Posted on 2 Comments

Book Review: Roof Toppers

I came across this book via a discussion on Mad Tea Book Club’s Twitter account. We were talking about our favorite women authors. Mine is Diana Wynne Jones – I’m a huge fan of her character Sophie Hatter from Howls’ Moving Castle. From that thread, someone introduced me to Katherine Rundell, whose book Roof Toppers was inspired by Sophie Hatter herself.

In fact, Roof Toppers’ heroine is even named Sophie. Baby Sophie was found floating in a cello case wrapped in Beethoven symphony music sheets to keep her warm. Charles, an English gentleman who was aboard that ship, found her and decided to take care of this baby. Sophie grows up most unconventionally but was as loved as any child can be loved. Yet, she has a deep longing for her mother, whom she believed must be a cellist, and must still be alive all this time.

No one believed Sophie because at that time women did not play the cello. Women could not be professional musicians. Thank goodness we’ve come quite some way with this regard eh! Back to Sophie…

Mother Hunt

She finds a clue that the cello case was made in France, and so Charles goes with her to Paris on a “mother hunt”. It is here in Paris that Sophie meets Matteo and the other roof toppers. They are orphans who do not wish to live in orphanages. Instead, they choose to live free on the rooftops of Paris. They learn skills like climbing impossibly high trees, running and jumping from roof to roof, hunting birds to feed themselves, and swimming in the Seine for coins whenever they need some money!

“Do not mess with a mother hunter. Do not mess with roof toppers. Do not underestimate children, do not underestimate girls.”

Sophie, the rooftoppers

Will Sophie find her mother? And what happens to Charles, if indeed Sophie’s wishes are true?

This middle grade fantasy book is an enjoyable quick read with a definite emotional punch. In her Goodreads page, the author hints that she would like to revisit this world. When she does, I’ll be reading it too!

Posted on Leave a comment

Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

What a FUN read. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite movies and piracy, in general, is a fantasy genre I’m quite besotted with, so when I came across Daughter of the Pirate King duology on booktok (tiktok accounts which focuses on books), it went to the top of my To-Be-Read. Spoiler Alerts – a whole ship of them!

Synopsis

Princess Alossa is the daughter of the fearful pirate king. She was trained personally in the art of fighting, swordsmanship, and general pirate behavior directly by her father. Her body bears the physical scars. Yet, the result is she is one of the best pirates alive. She captains her own ship named the Ava-Lee, whose crew are mainly women pirates with various abilities. Captain Alossa is beloved by her crew and in turn she does everything she can to protect them.

In the first book, she is sent on a mission to retrieve a part of a hidden map which leads to a legendary treasure trove guarded heavily by sirens. Sirens are underwater she-creatures that sing to men, sleep with them underwater, then drown them and steal their treasure). Along the journey, we find out that Alossa is so strong because her mother was the Queen of the Sirens.

The second book goes into her relationship with her mother and finding out terrible truths about her father. Together with her crewmates and the sirens, Alossa leads a battle to begin the new era- the era of the Pirate Queen.

Romance

Oh yes, there is romance alright. Riden, the ridiculously attractive first mate just keeps distracting Alossa…until she realizes that their feelings and relationship is precisely what she needs to balance her human nature and her dangerous siren nature.

What I like best about how Tricia Levenseller presents the romance is how empowered the women’s roles are. These women pirates kick ass – or rather, slit throats – and are deadly, powerful fighters. They don’t let guys mess with them, and the only guys accepted onboard the ones that respect the women and are not insecure about their own abilities.

Men who are insecure of their abilities usually end up emotionally abusing their partners. I mean, the Alossa’s father is the perfect example! Let’s just say I’m glad the Siren Queen (Alossa’s mother) got her revenge in the end.

Do I fantasize about being a pirate on board the Ava-lee? You bet. Five stars for the duology.

Posted on Leave a comment

Creating Nisha Characters’ Looks

One of the intriguing behind-the-scenes process of the Sacred Rituals (Nisha sequel) cover is the back and forth discussion I had via WhatsApp with Inez. We were trying to create Nisha characters’ looks. From the first cover, we were quite clear on what Nisha would look like. But what about the others? And what kind of clothes did they wear? What would the look on their faces be?

