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The Pursual

The Pursual

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The Pursual

Length:
308 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 8, 2017
ISBN:
9788826047829
Format:
Book

Description

Neith and Invier are madly in love, yet destined for an unhappy ever after.

Invier's family is too lowly-ranked for a union with Neith, so she, unwilling to accept a loveless union with someone else, revives a long-abandoned competition called the Pursual. In the Pursual, the prize is the girl and an alliance with her influential family.

Entered into the competition without his consent, Invier becomes suspicious of Neith's motives. Still, he must win, or see his love married to a rival. The mysterious deaths of competitors, the discovery of dark secrets, and a growing rebellion mean that nothing will come easy.

The competition meant to bring them together threatens to tear the couple apart. Yet only by working together will they overcome their rivals and gain a life with each other.

The Pursual is the first book in The Nome Chronicles Series. It features compelling characters, romance and complex societal politics. Readers who liked Graceling, The Hunger Games, and The Winner’s Curse books will enjoy this YA sci fi dystopian story.

Explore The Pursual to discover this exciting new series today!
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 8, 2017
ISBN:
9788826047829
Format:
Book

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The Pursual - F. F. John

***

Chapter One

Neith

I should be happy, but the only emotion I feel is dread. It’s a pure, absolute terror that makes my palms sweat and leaves my mouth dry. I tend to be a happy person but today, I can’t pretend to be anything but … scared. On the other side of the glass divide are wide smiles and bright, white teeth. Champagne flutes clinking, voices bubbling into laughter and heels clicking on the gleaming onyx floor create a rhythm that sets me on edge.

Master Portan is such a peacock, Bel says, her voice filled with amusement. "He has color and glitter in his hair."

Portan glides into the pavilion with his locks styled in a series of vertical knots running along the middle of his head. Each knot sports a different color and shimmers with every languid step he takes. He stops to greet the Saint Esprit family. The Titan whispers into his ear as two servers rush around their booth, refilling jewel encrusted plates and glasses.

A few rows back in the booth, Nome Saint Esprit’s scion and heir apparent, James Jr., takes a sip of his drink and leans in to listen to his mother’s whispers.

My chest tightens at the thought that he could become my mate. There are those who find James attractive but to me, he’s just a scraggly boy with a widow’s peak and tawny-colored hair that looks dirty. His family’s global agriculture business has earned them a sixth-place position in the rankings and make him a perfect match. Technically. Anyone who thinks that way either doesn’t know or ignores their knowledge of his … proclivities. I don’t fall into either category.

Neith?

Yes?

Are you all right? You’re not saying much. I feel her concerned gaze upon me and swivel my head to meet it. Her soft brown eyes are full of apprehension that I wave away with the flick of my wrist. There’s no need to worry my best friend right now. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.

Plastering a delirious grin on my face, I say, I’m fine.

She scoffs, knowing that I’m not being truthful. Don’t you dare lie to me, Neith Reffour. She sounds stern but, there’s a tinge of laughter underneath her words. You’ve been waiting for this night forever and everyone, she sweeps her long caramel fingers towards the pavilion beyond our waiting room, is here to share it with you. What’s wrong?

Despite how close we are; I can’t bring myself to tell her what troubles me. I’m frightened if I say what worries me aloud, the universe will make it come to pass. What antiquated thinking, I know. Still, I square my shoulders and say Everything is okay.

Is it about Invier?

No.

I don’t think she believes a word I said because she squints at me. I’m going to let you hold onto this secret because we know you’ll tell me eventually.

Despite the temptation, now is not the time to argue with her on this point because she’s right. Bel always gets the truth from me. Part of the reason is because I trust her completely. She’s my oldest friend and confidante.

Even though I won’t turn this into a debate, I can’t resist irking her so I say, Sure thing, Belly.

She pinches my arm with long pink nails. They bite into the soft flesh and I squirm to get out of their reach. She’s never liked the nickname, but her siblings and I use it to great effect to get a rise out of her. When she’s satisfied that she’s caused enough pain, she crows in victory and lets me go.

We’re seated in a small waiting room, tucked within the pavilion, a high-ceilinged room adjacent to my family’s cavernous ballroom. Glass walls separate us from our guests but allow us to observe them. The attendees are members of the Group of Twenty’s Nomes, the world’s most powerful family-conglomerates, and they sit in booths that line three of the four walls in the expansive room. Despite how friendly they treat each other; I know they’d do anything to come out on top. Nome above all.

An announcer’s voice soars over the din of discussion. Ladies and Gentlemen, now entering the Pavilion are the members of Nome Parashar, led by Titan Parashar and his Titane. They are followed by their children, Scion Acri Parashar, Doge Elon Parashar, Dogenne Riya Parashar….

