The Chosen:
Preparations
By: Stephanie J. Bardy

Celeste and Merrik worked with the energy they could create until they could call it up with merely a thought. Creating was one thing, control was entirely different. It seemed the closer they got physically, the stronger it became, the more unstable it got.

Celeste slumped down on the stair to the porch. "We can't keep going like this, if we do, we won't have to worry about Ren Daul taking us out."

Merrik was breathing heavily from his kneeling position on the ground. "What are we doing wrong?"

Celeste got up and began pacing. "I don't know. We have opened like no other Keeper or Warrior has before. We can call the energy at will, with just a thought. We are not hiding behind propriety anymore. That should be the answer! Love is what The Elder's said!" she stamped her foot, then looked down at it surprised. She wasn't known for fits of child-like temper.

Merrik let out a sharp laugh. "You know you're cute when your mad right?"

Celeste glared at him and balled up her fists like a toddler. Merrik laughed harder. "Now that's just adorable."

A frustrated sound rumbled up out of Celeste and suddenly she was surrounded by a red glow. It ebbed and flowed like the energy they created together, but it only engulfed her. Rage bubbled up inside her and caused the glow to become stronger. Logically she knew she was overreacting to Merrik's comments, but she couldn't control her emotions. She fought hard not to let it slip beyond the circle of light.

Merrik stood slowly, the smile now gone from his face. "Celeste? Celly?" he raised his hands in a submissive pose. "Pull it back. Breathe it out." He said calmly.

Celeste's face was red with anger, her whole body shook with the strain of keeping it in check. Her head fell back and a scream ripped from her. The red glow pulsated and Merrik could feel the air crackle around him as it searched for a target. Celeste was doing everything she could to keep it from him.

"You can do this. Pull it back." Merrik said again, softly.

Celeste turned her gaze to him, her face expressionless. The only life present was in her eyes, and it wasn't her life that looked back at Merrik.

A laugh slipped past her lips, but it wasn't her voice.

"You thought you were safe within the boundaries of this cabin?"

Merrik reached for the sword at his hip. "Ren Daul."

"Smart boy," Ren said. Celeste's eyes had turned a purple shade and Merrik knew Celeste was gone.

"Get out of her." Merrik ground out. "Celeste, I know you are there somewhere, fight him. Push him out."

Ren laughed. "She isn't strong enough. I was in before she even knew I was there. She is screaming in here, but she can't push me out. She has all but given up. The red rage you saw, was me. I can control her any time, any place, anyway, I want. You can do all the training, all the preparing you want, your little circle of light isn't enough to keep me out."

Merrik and Ren circled each other. "She won't let you stay willingly. She will never give up fighting you."

Again, Ren laughed. "She has already given up. She is mine Merrik. Just as she was then, so she is now. I am in her, part of her, I OWN her. Too bad you don't remember the time before. I made her what she is. She knows it. She is defeated dear boy, I have broken her and her love for you was a passing fancy, a momentary infatuation. I can feel all she feels."

Merrik fixed his gaze on Ren. "Love is stronger than anything you could ever do to her. Love will win, it always does. It did then, it will now. We remember everything. Every detail. We also remember, we won. We defeated you once. We may not have ended you, but we did defeat you. For centuries you fought us, and each time we came back. It's the connection between us that you can not break."

Ren's eyes got dark purple. "Defeat and conquer are two different things. I have conquered her. I have taken that pitiful little emotion she felt for you and destroyed it. It wasn't as strong as you were led to believe. She would never fully allow herself to love you. Why would she? You are nothing. A mere farmer who she had to train and mold into the so-called Warrior. The Elders didn't see fit to give you any gifts other than the ability to aim badly. She knows that. It was a pity she felt silly boy, not love."

Merrik's confidence wavered just enough for Ren to find a way in. "She feels sorry for you." He continued. "You lost your family. You were quite pitiful when she found you. Broken, desperate, focused on nothing more than the loss. She never could resist a broken man. She had to fix you. Once she did, she lost interest. The feelings faded my child. She has been fooling you for a long time. To get to me. Don't let her fool you any longer."

