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The Choosing

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1 The Choosing on Fri Apr 11, 2014 11:08 am

Nine

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(( yeah the last things you guys probably want to hear is that I've been writing another story. Heheh but I've been suckered into writing it, and I like it enough to share so far ))



For hundreds of years, the people of Canin have followed the rules set by their ancestors. They have lived in seclusion, their home protected by their strictly followed rules and by the magic that rules over them. The people of Canin live off of the land, and to the rest of the world, Canin only exists as a ghost town - one that you never return from visiting.

Situated by the ocean, the community has stayed pure by following the rules that date back hundreds of years. Thanks to the idiocy of outsiders, there are sometimes new additions to Canin, if only to placate the younger civilians's curiosity about the outside world. No one from Canin ever leaves.

Unless they are chosen.

Being chosen does not mean that the Chosen gets to see the world. Once every ten years, a young woman between the ages of thirteen and nineteen is sent across the sea to an island to be sacrificed to the Dragons of Old. The Choosing, as it is called, happens on the Spring Equinox, and was once a huge honor on part of the young maiden and her family. The Spring Equinox became a bloodbath.

Now, the Council selects the Chosen. And, as the Spring Equinox looms closer in the Choosing Year, the Council must make their decision, and it may very well be the most controversial Choosing yet.



Roosters cackled, announcing the dawn of a new day. The brisk March morning wind ruffled at their feathers and sent sprays of water against the rocks lining the base of the cliff.

In the dim morning light, an onlooker might look up to the cliff and see lights in the Forum that overlooked Canin. The building was as ancient as Canin itself, and despite the years of wear and tear, and the construction done to keep it standing, it looked much like it had four hundred and fifty years ago when Canin was first starting out.

That said, there was a lot of history. History that was taught to the children of Canin from the day they were born and until the day when they would be teaching the history to their children.

The Council, established with the founding of Canin, had stayed much the same as well. It held more power now, than it had four hundred and fifty years ago, but the families that had been a part of the Council then were the same ones that were in it now. Change was not something Canin took to lightly, and though the outside world grew and changed, Canin was adamant in remaining as it had before.

But, staying in the old ways didn't work for long. Technology soon found its way into Canin, but the people have little reliance on it, and only utilities like lighting, running water, and heating, can be found in most homes. The Forum - the building where the Council meets, where the Choosing takes place, and where other various holiday gatherings might happen - was the peak of technology for the town.

The Council, made up of thirteen of Canin's citizens, exited the building and hastened homeward. There were dark circles under their eyes, and their hunched shoulders contrasted their usual perfect posture and air of command. They had spent many a long night arguing over who would be Chosen this year, and it never seemed to get any easier.

But today was not like any other day. Their time had run short, and they had stayed in the Forum from noon the previous day until now, as the sun was rising on the following day. Today was the day of the Choosing, and any minute, girls would be waking and prepping to present themselves to Canin. They would walk the slope of winding road from the main village to the Forum after breakfast and be taught the proper etiquette for the ceremony at noon.

Council members entered their homes to the smell of breakfast being made. Families that didn't have to worry about their daughters being chosen were chatty, talking about the prospects of the day and wondering who would no longer roam their home. Those who did have daughters were somber. The fathers and brothers would cook, while the mothers would help their daughters prepare for the ceremonies.

Either way, this would be the day when someone's family would be ripped apart. The family wouldn't be permitted to mourn. They would take down pictures of their daughter and pretend like nothing had changed. Eventually, the pain would diminish, and talk would resume at meals, and the family would learn to genuinely laugh again.

This was how things were. In five years, it would happen again, but for the sons. Some families never recovered. Some never opened their shuttered windows and would wilt away until someone forced them out.

The sun climbed higher in the sky, and families began to settle down for breakfast. Parents took long looks at their daughters, wondering if this would be their last breakfast as a family. It was like the entire village was holding its breath, and only at the end of the ceremony, when the ship was gone from view, would it release that breath.

Naturally, the children of Council members wanted to know who was chosen before the announcement. Disclosing information would result in banishment, and sometimes death. The Council members were tired, and the constant pressing from their children nearly made them snap and break the law. Some dismissed themselves from breakfast, claiming the need to prepare for the ceremony, while others sat in silence and stared at their plates.

"Dad, come on," urged one daughter. She was two months from being twenty, and was fairly certain that at her age, she would not be chosen. In all of Canin’s history, only twice had someone so close to being a full adult been chosen during the Choosing; with so little time until she was twenty, the age when Canin considered they’re inhabitants to be adults, she was almost certain it wasn’t her, but there was always that nagging suspicion that would have her thinking about what if, and how her life, which was still so new, could be completely torn from her. "You can trust me!" She batted her eyelashes pleadingly. "Or at least let me know if it's me or not?"

With a tired shake of his head, her father ignored her pleas. "I cannot say," he urged. "That is, unless you want me to be banished."

The young woman heaved a sigh and leaned back in her chair. "Fine," she groaned, throwing her hands in the air in mock defeat. "You win."

Her father's mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smile. Sometimes it was hard being the father of such a spitfire like his daughter was, but she had made life interesting for him, and seemed to be the only one to make the ache from the day his sister was chosen go away.

Similar scenes played out in all the homes of the Council members.

A set of twins, fourteen and scandalous, were pressing their mother.

"C'mon Mom!" urged the son of the pair.

"Just let us know if it's me?" pleaded the daughter.

"You can trust us!" they claimed in unison, only to get a silencing glare from their mother.

When, at last, the large bell rang, signaling for daughters to begin leaving for the Forum, the joking and pressing came to a halt. Weight settled over the town like a flood, as parents hugged their daughters and watched with tear-filled eyes as they walked alone up the hill. They wouldn't be allowed to speak until they were in the Forum building, and even then, it would only be when spoken to.

The last of the sixteen young women vanished behind the ornate doors of the Forum. The doors closed, and the real weight of the Choosing Day finally settled on every single resident.

The only thing left to do was wait for the noon bell, and an hour after that, the name of the Chosen would be announced.

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2 Re: The Choosing on Fri Apr 11, 2014 11:15 am

Nine

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It was surprisingly dark in the room that the girls were led to. They were to be trained in their proper composure for entering, standing before Canin, being introduced, and what to do if they were chosen.

When, at last, the light clicked on, the girls blinked against the sudden light. They had huddled together, and the terrified looks on their faces had only increased by being left in the darkness.

