Updated: Mar 4
Survivors of the Rising Sea is a YA dystopian fantasy novella by Nicole Adrianne. Take a look at an excerpt from this clean, suspenseful story reviewers have called "captivating" and "thrilling".
The ocean waves lapped gently against the tree-streaked mountaintop as our ship’s bow nudged the edge of the shore.
Energy surged through me at the sight of soil, making my fingertips tingle. What waited for us beneath the surface of the forgotten island? Breathing in the salty air, I straightened and prepared to stand.
Aro lifted his hand and gestured for me to keep sitting. “I’ll get it.”
I tilted sideways to scratch an itch on my calf, just below the collar of my boot, as Aro stood and unfolded his long body. He stretched his arms to the sky, his lightly defined muscles rippling just underneath his tunic.
Aro’s thick black eyebrows rose. “You good?”
I’d been absently scratching the now-nonexistent itch on my leg for way too long. The smug grin on his face told me Aro knew I’d been staring at him.
Closing my eyes and sitting up straight, I nodded. “Yeah.”
Aro snorted, sending a single sharp puff of air fleeing from his nose. His way of laughing. Then, he hopped over the edge of the ship onto the dark soil of the island. Grabbing the rope attached to the ship’s nose, he tensed his muscles and heaved backward, pulling our ship ashore.
“Watch out for the trees,” I called, as Aro took another step backward and nearly slammed his back against a desiccated trunk, jerking the ship ever so slightly.
He nodded in reply. Even without hearing his sighs of exertion, I knew Aro was too concentrated on his feat of strength to respond in words.
Three years had gone by since our first expedition together. I still couldn’t take my eyes off him.
The ship’s hull ground the soil beneath into bits as the bow pulled forward, then leaned back to rest on the forest floor. After giving me a satisfied shrug, Aro tied the rope to the thickest of the nearby trees. Then, he made his way to the ship’s bow and climbed the handful of steps back onto the ship’s deck. When he finally stood by my side again, he reached his hand down to me, and I took it gratefully. His brown skin was wet and puckered and hot.
He pulled me to my feet and slung a gentle arm over my shoulders as he admired the island in front of us. “Looks like there’s plenty of live plants up there.” Aro pointed to the highest part of the island, probably only half a mile away, where the trees still had leaves and the trunks weren’t hollow and the roots were still firmly fixed underground instead of forming exposed tangles above the soil. I could already feel my calves burning in anticipation as I imagined myself climbing the steep grade to the top.
I looked at the graveyard forest in front of us. “You’ll make quick work of this place.” The sound of a massive dry trunk slapping against the ocean’s surface was always one of my favorites. After the slap, the trunk sailed away peacefully, destined to become driftwood on the shore of another island. Or, of course, it was chopped to bits by my strong, handsome boyfriend and destined to become a chaise lounge for Otun the Raider.
“Yeah,” Aro agreed. “You too.”
Rising onto my tiptoes, I peered over the edge of the boat into the shallow, muddy water. “Doesn’t look like there’s much for aquatic plants, unfortunately. Otun’s not going to like that.”
“Maybe the water is clearer on the other side of the island,” Aro suggested. “It’ll be safer over there anyway, away from the boat. Come on, let’s get you set up.”
Typical Aro, always assuming the Avaa or some kind of pirate would spot our boat and come running. After three years of running expeditions with Aro, I’d never seen his fears come true.
I tugged at his arm as he pulled away from my side. “I can do it, Aro. Go get started on the trees, it’ll take longer.”
Aro ran a hand absently through my short hair. “And leave you to carry your equipment all alone? I can always spare a few minutes to help my urchin.”
His dumb pet name made me smile, as always. A throwback to the time we first met. “Thanks.”
I followed Aro across the wooden deck, glancing up the mast to watch the sails flutter in the breeze. We needed to put them away before we got to work in case of a strong wind. Aro would take care of it, I was sure. The planks beneath me were slick from ocean spray, but not slick enough to make me lose my balance.