Creating Nisha’s Look

Going back to the first cover, I knew I wanted Nisha to be South Asian or Northern Indian looking. Think Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai with her gorgeous features, but more warrior like instead of ladylike. The tricky thing was working out how her robe would look like. I found myself seeking inspiration from Kashmiri style clothes and scarves. That’s how her scarf came about. The scarf design and pattern became a theme going into the cover of Sacred Rituals.

Creating Saad’s Look

Saad’s character growth really gets quite developed in Sacred Rituals. He wasn’t just a sidekick anymore, it’s clear he now has a vital role in the plot. I was inspired by a friend of mine from Sri Lanka. This friend is dark-skinned, quiet, but very perceptive and smart. He’s the type that is soft spoken but tough. In real life, he leads many private sector investments in Sri Lanka and leads forward thinking high impact business initiatives. People like this are somehow always wearing glasses! LOL.

Creating Faris’ Look

As for Faris’ look, I had in mind a friend of mine from Spain. He’s extremely bright, and very handsome. It’s interesting that I took the name from my Sri Lankan friend Faris Fausz though. Another fascinating point is that you will notice Faris’ character is a bit ambiguous throughout. Whose side is he really on? You’ll have to find out by reading it yourself, but that mysterious feel was also inspired by this friend.

To get some more backstory behind other Nisha characters’ looks (especially the Aklumites!), subscribe to my newsletter. Support our work by purchasing at the shop, along with the first book: Nisha.

Posted on Leave a comment

Nisha Sequel Is Here!

And finally, after getting carpal tunnel syndrome, after going to Labuan Bajo, after producing a musical…the sequel to my fantasy trilogy Nisha is released.

I would like to thank Cung for putting up with me everyday, Chriswan my editor who completely believes in Nisha’s Universe and is always doing what he can to make it more believable, and all the book reviewers, bookstagrammers, book podcasters out there who read and reviewed my books. A special shout out to Krisandryka and Sherry, my Mad Tea Book Club co-founders. Last but not least, the gorgeous illustrations came from the hand and head of Inez Wandita.

Without further ado…. Sacred Rituals by Airin Efferin.

Support me by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the shop! Please send me your thoughts, feedbacks, and honest reviews. For a sneak peek and a view of the Nisha Universe Map fresh off the cartographer’s desks, visit here.

Happy reading!

Posted on Leave a comment

Scenes from Faris’ Childhood, part 2

Song of the Gatum Forest

Faris had known for a while that Mama was sick. The sicker she got, the more obsessed she was about recording all her knowledge about the Outer Magics. When she became too weak to write, she dictated it to Faris, who sat next to her, writing day and night. Scrolls lay everywhere inside their home.

One afternoon she finally seemed satisfied with what they had recorded. She asked Baba and Faris to take her outside. She sat on her rocking chair by the Gatum trees and listened to them.

“They are singing. Their songs give me courage,” she said. By now Faris was able to understand bits and pieces of their speech, especially when they were rustling together. Sometimes they would each veer off in different directions and sound patterns. But he’d never heard them sing until now.

“Do they give you courage to fight the sickness, Mama?” Faris asked her with much hope.

“No, my dear one. They are giving me the courage to … move beyond.” Mama answered softly. She kissed Faris on the forehead, and then took Baba’s hand. He was openly crying, tears streaming silently down his face. Faris looked up to see how the branches seemed to be moving together, dancing against the backdrop of the clear blue sky. He listened harder, and thought he could make out the shape of their song. The dancing of the branches were connected to the song, he realized.

Mama hummed along, her voice smaller and smaller, until her notes merged in complete harmony with the trees’.

Forgotten

That very night they buried her body in the forest. Baba asked Faris to stay up all night, to watch and listen closely. He was going to perform the Ritual. Faris had never seen the Ritual before. He watched with slight fear, for he knew it was difficult magic. Baba hummed a series of low notes while executing gestures with his hands and body. He did this repeatedly, until the Forest seemed to echo his song, and the branches joined in his slow dance. Faris watched until his eyelids became too heavy, for this lasted all night. At dawn, his father woke him up.

