Aumelan – book one From the award-winning author of the Cornerstone Deep saga, comes a story of love, devotion and courage. Chad Aumelan is in love, but his world isn’t right. Not when he’s forbidden to have Dae just because she’s his slave. When Salana Goffin meets Chad, she’s faced with the unbelievable: a man who must take energy from a host to survive. He wants to find a cure to free the woman he loves. How can Salana turn away such a noble cause? Together, they search for answers, but fate has another plan.
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The tunnel incline steepened, and Chad adjusted his pack to accommodate the climb. Narrow tracks scarred the smooth rock in the floor from centuries of trade wagon commute, this being the direct route to the outlying farming caverns. He veered from the byway to avoid the chance of a stumble and then glanced at the band of crystalline in the trail’s high arch. Their faint glow confirmed the lighting services of the capital city were coming to an end.
Illumination from his crystal-lit torch brightened as he lowered the lever on the handle and the large quartz rose from the braided rod to fill the cap. White beams poured over the sediment, bleaching it the color of bones, and shadows hugging the furrows in the walls thinned, leaving the appearance of sloppy patchwork.
He looked behind him, past Dae, to see the catacomb. The main passage served his people since they settled below the planet’s crust and stretched farther than he could see. How many times had he and Dae walked this road?
Too many to count.
Dae blocked his view as she sidestepped.
Bypassing a crevice in the ground, he turned to see her better. Her knees tapped at her skirt, causing the hem to brush her shins as she walked. He cocked a grin as he recalled his decision concerning her attire. While he had allowed the brown smock-like dress as long as she wore the thick leggings, he had insisted she wear the hiking boots—no matter how much it set the other Keepers at odds with him. The servants’ thin slippers, while justifiable within the walls of their cavern homes, would never serve well on their excursions. Scrunches and clumping accompanied each step of her heavy footwear. The hefty boots broke her simplistic style, being the only clothing she hadn’t handmade.
He lifted his brow. Somehow, the montage looked charming on her. Long brown hair brushed at her arms as she bowed her head and watched her steps along the trail. Her mouth moved with silent words, her lower lip dipped into a natural pout. Shadow overtook half her heart-shaped face, and her hand twitched at the same time she raised her brows.
Reciting instructions again, Dae? He grinned, knowing her habit. Since their youth, she’d recited, memorized every command given to her, even the rules to the games they played as children. He had tried hard to lose, just to see the excitement in her eyes when she won. If only he’d known his father called for her penitence when she bested him—he would never have lost.
But she wasn’t the same girl.
Slowing his pace, he allowed her the chance to walk beside him. She shuffled to a stop, and her brown eyes peered at him with a hint of question. He gazed into them, hoping she would ignore the rules of their placement and hold his gaze. She flushed and looked away.
He pressed his lips into an understanding smile. It wasn’t a fair act on his part, he knew, but the nerves danced in his stomach. It would only take a word, or with his telepathic ability, a directed thought, and she’d be as close as he wanted.
But would it be what she wants too, or a response to my command?
If only her eyes glimmered with the iridescent sheen his did. If only pride held her posture erect with sureness in each step. If only she held the blood of his people.
With a tempered sigh, he scrubbed at the back of his neck and stepped into a turn. His short hair stood on end and itched at his scalp as they gradually broke from the sweaty hold. He swiped at it again, plastering it to his head, and then wiped his hand down his gray vest. Traces of mud clung to the pockets. Black muck and blond hair. Nice, Chad.
He wrinkled his nose with a grimace and peeked over his shoulder to see if Dae had noticed. Evidently not. Her gaze followed the ground. Relief eased his worry, but why bother? A master shouldn’t seek his servant’s approval anyway, right?
Twin columns stood at the center of the forked byway, in stark contrast to the rouged environment, and marked the end of the capital city’s services. Chad veered left before they reached the pillars. Dipping into a narrow tunnel, he dimmed his torch to accommodate the smaller space.
Are her people really so different than mine? The answer came with a resounding yes. Okay, he reasoned, mine can’t produce sustaining vitality and hers can. But beyond that…
Hefting himself up a boulder, he sat on top and swung his long legs over. He jumped down, gravel crunching beneath his feet as he landed. Dae followed suit.
We were separate nations above. My ancestors survived on the surface fine before they came below, didn’t they? How is it the Chamber people kept the gift of vitality without the sun but the Tsosey didn’t?
He swayed into a half turn to look at Dae but caught only a glimpse as his pack hit the sidewall. Leveling his load, he continued his stride. Maybe we’re not true children of the sun, but the Chambers are…like those above are now. Why else would the sun grant them energy to sustain their lives…and ours? Warmth spread within his chest. Dae, a Child of the Sun.
He shook his thoughts into logic. That just can’t be. What did happen to the Tsosey? No explanation came to mind as he filtered through the memory of his studies.
