Kate sat up, tucked her blonde hair behind her ears, and let out a troubled sigh. After a long night full of dark dreams, she was disappointed to see the darkness still looming outside her window. She placed her feet on the cool stone floor and tiptoed across the room. She opened the door and stuck her head into the hallway, listening for the steady breathing of her mother in the next room.
Kate quietly slipped into the hallway and made her way to the kitchen. She poured a glass of the honey-water her mother used when she had trouble sleeping, and took a large gulp. It was sweet and heavy, the way dreams should be.
She took the glass and walked to the window seat in the dining room. She sat down and stared at the twin moons that lit the night sky, her eyelids beginning to droop as the honey-water soothed her back into the world of dreams.
Kate glanced up at the twin moons and wondered how she got outside. She walked beside a low stone wall, her pale fingers lightly grazing the rough stones. Beneath her bare feet she could feel that the ground was dry and still warm from the heat of the day. She had walked only a short way, clad in a thin white nightgown, but the heat had already caused her to perspire, and the gown was beginning to cling to her skin.
Why is it so hot? she wondered. Spring nights should still be cool.
She passed the wall and turned onto a cracked walkway with weeds growing through it. She strolled past the tall oak tree in the front yard, remembering how her father had pushed her in the now broken swing that hung on the lowest branch. She could almost see him standing there in his dirty white work shirt, his hair tangled with sweat and clinging to his tanned forehead. He was laughing, always laughing, as he enjoyed the evening breeze with his little girl. Mother would bring lemonade, and they would sit on the front porch holding one another tightly while little Kate picked flowers in the meadow, or ran through the grass playing hide and seek with her little brown and white spotted dog, Woogie.
Kate pushed the memory aside and climbed the steps of the wooden porch, no longer white and clean and ringing with laughter. Instead, the boards were weathered and grimy, and creaked with each step. She ran her hand down the faded red front door causing flakes of paint to fall at her feet. She reached down and grasped the familiar handle and pushed, the door opening with little effort. Despite the heat she shivered, the sudden premonition of someone expecting her sending chills down her spine.
She stepped into the entrance hall where mama had always welcomed their guests, and daddy had always placed the fresh flowers his little girl had picked. To her right was the parlor. It had once been Kate’s favorite room in the house, until that morning, when she found him there.
She was six years old. She bounded down the stairs on an early Saturday morning. Mama sat at her vanity table upstairs, combing her long dark hair and absently humming to herself. Daddy would have left for the fields an hour before. She headed for the kitchen to make some oatmeal. It would be a full day, like most summer days, with lots of dolls and playing catch with Woogie. Maybe if she were lucky, daddy would come home early, and they would go swimming in the creek down by the forest.
She carried her bowl to the table, and sat down facing the parlor room. A lit lamp in the corner caught her attention, since the light was always off unless daddy was using it. Then, she saw a tuft of golden hair sticking up from the top of daddy's favorite chair. Her heart leapt with excitement.
“Daddy!” she yelled. “You stayed home today! We’re going to have so much fun!”
She forgot her oatmeal and ran to his chair, kneeling by his side. He was lying back against the cushion, a roll of parchment curled on his lap. His chestnut eyes looked ahead, unblinking, and his body had an unnerving stillness to it. She touched her tiny finger to his arm. He didn’t move.
“Daddy?” she whispered.
She stood and backed away from the chair, eyes wide. Kate could hear her mother coming down the stairs, the footsteps so loud and pounding Kate had to cover her ears to stop the noise.
“What’s wrong, baby?” her mother asked gently.
Tears began rolling down her cheeks in streams she could not control. She turned to see her mother’s kind eyes staring down at her. She could say nothing. Nothing seemed right at the moment. She watched her mother’s eyes move from her tears to the chair. Her mother’s face seemed to melt into a mask of despair as she ran into the room and fell at her husband’s feet.
“No, Tom, no. Please.”
They lived in the house where daddy died only until the funeral was over, and then they packed all of their belongings and moved to the caretaker’s cottage on the edge of the property. The cottage wasn’t as big as their house, but it was comfortable enough for the two of them. They never went into the old home again and Kate always walked the long way around the property to avoid seeing it. The only thing they left behind was daddy’s favorite chair.
The parlor door was closed, but the faded green paint appeared menacing as it silently stood in the moonlight shining through the foyer’s windows. She had not gone into that room after the morning of daddy’s funeral. Tonight though, she felt as if there was pressing business that led her to that very dark door she wished to avoid.
By the door was a small table with an oil lamp and matchbook on it. She picked them up with shaking hands and struck a match, but she fumbled and it fell to the ground. She took a deep breath to steel her nerves and struck another match, lighting the wick. She stared at the flame for only a moment, then reached for the handle to the parlor door, which felt cool beneath her fingers.
Quietly she turned the knob and slid the door open to peer inside. The lamplight jumped through the darkness, casting dancing shadows throughout the room as she stepped inside. She stepped towards her father’s chair and sat the lamp on the table beside it. Though there was no one inside the room, traces of a recent visitor were evident. The smell of aftershave tinted the air, and a small glass containing a bit of bourbon sat placidly on the small wooden end table beside the comfortable blue armchair.
She sat in his chair, inhaling the sweet smell of lemon candies that still clung to the fabric. A thick leather-bound book lay open at the foot of the armchair. The pages were slightly yellowed and smudged with dirty fingerprints, but the gilded edges still glowed in the faint light of the lamp. She delicately lifted the book to her lap, glancing at a picture of a cloaked figure, before closing the book to look at the front. She slid her hand along the cover that displayed a tarnished gold sun. She opened the book to a page at random, her eyes bulging as she stared at something that could not be there. On the page was a picture of a young woman with thick blonde hair tied messily upon her head, sitting in a blue armchair, holding a large leather book with a gold sun upon the front. A faded caption under the picture read, “Kate’s first glimpse of her destiny as one of the Chosen.”
She turned the page in disbelief. She was there again, yet she appeared different in this photo, older. She wore a light green tunic with black pants. A black cloak trimmed in gold rested on her shoulders. Her thick black boots were covered in red mud. The Kate in the picture wore her hair in a long ponytail, and two ringlets framed her face, which had a small cut on her left cheek, but she appeared as happy and fair as ever. A tall, broad-shouldered man had his arm around her, and even while looking at the picture she found herself blushing. He was ruggedly handsome, with thick golden hair the color of wheat shining in the sun. His storm-grey eyes looked kind, and he smiled as if he’d never seen a worry in his life. The caption read, “Kate and James.”
She closed the book and placed it on the ground in front of her. Someone must have left this for her. Then again, how could anyone have known she would be here tonight, reading this book? Even she was not quite sure how she had come to be here. In fact, the more Kate considered this, the more confusing it became. She remembered this house from her youth, but how had she gotten here tonight?
She turned, but saw no one.
Someone, something touched her, shook her, but she couldn’t see it.
She woke to see her mother standing above her, eyebrows furrowed in concern.
Kate groaned. Only a dream, yet so clear, so vivid it still rested in her mind. She looked up at her mother and forced a smile, then stretched her arms above her head.
“Are you all right? You look shaken?
“I’m fine mother. I was just dreaming when you woke me.”
“Well,” she said, her grim expression fading slightly as she took on her most motherly tone, “put away those silly dreams, girl. We have a lot to do today.”
Her mother stood to walk away. Kate looked at her closely. She was still as lovely as she had been when Kate was a child, but her eyes were not as bright as they once were, and years of worry had marked her face with wrinkles. She smiled at Kate.
“Mama, today is Meeting.”
Her mother nodded. “A lot of kids waste their whole day at the Hall, but instead we’ve got all day to get the garden ready.”
“I’m old enough to go now,” Kate said.
“Yes, you are,” her mother said, almost wincing at the words. “But do you want to? You’ve always thought it was silly.”
Kate shrugged. “I’ve never seen the need for it. It might be neat to go see what it’s about though. What do you think?”
Her mother nodded. “I think it’s foolish.”
“Meeting? Or being Chosen?”
Elisabeth sighed. “The Chosen are important. Some of them do great things. But that doesn’t mean you have to be one of them.”
“I’ve never thought about what it would be like to be Chosen. I never imagined I would be special enough to do it.”
“Honey, you don’t need to be Chosen to be special. I’ve known plenty of Chosen who do nothing with their Gifts, and I’ve seen plenty of average folks do a lot without them.”
“Would you be mad if I went?” Kate asked.
Elisabeth pressed her lips into a thin line. “I won’t be mad. Even though I want to, I can’t make this decision for you.”
“I want to go,” Kate said, thinking back to the pictures in her dreams.
Kate’s mother nodded, but there was sadness in her eyes. “Then go.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“Cathilia Orenn Watzen, you could never disappoint me. But if you’re going to go, you’d better get up and get dressed soon.”
Kate sat up and said, “What should I wear?”
“Your turquoise tunic.”
“But that’s just for special occasions.”
“Exactly. You will be the most beautiful girl at Meeting.”
