Orlo: The Burdened – Chapter One

“Quickly, Orlo! We must hurry!” The layers of Evangeline’s red dress flashed in front of Orlo. The doors opened and then shut behind them, one after another as they ran through. “Hold onto your thoughts. She is listening for you!”

Orlo did as the messenger instructed. He blocked every thought of books, the Gardener, and the people of the Liberum from his mind. He had chosen to come back to the Conclusus to bring the truth of the giftings to the people. They had a choice, to live free from the law, and he was the proof.

Orlo passed through another door, hoping this was the one that led to the Hall of Keeping with its gigantic hidden tree and single red apple. He prayed it still grew safely in the middle of the empty shelving where he had last seen it. Out of breath and fighting with everything in him to suppress his fear, he reminded himself . . . he chose this.

Besides, Evangeline seemed more rushed than concerned. If she was concerned, she hid her law-breaking well. After all, worrying was against the law.

Another door—she closed it as soon as she opened it. “She is there, Orlo! We are too late. You must say that I moved you for safety . . . it will not be a lie. If I take you there now, she will hear our intentions before we cross the threshold.”

In the dark emptiness, the messenger formed another door. Orlo knew the simple wood-paneled door well; at one time, he had unknowingly created it himself.

“I believe this is a safe place for you to rest,” she said. “I must go. We believe in you, Orlo.” She kissed him on the forehead and left him in his tower.

The door closed behind her, leaving him in sad stillness. For a second, Orlo didn’t move. The sound of his hurried breathing filled the emptiness once occupied by his household. It was too quiet. He missed the clompf, clompf of Knox’s boots thumping across the wooden floors and the rumble of boiling water for Poppy’s ginger tea. As far as he knew, Poppy had been sent to the world and Knox captured by the creatures that lived in the mines at the deepest part of the Earth. Orlo tried not to blame himself for Knox’s disappearance, but the truth was, Knox had left in order to find him. He could hardly recall his time in the orphanage before Poppy was assigned as his guardian or even a time before that when he might have been with his birth parents. He was alone, again.

Evangeline believed he would be safe in the tower, but Orlo did not feel safe. He had questions, concerns, and he was alone. He should have been excited about winning the Tournament of Inventors in the Festival of Sevenths. Even as a young deliverer growing into his goggles, he had been drawn to the inventors—the clothes, the food, and the prestige—but he had dreamed Poppy and Knox would be with him.

Orlo rubbed his fingers over the golden symbol of the inventors adorning the purple sash that hung now across his chest. He had made it snow. He had wowed the Decorum; then it all went wrong. There was an explosion and screaming—all to get him away, so they, the followers of The Way, could explain what he had already come to know. The Conclusus was broken, and he could fix it. If he chose to.

He had. He’d decided to come back to the Conclusus—to show the people the brokenness of the Decorum in its laws and assignments. In the land he had come to know as the Liberum, beneath the Conclusus, he had learned the truth; they called it The Way. There was freedom from the law, the Decorum, and the assignments. Orlo, born with the gifting to invent, had been assigned as a lowly deliverer because he was an orphan. Now, he was more.

He always had been more. But now, they would see it.

Orlo trudged up the stairs to their modest rooftop garden and climbed up into the branches of the Boswellia tree. This was where he felt safe. From here, he imagined what it would be like to touch the enormous stalagmite that dripped its glowing water continuously into the fountain at the center of the Conclusus. It was late; the mist had completely settled to the ground, leaving the Conclusus dark and cool.

For a moment, a hint of excitement for his life emerged. Orlo closed his eyes and thought about things that were good—pastries, top hats, and his household . . . A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. Orlo froze. Another knock. She had found him.

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