The Chosen

The powers of the Chosen are growing, but so too grows the power of the Void. It is, and has ever been, unstoppable – even for the Maker. And now, the Void is more powerful than ever.
Only by uniting do the Chosen stand a chance against it. The powers of good and evil, light and darkness must come together as one. Divided, they all will die.
But first, they must reach the besieged city of Lock Core, where the Dark Army is spilling into their world. And during their journeys, they must learn that there are many paths to the city, but only one path will lead them to victory.
To follow the Maker’s path . . . it is the only way.
Though the path was paved for them ages ago, they must find it soon, else the Void reclaims all of creation.

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3. Emily

 

 

 

 

Every step he took jolted the various crystal vials, hollowed out gourds, and metal canisters dangling from his waist with a thick leather cord.  The jarring symphony created silence in the fields around him; the sheep stopped bleating, and the crickets ceased chirping as the stooped figure drew near.

He was noisy enough to wake the dead.  But Adel was old, and he no longer feared the dead . . . or death for that matter.  He had seen more than enough of both in his life, and was well aware that his time was soon to come.

Adel continued down the rough country road, a lantern held before him, its weight nearly too much for his frail arms to support.  His hands were once so steady and precise he could sew torn blood vessels and flesh as easily as any fabric.  Now, the lantern shook so uncontrollably in his grip, the gravel road was lost in the flickering light.  Truth be told, lately even in the best light, Adel couldn’t see clearly for more than ten feet in front of him.  His eyes had seen the Midnight Sun cross the sky just over eighty times – a feat few humans could claim.  Adel had lived so long that even his skills as a Healer were beginning to prove inadequate protection against the ravages of time.  He knew of but one ‘cure’ for that.  But all would agree, the Plague was more curse, than cure.  Adel was well aware that his time would come . . . no matter what he did to stop it.

It was always so.

If his long career as a Healer had taught him anything, it was that. 

Over how many deathbeds had he stood vigil in his career?  And no matter the affliction, or the ‘cures’ he applied, the end found them, one and all.

Long ago, he had learned that when it was time for one to pass, his job as Healer was best served by consoling the terminally ill – easing their way into the afterlife.  His advice to them was, and had always been, for them to find peace and acceptance with what little time they had left.  They should find peace in the fact that death is the natural order of things, and is meant to be a permanent state; anything else was an abomination – much like the Plague.

Death.  Despite his years of fighting it, he knew nothing of it.  As far as he knew, none had ever returned to tell their tale of the ‘great beyond’.  Many claimed knowledge of it, but their theories were at best guesswork – ungrounded in knowledge, unlike Adel’s own healing science.

As his own death drew ever nearer, Adel often found himself wondering if he would heed his own advice, and graciously embrace his own inevitable end.  It had been a long life – and a difficult one – and in all honesty, he was a little more than eager to see it pass.  After so many suns, eternal peace seemed such a pleasant concept. 

But so few find acceptance in the end.  So many wish to live, if even for another day – another hour.  Even those in the greatest pain always fight like mad to have but one more moment of life.

The struggle to live often made Adel wonder if there truly was peace in death?  Or near the end do the dying see the truth; that death is an unimaginable horror?  And to escape it, they would do anything – even embrace the Plague.

His job was indeed a difficult one -- the difficulties only compounded with the coming of the Plague.  In his life he had acquired more than one bad memory he wished to be freed of. 

One such moment nagged at his mind as he made his way to the small farming village of Havenwood.

It was shortly after the War of Lock Core, when the newly raised Keeper, LeCynic, had commanded Adel to study the infection.  Eager to test his skills against this horrendous disease, Adel agreed to do so.  His eagerness, however, was short lived, for it quickly became apparent to Adel that the Plague was far beyond his abilities -- to even tamper with it was a risk he did not dare to take.  He felt that all samples of the active infection should be destroyed, not studied, lest they give rise to another full scale Plague.

The Keeper strongly disagreed.

He was furious at Adel’s suggestion, and deemed him a failure.  He sent in other, less respected Healers to continue the project, and ordered Adel banished from the city and stripped of his official title as Master Healer. 

Adel had been humiliated. 

Thankfully, his work among the citizens of the Seventh World was remembered, and he was still respected.  Since then he has been able to make a decent living in the Outlands, doing what he can to heal the people beyond Lock Core, or -- failing to heal them – at least offer them peace during their final moments. 