The announcer drones on as the Parashars make their way to their designated seating. Thank goodness I chose this sparkling black number to wear tonight because Riya has on a white dress similar to what I was supposed to wear. Her brother, Acri, holds her hand, guiding her past the other nomes. He’s all smiles as he scans the booths above.

"Looks like your friend needs help finding something. Or, should I say someone?"

Bel’s lips press into a thin line before she says, Acri and I are—

—friends.

Exactly.

Whatever you say, Belly. At my cackling, she purses her plump bottom lip and tries to ignore me. Acri has liked Bel for a long time and recently, his nome informed her family that they interested in a pairing. Both Titans like each other and think aspects of their businesses can mesh. Even though a love match isn’t required for a successful pairing and eventual marriage, Acri has feelings for her. And, in spite of her protests, I’m sure she likes him too.

My laughter comes to an abrupt end when Father barrels into the room through a mahogany side door.

Hello, Uncle Nabo, Bel says with a bright smile. I can tell she’s glad that his arrival brought an end to my entertainment.

He looks up from the slate screen in his hands. Hello, Belema. His golden eyes leave hers to meet mine and he nods briskly.

You got here on time. I think Portan will start the opening ceremony soon.

Eyes still on his screen, he says, I wouldn’t want deal with his conniption if I showed up late.

Portan would definitely have a fit if Father was absent when the ceremony begins. As the nome’s Master, Portan works for my father in whatever capacity is necessary. Nevertheless, even Father doesn’t want to face his wrath. It doesn’t show up often, but with all the planning he’s put into things, he’s become a tad high-strung. Father and I have done our best to avoid him the last few weeks which has been difficult because he insisted on giving me an etiquette refresher course that was the absolute worst.

Are you excited about tonight, Uncle? Your daughter isn’t.

He gives me a quick look as he lowers his tall frame into one of the red, velvet-covered seats. I wouldn’t miss this for anything. His chair dips under his weight. One of the men that get called to the pavilion floor could become my son-in-law. He returns to his screen and his fingers fly over the surface. Whatever he’s doing is obviously more important than what could be the most important day of my life.

Now, now, you could end up with a daughter-in-law, you know. Nothing in the Pursual rules stops a scioness from participating and becoming Paladin. Bel avoids the glare I send her way. I wish she hadn’t said that. What if she just spoke that outcome into the universe? Clearly, my nerves are getting the best of me if I’m getting so superstitious.

In spite of my protest, this issue of participant gender was Father’s idea. The more the merrier, he’d said. I can’t imagine many scionesses entering the competition but the rules dictate that I’ll marry whoever becomes Paladin, no matter their gender.

True. Father’s tone is playful and he turns towards me. I hope for your sake, dear, that this experiment of yours doesn’t end with you having to marry a girl. He returns to tapping on his screen. Personally, all I care is that the winner of this competition is from a nome that will make for a profitable alliance.

Of course, he’d be sure to point out what matters to him. A profitable alliance.

Father’s opinion shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, his words leech the warmth from me. It’s always about profit when it comes to him. Well, profit, power, and the continued advancement of our family—Nome Reffour. Family is more than the people one is related to. Family is the nome. The nome is the business it controls, which for us, is manufacturing. We build and create everything for everyone meaning we have deep business ties with almost every other nome which has fared us well over the years. Regardless, he always reminds me how Reffour’s Titans and Titanes have steadily moved our family up the nome rankings. We are now second but it isn’t enough for him. If we ever get to be the first among the Twenty, there’d still be more to do to keep others at bay. Someday, that responsibility will fall on my shoulders and I am happy to bear it. All I have to do is make sure that I have the love of my life by my side.

Don’t be cruel, Uncle. Bel leans over to take my hand in hers. Her warmth bleeds into me and while it’s comforting, it can’t erase the cold that flares across my skin. The Pursual will lead Neith to the love she desires.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome Nome Floran, led by Titan Floran and his Titane, and accompanied by their children, Scion Invier Floran, Dogenne Song Floran and other members of their nome!

I look at my best friend, hoping I can borrow some of her confidence. She waggles her angled eyebrows and then looks out at the pavilion. I follow her gaze to where Invier enters with his father, mother, sister and a few other people I assume to be family members of some sort.

Love has nothing to do with it. Father’s commanding words are punctuated with a snort. I used to think the same. Responsibility to the family was always supreme. That was until a few months ago. Now, I believe I can have much more.

Ignoring his dismissing comment, I keep my eyes on Invier as my heart thumps. His curly brown hair is sleeked back today. He’s draped in a navy-blue trench suit, its long seams falling midway at his thighs. I can tell from his slumped shoulders that he doesn’t want to be here and I don’t blame him. His mother and sister are all smiles, while his father’s lips are a thin line.