“It is complete, son. Let’s go back inside and get some food for both of us,” Baba said as he took Faris’ hand. Rubbing his eyes, Faris looked at Mama’s grave. He gasped, for there he saw a small seedling of a Gatum tree. The Ritual had worked. Now the tree would grow.

The next couple of years unfolded in peaceful routine for the young wizard and his Father. In the day Baba taught him the speech, music, and dances of the Forest. In the evening Faris pored over his mother’s scrolls, reading and practicing while Baba wrote down his own scrolls. The Forest fed them what they needed.

When Faris finally began to understand the Forest and its speech, Baba taught him the Ritual. In the days that followed, they did nothing but focus on the rhythm and steps of the Ritual. It was taxing, and often took much of Faris’ energy so that he would be feverish the next day.

One afternoon, a messenger came to visit. He was riding a well-kept horse while ponying another horse. They both looked like they belonged to the Crown. The royal messenger handed a sealed letter to Baba. It was a message from King Chet, informing the wizard that Queen Anvi’s Barrier had fallen, and she was entrapped in a life-threatening situation.

“The time has come, son,” Baba said gravely. “King Chet begs me to help at our borders. The situation is dire. I expect to be gone for a couple of months, but I am not sure.”

“I will come with you, Baba,” Faris quickly responded. “I am ready.”

“No, you are not.” Baba put his strong hand on Faris shoulder. “Not until you master the Ritual. You must learn by yourself, the Forest will guide you.”

Faris started to object, but Baba looked straight into his eyes.

“The risk is too high if our Ritual is lost and forgotten. When you have mastered it, send a letter by the birds, and I will send a horse for you. I promise.”

Faris mastered the steps and the songs by heart, working day and night fervently. He sent a bird with his message, and waited. He waited several days, for a horse which never came. Weeks later it was the bird that returned, with a letter from the King. Baba had fought heroically with the other soldiers. But there were too many bodies. The King gave them all a proper heroes’ burning, and scattered the ashes on the hills of the borders.

Without Baba’s body, Faris could not perform the Ritual, no matter how many nights he tried. There would be no tree for Baba. The Gatum Forest would forget that this Wizard ever existed.


These scenes are part of the prologue to Sacred Rituals: the sequel to Nisha. Nisha is a coming of age fantasy novella which I wrote. You can purchase Nisha at the my shop. To see Nisha reviews and ratings, visit Goodreads.

Sacred Rituals is now available for purchase at the shop!

Posted on Leave a comment

Scenes from Faris’ Childhood, part 1

One of Baba’s Lessons

“Baba, I can’t hear anything,” young Faris said to his father. “I mean, I can hear sounds but I don’t understand what it means.”

“Well, that’s a start,” Baba replied in his deep voice. “It takes time, and practice, of course. Be patient with yourself, but not too patient. It is good to acknowledge you can hear them, but that you do not understand. These trees are perhaps twenty or thirty years old. They are mere buds, and also still learning. Even I can barely understand them.”

“Young like me?” The boy’s eyes lit up. “Can we be friends? I wish I had siblings.”

“You can be friends, which is why I introduced them to you, and you to them. Understand their speech, and their colony will be your friends for life. They are truer than any siblings humans can have.”

“But if I move about, if I go work for the King, then we would be far away. I won’t be able to hear them, and I’d just be lonely again,” Faris said sadly.

Baba picked him up easily. The young boy’s hands reached up for a branch closest to him. Baba let go of Faris, and the boy swung from the branches, struggling not to fall to the ground. He shifted his weight this way and that, so that his feet were resting on the trunk of the Gatum tree. Faris again heard sounds he could not understand. It was coming from the tree he was holding on to. The sound rippled and echoed to the other Gatum trees surrounding them. Faris looked at Baba in wonderment.

“Once you learn their speech, son, you will never be alone. Not as long as there is still a Gatum tree in this land. Come, your mother is waiting for us.”