Still though, Adel often wondered about the Keeper and his experiments with the Plague.  The man was so obsessed with finding a cure that Adel knew the man would stop at nothing to find one.  He shuddered to think what horrors the man could potentially unleash on the Seventh World.  Through the years, Adel kept hoping the rest of the Seventh World would see through the man’s madness, and LeCynic would end up being the one banished from Lock Core.  But thus far, it had been a long wait, and Adel’s hope was dwindling with his lifespan.  He imagined by the time justice was done, his hope and life would be no more.

Now, he journeyed to the town of Havenwood, where a man lay dying from a grievous injury suffered during the fall harvest.  From what he heard of the severity of the man’s injuries, he imagined his mission was more about easing physical and emotional suffering than it was about ‘actual’ healing.

He came around a bend in the road, then saw a distant haze of light coming from the valley down below.  With his poor eyesight, he couldn’t discern details, but he had walked this path before and knew the glowing light signified the village Havenwood.  He made his way down, wondering if the injured farmer would even be alive by the time he arrived.

Halfway down the path, he was greeted by several of the villagers, the eldest of which did the majority of the talking.  He had met and befriended the man on his prior visits, and knew him to be Jorge Hamthist, the Mayor of Havenwood.         

“Thank you for coming, Adel.  And at such a late hour,” the Mayor said, moving to take Adel’s lantern and guiding him forward by the arm.

“I heard of the injuries, and knew haste would be required,” Adel replied, wearied from his travels and not hesitating to accept the Mayor’s aid.  “Please, Jorge, tell me, am I too late?”

The Mayor exchanged a worried look with his companions before replying.

“Surprisingly no, Adel.  Admittedly, I am all but untrained in the healing arts, yet to the best of my knowledge, this man should not be alive.  He lost an arm in the threshing, and though his legs remain . . . I dare say they are horribly mangled.  Surely, the amount of blood this man lost cannot have come from but a single man.”

Adel was intrigued . . . and worried.  Was he about to be reacquainted with the Plague?

“Perhaps you should have sent for the Death Guard instead?” Adel said.

“Aye, one would come to such a conclusion, is true.  But the man doesn’t appear to be infected, only injured . . . and forever at the verge of death.”

Adel was more curious than ever.  His curiosity in human anatomy was what brought him to the Healers.  Over the years he had come to learn the human body had many wondrous traits.  And the more he learned, the more mysterious and miraculous the body became.  To learn something new, especially at his age, would be a miracle unto itself.

The Mayor guided him into the village of thatched roofed cottages.  Even with Adel’s limited vision, it was clear to see where his patient was to be found, for a group of villagers surrounded one of the cottages.  The Mayor quietly ushered the people aside as he neared, then led Adel into the timber-walled structure.

It all made sense the moment he stepped through the door.

“The child . . .” Adel whispered.

“Yes, poor thing.  She refuses to let him go,” the Mayor responded.

In front of him, a curly haired child sat, and wept.  Her small fingers clung to her father’s remaining hand.  There was blood everywhere . . . and blue fire.  More of both than Adel had seen in a long, long time.  Somehow, the scene was vaguely familiar to him.  He had only witnessed such a great display of the Singularity once before.  Like the child, Merrick too had refused to let go . . . and it had cost him his life.  This child was far younger than Merrick, but held equal – if not greater – power.  Her father’s injuries were clearly mortal; it didn’t take a Healer’s expertise to determine that.  How the child had managed to keep the man alive for as long as she had seemed a miracle.  Adel doubted even Merrick could have done as much.

Adel’s role in all of this was obvious; he had to convince the child to let him go.  If she didn’t, they both would die.

“Take me to her,” Adel requested, unable to do so himself, for suddenly he felt his age more keenly than ever. 

“Yes, Adel,” the Mayor said, practically carrying Adel to her.  “Child, this is the great Healer, Adel.  We have brought him here to help your father.  To . . .”

Adel knew what the Mayor wanted to say; that he had brought Adel to help ease the man’s passage to the afterlife.  For that was truly what the Mayor desired; an end to the man’s suffering and the circus that accompanied it.  Adel wanted as much as well.

“ . . . To heal him,” the Mayor finished.

Adel saw what his friend Jorge could not, the girl had great power, and she could easily see through his lies, if not read his thoughts outright.  There would be no point in pretending, he would have to speak truthfully with the girl.

“I’m sorry.  I cannot save him, child.  Sometimes, all we can offer them is freedom from their pain.  We are not immortals.  The end must come to us, one and all.”

Her tears came faster.

“I don’t want him to leave me,” the child said as she wept.  “He says he’s ready . . . but I don’t want to let him go.”

“It’s all right.”

Adel bent down, risked penetrating her aura of flames to lay his hand upon her.

“He will have peace, and one day you will find it too.  It will not be easy, but through the sadness and fear you will one day find your peace.  This I promise.”

