Gina moved the bone comb through her hair slowly, gently loosening the tangles. Water dripped onto her bare legs, creating small pinpoints of coolness on her hot skin. Her hand shook and she grabbed her arm with her other hand. She placed the comb on the table in front of her, staring at her reflection.
She couldn’t hide it. She couldn’t hide her fear. Everyone would know she wasn’t ready for this, could never be ready for this.
She pulled her robe tight around her and took a deep breath, willing the nerves away. But they’d never go away. Not until this was over.
Today was the day.
Laying on her bed was a beautiful white dress, the thin fabric rippling with the warm summer breeze blowing through her window. It was the only dress she owned and she’d only worn it once. The day her sister married.
“Gina?” a voice called through her door. It was Lucas, her assigned watcher. He opened the door, used to not waiting for her voice. When he saw her only in her robe, he turned his back, but not before she saw his face flush red.
“What is it, Lucas?”
“The elder wishes for both candidates to meet at the fountain when the sun passes below the western wall. The ceremony will begin as soon as the sun is out of sight.”
Standing, she looked out the window and saw the sun beginning to sink close to the western wall. She only had an hour at the most.
As she turns back, she saw him watching her. “Was there anything else?”
Turning away again, he shook his head. “N-no.”
“Thank you. I’ll be ready soon. Wait for me outside the door.”
“As you wish.” He quickly left, closing the door behind him.
Releasing a shaky breath, Gina sat on the bed next to her dress. She traced the light material with her fingers wishing the day was done. She wanted everything back to normal, but depending on the outcome of the ceremony…
Shaking her head clear of troubling thoughts, she walked back to her mirror, sitting on the stool in front of it. She ran her hand through her damp hair before rolling it and coiling it into a tight bun. She pulled hairpins from her robe pocket and dug them into the thick hair to hold its shape. Then she grabbed the white ribbon hanging on her mirror and tied it around the bun, leaving enough material to hang down the back of her neck.
On the floor next to the mirror was a small jar of powder. She picked it up and carefully placed a light amount on her cheeks and eyelids. She hated the feeling of it, like a mask even with the small amount.
Next came the dress. She walked to the edge of the bed and stared at it. At her sister’s wedding she’d felt trapped to be the perfect little sister. What would she be trapped being at the ceremony?
Dropping the robe to the floor, she picked up the dress and slipped it on, careful to keep it from wrinkling. She turned to the mirror and stared at the different reflection.
It’s finished after today.
Almost immediately, Lucas entered the room, keeping his eyes aimed at the ground. “Yes?”
“I’m clothed. I need your help to tie the back.”
Lucas looked up and his breath caught in his throat. He quickly moved behind her and pulled on the thick white string to tighten the fit of the dress. When he finished he stepped back, his eyes moving up and down her.
“You look amazing,” he said.
“They said to look nice for the ceremony. Is there anything I’m supposed to bring?”
“Just yourself, I think.”
Swallowing, she held her shaking hand tightly. “Right. Have you heard from Jarid about Ophelia? Is she already at the fountain?”
The nerves in her voice grew as the time approached. She wondered if Ophelia was feeling the same rush of emotions or was she excited?
“I’ve only heard she went to the baths to have others clean her and bathe her in oils and perfumes. You know, you could’ve done the same. The candidates don’t have to pay if it’s for the ceremony.”
“I don’t like being treated differently. If I want to go to the baths, I’ll pay for it myself.”
“And that’s why everyone knows you’ll be chosen.”
Gina scoffed, squeezing her hand tighter. “Why? Because I’m cheap?”
Taking her hand in his, Lucas turned her towards him. “Because you wouldn’t make others wait on you. You’re a good soul and believe in the goodness of all people.”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll be chosen.” She pulled her hand from him, stepping back with shame. “Ophelia is a good person, too. She wouldn’t have been chosen as a candidate if she weren’t.”
Studying her face, Lucas slowly nodded his head. “Of course. We should get going. Today is not the day to be late.”
Gina turned back to the mirror and gave herself one last look. Today decided everything.
* * *
“Are you cold?”
Gina looked at Lucas and shook her head. “Not really. Just wishing I could’ve worn shoes.”
Concern filled his eyes. “Are you afraid of what the outcome will be tonight?”
“You see right through me. A little, but whatever happens is destined by the holy beings.”
“I’ll ask again. Are you afraid?”
Hesitating, she finally nodded. “Terrified.”
