Waterfall (Teardrop #2)

by Lauren Kate



The sky wept. Sorrow flooded the earth.

Starling opened her mouth to catch the raindrops falling through the hole in her cordon. The Seedbearer’s transparent sanctuary was pitched over the bonfire like a camper’s cozy tent. It sealed out the deluge, except for the small opening at the top meant to vent the fire’s smoke and admit a sample of the rain.

Drops dampened Starling’s tongue. They were salty.

She tasted ancient uprooted trees, oceans reclaiming land. She tasted black water on coastlines, gulfs engulfed. Withering wildflowers, parched highlands, everything salt-poisoned. A million rotting corpses.

Eureka’s tears had done this—and more.

Starling smacked her lips, probing the rain for something else. She closed her eyes and rolled the rain over her tongue like a sommelier sampling wine. She could not yet taste Atlantean spires interrupting sky. She could not taste the edges of Atlas, the Evil One.

This was good but confusing. Tears shed by the Tearline girl were meant to bring Atlantis back. Preventing those tears’ fall had been the Seedbearers’ single objective.

They had failed.

And what had happened? The flood was here, but where was its ruler? Eureka had brought the horse but not its rider. Had the Tearline swerved? Had something gone wrong in the right way?

Starling hunched over the fire and studied her nautical charts. Teardrops streamed down the cordon walls in sheets, accentuating the warmth and brightness of the citronella-scented space inside. If Starling had been someone else, she might have curled up with a mug of cocoa and a novel, let the rain lull her into another world.

If Starling had been someone else, old age would have killed her millennia ago.

It was midnight in the Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana. Starling had been waiting for the others since midday. She knew they would come, though they had not discussed this location. The girl had wept so suddenly. Her flood dispersed the Seedbearers along this vile new marsh, and there had been no time to plan their regrouping. But here was where it would happen.

Yesterday, before Eureka cried, this site had sat a hundred and fifty miles from the Gulf. Now it was a shard of disappearing coastline. The bayou—its banks, dirt roads, dance halls, twisting live oak trees, antebellum mansions, and pickup trucks—lay entombed in a sea of selfish tears.

And somewhere out there swam Ander, in love with the girl who’d done this. Resentment brewed inside Starling when she thought of the boy’s betrayal.

Beyond the flame’s glow, against the sideways rain, a shape emerged from the forest. Critias wore his cordon like a slicker, indiscernible to any but Seedbearer eyes. Starling thought he looked smaller. She knew what he was thinking:

What went wrong? Where is Atlas? Why are we still alive?

When he reached the edge of Starling’s cordon, Critias paused. Both of them braced for the rough blast that would signal their cordons joining.

The moment of their union struck like lightning. Starling crossed her arms to withstand the gale; Critias squeezed his eyes shut and struggled forward. Her hair waved like a cobweb against her scalp; his jowls flapped like flags.

Starling noted these unflattering aspects in Critias, saw him note the same in her. She reassured herself that Seedbearers aged only when they felt affection.

“Venice is no more,” Starling said as Critias warmed his hands before the fire. She had coordinated what her taste buds told her with her charts. “Most of Manhattan, all of the Gulf—”

“Wait for the others.” Critias nodded into the darkness. “They are here.”

Chora staggered toward them from the east, Albion from the west, the storm glancing off their cordons. They approached Starling’s cordon and stiffened, girding themselves for the unpleasant entry. When Starling’s cordon had absorbed them, Chora looked away and Starling knew her cousin didn’t want to risk feeling nostalgic or pathetic. She didn’t want to risk feeling. It was how she had lived for thousands of years, never looking or feeling older than mortal middle-aged.

“Starling is listing the fallen lands,” Critias said.

“It doesn’t matter.” Albion sat down. His silver hair was soaked, his neat gray suit now mud-stained and torn.

“A million deaths don’t matter?” Critias asked. “Didn’t you see her tears’ destruction on your journey here? You have always said we were the protectors of the Waking World.”

“What matters now is Atlas!”

Starling looked away, embarrassed by Albion’s outburst, though she shared his vexation. For thousands of years the Seedbearers had struggled to prevent the rise of an enemy they had never met in the flesh. Long had they suffered the projections of his terrible mind.

Imprisoned in the sunken realm of the Sleeping World, Atlas and his kingdom neither aged nor died. If Atlantis rose, its residents would be restored to life exactly as they had been when their island sank. Atlas would be a strapping man of twenty years, at the zenith of his youthful power. The Rising would make time begin again for him.

He would be free to pursue the Filling.

But until Atlantis rose, the only things stirring in the Sleeping World were dreaming, scheming, sickened minds. Over time Atlas’s mind had made many dark voyages into the Waking World. Whenever a girl met the conditions of the Tearline, Atlas’s mind worked to be near her, to draw tears from her eyes that would restore his reign. Right now he was inside the girl’s friend Brooks.

The Seedbearers were the only ones who recognized Atlas each time he possessed the body of a person close to the Tearline girl. Atlas had never succeeded—partly because the Seedbearers had murdered thirty-six Tearline girls before Atlas could provoke them into weeping. Still, each one of his visits brought his unique evil into the Waking World.