One of Mama’s Lessons

“Which elephants today, Mama?” Faris asked his mother.

“We’ll work with two different ones today. Take that big stone one, and the smaller white one,” Mama answered as she cleared their table. Her lessons these past few weeks were always held inside their home, on the dinner table. When she was not teaching Faris, she would be sitting there, writing their pedagogical methods on scroll after scroll.

Faris opened a large cupboard which had rows and rows of carved elephants, from some as small as his thumbnail to the stone one as big as a coconut. It stood by itself on the bottom rack, too heavy to be placed on the higher racks. He glanced at his mother. She was still rolling up the last of the scrolls, hunched over to make small notes.

“Mama, I can lift the stone one only a little. It’s too heavy. I can’t bring it to the table.” Faris reminded his mother.

“Of course! How silly of me!” She exclaimed. From where she was standing, she made a small gesture with her hand, and the stone elephant lifted itself out of the cupboard. It glided across the room and landed on the table with a soft thud. Faris tried to imitate his mother’s hand gesture, but the stone elephant did not move again. He gave a small sigh. Turning back to the cupboard, he spotted the other elephant he was to work on today. The white elephant was much smaller, but it was behind rows of colorful wooden elephants.

He tried the gesture again, with his right hand. This time the white one lifted itself above the painted elephants and landed perfectly on his right palm. He smiled. He could lift the smaller ones.

“I saw that,” Mama laughed. “Bring it here, and we’ll practice lifting both elephants.”

Faris walked towards her with the white elephant in his hand. He felt a soft heat pulsing from the little carving.

“Mama, what is this made of?” He asked as he carefully put it on the table next to its bigger sibling. “It feels different than the wooden ones we’ve been working with. It’s more … warm, I think?”

Mama smiled, her eyes twinkling with pleasure. “I’m so proud you noticed the difference straight away! This one is carved from bone. Elephant bone. It’s extremely precious and hard to come by. Since it’s made from an actual elephant, it responds more readily o your attempts.”

Faris practiced with the bone elephant until it could move its trunk up and down, but that day he still made no progress with the stone one.

“You’ll get it soon. Stone materials are tricky,” Mama said, even as she made the stone elephant wrap and unwrap its trunk gently around a scroll.


These scenes are part of the prologue to Sacred Rituals: the sequel to Nisha. Nisha is a coming of age fantasy novella which I wrote. You can support my writing and purchase Nisha and Sacred Rituals at the my shop. To see Nisha reviews and ratings, visit Goodreads.

Posted on Leave a comment

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Wow. The reviews on Goodreads for The Priory of the Orange Tree were stellar, and let me tell you they’re true! It is like the feminist version of Game of Thrones, while not half as gory nor as sexual. After a while, I was so disappointed in GoT because it was pages after pages of fights, sex, or food. I get it, real life is like that, but that’s not why I escape to books! Spoilers alert readers!

An Epic Which Breaks Traditions

The Priory of the Orange Tree reminded me why I escape to books when reality gets TOO MUCH. It’s an epic fantasy with a social structure that’s gender-equal. There are as many women rules as men (if not more), and plenty of skilled mages, sorcerers, witches, and straight-up female warriors. By warriors, I mean DRAGON RIDERS. Sounds good so far? It gets better.

“I was only observing how the fiercest of warriors can hide behind such gentle faces.”

Queen Sabran the Ninth is the last of her line, being unable to produce an heir for the queendom of Inys. Not only that, she finds out that the whole religion upon which her heritage was built was a lie. Her ancestor twisted and manipulated facts to benefit himself. No surprise there, this is just Politics 101. But what the author Samantha Shannen does that is SO COOL is she gets Queen Sabran to accept the hard facts and to DENOUNCE her religion. At the very end of the book, after everything is said and done, Queen Sabran will not only abdicate but will also change the whole structure of her queendom’s monarchy and beliefs. She plans to do this in 10 years, after which she will retire to be with her beloved Ead Duryan.

