Lasandra’s new lips curved like a bow, rose red, and as plump and
luscious as a bruise. Barely clad, she posed before her gilded
looking-glass, glimpsing in her reflection the potential for perfection.
Her transfiguration was almost complete; the last scars barely
visible–faint red seams that would fade in a matter of weeks. She
wanted new eyes, green ones, the bright emerald of spring grass or fresh
limes, and a cascade of long curls as black and thick as a moonless
night. She’d spotted the ones she desired in the market place. The
woman sold yellow onions from a crudely woven basket. Poor and barefoot,
she would sell hers, surely. Lasandra could afford whatever the woman
asked. And she’d pay for replacements. She wasn’t merciless; she
wouldn’t leave the woman bald and blind!
Her fingers traced the tiny jewels arching over her eyebrows, four on
each side. She’d decided on fire rubies with simple gold settings,
nothing too ostentatious. Bone-studding was nothing new, but with the
other modifications…well, they dazzled the eye. And it hadn’t hurt
at all when Syr Sorelis drilled the little screws into her forehead.
Thank the alchemists for that little miracle.
A sultry pout over her shoulder, she turned in front of the mirror,
admiring her skin. The designers had schemed with her for over a year,
visualizing something asymmetrical but precisely balanced. And the
Bestiary had grown the species exactly to her specifications, no easy
task. The serpent skin lay like scalloped black lace over new snow;
sheer, delicate, and soft to the touch. It curled across her skin,
starting behind her ears and swirling across her breasts and belly, down
the inside of her thighs where it tapered to slender points near the
knees. It covered her hands and forearms like fingerless gloves.
The fur alone had required years to cultivate because she desired fine
black and white stripes and the texture of velvet. The first animals had
been deplorable, their pelts far too coarse, the fur too long and thick.
When finally a creature met her expectations, the transfiguration melded
its skin to her shoulders like epaulets, formed a curved V on her back
and covered every inch of her legs where she hadn’t already melded the
snake skin. Stripes ringed her long smooth tail.
Undeniably stunning, a human art form…almost.
As she studied her composition in the mirror, it was all too evident
that her brown hair and brown eyes simply wouldn’t do.
Chapter One (excerpt)
Balanced on one foot, Mylea perched on a hearsay-bulletin she’d torn
from the outside wall of the post when the new one went up. Despite its
thinness, the paper kept her bare feet from the autumn-cold cobbles
paving the Bottlebye market, and it would make good tinder later when it
flared in her fire-can. Gossip made good tinder in more ways than one.
A morning sea-wind blew an ebony curl across her lips as she placed one
foot atop the other, warming the toes beneath. Her freshly scrubbed wool
dress swept her ankles. Once it had belonged to her mother, a deep
cherry red that had faded long ago to a dusky rose. She switched feet,
warming her other toes. Soon she’d have to start wearing her shoes and
cloak, or she’d fire up a fever and drown in the rasp. But each day
she delayed, the more destitute she appeared, and the less likely her
customers would argue down her price on onions.
Not that she deceived them. She lived as precariously as a cricket in a
viper pit, but so did everyone else. No one, except the Worthy,
possessed any coin to speak of. The Burn had ended a century ago and yet
the old life, the one debated in the hearsays, never returned. Nothing
ever went back to the way it was.
Seawater dripped from the sun as it rose above the waves, a crimson coal
searing away the damp haze. The Sea Barrows woke with the breaking dawn;
the low-city markets first, Bottlebye and Fishwars, wagons and carts
clacking over cobbles seeking a place in the light. Braziers flared to
life offering morning teas and fresh milk. Merchants unlocked shops and
vendors set up tables, unpacking their wares and calling to passersby to
linger for an early look. Sunbeams surged up a trio of wide roads like a
flowing tide, washing into the high-city wards and brightening the three
domes, the hills marking the western edge of the sea-city. Mylea gazed
up at Stonelaw’s Dome, the walled keeps of the Worthy polished by
morning’s fiery eye, faerie castles rising from the fog, magical until
the shadows fell.
A tap on her shoulder startled her. She stepped away in surprise and the
hearsay fluttered away down the market square. Her eyes met Gavlyn’s,
a contrite look on his face.
“Pardons,” he said quickly, scratching his blond head, his curls in
a tangle. “Here’s another.” He ripped the current one from the
post wall and handed it to her with a daring smile. “I’ll read it to
you before you burn it.”
