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PostPosted: Tue Dec 28, '10, 12:53 am
Chapter Two

“Mila, where are you?”

“In my room, Ederi, where else?” Mila answered in fluent native Dezorian.

Her foster brother stuck his bald head into the doorway. “I'm going to the temple now, instead of after dinner. Do you want to come with me?”

Mila looked down at the schoolbook she was studying. It could wait. “Sure, let me get my hat.”

The Dezorian people rarely went anywhere without covering their heads, as their hairless skin did very little in protecting them from the cold. For Mila, it wasn't as necessary, as her dark curls now reached halfway down her back, but she liked wearing her hat whenever she went out in the town. She grabbed it from the bedpost, where she had tossed it earlier, and joined Ederi outside.

It had been six years since Mila had been brought to the Dezorian village. Most of the natives had grown accustomed to her presence, but there were still some, even after all these years, that were still wary of her. Parek, the man who had rescued her and taken her in, had explained to her that many Dezorians did not trust the Palmans and feared for the future of their culture if the Palmans continued to emigrate to the ice planet. Most of the townspeople, luckily, treated her as one of their own. Some even wanted to learn the Palman language, and she was happy to oblige.

Mila and Ederi made their way across town to the temple, greeting those who passed them and ignoring the ones who crossed to the other side of the street. They entered the large stone building, passed through the fore-chamber, and went directly to the main room. Mila let her eyes adjust to the darkness and looked around – for now, they were the only ones there.

Much like at the church in Skure, the Dezorians gathered together at the temple once a week to listen to the bishop speak. Other than the weekly meeting, however, everyone was expected to visit the temple once a day for personal daily prayers. The temple doors were always open so the Dezorians could pray at any time, day or night. Even young children were expected to visit daily with their parents.

Mila followed Ederi to the front of the room and knelt at the opposite end of the altar. The large torch, eternally burning, cast a warm glow over them. Mila had learned that the torch was allegedly originally lit during an eclipse nearly one hundred years ago, and the Dezorians would not allow their sacred flame to ever be extinguished.

Unlike the Palmans at the church in Skure who bowed their heads in prayer, the Dezorians looked skyward as they prayed. They gazed up past the light of the torch, towards the heavens; the many feet of dirt and snow between them and the fresh air didn't seem to be a factor. Mila thought this made more sense than facing downward while praying; in her imagination, whomever, or whatever, was listening to her prayers would be watching over her from above.

Mila focused on the light and tried to clear her head before turning her head towards the high ceiling. Her daily prayers never really changed all that much. She prayed for her parents and hoped they were together in some sort of afterlife. As she had gotten older, her mother, especially, was becoming a distant memory, but if Mila concentrated, she thought she could still see her face. She thanked the Light for Parek and Dimara opening their home to her and taking such good care of her. As many twelve-year-olds did, she prayed that her brother wouldn't annoy her so much, as she rather liked him when he was being friendly towards her. Finally, as they were all taught to do from an early age, she prayed that she would grow up to be a faithful servant to the Light and be “of pure body, mind, and spirit”, as the bishop would say.

She stood up and went back to the entrance to wait for Ederi. As she walked down the aisle, she saw two women sitting in the back row, waiting for their turn at the altar. They had been whispering to each other, but stopped as Mila passed by. She went to the small front room to wait, but stayed right by the doorway. Straining to listen, she could make out some of the words the women were saying: “...Palman...funny-looking...can't trust them...rumors...the bishop said...chosen ones...” She blinked at that last bit. Chosen ones?

Ederi came through the door, startling her. “It's not nice to eavesdrop,” he said, wagging a finger at her.

“I wish they wouldn't talk about me,” she said once they left the temple.

Ederi shrugged. “They have nothing better to do, don't get too upset about it.”

They kept walking. Mila paused before breaking the silence. “Do you know who the 'chosen ones' are?” she asked.

“No.” He walked on for a bit before asking a question of his own. “Where did you hear about something like that?”

“Those two women were talking about it. There was something about the bishop, too. I could have heard more, but someone dragged me away.”

“Like I said, they have nothing better to do. They were probably just making up stories.”

Mila wasn't satisfied. She waited until the whole family was eating dinner to discuss the day's events. “Ederi and I went to the temple today and there were two women there talking about me.”

Many conversations in the past had started similarly, but they hadn't had one in a while, as Dimara had thought that by age twelve, Mila had gotten used to not being accepted by everyone. “Mila, dear,” she said comfortingly, “as we've told you before...”

Mila shook her head and interrupted the familiar speech. “I don't care if they don't like me. They don't know me and I don't know them.” Dimara smiled a bit at her adoptive daughter's confidence. Mila continued, “There was something different this time, though. I could only hear some of what they were saying. I know they were talking about me, but then I heard them talking about rumors about what the bishop said and some people called the 'chosen ones'.”

