The Halves of Us is the start to the debut epic fantasy trilogy by Sydney Paige Richardson, and it's here TOMORROW!!
Get the novel on October 9th. Today, read two sneak peek chapters exclusively on The Parliament House blog...
A canvas of dark indigo filled Thindoral’s night sky, and the silver light of the stars reflected the mischief in Aura’s eyes. She counted them one by one, waiting for the Guards to finish their rounds. Waiting for the moons to rise high in the sky. Waiting for the right moment, when the palace was asleep and she could use the stolen key.
As the residents of the Dome grew quiet and Aura could no longer hear the hustle and bustle from the Town Square below, she tiptoed toward the door adjoining her room to her sister’s. Reaching into her pocket, she ran her fingertips across the roughly carved key to the Holding Room which she’d stolen from her Uncle Gossamer earlier that evening.
She shivered as the cold brass handle of the door met her palm. The wooden door creaked as she eased it open.
The thin white silk of the bed’s canopy fell in folds as it twirled down the dark wood of the bedposts. Aura tiptoed across the room and looked at her twin.
Adie slept peacefully. The moonlight cast through the windows of the double doors leading out to their shared balcony. Aura knelt on the floor beside the bed and tugged on one of her sister’s scarlet braids, a replica of her own. She hid, crouching down as Adie rustled awake.
Adie sat up, her eyes still heavy with sleep. Aura jumped up onto her sister’s bed, giggling.
“Aura!” Adie said, throwing a pillow at her sister. She lay back down and covered her face with another pillow.
“Come on!” Aura pleaded.
“It’s the middle of the night. Let me sleep,” Adie begged, her voice muffled beneath the plush fabric.
“Look what I have . . .” Aura’s voice trailed off as she pulled the key out of her pocket. Chiseled from petrified wood, the key’s intricate design cast shadows from the moonlight onto Adie’s bed.
Adie raised her head, her sleepy eyes growing wide as intrigue filled them.
She crawled across the bed, taking the key from Aura. “How did you . . . when did you—” She stopped.
Aura failed at hiding her smile. Adie always made her thieving ways feel like grand accomplishments. “We have to go tonight,” she whispered, taking the key back from Adie and putting it in her pocket.
She motioned for Adie to follow her as she made her way to the door leading out from her sister’s room and into the hall. She could hear Adie’s hesitant footsteps coming up beside her. She signaled Adie to stay back as she reached for the door handle.
Aura tucked a crimson curl behind her ear and tried to steady her breathing before peeking out. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears, nearly drowning out the nearby footsteps as Michael, Security Major of the Guard, paced the hallway as he did every night. The gold emblem of Thindoral’s sacred pendant, the Rokis, shimmered on the back of his dark blue uniform beneath the dim light cast from the lanterns on the walls.
She spun out of view when Michael glanced over his shoulder, and she silently begged Adie to stay quiet. They held their breath, and Aura swore the beating of her heart was now loud enough to give them away. Closing her eyes, she prayed he hadn’t seen her. If he had, he would never leave his post again.
After pleading to Fate herself, Aura’s gaze shifted out her bedroom window as she waited. Two silver rings lined Thindoral’s largest moon, reflecting bright light through her windows and creating a soft hue around a worried Adie in front of her. Michael’s footsteps faded down the granite hallway as he continued the last of his rounds throughout the Dome, and a grin stretched across Aura’s face.
“Are you sure we should do this?” Adie’s voice peaked as she stepped back toward her bed. “Mother always said the Rokis must never be touched by anyone but the Ruler, and—”
Aura stared at her. “Mother says lots of things.”
“What about Michael?” Adie frowned as she stepped out of bed.
“He just finished his rounds. Come on!”
Aura opened the door and searched both directions of the hallway. Michael was nowhere to be seen. She took Adie’s hand as they moved down the lonely hallway, followed only by the sounds of their bare feet pitter-pattering across the granite floors and the light scratching of the designs etching into the walls.