"Treasured daughters," boomed the voice of Canin's Mayor. He stepped into the room from an entrance on the opposite side of the room, and all eyes were on him. His arms were opened wide, but the carefully composed expression on his face was too unnerving to be welcoming. "Welcome!"

None of them responded, and instead looked anxiously at one another.

The Mayor chuckled. It was a chilling sound that drew attention back to him. "You can say 'hello,' dearies!" he announced, laughing heartily.

Uncertainly, they gave weak greetings. The Mayor's composed expressions twitched, showing a sign of disdain. He knew which of these girls would be chosen. Among them was his own daughter, who refused to look at him. But it didn't bother him - he knew which of the girls would be leaving, after all, and had no reason to worry. When the Chairman of the Council announced the name of a quiet fifteen year old girl, he would sit back and revel in the security of knowing his family was safe.

He didn't even bother with attending most of the Council meetings regarding the choosing. After all, being Mayor, his family was granted immunity. It was an unwritten rule, but one that hadn't ever been broken.

"I will be announcing you in order of age," he continued, "from youngest to eldest." He looked from the youngest, a barely thirteen-year-old girl, to the nearly twenty-year-old who folded her arms across her chest in a sign of defiance. "I thank you all for coming today-"

"Not like we had a choice," snorted Gretchen, who had been a problematic child from the day she was born.

The other girls knew that Gretchen was likely safe from being Chosen. After all, no one would miss her if she was, except maybe her comrade in arms, Nora. And, the more sentimental the value of the Chosen, the more of a sacrifice it was considered by the Dragons. The better the sacrifice, the better the harvest, and seasons that would keep Canin thriving.

The Mayor cleared his throat and scratched at his bulbous chin. "Alice Warren," he called, cutting over the quiet chatter that had picked up between a few of the girls.

Trembling, a girl with a mass of brown curly hair stepped forward. She looked side to side as she crept from the back of the group to the front. The Mayor clapped her shoulder and grinned coldly at her. Alice shied away from him and scurried to the first marked spot on the other side of the room. She looked at the group of girls who stared forlornly back at her. Their hearts went out to Alice, who had never spoken an ill word of anyone in her life, and was prepared to give that life away for the good of her community.

"Veronica Greyson."

A dark skinned girl with honey colored hair stepped away from the comforting grasp of her older sister. She looked over her shoulder, and following a confident nod from her sister and idol, she straightened up and strode over to the spot next to Alice. They exchanged petrified looks as Veronica came to stand in her spot. The pair, thirteen and fourteen respectively, were best friends, and would likely remain so long after this day if neither were Chosen.

"Mary Shultz."

This time, the girl was tall and gangly, far from the day when she would properly fill out her body. Her red hair was done up in a tight bun at the top of her head, and she scampered straight over to her spot, glad that most of the other girls wouldn't see the tears of terror in her eyes.

"Gracie Osborn."

A plump girl, and the first of the three fifteen-year-old girls in Canin. She was shoved forward by Gretchen and Nora and fell on her knees. Though she was helped up, the pair of snickering teens had succeeded in making Gracie cry. They coughed insults into their hands and gave triumphant grins as Alice, Veronica, and Mary reached out to comfort Gracie, who was sobbing profusely.

The Mayor leered at Gretchen and Nora, but didn't say anything as he continued. "Nita Blanco."

Nita stepped confidently over Gretchen's outstretched foot. She turned and walked backwards to her spot, her bleached blonde hair bouncing against her shoulders as she flipped the pair the bird with a "I dare you to do something about it" expression on her face. Neither Gretchen nor Nora said or did anything about it. Nita worked the fields with her family and could easily take on the both of them at once without trouble.

"Erin Stone."

She was short and stocky, and not quick enough to dodge Gretchen's outstretched foot or Nora's foot coming down on the hem of her dress. Erin fell to the ground with a sickening tearing noise. She stared at her torn dress, her mouth making a perfect "O" as she reached for the part that had been separated from the rest. It would be one of the only things Erin was remembered for, and odds were, they wouldn't even remember her name when telling the story. Erin was the forgettable sort, and had few friends in Canin.

"Trisha Yearwood."

Trisha was Erin's friend, and helped her up and led her patiently over to their positions. She whispered words of encouragement to Erin, knowing that the remaining girls couldn't see the look of pure hatred for Gretchen and Nora shining in her hazel eyes.

"Holly Pestle."

Holly's twin brother, Harry, had made her a promise. He had told her that, if she was chosen, he would sneak onto the ship that was taking them away and go with her to bring her home from the island. Gretchen and Nora exchanged silent words and snickered as Holly took her spot.

The remaining girls were called, and there was little matter of importance that occurred during their walk. Amelia Atkins tripped half way to her spot, but was able to bounce up with a confident, "I meant to do that," before hurrying next to the only other girl of eighteen - Leia Thrusk. After her, there was only Rebekah Winters, who looked over the younger girls, knowing that it would be one of them, and that she was safe.

A woman entered the room after the Mayor had finished with arranging them. Her only child was a son, who was twenty-three and had made it out of his Choosing group alive. "Hello ladies," she greeted.

"Hello," they all greeted in unison.

"Your duties today are very simple," she announced, placing one hand over the other. "When the ceremony begins, the Mayor will call your names in the same order that you are standing right now. You will walk onto the stage and stand on your proper pedestals while the Mayor introduces the rest of the beautiful young ladies here." She looked over each of them, and barely hid the disdain on her face when seeing scratched up knees and torn dresses from Gretchen and Nora's victims. "Years ago - before even your grandma's time - your parents would have made bids to get you Chosen. Now, it is not the case. To save time, the Council has decided on which of you will be Chosen."

"M...Mrs. Bell?" stammered Mary, lifting her hand nervously. "W-what do we do if we are Chosen?"

Mrs. Bell gave a “tut tut,” stepping with precision toward the young girl. "Patience, child," she urged. There was a harsh look in her eyes as she stared down Mary, and after a painstaking moment, she turned and returned to her original spot. "Being Chosen is the greatest honor one may receive. When your name is called by the Chairman of the Council - Mr. Greyson - you will smile and step down from your spot. You will walk over to him. He will shake your hand. And you will be escorted by two guards from the room to an undisclosed location, where you will be fed, then taken to the ship and sent off to the Dragon's Island."

The Mayor watched the panicked expressions cross their faces. They wouldn't be allowed to say good bye to their parents, their families, or their friends. The last anyone aside from the designated residents chosen to serve the Chosen and sail the ship would see the Chosen would be as she was escorted from the Auditorium.

