*author's note: This is the second story set in the world of Amara, first introduced in the short story Gray.
The silence greeted Nathu once again, leaving him alone with the darkness behind his eyelids as he knelt at the altar. He had never heard the Old Ones respond when he reached out to them, but he had faith that they would one day forgive the Ash Elves their transgressions, as had his father before him. Almost two thousand years had passed since Aelin had been crowned and subsequently broke the magic of the ancestors, creating the Ash Elves. Since that day, the Old Ones had been silent, and worship had fallen until now only Nathu remained.
He sighed, and climbed to his feet. He would try again later, after sunset. He glanced around his prayer room. The walls were lined with books detailing the worship of the Old Ones, of the legends and history surrounding them, of the great deeds of those that followed them. None of them spoke of faith, because before the Breaking it had not been necessary. Now the great prayer hall stood empty, its pews and benches unused, and the smell of dust long undisturbed filled the room. Nathu had inherited the temple from his father, as well as the farm Nathu and his family worked to earn coin. If not for that he would have had to sell the temple and see it demolished.
Leaving the altar room, he closed and locked the doors behind him, and stepped into the receiving room. He opened the temple's main doors and saw that the hard cold rain that had been falling all morning had not let up. He pulled on his thick leather long-coat and raised the hood, making sure to tuck his long braid inside the coat. He crossed the threshold of the temple and closed the door behind him. He turned and headed towards Dark Oak's southern outskirts, where his farm was. It was a long walk at the best of times, but the rain and the cold that leeched into his clothes made it seem even longer.
As he walked, the houses to either side of the road became smaller, further apart, and deeper into disrepair. Some had a fair amount of property, but it was clear that even the best had land that would only produce marginally useful crops. Farms like Nathu's were few and far between, and that was why he made such good money growing crops for the town. He saw some people returning to their homes and waved, and they politely nodded back before hurrying along their way. Not for the first time Nathu thought of how much better it was to live away from the kingdom's interior, among Star Elves, with their distrustful glances and distant attitudes. Dark Oak was on the western edge of what could be considered the kingdom, and hardly any Star Elves lived there.
After swearing loyalty to the Crown, the Queen transformed willing Ash Elves into a form with her deformed blue skin and gave them a new form of magic that flowed from her. Immediately after this, Aelin renamed the empire the Celestial Kingdom and those loyal to her took the title of Star Elves for themselves. They looked at the remaining Ash Elves as suspicious for not subjecting themselves to being twisted into a new form, and Nathu was just fine with that. How absurd, to seek power in exchange for your dignity, chaining yourself to someone who thought themselves above you, all in the name of coercing elves into lying with dragons and producing half-breed monstrosities like the Queen's children. As far as Nathu was concerned, all Star Elves were traitors to their ancestors and to themselves. Ash Elves loyal to the old ways referred to them as Celestials to denote their misplaced allegiance to the queen.
The modest two story house Nathu shared with his wife and two children came into view, emerging from behind the oak trees for which the town was named. Beyond the house he could see the fields of different crops, and made a mental note to see how they were faring in the morning. A little rain could be a blessing, but too much could easily kill a crop. He slogged up the path to his front door, mud sucking at his boots, and tried to muster the energy to deal with his family.
Taking off his coat and boots by the door, it took a moment to realize something was wrong. The house was silent, cold and dark. No one came to greet him, and checking the shoes at the door, he saw only one other pair.
"Hello," Nathu called out. He heard a sound from deeper in the house, and called out again. The sound answered, stronger this time, but no less distorted. He walked into the front hall, listening. To the left, the common room was empty, straight ahead was the kitchen, and even from where he stood he could see it was empty. The stairs leading to the second floor were right next to him, leaving one possibility. He climbed the stairs, worry creasing his brow. He entered the short hallway, and dismissed the master bedroom he shared with his wife after a quick glance to the left, and looked inside his son's room. It was empty, and the bed was unmade. Soiled clothes were piled in the corner, and his wardrobe hung open on the far side of the room, nearly empty. He felt a flash of fatherly frustration, but shoved it to the side momentarily. He moved further down the hall and entered his daughter's room.