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The Fairest

By @GoldFantasy

The Pit

Every Lost One was at the Pit. The children and the teen elders all waited to discuss the day. Finger foods and fruit juice was passed around as Mageia took her seat at the head of the circle beside Dean. 

“Okay, everyone!” she said getting their attention. “Please tell if you’ve been spotted for the record.” 

“I,” said Ali, a twelve-year-old collector with some of her fingers joined. 

“How did that happen, for the record?” Dean said writing in the record book. 

Her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. “A woman saw me digging into a lady’s purse in the Terra Arena.”

“Okay. Learn from your mistake,” Mageia said.

“I will. I thank the gods I was not caught.”

“Gods be good,” everyone said in unison.

Mageia nodded. “I too was spotted.” This made a few eyebrows raise for she was supposedly the most experienced. She had no excuse except the fact she let the proceedings on the Dais distract her. “I was caught by the very person I was picketing. I will learn from that mistake and thank the gods I was not caught.”

“Gods be good,” everyone mumbled. 

“If that’s all, what say to the hunting crew?”

The six hunters of boys and girls wearing camouflaged colors to blend with nature, handed over their small record book to Dean. Jaice, their fifteen-year-old leader who Mageia and Dean had rescued from execution at six, stood with a pleased smile. Her scaled bald head unable to produce hair sat exposed and unashamed. 

“We were able to catch ten rabbits and two wild chickens. We also caught two big fishes from the lake.”

“Very good, Jaice. Our cooking crew will make sure we dine well tonight. Thank you,” she said. “By the sound of things, everything is going well. All thanks to the Divines for without them we would be starving every day.”

“Gods be good,” everyone said happily. 

“As you know, tonight brings in the Ardania’s Annual Fair Ceremony.”

This brought a few groans for this long-winded ceremony was known to only make those who consider themselves Fair to be harsher upon those who were less fortunate. 

“Like the years before, we will get through this. What we buy from the markets today will be rationed until next week once the festivals are over. No one will leave or enter the encampment as night draws nearer,” she said then caught eyes with Dean and felt a lump in her throat. “We cannot risk anyone being captured… like last year.”

A deathly silence fell upon the encampment. The only thing Mageia could hear was the breeze rustling the tree branches. 

“May their souls rest in the Serene,” Jaice said eyes watering with sorrow. 

“I blame myself for that incident. Many years we have worked successfully during these Ceremonies, but now the royals have increased the security. Even throughout the forests. Which means no fires will be set and noise will be reduced to a minimum.” 

Mageia fumbled with her fingers, the knot in her throat extending to her wet eyelids. A gentle hand lied on her arm and she looked up at Dean whose eyes were dark and determined. 

“No one is to blame, but the bloody Fairs,” he said then a saint he was, he took over the meeting. “Now. The summer is on its way, which means we need to double on water supply. I don’t want anyone faintin’ from dehydration, so drink water every so often as the days grow hotter. Let us enjoy the rest of the day and remember we are a family. If that’d be all, we elders will savage through our valuables.”

“I have something to say,” Faebrin said. The fifteen-year-old took a step forward with sorrow upon his face. “I saw children being led into the Taefo.”

Murmurings and gasps arose and a new tension swarmed in. 

Dean’s eyes darkened, angry at the boy. “This talk is not fer young ears, Faebrin.”

Mageia’s heart fluttered and sunk into her gut, despite the boy’s stupidity. 

“Dean, they had stopped sacrificing children five years ago,” Mageia said remembering her joyous prayers to the gods for touching the King’s heart to change that law.

“I asked around and-,”

“Yuh what?” Dean scolded. Mageia grabbed and squeezed the boy’s clenching fist.

“They said the High Priest had some **** dream from the gods dealing with a need for children blood or something devilish of the sort. They’re going to sacrifice them at midnight to bring in the holy days.”

Gasps and weeping erupted amongst the group. Mageia felt shortened of breath and soaked in the twenty-two faces surrounding her. She saw herself again standing on the Dais, but this time the executioner’s dagger lured closer to her wrists bound to a stake. 

“Dean… We have to save them.”

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