The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(3)

“Your green mother is a very patient woman.”

Sera dropped the clump of cloud onto the frosty grass. The oldest stories said the nebula trees had come from one of the first planets the City Above the Sky had tethered itself to, long before Sera or her mothers or her mothers’ mothers were born, someplace cold and dark and full of mystery. That was another part of the magic of the tether—it could grow little pieces of whatever planet it was connected to in the City Above the Sky, be it a flower or a beetle or a type of stone. “Planetary gifts,” the High Priestess called them. There were fish in the Estuary whose scales could light up in all sorts of colors, with long glassy filaments that hung over their eyes—they had come from the last planet, the one that changed everything, where the Great Sadness occurred. Most Cerulean avoided these fish, but Sera thought they were lovely. She liked to sit very still with her hand under the water until they would come and nibble at her fingers.

The gifts from their current planet were rather boring—short, scrubby olive trees and soft white shells from Pelago; gray birds with bright red chests and a bronze-colored metal from Kaolin that could be dug up in the stargem mines.

Leela put a hand on her wrist, and Sera was startled out of her thoughts.

“You will find your purpose in time,” she said. “I know it. Besides, you’re good at plenty of things, not just at asking more questions in two days than Koreen asks in a year.” Sera’s lips twitched as Leela ticked things off on her fingers. “You’re the fastest runner in the City. You can eat more squash blossoms in one sitting than any twelve Cerulean combined. You climb everything with limbs and many without—I know you still sneak up to the top of the temple.”

Sera felt grateful for the millionth time that she had Leela in her life. But the truth was, the only things Sera seemed to be good at besides running and climbing were loving her mothers and being friends with Leela.

She blew on her hands to warm them, thinking she would bathe in the Estuary this evening after dinner. She hoped her green mother would be cooking tonight—now that Leela had mentioned squash blossoms, Sera found herself craving them. Her orange mother loved trying her hand in the kitchen, but she always overcooked everything, and her purple mother would joke that she should content herself with making only salads.

Suddenly, from deep within the City, the clear, rich boom of the temple bells rang out. All the girls in the grove stopped what they were doing, every face turned toward the sound. It was not time for evening prayers. So why would the bells be ringing?

“Perhaps they are announcing the wedding season today!” Daina exclaimed.

There was a rustling sound and Baarha, one of the adult cloudspinners, appeared in the clearing, flushed and out of breath. “Come, girls, come! Leave the spinning wheels; we must get to the temple.”

“What’s happening?” Leela asked.

Baarha’s eyes were so wide Sera could see whites all around her brilliant blue irises, and they sparkled with fear. “Mother Sun has spoken,” she said. “A choosing ceremony is about to begin. The time has come for the City to move.”


THE BELLS WERE STILL RINGING WHEN SERA, LEELA, AND the other girls ran, panting, over Faesa’s Bridge to the island in the middle of the Great Estuary, where the temple stood.

They joined the throng of Cerulean pouring over all three of the bridges that connected the island to the rest of the City, and uncertainty hung like a cloud over the crowds, as black as the leaves of the nebula trees. Sera looked for her mothers but saw no sign of them. Perhaps they were already inside.

“Who do you think will be chosen to break the tether?” Koreen whispered.

“Someone strong, I imagine,” Daina whispered back. “Maybe Freeda?”

Freeda ran the orchards and had broad shoulders and muscled arms. But Sera did not think Mother Sun would choose a Cerulean for her physical strength alone.

“No, someone pious,” Elorin said. “Perhaps an acolyte.”

Sera just hoped it wouldn’t be one of her mothers who was chosen. Some traditions may have been lost or forgotten over the hundreds of years attached to this planet, but the ceremony to make the tether and break the tether was not one of them. And what the ceremony required was blood—the sacrifice of a Cerulean.

“Why now, do you think?” Sera said. “What happened to make the City need to move after all these years?”

“Why don’t you ask your green mother? She seems to have all the answers,” Koreen said.

Sera pressed her lips together. The fact was, her green mother’s answers to all of Sera’s most important questions were merely guesses. No one remembered if the Cerulean had actually tended to the tether in the past. No one remembered the name of the planet they had left, or how choosing ceremonies had come about; and no one could satisfactorily explain why Cerulean could not visit the planets anymore when it had been so long since the Great Sadness, and this planet was not the same as that one.

Her green mother had taught her as much as she could about Kaolin and Pelago. Sera learned that parents in those countries consisted of one male and one female, and they could have as many children as they wished. Sera didn’t like the sound of that, to be honest—she enjoyed being her mothers’ only child. Her purple mother would be able to have another daughter only after Sera had left their dwelling to live on her own, and only when a new birthing season was announced. But there were no birthing seasons in Kaolin or Pelago. They could have children any time, in any year. Cerulean birthing seasons lasted anywhere from five to fifteen years—the season Sera had been born in lasted eight. Once the season was over, no children would be born until the next birthing season began, years and years later. Population had to be carefully controlled in the City Above the Sky. It had been eighteen years since the last birthing season.

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