah said more strongly, concentrating—and a pulse of heat pushed out from her fingertips. A warm draft wafted up from the hypocaust vent in response. She’d done it!
“Better,” the duke said grudgingly. “But you must be able to Call flame.”
He made her practice Calling heat over and over. Sweat stood out on Leah’s hairline when she finally produced a lick of flame in the hypocaust.
By then the duke was snarling and pacing with impatience. He picked up a diamond chunk and laid it down again repeatedly, as if he wished he could brain her with it.
“Finally,” he growled. “Now watch closely. I won’t show you again.” He scrawled something in dripping black ink across a scrap of paper. “Be sure to write the name of the recipient somewhere on the message.” With his belt dagger, he cut his thumb and smeared blood onto one corner, then Called a burst of flame. The paper caught fire, blackening around the edges. He dropped it in the hypocaust grate, where the orange flames quickly consumed it.
“There, that’s how it’s done.”
All Leah saw were some ashes. “I don’t understand. How does burning the message send it anywhere? Why do you need blood?”
Pain exploded in her cheekbones as the duke backhanded her. The blow knocked her to the floor. She hurt her hip.
He loomed over her, and she fought the urge to cringe away. “You don’t need to understand. Just do it.”
He doesn’t know. He didn’t know how the hypocaust worked, only that it did.
“Any more questions?” he asked, an obvious threat in his voice.
Leah ignored her throbbing cheek and sat up. “Yes,” she said and had the satisfaction of surprising him. “How do I receive messages from you in return?” She braced herself for another blow, but better pain now than failure later.
The fury in his eyes turned to grudging respect. “A drop of your hot blood will call any messages forth.”
How? Leah didn’t ask, unwilling to push him any farther. She shakily stood.
“One more thing. If I do not hear from you every four days, I will break all the bones in your mother’s hands. Understand?”
The blood drained from Leah’s face. She’d rather suffer the pain herself than see her mother maimed and unable to set her own loom. “I understand.”