The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(7)

She turned and ran to her bedroom, wishing, for the first time, that there was a door she could shut. The only doors in the City were on the temple and in the birthing houses.

She heard her orange mother’s footsteps approach and threw herself onto her bed, facing the glassy wall.

“Otess,” her purple mother called. “Leave her.”

There was a pause, and then the footsteps receded. Sera felt shame wash over her, hot and stinging. She loved her mothers more than anything. She hated the thought that she was hurting them.

But she didn’t call her orange mother back.

Sera stayed there, staring at the star mobile hanging above her, as evening slipped into night. She heard her mothers preparing for bed, sheets rustling, pillows being fluffed, and murmured conversations. She heard her name mentioned several times, but they did not come to see her and she was grateful for it. Usually there was laughter as the house readied for sleep, and the gentle sounds of kissing, but not tonight. Sera wondered if they were feeling as confused and heartbroken as she was.

She could not understand it. It did not make sense for Mother Sun to choose her. Because there were other things, deeper things that made her different, not just her loud laugh or her endless questions. Hidden inside her was the secret she could never let anyone know—that she was incapable of love. Oh, she loved her mothers and Leela, but that was not the only sort of love she desired. She had listened wistfully a year ago when Leela talked of her first kiss, describing how her heart had felt about to burst right out of her chest, the heady pleasure of the feel of someone’s lips, of someone’s hands on her skin. And Sera had giggled and laughed and hidden her ache, knowing that she would never feel that way about any of the girls in the City.

She knew it instinctively, the way she knew how to run and climb and breathe. It wasn’t like the novices, who chose to forgo marriage in order to serve Mother Sun. And it wasn’t like the Cerulean who preferred to live solitary lives, like Freeda—they still engaged in physical pleasure from time to time; they simply chose not to be in a triad. Sera did not choose this.

And worse, she had learned to lie about it. Even during the blood bond. This secret she kept tucked away so deep, not even her purple mother had ever heard it in her heart. And lying was wrong.

The house was too cramped, too stifling, too quiet. Sera slipped out of bed, climbed out the window, and began to run.

She raced along the banks of the Great Estuary, reveling in the feel of the wind in her hair, the mud between her toes, dodging branches of oak and spruce, the golden leaves of polaris trees brushing against her hair, the soothing murmur of the water keeping her company until she came to the island where the temple sat, a giant glass cone pointing up to the stars, its spire glinting in their twinkling light.

Aila’s Bridge was bleached bone white in the moonlight. Sera’s feet whispered over the wooden planks, and she kept clear of the temple doors as if they had eyes of their own. The doors made her think of the bowl, the way the markings had suddenly made sense to her. Heal them, they’d said. Yes, she would heal them. She would heal her beloved City by removing herself from it.

She vaulted over the hedge surrounding the back of the temple and made her way through the Moon Gardens to where a jutting adornment hung over the door that led to the novices’ chambers. She hauled herself up onto the glass shingles. Her fingers and toes were sure, her muscles bunching and releasing as she climbed up, up, up, until she was perched by the golden tip. It was peaceful here. She felt as if she was leaving everything behind, the City, her mothers, the dark fate that awaited her. Up here, there was nothing but the stars.

She wished she could spread her arms and take flight, like the laurel doves that lived in the Aviary. Maybe if she could fly, she wouldn’t be so afraid of falling.

“Sera!” Leela’s whisper bounced across the glass shingles like a skipping stone. Sera could just make out her best friend standing on the ground below, waving up at her.

Leela was a bit of a scaredy-cat. Sera was impressed that she’d snuck out of her bed at all.

“What are you doing here?” Sera called back quietly.

“Come down,” Leela hissed.

Sera gave the stars one last glance and slid down the spire, dropping the last ten feet onto the ground to Leela’s muffled shriek.

“You look as though you haven’t watched me do that a million times.”

“Shhhh.” Leela held out her finger, which glowed bright blue. “We don’t want to wake the novices.”

Sera pressed her lips together and nodded. While the temple was technically open to all Cerulean whenever they wished to use it—as were most things in the City Above the Sky—it wouldn’t do to have the chosen one caught out of bed, on a night of prayer and meditation, climbing on it.

The chosen one. The words set Sera’s stomach in knots.

She held out her own finger, already glowing, toward Leela.

The blood bond was one of the most sacred aspects of Cerulean magic. It was deeply personal and intimate. Sera had only ever bonded with her mothers and Leela. It was not to be taken lightly, the reading of another’s heart.

Their fingers touched. Sera felt the familiar rush of heat as Leela’s magic entered her, and the exhilarating sense of power as her own magic danced into Leela’s veins until it twined and curled around her friend’s heart. Sera could feel Leela’s heartbeat inside her, a second pulse in perfect rhythm with her own.

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