Chapter 1 As I wandered the villages of Starley, I felt something different in the air. Ever since yesterday, I had felt like there was something in the back of my mind that had changed. It was unexplainable. Like there was a contrast in my life but I didn't know what it was. I didn't tell my dad or my sister, Amber. As much as I love them, they wouldn't understand what I felt. They might've thought there was something severely wrong with me. Once every three years, five people from three of the main planets in Galaxia are chosen to go to the fourth planet. The fourth planet, Teraven, is a dreadful place that haunts everyone's nightmares - and daydreams as well. I've never been to another planet. It's always just been Aelia, which has several different kingdoms, mine being Starley. I was wandering one of Starley's towns during midday, trying to find a suitable birthday present for Amber. I couldn't afford to get anything fancy or out of the ordinary. I eyed each shop in our town square. Not Ratilda's, since that was where the rich people shopped. My eyes surveyed them all, rejecting each and every one. Starley Crafts was the one that I pondered for a few moments, leaving the biggest impression on me. Amber seemed to like that one, I think — she didn't seem to want to leave when we came here a few months ago. It was worth a shot to see if there was a birthday present for her there. I crossed the road to enter Starley Crafts as the wind chime rang. There was only me and two other people in there ; a boy who looked about my age, thirteen, with brown hair who was carrying a duffel bag, and an old lady with glasses and a cane who I'm assuming worked here, standing by the cash. The boy was looking at the painting material near me. He looked up from it and stared directly at me. I glanced back at him and returned to the shelves, running my hand among one. "You like art?" he randomly asked me. I didn't take my eyes off the shelf at the bizarre question and replied, "Sorry, I don't have time to talk." Which was half a lie. I did have to get back home soon, but I also didn't want to be talking with the stranger. "Oh." The boy held a disappointed tone. "Sorry." Instead of moving on with my life, I felt guilty. But it wasn't just his voice that made me. When I looked at him for longer, I felt something different, again. What was with my mind these days? Everything was differing. "I don't know. I'm just looking for something for my sister," I finally answered his question. "Nice," he said, slightly grinning. "I have siblings, too." I nodded, hardly paying any attention to what he was saying. I grabbed two packs of crayons and tossed two coins in the box by the front. Before heading out, I blindly looked at the boy one last time. He waved. "My name's Chandler, by the way." "Bye," I muttered. Without telling him who I was, I headed back outside and into the woods to my home.>~•~< I walked inside. My house was small, like a cabin Except bigger than the average one. There's a small living room, a bedroom in which Amber and I share, a small kitchen and bathroom. There wasn't much space - but it was everything necessary. All the houses on my street were next to each other in a line. They're all the same concept, with the same number of rooms. Amber was in the living room, so I hid her present behind me so that she couldn't see. "Amber! Happy birthday!" I beamed at her. "Hello! Thank you!" she exclaimed. "How has your day been?" I asked. "Good! Oh - and guess what? Apparently Lily's brother saw a gryphon today!" Lily was one of Amber friends. Gryphons and other magical creatures, like chimaeras, roamed around Aelia. I didn't know much about Caxin and Larkin, which were the other two planets besides Teraven. "Wow," I said. "Did the gryphon see him, too?" Amber shook her head. "I don't think so... Lily's brother was just furtively observing him." Furtively. Amber had to be the smartest eight year old in Galaxia. She didn't have much in her life, but always held a smile. We do have education resources here. My school's a few rooms, and about ten kids fit in a room. Aelia didn't have plenty of things, but enough for the residents to survive. It had shops, small homes and schools, and I suppose that's enough. Nothing modern or extreme was ever here. Right then, my father opened the door. He had short grey hair and a dimpled smile. He worked as a cook, in the bakery, and made just enough to afford the house. Amber skipped up to Dad with joy and gave him a hug, with a huge grin spread across her face. "Hi Daddy!" "How was your day?" Dad asked her. "Good!" Amber responded, just like she had to me. I said hi to Dad as well and he got settled in. Several minutes later, we sat around the wooden kitchen table to eat soup. "Things are getting pretty