A warm but belated welcome to M.W. Warren. Best wishes for the success of your latest book.
All her life, Andelyn (“Andi”) has carried an unusual rock. It never leaves her for long. She doesn’t know where it came from—just that it belongs to her. The one thing that truly does. She has no memory of her family or her childhood, which is almost as unsettling as a lifetime of hiding from someone dangerous and impossible to identify.
When strangers kidnap her, Andelyn’s only escape is down, through the earth. She and her friend Nia [make a perilous water journey that lands them in Meridia, a beautiful hidden city that never sees darkness.
There, they discover the story of the Envisage—a person with the uncanny power to change reality with their thoughts. Andi begins to wonder if all this has something to do with her. Is she hiding from this Envisage that people seem so afraid to speak of? And why? What if she is risking more than her own fate by trying to find out the truth?
After an imaginative childhood spent drawing pictures and writing, M.M. Warren attended Brigham Young University-Hawaii, where she studied visual art, began her first book, wrote for the Ke Alaka’i newspaper, and found creative ways to travel. Warren loved adventure and wanted to make an impact on the world, and she had a feeling the best way to do this was through words and stories.
With recommendations from friends from faraway places, she pursued her Master’s of Children’s Literature Degree, in Sydney, Australia, where she was able to analyze and learn from classic and modern tales and to fall more in love with the platform delivered to the imagination through words and pictures.
Warren spent several years as a visual arts teacher of many wonderful students at elementary and junior high schools, and hopes that many of them will enjoy reading her books. Currently, M.M. Warren resides in Southern California, where she enjoys writing, teaching, creating visual art, and spending time with her husband and young daughter.
With a calm rushing sound, the currents carried us around the corner to the left. I blinked, suddenly mesmerized by a brilliant, single ray of light that streaked down into the darkness ahead like a sword of gleaming sun.
Nia jumped up, grabbed the helm of the boat, and leaned forward for a better look. “That doesn’t make sense!” she exclaimed. “From what I can tell, we’ve only been going deeper—down into the earth, and that—”
“—looks like sunlight,” I finished.
“Hey! There’s something alive on the cave walls, Andi,” Nia said, reaching out her hand to touch a soft, fuzzy spread of green, “Never thought I would be so happy to see mold!”
“Or columns,” I interjected as we rounded another corner and entered another open cavern: this one like an old, flooded ballroom. Columns stretched from the water to the ceiling, from which shafts of golden light began to multiply, scattering patterns of glowing dappled light that danced on the water and caused swaying patterns of light to reflect on the columns, the boat, and even on Nia’s face as she said, “Well, we’re not in Tonga.”
She pointed at the water, where flashes of silvery- blue fish darted through the water at hummingbird speeds. “Never seen anything like that back home… but… fish this far down?”
“Maybe the boat went up when we were sleeping or something, and we didn’t know it,” I said. But when the words came out, they didn’t sound right.
Thoughtfully, I reached into my pocket for the comfort of my smooth, familiar stone and jumped as if a bolt of lightning had raced through me. My stone wasn’t supposed to be there! It hadn’t been there when we had fallen!
“Nia, how did… did you…” I stuttered, only to brace myself, interrupted by a boom that echoed through the cavern as we hit wood.
“A door!” Nia exclaimed excitedly. She reached her hand forward to touch carvings in the wood of a massive pair of doors. “These symbols look like the ones in the driveway, but are they welcome signs… or warnings? And to wha…”
Before Nia could finish her question, the doors began to click open slowly, creaking as if pulled by invisible chains. Then came the warmth, the blinding brightness, and the scent of fresh pine. “What the…!” Nia cried, toppling over into the boat
we raced forward. My eyes watered in the light. “How are we in the mountains?” I asked, taking in a landscape that was as rich and green as any I had ever seen, but only part of it was land. More than half of the mountainside was filled with glimmering streamlets and rivers that flowed and tumbled to join ours or cascade
gracefully off the surrounding peaks and ridges around us. “It’s like a maze of water,” added Nia, peering over
the edge of the boat. “Or a dream.” The cool mountain air ruffled the almond-shaped
leaves of winding trees that were draped with swaying vines. A bird cooed. A blue moth fluttered through the air against a cerulean sky.