Parek stopped eating. “Did you hear anything else?” he asked.

“No, I didn't,” she said. She could tell by his reaction that Ederi had been wrong, that they hadn't just been making up stories. “But I want to know what it means.”

Parek sighed. “I'm afraid I can't tell you yet, now is not the time.” He looked at the expression on Mila's face and knew that she wouldn't accept such a simple answer. Dimara touched his hand and nodded at him. “All I'll tell you right now is that we knew you were coming to us. Well, maybe not you specifically...but many years ago, the bishop said he had a vision and a Palman played an important role in our future. His visions are infrequent, but he always puts great emphasis on them.”

Mila looked confused. “I'm going to be important in the future?” She didn't know if she was pleased or terrified by the thought.

“According to the bishop, yes. There is more, but as I said, now is not the time.”

Ederi kicked his sister under the table to tell her to let the subject drop. Dimara cheerfully changed the subject to the children's schoolwork. As in most Dezorian families, Mila and Ederi listened to lessons from their mother during the day and spent the afternoons either completing practice problems or reading quietly. Ederi was interested in science and would conduct a variety of experiments in his room, while Mila preferred to read about the history of Dezoris.

The following day, Mila's prayers changed from her usual routine. She prayed to the Light for answers – she knew not to ask Parek about the bishop's vision again, but as most children her age are, she was impatient. She prayed that the right time would come soon, and if it didn't, that she could forget about what she had heard until then. Lastly, she prayed that whatever important role she was supposed to fulfill, she would be successful.

Her prayers were effective, for in about a week's time, Parek offered to accompany Mila to the temple one evening. He usually made his daily trip in the early morning, so this gesture was out of the ordinary. Mila followed him inside the temple, but rather than kneeling at the altar, Parek walked over to the small chambers that were adjacent to the main room.

Inside sat the elderly bishop, looking as if he had been expecting them. A younger priest, whose clothes were slightly less elaborate than those of the bishop's, stood behind him to the right. There were two chairs set up in front of the two holy men and Parek and Mila sat down.

“I've heard you have some questions, Mila,” the older man said.

She couldn't remember a time where the bishop had addressed her directly and she suddenly felt a bit self-conscious. “Yes, Bishop,” she said softly.

“And I've heard Parek has told you about my vision all those years ago, yes?”

“Some of it.”

The old man nodded to his assistant, who brought over a small stone replica of the holy torch. Mila had seen them before; most of the houses in the town had at least one, her own included. The old man gently cradled the small statue and looked down at the image of the flame. “We have been praying to the Light for hundreds of years. We strive to serve the Light, and in return, the Light protects us.”

Mila nodded, as she had heard this many times at the weekly meetings. The bishop went on. “However, where there is Light, there is also Darkness. The Darkness has sometimes made attempts to extinguish the Light, along with all life in Algol. Obviously, we cannot let that happen.”

Mila still wasn't quite sure where she fit in with all of this, so she stayed silent as the bishop continued his lecture. “Our people are in possession of a number of important items. These sacred relics are crucial to fighting the Darkness and cannot fall into the wrong hands. That's where you come in.”

She was surprised. “Me?”

The bishop nodded. “When I had the vision all those years ago, the Light sent a message that the Darkness was increasing in strength and was going to come to Algol, though I couldn't tell exactly when that would be. In the vision, I was shown the ones I could trust with our holy items. Most of the faces were familiar to me, including that of my young assistant here, but the last figure shown to me appeared to be a Palman woman.”

Mila's eyes grew wide. “And that's me?”

“Though the woman in the vision was older than you are now, even when you first came here as a young child, the resemblance was striking.”

Mila didn't know how to respond. Parek, who had been silent this whole time, took her hands in his own. “When I found you that day in the forest after I shot the animal that killed your father, I knew you must be the one the bishop had seen. That is why I took you back here instead of trying to return you to Skure.”

She was still confused. “I still don't know exactly why I'm here, or what I'm supposed to do.”

The bishop smiled, the wrinkles on his green face becoming even more pronounced. “There is nothing for you to do now, Mila, I do not want you worrying about any of this. I have been watching for signs of the Darkness and it is not fully here in Algol, not yet. Continue with your studies and your daily prayers, and I will call on you when the time has come.”

Mila and Parek thanked the bishop and left the temple. She had gotten the answers she had prayed for, but she didn't know what to make of them. On one hand, it was rather exciting that the bishop had known about her for many years and that she was to be trusted with protecting her people. On the other hand, it did seem like an awful lot of responsibility. She was glad to serve the Light in any way necessary, but she hoped that her time wouldn't come that soon, as she was still relatively young.

When she went with Ederi to the temple the following day, she returned to her usual daily prayers. This time, though, she added one to the end of the list. “Please don't let me fail,” she prayed to the Light.
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