Daughter of the Sun, Aumelan Book One, Chapter Seven. YA Dystopian Fantasy.
Daughter of the Sun
Water flowed from a cleft like a sheer curtain, and Chad gazed into the heights of the byway. He slowed and angled his torch to study the changes to their path. Green and silver hues danced within the flow as it clung to the limestone backdrop. What could have caused such a vast amount of water to reach this far into the Hollow Hand?
Perhaps a natural dam gave way and caused a lake to flood the area? He slid his pack from his shoulders, scooped at the filled basin, and sniffed the water. Not from a stagnant body of water. Wiping it over his hair, chills traveled down his spine. A river broke a dam? He clenched his teeth and sucked in the dank scent of the sediment. He knew of no rivers that large in the area. But then, this was one of his lesser-known treks.
Dae stepped to the pool and dipped her hands.
Pulled from his thoughts, he watched as she cupped at the water and then drank. Chad eyed the column at her side and took a casual step closer, setting his hands at his waist. His elbow brushed her arm as she straightened. As expected, she attempted to place the appropriate distance between them, but the large rock blocked her.
He lifted his brows and blinked his gaze around, pleased with the success of his plan. “Plenty of water along this track. With it leading to such a stunning view, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a settlement built. There are at least three substantial caverns with adjoining hollows that would be perfect for crafting homes. Nice areas for greenhouse townships.” He looked at Dae. “Maybe I’ll do something about that. You wouldn’t mind raising a continued line of service near the World Above, would you?”
Her cheeks flushed, she looked at her feet, and he grinned.
Don’t worry, Dae. Finding you a partner is low on my agenda. “The cave on the bluff is still a good day’s journey. If we hurry, we might get to see the sun rise.”
She smiled at him, creasing tiny lines around her eyes. “It is wondrous.”
Reassurance of her love of their travels warmed his heart. “That it is, Dae. The World Beneath the Rock has nothing to compare.”
A flash caught Chad’s attention from deep in the pass, but before he could make sense of it, the catacomb flared. Sparkles burst and rainbows flashed as light poured from the wall behind the flow of water.
Dae’s scream pierced the air, and Chad’s heart pounded from shock. With sharp reflex, he threw his arms around her and pulled her close to muffle the sound. Shrieks punctuated her gasps as she bunched his vest into her fists. Heat seeped through his shirt each time she exhaled.
Logic fled in a whirl of adrenaline and desire shot to his core. He knotted his fingers in the hair at the back of her neck and angled her to meet him in a kiss.
Her breath fell to his lips with her quick words. “What has happened?”
Chad’s eyes flew wide as reality hit him like a rock wall again. He bit into a grimace. What do you think you are doing, Chad? Fates, it’s a good thing Uncle Tyro didn’t accompany us. Keeper and server. Mind placement!
Her grasp loosened, and he reciprocated but kept a protective hold as he traced her brown waves with his gaze. They dipped into the slope of her slender neck and fell to her breasts, disappearing into the small space between them. How can two people stand so close, yet be nations apart? He peered at her innocent expression. If there weren’t laws, would you accept me, Dae? Would I find the home for my heart in you? Surely you feel it too.
She looked at the bright walls and then into the heights as the light dimmed to a soft glow.
Following her line of vision, realization struck. This is Styne’s handiwork. But a sudden flare that weakens to a dull illumination?
He furrowed his brow and released Dae to brush his fingers over a cluster within the boulder beside them. This shows no control. Concern redirected his thoughts. And Styne doesn’t even show this talent to his family.
He stepped back and looked toward their destination. “Perhaps it’s a World of the Sun phenomenon. We are getting closer.” With his casual tone, he almost set his own nerves at ease. “Well, it does make traveling less cumbersome.”
As he hefted his pack to his shoulder, he set the pace. Dae edged near and kept with his quickened stride. Despite the unsettling discovery, warmth flushed his heart.
I had Dae in my arms and she held to me. Thank you, fear, for throwing logic out the door. He sucked in a cleansing breath. And thank you, Fate, that we were alone. Penitence for gripping your master would be great.
~ * ~
A stream babbled alongside Chad and Dae as their quick steps crunched gravel in time. With each footfall, he found it harder to keep his mind from conjuring scenarios to explain Styne’s use of his talent. Whatever the reason, it couldn’t be good. Did he have the power to force light to this point all the way from the bluff? Perhaps they didn’t make it that far and were trapped by a cave-in. Thoughts of the raging river flew in his mind’s eye, and he curled his fingers into fists.
As the tunnel veered right, the byway widened, and his thigh muscles tightened, ready to launch into a run.
A soft oh rode Dae’s breath, and he halted.