If she was reading his mind, she would know it was not a lie.

“But where will he go?”

Adel faltered, searching for an answer.  But even with all his knowledge and years of experience, he still didn’t have one.

He didn’t need one.  She was, in fact, reading his mind.  To the child, his mind was a library of information on life and death.  Of particular interest was his knowledge of the Plague, a thing both ‘life’ and ‘death’.  She saw it through his eyes as an atrocity.  It was meant to make immortals, but instead it created monsters.

She turned her wide brown eyes on her father – saw the limbless monstrosity that he had become, and she let him go.

 

 

 

 

Two suns later, Adel still searched for an answer to the child’s question, “Where will he go?”  He knew he would go there himself soon enough and have the answer firsthand.  But he felt he still owed the girl some sort of an explanation. 

His quest took him deeper into the Outlands than ever before.  Being as decrepit as he was, it was an arduous journey indeed.  But every sage with supposed knowledge of the afterlife had to be met, their lessons learned.  For the most part, they spoke of the same belief, but in variations.  They all agreed there was something, but what that something was, was tensely debated.  He wanted to return to the girl, but wanted to give her more than “There’s definitely something, I just don’t know what?” 

Then he heard of a Red Mage.  A man who spoke freely, openly, and often to any and all who would hear him.  This man claimed to have knowledge of the Gods themselves.  He even suffered his own sort of banishment from Lock Core, which would have drawn Adel to him if for no other reason. 

And so it went . . . Adel followed him by way of his stories, until one day theirs paths met.  How the man smiled as they talked.  And when at last Adel left him, he was unable to stop his own face from grinning.  It all made so much sense now . . . not just the girl child, but Merrick as well.  There was a plan for them all.  Their lives guided by a power greater than any mortal. 

And the girl child . . . he finally had her answer.  It was in the form of a man, his name was Brice Langlia.  He told him where to find her. 

And that her name was Emily, from the city of Havenwood.

 

 

 

 

All around them the earth was black; a grim reminder of the Destroyer’s apocalyptic power.  They had walked the entire day, but to escape it, they marched well into the night.  The Elder Moon, Harbos, rose above them and then fell, sinking into the charred land.  As Harbos vanished on the horizon, his dying light fell on the ragged group of travelers, stretching their shadows into oblivion.  The moon Minos eventually followed suit, briefly sharing the night sky with his Brother Moon.  And for a time, the Brother Moons illuminated the Seventh World, giving the weary travelers a vision of life in the distance – a forest of tall pines, and fields of ripened wheat.  They all breathed a sigh of relief at the sight, for in the back of their minds was the fear that perhaps the Destroyer had put an end to it all, that his tidal wave of death had encompassed the entire Seventh World.  At last, their feet stepped upon soft grass, confirming the vision of life was no mirage.  Even so, they continued on, for the stench of death still clung to them, even beyond the Destroyer’s circle of ruin.  But it wasn’t merely the stench of death they hoped to outrun; it was the memory of it as well.  The Archenon could still be seen in the distance, a now solitary and stark black pillar.  Behind it, the orange remnant of Harbos sent the tower’s shadow across the land, chasing the travelers.

As they fled from it, many succumbed to exhaustion, stumbled and fell.  Yet they refused to stop, and always managed to return to their feet.  Many relied on canes or crutches for support.  For them, every step forward was a miracle and a testament to the horrors they had witnessed in the town of Shattered Rock.  Many were just children.  Now orphans, one and all.  Their families and their city were gone.  They had nothing left, and nowhere to go.  But onward they trudged, their tiny forms empowered by a dim spark of hope.  They believed a new life could be found in Lock Core, and that Emily would be the one to guide them to it. 

Hope . . . they saw it in her smile, and soft brown eyes.  Despite all they had suffered and lost, they truly believed that under Emily’s care, there could yet be hope.

More exhausted than them all, Emily moved along the line of travelers.  Her blue flames always there to lift the fallen, and strengthen the weak, while her smile and her kindness lifted their spirits and strengthened their hearts.  She wouldn’t stop, nor would she let them stop.  Not until death had left them, and the Archenon was nothing but a memory.

“You have to rest, Emily.  You’re safe now,” a gentle voice whispered in her ear. 

Emily understood the speaker’s concern; her power had long since dried up, forcing her to draw on her own life-force to heal the weakened refugees.  In a day, she seemed to have aged a year.  The soft layer of baby-fat that recently covered her bones had become pale, gaunt skin.  Her bouncing black curls were a dirty mat plastered to her head. 

