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art by Shothot Designs

Not the Chosen One

Amber D. Sistla lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her speculative fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Nature, Jim Baen's Universe, Cosmos, and Postscripts.
Grikl paced in the clearing surrounded by bekel trees, their boughs overflowing with delicately waving blossoms that filled the sultry air with a sweet scent. She took care not to stop lest she sink into the mud. It was bekel bug season and she couldn't even seek the steadier ground near the roots of the trees. One bite from the bug would paralyze her so that it could burrow inside and lay its eggs. The thought of the danger nauseated her, but it was the perfect spot to wallow in her shame; no one would think to look for her in the groves.
The Elders said true spirits rejoiced in the accomplishments of others, but she was sure they'd never had to live in the shadow of the Chosen One. Archery, hunting, running, singing, dancing, shouting... Ekkli's list of talents was unending and Grikl was always a distant second. Only beauty, that is my undisputed domain. The thought wormed in her mind like a bekel bug. Of what use was beauty? The boys cared little for such a transient, unskilled thing when they could bask in the glory of Ekkli's bright accomplishments.
Villagers had come from the farthest fars to witness Ekkli's Initiation. Ma, who never smiled, had smiled when Ekkli had emerged from the goddess cave wearing not one, but two brass rings in her ears. She'd gone to Ekkli's ma and said that now they could finally hope and thanked her for birthing the goddess's chosen.
It wasn't even that Grikl wanted to best Ekkli. Just the thought of traveling to the neighboring villages made her violently ill. She'd no desire to be the Chosen One and leave home to journey south and battle the Oppressor on Mount Selon. Ekkli was probably already on her way.
Grikl paused for a moment and closed her eyes. She couldn't even attend the farewell, sure that others would see the joy in her eyes. She'd been glad Ekkli was going for it meant she wouldn't have to be second-best anymore. The shame of it withered her soul.
Ekkli's melodious voice sounded behind Grikl. "I thought I'd find you daydreaming here." Ah, cleverness--yet another talent of the Chosen One. "The mud'll take you. It's already up to your ankles." And a talent for pointing out the obvious.
Grikl opened her eyes and glared. The hungry mud squelched as she pulled her legs out. She resumed her pacing, circling the clearing in an opposite direction from Ekkli. "I thought you were already gone."
The indigo tattoo swirls on Ekkli's newly shaven head gleamed. "I wanted to see my friend before I left." She grabbed Grikl's arm as they crossed paths. "At least wish me luck."
Guilt knotted Grikl's stomach. How can I be jealous at a time like this? Nobility and self-sacrifice were, apparently, not her accomplishments either. She stretched on her toes, straining to touch Ekkli's forehead with her own. They stood soul to soul in silence while the wind blew. Was that fear tingeing the Chosen One's eyes? It couldn't be. Ekkli wasn't afraid of anything. Was she? "What do you need luck for? You're the Chosen One. You're destined to vanquish the Oppressor."
"I'm. . ."
Grikl waited, but not having the patience of her friend, finally broke the silence. "What?" Silence. She pulled away in time to see the bekel bug burrow into the hollow of Ekkli's throat.
The Chosen One's eyes rolled to the back of her head, and she toppled to the ground with a wet thud. Prone, she sank quickly.
Grikl tried to drag Ekkli out, but the mist and mud made her friend slippery, and they both began sinking. A logical part of her knew that her friend was dead already, the bekel bug nesting in her insides, but she couldn't just let her sink. Perhaps a branch of the bekel tree could help pry Ekkil out, but what use would she be if a bug fell on her. She thought about her Ma and everyone waiting, hoping for salvation.
How can I tell of her death after they've just begun to hope? It would break my people. Tears blurring her eyes, she ripped the brass rings from her friend's ears and then dragged herself out of the mud.
Ekkli disappeared with a slurp. Ekkli who shouldn't have even been in the groves that day.
The mist turned to tumultuous rain, the goddess herself grieving for her beloved.
Grikl walked south until the lush bekel groves tapered off, south beyond the farthest far village, south until she reached the foothills of Mount Selon. Everyone knew that evil lived there; everyone knew the Chosen One would free them. She'd not the skills nor the goddess's favor nor the destined victory. Only guilt. Up, up she climbed, the brass rings clattering in her ears.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 27th, 2010

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