We're delighted to present an extract from The Lost Tide Warriors, the new novel by Catherine Doyle (published by Bloomsbury Children's Books), the sequel to the award-winning YA bestseller The Storm Keeper's Island.
Fionn Boyle has been Storm Keeper of Arranmore for less than six months when thousands of terrifying Soulstalkers arrive on the island. The empty-eyed followers of the dreaded sorceress Morrigan have come to raise their leader and Fionn is powerless to stop them. The Storm Keeper's magic has deserted him and with his grandfather’s memory waning, Fionn must rely on his friends Shelby and Sam to help him summon Dagda’s army of merrows. The battle to save Arranmore has begun.
Fionn Boyle lay sprawled on an old, threadbare couch and tried to scream himself awake. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he was dreaming, but he couldn't open his eyes. He could only listen to the crooning voice that had made a home inside his head. It was hissing like a snake, burrowing deeper into his brain.
Tick-tock, the voice whispered. Can you hear me, little Boyle?
Fionn could see Morrigan in his mind’s eye – her leering grin, too wide in her angular face.
Tick-tock, crumbling rock. Three days, watch the clock.
She cackled, and a shadow came skittering towards him, its fingers reaching through the blackness of his mind. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock… The words grew frenzied, the pitch climbing until it was no longer a laugh but a scream. TICK-TOCK, TICK-TOCK, TICK-TOCK.
Get away from me! Fionn tried to yell, but the words bubbled in his throat.
His body was spinning like a tornado, his arms thrashing blindly as he tried to pull himself back to consciousness. The couch groaned underneath him, the rusted springs heaving from the effort. Help me! She’s going to claw my eyes out! Please –
There was a loud splat!
Fionn jerked awake as something cold and slimy slid down his nose.
He sniffed. Was that …?
'Ham,’ came a familiar voice. ‘It’s crumbed.’
Fionn peeled the slice from his face.
His grandfather peered over him, his blue eyes twinkling in the dawn light. ‘I’m afraid you were cycloning again.’ In one hand he held an open packet of sliced ham, and in the other a bright orange block of cheese. ‘I thought the ham might be more humane.’
Fionn pushed the matted hair – A familiar fist of heat was blazing in his chest, the knuckles of it rolling against his ribcage as if saying hello. The Storm Keeper's magic awake, just as he was of it rolling against his ribcage as if saying hello. The Storm Keeper’s magic awake, just as he was.
Fionn sighed. ‘Couldn’t you have called my name, like a normal person?’
‘When have you ever known me to be normal?’ said his grandfather, nibbling a corner off the block of cheese. ‘But besides that, I called your name eight times. I poked you three times and I shook you by the shoulders exactly once. The next logical step –’
‘– was ham,’ said Fionn, dragging himself into a sitting position and laying the offending slice on the armrest.
‘I’m afraid so, lad.’ His grandfather was watching him too closely, his brows raised above the tip of his horn-rimmed spectacles. ‘Was it the same again?’
‘Tick-tock,’ said Fionn, with a grim nod. ‘The countdown continues.’
Morrigan had been living in his head for many months, but two weeks ago his dreams had taken on a new sense of urgency. The voice, once disembodied and distant, now came with a countdown, grasping hands and clawing fingers, bloodless lips held too close to his ear. She was growing stronger, giddier.
‘The countdown,’ said his grandfather now, ‘is somewhat concerning.
’ A breeze slipped underneath the window and wreathed the couch. Fionn pulled the blanket close around him. Last month, winter had crept over the island, sewing itself inside the wind and howling through the cracks in the walls. There were ice crystals webbing the windowpanes, and sometimes in the night, when Fionn woke gasping, he could see his breath hovering like clouds in the darkness.
‘Why don’t you go and lie down in my room, lad?’ suggested his grandfather. ‘The energy in there is very benevolent and handsome. And there’s a nice storage heater that’ll blow the socks off you.’
‘I’m awake now anyways,’ said Fionn, stretching his arms above his head and rolling his neck around until it clicked. Back in the summertime, he had surrendered his twin bed to his mother, insisting instead on taking up residence on Donal the shopkeeper’s donated couch, which looked like it had been exhumed from a haunted house, and smelled not unlike abiding despair. It creaked awfully in the night and made the little sitting room seem even smaller than it was, but Fionn knew it wouldn't matter where he slept – Morrigan would still find him.