One step up, then through a door, and we were in the captain’s quarters—our quarters. Aro immediately got to work collecting my equipment from the shelves that lined the walls. He always knew just what to grab. So, I sat on the bed, enjoying the firmness of the mattress beneath my thighs and the soft, coarse texture of Aro’s patchwork quilt. His parents’ quilt. What were they like? I wished I’d had the chance to find out.
“Ready?” I lifted my head to see Aro’s wide eyes looking at me. I’d been so fixated on the beautiful stitching on the quilt, I forgot where I was. Aro rolled his shoulder to adjust the fit of the backpack strap. My backpack, full of my equipment. He even carried my two heavy, hard black cases, one handle in each of his hands. “This stuff isn’t getting any lighter.”
“It would if you’d let me carry some of it,” I retorted, standing from the bed and gliding out of the room. Aro followed me with bulky, thudding footsteps all the way back across the deck. Truthfully, I was beyond grateful to have someone in my life that supported my work and took an interest in helping me, even when the help he offered was far more than I needed. It had been years since I’d been able to imagine my life or my future without Aro in it, even for a moment, and I didn’t want it any other way.
Swinging my leg across the lifeline, I hopped off the boat easily, savoring the first luscious moment of land as my boot sank into the watery soil. Dark brown earth rose to cover the edges of my boots, and it wasn’t hard to imagine standing on the coast of the island forever, allowing the land to swallow me completely. Even the air smelled of dirt and leaves and life. It had been a long time since I’d inhaled a scent so rich.
A sigh from Aro behind my head reminded me to keep moving. He clunked his way off the boat and shouldered past me, leading me uphill into the grove of trees as the warm sun rose high on the horizon. Shadows of sun-dappled leaves waved gently across the ground as we walked, almost as if the very island itself was greeting us.
The rough brown bark on the trunks called to me, scraping my fingertips in greeting as I walked. Thinner, papery white bark reached for me, too, and I had no choice but to touch it. The trees got even denser as we neared the crest of the island and continued over its other side. I drank it all in, trying to memorize the sensation of being surrounded by life for the next time I was stuck in the middle of the dead, salty ocean.
The spongy soil beneath my boots gave way to flat, solid stone. When we reached the far shore of the island, Aro finally stopped walking and lay my equipment cases against the brittle, dying roots of an evergreen tree. “Looks like the water’s still rising.”
I laughed softly, puffing through my nose. “Surprising.” The air surrounding the tree smelled, not of bark and soil, but of salt and minerals.
With a small, sad grin, Aro nodded at the trees. The roots seemed to grow around huge swathes of stone. “Enjoy them while they’re still around. I’ll start on the other side and save your area for last.”
I watched Aro go until he disappeared down the island’s slope. He’d be heading back to the boat to grab his hatchets and saws. A familiar twinge of sadness twisted my stomach before I could push it away. Day after day of spending all our time together had left me feeling like even a few minutes without Aro by my side was too much. Stupid, but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling it.
Letting out a sharp breath, I got to work. Unlock the cases, open the buckles, pull the two sides apart. Tie on my white work smock over my tunic. Make sure all my equipment is there. Magnifying glass, test tubes, beakers, pincer sets. Measuring cups. Tongs. Good.
The rocky shore made it easy to find what I was looking for. I scanned the rock beneath my boots with just my eyes, following the smooth surface of the stone from the shore deeper into the sea.
There. Less than a foot out.
I grabbed a pair of tongs and all four of my test tubes and caps, hoping to finish my tasks early so I could explore the rest of the forest before Aro got to it.
As I crept closer to the gooey green carpet growing on the shelf of rock beneath me, I understood I needed to step carefully. Even though my boots were designed for stomping through the water, nothing could stop algae from being slippery.
I stopped at the edge of the algae spread, careful not to step on it. One wrong move would have sent me stumbling into the ocean, which would have completely ruined my evening and soaked my tunic. The last thing I needed was extra laundry. It already took me hours to wash Aro’s sweaty outfits.
