Chosen Ones: Attempted Escape

Julietta took a blanket and wrapped it around her baby brother, Caro. Though the wind was not bad in the capital of her country, Agur, she was scared that the baby might need the extra warmth. She was running away.

Things were not going well in Agur. Long ago, when the country was founded, the king had made a promise to his creator that he and his family would serve Him forever. In love, the creator had given gifts to several people every generation. They were called the chosen. To some, wisdom was given; to others, power. There were as many gifts to be given as there were stars in the sky, but only those whom He chose to give.

But the gifts had a catch: if they were used to further your own pursuits instead of what He had commanded, the gift would become a curse. And that is what had happened to Nya, the chosen judge who was to use her powers to defend the borders. But her power poisoned her, and now there were rumors that she was going after the royal family, to destroy any claim to the throne.

These things whipped through Julietta’s troubled mind as she began her exodus. But before she left, she knew she must consult her friend Opal.

Opal was one of the special few selected to be given the gift of prophesy. She was only five years old, yet she possessed a wisdom beyond her years, and advice that Julietta craved. Opal didn’t look up when Julietta entered. She was lying on the ground, entranced by a small procession of ants marching across the floor.

“Opal? I don’t know what to do. Nya grows threatening, more threatening every day. If she tries something now, nobody will stop her. Nobody can stop her!”

Opal continued to stare at the ants. “It’s amazing how the ants simply march. March, march, march, across the floor, with seemingly no purpose. Gino was just here.” She prattled in her small, childish voice. “You should have asked him. It was hard for me to find him among the thousands of people in the city. But I found him, princess Nenya.”

Julietta put a hand over the young girl’s mouth before she said any more. Surprised, the child looked up from her ants and stared at the princess, a question in her eyes.

“I am going to run away, and use my middle name: Julietta. I believe that my baby brother is the one reason this evil girl has stayed away. I have to get him to safety.”

Opal’s eyes turned colorless, in that strange way that showed that she was thinking hard. “That is not a good plan. If your guess is true, then you need to escape, yes. But what about the others?”

Julietta turned pale.

“If the child is gone, then surely we will destroy the family. Go, now!” A icily cruel voice rang out, as the princess turned in shock. She expected to see an exulting warrior, with guards following. But it was only Opal, looking confused, and staring at her. “Is something wrong?”

Julietta tried to smile. “You did what you were supposed to, Opal. I have to go.” She turned briskly and ran out of the small cottage, then suddenly turned. Opal was counting ants again. Somehow, Julietta sensed that this was the last time she might see Opal. But she didn’t stop.

The girl hurried down, back to the house. She put on the thick dress of a castle servant and hid her little brother safely in his crib basket that the maid sometimes took him outside in. Then she took some food and tucked it into her apron.

She was just heading out of the nursery when she heard a yell. It was soon followed by a series of fierce shouts.  The secret police had come into the castle. With a heart gripped with fear, she ran. Caro was not be hurt in their flight.

The gate was the portal to freedom. But the angular snout of a gun barrel was thrust in her face. It forced her to a stop.

“What are you doing, maid?” A guard barked, glaring down at her. Suddenly, he saw the baby prince in his basket, and his eyes narrowed. “I see what you are doing. It isn’t going to happen.”

He grabbed the basket and walked off. But instantly Caro began to scream with all his voice.

“You scared him!” Julietta squeaked, trying to sound brave, yet offended. The guard tried to quiet the child, but he continued to howl. “Fine! Come with me.” Julietta’s hope slipped away with every step. There ahead of her was the cruel, forsaken judge, and her eyes showed no mercy.

Chosen ones: The sentence

darknessJullietta gulped and dropped her eyes as she approached the judge. Nya was standing, dressed in a greenish dress that seemed to  spread out like a poison cloud. Her eyes were keen and glittering, her face slender and well shaped, her hair black and entwined with green beads. In her hand was a heavy gold-covered pitchfork-looking thing that Julietta had never seen before. Julietta had the feeling that she had been pretty at one time, but fear and hatred had replaced the prettiness with ugly fury.

She spoke. “What is this, captain.” Julietta shivered. Her voice was just as Opal had imitated it: cold and deadly. “A child that I found. A maid, I suppose. She was attending the prince. Nya’s eyes lit up. “The prince. The Child?” The guard nodded. Nya stretched out her hand and touched Caro. “Yes. This is the one. This is the one we spare.” Julietta stood like a statue. She fought desperately to keep herself from a screaming fit, and tried to calm herself by wondering why Nya had such a fascination with her baby brother. It didn’t help much.

The guard grabbed her shoulder. “What about the maid?” Nya looked unconcerned. “What about her? If the child takes to her, let her stay. I do not care about the life of one servant.” Her eyes flashed. “Have you found the royal family?” The guard paused. “I only guard the door. From what I’ve heard they are mostly in our custody. There was a bit of a panic when the prince was missing, and there is a rumor of another princess, but we cannot tell.”

Nya turned and walked off. “Take them to the boat. We need to go home.” “Home, sir?” Nya spun about, obviously annoyed. “To the core, of course. The people will be in uproar after this act. We need to keep the prince safe. Julietta’s heart, which had lifted as she realized that Nya would not kill her, sank. The core was a watery wilderness near the center of the planet. Once hidden there, the few remaining loyal would be unable to find them.

Holding Caro tightly, Julietta walked (led by the guard) towards the pier that had once led to the royal family’s boat. Julietta didn’t see it anywhere, and wondered if they had stolen or burned it, to prevent escape into the water to the island on the other side of the straight. In its place was a dirty looking boat that lurked in the water like a sea-monster waiting for prey. Into that boat they were pushed into, the hatch locked above them.

There on the boat, Julietta stroked baby Caro’s head. “What’s so special about you, brother?” She whispered, holding him close. “I know she wants you for her own, but don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe.” And even though they were alone in the darkness, she felt peace.

 

Chosen ones: Passage of time

Gino & Opal

Opal and Gino held a small meeting in the living area of Opal’s house. “I don’t like this, Opal. I have an uneasy feeling about this.” Opal shook her head. “The princess is counting on us, Gino! We have to find her!” “How?” Gino, always practical, countered. “Swim the watery depths of the core? Even if we didn’t drown, we would be killed seven times over.”

Opal, with all the solemnness a young girl could muster, answered “If I did not know you, I would think you a coward.” Gino, a dark haired shepherd boy of about twelve, sighed. “Out of the mouths of babes. So I am scared. This is madness. I am loyal to the king, and I despise this tyranny, but I cannot justify sacrificing everything on a hopeless attempt. Besides, this is foolish to speak of. What could you, a three year old with the vocabulary of a student, and me, a simple shepherd, do? I can think of nothing.”

The girl gazed at him quietly. “Neither can I. I would probably be in trouble for the rest of my life from my parents if I tried to do anything amazing or deadly or something.” Gino sighed and rolled his eyes at her language, but she continued. “We have to do something. The passage of time is approaching. We have to act before it is over.” She stood, looked about her, and then her eyes went blank. Gino jumped to his feet. “What is it?” He shouted, half shrinking into the shadows.

Suddenly the door flew open, and the secret police burst in. “What is this?” The chief yelled. He recognized Opal and scowled. “It’s the little witch.” Opal’s eyes grew wide with fright, and Gino jumped out. “Leave her alone!” The man grabbed his arm and pushed him back. “You’re under arrest for plotting against the queen.” “But we’re just kids!” Gino protested, looking as confused as Opal. “All offenses will be punished. Come!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A boy laughed as he made his way into the hall, soaking wet. “Auntie Julietta? I’m back!”

A young woman left the room and gasped as she beheld the dripping teenager in the center of the room. “Caro! Why didn’t you get the clothes out of the wet room? You know that…” She looked as if she was about to say something, then resumed her speech. “Nya doesn’t wish the carpet to be wet.”

The youth laughed again. “Aunt Julietta, everything’s wet. I’ve been wet since the day I was born. And I had already used all of the dry things. I had to come in here to get them.”  Julietta’s face was sad, but she sighed and tried to smile. “Oh, all right, go find some new things to get into. I suppose you went out on the boat.” Caro had disappeared, but he yelled back “That’s right. I’m becoming the best pilot down here.”

He reappeared, with a lonely look. “I’m also the only pilot down here. Aunt Julietta, can’t we move somewhere where there’s more people?” Julietta sighed and said nothing. “Please, aunt Julietta. Who were my parents? Why do we have to live alone?” “I can’t tell you that now, Caro. Dinner will be done soon, and I have to get the table ready.”

Time had been kind with our brave girl. Though fifteen years had passed, Julietta had submitted to her life as bravely as possible. She had grown tall and fair haired, with grey eyes that seemed to see through what was happening. She said little to anyone but Caro, but when she did speak it was as if she had thought carefully before opening her mouth. She was a stark contrast to the deadened and faded Nya, who spoke, and people listened with trembling. She had been forbidden to tell Caro who he was, and what had happened. But she had told Caro the things that few of her countrymen knew.

She told him how the creator had given them the gifts of life, and a place to live, food to eat, and special gifts. She told of their forefathers, who had given up immortality for a shallow lie. And she told him that he was special. Every day it was becoming clearer.

Julietta saw more than ever that Caro had been given strength. If he put his mind to it, there was nothing that he could not accomplish. Under the gentle instruction of Julietta, he used it to pilot the small boat through the mysterious core. But if Nya took that power, it could be disastrous.

Nya did not suspect in the least that Julietta was anything more than what she said she was. So far she had done her orders quickly and without murmur, but Nya still found fault with her. Every time Nya visited her “project” she found fault with the girl.

Her loathing was not because Julietta was lazy or dull or disobedient, but because she bore herself like an angel, and Nya was painfully conscious of whom she had been whenever she saw her. For that reason she would have gotten rid of the girl except that she was incompetent to raise Caro herself, so instead she simply avoided them. But her visits were becoming more frequent.

Nya saw with pleasure that her experiment was working. The boy was becoming strong; soon he would be stronger than her. And that meant she must take him for her service.

But first she had to get his nurse out of the way.

 

Chosen Ones: Revelation

Nya returned to the core in the late afternoon, as the twin suns were setting. Julietta opened the door for her and half bowed, but Nya ignored her, like always. With Nya was a young corporal, whose hard look and crafty expression made Julietta immediately distrust him. She showed  them into the great room and took her leave.

The corporal looked back at her. “So that was the nurse.” Nya waved her hand as if she was dismissing Julietta as a person. “That is her. I should have sold her long ago, but I wanted this to be kept secret.” “She’s a small thing, but I take it that he has not inherited her weakness?” Nya laughed.

“Of course not! He is from a great line, not of the peasant class that she comes from. Yes, she works well, but I must get rid of her soon. She makes me sick.”

Julietta, who had been returning with a tray of food, almost dropped when she heard the last lines, which she felt involved her. “Yes, corporal. The time has come to take my student under my wing and train him for conquest.” Nya’s eyes glittered. “The wild lands of the north will soon be mine. I will make a name for myself that will go down in history!”

Julietta knew that the time had come for Caro to know the truth. She took in the tray and hastily departed. Nya took no notice.

Heart racing, the girl fled to her own room and knelt by the side of the bed. “Oh God!” She prayed. “Oh, God, give me wisdom! Give me courage! The time has come.” She had not yet risen when Caro burst in, excited at the arrival. “Aunt Julietta! The soldiers have come! They say that it is time to finally leave here and go to the world! Isn’t it wonderful?!?”

Julietta sat down on the bed and smiled in spite of herself. “I bet you can’t wait to see your old friends again. You have been here as long as I have, and I have been here as long as I can remember! Aren’t you excited?” Caro stopped. His friend’s face seemed troubled. “I will not go back to the outside, Caro.” She said, quietly. “And I have no doubt that many of those I knew are dead.”

Caro took her hand and held it up. “What are you talking about? I heard the soldiers…” “I have to leave you, Caro. But there is something you need to know.” She looked up at him, pleading. “Do you remember your parents?” Caro stopped pacing the room and was quite still. “I, I don’t know,” he said softly, “but I have terrible nightmares sometimes. Of a ship, and a girl, and a wicked man. Sometimes I even see a small child with pale hair. But I don’t know if that is a dream or a memory.”

Julietta stood and grasped his hands earnestly. “It was no dream. On the outside, you were a prince, the youngest son of the finest parents in the world.” Her eyes filled, and Caro protested. “That can’t be! She said I was an orphan. And even if I did have parents…” he looked up at the ceiling. “…why would they leave me?”

“You are an orphan. Your parents were killed when you were little. I saw it.” “Who? Who did it!?!” Caro asked fiercely. “And why did they kill them?” Julietta bit her lip. “They were killed so that another could take the throne.” She said simply, and looked up at him. Even at fifteen, he still was taller than her, a sign of what was to come. He turned away.

