The Seekers: The Children of Darkness (Dystopian Sci-Fi - Book 1)

The Seekers: The Children of Darkness (Dystopian Sci-Fi - Book 1) by David Litwack Read Free Book Online

Book: The Seekers: The Children of Darkness (Dystopian Sci-Fi - Book 1) by David Litwack Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Litwack
decorated
their cottages with festival wreaths won long ago.
    The elders often delegated the awarding of prizes to someone
close to the winner—a parent or, for the older ones, a betrothed. When the time
came for Orah to receive her due, Elder William Rush called on his son.
Nathaniel gaped at him, but his father smiled, offered the victor wreaths and
gestured toward Orah.
    Everyone knew Thomas had been away a long time—longer than
the usual teaching—and most had watched the three friends grow up together. The
crowd murmured its approval as Nathaniel placed the wreaths on Orah’s head so
gently he disturbed not a hair.
    But both Orah and Nathaniel had forgotten the last part of
the tradition: male presenters were expected to kiss a female winner, once on
each check. Their neighbors, however, had a better memory and urged them on.
Nathaniel took on a look that said he preferred to be elsewhere, but in
response to the crowd, he rested a hand on Orah’s arm and leaned in to brush
each of her cheeks with his lips.
    She laughed and rolled her eyes, but a sudden glow warmed
her skin, and a flush of crimson added to the color of the flowers.
    ***
    By the time twilight came, Orah waited eagerly for the
feast. All the races had been run. Happy winners pranced about, sporting
wreaths on their heads. Food and drink covered every surface, from the railings
of the commons to the Temple altar. All that remained was the lighting of the
bonfire and the festival tree.
    A spruce stood in the village square with candles attached
to every branch. Would the vicar disapprove of this tradition as well? He
never joined them for festival and no villager ever discussed the celebration
with him, so the unseen and unspoken was allowed.
    The lighting of the tree started at the top. This year, the
elders chose Nathaniel to help. He planted himself at the base while strong
arms hoisted a nimble ten-year-old onto his shoulders—a role once filled by
Thomas at a similar age. The boy paused to balance and then straightened.
Nathaniel’s father passed a pole up to him with a flame attached to its tip. He
kindled the topmost candle and worked his way down. Once the top third of the
tree blazed with light, the boy vaulted to the ground and many hands lit the
rest.
    Orah watched open-mouthed as one by one, the burning candles
chased away twilight. Then Elder Robert grabbed the burning pole and, amidst an
air of expectation, tossed it into the bonfire stack. Within seconds the dry
wood crackled, and the flames shot higher than the festival tree.
    A cheer went up. While a few of the revelers stayed to watch
the fire spread, most headed for the food, but as they turned, they froze in
place. A hush rolled across the crowd, and Orah stretched for a better view.
    There stood Thomas at the edge of the firelight, lingering like
a part of the shadows.
    What did they do to him? His pale skin stretched over
cheeks so hollow that his face showed no sentiment save exhaustion.
    The adults hesitated to approach, and their children caught
their fear. Even Nathaniel wavered, too stunned to move.
    But Orah rushed forward. “Thomas, you’ve returned to
brighten our festival. What a gift.” She reached out to touch him, but he
recoiled.
    “A drink.” His voice rasped as if he hadn’t used it in days.
“May I have a drink?”
    Someone offered a cup. His hands shook so much that the
liquid spilled on his soiled tunic. After two gulps, he glanced at the festival
tree and began to well up.
    Nathaniel finally pushed through the crowd to join Orah. “Have
you been to Temple City? Did you see it?”
    Thomas growled like an offended stranger. “I saw nothing but
darkness.”
    Two elders placed restraining hands on Orah and Nathaniel.
    “He’ll need time,” Elder Robert said. “Give him a few days.”
    Orah pulled away and pressed closer. “What is it, Thomas?
Did they hurt you?”
    Thomas’s head snapped around. He lifted his chin and straightened
as if about to

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