Ascension

**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.

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1. Aliana- 1

 

“My lady. You must come away from the window.”

I looked back to see Tarria, my handmaiden, standing patiently in the room looking at me. Next to her, my coming of age dress was draped across a chair.

The dress was a beautiful thing. A deep purple, embroidered with designs of blue, it was the most expensive thing my parents owned. Then again, coming of age dresses always were. They were a sign that a noble has lived until 16, and finally has the chance to help ten lowly commoners rise up from their lower position in the noblest calling of all- ascension.

I walked back towards her. “Tarria…” I ignored the whiny tone that slipped into my voice. This day was all mine. I should be able to do what I want. I wanted to look out the window at the city. Especially if I was being married away. This might be the last time I saw everything around me.

“You are not a child anymore, my lady,” she said firmly. “You must stop acting like one. Come, we must make sure your dress is fitted properly.”

I sighed, a little petulance slipping into my voice. “We did that last week.”

“It must be perfect, my lady,” Tarria said calmly. “Now hold still.”

I sulked as she walked around me, clucking her tongue occasionally to remind me to hold still. Honestly. When I’m full princess, she won’t be able to talk to me like this. I’m not sure why she can now- actually. I’m a noble- she isn’t. She’ll never be able to be an aspect like I will.

Aside from the ascension ceremony, I would, for the first time, enter the chamber of elements, where all nobles had the chance to be claimed by the spirit of an element, and become an aspect.

Naturally, the odds weren’t exactly in my favor- maybe one in fifty nobles became an aspect. The elements were normally dormant, and didn’t respond to the nobles. But if they were awake on the day of my coming of age… if the ascension offerings pleased them… then I could become one of the most important nobles. Maybe even marry one of the crown’s own sons.

“My lady, I’ve never seen you fidget so much!” Tarria scolded. “Are you apprehensive about your coming of age?”

“I was thinking about the hall of elements. What if I became an aspect?”

“The chances are not high…” she sighed. “The elements have been dormant for many years. It is rare nowadays that a noble is chosen as an aspect.”

“Yes, but if I was chosen… didn’t all three of the crown princes become aspects?”

“This is something you should know,” Tarria said calmly. She began to unlace the back of my simple nightgown, preparing me for the fitting. “Have your instructors taught you nothing? Recite back to me the names of all three crown princes, and what they are aspects of. You are a poor excuse for a daughter of your house if you cannot even remember the sons of our rulers! Your parents would be ashamed to hear you say such a thing.”

“I’m sorry,” I murmured, dipping my head demurely, like my instructor of protocol had taught me. Then I straightened, before Tarria could think I’d forgotten. “Aaron, Kezan and Raphael. Aaron is an aspect of earth, Kezan is an aspect of water and Raphael is an aspect of…” I hesitated. This had been drilled into my head countless times, but now it escaped me. Why did it escape me?

“Fire, child!” Tarria scolded me sharply. “Fire! Your instructors have taught you nothing. If you were to become an aspect, you would meet the princes. Imagine the humiliation you would bring to your family if you met them without knowing their powers.”

“I’m sorry!” I said hurriedly. “I guess the stress of today is getting to me.” Totally a lie, but Tarria bought it.

“Don’t worry, my lady,” she said soothingly, her voice losing its harsh edge. “A coming of age can be a very nerve wracking for a girl like yourself. So  many things need to happen… your selection for ascendence, your first entering of the hall of elements… And of course, if you are to have a betrothal, that will take place today.”

“You think so?” I asked.

“It depends.” Tarria finished unlacing the endless layers of finery on my nightgown, and let it slip off of my shoulders. I closed my eyes, and seconds later, felt the smoothness of the dress slip over my head. As soon as it was on, I opened my eyes eagerly, curious to see what I looked like.

“By the spirits of aether…” I whispered. The dress was beautiful. I’d been to countless balls, and worn equally countless fine dresses, but this one left them all behind. The fabric somehow brought out all the curves in my body, especially around the breasts and hips, without being too tight or too flowy. It was loose and light- almost like wearing air. It was perfect.

“My lady…?” Tarria asked.

“I love it!” I squealed with excitement, twirling and watching the dress flow like a river of fabric. “It’s amazing!” I spun again, letting the dress ripple around me a second time. I began to waltz around the room, placing myself at an imaginary ball. I spun around and around while Tarria watched, until I finally collapsed into a chair, head spinning from dizziness.

“Are you done, my lady?” she said politely. “We still need to complete the final fittings on your dress. And of course, your hair and makeup must be done…”

“Uh-huh,” I grinned. “Sure. Sorry. I’m so dizzy!”

She sighed, walking over with a smooth, gliding pace. Tarria may have been a handmaiden, but she walked like a lady. Probably because she came from one of the lesser noble families who served ours. She held out her hand, and helped me stand. As soon as she had asserted that I wasn’t about to fall over, she began to circle me, making slight adjustments to the configuration of the dress as she did so. It was irritating, but it had to be done. Besides, I’d be breathtaking once she was finished! I couldn’t look anything but my best on the day of my coming of age.