He rolled on to his feet. 'What time is it?’
‘Time?’ His grandfather was pottering back into the kitchen. ‘You know very well I don’t adhere to such arbitrary concepts.’
Fionn drifted towards the candle flickering on the mantelpiece, the only lit flame in a room full of candles. The wax was growing shallower – less a candle now, and more a milky blue puddle. Of course, it wasn’t just a candle to begin with. It was his grandfather’s essence, all of his memories gathered up in one magical concoction, borne of blood and sea, burning all day and all night, racing towards its end.
Time. His grandfather had borrowed an awful lot of it.
The reminder made Fionn queasy. Lately, it felt like everything was out of his control. As the nights ticked by and Morrigan crept closer to his days, he couldn’t help imagining himself as the controller of a runaway train. He felt the darkness creeping in around the edges of him, the sorceress’s countdown ticking in time with his pulse. Something was going to happen. Soon.
She will wake when the boy returns, Ivan had told him once, all too gleefully. She will rise when the Storm Keeper bleeds for her.
Fionn had not bled for Morrigan since the day she had awoken, but he had not succeeded in putting her back to sleep either. His journey to the Sea Cave during the summer still haunted him. He had come so close to losing his sister, and then to drowning all alone in that endless darkness, with Morrigan laughing in his ear. The memory had grown hard and spiky, and often, when his thoughts wandered, he would find it digging into his ribs.
‘Sandwich?’ called his grandfather from inside the kitchen. ‘I’ll share the ham but the last of the mustard is all mine, I’m afraid. It’s wholegrain. And French. Très expensive.’
‘No thanks.’ Fionn stared at the little flame on the mantelpiece. The magic inside him flared in recognition. He stuck his hand out above the glass trough, willing the flame to dance for him.
Come on … Come on …
Fionn was the Storm Keeper, the one the island had chosen to wield the elements in Dagda’s name, for as long as his mind and body could bear it. The one to command earth, wind, air and fire, at little more than a simple thought.
It was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be seamless.
He ground his jaw, wriggling his fingers the way his grandfather had taught him to. Come on.
The flame ignored him.
His face started to prickle.
Grow, he willed it. Dance.
His magic hiccoughed in his chest, nearly toppling him over.
Fionn dropped his hand with a sigh.
The sitting room filtered back into focus and he found his grandfather hovering beside him. ‘It will come, lad.’
‘It’s been five months.’
‘Maybe it will take one more.’
‘I don’t have one more!’
‘For all we know, Morrigan is bluffing,’ said his grandfather, unconvincingly. ‘Spooking you, for her own amusement. Trying to get in your head.’
‘She’s already in my head, Grandad. I need to figure out my magic. Now.’
His grandfather frowned at his sandwich. ‘It wasn’t like this for me … It didn’t require much concentration, really…’
He moved his gaze to the candles filling the shelves around them – the Storm Keeper’s magic – years of it, brewed and bottled. The same magic that now ran in Fionn’s veins. ‘You could always try burning one …’ He trailed off at Fionn’s expression.
‘The last time I used candle magic, I vomited and passed out,’ Fionn reminded him. ‘I’m already full of magic. I just have no idea how to get it out of –’
Fionn’s attention snagged on the bookcase over his grandfather’s shoulder – the one he had pored over last night, restlessly counting the columns of wax, name by name, wick by wick, until he fell into a fitful slumber. Every night he studied them meticulously, like a general cataloguing his arsenal, while his own weapon chugged and sputtered in his veins.
There was something not quite right about it now.
Halfway down the case, where the usual array of blizzards and snowstorms jostled for space between sunsets and sunrises, there was an almost imperceptible gap. Between Saoirse, which meant ‘freedom’, and Suaimhneas, which meant ‘peace’, Spring Showers 2008, was missing.
Fionn crossed the room in three strides, jamming his feet into his runners without stopping to untie the laces first.
His grandfather peered after him, chomping on his sandwich. ‘Where are you off to in such a rush?’
Fionn shrugged his coat on and pulled his woolly hat over his ears. ‘There’s been a theft!’
