The last star was dying.
The almost black night cloaked the small group so well that they could no longer see each other. Two men and a woman crossed the dark plain without speaking. To keep them together, Aldrich whistled softly. The others simply followed the sound.
Kenda walked between her companions, listening alertly for any shifts in Aldrich’s direction and trying to stay ahead of Punk behind her. They both knew the way. This was her first trip. She breathed deeply through her nose, finding comfort in the smell of the tall pines still to her left. She didn’t like open land, especially at night, especially with the star so far gone. Yet here she was, traipsing through decidedly unfamiliar terrain with silent companions and an uncertain purpose.
No, not uncertain. The memories from the Choosing ceremony came flooding back
The brilliant fire held the darkness at bay, the dancing and drums forced her heart to keep rhythm with their thumping beat.
Then her father, the leadman of her clan, stood to announce this year’s Chosen. As always, he began with the Story. He told of nights, long ago, when stars had filled the heavens, and the clans had lived in peace. How evil had come to the land, and with it, a blackness that swallowed the stars. Their only hope was the Choosing.
Every year, one was Chosen. Every year, one was sent. They left with two companions and a quest: to bring back the stars. Not one of the three who’d ever left had returned. And now there was only one star left, and it was already being slowly swallowed by the Dark.
The light from the fire flickered, creating an ever-changing patchwork of red and shadow on her father’s face. His words had resonated that night: It would be the last Choosing. If this Chosen failed, all would be lost. And then he cast the lot.
The entire clan seemed to hold its breath as the name was discerned by her father and two other elders. They had searched the stones for a seeming eternity before the two other men had raised their eyes to her father, who had slowly turned to look at her. “The Chosen is… Kenda.”
Kenda closed her eyes at the memory, sucking her breath in sharply. Suddenly, her foot caught a tuft of grass, tripping herself and Punk and sending them sprawling Aldrich. Punk’s loudly muttered oath was altogether inappropriate for mixed company, and for a moment, they struggled to untangle their limbs. Then they were still, surrounded by silence and the Dark.
“Are you all right, Kenda?” Aldrich soft voice was closer than she had expected, just behind her left shoulder.
“Then we should continue.” He slid his hand from her shoulder to her forearm and lifted her to her feet. Further to her left, she heard Punk grunt as he, too, stood. Aldrich did not let her go.
“We’re over here, Punk.” He began to whistle softly, and in seconds, she felt Punk’s large bulk hovering over them both. Aldrich stopped whistling. “Shall we go on, then?”
“Don’t see much point, Aldrich. She obviously can’t keep even this pace, and unless we go faster, we’ll never cross the plain by Light.” Though there was no way he could see her, he seemed to glare at her, the frustration in his voice barely restrained.
Kenda stiffened in response at the not-so-subtle challenge. “I say we go on, Aldrich. At whatever speed is necessary. I’ll be fine. I am the Chosen, after all.”
There had been a second more of tense silence, and then Aldrich had released his arm and turned away, restarting the tune he had been whistling before they fell. She followed him, Punk again bringing up the rear, muttering softly under his breath. Kenda ignored him.
I am the Chosen. She had finally spoken the words out loud and suddenly felt the reality of those words. I am the Chosen. I’m supposed to save the stars. And if I fail, my people will die. I am our last hope.
Kenda searched the sky for the single twinkling light. It was nearer to the Dark than she remembered it being last night. I am supposed to save the stars? How in the heavens am I supposed to do that?
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