"If you are not chosen," continued Mrs. Bell. "You will wait for the Chosen to be escorted out, then you will follow me out of the Auditorium and into the Foyer, where you may meet with your families. Remember, that it is imperative that you do not speak during the Ceremony. Doing so will result in drastic measures that I assure you, you do not want to be met with."

In the distance, the bell announced that it was noon. Noise filled the Forum shortly after, but it was all muffled in the room that they all stood in now.

"Follow me, Ladies," Mrs. Bell instructed. "I will take you to the waiting room."



Last edited by Nine on Fri Apr 11, 2014 11:20 am; edited 1 time in total

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3 Re: The Choosing on Fri Apr 11, 2014 11:18 am

Nine

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The room that the girls were led to was nearly as dark as the first one they had been in. They had been paraded passed clumps of citizens making their way toward the main hall, who looked with lingering eyes, not wanting to forget the faces of anyone who was being put on show today.

In reality, the talk about the ceremony would last until the end of the luncheon held in its honor. After that, people would carry on like nothing had happened. That was the way things were.

Mrs. Bell held the door open as the sixteen passed dutifully through the door. Their faces were masks, hoping to hide the terror stirring in each of them. She smiled at the Mayor's daughter, whose feet fell in loud thunks on the ground as she walked. Like her father, she was heavy set, but not nearly to the degree as he was. She had the misfortune of her father's thin black hair, which even now, in its tight up do, was flying free and falling from the dozens of Bobbi pins that tried to hold it in place.

They stood in their line as the door closed and watched Mrs. Bell with wary eyes. For three hours now, they had been on their feet, and their feet cried for mercy, shown in their constant changing postures and shifting of weight from one foot to the other. A row of benches taunted them, tempting with rest, despite their old wooden look that claimed that those benches had never been comfortable.

"You may have a seat," Mrs. Bell stated, pacing the line at a slow pace. There was no prejudice in her scowl she gave as she have each girl a once over, along with commands like, "Stop slouching," and "Suck in your gut, you look pregnant." Mrs. Bell was just as clueless as the girls on who would be chosen, and it was her job to make each girl shine like individual stars out there.

The noise from the room adjacent to theirs carried to them with ease. There was a small beacon of light at the far end of the room, where the girls would exit and enter onto the stage. Leia, the Mayor's only daughter, shifted uncomfortably on the bench. It reminded her of the Trouble Chair she had been forced to sit on as a child, if ever she did something to ruin her father's parties.

Now, the girls squished together so tightly that their dresses seemed seamless between them. There were no gaps for their bodies to breathe, and the sweat quickly beaded on their foreheads and on the back of their necks.

Eventually, things from the other room grew quiet. The girls stared silently at the only light in the room. Their exit; they would step through that door and become full-fledged women in Canin. Or, all but one of them would.

The feeling that one of them would not grace the streets of Canin with her beauty, or her charm, or her wit, finally seemed to sink into each one of the girls as they sat on that wretched old bench and listened to the mayor’s speech.

The mayor's opening speech was as it was every year:

"Greetings, people of Canin!" He would smile enthusiastically at the audience. Fearless. Proud. "We welcome you to this, the Choosing Day!" The audience responded in the raucous cheers that had been taught to them for years. Anything less than one hundred percent enthusiasm could be enough to get you exiled. "We thank the families of each of the young ladies presented today for their tremendous efforts in raising these sixteen treasures. Here shortly, the chairman of the board will address you, but first," his beady eyes scanned the crowd. His grey shirt worn beneath a tux more ancient than he was drenched with sweat and his toupee was slouched off his greasy head. "I will present to you our beautiful young ladies!"

More cheers.

Mrs. Bell clapped her hands twice, and the girls stood in unison. As their names were called, she gave each a reassuring hug and words of encouragement. Despite her harsh exterior, she had been through this as well, and wished for the last memories of this world for the Chosen to be fond ones. Eventually, she stood alone, watching from the door as the sixteen girls stood on their individual pedestals. They had all been measured to adjust so that each girl stood at the same height.

After the applause ended, Mayor Thrusk stepped aside as the chairman climbed the steps to the podium. The mayor took his seat in the front row. He reclined back, worry free, as Mr. Greyson began his speech.

"We are joined here today to honor the Dragons that have blessed our lands for generations. On this, the ninetieth Choosing day, we celebrate the blessings bestowed upon us, and return to the Dragons an offering to equal the worth of our fortune." His voice was solemn and almost grave. It left an uncomfortable feeling lingering over the audience, and the remainder of the Council squirmed in their seats. They exchanged wordless glances, sharing a common anxiety.

"As we all know, our blessings in the previous decade have outnumbered all of those in our history. We have been granted mild winters and terrific summers, and our population has boomed unlike any recorded in history!" He grinned at the uproarious cheers and waited for the noise to subside before continuing. "As such, out offering must show to the dragons how gracious we all are for their generosity. Before you stand sixteen young ladies, each a treasure of her own worth. Each of these gems are putting their worth on the line, to ensure we may continue to thrive as a community. And now, I shall reveal the identity of the Chosen."

The silence that fell over the audience was deafening. Every uneasy breath seemed to be amplified by it, and as Mr. Greyson picked up the envelope that would have the name of the Chosen in it, the air became so thick with apprehension, that even the most steadfast of hearts were drumming like they were a part of a magnificent procession.

"This year's Chosen," read Mr. Greyson carefully. Something was off. His voice faltered, and he cast uncertain glances at the Council and the audience. The paper trembled visibly in his shaking hands, and his steadying breath revealed the terror that had set fire in his soul.

"Gretchen Willis.”

Quiet murmurs took the audience. It was uncharacteristic of the noise and cheers that typically erupted from the choice of the council. Mr. Greyson took a deep breath, still staring at his tiny card with the crisp print on it. His fingers left sweaty prints on the crisp white of the card, but he hardly noticed as he waited for the silence to remain.

It didn’t take long; but questions sat in the hearts of the audience. Why hadn’t Gretchen been escorted off the stage? Why was there a delay in Mr. Greyson acknowledging the family and the honor to which the young lady would bring to her family?

Mr. Greyson took an uneasy breath and set the little white card with grey fingerprints and pretty black text on his wooden podium. He squinted at the audience, heart racing at a thousand miles an hour, and finished his piece.

“And Leia Thrusk.”

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4 Re: The Choosing on Sat Apr 12, 2014 7:42 am

Ooooh, I really like this! Now I must know what happens....

