1. Only one person to blame
Venice, late afternoon, Christmas Day, 1900
A small girl stood on the ice that crusted the edge of the lagoon.
The storm was over. But the temperature was still falling. The girl shivered, wrapping her arms around her narrow body.
This was not the kind of cold that makes your nose glow, nor the kind that makes you look forward to sitting by the fire with a nice warm cup of something. It was that hopeless, heart-dragging kind of cold that makes you feel like an orphan.
Particularly if you are one.
Like this girl, Teodora Gasperin.
As far as the eye could see, way out on the islands of the lagoon, droplets of fog had frozen into a crystalline haze over the skeletal branches of the trees. It looked as if the leaves had been replaced by diamonds, glittering like angry teardrops. Ice strangled the shore; long white arabesques of it reached into the black water.
As she turned to trudge back home, Teo's eye snagged on something glinting just below her, embedded in the frozen water. She bent down, lifting her pinafore out of the way for a better look.
Then she screamed.
For what she had glimpsed was a white eel, thick and long as a young tree trunk, with red gills sprouting like coral from its muscular neck. At the sound of her cry, the creature slowly lowered one translucent eyelid and winked at her.
"Vampire Eels!" Teo shuddered. "They're back. And Venice all but drowned under the ice. It can only mean one thing.
"Renzo!" she whispered to herself. "I must tell Renzo! And the mermaids. And Professor Marin and the other Incogniti . . ."
A black-backed gull flapped past, cawing "Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Teo winced at its mockery. Her nose pinkened, and she blinked rapidly. Then she stamped her foot.
"Yes, I know. I know. I know. If Bajamonte Tiepolo has come back, and brought all his vile creatures with him, and baddened magic too, then there's only one person to blame."
The girl lifted her head and cried out over the icy tracts: "Me."
Excerpted from The Mourning Emporium by Michelle Lovric. Copyright © 2012 by Michelle Lovric. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.