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THE VALMORAN CHRONICLES

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Episode 1:
Destiny Approaches

Valmoran Republic ~ Planet Kronai ~ Temple of the Seven

Matthai Valtrellin, future High Priest
 

 

Matthai Valtrellin’s body quaked with the warning tremors of an impending chronojump. He thought he’d outgrown the involuntary use of his god-touched power. Yet here he was—warding off his body’s impulse to flee, like a man struggling not to vomit. 

If he didn’t get his roiling emotions under control, he’d end up naked in the east gardens. 

More urgently, he’d take a foot to the face if he didn’t focus on his sparring partner. 

Yet the match wasn’t the cause of his distress. Matthai relished his daily bouts in the temple training yard. It was one of the few times he felt like just another adept, rather than the future high priest of the galaxy’s most influential religion. 

The grunts and low voices of the other trainees were nearly overpowered today by the roaring crowds of pilgrims just over the stone wall. 

Priest Jarren circled Matthai in their corner of the dusty yard. Indigo wisps of hair had come loose from Jarren’s knot, swirling past the points of his ears in the light breeze. 

As a Valtrellin, Matthai’s own hair was the ideal cobalt blue, ears tapered to graceful points, pale skin displaying the silvery shimmer which broadcast that he was a ‘perfect specimen’ of the Kronai subspecies. 

His jaw clenched. Valmorans and their mindless obsession with bloodlines … but such thoughts bordered on blasphemy.

The barest hint of a smile curled on Jarren’s lips. “You’re off your game today, Scion.” 

A gust of wind whipped his robes as a VIP transport shuttle passed overhead towards the central tower’s spaceport. They had been arriving for the last several days, relentless harbingers of the fate that was coming. 

“Am I?” 

“Most decidedly. Normally, you’d have gotten a hit on me by now. You must be excited about the ceremony.” 

Matthai gave a weak smile, hoping it looked more convincing than it felt. Excited about the ceremony? No. Dread would be the more accurate description.

Jarren continued, barely winded from exertion, oblivious to Matthai’s discomfort. 

“It’s got to feel good, finally taking your place next to your parents. You won’t be training with us little guys after tomorrow.” 

Matthai’s gut twisted. Jarren meant well, but Matthai dreaded the loss of this last shred of normalcy. Training with the adepts, he could almost pretend he was one of them. 

But he couldn’t say that. As Scion, his response may as well be scripted. 

“I enjoy my fellowship with all priests and pilgrims of the Temple.” 

It wasn’t entirely true—he would enjoy his time with others if they didn’t treat him with so much distance. His sister had been the only person who treated him like a person. 

In truth, she had teased him mercilessly. 

Matthai smiled through the lump in his throat, the twist in his chest. He wondered if he’d ever be able to think of Liyara without sadness tainting the memory.  

The flood of emotion fed his body’s impulse to jump. He took a deep breath and focused on his movements, the feel of the ground beneath his feet. He couldn’t afford to think of her, not when he was already on the edge. 

Pushing it to the back of his mind, Matthai feinted with a left strike, before nearly landing one with his right. 

After tomorrow, everything would change. 

Matthai dodged a blow from Jarren, his own footwork sure and steady. But the next punch snuck through, grazing the point of his ear. 

Matthai shook his head, willing the pain to dissipate. 

The older priest’s face softened with what looked a lot like pity.

“Sorry, Scion—do you want to stop for the day?”

 

“I’m fine.” Matthai said, through gritted teeth. 

Jarren resumed his fighting stance. “Good! I can’t remember the last time I got through your defenses. Since this is our last day training together, I’d hate to end it on that note.” 

After tomorrow, Matthai would apprentice with the high priest and priestess, learning how to lead the Temple of the Seven—but mostly, he would become a figurehead. 

He would prefer to cast off his robes and just be Matthai. A simple man. Maybe a gardener. Perhaps a scholar. 

Matthai had imagined himself in every sort of other life in his daydreams, and found that it didn’t so much matter what else he was doing—the common denominator was that he was not the Scion, and most certainly not the high priest. 

His most perverse imaginings were of people being rude to him, since no one ever was. Everyone kept the three paces of distance between them, always addressed him as ‘Scion’. Always so gods-damned polite—

—Jarren’s foot careened for his head. At the last second, Matthai threw his weight in the direction of the strike, rolling with the momentum until standing. 

When he looked up, Jarren stood in front of him, concern written his features. 

Matthai ignored it, ignored the shocked faces of the other adepts. Jarren was right—he was off his game. It hadn’t been this bad since … well, it hadn’t been this bad for a long time. 

A message popped up on his Hix interface. His guards had arrived at the training yard. He looked toward the inner gate and caught his first guardian’s eye, calling him over. 

