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***UPDATE: I’ve had some amazing beta reader eyes on this chapter and there have been a few changes which you’ll notice when you read the final published book. But I still love this Chapter and hope you’ll like it 😀

Lasera – Leap Into Chapter One On Leap Day

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Prologue – Wyn 
The screams are hard to hear underwater.
The blurred forms above the surface are moving all around her.
What have I done?
My family, my people, my world. Risked I them all. 
But she’d been drowning. No one else saw. Had I to save her. But the repercussions. My hands clench my hair. She has the secret. Will she tell? 
Uncertainty stills my voice. How to speak with her? Will she want to speak with me? Can she help me? 
My appetite flags with every passing week and my thoughts slow. A hand goes to my shrinking stomach. The once great strength and speed are faltering. Hate I the dulled colour of my scales. This horrifying and tainted water is a prison. The lack of salt inevitably leaves its mark. The poisonous chemicals attack, relentless. A slow death is torturous. There is no opportunity for release; escape from this severe, unforgiving confinement is impossible. They have trapped me well. They are killing me. 
The water swirls around me in the deepest corner of the pool. Her feet are pulled up through the water and she is gone.
My energy will soon be gone, can she provide escape? Or will she expose me?
If don’t I escape, death will come as surely as the moon shapes the tides. But if am I exposed, death might be preferable.
Flick I my tail back and forth. Will not I accept this is the way the stones have been cast. My choice may risk my whole world, all of Lasera. But refuse I to let this be the end. Maybe she will help, maybe she will betray me to the humans. Regardless, death must be held at bay. There is no other option.
1. Saved
The catalystic accident that changed my life was as unexpected as it was terrifying. A routine trip to the pool turned freakish. A single moment stole away, perhaps forever, the one thing that still made me happy. If the fates, or gods, or whoever, plotted my accident and the complete upheaval of my life, the least they could’ve done was warned me in some way. Made something out of the ordinary happen. 
Instead that morning I awoke to my coach demanding to know why I hadn’t arrived early to diving practise, a mediocre start to what should’ve been a regular and dreary day. Provincials were just three short months from now and I had two events, 3 metre spring board and the 5 metre platform. I’d gone to practise and done what was asked of me. I went to the 6.5 hours of both excellent classes (creative writing and film editing) and horrible government required academics (math) and now I was here. Sitting in a plastic beach chair, slurping my fruit smoothie.
I couldn’t hear the dripping of my wet swimsuit through the holes in the chair over the roar of those in the pool behind me , but I felt them as the splashed onto my heels. The smells of chlorine, water, and frying snack food were homey, familiar. The echoes reverberating off the cement walls were white noise that helped me fill my mind. The sweet flavours of the fruit were cool and icy on my tongue. 
And yet my life was dull. Like an oblivious stock character in a B-listed movie who goes straight to bed at 10, I was drab. Unlike the drearily written stock character, I chose to make my life this way. It was easier to not feel or think when you did the same things over and over again.
My plastic straw made a scree scree, sound on the lid of my smoothie as I stirred it. My fingers tapped the tabletop as I waited for Heather and Zack. They were breaking from their usual routine and had decided to join me in my natural habitat, but they were late. Our little trio had survived eight years since Zack had moved to town in grade four. When my diving competitions were close by they’d always be holding neon signs. Heather and I used to be the giggling teenage girls that Zack rolled his eyes at. We used to enjoy annoying him by pretending to spy on the hot lifeguards during public swim and all three of us loved watching and then picking apart the latest blockbuster release. We rarely did either of those things anymore. Over the past year I could feel myself fading into the background.
Watching the entrance, they finally came in. Zack was wearing a new golf shirt and jeans. 
“Hey” Zack said as they approached my table and sat down.
“I forgot about the noise in this place.” Heather said when a toddler screeched as he ran past her.
“You like nice in that green suit.” Zack nodded at the black and green swirls.
I shrugged. “When’d you guys go to the mall?”
“Saturday. I scoped out some grad dresses and Zack bought some new pedals and shocks for his bike.” Heather said.
“Missed you.” Zack said. “It’s been weeks since you came with us.”