“No way,” Kate said. “I wish I looked more like you.”
Her mother cupped her cheek with her hand. “You do look like me, but you have your father’s eyes.”
“I dreamed about daddy,” Kate said softly. “I was in the old house again and it was just like it was ten years ago. I remembered finding him.”
“Oh, honey,” she said, pulling her daughter close. “Sometimes it hurts to remember what we’ve lost. But your memories are keeping your father alive. No matter how much it may hurt to think about losing him, it still makes me smile when I remember having him by my side.”
“I know, mama, but it’s just so hard to live without him. It’s not fair.”
“I know, baby. It isn’t fair.”
“I didn’t get a chance to know him.”
Elisabeth lifted Kate’s face to meet her eyes.
“Your father was one of the Chosen,” she said, smiling.
Kate pulled back, her eyes wide, and asked, “Really?”
“Really,” her mother replied. “He served as a young man, barely older than you are now. That is how we met.”
“You’ve never told me about you and daddy when you were young.”
“There are a lot of stories about your father you need to hear. I have just been working so hard to forget the hurt of losing him that I haven’t realized how you must feel not getting to know him.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me he was Chosen?”
“I’ve spent our lives trying to keep you safe,” Elisabeth said. “Sometimes I protect you from the good memories so they don’t remind you of the bad.”
There was a pause in which both mother and daughter seemed to understand each other, as if for the first time.
“So daddy was Chosen?”
“Your dad, too?” Kate asked.
“I guess it kinda runs in the family?”
“It does,” her mother said, smiling.
“Well,” Kate said, “who am I to break a family tradition?”
Her mother stood, smiled, and walked out of the room.
“I won’t stand a chance against the other kids who have been tutored,” she muttered to herself. “But at least I’ll know what it’s about. I’ll have tried.”
Kate stood and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. After her shower she put on the turquoise tunic with the silver embroidery her mother had laid out for her. She slipped on a pair of thin black pants underneath, followed by a pair of short black boots with silver buckles. She combed her hair and tied it back with a silver ribbon.
As she turned to catch a quick glance of her appearance in the mirror, she couldn’t help but remember the picture she had seen in her dream. It was very similar to the girl standing there now. She turned and walked towards the door. The smell of pancakes floated in from the kitchen, and told Kate today would be a good day. It was time to go to Meeting.
Kate emerged from the house into the warmth of a fresh spring day. Woogie sprawled in the grass, sunning his white belly, leisurely snapping at the butterflies floating by his wrinkled face.
“I can walk with you,” her mother offered.
“Will the others bring their parents?” Kate asked.
“No,” her mother said, “but I could find something to do in town while you’re at Meeting. Maybe I can visit Mrs. Purdow.”
Kate shook her head. “I’ll stop at Ben’s on the way. He’s been to Meeting before so he can show me the ropes.”
Her mother nodded. “I hope he gets Chosen today.”
“It’s his last chance,” Kate said.
Her mother nodded, then kissed her forehead and walked inside. When Kate reached the road, she turned towards the house, expecting to see her mother at the window, but Elisabeth wasn’t there. Kate turned away with a heavy sigh, worried that she was hurting her mother by going to Meeting, but ready to face whatever might happen. The wind blew gently, carrying the sweet smell of fresh flowers in bloom. Kate felt a newness in this spring she had never known in years past. Perhaps she saw how grand an opportunity this day was for the first time. After all, it wasn’t every day she went to town in her best tunic for a most important Meeting.
Kate walked down the dirt road and watched as tiny clouds of dirt puffed up with each step. She tried to remember to listen for vehicles on the road, but she soon lost interest and forgot about it, knowing that most of the vehicles that once traveled this road were broken down and too outdated to repair. Instead she lost herself with each step, letting her newfound excitement fill her full of new thoughts, fears, and possibilities about what the day might hold.
After just over an hour, Kate found herself standing by the gate of a large tan farmhouse. Sprawling pastures surrounded the house, home to a variety of animals: cows and bulls, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens, horses and their distant horned cousins, the hanrius. In the distance she saw several people milling about the Clonery, where row upon row of baby animals waited to be born. This farm supplied a third of the meat for the capital city of Filan, a city so large she had yet to see even half of it, despite the biannual trips she took with her mother to sell their wares.
Kate took a deep breath, turned the handle to the gate, and walked up the flagstone path to the Dorton’s house. Her best friend Ben lived here, and as she knocked she desperately hoped he would be the one to answer the door.
Ben’s mother, Karma, answered the door instead.
Karma pressed her lips together in a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Kate fumbled to hide the frayed hem of her tunic as Karma stared at her.
“Oh, hello Kate,” she said. “On your way to Meeting, I presume?”
“Yes, Mrs. Dorton. I was wondering if Ben might like to walk the rest of the way with me.”
Karma scowled, unable to hide her distaste for the idea. “I’m certain Ben is already gone. There were several girls he met last quarter in his Worlds’ Government class that were quite smitten with him, so I’m sure he decided to meet them in town.”
“Oh,” Kate said, a bit surprised.
“Yes,” Karma said. “And I’m sure you’ll notice he hasn’t visited you recently. He’s far too busy. He took two Language Studies classes last quarter in addition to his Worlds’ History class, and the tutor we hired has been teaching him fencing. He just doesn’t have time for frivolous social calls.” She smirked and said, “But of course you must know what I mean since you have surely been preparing for your first Meeting. Which tutor did your mother hire?”
Kate felt her cheeks flush. Karma batted her eyelashes at Kate innocently, though Kate understood perfectly well this was meant to be a jab at her meager finances.
“I don’t have a tutor.”
“What?” Karma asked, feigning ignorance. “That can’t be right. Without a tutor, you will be so far behind the other students you will have no hope of ever being Chosen. That is terribly sad.”
Kate bit her lip to avoid saying something she would regret. Just then a shirtless Ben came stumbling down the stairs. His chocolate-colored hair was disheveled, his jaw covered in stubble, and his eyes still heavy with sleep. Kate caught herself staring at the muscles she didn’t realize were there before. She turned her head, cheeks ablaze.
“Mom, what’s for breakfast?”
Karma’s eyes bulged. “Benning dear, I thought you were already gone to Meeting.”
“No way. I just woke up.”
Karma glared at Kate for a moment before resuming her fake smile. “Well, that is good news. Kate is here to walk with you to Meeting.”
Ben swooped her up in one quick motion and pulled her close for a hug. Giggling, Kate pushed against his chest to free herself.
“It’s nice to see you too,” she said as he put her down.
“You’ve gotten even prettier over the winter,” he said as he stepped back to look at her. “And when did your legs get so long?”
“Ben,” his mother hissed.
Kate blushed and looked away. She had trouble looking into those emerald eyes.
Ben smiled. “Gimme a minute and I’ll be ready.”
“A minute?” his mother asked. “I was hoping you’d take some pride in your appearance today.”
“Do we really need to have this conversation again?”
“Fine,” Karma said, trying to sustain her sweet voice while giving her son a sharp glare. “Your red tunic is hanging in your closet.”
“The red one?” he asked miserably. “The red one is dreadful. If I wear that ugly thing, I’ll be laughed out of the Hall before I can get Chosen. Not that it really matters to me, but I know you and father are eager to get me out of the house.”
“Ugh,” his mother groaned, dropping the happy facade. “Wear what you want. Who cares? You obviously don’t. And what is so wrong with us wanting you to do well, like your brothers?”
“I’m not them,” Ben said, steel in his voice. “Besides, Kregg still hasn’t picked his Focus, so it’s not like he’s doing all that well either.”
Karma shook her head. “After all of the lessons and the tutoring we’ve put you through, the least you could do is pretend to care about being Chosen. If you don’t make it today, your father will not be happy.”
As she stomped from the room, Ben turned to Kate and said, “He’s never happy.”
“I’m sorry,” she said with a shrug.
“I’ll be right back,” he said and headed towards his room.
A few minutes later he came out wearing his favorite threadbare, green tunic, with his hair still a mess. He smiled and walked towards Kate, his cheeks flushed.
He bit his lip for a second before saying, “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too. You really shouldn’t stay away at those boring school retreats so long.”
Ben smiled. “Tell me about it. Those things are the worst.”
“Ready to go?” Kate asked.
“What’s the rush?” he asked. “Mom can make us breakfast and we can hang here for a while before we go.”
“I’m sure your mom will not want to make us breakfast. Besides, we have to be there in less than an hour.”
“Dad has the teleporter in the basement. It will send us to my mom’s condo in the city and we can walk over from there.”
Kate grimaced. “That thing makes me uncomfortable.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It is perfectly safe. My mom uses it all the time.”
“Can’t we just walk?”
“No way! At least let’s catch a ride. The line is about ten minutes’ walk from here.”
Kate fumbled with the coins in her pocket. “How much does it cost?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll go get some money from mom.”
Kate stood awkwardly by the door, wishing she and her mother had a tenth of the wealth the Dorton family took for granted instead of scraping by just to eat.
