The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(10)

Sera never thought she would be in a position where the High Priestess would be apologizing to her.

“It’s all right,” she said, even though it wasn’t, not really. The High Priestess wasn’t the one who would have to throw herself off the edge of the City in three days’ time.

The High Priestess stared into Sera’s eyes in a way that was nearly as intimate as blood bonding. Sera’s stomach squirmed, but she found she could not look away. The moment seemed to stretch for so long, Sera lost track of seconds or minutes or hours.

“You will save us, Sera Lighthaven. Your blood will keep this City strong and vibrant and alive.” The command in the High Priestess’s voice was chilling. It made the hairs on the back of Sera’s neck stand on end. She opened her mouth and found she could not speak. When the High Priestess finally broke their gaze, Sera felt trembly and out of breath, as if she had just sprinted the length of the Estuary.

“I will leave you now. You need time alone, I think.”

And Sera did. She was already tired of the weight hanging from her neck, the responsibility and dread all mixed together. She turned to look through the hedge again, staring down at the planet she had felt so tired of just the day before. She realized how much she would miss it. The lopsided star that was Kaolin was just visible through a cover of thinning clouds, the three points close together on its lower left side almost like a hand waving to her, saying goodbye. So strange that she could feel such a sadness for a place she had never seen, a place that did not even know she or her City or her people existed.

When she turned back, the High Priestess had vanished.



She heard the bells calling out midday prayers for the orange mothers and novices. She felt the ache of hunger creep into her stomach and paid it no mind. She simply sat on the ground at the break in the hedge and stared at the planet below, at the silver-blue-gold tether that she would break, and at the space between where her City ended and the planet began. She could not guess how far it was, how long she would fall before all her blood was gone and she left this world, to live in Mother Sun’s endless embrace.

She did not return home until the hour of the lamb.

Her orange and purple mothers were in the kitchen when she stepped through the front doorway. Their voices sounded tense and strained, though Sera could not make out what they were saying. Or maybe she just didn’t want to hear.

“Sera?” they called at the same time, as if unsure it was her. Sera realized there might have been many visitors today, not just the High Priestess. Who else had come to call, hoping to see the chosen one? She was glad she had stayed by the hedge.

“It’s me,” she said as they came rushing into the sitting room.

“We were so—” her orange mother began, but her purple mother cut her off.

“We are so happy to see you,” she said.

Sera realized then, with a sharp twist of guilt, that she was being horribly selfish. Her mothers were losing a child. Leela was losing a friend. Would she hide herself away from the ones who mattered most, when she had so little time left to spend with them?

“I’m sorry if I worried you,” she said. “I only . . .”

She didn’t know how to finish her sentence without sounding awful.

“You needed some time on your own,” her purple mother said.

“Of course you did,” her orange mother agreed, but Sera could see the panic behind her eyes and wondered with a start if maybe her mothers had thought she was never coming home.

“Did the High Priestess not tell you where I was?” she asked.

Her orange mother looked startled. “We have not seen her since she left with you.”

Sera’s eyes widened. “You did not go to prayers?”

Her orange mother never missed prayers. Never, not even when she broke an ankle chasing a stray peahen in the Aviary and it took a full day before her blood had healed it.

“She would not leave this house until you returned,” her purple mother said.

“We would not have you come home to a house without all of us in it,” her orange mother said.

“You didn’t fear Mother Sun would be angry with you?” Sera asked.

Her orange mother strode up and looked her daughter in the eye with such ferocity of love, Sera felt her breath stop in her chest.

“She is a mother, first and foremost,” her orange mother said. “She understands.”

Sera blinked. She could feel the tears building, but she was not ready to give in to them yet. “Where is Green Mother?” she asked. Her other two mothers exchanged a look.

“She is sewing you a new robe,” her purple mother said. “For the feast tonight.”

“Leela said she would come by, if you wanted to go to the Great Estuary to bathe first,” her orange mother said.

Sera did not want to go out in the City and be stared at like some spectacle, but she had not bathed yesterday and she would be embarrassed to show up dirty to a feast being held in her honor. So she nodded.

“I am going to change into simpler clothes,” she said, and then headed to her bedroom without waiting for a response. She chose an old prayer robe that was plain and unadorned, nearly worn through at the elbows. She hung up her cloudspun dress, then collapsed onto her bed and stared at the mobile.

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