“Not like that!” I was laughing, “Ugh, Sam! You’re im-possible!” I moved his shield back to the starting angle, “When I strike, you move it back about 90 degrees – not 360!”
“So…not like this?” He spun his shield around his finger like a basketball.
“Sam!” he mimicked, “You’re im-possible!”
“Oh shut up.” But I felt better. I knew he wouldn’t start messing around until after he knew the move down cold.
I heard chimes in the background, which meant it was time for dinner. “Oooh, food!” said Sam, dropping his shield and bolting towards the dining hall.
I rolled my eyes, boys.
I picked up his shield and my sword, and dropped them off in the weapons shed. I guess this is a good spot to tell you about Chosens.
See, stories about monsters and magic aren’t just to put you to bed. They exist, and are a serious threat today. That’s why there are Chosens; kids who possess the ability to fight said monsters. Monsters mess with your minds, in ways only Chosens can resist; they attack at angles only Chosens can see coming. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it’s usually pretty sucky being Chosen.
Chosens are branded with a ‘birthmark’ of a sword on their left wrist. Don’t worry, I’ll give you time to check for it.
Good? Well, if you do have it, let me be the first one to say: I am so sorry. The day you’re branded with the mark you’re shipped off to this cage – sorry, boarding school, where you learn how to fend for yourself. See, as much as Chosens are meant for fighting monsters, they’re also meant for being monster food.
Anyways, most kids are Chosen because it runs in the family, others are just special. The mark appears ages 5-10, and the moment it comes, you’re sent to School of Chosens (creative, name, I know) or SoC.
Chosens fight monsters unless one finds them at Starbucks, or they’re sent on a quest. Meaning, if some magical creature is causing trouble in the mortal and/or magical world.
We rarely had them and they were always dangerous. Two Chosens were sent and they usually never came back. It was disgusting, I thought, for the school to be able to decide someone’s fate like that, but like I said, quests were rare.
The chimes sounded again, and I hurried towards the school. The practice field wasn’t too far from the dining hall, but it was never a good idea to be late for dinner – especially when teachers knew how to block and attack fast enough to make your head spin.
Entering the hall, I scanned the room for an empty seat. It didn’t matter where I sat, I liked almost everyone at SoC, and the feeling was mutual. I was also in the highest rank of our army formation, and that came with some perks, one of which being able to sit wherever I wanted – if you were in the highest rank…you were also pretty popular.
Luckily, there was a seat next to Sam, and I took it. I wasn’t very hungry, and mostly picked off of his plate. I stood up once to grab an apple, and by time I got back, the two seats across from me were taken by my best friends (well, next to Sam): Lily and Alexa.
Lily had bright blue eyes, and chestnut hair. She was the prettiest, I thought, out of all of us, but she was also the worst fighter. I didn’t really care about those kinds of things, though, so I was never bitter. Alexa had green eyes and jet-black hair. Sam looked like the boy version her, with short, wavy hair, instead of shoulder length – that’s because he was her brother.
“Hey,” said Lily, smiling, “How was the lesson?” she asked Sam, trying to hide her giggle.
She had always had a crush on him, but that wasn’t why she was smiling. Sam didn’t really need any lessons from me, since he was (I thought) the better fighter. It was rare that I knew any attack or block that he didn’t, and I wasn’t about to let it go unnoticed – Alexa, Lily, and I brought it up as much as possible, just to bug him.
I laughed, “He’s still, um, getting the hang of it-“
“Hold on,” said Sam, “getting the what of it? I’m sorry. I don’t think I can accept that answer. No deal.”
“Okay fine, he knows it. But I’m going to training camp here this summer, so I’ll have plenty to teach you come next fall.” I said, flicking a grape from Alexa’s plate at him.
“Hon,” said Alexa, reaching across the table and taking my hand, “it’s December. By next fall Stupid over there’ll know all of those moves down pat. It’s the natural order of things.”
“Stupid?” asked Sam, indignant.
“Stupid.” Confirmed Alexa. I laughed. Sam was my best friend, and I had known him since I was six. I met Alexa and Lily when I was nine, since they were Chosen a little later – that didn’t mean that I could live without them, though.
I looked around, “Lily, Alexa, why are people staring at you?” Almost everyone in the hall was casting daring glances at them. I caught some of their eyes, and they turned quickly away – even some people I knew. I shook my head, what was going on?
“They’re not staying at us,” said Lily, her voice lowering, “They’re staring at you and Sam.”
“Why would they…?”
“You didn’t hear?” Alexa looked up at me, her green eyes wide and nervous.
“Didn’t hear what?” asked Sam, worriedly. That scared me. Sam was never worried. He had an idea as to what was going on, and it wasn’t good.
