From behind the bar counter a young woman looked about and sighed. There was much that she needed to do before dusk arrived bringing with it her first customers. Diminutive sunlight made its way from a shattered window; the ones that were intact had so much dust caked on them they sucked everything in like a black hole allowing nothing to pass through. Like the windows, the floor was covered in a film preventing its true luster from being seen. Miniscule tables filled the room with dull chairs on top. She pulled her blonde hair back behind her, but it managed to come undone within the first hour of cleaning.
Children could be heard outside, giggling. With a heavy sigh she dropped her mop and headed toward the door.
The sun was shining down on her as she walked out of Eternity, a small building in the dilapidated part of town. A month of cleaning and repairs wasn’t enough to take the years of negligence away. It was a bar for the hopeless, the weak, and the poor.
She peered down the alley. It stopped at the main street and continued on until it hit another road before continuing on again. To her, the alley was neverending, forever testing a human’s patience, much like time. In front of her was a concrete courtyard the other businesses in the area used. The children, who were playing with a ball, hadn’t noticed her yet.
She waited, standing there until a little girl stopped and stared. Another child, thinking the girl was still playing, threw the ball toward her and it hit her in the head. Like a wave, the other children’s heads began turning toward the young woman. There was a moment’s pause before they all ran toward her with open arms and bright smiles.
“Tell us a story, Catrina! Tell us a story!” they all yelled and shouted with delight as they fought to be the first to embrace her. She heard another child cry above the others, “Please? With a cherry on top?” The woman attempted to hug all the children at once, but failed and instead laughed at their eagerness. The children were all war orphans and it pleased her that there was something that could still put a smile on their little faces. She knew herself that it was hard to go on when you lost everything. It had taken her years to truly smile again.
“I do have a new story,” she began.
The children’s cheers drowned out the rest of her sentence. Taking control of the situation she settled the children down before continuing on.
“Hush, now. Like I said, I have a new story I haven’t told you before. A story about how the war actually started.”
“Whadda you mean?” a boy said.
“What have you been told about it?” Catrina asked.
“Everyone always says that the war started because of a family dispute!” an older boy said and the other children murmured in agreement.
“And has anyone ever told you why there is a war?”
“To bring the world peace,” a girl chimed.
The woman grinned at them. “What if I told you, you were wrong? Everything that you’ve been told is a lie.” The children looked at her perplexed.
She herded them inside the bar. They eagerly took seats down and arranged them around her stool. Looking down at their stares of anticipation, she began.
“The war didn’t start out as a family dispute. That part, though partly true, didn’t happen until later. The real reason the war started was all due to one girl, a girl who didn’t even live here on this planet. This girl lived on our sister planet, Earth, a few years ago.
“There are certain parts of Earth where people can escape from the overcrowded cities and suburbs. Places where people can escape from the noise and the stresses of everyday life. A place where people can live off the land, yet ironically, to keep it hidden they had to work with technology to keep what they called the Outside World away from them.
“It’s in one of these hidden forested areas where our story starts . . .”
* * *
Kaia Ketoki was sitting and looking out a window near the kitchen where her mother was searching the cabinets. Her head rested in one slender hand as the other lightly drummed the wooden sill. Her hair was an unusual color: a blue as light and soft as the sky. Kaia’s complexion was fair, although she spent most of her time outside. Her magenta eyes were drawn to the quaint dojo adjacent to her house. A red symbol that resembled a backwards C and a dot placed with the utmost care just above and below it, rested in the middle of her forehead. It was the most peculiar thing she found of herself, and when asked why she had inherited this trait from her mother and grandmother, her mother simply said because she was special and that ended the conversation.
A clatter resonated from the kitchen. “Kaia, could you get some berries?” her mother called.
Kaia peered into the kitchen. Wooden bowls were spilt across the travertine counter. A pile of flour filled a corner of the countertop, having escaped from a large gash in the bag. Sugar and salt were intermixed, emblazing the counter with tiny diamonds. In the center of the mess was her mother, covered in flour; a bowl had landed upside down on her head.
“What kind of berries?” Kaia managed to ask without laughing at her mother’s appearance.
Her mother coughed and looked at the mess. “Blackberries,” she answered with a bright smile.
“Okay.” Kaia disappeared from the doorway. Her eyes lingered back toward the dojo. An old man named Driscoll Nova lived there, attempting to teach martial arts. He swore that the peaceful village would need to use it one day, but none of them believed him. Some of the parents sent their children there to stop him from lecturing to them; it wasn’t a secret that most believed he was growing senile. If he wasn’t rattling on about the importance of defense, he was bragging about some boy he had taken in years ago.