Stop being such an awesome writer full of so many great ideas


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Thank you for the lovely picture, Ailis!
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5 Re: The Choosing on Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:04 am

Nine

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Thanks ;u;

I'm so sorry ahhh but I promise that I'll be focusing on this and The Call and the thing I'm writing for my Creative Writing class <33333 ilu guys too much to not share, even when I tell myself "okay I'm not gonna post this anywheres until its done"

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6 Re: The Choosing on Tue Apr 15, 2014 7:20 pm

Ailis

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"Suck in your gut, you look pregnant" was probably my favorite part.

Yet again, you astound me with your brilliant writing skills! I would love to see what happens next, this is so exciting owo

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7 Re: The Choosing on Thu Apr 17, 2014 4:01 am

Nine

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Thanks, Ailis!! And you needn't wait much longer, because here's the next chapter~



And.

The word hung through the air like a poisonous fog. Silence let the word ring, echoing and reverberating in each person’s mind as they stared blankly forward.

Leia was still trying to figure out what had just happened as a strong hand took hers and helped her down from her tall podium. She stared, just as blankly as the puzzled faces that stared back at her, mirroring her own. There was no room for confusion; there was nothing at all that went on in her head. She was numb, and as she walked stiffly toward the door, with Gretchen just a few steps ahead of her, guided by her own strong and sturdy man, she didn’t hear anything that went on around her.

The sound had returned. There was an agonized wail that came from Leia’s mother as she was held back by two guards that had been stationed by the exits only moments before. Leia’s father, the mayor, was red in the face from yelling. His words, urging Leia to make a run for it, fell on her deaf ears, not registering. It would take a long while for Leia to figure out everything that had happened.

Gretchen was not so fortunate. She looked over her shoulders as she was led away. Her parents were standing in the audience, their faces stone as they exited. She saw the mayor pull a gun from the inside pocket of his tuxedo and shoot Mr. Greyson. The bullet went somewhere between the chairman’s eyebrows, and the blood that splattered out from the back of his skull had the fourteen other girls on the stage screaming and making a run for their own families.

She didn’t see where the bullet went after it exited Mr. Greyson’s skull, but she heard Mrs. Greyson scream out in terror. There were a lot of screams. Men dressed entirely in black and with black masks appeared from seemingly nowhere and put bullets through the skulls of every member of the council. The whole room seemed to be tinted red as the door closed behind her and Leia.

They were not given time to think on the scene that had unfolded in the auditorium. The men at their sides wordlessly led them through the dark corridor, not stopping when either of the girls stumbled or ran into something.

In years before, the men would have been patient with the Chosen. But their urgent words, which were few and far between, only insisted they make haste for the ship, which was already prepared in the harbor. The celebrations and sending off ceremony were forgotten in the bloodbath, and all but ignored as the girls stumbled up the ancient board that linked the ship to the dock.

The skies hid behind a veil of low hanging grey clouds. The sea vanished in the distance, leaving everything out there up to the imagination as the fog hid its secrets.

“I want to say good bye to my parents,” Gretchen said finally. The hushed splashing of the waves against the shore contrasted the never ending wail that seemed to erupt from everywhere in Canin.

“There’s no time,” stated the man who had a tight grip on her arm. Try as she may, Gretchen failed to free herself from that painful grip. She tugged and yanked until her whole left arm was numb from the pain. She tried to pry the ironclad grip from her arm with her free hand, but the rough, calloused fingers stuck there like they were plastered there for all eternity. Tears fell from her pale eyes as she stared at Canin retreating from her in the distance.

When, finally, the man released her, she fell to her knees and wept. Between shaky breaths, she managed to stare at her home shrinking away from her, and whispered, “Bye.”

Leia’s sturdy hand had released her shortly after they had boarded the ship. She leaned with her elbows on the side of the ship, still numb, and barely noticing Canin fading away from her.

Rain began to fall, timid and brushing the girls’ faces with tiny kisses as they sailed away from their home, almost apologetic and asking for them to forgive the harshness they had been treated with. The pair was left until the rain fell in earnest and soaked through their dresses.

“Come out of the rain.”

Leia looked up at the voice. The world had slowly started to take place around her again, and in everything, it was the first thing she had truly heard. She shivered as the strong hand gently guided her from the side of the ship and into the lower part of the vessel.

It was warm down there, and dry. A small fire crackled in a makeshift fireplace in the center of the area, beckoning her to think of the friendly fire that had kept her company in the lonely winter months.

A stern looking fellow brought her a stack of towels. Leia took the top one and held it helplessly. Water dripped from the soaked fabric of her dress and caked her dark hair in spirals on her face. She looked side to side, barely recognizing Gretchen, who was shamelessly shedding her dress and using the towels to hold her hair while she dried her body. Watching her was like watching an engine. Gretchen’s arms moved with mechanic precision, patting her arms and legs, her chest and finally wrapping a dry towel around her as she let the wet one fall to the floor.

“Take a picture,” Gretchen barked. Her makeup made a raccoon’s mask around her eyes as she leered at Leia. “It’ll last longer.”

Leia made a face and occupied herself with the task of drying off. A bit more shyly, she shed her heavy dress and replaced it with a towel that almost didn’t make it all the way around her chunky frame. She sniffed and stood uncomfortably, staring meekly down at the floor as her towel absorbed the water that took too fondly to her thick curls. “Where are we going?” she asked quietly as the man who had given them towels exited into another part of the ship.

“The island, dumbass,” Gretchen sneered, rolling her eyes at Leia’s stupidity. “We were chosen, or did you think this was a game?”

Leia’s eyes widened. She vaguely recalled the ceremony, or anything that had happened up to where she stood now. “Chosen? Surely not-.”

Gretchen snorted. “Just because you’re the mayor’s daughter, that gives you immunity? As if!” Her laugher was a harsh bark that made the sounds of the gunshots seem like they had just been giggles in comparison.

“Because there’s two of us,” Leia tried. “There’s never been two chosen at the same time. Ever.”

Gretchen frowned. She was loathe to admit that Leia was right. The girl had always had exactly what she wanted, and now, she was just as doomed as Gretchen. However, Gretchen was unwilling to put the years of strife between them behind her. “Well, I guess that makes us the first,” she sighed.

Leia wanted to offer Gretchen a smile, but the anger that boiled at the pit of her stomach just left her with a sour face. She looked around for some type of dry clothing, constantly adjusting her too-small towel, trying to hide behind its rough fabric.

“Man, I wish I had some dry clothes,” Gretchen complained, obnoxiously loud.

“Do you have to be so loud?” Leia griped. The wetness and the cold had gotten to her, and as the towel in her hair started to loosen, she had to choose between holding up the towel wrapped around her body and having her wet hair hang around her face and on her shoulders, and fixing the towel drying her hair and leaving her body exposed.