“You’re early,” Matthai said.

“I apologize. We assumed you would want to return to your chambers to clean up before the meeting.” He handed Matthai a thick, blue adept robe, which Matthai accepted and slipped on over his training robe. 

Matthai turned to Jarren, chest unexpectedly tight. After years of daily training, they would never spar together again. He swallowed, then gave a slight bow. “Priest Jarren … it’s been an honor.” 

Ignoring the look of surprise on the priest’s face, Matthai headed for the exit to the Temple Courtyards. It had been a lapse of protocol for the Scion to bow to anyone. But to leave without a word, without a shred of acknowledgement for their years of history together … felt wrong. 

His first guardian hurried to his side, clearing his throat. 

“Yes?” 

“Scion, perhaps we could take the inner path today. The courtyards are crowded, and security is harder—” 

“—No. We take the long way, as we always do.” 

He tried not to notice the other adepts averting their eyes. They knew why he took the path through the courtyards. 

Everyone knew. 

~*~

His guardians obscured him from view as he strolled through the Temple courtyards, the grounds teeming with pilgrims.

 

Planet Kronai may have been the homeworld of the blue-haired, fair skinned Kronai subspecies. However, it was also the metropolitan center of the Valmoran Republic, so a wide variety of subspecies were nearly always present on the grounds of the First Temple.

 

Today, the bustling crowds were even more varied than usual. Four-armed Vraxai and ruddy-skinned winged Vultrai were some of the more distinctive, but nearly every skin tone and hair color was represented in the crowd today. Valmorans from every corner of the galaxy. 

All of them here for the ceremony.

As he neared the Tower of Becoming, his pulse thrummed in his ears. 

He tried to keep his footsteps sure and steady, to prevent the turmoil from showing on his face. There was nothing to distinguish this patch of tiles from the rest—it had been scrubbed clean ages ago. 

His guardians formed a protective circle around him, facing outward.

To everyone else, it would appear as though they were simply doing their job—guarding him. 

Matthai appreciated it for what it was. They were giving him what little privacy they could. 

Clenching his fists under the long sleeves of his robes to stop their trembling, Matthai took a shaky breath, then forced himself to take a deeper one. If only his sister were still here.

He could have handled this with her at his side. Then again, if Liyara were here, she would be the heir and Matthai would serve as her advisor. The way it was supposed to be.

Voice low, Matthai said. “You would have made a great high priestess, sister.” He imagined her in the Valtrellin formal robes and zanchion, resplendent and joyful.

She would have inspired the galaxy. But now it would never happen. 

His eyes burned, tears threatening to break free.

Calm. Breathe.

He moved his gaze to the outer wall. 

The temple gates were wide open. He could put up his hood, walk right through one of the open archways into the outer grounds. From there, it would be simple to use his Hix implant to order a public transport.

He could disappear into the throngs of Valmorans. Republic citizens could claim basic living expenses, free education. He could learn a trade, just be a normal person. 

But no—everyone knew his face. No matter how far he ran, he would never escape his birthright. Besides, he wasn’t even a citizen of the Republic. He was a citizen of the Temple of the Seven.

“I’m scared, Li. I don’t think I can do this.” 

His pulse quickened, cold sweat breaking out on his brow.

I can’t do this. I can’t be the high priest.

Calm down. Do not jump.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Calm.

“Matthai!” a voice called out. His guards dropped into defensive stances and Matthai turned his head to see who it could be.

He peered through a gap in their formation, but didn’t recognize the young Kronai man who strode towards them.

“Keep back, sir,” his first guardian said. “No one approaches the heir.”

“I just need to speak with Matthai.” 

Matthai’s guards shifted as the man took another step. “I had a dream, Scion—the gods told me I’m going to be your Amara.”

Matthai could barely see past his guards, but based on their movements, the young man wasn’t backing down. Just another desperate person, hoping to trigger a bond. Harboring delusions of mating into the high priesthood.

“Not another step!”

“But I’m hi—”

Then everything happened in a blur. The man must have tried to rush forward because two of his seven guards pinned him on the ground faster than Matthai could blink.

“—but I’m his Amara! The gods told me to come here—”

Dozens of patrolling priests joined them, engulfing Matthai in a protective swarm. The man continued to struggle, but he was no match for the guardians.

His guardians were there to protect him from harm, true, but they mostly protected him from this. Until his matching ceremony during the height of mating season, no one was permitted to approach him, let alone touch him.

Now that he was the sole heir to the Valtrellin line, it was more crucial than ever that he mate with a god-touched Kronai female.

Matthai’s most essential duty was to produce an heir for the precious Valtrellin bloodline.