A Better World

Do you know who this reminds me of? This reminds me of George Washington. YEP. The founding father of the United States of America did not run for the presidency a third term. Instead, he purposefully stated that he wished to say goodbye and rest under the shade of his own tree. If more world leaders behaved like this, the world would be a much better place eh?

In addition to all of the groundbreaking and earth-shattering, the characters of The Priory of the Orange Tree are so REALISTIC. From the mage Ead Duryan, the dragon rider Tane, the alchemist Doctor Roos, and of course Queen Sabran herself are so three-dimensional. They all have fears, guilts, ambition, selfishness, strength, love, and solid character growth arcs. They all seem like people you would run across in your daily life, with their concerns and hopes. This makes you sympathize easily with all the different viewpoints, although some of them are in direct contrast from each other.

At the heart of this book is open-mindedness. Thinking with courage, accepting that which is different, and learning to work together despite the frameworks of distrust which has been passed on from generation to generation. It kind of reminds me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

Five Stars.

Posted on 3 Comments

Nisha Universe Map

MY OH MY!!! Dear readers finally, after several revisions and going back and forth with the Inez the illustrator, Chriswan the editor, and my dear husband Cung who loves looking at maps, THE NISHA UNIVERSE MAP IS HERE!

This was prepared as a complimentary document for Sacred Rituals (Nisha Sequel). Support my writing by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the shop! As always, if you are a reviewer and would like to make an honest review, I am happy to send the book for free. Just send me a message.

The map becomes an important source of information because the sequel sees our characters expanding in the locations of their adventures. The geography of the kingdom starts to play a more vital part in understanding the plot, so I decided it was time to bring out the cartographers.

Without further ado, THE MAP.

I am so pleased with how it turned out! I hope you are too. Now, for some bonus material…a snippet of the sequel. Yes. It’s happening. Wait for the whole thing, July1st!!!


Snippet of the Sacred Rituals

“Let’s rest our horses here for the night,” Mares pointed out to Saad an opening in the forest, off the side of the dirt road. There was a small stream nearby, perfect for the horses to drink from. 

“We have travelled far in the two days since we left the Border. We will arrive before tomorrow evening. It is a farther distance from the highlands where the King will be coming from. Our party is likely to arrive before them.”

Saad nodded, and they dismounted from their tired horses. 

Thank you, he spoke as he patted the steed’s head gratefully. Though the horse could not reply, Saad knew that she appreciated his gesture. 

Saad thought he would have much-preferred flying, for it was faster and more exciting. But there was no way for him to change back into his human form when they arrived. He could not transform by himself, he needed the help both an Outer Movement and an Inner Movement magician. This was something else he found out during his time at the Border. It appeared his magic could not stand on its own, but rather it served to link up, amplify, or temper the movements. For when he managed to connect the movements, the outcome was astonishing.

Perhaps he should not have left them, Saad thought, regretting his decision to go. What was he hoping to accomplish without Faris and Nisha? Saad quickly shook his head. This would not do. He left on his own choice to seek his people. Yet deep down he was missing Faris and Nisha too much. 

Mares was an adept guide, but not the best company, nor much of a chatter. During their resting times, the soldier largely watched Saad silently without offering any conversation. On occasion, he would take out his knives and sharpen them. This evening, after eating the bread and dried fruit General Char insisted them to take, Mares took out some pistols and examined the weapon with much care. 

Saad did not feel the soldier would like to be interrupted, so he simply laid down, staring up at the stars that peeked out from the top of the leaves. He tried to count how many there were but always drifted off before he could finish. The past two nights he dreamed of the fortress at the border, Nisha, and always the green eyes of Faris. But this night he dreamed of the ocean, of stars falling into them, and of a young dark-skinned woman carrying a baby. 


Subscribe to my newsletter to get sneak peek updates of future books, musical projects, and more! You can also support my writing by purchasing the first book at my shop.

Posted on Leave a comment

Series Review: Shadow and Bone

The first season of Netflix Shadow and Bone, based on the trilogy by Leigh Bardugo has so many great things going for it. Warning: this review has tons of spoilers. With that, let’s unpack!

