After Four Dead Queens left us SHOCKED with the killer plot twist of 2019, we have been eagerly awaiting to see what Astrid Scholte has next! Luckily, we don’t have to wait long. The Vanishing Deep is hitting shelves THIS. MARCH. But we have an excerpt, so you can start reading it today!
The Vanishing Deep follows seventeen-year-old Tempe, who was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet five hundred years ago, its people had to learn to survive living on the water, but the ruins of the cities below still called. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn’t food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister’s life. For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn’t a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe: Her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents. Tempe wants to know why.
Sunday, 8:00 a.m.
I didn’t want to resurrect my sister because I loved her.
I didn’t want one final goodbye, to whisper words left unsaid or clear my conscience of any slights between us. I didn’t want to hear her voice say my name, Tempe, one last time.
I wanted to soothe the anger that scorched through me. An anger that had a life of its own, taking hold within me, propelling me to action—even on the days when I was exhausted from the early-morning dive, even when I’d had enough of this scrappy life.
I wanted to drown memories of her long dark hair, curling in the water as she dove deeper ahead of me, always knowing where to search next. I wanted to extinguish memories of her dancer limbs twirling above her head as storms raged nearby. I wanted to forget her now-silenced bell-like voice once and for all.
As much as the thought of her name angered me, the thought of never hearing it again angered me even more.
Her name had begun to fade in the two years since her death, like the last rumble of thunder in a storm. In the beginning, friends—all Elysea’s—would say your sister, as if saying her name would send a fresh wave of tears down my already flushed cheeks. Then, as days turned into weeks, her name was said soft and tentative, signaling to me that it was time to start moving on. To get out of bed, to live my life.
When weeks turned into months, people stopped speaking about her altogether. As though she never existed.
Then I’d heard something that changed how I felt about her, transforming my grief to anger.
So now I needed to hear her voice one last time. I needed the truth. And for that, I needed to resurrect her.
Neither of us could rest until then.
The boat shifted with the waves; I adjusted my footing so I didn’t fall into the sea. The Sunrisehad been my parents’ transportation to work. Small, but swift. The shell-colored deck was triangular, with two “wings” underneath the stern of the boat, which hooked down and into the water to keep balance at high speeds. A cramped cabin was suspended below, its belly dipping into the sea like an overfed familfish.
I gazed at the deep blue waters. From above, you could see a slight turbulence beneath—a hint of something other than sand, salt and sea.
A sunken city—one that I had scavenged for years, and from which I had never returned empty-handed. My deeply tanned olive skin spoke of the years I’d spent on and under the water, searching for scraps.
Today would be my last dive here. Elysea had found this site when I was twelve years old, and after five years, I knew every twist and turn of the labyrinth of steel, glass and stone. There was only one room left untouched. And I wasn’t leaving until I explored it. After that, I would need to find a new dive site and hope it hadn’t already been ravaged like so many sunken cities in this section of the sea.
I tightened the straps of my flippers, made from blunted blades of Old World knives. The rusty, thin metal sheets shrieked as I flexed my foot to test the movement.
“Oh, shut up,” I said. The flippers were my mother’s, and I couldn’t afford new ones. I wouldn’t waste Notes on anything other than reviving my sister, or topping off my breather.
One last dive, I thought as I put the breathing tube in my mouth and pulled the pliable transparent dome over my head. As I clipped it onto the neck of my diving skin, the dome inflated.
One final goodbye. Another memory to shelve, another link to Elysea forever severed. The thought should’ve brought a wave of sadness, but I felt only cold, steely determination. Soon I, too, could forget Elysea’s name.
I took a shallow breath to check the gas levels of the small cylinder attached to my belt.
My breather beeped twice.
I yanked the dome off and spat out my breather. Aside from food, diving gas was the most expensive commodity. It allowed us to search for relics from the Old World—for anything useful in the new one. My dive finds barely covered the costs of living on the Equinox Reef and what was left went toward my sister’s resurrection. I was hoping I could unearth something from the remaining room to fund topping off my breather and allow me time to locate a new ruin, without having to dip into my savings.
I placed the breather back in my mouth and pulled the dome over my face. The levels would have to be enough.
I rattled some black stones with iridescent blue spirals in my palm, like miniature swirling galaxies. I dropped one into the ocean, saying a prayer to the Gods below, to allow me to enter their world, their sacred sanctuary—and survive it. It was a childish habit. When Elysea and I were young, we’d thought it was the will of the Gods below who took souls from boats in a storm and the air from the lungs of divers. We didn’t realize it was simply chance, bad luck or unskilled diving. The perils of our world.
Together, we’d learned to conquer the ocean. Or so I’d thought. Until Elysea had drowned, almost exactly two years ago.
Before I allowed any further doubt to muddy my mind, I grabbed my oilskin bag, clipped it to my diving belt and tilted backward off the boat.
The water was cold, but only my fingertips were cool, the rest of my body protected by my diving skin—a material made of thin, rubbery blue plates stitched together like fish scales, which I always wore under my clothes. I kicked my weighted metal flippers, which coaxed me downward.
Take shallow, steady breaths. I couldn’t help but hear my sister’s voice in my head. She’d taught me how to dive, after all.
“The free fall is easy,” she would say. “Save your air for the return trip. When you’ll need it. Just follow me into the dark, Tempe.” She never called me by my full name—Tempest—saying it was too harsh for her little sister. “Tempee sounds sweeter,” she’d said.
I could barely remember the little girl I’d once been.
A plume of bright light shone from the corner of my eye—my map to the world below. I kicked toward it as I fell. Before long, my vision was illuminated by shades of blue, purple and pink, dotted along shafts of rusted metal. Since the Great Waves around five hundred years ago, bioluminescent coral had grown along the city ruins, lighting the way toward the ocean floor, like Old World lights on cobbled streets, or the stars in the night sky. A sunken constellation.