“I’m sorry, Scion, but we really must get you back inside the keep.” 

Matthai’s guardians seamlessly reformed their protective circle as they led him towards the temple proper. 

He walked away, features carefully placid. Presenting no hint of the macabre memory that seared his mind. Of Liyara’s blood on the mosaic tiles, when it had bloomed around her head like a terrible flower. 

~*~

Once he had cleaned himself up, Matthai donned his blue adept’s robes and made his way to the high priests’ floor of the temple administration building. The gleaming modern architecture was a stark contrast to the stone edifices of the more ancient parts of the temple complex. 

Matthai appreciated technology, used his Hix implant to access the galactic web every day. But today, these bright corridors were cold, unfeeling. 

When they reached the entry to his parent’s private offices, he hesitated. What was this about? They had already been over the ceremony a hundred times. 

Matthai’s hands shook, stomach dropping. His nerves were too raw—he needed to get this over with as quickly as possible, so he could return to his chambers to meditate. 

Standing straighter, he stepped forward and used his Hix to authenticate his identity. The doors slid open, and he stepped forward, striving to convey a confidence he didn’t feel. 

Matthai’s parents waited on the other side, and quickly ushered him to the seating alcove which overlooked the grounds.  

His father was commanding as always in his formal robes, hair pulled into a low knot. Angular eyebrows made him look almost harsh, though in truth he was very kind. A little stern at times, but kind.

His mother, on the other hand, was gentle as the wind, her deep blue hair styled in looping braids that accentuated the soft shimmer of her skin and the graceful points of her ears.

Pouring a cup of tea for Matthai, his mother got right to business. “Do you have the schedule for tomorrow’s events?” 

Matthai tapped behind his ear, indicating that it was all on his Hix. His father frowned, so he hurried to respond. 

“Late morning, I will accompany you to the meeting with Representative Torion. After that, I will go to my chambers to be dressed for the ceremony. Then the procession to the cathedral, vows before the obelisk, then vows before the galaxy. After that, the feast.”

His mother gave a tight nod. 

They looked nervous. His usually peaceful mother tugged absentmindedly at the sleeve of her robe, while his father stared down at folded hands.

Their apparent unease only fueled his own. He couldn’t seem to get enough air. 

Finally, the high priest cleared his throat, face serious. “Matthai, the high priests of the First Temple have faithfully guarded the obelisks for 217 generations. As Valtrellins, we provide leadership to the high priests of every temple in the galaxy, and inspiration to all Valmorans.”

He paused, setting his tea cup on the table.

“We also protect them from knowledge that would do them harm.”

Breathe. Do not jump.

“When you become the Ordained Scion, you will share the burden of secrets that the Valtrellins have carried for sixteen generations.”

A chill ran down Matthai’s spine.

He stared at them. What knowledge? How could keeping secrets benefit the people? 

Breathe. Do not jump. 

“Why are you telling me this?”

His father pursed his lips and shook his head. “Matthai ...” He paused, then sighed. “You are our only heir. If things were different, if you had another sibling ...”

Sadness washed over the high priest’s features. “... we know this wasn’t what you expected your life to be. If you cannot bear the weight of this duty, we will figure something out.”

They were giving him an out. He could tell them he couldn’t do it. Surely they knew how much he struggled with this. They could—

—but, no. There was no ‘figure something out’. Matthai was the only heir in an unbroken line. His parents could try for another child in the next childbearing season, but there were no guarantees.

Breaking the line of succession would go against thousands of years of sacred tradition. The scandal alone would shake the foundation of their faith, and he would be the cause.

This wasn’t about what he wanted. It was about his duty to the Valmoran people. He opened his mouth to assure them he would fulfill it—

—and instead lost the battle he’d been fighting all day. 

A blessed rush of air on his bare flesh, the press of cool earth under his feet, soil between his toes. Naked, again, in the east garden. 

Just a man, feet planted firmly against earth. A creature amid the beauty of flourishing plants and life. Safe.

If not for the shame of losing control of his powers for the first time in seasons, it would have been pure relief. 

“Oh, my sweet boy! Did it happen again?” Miral, their venerable gardener, called out to him. She hurried over, carrying a robe. 

“It’s a bit musty, but I still keep it here, just in case,” she said, wrapping the robe around his body. “Do you want to talk for a few minutes before you jump back?” 

The icy fire of shame rushed through his veins. In a few minutes, he would snap back, naked, with a splitting headache—to confront the disappointed faces of his parents. 

He knew what they feared—what if he lost control tomorrow, at the ceremony, with the entire galaxy watching? 

Matthai was resolved to fulfill his sacred duty. 

Unfortunately, his body did not seem to be in agreement. 

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