Aura released her grip on Adie’s hand and stopped to watch the pencil-like lines swirl around one another, forming mesmerizing odd shapes and letters. Her mother always told her these were secret messages left by the Designers, the godly beings who created the universe and all life within. Those worthy of their secret messages could decipher them. But to this day, none knew what the messages meant. Some areas of the walls repeated, and some changed as someone touched them.
Aura reached out to touch a design, and a flower bloomed where her fingers had just been. As the petals grew larger, her breath caught when the corners became black and shriveled, ultimately falling away from the stem and fading back into the colors of the wall. Her brow furrowed as she skimmed her hands along the rough lines of the walls. The texture moved under her palm like worms through thick dirt.
“Aura! Come on!” Adie whispered, breaking Aura from her trance as she grabbed her hand, pulling her farther down the dimly lantern-lit hallways.
They peeked down where the corridor ended at the Holding Room.
“No Guards!” Aura smirked, looking to Adie.
They squeezed each other’s hands tighter as they walked toward the towering silver door.
“Are you sure it’s in there tonight?” Adie asked.
Aura nodded. “Every fortnight, Mother leaves it in here for one evening. She says something about it being too heavy to sleep with.”
They stopped in front of the door, looking up as far as they could. Even though the dark of night had taken over the Dome, the door to the Holding Room still glowed. The silver designs carved into its surface reflected in their eyes. An even brighter golden light draped the sacred design of the Rokis which hung above it.
“You did make sure you got the right key, didn’t you?” Adie asked. Her head remained tilted back, examining the door as she fidgeted with her braid.
Aura turned and faced her sister. A mirror image of herself nervously smiled back as she retrieved the key from her pocket.
She handed it to Adie, but she shook her head. “You open it,” Adie insisted.
They walked forward, hand in hand. As they approached the door, Aura broke free from her sister. Adie waited a few steps behind, sneaking glances back down the hallway.
Aura’s hand trembled as she slid the key in the door and twisted. The loud click of the door unlocking hung in the air, and Adie ran toward her.
“Shhh!” Adie hushed. Aura shrugged and grinned as she twisted the handle.
They gazed over their shoulders, peering down the hallway. Adie sighed heavily, relieved as she looked back at Aura and nodded. They were still alone.
Together, they gritted their teeth and pulled at the door with all their strength.
“Keep pulling,” Adie whispered as it creaked open and she slipped in.
Aura pushed her way through the opening, and the door closed behind them.
Plush velvet curtains gathered at the sides of the stone walls around the perimeter of the room, revealing exquisite stained-glass windows. The moonlight poured in, bouncing off the tall ceilings, and a deep rush of color danced across the floor. Aura looked at her blue dress, which now took on a deep red, mimicking the lighting. She twirled around and smiled as the ends of her dress broke the kaleidoscope of colors reflecting on the floor.
“Aura!” Adie whispered as she pointed to the stairs in the center of the room, leading up to a pedestal.
Hand in hand they marched up the four giant stone steps. There lay the Rokis given to them by the Designers, who harnessed the power of a star in its center gem to protect them from the evil residing on their planet. The gem radiated a bright blue light, and twelve golden triangles jutted outward around it, reflecting a ray of sapphire on their faces.
“Touch it!” Aura said.
“No! Mother says I have to wait,” Adie replied.
“Come on! We didn’t come here just to look at it. I mean, it’ll be yours one day, anyway.” Aura stood tall and struck a pose, mimicking their mother.
“The Rokis belongs to the youngest born, the future Ruler.” She giggled and covered her mouth as the sound echoed throughout the Holding Room.
“What’s wrong with touching it now?” she whispered.
Aura watched her sister’s brow crease in thought as she stared at the Rokis, entranced by its beauty. The light of the center gem captured the jade color of her eyes. Adie shivered suddenly and looked back up at Aura with hesitation.
“Together?” Aura asked, taking her sister’s hand.
Adie gulped and nodded slowly.