Worldbuilding

Fantastic! Plenty of lush scenes that will get you to buy in on this exquisite universe. Equipped with religious tie-ins, social strata, and historical tidbits, the Grishaverse appears solidly in front of the watchers. Costumes are fabulous, with special shout out to Alina’s various outfits: cartographer, Sun Summoner, saint / goddess-to-be, and runaway. Your eyes will be spoiled with summoning of the powers of the Grisha – some really cool visual effects happening there.

Casting and Characters

Jessie Mei Li gives just the right amount of vulnerability to Alina Starkov, the seemingly average girl who turns out to be able to summon light. This makes Alina one of the most powerful and coveted being in the world. That kind of rags to riches (in this case sainthood) hysterical contrast was portrayed convincingly. Archie Renaux as Mal Oretsev-Alina’s childhood friend and the tracker who finds the legendary stag is so charming! I have to say though, he was overshadowed (ha!) by Ben Barnes’ General Kirrigan, who has the power to call shadows and darkness.

I’ve heard that the love triangle between Alina Starkov, Mal, and the Darkling was a big thing in the books. In the Netflix series it was quite clear that Alina and Mal were head over heels for each other. The Darkling didn’t really have a chance.

The crows: Kaz, Inej, and Jesper

The crows: Kaz, Inej, and Jesper played by Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young? They steal the show. Honestly. This hilarious slash absolutely serious bunch of criminal masterminds will take your heart away from you, and then demand for you to pay an arm and a leg to get it back. Inej the Suli assassin who has all the knives and the skills (yet hesitate before taking a life!) is actually my favorite character in this whole series. What a gal. I mean, the moment when she stitches the wound on her own stomach because Kaz and Jesper were too queasy to do it? That’s girl power for you.

Plot

There seems to be 3 separate storylines happening, which can get confusing and is a lot of information to throw onto the watcher. That said, it motivated me to read the original trilogy. I’m still digesting my thoughts, and the book reviews will be up soon, but I think the Netflix version is making the plot much more interesting by combining the storylines.

With only 8 episodes, I finished Shadow and Bone in 2 days. I even re-watched the whole season LOL. Definitely a recommended series for lovers of fantasy. Oh, and the eerie soundtrack by composer Joseph Trapanese is a really nice touch.

If you like series like this, you might also enjoy His Dark Materials (HBO).

Posted on 1 Comment

Stargazing, A Lunar Chronicles Fan Fiction

Fandom: Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Characters: Cinder & Kai, Scarlet & Wolf, Cress & Thorne, Winter & Jacin, and the android Iko.

Time: Set some time after the events in Something Old, Something New (Stars Above) by Marissa Meyer

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters. This fanfic contains spoilers to all the books!!!

Our favorite characters take a vacation to the exotic Lesser Sunda Islands on a liveaboard.

Part 1 of 2.


“Not fair. Everyone gets to dive but us,” Iko complained to Cinder, looking at the crystal clear waters with longing in her eyes. Her droid body was not waterproof, so it was out of the question for her to go scuba diving. Cinder, a cyborg with a steel hand, foot, and computer implants in her brain, faced the same predicament. Cinder wasn’t bothered though. She was still traumatized over the time when she jumped off the Lunar palace into the river. Although it was an artificial river, that jump nearly destroyed significant robotic parts of her body.

“Why don’t you go flirt with the Captain?” Cinder winked at Iko. “He seems like your type.”

Iko flashed Cinder a naughty smile and headed towards the upper deck of the Rafida Adventure boat. They were all on this liveaboard for one glorious week, together with a team of local Earthen boat crew, guide, and their cute Captain. For once Thorne, the Captain of the Rampion spaceship, was calling someone else “Captain.”

Cinder’s retina scanner gave her information on the water currents, temperature, visibility, and estimation of how long everyone else would be under the water. It would be roughly 30 minutes since they were all newbies to scuba diving. Well except Wolf, who due to his genetic modification was an excellent swimmer and could handle the water conditions much longer than everyone else. But even he couldn’t stay down there just by himself.