“Caro, when you go to the world, find Gino, who is called the wise. He will help you find your way. Tell him…” She looked away. “tell him that the princess, Nenya, sent you.” Caro suddenly realized what those words meant. “You mean…”

Julietta smiled. “I am your sister.”

Caro grasped her hands in excitement. “Why did you never tell me this before?” He cried. “I never knew! But now it’s different! Sister, we can go out together from this place, and take back our inheritance! You shall be a queen.” Julietta pulled away. “It’s not that Juliettasimple. There are people who would kill me if they knew I told you this.” Caro didn’t understand.

“How? The Lady Nya protects us, and I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.” Julietta didn’t respond. “Oh, Caro. If you only knew!” She cried inside, as the door opened. “Sir, The Lady Nya wants to see you.” A servant called, and shut the door. Caro turned to go. “I’ll be right back, and we will talk more.”

Julietta stood, and blinked back tears. “Goodbye, little brother. I hope to see you again, someday.”

Chosen Ones: Farewell to the Core

NyaNya’s interview with Caro did not go well. Though he said nothing about the sudden revelation, Nya guessed that he knew more than he should, and she grew irritable. She sent him away and called for Julietta to come to her.

Standing face to face, it was amazing to see the difference between the two women. Nya was tall, with striking black hair and piercing eyes that glittered with malice, and a mouth that was often twisted into a smirk. Julietta was slight, with hair the color of gold, and quiet silver eyes that studied everything.

 

“I need to know what you have been telling my ward, girl.” Nya commanded, looking down at her. Julietta held her peace. “I taught him almost everything I could. I know nothing of warfare or swordplay, and little of advanced algebra, but I did teach him the language, history, and geography, of our country.” “History? What kind of history?” “The lines of the kings of Agur, and how we were given the land, and so on.”

Nya was angry. “And I suppose you told him that I was a rebel who overthrew the dynasty.” “No. He has no idea of what you really are.” Julietta smiled to herself. “I called her a usurper and she didn’t notice!” She thought. “You lie.” Nya spat, turning on her in rage. “I always knew you were trouble. Now I will finish this once and for all!”

Caro failed to find Julietta in the house, and wandered about calling her name. He had just about turned to go back, when he heard a low cry, and turned on his heel to see what had happened. Bursting through the locked doors, he ran inside…then froze.

He saw Nya, standing on one side of the room, talking to Corporal Dawes. On the other side of the room, he saw the form of a girl, and knew who it was. His sister, Julietta. He ran over and caught her up, crying “Sister! Wake up!” Nya turned with a start and gawked at Caro.

Then a bright light blinded them. Caro looked down, and saw years of worry and abuse erased from Julietta’s face. She didn’t look like a servant. She looked like a princess. And she was going home to be reunited with her parents, and her God.

Nya’s face contorted with rage and horror. “She was chosen!” She cried, jumping back. Corporal Dawes stared and said nothing. Caro looked at them and understood. “You did it!” He cried, blinking back tears. “It was you who killed my family! Now you’ve killed the last one, my only friend, my only sister!” He turned and ran away from her, back to his boat. The guards shouted and tried to chase him, but his mind was full of what he had seen and he did not heed them.

That night he arrived on the shores of Agur. He saw the palace, and how beautiful it was. Then he saw behind it was a cemetery. He buried the daughter of kings in the family graveyard, and looked up. The moon was bright above him.

“I will find Gino. It was the last request of my sister, and I will follow it. Nya will pay for what she has done.” Determined, the boy left the cemetery, and walked toward the town. A new life was beginning for him, and a new light was beginning to shine in the dark, sad country of Agur.

For more about Agur, Click Here.

Chosen Ones: He is insane

Caro wandered about the streets all night, trying to make sense of the conflict inside of him. Everything that he had known was a lie, and the truth seemed so unreal. Could the tender servant that he had known for so many years really be his own sister? And was she really dead?

He finally came to his senses with a new feeling of resolve. “I don’t know much of anything here, but this one thing. Nya is my enemy. I saw her hurt my Julietta a few times, and then she killed her. Julietta must have been telling the truth, then, but I never thought…” he shook his head “…I must find Gino, whoever that is. Gino the wise.”

He returned to his boat at daybreak, and saw a group of girls mending fishing nets on the rocks. “Excuse me!” He called to them, and they looked up. “Have you heard of a man named Gino?” One of them wrinkled up her nose. “Never heard the name.” She giggled. “Are you sure it’s right?” Caro nodded. “Sorry! I don’t know anyone by that name.” The others nodded and went back to talking amongst themselves and mending nets.

Caro asked many people on the shore that day, but no one knew anyone named Gino. They all remarked that it was an odd name, but didn’t volunteer to help him. He was about to leave when he heard a soft voice. “Who did you ask for?”

OpalCaro looked back and saw a girl dressed in a grey dress and a pale blue cloak sitting on a rock, mending a net. Her eyes were sightless and blank when she turned them on him, and he knew that she was blind.

“I need to find someone named Gino.” He explained again. Her eyes widened. “Really? Why do you seek Gino?” He sighed and wondered what to say. “I was sent to find him.” The girl reflected a moment.

“You will find him in the town. By the warehouse, I would believe. He usually is around there at this time.” Caro thanked her. “Thank you. I didn’t know where to find him. Trust me, it is important.” The blind girl waved farewell and sat still for a while, as if she was watching him, though that was impossible.

Caro made his way into town and found a large warehouse district towards the south side of town. There was a large crowd of people going in and out of the building, and a few of them had stopped to listen to a man who seemed excited. He was about to get closer when a man stopped him.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” He asked. Caro shook his head. “Well, avoid that one. He’s out of his mind. They’ve had to lock him up a few times because he is such a nuisance.” Caro thanked him and moved up to hear what the youth was saying.

He was in his late twenties, with thick, curly black hair and dark skin. His clothes were simple, and he truly looked like a peasant. But he spoke excitedly, and attracted a crowd. “How long? How long will we allow this injustice? We must get away! There are spies here, even here! And look at what has happened. This child is forced to beg on the streets because his parents have been killed. And this girl wears the shameful badge of slavery! Why do we allow this?”

Gino

The slave girl ran away, cheeks burning: he was right. Caro looked at the young man. Something about him seemed different than the other people. “Maybe it is madness.” He thought. The man who had first warned Caro shouted “Go back to your flock, shepherd, before the guards come! They have already had to lock you up to keep you from making a nuisance of yourself. Do you want to lose more than fingers?”

Caro started, and stared at the youth’s right hand, which was missing its first two fingers. But the speaker didn’t blink. “I am willing to lose more, if someone hears.” He turned, picked up his staff and a sack, and walked away. Caro hesitated. “Should I stay and wait for him? Maybe I should ask someone here.”

He turned to leave, but had not gone a few blocks before he found himself face to face with the crazy boy. His eyes were kindled with…something, maybe madness, but it looked more like joy. He looked into Caro’s eyes, and clasped his hand. Then he knelt, and to Caro’s surprise, cried “My prince, my lord!”

 For previous posts about Agur, Click Here.

Chosen Ones: The Shepherd’s Story

Caro was rather disturbed by the outburst, and backed up a step. The young man looked up and the fire that was in his eyes died as soon as it had come. “You don’t believe me. Is it not enough that I know who you are, your name? Caro is your name, son of kings. We waited for you, prayed for you, suffered for you. You do not believe me!?!” He stood, his dark brown eyes showing only anguish.

Caro had never seen madness and did not know what it was quite like, but he knew that it meant that people did queer things. “Still, he knew my name…” He thought, then corrected himself. “Maybe many know my name. If I was a prince, anyone would know it.” He was not sure who to trust in his search for his sister’s friends.

The young man waited, but Caro said nothing. All hope had left his face, and he turned away. “Well, then, I suppose that this veil of lies is still too thick for anyone to really believe me. If you decide to talk to me again, I will be in the mountains. Call for me at the home of Gino, the shepherd.”

Caro was struck with a sudden thought. “Gino! The house of Gino?” The boy turned on his heel, annoyed. “Aye! What does that have to do with anything? My name is Gino.” Caro’s face lit up. “Gino, called the wise?” Gino (for that was who it was) nodded. “I haven’t been called that in a long time, though.” He turned his tongue, as if he was trying to remember who had called him that. “The only person who had called me that is…”

“Then I can trust you. My sister mentioned you before she…well, she died. Anyway, I was sent to find you.” Gino’s face changed immediately. “Nenya? Yes! Finally! I was wondering how long it would take before you would get it.” Caro shrugged. “I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you. I’ve only known two people in my whole life, and they were both girls.”

Gino asked if Caro had a place to stay, and when he said that he didn’t, Gino took him home. It was only a simple hut built onto the mountainside, but it was sound. Gino had built it by himself, and though he was missing a few fingers, he had built it well.

Caro told his story to the sympathetic shepherd, then asked what had happened while he was in the core. Gino’s dark eyes glistened, and he stared into the small fire in the fireplace. “I’m not sure when to start. After she had you safely tucked away, Nya started brutally stamping out all resistance to her dictatorship. Many were killed or imprisoned. I was twelve, Opal was only three.

‘But Nya even sent guards to arrest us, only children, and to question us about what we knew of you and the princess. Opal had told me of it, and I knew what had happened, but we refused to tell. So they locked us up. Opal eventually went blind from the unhealthy atmosphere, and finally we were released.”

Caro looked quickly at Gino. “Blind?” “Aye. She can’t see anything but bright light, but she gets around all right by herself.” Gino didn’t notice his companion’s uneasiness. “But we watched out for each other, in a manner of speaking. She lives up in the mountains, where Nya doesn’t dare to send soldiers, but sometimes she comes down to earn money by mending nets and to buy food. We make it through.”

The door opened suddenly, as a large black-and-white dog rushed in, barking furiously.

Promise

“Down, Promise!” Gino shouted, trying to calm it down. The dog spun in circles, pointed, and continued to bark at the top of his lungs. Gino looked out the window. “Soldiers? But how did they find us? Oh, no. We were followed.” Gino ran out one of the doors, and the dog followed. Caro waited.

In a few minutes, Gino returned. “It’s not safe here anymore, I’m afraid.” He panted, grabbing some things and packing them in a bag. “Promise will round up the sheep, we’ll have to sell them, of course. Come with me out the back door. No, bar this one first, See? Good! That will give them something to play with. Now hurry, sir!”

The two young men made it out the back way as the front door began to shudder from blows. Promise, like a good sheepdog, had herded the sheep away up the mountainside, and the boys followed. “Has this happened before?” Caro shouted. “Aye. I’ve rebuilt my house in different places, but they always seem to find it.” “What now?” “We’ll go up to Opal. We need her anyway.”

Caro looked back. The soldiers were running this way and that trying to find Gino. One of them carried a torch and a can of something. “They’ll burn the house.” Gino called, matter-of-factly. Caro looked back again. Gino was right: columns of flame were beginning to lick around the corners of the house.

The outside world was not like he had imagined it at all.

Click Here to read the previous installments of Chosen Ones.

 

Chosen Ones: A Mountain Climb

Caro, Gino, and the large black-and-white sheepdog, Promise, traveled a good way up the mountain before they stopped and looked back. The flames had died down from lack of fuel, and the small wooden structure was completely decimated. Gino looked around. “Here, boy!” The dog came over to him and sat down obediently. “We need to sell the sheep again. You know what to do.” Promise bent his head and wagged his tail.

Caro watched as Gino took out from his pocket a small piece of paper, scribbled on it, and then fastened it onto Promise’s collar. The dog stood up and ran off. Caro watched it. “What is he doing?” “Fetching the sheep. We’ll stay here tonight. A fire is too risky, but I doubt that they’ll search in the caves, so we’ll be safe.

Though both boys were tired, Gino stayed awake even after Caro had drifted off, watching closely the valley. He looked up at the stars, and then down at the prince. “I wonder if this is really the answer. I wonder if he’ll ever be king.” Then he shook his head at his own doubts. “Of course he will. That much has been revealed. I just wonder if I’ll be there to see it.”

Caro woke up the next morning to a strange feeling. A wet, pointy blunt thing was rubbing him. He opened his eyes. Almost on top of him was Promise the sheepdog, and the rubbing object was his nose. Caro almost jumped in surprise, and Promise barked. Obviously he wasn’t used to having strangers so near his master.

Gino jumped up and rubbed Promise. “No, silly dog. Promise with money pouchThis is a friend, hear? Now, let’s see what you brought for us.” Promise wagged his tail and lolled out his big pink tongue. Then he trotted off, and returned with a small pouch in his mouth. Gino knelt down to take the pouch and opened it. “Well done, Promise. See this?” He held up a small silver coin. “Passage through the mountains and supplies. That’s what my good friend has given us.” He rubbed Promise behind the ears and stood up.

