Authors: Deborah Abela
Grimsdon is in ruins. Three years ago a massive wave broke its barriers and the sea flooded this grand city. Most were saved, some were lost â and some were left behind.
Isabella Charm and her best friend, Griffin, live with three other children in the top of an opulent mansion. They've survived with the help of Griffin's brilliant inventions, Isabella's fighting skills and their vow to look after each other.
But what will happen when a newcomer arrives in his flying machine? Grimsdon is full of hidden perils, from bounty hunters to sneaker waves. Could Xavier's daredevil risks put all their lives in danger?
âPart dystopian science fiction, part fantasy and part adventure â and altogether delightful.'
âFast-paced and enjoyable from beginning to end.'
âWow . . . This is a book filled with truth and heart.'
Kids' Book Review
âDidn't you know that water would be the end of me?' cried the Wicked Witch.
It wasn't exactly stealing â it hadn't been that for a long time, not since the floods came and wiped away everything they'd known.
Isabella was with the other kids, searching rooms, looking through cupboards and drawers. This time they were in a grand building with tall ceilings and views overlooking the harbour, but the furniture was tattered, the walls smudged with mould, and a chill wind cut through smashed windowpanes.
âIsabella, look!' A young boy wearing a Superman shirt and a cape struggled to lift a gold candelabra.
âNice one, Raffy.' Isabella took it from him and slipped it into a large sack. âShould be worth quite a bit.' She wore long, black boots and a red coat with velvet trim, drawn in the middle by a thick, black belt.
âAnd what about this?' A girl younger than Isabella had entered the room, dragging a sword behind her. She had on a sparkling floor-length gown and a tiara perched on a mop of curly red hair. âI found it in the library,' she puffed.
Isabella inspected the sleek blade and golden handle. âThis will come in very handy, Princess Bea.'
She tucked it into her belt.
An older boy sifted through the piles of junk scattered throughout and found an electric fan. âNot as glamorous as your sword and candelabra, but it'll be useful. Other than that, someone's been over this place pretty well.'
He placed it into the sack, which Isabella tied shut with a rope. âWe better go,' she said. âIn case anyone else decides to visit.'
The older boy tried to hoist the sack over his shoulder, but his feet slipped out from beneath him and he fell on his back. The others ran to help.
âAre you okay, Griffin?' Isabella knelt beside him.
âSure I am.' He straightened his crooked glasses and pulled himself upright, doing a very bad job of hiding the pain in his left shoulder.
âYou need to be more careful.' Isabella stroked his cheek.
From a balcony outside the room, a pair of dark eyes zeroed in on Isabella's smile, on her hair that fell in long strands and her hand that touched Griffin's cheek.
He'd been watching them for some time, following their every move. Waiting for the moment to strike.
He looked on as the other kids helped Griffin up and made a big show of dusting him off and straightening him out. He inched closer to get a better view ... which was when he heard the noise. A faint, almost imperceptible crack, followed by a shift beneath his feet. It was only slight, but he knew instantly what it was.
The balcony was about to collapse and take him with it.
He looked over his shoulder into the muddy water below. His hands reached for a drainpipe running down the building, but he was too late. In one sudden motion, the stone crumbled beneath him, breaking free from the mansion and plunging to a thunderous splash below.
Isabella was the first to reach the balcony doors, clutching a knife that she'd pulled from an ankle strap. She scanned the watery street that frothed and rippled, and searched the doors and windows of the buildings opposite but saw no-one. âLet's go.'
They hurried across the room and raced downstairs to a window just above the waterline. They lowered the sack into their dinghy before climbing inside, each slipping on a life jacket. They were good at quick getaways.
As she rowed, Isabella felt someone was nearby. She took one last look at where the balcony had collapsed, unaware that a boy was hiding in a room below, his back flat against the wall, heaving whispered breaths. There was a gash in his arm, and his hands were red and scraped from gripping the jagged ledge and hauling himself inside the mansion as the balcony fell.
He waited before sneaking a glimpse at the young thieves, watching them row down the street and disappear into a thick, rolling fog.
Xavier knew what he was about to do might cost him his life, but there was something about Isabella â the way she moved, the way she held a knife â that made it impossible for him to back out now.
Standing on the rooftop, he looked out over the sunken city of Grimsdon. In the dawn light, he could just make out the islands of church domes, building tops and the uppermost arches of bridges encircled by swirling harbour currents and wisps of fog.
Ruin was everywhere, in the stone walls plastered with algae and fringed with barnacles and in the crumbling mortar that caused buildings to lean like tired old men with broken windows like missing teeth.
Xavier looked over it all like a king surveying his kingdom. Tall for a boy of fourteen, his long hair tied back in a ponytail, he pushed his sodden fringe out of his eyes and stared at the building opposite.
It was like no other building in Grimsdon. Painted soft-pink, it was topped with a low wall that rose and fell in waves around the roof's edge. Inside the wall, like a fairytale frozen mid-story, were stone statues of trees, a gingerbread house and a rearing horse carrying a sword-wielding knight. Rising from the centre was a water dragon with raised fins and a long, curling tail. Metal staircases with railings like spider webs ran down the sides of the building, weaving past windows of blue glass and wavering frames, as if melted by the sun. Carved into the wall were the words:
A mischievous smile crept into Xavier's lips.
He pulled a spear gun from a holster slung across his back, took aim and pressed the trigger. A multipronged spear attached to a rope hurtled across the gap and caught on the edge of the roof. He tugged to check it was secure, took a deep breath and jumped.
His body swung through the damp air. His boots bounced twice against the wall before he silently vaulted over a railing and crouched low on the stairs. A flick of the rope released the spear from the roof. He retracted it into the gun and replaced it in the holster.