You always need to dive with a buddy, their dive guide had reminded them during the dive briefing. Stay close to your buddy. Take care of each other. Cinder smiled. Wolf and Scarlet didn’t need a reminder to look out for each other. They did that all the time whether on land, flying over the galaxy in a spaceship, overthrowing an evil Queen on the moon. No doubt they would watch over each other under the ocean.

It was Kai she was worried about. He could swim, but he was the Emperor. She imagined the panic everyone would be in if something happened to him. Torin, his advisor, insisted on a personal bodyguard joining the liveaboard to ensure the young Emperor’s safety. This bodyguard could also swim and was an experienced divemaster. He was assigned as Kai’s buddy during the dives.

Cinder drove unnecessary fears away from her mind. They would be fine, she told herself. Andre, the bodyguard, was experienced. He knew what he was doing. She went into the ship’s engine room to distract herself. Linh Cinder, in addition to being a Lunar and a cyborg, was also a talented mechanic. Her experience revolved around androids and spaceships, but never with well, actual ocean ships.

It was fascinating. The Rafida Adventure was a phinisi – a type of ship originating from the year 1906 of the Second Era of Earth. It was found in an archipelago nation once known as Indonesia. Now, in the Third Era, all the islands are part of the Eastern Commonwealth under the rule of Emperor Kaito.

Who was, at this moment, submerged underwater…Cinder again reminded herself that everyone would be fine. Her retina scanner confirmed that the statistics of accidents during scuba diving were very low. Sharks rarely attacked humans unless humans attacked them first. Plus they were only doing open water diving – only about 12 meters under the surface.

She pulled her attention back to studying the ship. It was originally crafted by master seafarers from the Bugis race, with multiple sails and soaring masts that gracefully parted the waves. Now though, they came with serious engines to increase speed. Not to mention power for air conditioners, refrigerators, scuba diving oxygen tanks, and even charging stations for androids.

The crazy idea for a reunion on this liveaboard came from Cress. Several months ago she made a trip to the exotic island of Flores with Thorne on the spaceship Rampion. They were delivering antidotes for a recent letumosis plague outbreak. Cress spent 7 years as a prisoner inside a satellite orbiting Earth when Queen Levana was still alive. After Cinder dethroned the evil Levana, Cress resolved to see more of the world – as much of the world as possible. Thorne was right there with the Rampion to support all her travel itches.

When Cress saw the phinisi ships harboring in the Flores port, she decided it was the next experience she wanted to try. And what better idea than to have all your best friends join on the adventure!

They all needed the break, but especially Cinder and Kaito. Since Cinder became Queen of Luna, her first act was to sign the Treaty of Bremen to ensure peace between Earthen Union and Luna. Her next act was to dissolve her own monarchy, paving the way to a republic governmental system on the moon. After her abdication, she was now a Lunar Ambassador in a relationship with Kaito, the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth.

This was their first vacation since they changed history. She decided that saving the world was pretty important, but saving your mind and body was just as important. Kai usually forgot this. He always worked so hard for his people, often neglecting the care of himself. Cinder hoped some ocean, fish, and sun would recharge his energy and spirits. She hoped at the very least he would get a tan after this trip was over.


Dinner that night was filled with talks of what they saw during their dives. Wolf layered all his food with the delicious sambal luat, a local spicy sauce made of small chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, and coriander leaves. Poor Iko could barely contain her envy because she could not taste the food, nor join the dives.

Scarlet thought the luat would be even more delicious if it was made with tomatoes from her farm, but then again she was biased. The farm was her grandmother’s farm, passed on to Scarlet after the old lady died a tragic death. In fact, Scarlet’s grandmother was tortured by Queen Levana’s genetically modified wolven armies. The very same army which Wolf was a part of, but had been able to break away from. The very same army which Winter later convinced to fight on their side.

“None of my hallucinations could compare to what was happening down there,” Winter stated happily. “The corals, the sharks, and even all the tiny crazy-looking creatures! Everything is wilder under the ocean. My scary visions seem tame in comparison.”