‘Good grief. Of what sort?’ Fionn narrowed his eyes at his grandfather. ‘I think you know exactly what sort of theft I’m talking about. And thief too, come to think of it.’
His grandfather smushed the rest of his sandwich into his mouth all at once until his cheeks swelled up like a blowfish and crumbs tumbled over his lips, then he pointed at his own face as if to say, I can’t talk right now, my mouth is suddenly very full.
Fionn swung the front door open, and winter gusted right through it, curling the dark strands peeking out from underneath his hat. ‘We’re supposed to save them!’ he said angrily, before slamming the door behind him and taking off down the garden path.
The gate swung open for him, and the shrubs, skeletal without their summer foliage, click-clacked a goodbye. Outside, a canopy of clouds smothered the rising sun. Fionn could see the usual flock of ravens patrolling the headland, chasing the seagulls back out to sea. The icy wind whistled alongside him, drowning out their faraway shrieks. It cleared stones from the roadway and tipped the flowers in reverie as he wound down the headland towards the strand.
He saw the whirlpool first. There, in plain sight of anyone who bothered to look, was the Storm Keeper’s magic, skipping and dancing along the shoreline. Water twisted round and round, seafoam flying from its edges like cream from a mixing bowl. The longer Fionn watched it, the taller it became.
He swung his legs over the wall and stalked across the sand. ‘Hey!’ he shouted. ‘Stop that!’
Across the beach, his sister turned to face him. She kept one hand outstretched towards the whirlpool, the other clenched around a turquoise candle that was burning upside down, devouring itself from the inside out. ‘Hey, loser,’ she said, through a wide grin. ‘What are you doing down here?’
Fionn marched towards her. ‘I told you a thousand times, you’re not supposed to waste the candles!’
‘I’m practising,’ she said, turning back to the ocean. Her ponytail whipped through the air behind her, the ends of her winter coat flapping in the wind. ‘Grandad said I could have it, so just take a chill pill.’
‘It’s not up to Grandad, it’s up to me!’ Fionn yelled. ‘Blow it out!’
Tara’s laughter soared into the air. ‘You’re so dramatic!’
‘Coming from the girl who held a candlelit vigil the night Bartley Beasley went back to the mainland!’
She threw him a withering glance. ‘I told you I’m not ready to talk about that yet!’
Fionn yanked her by the arm. The whirlpool faltered.
‘Get off me!’ Tara barked, shaking him off. ‘I’m concentrating!’
‘The sun’s almost up! Anyone could see you out here!’ He glanced over his shoulder to where an old woman in a grey shawl was pottering along the strand. ‘See,’ he hissed.
‘Don’t be so paranoid,’ said Tara, not bothering to look. ‘You’re always down here. You’re just afraid the islanders will see how much better than you I am at this. How the waves actually listen to me. And then they’ll start to wonder about your magic. Why they’ve never seen it. Oooh. The Storm Keeper’s sister – maybe they’ll say the island should have chosen me.’ Her lip curled in amusement, knowing she had touched a nerve. ‘Maybe they’re right.’
‘No,’ said Fionn quickly. ‘You’re just an idiot who’s going through our stash of weapons faster than a bag of skittles, because you’re incapable of thinking of anyone but yourself!’ He took a shaky breath. ‘If you didn’t have less than ten brain cells, you’d realise that.’
Tara stuck her chin out. ‘I have loads of brain cells. I always beat Grandad at Scrabble.’
‘Then prove it,’ said Fionn, glancing over his shoulder again. The old woman was gone. ‘Put it out.’
‘Fine.’ Tara crushed the remains of the candle in her fist and swung her free hand around until it was no longer facing the ocean but his face instead. In one icy deluge, the whirlpool leapt from the ocean and crashed over his head, soaking through his hat and pouring itself down his neck and into his clothes until streams of icy water gushed out of his trouser-legs, bleeding into puddles along the sand.
‘Happy now?’ she said, smirking at him.
Fionn glared at his sister, his words chattering violently through his teeth. ‘I wish, just once, we could bury you under a rock for all of eternity.’
‘Try it,’ she said, sashaying away. ‘I’d be back before the week was out.’
The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle (published by) is out now.