He had never allowed this child to come out in broad daylight while everyone was around, which naturally led most to believe that he was making everything up. The others didn’t have anything to say about the matter, but eventually Driscoll learned of everyone’s opinion of him. Despite matters, Kaia’s mother wanted to believe Driscoll, but Kaia knew that in her heart of hearts that her mother had the same doubts as everyone else. Still, every so often, Kaia’s mother would go out of her way and make something for Driscoll’s child. Sweets solved everything, she had said to Kaia one day, and it was a piece of childhood every child needed.
Kaia moved on, grabbing the wicker basket that was kept next to the door. She hesitated before leaving and looked toward the portrait of her dead father. Shaking the strange feeling that was overwhelming her, she took another quick peek at her mother who was now brushing the flour off of her; the bowl was still on her head, unnoticed. A large poof of white flour clouded over her, making her ghost-like; the flour spread quickly, creating an even larger mess. Stifling another giggle, Kaia shouted, “Be back soon, mom!”
“Take care!” she heard her mother yell as she closed the door. She dodged a ball a child threw while walking to the perimeter of the forest and as she entered the welcoming shade the canopy had to offer, she found herself in a fit of giggles.
Kaia wasn’t far from her village when a shadow flashed from the corner of her eye, awakening her from her thoughts. Though her curiosity was piqued, she continued on her task. Perhaps after she had delivered the berries to her mother she would investigate what had gone by. With a soft sigh, she began humming a tune with forgotten lyrics and eventually managed to find the blackberry bush she sought.
There were other blackberry bushes closer to her village, but she always sought this one bush. Here, the blackberries were always plump and ripe. She could pick every berry off the bush and if she arrived in the morning, twice as many plump and ripe berries would have grown in their place. This bush wasn’t only the best place to find readily available berries, but it was also near her favorite place in the forest: Spirit’s shrine. Kaia filled her basket comfortably and stood up. She hesitated, contemplating between going straight home and making a small stop to the shrine. Deciding her mother wouldn’t mind if she made a stop, she plucked a few more berries from the bush and settled them neatly in her apron pocket.
After a short walk through the foliage, she came to a small clearing. The shrine was in a secluded spot next to a miniature waterfall that fell into a quiet stream. The shrine was Chinese in appearance: a navy blue roof lined with a rich red, its walls a cream that looked as if you could eat it, and the green sliding door was as green as the tidiest lawn. Although small, it held an air of majesty.
As Kaia approached, a doe drinking from the stream with her fawn looked up, alert. Sensing no immediate threat from Kaia, she continued to drink alongside her child.
Grabbing some of the berries from her apron pocket, Kaia placed them in an old tin bucket that was kept hanging on a pole near the steps of the shrine. With each berry she dropped, she heard a small plunk. Kaia fished the rest of the berries out of her pocket and scattered them across the lawn. She sat on the steps, watching as the doe and her fawn wandered over and nibbled at them.
She felt harmonious with the world as she sat there and only when she noticed the growing shadows did she realize how late it was getting. Jumping up, Kaia gradually made her way back to the path after rechecking the berries in the bucket. Giddiness overcame her and she found herself excited to go back home. She imagined her mother now, flour free. The bowl would probably still be on her head, completely unnoticed. The kitchen would be spotless and by the time the two of them finished, it would be a complete disaster once again.
While trying desperately to remember the words to the song she had been humming earlier, Kaia began to notice smoke rising high above the trees. The wind blew a heavy scent of burning leaves toward her and she broke into a full run, spilling the blackberries across the path and tossing the bucket aside in frustration. Crackles and splitting wood rang throughout the forest, nearly drowning out the bloodcurdling screams and mournful cries that rose above the hellish flames.
Smoke and tears blurred her vision. Kaia slowed down, exhausted from her sudden sprint. She coughed out the smoke that threatened to suffocate her lungs and the heat almost unbearable point here at the perimeter of the growing flames: her village.
There was nothing she could do except watch it burn away, yet her brain continued to race, trying desperately to think of a way she could extinguish the massive flames. She came up with nothing. With her mind numb, she meekly called out, “Mom?”
Kaia’s voice went unheard with the anguish shout of the blaze. It inched closer with every passing second. Her heart began racing and she shouted, “MOM!” while running recklessly toward the fire. Two arms shot out from behind and embraced her, halting her body.
“Let go! Let go! I need to see my mom!” She thrashed around, trying to pry the strong arms off of her. “Mom, I’m coming! Hold on!”
