All that’s left of the guy is a smoldering pile of ashes.
“Damn,” Captain Collins sighs, “just damn ridiculous.”
I can only stare at the pile in shock. I hadn’t really liked the kid that much, but I did think he was the One. He had the right skill set, a nice bloodline. He even had that charming-savior look to him.
I wasn’t taking it as hard as Private Jones though…
“Son of a BITCH. I can’t believe this! We come all the way out here again just for THIS? Just one more motherfu-”
“Private!” Captain reels on Jones. He freezes.
“Yes. Yes, Captain.”
She sighs again, pushes back her armored hood to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “Thank you for volunteering to collect the remains.”
“Yes, will do Captain.” Still red with fury, Jones lumbers his big body to the tiny ash pile. He pulls a small canteen from his belt and begins to fill it with what had once been Leonard Smalls.
Leonard Smalls. We should have known. What kind of name is Smalls for a Prophesied Champion?
I look up from the disappointing ashes to see Captain coming towards me.
She puts a hand on my shoulder. Her back is straight and her grip is tight, but her eyes betray how tired she is. I can see the lines at her temples deepen each time we lose One.
“Gather the Called. We’ll camp here, take off in the morning.”
She pats my back, takes a step away and pauses. “I really thought he was gonna do it.”
“Me too, Captain.”
She nods. I hate seeing her so defeated. We’ve been at this for centuries, and the weight of leading our rudderless legion is starting to drown her.
She offers me a fake smile, “We’ll find ’em. One of these times.”
“Captain, I’m just thinking- maybe we should get one that’s lightening proof.”
This brings a real smile out of her. “Yes, Sergeant, I think maybe so.”
A raspy voice behind us scoffs, “The Prophecy is nothing to chortle about, Sergeant!”
God I hate this guy.
“Shut up, Fendoialin.”
“I shan’t!” He raises his wrinkly fist to the sky, “Keeper of the Prophecy shall never fall silent! For it is foretold! The Lost Champion shall be found born under the Second Star, know him by the mark upon his cheek! And when he stands to the Door of the City-”
“-the City shall open to her people. We know.” Captain rubs her temples. “We know, Fen. Let it go. He got struck. It wasn’t him.”
Fendoialin launches into another of his long, withering speeches, so I decide it is indeed time to go collect the Called. Or anything else that takes me out of hearing range of the Keeper.
The Called are not pleased to be brought in from their posts. They all know it means another dead human, another lost chance to get home. As we set camp, we begin to discuss the corners of the earth we haven’t searched yet, where everyone can split up to cover next.
I ask Darluth to join McKoi on watch. Jones is still too hyped up, grumbling furiously at the fire and taking angry bites of his stew. It makes sense. He’s the youngest of us so I don’t think he feels as resigned as we do to never getting home. I’m pretty sure I lost hope at the 8th One. She was strong and witty, trained well and got along with Captain. She didn’t fall in love with anyone like the first guy or the sixth, which I was personally glad for because it always wrecks priorities. The girl even helped us get past the damn Thunder Kishi without getting dramatically hurt like the 3rd one or mortally impaled like clumsy 11. I liked the idea of having her as a leader. But then we got to the Door and the earth opened up to swallow her whole. It was damn shame.
“What about the eastern islands? We haven’t been there in 300 years, maybe they have a couple kids we can check.”
“You just want to sit on a beach, Yoland. I say we go farther south. The people of the volcanic lands have to have some good warriors. Maybe one of them was born under a second star.”
“Nah, remember- that short dude was from the south. Had the right scar and everything and just burst into flames at the Door.”
“Oh right… He was hot though.”
“Yes, very hot. Especially during the flames bit.”
Fendoialin scoffs again, “The PROPHECY is nothing to JOKE ABO-”
My spoon hits him right between the eyes.
Those around the fire laugh. At least we’ve still got our good spirits, and each other. All sixteen Called are still intact. Well, Clint got split into a couple pieces when we encountered some weird witch-sisters in the marshes once, but we got him back together. Other than that it’s just a couple scars here, a broken leg there. Those can mend, and I’m very proud we’re still alive at all. Now if we could just find the freaking chosen One.