You’re still frowning? she asks quietly. The corners of her mouth flip downwards. You did the best you could Neat. It was his job to rise to the occasion and he didn’t. Don’t let that drag you down.

I wish it was that simple.

Chapter Two

Invier

I need to get out of here, I mutter to myself and look for the nearest exit out of the pavilion. All around me are vultures in finery looking down their long noses at each other.

Mom cranes her neck in my direction. Hmm? Did you say something dear?

No. Nothing at all.

Satisfied with my response, she whips open her fan and slaps at the air until wisps of her raven hair dance. That’s good because I’d hate to think you didn’t want to be here. Our family already looks bad for not sending a participant.

Folding my lips in on each other, I bite them so as not to say something I’ll regret. For the thousandth time, I regret agreeing to come to this event. I said yes because I didn’t want to have another argument with Mom. There goes my good intention sending me straight to the pits of hades.

We’re lucky we still get invited to such grand affairs given our family’s low ranking. From my seat behind her, I watch her yellow fan struggle to keep up with the maddening pace of her hand. For a brief second, I wish it would fall to pieces.

My sister, Song, leans in to share something with Mom and their voices lower to a conspiratorial tone. I’m glad for the respite from her frosty tone. Beside me, Dad throws an arm over my shoulder and pulls me in. Don’t worry about your mother. These social gatherings always make her nervous.

I glower at the back of her head where a complicated and painful looking hair arrangement sits. It looks ready to bite any and all who come too close.

Cheer up! He releases me. The last Pursual took place sometime before your late grandmother was born. This is a historic moment and you’ll get to tell your kids about it someday.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm isn’t infectious. If I recall, there’s a good reason these sorts of competitions no longer take place. Weren’t they banned?

They weren’t banned, he says, surveying the room. Nome society evolved to prefer pairings, which, as your mom frequently reminds us—

Make it impossible for the lower-ranked to marry someone wealthier or several rankings ahead of them, I say, mimicking Mom’s voice. Trust me, I know.

Luckily, no one hears me. Mom’s too focused on her discussion with Song to note my mockery and the distant relatives she dragged along are having their own boisterous conversation behind us.

Dad nudges me with his shoulder. You’re being too hard on her. She wants the best for you, Invier.

The best for me? I wave my hands in disagreement. "Mom wants me in this Pursual solely for herself. Think about it. If I win, she becomes the mother of the Paladin. I’d marry the richest scioness in the Group of Twenty and our nome would shoot up the rankings. Even if I don’t win, she can hold her head high with the knowledge that our family took part in the competition, setting us apart from others that didn’t. What about any of that is best for me?"

He sets on me with steely eyes. Would any of that be so bad? Whether you were to win or not, simply participating could mean more opportunities for the family. It could change the trajectory of your life and that of your sister.

The seriousness of his tone makes me pause. Dad has never taken Mom’s side on this issue. Usually, when the topic of the Pursual would come up, he’d leave the room for Mom and me to argue. Does he want me to take part in the competition?

Choosing my words carefully, I say, I don’t oppose our family rising in the rankings and I don’t have a problem with creating profitable alliances with the other nomes. However, I don’t have to sacrifice love and my beliefs to do those things.

His expression softens and he lets out a long sigh.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a voice booms, now entering the pavilion is Nome Ategun, led by its Titan and his Titane. They are followed by their children, Scion Ika Ategun, Dogenne Lola Ategun and Dogenne Sade Ategun.

All eyes turn to the pavilion floor where the Ateguns stroll to their booth. They are at least sixty-people strong. The Ategun girls walk behind their older brother, heads high. One of the girls holds her family’s scepter. It’s taller than she is and her family’s insignia rests on top. I’ve always thought it looked like an egg in clothes.

Goodness, those girls are atrocious. Our entire booth snickers.

Song straightens in her seat and lets out a harsh laugh. "I’d be pissed if we controlled the fashion industry only to show up to events looking like that. Given their family’s business, they should have better fashion sense."

Or at least, better stylists, Mom says dryly. What’s worse is that the girls aren’t half as attractive-looking as their brother.

Thankfully, Invier is the ugly duckling of our family. Song tilts her head my way and winks.

Everyone but Dad and I cackle. I hate it when Mom and Song get this mean. To me, it’s not necessary to put other people down based on such superficial things as their looks. I’ve said as much in the past, only to have Song accuse me of judging her. She’d burst into tears and if there’s one thing that’ll get me every time, it’s seeing someone I care about crying. For now, I keep my mouth shut and hope their voices didn’t carry past our booth.

Another family walks across the pavilion floor as the announcer welcomes them. People stare and whisper about the newcomers.