Merrik dropped his arm to his side, his sword tip touching the earth. Confusion swirled through him. She looked so sincere, so honest when she confessed how she felt, but when was the last time she actually said it out loud? She focuses on the physical part of their relationship but shies away from discussing matters of emotion or she would want to dissect them, analyze them. She never really said exactly how she felt. Not directly. She got excited when he trained well, she missed him when he went hunting, said she loved the sound of his voice, said she adored him, but something as deep as real love? Was it just passing? Could she be over it, done with him other than what needed to be done?

Ren watched all the emotions play across Merrik's face. He had put a crack in the bond. He laughed.

"I'm still here." Merrik heard Celeste's voice in his head. Felt her energy and knew it was her. "Don't listen to him. He is playing on your insecurities. You know what I feel is true, is real. Feel it now." Merrik closed his eyes as the force of what she truly felt, the pureness of the love she carried for him, hit him full force. She was still fighting. She hadn't given up. She would never give up. As long as he drew breath she would fight for him, for both of them. "You know love is the answer, the way to defeat him." She said. "Kill me if you have too. Kill the body, you know my spirit will survive."

Again, Merrik wavered. He couldn't kill her. He just couldn't.

"You have too!" she pleaded. "He has found a way in, he will never let me go. I won't let him hurt you."

"NO!" Merrik screamed. Ren Daul looked at him surprised. Then he realized why Celeste had stopped screaming in his head. She had found a way to communicate with Merrik.

"You may have won this round boy, but I have her energy now, it is a part of me as much as it is a part of you. This is far from over." Ren snarled. As fast as he had come, he was gone. Celeste's eyes returned to normal and she glared at Merrik.

"You had the perfect opportunity to end this and you wavered!" she stormed towards the cabin angrily.

"I can not, and will not, kill you!" Merrik yelled back. "You can't ask that of me."

"You need to learn to put your emotions aside and do what needs to be done. We have a job to do, that is all that matters." She ground out.

Merrik grabbed her arm and spun her around. "No, it's not." He said. "The Elders said love was the only way to defeat Ren. Killing you is NOT love. It's cowardice. It's the easy way out. Yes, he was inside you, his energy was part of yours, ending you may have ended him. But what if it didn't? What if I killed you and was left to face Ren alone? We know from history that doesn't work. So, don't ask me again. I won't do it."

Celeste growled in frustration. "You are so stubborn! If his essence is possessing someone else, his body is defenceless. You destroy the essence, the body dies. No soul, no life. He has to use the power of all the Soul Seeds he has to be able to possess another body. Which means he is defenceless. You can be so dense at times!" She tried to yank her arm free and Merrik's grip tightened.

"Was he right?" he asked quietly.

Celeste stopped struggling and looked up at him, confused. "Was who right?"

Merrik swallowed hard. Celeste could feel his anxiety and she knew exactly what he was referring too.

"How can you even ask me that? No, if I must say it, no, it wasn't true. Pity is NOT what I feel for you. Yes, I am broken about the loss of your family, because it hurt you, if I could bring them back, to see you smile, to see that piece of you that will never be whole, become whole, then I would. No matter how much it shattered me to lose you. That is how I love you. That is what I would do for you, because you, your happiness, your joy, mean more to me than my own. Don't you ever doubt the depth of my feelings for you. I am willing to die for you, to save you. Don't question that again." She gave her arm a hard yank and Merrik let go.

She walked into the cabin and leaned heavily on the table. Tears slowly trickled from her eyes. As hard as she tried, she couldn't hold them back. It hurt her to think that he questioned her. That he thought once the job was done, she would leave. She was tied to him. Her heart belonged to him and she couldn't take it back if she wanted too. She heard him come in behind her.

"I'm sorry." He said quietly. "I just don't want to lose you again, and I can't bear the thought of you leaving me once this is over. If that means I remain a student, then so be it, but I need you in my life, anyway I can have you."

Merrik stood behind her, close enough to feel the heat rising off of her. He breathed in her scent and closed his eyes. He wanted to touch her, but he didn't want her to pull away again. He heard her straighten and he opened his eyes. She had turned to face him. Her cheeks wet, her eyes, telling him all he needed to know. She leaned towards him and rested her forehead on his chest. The minute they made contact the ball of energy enveloped them. They both froze, waiting for the explosion. When it didn't come, Merrik slowly raised his arms and embraced her. The light began to pulsate. Celeste wove her arms up and encircled his neck. The light got brighter.