Private Genile turns to me, a sadness resting in her violet eyes.
“Where do you think we should look, Sergeant?”
“Maybe…” Maybe nowhere. Maybe we give up. We’ve survived fine out here for the past thousand years or so. Perhaps those stuck inside the City are doing fine too without their divinely-choosen warriors. They’re locked away from the world, so there’s not much they need protecting from anyway.
Well, I guess the evil conquerers and angry beasts and vengeful gods and stuff. But it’s been so long, will there be anyone left to save?
Looking at Genile, I know that’s not the answer she needs right now. She found this last kid, and so took on the role of Companion. The strike on her collar bone from where she took an arrow for him is still healing. I know what it feels like to lose One you’ve been bound to.
I offer her a smirk, “Let’s go north. Find us a polar bear.”
She smiles, lifting the shadow under her eyes a bit.
The Captain stands, “Alright, alright, enough for the night. Watch has been scheduled, we’ll take off back to the mountains in the morning.” She puts her hands on her hips, a sign she’s about to deliver some heavy words. “We lost today. We lost this One. He was right, but not worthy, I suppose. But we’ll keep going. We will continue the search, the fight, and the oath for our people. And to do that, we’ll need some rest. You’ve all served well and deserve a good night’s sleep, I hope you have one.”
A round of “Yes ma’am”s and “yes Captain”s rises from around the fire. Captain walks to her tent, but before she goes in she turns back to us.
Her voice is soft but strong “We have been Called.”
As one, we solemnly respond “And we will answer.”
She nods, “There it is. Alright, goodnight my beloved little maggots.”
I turn in too, lying with my head outside my tent and staring at the sky. I stretch out each sore muscle, and fall asleep watching for a second star.
Yawn (verb): Involuntarily open one’s mouth wide and inhale deeply due to tiredness or boredom. (noun): a reflex act of opening one’s mouth wide and inhaling deeply due to tiredness or boredom.
I’m tired. I told y’all I’m just not a Winter gal and it just keeps being January. So this word and I have been very close all day.
This story’s basic premise has been circling in my head for years now. In every fantasy story out there with a fancy shmancy chosen savior, there are the sidekicks. I’ve always wondered what the sidekicks were up to before they found their champion, especially when the companions are super trained or blessed with cool ninja skills and then it turns out the kid they’re looking for is some orphan who knits (although… a knitting warrior would be kinda cool… alright putting a pin in that). Sometimes these armies are frozen or made of stone, but a lot of the times they’re busy fighting bad guys and trying to survive until Mister Main Character finally saunters in.
So here we’ve met a band of sidekicks, the chosen warriors the prophesied kid will lead to glory. But they can’t find the guy and thus have to continue training and searching until they do. That has to be at least as tiring as walking through snow and then driving to work and then getting to work right as the car heats up. Maybe. I don’t know, we’ll call it a draw.
This makes me think of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. The poor Grail Knight has been sitting there for hundreds of years and then this handsome stranger just comes in and wrecks everything. Sir Dude was all excited that his replacement had finally shown up and bam- Indy and his buds destroy the whole place. His little wave in the last scene seems to be so resigned. “Alright ya know what? Fine. I guarded the place for a millennia, you ruin it in under an hour. I’m so freaking tired. I’m going to go lie down.” I think the Called in our above story would really connect with him.
Thanks for indulging me these past couple of posts while I dipped my toes into the Fantasy genre. I’ll be steering back into my niche of interesting-regular-people, but I like these characters too so we’ll probably check back in on them from time to time.
It is late, and it is still cold. May you all have a good rest!
PS: Kishi are cannibalistic demons, half-human half-hyena from African lore. In my head they’re kinda like evil rabid centaurs. Honestly I needed a weird creature that were hard to fight and just like most writers, I prefer to steal creatures from other culture’s folklore instead of thinking them up myself. I also kinda enjoy the idea that these guys have to deal with whatever creatures are the lore of the places they’re visiting. We’ll see where that goes.
…also if anyone caught the tiny Star Trek character reference I’ll send you a cookie.