Ben stomped back in the room, his eyebrows furled. “She left her purse at the condo. So I guess we have to teleport now.”
“Fine,” she agreed reluctantly.
They went downstairs into his father’s study. Ben stepped inside the square of silver rods that stood floor to ceiling and motioned for Kate to step inside with him.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked.
He was inches from her, staring down at her with his confident grin. “Of course. Just don’t touch me while this scans.”
“Why would I touch you?” she asked with a laugh.
“I think I can resist.”
“Good,” he said as a green light cascaded down the silver bars. “Here we go.”
Before Kate could respond, there was a bright flash of light and she was in another room. Ben stepped past her and headed straight for the kitchen. She watched the lights turn on as he crossed the room, following him as he went.
“Curtains open,” he called over his shoulder as he opened each cabinet door and peered inside.
The curtains of the living room opened at his command and Kate walked from the teleporter to see the view. They were high over the city, much higher than she had ever been before, but she could see buildings nearby that were higher still. She could see flashing neon lights below, signs guiding people to various locations, and hundreds of people moving to and fro, appearing very tiny from her current viewpoint.
“Mom doesn’t have anything good,” Ben said, a protein bar hanging from his mouth and something yellow in his hand. “Want a bite?”
“What is it?” Kate asked.
“It’s a banana.”
“A what?” Kate asked with a giggle.
Ben shrugged. “I know. Funny name. They’re pretty good though. My mom has them shipped in a couple times a year with some of our farming supplies. They don’t last long, so if you want to try it, now’s the time.”
“No thanks,” Kate said.
“Your loss,” he said, peeling the yellow shell from the banana.
“Where is the Great Hall?” Kate asked as she turned back to the window. “I don’t see it anywhere.”
“It’s behind us,” he replied. “You’ll be able to see it when we get in the elevator.”
“Let’s go then,” Kate said.
“What’s the rush?”
“I just want to get there.”
“Trust me, there’s no point getting there early. We’ll just be standing outside with the others.”
“That’s fine with me,” Kate replied. “I just don’t feel comfortable here.”
“Is it the voice control?” Ben asked. “Freaks some people out. The building is programmed to recognize the residents.”
“No, it isn’t that.”
“This is your mom’s place,” Kate said.
“And she doesn’t like me. She wouldn’t want me here any longer than I have to be.”
“You’re crazy,” Ben said. “My mom likes you.”
Kate shook her head and walked towards the door. “I’m leaving. Are you coming with me?”
Ben nodded and grabbed some money from his mom’s bag on the counter as they left the condo. Ben led Kate down the hallway to the elevators and pushed the button. The elevator opened and they stepped inside.
“Walls transparent,” Ben said.
The color was instantly gone from the walls, leaving the city as the backdrop as they descended.
“There’s the Hall,” Ben said, pointing at the hill ahead of them.
Kate watched it as the elevator dropped. Perched above the city on top of the sloping landscape, the great dome caught the sunlight and shimmered like a jewel.
“Dad?” Ben asked.
Kate turned towards Ben and saw him staring up at the elevator that just passed them. She looked as well, but it was too far away to make out anything except two figures, a male and female.
“That wasn’t him,” Kate said, though she didn’t know for sure.
He pressed his lips into a straight line and nodded. The tension in the air was palpable, but short-lived. When the elevator opened, they exited and made their way through the lobby and out into the city.
Ben sighed a heavy sigh that seemed to let all of his troubles go. He grabbed Kate’s hand and pulled her around the building to the busy street lined with shops that led directly to the Hall. As they walked, they talked about all that had been happening in their lives the past few months. After his fall classes, his parents had hired a new tutor to prepare for Meeting. His recent studies had taken him to away for the winter to the Library of Bailah in the northern part of the continent, where he and his tutor studied twelve hours a day, meditated four hours, and slept the other eight. Kate thought this was fascinating, but Ben assured her she was wrong.
“I’d rather be out there doing things,” he said. “Sitting in a library with Master Finnian for two months is not my idea of a good time.”
“I could see how it could be boring sometimes, but it also sounds sort of fun.”
Ben laughed. “No, you’re just weird. Besides, the only reason I had to go to the library with Finnian was so my parents could have some time without me bothering them.”
“That can’t be true,” Kate said.
“Believe me, it is mutual. Every year when it gets closer to Meeting, they start being jerks and trying to push my buttons.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because I’m failing them,” he said with a shrug. “They were both Chosen at their first Meeting. Each of my brothers were Chosen their first time too. But this is the third year I’m old enough to be tested, and I’ll probably be passed up again.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Some people just aren’t made for that life. I guess I’m one of them.”
“If you don’t think you’ll be Chosen, why are you training? Why would you even bother going to Meeting?”
“The training might be boring, but it is still better than staying at the Clonery. If I don’t study, my dad will make me learn the farming business. And although it might be pointless for me to go to Meeting, at least I get to spend the day with you.”
“You could do that any time.”
“Why are you going to Meeting?” Ben asked. “You’ve never shown any interest in being Chosen.”
“I’ve never wanted it until today,” Kate said.
“Never trained for it either,” Ben replied. “You’re lucky your mom doesn’t make you go to class.”
“My dad was Chosen,” Kate said, changing the subject.
“Really? You never told me that.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Why didn’t your mom tell you?”
“I don’t know.”
“So now you’re going because your dad was Chosen?”
Kate shrugged. “Mom always said it was silly, so I thought so, too. Now I wonder if I’ve been wrong. It must’ve been important to him.”
“It is an important job. My parents both served their ten years after training before opting out to start a family. Sometimes I think my dad resents me because he left it behind.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Sure feels like it sometimes.”
They left the neon lights and moving walkways, moving into the old part of the city where people still bartered and traded and shared. Kate knew this place well, for it was here her mother traded the goods they sewed in the winter for the seeds to plant their food in the spring. They were nearing the hill when Kate noticed the smell of baking bread wafting through the air, mingling with the sweet aroma from the perfume shop, and the sweat and smoke from the blacksmith’s stall. Kate watched a small black and orange monkey juggling a dozen walnuts as she passed a fruit stall, and saw a tiny blue-haired girl painting portraits of customers, and heard the music of a large bearded man playing a harp.
“I hate this part of the city,” Ben said.
“It’s so old and dirty. And I don’t like the smell.”
“You live on a farm full of manure. Your nose probably doesn’t work right.”
Ben laughed. “Maybe.”
She turned to see an old woman standing in the doorway of her fabric shop, waving. The woman was slumped with age, wrinkles sagging her face. She wore a loose-fitting yellow dress that fell to her ankles, and Kate noted with pride it was one her mother had made.
“Hello, Mrs. Purdow,” Kate said. “Lovely to see you.”
“Good to see you,” Mrs. Purdow replied. “Who is your boyfriend?”
“Oh no he’s not—“
“I’m Ben,” he said, reaching for her hand. He turned it over and kissed it.
Mrs. Purdow cackled. “I like this one better.”
“Better than who?” Kate asked.
Mrs. Purdow ignored her and said, “You keep this one, Kate.”
“I’m not letting her get away, ma’am,” Ben said.
She smiled and said, “Go on then. Go get Chosen. I’ll be watching, dearie. Stop and say goodbye before you fly away.”
She turned and hobbled inside, leaving Kate to wonder at her strange words.
They turned back to the street, which soon turned into switchback stairs that zigzagged up the hill to the Great Hall. When they reached the top they saw a fountain surrounded by teenagers chattering nervously. Kate stood at the top of the stairs, taking in the view. The Hall loomed high above them several stories in the air, with massive arched windows reflecting the sunlight. Cherry blossom trees covered the hilltop, lending their sweet smell to the soft breeze. Kate and Ben moved to stand under one of the blooming trees to enjoy the lovely fragrance while they waited.
A lovely girl with dusky skin and black hair stood across the courtyard with a group of girls. She waved to Ben and he smiled, returning her wave.
“Who is that?” Kate asked.
“No one,” Ben replied.
“Seriously,” Kate said. “Who is she?”
“Just a girl from one of my classes.”
“How’d you know?”
After several minutes, the golden doors opened and a man stepped out onto the marble patio.
“Welcome all!” he exclaimed as the group of young men and women began to cheer.
Kate grabbed Ben’s arm as the throng pressed closer to the old man. He raised his hands to quiet the crowd and said, “Before we go in, I must ask all of you to consider very carefully the task before you. Being Chosen is a great honor, but one which some of you may not be ready to uphold. There is no shame in turning away now, but once you enter these doors there isn’t another chance to walk away until results are given.”
Silence overtook the crowd. Eyes darted back and forth to see if anyone would leave, but none moved. Kate could feel those around her become rigid as if they wished to signify they would not be the ones to walk away. She thought of her father and wondered if he had also felt such nervous excitement at his first Meeting, and with the thought came the certainty that she would not turn away from this moment, even if she did have reservations about being Chosen.
“Okay then,” the man said. “If you are ready, we will enter.”