scary. They're announcing the kids that'll go to Teraven tomorrow," Dad said. A lump formed in my throat. It happens every three years that five people from the three main planets are chosen to go to Teraven from ages twelve to sixteen. This year, I have a chance to go, being thirteen. Voices at the table became tense and silent ; I could swear that even the birds had stopped chirping. "It's okay..." I whispered. "I'll be fine." There were thousands of chances from Aelia, Caxin and Larkin and mine was hardly even one. What were the odds? For the rest of dinner, all that was within earshot was the cutlery being shifted. When we were done, Dad finally spoke. "I think it's someone's birthday..." he grinned. Amber giggled in a shy manner. I walked over to the bag near the front door and pulled out the crayons, handing them to Amber. "Happy birthday!" She gave me a hug after examining them. "Thank you! I love colouring and didn't have any of these!" She sat back down, looking at Dad like she was expecting for him to take out something. He looked almost hesitant, but he pulled out a bracelet and handed it to Amber with a small pat. Sounding choked, he said, "This was your, uh, mother's. I'm sorry it isn't anything bigger, but it's special to us and I hope you take good care of it." We rarely mentioned my mother. Not after a loose werewolf killed her while she just went out to a shop. Werewolves weren't supposed to be here, so it was very unusual and the Heads of Galaxia are still trying to figure it out a year and a half later. That night, I had trouble sleeping. I kept on thinking of mother and Teraven. The thought of the bracelet was kind and all, but the paid price wasn't the money. It was the memories that it brings back.
Chapter 2 After I finally fell asleep, it didn't take long for the sun to rise once again. My eyes fluttered open and I rubbed them awake. Dad didn't have to go work at the bakery today, but no one else had to go to work today either. Since soon all of the Aelia residents would be teleported into Aelia Central and the kids going to Teraven would be announced. It was five kids from the three main planets. The way that it works is that two kids would be taken from one planet, two from another, but then just one from the remaining planet. Like in every other home, an orb would form to take each person into Aelia Central. Our first orb formed in our living room soon after I was all prepared ; both physically and mentally. Mentally for the fear of going to Teraven. One thing that I did was tell myself over and over that I wouldn't be going. "Alright, Jocelyn, you go first," Dad said. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and stepped into the orb. It felt pleasant and relaxing, being lifted up into the air. The last time I was in an orb was when I was ten years old. This felt like I floating, except I was somehow standing at the same time. The outside of the see-through orb didn't have any wonderful sights. It was all black and nothingness. After a moment of descending, I landed on the stony ground. A door formed in the orb and so I stepped out. I was crowded by many people. I was standing outside, with Aelia Central being in front of me. Shortly after, Amber appeared next to me out of nowhere, taking a glimpse at all of the people and place. Finally, a few seconds later, Dad finally appeared and Amber grabbed his hand. We headed into Aelia Central. It was a huge dome and very modern and fancy. Portraits of the former kids hung on the wall. I could see their death date near the bottom, which caused this day to be even more nerve-wracking. A variety of different people walked around ; purple hair, extremely tall, both children and adults. The Aelia Patrol was standing in the back, each lined up in a perfect straight line. There were lots of them, but the most notable was Sir Fairton, who I recongnized instantly. He was the eldest man there, and everyone knew his name. He also happened to be very strict in which he's mostly known for. But in the very front were the King and Queen ; Dumchise and Seraphina, who were waving at children in a regal way, being in their thrones. Queen Seraphina's pink hair shimmered with her bejeweled crown sitting on top. Sir Fairton suddenly bellowed, "Silence!" Everyone turned towards the front with a bolt, looking anxious. Amber hid behind me in fear. King Dumchise rose from his throne. "Now, after three whole years of a relatively peaceful Galaxia, the stakes are ready to rise once again. Our beloved Guardian has chosen five people of ages twelve to sixteen from Aelia, Caxin and Larkin to enter Teraven, the fourth and highly menacing planet." Whispers spread across the room within seconds, but King Dumchise continued with his speech as Sir Fairton gave everyone a stern