Tittle: Blue Serenity
Earth of Old date: 2417 AD
Some events require full body armor and defensive weaponry. Before night’s end, I would wish for both. Better yet, to have canceled my coming-of-age ceremony altogether. But no one offered me that choice.
If only I’d insisted.
I pushed open my balcony doors and breathed in the scent from thousands of roses. Already the palace gardens drowned in a floral invasion. White blooms smothered the tables, fence railings, and hillside patios that sloped down to the lake. Like my people, roses weren’t natives of Shelazon. We all languished on a foreign world, relics of our Homeworld, the place the humans called Earth before the telepaths destroyed it.
The king’s daughter. That’s how the Nadiv healers thought of me. Not as Serenity. Not as Princess Serenity. Not as one of them.
I was a nameless entity belonging to the king, but it was better that way. If the others discovered my secret, there wouldn’t be a grave deep or dark enough for me and the few people who’d made the mistake of protecting me.
On one of the patios, a healer elder named Jasen paced, hands crossed over his bony chest, black silk robes swishing. The setting sun slashed red across his face. He barked instructions in his usual nasal whine. “No. Sweets in the garden. Savory on the terrace.” He glared toward my quarters on the third floor, face scrunched up like an old man’s gnarled fist. “What a waste, throwing a party for that half-breed mongrel.”
Another diminutive healer stomped past him, yanking on tablecloths, slamming down silverware. She paused to pat around her bun, as if the strain of decorating caused her black hairs to stray. A canine trotted around her and sat, eyes on me. I pretended I didn’t see it, but I could feel its gaze, hear its thoughts calling to me. It barked, demanding I connect to its mind.
The healer stilled, watching the canine watching me. My insides tightened. I scooted back, out of her sight line, but I could hear her high-pitched voice over the dog’s barking. “She’s unnatural, that one. Deviant and destructive. Takes after her mother’s people. Mark me, she’ll do something to to ruin—”
The noise outside went silent. Master Eli, my protector, teacher, and sometimes warden, stood in my doorway, hand lingering over the audio shield switch he’d activated. His wide shoulders filled the wooden door frame. “What have I told you about listening to those healers’ poison?”
Not waiting for my answer, he strode past the iron fountain in the center of my room toward my desk, footfalls silent on the stone floor, posture as stiff as his forest-green warrior uniform. He looked over my bed, probably making sure I’d pulled the covers military straight. A band secured his platinum hair in a tight tail and a broadsword loomed over his shoulder. Unlike the healers who thought of carrying a sharp pencil as living dangerously, Nadiv warriors accessorized with weapons, the deadlier the better.
Master Eli didn’t need weapons to look imposing. His stern expression and muscular stature towering eight inches taller than my five-foot-six frame took care of that. He glared out the window. “I have no idea how a people gifted with the ability to heal by touch can be so intolerable.” He glanced my way. “Present company excluded.”
But the healers’ words rattled in my head: unnatural, deviant, mongrel. “We both know they’ll never accept me, the half breed.”
“You’re worth more than a legion of them.”
“I think they suspect. You didn’t see—”
“Ignore them. Elder Jasen’s been ill tempered since humans commenced with using electricity, and celebrations make healers irritable.”
“Reminds them of too much.” He nodded toward the gown hanging on my closet door.
“You should be dressed.”
The gown’s sapphire hue matched my eyes and complimented my dark hair. The shiny blue fabric distracted from my too-dark-to-be-a-healer cinnamon skin. Father said I would look beautiful. It was the perfect dress for the perfect healer princess.
More like the perfect imposter.
Needing something to do with my hands that didn’t involve punching, I straightened my bookshelf filled with volumes about famous warriors. Lord Teomir’s handsome face stared back at me from one of the covers. “This ceremony is a bad idea.”
Eli raised a finger, a sure sign a lecture followed. “What have I taught you in warrior training, apprentice? Free your mind. Focus. Face the enemy.”
“Certainly. I’ll storm out there in combat boots and swing a sword around. The pacifist healers will be thrilled.”
“Your father told you to cease your worries about the oath.”
Eli had a talent for not only getting to the point but also stomping on it. The squeeze of discomfort in my chest ballooned into a tourniquet. “No, Father said, ‘Duty first, worry second.’”
“Then you should listen.”
A shiver slithered down my neck. I rubbed it away. “I can’t explain it, but I have a feeling will end in disaster.”
Behind my desk, Eli smoothed the indigo silk banner hanging on the wall—one of the few prophet relics I possessed from my mother. I sensed rather than saw solemn waves the same color as the banner billowing from Eli’s mind—my deviant brain’s way of giving color to his emotions.
I blinked to clear away the intrusion. Sensing emotions in colors wasn’t a healer or prophet trait. Instead, this extra ability was one of my deadly talents I had to conceal if I wanted to live.
Eli stared at the banner, but seemed a million light-years away. A blast of crimson crashed into my mind. Was he angry? If I were a full telepath, one that could read people’s minds, I’d know, but if I were a full telepath, I wouldn’t have survived this long.
“I wish your mother still lived.” His words came out rushed and hushed, as though he spoke to himself. “She could help you. Perhaps this feeling is your prophet instincts. Some can sense the future through visions.” He released the banner, as though touching it burned his fingers and cleared his throat, back in the room, back in his role of stern master. “But most prophets are just big wind bags.” He parted the curtains and grunted. “Marvelous. That nature-tender’s been eating mushrooms again.”
Outside, a vine smacked the backside of a healer. A few patio levels down, a lanky male swished his finger around in the air. The same vine, weaving like a charmed snake, yanked on the healer’s hair. He snickered. She scowled. The audio shields were still on, so I couldn’t hear her retort, but by the way she stomped on the plant, it wasn’t nice. Two tall warriors headed toward the troublemaker.
I couldn’t stop my chuckle. “I rarely see the nature-tenders in action. They’re amazing.”
Eli pinched the bridge of his nose. “That one’s a tree-talking nightmare. I’d better get out there before he makes more trouble.” At the door, Eli released the audio shields and speared me with one more glance. “I’ll be back in half an hour. Be dressed. No excuses.”
Arguing with a warrior was as useful as debating with a rock, but I called after him anyway. “I might as well be dressing for my funeral.”