"Do you think we'll ever be able to leave, Chief?"
"This again, boy? Why would you ever want to leave the kingdom in the first place? You have everything you've ever wanted." The Chief gestures to the impressive castle at the end of the staircase where he stands guard.
"I want to know what's up there."
The Chief sighs, the impatience dragging out in his breath, "Our ancestors did not carve an entire kingdom underground just for kicks, Rahnin. It's dangerous on the surface! Besides, you can't get up there without a pair of wings, and Oua knows no one's born with those anymore."
“Well why not?” Rahnin stares brightly up at the light cascading from the gaping hole hundreds of meters above the glittering castle.
The Chief musters an irritated groan, “No one knows kid, what makes you think I would?”
"Well… can we buy wings? I want to fly!"
"Spoiled brat...", the Chief mutters under his breath. "Why don't you ask your dad then, boy, I've got a job to do."
Rahnin's face blooms with excitement and he bursts up the castle's staircase. His feet prance across the polished marble floors as he makes his way to the throne room. The hallways glisten with the reflected light of crystals growing up the walls and across the ceiling. Rahnin makes his way through the pillars of pure amethyst that mark the entrance to his father's royal throne room.
"Sir! Chief Lerro says we can buy wings! I want them!"
The King sits upright in his crystal throne at the sound of his son's request. "I... do believe you've been mislead Rahnin", he replies, puzzled. "There is no other with wings to give my boy."
"But... Sir, I want to fly. To the surface!"
"Rahnin", the King's voice turned stern, “we have talked about this. You, nor anyone else, is to leave this kingdom. It is unsafe.”
“But Sir, you said there still might be others up there. Maybe they’re in danger! Or maybe it’s not dangerous at all… they could be happy! We cou-”
"Go up to your quarters and do not speak of this again. I will not have you forsaking the good life Oua has created for us in Amithore. It is the greatest of all the ground-built kingdoms and it protects us from the demons on the surface who would see us killed. Do you forsake Oua boy?"
"Good." The King turned to his guard, "Mel, will you please escort Rahnin to his quarters? He will remain there for the night."
Rahnin's face wilts at this remark from his father. Mel places a hand on his back and silently escorts him out of the throne room. On the way up the long, spiraling staircase to Rahnin's room, Rahnin takes the time to observe Mel as she walks beside him.
The talons on her toes and fingers are the same black as the scales that form up her calves and forearms. Thick protective plates are crusted onto the outer parts of these extremities and they bare the damage of a commanding royal guard. Her fair skin brightly contrasts this leathery surface, though much of it is maimed with hundreds of clean cut scars trailing from her scalp to her legs. Her body and thighs are wrapped in purple cloth and plated with light steel armor.
"Why have you got so many scars where your feathers 'aught to be? I've seen lots of others who have got scars just like that."
Mel glances down at Rahnin and then back down at the stairs. She takes a scaly hand and rubs the abrasions on the back of her neck. "An other like me isn't allowed to display their feathers like royals do." Mel looks at Rahnin, "Be proud of yours, they're lovely," she offers Rahnin a smile and he throws her a big goofy grin.
“Where do they go?”
Mel grins nervously, “Oua takes them from others who are not royal when they’re children. She uses them to make Her wings bigger and stronger so that She can protect all of the yurru.”
“Oh. Do you remember when you had feathers?”
“A little, yes.”
"What color were they?"
"They were as blue as the sky on the surface. Just like yours."
Rahnin's eyes light up, "The sky is blue?! Like my feathers?!"
Mel's soft laugh echoes up through the halls, "Yes, but I've only heard it from the stories of Oua. There's a lot written about the surface in Her tales. Maybe you should read them."
"Yeah! Take me to the library!"
"Oh, not tonight Rahnin. Your father ordered you to your quarters."
"Oh, right... but, can you go get it for me?"
Mel grins, "Sure, I'll bring it to you after supper."
Rahnin gasps with excitement, "Thank you, Mel!" He grasps her legs to hug her once they reach the top of the staircase.
Both travel down a short hallway and push open the doors to Rahnin's quarters. Jagged-cut sapphires encrust the ceiling and illuminate the slick white floors. Rahnin scurries up to his short loft and leaps onto his bed of carefully woven feathers. Mel waves goodbye as she begins to shut the doors.
"Mel, wait!" Rahnin rolls off the bed just as quickly as he got on it and begins rifling through a chest beside it. He then bounds across the floor and presents Mel with an assortment of small diamonds. "For supper! And dessert!"
Mel smiles gratefully and holds her hand out to Rahnin to receive them. "Oh, Rahnin, you're too kind." Rahnin dumps the gems into her hand and hugs Mel once more. "Bye, Mel."
"I'll return my prince." Mel tussles the plumage on his head and shuts the doors.
Rahnin scrambles back into bed and grabs the journal from underneath his pillows. He flips through nearly half the book containing doodles and entries from a few days past. He leans up to grab the quill from the shelf carved out of the wall and dabs it into an ink pot.
Mel is helping me learn more about the surface! She is bringing me The Tales of Oua for me to read. Pastor Geja says it's a very long book and I'm too young to read it but I'll just skip to the parts when Oua talks about the surface.
Dad doesn't want me talking about it anymore but he doesn't know Mel's helping me anyway so that's okay. He gets mad when I talk about the surface ever. I don't know why he doesn't want to see what's up there too.
Rahnin allows the ink to dry while he cleans his pen and puts away his ink. A firm knock on the door pulls him away from his nightly routine. He stumbles over to the door, wet pen in hand, and pulls it open.
"Oh, evening, Pastor Geja." The Pastor's presence brings a smile to the boy's face.
