Keriya Nameless took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She’d been disobedient plenty of times before, but what she was doing now was especially bad. She swept her flyaway bangs from her forehead and put an eye to the crack between the ill-fitting storage room door and its frame.
In the hall beyond, diluted light drifted through thin windows onto the wooden platform where stood Holden Sanvire, Head Elder of Aeria. The immense stone tablet next to him bore the names of all the children who were eligible for the Ceremony of Choice. A bubbling sensation, not altogether unpleasant, filled Keriya’s stomach as Elder Sanvire cleared his throat. This meeting would decide her future.
“First to be considered is Sven Aablum,” said Sanvire, his words echoing in the vast chamber. “I shall speak for Sven. He’s done well in his studies and his magic is strong. He’s expressed interest in being a Harvester, and we are in great need of Harvesters.”
None of the Elders made any objections, so Sanvire picked up a piece of chalk and made a mark next to Sven’s name, indicating he’d been deemed worthy. “Keep that in mind when you interpret Sven’s sign, Erasmus.”
Keriya craned her neck to catch a glimpse of Erasmus, the village Healer and―for lack of a better word―her father. He sat in a small alcove near the back of the hall, watching the proceedings. His silver beard, which stood out stark against his dark skin, glinted as he nodded.
“I shall, Head Elder.”
Hearing his familiar serene tone calmed Keriya, and the flutterings in her stomach stilled for a moment. Erasmus had taken her in after her mother had died during childbirth, and had raised her and taught her his trade. Though he was an attentive guardian, he had never been a particularly affectionate one―but that suited Keriya just fine. She liked that Erasmus wasn’t sentimental. He didn’t coddle her. Most importantly, he didn’t pity her.
Sanvire offered Erasmus a curt nod in return. “Very good. Next to be considered is Selina Abersae. A hard worker, but she still struggles with creation magic. Who will speak for her?”
Selina Abersae was eventually found worthy, as were many others; but when the Elders reached Fletcher Earengale’s name, nobody was willing to vouch for him.
Keriya twisted her fingers through her long hair, which she kept tied back on either side of her head. She prayed someone would speak up for her best―and only―friend.
“The goddess Shivnath, blessed be her name, gave Fletcher’s father a vivid sign during his ceremony,” one Elder offered halfheartedly. “Fletcher may have the same—”
“Tomas Earengale was killed by the dark forest spirits on a salting expedition,” Sanvire interrupted. “He was unworthy, which means his son is unworthy. Besides,” he added snidely, “Fletcher’s magic is as weak as we’ve ever seen.”
It didn’t take much arguing before Fletcher’s name was stricken from the list.
Keriya’s heart sank. If Fletcher hadn’t made the cut, what chance did she have? This ceremony was her one chance to be accepted into Aerian society, and if she wasn’t allowed to participate . . .
She shook her head to clear it of that unpleasant thought.
The Elders slogged through the rest of the names. The sun had long set behind Shivnath’s mountains by the time they determined that Brock Zyvlan was worthy.
“That,” said Sanvire, making his last checkmark, “concludes our work. We are dismissed.”
With the creaking of old bones, the Elders began to rise from their wooden benches. Keriya had known it might come to this, that she might be omitted from the list. She had to act. It was now or never. She stood and pushed through the storage room door. “Wait! I’d like permission to speak.”
Outraged gasps filled the air as she ran onto the platform. Gazing at the field of livid faces, she was reminded again of everything that made her different. Compared to the earthy coloration of the Aerians, she looked like a ghost with her pale skin, gray eyes, and waxen hair, which was white and wispy as snowflakes.
“Permission denied,” Sanvire roared. “And you will be punished for this!”
Though she was shorter than average for a girl of fourteen, Keriya stood her ground before Sanvire’s imposing bulk as he stalked toward her.
“I’ve never been allowed in any of your ceremonies,” she argued, prepared to accept a hundred punishments if it meant getting on that list, “and you judged me unworthy to attend school, but I learned everything I need to know from Erasmus. I don’t always do as I’m told, but I shouldn’t be condemned for—”
“Of course you should,” boomed a particularly grumpy Elder. “And you ought to have been condemned many times before now. Elder Sanvire, I move to whip her into penitence and lock her in the stocks until the ceremony is over—with a gag in her mouth.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Erasmus. “Keriya will accept your decision in peace.” He swept toward the podium to collect her, his robes billowing out behind him. But Keriya had come too far to give up without a fight.