As they brought their hands above the center of the Rokis, Aura could feel Adie’s tremble below hers. She closed her eyes and lowered their hands onto the blue gem. As soon as she felt their palms reach the center, a surge of light burst throughout the room, throwing Aura down the steps.
The bright light rose higher, climbing up the walls. Pain coursed through Aura’s elbow as it smacked on the floor. Clutching her arm, she tried to stifle her tears. Taking a deep breath, she moved from her stomach to a sitting position and looked around, searching for her sister.
Her bottom lip trembled. “Adie?” she whispered. “Adie!” she whispered louder.
Adie was gone.
A blue light collected around the ceiling, swirling above her. Silent tears fell down her cheeks as her trembling evolved into shakes.
The light came together into a ball in the middle of the ceiling, and Aura froze. It shot down toward the ground, and she shielded her eyes with the back of her hands. Once she felt the light dissipate, she let her hands fall and opened her eyes. Motionless, Adie lay on the floor a few feet in front of her.
“Adie! Adie! Wake up, you must wake up!” Aura ran over to her twin, hushing her voice as she heard the Guards coming down the hallway.
Adie groaned and opened her eyes.
Aura gasped and stepped back. “Adie, your eyes! They’re blue!” She wiped her tears and looked over at the door as the voices on the other side grew closer. “Come on, we have to get you up. We need to go!” Aura said, helping Adie to her feet.
They ran over to the curtains and hid behind them.
“Stand still and don’t make a sound,” Aura begged.
Adie leaned against Aura’s shoulder as they both peeked out from behind the curtains.
“The key. Where’s the key?!” Gossamer shouted from outside the Holding Room door.
“Sir, it’s open . . .” replied one of the Guards as they eased into the room.
Aura pulled the curtain back over them, listening to Adie’s heavy breathing. She tried to calm her down, hoping the Guards wouldn’t discover them.
“I was making my way back to my room, when I saw a bright light come from behind the door. That’s when I discovered my key missing . . .” Gossamer’s deep voice bellowed.
“We were on guard, sir, but saw nothing,” another Guard replied.
Aura peeked out from the curtains once more. Gossamer walked up the tall steps to the pedestal, a puzzled expression on his face.
“The Rokis is still here, unharmed.”
“It could’ve been the stained glass windows reflecting the light, sir,” suggested the short, squatty Guard.
Gossamer spun around to face him, and Aura quickly stepped back behind the curtain.
“Have the other Guards stand directly outside the entrance. We’ll begin a search for the key.”
“Minister, could you have possibly misplac—” the Guard began.
“The keys are always on me.” Gossamer pulled on the iron loop around his belt. Hundreds of keys dangled atop one another and clinked together as he released the loop. “They never leave my side. And remember, no one is to touch the Rokis but the Ruler herself. Its powers are far more than we can comprehend. Have the Guards check all the exits. Make sure everyone is accounted for. The last time this happened . . .” He paused, his hands still in fists. “Double the Guards around the Ruler and Adie and Aura’s chambers.”
Adie gasped, and Aura quickly covered her sister’s mouth. She narrowed her eyes at Adie in a silent plea to keep quiet. She frowned upon seeing her sister’s eyes remained bright blue. They stood perfectly still as Gossamer and the Guards quieted. Aura prayed they didn’t come any closer.
“Sir, I don’t think we should alarm the staff. We haven’t had an intrusion in years.”
“We take no risks!” Gossamer shouted.
Aura peeked out as her uncle walked toward the entrance. His face reddened as he took a few long breaths. She’d never seen him this angry.
“Check the exits. Do not wake the Ruler. I will inform her myself. Keep Guards at the door until the key is recovered,” he ordered.
The door closed behind them, and Adie removed Aura’s hand from her mouth. She peered out into the empty room. “We have to get out of here!” Adie’s stomach churned as her nerves took over.
Aura stepped out from the curtain and ran after Adie, hugging her tightly.