“Well, Caro, we’ll have to make the trip to see Opal now, or it will be too dangerous and we’ll have to wait until next summer. ” Caro nodded. “Then now! I really don’t want to wait if I don’t have too. If your friend can help me defeat Nya, then I would like to see her.”

Gino turned and looked at Caro. “Defeat Nya with weapons? With real strength? Impossible! Though she is evil, she was chosen. She really can’t be destroyed with…” he gestured around “earthly stuff. Only a word from her creator can undo her. That is why we must see Opal.”

Caro wanted to ask more, but Gino walked on, and he had to run to keep up on the rugged terrain. Though Gino was weaker than Caro by far, he was older and more experienced. He knew just where to walk to avoid becoming exhausted in the climb. It wasn’t easy. The mountain began to shower them with rain, and then snow, but they didn’t give up.

After a few days of climbing, Gino pointed up ahead. “Do you see that snow bank?” Caro looked up. “What? That one on the side of the hill?” Gino nodded and smiled. “That’s Opal’s house. We painted it white so that it wouldn’t be easily found. It’s almost always snowy here. Come on!” He began to run towards the house, and Caro followed.

He opened the door and walked in. “It’s me, Opal. How are you?” Caro hesitated at the door, and Promise growled at him. He butted the back of Caro’s legs with his head. A girl was sitting by the fire. Her dress was a light blue color, and her hair a pale blonde. It was pulled back into a loose braid over her back. Opal and the fireHer whole appearance was pale, but there was a lively flash of light in her eyes, that betrayed a free spirit. Near her was a black-and-brown spotted cat, who mewed tolerantly at the intruders.

The girl heard and looked over her shoulder. Then her blue eyes glistened. “I knew you two would be coming if I gave you enough time.” She smiled and stood up. Caro looked harder at her. “Have I seen you before?” he asked. “Yes, Prince Caro. I was at the fishing docks, when you took your boat and went looking for Gino. You have seen me, and I have seen you in dreams.”

Caro looked at Gino, who shrugged. “Opal is a prophetess.” He explained. “She can see better blind than many can see completely healthy. And she is the one to defeat Nya.”

Chosen Ones: Friend or Foe?

Caro looked at Gino in unbelief. “If you could stop Nya before, why didn’t you?” Opal shrugged. “She hid away to make sure that you weren’t found. Unless I speak to her face to face, it will do nothing.” Promise barked. Caro looked at him. The silly dog always was wanting to bark at nothing. Then again, the last time he had barked was when the soldiers were coming. He snuck a glance out the window: nothing. Opal had been talking to Gino quietly while he had been distracted, and he left the room.

Opal turned her clouded blue eyes to Caro. “Tell me about my friend. Tell me about Nenya!” Caro looked at her. “Nenya?” “Your sister?” Opal cocked her head. “Nenya Julietta? My friend?” “Oh!” Caro became uncomfortable. “She’s gone.” Opal’s face paled. “Gone? Gone to glory?” Caro had never heard that phrase, but he felt that it was speaking of death. “Aye. She’s gone.” He didn’t say anymore, but Opal continued to talk.

“I was afraid of that. I couldn’t see her anymore. I dreamed of her.” She sighed and looked up as if she could see her friend in front of her. “She was a true princess! The  true thing! With hair like gold, and a face like a king’s. She had been mistreated in life, but death, though it came in pain, and stole her last breath, brought relief and peace to a weary soul, And now, with her loved ones, she is whole.” Her voice turned into a song, then ceased.

Caro had never really thought about what would happen after death. His only thoughts had been bitterness and anger against Nya, and longing for his sister. Gino re-entered the room with what Caro guessed to be a workbasket. The girl begun to spin and talk of plans.

“Of course, Nya isn’t going to just invite us in. If I’m going to see her, it will have to be in His timing. So how are  we going to get to her, and more importantly, how are we going to make it alive?” Gino sat down and rubbed Promise’s ears. “I really don’t know. I haven’t talked strategy with anyone but a three-year-old.” Opal laughed. “That was a ridiculous idea we thought up. But really now, what do we do? Should we make a stand, or retreat for better ground?” “What is better than a mountain?” Caro asked.

“We could be surrounded.” Gino pointed down and around. Opal nodded. “Right. But the… but the… well, ” She waved her hand in the air and Caro felt cold inside. “–her magic. We must not forget that.” “Magic?” Caro asked, scarcely wanting to know what she meant. “Witchcraft would be a better word.” Gino commented, running his hand through his dog’s silky fur.

Caro felt sick. “What do you mean?” Opal’s face clouded. “Dark magic. Actions and powers never ordained by the creator. Mystical evil. Changing of seasons. Changing of minds. Enchantment, you might say, against the people. It’s a grave and terrible thing, but it must be counted in our plans.” Promise barked again. “No, silly dog, we’re not listening to your opinion!” Opal laughed, then froze.

Promise and Pussy

Gino looked up sharply, and froze as well. Caro looked around. He didn’t see anything. “What is it?” He asked, but they didn’t move. Promise growled and trotted to the door. Caro followed him, hoping for an explanation for the actions of the others. Through the window he could see a figure trudging through the snow. And he was wearing a uniform.

Caro looked at the dog again. “Good dog. What do we do now?” “Let him in, of course!” Opal shouted. “I have heard of him.” Caro walked back to them. “What does that mean?” He asked. Gino was silent, but Opal’s sightless eyes pierced through the silence. “He is searching for us. We should see what his purpose is.” She picked up a poker. Caro wasn’t sure if she was still in her right mind, but he obeyed, and opened up the door.

The man hadn’t seen them yet. He was about as old as Gino, with dark hair, dark eyes, and freckles. His face was likeable, but he was a soldier, and soldiers were the enemy. Caro found it hard not to challenge him, as he watched the green-black uniform ascend the peak. Was he a scout to an attack? Or was he sincere, and wanted to find them for good reasons? Whatever it was, Caro would be ready.

If you missed any of Caro’s adventures, you can find them here.

Chosen Ones: Sergeant Davis

Caro

When the figure got close enough to the house, Caro shouted “Who goes there?” and watched the confused man fall over in the snow. He scrambled up and called up “Is this the house of Opal the Prophetess?” “Might be, depending on who wants to know.” Opal called out. “I’ll take that as a yes.” The soldier sighed, making the rest of the trek to the house quickly.

When he arrived at the door, Caro stood still, and looked him over. Though his uniform was wet from the snow, he was still a soldier, even though he looked rather ridiculous. “May I come in?” He asked, and Opal nodded. Caro watched him closely, to try and see what he wanted. Promise growled at the uniform, but whapped his tail on the floor and rested his head in his paws.Sargeant Davis

“My name is Sergeant Davis. I’m not really sure why I came, but I heard that you knew something of the coming of the king.” His eyes shone. “I know what you think, I’m a soldier. But my father was one of the old guard, and he told me a little about what really happened when Nya took over, not the story spread to the media.” Gino turned his head to Opal and said something no one else could understand, but she nodded.

“I’ve heard so many things, that I’m not sure who to believe. I don’t trust the paper or the radio, obviously, but I was asking around and a few of the villagers said that a young man lived partly up the slope and a young woman at the top. But they also said ridiculous things, so I decided to find out for myself.” Gino, who had not spoken since the soldier’s arrival, spoke up. “Why were you looking for us?”

The soldier bit his tongue and seemed to be searching for words. “I remember my father’s stories of glory in battle, but this is just…murder, murder and worse that the soldiers are doing, and to their own people! I didn’t understand, how in a few years things could deteriorate so quickly, but I do now. The leadership is rotten all the way to the top, Lady Nya. I heard that there was still one left of the royal family, and that you knew where he was.”

“Why, so you can kill him? So you can tell Nya so she’ll imprison him in the core again? Or maybe so your battalion could capture him.” Caro accused, from where he stood by the door. “Nothing you say makes us trust you.” Gino started and looked up at him. “Isn’t that what you were thinking when you first saw me? Hold your tongue please, we’ll never know if we keep interrupting.” Caro blushed and held his tongue. Davis didn’t seem to notice.

“I want to follow the king.” Davis stated, dropping his hands. “I want to follow him and make a change from this…insurrection.” Opal turned to Gino, and said nothing, but he understood. “Sounds good to me too.” He turned to Caro. “What do you think?”

Caro sat down by Gino and rubbed his head. “I don’t know what to think. He’s a soldier.” “But a good soldier.” Opal protested. Caro rolled his eyes. “Those words don’t go together at all.” “Then don’t think of me as a soldier. I want to be on your side.” Davis spoke up. “I know you do.” Opal turned her sightless eyes to him. “I’ve seen you before. He is a friend, Caro. And we do need a soldier.” Gino laughed. “I’ll agree with Opal.” Davis looked confused.

Caro stood up and Opal did as well. “He is the prince. If you truly wish to help, help us plan for Nya’s downfall.” The soldier was confused, and narrowed his eyes. “Let me see.” He stood up and looked Caro over. “Same age, right height…” He stepped back. “You must be. No one has eyes that bright silver.” He bowed. Caro had never seen his own eyes, but he knew his sister’s had been silver, so he wasn’t surprised.

Davis took out a map. “If you need planning help, here we are. This is a map I took of the area. It’s terrible, and I could barely find you, but it’s a map. What do you have in mind?”

Chosen Ones: Open Wounds

planning 2Davis unfolded the map and tacked it to the table. Gino moved closer and began to laugh. “You have a reason for laughing?” Davis asked, and Promise barked. “Do you have a pen?” Gino pointed to several different spots on the map. “That goes there, and that doesn’t exist, and there…” Davis pushed his hand away. “Look, I already said the map was terrible. But it’s all I have, unless you want to make one for me.” Gino shrugged. “Sure. I’ll make you a map. I’ve been all over this land with my sheep, and I know where everything is.”

Davis laughed. “I’m sure you have. Now, unless you can think up a map in a few seconds, I’ll use this useless one. Let me see. Here we are, and here is Lithia, the kingdom to the north.” Caro was interested. “I never knew that Agur was so big! What’s this here?” “Those are the swamps.” Gino volunteered, stifling another laugh. “Though they aren’t half that large.” Davis sighed. “Here is the pen. Make your map, and please stop distracting me!” Gino smiled and said nothing, for fear that he would begin to laugh again.

Caro looked at the map again. “Where is the capitol from here?” “Not far, in distance, but far below us. We’re up really high, and these mountain ranges go on all the way to the Comeros, to the east.” Davis pointed to a spot on the map, then frowned. “All right, shepherd. The capitol is in the wrong place too. Who made this map?” He looked at Gino, who had been writing, but had stopped to rub ink off of his hand. “Maybe we should wait until yours is done.”

Opal spoke up for the first time since the map had been brought out. “Gino, what news is there in the village?” Gino rubbed his head with his right hand. “Maybe this isn’t the best time. It has to do with soldiers.” “I don’t mind.” Davis protested. “Say what you will.” Gino looked up at him. “All well, then. There are rumors of raiding parties destroying the border cities of Lithia. They stopped talking when I came closer so they could jeer at me, but I heard what they said before. It’s no secret that the soldiers doing it were wearing green and black.”

Opal drew in her breath sharply. “Nya is attacking Lithia? But this will mean war!” “Aye, and forced conscriptions into the army. At least it does not touch me. But Nya would be foolish to rouse Lithia, with the relations between us very strained by her takeover. We would be crushed. Unless…” Gino stopped writing and sighed. “Unless what?” Caro asked, fascinated by the political intrigue being spoke of.

“Unless you were heading the army.” Davis finished. “Yes, there were rumors that someone would someday come and lead the army, someone even stronger than Nya. But these rumors were not well-spread and were discouraged. But come, we’re running out of light. We need to make a plan.”

Davis, Gino and Caro figured out a scheme, with Opal chiming in when needed. They decided to pull back and to run, so that Nya would be distracted. “If she pulls her soldiers from the border, those people will be safe.” Davis said. “But we won’t be. We’ll really have to run fast.” “We have to do this, Gino.” Opal chided, putting down her needles. “There are more people at risk here than you and I.”

The lamp began to waver, and the fire was choking. “Promise, get some wood.” Opal commanded, and the dog trotted out the door. “It’s time to rest.” Gino yawned, and looked at his hand, which was as black as his hair. Opal found some blankets, and she went to bed. Gino and Caro spread the blankets on the floor, and Davis left for the night.

“Gino, how large was my family?” Gino had been sleeping, and he woke up with a start. “What? Aye. You have…what did you say?” Caro repeated his question, and there was silence. Caro was almost sure that he had fallen asleep, when he heard Gino’s soft voice. “Why do you wish to know? Some wounds shouldn’t be reopened.” Caro didn’t like the sound of that.