A giggle chimed from behind him, and he faced Dae. She quickly cupped her hand over her midriff and then slowly closed it into a fist. Holding it out, she unfurled her fingers. A cave cricket sprung into the air, and Chad ducked to keep it from landing in his hair. He barely suppressed the smile tugging at his lips.
She shared his love of excursions through the Hollow Hand—of that, he was sure. Hiding his grin, he resumed his walk and repeated the reasons in his mind he would never know if she cared for him as he did for her.
Difference. Placement. Laws.
Keeper and server. It will have to be enough. His thoughts paused as he attempted to put the subject out of his mind.
Light reached deep into the pass and highlighted the jutted walls like vertical horizons. Water trickled, its faint echo playing alongside their scuffled steps. The mundane view and monotonous pace left too much room for his mind to wander.
His thumb thumped his thigh as agitation bubbled in his gut. But…hearts are the same. Desires are the same.
With each footfall, his heart beat out possibilities. Would she want him if it were allowed? If the only thing separating them was the empty space between them? Images of holding her warmed his blood, and he took a breath to relish the sensation further. His palm tingled.
No worry of a master’s rebuke would exist; no walls of status would stand in the way. She’d meet his gaze without hesitation—and hold it. Her cheek would lean into his palm as he brushed back her dark hair. Those pouty lips would welcome his in a soft kiss. Her body would melt into his, arms around him, and…
Sparks flashed in Chad’s head as it rammed into solid rock. He rolled back on his heel and then landed a firm foot behind him to brace his stand. Scrubbing at his brow, he opened his eyes to the jagged ledge he’d blindly walked into.
Reality rushed back to him, and he looked at his servant in time to see her gaze dart downward.
Despite his embarrassment, the corners of his lips curled. He tilted his head to peer at her. She couldn’t hide the sparkle in her eyes behind those wispy lashes no matter how much she might try. His voice held a touch of mirth. “You may say it.”
Wide chocolate eyes looked at him. Her head jerked to the side as if she caught her show of refusal mid-shake.
He upped his scratched brow. “Dae, speak truthfully to me.”
She bit into a timid comment. “I can walk through there easily, but I am five feet five inches tall. You are six feet three inches tall. That is too tall to fit through there without bending over.”
He tempered a chuckle and it blew past his nostrils. “Yes.” Running his hand along the amber-and-toffee-colored formations, he mumbled to dispel the lingering humiliation, “I forgot this passage jutted down like this.”
Pulling his map from his vest pocket, he cleared his throat and smoothed the paper against the wall. Light from Dae’s crystal joined his to pour over the drawings as she held it closer. He jotted a note. Low cave bacon. Stashing the map, he dipped into the short pass. “I really can’t help myself. My mind was elsewhere.”
A thick halo surrounded the light from his crystal torch as a fine mist enveloped them. Water gurgled from the side of the narrow trail and seeped into the cracks at their feet. Chad inhaled the mineral-scented air and flexed his fingers. He peered down the tunnel and listened carefully. Either the slight swirl of the mist played with his mind, or a low howl sounded in the distance. This wasn’t here the last time, was it?
“Do you recall falls along this path, Dae?”
Her words came out slow as her gaze traveled the haze. “We have traveled it only once. But, no. I do not recall this.”
Confident and steady, be the anchor for your keep. The lesson he learned as a child flashed in his mind, and every instinct lined him up to do just that. But, if his years with Dae had taught him anything, it was she who anchored him when it came to placement. He nodded and continued the trek as if the abnormalities didn’t worry him.
“Styne has wanted to accompany me to the World of the Sun for years,” he said, careful to keep his tone light. “His parents couldn’t have given him a better coronation gift. Uncle Tyro will be sorry he missed it.”
“You described it to them perfectly. It does have endless horizons and the scents of a billion creations.”
“How else could I describe it? That cave above the sea is my greatest discovery yet.” He threw a cheery gaze over his shoulder. “How many of our people get the opportunity to witness such things? They’re going to remember this outing for the rest of their lives.”
Praise “Aumelan is much more than a love story. Ms. Wilson has crafted a masterpiece in which she closely examines the human condition: How far will we go as a society to survive? How far will we go as individuals for compassion? The literary genus is covertly wrapped in a delicious genre romance where readers are submerged in the lives of her characters and the fantastic sci-fi backdrop of their imperfect world. Make no mistake, Aumelan may easily become a classic to transcend time. A definite recommended read!” ~ J.D. Brown, author of Dark Heirloom series.
Charlene A. Wilson is an author of tales that take you to other dimensions. She weaves magic, lasting love, and intrigue to immerse you into the lives of her characters. She began writing in her early teens when her vivid dreams stayed with her long after she had them. The characters and worlds were so amazing she brought them to life through her books. Charlene resides in a small community in Arkansas, USA, with her two beautiful daughters, husband, a cuddly Pekingese, and a very chatty cockatiel named Todder.
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