Hinging forward from my hips with a test tube in one hand and tongs in the other, I was so focused on reaching for the algae with my tongs that I didn’t pay much attention to the sharp drop-off just beyond the green growth. Not until I lost my footing, staggered, and waved my arms to catch my balance, tossing all of my exploratory equipment into the water. Of course, instead of drifting back toward the shore, they all went sailing right over the rock drop-off into the depths of the ocean, never to be seen again.
At first, I did consider going after them. How deep could the drop really have been? How far would my equipment have traveled? I probably could have just reached into the murky green water and pulled out my items, or retrieved them with a single dive. I’d been swimming confidently since I was an infant.
Then, I remembered Aro’s face the last time I’d suggested reaching into unknown waters. I sighed. Bad idea. Like he always said, it was impossible to tell how deep a drop was just by looking at it. Endangered as they were, he said, sharks still existed, not to mention the venomous fish and snakes. Not that I’d ever seen any of those creatures. Or had the sharks gone extinct? I silently reminded myself to ask one of the Raiders about that when we returned to the city.
What would Aro do? If I asked, he’d just put his logging tasks on hold to help me figure things out.
So, I didn’t ask. I already had an idea, anyway.
I started back toward the boat, but a glint from up the hill caught my eye before disappearing. Where had it come from?
The softly rustling green leaves farther up the island called to me. Even the rocks looked inviting after I’d spent so long a time on the water. I could nearly feel their rough, gritty texture beneath my fingertips.
Almost before I realized it, my feet had changed direction, routing me toward higher ground. When I reached the crest of the island, I followed that crest all the way to the highest point of the landmass. The trees thinned out as I climbed higher, and the soil beneath my feet once again gave way to rock.
From the top of the island, all I could see was sparkling blue water on all sides. But, closer than the water were the trees. When I held up a hand to block the water from view, I could almost imagine that I was standing on top of a mountain, that there was nothing but trees and rocks and soil for miles and miles.
Something bright glinted on top of the stone beside me, the same flash of light as before. I squinted, looking for its source.
There! I squatted to brush away dead bark and sticks and dirt. A banged-up golden circle with some sort of inscription gleamed beneath the debris. Tilting my head to read the words imprinted all the way around the circle, I frowned.
U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
I guess I wasn’t the only scientist ever to visit the island. How glamorous it must have been to work as a scientist in the old days, to explore for the sake of curiosity and progress instead of being commissioned by a Raider like Otun.
Otun. The thought of my employer jarred me back to the present. It was time to get back to work.
Jogging downhill toward the ship, I passed Aro as he hacked away at a thin tree.
“Where are you going?” he called as I ran. With each heavy footstep I took, the stone impacted my heels and reverberated through my spine, making my head ring.
“Forgot something!” I replied without slowing down. After hopping lightly up the handful of steps to the ship, I bent down, grabbed the wooden handle protruding from the deck, and heaved the trapdoor open.
The familiar inside of the boat always smelled like wet trees, a sharper, woodier scent than the trees outside. It made my nose itch as I walked down the stairway.
Below deck, I immediately turned left toward the pantry. Huge wall-to-wall shelves covered all four sides of the room from floor to ceiling. It wasn’t hard to locate the goods I needed: most of the shelves were nearly empty, and I’d cataloged their contents recently enough.
Big bronze pot. Matches. And… a few glass jars with smears of something purple and pink stuck to the insides. Jam? I hoped it was jam.
I made my way topside again, shutting the trapdoor behind me, then skirted the coast of the island to carry my goods back to my workspace without having to answer any more of Aro’s questions. If he knew I’d lost some of Otun’s equipment, he would only worry. I, on the other hand, would get replacements before Otun even found out what I’d done.
Setting the jars and matches high on the dry shore, I dipped the pot into the sea by its long handle and watched the water flow in. Straining my legs, I heaved the full pot out of the water and set it on the shore again. A few drops of sweat rolled down my forehead and into the pot as well. I shrugged mentally. Some sweat wouldn’t hurt anything.
What else did I need? A few rocks, and some moss. I collected a few handfuls of moss into my smock and rolled several rocks the size of my hand down toward the pot of water. Excellent.