look. The Guardian was the mysterious man that controlled everything that went on in Galaxia. Everyone was freaked out by him, but at the same time, no one quite knew who he was. "And this year, one member of Caxin has been chosen — which means two from both Aelia and Larkin," King Dumchise continued. I squeezed onto Dad's hand for support, my palms getting sweaty. Queen Seraphina stood up. "From Aelia, we give you one twelve year old and one thirteen year old." I blinked back tears, thinking, please... not me. Please, don't take me there. Everything I had heard about Teraven seemed terrifying. So many people have died from it, and barely anyone ever made it out alive. I didn't want to die. I had people to live for ; Amber, Dad, and my one and only best friend, Isabel. "For our twelve year old - Bryson Hatchens," King Dumchise announced. Several gasped, turning their heads towards a family of blondes. A little boy, appearing to be at least four, let out a loud sob. Next to him was who I'm assuming was Bryson, the little boy's brother, who looked lost in the thought ; frozen, stunned. "And for our girl-" Queen Seraphina began. I squeezed Dad's hand harder than I ever had before. My other hand was covering my mouth. This could be a moment that I would never forget, if she said my - "Jocelyn Willows." All sounds transformed into white nose. I couldn't say that the eyes that were staring at me, because all souls in existence disappeared from my mind. "Thank you for your time, Laixians. You may head outside to retrieve your orb and head home. Bryson, Jocelyn - in five days' time, the Patrol shall collect you and escort you to the Charger, which zaps you into Teraven. Good luck surviving, and we'll see you - perhaps - here again in three years," King Dumchise informed us. Multiple walked outside to leave, meanwhile I couldn't bare to move, sinking to the ground. Footsteps hurried by me and someone bent down near me, but I was too shocked to look up and see who it was. All I could hear was mumbling, and I couldn't recognize the voices. Then, I fell unconcious.>~•~< I awoke the next day, in my bed. Amber was sitting on hers, staring at me. "Hey," she whispered. "How long have I been here?" I asked her. Amber shrugged. "Like a day... or something. I can't keep track of anything anymore, with... you know..." I saw several crumpled tissues lying right next to her, spread across her bed. I wiped my eyes, which were dry from tears. I stumbled out of my room and into the bathroom as an attempt at slightly fixing myself up. I stared hard at myself in the mirror. I was a mess ; tearstains were everywhere. Dad appeared by the bathroom's door, who looked like he hadn't slept judging by his dark circles under his eyes. "Hi," I said, but my voice cracked. He embraced me in a hug. I heard mutters of things from him related to how he couldn't lose another person he loves. "I'm going to go see Isabel... I'll be back," I told him after suddenly remembering her. I wiped my eyes, got on my shoes and ran outside. I ran through the woods, tripping over logs a few times. I felt so weak. But I kept on going. I ran and ran, until finally I spotted Isabel's house. I kept on running to it with every last bit of energy. I knocked on the door, panting, with a need to collapse. Isabel's mother, Ms Rivers, opened it and gasped at the sight of me. "Jocelyn!" she shrieked, pulling me into a tight hug. "You - I - Isabel's upstairs. She's locked herself in her room, but... she'll let you come in." I nodded, attempting at a smile. But it wouldn't come out. As quickly as possible, I ran upstairs and knocked on Isabel's door. There was no sign of a human. "Isabel, it's me, Jocelyn... open up," I ordered. I knew that this would get her attention. The door swung open, nearly hitting me in the face. "JOCELYN!" Isabel screamed. She rushed me into her room, her face being dark and gloomy — the same dark circles under her eyes that Dad had. Her room was a mess, with clothes and items scattered everywhere, when it's usually always tidy and proper. I had been here a few days ago and it wasn't like this. We both sat down on her bed, and just stared at each other. Isabel sighed. "I just... I..." "I'm sorry." Isabel shook her head. "Don't apologize, honestly. It's just - I didn't think, that out of all the people... it could've been you."