The sight never failed to take my breath away. And even though the building was long dead, it glowed with life. It was beautiful.
I followed the path downward.
When I passed a red-brown metal turret, I took a slight turn to the left. Rusticles, like fossilized seaweed, dripped from every edge. The holes that were once doorways and windows into a lively world were now the soulless eyes of a watchful, watery tomb.
A lost city. A drowned society. The perfect harvest.
My breather beeped again. I took shallower breaths, hoping the Gods were in favor of my presence. Many divers had searched for the Gods below. A temple, a shrine, a palace. Anything.But they’d remained undiscovered. It gave naysayers ammunition to doubt the deities’ existence.
But in a world made almost entirely of water, we needed our guides. The Old World believed in the Gods above and followed the stars to journey across the land. But with hardly any land remaining, it was pointless to look to the sky. The water was our master.
I wished we’d begun with the lower levels of the building when we’d initially discovered this site. But it had been my first dive. Elysea had wanted to start closer to the surface, even though I’d argued that I was ready. She’d only been two years older than me, but after our parents’ deaths, she’d acted more like my guardian than my sister. Back then, I’d barely fit into my mom’s abandoned flippers.
“You’ll grow into them,” Elysea had said, fastening them as tight as she could around my then-small feet. “It’s better that they’re big so you can use them for longer.”
I hadn’t argued, excited to be included on the dive.
After five years, I was now one of the best divers on our home of the Equinox. While other kids went to school, sailed with their parents, swam with their friends, danced with their siblings, I dove. And dove and dove.
There was nothing on the surface for me now.
I dove deeper, keeping my breaths shallow to save gas.
As much as I missed diving with Elysea, I liked being by myself. With nothing but the waters to guide me, the Gods below protecting me, and the quiet to soothe my restless mind. My anger.
Elysea had been lucky to find this ruin. It must’ve broken free from a larger cluster of buildings during the Great Waves. Most sunken cities were overcrowded with divers, and few relics were left to be found. Not this building. This ruin was all mine.
The dive site was located close to the isle of Palindromena, and most divers steered clear of the brutal waves that crashed against the jagged coast. Too many people drowned there. Plus, those who lived on the Equinox were superstitious. The island was cloaked in mystery and tainted by death.
But I wasn’t afraid of Palindromena. The facility had always been a specter in my life, but never touched me directly, like a looming shadow.
When I reached the ocean floor, I darted through a knocked-out window. Coral had grown around the frame, lighting the entrance. Many people believed the Gods below were to thank for the coral that had appeared in the years since the Great Waves, showing the way to sunken treasures. Without the Gods, and their coral, the Old World would’ve been lost to the ocean.
My breather let out another warning beep. I had to be quick.
The building’s ground floor had been a row of tiny shops, all interconnected. More coral bloomed inside, illuminating the rooms. The first shop was some kind of eatery. Tables tipped upside down, slivers of ceramic plates and glass cups were now debris in the water.
I rushed through the room, keeping my eye out for anything I might’ve missed. Anything valuable. Old cups were interesting, but not worth many Notes. I needed something useful for more diving gas and to fund Elysea’s resurrection.
Down here, skeletons were as common as the yellow familfish that traveled in schools of hundreds up near the Equinox. Coral had grown in the gaps of disintegrated bone, piecing together the skeletons and fortifying them from further decomposition. They floated through doorways and rooms as though they continued to live and breathe, while their flesh and muscle had long peeled away.
I was twelve when I first saw a glowing patchwork skeleton, providing fuel for a week’s worth of nightmares. Now they were friends. I’d given them names, backgrounds, personalities. It made it less creepy.Slightly.
I’d never made friends easily, but down here, the skeletons didn’t have a choice.
I nodded to Adrei. His red-and-pink calcified skull rested on the café counter, his bony hand beside his face as though I’d caught him deep in thought. On the ocean floor, there was little movement, no currents or fish to disturb him. As I swam by, my flippers rippled through the water and his luminous fingers rattled, as if to say hello.
I continued on to the next room.
“Hey, Celci,” I said to a skeleton stuck floating between two corridors. I’d named her after my old aunt, who’d passed away from crystal lung when I was a child. I still remembered her teeth too large for her face, like this skeleton. I gently nudged Celci as I passed, moving her into the next room to be with Adrei. Even the dead shouldn’t be alone.
The shop next door had been a bookstore; I passed without a second look. The room had been sealed before I’d forced open the door. While I’d managed to salvage some books, the rest had quickly broken down and clouded the room. The books I’d already retrieved weren’t worth much; as soon as they were brought to the surface, the pages began to decompose in the humid salty air. Perhaps it would’ve been better to leave them down here, their words trapped within the pages, their untold stories safe.
So much of our history had disappeared. Most of the tales of the Old Gods had been forgotten, giving rise to the New Gods. People believed the Old Gods had turned away from us and our selfishness and didn’t warn us of the impending waves.
When the Great Waves hit, people struggled to hold on to their faith.
It wasn’t until the coral began blooming that people believed we weren’t alone. We hadn’t been abandoned by the Gods after all. Like the stars in the sky, the coral would guide us to supplies submerged below.
We could survive this new world with the remnants of the past.
My mom had believed in the Gods below, but my father hadn’t. Did Dad’s lack of faith cause their deaths? Did he misread the churning waters and darkening skies that became the vicious storm that destroyed their boat? But then, Elysea—
My breather let off a few frantic shrieks. I hear you, I thought. But I’m not done yet.
The Vanishing Deep hits shelves March 3! Pre-order here!