The arms were unrelenting. Kaia thrashed and threw her body against them until her body grew limp from exhaustion. The arms loosened around her slowly; her body slumped down into a heap. As she sobbed, a hand rested tentatively on her shoulder sending a shiver down her spine. Hesitantly, Kaia lifted her eyes to see who had stopped her from rescuing her mother.
She expected to see the face of someone much older, but was surprised to find a teenager of around 17—an adult to her village’s standards. His eyes were mysterious and glued her eyes to his. They penetrated her, appearing to see every thought and secret. His hair, like hers, was an unusual color, though his was a light indigo. He kept his hair a bit longer than most males, but wore it tied back. The glow of the fire caused his face to seem hard, which only frightened her more since he showed no sign of friendliness. Whatever he was to her, she wished he would stop looking at her.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally spoke. His voice was tough, straining to sound friendly, but failed and came out commanding, “Go to the shrine. It’s safe there.”
“Why?” she asked, tentatively, her voice barely a whisper.
“There’s no time to explain. Just do it!”
She still didn’t move and just as she was about to question him again they heard a noise. In a nearby tree, they spotted a man standing on a sturdy branch. Dressed in black, he held a box of matches and had a sword at his side. He tossed the box up and down, up and down, and then suddenly stopped. He looked at them and feigned surprise. Casually, he threw the box into the inferno and gave a sinister smirk.
“It would appear that I missed two,” he said, gracefully unsheathing his sword and directing it at them. “Now, who should I kill first? Her—or you?”
The man looked over Kaia and her face scrunched up in revulsion as the man smirked and licked his lips slowly as he clutched the hilt of his sword. The teenage boy’s eyes hardened and he stepped closer toward Kaia.
As she took a few tentative steps back to distance herself from the man and the steadily approaching flames, the teenager said, “I don’t think you’ll be killing us. Or anyone else for that matter.”
She looked quickly at the teenager, but his face was still without emotion. The man in the tree laughed, turning Kaia’s attention back to him.
“And why won’t I be killing anymore?” he bellowed.
“I’ll tell you why,” the teenager said, his voice rising with anger, “because I’m going to put a stop to it!”
Kaia saw that he had a sword of his own. He agilely unsheathed it and pointed it toward the man in black. The man only laughed. “You’re barely out of diapers, and you think you can take me on?”
The teenager said nothing, but coldly stared back. More quickly than she could follow, the man jumped down from his perch. Kaia squeaked and moved behind the teenager. The teenager, however, didn’t flinch. He seemed steadfast and sure of himself. The man in black also noticed his demeanor and his grin vanished.
“What’s your name?” the man suddenly asked.
“The name’s Reeze,” he answered coolly. “And yours?”
The man gave a wolfish grin. “You can call me Tipton.”
Kaia closed her eyes for a split second, wishing desperately that everything was just a dream. Opening her eyes, she found Reeze right in front of her holding back an attack. Sweat glistened on his forehead as he strained to push Tipton back, while Tipton was again grinning.
“Go!” Reeze yelled at her. Reluctantly, she scrambled up and mustered enough energy to get up and sprint toward the shrine, never looking back.
Her legs ached with pain and her breathing was shallow, yet she kept running. She continued to push her body forward, forcing herself to look ahead. The distance from her village to the shrine suddenly seemed like days. The forest itself was unexpectedly different: trees loomed at her; branches made a grab for her, trying to make her stay. Scratching and batting through the foliage, she finally fell into the clearing.
Cast in a reddish glow, the small stream seemed to flow blood. Kaia made her way toward the shrine, shaking and shivering. She could hear the fire screaming as it approached. Wrapping her arms around herself, she silently passed the bucket and went up the stairs. Her fingers trembled as she hesitantly grabbed the groove on the door and slid it open, placing her first steps into the ancient shrine.
Inside, the shrine was musty. The dust that had collected on the floor was thick, drifting like smoke when she walked carefully through. She was disgusted that the shrine looked so plain inside and hadn’t been taken care of—everything on the inside was a pale brown. If she had known this, she would’ve taken up the responsibility of caring for it; perhaps even giving the inside some color. Then again, nobody had entered the shrine for 50 years and even she knew that. Ashamed, Kaia stood near the open door and stared at the opposing wall.
The shock of losing her family, friends, and the one place she called home crashed into her and her knees gave way. The thought of death crept into her mind, but she shook it out. Her mother had always told Kaia that she had a purpose in life, yet Kaia found herself doubting those words for the first time in her life.
