"Nooooooo!" I yell. The fire roars and crackles despite my cry. I fall to my knees in complete despair, while tears flow freely down my cheeks. "No, no no," I mutter. "Why? Why did you do that and leave me?"
A single white feather falls out of the sky. I catch it, as a last reminder of her.
We stand in a line, all ten of us. Five boys on one side, five girls on the other. We send each other shifty glances. My stomach churns nervously. I try to keep down my lunch. My eyes are glued to my feet as they start to take roll call.
"Chaz, Destan?" one of the younger grunts asks. "Which one of you is Destan?" I raise my hand. He grunts, then goes on calling names in alphabetical order, boys then the girls. I zone out until they reach the last name. Her's.
"Serafim, Astraea?" he called. She timidly raises her hand. Astraea is easily the smallest of all of us- she would weigh about 100 pounds soaking wet. The grunt's eyes hungrily look her up and down. It is no wonder- she is extremely beautiful. Her straight yellow hair reaches about to her chin, and her deep blue eyes are wide as ever. Her face is perfectly shaped; her lips pink and full. Her frame is small, bird-like and fragile, yet she is still as curvy as all the other girls. She wears a cream-colored, baggy dress, one she has had for many years, with worn brown boots, with many tears in them from over-use. This is the best her family can afford- but she outshines the rest of the girls easily.
The younger grunt moves back into the group of the three others in uniforms. The oldest steps forward. He is a middle-aged man with short, close-cropped grey hair, a stubbly beard and cold, unfeeling green-grey eyes. I know him all too well.
His name is Chase Wright, and he is the feared leader of our small village. He is cruel, often punishing villagers for no reason. He makes us pay taxes with money we do not have. When we are in need, he does not provide. He does not care. He goes on and lives in his small castle, eating like a king while we starve to death. The only upside to being chosen today is to be free from his wretched reign.
"Now that we are all accounted for," he says in his cold, steely voice, "we may begin. In case you all do not remember why you are gathered here, I'll remind you." He grinned evily, and my stomach flipped and my heart started to beat out of my chest. He knew we all remembered why we were came. He just wanted to make us even more miserable by imprinting it on our minds.
"As you know, the annual coming of the king is soon! And we all know how superstitious the king is. He wishes for us to sacrifice a boy or girl at the age of sixteen. And you all happen to be sixteen. The purest of souls will be chosen, prepared, and then burned in a sacrifice to the gods. Then the king hosts a feast for his closest companions and he leaves, and the other nine of you will continue on with your lives. Good luck!"
I, the first in line, look over at Astraea at the end. Her eyes are still wide, filled with worry and fear. There was a loud clanking noise, like small pieces of metal and wood hitting each other over and over again. A big, busty, dark-skinned woman wearing a long, purple cloak woven with purple beads stood before us. She is wearing many, many wooden necklaces with crosses and other religious symbols, along with metal bracelts and a very large pair of earrings. Her hair is held in a large purple headdress, sitting on top of her head.
Chase nods at the woman. She walks up to me first. Her necklaces and bracelets make more noise. She stands in front of me, about a half a head shorter. She puts her hands on either side of my face and tilt my head down, so I stare straight into her eyes.
I feel my life flashing before my eyes- actually, in her eyes. I see all of my memories- even the most distant ones. It all stops suddenly. I blink and inhale deeply. I feel short of breath, and I take in many quick breaths. She shakes her head slowly. "So close, my boy. So close," she mutters, in a strange accent. She moves on to the next boy.
I shake my head, also. 'So close,' she had said. I was so close to being sacrificed. Who knew I was that pure? When I payed a little more attention, she was already at the last boy. I supposse they weren't the best kids- the bullies of the village. All too soon she was past the last boy, and past three of the girls (who, at least I had heard, sold themselves for money). The last girl before Astraea held the woman's gaze for little over a minute, but the woman said nothing and passed on to the next girl. Astraea.
The woman did as she had done with the rest of us, put her hands on either side of our cheeks and then gazed into our eyes. Astraea stood there, looking into the woman's eyes for a minute. Two. Three. Four.... This cannot be a good sign!
Finally, they seperated. The woman turned to Chase, a tremble in her voice. "S-she is the one."
Chase raised his eyebrow. "Are you sure? We can only have the purest of the pure."
The woman nodded, this time more confidently she said, "I am sure. She is the purest we have had in years." My heart sank. Astraea, my Astraea, was going to be sacrificed. I looked over to her.
She had given up on being strong. She fainted right on the spot.