The stones clacked together as I stacked them in a loose circle. I turned out my smock to dump the pieces of moss into the middle of the stone circle, then struck a match and lit it all on fire. The kindling blazed nicely, and a surge of pride raced through my chest. It was nice to feel capable.
Once I’d added some sticks to my fire and stabilized the blaze, I set the pot carefully on top of the circle of rocks. The heat from the small flames worked on the metal for a few minutes before I dipped my finger into the pot. Nice and warm. My plan was working splendidly. Even the tiny finger of smoke rising from the flames seemed to cooperate with me, drifting low and slow over the ocean and away from Aro’s vigilant eyes.
Before the water got too hot, I grabbed the glass jars, unscrewed the lids, and tossed all four jars and lids into the big metal pot. Nothing cracked as the water continued to steam, then ripple, then bubble and boil.
After the jars had boiled for a few minutes, I took the pot off the fire and smothered the flames with some dirt. I grabbed a set of sanitary tongs from my equipment case and carefully fished out each jar and lid, resting them on the soft foam beside my magnifying glass and pincers.
I smiled, nodding smugly at my handiwork. The glass jars weren’t quite test tubes, but they would be fine for collecting and storing algae samples. Otun wouldn’t be too pleased with the loss of the scientific equipment, sure, but he had a huge stockpile of replacements back in the city. Besides, it had been forever since I’d messed up at work. No big deal.
You’ll get your algae samples, Otun. I have no clue why you want them, but you’ll get them.
Stars glittered above us, winking and shimmering inside the nighttime fog as Aro and I lay on the deck. I shifted my legs, feeling the blankets around us wrinkle as I moved.
“Aro?” I asked, staring at the infinite sky.
His chest rose and fell softly as he breathed. He was nearly asleep. I turned on my side, pressing my nose to his jaw, breathing in his musky scent. “Are you happy? Have you ever wanted… more than this? More than scavenging?”
Aro let out a sleepy yawn, briefly opening his soft brown eyes before closing them again. “Once, I wanted more. Now, I’m just happy with what I’ve got.” His arm tightened around my waist as he snuggled closer to me, touching his forehead to mine.
I closed my eyes, soaking in his warmth. Gratitude welled up in my chest as I felt his steady breaths beside me.
But gratitude wasn’t enough to make me stop gazing at the stars and wondering what it would be like to have infinite freedom or a true purpose. I wished I was more like Aro, utterly convinced that I was spending my life in the very best way possible. The stars were so distinct, so piercing, while my days just blurred together.
A few dozen miles away from us, a slender bronze ship carved through the salty ocean waves, sending foam and spray into the air as its pointy bow rose and fell. We had no way of knowing it was coming. Even if we had known, we never could have predicted the impact it would have.
Thanks to that sleek, metallic ship, my quiet algae expedition was the last scavenging trip I’d ever have with Aro.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Survivors of the Rising Sea!
As the oceans rise higher, Vikings and pirates battle for dominance.
Middle-class Viking Margot is stuck in a dead-end job, working for a powerful, thankless boss. When a sudden workday storm leaves Margot shipwrecked and floating in the raging sea, she's ecstatic to be rescued—until she discovers her rescuer is a mafia pirate.
Margot is shaken to the core to learn her boss—one of the community enforcers appointed to drive criminals away—is working hand in hand with the highly illegal mafia. But after Margot is thrown into her enemy’s world, she realizes her life could have a greater purpose than endless servitude.
Will she break away from her rescuer and return to a demanding, fruitless job beside her beloved boyfriend...or leave it all behind to become an outlaw herself?
No matter what Margot decides, hearts—and bones—will be broken.
If you're craving the danger of The Hunger Games and the morally grey dystopia of Neal Shusterman's Arc of a Scythe, then you'll be addicted to Nicole Adrianne's thrilling new tale of survival.
Download Survivors of the Rising Sea to start the emotionally gripping adventure today!
This article was written by Nicole Adrianne.
Nicole Adrianne is an autistic author living in Stockholm, Sweden. She writes lush, compelling, and clean YA dystopian fiction. Check out more of her work by clicking any of the book covers below.