The Cerulean (Untitled Duology, #1)(8)

Frightened, Sera’s heart said.

Cerulean were not meant to be frightened. They were meant to be calm and loving. They were meant to value Mother Sun and their community over all else. They were meant to be better people than Sera was. All of this she poured, unspoken, into Leela.

Frightened, Leela’s heart answered, and Sera read her friend’s confusion and was surprised to find anger in Leela’s heart as well. Both of their fears mixed together and Sera felt a burst of relief, not because she wanted Leela to be scared, but because, for one moment, at least she didn’t feel so alone.

“Sera,” her purple mother called. “There is someone here to see you.”

Sera rubbed her eyes. Pale morning light filled her room—she had watched it turn from gray to gold as the sun rose, unable to sleep, the comfort of the night’s blood bond with Leela fading away, leaving her own fear to grow and gnaw at her.

“Sera.” Her purple mother stood in the doorway.

“I do not wish to see anyone,” Sera said, keeping her gaze on her star mobile. Why was it so hard to look at her mother?

“It is the High Priestess,” her mother said.

Sera sat up so fast her head spun. “Here?” she asked. “At our dwelling?”

The High Priestess had never visited a Cerulean dwelling before, as far as Sera knew.

“Your orange mother is making her tea,” her purple mother said, with a halfhearted attempt at a conspiratorial smile.

Yesterday it would have been fun to see her orange mother in a tizzy over such an honored visitor. Yesterday she would have laughed with her purple mother, and perhaps added a jest of her own.

Her knees felt wooden as she got out of bed. Her purple mother helped her into a fresh cloudspun dress and they walked down the hall to the sitting room, just as her orange mother was serving tea. The scent of lemongrass and sage filled the air.

“There you are!” she exclaimed. “Look who has come to visit you.”

Seeing the High Priestess sitting on the sofa was bizarre—it was like seeing a seresheep in prayer robes or watching a laurel dove fly backward. It didn’t make sense. Her radiance made everything in the room seem a little plainer, from the upholstery to the teacups to the framed pressed flowers that hung on the walls.

“The chosen one,” she said in her honeyed voice, standing and holding out her arms. Sera wasn’t sure what the gesture meant, but her orange mother jerked her head and so she took a few wobbly steps forward. The High Priestess placed her hands on Sera’s shoulders—she could feel the heat of them through her dress. She had never been touched by the High Priestess before.

“Will you come for a walk with me?” she asked. “We have much to discuss.”

The thought of being alone with the High Priestess was stranger than having her in the sitting room. But Sera nodded anyway, wondering if she was even controlling her actions anymore or if her body was simply moving on its own through pure instinct. She followed the High Priestess out the door, catching a glimpse of her green mother in the kitchen as they left—she was bent over the table with a sewing needle in her hand.

The air was scented with sunlight and grass, a smell that declared a new day’s beginning. It was more pungent today, sharper and clearer, as if reminding Sera of how few mornings she had left. They skirted around her orange mother’s garden, a plump red tomato hanging ripe and ready to be picked on one of the stalks. Sera had never truly considered how perfect tomatoes were, their rich color, their earthy scent, their juicy flesh. How could such a simple thing suddenly seem so precious?

Then she saw several pairs of curious eyes watching from the dwelling next door and her mood soured.

“I imagine you have many questions for me,” the High Priestess said, turning away from the cluster of dwellings and heading down a lesser-used, hedge-lined path that led to the edge of the City.

“Why me?” Sera blurted out, once the last dwelling had disappeared from view and they were well and truly alone. “Why did Mother Sun choose me?”

“Because she found you worthy,” the High Priestess replied. “I know it may seem frightening and strange now, but you were chosen for a reason. You may not see it in yourself, but she sees all. She knows you, Sera Lighthaven, and she loves you.” She smiled and took one of Sera’s hands—Sera could not help but notice again how hot her skin was. “Do not fear. You will not feel any pain.”

Sera hadn’t actually considered the pain. She had been occupied enough with the fall. A new dread crept into her stomach.

“You are sure there isn’t . . . Perhaps Mother Sun . . . made a mistake,” Sera said hesitantly.

The High Priestess released her and took a step back. “Mother Sun does not make mistakes.” There was an edge to her voice that made Sera feel ashamed for even suggesting it. Koreen probably wouldn’t have questioned Mother Sun’s will, or Treena, or Daina. Why couldn’t Sera be like everybody else?

The High Priestess sighed. “It has been so long since a ceremony, I have forgotten some of my patience. I apologize. You are not the first to question your worthiness as chosen one.”

“I-I’m not?” she stammered.

The High Priestess leaned down so that her face was level with Sera’s, her blue hair partly obscuring her expression. “A Cerulean was chosen to create this tether, too. I would have thought you would have remembered that, what with your avid interest in the past.”

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