“Yeah and? It’s been months since you guys came to the pool.”
“That’s not the point. The point is that we hardly see you, and even then it’s mostly school. You don’t do anything but dive. Except maybe the other necessities like eat, sleep and work. But when are you going to start living again?”
I froze.
“I meant it Val. You’re not yourself. It’s been a year and you still walk around like you’re a zombie from one of the videogames Th—”
“Don’t say his name. You know exactly why I won’t talk about this.”
“Yeah but if you got out of your own head for a minute you’d realize that I—” 
“Zack shut up.” Heather gave Zack a glare. “What he meant is that we’re seriously worried. We miss you. We want to be there for you, help you heal.”
My chair scraped across the cement as I shoved it back, standing up.
“I’m going to go dive.” I threw my smoothie into the garbage with jarring force and focused on weaving through the people to get to the diving boards, not even looking back. They’d come to the pool and this was what they talked about. Figures.
Shoving them out of my head I waited for the little girl ahead of me to work up the nerve to jump off the platform. When my hands gripped the stair rail, my heart jumped in my chest. No matter how many times I jumped, did handstands, or simply fell into the water, I would never tire of it. I’d always relish the experience, the thrill. 
Two boys behind me were talking about the latest version of Halo that had just been released. Theo liked that videogame.
A wall slammed down in my head. That thought was thrown behind the wall and into the dark corner. I kept the canvas that was the forefront of my mind blank and black. 
My hand pulled me up the stairs. I walked the length of the platform, my feet slapping the wet concrete.
I gazed at the water.
Think about the water, only the water.
This was home, this was where I belonged. This required no thought, no feeling, no concentration.
I closed my eyes and breathed. Standing up here, I was convinced there was nowhere you could feel as comfortable or as relaxed – you didn’t have to feel unless you chose to. I pushed up onto my toes, brought my arms forward. And then I fell straight down, a simple front dive. I sensed the shifting in my direction and made the smooth transition into the vertical. I heard the whistling air as it rushed past my ears. I felt the cool wetness as my hands split the surface. But something was wrong, the back of my hand brushed something hard, plastic? My eyes whipped open and my chin rose. As my arms entered the water, bright orange filled my vision…
I’d once read that the total speed for a single thought was between 500 and 700 milliseconds. In the time between when my hands touched water and when my head reached the same point, my mind had the capacity for only one thought: wrong. 
All I should see is blue. Not orange. Definitely not orange. With a blinding crash my head entered the water.
Agony throbbed at my temple.
My head, my mind no longer existed. 
What was there threatened to shatter me in two.
Thought stopped.
There was no more…
A little girl stood by the slide, waiting for her older sister to come down. She clutched an orange plastic boat to her chest. Her twin brother wanted to play with it too, but it was hers; why should he get it?
“It’s my turn! Give me a turn with the boat!” the little boy yelled.
“No! Momma tell him it’s mine!” the little girl looked to her mother. As she turned away the little boy’s hands grabbed the boat and tried to yank it out of her arms. She pulled back and it was a tug of war. The little girl’s hands were wet, she tried to hang on. As the boat slipped, her brother fell backward in surprise and the toy flew out of his hands towards the deep end of the pool. 
Both children stared as they saw the boat land and then begin to sway with the soft rocking of the water. 
“Kids look! Your sister’s coming down; she’ll take one of you next.” The twins’ mother was trying to keep hold of a squirming toddler and distract them at the same time. 
“Me first!” the little boy shouted, racing to watch his sister.
The little girl’s head whipped around.
“No, me first!”
The little orange boat was quickly forgotten as a graceful teenage girl fell into a dive directly above.
* * *
Thought seemed —abstract — at first.
There was water. I knew that much. I could feel it all around me.
But why was there so much of it? Where was the air? 
There was pain, I also knew that much. But it was deadened somehow, held back by a blackness, a weight.
And yet there was water.
My body felt weightless in the water, and I knew that this was a feeling I should have enjoyed. Something pressed in on me, a sense of  not knowing. This other thought that my mind and body should be doing something or at the least that my mind should be telling my body to do something. There was a block somewhere. I couldn’t think of anything to tell my body to do. I didn’t know what the orange had been, but I knew that water was all around me and I needed air. All water, no air. I was drowning, dying.