“They…the Hydra’s back.” Said Alexa, regretfully. The words seemed forced out of her mouth. The Hydra’s back…oh, great. See, a lot of Greek myths were based on our monsters – real monsters that Chosens had to fight. Usually, they were exaggerated versions of these monsters, but the myth of the Hydra was 100% up to snuff. Cut one head off, get two back. It was dangerous, no doubt about it. This would call for a quest.
“You don’t mean…you think us?” I looked at Sam, who was shaking his head in disbelief.
“They’re going to send the best to fighters,” continued Alexa, “obviously you two.” Was that true? Yeah, Sam and I were good – Sam was even great – but I wasn’t good enough to…was I?
“We’ll be killed. What are they trying to do, re-create the gladiator games?” I didn’t mean for my voice to get as loud as it did. I set my head in the hand Alexa wasn’t holding.
“You’ll have the best protection,” said Lily, her eyes tearing up, never a good sign. “You’ll be sent with the best weapons.”
“They’ve already talked to you, haven’t they?” Sam asked. ‘They’ being the leaders of the Chosen community, who told the teachers, who apparently told Lily and Alexa. “You already know for sure that…we’re going?” Sam felt the same way as I did about quests.
“They told us while you two were training,” said Alexa, “they wanted us to tell you. They thought it would be easier to hear it from us.” She squeezed my hand, and turned to Sam, “Take care of her, okay?”
Sam nodded, “Of course I –“
“No.” I said.
“What? Danny, what do you mean ‘no’?” My real name wasn’t Danny, but Sam never thought I was suited for such a feminine name as Danielle. That or he couldn’t say Danielle when he was six. Either way, it stuck.
“I mean I’m not going to let the school, or the Chosen community decide my fate. It’s barbaric. I decide my fate and I am not going on this quest.”
“Danny, we have to.”
“What do you mean ‘have to’? I can do – “
“The school will kick us out if we don’t.” Sam shook his head, “I heard about the Hydra last night, and well, I knew it was only a matter of time. I knew what your reaction would be…I checked in the rulebook, and reviewed all Chosen laws. We have to go. It’s been decided.”
“Then you can have fun. I’m not going.” I stood up, glad to have the advantage of added height.
“We won’t have to go until tomorrow night.” Sam stood as well, ruining the entire purpose of my standing, “We have a day to prepare-“
“Oh, great, a day. I can do so much in a day!” I said sarcastically, “Face it Sam. If we go, we’ll die.” He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything I stormed out of the dining hall and into the practice field. I could almost feel Lily and Alexa’s worried eyes follow me, but I didn’t hear Sam’s footsteps behind me, which was a good thing. I didn’t want to be followed.
“I can’t let them decide what’s going to happen to me,” I went to the shed and got out a bow and arrow, “but I can’t let that Hydra get away.” It was true. A small part of me was sick of practicing on dummies, and Sam (whenever I asked Lily or Alexa if they wanted to train with me, they would ask if I thought they were crazy, and run away before I could say anything else). I was Chosen, after all, and wanted to fight that Hydra.
I walked angrily towards the targets lining the East wall of the school. Sometimes during classes, you could look out the window and see someone aiming at their target. Sometimes I saw Sam, since he’s a year older than me, and not in my classes.
It was never fun watching him though, unless I was out with him, and could make a competition of it. For one thing, he almost always made the target, which is no fun to watch. Well, unless he caught me staring, then he would fumble with the arrows – he knew I was paying attention to every mistake, and would tease him about them later. It wasn’t fun to watch all of the girls flutter their eyelashes and re-apply makeup either. Frankly, it made me kind of sick.
I aimed for the target, imagining some Chosen leader’s face in the center. All of my problems are on the tip of this arrow. When I let it loose, they go with it. It was a trick Lily had taught me, though she was never good at Archery herself.
I raised my elbow a little higher, and thought about the angle some more. I was challenging myself, and aiming for the target next to the one I was fifty feet in front of. Usually, I would never do this, but since no one was outside and in my way, I went for it.
I didn’t want the school to decide my fate, but I had to be the one to fight that Hydra – with Sam. I aimed, and let the arrow loose.
Twang! The arrow hit the bullseye, and the Chosen leader’s face. I sent another arrow flying, then another one, and suddenly, the bullseye was loaded with arrows. I turned to the one to the right of the target in front of me. That one filled up too. I aimed for things like spots on the trees around me, the middle of a knothole, the tip of a branch. Laughing, I reached for another arrow. Finding the case to be empty, I turned to get more, and walked straight into Sam, who was smiling.
“Danny, that’s why they want us there. This is why they want us to fight the Hydra.” I look around, and realize that Sam’s been shooting with me for a while. He left the targets alone, but every arrow I sent flying into the trees, he’s matched, with his arrows next to mine.