The area appeared ready to host a celebration, complete with charming lighting and spaghetti crystal sconces. Shelf rock lined the walls of a tall arched catacomb, and it looked like an artist had scooped bronze stucco on the lower half of the steep walls. Bulbous paw-shaped formations crowned the ceiling and clung to the rock as if the claws were stuck. Crystalline glittered from every surface, bringing to life a beauty normally hidden in the dark caverns: a beauty that swallowed Chad’s nerves into a surreal air of uncertainty.
He tilted his head as a break in the glimmer caught his attention. Is that…a man? He let his pack fall to the ground and broke into a sprint. “Styne?”
As he neared, Becca came to view beside his friend. Chad’s heart sank to his stomach. By the Fates! “Becca!”
He knelt between them, and Styne whispered in a frail breath. “Cha…”
Chad quickly brushed his friend’s lids open with his thumbs. Styne’s gaze wavered and his fingers twitched, revealing a Talit in his palm.
Blood drained from Chad’s face so fast it left prickles in his cheeks. His command rushed from his chest. “Dae, come, now!”
He grabbed the little instrument and tossed it to her as she neared. “Render service. Quickly!”
She aimed the summoner toward Styne and then pressed the button. A golden beam issued forth, hitting him in the midriff.
Styne convulsed, and Chad supported his head. Violent gasps rasped in his throat as the panic in his voice punched the air. “I didn’t… I promised… They’re dead, Chad!” Tears drowned his brown eyes, and his face flushed red.
Chad quickly released him.
Looking away, Styne rolled onto his elbow and braced himself in a half-seated position. His gaze lifted to Dae, a scowl accentuating his shame.
Dae fumbled with the instrument in her hands and shuffled into a sway. She looked at Chad, and Chad thanked the Fates for his telepathic gift. It’d saved them both from embarrassment on many occasions. “Look away, Dae. Never observe a Keeper while he struggles to gain composure.”
“Becca,” whispered Styne with a catch in his breath. He wiped his sleeve across his brow and then looked at her.
Chad brushed the straggled hair from her face. He’d never seen her so pale, so fragile. “Dae, render service to Becca.”
“He is not whole.”
Shock rushed Chad, and Styne’s gaze snapped to Dae at the same time his did. Her caring nature was one of the things he loved about her, but she knew never to question a direct command, especially before another master.
He threw his reprimand to her mind. “And never question my authority before another master. You know this. Don’t make me call for your penitence.”
He hardened his tone and reworded his command. “Only one offering. Dae, serve Becca.”
Dae’s brow lifted with the plea in her voice. “But he struggles. He requires more.”
Styne’s jaw dropped.
Blast! I’m bound to my threat. Chad shot to a stand.
She gasped and threw herself to the ground in a low bow. “Forgive me! I will serve penitence.”
“We have no time for this. You heard my command. Dae, serve Becca!”
Raising her head, she quickly pointed the Talit, and a golden beam caught Becca in the midriff.
As the surge filled his dear friend, punctuated gasps rode her tremors. Chad scooped her into his arms but trained a glare on his server. This type of act he couldn’t overlook, no matter how much he wished he could. “Dae, rise. Penitence will be served upon our return.”
Styne tilted his head back, his show of support for the punishment vivid in his stern features.
She obeyed, keeping her gaze on the ground. Silent words fluttered her lips, and by the pained expression on her face, Chad had no doubt she would run for the shadows to begin her self-reproach immediately, if allowed.
He nestled Becca’s head to his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
Her hands scrunched his vest with a loose grip. “Oh, Chad,” she said with a weak breath. “Leave the World of the Sun alone. We don’t belong there.”
“What happened? Where are your servers?”
“Styne said they were taken by the World Above.”
Styne pushed himself to sit and straightened his back. His brow tightened and it seemed difficult for him to maintain a dignified appearance. “There was a tempest. The whole sky lit up. I knew they existed…learned of them, but I never could have imagined…”
His voice rose in pitch. “It was like the heaven and sea were at battle. The servers were swept away.” He took a haggard breath and dragged his fist across his forehead again. “We knew you were on your way and tried to get to you. But Mother and Father had to stop. They’d gone too long without vitality.”
This just can’t be. “A tempest. In all my travels I’ve never experienced a tempest.”
Styne’s light brown gaze scanned him slowly. A glower crossed his face.
He’s not joking. Chad closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. The ravine and…the tempest must have flooded the waterways. He shook his head as regret washed over him. “Styne, I had no idea anything would happen. I never…how can I…?”
He aimlessly searched the area for something to say, but the sparkling crystals only cemented his guilt. No wonder Styne had sent the light to quicken their trek.
A weak sob puffed from Becca’s lips. He stroked her caramel hair and set his cheek on her head. “I’ll make this up to you. Somehow, I’ll make right come of this.”
Styne looked away, and Chad barely made out his response. “Not this time, Chad.”
His heart sank at the coarse words, and his stomach knotted, causing each breath to end in a small stammer. I led them into a deathtrap.
How could he ever make this right?