The golden doors parted widely. Still holding tightly to Ben’s arm, Kate allowed him to lead the way. The Great Hall was reserved for special occasions, so Kate and most of the other children had never been to the Great Hall. From inside, it was far grander than she could have imagined. Intricate gold designs ornamented the high domed ceilings and paintings of the men and women who had been Chosen in years past lined the walls. Somewhere along these walls was a picture of her father.
Ben led them to take seats next to two boys he knew from horseback riding lessons a few years ago. While he greeted them, Kate remained quietly in awe of her surroundings. She tried to guess which picture might be her father, but there were so many she could hardly tell one from another. She leaned her head back and watched the designs on the ceiling swirl about in a beautiful dance.
“This your sister?” one of the boys asked, drawing Kate’s attention.
“No,” Ben said with a smile. “This is Kate.”
“Oh, you’re Kate?” the other boy asked. “We thought you were imaginary.”
“Shut up,” Ben said, his cheeks reddening.
“What are you talking about?” Kate asked.
“They’re just giving me a hard time,” Ben said.
“I’m Scott,” one of the boys said, reaching his hand to shake Kate’s.
“And I’m Wick,” the other said with a nod.
“Nice to meet you,” Kate replied.
“The pleasure is ours,” Scott said.
After several minutes of small talk while the people found their seats, the ceremony began. Five doors throughout the room opened, allowing people to file out and make their way to a row of tables in the front of the Hall. There were twenty-five adults in total, dressed in the brightest colors Kate had ever seen.
A small man in a white tunic cleared his throat. He was at the center table between a sour-looking bald man and a tiny woman wearing violet robes.
“That’s the Master Attendant, Arlo Turlington,” Ben whispered as the other teenagers cheered. “You don’t want to go in his room.”
“Why?” Kate asked.
“There hasn’t been a Chosen in his room for twelve years.”
“Good day friends!” the Master Attendant called, his voice echoing throughout the Hall. “Today we come to Meeting to choose who among you shall be honored to go forth, be trained, taught, and changed into the person which lies within.”
The room gave a great cheer. He smiled and looked around at the youthful jubilation. Kate caught his eyes resting upon her and she smiled in return. He tilted his head and furrowed his brow. His look made Kate feel very uncomfortable. He seemed to be looking into her.
We’ve been waiting for you.
Kate’s eyes bulged as his voice echoed inside her head as clearly as if she were sitting beside him. Had he really said something only she could hear? She looked at him intensely, but received no answer. He simply turned back to the crowd and smiled.
“As you all well know,” he began, “today we shall choose from among you who shall represent our grand planet of Reimer among the Chosen. As a Chosen, you will enter a training program for the next four years and be taught how to fully use your Gifts. All of your training up to now has been to benefit you for what may come, and even if you are not Chosen, your training will still help you in your future endeavors. Before we begin though, it is important you realize it is nothing you say or do which determines whether or not you are Chosen. Being Chosen is all about who you are, and who you will become.
“There are five rooms,” he said, pointing to two doors on each side of the room and then indicating one behind him. “When you hear your name called, go to the person calling you and follow them inside. Do all they ask of you and they will not lead you astray. Until then, please continue to sit, talk, and be patient.”
When the Master Attendant had finished speaking, all the people at the five tables stood and departed to their respective rooms. The waiting began. The Great Hall remained silent long after the tables had emptied, but eventually the voices of the youth began to rise to a low rumble, only pausing when a door opened to call a name.
Once a person came out of the room, they simply went back to their seats to continue the conversation just as before. Those around them focused intently on their faces, as if to deduce what had happened in the room. No one could give any specific details, which greatly disappointed those still waiting to go inside.
“Benning Dorton!” a voice called from the right side.
“Wish me luck,” Ben said, squeezing Kate’s shoulder as he stood up.
She hoped Ben would be Chosen today. Although he said he wanted to be Chosen so he could leave his parent’s house, Kate knew it was much more than that. After three attempts, he was starting to be concerned he may not be Chosen at all. Though most of the people in this room would never be Chosen, for Ben it was a matter of honor. If he wasn’t Chosen today, he would have to figure out what to do with his life instead.
Kate listened to the conversations around her while she waited for Ben to return. He had still not returned when the lunch cart began to circulate. Tender-faced ladies pushed the carts, offering drinks and sandwiches. Kate took a glass of apple juice and a cheese sandwich for Ben, and a glass of milk and a tomato sandwich for herself.
As she took her first bite she heard, “Cathilia Watzen.”
Kate looked up to see the woman with the violet robes who had gone into the room with the Master Attendant.
“Of course,” she muttered to herself, recalling Ben’s words about how there had been no one Chosen from his room in twelve years.
She stood and placed her sandwich on her seat. As she walked towards the front of the room, her heart pounded forcefully with every step. She passed the tables and stopped just short of the door where the woman waited.
“Come,” the woman said.
She led Kate down a short corridor of dark stone. Kate reached out her hand to touch the unrecognizable stone. As the tips of her fingers grazed against the stone, she felt a tingle shoot up her arm and all through her body. The woman stopped abruptly in front of her, causing Kate to stumble.
“You touched it,” said the woman, her eyes wide.
Kate instinctively dropped her head in shame.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry.”
“It’s quite all right,” the woman said with a look of approval. “It was just surprising. You see dear, this is Dividing Stone. It is a protective stone that guards our inner sanctuary from outsiders and will not allow someone to touch it unless it is comfortable with them. It has taken me eight years to be recognized by the stone. The Master Attendant has been here for fourteen years and it still refuses to be touched by him. It lets him use the passage, but just barely.”
“So most people can’t touch it?”
“Why did it let me?” Kate asked.
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “I have never heard of a student being able to touch it. Most of the time, the Dividing Stone gives off an aura of sorts, causing people to squirm away from it rather than touch it.”
“How did you know I touched it?”
“I felt the air change,” she said as she turned and began walking again.
Kate wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but she did not question her further. She continued walking down the corridor and through a rounded doorway with unusual writing above it. Inside the dimly lit room, large yellow candles stood on waist-high marble bases placed every few feet to line the circular room. The room had no actual windows, but majestic scenes had been painted on the walls, surrounded by painted windowsills.
Long red curtains draped from floor to ceiling, framing each painted view and giving the impression the viewer looked out into the world beyond. A soft breeze blew in the room, barely perceptible, smelling of salt and fish, which seemed to come from one of the painted windows. As Kate looked at the ocean view, she traced the length of the curtains with her eyes from floor to ceiling. The ceiling was also richly decorated with an amazing view of the stars, so real it reminded her of looking up at the sky from her backyard.
“You must now choose.”
The woman’s voice pulled her back to the room. The woman indicated three identical doors in front of them. Kate had been so distracted by the beauty in the room that she had failed to notice them. She looked at the woman and shrugged.
“Even in this choice you are determining whether or not you are to be Chosen,” the woman said. “Very few of those tested today will find their way through.”
Kate looked at the doors. She saw nothing to help her decide between them. She walked in front of the door closest to her and put her hand on the knob. She withdrew it immediately, as she felt a small stab of pain shoot through her arm. She moved to the next door, and then the third, but nothing happened at either of them.
“The first one,” Kate said.
“How do you know?”
“It hurt me.”
“If it hurt you, why would you choose it?”
“A long time ago my mother told me that sometimes you have to go through hurt to get to where you belong.”
The woman smiled at Kate, then led her through the door she had chosen. They stood in total darkness. Kate could not even see the woman standing just in front of her.
“Now,” the woman said, and it sounded as if her voice was radiating from the room itself, “make light.”
“Pardon?” Kate asked, perplexed.
“I need you to make a light. There are five doors throughout this room. Four are exits, but the fifth will take you to the next phase of your testing. On the proper door is a blue circle. The only way for you to know which door has the blue circle is for you to make a light and find it.”
“How do I do that?”
“Oh my,” the woman said. “By age twelve every student should know the theory of making light, even if they have trouble with practical application. Who is your tutor?”
Kate felt her face flush crimson. Her mother always said she wanted to hire a tutor, or at least enroll her in the basic knowledge courses, but there had never been enough money.
“I don’t have a tutor,” she whispered as she hung her head and closed her eyes.
As she did a light began to glow from her hands. Kate didn’t know it, but the woman certainly did.
“Please,” she said, “that’s quite enough!”
Kate opened her eyes and the light faded to a glow similar to an average candle’s flame. The woman removed her hands from her eyes and attempted to blink away spots.
“The blue circle,” Kate said as she pointed to the leftmost door.
“Indeed,” the woman said, smiling. “You’ve done well. But next time, let’s try to control the light a little better, please.”
The woman opened the door to a larger room, dull in comparison to the entrance, and not much brighter than the dark room. The pale beige walls had no decorations of any kind. In the center of the room stood a small round table with four men and two empty seats. One of the men was the Master Attendant. The woman sat down and indicated for Kate to do the same. She sat down and smiled nervously at the men around the table.
“Welcome Cathilia,” one of the men said.
“Please call me Kate,” she said. “I’m only Cathilia when I’m in trouble.”