Celeste looked up at Merrik. "Kiss me." She said. He looked apprehensive but slowly lowered his head and touched her lips. The light grew and vibrated but remained stable. As the kiss deepened, the light grew stronger.

Celeste drew back first. "I think we figured it out." She whispered.

Merrik looked at her, taking a moment to refocus. "What do you mean?"

"The energy ball. It didn't blast us into the yard. It is stable." She reached her hand out and touched the energy that pulsated around them. She felt it, all the decades of pain, of defeat, of love. She felt all the souls lost in all that time, she felt Merrik's grief, and her own, she felt the rush of that first love shared between them, and the strength of it now. She also felt the true meaning behind The Elders' words. Love WAS the answer, but they had also said so was sacrifice. She closed her eyes so Merrik wouldn't see. She knew what had to be done. At that moment, with her hand in the energy created by the two of them, she knew.

She was the one to sacrifice.

She pulled from Merrik's embrace and the light faded. Their connection remained strong, but she filtered out the feelings of sadness so that he wouldn't question her. He was like a dog with a bone when he sensed she was upset about something.

"Now that the energy doesn't have such a volatile reaction, we need to figure out what we did." She said.

Merrik walked to the table and sat down. He placed his hands on the flat surface. He knew something was up. She didn't realize that he knew everything she shielded him from something. Everything she protected him, he felt it. Like a piece of her was missing or muffled. He let it go, for now.

"I think the main difference this time, just like the first time, we didn't try. It just happened. We didn't call it into existence, it reacted to us being within physical contact. It was emotion-driven not force of will."

Celeste thought about that. "So, if we let emotion guide us, instead of logic, during the battle, we are protected?"

That was something she didn't understand. Battles needed to be planned, tactics laid out. Charging in blindly, trusting emotion and irrationality, was not something she was used too.

"I know it sounds dangerous but look at how strong it was when we were just focused on each other, on how we felt," Merrik said. "If we don't focus on protecting each other, but on the task, then, in theory, we should be able to create the ball and be protected and invisible. As long as we stay touching."

Celeste laughed. "In theory? The bruises on my butt aren't sure they want to trust your theory."

Merrik laughed, stood up and grabbed a pillow from the cot. "You could tie this to your butt. Softer landing."

Celeste swatted at him playfully. "Ok let's give this a try."

They walked back out into the yard and set up the Red Daul dummy. They walked back about 200 paces and grasped hands, both staring intently at the dummy. The sphere sprung up around them. They looked at each other, and let their eyes say all that couldn't be spoken aloud.

The sphere remained. Celeste turned her gaze to the dummy and raised her hand. She fired a ball of energy of her own at the dummy and it impacted with a thud. Merrik hooked his leg around Celeste's to maintain contact and fired several arrows at the dummy, hitting his mark every time.

Again Celeste fired another energy ball and this time the dummy exploded all over the yard.

"WOOHOO!" whooped Merrik. He scooped Celeste up around the waist and spun her around. "The sphere held!"

Celeste laughed, her hair flying around her face. She wrapped her arms around Merrik's neck and kissed him with all the wild abandon she had wanted to let loose since she first laid eyes on him at the rock outcropping. He slowly let her slide down his body until she was flat on her feet again, his lips never leaving hers.

He tried to pull back but she tightened her arms.

"Celly, we can't," he whispered against her lips.

She looked up at him. "Why?" she asked.

He looked at her confused. "You said that if we did, it would be no different than any other incarnation. Falling prey to the desires of the flesh instead of staying pure and true to the heart."

Celeste frowned. "I did say that, didn't I?"

She pushed away from him. She knew he wanted too, as much as she did.

"I no longer think that is an issue. We have changed. The situation has changed. We don't skirt around in the dark of night, exchanging forbidden words of affection. We are openly admitting how we feel. What as before was forbidden, now, it is a part of it, of us."

She looked at Merrik. His face had gone very serious, his eyes very dark. Without a word, he scooped her up into his arms and strode towards the cabin with determination. Once inside he stood her up beside the cot.

"Last chance?" he said, leaning down to gently kiss her neck, running his tongue along her jawline to her lips.

"For what?" she said, her breath catching.

"To change your mind, again." He said.

She reached up, drove her fingers into his hair and pulled him down for a deeper kiss.

"Not a chance." She whispered.

-

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