“Ok,” Nia exclaimed, throwing her hands up, “Big old snowy mountains, white clouds, pretty flowers… Where are we, Andi?”
“You’re the expert on the world,” I mused, not taking my eyes off an orange bird that fluttered into the sun.
“Yeah but… I mean… I thought we could be on the other side… China… Australia, maybe even Singapore, but I’ve never seen anything like… wait, what’s that?”
I followed Nia’s pointed finger high above a shuddering, bluish pine-like tree with white blossoms. The enormous creature was big enough to eat us, but seemed more interested in chomping on stringy reeds from the river bank that tangled in its enormous tusks. It looked like an elephant with long, flowing hair that swayed in the wind.
“Nia, it looks like pictures I have seen of a wooly mammoth, but those things—”
“—died in the Ice Age,” Nia finished. “You don’t think… we’ve… traveled through time, do you?”
“I don’t believe in that stuff.” Nia threw up her hands. “Andi, stop not believing in
that stuff! Do you hear yourself? Look around you, girl! How can you say you don’t believe in anything anymore? It’s all either real or it’s not.”
“You’re right,” I muttered. “I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”
There was a moment of silence as I searched the blue sky above the forest canopy, my heart pounding with thoughts of other extinct—and more dangerous— animals that could appear.
I searched the white clouds as they drifted and curled in the sky, waiting to feel calm. Nia drew in a sudden sharp breath and dug her nails into my arm. “Listen,” she hissed.
There was a chirping sound in the distance and the caw of a bird from somewhere in the trees, but that didn’t seem worthy of Nia’s grip. For a moment, I heard no more than a haunting owl echo.
Then, something clunked against the back of the boat. But it was no monster. Whirling, we saw a smaller, sleeker vessel right behind us, with a driver standing at the helm as if he were some kind of Amazon River pirate.
I stumbled back in bewilderment. Someone had been following. But he was not at all what I had expected. There was a baseball cap sitting behind him on the seat of a boat. “Are you the boy from Mr. Retchin’s car?” I asked.
With a clunk, the boy’s boat hit ours again. As he got closer, I could see he was just a little older than I was. He had brown skin, almost the color of Nia’s. He wore casual jeans and a plain sand-colored shirt, and was taller than the boy I thought I had seen with Mr. Retchin. I wasn’t sure if it seemed stranger that he looked like he knew exactly what he was doing on that boat, or that he seemed… normal, like any kid a little older than us at school.
“Are you the boy who was with Mr. Retchin when he came from the agency?”
There was a long pause, and for a moment I wondered if he spoke English. Then a slight, mischievous smile turned up the corner of his lips. “Definitely not from the agency, and definitely had Mr. Retchin thinking I was.”
“You’re from Australia!” Nia exclaimed, pointing her finger at him. “Your accent gives it a—”
“New Zealand, actually,” he corrected. “But now I live here.”
“Where’s… here?” I asked.
“I’m curious,” he mused, comfortably settling onto the edge of his boat so that his legs dangled over the edges. He leaned forward, his hands together and eyebrows up as if ready to laugh. “Where do you think we are?”
Nia put her hands on her hips. “Do you mind? She demanded. “I don’t know who think you are or why you seem to be in the mood for laughing when there are monsters all around, but—”
The boy bit his lip and looked ahead at the water as if trying to be a little more polite about how funny he found all this.
I turned to see what he was looking at, but the water was calm and it glimmered in the sun.
“How long have you been following us?” I asked as we continued to move through the trees.
“Did you pull me out of the water or give me my rock?”
“You have your rock?” Nia burst out, looking at me with her hands on her hips. I had forgotten to tell her after we had found the door.
The boy’s shoulders shook a little. “Technically you aren’t supposed to see your guide before you reach the city, but this is the fun part,” he asserted. “And I’d turn around if I were you.”
“City?” I asked. “You’ve been following us?” cried Nia. “You could say that,” mused the boy. “So where in the world are we, if you know so
much?” “In the world,” he said simply. The corner of his
mouth turned up again to form a teasing, crooked smile at Nia’s outraged and slightly puzzled look.
“You don’t remember the river going up, aye? So we must have gone down,” the boy relayed. “What was it my dad said?” He snapped his fingers. “Things aren’t always what they seem!”