Eyes wide, she snatched the paper and stuffed it into the pocket of her
dress. “You are taunting trouble. That little transgression will land
us both under ministry locks.”
“The Worthy like their gossip,” he acknowledged with a shrug. He
threaded a hand around her waist and pulled her into a shameless kiss,
her basket of onions tipping and spilling at her feet. An old woman
towing a cart of empty milk cans stopped to gape and grin.
“You are truly a rogue, Gavlyn,” Mylea scolded, pushing him away and
squatting to gather her wares. “You’ll start rumors of our own.”
“Nothing I won’t see through into genuine fact.” He picked up an
onion and tossed it in her basket.
“You’re a scoundrel. I should slap you to restore my honor.” She
rose to her feet, holding up a threatening hand, her dimpled cheek
belying the warning.
“Or you could marry me.” He grasped the hand hovering at her
shoulder and drew it to his chest. “Will you marry me?”
“As certain as tomorrow, my sweet.” She graced him with a
mischievous smile and began strolling through the market, her eye on a
spot by the well where the sun steamed the cobbles. He walked beside
her, face raised to the early light, radiating warm contentment.
“And where shall we live, you and I?” she mused, a finger to her
lips, starting their game.
“In the old-world tree by the Salt Sea,” he suggested.
“And when winter storms stir the shore?”
He smiled. “I’ll weave you a blanket from skeins of sunlight.”
“And sail the blue moon when the sun swims?”
“I’ll serve you oysters and adorn you in pearls.”
“Only pearls?” She peered at him sideways.” Nothing else?”
“Robes of abalone, petals of water-lilies.”
“Coral, of course.” He winked at her, a grin crossing his lips. “I
win. Coral is better than sea green.”
“I suppose.” Mylea laughed, looking up at his sun-speckled face,
seeking signs of sincerity in the blue eyes that more often than not
brimmed with teasing and trickery. His crooked grin tugged up one side
of his mouth, and a tiny scar, jagged as a lightning bolt, blended into
the smile lines by his right eye.
“Did you find work?” she asked in a murmur, hoping it was so. That
was his plan, a vow sworn high in the wide branches of the old-world
tree at eight years old. He would find work and they’d marry.
“At the Alchemary, in the Terrarium,” he said, tossing a bitt to a
peddler for a red apple that he dropped in her basket.
Her smile faltered, dread whispering a warning in her ear. “Oh,
Gavlyn, why there? The Alchemary is so…unnatural. Don’t go.” She
shook her head as if trying to release her misgivings and raised her
eyes hopefully. “We’ll marry anyway. We’re not children bound by
whimsical promises. Truly, don’t go there.”
“You won’t dissuade me,” he said, a brush of disappointment
shading his smile. “Promises are words to be kept, Mylea. They mean
something, and I’ll see it through.”
“You are as stubborn as a toothache.”
“As a wart,” he admitted, and she laughed.
A pinch-faced woman cleared her throat as she waited to purchase sweet
onions. She tapped her toes impatiently and then twiddled her fingers as
she labored over which ones she wanted. Four more bitts plinked into the
cinched purse at Mylea’s hip. That counted nine, a good start to a
Her eyes wandered the waking market, alighting on Gavlyn’s hopeful
smile. If they left now, she’d be back before noonday with hours left
to devote to onions. “Come with me.” She clasped his hand and pulled
him through the square to Seabard Street, the crushed shell lane curving
along the shore from Bottlebye to Fishwars.
Near the harbor, they shared the apple, pausing to watch long slender
fishing boats glide out to sea. Dyed sails unfurled from the yards in a
wonder of colors, nets draped from their rigging like black veils.
Later, when the setting sun dipped behind the domes, the fleet would
return, their catches hooked through the gills, glinting silver charms
on a chain bracelet. Beyond the wharves, the shore curved, black-pebbled
and pink sand, white shells bleached by the sun. A row of twenty
old-world trees formed a regal line at the edge of the crescent beach.
The trees felt eternal, enchanted, linking her to something changeless,
as steady as the rhythmic sea, but vulnerable and alive, surviving. The
Burn had reduced the green life of all four realms to char and ash in an
effort to restore the balance of nature. The alchemists only spared
these old-world trees because they stood apart from the fields and
forests, wedged between city and sea.
The giant branches arced toward the ground, autumn-gilded parasols
shading sand and sharp tufts of sea grass. Gavlyn laughed when she
hauled him over to their tree. “No hands,” Mylea instructed him. She
tucked her basket in the sand and found her balance on one of the low
branches. With arms held out to her sides, she began to walk up the
limb. The branch bounced as Gavlyn stepped onto it behind her, and she
halted briefly to steady herself.