She knew the speaker feared for her safety – still sought to protect her – but she couldn’t stop.  They weren’t safe – may never be safe again. 

And death was all around them.

It wasn’t just the Destroyer, or the remnants of Shattered Rock.  It was something far worse, even more horrifying than what they had faced thus far.  A new evil had awoken in the land, an infection in the heart of the Seventh World itself.  To cleanse it, she had to get to Lock Core.

“Enough, child!  Even you have your limits.  Stop, or I’ll make you stop.”

She didn’t doubt the speaker’s ability to accomplish the threat, but knew the being would never follow through with it.  Undead though she may be, Emily knew she would never harm her.  Regardless, she couldn’t deny that she was right.  Emily couldn’t prop these people up forever.  If she continued this pace much longer, their deaths could very well be at her hand.

And she dared not discount the other undead member of the party . . . If she was to face him once more, she would need her power to be at its utmost.

So far, he kept his distance and remained out of sight from the rest of the travelers.  But Emily clearly sensed him, and knew he sensed her too, and that he was out there in the darkness watching her.  She was still uncertain of his intentions.  If he had wanted to feed, she figured he would have already made an attempt.  Maybe he was waiting for something?  Waiting for her . . .  But Emily wasn’t about to go out to him again.  She had learned her lesson the first time.  She knew he couldn’t infect her, but she now had others to protect.  And weakened as she was, she doubted she could do much to save them.

If he did decide to attack, there were few in the party who could fight him.  Of Rafe’s soldiers, only one chose to join them.  The few that survived the Destroyer’s attack, immediately scattered, never giving a second thought to the safety of the orphans or the elderly.  As for their leader, Rafe, after the battle he was nowhere to be found.  Likely, the man had taken what treasure he had left and sought to bury it, and himself, in the most distant and secluded corner of the Seventh World.     

The only one of Rafe’s men to join them was the giant Boulder Dwarf, Gunt – his body now a maze of scars, even after Emily’s best efforts to heal him.  She wasn’t sure why he decided to join them, but she was glad he came.  Not just for his protection, but surprisingly, for his companionship as well.  The giant greatly changed since the battle.  The cruelty had left him.  Gruffness remained, but only to mask his kindness.  Emily was also grateful for the help he provided.  The youngest of the children took turns resting on his massive shoulders, or in his hands.  Often, he even took pity on the elderly, scooping them up in his arms until they were able to continue on once more.

She had seen him fight, and knew he was a great warrior.  But how much protection could one warrior truly provide?  She could count on him to fight, of that she was certain, but what of the other “warriors” in the party?

She wondered if Tetloan sensed their undead stalker too.  But it seemed he noticed little – other than his missing arm.  She often glanced back at him and found him rubbing the stump, a look of pain and anger on his freckled face.  Since the battle at the Archenon, he had withdrawn into himself.  He hadn’t said a single word to another living soul, and his mind was impenetrable even for Emily.  Clearly, what once was contempt for people had become hatred.  His anger at the world was now rage.  He never neared the rest of the party, but kept his distance at the end of the procession, glowering at anyone who neared him. 

He was tremendously powerful.  But Emily often worried that he would rather use his power to harm them than protect them.

Ironically, the imp Galimoto was now bound to the boy, though Emily swore he was still unable to even see the creature.  Galimoto had become more like an extension of his will – much like the Oneness.  Emily feared their new bond had resulted in Galimoto transforming from fiendish, to just plain evil.  For the most part, Galimoto hovered around him, matching the boy scowl for scowl.  She used to think the being had a soft spot for her, but now he only had dirty looks. 

There was another warrior in their party – perhaps the greatest one ever.  But there was no more fight left in him.  No more fight and very little life.  She thought to warn Solo Ki of their undead follower, but then thought better of it.  She knew he wouldn’t care.  He probably wouldn’t care if the creature came out of the darkness and ripped out his heart.  For all practical purposes, Solo Ki was already dead.  After what had happened at Shattered Rock, Emily couldn’t blame him. 

But what of their other undead party member?  He had a right to know.  But would knowing make matters better, or worse?  Thus far, the spirit revealed itself to only her, so maybe it wasn’t Emily’s decision to make.  And when the time was right, she would make her presence known to Solo Ki as well.   

For now, Emily decided to heed the being’s advice and make camp.  She signaled for a halt to their march.  The majority of their goods were strung to Gunt’s back, so she helped him unstrap the heavy burden, while he hoisted the children down off his back.  They hadn’t brought a great deal of food with them – little was left in the Destroyer’s aftermath.  Rations would have to be maintained if they were to make the two week journey to Lock Core.  Normally, the trek could be made in a week, but even after marching into the night, the group moved incredibly slow. 