Chapter 3 It was five depressing days. It was five depressing days of saying goodbye to people for what would most likely be very last time. I couldn't really see myself staying alive. I was too weak for that. But today, I'd leave. "You'll be fine, Jocelyn. You're too strong," Amber insisted. If I said that I agreed with her, I'd be lying. "Okay, I'm going to promise you something - that I will make it out alive," I promised. "Because with a promise... well, I'll have more strength if I know you're counting on me." A few minutes later, after the promise and her leaving our room, I got up and out of bed. First, I studied my room. I studied my bed and Amber's, and the red checkered blanket that lay on our bed. Next, I memorized the lines on the painting that my mother painted ; a sun, rising from purple streaks. As I continued to let my eyes wander the room, I even noticed details I hadn't before in the past years. After that, I got ready, putting on a simple black shirt and blue jeans along with my messy bun. When I got out of the bathroom, I instantly saw the Aelia Patrol standing inside the living room, which made my heart sink. I tried to keep calm, but freaked out inside. "Say goodbye," a Patrol woman ordered me. Amber and Dad were right behind me. I hugged Dad first. I only got to do so for a few seconds since a Patrol member told me that I already have had had five days to get this done. I bent down and wrapped my arms around Amber. "I love you, Amber. Really, I do. I'm so sorry to have to leave you but... for you, I'll make myself be okay and see you again, when this is all over." I walked towards the Patrol, who looked like they were getting rather impatient with their heaved expressions. A large tube formed around me and the Patrol ; the Charger. I mouthed 'I love you' to Amber and Dad, but they were gone within a flash and my life would permanently never be the same again.>~•~< A second later, I was standing in a large forest, having been zapped, to quote King Dumchise. Purple, red and orange leaves were falling from the trees ; roaring sounded from a distance and I knew that I was no longer in Aelia. I was in Teraven. I looked behind me and several people stood with a variety of different ages. The first group of people was the Aelia Patrol, lead by Sir Fairton. There were probably fifteen of them. They wore blue suits, with the words 'AELIA PATROL' embroidered on the top in dark blue. Then, there was the four kids - two boys and two girls. Sir Fairton pointed past me and said, "There's a beach over there. Go talk to each other, tell each other your name, whatever you desire." All of the kids began to walk in my direction to the beach and I turned around to walk with them. No one spoke to each other during the way there. All that was heard was the crunches of the branches and the occasional scream or roar from elsewhere. We arrived for rocks and red water by the seashore. I sat on a rock, like the others, and just stared at the sand. "Uh..." one of the girls said, ruffling her brown hair. "I'm Elena. I'm from Caxin" She looked at Bryson from Aelia who was sitting by her left. "Bryson," he muttered with a tone sounding mixed with anger and sadness, not looking up. "Gonna cry, Bry?" the boy with black hair laughed, which made the girl with long brown hair laugh as well. I could already tell that they were both jerks. Bryson looked back, blinking back tears. I couldn't help but fell bad for him. I felt the black haired boy would be the one to always be teasing people. "I'm Jocelyn of Aelia, thirteen years old," I declared with an attempt at a confident tone, which ended up quiet and muffled. The oldest boy stood up. "Dylan the King, fifteen, Larkin. Also, don't mess with me." He sat back down, smirking. The girl with long brown hair stood up. "I'm Piper. Sixteen, Larkin. I'm the most popular girl in my area by far." There was another minute of silence, but then Piper turned to face Dylan and said, "Why is everyone so terrified of this place? And sobbing at like every time they hear the name Teraven? Or even the freaking letter T? I'm not dumb, but honestly, why? I don't get it." Elena glared at Piper. "It's a death trap! You don't see anyone that you love ever again unless you're some god!" "People need to pull themselves together! Get stronger! Apparently, no one - well, no one except for me, and maybe Dylan - knows a thing about bravery and being fearless." Another smirk grew on Dylan's lips. He blushed slightly. I decided that I wanted to tighten myself up a little bit, having given te idea by her of bravery. "Piper, just... be quiet." Her jaw fell open, and she didn't seem to be able to argue. "So now what happens? Where do we go?" Bryson questioned, with obvious fear.