“Sam, I’m sorry. I can’t let someone else decide when and what I’m going to fight.” I set the bow and arrow case down.
“Do you think I feel any better about this? Danny, we don’t have a choice – would you rather this, or be made as an example and kicked out of the school? You choose, but I’m not about to be made an example.”
I looked back up at the trees, now speckled with arrows. “I,” I smiled, “I actually really want to fight the Hydra.”
“Me too.” Sam admitted, “Can you imagine?”
“We’d be great.” I smiled, “Hydra wouldn’t have a chance.” I walked over to the targets, and began pulling out arrows. “Fighting a Hydra, all by ourselves like big kids…” I mumbled.
“All by ourselves, like big kids.” Echoed Sam in a puzzled tone, like he was lost in thought.
“But I can’t let the school be the reason for it! If only…” I stood up a little straighter, “Sam, do you know where the-“
“Chicago, probably in Nebraska by now, you know, they like to travel west.”
“What about…how long would it take for us to get there?” Sam opened his mouth, and then closed it.
“Danny, you’re not seriously thinking – ”
“Yeah, I am.” I smiled, “So…what do you say?” It’s weird how easily Sam can read me. He knew exactly what I was thinking – and just how crazy I was for thinking it.
“I…but wouldn’t that be doing what they wanted us to?”
“Sam, you want to fight the Hydra anyways, right? It wouldn’t be what they want us to do. It’s about what we want to do…if we leave now, without warning, it’ll be breaking the school’s code, and maybe even the law, but we’d be deciding our fate and…Sam! It’s perfect! They wouldn’t be deciding our fate, yet we’d be able to fight the Hydra and…oh, don’t you get it?”
A slow smile spread across his lips, “I get it.” He glanced through the windows of the dining hall. Inside, students and teachers were eating and laughing. The lights inside the hall brightened as the lights outside darkened. “We should leave soon if…if we’re leaving –”
“What, you scared?” I teased. He aimed an arrow to the center of the knothole, and fired it so quickly all I could see was a blur of red and beige. He had put so much force into his arrow, that the force it hit the tree with caused my arrow to fall several feet out of the tree. It landed in the grass, with a snap, as it broke in half – something I knew Sam was aiming for. “I’ll take that as a no.” I smiled, “Destroying school property, what will Bad Boy Sammy do next?”
“Bad Boy Sammy?” He raised his eyebrows, I shrugged; it was the best I could come up with, “Well, ‘Bad Boy Sammy’ is getting out of here. Will Dangerous Danny accompany him?” I tried my best to look offended, but I was laughing too hard. Dangerous Danny? Well, I had to give him credit – it was better than Bad Boy Sammy.
“Yes, she will.” I curtsied, and Sam held out his arm, like he was going to be a gentleman and accompany me to fight the Hydra. The lights began to flicker in the hall, a fifteen-minute warning to those eating inside. Meanwhile, it was pitch black outside, a good cover if we were going to leave soon. The guards that were usually by the front were probably inside, eating.
It wasn’t a threat that anyone would break in; we could fight monsters, some mere mortal trying to break in would be no problem. There was also a magical protection around the school that kept monsters out. There wasn’t any guard up for keeping students from leaving, or sneaking out though…it hadn’t been done before, so it wasn’t a question.
If we were going to leave, it would have to be soon. I began gathering arrows, and grabbed a belt with a sheath attached to hold my sword, when I saw Lily’s dagger, in the corner of the shed, glinting in the pale moonlight, “Sam…what about Lily and Alexa? When they find out we’re gone-”
“They know we can fend for ourselves.”
“No, when they find out we’re gone. The school the Chosen leaders…will they hurt Lily and Alexa for what we did?” He paused in the middle of grabbing some armor, then shook his head.
“They’ll be fine.” He didn’t sound so sure.
“Sam, are you sure – ”
“Danny!” It was his turn to convince me, “They’ll be fine. I wouldn’t put my sister in danger – or Lily.” He added. Right, Alexa’s his sister. He wouldn’t leave if he thought his sister was in danger.
We gathered everything, and got one last look at the practice field. I got a shiver down my spine when I realized we were actually going – we were leaving, alone, to fight the Hydra.
I wasn’t a spontaneous kind of person. I didn’t decide to go fight Hydras on a limb. I was however, the kind of person who didn’t want to be controlled – I didn’t want my fate handed to me, I wanted to take it when no one was looking.
It was probably the last time I would ever be at SoC, or not a wanted convict in the Chosen community, but it was the first time I was doing something because I wanted to.
“You ready?” Sam asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” I sighed, both excited and worried and probably a little bit crazy at the same time, “let’s leave before I realize this is a bad idea.”
And we set off into the darkness.
Sophia Flores, Age 12, Grade 7, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Silver Key