An older woman peeked from the door the towel man had vanished behind, and brought them stiff woolen robes. “Here,” she said quietly, bowing at an impossible angle and handing them the robes. She scurried off as the pair put on the robes.

Gretchen raised an eyebrow smugly at Leia, who pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest. At least this robe fit, as uncomfortable as it was.

The pair remained silent for a long while, doing their best to avoid eye contact and hovering around the small fireplace. Despite the warmth, they shivered and rubbed their arms against the rough goosebumps that infected their skin.

After a while, the hatch leading down to their little room opened, and Mrs. Bell stepped down to greet them.

“How are you two doing?” she asked, trying to be friendly, but the weariness showed in her eyes.

“I’ve been better,” mumbled Leia, who clung to the fabric of her robe for warmth, but it offered none. Gretchen just nodded, agreeing for once with Leia. They would be dead by the end of a week’s time; something that both were struggling to understand.

Mrs. Bell sighed and pulled them both into a hug. “I’m so terribly sorry,” she whispered. “This was never supposed to happen.”

The girls looked up to the woman and trembled in her long arms. She was all that they had now, and was the only one who seemed to offer them any kindness.

“Why didn’t we get to say good bye?” Gretchen asked as Mrs. Bell revealed new clothes for them to wear. They were simple: denim jeans that moved with their bodies like a second skin and plain gold-colored t-shirts that felt like the warm sun on a summer morning.

“Things in Canin are chaotic,” Mrs. Bell offered. “Many are dead, and the people are revolting. We had to get the both of you out of there before anyone could get to you.”

Gretchen’s face was grave, “So that we could die for the sacrifice.”

The silence Mrs. Bell gave was enough of an answer for both of them. Sure, they would die, but not before they could be proper sacrifices.

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8 Re: The Choosing on Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:45 am

Ooh yes! You wrote more! This is getting very interesting.


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Thank you for the lovely picture, Ailis!
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9 Re: The Choosing on Fri Apr 18, 2014 3:43 am

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thanks~

and once I finish my short story for creative writing, I'll be focusing on updating this on a regular basis

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10 Re: The Choosing on Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:16 am

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That took a very unexpected turn. Surprised I definitely didn't think the mayor would pull the gun, nor did I expect Ms. Bell to come along.

This is absolutely wonderful, and I'll be happy to see you update more often Very Happy Take your time if you have to though, there's no need to rush~

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11 Re: The Choosing on Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:46 am

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Yessss I like my surprises to be unexpected~

and it's not hard for me, since I want to write this all the time, but can't because homework and the like.

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12 Re: The Choosing on Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:50 pm

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The island was unlike anything the girls had ever seen. They stood on the deck, staring with mouths agape as the towering mass drew closer and closer. The sun poked through the clouds in the sky and cast dappled shadows on the island’s rising and falling masses.

“It’s a volcano,” Mrs. Bell informed them, startling both.

Leia and Gretchen had been left to their own devices for the remainder of the trip to the island, and had spent it on the dock, watching the waves, then watching their gravesite draw nearer and nearer. Mrs. Bell’s words took them by surprise.

“You sure know a lot about this,” Gretchen commented warily, eyeing the older woman.

Mrs. Bell ran her hand through her greying hair. Despite how old she looked, she was more there than most of the elders the girls had known. There was a certain spunk to her that made the both of them think that Mrs. Bell had a lot of years left in her. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have,” she sighed, “you start to learn things that others wouldn’t know.”

The answer was enough for them. It made sense, after all. If Mrs. Bell was the one to prepare the girls for the ceremony, and if she accompanied them on the trip to the island, then she would know things that the villagers didn’t.

Leia looked up at Mrs. Bell, “What will we do when we get there?” she asked, terrified of her imminent death.

“You will leave the ship,” Mrs. Bell answered. “From there, I cannot help you, but I can inform you of what you will meet there.”

“Dragons,” Gretchen snorted. “We’ll meet dragons.”

Mrs. Bell nodded somberly. A chill fell over them, and the wind seemed to stop. “The dragons will be all around, but they will mostly be in and around the volcano. You two will trek across the island and up the mountain of the volcano. At some point, you will meet the dragons.”

“And then what?” Leia asked, breathless.

“I cannot say,” sighed Mrs. Bell.

Neither Leia nor Gretchen liked the sound of that. They would meet the dragons, and then what? Die? Leia whimpered and hugged herself, hating the worthlessness that was overwhelming her. “I don’t want to die,” she whispered, staring at the other two women with petrified eyes.

Gretchen’s fear mirrored Leia’s; it was plain to see that she was fighting to be the strong one. Untouchable as she was as the bully that plagued the nightmares of the other children on Canin. But, Gretchen was not as untouchable as she seemed. She was going to die, and the hatred she held for those that had decided that she come here was challenged only by the hatred she had for herself.

“Neither do I,” Gretchen sighed, gripping the side of the ship. The wind had died down, and they were mere moments away from landing on the island. From there, she would be without help. Her only company would be that of Leia, whose perfect life had known nothing of the strife that truly plagued the minds of people in Canin. The worst she had feared was a storm surging and drowning the residents of Lower Canin. It wouldn’t affect her too much, aside from losing places to play.

Mrs. Bell offered the each of them hugs before ushering them slowly from the ship. She had no words for them; they all fell flat in her throat and failed to become any more real than her daydreams about leading a peaceful life without the troubles of the Choosing.

Gretchen and Leia looked over their shoulders at Mrs. Bell, who stood at the edge of where the ship met the boardwalk that led the girls down to the sand. Under their bare feet, the sand was damp from the tides, and squished between their toes. It was unlike the sand on the beaches of Canin, which were rocky and unbearable. These sands were like powder, warm and soothing to the touch.

Leia crouched down and squeezed the sand. The water pent up inside the grains squished out and dripped across her hands. It was oddly fascinating; there were few other sensations she would feel, and that one of her last was this pleasant one at least offered some kind of crutch for the nightmare that was waiting for her somewhere on this volcanic island. “It’s so soft,” she whispered, wiping the remains that clung to her hand like static. She didn’t see Gretchen roll her eyes in reaction, or catch sight of Gretchen’s long toes digging into the warmth that the sand offered against the cool wind that blew in the aftermath of the rain.