“We are all remembering the same dark things,” Albion said. “If Atlas’s mind has been this destructive inside other bodies, waging wars and murdering innocents, imagine his mind and body united, awake, and in our world. Imagine if he succeeds in the Filling.”

“So then,” Critias said, “where is he? What’s he waiting for?”

“I don’t know.” Albion tightened his fist over the fire until the smell of burning flesh alerted him to move it. “We were all there. We saw her cry!”

Starling thought back to that morning. When Eureka’s tears fell, her sorrow had seemed bottomless, as if it would never end. It had seemed that each tear shed would multiply the damage to the world tenfold—

“Wait,” she said. “Once the conditions of her prophecy were met, three tears needed to fall.”

“The girl was a blubbering mess.” Albion dismissed her. No one took Starling seriously. “Obviously, the three required tears were shed.”

“And then some.” Chora looked up at the rain.

Critias scratched the silver stubble on his chin. “Are we sure?”

There was a pause, and a burst of thunder. Rain spat through the cordon’s hole.

“One tear to shatter the Waking World’s skin.” Critias softly sang the line from the Chronicles, passed down by their fore-father Leander. “That’s the tear that would have started the flood.”

“A second to seep through Earth’s roots within.” Starling could taste the spreading of the seafloor. She knew the second tear had been shed.

But what about the third, the most essential tear?

“A third to awaken the Sleeping World and let old kingdoms rebegin,” four Seedbearers said in unison. That was the tear that mattered. That was the tear that would bring Atlas back.

Starling glanced at the others. “Did the third tear fall to Earth or didn’t it?”

“Something must have caught it,” Albion muttered. “Her thunderstone, her hands—”

“Ander.” Critias cut him off.

Albion’s voice was high with nerves. “Even if he did think to catch it, he wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

“He is with her now, not us,” Chora said. “If the third tear was shed and captured, the boy controls its destiny. Ander doesn’t know the Tearline is tied to a lunar cycle. He won’t be prepared for Atlas, who will stop at nothing to get the third tear before the next full moon—”

“Starling,” Albion said sharply. “Where has the wind taken Ander and Eureka?”

Starling drew in her tongue, chewed and swallowed, belched softly. “She is shielded by the stone. I can barely taste her, but I believe Ander travels east.”

“It is obvious where he has gone,” Chora said, “and whom he has gone looking for. Outside of the four of us, only one knows the answers Ander and Eureka seek.”

Albion glowered into the fire. When he exhaled, the blaze doubled in size.

“Forgive me.” He took a measured inhale to tame the fire. “When I think of Solon …” He bared his teeth, stifled something nasty. “I am fine.”

Starling had not heard the name of the lost Seedbearer spoken in many years.

“But Solon is lost,” she said. “Albion searched and could not find him—”

“Perhaps Ander will look harder,” Critias said.

Albion grasped Critias by the neck, lifted him off his feet, and held him over the fire. “Do you think I have not been looking for Solon since the moment he fled? I would age another century in exchange for finding him.”

Critias kicked air. Albion freed him. They straightened their clothes.

“Calm, Albion,” Chora said. “Do not succumb to old rivalries. Ander and Eureka must come up for air sometime. Starling will discern their location.”

“The question is,” Critias said, “will Atlas discern their location first? In the body of Brooks, he will have ways to draw her out.”

Lightning flashed around the cordon. Water lapped the Seedbearers’ ankles.

“We must find some way to take advantage.” Albion glared into the fire. “Nothing is as powerful as her tears. Ander cannot be the one in possession of such power. He is not like us.”

“We must focus on what we know,” Chora said. “We know Ander has told Eureka that if one Seedbearer dies, all Seedbearers die.”

Starling nodded; this was the truth.

“We know he is protecting her from us using our artemisia, which would exterminate all of us if any of us were to inhale it.” Chora strummed her lips with her fingers. “Eureka won’t use the artemisia. She loves Ander too much to kill him.”

“Today she loves him,” Critias said. “Name one thing more mercurial than a teenage girl’s emotions.”

“She loves him.” Starling puckered her lips. “They are in love. I taste it on the wind around this rain.”

“Good,” Chora said.

“How can love be good?” Starling was surprised.

“One must love to have one’s heart broken. Heartbreak causes tears.”

“One more tear hits Earth and Atlantis rises,” Starling said.

“But what if we gained possession of Eureka’s tears before Atlas could reach her?” Chora let the question seep into the others.

A smile filtered onto Albion’s face. “Atlas would need us to complete the rise.”

“He would find us very valuable,” Chora said.

Starling flicked a slug of mud from a pleat on her dress. “You are suggesting we align ourselves with Atlas?”

“I believe Chora is suggesting that we blackmail the Evil One.” Critias laughed.

“Call it what you like,” Chora said. “It’s a plan. We track Ander, take possession of any tears; perhaps we generate more. Then we use them to seduce Atlas, who will have us to thank for the great gift of his freedom.”

Thunder rattled the earth. Black smoke twisted up out of the cordon’s vent.