Daughter of the Sun, Aumelan Book One, Chapter Five. YA Dystopian Fantasy
Daughter of the Sun
Lantern light flashed along the jutted walls. The scuffs and crunches from his family’s quick pace pounded in Styne’s ears next to the rasp in each breath his mother took.
She slowed and then faltered, grazing her wrist on a boulder as she tried to catch herself. Styne’s father scooped her into his arms. His muscles bulged, and he clenched his jaw as he looked directly at the darkness of the never-ending tunnel. His torch slipped from his grip.
Styne dashed to his side and retrieved it. “Should we rest?”
Father pressed his lips into a tight line, motioned with his head, and set a steady pace.
Thank the Fates this path is level. Styne didn’t want to think about what lay beyond. Boulders, pitches, narrow passes… He glanced at his father. Aaron Compton, Leading Father of the Tsosey Nation…the greatest man he’d ever known now carried his wife in a desperate march. Beads of sweat dotted his brow and trickled down his solid jaw. His father stumbled but righted himself and clutched his mother tighter.
As Styne yanked the vest from his shoulders, he stepped close. “I’ll help carry Mother.”
The strong man paused and gently lowered her to the ground. Leaning against the jutted wall, he wiped his hands down his face. “Styne, take Becca, and get to Chad.” He licked his dry lips, and Styne cringed as blood seeped from one of the cracks. “It shouldn’t be long before you run into him if you keep up a good pace. I’ll stay here with your mother.”
Styne looked at Becca, who slumped against the face of a rock and then grabbed her water bag. She’s fine. What’s he thinking? “I’m not leaving you here.” He held out the open vest. “We can tie our vests together…make a sling.”
Father held up his large hand, and a slight tremor took it. Scorn shadowed his features. “I worried over Chad’s blasted scribbled directions the entire trek. I knew we should have chosen a journey with townships along the way. But this has been your dream since he started venturing the far reaches of the Hollow Hand. To experience the…World Above. A Coronation gift you’d cherish.” He blinked as if his vision hazed and then he heaved a sigh. “Once a Father of the Nation, you’d likely have no time for such things.”
Nausea swirled in Styne’s stomach. Against better judgment, they had planned to make his dream come true…and he let them down. “We had servers, Father,” he whispered past the shame. “Plenty of them. You planned well.”
“I’ll be truthful, Styne. I was waiting on the slunks, too. We needed those servers.” He set his hand on Styne’s shoulder, and the weight of his father’s stare set a lump in his throat. “You did get served while you were down there with Stafford, right?”
Heat knotted the nausea in Styne’s gut. He flexed his fingers to expel the charge sizzling beneath his skin. With all that had occurred, how could such a thing have entered his mind? There would have been no time even if it had.
Surely, he realizes this. Styne met his senior’s gaze. The iridescent shimmer in his eyes had faded to dim flecks against his brown irises. A slight twitch tightened his lids. The expression drove understanding deep—of course he knows.
Styne managed a low response. “Yes, Father.”
His father nodded, and his stern features melted with a sigh. “You’ve got to get Becca to Chad’s slunk. Just come back as soon as you can. But Styne.” He shook his head. “If you can’t make it by tomorrow…”
The resigned voice of his father forced mist to the edge of Styne’s eyes. “Promise me you’ll take care of Becca.”
The lump in Styne’s throat doubled, and he could only manage a whisper that stumbled past a dry swallow. “I promise.”
Tears stung his lids as he stepped back to view his parents. The sight hazed in his periphery, warped into a surreal moment. Unable to stand it longer, he marched down the narrow path, and grabbed Becca’s hand as he passed.
“Wait.” She whipped her hand from his hold. “What’s going on?”
Father nodded, his tone soft. “Go with Styne, Becca. I don’t want anyone left to themselves. As soon as you meet up with Chad, get served. We’ll wait for you here.”
Color drained from her pixie features, and she rushed to their mother’s side. “No.” Tears slipped from her lashes as she lifted her into a tight hold. “She needs to be served first.”
Their father knelt before her, and his large hands gently framed her face. The look in his eyes made Styne’s heart wrench. His breath hitched, and he turned away. A sob punched from Becca’s lips, and he knew she’d embraced their father for the last time.
~ * ~
Styne’s step rolled. A quick breath punched from his throat as he caught himself on the wall. The rough rock tore at his forearm like serrated knives. He pushed away, ignoring the sting, and veered right to follow the directions on Chad’s map.
His thigh muscles quaked as he hefted himself into another fluted pass. Sweat rolled from his hairline and pooled on his lashes. He swiped his sleeve across his face. Pressing his back to the wall, be braced his stand with his knee on the other side and then glanced at Becca as she did the same. Her thin lips pressed together as if she refused to make a sound, and a heavy line creased between her fair brows.
How long had they been walking? It seemed like days. Fluted passes, jutted walkways, and steep climbs—one obstacle after the next.
It’s a cruel joke—one that depleted their reservoirs of energy. He took a thick breath and then pushed onward.
They emerged from the constricted course to find another fork in the passage. Crisp trickles caught his attention as he stretched his body to relieve the tension.
He fumbled for his map. Pinpointing Chad’s note of a stream, his heart lightened. Yes! “We’re on the right path. Hang in there. We’re at the halfway mark.”
“This isn’t happening.” The pitch in Becca’s voice revealed her emotions had thickened her throat. Her words trembled. “He was going to propose to me on this trip. I know it. I was going to see to it he did. This was going to be what got us back together.”