Taking a knife from his belt, he jemmied the window, slowly raising it without a sound. He climbed in and eased himself onto the floor.
The room was even more magnificent from the inside.
Chandeliers hung from the ceiling like clusters of diamonds. Plush lounges reclined on rich carpets. In the centre was a long dining table surrounded by throne-like chairs.
But Xavier only took a few steps before a rope tightened around his boots and snatched him into the air. His knife fell to the floor.
He swung from the ceiling by his ankles. His shirt fell over his face and his coat swept the floor as a small group of kids leapt out from behind lounges and inside cabinets.
âWe got him!' It was the young girl, Bea. âNice work, Sir Raffy.' She wore an oversized, purple gown with fur along the collar and hem.
âYou too, Princess Bea,' Raffy replied. This time his cape was tied around his shoulders over Batman pyjamas.
They stood side by side, legs outstretched, slingshots aimed at the swinging intruder. âOne wrong move and we get you with these.'
Xavier stared at the upside-down figures. As well as the two kids, there was Griffin and a small girl with short, dark hair, curled onto a lounge clutching a notebook.
Griffin pounced on the knife and shakily held it out. âWho are you?'
âSomeone who just broke into your house.' Xavier tried to sound casual.
âSo, you're a thief?'
âI am usually, but not this time.'
âYou're not a very good one,' Griffin scoffed.
Bea and Raffy laughed. The girl on the lounge opened her notebook and began drawing.
Xavier tried to gather as much dignity as he could while swinging upside down. He pushed up his shirt that kept showing his bare chest. âAnd you're not very good at protecting yourselves, are you?'
âI'd say you hanging by your ankles proves we can protect ourselves just fine.' Griffin jabbed the knife towards him, but it slipped from his fingers and clanged to the floor.
âIs that so...?' Xavier paused.
Griffin gathered the knife. âHow did you know my name?'
âThe same way I know those two are Bea and Raffy.'
The twins swapped a nervous look.
âWhy are you here?' Griffin demanded.
âNot sure why I should tell a bunch of kids anything. In fact I...' His cocky smile was wiped from his face by a sword held against his neck.
âBecause he asked nicely.' It was Isabella. Gripping the handle of her new sword, she stepped from behind him and stood by his side. âAnd because you're starting to get on my nerves.' She blew aside her fringe, revealing a crimson mark on her forehead.
âI ... I saw the light on and thought I'd say hello. It'd be rude if I didn't.'
âYou're very considerate for a thief,' Griffin sneered.
âWhat can I say? I was brought up with good manners.'
The sword pressed harder against Xavier's neck. He drew in a sharp breath.
âI'm not sure why you think you're so funny when your life could end with one small flick,' Isabella whispered.
âTo be fair, up until the sword bit I thought I was doing okay.'
âWho are you and what are you doing breaking into people's houses where you don't belong?' Isabella's voice was edged with menace, as if she would pounce at any moment.
The girl on the lounge looked up from her drawing.
âXavier Stone, and I've come to help you.'
âWe don't need anybody's help.' Griffin waved the knife. âWe've been fine on our own for the last three years.'
âCould we have this chat with me the right way up?'
âWe're having it here,' Isabella said. âWhy do you want to help us?'
âI've been watching you for weeks.'
âYou've been watching us?' Griffin asked.
âSeeing how you live and where you go, and I can help you do it better.'
âHe's lying,' Griffin said. âWe would've known if someone was following us.'
Isabella eyed Xavier carefully. âProve it.'
âYesterday you stole this sword, a candelabra and for some reason a fan. The week before you found a big stash of canned food in St Stephen's Church. Most nights you read books to each other or tell stories and wear fancy dress and act out plays.' He pointed at the young girl on the lounge. âShe doesn't go with you but stays behind and draws.'
âHer name's Fly. She doesn't talk,' Bea explained.
Fly gave Xavier a guarded look.
âIf she has something to say, she draws or writes it down,' Raffy added. âShe's an artist.'
âIf you saw us weeks ago, why have you waited so long to talk to us?' Isabella asked.
âI had to make sure you were worthy of my help.'
Isabella moved closer and whispered, âGive us one reason why we shouldn't cut you down and throw you into the river?'
âHow about you cut me down first and I...'
âOne reason.' She held the blade firmly.
Xavier swallowed. âYou need me.'
Bea laughed. âBecause you're so good atâ'
âBreaking into people's houses?' Raffy completed his sister's sentence.
âNormally I am. I guess I underestimated who lived here.'
âYou bet you did.' Griffin's chest puffed up. âLet's get rid of him.'
âActually, I am starting to feel a little woozy, could I...'
âI'm still waiting for that reason.' Isabella stood dead still.
âBecause of the Aerotrope,' Xavier said.
Griffin frowned. âThe what?'
âMy flying machine.'
Raffy's eyes widened. âYou have a flying machine?'
âA real flying machine?' Bea followed.
âThat's how I got here.'
âYou want us to believe that you flew here?' Griffin sniffed.
âHe couldn't have used our flying fox.' Raffy shrugged.
âWe pulled all the cables in before we went to bed,' Bea said.
âIf you let me down I can show it to you.' Xavier's eyes gleamed at the twins. âWould you like that?'
Bea and Raffy lowered their slingshots. âYes.'
âWhere is this
Griffin narrowed his eyes.
âOn the roof.'
Fly wrote in her notebook and showed the page to Bea. âFly wants to know why we didn't hear it.'
âIt's on top of the building next door. I thought it'd be more discreet that way.'
âMore sneaky, you mean,' Griffin said.
Xavier's eyes flicked to Isabella. âNow is there any way you could let me...' Isabella reached up and sliced through the rope. Xavier fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
He lifted himself up on his elbows and rubbed his head.
Isabella held the sword tip to his nose. âShow us this machine. And it better be good.'