The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(5)

Her heart felt as though it was about to beat its way out of her chest as she and Leela walked up the stairs to the temple, its great golden doors flung wide and covered in the mysterious markings of Mother Sun. Once inside, Sera caught sight of her orange mother.

“Sera, come!” she called.

Leela squeezed her hand. “I’ll see you after,” she said.

Sera nodded and made her way through the crowd. The orange ribbon around her mother’s neck glowed against her silver skin as she bent to smooth Sera’s hair and adjust her dress. Mother Sun had created the Cerulean by taking a token from each of her three Moon Daughters—a tear from devout Dendra, a strand of hair from wise Faesa, and the sound of gentle Aila’s laughter. Each daughter was represented by a color—orange, green, and purple—and each color was given to a Cerulean woman when she married to indicate her role in the family. Orange mothers taught prayer and devotion, green mothers were in charge of education, and purple mothers were nurturers, and also birth mothers, blessed to produce life.

They fell in love in threes, seeking in some sense to reunite the tokens, or so her purple mother had said. Sera knew her mother did not mean it literally—the Moon Daughters were sisters, after all, and not wives. But she knew when she saw her mothers together, in the quiet moments after dinner when they thought Sera was preparing for bed, or in the soft looks they gave each other while working in the garden, that not one would be complete without the other two.

As Sera and her orange mother made their way to their family spot, Sera could not help but be slightly disappointed at the normalcy around her. The temple looked the same as it always did, its wide circular room laid out with cushions like at evening prayers, its vaulted ceiling covered with illustrations of the sun and moons and stars. The only difference was that usually everyone wore hooded prayer robes to the temple, made of soft seresheep wool and dyed pale blue, but since the ceremony had been called so abruptly, no one had had time to change. It was strange to see everyday clothes inside the temple.

Sera’s family spot was on the right side near the alcove that housed the Altar of the Lost: a huge, mounted sun made of intertwining threads of sungold and moonsilver. Tiny, dark blue stargems in the shape of tears adorned its gleaming surface, one for each Cerulean who had died in the Great Sadness.

“Are you excited?” her purple mother asked as she took her seat on a cushion.

“You will get to see another planet, at long last,” her green mother said with a knowing look.

“Who do you think will be chosen?” Sera asked. She felt a twinge of guilt—it did not seem right to be so eager when the ceremony would sentence a Cerulean to death, however honorable and worthy that death might be. But she also could not help herself.

“Hush, that is not for us to decide,” her orange mother said.

Sera craned her neck, looking for Leela—her family was seated not far from Sera’s. Her best friend gave her an excited wave.

As soon as the temple was full, the High Priestess appeared, crossing the chancel to stand behind the pulpit. The novices filed in along the temple walls, and the three acolytes stood behind the High Priestess with solemn expressions.

The High Priestess was the tallest Cerulean in the City, and she held herself with an otherworldly grace. She wore cloudspun robes of brilliant blue that matched her hair, and on her head was a circlet of sungold, a precious moonstone set in its center. Moonstone was exceedingly rare; Sera’s green mother told her it had once possessed its own sort of magic, though she could not say exactly what. The only moonstone remaining in the City were the three statues in the Moon Gardens, the obelisk by the birthing houses, and the High Priestess’s circlet.

And the stone that Leela had found, but that was a secret that only Sera knew.

The High Priestess was beautiful, the fresh flush of youth still evident in her silver cheeks, though she was ancient. Mother Sun would decide when her work was over and the time came for her to pass on.

The High Priestess placed a bowl on the pulpit, one Sera had never seen before. There were various bowls used for different things, ceremonies and celebrations and such, always filling with the light of Mother Sun in hues that varied from pale yellow to darkest green. But this bowl looked old and crumbling. It was not as stately or impressive as others Sera had seen. She could just make out indecipherable markings scratched around its outer edges, reminiscent of those on the temple doors.

“Welcome, my children,” the High Priestess said, raising her hands above her. “May Mother Sun favor us with her light and love. This we pray.”

“This we pray,” the congregation echoed back.

“The time has come at last,” she continued. “Mother Sun has spoken. We are ready to leave this planet behind, to search the recesses of the universe for a new home. Are you ready, my children? Are you prepared to make this sacrifice?”

“We are,” the Cerulean chorused back.

The High Priestess placed her palms gently on either side of the bowl. Sera feared for a moment that any pressure might crack it into pieces, but the bowl was sturdier than it appeared.

“Who among us is strong enough to break the tether? Who here is pure of heart and valiant in her faith? Tell us, Mother! Give us the chosen one.”

The novices began to hum, a prayer song Sera had never heard before, so she imagined it must be special for this particular ceremony. She wondered how the novices had learned it so quickly or if it was one of those songs they had been taught and then forgotten, and had to brush up on as the bells rang out. She swayed on her cushion along with her mothers and the rest of the Cerulean as the High Priestess closed her eyes and bent her head over the bowl. From within its depths, a rich golden light began to shine. Softly at first, then brighter and brighter, until it was painful to look at and Sera’s green mother had to shield her gaze from its radiance. Sera thought she heard strange whispers in foreign tongues coming from the light.

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