The man smiled. “My name is Reuben and I will be conducting your interview today.”
His even voice eased her nervousness. He appeared to be a tall man, for even while sitting, he was a head higher than the other men. His curly black and gray hair sat messily piled on top of his head. His bright blue eyes shone out of his rounded tan cheeks. His face was tender, and reminded her very much of how she imagined her grandfather would look. He wore a golden tunic with a lion embroidered onto the front in silver.
“Do not be nervous,” he began. “Although being Chosen is a great honor, it is given to you only if your heart truly desires it. Now, let us begin.”
A pale orange light began to fill the room. Kate felt very light, as if she were floating. Her body seemed distant, out of her control, and slowly, her eyes began to close.
I must fight this, she thought. I must stay awake.
She slipped further into unconsciousness, and her body began to embrace the warmth of the orange light. It offered peace, calling her to safety and rest. Just as she began to settle into the light, she heard the sound of voices around her.
“Another failure,” she heard one of the men say.
“I thought she would make it,” the woman replied.
She refused to allow the man’s voice to be right. Her eyes jerked open and she regained feeling in her body. She stiffened her back against her chair and fixed her eyes on Reuben. The pale orange light began to fade, and the five leaders began to talk to one another in a language she did not recognize. After a moment, Reuben spoke.
“You have passed your first test,” Reuben said. “The test of Perception.”
“Does this mean I am Chosen?” Kate asked timidly.
Perhaps, the woman answered. Most of the young men and women who are Chosen are those who simply realize they must fight. Few actually break free.
Your mind is the battleground for all wars waged against the body, the Master Attendant said. If you can prevent your mind from being overpowered, you will always prevail.
Kate realized as she was listening to the Master Attendant he did not speak with his lips. In fact, neither had the woman. Somehow, their thoughts were being projected into the minds of the others, just as it had been in the hall when she heard the voice of the Master Attendant speaking to her.
“So should I go back out then?” Kate asked, confused.
Not quite yet, dear, thought Reuben. There is another test to administer. Are you ready to proceed?
“I think so,” she said.
“Listen carefully,” Reuben said. “Stalon will give you a drink and you will begin to feel lightheaded and dizzy. You will experience a series of events, which may frighten you. We do not know what events will occur until you are in the midst of them. Every test is different, Kate, so we don’t know what dangers you may face during this test, but you must remember that you are in control. Do you understand?”
“Kate, this is serious,” the woman said. “If you don’t want to be Chosen, just say so and I will take you back to your seat.”
It is too late for that, the bald man thought. She can’t back out.
Look at her, Budymis. She’s shaking like a leaf.
Fear is the only thing that separates the foolish from the brave, the Master Attendant said.
“I want to continue,” Kate said. “I’m ready.”
Stalon handed her a small clear cup with a thick purple liquid inside. She turned it up and drained it quickly.
“Wait!” the woman yelled, grasping for the cup. “There are more instructions.”
Kate heard the words echoing around her but it was too late. Her eyes became too heavy to keep open and she felt the dizziness of which Reuben had spoken as darkness overtook her. When she opened her eyes again, she was on an empty street in Filan surrounded by night, the twin moons Ara and Diano hidden by clouds.
Kate walked down the cobbled street. She turned a corner, and passed a fabric shop. To her left lay a dark alley; to her right a path well-lit by street lamps. She could see nothing at the end of the alley, but at the end of the well-lit path stood her mother, waving happily. She faced her mother and waved, smiling.
“No,” said a soft voice.
She turned around looking for its source but found none.
“Who said that?” she asked.
“Face the darkness.”
“Who are you?”
She retreated a step from the light, forcing herself to turn away from her mother, and stepped towards the black alley. She turned her head to see her mother again, but instead she watched as her mother's face melted into blackness. Her form faded and vanished. The light that had shone down on the city streets now glowed a sinister red, the welcoming shape of her mother now replaced by a black shadow that shifted from solid to smoke, and back again. It seemed to sense her gaze, and stopped moving, holding perfectly still.
Then the blackness faded and she was looking at her mother again, signaling Kate to come to her. With a deep breath, Kate steeled her nerves and turned back to the alley instead, which now appeared murkier than before. She took a cautious step. The blackness grew even darker, and fear began to ache inside her, yet she walked on.
Kate could feel the alley getting smaller, as if closing in around her. Step after step led only to more darkness, and the feeling of impending doom. Kate felt a dry ache in the back of her throat, a great thirst coming over her. No sooner had she felt it when she heard the steady trickle of water pouring into a pitcher.
Great, she thought, now if only I could see to find the water.
As soon as she thought of the light, a dull glow began to overtake the darkness. Kate now stood in a bright room, a pitcher of water and a glass sitting on a table in front of her. Kate reached forward and poured herself a glass of water. She picked up the glass to take a drink, but something about the water didn’t seem right. She put the glass back on the table and backed away to survey the room instead.
As she looked around, she felt unsure how to proceed. Walls of black marble encircled the round room, with doors every three feet, each made of pale white stone and identical to the next. The only differing feature was the symbol written above each in blazing gold inlay.
Kate looked at the doors in turn. The symbols above them were unfamiliar, and Kate thought perhaps they were written in the old script of the Reimerian scholars. Ben’s tutor, Finnian, was fluent with their language, but Kate had only seen it written a handful of times and couldn’t be sure it was the same.
She stared at the door closest to her, wondering what could be inside. Kate walked to the door and placed her hand on the knob, but it would not turn. The knob was warm, and growing warmer as she held it. She released the doorknob as it became scalding to the touch. She looked above the door, then down at her hand. The symbol that had been above the door was no longer there, but instead it glistened in a gold tattoo upon her right hand.
“Whoa,” she whispered, stepping away from the door.
When nothing else happened, Kate proceeded to the next door, knowing that one of them must lead out of the room. She reached for the handle as before, and like the first door, the handle heated and began to glow red under her hand. When she pulled her hand away, she again saw that the symbol from above the door was gone and had been inscribed upon her hand beside the previous symbol.
She repeated this for each door, all with the same result, until she reached the eighth door. At the eighth door, Kate placed her hand upon the doorknob and waited for the now familiar heat to begin to warm her hand. Instead, only the cool metal greeted her palm. She lifted her hand to inspect it as she had before, and saw that the seven scripted symbols had cooled on her hand, and were no longer shimmering a golden hue, but were now only lightly visible as a circle of scars on her palm.
As she studied her palm the room began to shift. Kate covered her ears as the sound of stone grinding against stone roared throughout the room. The doors began to rotate counter- clockwise, but the eighth door remained in place. The first door reached the eighth door with a loud crumbling sound. The first door fell into place behind the eighth door, a golden light flashing from behind it. The grinding of the doors continued as each door slid behind the eighth door. When it finally stopped, only one white door remained in the black marble room, a circle of seven symbols glowing in the center of it.
She reached down and turned the knob of the lone door. Damp air greeted her as the door inched open. With no other way out, Kate stepped through the door and into darkness. As she took a step, her foot met with empty air instead of a floor, and her false step sent her tumbling through inky shadows. The wind rushed past her ears, deafening her as she tumbled through the sky.
Kate barely had time to realize what was happening before she landed. With a jolt of fright and a considerable splash, Kate plunged into an icy sea that quickly tangled itself around her lungs, and threatened to envelop her completely. She thrashed about until she had forced her body to the surface, spewing saltwater from her nose and mouth.
Alone in the cold, dark water, Kate remembered Reuben’s words: “You are in control.”
“I am in control,” she stammered through chattering teeth. “I am in control.” With this statement, the waters stilled, and warmth began to return to Kate’s body. She began to swim. Despite the darkness and the ringing in her ears from the windy fall, Kate’s battered senses still knew where she was going.
She swam through the water until her arms and legs ached. Just as she felt she could swim no more, her leg grazed sand beneath her. She forced herself up from the water, and pushed her body onto the warm sand, which clung to her as she lay sprawled on the shore.
Kate lay face down for several minutes, the waters gently lapping against her feet, before she was able to push herself up on her elbows and look around. To her relief, she discovered the darkness was rapidly being replaced by an early dawn, the sun rising over the heights of the island. Kate stood and looked around at the beach, an empty, colorless spot on the red spattered backdrop. She turned towards the center of the island where the trees grew thick against the rocky base of the island’s tallest mountain. Kate trudged through the sand and made her way to the edge of the jungle where the sand faded under green foliage.
“If only there was a path,” she whispered.
As the words left her lips, a tree in front of her scurried out of the way to reveal a well-worn path that led into the heart of the jungle. Kate followed the trail for what seemed like hours with no end in sight. Finally, she heard the soft gurgle of a stream that crossed her course. In front of her lay a narrow wooden bridge that crossed the stream, and turned into a walkway leading to a two-story white house, surrounded by a low stone wall. Kate recognized the house immediately. It had been her home for the first six years of her life. It was the house where her father had died.
