Daughter of the Sun, Aumelan Book One, Chapter Nine. YA Dystopian Fantasy.
Daughter of the Sun
Chad scanned the central square of Aumelan. A multitude of quiet souls stood before him, elite and commoners, joined by a common bond: the limitation of his people.
The wide court gently sloped from the ceremonial hub to the edges of East Side fashion district and North Side farming markets. Eaves of the freestanding commerce peeked over the crowd and mimicked the sober expressions in their sienna hues. Occasional droplets fell from the stalactites of the vast cavern like tears onto the sandstone roofs, leaving dark trails on the surface. They slowly dimmed as the material drank it in.
He searched the grand ceiling protecting the Hollow Hand from the World Above, a protection that did nothing to keep true danger from his people. The vaulted upper scope crowned the city with sediment draped in shades of amber and toffee. Thin rods jutted downward as if someone had poked delicate straws into the stone. With colors too numerous to count, they hung like shining streamers in the gaps between pineapple and spaghetti-shaped crystals. They set the city alight illuminations many would never know compared to the radiance of the sun.
His gaze dropped as the musician stepped onto the amber platform along the far wall. Raw crystals sparkled behind a wide stream of water and together served as a backdrop before it angled to flow into the underground channel backstage. The man took his position at the stalactite organ and keyed the intricate tabs. Calcium and limestone joined to utter a reverberant strain as the organ’s mallets struck the works of nature. The three-acre instrument stretched between the elite’s and common’s housing tunnels filled the region with rich tones. The deep harmonic salve filled the city.
Chad’s heart vibrated at each cord. How many more of these deaths would he stand witness to? How many Chambers, in the panicked and anxious aftermath, would be commanded to offer more service than needed? Three-day intervals would turn to two, and in the large commoner families, who afforded only minimal hosting, servants could be crippled by the Talit’s continuous summon.
He looked at Becca’s hands, looped around his forearm in a tight hold. Placing his palm over her fingers, he hoped to relay comfort. Who was he kidding? How could such a small gesture relieve the pain of the moment, or hide the fact she faced the ceremony reserved to bring closure after death…but never did?
Her chin lifted and blue eyes peered at him. Light brown hair framed her dainty features as it flowed past her shoulders like silk. She took a long breath and slowly released it, looking to the empty air. She seemed too fragile, and a hollow pit formed in his stomach.
Styne’s elbow brushed Chad’s side, and he glanced at his lifelong friend. His brown eyes flitted Chad’s way but betrayed nothing, though Chad knew the torrent of emotions they hid. Fawn hair released a small bead of sweat to join those dotted on his narrow brow. Regret hit Chad’s heart anew. The small celebration at the cave had been his idea. The memory of Becca’s heartrending sobs and Styne’s struggle to maintain dignity as they carted their parents’ bodies home clouded his vision.
Forcing the scene from his mind, he averted his gaze and let it settle on the tall fountains beside them. Crystal designs embedded in surfaces sparkled as if in invitation for solace.
I hope they find the resolve others have in those waters. He tempered a scowl. Such a grand reminder of the limitation. He pointedly blinked to the black marble floor of the plinth.
Becca’s breath hitched. Styne squared his shoulders, and Chad sighed. It’s time.
The chieftains of Aumelan filed from the East Side and the crowd parted, allowing them to take their places before the falls. Ruby-crested belts hugged their black trousers, an occasional spark dancing along the gems. The Leading Father of Mastery led the procession, Tyro keeping step behind him. His fellow Leading Fathers neighbored him, a string of beads wound along their right arms. Chad flexed his wrist, causing his own beads to brush the top of his hand. Their smooth surface chilled his skin, reminding him of the status he held.
Becca’s grip tightened as a silent hiccup jarred her. He glanced her way, and his heart sank. Tears welled in her eyes, and her neck thickened as if she fought a sob. Her lashes batted away the droplets and lips pressed into a thin line. Chad squeezed her hand to his waist.
Fathers of the Nation followed the senior leaders and several looked Chad’s way. Prior opinions of his unorthodox leadership flew through his mind. He lifted his chin. Nothing would keep him from standing beside Styne and Becca at this moment, not even his duty as a Leading Father.