“Well, it’s my family. I don’t know anything about them. I never met them, so I guess…” His voice trailed off, and neither one said anything for a few seconds. “You had…five brothers, and three sisters. Two sisters were already married when you were born. Then, ah, the oldest was a boy, the heir. There were a few brothers here and there, after the sisters there were two boys and then Nenya–Julietta. Then two more boys and you, and you also had nieces and nephews, some older than you, even.”

Caro’s hopes rose. Surely, with so many of them, Nya couldn’t have destroyed them all. “What happened to them?” Gino didn’t say anything for a while, and he struggled to find words to say what he wanted. “Your older sisters married into the royal families of Comeros and Lithia. But Nya, well, Nya came and killed everyone in the castle. The king, queen, and all of the sons, except you.” Caro grabbed a handful of the blanket and crushed it in his fist as tears came to his eyes.

“But my sisters and their children were safe in the other countries.” Caro said, hopefully. Gino said nothing. “Nya couldn’t have gotten them, without being destroyed.” “Nya had to make sure that no one could claim the throne.” Gino said softly. “Just days after the royal family died, Nya waylaid the princesses and…” Caro pressed his hands on his ears, and Gino stopped. “I’m sorry. I said that these wounds shouldn’t be reopened, and then I opened them, foolish!” He glared at the ceiling.

His voice softened. “You’re the only one left, Prince Caro. You’re the only one who can change anything. Comeros and Lithia were just as devastated as Agur, but there was nothing anyone could do. Now Nya is trying to take them for good, and that is why we must stop her. That is why we will run.”

Chosen Ones: Escape to the Marshes

While Caro was discovering his painful history, Nya was angrily pacing the golden halls of the castle. She was furious that her project had failed, but she refused to give him up, and sent soldiers after him. In the back of her mind, she knew that there were still Chosen Ones alive, and it drove her to near distraction. She was already feeling the blood-guilt from Julietta, or Nenya, who had she been?

The Blessing of the Chosen writ that those who had been Chosen were protected from death in two ways. One, that if they died, they would immediately go to glory. Two, that whoever killed them would be cursed forever, sentenced to never-ending guilt until the death was made right. This is why those who murdered them usually killed themselves trying to escape the quilt through death, but instead found only more.

Nenya had a unique gift, the gift of purity, though her parents never guessed that it would be kept in the way it was. She was destined before birth to lead a life of silent worship and service, and she never wavered. But for Nya, the pure girl’s blood was on her hands, and she could not get the thought out of her head. Only the madness of battle would ease the pain that she had caused, but battle without her greatest weapon, Caro, would be defeat.

She called one of her soldiers to her. “Have you not yet found them?” The soldier saluted but shook his head. “He has escaped us and fled to the mountains. There are reports that he had help from a shepherd.” Nya had been pacing again, but she stopped and turned slowly. “A shepherd, named Gino?” The soldier nodded. Nya ground her teeth and turned on her heel. Her heavy copper trident seemed to glow green in her anger, and lightning flashed through the window.

“I should have known. After all that I have done to threaten and to scare that timid man he still persists in defying me!” She muttered, sending the soldier away. “I knew he was Chosen. I saw it when he was brought before me, but I could not kill him or his baby friend because they were chosen, and I could not afford that. But now he has grown up. He’s not a timid boy any more, he’s a man. He can’t fight, we took care of that, but he sees everything with those dark eyes, and if Caro has found him he will lead him astray. I have to get him. But wait.”

Nya sat down and held her head in her hands. “Then there’s the girl. She will do what she can. I never should have let her go, because there was always something queer about her. She was always trying to speak to me. Then there is her to think about as well. In order to retrieve my pupil, I must first capture those two meddling brats so I can reach him.” She straightened and her eyes took an unnatural light. “I know!” She stood up and strode into the hall, where she hailed the soldier. “A message to Dawes. Man, write this down.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Promise barked the two boys awake the next morning. Gino stood up and went off for more wood, while Caro stretched and rubbed Promise’s head. Opal was already scurrying about in the small kitchen with a large bag. Her nimble fingers would search through the cabinets until she found what she was looking for, and then she would reach back in for something else. Pussy was busy as well, chasing a mouse that had escaped her detection by hiding in the cabinet. It was not long before dawn, and Caro’s two friends wished to be off as soon as they could. Caro’s head was spinning from the revelations of the night, and he said little.

Opal and Gino soon realized that they had a problem. “I will not leave her here. She can’t survive out here alone, and if the soldiers come here they will kill her.” Gino looked down at the spotted cat and sighed. “How are we supposed to bring a cat? It will be enough trouble bringing Promise along, without bringing Puss. She’ll run off in the marsh, and we’ll never see her again.” “I can’t see her anyway, but I’m taking her, and that’s final.” Opal persisted putting her hands on her hips. “Or I’m staying here.” “Fine! Bring the silly cat, but you have to be the one to carry her.”

Opal had already thought of this, and took out a small basket with a lid that could be latched on and a small hole cut in the top. “I’ll wear this, and she can sit in it and look around. Come on, we’re losing the light!” Gino looked sideways at Caro, as if he was saying “Girls!” But Caro lost the point, and Gino let it go. He called his dog and took one last look around. “We have blankets, and tinder, and the other things? You have food, did you bring the mats?” Opal waved her hands in the air. “The harness is on the mantle. We’ll have to make Promise carry as well, because I cannot carry the mats, and you two already have more than you can handle.”

Gino did as she suggested, and tied a little harness to the dog attached to a sort of sled, on which he tied some of the provisions and the sleeping mats. “There. We better be getting down. There’s a snowstorm coming from the north, so we need to go down as fast as we can. Come on, Opal, here’s your staff. Don’t trip now.” Promise didn’t seem thrilled, but he trotted ahead obediently. They traveled for half an hour, and made it to a green hill that was untouched by snow. Caro looked back at Opal, who had stopped. She was faced away from the sun, with the light streaming behind her. She looked very lost, but she also looked as if she was seeing someone that the others couldn’t.

Opal in the sunsetGino went back and pulled her arm. “Come on, Opal, we’ll leave this mountain behind. We’ll go down to the marsh and meet that soldier, and then we shall go on with our journey. Every step will bring us closer to Nya.” Opal nodded but kept her face to the west. “Yes, but when we meet Nya, what then shall we do?”

 

 

Chosen Ones: One Close Call

The marshes of Agur’s wetlands were no place for a military campaign. The boggy ground and unstable terrain were a bane to any traveler unfortunate enough to wander in. There were tufts of stunted grass growing everywhere, and reeds and rotting pieces of wood that had fallen ages ago but still remained. It was also very cold. All told, it was the most dreary place Caro had ever seen, save the courtyard cemetery back at the capitol, but the strange place seemed to cheer Gino, who kept his eyes on the ground and nimbly discovered ancient paths through the muck that were safe for Opal.

Sargent Davis was waiting near the mouth of the swamp, and he also looked cheerful. “This will be a simply beautiful place to hide out in for now. There’s no way a regiment could come here without a guide. They would be dead in a minute. But who is our guide?” Gino looked sheepish, and glanced at his dog. Promise wagged his tail and flashed a dog-grin. “Us.” Gino answered, grabbing Opal’s hand as she almost fell off the path. “I’ve explored here, I mean I did, a long time ago. The land has changed, but I can still pick out the trail.”

Davis shrugged. “Well, if you know as much about frontier work as you do about map-making, then I’ll follow you.” Gino shook his head. “I know more. I’ve actually been here, but I’d never made a map before this. I’ll show you a secret place. It’s small, but it could be a base?” Davis smiled. “That’s the spirit! Lead on, then, shepherd. We can do this.” Opal stepped off the path and Gino and Caro had to grab her before she fell in. “Maybe we should get to solid ground.” She laughed, but her face was pale.Opal in the swamp

They helped her all the way through the twisting paths to a small hut. Years ago there had been a village of people who lived off the swamps, but it had been deserted. The huts were in terrible decay, as the moist environment corrupted the wood, but it was a start, and they were built on solid clay, covered by a hard-packed layer of split reeds woven together.

Davis and Caro began to talk of going back for lumber to repair the houses, but Gino dropped the bag he was holding and ran to them. “Stop! Are you insane? You’ll never find your way. I’ll prepare a path. You two stay here and unpack.” He went back and talked softly with Opal, who smiled and pointed. Gino took a small pot of powder and opened the lid. “Look at this! See this powder?” He tossed a small bit into the air. It landed on the ground and stained it red. “It will wash off soon, but until you find your way by yourselves, this will mark the safe path.” Caro smiled. Even if Gino wasn’t a fighter, he definitely was a thinker, and he knew what he was doing.

Gino had soon marked a path with the red dye, and Caro and Davis took their hatchets and walked back to the drier land outside the trees. They were able to find several strong trees to split and use for wood. Davis was used to the work, being a soldier, and Caro had always been using an axe to shape wood for pieces of his boat one way or another, so he knew how to use one. They soon had a small pile to take back.

They took it in trips, but on the third trip, Caro noticed that there was a different path that Gino had not marked. It was shorter and seemed to be as solid as the one they were on. Caro jumped over a small pile of rotten wood and took it instead. Davis called to him. “Don’t leave the path! These bogs are unstable!” But Caro looked down. The ground seemed firm enough. “It’s fine! I think I’m figuring this out. I’ll be there in no time.” Davis’ brow furrowed in frustration. “That boy has been given his own way too long. He needs to learn things the hard way, I suppose.” He leaped off the path and followed the Prince at a distance. The rotten limbs above them creaked and showed signs of breaking, but Caro didn’t notice. Just as he had almost reached the end of his path, one of them fell almost on top of him, shattering the “trail”.

Davis grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back. “This path is breaking apart and sinking! Let’s get back quick!” They ran back to Gino’s trail, with Caro’s breaking under their feet. Both were relieved when they were on the red trail again.” “Let’s try this again. Davies panted. “No more leaving the path.” Caro nodded, scared and embarrassed. “Leave the trail? I never want to leave this trail again!” Their return trip was uneventful, and they repaired the huts without further accident.

But that night Davis brought out a tool that made Gino shrink back into a corner: a the swordsword. “Why did you bring this?” He asked quietly, not taking his eyes off the bright steel. “I thought you would need the practice.” Gino glanced at his dog again, and he growled. Pussy climbed out of her basket and curled up under his paws, which quieted him. “You can train Caro, but do not look to us to fight. We can’t.” He held up his hands. “See?” “I see a perfectly good left hand. If you can’t use your right, do the next best thing.” Davis countered, looking narrowly at him.

Gino scowled, trying to come at a different angle. “But…” Caro looked at Gino too. Suddenly a thought crossed his mind. “He’s scared. He’s scared of that sword. I wonder why.” He tried to remember what Gino had talked about that first night before his house went up in flames. “Is it right to kill?” Gino asked, once again looking to Promise for support. He wagged his tail. “Do you always consult your sheepdog when making decisions?” Davis asked wryly. Gino sighed. “When one has been alone most of his life, he finds it more easy to confide in animals than people, especially when that person has been mistreated by them.” His comment silenced Davis, who looked uncomfortable.

“Please don’t argue, both of you. Gino, would you fight to save Caro? Or me? Or even Promise?” Gino knew that he was beaten, and nodded slowly. “Aye.” “Then at least train so that the fight will not always be a losing one. You can defend yourself, you’ve just never tried.” Opal’s gentle words broke him, and he buried his face in his hands. “Fine then. If that is the service required, I will pay it. But it feels as if it goes against my Gino and Promisevery being.” He spoke, and Caro was moved. If times were not so desperate, he would have sided with Gino, but they needed all the hands they could get.

Even if Gino could only give one, it was something.

Chosen Ones: Pursued

Though the swamps were terrible, they were safer than any other place they suggested. Safe from the soldiers, the small team made the most of their resources. Though Gino was reluctant, it turned out that his argument was not needed. He tried to hold a sword for Caro’s sake, but he couldn’t. The narrow handle slipped out of his grasp no matter how Davis tried to help. Finally, Davis gave up and taught him to shoot: a skill that he wasn’t proud of but was good at. Often he would sit staring at it, and quite a few times he almost threw it into the mire.

Caro liked working with Davis. His training in warfare had been limited, because the only skill Nenya had known was fencing. She was only a girl when she was taken, but she had racked her brain until she remembered the practices of her brothers. Davis was pleased at what he knew, but pushed him to branch out. Under Davis’ instruction, he began to become a skilled warrior.

Strange things were happening in the marshes. They began to become hot, a change that frightened Gino. “It never gets this hot!” He protested, feeling the ground. “Not at this time of year! If it doesn’t go down soon, we’ll be in trouble from the insects and snakes.” Caro stared at him. “Snake? What’s a snake?” Gino sighed. “When you see one, you’ll know it.” Opal bowed her head. “There’s something definitely wrong here. I do hope the heat goes away.”