My thoughts chased each other around. I wanted to yell, kick, scream. I might be dull, I might’ve made some really stupid choices and some huge mistakes but I didn’t want to die!
My body wasn’t reacting the way it was supposed to. This much panic should’ve sent adrenaline running through my veins, my hands should’ve been shaking, a scream wrenching from my throat. None of this was happening. My body wouldn’t respond and my brain was locked up inside it. I couldn’t find my eyes, my arms, my legs.
The blackness shoved against my mind trying to make it succumb just as my body had. I had to move. I had to live. I heaved back against the blackness, trying to free my limbs, it was like trying to lift resistance weights that had been increased by a factor of ten —impossible.
Quite suddenly, I had air. Water was still all around me, I knew this from the weightless feeling. But I had air. I couldn’t make sense of it. The air didn’t feel the way I would have expected; it didn’t brush my cheek or swirl through my hair; it filled my lungs directly.
Forced in.
I felt some of the blackness recede as oxygen dispersed into my blood. Pain began to swell into my subconscious, wrenching, if I’d had control of my body I would’ve whimpered.
The pain swelled again.
It hurt so much! Please let it stop.
There wasn’t as much blackness anymore.
The pain was ever-present. Ever persistent. Coming to me in waves.
And then, so swiftly I was very much surprised, I knew where my mouth was, where my lungs were. I was bursting from the need to release the carbon dioxide that had filled my lungs. I focused on telling my mouth to open and found that I could. I heard and felt the bubbles as I let go of the air trapped inside me. The bubbles began to slow and I knew that control of my body was fast returning, more pain coming with it. Although it didn’t seem possible the pain amplified, growing and surging into larger waves.
Between the crests of pain a much needed piece slid into place. The bubbles that released from my mouth had sped upward, that was the way to the surface, that was the way I had to go. I didn’t know how far underneath I was, but I knew air existed above me. I needed to go up.
These realizations came one after another and between the next two waves of pain I found my eyes in no time at all. I was concentrating on opening them when a new sensation reached me; my lungs — expanding. The pain was escalating ten-fold but I could feel air entering my chest. 
I grasped that pressure was being exerted on my mouth. 
Another mouth. Separate and different from my own. 
Though my lungs were still being forced out, there was more pressure on either side of my ribcage. (The fact that I hadn’t needed to concentrate in order to find this part of my body didn’t register with me) 
There was a strange lifting sensation and then my mouth gasped it in.
Air. Pure air. Unhindered and unencumbered.
I felt my body spasm and cough, water forcing itself out of my lungs. My shoulder blades hit something cold and hard and I sensed that I was tipping backward. Pain exploded as my head hit something solid, but I shoved it back. Although the pain was still throbbing through me in waves, between crests I could think.
I opened my eyes. Blinded by the intensity and brilliance of the light, I shoved them shut again. Cool air swirled over my stomach, water lapped at my knees.
I opened my eyes again, slowly this time. A crest of pain rocked through my head but I pushed it away. I could see.
My lower legs were floating in the water; on my right side very close to the surface, was a face.
They were unfamiliar features — not someone I knew. Another wave of pain hit me but I focused through it. The face was surreal. Unearthly. Dark hair swirled with the movement of the water. Sharp eyes gazed into mine. The lines of the mouth and chin were sharp and angular. Shock flitted across the features and then the face smoothed over. The gaze intensified. Measuring something, my reaction?
After the next wave of pain died down my mind caught what my eyes had already seen. This face was underwater but wasn’t breathing. What? Who could not breath under water?
A bigger wave hit. That’s when my ears began to work again and registered the shouting, screaming. When the shouts started, the face slid out of my vision and was gone.
There were more voices clamouring about but they seemed to come from far away. I felt pressure on my shoulders and arms.
I couldn’t shove against the pain anymore. I let the waves overtake me.
The agony never receded as I closed my eyes again.
© 2012 Danielle Mathieson Pederson