“The Ceremony of Choice is supposed to be a time of new beginnings,” she said. “You decide if someone is worthy based not on what they’ve done, but on their potential.”
“And your potential is zero,” growled Sanvire. “All of our professions require the use of magic, even the basest, tiniest grasp of magic. You are a cripple. You have nothing.”
Her jaw clenched. She’d known they would bring this up. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t let it hurt.
It hurt anyway.
“I . . . I could still do something useful,” she stammered, fighting to keep the quaver from her voice. “I know you need more Harvesters. I could help with that. Or I could work with Erasmus. I know how to make medicines and—”
“And nothing, Nameless,” Sanvire snapped.
Keriya cringed away from the hated epithet. Nameless. That was all she’d ever be to them: a useless, crippled bastard child.
“You are the only person ever to be born without magic, and that alone makes you unworthy to hold a position in our society,” the Head Elder continued. “We hardly need to mention your inability to follow even the simplest of rules, or go into the shameful details about your parents.”
Keriya felt her cheeks flush as she looked down at the floorboards. Why had she thought this was a good idea? She shouldn’t have bothered coming. Her mother had been unwed and her father was unknown. She’d been born without a family name and she lacked the one thing that mattered above all else.
Her fate had been decided long ago.
Still, she forced herself to look back up and meet Sanvire’s gaze. If she didn’t do this, she would regret it forever. She had nothing left to lose.
“Please,” she whispered. “All I need is one chance.”
“If you participate and Shivnath finds you unworthy, you will die in the forest by her divine will. Or you will return without a sign, in which case you will be named a Lower,” said Sanvire. “You’ll be made to live and work as a slave. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?”
“I’m willing to take it if you are,” she countered. “Even if I die, that wouldn’t be so bad, right?”
She was trying to be lighthearted, but the Elders took her seriously. They nodded to one another and conferred amongst themselves.
“I see you’re not in a joking mood,” she mumbled, fiddling with the loose, fraying sleeves of her brown wool dress.
Sanvire spoke privately with Elders Remaine and Fleuridae, which Keriya took as a bad sign. Fleuridae hated her more than Sanvire did―if that was even possible―and Remaine hated everyone.
“We have reached a verdict,” Sanvire announced at length, turning to address the room once more. “Keriya Nameless, you may participate in the Ceremony of Choice. We’ll see what Shivnath wants to do with you.”
“What?” A disbelieving grin split Keriya’s face. She’d hoped and wished and prayed this would happen, but never had she fully believed it would come to pass. She had taken the first step to becoming one of the Aerians. This was huge.
Brimming with jubilation, she jumped down the steps of the platform and ran to Erasmus, garnering affronted glances from the Elders for her flagrant and inappropriate display of emotion. “Erasmus, I can participate!”
“I heard. Now it’s time for us to leave, Keriya. We’ve kept the Elders long enough.”
The Healer escorted her to the heavy oak doors at the end of the hall. He made an effort to shield her from the whispers that followed them down the aisle and the venomous looks the men cast her way, but Keriya was impervious to their scorn. Nothing could ruin this moment.
For the first time in her life, she had been deemed worthy.
Everyone knows this story: an unlikely young hero is chosen by divine providence to save the world from a terrible evil.
Except Keriya Nameless is crippled, without the ability to wield magic—in fact, she's the only person who doesn't have powers of her own. The god who chose her is a mysterious dragon with a knack for exploiting loopholes in rules. Oh, and that terrible evil the world needs to be saved from? Maybe it’s not quite as evil as everyone says.
As Keriya ventures into the magical realm of Allentria, she learns things aren't black-and-white, and not everything is what it appears to be. Her quest would test the courage of even the bravest hero, and as the chosen Dragon Speaker, she quickly learns she's at the center of an age-old war . . .
A war that will decide the fate of everything.
Elana A. Mugdan is a published author and semi-retired filmmaker. She has received many accolades in the film industry, including a number of awards for her feature film "Director's Cut", which she wrote, produced, and directed, and numerous awards for her screenplays.
Elana has always been an avid reader, and is a lifelong fan of fantasy and science fiction stories. She's described by her friends and family as "the weirdest person I know", and wears that weirdness proudly on her sleeve. Some of her favorite authors include J.R.R Tolkein, Philip Pullman, and Robert Jordan.
Elana currently resides in New York City, living a quiet but eccentric life with her pet snake, Medusa.
Black text on 60# white paper
Softcover, matte finish