“We had better get going,” Gretchen grunted, taking long and slow strides, trying to enjoy the sand’s warmth. The pair left footsteps in their wake; Leia’s were sloppy, with piles of the sand splayed out behind where she had taken off at a jog after Gretchen with too-heavy footfalls. Gretchen’s were careful, with areas deeper where she had dug her toes in.

The sun was still high enough in the sky, but it lowered more and more, casting longer shadows and bringing out the creatures of the night. At every snap of a twig, the girls flinched. Of course, if one flinched and the other didn’t, they would make a huge deal out of it, if only to take their minds off of the fact that, somewhere on this island, there was a dragon. Maybe more than one dragon lived there.

Under their feet, the slope of the volcano quickly became more and more apparent. Leia had to stop frequently to catch her breath, and during that time, Gretchen scouted ahead, hiding her own fatigue.

Their cliff in Canin had nothing on the slope of the huge formation that rose above them. The trees were thick; the air within them had been trapped and grew hot with humidity, making their hair stick to their necks and faces.

“Gretchen,” Leia panted. “Slow down.” Her hands found a perch on her knees, and she nearly toppled over, trying to find a purchase on a nearby tree. “Please?”

Gretchen groaned and turned around. “Come on!” she urged. “We’ll have time to rest when we’re dead.”

Leia stumbled tiredly after Gretchen. “But I feel like I’m going to pass out,” she wheezed. “Can’t we just take a nap?” her words were weak, with heavy breaths between every few of them.

“No!” Gretchen ran one of her dark hands through her even darker hair. “When we stop moving, it will be easier for the dragons to find us,” she explained impatiently. Her glare was unmasked as Leia tripped over just about everything in her path. “That is, if your noise doesn’t draw them to us in the first place.”

Gretchen reached out and dragged Leia after her, “Come on, you oaf!”
Leia stumbled under Gretchen’s unkind yanking and was practically dragged along, stubby legs flailing as she tried to regain her footing on the uneven ground.

That was when the roar shook everything. Both girls stood frozen as a giant mass flew overhead, circling above where they were.

Leia whimpered, suddenly content to sink to the ground, rather than trip clumsily after the other Chosen. Gretchen couldn’t even find it within herself to harshly demand that Leia shut up. She sank against the ground and pressed her back to Leia’s.

“This is it,” Gretchen whispered. Her entire body trembled – or was that Leia’s? Holding out her hand, she confirmed that it was, indeed, her that was shaking as her hand trembled like an earthquake was tearing it apart.

The roar echoed once more, and the shape dove at the area not even one hundred feet from where the girls pressed into the earth, hoping to become invisible. The ground shook as the dragon landed, and leaves flew everywhere as its massive head swung around, as though looking for something.

“Can it smell us?” Leia asked, her voice tiny against the overwhelming sound of the trees breaking at the will of the massive dragon. Its scales shone in the dim light that filtered through the branches and leaves that still clung to their trees.

The dragon’s head swung and faced toward them, and it bared it’s fangs, unleashing a deafening roar.

Warmth sparked over them; it was unlike the humidity that had them sweating. It was dryer, and left their skin feeling as though it hadn’t felt moisture in years. Red hot flames danced towards them, leaving spots in their eyes as they cringed.

This was it.

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13 Re: The Choosing on Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:06 am

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The flames danced around them, licking at everything and devouring all. The heat was overwhelming, but after a moment, the lack of pain caused them to look up.

Yes, they were surrounded by flames. But it was like they had a protective bubble around them that blocked the red tendrils from burning the girls alive.

“What the…?” Leia looked all about. The earth was charred; all around them, it was black with death. Except for a small patch of fresh green grass that was under where they were sitting. “Gretchen… We aren’t dead, are we?”

Gretchen peeked from behind her arms, which had been shielding her face from the first of the burns she thought she would sustain. “I don’t think so?” she examined her arms and the untouched grass under her legs, searching for some reason why she was still alive.

More unnerving, however, was the absence of the dragon. It was like it had vanished in the suffocating smoke that rose from everything its fire had touched.

“Let’s get out of here,” Gretchen urged. The branch she used to help her stand crumbled under her weight, and she fell backwards into Leia, who landed on the unforgiving ground with a thick thud.

Gretchen popped up without offering Leia any assistance. As Leia stood and brushed off her clothes, she leered at Gretchen, only to receive a cocky grin and; “Thanks for being a landing cushion, toots!” Gretchen winked and bounded off. It was much easier now to maneuver the thick woods, considering most everything had been reduced to ash from the dragon’s fire burst.

Leia stumbled after Gretchen, legs not long enough to match the taller girl’s strides. It was because of her distance, lagging further and further behind Gretchen, that Leia saw the flames erupting once more before the other did. “Gretchen!” she called out, voice thin and broken as she coughed.

Gretchen didn’t hear, but she did seem to take last minute notice and try to duck to the ground.

Leia’s eyes were wide with terror as the flames dissipated and Gretchen was nowhere to be seen. The smoke stung her eyes and singed her throat, bringing about a fit of coughing as she stumbled through the haze.

She finally stumbled across Gretchen, lying face down in the burned growth. Leia sank to her knees. The first time they had survived the flames, but that had been a fluke, right? Gretchen didn’t move. Had she already fulfilled her role as sacrifice? “Gretchen,” Leia coughed urgently. “Gretchen, wake up.”

It was hard to breathe; like a cloud was weighing down her entire being with pain and clamping her lungs together to prevent any breath. Tears fell down her cheeks, leaving streaks from the ash that had gathered on her face and in her eyes. “Please…” she whimpered, shaking Gretchen as much as she could. “Don’t do this…”
Gretchen remained still, her body warm to the touch from exposure to the flames.

“She’s not dead.”

Leia flinched and turned slowly to the voice. How could there be anyone else on the island? Hadn’t it just been she, Gretchen, and the dragons? Could the dragons speak?

The owner of the voice was far from dragon-worthy. She was slim, with short blonde hair cropped and sticking out in every which way like she had just woken up. Something was familiar about her, but Leia couldn’t quite put her finger on it. It was like she knew this woman from somewhere, but that couldn’t be possible, right?

“Who are you?” Leia asked timidly. She crouched around Gretchen, suddenly feeling protective of her only companion. They may not have been friends, but they were alone in this endeavor, and had to protect the other from certain death.

“My name is Bernetta,” the woman offered, taking strides toward Leia like she was a ballerina strutting gracefully across a stage.

“Bernetta…” Leia echoed. The name struck a chord, and she stared at the woman in awe. No. It wasn’t possible!

