The Illusion Queen Chapter One

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Aleja, a judge of Corazon, makes a decision in defiance of her duty to the Queen. This is the first chapter of my upcoming YA novel THE ILLUSION QUEEN. Thank you to Shino Hisano for the cover art. See more of her work at www.shinohisano.com

Submitted: April 16, 2017

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Submitted: April 16, 2017

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Chapter 1

On the island of Corazon, time was kept by the beating of a million hearts.

Few on the island were aware that long ago, in the lands now drowned under a raging sea, people once counted the passing of days, months, and years. None on Corazon had ever seen the strange little machines that their ancestors used to worship time. The ones with the thin, metal knives that sliced the day apart like a loaf of bread, cutting it into pieces so small that few could take any nourishment or pleasure from them. For their ancestors thoughts were with those pieces they once tasted, or the ones they would, but not with the piece in their hands.

On Corazon, little thought was given to what the next day held, for each new day was much like the last. Change in Corazon came in the way the tides filled grottos and then left them barren, or how the redfish left frozen streams as fry and then returned full grown in the bloom of spring. Change was how the waxing moon illuminated a starless sky and, once it waned, returned the night to darkness.

But for Aleja’s life, one of duty and rules carved in stone, change came with a single word.

“Death...”

Grinding her forehead into the dusty floor of the amphitheater pit, the old woman addressed Aleja, seated on the large stone throne above her.

“…I beg of you, Daughter of the Queen of Corazon, Judge of Mir, and Instrument of Her Justice, give this man the death that took my son from me”

Muffled gasps from the crowd filled the amphitheater like a thick and suffocating fog.

The old woman raised her head up and looked at Aleja. The old woman’s eyes were wet with tears, but her face was hard and unyielding. 

The accused, an attractive youth with dark brown eyes and skin, stared at the old woman with a look of horror shared by many in the crowd. Seeing no mercy in the old woman’s face the youth looked up to Aleja with desperate and pleading eyes.

Slightly disgusted with such a public display of fear, Aleja turned away from the youth and called out to the old woman.

“To desire another to die is an evil of the Drowned World, the world our Queen saved us from.” Aleja’s voice, soft yet resonant, floated down from the stage and surrounded the old woman in echoes. “To utter such a request is as abominable as the act itself.”

“You are wrong Daughter. What can one as young as you know what death means?”

Aleja winced at the old woman’s remark. It was true that Aleja was young, but that was not unusual, for some Judges in the distant reaches of Corazon were even younger than she.

But the old woman’s comment stung Aleja just the same.

She thinks me a silly little girl.

“In your grief you may have forgotten that this Daughter serves you as the Judgment of the Queen.”

Aleja spoke formally to the old woman. The first lesson a Daughter of the Queen learned in speaking publicly was to never refer to themselves as “I”. Aleja was well practiced in speaking this way, but not as much as some. She knew of Daughters in Corazon who had so submitted themselves to the Queen’s mind that even the concept of an “I” no longer existed for them.

 “In the mind of every Judge of Corazon stands a Memory Palace…” Aleja continued, “…a grand structure filled with objects your eyes have never seen. Each one is a lesson from our Queen. And once this Daughter takes hold of one, she remembers every word the Queen once spoke with her own lips.”

Aleja’s voice and face betrayed none of the insult she had felt from the old woman’s words. Aleja tried to suppress the pride she felt over her display of self-control.

“All that this Daughter is, all of her purpose, is to be the instrument of our Queen. The Queen who sacrificed her physical form long ago to give life to this island. Our Queen must live on to guide us, so every Daughter lives with the knowledge that she may be chosen to be the Queen's Vessel. To have her life stripped from her body so that our Queen’s spirit may reside within.”

 “And yet you say a Daughter knows nothing of death…” Aleja’s fingernails scratched against the stone armrests as she leaned forward in her chair “… and yet this Daughter may know it before you, old woman.”

Aleja paused. Feeling that she had sufficiently chipped away at the old woman’s confidence, she reclined in her chair and smiled.