“What happened? I thought you were gone!” She pulled away from Adie, wiping away new tears. “And why are your eyes blue?”
“I don’t know . . .” Adie tried to hide the welling in her eyes. “But if Uncle Gossamer finds us in here, we’ll be in terrible trouble. We have to get back to our rooms.”
Aura nodded in agreement. “I’ll leave the key here. He’ll think he dropped it.” She knelt and carefully placed the key on the floor.
“I suggest we pretend this never happened.” Adie bit her lip to hide its trembling.
“Agreed.” She made her way to Adie, hugging her again. “You had me so worried. Where did you go?”
Her sister’s arms clung tightly to her. A warm tear fell down Adie’s cheek. “I don’t know. Let’s worry about getting out of here first.”
Aura pulled away from their embrace, heading toward the entrance of the Holding Room.
“Wait! The Guards?” Adie stepped in front of her, blocking her way toward the door.
Aura tugged Adie’s braid. “Those are the same Guards who were sleeping through their shift. How do you think we got in here without being detected?” Her mouth curled into a mischievous grin.
“No! No! Aura, what if they are on the other side?”
“We can’t hide in here forever,” Aura replied.
“Maybe we just confess . . .”
“And explain to Mother what happened?” Aura said.
Adie froze, holding her breath as Aura cracked the door and glanced through the opening.
She closed the door slowly and turned toward Adie. “There are two Guards with their back to us. We’re going to count to three and make a run straight out of here. Got it?”
Adie nodded back at her and finally breathed.
“Hey,” Aura said as she reached for Adie’s hand. “They’re on the other side of the door, toward the left. We can make it. Count with me. One . . .”
“Two,” Adie replied.
“Three!” they whispered as they slipped out of the tiny opening of the door and darted down the corridor.
“They didn’t see us!” Aura said, but Adie dared not look back.
They continued to run down the hallway and dashed into Adie’s room. Adie shut the door quietly behind her as they heard footsteps coming down the hallway.
“Quick! Into bed!” Aura whispered.
They both jumped into Adie’s bed and huddled together.
“Close your eyes!”
“Shh!” Adie responded.
Her bedroom door creaked opened, allowing a sliver of light halfway into the room. Adie squeezed her eyes shut as she heard Gossamer sigh and close the door.
Aura pushed the covers back and jumped out of bed, listening to his footsteps disappear down the hall. Adie opened her eyes and turned over, clutching one of her pillows as Aura got back in bed with a satisfied grin on her face.
“Adie, your eyes aren’t blue anymore!” she exclaimed. Her smile grew wider.
Adie stood and walked over to the dark wood vanity by her bed. She examined herself in the mirror. Emerald eyes stared back at her. She pulled at the puffy, tired skin beneath them.
“Now are you going to tell me what happened?” Aura asked.
Adie’s hands dropped to her side. She continued to stare at her reflection. She blinked and froze as the whites of her eyes vanished and went black. She blinked again and the emerald color returned. Taking in a deep breath, she walked back over to the bed, shaking her head and lying down.
“I don’t exactly know, but I think we should promise to never talk about it ever again. If Mother were to find out—”
“She won’t, but I must know!” Aura begged. “Adie, you disappeared—”
Adie looked at her sister, frizzy red ringlets framed her face. She sighed, sitting up and facing Aura. “I don’t know where I was, but there was this tall beautiful tree.” Her eyes grew wide at the vivid memory. “It had long, thin branches that swayed in the wind. They filled the space around me. There was so many I couldn’t see past them! I walked closer to the trunk of the tree, but I had to tilt my head to see the top.” She hesitated.
Her sister’s curious expression was opposite of the worry in her own.
“Then there was this gust of wind, and I turned as a black cloud of smoke came straight toward me. The branches started to lose their leaves, and what I could see of the sky was changing to red.” She paused, fearing her heart would beat straight out of her chest. “So I started running. The next thing I knew, you told me to get up . . .” Adie trailed off.