Finally, when I was about to tell Tarria that the dress looked good enough already, she instructed me to sit down. I obeyed, and she began to process of applying the necessary makeup to my face. The brushes tickled, and I did my best not to sneeze as she patiently powdered my face, whitening it steadily. Pale skin was the latest fashion- some nobles barely left their castles, attempting to shield themselves from the sun. I had no such qualms- I didn’t mind a little more makeup.

After what seemed like an eternity, she stepped back. “There we go, my lady. You’re almost ready.”

I opened my eyes, as she held a mirror up for me. My eyes widened in awe. Looking back at me was a pale skinned girl, with large, innocent looking blue eyes. Just the right combination of powders made it look almost as if I was glowing. The only thing that was wrong was…

“My hair,” I said instantly.

“Yes, I know my lady,” Tarria said patiently. “It must be fixed.”

I sighed. “Just when I thought we were done…”

“Do you want to go into public with hair like this, my lady?”

“No!” I said quickly. “No, no, of course not.”

She produced a brush, and proceeded to attack my hair with it. I winced as she pulled at the snarls and tangles caused by sleep. One of these days, I need to find a way to keep that from happening- the morning hair brushing is always painful, no matter how hard I try to keep my hair neat. Not that I mind. I have to look perfect. That’s just how things go. Especially on the day of my coming of age.

Finally, she was done. She stepped back, studying me with an appraising eye. “Rise, Lady Aliana.”

I stood, smiling in anticipation of the upcoming events. “Do I look ready?”

“Of course you do, my lady.”

I took a deep breath, and walked towards the door, using the smooth walk of a practiced noble. It was time to show myself to the public.

 

The procession was incredibly grand. Ten men on horses rode ahead of me, the last two rolling out a red carpet for me to walk on, so that my feet wouldn’t have to touch the street. Commoners gathered on either side, watching silently. They were probably wondering who would be blessed with the honor of ascension.

I kept my eyes out for the perfect candidates. There weren’t any that struck me at first. None that the spirits would approve of.

It wasn’t until we were almost to the place where they kept ascension candidates that I saw her. A small girl, blond haired, green eyed, gorgeous. She stood off to the side in the prettiest little blue dress. If she hadn’t been standing with the commoners, I would have mistaken her for a noble. I let out a little cry of delight, my hand shooting into the air with hurried enthusiasm.

“Stop the procession!”

It was a bit of a breach of protocol. I should have done it more slowly, and in a much more dignified manner, but I was too excited. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here, right here, was the one that would please the spirits, and increase my chances for becoming an aspect.

I studied her with a little smile. She was perfect. Everything I wanted. And then, suddenly, she was obscured as the girl standing next to her leapt forwards, eyes wide.

“Your highness,” she said, dropping into a hurried curtsy. Then she straightened, looking me straight in the eyes. Wasn’t a commoner supposed to avert their eyes when speaking to me? “This isn’t the girl you want. She’s nothing more than a child.”

I smiled at her. She must have been worried that this girl wasn’t worthy. I hurried to reassure her. “Nonsense. This girl is perfect. No one could please the spirits more than her.” I studied this girl with a careful eye. Her hair flowed around her head in a fiery red curtain, and her eyes gleamed, almost unnaturally bright. She had the same build and eyes as the small girl that stood behind her. “Are you her sister?”

The girl nodded. “Yes, highness.” Desperation filled her eyes. “Please. Take me instead of her. She is not the one you want.”

I shook my head, sighing. Commoners. They were so selfish. So… different from the nobles I lived around. I smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder. She was about the same height as me, and carried herself like a noble, but she had the attitude of the commoner. She would be a fine one for ascension too. But her sister was perfect. None would please the spirits more than her.

“Don’t be jealous,” I murmured comfortingly. “Maybe someday you will be selected for this honor too. But you shouldn’t try to steal the glory and honor that will be your sister’s. Be pleased for her, instead of angry for yourself.”

Her expression was one of complete disbelief. “Spirits of aether… you think… you think choosing her is an honor?!

“The highest honor a commoner like yourself can achieve.” I was confused. Hadn’t they been taught since birth that ascension was the most noble calling a commoner could hope for? Didn’t they know that the commoners that ascended would find a place among the spirits themselves in the next life? Commoners could not become aspects- therefore ascendence was their only chance at rising to the level of we nobles.

“Peace,” I said patiently. “Your time will come. I’m sure that you will find a way to attain the honor of ascension some other day.” I could take both of them, maybe… but the other commoners would be jealous if I visited too much favor upon a single family.

The girl’s eyes blazed, but a woman standing behind her pulled her back. “Quiet, you stupid child,” she hissed in her ear. She turned to face me, eyes averted. “I’m sorry for my daughter’s behavior, your highness. She’s an insolent little child- lacking control in thought and tongue. Please forgive her- I will have her punished for this later, I assure you.”

I nodded. “Your daughter’s jealousy is forgiven then.” I turned to look back at the smaller girl. “Come. You have been chosen for the greatest possible honor. What is your name?”

“Nima, highness.”

“Nima, you have been chosen for the greatest of honors. Come, ride with me.”

She stepped forwards unsteadily, and I called one of my guards forwards. They helped her up into the carriage that rode behind me. I smiled as we walked onwards. Behind me, I heard one of the guards drop a bag of food at the feet of the red haired girl. I ignored her, but I still could feel her eyes burning into me as I walked away.

 

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