 “How many days the sun has warmed this face is of no consequence to a judgment. But if you doubt the wisdom of ancients spoken through the voice of a young girl, then look to the wisdom they have carved in the stone around you.”

Aleja gestured with open arms towards the reliefs carved into the walls of the pit. The reliefs, much like others that graced virtually all the pillars and walls in Corazon, illustrated the story of the salvation and redemption of Corazon’s people.

The amphitheater filled with screams as the old woman grabbed handfuls of stones and flung them at the carvings.

“Stories…” the old woman wailed, “…they are all just stories, as cold and dead to me as the rock they are carved in. They mean nothing to a woman that has carried a life in her body, then held it in her arms it as it left this world.”

The old woman pointed at the youth.

 “All because of this man. What he took from me, the life of my only son, must be taken from him. It is the only justice that matters to me now.”

Aleja’s smile vanished from her face.

She does not believe in the rebirth our Queen has promised us!  That must be why she feels such pain. She believes her son is gone from Corazon forever.

Shouts and screams from the crowd rained down on the old woman.

“Heresy!” the crowd cried. “Banish her to the Wastes!”

Aleja’s guards cracked their staffs on the stone floor to quiet the crowd.

 “Surely you do not mean to say that your son, and yourself, will not one day be reborn on Corazon?” Aleja asked.

“I am a Caretaker, Daughter. I have fed and clothed many in my lifetime, but I have never seen a face that I lost to death. Whatever life was in my son, it is gone now. Forever.”

“But our Queen will bring her people back to Corazon, again and again, in an eternal cycle of death and rebirth. This is her promise. This is truth.”

There was a slight tremble in Aleja’s voice, as if her own tongue doubted the words she knew to be true. 

The old woman stared wearily at Aleja. She let out a heavy sigh that echoed through the amphitheater.

“I am ready to receive the Queen’s judgment.” The old woman spoke as if it were she, and not the youth, who had come to Aleja for judgment.

Aleja knew that she must banish the old woman to the Wastes, where the old woman could prove her innocence by surviving the dangerous journey back to Corazon, or her affirm her guilt by choking to death upon its poisonous red sands. But despite her duty to render judgment in the manner of the Queen, Aleja found she could not condemn her.

If only I could make her see reason.

Aleja held out an open hand in the young man’s direction.

“This was an accident, old woman, with no malice intended. The guilty man fell on your son from the top of a broken ladder. The Queen’s judgment is fair and just. If a life is lost due to the accident of another, the living should take on the role of the dead.”

“He was careless, thoughtless and careless!” The old woman yelled.

“And he must die for this?” Aleja replied as calmly as she could.

“He must die for me! Those that love him must know the pain I feel.”

“This man’s death will not bring back a life, old woman, and vengeance offers no solace to grief.”

“You foolish young girl, what makes you believe I expect any solace?” the old woman said with a bitter laugh. “My grief will die with me.”

The amphitheater hissed with whispered words.Aleja had never felt so acutely aware of how many eyes were watching her. She took a deep breath to calm herself, closed her eyes, and receded into the depths of her Memory Palace to find an answer.

She found nothing.

Aleja opened her eyes and saw the doubt that clouded the faces in the crowd. She wondered if their faces were a mirror of her own.

In a life where everything was assured and predictable, where even a mind could be forced into obeying order, Aleja felt lost. The countless judgments Aleja memorized since she was a child seemed to be of no use.

Aleja would have to make a decision. And, for the first time in her life as a Judge, it would be her own.

 “Give him the death that took my son from me.”

The old woman's spiteful words rang in Aleja’s head like the clanging of iron bells. Aleja felt she must say something, anything, if only to quiet the sound and give herself a chance to think.

 “Very well,” Aleja stood up, “If you will not take this man as your son then he cannot fulfill the purpose that life has found for him. His living body will take, but will not give. So that he may provide for the world that has provided for him…this Daughter condemns him to die.”

The young man fell to his knees and held his hands out to Aleja.

“How can this be?” he cried, “You cannot do this.”

The crowd echoed the man’s words, only more loudly, and with palpable anger. This time the crack of the Guardians’ staff had no effect.

