N.B. This plot is not linear! Or, at least, the fantasy part isn't. The romance, though, always will be. Give it a few chapters patiently - it's not as complex as it first seems. If you want a little tip to help you, take a look at the first paragraph. It'll give you some indication of the time span and where/when Sierra is. Anyway, I hope you enjoy! When I've finished my other novel, I'll be looking to find my most popular opening to be the one I finish next - so if you like it, I'd be grateful if you let me know :)

III

There comes a time when the fatigue slips into your soul. On one morning, a morning in the hundreds, when the sun rose, I cried. Light was not a precious thing, it was not a beautiful thing. I cried because it was just a thing in amongst all the other things. I cried because life meant nothing. I cried because I was dying. And, in dying, I'd never felt so alive.

"So, Sierra." He said, smiling as he drew up to my side. "Do you plan on drowning again today?"

It was a joke, for he knew I had to leave. Every day, I always had to leave. Every wonder of a drowning sea could only be experienced within such a limited time span. Twenty four hours, just one bite at a time. The irony was, I only wanted a taste of the land where I belonged. I cared not for mermaids and dolphins. I wanted Marcus and I wanted home.

He sat down at my side, our toes curling in the cool sand, and we watched the sunrise. It tugged at me painfully. I did not want to see beauty. I wanted to see agony and hear the screams. A land like this had no right to anything beautiful.

But water killed snidely. Water killed in the gentlest, cruellest of fashions. No one could scream when the ocean filled their lungs.

"No." I sighed and felt the tears prickle on my cheeks.

He was new, he could joke. But I was old, I could not.

"We could drown together." He said, hopefully.

I forced my aching body to turn and, reluctantly, I looked at him. He was beautiful too. And it wasn't fair. His blonde hair curled around his ears, hardly even damp, and I could almost have sworn I saw a pinkness in his cheeks.

Over the years he would lose it all.

"Only crews and twins die together." I said.

"And lovers."

Lovers died more alone and broken than any other.

I said nothing.

He was, I decided, more beautiful than the sunrise. He was more beautiful than the sunrise and he was more beautiful than the sand. He was far superior to the sky and the beach and all of the pointless nothing in between. Even his jokes made him beautiful.

I had been able to joke once. But then, eventually his jokes would fall to the depths, along with mine. His luscious curls would become frayed and delicate, the strands would snap, the salt cake his skull. Those cheeks - so nearly pink now - would sink into the hollows of his jaw. He would become clammy and pale; not like the delicate alabaster of his current complexion, but like my sticky purple. Or he would become bloated and blue, a drifting corpse. Those eyes, that sparkled with youth and hope, would swell in his forehead, straining against the pockets of his skull.

Bone was the only thing that never succumbed to the water. But the salt and the fish would pluck him clean.

I wondered if my bones would continue to think, long after I was gone.

I wondered if, many millennia from now, the tides would slowly bring my remains and Marcus together. I wondered if, in the ebb and flow, I would finally find the life I needed to save.

But there were no tides beneath a Drowning Sea.

His fingers met mine. I flinched.

"Sierra." He whispered and I sensed the wrong kind of longing.

"We have not got much longer." I said, casting my eyes back out to the sunrise above a drowning sea.

"We can await the tide together." He said. He spoke as though his will was fact.

I sighed. How could the young get it so wrong? There was no will, beneath a drowning sea, and there was no fact.

Oh, the waves would crawl up the beach, slowly and surely, and it would seem like the tide. But it was not. I almost wanted to laugh but if I did, I would begin to cry properly. It was not the tide, it was just the sea remembering to claim her own.

He went for my fingers again and the injection of adrenalin disrupted my delicate equilibrium. I coughed. The liquid in my chest swelled and I forced it out of my throat and onto the sand. A tiny puddle of death.

I sighed as the waves washed around my ankles, returning the prodigal pool to where it, and I, belonged.

"Are you never lonely?" He asked.

"Everyone is lonely." I replied, my bland tone testimony to my bland soul.

I ignored him as he showered me with pity. I would forgive him his ignorance. It took time for the young to learn and there was little enough of that here.

"How did you get this way?" He asked. "We are in the most amazing world. A world where magic and mystery are true. A world that's not a single place but a Christmas cake of a hundred different imaginations. But you're so quiet. You look out to sea and you cry. You talk to me like we're already cursed."

"Why do you speak to me then?" I asked, wishing he would stop.

He shrugged and wrapped his beautiful hands around his beautiful knees.

"You tell me we're dying." He said. "And they always said the last moments of life are the most potent."

"Toxic." I corrected. "When your last moments stretch out until infinity, potency and toxicity combine."

"Next you're going to tell me you don't believe in love."

The Spinster rustled the trees behind us. It was a lazy sound and it almost lulled me into dreaming. This beach was only small but its bone white sands and its pristine expanse would have been fascinating to any that were selfless enough to care. Sifting my hands through the topmost layer, I thumbed the grains thoughtfully, allowing a wan smile to cross my lips.

Oh, I believed in love.

The waves made a gentle hiss as they clawed at the shore, clawed at my sanity. This farce of a tide was drawing closer. But today, in an act of defiance and sweet decadence, I knew I would wait it out. This drowning sea could come and get me.

And, for the first time, I decided to tell the story from the beginning.

x

Before that first moment, the moment that would inevitably lead to my slow death, I had known only two things of love:

Love was a phenomenon that occurred at first sight.

And yet it was blind.

And so, that day, instead of learning more lessons, I shortened my list. Love at first sight did not exist.

But there was something else, something about Marcus that could not be described. From the first moment my feet drew me to into the circle of his presence, I knew that he existed on a plane that intersected my own.

He never even saw me that day.

And it did not matter. Not to me.

I passed him as he sat on a bench and read. No one read at school - it was almost unheard of, a social suicide. Even I, awkward as I was, had more sense than that.

It was an occurrence that deserved intimate mockery. It deserved hidden whispers and secret giggles. More than anything, I wanted to give him the punishment he deserved. But I could not.

And it was not his image that stopped me. It was not the short waves of chocolate as his locks swept across his bowed head. It was not his hunched shoulders or the long, masculine fingers that gripped his novel with an odd intensity. It was, and even then I could not deny it, the feel of him. It was the chemistry, the spark, the click. I looked at him, glaring angrily at whatever injustice had been dealt to the characters he obviously loved. Though I wanted to laugh at what was a pitiful display of actual emotion, I could not. What a faux pas it was, to actually care about something in this dog-eat-dog school ground. And yet, there and then, I loved him for it.

In a way, I hated myself a little. I was an embarrassment and I should have made more of an effort to disguise the fact that I, too, might feel emotion. Popularity knew only alcohol and lust and I did not want to be the kind of scum that fell in love or thought about the lives of others.

So I turned. And I walked away.

And, for a year or more, I never saw him but for my memories and the secret guilt of my attraction.

To lose a face, a heart, a life

Beneath a Drowning Sea