Chapter 4 We walked down a forest, on a long muddy trail. We were trying to find anything that could be useful. The only person that really was talking was Dylan, which was all about his life and how great he was. "My friends call me the King, which is why I introduced myself as the King. I even bought a crown. But the crown's fake," he explained, muttering the last part. "Duh, of course it's fake!" Elena exclaimed, peering at the left side of the forest. "Well, yeah, but I'm so awesome that it could've been real," Dylan bragged. He streched his arms out. "Plus, I- what was that?" We stopped walking and I looked around at his remark. No one seemed to know what he was talking about, so I wasn't alone. But then I saw it, too. A large shadow was shown on the fallen leaves and a silhouette of a dragon was reflected from onto them. As the realization dawned upon me, I slowly looked up. It was red, with yellow scales. The black eyes were shaped like diamonds, with fangs in its mouth. The claws were longer than half a tree and the body was probably three times the size of its mouth. It had to be the most menacing thing I've ever seen in my past. It looked extremely ominous, bending back like it was about to release its madness. I look at the group for a reaction, gasping. Dylan took some steps back, while Bryson and Elena were running away. I ran, too, in the same direction as the two, which caused Dylan to start running as well. We could hear the dragon roaring and stomping. Piper finally caught up to us, being the last. "Are we safe?" she asked us. Crunch. The dragon appeared after us, flying. Its wings, which I bet were bigger than the dragon itself, were flapping widely. It looked like it was trying to reach its maximum speed, which terrified me. When we tried to run, the dragon was too fast and picked up Dylan by his shirt's collar. Dylan yanked the dragon for attempt at getting free, but its grip was way too strong for him to escape. The dragon soared towards a mountain along with Dylan held captive, but Dylan was still using all of his force to try to get away. Kicking, punching. But the dragon was so much more powerful compared to him, causing Piper to freak out, screaming. From far away, I could see Dylan quickly push away from the dragon's grip as far as he could. I could imagine that his neck really hurt from the dragon holding the t-shirt's collar and him putting his head forward. Dylan kicked and kicked, pulled away as far as he could. He yanked himself backwards and tugged onto the t-shirt's collar. With one final tug, he fell straight down. I was surprised since the dragon looked so strong. But it kept on flying until I couldn't see a single trace of it anymore. I would've thought that it'd try to grab one of us again, but apparently I was wrong. "Dylan!" Piper yelped. The four us sprinted over, trying to locate him. "I'm... over... here," Dylan bellowed with exhaustion. "Oh, there he is!" Piper yelled, pointing over to the far, upper left corner. I could faintly see an arm. We kept on running and finally caught up to him. Piper knelt down beside him and squeezed his hand. The four of us sat down near him. The group panted for practically forever, which in reality probably was only a minute. "This could maybe be, uh... maybe be our shelter for the night," I suggested. "I know it isn't that much but... it just seems, I don't know, fine?" "Yeah, I agree," Elena said. We all nodded in agreement. Piper stared off into the distance, looking like she was thinking very hard about something. "Will every day be like this? Almost dying?" she finally asked. Elena shrugged. "I guess so." "Ugh," Piper sighed. "I'm finally understanding why everyone freaks out over hearing this place even mentioned." "My grandpa came here and died," Bryson muttered. Dylan looked up at him, furiously. "Oh shut up, you dimwit!" Elena glared at Dylan. "Just let the poor boy speak! He has a voice, you know. You're not the only guy here who's allowed to talk." Dylan stood up, now glowering. "I'm sorry - did I not just almost get killed by a freaking dragon, and he's talking about death? The kid deserved it! Now keep talking and it'll be you who dies first." Elena rolled her eyes, unconvinced. "Piper, let's go somewhere else. At least someone around here is reasonable," Dylan said, grabbing Piper's hand. What about me? I hardly even talked to him. I thought that fear might've been holding me back from doing so - fear of him beginning to torment me, too. "Don't look at me like that, Jocelyn. I know what I said," Dylan snapped. I winced at the accusation. He dragged Piper away. I mused about how maybe she'd stand up for herself, tell him off and walk back to us. But instead she clung onto him like a magnet and they disappeared from our view. "I'm sorry about Dylan being mean," I said to Bryson, even though it couldn't help what was happening. He didn't say anything. He simply stared down like he had been when we first met, which was hardly even any time ago at all. I felt such empathy for him, especially with Dylan, a total bully. I looked at Elena and stated to her, "From now on, I'm going to use my voice more. Or I will start soon. I just need to build up my confidence first." "Once you have that confidence, anything can