Chapter Nineteen: The Court of Ocean

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At first just a gentle pitter-pat fell from the stone ceiling and streaked the glass. I put out my hand to see if I could feel it, but the rain wasn't falling where I stood. It only fell in the circle.

The rain came harder, a drumbeat on the glass; silver splashes flashing in the lamp light; then it became a torrent, gushing so fast and heavy that I worried that it might flood the room, or bring the ceiling down on our heads.

No-one else looked concerned. The water wasn't spreading out; it was collecting behind an invisible wall. The stones were surrounded by a circular boundary, and the water could not cross it. A giant drum-shaped fish tank was taking shape in front of us.

More extraordinary still, the parts of the room under the water had been transformed. The brick floor was covered with shimmering black and gold sand that looked like tiger stripes, and the glass shapes became coral spires and seaweed-smothered rocks. The central piece of glass was now a lopsided high-backed seat of barnacle-covered timbers. It looked like a throne salvaged from shipwreck flotsam.

I stepped forward to take a closer look. Something large and grey cut through the water and I retreated. A shark, with a thousand terrible teeth and beady eyes as dark as death, circled the throne. I felt its eyes on me. The shark swam towards me and I flinched, but as soon as it reached the boundary of the water it disappeared.

"She can't see you, and she can't hurt you," said Grace. "This isn't a gate. What you're looking at is a faraway place."

The water level rose all the way up to the ceiling, and the vaulted brick became a cave roof, decorated with seashells that shone like precious stones. The water glowed like phosphorous, and schools of small colourful fish flashed past us. We were staring into another world, but one that exactly matched the layout of the Glass Embassy.

The fish dispersed in all directions as a man stepped into the room from nowhere. He was a soldier dressed in green seashell armour and a turtle shell helmet, and he had a conch shell slung from his belt. He lifted the conch and blew into it, and the sound rippled through the water and into our room.

"Presenting her imperious majesty, the Great Queen Natun of Ocean."

The soldier stepped aside, and another figure entered. The queen.

She was an extraordinary sight; a statuesque silver-blue woman in a long azure gown embellished with diamond scales. Her black hair was gathered in a crown of coral. Her feet were bare. She took her place on her shipwreck throne and nodded to her herald.

"The queen is ready to receive you, Admiral Winstanley," he said.

The Admiral squared her shoulders and took a step closer to the wall of water. She hesitated.

"Do you have the hammer at the ready, Private Sharma?" she asked.

Hari hefted up an iron hammer about the size of his arm. "I have it, ma'am," he said.

"Thank you, private. And what do we do in case of emergency?"

"Break glass, ma'am," said Hari.

"Very good."

The Admiral took a deep breath and walked through the wall of water and into the Glass Embassy.

Queen Natun rose to her feet to welcome her, and the Admiral bowed. To see the Admiral in a room that had been conjured out of nothing was a discomforting experience. It was like watching someone turn on the television and walk through the screen.

"The peace of the oceans be upon you, Admiral Winstanley," said the queen. Her voice was light and lyrical.

"It is an honour and a privilege to stand in your presence, Great Queen," said the Admiral.

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