Kate crossed the bridge and stepped through the gate into the yard. Anxiety filled her chest, causing her heart to jump wildly. She reached the front door, and slowly turned the handle. She stepped inside, expecting the foyer, but instead she stood in the kitchen of her childhood home, holding a bowl of oatmeal in her hands. She looked forward into the parlor and saw a tuft of hair sticking above the chair.
Kate stood frozen in the kitchen. She knew what she would find if she entered the parlor room. It had been ten years since she had last been in that room, and she never wanted to return.
“I don’t want to see him there,” Kate whispered, but she knew she must.
She set the bowl on the table, and walked forward. Stepping onto the plush beige carpet, Kate tiptoed towards her father’s chair. She stood beside it, breathing in the smell of lemon drops, then turned to face him, dreading to see his limp body lying in that chair. She looked down.
“Hello, Kate,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Kate felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her.
“Daddy?” she asked.
“Yes, my dear.”
Kate began to cry. “But you’re dead.”
Her father sighed heavily. “Sit down, sweetie. We need to talk.”
Kate sat down quietly, across from him, happy to hear his voice again.
“My beautiful girl,” he said, reaching his hand out to cradle her cheek. “I can’t believe how much you look like your mother.”
“But I have your eyes.”
Tom smiled. “That is your one feature that looks like your father.”
”Daddy, what’s going on? Where are we right now? How are you here?”
“Oh sweetie, there is too much to explain right now. I can’t stay long, so listen to me carefully. Do you know that part of you, that part that has always made you feel different from everyone else?”
Kate nodded. She had never voiced this feeling to anyone, but she had always felt she were looking out from an inescapable window into the world of everyone else.
“It’s there because you are different from the rest of them. You are one of seven, different in that you are more special than every one of the Chosen.”
“Daddy, I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t understand yet, but you will in time. This is a lot to expect of you all at once. Right now, I just need you to promise me something.”
“Promise me you’ll do what your heart knows is right. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, Daddy, I promise.”
“That’s my girl.”
The clock chimed.
“I have to go now.”
“No Daddy, don’t leave me again. I need you.”
“My dear heart, I never left you, and I never will. No matter what happens, I’m always going to be your father.”
“Before you go, I have a gift for you.”
Tom touched his index finger to Kate’s forehead. “You’ve had it all along, but now you can control it.”
The clock chimed again and Tom said, “Go home, honey. Remember your promise.”
“I will, Daddy.”
“One more thing honey, and this is important.”
“You’ll find them in the Mountain.”
Before Kate could find out what her father meant, the chair sat empty, as if he had never been there.
Kate sat alone in the parlor, looking at an empty chair. She stood to face the entrance hall in the old house, but saw only darkness.
How do I get out of here? she thought.
She blinked, and when she opened her eyes she found herself in the room with the five examiners. She looked at her palm, and saw that the seven symbols still remained.
“How long have I been gone?” Kate asked.
“Only a few minutes,” the lady said. “It always seems much longer while you’re there.”
“Where did I go?”
“Inside your mind,” the woman said. “It is the most reliable place to hold the test, because a person’s mind contains all the light and the dark they have ever known, or will ever know.”
You did well, Reuben thought to her. All of the tests have been successfully completed. You turned from your mother into the unknown. That took Courage.
You wielded the words of the round room to find your path through, despite a lack of knowledge of the symbols. You must have a keen Intellect to do such a thing, Stalon thought. Your battle with the ocean verified your Resilience, and finding the island shows you have Hope.
“In the parlor you were able to communicate with your father, which only a great Heart can do. And when you left the parlor, you came back to us without any prompting or assistance, which takes a great amount of Strength,” the woman said.
The Master Attendant said, “Every test is different, Kate. What really matters is that you passed.”
“Now what happens?” she asked.
“You are to be trained,” Reuben said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Kate said. Then holding her hand for the others to see she asked, “What about these symbols? What do they mean?”
“What symbols?” Reuben asked.
“Here,” she said, pointing to the palm of her hand.
Reuben looked at the other examiners, but all shook their heads.
“Kate, there’s nothing there.”
“It has been a very long day, dear. Perhaps you are still recovering from your dream state,” the woman said.
Kate shook her head in disbelief. “But what about the things my dad said? What did they mean?”
“The dream-state is visible to us,” Stalon said, “but we cannot hear the things said in the dream. I would encourage you to keep those things private. These dreams are for you, and no one else.”
With those words, Kate was dismissed. The woman stood and led her out of the room. They stepped through the dark room, and into the room with the paintings, the fish smell replaced by the sweet scent of lilies in bloom, before making their way through the Dividing Stone. Just before the woman opened the door to excuse her back to her seat, Kate turned to her suddenly.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Certainly,” the woman replied.
“Whose voice prompted me on the street and in the kitchen? Was it you?”
”I’m sorry, dear, but I’m not sure what you mean. No one is permitted to speak to you during the testing. We said nothing once you left us.”
“You didn’t hear the woman?” Kate asked.
“As Stalon explained, we heard nothing once the dream began. It was all in your mind.”
Kate turned and walked out into the main hall. Ben was back in his seat, chatting with the girl who had waved at him outside. When he saw Kate walking towards him, he stood and smiled broadly. Kate walked back to her seat, still in utter confusion, unsure exactly what to say to Ben.
“Hey!” he said as soon as she got back to her seat. “You were gone a long time. How did it go?”
“Well, I think,” she said softly.
“I’m Lydia,” the girl cut in. “And you are?”
“Hm. Are you old enough to be here?”
“You just seem so much younger,” Lydia said, her voice sickly sweet.
“Right. Yeah. Um, Kate is my neighbor.”
“Neighbor?” Kate asked.
“And dear friend, of course,” Ben modified. “And Lydia was in class with me.”
“And out of class with you,” she said with a smile.
Ben forced a chuckle. “Well, it was nice catching up, Lydia. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.”
“I’m sure,” Lydia said. “We’ll be Chosen and you can leave your country life behind.”
Kate’s cheeks went red.
“Nice to meet you, kiddo.”
Lydia smiled and walked away, Ben watching her the whole way.
“What was that?” Kate asked.
Ben shrugged. “What do you mean?”
“That girl is horrible.”
“She’s nice,” Ben said. “She just has a hard time making new friends. But once we’re all Chosen, you’ll end up liking her.”
Kate bit back her response and changed the subject instead. “You really think we’ll all be Chosen?”
“I don’t know about you two, but I think today was my day. I guess we’ll find out at the end of the day when they make the announcement,” he said, a beaming smile on his face.
Kate wondered if the other Chosen were already told as well. She hated to think that Ben had his hopes up only to be dashed at the end of the day.
“I’m sure you were great,” she said. “I’m really happy for you.”
“Wouldn’t it be fun if we were in training together? We could leave this place and see all the amazing things the worlds have to offer.”
Ben continued talking about how great it would be to finally leave Reimer, but Kate didn’t hear him. All at once she realized what her father had meant about doing what was right. By being Chosen and accepting this training, she would be leaving her mother behind. That is why he had made her promise. He knew she would have never left her mother alone unless she had promised him.
The five doors to the five rooms opened simultaneously. The five people from each room walked to the front and sat down at their tables. The Master Attendant stood. The children were silent, hanging on his every word.
“There are sixteen of you Chosen to represent our planet. When we call your name, please step forward.”
In the back of the room a stout boy with black hair stood, beaming with excitement. The young man walked forward and took his place at the front.
“Raye Whitlow. Zanna Pozzie.”
A pig-faced girl with an upturned nose and chubby cheeks made her way forward to stand beside Bodhi, followed by a tall brunette wearing shoes that clicked with each step.
“Tevan Drafney. Ever Reeser. Cathilia Watzen.”
Kate looked at Ben. He smiled at her, though she could see disappointment beginning to set in.
“Go,” he said. “Take your place at the front.”
“Wick Seph. Cannon Drafney. Maxton Geffler. Coro Viametti.”
Kate stood in line, watching the others make their way forward. There were already ten people at the front and she could see Ben’s face dropping with each name called.
“Sven Mingo. Lydia Vigillo.”
Kate sighed as she watched Lydia stand and walk towards the front. The thought of spending time with her made Kate’s stomach churn.
“Theduardo Garnez. Odessa Medicacheri. Halsey Pim.”
Kate closed her eyes and bunched her fists by her side, chanting Ben’s name so loudly in her head that she almost didn’t hear the Master Attendant when he called the last of the Chosen.
The remaining students gave a half-hearted cheer.
Wait, the Master Attendant thought. We missed someone.
Kate heard his thoughts and scanned the room for a response. Judging by the disappointment on the faces of those still sitting, no one else seemed aware of what the Master Attendant was thinking
I don’t think so, Arlo, the woman replied. That’s all sixteen.
Benning Dorton, he thought. Then turning to the crowd he said, “Benning Dorton, come to the front.”
As the teens’ whispers filled the Hall, all of them shocked by a seventeenth Chosen being called, the voices of the council clamored in Kate’s head.
That boy is not one of the Chosen, someone's mind said.
Why would you call him? He has no Gift, echoed another.