She really believes that? He looked at the wide cracks in the ceiling. For the life of him, he could only recall one time his best friend spoke of a home for his heart, and that was to confide that he doubted a woman would stand for his need of adventure—and that had been when Chad and Becca courted.
“Styne,” she said with a squeak in her voice. “We’ve been walking all night. We’re not going to make it.”
“You don’t know that. We will make it. And we’ll get back to Mother and Father in time.”
“I’m running down. I need service. If I feel this bad, Father had to have given in to sleep like Mother by now.” She leaned against the rough sediment.
Styne dragged his dust-coated hand down his face to disperse the thought and refocused. “Becca, you’re just tired from the walk.”
“I’m not a child, Styne!” The exertion from the exclamation seemed to dishearten her deeper. “I know what it feels like to need a vitality feed. And I know what happens when you don’t get it.”
Drawing a steady breath, Styne turned to her. “I know this looks bad. But, Chad’s on his way. He’ll have a server and we’ll get to Mother and Father. Don’t give up.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at him. “It’s too late, Styne. You know it is.”
He swallowed hard and stared back at her shimmering blue eyes. The light from the crystal accentuated her dim hope. “We need to keep moving. I won’t let you give up.”
She caught her breath as he grabbed her hand and set a faster stride. She was right. He knew it. But he couldn’t allow himself to think it.
Styne tried to ignore the sound as Becca took another labored breath. He struggled to maintain control of his own as his constricted airways dried. Sucking in air, he held it to expand his lungs. Fatigue washed over him, and the woven torch handle slid from his sweaty hand. Pausing, he pressed his thumb and forefinger to his lids to clear his hazed vision.
His head swam as he bent to pick up the torch and it rolled from his fingers. Licking his lips, he glanced at Becca. Straggled hair netted her face, casting shadows over her closed eyes. She sank to her knees.
Styne scrambled to her side. “I only stopped for a moment. Get up. We have to keep going.”
“I can’t, Styne.” A weak sob left her lips. “My legs won’t let me.”
“I’ll carry you.”
“Just let me rest. Only for a while.”
“Resting won’t help. You know that. You stop, and you won’t get back up.”
She shook her head, jaw slack. Her posture wilted, and she slumped to the ground.
“No!” He wrapped his arm around her waist and tugged. “Stand up, Becca. We’ve got to keep going.”
Weakness pulsed through him, and he doubled over, releasing his hold. Fear boiled in his gut. Exasperation burned beneath his skin. Dragging his hands down his face, he stumbled into a turn. “Where are you, Chad?” he bellowed. “We need you now!”
With a growl, he threw his palm to the catacomb wall. Crystalline in the rock flashed white. In a wave, light netted over the tunnel as every crystal formation ignited. Encircling the arch, it surged down the path, leaving a soft glow in its wake.
He glanced at his sister. In her state, the pulse of light had gone unnoticed. Adrenaline spent, he sighed. Hiding his ability to make crystalline glow seemed a petty act at this point. How many years had he fretted over the reaction it might bring? Sickened by the thought, he glowered. Slumping at her side, he raked his fingers through his sweat-drenched hair. It plastered to his scalp.
Chad’s on his way.
He had to believe.
“Stay with me, Becca. Don’t go to sleep.” Styne leaned on his elbow and lifted her head to cradle it in his hands. The light enhanced her pallid features and the dryness of her lips. The veins in her slender neck looked too thick and revealed her heavy heartbeat. He brushed his thumbs over her lashes to open her eyes. Their blue hue appeared briefly before her lids closed again. “Chad will be here anytime. Just don’t go to sleep.”
The feeble whisper relayed more than the words. It was barely a breath, and the thought of losing her shot through him. He watched as her conviction faded further. Her face stilled.
Distant droplets echoed alongside the heavy pulse in his head, amplifying the distance to the City of Aumelan. Nourishment and life wound their way within the waters throughout the World Beneath the Rock. A scowl squelched his face at the thought. What good is it to us?
He reached into his pocket for the only means of life he carried and ran his thumb over the rounded side of the small summoner. The Talit. It seemed to mock him, the black satin finish shining in stark contrast to the rugged environment. His index nail dipped into the tiny hole on the end, and he aimlessly slid it around in his palm to do the same on the opposite side. He rolled it over. The shallow button on its face called to him to try, though logic told him it was useless. He pushed it anyway. Nothing. There was no one to offer the gift of sustaining life, no one to serve them. An exasperated sigh punched from his lips as he pressed it to his forehead to receive added strength from the smooth surface. The gesture was fruitless.
He looked at the petite form of his sister. Nineteen was far too young to die. For that matter, sixteen was no better. But he’d trade his life for hers if he could. His heart hammered the reality of the situation.
It’s too late.
His parents had no chance and Becca was dying.
Why didn’t I warn them sooner? How could I have been so…
A wave of nausea flooded him, causing his arms and legs to throb. Numbness seeped through his limbs and strummed the hairs to nettle his arms. Grit seemed to force its way through his veins and burn a path to his skull. He eased his head to the side for relief as a groan rode his breath.
Styne’s mind hazed, and he sank to the ground at Becca’s side. His body weighed heavy on his lungs. He forced short pants as his heart thumped a sick rhythm.
How could I do this? I’ve killed my family. I’ve…His breath hitched. “Becca…please don’t…go to sleep.”
No answer came.
Guilt heated his breast. Emptiness filled his soul. Tears brimmed his eyes, and as the weight of his brows drove them closed, droplets seeped from his lids.