Emily knew it would be a problem, but she refused to leave these people.  The elderly wouldn’t stand a chance without her, and the children would have but a slim one.  She heard that Lock Core had some sort of institution that took in orphans, and she planned on seeing those of Shattered Rock safely transported there.  As for the elderly, she wasn’t sure yet what was to become of them.  She couldn’t just leave them on the streets of Lock Core, though.  She could only hope the city would take kindness on them, and care for them as well.

Because of their pace, the Death Guards had journeyed ahead of them – though it was difficult to convince Theodorous to leave his hero, Solo Ki.  The tale of Shattered Rock had to be heard, and the sooner the better.  Theodorous and Bri Lynn made haste to warn their order of the fall of the Outlands and the Archenon – and the possibility that Lock Core could be next.   

“Gunt?”

A wisp of blue flames gently lifted the pack of supplies and settled it on the ground. 

“Can you take some of the children to the forest and gather fire wood?”

The giant issued a deep grunt in reply.

“But be careful.  Just because we’re out of the dead land, doesn’t mean the dead aren’t still out there.”

She knew for a fact, they were out there. 

Nodding in agreement, the dwarf unslung his massive war pick from his back, and simply said, “No harm will come to them.”  And then he ambled off, a flock of children running at his side.

Emily directed a couple of the elder children – some very near her own age – to help distribute  meals and organize camp, then she went from one weary soul to another, making sure they had something to fill their bellies and a blanket to keep them warm. 

She came upon an old blind man dressed in rags.  Emily had taken note of him before – she sensed the Oneness in him, enough of it to indicate he was obviously a high-ranking member of the Order.  Also, before the Death Guards left, they spent a great deal of time speaking with the man.  And the way they regarded him, seemed to indicate he was their superior.  But most unusual of all; back at the  Archenon, the blind man consoled Solo Ki – even put a sympathetic hand on the One Elf’s shoulder.  Solo Ki actually acknowledged the man, nodding his head in gratitude and respect.  Those curious bits of knowledge combined to peak her interest in the man, clearly indicating that he was no ordinary refugee.

She draped a wool blanket on his back, and held a chunk of bread in front of him.

“Something to eat, sir?” she asked, his frail hand already going for the meal before she finished the question.

“Thanks, child,” he replied. 

Though his eyes were gone, he somehow managed to grab the bread as if he knew its exact location.

No . . . This was no ordinary traveler.

“It has been so long since I’ve eaten a proper meal.  I fear I’ve grown accustom to the hunger pangs, and often forget I must eat, lest I wither away and die.”

“There will be soup as well . . . once our campfire is started,” Emily said, desperate to learn more about the man, but not certain how to proceed.

“I thank you, child.  But your bread will suffice.  It should be enough to keep me alive . . . for a while anyway.  As for the pain . . . I’ve learned to live with all kinds of pain.  Please, give my portion to one who cannot.”

“Forgive me for asking, but I couldn’t help but notice you seemed acquainted with Theodorous and Bri Lynn,” Emily said, deciding she needed to trust this man if he was to be a member of their party.  And to do so, she had to unravel his mystery.  “And your power . . . if you aren’t a Death Guard, you’re obviously a member of the Order.”

“Once upon a time, I was both.”

‘I was Keeper of the Wall, the day the Plague stormed Lock Core.  After the Destroyer sent them into the Rift, I began the Death Guard.’

Emily was so taken aback by his blunt response she nearly dropped her basket of bread.

‘You can trust me, Emily.  Just as I trust you with my secret.  I know you can feel it . . . the death of this land.  The world itself is dying.  I know you don’t want to hear it, but many of these people are already dead.  You need to save your strength, Emily.  No matter what you do you cannot save them all.  But perhaps with your power you can save their world.’  

He tore his bread in half and handed a piece to Emily.

“You take my share, child.  I wouldn’t want you to end up like this old man, forgetting your own need to eat.  You need your strength more than us all.  Besides, you’re far too young to be growing accustomed to pain.”

Emily stared in shock at the man.  She didn’t even realize she had taken his bread.  Nor had she realized how great her own hunger had been.  She truly was spent.  Tears hung at the corners of her wide brown eyes.  She knew the man spoke the truth.  She had given all to see these people free of Shattered Rock and the Destroyer’s swath of destruction.  But now they had to stand on their own, for something greater was at stake.  No longer could she waste her power healing a few, when she needed every last bit of it to heal the world.

She shed her tears for those who wouldn’t make the trek to Lock Core, then she stuffed the bread into her mouth.

 

 

 

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