I shook my head, flustered. “What about time? That woolly mammoth we saw… have we moved in time?”
The boy’s shoulders shook with a silent laugh. “Haven’t heard that one in a while, aye! You’re thinking too hard about this. Don’t need to be clever, there are parts of the world that haven’t frozen over to kill mammoths and wild murdichs and flying sloths, mate.”
I pursed my lips and tried to understand the one piece of information this strange boy had actually given us. “In the world.” It made no logical sense. In the distance, purple mountains webbed with snowcaps towered against the bright sky.
“I can still see the sun,” I argued. “You can see a sun,” he replied.
“Let’s get come back to that,” overwhelmed by the impossibility of it all and desperate for something that made sense, I continued, “Were you the one outside my house? Why are we here? Are we… in whatever this place is—by mistake, or on purpose?”
“Yeah!” Nia piped up, “And—”
“Slow down! You guys are gonna get headaches if you go down this backward,” he said nodding his head toward the water ahead. “I’d hold on if I were you!”
I turned and so did Nia.
The water in front of us seemed to simply disappear. With the mist and the swift sound of falling water, I was sure meant we were headed straight for the biggest waterfall yet.
“I’m getting out of this thing!” Nia exclaimed, rocking the boat. But the currents were white and raging around us now and we were moving too fast to do anything.
“Did you pull me out of the water when I first fell in through the hole?” I called back to the boy without taking my eyes off the river. Surely, if he had saved me then, he wasn’t going to let us fall now.
We teetered on the ledge of the waterfall. I caught my breath. Time stopped in that instant as I forgot the fear that we were about to fall thousands of feet. For far, far, below was a sight well worth the possibility of death.
The land in its many shades of green looked as if it had just surfaced from the mist of a distant blue ocean, still dripping with trails of endless waterfalls that wound and fell to create boundless refractions of light and color through mountains and hillsides. Nestled in all of this was a deep valley with a bright, blue sea far beyond that. For a moment, I thought I saw towers in the distance and clusters of domes that looked like bubbles… but before I could be sure, we dropped.
I could not breathe. My stomach felt as if it had leaped into my throat. I held on for dear life. The rush of spray and water clouded everything and soaked us. Even Nia’s typical yell had turned into a shrill scream as we plunged farther down. Just when I thought we were going under, we started skidding, emerging from the mist at the base of the falls at high speeds like a strange, supernatural fish.
Nia spit out water and started to laugh, but it didn’t take her long to turn to the boy, whose boat had somehow made it down the falls behind us, too. She put her hands on her hips again.
“That’s my favorite part!” he called, shaking the water out of his hair.
“Now will you tell us where we are?” demanded Nia. “How does our boat stay upright? What’s your name, even?”
He merely smiled, and she rolled her eyes. “Fine, then. We’ll call you Sam.”
I stifled a laugh. Sam had been the name of the bully Nia had kicked in my defense the day that she and I had first met. On one hand, this particular boy might have secretly helped us several times. On the other hand, his holding back answers was probably bugging Nia as much as anything the original Sam did at school.
“Sam it is,” I said flatly.
He didn’t argue, but nodded to direct our attention down river.
As we moved slowly forward, the two towering emerald hills through which we tightly passed now opened like curtains to reveal a lower valley of endless rolling hillsides. This place—whatever it was—had more levels of earth and water than I had ever seen, all under a surpassingly blue sky, which grew lavender at the edges.
“Springtime?” Nia asked, puzzling as a breeze lifted branches of blossoms that fluttered like snow over the water. “When we left our home, it was fall—that must mean something!”
“Should,” said Sam. “But it doesn’t.”
But even Nia was too transfixed to get snarky as we drifted toward quiet towers. Each was carved with pale lines of smooth stone and artfully imbedded polished glass that transitioned into curved lines of graceful glass domes. Some of these were round and simple, and others pointed arrow-like toward the heavens. They were like pictures of European cathedrals I had seen, only with more glass than stone. Clusters of these towers were supported by rounded house-like structures that were interrupted by winding, paths composed of flattened, polished stones and moss.
“Is this some kind of fancy ghost town… or something?” Nia asked uncomfortably. “It’s all pretty nice, but… where are all the people?”
“Sleeping,” Sam replied with no expression.
“Yeah, that’s not freaky. What do you mean sleeping? It’s the middle of the day!”