There are reasons of which we know not, replied the Master Attendant. The Golden One chooses him.
Immediately the others stopped questioning and accepted the explanation.
Kate turned to see Ben rise to his feet. His face was a combination of shock and excitement. He came forward and stood beside Kate. She had never seen him so delighted.
“These are the Chosen,” said the Master Attendant. “Those who were not Chosen may go.”
The crowd began to make their way from the Great Hall, much quieter than when they entered. They had filed in with nervous excitement, but left with heads hanging low and heavy hearts.
“To you who are Chosen,” Arlo said after everyone else had left, “you are to go home and prepare for the next phase of your journey. Clothes, books, and weapons will all be provided, so do not bother bringing your own. In one week you are to return here to the Great Hall. Your family may accompany you here to say goodbye, for you may not see them again for some time. Now go, enjoy your last week at home. We will see you soon.”
The Chosen left the Hall full of big dreams of what was to come. The warm spring day was beginning to turn cool as clouds rolled in, promising rain. Ben talked all the way to the condo about how proud his parents would be. Kate nodded and smiled at his excitement, but she could not find the joy inside her that Ben felt. She would be leaving the only person she truly loved.
They rode the elevator to his mother’s condo. When they reached the door, Ben hesitated before punching in the key code.
“What’s wrong?” Kate asked.
“What if he’s in there?”
Kate reached past him and knocked on the door, but there was no response.
“No one is here, Ben.”
He entered the code and they went inside, the lights coming to life and following them across the room. They stepped into the teleporter and let the green light wash over them. Just before the bright light flashed before her eyes, Kate was almost certain she saw a face peering out of the bedroom.
They stepped out of the teleporter into Ben’s home. Ben turned around, grabbed Kate, and pulled her in for a hug.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“For what?” she asked.
“For bringing me luck today,” he said as he looked down and smiled at her.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
He leaned over and kissed her cheek before turning back towards the stairs. Kate put her fingers to her cheek in surprise, then followed him upstairs.
“Mom?” Ben yelled. “I’ve got good news.”
There was no response and the house was unusually dark. Ben walked room to room looking for his mother, but found no one.
Shrugging he said, “Oh well. They must’ve gone out. Come on. I’ll drive you home.”
“Drive?” Kate asked.
“Of course,” Ben said. “It’s going to rain soon and dad has that motorbike he never uses.”
Kate shook her head. “No way. Your dad was so mad last time.”
“But that was ages ago,” he said. “Besides, he isn’t here. If we hurry, he won’t know.”
“I get sick on that thing,” Kate whined.
“The ride can be a little bumpy,” Ben said as he led her out the back door towards the storage shed.
“There’s no changing your mind, is there?”
Ben dragged the bike out onto the grass and climbed on it. He jerked his head towards the back to signal Kate to get on, which she reluctantly did. The evening was full of the sounds of spring. Birds were chirping softly in their new nests, crickets called out to one another, and the light breeze played a symphony through the fresh green leaves. But all of those sounds were gone once Ben started the bike.
It came to life with a loud hum, followed by a cough, and finally a roar. Kate could feel the vibration underneath her and considered climbing off, but Ben called back for her to hold on before sending the bike shooting across the farm towards the road.
Kate wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face against his back as they flew down the road, far faster than she liked.
Less than five minutes later they were sitting on the hill just above her house and Kate was faced with the decision of what to tell her mother about the day. Woogie waddled up the hill, his tail wagging as he made his way to Ben.
“Hey, boy,” Ben said as he dismounted. He helped Kate down before kneeling to pet the dog.
Woogie rolled onto his back to let Ben rub his belly.
“I missed you too, Woog. You’re a good boy, aren’t you?”
“Want to come in?” Kate asked.
“I can’t,” Ben said. “I want to get back before dad sees the bike missing. I’ll see you next week though.”
“Okay,” she said. “Come on, Woogie.”
Ben smiled at her as he turned the bike around, then climbed back on and shot out like a lightning bolt in a thunderstorm.
Kate turned back towards the little house and began to pick her way through the grass, careful not to step on any new flowers. As she approached, she could hear a song being carried to her ears by the evening breeze. She walked around the house where her mother was sitting on the porch watching the sun set and singing to herself.
“Hi,” Kate said.
“Hello, Kate. How did it go?”
Kate shrugged. “I was Chosen.”
Her mother nodded. “How long will you stay before training?”
“A week,” Kate said.
“A week?” her mother asked. “When I was younger it was longer than that. Tomorrow we’ll need to start getting you ready.”
“What will happen to me, mama?” she asked.
“Oh, darling,” she replied, “I wish I knew. You are so much more than just one of the Chosen, but I can’t see that far into your life.”
Kate looked at her mother, perplexed. “Daddy said the same thing in my dream. What does it mean?”
“It is difficult to explain. I can’t see your future, Kate, but I can feel something big coming.”
Kate looked at her mother without understanding.
“Let’s go inside,” her mother said, “and I will explain.”
They walked out of the evening breeze and into the kitchen. Her mother motioned toward the small oak table and Kate sat down. Her mother walked to the stove and lit it, then placed a pot of water on the top. She took two white cups with blue flowers on them out of the cupboard, and placed a tea bag in each. She carried the cups to the table and sat down across from Kate.
“Where to begin?” she asked herself.
“How about the beginning?” Kate suggested.
“Yes,” her mother said, “I suppose that is as good a place to start as any. It’s a long story, so I’ll try to leave out the unnecessary parts. It begins just before I met your father. I told you briefly about that, but I’m certain I left out a few minor details.”
The teakettle whistled. Elisabeth looked at Kate, smiled nervously, and then looked at the teakettle. Kate turned toward the stove and watched in disbelief as she saw the teakettle lift off the stove and float to the table. The water poured out into both cups, and the smell of the hot tea lifted to her nose. Elisabeth smiled at Kate as the kettle sat itself down on the table.
“Well, I guess that gives you a slight idea of what I was leaving out,” her mother said, shrugging.
“Wait,” Kate said, eyes wide. “I thought I dreamed that.”
“I saw you moving things when I was a kid. I thought it was a dream.”
Elisabeth smiled. “Not a dream. I should have told you sooner, but I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. As it so happens, I too was Chosen, like you, and your father, and my father. I learned at a young age how to use my mind to affect objects around me. When I was trained, I learned how to read people’s minds and futures through their eyes. I thought for certain I would go on to become a tutor by now, like your grandfather, but things happened that led us down a different path.”
“Me?” Kate asked. “You gave up everything because of me?”
“No, well yes, but not the way you think,” her mother said. “Being Chosen can be dangerous. There were some incidents that caused us to rethink our lives.”
“Let’s not go into it, baby. Let’s just say that we needed to make new lives and we were happy with our decision to move here and protect you. I’m only telling you about the past to tell you about your future.”
Kate tilted her head to one side and looked at her mother questioningly.
“I don’t quite understand,” she said.
“I know dear,” her mother said smiling. “It is a bit confusing. Let me explain as best I can. In the beginning of the worlds, there was a great peace among all people.”
“Wow, we really are going back to the beginning,” Kate interrupted.
“Yes, well, there’s quite a bit of history you’ve missed out on,” her mother said, as she sipped her tea.
Kate knew it bothered her mother she couldn’t afford classes or tutoring, but now Kate wondered why her mother couldn’t have instructed her herself, so she wasn’t so far behind the others.
“I’ll get to that,” her mother said as if to answer her unasked question. “Anyway, after a great era of peace, there came a dark period in the worlds. It was during this period the first war was fought.
“It’s hard to say where the war actually began, since so much time has passed and so many worlds have different accounts of the events, but all agree on where it ended. On Burac, the third moon of Remli. During this First War, seven men rose up to defend the peace and freedoms the worlds had long enjoyed. Though little is known about their union and their specific Gifts, we do know that because of their generosity of spirit and willingness to do what was necessary, the galaxy as we know it was prolonged.
“As time passed, many men and women began to show Gifts more advanced than others of their kind. They became great leaders and scholars, and they governed us and helped create new civilizations beyond anything we could’ve imagined without their guidance. They are now referred to as the Chosen.
“Eventually, there arose a need to train and guide the numerous people who were developing their unique Gifts to ensure they would be used to benefit our worlds rather than to harm it. The Chosen created the Worlds’ Council, and they established specific guidelines for the testing and enhancing of each individual thought to possess the Gifts necessary to lead, learn, and direct the future of our worlds.”
“But what exactly do they do?” Kate asked.
“Whatever they want,” Elisabeth said. “Every aspect of life has need of the Chosen. Some enter government and politics to influence the Worlds’ Council, some prefer military and policing the galaxy, others go into education or the arts. Everyone has a place.”
“Who decides where they go?”
“It isn’t just random assignments, honey. After the first year of training, each of the Chosen select three areas they would like to learn more about. They devote a year of their time to each area, working with others in that field of Focus, and at the end they decide where they fit the best. Once they make their selection, the Worlds’ Council will find an assignment for them in the field of their choosing.”