The fountain stood at the center of the city. Everyone in the city had already gathered around, waves of excitement echoing in the early evening air. The sun was almost out of sight behind the western wall.
Lucas forced a path through the crowd, holding Gina’s hand tightly. The crowd reached out to her, eager for the chance to touch the possible chosen candidate. Miraculously, no wandering hand messed up her hair, but an occasional foot stomped on her own bare feet. Tears fought to roll down her cheeks, but she kept them at bay.
The elder stood at the edge of the fountain, waiting patiently. His tall, thin frame appeared small in his large robes. A walking stick in his hands helped keep him stable. His hair was white and a long beard reached nearly down to his knees. His pale eyes were kind and smiled as Gina approached.
Standing next to the elder was Ophelia, a large woman, nearly the size of three Gina’s. Her skin shone with the expensive oils and perfumes covering her. Her hair was braided tightly to her head and her eyes matched the smile on her face. Arrogant.
Her assigned watcher, Jarid, stood to her left almost hidden behind her large frame. He had large bags under his eyes and Gina could guess why. Ophelia could be very demanding and had probably given him little time to rest since he’d been appointed her watcher.
The elder held his hand out to Gina and she took it, bowing to one knee. He smiled. “None of that. I should be the one bowing to you, one of our glorious candidates. Come stand to my right and we shall begin.”
Gina stood and did as he asked. Lucas moved to her right and gave Jarid a small nod.
The crowd grew more excited now that both candidates had arrived. There’d been much talk over the past year about the two candidates. From the moment the elder announced them everyone already knew who would be the chosen one. Though there were still a few who believed Ophelia could possibly be selected, the majority believed it to be Gina.
Now they would discover if they were right.
The elder watched as the last of the sun disappeared behind the horizon. When it did he stamped his walking stick against the ancient stone to silence the crowd.
“The time has come. For thousands of years the Dai-Gems and the Meh-Yads have been waging an ancient war against each other. It was written in the ancient texts that on this day one from each race would be chosen to become the vessel of the spirit of one their saints. The two saints would lead both races into the final battle finally ending the war. One year ago the holy beings gave us the names of two candidates to be the vessel of our saint. Now the decision has come. The chosen one will be determined by one simple test.”
A sudden movement on a distant roof caught Gina’s eyes. She searched for the source, but only saw birds nesting for the night. Her nerves were growing, making her see things that weren’t there.
The elder grabbed a bowl and dipped it into the cool water of the fountain. He pulled out a flower. The elder carefully placed the flower at the center of the bowl and held the bowl out between Ophelia and Gina.
“As it is stated in the ancient texts, ‘The chosen vessel will be determined by the first bloom of the Agaya plant. Whosoever draws the bloom to them shall be the chosen one.’ Ophelia, Gina. Please place a hand on the edge of the bowl.”
Gina and Ophelia did and the elder slowly lowered the bowl to the ground. Ophelia and Gina followed slowly never allowing their hands to break the connection.
The elder stood and looked from one to the other. “Now, carefully stand and whosoever makes the bloom rise into their hand is our chosen one.”
The crowd leaned forward to see. Gina looked up at Ophelia. Their eyes locked for a moment and Gina could see that she didn’t believe. Ophelia would’ve laughed out loud at the very idea that this was how the decision was to be made, but she knew when to be quiet.
“Good luck, Gina,” Ophelia said.
Gina nodded her head. “You, too, Ophelia.”
They looked back down at the bowl and both slowly rose. Nothing immediately happened. As they both stood a small breeze picked up. The water rippled and the bloom shook. As Ophelia and Gina stood halfway up the bloom slowly rose off the water.
It rose higher and higher, staying at the center. The crowd gasped in awe and Ophelia’s eyes widened in shock.
Gina stared at the bloom and felt her heart tighten in her chest. Fear grew inside her. Fear that she may be the chosen one. Fear that she may not be the chosen one. Fear of the Meh-Yads.
The bloom stopped rising and tension filled the air. Ophelia and Gina stood completely straight, holding their hands out as though they were still holding the bowl.
The elder raised his hands to the sky. “Now turn your hands over to accept the bloom.”
Ophelia and Gina looked at each other. Ophelia was confused and uncertainty filled her eyes. Gina smiled and gave her one nod. Ophelia returned the nod and they both turned their hands over.
The bloom flew high into the air above Gina and Ophelia. Then it floated down towards the two. The crowd held their breath.
This was it.
This was the time.
The bloom finally landed in the hand of the chosen vessel and all became silent.