But the temperature only rose, and with it came insects, as Gino had predicted. They buzzed and swarmed and bit, and the people were tired of them. From the heat and the insects, Promise and Puss spent most of their time sleeping in hidden spots to escape the swarms. Gino was puzzled by the fact that the swamp only seemed hot in one place, and went off to find out why. Caro and Davis were used to the paths by then, but neither planned on exploring, remembering well their trouble when they had last left the path. They stayed with Opal and continued to train.

By this time Opal had a small house to herself, and she stayed in it and spun, to avoid the insects and the air rising off of the swamp. Caro was rubbing his hands and Davis was standing a little ways off, staring after Gino. “How long will he be gone?” “No telling. It’s Gino: he doesn’t tell me much. I think I’ll go get some water. I’ll be back.” Caro ran off, leaving Davis alone staring after Gino. Though the soldier would never admit it, he had trusted Gino to make sure that nothing bad happened, because he felt very uncomfortable about the swamps.

Behind him he hesnakeard a crack, creak, crash! He turned to see a snake slip into the water, and Opal’s little house collapsed over her. “Caro? Gino?” He called, running over and trying to see where she had gone. It seemed like the house had swallowed her. “Miss  Opal, ma’m. Are you all right?” There was a sharp intake of breath, and her voice came out softly. “I think the floor is giving way.” Davis swallowed. “Calm down. You’re a soldier, for goodness sake!” He told himself, and began to pull the structure away. He saw her hands, and they were clutching tightly to a basket. Promise barked and struggled to get out of the muck.

“Ok, a girl, a cat, and a dog. Caro! Hurry!” He reached in and grabbed Promise’s tail, the closest thing to him. He pulled him out, and the dog shook himself, licked Davis, and began to bark furiously. The soldier tried to reach Opal, but she was still too far under the wood. “Dog, helppromise digging me dig her out.” He panted, trying to get more planks under her than above her, while still holding onto the solid ground with one hand. Promise barked and began to dig.

Finally, Davis found her hands. Pussy took one look at him, hissed, and bounded onto the pad. He grabbed her and pulled her out with both hands. “There.” Davis sighed, and Promise wagged his tail. Opal’s sightless eyes were dilated so much that she looked like her eyes resuedwere dark. “We’re being pursued.” She whispered, comforting her cat. Promise jumped on Davis and began licking his face, just as Caro came back. “Agh, stop! Stop it, crazy dog! Get off!” He pushed him away, and Promise skipped over to see Caro.

“So, I guess you like dogs.” Caro joked, as the thankful dog once again tried to lick Davis’s face. “No, sir, I do not. Especially not this one.” Davis said, with great conviction and embarrassment. Caro gaped at the broken house. “What did you do! Look! The pad is beginning to break up!” Davis stood unsteadily. “We need Gino back at once.” Caro nodded and ran to the edge. “Gino, where are you? Hurry!” Off in the distance they could hear the boy’s feet quicken, and they listened anxiously until he appeared. No one wanted to be stuck in the swamp without him.

Chosen Ones: Venom

Gino came out from behind the marsh grasses, his dark eyes full of worry. “What’s wrong?” He looked down and took in the scene quickly. “Right, I suppose that would be it. Come, this way. I found another pad. It’s the heat. It’s making everything decay in this area.” He looked at Opal, who was nodding slowly. “Yes. This weather change is Nya’s work. She was quite trying to drown me. If it hadn’t been for our soldier, I and our animals would have drowned.” To back up Opal’s words, Promise grinned and thrashed his tail. Davis half-smiled, but then grabbed hold of a tree branch that broke off in his hands. “I think we can talk later! Shepherd, if you’ve found us a new place, let us get there before the earth dissolves.”

Gino took Opal’s hands and helped her onto the path. Caro jumped on behind them, and Davis and Promise came last. The two Chosen said nothing, but kept their eyes down, as if they were thought-talking. Caro wasn’t sure what it was, but the two had done it often, and it usually worked. “No!” Opal suddenly shouted, breaking the thought-barrier. Gino stopped and searched her face. Her eyes were contracted into tiny slits. “Tis a serpent. I heard it. A wicked snake.” “I saw a snake as well.” Davis volunteered. “Though here that is no surprise.”Opal in darkness

Caro kept quiet. He had never seen a snake, or a serpent, and the talk of them was beginning to get on his nerves, as it had when they spoke of magic. He knew nothing of magic, but Opal’s words haunted him, and he wondered how far Nya had really left the path of the Chosen.

After they came to a nearly identical looking pad, Gino, Davis and Caro went off to fish out the supplies. Contrary to his usual practice, Promise curled up near Opal’s feet and refused to move. Gino looked at him with worry, but went with the others to find the supplies.

Gino and Opal began to make Caro feel strange, though not on purpose. Neither spoke much, but instead began to do things that they had never done before. Gino began shivering uncontrollably, even in the heat, and Opal began to mutter to herself. Confused, Caro and Davis began to talk about what to do.

“They’ve been doing this for days.”  Caro said, sadly. “What are they doing?” “I don’t know.” Davis shivered as well. “Oh, goodness. Now I’m shivering too. It’s something they’re doing, like they’re picking up—radio signals, signals that we can’t read!” He began to think. “Wait! Dawes did that too! His aides sometimes said that he would sit alone and talk to no one.” Gino’s head came up, and he stared at them. “Dawes? Why are you speaking of him?” His voice was quiet, but it trembled as he looked into Davis’ eyes. Davis looked away. “Nothing.” Caro sighed, but Gino didn’t give up. “No, I heard his name. Why are you speaking of Dawes?”

“I mentioned that he seemed to talk to someone, like you and Miss Opal do.” Davis said slowly, not sure of what the reaction would be. Gino closed his eyes again and muttered something that Caro didn’t hear. “You think we are talking, don’t you? Well, you’re right. We do talk this way, maybe because it’s easier. I forget sometimes that it disturbs people. Maybe that’s why the myth that I was insane and Opal a witch had such a market.” Davis looked at Caro, who shrugged.

Gino continued to speak to himself. “Aye. So Dawes is one of the ones behind this. I shoPromise sniffing the airuld have known. That monster seems to want to be Nya’s lackey, by destroying us!” Davis and Caro traded looks and exclaimed “How?” “These snakes. They’ll be back. I can feel them sliding around. They’re creepy, to say the least.” Promise began to bark again, growling at a coiled up form in the muck that was rearing its head at him. “Like that one?” Caro asked, recoiling.

“Aye! And that one is headed towards Opal. Grab that hoe! If this is Nya’s work, which it is, it’s trying to get to her! Hurry!” Gino scrambled to his feet and grabbed a stick, Caro following close behind.

 If you’ve missed any of the Chosen Ones, you can find them in order Here.

Chosen Ones: Opal’s Bane

Opal in swamp scaredOpal couldn’t see the snake, but she could hear it, and started  to her feet. “Hello?” She tried to hear the others, but they seemed very far away. Finally, she could hear the hurried pad of Gino’s worn out shoes, and the metallic tramp of Davis’ boots. “Stay, Opal. Don’t fall in trying to get away.” Opal turned her head and tried to hear him better. Caro was the first one there. He hit the snake in the middle, and it hissed and squirmed, but didn’t die.boots

Gino grabbed Opal’s hands and tried to pull her away from the edge, but the snake slipped out from under Caro’s hoe and stuck at her leg. Opal became frightened, and losing her balance, tumbled down into a small patch of thistly branches. As Gino tried to pull her out, Davis and Caro engaged the snake in a deadly game of tag. The seemingly invincible snake skin would not cut under the hoe, or even under Davis’ sword.

Finally, Caro plucked up all of his courage and stomped on the snake. It darted its head snake 2out of the way in time, but Davis thought he found a weakness. “We have to smash its head. That seems to be the only way to kill this awful reptile.” Caro tried to get it to stay still so that Davis could crush it, but he wasn’t fast enough. Finally, Caro slammed his foot directly in its face. The surprised snake didn’t have time to avoid his foot, and was crushed into the ground.

He stomped on it several times before he was sure that it was dead. “Good work, Caro.” Davis said, pushing it into the muck with his hoe. “I’m glad it didn’t bite you.” “So am I.” Caro laughed, but the sharp fangs of the snake had unnerved him. “I figured it didn’t expect me to stick my foot in its mouth. All the same, I never want to do that again.” “Why didn’t the hide cut, do you think? It was such a strong piece.”

Gino had been helping Opal out of the briar, but he spoke up. “It was one of Nya’s serpents, and like all things of that sort, you must crush their heads. I’m glad that it didn’t bite you, but I can’t say the same about Opal.” The girl’s chin was resting on her chest, and she didn’t move. “It didn’t kill her, did it?” Caro asked, alarmed.

“No.” Gino said, bitterly. “But it has accomplished its purpose. Opal can no longer be our eyes, because she is sleeping. I’m afraid that she won’t wake up…ever.” He sat down and buried his head in his arms. Promise, who had been helping with the snake by snarling and barking, came over and licked his head. Puss scampered out of her basket and curled up on Opal’s chest, purring. “Poor thing thinks that she’s just sleeping.” Davis remarked sadly, as Caro burst out “Can’t you help her?”

“No!” Gino shouted, starting to his feet angrily. “Why must you all look to me? I am a shepherd, not a doctor, not a warrior, not a pioneer, nothing! I know my sheep and Promise. I’m so tired of you all expecting me to know everything!” “But you are Chosen.” Davis said quietly.

“Well so is Caro. Ask him, if you please, what we are to do. He has about a good of an idea as I.” Gino turned and stomped away, to think by himself: unsure of his emotions. Opal stirred in her sleep and muttered words that no one could understand. Caro glanced at her sadly. Something, almost like the feeling that he had when he buried Julietta, stirred in his heart. He couldn’t take it. Soon Davis was alone with a dog, a cat, and a sleeping girl.

When he realized this, he sat down, scratched Promise behind the ears, and asked “Well, boy, what are we to do now?” Promise wagged his tail slowly and licked his hand.

 

Chosen Ones: Race for a Cure

Caro wasn’t gone for long. With all the impulsiveness of youth, he was back within fifteen minutes. “Hi. Gino back yet?” Promise barked. “No.” Davis answered for the dog, standing up. “One’s asleep and one’s ran off, and I don’t know what to do. Any ideas?” “Nope!” Caro laughed bitterly. “Isn’t strange how everyone is looking to me and I know the least about this than anyone? I suppose that’s why Gino ran off too. Goodness, what are we going to do?”discussion

“You’re the king, Caro. I know that you are still young, but that’s not something you can change. You can change how you act. Opal and Gino have been speaking all this time, for what I know, and if you were listening you would know more.” “I was listening!” Caro said, indignantly. “But I can’t make heads or tails of most of it. I’m not a spirit, and all this mystic stuff is starting to scare me. What on earth happened to Opal?”

Davis didn’t answer but looked at her for a moment. She DID look asleep, with her hands on her lap and her little cat curled up on them. “I have no idea. But it seems like a…curse of some sort.” “Curses aren’t real. They come from superstition.” “Then what has happened?” Caro didn’t have an answer. “That’s what we need Gino for, I guess.”

“We could find a doctor, Caro. That might help, though I don’t think this is sickness. There is something too strong for me here, and I don’t like it. Even though the swamp has been safe for us and kept us from Nya, I think we need to leave here soon. Let’s get everything set up so that when Gino comes back we can get out of here.” “But how are we supposed to get Opal? I don’t think we can carry her. And that would be awkward.” “We could make a litter. But we have to leave this deadly place.”Promise playful

Promise wagged his tail and turned in a circle. “I don’t know how that harness thing works. Can you do it, Davis?” Davis stared at Promise. “I suppose. This should be…where is it?” Caro pointed, and Davis tried to put the harness on, but Promise took it in his teeth and ran off with it. “No! Bad dog! Bring that back.” Davis made a dive for him but he avoided him and stood a little distance off, thumping his tail and grinning. Caro began to laugh. Davis tried and tried to catch Promise, but he kept darting off and running into the muck, untigino turnedl he and Davis were all muddy.

That was when Gino decided to show up.

Davis had finally caught the dog, but both he and Caro froze when they saw Gino. They weren’t sure what he would say. But Gino didn’t say anything. He just stared at them.

Then he began to laugh. “What on earth are you doing?” He finally panted, motioning for Promise to come. Promise stood at attention and licked him. “Down, boy. Stay.” He easily hooked up the harness. Promise turned and looked saucily at Davis, with his pink tongue lolling out, as if he was saying “I know my master, and you aren’t him.”