"Evening my prince." Pastor Geja bows in respect. "The Chef is here with your supper and I am here for your nightly worship."
Rahnin pulls the door wide open to allow them passage. "Evening, Chef Dure!"
"Evening young master." Chef Dure places Rahnin's supper on his table and bows. The Chef then makes a hasty exit, tripping on his apron strings in a hurry to serve the other royals.
Pastor Geja sits at one end of the table, legs crossed on the slippery floor, while Rahnin shuts the door behind the Chef and comes to join her.
"Sent to your room for dinner again, Rahnin? This isn't more nonsense about the surface is it? You know how your father gets."
"I'm sorry, Pastor,” Rahnin sighs and places his pen on the table to dry, “I told him I wanted wings because Chief Lerro said they’re the only way I can leave Amithore, and I want to leave so I can see the surface! He... wasn't as excited about it as I was."
Pastor Geja sighed sympathetically. "Young master, the surface is no place for Yurru like us. There were many wars waged there, and so much hatred. The spirits of the others who lived through that still dwell on the surface as demons. They are dangerous, just like they were in times of war. Oua carved away at the untainted earth and created a haven for the Yurru who held no hate in their hearts. Let us praise him."
Rahnin nods and closes his eyes, placing his left hand on his head. His three middle fingers rest on his forehead while his pinky and thumb each touch the points of his eyes. Pastor Geja does the same and raises her right hand up toward the ceiling.
Pastor Geja began worship. "Oua, our protector, may your reach spread to all Yurru who share in your love. Please bless our food and fresh water, and let it be filled with your spirit. We are forever grateful. Oua be with us."
"Oua be with us." Rahnin opens his eyes and brings his hands down to his dinner plate.
While he begins to eat, Pastor Geja stands and reaches in her pocket. "Here my prince," She hands him a polished black opal strung on a silver chain. "The gemstone of Oua. Keep it with you and you will always be within Her reach."
Rahnin takes the precious stone from the Pastor and nods, "Thank you Pastor Geja." The Pastor bows and leaves Rahnin to his supper.
Rahnin pulls the chain over his head and the heavy stone sits on his chest. He handles it delicately, remembering the one that the royal pastor wears embedded as a pin to fasten her cloak. He allows it to fall against his sternum when he remembers the fresh, sizzling mongoose meat on his plate. A rare delicacy like this does not go uneaten, and Rahnin scarfs the rest down as if it were a piece of pie. On the side he notices a couple of seasoned roots, and on the plate beside it was, in fact, a rather large slice of pie. Rahnin pretends not to notice the roots on his plate as he quickly devours half of his dessert. As he stuffs the last piece behind his teeth a soft knock whispers by his ear followed by the low groan of his door creaking open. Rahnin’s head tosses to the side as he watches a rather large book slide into his room and the door shuts behind it almost silently. He jumps up, still chewing the mouthful of pie, and scurries over to the book. Without reading its title he swings the door open as he swallows his food.
“Mel!”, he bleats down the short hallway but she is out of sight. He listens to her talons clicking as she descends the tall staircase. Rahnin’s face flashed with disappointment that she didn’t come up to say hello.
As he shuts the door his attention turns to the heavy, iron-bound book laying ominously the floor. Rahnin plants himself on the floor in front of it, legs crossed and carefully observing it. Its presence brings about an uneasy feeling in Rahnin but he pulls it closer. The pages themselves are stacked taller than the average stair and there are loose note pages spiking out from almost half of them. There is a sizable lock over the pages but is seems to have been popped with a bent up piece of metal that looks far younger than the ancient book. Heavily engraved in the cover is:
The Tales of Oua
“Who?”, Rahnin strikes a puzzled look, “I thought Oua wrote about her tales.” He wiped some of the light dust away with his thumb to reveal finely engraved patterns that spans all over the iron like a spider’s web. An attempt was made to pick up the book but Rahnin’s small stature will not allow it at this angle. He untangles his legs and stands, gripping the thick rings that bind it together, he manages to get it off the ground long enough to scurry up to his bed. With a couple of swings, Rahnin manages to hoist the boulder up and onto his cushion along with himself. They both landed with a thud and the lock had rattled off of its hinge. Rahnin lifted the hatch and pried the cover open to reveal the table of contents:
|: Our Great War (2)
||: Our Great Saviour (89)
|||: Oua’s Followers (191)
|V: Oua’s Haven (310)
V: Oua’s Law (402)
V|: The Surface (452)
V||: The Demons (528)
“There’s a whole chapter about the surface! Mel was right!” Rahnin’s eyes practically pop out of his head as he flies through the pages, notes flying everywhere. He finally reached page 452 only to find it obstructed by an envelope freshly sealed with wax. His name was on the flip side and, curiously, he tore it open:
My Little Prince,
I knew this would be the first place you would look to read. Keep in mind that knowledge about the surface back when this book was written may be very different than what it is today but we do not know for sure. To many other,s the surface is still a sign of hatred and evil. I know you may not think this way, but that is not for you nor anyone to speak of. You must promise me that your findings in this book stay between us and that your opinions stay to yourself. The King, and many others, see anything involving the surface as treachery and evil, even talk of it. Even so, keep an open mind. I believe we cannot stay down in this earth forever.
Royal Commander, Mel
As Rahnin’s eyes shift across the page, the uneasy feeling brought on earlier begins to fester in his stomach. He shoves the stray papers and Mel’s letter into the open page and slams it closed. He then lifts the book and drops it between his bed and the wall.
"I... think I'll read later," he mumbles, scooting off his bed to go get ready to sleep.