The more I thought about it, the more unnerving it all was. Were we being drawn further and further into the beauty of this place—like a moth to a flame—only to find something sick and twisted and dangerous?
Nia stood up, rocking the boat as if anxious to get out of it. “Take it easy,” said Sam. “It’s night here.”
“You’re getting on my nerves, Sam!”
“Sit down,” I begged Nia, putting my hand on her arm. “Where are we going to go if we get out now?”
Nia ducked as we passed under an arched bridge, but did not sit. Now, we passed under a row of peculiar palm trees that swayed silkily in the calm. Nothing seemed scary about this place, except the haunting emptiness.
“If you don’t tell me where we are, I am going to guess!” Nia exclaimed. “Listen, I know my countries! We’re in India. Sri Lanka… Venice? Some secret place in Dubai.”
“You’re thinking inside the box,” Sam replied, settling into a seat on his boat with his legs crossed. A splash of sun passed over his face. “Except for the part about a secret place.”
“Are you not telling us because you think we wouldn’t believe you?” I asked Sam curiously.
“Maybe,” he said. “Or because I’d have to kill you.”
Sam smiled mischievously again. I wondered if he had rules to follow, or if he found our frustration entertaining.
Maybe he had told us where we were and we hadn’t believed him. What was all this “in the world” business? Could this whole world somehow be underground? I shook my head. That was stupid. It didn’t make any scientific sense, and all of this was real. I was sure of it.
The buildings through which we passed were growing closer together. High on the right of our river was one that was not topped with swerving glass. It was beautiful, but did not look like it belonged. It was etched with intricately painted lines of bronze and gold that reflected elaborately on the water.
“Hey—I think I’ve seen that place before!” exclaimed Nia, following my gaze. “In a picture once, maybe! But… it’s not where it belongs!”
I looked at it sideways. “Unless the building just stands out because it’s different.” But I knew that wasn’t true. It looked exactly like a picture of a place I had seen in Europe… in Italy, maybe? I didn’t know the name, or anything about the building. But we were not in Europe. Feeling unsettled, I gripped the stone in my pocket.
“As far as this night thing,” speculated Nia with a glance at the other side of the river, “I’m not buying it.”
Bulbous glass lanterns hung from arching trees here. They danced with tongues of blue fire. It seemed strange that they were lit in the light of day, and I longed to see how dazzling they were over the water by night. As I stared at these, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye: a face peeking from behind a curtain in one of the towers to my right!
“Look!” I said pointing. But the window was suddenly empty.
“What, Andi?” asked Nia.
I wrapped my arms around myself and glanced at Sam. “I thought I… never mind.” I was too unsure of what I’d seen to call attention to it. I swayed, suddenly realizing how overwhelmed and exhausted I was.
“I think we’ve had enough of mystery town river cruise,” said Nia. “When does this boat stop?”
“Eight minutes,” replied Sam.
A sick and anxious knot formed in my stomach. For a moment, I thought about splashing into the cold river in the hopes that I’d make it onto the banks of this frighteningly empty town without having to go farther into the unknown.
But Nia was one step ahead of me. She had climbed onto the helm of the boat, with her arms out. “If you don’t tell me where we are right now, I’m going to jump!” she exclaimed.
I groaned, but did not stop her. Maybe she could make Sam talk after all.
“Where will you swim to?” asked Sam. “Honestly, people who come here are hilarious! It’s like everyone is in shock or something. You’ll be more confused if you get out now—not to mention wet— and a good feed for the canal sharks.”
Nia’s mouth dropped open. “Canal what? You’re lying.”
“Only one way to find out!” volunteered Sam, reclining more with his hands behind his head.
Nia sat back down and gulped.
“Good girl,” offered Sam. “Now you’ve earned an answer. You’re in Meridia. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s because most people think it doesn’t exist. Nutters on the surface of the world think it’s called Agartha or Shambala or something like that, but most just believe what they’re told—that the earth is solid in the middle. Remember how people used to believe it was flat?” Sam snorted. “At least they’ve gotten that part right now!”
“Not that I believe anything you just said,” Nia said, “But why is it secret?”
“You’ll see,” said Sam. “Why are we here?” I asked, gripping my stone.
“You’ll see,” he repeated.