“Whoever’s idea it was to move camp was a good one. We need to get away from Dawes before he follows up this attack with another.” Gino spoke quietly, as if he had thought through it for a long time before he spoke. He was scared to leave the swamp, but his fear of Nya’s attacks weren’t as great as his fear of Opal’s safety. Dawes was a student of Nya, and a favorite of hers. It only followed that he would have some knowledge of dark things, maybe even enough to be a conduit of Nya’s stolen power.

“But to stop in a city would be futile. Nya hates us, and once the news of her success reaches her, she will stir up the countryside to search for us. Small towns will be our only hope, and we’ll have to leave this area first. They might know me even here.” “Then to the capitol’s direction we must go.” Caro sighed. “I don’t think that it would be good to go the other way when we’re in a hurry.” “Right. But not too close. Now let’s figure out a way to get Opal up without hurting her.” Gino sighed. “It’ll only be a matter of time. She must be trying to destroy one of us, and Opal was our eyes into her heart. But now it’ll be much easier, and if we don’t get out of Dawes’ reach, Opal will die.”

 

 

Chosen Ones: Rora

With no other real option, the three boys packed up their meager camp and set off. With the axes they cut some strong saplings and tied them together with ropes to make a kind of litter for Opal. After all, no one wanted to carry her. That would be rather awkward.

After some argument, they decided to chance taking Opal to a doctor. Caro disguised himself and took her, but the doctor became suspicious and they had to flee. The unwanted side-affect to this was that not only did Caro have to carry her out very quickly, but also that Dawes found out where they were and began to pursue them. The first problem wasn’t that bad, because Caro was strong for his age. But the second was a big problem, and Davis and Gino had great difficulty keeping Dawes off their tails. And Opal was watchingfading.

Davis took an accurate look at the situation and realized that they would need help. With the chase taking all their attention, Opal needed someone to look after her: another girl. So he decided to go find one. Caro laughed. “‘Twill be trouble just to find someone we can trust, Davis! I don’t think that this will work at all.”

Davis shook his head. “I’m no nurse, Caro. You aren’t either, and Gino’s got enough on his mind. If someone is to look after Opal, it has to be a girl! Think about it, Caro. It wouldn’t be right for one of us. Yes, it’s difficult, and it shouldn’t work…” “The last one didn’t.” Caro commented.

Davis sighed. “No, it didn’t. That wasn’t my best idea. Still, I think that this is necessary if we’re going to keep going! Dawes is hot on our trails, and we’re going to need help.” He turned on his heel and walked off towards the nearest village.

Caro shook his head. “They’re going to think he’s a lunatic. What’s he going to do…go up to a girl and ask her if she wants to come with him? They’ll think he’s looking for a wife!” He laughed.

But when the soldier returned, he did inderoraed have a young woman with him. She looked to be about peasant class, but with keen eyes that flashed in the sun and took in everything. “Caro, this is Rora. She’s going to help us.” Davis said triumphantly, as the girl bowed. “Yes, sir. I am Rora, and I am willing to help you, even if it is to the hills of Carcorus.”

Caro looked skeptical. He was about to say something, when he felt very strange. Almost as if he understood why Rora had come willingly. Was she Chosen as well? Or was it simply a fantasy? Gino would know. But Gino had gone off again, and Promise had gone with him. They went off often, to see where Dawes was and where they should go next. As Davis had to admit, he did know the land, even if he knew nothing about war.

Or did he? Caro wasn’t sure.

Rora went up to Opal and  bent down over her sleeping form. She placed a thin, tanned hand up to her forehead. Opal smiled in her sleep. Davis looked relieved. Caro wasn’t sure what to think. “How do you know this is safe, Davis? Gino won’t be happy about this.” Davis laughed. “Don’t worry, Caro. I think Gino will understand.”

Gino came back late that night and didn’t look like he wanted to talk. His dark eyes were narrowed and calculating. “Did you find them?” Caro asked, seeing him come down. Promise growled. “We did.” Gino said, sullenly. “And they’re still coming. We’ll need to scatter again.”

He stopped suddenly. “Oh.” Davis hastened to explain. “This is Rora. She’ll help care for Opal.” Gino didn’t say anything, but stood there as if he had been frozen into place. Rora rose and brushed a wisp of dark hair from her face. “Who are you?” She asked.

Gino found his voice. “I’m sorry…I was startled. I am Gino…where did you corora and Ginome from?” “The village.” Rora answered. “I felt called to come with this soldier. And I’m afraid you don’t have much tact for a gentleman.”

Gino looked worried, but only for a moment, and not about her words. “This will be a hard journey.” He challenged.

“I can do it.” Rora said quietly. “I’ve taken many in my time.”

“But they will hunt us!”

“Aren’t we on the side of justice?”

Gino laughed. “Sometimes I wonder. But I am convinced: you will come with us.”

 

Chosen Ones: Dawes

Simon and Tully, deserters to Caro's band

Simon and Tully, deserters to Caro’s band

Rora soon wasn’t the only straggler who joined to them. After her were Simon and Tully, twins and scientists from Nya’s front lines, who had deserted when they realized their job would be against civilians and not soldiers. Then came Cory, and Andrew, and then Rocket, a former gunfighter. All had been called in some way, shape or form to join, though Gino expressed doubts about Rocket’s calling.

“What would our Creator do with a Gunfighter?” He asked. Caro laughed. “What would he do with a prince?” Gino fell silent.

So Caro and Gino soon realized that while the Creator hadn’t given them all visible gifts, he had chosen them to small tasks, just as he had chosen Rora. Caro’s band was growing. Some of them had deserted. Some were farmers who felt called to protect their families. One was a lawyer. Davis didn’t quite know what they would do with him, but Gino thought he might be useful in the future, so he vouched for him. If the situation hadn’t been so grave, it would have been comical.

Yet in all this, the silence that Caro had felt since the snakebite was growing. It was little things at first, but then Gino began to get irritated at the strangest things. And once Caro found him with Rocket’s pistol, simply staring at it. He immediately dropped it and walked away, but Caro wasn’t convinced. Something was up.

What Gino was thinking, he didn’t say, but Caro had plenty of people to talk to. Simon and Tully had been from one of the seaward provinces and knew plenty about boats and piloting, something that Caro missed immensely. And Cory was a historian, strangely enough, and could tell him more of his past than even Gino could. They were closer in age to Caro, and began to take precedence. Gino noticed.

But even though they might have had good talks, the way was far from easy. Rora, though Caro had his doubts, took care of Opal, and made sure that she didn’t unexpectedly take a turn for the worse. And Dawes constantly chased them. To make it worse, they were leaving wilderness country and heading into the capitol area. This was good for their mission in one way, but that meant that they couldn’t hide in the woods anymore. They needed to find shelter in the city.

So Andrew, a former soldier who used to be a scout, was usually sent off with Davis to find abandoned buildings for them to stay in, or more precisely, one for them to hide the girls, and a boarding house to keep most of the men. In these things, Caro would hide somewhere with Gino, Rora with Opal, and the others would pretend to be going to a conference. They went to a lot of conferences.

Suddenly, Dawes was right on their tails. Caro and Gino were heading out when Caro felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Rocket, his black-and-white dyed hair nearly standing straight on end. “Dawes!” He whispered, and walked quickly off.Rocket's warning

Caro ducked back into the building and collared Gino. “Quiet! We need to go right now.” Gino went blank. “Opal!” He whispered, and without warning tore himself from Caro’s hand and ran off towards the back window. “What are you doing?” Caro hissed, then looked around. “Oh boy.”

Gino tore through the street, stayed still a moment to avoid a policeman, and then ran as fast as he could to the old firehouse that Opal was resting in. He climbed on top of the old wagon, slipped over the sidewall, and ran over to where Rora was making a small meal. “None of that! Hurry! Dawes is coming. He might be here now!”Gino and Rora

Rora instantly swept all of the food into her pack and slung it onto her back. Then she grabbed Opal’s bed and pulled it. Pussy mewed from the corner. Gino helped her get Opal down to the tiny door at the back of the building and then further on to the wagon that Davis had bought.

But just as they were preparing to set off, Rora froze. “The cat!” Gino’s eyes rolled back into his head. “The cat? She’s not here?” Rora shook her head.

Gino thought quickly. “Ok. Go on to the others. I’ll get Opal’s cat. Go on!” Rora nodded and began to go off. “Are you sure?” Gino stood there, staring at her for a moment. Then he rubbed his face with his sleeve and turned away. “Aye. Now go!” He turned and ran headback to the building. Rora clicked to the horses and they moved away.

Gino looked around. “Here, pussy pussy pussy!” He called softly, trying to see where she had gone. The brown and black spotted cat finally emerged from the shadows, with a mouse in her mouth. “Silly cat. Now get over here! I need you to come with me!” Pussy turned her tail and walked slowly away.

Gino dove for her and grabbed the tiny cat. “Come here, you turkey in cat’s clothing!” He put her in the basket and slung it over his shoulder. Pussy was not amused. “Don’t look at me that way. This is for your good. Now let’s go.”

“Who’s in here?” Gino froze. Behind him he heard the tramp of boots on the gravel Gino-croppedoutside. “I got them out just in time…” he realized, walking quickly out of the way, “but I think I’ve just trapped myself!”

The door was only a little way off, but it seemed like eternity. Gino finally reached it and turned the knob. But it opened unexpectedly outward, knocking him over. He scrambled to his feet, in time to see who had opened the door.

“Hello, old friend.”

Gino blinked and backed up a step. “D-Dawes!”

 

Chosen Ones: Gino’s Folly

Gino looked worried, and dropped the basket. It rolled off and he could hear Pussy clawing from the inside, very upset at being dropped. “Now this is a surprise.” Dawes spoke, his eyes locked on Gino. “Why on earth are you in the city, so close to the capitol? Shouldn’t you be off with your sheep?”

Gino shook his head. “I have a duty beyond that, Dawes. I’m sure you know of it.” Dawes laughed. “I’m sure. You’re here because of Opal. Predictable, as always.”

Gino found himself getting angry. Dawes, once a close friend, had betrayed his comrade for a share in Nya’s empire. It had been him who had tracked down the two Chosen long ago, and it had been him since who had pursued them so mercilessly. Indeed, Dawes now held in his hand Opal’s consciousness. The betrayal kept getting worse.

Dawes realized Gino’s mixed feelings and began to take advantage of them. “You know how easy you’ve made it now, Gino. If I have you, and I already have Opal, what will these rebels do? Wander around in the dark, most likely, making bad decisions and eventually falling off a cliff.”

Gino didn’t say anything. If anything happened to Opal, truly the band would be directionless…and purposeless! But if Nya’s henchman knew that, he would test them sore. He couldn’t take that risk.

Suddenly, Dawes turned on him. “Why won’t you say anything?” He asked, angrily. “What could I say?” Gino asked meekly, before answering his own question. “Nothing. I will say nothing.”

Dawes laughed. “This silence becomes one of your class. Of course, you probably think that you’re perfect, with your ‘secret religion’ and your ‘special gifts’. It makes me sick.” He spat on the ground. “You used to believe in the One True God, just as much as I did.” Gino said quietly, though inwardly chafing at the rude remark.

Dawes shook his head. “And I also used to believe in sprites. What matters it? Your ‘strange’ friends won’t be able to get by without you. And believe me,” He thrust out his hand and grabbed Gino’s arm “I intend to find them, every last one of them, and destroy them. Men and women alike.” He hissed.

What happened next surprised both of them. Gino suddenly felt the ground spinning under his feet, and Dawes turned red in his eyes. He pulled his right arm back, while at the same time reaching with his left behind him. There was an explosion.

The next thing they knew, Dawes had fell back, and was shrieking and cursing. Gino stood there for a second, triumphant, with a pistol in his hand. “You took my fingers years ago, Dawes. How do you like it now?” He cried, stepping back.

The sky had been overcast for a few hours, but now lightning sparked its way across the sky. The sound jolted Gino out of his triumph, and he dropped the weapon as if it had been made of fire. Then he collapsed, and hid his face in his hands.

“No! No, Lord! I….” He sobbed, shaking violently. The slight pattering of raindrops mixed with Dawes’ curses and Gino’s sobbing. “Ruined! Oh, Creator, forgive me! Forgive me!”

Dawes’ men came running up and stopped at the strange sight. “Don’t just stand there, fools! Help me up!” Dawes yelled, half-ashamed at the cowardly way he had been carrying on. Gino didn’t move. “To fail now, and for such a thing as revenge.” He muttered. “Ruined.”

