TITLE: The Snow Lion
GENRE: MG Sci-Fi
Lena and her parents had left behind the vast fields of wheat, the rice paddies and endless citrus groves, where Grid-deaf Bhodi toiled with bent backs. They had passed the outer islands, dotted with villages and crowned with snow. Now at last, after six months away, their sail boat Florinal tacked across the wide bay that led into the heart of the City, closer with every puff of wind. Lena leaned out over the bow, her hair flying.
Houses and gardens, temples and shops gripped the rocky mountainsides, a brilliant tapestry in the late afternoon sunlight. Even at this distance she heard bells ringing and the rumble of wheels on the stone roads. Voices drifted across the water. On a dock, Grid workers unloaded bales of crimson silk from a barge and floated them effortlessly onto the back of a truck. Lena inhaled the aroma of spices and smoke and the rich, musky scent of human and animal life.
Lena looked back over her shoulder at her parents, but they weren’t looking at her. They were watching a black boat speeding toward them, slapping every wave, their faces expressionless. Lena studied the oncoming boat. Three men in orange tunics and black pants stood on the deck—King’s guards. It wasn’t a big secret that her parents hated the City guards. Lena did, too. Everyone did.
Now her parents were looking around casually as if they hadn’t even noticed the black ship and the guards. It cut close across their path, and her father flicked the rudder to put Florinal’s bow into its wake. As the King’s ship sped away, and Florinal rocked, his shoulders relaxed. Her mother allowed herself a quick grin. Left out of their silent exchange, Lena turned back to the front of the boat, annoyed, but she loved coming back to the City too much to stay mad.
The wind was now behind them. Lena let out the jib, and it billowed as if Florinal was pleased with herself for bringing them back. The white cliffs of Kushnay rose above her, laced with airy shops and tea gardens. Hot springs sent plumes of steam into the air. Lena watched bubbles rise from the sandy bottom until Florinal caught the current of the Blue Horn and turned south.
Minutes later they docked in their usual slip at Lindahl marina. Bags slung over their backs, they took the elevator to the top of the Netherine Cliffs. At the top, her parents pushed into the crowd, in a hurry, but Lena paused at a shop where little animal guardian charms were hanging–wind horses for luck, snow lions for joy, dragons for abundance, tigers for protection. She was stroking a little crystal snow lion, when an old woman in yellow robes grabbed her arm.
“The Dragon is coming again,” the old woman screamed into Lena's face. “He has been seen in the western skies. He is almost here.”
Her teeth were cracked and brown. Her breath stank. Lena tried to pull away but couldn’t break her grip.