“How far up are we going?” he asked.
“To the old bench.”
“That’s rather high.”
“Are you quaking with fear?” she teased. “Quivering like a
“I am afraid of nothing, Mylea,” he replied, and the sincerity in
his voice made her shake her head with wonder and worry; the man she
loved was an idiot.
When she reached the bole of the tree, she began to climb, the thick
limbs forming a perfectly spiraling stair. Twenty feet above the sand
she scooted along a smooth branch to make room for him beside her. They
watched for the white sails of trading vessels that plied the northern
reaches of the Salt Sea and moored at the harbor docks. Once Gavlyn read
her a hearsay that said the lands of Na Kel Karyan across the waves had
forced the Burn on the realms, disregarding the chaos and starvation
that would follow.
A frown pursed her lips. Mention of the Alchemary always led her to
brood over the Burn.
“Was the Burn necessary, do you think?” she asked. “Did the
alchemists so ruin the land that the only solution was utter
destruction?” She’d never been entirely sure she believed it.
Gavlyn’s shoulders rolled in a shrug. “The land was poisonous by the
time they finished. That’s what the hearsays profess. The poison on
the plants killed the mites, borers and beetles until they acquired a
taste for it. The alchemists melded poison into the seeds themselves and
the pests threw a grand feast. We danced with deadliness until it slowly
began to kill everything, including us.”
“So we burned it all. All of it, on their word,” she murmured, her
eyes following the flight of seabirds fishing between the swells. “The
crops, the forests, the marshes, the meadows, every garden, every fruit
tree, every onion.”
“Nature is entwined, Mylea. All parts of it braided together. We were
doomed if we didn’t begin again. At least that’s the shared opinion.
Now trade is restored, the land is healthy. There’s a future for
“And now we sate our need to tinker with the world through
transfiguration,” she said with a scowl.
“The Worthy only hurt themselves,” Gavlyn reminded her. “If they
want to ornament their skin with scales, embed teeth in their bones and
forked horns over their ears, let them. They aren’t hurting the rest
of us to do it.”
“What the Alchemary does is still…out of balance. They haven’t
learned. They believe they are greater than the world’s own wisdom.”
He gathered her hand in his. “They saved the pure seeds that rebuilt
our fields and forests. The alchemists keep only the altered plants that
are useful to mankind—medicinals for pain and healing, miracle
extracts for saving lives, Mylea. I talked to them. They do good work,
noble work.” “The animals? Creating and killing animals for glamour
is hardly noble.” She felt her face flushing, her irritation rising.
With a sigh, she softened her voice, unwilling to once again debate the
reckless vanity of the Worthy. “I will make you a new promise, Gavlyn.
Here, in our tree on this Middlinday. Don’t go to the Alchemary, my
love. Learn to craft silk slippers or fire glass goblets, fish the Salt
Sea for pearls or sell onions with me.” She rested her ear on his
shoulder. “Sit by my fire-can and wrap me in your star-spun blanket.
Climb ancient trees and fill my head with coral petals. Whisper love
poems in my ears and teach me to read.”
His kiss brushed the top of her head. “We’ll follow the sun beyond
the Sea Barrows and till the soil for soup in Kel Falkresh. We’ll swim
to the moon and sing in the streams of the green edge.”
Beneath the leaves of the old-world tree, Mylea gazed up at him.
“Don’t go to that place tomorrow; marry me instead.”
“I made a promise,” he said, his eyes smiling over boyish freckles,
blond curls framing his face. The little scar looked almost like the
jagged path of a tear. “I want to give you a good life, Mylea.”
With a huff, she straightened, her face twisted in an expression of
exasperated bafflement. “Sometimes, Gavlyn, men can be so utterly
daft. A good life isn’t bought with coins. It doesn’t come from a
purse full of bitts and qints. It comes from here.” She thumped him on
the chest and he almost fell backwards off the branch.
“Fine! Don’t kill me!” he exclaimed. “I’ll pay my qint at
Justice in the hour and marry you tomorrow come midday.”
“Promise?” she asked.
“I promise.” He gave her a narrowed eye and a crooked grin.
“Promises are meant to be kept.”
Excerpted from "The Melding of Aeris" by D. Wallace Peach. Copyright © 2013 by D. Wallace Peach. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.