happen," Elena affirmed in an logical manner. I nodded in agreement. A question that had entered my mind recently came flooding back to me. "Where did you get such confidence from?" I asked. "From my eldest brother," she replied, with a lack of enthusiasm. She tilted her head down and picked at her fingernails. "Oh," I said. A notion came up to me was that something happened to her brother. To break the ice and to pull that idea away, I asked, "By the way, which planet are you from?" I knew she said it before, but I couldn't remember at that moment. "Caxin," she answered. "I'm from Aelia." Elena shifted in her position. "You're lucky - Caxin's terrible. Everything is devastating there. All the children are always weeping, and the population is super low, since everyone's poor and fractured. But maybe Aelia's bad too. What's it's like there?" Elena asked me. Bryson spoke instead after shifting around on the log. "Bad, but not as bad as Caxin sounds." "Yeah," I agreed with him. "Unless you have a lot of gold and you're rich. My dad's a baker and it's a decently popular bakery, so he can afford us a house, which just has a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen, though." I wiped my eyes at the vision of my house and the thought of Dad. "My house doesn't have a living room, much less a bedroom. So don't say 'though' or just'," Elena said, looking somewhat offended. "Sorry," I mumbled. Elena sighed. "It's okay. I'm sorry. I'm just so frustrated with everything going on right now." She extended her hand. "Friends?" I took it. She then offered it to Bryson, who shook it. Next, Bryson and I shook on it together. A tone of relief waved over me ; I was friends with Elena and Bryson. Maybe now they wouldn't try to kill me. "I'm scared," Bryson confessed. "Of all this." I put my hand on Bryson's shoulder as comfort. "Don't worry. We all are. I even bet that deep down, confident - confident seeming - Dylan is." "Yep. Maybe he tries to act like he's all confident because he's scared," Elena suggested. "And confidence is his disguise." We each sat in silence, our minds wandering to an assortment of things. I was thinking of Amber, and how she was feeling right now. When suddenly, a loud voice filled my mind, clearing all of my thoughts out. I tried to cover my ears to block it out, but it was unpreventable. I could tell that it affected Bryson and Elena's minds too because they look startled and alarmed. Bryson was covering his ears. "Attention, this year's kids," the voice boomed. "We are here to inform you that a series of obstacles have been set up for you here in Teraven, the fourth planet. Overcome them all and victory awaits you. Part 1 starts tomorrow. Good luck." With a moment of assuring ourselves that the noise was over, the three of us took our hands off our ears. "Great. But's all a series of obstacles anyways, though - this whole Teraven thing. So what's the difference?" Elena shrugged. Bryson looked worried. "They have access to our... our minds?" he questioned. I, on the other hand, was agonizing about much worse things. "I don't know," I said. "But they can definitely send us messages and communicate with us through them." He shuddered at the thought. I could see that Dylan and Piper were walking over to us from a far forest, Dylan had his arm around Piper, but she was just folding her arms. Once they had made their way over to us, Piper said, "I made him come back to try to make this team thing work," Piper informed us, using air quotes at the word team. "I mean, I do understand him. But with this whole Trial whatnot-" she sighed "-we're going to try to work as a team with you people." >~•~< That night, I couldn't sleep. I was reckless. Dylan was snoring, Piper was peacefully sleeping, and Elena and Bryson were sleeping as well. I tried to fall asleep. I should've been exhausted with all the insanity that had happened today. But I couldn't, because my mind was wandering to several possibilities such as terrifying creatures, cliffs, demons - it all ended with the word 'death'. The Trial simply haunted me. What could be scarier than this? I sat straight up, with my eyes open and my hands resting on my stomach. I watched the stars glisten in the moonlight, counting each of them. After counting up to twelve and becoming too tired to continue, my thoughts eventually meandered to Dad and Amber, but a sudden crunch interrupted. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Bryson standing up and wandering over to a tree. I stood up and quietly walked over to where he was. In the darkness, I caught Bryson's eyes see me, as I began to open my mouth. "No company wanted... thanks," he said before I could say anything. "Yeah, well, company wanted over here."
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