Are you sure you don’t want to participate? Although Dad’s voice lowers to a whisper, his words blare as a discordant trumpet.

Consternation spikes in the pit of my stomach like an ember escaping from a raging flame. Was he not listening when I said I don’t care to sacrifice love or my beliefs for the trappings of power and profit?

A deep breath later, I’m calm enough to say, You asked Mom for her hand in marriage, right? I want to do the same. I want my feelings, not the need for business alliances to determine who I spend the rest of my life with.

We were young, Invier. His face has a faraway look. Besides, there were repercussions.

Repercussions?

What are you talking about? I’ve always cherished the story of how mom and yourself got together. It was a simple approach and nothing like the productions of today. I say and cringe at the thought of having to go through the current process. Nowadays, a family approaches another to discuss the likelihood of a successful business and marital union. If both sides agree, then negotiations ensue and if successful, a public and elaborate pairing ceremony takes place where the other nomes witness the joining of families. No union is legitimate without the witnessing of the other nomes and if even one isn’t represented at the marital ceremony, it can create problems. Why should my happiness be subject to a group of people I don’t care about?

Nothing is ever straightforward. He looks me in the eye. You know your Mom’s family was higher ranked than mine, right?

Nome Zephole is still ranked higher than us Florans.

Correct. He nods. What you don’t know is that your mom’s family wanted a pairing ceremony … the works. Your mom and I refused and ended up getting married despite their objections. His eyes are sad as if recalling an unpleasant memory. "Her family shunned us for it.

This practice isn’t common enough to find in your books, but, if a nome disowns one of their own, all other nomes will shun that person as well.

Could this be true? Unlike Mom, Dad isn’t one to exaggerate to make a point. Even though I never knew this part of my family’s history, I have to accept it as factual. It makes me think of a question I’ve had since childhood. I always wondered why we never spent time with Mom’s family members. Was it because of this?

The nomes don’t forgive those of us who go against the grain. When we were shunned, it limited how much profit we could make. Sure, I could raise rates, get more creative in the products we offer to compensate. But … I’m not comfortable with any of that, much to your mom’s chagrin. He gives me a watery smile. as adjudicators, we’re bound by the Code of Ethics and we can’t get as unscrupulous as many of our peers so, I’ve watched our earnings decline and our rank has dropped in kind.

Dad…

Let me finish. His gaze never wavers. When we lost out on profitable opportunities and dove to the last spot in the Twenty, that had consequences. The main one is that Song and yourself are now limited to marrying into a family no higher than six spots above ours.

The announcer introduces the pavilion’s latest guests but my attention is locked on Dad. Now, I understand why he asked if I was sure about not taking part in the Pursual. Society does not look favorably on anyone marrying someone from a family six places or more beneath them. It’s unheard of. With that attitude, I have no chance of a good pairing and eventual marriage because of our family's standing. Mom has repeatedly reminded me of this fact and it’s been her reasoning for why I must take part in the Pursual. While I don’t care about any of this, I know Song does.

I put a hand on his shoulder. I’m not mad at Mom and you for choosing to be happy. It's society’s ridiculous expectations I’m mad about. You guys did nothing wrong.

He gives me a weary smile. Tell that to your sister when she finds out she could have had a more luxurious life if not for our choices.

Song waves to someone and for a moment, I feel sorry for her. Then, I remember riches aren’t what makes life worth living. Besides, I have no doubt she’ll marry into a family much wealthier than ours. I follow her gaze to find Victor Lebier peering at her adoringly. His family’s education business brings in enough wealth for them to rank fourteenth and more than acceptable to her for marriage. Unless she finds someone ranked even higher.

I can’t preoccupy myself with what society expects. My future must be on my terms. My choice.

Is there someone whose hand you want to ask for?

Rather than say what’s on my mind, I mutter, No.

Chapter Three

Invier

A loud clang reverberates through the pavilion and there’s a collective gasp from the crowd. On the pavilion’s floor, a short man slams a black mallet onto a raised silver gong. Knees bent, he draws the mallet back and brings it down twice more, making my body vibrate and my teeth chatter. When the sound dies, the pavilion is deathly silent. The opening ceremony will officially begin, and the quest for the girl I love with it. I’ve got to get out of here.

A man with colorful knots on his head steps into the middle of the floor. He introduces himself as Master Portan and welcomes the nomes. After highlighting specific people around the room with a joke or compliment, his face becomes stern and he delves into the competition’s rules. Still searching for my exit, I barely listen and am buoyed when I find a door. Unfortunately, it’s several feet away and I’d have to pass three booths filled with people to get to it.

They’re the least of my problem, I soon realize as I’d have to get past my mom, first. Knowing her, she wouldn’t let me walk out now without causing a scene. She’d think my exit would be considered an insult to

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