Bringing her legs closer to her body, she placed her head on her knees and looked out. Her vision was a little blurry, but she could still see that everything was ablaze. Wiping away her tears, she looked again. Everything that surrounded the shrine was on fire, but the shrine itself was not. Steadily, she crawled to the small porch and took a closer look. Her mind refused to believe it.
“Reeze,” she said, realizing he was still caught in the flames. She began to make her way back inside when she spotted someone amidst the flames coming closer. She continued to watch hoping it would miraculously be her mother or Spirit, but Reeze staggered out clutching his chest. He had many wounds, but a golden glow surrounded him, protecting him from the licking flames. He collapsed onto the porch beside her and the glow dissipated.
For a second, Kaia could only stare at his body. Her mind whirled forward and she scrambled to turn him over and pull him inside. It was difficult to move him. Even while she was doing it, Kaia felt she was pulling dead weight, but she remained at her task. With one last heave, she managed to pull the last inch of his feet inside and collapsed next to him.
“Reeze?” she said timidly.
He winced. His hand still gripped his chest and he grabbed it tighter in pain. He gasped and then started to cough. Kaia’s eyes grew wider as small splatters of blood escaped from his mouth.
Concern crossed her face. “Let me see that,” she said motherly. With trembling hands, she carefully removed his hand away. She knew what she was going to discover, yet she still hoped otherwise. When she moved his hand, she saw the blood.
“Reeze. You’re going to—”
Kaia was interrupted by a blinding blue light that appeared in the middle of the room. Two identical looking women walked out of the light in solemn procession, their eyes averted to the floor. The women had on different colored robes—one black, the other white—and the scars on their eyes were opposite each other. The blonde hair that spilled from the shadows of their hoods shone like gold and the light made them look like angels.
Kaia stared at the two. Reeze’s voice broke her trance.
“Who— who are you?” Reeze asked. His voice was raspy. Kaia assumed it was from the blood that was pooling in his chest. She stole a glance and saw his skin was pale and sweat covered his entire forehead. His eyes were already beginning to dull and cloud. She bit her bottom lip and cast a nervous glance toward the women.
“We are the priestesses of Cristos and Maura,” both said in unison. Their voices were hollow and echoed in the small shrine. They still did not look up.
“Who?” Kaia asked.
“You will soon know,” the one in white said calmly.
“Come with us, young one,” the woman in black ordered. She looked up and stared directly at Kaia. Her icy blue eyes were cold, powerful, and fierce—they were the eyes of someone who had seen all the evils of humanity and Kaia felt miserable. Kaia broke eye contact, never noticing the other advancing toward her until she held Kaia’s arm in a firm grip.
“Leave her alone,” Reeze rasped as sharply as he could, struggling to get up. A gasp escaped his lips and he collapsed.
“She is to come with us. She is not your concern,” they coldly said in unison.
“She is my concern,” he painfully said.
The priestess’s grip on Kaia’s arm tightened and Kaia yelped in pain. The priestesses continued standing over Reeze, contemplating his words.
“He may find some use for this one,” the one in white said to her companion.
Kaia struggled to break free from the priestess’s grip, but her grip was too strong. With another hard push, Kaia was flung forward from her own force when the priestess suddenly let go. She looked up questioningly.
“Stay here. We will take you to safety,” they said.
The woman in black took out what appeared to be a small butter knife and began slicing lines around Kaia and Reeze. Wherever she sliced, a blinding blue light appeared. Kaia watched in awe as a large rectangle took form.
The other priestess looked on in satisfaction at her companion’s work. She then looked toward Kaia, not unkindly. Unlike her twin, her eyes seemed to be those who had seen all the goodness of humanity and instantly made Kaia feel warmer, safe.
“Trust us,” the priestess said softly to her.
With the rectangle complete, the priestesses approached one another and faced each other. Taking each other’s hands and holding them level with their faces, the two stared in each other eyes. A swirl of blinding blue light rose from below them.
“Sumit duos in luminarium ut Shigonil,” they shouted in unison.
A blinding blue light then blazed beneath Kaia and Reeze. Kaia attempted to move, but was paralyzed. In an instant the two were covered by the light and drowning in an endless abyss.
If you enjoyed the first chapter of The Chosen and would be interested in continuing the story, head on over to Smashwords to buy the ebook in any format you need, or buy it from Amazon for only $2.99. Or learn more about the book and listen to the playlist, read reviews, check out the world map, and find out the story behind the story. If you enjoyed the story, don’t hesitate to join the mailing list (signup is under the cover on the side) and you’ll be the first to read excerpts and learn about new book announcements! And most importantly, thanks for taking the time to read!