Jacin patted her head lovingly. “Then we’ll dive more. We can even take the deep-diving specialty and explore other wonders hiding in the blue.”

“Oh, can we! I’d love to join!” Cress bubbled in excitement. “I’ve heard of dive sites which are quite difficult to access but have marvels beyond marvels. The ocean itself is a wonder – it’s a galaxy all of its own!”

Everyone had to nod in agreement. Cinder traded jealous looks with Iko. Life was not fair. Not fair at all. The cyborg felt a soft hand take her right hand-her human hand and squeezed it lightly. It was Kai, trying to make her feel better. He’s the best, Cinder thought.

“How was your day?” he asked her quietly.

“Honestly? A bit boring up here waiting for everyone,” Cinder shrugged. “I did take a good look at the engine rooms though. The machines are fascinating.” She played with Kai’s fingers, a gesture they both enjoyed.

“But I’m glad you all had a great time. And that everyone surfaced safely.”

“I did. It was the best fun I’ve had in a while,” answered Kai, with a dreamy look on his face. He was remembering the gentle body of the giant manta ray, flying through the waters like an angel. “Oh and the turtles! Cinder, they were huge! I think I saw one as big as my body!”

Cinder laughed. She rarely saw this side of him, this face which was like a happy little boy. He usually had so many problems etched into his forehead. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

“I’m really happy for you. I’m glad we’re here.”

On her other side, Thorne rolled his eyes and was about to groan, but Scarlet shot him one of her silencing glares.

“By the way, did anyone notice all the trash?” asked Scarlet, frowning. “There was plastic stuff everywhere. Isn’t it supposed to be bad for the marine animals?”

“It’s bad for all of the underwater environment,” Iko piped up, glad that she could contribute to the conversation again. “My data is showing me that there are more than 200 million tons of plastic thrown in these waters every year.”

“Damn. Can you imagine if our neighbors were throwing trash at our farm, and we couldn’t get rid of it?” Scarlet turned to Wolf, shaking her head angrily.

“Better to get rid of our neighbors then,” he snarled in response.

“Take it easy there!” Thorne protested. He quickly hid the plastic water bottle which he was drinking from.

“You know, these islands are part of the Eastern Commonwealth…” said Kai slowly. “They’re so remote and away from the capital that they don’t usually get much attention. But I think I can look into something to help marine conservation around this area.”

Winter clapped in excitement. “That would be wonderful!”

Jacin, ever the realist, had to be the devil’s advocate. “It won’t be that easy. Top-down initiatives are never easy, especially this far away from the source of power. You would have to work very closely with locals here.”

Everyone turned towards the boat crew, who were hanging around behind them waiting to clear up their plates. They smiled innocently back at their guests.

“I bet I can make some kind of program…” muttered Cress to herself. “Some kind of game translated into the local language for the kids to learn about their oceans better.” She was already busy punching codes and ideas into her portscreen.

Cinder coughed loudly. “This is great everyone. I’m glad we’re thinking about this. But look it’s supposed to be a holiday, not a working visit. Let’s stick to the having fun plan and do our research and work later. We can always come again.”

“I wouldn’t mind parking the Rampion here for a month or two to analyze what we can do,” Thorne suggested. “Cress and I can easily keep you all updated.”

“My data feed is showing me that there are many traditional ways – local wisdom – from the old women in the society. I bet you can ask them for information and ideas,” added Iko.

“Correction: you’ll have to ask them. Everyone knows old women harbor the most knowledge,” Scarlet reminded the Emperor. No doubt she was thinking again of her grandmother.

“Great! It’s a plan.” Cinder stood up, taking pulling Kai with her. He obliged happily. “I’m sure Emperor Kai will follow through. But for now, how about letting the crew clean up and we do some stargazing.”

Continued to Part 2: Winter and the Komodo Dragon.


Endnotes

1. This is my first fanfiction! Feedback much appreciated.

2. The Rafida Adventure is an actual liveaboard that can take you to the Lesser Sunda Islands. If you ever want to book a trip with them, you can use my promo code : airinrafida2021 for a special discount!