The rainstorm met the rest of the band under the grateful cover of the great forest that led into the capitol city. “We’re so close.” Caro remarked wistfully. “If only Opal would awaken, and we could continue our purpose.” Davis, who had been following (and indeed seldom left the prince out of his sight) agreed. “If the princess would awaken, and bring peace to this land, even I would believe in fairytales. But what’s all the ruckus down there?” He asked suddenly, as he heard the sounds of a great commotion coming from the camp.awakened

They descended the hill that had given them a view into the city, and were met by Rora. She looked as though she had seen a ghost. “Donnae blame me, sirs.” She panted, “Because I know nothing of it. One leaves, one comes back, and then she’s out of bed and babbling like…I don’t know what!” Caro and Davis exchanged worried glances. “What?”

Rora pointed behind her. There, pacing back and forth through the ranks of surprised men, as if life depended on it, ran Opal, with her cat in her arms. Puss had scratRora and Pussyched her way out of the basket and had returned to her mistress, who was now awake.

Caro ran to Opal, who was weeping and whispering at the same time. “Woe! For hope to me means death to another.” She cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Prince Caro, Gino is taken, and all is lost.”

Chosen Ones: Strategy

Caro shook his head. “I still can’t believe this? How could Gino do something so…so…” “Stupid?” Davis suggested. Caro glared at him. “Thank you. I was thinking foolish.”

Davis held up his hands. “Don’t blame me; I’m just as confused as anyone here. Opal, are you sure that this is true?” Rora bowed her head and stood up. “Sir, Gino went back to the building after Pussy. He wanted to make sure we didn’t forget her, knowing how much she meant to…Opal.” Opal put her arms around her beloved cat protectively.

Promise growled and his ears shot up. Caro rubbed his head. “Promise senses something wrong.” He sighed. “He’s like an alarm clock for danger. But this… this disrupts everything! What is the plan now?”

Davis wheeled around and faced them. “I think we’ve been running too long, Prince Caro. We’re so close to the capitol. It’s time to act.” Opal lifted her sightless eyes to his. “And what would you have us do?” She asked.

Davis thought for a moment. “What if we sent you and Rora ahead to the capitol? As long as you travel with us, you will be in danger. But alone, who would notice you? You could wait in the city until we arrive, and then if something happens to us, you’ll be able to go on.” Pussy climbed onto Opal’s shoulder and licked her ear. Opal gently lifted her off. “That is an idea.” She said slowly. “But whether it is a good one or not is beyond me.”

“If only we had Gino.” Caro grumbled. “Why did he have to leave us for something so foolish?” “Gino had troubles few knew about.” Opal cried. “I do not justify his works, but only ask for understanding. You can only see a portion of what is happening.”

They were silent for a while. “You’re right.” Caro said softly. “I’m sorry, Opal. That was out of turn.” “I am as well.” Opal sighed. “Sorry that this had to happen at all. Sorry that we don’t have a chance without his advice.”

“We might have lost one person, but we still have some left.” Davis said stubbornly. “I came to help take Nya from the throne. And I intend to finish that purpose as far as I can help it.” Caro laughed, took Opal’s hands, and helped her up. “That’s good for me. I think we can try that plan Davis came up with.”

Opal sighed. “I don’t know. The capitol is such a chaotic mess. I can only see tiny snatches of what’s going on, from tiny things that Gino sends me, but even that is becoming less and less frequent. He’s scared. That scares me.” Caro sighed with her. Both Opal and Caro knew what Nya was like. “What scares you, that Gino is scared?” He asked.

Opal laughed. “Gino is always scared.” She said softly. “Even when we were small children. My memories are so vague from that time, but I remember one thing. Grown-up Gino coming to me and asking me what I see. I don’t see anything. He says he is worried about his parents. Then I tell him. And he starts to cry.” Opal began to cry herself and sat back down. “I’m scared that he’s alone. Gino is strong. But not that strong.”

Promise slunk over and laid his head on her knees, as if to say, “I miss him too.” Opal rubbed his head. “Don’t worry about Gino, Opal. Someone is watching him, just like He’s watching us.” Caro said, looking out towards the rest of the camp. “But what do we tell the others?”

“To be perfectly honest, Prince Caro, most of them had no idea of Gino’s real job here. In fact, a few of them wondered why he was here at all. We don’t need a mapmaker, we have some professional scouts now, and Gino couldn’t fight or lead.” Davis explained. Caro nodded.

“Why bring a shepherd? Why not a soldier? I don’t know why The Creator chose, or why he chose us. But there has to be a reason. We’ll continue on. I think you’re right, Davis. It’s getting too dangerous for the girls. We should send them on. Well, if Rora is willing.”

Rora was willing, and the plans were made. They needed a good time to enter the city, and it hadn’t come yer. But they were impatient to begin. The faster they got there, the faster they took out Nya. Davis, Caro, and Opal had another reason: the faster they stopped Nya, the sooner they found Gino.

Opal seemed reluctant. Though she never said anything, something was bothering her. She shook her head, as if to clear it, but the doubt remained. Caro noticed. “Are you frightened?” He asked one day, almost right before their departure.

Opal’s eyes turned blank. “No.” She said softly. “I’m not frightened. I’m just…worried. Those of my order were powerful, and I am young. I have no training, and no sight. How, if I were to face Nya, and she resisted, would I fare?”

“But what about the words of promise?” Caro asked. Opal tilted her head. “There is that, yes. If I can speak in her presence, I will say that. But it will be difficult. And heartbreaking.” She covered her face with her hands. Caro had been thinking of her statement. “Your order? What does that mean?”

Opal laughed, in spite of herself. “Did no one tell you of the schools of the prophets? My order is the Iya. My mother, in fact, was of the priestly line. Her father was furious when she married mine, a peasant. She named me Iya, after the order I was born into. My father called me Opal.”

“Nya is also an Iya. Strangely enough, her name was once Iya as well, but she changed it, as you know. The other Iya are gone. I can’t help but wonder if Nya had something to do with that, and that my father changed my name to protect me. Dear Father! I miss him. But I worry. Nya’s power is stronger than mine. Much stronger, like a child compared to a giant!”

“A child slew the giant, when the Creator was with him.” Caro mused. “I don’t think you should worry about that. He is with you. He has left her.” Opal sighed. “But did that weaken her, or make her stronger?” She worried.

The next day, the two girls set out. “It’s better this way.” Caro assured Opal. She looked at him in that strange way that made him feel like she could see right into him. She smiled sadly. “Until we meet again?” She said timidly, holding out her hand. “We’ll be there soon.” Caro said again. Opal shook her head, and turned to Rora. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Chosen Ones: Time runs down

Nya turned and glared at her servant. “What do you mean, by coming to me this way? Where is the prince? And what has happened to your hand?”

Dawes bowed and cast a wrathful glance over his shoulder. “My Grace, the Prince is running himself ragged, trying to gather support for his lost cause. My guess is that he plans to try and take over the government. But he would be hard-pressed. The people do not listen to madmen.” “They listen to you.” The false queen said archly. “And there is little difference.”

“We were able to capture one of his band.” Dawes said quickly. “Gino. The shepherd.” Nya stiffened and turned to face him. “Gino? He is here?” “Yes, my lady. I have brought him.” Nya grabbed his bandaged hand and tore off the cloth. Then she laughed. Embarrassed, Dawes quickly replaced it; as quickly, that is, as one can with one hand.

“So he has gone that way, then.” She said, more to herself than to anyone else. “That is useful. A weak boy like Gino shepherd’s-son is easily managed. Bring him here, Dawes. I wish to speak to him. Immediately.” Dawes bowed and walked off. Nya laughed to herself. “Our shepherd friend has done us a favor by his foolishness. Quite a favor, indeed.”

So Gino was brought out; tired, sad, but determined. “What do you have to say for yourself, then, Gino?” Nya asked sharply. “What have you been doing?” Gino said nothing, but glanced at his feet and examined closely the wood trim on the floor. “I asked you a question, boy. What have you been doing?” Nya said more loudly, stepping forward.

Gino looked at her. “Begging your pardon, ma’am, but I’m not a boy anymore. That was long ago.” His eyes alNya and Gino fademost made Nya despair of her purpose: they were so sad, yet so calm. But Nya would not be turned easily.

“Only a day in the reckoning of the ancients.” Nya said lightly. “But in truth, you have something there. Twenty-seven is quite ancient.” She mocked. Gino again was silent. His silence irritated her. Gino had always irritated her. Once it was because he was so frightened, and she despised him(though what child wouldn’t be, after being thrown into prison alone and unprotected?). Now she wished he was frightened. It would make things easier.

Nya glanced at him again. He refused to look at her. Even now, they were defying her! The Chosen would never give. Chosen… “What happened to Dawes’ hand?” She asked, pretending to study the roofing tiles. “I shot him, God forgive me.” Gino muttered, already guessing her plan. His pride was gone, but his wits stayed about him.

“But you know the writ of Chosen. Revenge is for the Creator alone. So you have broken from that, as I have.” Gino said nothing. “And are no longer Chosen.” Again, nothing. Apparently, Gino had been thinking about this the whole time. She wasn’t making any progress here.

“Why are you so stubborn with this?” She asked, almost exasperated at his silence. “There is nothing for you here.”

“Yes, nothing!” Gino said loudly, surprising her. His eyes were like black coals, burning with inner fire. “Nothing, you say, but your service. I may be in chains, dear Nya, but I have my heart. My mind is made up. There is nothing for me here, nor anywhere else, because of my actions. But that does not mean I have given up the fight. There is no place for me in this kingdom, but there is for others, and I’m striving towards that goal.”

Nya stepped back as if she had been stunned. So did Gino. The fire died, and he hung his head, ashamed. A slow smile crept over the wicked ruler’s face. “He does have power in him.” She mused. “And a bad temper. Perfect.”

“I’m sorry.” Came a soft voice. “That was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”

Nya laughed. “Forgive you? Why would I do that, rebel?” “I don’t know.” Gino said sadly. “No one will, I’m afraid. But I will not help you, Nya. You might as well not try.”

Nya stalked out of the room and went after Dawes. “Where is everyone? Dawes! Where is he?” She yelled at a lady maid. The girl shook her head and began to arrange flowers on the table. Nya dashed the flowers off the table. “Tell me!”

The maid bowed. “Dawes is with the soldiers. What would I know about soldiers?”

Eventually, Nya found the missing Dawes. “I want you to tell me what he said to you, and I mean exactly.” She hissed, banging her fist on the table. Dawes looked surprised. “He simply said that it was his duty.” He said lightly.

Nya stared at him. Her eyes twitched. “Do you mean that they are going to use their ‘Chosen’ religion to gather followers? He actually told you that, and you let them? Weren’t you listening, or are your ears made out of rocks?”  She shook her head. “Never mind. You know nothing of this.”

Dawes stood up. “What do you want me to do?” Nya tapped her trident against the wall. “We can’t let the clergy join this rebellion.” She said, turning severely towards the temple. “We need to make sure that those who are still true to their fictional creator don’t get involved. And we need to make sure the people stay out of it too.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shortly after the girls left, Andrew ran over. “Read this!” he said quickly, handing Davis a sheet of paper. It was a notice. “From this day forward, the Queen has established a festival in the capitol, in the temple, where all will…pledge allegiance?” He looked up in disbelief. “What is the Queen doing?”

“No one will go for that.” Rocket laughed, but Andrew shook his head. “They’ll have to. Read on.” Caro took the paper. “All who refuse are traitors, basically, and would be accused of helping us. They would be wiped out.” “The queen is making sure she doesn’t have anything to worry about.” Davis growled.

Caro shook his head. “Think about it! Thousands of men, traveling to the capitol!” “I think as soon as the get there, there will be forced conscriptions.” Davis sighed. “The army would grow exponentially.”

Cory and the twins looked at one another, frightened. “If we go, they will arrest us for being traitors.” One twin worried. “But if we don’t go, they will destroy our families.” The other added, folding his arms. Caro shook his head. “We’re going. Nya has provided us with the perfect cover! We don’t have to worry about entering the city, because there will be so many people there that we can slip in. It will be perfect.”

The men hesitated. Rocket stepped forward. “I have neither family nor friends to worry about. Let’s go to the capitol!”

Chosen Ones: Caro’s Plan

The young men couldn’t believe their good luck. Now they would be able to enter the city without being noticed. But Davis, Simon, and Tully’s military background made them suspicious of the sudden order. “Nya doesn’t just make a random census.” Davis warned. “This is because of Gino, make no mistake.”discussion

“Gino?” Simon laughed. “How would he be so important?”

“Hold your tongue.” Davis growled. “You don’t understand.”

He was right, though. Most of those who followed Caro were young men who wanted in on the action. They wanted a military strike. Very few of them had guessed the true significance of the Chosen, and some had mistakenly thought Opal to be Caro’s sister. Caro had tried to explain, but it seemed to be beyond them. However, Caro had no complaint, for everyone there was fiercely loyal, brave, and valiant.

