The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(11)

“I am a Cerulean,” she said aloud. “My blood is magic.”

The mobile spun slowly and offered her no comfort.

“Sera?” Her purple mother hovered in the doorway. Sera didn’t say come in, but she didn’t tell her to leave either. Why was it so difficult to talk to her mothers now, especially when she should want to be closer to them?

Her purple mother curled around her on the bed, resting Sera’s head in the crook of her shoulder. Sera could feel the lavender ribbon around her neck brushing softly against her own forehead, and she breathed in her purple mother’s honeysuckle scent.

“Your orange mother made that for you the day you were born,” her purple mother said, with a gesture to the floating stars. “Did we ever tell you that story?”

“Green Mother said that you all went to one of the birthing houses where it was very peaceful, and then a few hours later I was born and you took me home.” Sera repeated the story dully. Her birth held no interest to her anymore.

Her purple mother laughed, stirring up wisps of Sera’s hair. “Seetha likes to keep things short and sweet, that is certain.”

“It wasn’t like that?”

“Well, we did go to the birthing house, but we were there for more than just a few hours and it was anything but peaceful. Childbirth is quite a bloody business. Your green mother had to leave the room for a few moments.”

“Was Green Mother afraid?”

“Yes. She was afraid for me. She did not want to see me in pain.”

Sera sat up straight. “I hurt you?”

Her purple mother put a hand on Sera’s cheek. “Oh, my darling, it was a pain I would suffer again in a heartbeat. I have you because of it. And when the midwife placed you in my arms, so tiny and warm, I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful.”

Sera threw herself into her purple mother’s embrace, the tears she’d managed to hold at bay tumbling over her lids and spilling down her cheeks, jagged sobs ripping through her chest.

Her mother held her and said nothing, and when at last the tears were spent, she raised a glowing fingertip.

I do not want this, Sera’s heart confessed in agony. She could feel her purple mother’s pain swirling around her own, an older, stronger grief, with wisps and curls of feelings she didn’t quite comprehend. For the first time, her purple mother’s heart had no words for Sera to read. Just pain.

“Sera!” Leela’s voice rang out cheerfully, and Sera could tell she was trying hard to sound like her normal, upbeat self. “Come, if you stink half as much as I do you must be dying for a bath!”

Her purple mother’s laugh was cut through with sorrow. “She is a good friend,” she said. Then she kissed Sera’s forehead, got up, and walked toward the doorway. Pausing and turning back, she added, “You will be loved long after the ceremony, Sera. Remember that. As long as the stars burn in the sky, I will love you.”

The Great Estuary was full of Cerulean bathing before the feast, naked and laughing, splashing about or eyeing each other with curiosity and desire.

When Sera arrived with Leela in tow, the laughter and shouting vanished as quickly as if she had clapped a hand over all their mouths.

“Don’t pay them any mind,” Leela said as they stripped off their robes and waded in up to their waists.

Everyone stared, even the adults. Some bowed to her, others murmured, “Praise her” or “The chosen one.” Plenna, Jaycin, and Heena were closest to them—they were a few years older than Sera and had been a triad for many months now.

She remembered what Koreen had said yesterday in the cloudspinners’ grove, that the wedding season was coming. The three girls would be getting married soon. And Sera was going to miss it.

“Good afternoon, Plenna,” Leela said with a wave. Plenna’s mothers lived in the dwelling next to Leela’s. She wished Leela didn’t have to be so friendly to everyone, and then instantly hated herself for thinking it. It was not Leela’s fault that Sera had been chosen, and they would all be staring at her anyway.

The girl gave a start and nodded at Leela, her eyes flitting back to Sera.

“Good afternoon, chosen one,” she said.

Sera tried to laugh, but it sounded as forced as it felt. “Come now, I am still only Sera.”

Plenna did not seem to know what to say to that. Jaycin slipped her arm around Plenna’s waist and nodded a bit more genially.

“Good afternoon,” she said, but Sera didn’t fail to notice that she hadn’t used her name either.

She wanted to dissolve, disappear. She wanted everything to go back to the way it had been, when she was just an odd, curious girl, nothing more. The eyes on her were like needles pricking her skin. So she took a deep breath and dove into the Estuary, kicking with her strong legs, propelling herself through the water. Under here, there was no sound. The sun trout did not care if she was the chosen one. The silence pressed blissfully against her eardrums, the water rippling over her bare skin.

She swam and swam, surfacing just once for air before she reached the opposite shore.

She sat on the muddy bank, keeping only her head above the water, watching as the playing and laughing and joking resumed now that she’d left. A pall had been lifted. She watched as Plenna washed Heena’s back, then leaned forward to kiss her shoulder. Heena smiled and closed her eyes. Jaycin took advantage of the moment and splashed them both. Heena shrieked and laughed, and she and Jaycin fell kissing into the water while Plenna shook her head and pretended to be exasperated.

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