Aleja looked at her guards. They were young and strong, with the swirling tattoos of the kraken's tentacles running down their arms, but did not carry the daggers of those who had been tested by the hardships of the Wastes.

Would they have the strength to subdue this crowd?

Aleja moved between her guards, and filled her lungs with air.

“I will have SILENCE!”

Aleja’s voice was like a herd of charging horses. The crowd fell silent. They stared at Aleja as if they couldn’t fathom how this a girl, who looked little older than a child sitting in the great stone chair, could have a voice of such power and authority.

Aleja waited for some time before she spoke again. Only small birds, fluttering though the ivy covered columns behind her, dared to utter any sound in the face of Aleja’s withering stare.

“If you will not take this man as your son, then you will be free to live with vengeance in your heart and silence in your home.”

Aleja walked down from the stage as she spoke, each word as carefully placed as her footsteps. Once on the floor Aleja placed her hands on the old woman’s shoulders.

“As you have said, this man must be given the death that took your son from you. So this Daughter decrees that when the sun rises tomorrow you must go to the place where your son died, climb a ladder, stand above this man…and fall on him.”

A look of confusion came over the old woman’s face. Spots of laughter and snickering broke out in the crowd but were quickly silenced by Aleja’s icy stare.

 “And if he does not die, “Aleja continued, “then you must climb the ladder and try again. You must do this…again and again…until your justice has been done.”

The youth stared at Aleja. He made no move swat away a fly even as it landed on his face and crawled onto his lips.

“Or...” Aleja said, her voice filled with a compassion that was both practiced and sincere “you may accept the Queen’s judgment, take this man as your son, and let him warm your heart and home.”

 The old woman said nothing. Aleja feared at the prospect of failing in her duty so publicly. Then, finally, and with head cast down, the old woman spoke.

“I accept the judgment of our Queen. I will take this man as my son.”

Cheers erupted through the crowd. Aleja couldn’t be sure, but for a moment, amidst the shouts of praise to the Queen’s mercy and wisdom, she heard the crowd calling out her name.

I am just a Daughter, they should give no praise to me.

Aleja’s heart raced. But whether it was from the fear of hearing her name or the exhilaration of it, Aleja could not tell.

Aleja looked into the old woman’s face, expecting to see an expression of gratitude for sparing her from the Wastes.

What she saw instead, looked more like defeat.

At the sight of the old woman’s face, Aleja suddenly realized her mistake. In not doing her duty as she had been instructed, she had defied the Queen’s wisdom.

Lost in thought, Aleja almost forgot to call for the next Judgment.

For the remainder of the day Aleja often felt her attention waver. Her forehead swelled under her headdress, a thin silver band that that formed the sign of the Queen, the interlocking circles of the lemniscate. She thought of her home, the warmth of her fire, and the pickled vegetables and steaming bowl of onion and seaweed soup that her servant Bao would have waiting for her.

But once evening came, and Aleja made her way towards the crowded street outside, she knew she would not be going home. For under the grand archway of the amphitheater was a palanquin concealed by curtains the color of a deep, forest green.

The Queen’s color.

Aleja walked towards the palanquin with legs that felt as weak as willow reeds.

Aleja had spent most of her life learning the lessons of the Queen, memorizing word for word the stories that bound the people of Corazon together, uniting them as one people in this world. Without fail, Aleja did her service to the people, judging them fairly in the manner she had been taught.

But in all that time Aleja never imagined that this day would come. For until this day she had adhered to the judgments and lessons of the Queen without exception.

But this palanquin, and the unknown rider inside, was taking her to the High Temple. And that could only mean one thing.

Now Aleja would be judged. But not by another Daughter, or even by the Chamberlains and Consuls that governed the city.

She would be judged by the Queen herself.

Aleja placed a trembling hand on the palanquin and stepped inside.

The Queen.

The savoir of the people of Corazon.

The one who guides her children in this paradise of her creation. The one who serves, so that Justice may reign.

Who lives among her people, but is not of her people.

A Goddess.


© Copyright 2020 T.E. Dickason. All rights reserved.

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