Bernetta Younger, or Bernie as she had been called by her friends, had been the Chosen ten years before. Her name was in the records, and Leia knew people who would talk of Bernetta as though she had just gone away on a vacation and would return at any moment. “But, that’s not possible!” she scrambled to her feet. Surely she was dead if she was seeing a Chosen! The Chosen died. Or at least, they were supposed to. Right?

“I assure you it is,” Bernetta offered quietly. “Believe you me, I was just as surprised when I met a Chosen on my Sacrificial Journey.”

Leia gawked. There was no way this was real. “B- but…”

“Sorry about the pyrotechnics,” Bernetta smiled with a warmth that washed away all of Leia’s fears. “We must put on a show for those on the ships.”

“We?” was all that Leia could manage. Who was we?

“Oh!” Bernetta clapped her hands together, as though just remembering that those she spoke to were not in the loop of knowledge that she was a part of. “Follow me, and I will show you what I mean.”

Leia looked between Bernetta and Gretchen. “But what about-?”
Bernetta glanced at Gretchen’s limp form. “You’re not dead,” she informed her nonchalantly. “You can stand up and join the world again.”

As if it was magic, Gretchen turned her head to the side and leered at Bernetta. “Bitch, shut your mouth,” she growled. Bernetta just cocked an eyebrow in response, and Gretchen obediently stood up and looked sheepishly at the older woman. It had yet to register that there was a third, and as they followed after Bernetta, she slowly seemed to come to that realization.

“Wait, who is that?” Gretchen whispered to Leia. They trailed about a yard or so behind the blonde woman. It was dark, with the only light bobbing ahead of them, like Bernetta had conjured her own personal flame to light her path.

“Bernetta Younger,” Leia answered, “the woman chosen in the Choosing before ours.”

Gretchen’s mouth fell open. “No way!” she exclaimed, her voice still lowered, but louder than she wanted it to be. “I thought the Chosen died,” she mused, staring ahead and taking glances down every now and again to make sure she wasn’t going to trip on any surprise roots.

Leia shrugged, “As did I. But, that’s Bernetta. She matches the picture that keeps record of her ‘Service to Canin.’ And who else would have a name like that? I mean, really, it’s pretty unique.”

Gretchen nodded. Leia had a point; perhaps it wasn’t so terrible that the Mayor’s daughter had been the one to accompany her. Who else would know so much about the history of Canin, like she had been told about it from the day of her birth?

“Ladies, do hurry,” Bernetta called over her shoulder. “Yolanda won’t be happy if we arrive after curfew.”

“Coming!” they called in unison, hastening to catch up to Bernetta and the light she provided. There were more people there; presumably living here despite the dragons. Dragons that hadn’t shown head or scale since Bernetta had joined them.

They slowly relaxed, and the anxious glances they would throw over their shoulders became further and further apart. Bernetta seemed to know these woods, and stepped with practiced ease over the surprise roots that had both Gretchen and Leia’s shins and knees coated with dirt and bruises.

Eventually, they came upon a magnificent gate. A spiraling dragon weaved between the bars, and coiled around one bar when Bernetta offered it her flame. “Come along.”

Leia watched the strange metal dragon creep back around the bars as the gate closed behind them. It was warmer here than it had been outside, like untamable energy crackled through the air, waiting to explode in a flurry of flames.

“Are we being taken to the dragons?” Leia asked, terror filling her voice as she reached out to cling to Gretchen’s arm.

Bernetta didn’t even look over her shoulder as she answered with simplicity to Leia’s question.

“Yes.”

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14 Re: The Choosing on Sat May 03, 2014 9:37 pm

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I forgot to comment the first time I read this, whoops. Razz But on my second rerun, can I just say that I'm loving where this is going. Keep it up! Very Happy

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15 Re: The Choosing on Fri May 16, 2014 4:46 pm

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Candles decorated the air, their flames like stars. They hung, suspended by invisible wires that barely cast a shadow against the flickering lights. The candles left shadows on the tables, little spots of darkness where shadows tripled from the light from their neighbors, casting warmth upon the entire room.

At the table sat four; a large man in an expensive suit, to his left, a hefty woman sporting a dress that twinkled and showed a little too much skin. Further down the table, which was far too large for a family of four, were two children: a daughter of ten, and a son of fifteen. Both were large, like their parents, but wore simple clothing that drew far less attention.

That was how it was. Father was the mayor, and of course, that made him the most important. The servants would serve him first, and he would take the best cut, the best scoop, and laugh heartily as the rest of his family squinted at their selections, usually flecked with burnt bits and the parts that had hardened from too much exposure to the hot pots and pans used to make their meals.

Meals that were far more luxurious than the ones anyone else in Canin would ever see. Meals that the mayor and his family enjoyed every day, hoarding the goods that the people of Canin would believe the village was low on. Goods the mayor would have them believe had “extinctified.”

The mayor wasn’t a particularly bright man. He enjoyed his lavish life, with a wife who had enough to share and kids who didn’t argue. He enjoyed making his children feel insignificant while he forced them into extra lessons and bore down upon them with their future importance to their home. Because, “I won’t be around forever,” he would say. “And you both are gonna have to further our family’s glorious line.”

Leia knew the words he would say. They were always the same. His prayers to the Dragons were the same every night. His greeting to the people of Canin was the same at every event. Even his order of eating was the same; that was to say, he would clump all his food together and shovel as much into his mouth in one bite as he could manage. Their mother abhorred his manners, and insisted upon her children that they be much more dainty and clean while eating. It wasn’t their mother that had to clean up the messes, as the mayor would argue, but she hated the dribble of food that would drop down his chin and dirty his nice clothes. She hated that he would yell at her when he caught her teaching etiquette to their kids.

She hated him. Hated his laugh, hated his beady eyes. Hated his fat that swallowed his features – hated that he had made her fat with impressing self-loathing upon herself. She hated their lavish meals that wasted her health away, and the unsanitary conditions he left their room in. Hated that she was too often sick in bed - their gross, gross bed – to do much more than waste away.

How often had she wished for death? Told herself that she could just take too many pills, or take a knife to her throat? But, she would see their kids, hated as they were by all they met, and told herself she had to fight on, so that she could tell them that they had to keep fighting.

Leia remembered listening to her mother cry in the bathroom, where she thought she was safe. She remembered knocking on the elaborate door and asking in a terrified voice, “Mommy? Are you okay?” She remembered listening as her mother went on about the mayor – her husband, and Leia’s father. She remembered learning things she hadn’t known.
She remembered hating her father.


“Leia?”

