The Time of Choosing

I wrote this piece as part of Nulli Para Ora’s Musings. It was a photo prompt and unfortunately I don’t have a link to the picture without a lot of searching. Nulli’s page has closed and I had linked to her page to encourage more to participate.

This one also caused me a bit of trouble – not because of what I wanted to say, but where to begin to capture the perfect scene that fit the photo used. This is definitely a plot bunny that wanted to come out and play.

Photo prompt – a glorious carving of a pair of dragons

The Time of Choosing – 667 Words

Glowing spheres surrounded the enormous relief, their bright blue lights illuminated the intricate carving’s brilliant colors in the pre-dawn darkness. The sculpture depicted the port kingdom’s saviors at the moment of their greatest triumph. Ferak’shar from the neighboring planet of Shar’tranak had long coveted the water planet, attacking when its people devolved into petty squabbles and senseless wars. The twin dragons, rulers of the Golden Sun and the Azure Sea, had emerged from their eons-long sleep to save their people from the brink of extinction.

 But everything requires a price.

 Ten days ago, the spheres changed from pale green to warm amber. A signal that the Time of Choosing drew near. The royal family, city officials, and leaders of society kicked off the festive week with block parties and balls. They opened their doors to everyone, from the lowliest beggar to visiting royalty. Food and wine flowed like water; but underneath it all was a sense of furtive desperation.

 Last night, the yellow began to fade to white-blue. The balls and parties ended, and families huddled together. Those who believed, prayed. Those who didn’t, prepared. Some risked the shame and humiliation of capture by trying to flee the city. Mothers kissed their children; husbands kissed their wives. The Choosing allowed few exceptions.

 After a sleepless night, those who qualified formed a line at the base of the revered and despised relief. At a signal from the king, the Prospects started the climb up the winding staircase that spiraled almost to the top. There, they were to touch the golden sphere to see if they were Chosen or Forgiven. The Gods of the Sun and Sea chose but one every five years, signaled by the orb’s glow. They were indiscriminate in their choices – gender mattered not, nor did appearance or status or wealth – but generous as well. Though required to participate, few married Prospects, and none with small children were Chosen.

 Malah’kar approached the platform, clenching her hands to stop their trembling. There were three females and two males before her. All were weeping, though the men managed to hide it better. Two behind her had fainted. Three had tried to run. She pitied them the most. They would still have to participate, but then they, and their families would be shunned by the rest of the Kingdom.

 She prayed to the Sun and Sea that she could change this forever.

 The guards moved forward to escort a young female Prospect towards the sphere. She fought their gentle but firm hold, crying and begging for mercy. The grief on the guards’ faces tore at Malah’kar’s heart. What had been a joyous blessing from the Gods now only brought sorrow. The Choosing fostered hatred and despair in the once-happy kingdom. The people talked of the good times, the old times, and speculated on what-ifs. Some proposed that even the despotic rule of the cruel Ferak’shar would seem a blessing over the Time of Choosing.

 The young man before her stumbled on the way to the relief, his eyes locked on a young woman heavy with child at the base of the mural. The wailing of the many drowned out her wrenching sobs, but Malah’kar imagined she could hear them anyway. The guards approached, equal parts dutiful and sympathetic, and helped him close the final distance. They understood the pain and the uncertainty. They had been the first to approach the sphere.

 Suddenly, it was her turn.

 Squaring her shoulders, the young woman approached the glorious mural with steady steps. Fear warred with determination, and she too faltered in the last few feet. Yet when the guards approached, she waved them off. She was Malah’kar; she would not allow a stone carving to reduce her to a sniveling child. As she laid her hand upon the smooth stone sphere, she muttered the last words heard by her kingdom.

 “Pick me, damn you.”

 The sphere flashed.

There was a sense of falling.

And then there was nothing.

 The Gods had Chosen.

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