Rocket the gunfighter soon discovered one of Nya’s hidden motives. “The temple has been sacked.” He reported after a scouting mission with Andrew.

“Say that again?” Tully asked.

“The priests are all gone. Completely shipped out. Most people said they were sent to the core. Nya must be tired of them.”

“Why wouldn’t she be?” Caro muttered. “She detests anything that reminds her of being Chosen; she wouldn’t let the priests and priestesses join the True King.”

“Our Creator is our King.” Andrew said quietly. “And He delegates power to those whom He chooses. But this is a bad turn. How will the priests offer intercession on behalf of our people from the core? Will the Creator forsake us, when we are so close? He can’t! Will the nation have to keep suffering for its leader’s wickedness?”

“I’m afraid so.” Davis agreed. “We’re in a war now. The Chosen are gone. Opal, or Iya, or whatever you called her, has gone ahead. Maybe she’s gotten there already. We need to make a distraction and make sure she makes it to the palace and to Nya. We cannot rely on Gino. We must act quickly.”

“It’s not like the people themselves are innocent.” Rocket interjected. “If this “Creator” really cares, I’m sure he won’t be happy with me, or any people right about now.”

Andrew shook his head in frustration. “You’re talking about things you don’t understand.” He began. “None of us are good enough to be right with our God. But that is why the priests muse intercede. If they cannot…will He understand? I think so. There is a prophecy…”

“We’re getting off the point.” Davis interjected.

Caro agreed. “Andrew, tomorrow meet Rora in the place we agreed on before. I want to make sure she and Opal are safe. The rest of us will enter the city by groups and pairs. Some will even pretend to do the silly census. But that’s going to be a ploy to get us unnoticed and past the gates. Once inside, we should head for the sea. I found something a few months ago that no one knows about. A way to the castle.”

“”What?” They asked in surprise. “How do you know this?”

“Because I sailed there, before I came here. We’re going to use boats to get to the shore on the other side of the cemetery. No one will be there. Nya’s people fear ghosts.”

“Ghosts?”

“It is a cemetery. And Nya’s people have plenty of reason to fear the dead.” Caro explained.

“But are there really ghosts?” Rocket wanted to know.

“No, I don’t think so. And if there are, we have no trouble with them. Most of them are my family, anyway. Let’s hurry.”

“I have a question.” Andrew ventured.

“Is it about ghosts?” Caro asked, half-smiling.

“No…it’s how I’m supposed to meet up with the others if I’m going to go to the town square and meet Rora.” Andrew explained.

“You’re not.” Caro tried to explain. “You’re going, the rest of us are getting things ready. We’ll come back to one of the inns in the afternoon, trade information, and then head out together. Try to get back around lunch time. We’re acting at one o’clock this afternoon. If Nya is to be stopped, it has to be before her army masses for the attack planned against Lithia, if I remember right.”

“Who is going against the queen?” Rocket asked.

“Opal is. Our job is distraction.” Davis sighed, as there was a collective groan.

“A blind girl?” Tully asked in disbelief. “Next you’ll be telling me that the dog is going to take down Dawes.”Promise sniffing the air Caro turned and looked at Promise. Since Gino had been taken, the dog had been almost savage. Davis had tied him up, but the dog was obviously agitated. Some of the men had suggested leaving him behind, but Caro couldn’t bring himself to do it. Gino had loved the dog too much.

“He might.” Rocket said sarcastically. He had no idea what Caro was planning, but he would do anything for his captain, and was irritated at their hesitancy.  “Now shut your mouth and follow orders!”

Chosen Ones: A Daring Rescue

Andrew knew his orders: to find Rora and make sure she and Opal were safe. He was a little irritated that Caro wouldn’t let him go with them in their scouting mission, but he knew his job was important. The others were all busy on finding boats and planning the route for them. That would be much more exciting than trading pleasantries with two girls.

That morning, some of the non-military followers had joined the army, though they never planned on staying there. Caro and Davis had seen Dawes wandering about. His hand was still bandaged, and Caro secretly hoped that it hurt him badly. Dawes had caused a lot of trouble for his friends. Maybe some pain would bring him to his senses.

But Andrew was getting worried. Rora wasn’t at the meeting place. She was supposed to be at the back of the market, by the carpet seller. But she wasn’t there. Instead she was at the other side of the street, towards the back. “What is she doing there?” He wondered. “It’s too shaded. I can’t see anything.” He tried to wave to her, or get her to come over, but she shook her head. So he went over to her. “Is something wrong?” He asked.

“Run.” She said between her teeth. “Get out of here.”

“What?” Andrew asked.

“Go!” She said, louder.

Andrew turned on his heel and tried to see what she wanted. Soldiers were coming, and many of them. “Now I see what you were worried about.” He muttered. “Don’t worry, Rora. I’ll help you.”

“Where is Andrew?” Davis asked three hours later. “He was supposed to be here hours ago.”

“Maybe he fell into the ocean.” Tully said cheerfully. “But I doubt it.”

“He might have been captured.” Simon suggested.

“Should we look for him?” Caro asked.

“I think we need to go on with the plan.” Davis told them. “It’s getting late.”

“I guess we have no choice.” Caro sighed. “If we wait too long, Nya will hit us before we’re ready. We’re going to find Opal and get to Nya’s castle.”

“What if Opal was captured?” Rocket asked. “What then?”

“We could storm the dungeon.” Tully said. “But it’s not going to be easy. It would be easier if we could bluff her, though.”

“Now that’s the most sensible thing you’ve said all month.” Rocket exclaimed. “How will we bluff her?”

“Make her think we’re really weak.” Simon told him. “Then we strike.”

“Eclectic.” Tully agreed.

“That actually is a good idea.” Davis told Caro. “We can keep our original plan, just with some tweaks. We still hide our men. But then we use them in reserve. You, Prince Caro, will be the sole distraction. She will think you’re here for revenge. But it’s a distraction. If she has Opal, convince her to bring her out. Nya’s triumph will be her downfall.”

“I like it!” Caro cried. “Let’s do this.”

“Then let’s get going.” Simon told him. “Forward!”

The two boats sailed in through the cemetery that afternoon. They were blessed with a heavy fog that rolled in over the sea and filled the place with an impenetrable cloud. Rocket, though he would never admit it, was scared out of his skin. Tully asked him a question and he almost bailed over the side. The gunfighter was terrified of ghosts.

As soon as the boats came to the palace, the men split up. In twos and threes they scattered throughout the place, stealing servant clothes and using army uniforms to disguise themselves. Caro took his sword, took a deep breath, and walked in.

Simon and Tully, inseparable, wandered over to the dungeons. “This place is awful.” Simon muttered. “Why did we have to get this job?”

“I’ll tell you why.” Tully told him. “We have to fi…”

“Hey!” They stopped. Someone was calling to them.

“Who is it?” Simon asked.

A hand was thrust through one of the cell windows. The guard shouted and charged at them, but Tully drew his sword and charged him. Simon found the keys and unlocked the door. Andrew stumbled out. “Thank you.” He gasped. “It’s awful in there.”

“How did you end up in jail?” Simon asked.

“Never mind that!” Andrew cried, almost hysterically. “You have to find…you have to find…get Caro! Get Caro and get him out of here! It’s a trap, d’ye hear? It’s a trap! We have to get out of here!”

Chosen Ones: Climax

Caro strode forward, letting adrenaline take over. Things began spinning around him. Nya was in the throne room, sitting on his Father’s throne. Caro grew angry. Who was this person? Why did she think that she would be free from her conscience? She had Gino now. Did she have Opal? If she did, then the plan might succeed. Caro could use her pride against her. But what if she didn’t? What if someone else did, or if Opal was simply in hiding? Caro had to take the chance.

A few guards noticed him and rushed forward. Caro pushed them aside and held his pace. Nya’s eyes glittered. She was winning! Caro had come for his friends. Now she had him! What could his puny force do now? In her desperate grab for power, she had forgotten the Chosen. At this time one who had been Chosen, Andrew, was racing down the halls, followed by the twins, Simon and Tully. She had also forgotten the quiet strength within Opal and Gino. She trusted to her army, but Caro was trusting in something deeper.

Caro couldn’t be stopped. Guards shot at him with arrows, but the bolts missed their marks. A wave of fear swept over the crowd. What magic did this boy have? Did it match the magic of their queen? Would there be a battle?

Nya alone remained calm. “Well, who is this?” She asked. “It’s my little runaway prince.”

“Your mocking does not bother me.” Caro called. “What do you want, usurper?”

“You have come.” Nya told him. “Where are your rebels? Are they hiding in the rafters?”

“I’m here for Gino.” Caro said boldly. “Release him.”

“I don’t think so.” Nya told him. “If you want your friend back, you must first face me.”

“I will not fight you.” Caro told her. “It will not do anything.”

“Not fight me?” Nya seemed confused, but only for a minute. “Now, why is that?”

“I do not feel that it is necessary.” Caro replied. “At least, not now.”

“I know why.” Nya snapped. “You’re trying to keep your little prophetess safe. Well, it is pointless. I’ve taken care of her.”

“Where is she?” Caro asked.

“In good time.” Nya smiled. “In good time.”

“You aren’t going to tell me.” Caro realized. “You’re playing for time.”

“I am in charge of this meeting.” Nya snapped, losing her temper. “Why would I play?”

“Why does a cat play with a mouse?” Rocket muttered from his hiding place behind the throne. Oddly enough, Nya didn’t hear him.

“Because you’re afraid of me.” Caro guessed. “You’re afraid of what I have and what you once had. You don’t want to lose your kingdom that you have fought so hard to obtain. But you can never keep it, Nya. The Creator is too powerful for you to defy. Your reign is over.”

“You will not fight me because you say that I am afraid.” Nya hissed. “But you are the one who should be afraid.”

“But I am not.” Caro stubbornly insisted.

“We shall see.” Nya’s mind was reeling. She had not expected Caro to be so confident. Then she had a thought. Caro was a son of a king, but he was still a child. He had been stirred to anger and near-madness by the death of his sister. Perhaps Nya could replicate that reaction. But how?

Opal.
Yes! The blind girl was so helpless, and so trusting. She was the perfect bait for the prince! Nya nodded to Dawes. Dawes gave an order to his men. Davis narrowed his eyes. What were they doing? Were they going to get Gino? Or were they trying to set up a trap for Caro? And what about Opal? The soldier wasn’t sure. He glanced at Rocket. Rocket shrugged. He didn’t know what was going on. All he knew was that if anything went wrong, he would be ready with his pistol.

“I am waiting, Nya.” Caro reminded them of the task at hand. “Release my friends now.”

“As you wish.” Nya smiled icily at him. Suddenly Caro realized that Opal had been there the whole time. She sat at the edge of the platform, nodding sleepily. Caro suddenly realized that the sleep-paralysis had struck her again. She wouldn’t be able to play her part in the drama. Caro suddenly realized that he had walked right into a trap. Nya’s command had been to her men, and now they were surrounding the room. Caro, as well as his men, were trapped inside of the throne room, and if he didn’t think of something quickly, Rocket and Davis would react and die. Opal might die as well.

Caro drew his sword once more, trying to buy a little time. “Let Opal go, Nya!” He cried, but Nya only laughed. Caro went very white. Nya had guessed his plans! But as Caro stood motionless, someone else moved. A large black, silver, and white dog burst through the doors, darting through the legs of the guards and standing, snarling, at the foot of the platform. With a wolf-like howl, he sprang at Nya.

Nya’s concentration was broken. She stared at the dog who was flying at him and lifted her arm to shield her face. Promise was growling like an angry bear. His eyes were red and wild. Caro had never seen him act so ferociously. But Nya was only distracted for a moment. She swung her trident and hit the dog on the side, knocking him to the other side of the throne room. Against his better judgment, Davis bent down to see if he could help the dog. Promise’s brown eyes gazed up at him pitifully.

But in all the confusion, Nya had forgotten about Opal. She stood up like someone in a trance. Then she turned sightless eyes to Nya. “I’m sorry.” She said softly, then raised her voice. “Hear the Word of the Creator God, who chose you before you were born. “I have forsaken you” says the LORD, “and you shall be cut off from the earth. No longer shall you live in the iniquity of your evil ways, and no longer shall you oppress the people whom I have called my own. I will visit the blood of the slain on your head, and you shall bear the punishment you have earned.””

As Nya heard Opal’s words, her face turned paler than pale. She took a step back, cried out, and fell to the ground. The trident fell from her hands. She faded away in their sight and slowly disappeared. Caro dropped his sword in grave sorrow. He hated Nya, but all the same, he was overcome by the thought of someone so evil receiving her due. As for the grim message-bearer, Opal sank to her knees and was silent. Caro thought he heard Gino say sometime, somewhere “So end all who disobey our God’s laws and remain unrepentant.”