The table she sat at now wasn’t the warm cheery oak wood she had grown up eating at. It was still elaborate, but the wood was paler, less extravagant. There were gouges in it, like someone had gripped it with talons and held on while pain overcame them, or while they fought back the urge to yell. Leia knew that well. She knew what it felt like to have to bite your tongue while rage washed over you and bathed you in white heat.

She looked at the one asking her name. “What?” Leia grumbled, not really wanting to deal with Gretchen or her “better than you” attitude.

“You were, like, gone,” Gretchen mimed, waving her hand in front of her face while donning a zombie-like expression. Her hair was twisted in some elaborate up do, and she wore enough make up to make a clown jealous. Go figure.

Leia fingered a loose curl in her mousy brown hair. She looked everywhere but at Gretchen. She eyed the stain-glass figures depicting elaborate dragons with shards of fire that glowed like actual flames as the rising sun shone through the fractured glass. “Well, that’s what happens,” she commented, not caring about her reflection in the table like Gretchen was.

“Hm?” Gretchen didn’t look up as she tousled a loose curl, bouncing it against the palm of her hand. She was worlds away, no longer caring about Leia’s daze as they waited for Bernetta, who would show them around the twisting halls of their new home. They had yet to see anyone else in there, let alone any dragons, which was a relief to say the least.

Leia sighed and shook her head. She had had enough vanity living with her father’s frivolous ways while she grew up that she no longer fancied eyeing herself whenever she saw a mirror. When she was little, she remembered spinning around in her little dresses, twirling in front of the floor length mirrors and giggling as her dresses plumed out like an opening umbrella.

A week ago, Leia hadn’t even believed that there were actually any dragons. The tales about the Dragons of Old, and the Dragons of New were just that – tales. It was just like she didn’t believe that any higher power was watching over, just in case. Just yesterday at the Choosing Ceremony, she had cursed the higher powers, damning them for forcing death upon her.

But, she welcomed death, too. She was resigned with escaping from her miserable home, namely her father. Inwardly, she apologized to her mother for escaping, while she was stuck there with the monster that was the mayor of Canin.

“Who’d have thought?” Gretchen prompted. “There really are dragons our here!”

Leia glanced sideways at her neighbor; it was the first time she had really looked at Gretchen since the night before when Gretchen was laughing while Leia struggled into some of the gowns Bernetta had brought them. She had changed her looks entirely; her mane of dark hair was styled elegantly, and now danced in the candlelight like its own flame, the new red coloring bringing out her high cheek bones and accenting her painted lips like she belonged in a portrait hung over the mantel of a fireplace. As quickly as she took it all in, Leia angrily turned her attention back to the gouges in the table. “Yeah, who knew?” she grumbled, teeth grinding against one another as she forced herself into not saying anything more.

She really was surprised at the reality of the dragons. Life in Canin had been so ordinary and magic-less that anything extraordinary like dragons was reserved for books that gathered dust in libraries that never saw the attention they deserved.

Bernetta made almost no noise as she hurried across the cold stone floor and stopped in front of Gretchen and Leia. “Good morning!” she greeted, not surprised in the least when both girls nearly fell backwards in their chairs in shock at her arrival.

“When did you get there?” Gretchen demanded, gripping the table like it was the only thing holding her in place over a giant chasm. Bernetta merely smiled in response, not looking the slightest bit worried that Leia was pale as a ghost and clutching her chest like she was in the middle of a heart attack.

“Okay girls, in order to prepare you, you both will be going through some physical training,” Bernetta was just as cheerful as ever, continuing on, undaunted, like a lark singing her song on a spring morning. “And then you will have some lessons about the island and our history.”

Gretchen made a sour face at the mention of work. “But; if we’re sacrifices for the dragons, why do we have to do all of this extra stuff? It’s not like being smart will make a difference to the dragon!”

Bernetta wagged a finger at Gretchen. “We’re going to train you so that you can last as long as possible on the island. Being physically capable will help you keep moving for longer distances, and knowing about the island and its dragons will teach you things you will want to know; like where to hide and where the freshest water is.”

“That sounds like a lot of work,” Gretchen whined, sinking back in her chair and slouching. “Can’t I just give myself up to the dragons and be done with it?”

“I would advise against it,” Bernetta warned, suddenly serious. “Despite what people back in Canin would have you think, the dragons have nothing to do with anything that happens there. They just hang around the island and blow hot air.” The way she talked about Canin made the girls exchange curious glances. Bernetta was venomous when she said the name, almost spitting it out, like it would taint her cheeriness by dwelling too long on it.

Clapping her hands together, Bernetta smiled at the girls. “If you both will follow me, we will meet Justine and Solandra in the Training Hall.”

------


The Training Hall rivaled the dining hall that the trio had come from both in size and in atmosphere. It was as warm and welcoming in the large room, though there were no candles or tables to decorate the area here. The decorations were all practical: punching bags, small rings for one on one combat, a rock climbing wall that stretched high into the ceiling and vanished far above them, and various other trinkets and things that neither Gretchen nor Leia had seen in any of their Physical Education classes growing up.

There were two already in the room; a stocky woman with cropped short brown hair, and a tall, lean woman with pale pink hair pulled back in a tight bun. They sparred in one of the small concave rings that speckled the Training Room, oblivious of their newly arrived viewers.

“The shorter woman is Solandra,” Bernetta explained, “the taller one is Justine.”

Justine was using her height to her advantage and sidestepping all of Solandra’s attacks while landing her own. But, Solandra was quick, and the pair seemed to be evenly matched as they circled around each other, completely engrossed in the fight.

Blood spilled down Justine’s nose as Solandra landed a kick to the taller woman’s shin and her fist made contact with Justine’s face. The sound of cracking bone turned Leia a sickly shade of green; Justine just wiped the blood away and missed her own jab to Solandra’s face, hitting the shorter woman’s shoulder instead.

“That’s enough ladies!” Bernetta cheered, clapping her hands as the two sparring women shook theirs. “I’ve come to introduce you to the two newbies; Gretchen and Leia! They’re your new students, and our new fighters.” There was something different about how she called Gretchen and Leia fighters, like it was some secret code word hiding what they really were.

Solandra wasted no time; she gave quick orders to run to the end of the room and back, and yelled at them as they either didn’t run fast enough, or stopped to catch their breath. Every time one of them stopped, another lap was added on to how many total they would end up doing, and by the end of it, Leia was dragging herself forward, legs like jelly beneath her.

The remainder of the session went like that, with Solandra and Justine barking orders and offering water when they finished part of the training.

When they finally got a break, Leia collapsed to the ground, wondering if this was what death felt like.

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