The organ’s doleful echoes died as Mathis Aumelan stepped forward. The golden cummerbund he wore set him apart from the other Fathers of the Nation, but his baronial appearance left no doubt of his position. Chad glanced at him.
Mathis appeared unaffected by the events as he faced Becca. Chad resented the lack of compassion at once. This isn’t just any family’s loss, Father. Aaron Compton was a trusted colleague and friend. Chad narrowed his eyes but stopped short of sharing his thoughts. Show a sign of comfort! It wouldn’t hurt your standing in the least.
His father handed Becca a small vial. Without a word, she stepped to the pool of the fountain base and emptied the crimson liquid into the water. She set the container on the marble base and reclaimed Chad’s steady arm.
Mathis placed his hand on Styne’s shoulder and held out a vial. Accepting the token, Styne’s gaze lifted. He scanned the inhabitants filling the city center. Chad followed his friend’s regard. Eyes closed, chins lifted, and heads nodded. Chad understood the silent acceptance of Styne’s simple acknowledgement. All had honored his parents.
Styne turned and poured the blood of his father into the water of the fountain. “Father, I honor you. May these people remember your dedicated service and accept me in your stead.”
Taking the vial from Styne’s grip, Mathis set it on the plinth’s ledge.
Tyro stepped forward, a string of cerulean beads draped in his hands. “Your arm, Styne,” he whispered.
Chad eased his head to the side as the moment washed over him. Aaron should be the one to present such an honor to his son. Aaron should feel the joy of seeing his son join the Fathers. But for Styne to ask Tyro to perform the duty had to touch his uncle’s heart. Any other in Styne’s position would have requested Mathis. His lips lifted into a small smile. Perhaps Styne would request him as his guide, also.
Styne’s jaw clenched. Palm down, he held his arm forward. Tyro looped the beads that once belonged to Aaron Compton, Styne’s father and mentor, around his wrist. He then drew it across his elbow, dipped it under his arm, and then secured it to the young man’s shoulder.
“Styne Compton, you have reached the age of manhood. Having been born of noble blood, I endow you. You shall be known as a Father of the Nation.” Tyro lowered his voice and smiled. “Thank you for this honor.”
Chad swallowed the lump in his throat. It was one thing to receive this status by earning it through achievements, learning what was expected of such a standing from a trusted guide as he had. But to be thrust into it due to the death of a father was something entirely different. Styne faced a hard road to prove himself to those he would lead.
As Tyro sidestepped, Mathis handed Styne a small box, the Compton family crest etched into the marble lid: Aaron’s safe keep for the treasure his son inherited.
Words rolled off the Leading Father of Mastery’s tongue as if he anointed a seasoned man. “Styne Compton, from this time forward, you shall be revered as a Leading Father of the Nation, holding the authorities and responsibilities of such standing. You have learned well the constitutions of this rite and honor is now placed upon you.” He turned to the people. “The Compton name lives on.”
As Mathis shook Styne’s hand, Chad bit back a scoff. That’s it? All the years his trusted comrade stood beside him, and that’s all he has to say? No eulogy, no recognition for his dedication? He softly caressed Becca’s fingers. They deserve more than a mention of continued heritage and transfer of authority.
His conscience threw the circumstances back at him and he flushed. It’s my fault they’re going through this to begin with. I’ve got to make this right.
Filling his lungs with a thick breath, Chad searched for relief from the guilt. Blast the limitation! This should have never happened. His people deserved more than the threat of death every few days. The Chambers deserved more than a life of subservience. Both deserved freedom from this state.
As if spurred by the thought, pure understanding filled him as scenes of the World Above flashed through his mind: the warmth of the white sun, the open air teeming with energy, the freedom it held.
Heat pulsed in his chest and charged down his arms as he recognized Fate’s hand in the crisp visions.
Yes! The freedom of the World Above... The World of the Sun holds the solution to it all. He clenched his jaw and set his resolve. And with Fate on my side, I will find a way to succeed and make our lives the way they should be. Free.