Kate stared at her mother intently, leaning on her right hand that was propped on the table.
“I’m boring you, aren’t I?” her mother asked.
“No mama. It’s just a lot to take in all at once. All the stuff with you and daddy, and you being Chosen and knowing so much, and a war so long ago. I’m not sure what any of this has to do with me and what you want me to learn.”
“Learn it all, Kate, because someday you might need to know it.”
Kate nodded as a yawn escaped her lips.
“You are stronger than you know. Although you may not feel prepared to handle all of these things coming your way, a time will come when you have trained, and are joined with the others and you feel ready for anything. The most important thing is that you remain open to all that is taught to you, and fill your heart with truth.”
Kate looked at her mother and noticed a tear trickle down her cheek.
“Mama, what is it?”
“Nothing dear, nothing. I guess the reality of you leaving is just now starting to set in. I’ve been so worried about protecting you for so long I never thought of what I’d do if you left.”
“Why didn’t you teach me any of this stuff before?”
“I thought about it,” her mother replied. “I thought about it every day. The timing never seemed right. When I would finally decide to talk to you about it, something would always make me change my mind. I’m sorry.”
Kate sighed. “It hurts. You’ve kept all these secrets for so long. You let me fall behind because we didn’t have money, but all along you could’ve been teaching me or tutoring others to make money for us. What am I supposed to think?”
“I don’t know,” Elisabeth said. “You’re right, of course. I just always put it off because I had more time. Now I’m out of time and you have every right to be mad at me.”
“I just don’t know why it took so long to tell me this.”
Elisabeth nodded. “I was afraid. I didn’t want to draw attention to us.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” Elisabeth said.
Kate sighed. “Something bad happened to you while you were Chosen. You don’t have to tell me all of it, but you can’t expect me to be fine with the fact that you kept me in the dark all these years.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Kate shook her head and stood. “I’m going to bed.”
She staggered into her room and closed the door, throwing herself onto her bed without bothering to change into her nightgown.
She lay her head upon her pillow and let all of the stress of the day fade away into nothingness. The day had been exciting, but long and tiring, and it wasn’t long before she felt the weight of her eyelids heavy upon her, and she dozed into a heavy and restful sleep.
She was a bird and her wings beat strong against the green sky. She circled, getting closer to the ground with each pass. As she reached the ground her body transformed and she was in human form, but not as herself; her body was that of an old man.
As she stood there she gained his vision, his memories, and watched the scene unfold. She stood upon a hill overlooking a deep valley full of tall grass, normally golden and shining in his memories, but today it was crimson-stained and told of an encounter that did not end well. Behind the man the sky was dark and empty, though morning had come. The night had ebbed away just as the last surviving warriors had made their way into hiding before the sunrises.
She saw the twin suns that warmed the Ipnala Star System through his mind and knew one sun would have been enough to light the skies and warm the land, but two made the light blinding and the heat unbearable. The first sun, known as the Golden One, was regarded as a curse upon the people. The Golden One would be the first to rise, and would burn their skin if they did not hide before it drifted into the sky. The small disk that was the second sun to rise had been named Delight, for it was distant and the people could still enjoy its light after the larger sun had set.
Because of the Golden One, most everything occurred at night, including fighting battles. The war currently plaguing Burac, the third moon of Remli, was the only war that had ever been waged. Peace had reigned since the making of the worlds, and it was only now after many millennia of calmness that the people took up arms. This war had endured through the years, with no sign of an end. Death had enveloped more lives than could be counted, and each day more shed their blood for a cause long lost.
“Today will be different,” she said, though her voice was deep and rough.
She looked out into the valley where the blood drenched the trampled grass, then over to the caves where the people had taken shelter waiting for the suns to rise. They did not know that today they need not fear the Golden One, nor did they know the Golden One would never rise again. She stared down at the palm of her hand and saw the seven symbols glowing upon it. The Golden One had become a man.
She woke. Her palm burned brighter than before but began to fade as she transitioned from dream to reality. She stood and walked to the window where the sun was already peeking over the edge of the hill. She thought of the Golden One and wondered who he was, if he was anyone, and if she would ever know his story.
The week passed more quickly than Kate would have liked. She spent every moment possible with her mother, trying to learn all that she could from her. Each morning she got up, dressed, and met her mother outside in the garden to learn about plants. Her mother would explain the different uses and how to prepare them while Kate took notes, trying her best to keep up. Afterwards they would have lunch while her mother instructed her on how certain foods aided the development of certain abilities.
After lunch Kate would practice some of the more basic tasks with which she was unfamiliar. Though she had only conjured light for the first time at Meeting, it now came to her as easily as snapping her fingers. She had also learned her mother’s tea-carrying trick, though she was still working to perfect it and had difficulty with anything weighing more than a couple pounds. Today though, Elisabeth was teaching Kate to conjure fire.
“It is in the same family as conjuring light,” Elisabeth said. “Try to do it exactly the same as you do for light, but think of fire instead.”
Kate held out her hand and let the magic tingle the ends of her fingertips as it waited to be released. As it built, the tension caused a vibration in her hand.
“You’ve let it build, now release it.”
Kate pushed fire through her fingers, but water sprang out instead.
Elisabeth laughed. “That’s new. Not exactly what we were going for, but still progress. Try again.”
Kate tried repeatedly to let the fire out, but water sprang out every time.
“Tell me what you’re thinking of just before you release.”
“I’m thinking of fire,” Kate said.
“Keep practicing,” Elisabeth said before standing and walking inside.
Kate felt she had learned more in that one week after learning the truth, than she had in her entire life. In a way, she felt closer to her mother than ever before. Elisabeth told her about her life as one of the Chosen and shared some of her adventures, as well as telling her stories about her father. But seeing this new side to her mother changed everything she had known about her to this point, making her feel more distant from the quiet, reserved woman who had raised her.
The morning Kate was to leave, her mother woke her early. She sat on the edge of Kate’s bed, wearing an orange dress that hung just below her knees. The dress was simple, but it always made her look beautiful. The sunlight, just starting to shine through the window, cast a glow upon her face, and for a moment Kate stayed in her bed and looked up at her mother’s features, trying to memorize every inch on her face.
Her mother reached over and brushed Kate’s hair off of her face, then gently stroked her cheek. Kate closed her eyes and smiled, remembering how often her mother had done that when she was younger. She didn’t want to leave.
“Time to get moving,” her mother whispered. “We need to leave for the city in about an hour.”
“I’ve decided not to go,” Kate said as she rolled over and covered her head with a blanket.
Her mother smiled. “And I’ve decided not to let you go.”
Kate threw the blanket off her head and sat up. Her hair was a tangled mess, and flew in all directions as she stared at her mother, her big brown eyes full of surprise and disappointment. After the initial shock of her mother’s statement, she was quickly able to see her mother smiled faintly at the victory of getting her daughter out of bed through such an obvious lie.
“I knew you wanted to go,” she said, smirking.
Kate smiled and wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck.
“I love you, mama.”
“I love you, too.”
They sat on Kate’s bed holding onto each other tightly for a long time before Kate’s mother pulled away, wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Get dressed, baby. Breakfast will be waiting for you in the kitchen in a few minutes.”
Kate nodded and slid off her bed as her mother left the room. Kate walked across the hall for a quick bath. Afterwards, as she stood in front of the mirror dripping water on the stone floor, she looked at the young woman staring back at her. She found it hard to believe that so much had changed in only a week.
Back in her bedroom she pulled out a light red tunic and a pair of dark brown pants. It wasn’t fancy like the one she had worn to Meeting; in fact, it was rather faded and the gold trim that once adorned the hem had long since unraveled.
Kate slipped on her socks and boots before walking to the kitchen. The smell of pancakes caught in her nose as her mother set the plates of warm, golden pancakes on the table.
“I made your favorite.”
“Smells delicious,” Kate said.
They both smiled. Every significant day Kate could remember had always started with a plate of pancakes. Kate now knew her mother had been able to use her Gifts to envision the great things that would be happening on those special days, but for the longest time she had always been excited about the day just by the smell of breakfast drifting through the house.
She and her mother both sat down and enjoyed their breakfast, each one trying to hold on to the moment, knowing that it would be a long time before this happened again.
They stepped outside into the early morning, quiet aside from the birds chirping in the trees above, and the sound of Woogie whimpering his farewell. The sun had started its ascent into the clear, blue sky, and they already felt its warmth.
As they were about to go over the first hill away from the house, Kate stopped and turned around. She looked back at the house she and her mother had lived in for so many years, and felt a pang of sadness. Poor old Woogie sat on the front porch, howling as he watched her go. He had been her best friend through the cold winters and the unbreakable sadness of her father’s death, and she had loved watching him change from a bouncy puppy into a settled companion. Elisabeth put her arm around Kate’s shoulders and stood beside her, gazing at the home they had shared.
“Come on,” she said softly, “you’ll see it again.”
Kate took one last look at her home and turned around. As they walked down the hill, and her home slowly crept out of view, Kate feared she had looked upon her former life for the last time.